The Cormyrean Marshes - Part One

Design: Anthony Pryor
Editing: Elizabeth Danforth
Interior Art: Daniel Frazier
Cartography: Dennis Kauth
Typography: Nancy J. Kerkstra
Production: Paul Hanchette

The Journal of Brother Twick
Compiled by the Humble Cleric from Verdusk

Twick of Verdusk is a halfling cleric of Chauntea who is known for his work among the human villagers of the Tun and Farsea Marshes. While he claims to be a somewhat timid soul with no love of adventure, like most halflings he is possessed of a sturdy constitution and an insatiable sense of curiosity, both of which served him well during his journeys.

My experience with the marshes in and around Cormyr began the better part of a decade ago, when my high priest dispatched me from our temple at Arabel with orders to minister to the swamp-dwelling humans known as the Marsh Drovers, reputed to live in the depths of the Farsea Marshes. When he learned of my task, Elmdaerle, master of the Naturalist's Guild, called me to his home, where he regaled me with legends and tall tales of Cormyr's swamplands, and ended by asking me to investigate some of them.

Mind you, I am no adventurer. My duty is to Mother Chauntea, and to all those creatures, lands, and beings under her gentle protection. While I did not quail at the thought of serving Chauntea in the marshes, neither did I relish the thoughts of dodging deadly swamp creatures, risking horrific disease, capture by barbaric humans, or any of the dozen different grisly ends that might await me.

All the same, Elmdaerle's accounts fascinated me. Stories of lost kingdoms, ancient ruins, rare creatures, and supernatural events.all these and more rose up from the swamps, yet few other than the Marsh Drovers had ever looked into them.

So it was that, armed with little save faith and the simple garb of my order, and mounted upon a sturdy steppe pony, I set out on the High Road through the Storm Horn Mountains, bound for my new home. I also bore a large brass-bound volume, quills, and a supply of ink, intending to record my observations.

My journey was long and, in comparison to what was yet to come, relatively uneventful. I am certain that there are those readers who might be interested in hearing about the various minor incidents that occurred during my travels before I arrived in the marshlands, but I will refrain from going on excessively. It was true that I visited a multitude of unusual inns, not only those of a pleasant sort, and I had the pleasure to learn many details of the lives of my fellow wayfarers, some of whom were thoroughly remarkable in their own rights. I had glorious meals and I had common travelers. fare. Be all this as it may, none of it is germane to the current work, and I will avoid it.

Elminster's notes: This is what passes for restraint in a halfling. I never thought I'd see it!

I parted company from my caravan at Eagle Peak, venturing down into the marshlands alone. The caravan-master advised me against such action, claiming the land to be infested with predatory monsters and bandits. I firmly placed my faith in Chauntea and continued. At long last, the vast green expanse of the Farsea Marshes spread out before me. The region was mostly water, crisscrossed here and there by causeways of solid earth. Eerie birdcalls echoed from thick rushes, and black swarms of insects rose from the water. With growing uncertainty, I led my pony along one of these causeways, looking always for any signs of habitation. After several hours, the sun hung low in the sky. My mount and I were well within the confines of the marsh and, I am sorry to say, thoroughly lost. Several causeways had proved to be dead ends, forcing us to backtrack repeatedly. As yet another pathway ended in soft ground and shallow water, I considered stopping where I was and making camp for the night.

Then disaster struck. The weight of me and my pony proved sufficient to make the seemingly-solid earth collapse, dropping us both, to my horror, into a deep mud pit.

My pony shrieked and struggled, succeeding only in dragging itself in deeper. I fought to remain calm, but with each of the horse's frantic thrashing motions, I sank farther into the foul muck. I uttered a brief prayer to Chauntea, for it seemed that both my animal and I were doomed.

Then it seemed that Great Mother Chauntea granted us both a miracle, for when I looked up I saw a pair of human figures mounted in a small, flat-bottomed boat, poling down the shallows nearby. As one of the humans pulled me to safety, the second leaped into the water and laid his hands on my pony's head. To my surprise, the pony grew calm, and allowed the humans to free it from the mud, and lead it to solid ground.

As we watched the gasping horse, now black with mud, make its way onto the causeway, one man grinned at me and said, in heavily accented common, "A good day for a mud bath, eh, master halfling?" It was my first introduction to the humans I was soon to call my friends, the Marsh Drovers.

An Aside To My Readers

Before progressing further, let me explain that I am, by inclination, an organized person. My experiences in the Cormyrean Marshes, however, were less so. To satisfy my need for personal order, I have arranged my essays about places and monsters in alphabetic form. In this way, I hope that scholars and researchers will benefit from a ready ease of reference.

However, I did not encounter the folk and creatures that people my narrative in so orderly a fashion. Thus, I have been forced to discuss events out of their chronological order, and this may be confusing to some. I might have cause to describe my rescue from bandits when, in the section before, I had not even been at risk. When first I bring up the names of informants and companions, I endeavor to give a thumbnail sketch of introduction, but the accompanying event might not be when I first made their acquaintance. Let me assure the reader that all is explained in its proper place, and this humble cleric will ever be grateful for your sufferance.

Part One: The Cormyrean Marshes

The popular view of swamps and marshes is not a positive one. The average citizen of Cormyr sees the wetlands that surround his land as dark, forbidding places, where evil festers and foul creatures lurk in murky water to devour the unwary. Black, twisted trees and vines stand guard over brackish stagnant ponds, insects swarm through the air spreading foul diseases, and everywhere is the stench of rotting plants.

While this image is largely true of the deadly Vast Swamp (see the following entry), it is an incomplete and misleading portrayal of the marshes west of Cormyr - the Tun and Farsea.

A marsh is a living, growing place richly endowed with both animal and plant species. Rivers typically flow through, or originate in, marshlands, which act as natural filters, retaining poisons, sediments, and other substances, keeping rivers clean and healthy. As per your request to describe the biologies of the major Cormyrean marshes, I will begin by listing the general features of each in turn.

The Farsea Marshes

Thus my first "adventure" was in the Farsea Marshes, home of the friendly and colorful Marsh Drovers. When I arrived in late spring, the Farsea was a rich, green expanse, full of bogs, shallow ponds, stands of swamp-growing trees, and occasional islands and causeways of solid earth. It is on these islands and in floating villages built on wood stilts or platforms that the Drovers make their homes.

The Farsea Marshes nestle at the foot of the Storm Horns, and abut the High Moor nearby. To the north lie the Goblin Marches, home to various humanoid groups that occasionally strike south, raiding Marsh Drover settlements or the Storm Horn trade routes.

The Tun River originates in the Farsea Marshes. Flowing south, the Tun carves a broad valley between the peaks of the Storm Horns and the Far Hills. The Tun valley is damp and inhospitable, its soil far too soft and marshy for much farming, and regularly flooded by the Tun.

Eagle Peak, a fortified trade-city inhabited by tough mountain-dwellers, is the only settlement of any size near the marshes, and its inhabitants rarely venture down into the valley. The Tun's flood plain is left to humanoids and the few humans hardy (or foolish) enough to live there. The latter are mostly peat cutters and farmers who till the occasional small plots of dry land. Trading caravans out of Cormyr pass through the foothills of the Storm Horns, but most of the region is relatively inaccessible. And then there is the humanoid problem, of course.


Weather and Seasons

The seasons pass quite strikingly in the marshes. Spring brings rains and melt-off in the Storm Horns. The region floods, often submerging the few dry islands, swamping Drover villages, toppling ancient trees, and completely changing the course of the River Tun. Summer grows hot, as hordes of insects fill the air, animals mature to adulthood, and the river and ponds grow smaller and shallower. Often, large sections of the marsh are rendered dry and as hard as stone by late summer. Fall brings more rains, and frenetic activity as both humans and animals prepare for winter.

Temperatures drop below freezing for weeks at a time in the winter. Ice covers ponds, and the river flows but sluggishly. Snow is a rarity at lower elevations, although the portions of the marsh that border on the Storm Horns are sometimes buried under up to a foot of snow, and fierce storms sometimes howl down from the mountains. Animals and humans alike suffer during the winter, and all look forward to the rains and melt-off of spring, despite the occasional disasters they bring.

The floods also sometimes uncover evidence of the ancient kingdom that is said to have flourished here centuries ago - ruined buildings, roads, or even treasures. Several extensive ruins exist in the swamp, and often yield valuable treasures. One unfortunate side effect of the ancient kingdom's presence is the occasional appearance (or, in many cases "eruption") of undead creatures released from imprisonment deep beneath the marsh. Most of these are undead of the mindless sort - skeletons or zombies - but others are self-willed and very dangerous. The Marsh Drovers tell many frightening stories of these unnatural things, and I myself was unfortunate enough to actually witness several of their predations.

Climatic Averages for the Farsea Marshes

Spring70 ° F.
Summer80 ° F.
Autumn60 ° F.
Winter45 ° F.
Low Temperature (year)30 ° F.
High Temperature (year)90 ° F.
Annual Precipitation80 inches
Days with Snow15 days

Plants and Animals

The Farseas themselves are a vast area. Plant species such as cattails, rushes, ferns, and reeds flourish in its shallow waters, while the sturdy gray willow and marsh oak help to form solid islands amid the soft, muddy terrain.

Many animal species live and thrive in the marshes. The region is alive with amphibians such as the red newt, Cormyr salamander, and redeye frog, from which a potent paralytic is extracted by the Marsh Drovers. The songs of the numerous frog species fill the air at sunset, and in many areas can be near-deafening.

The frogs feed on the clouds of flies, gnats, dragonflies, and other species that swarm in huge numbers, especially in spring and summer. Despite my affection for the region and its inhabitants, the presence of massive clouds of stinging flies, gnats, and mosquitoes is one feature I could do without. In addition, many insects carry diseases, for which the region is justifiably infamous. The Drovers avoid the disease problem by making an effective insect repellent from the bark of the gray willow, however, and travelers are advised to obtain large quantities before venturing too deeply into the marsh.

As I will make clear later in this work, the swamp harbors many unusual and dangerous creatures, but travelers should keep in mind that even ordinary beasts demand the respect of the alert traveler. In addition to the large, dangerous, or monstrous creatures that dwell in the swamp (and there are many), the Farsea is full of familiar species. Some of these beasts help to maintain the marshes as a balanced biological community. Squirrel, raccoon, fox, deer, rabbit, and lynx are all found in the Farseas. In addition, a large, predatory subspecies of mountain lion roams the area. This creature is known to the locals as a "panther" although it is totally unrelated to the black tropical leopard. From time to time one may even encounter black bears, and I for one would hesitate to dismiss them as unworthy of attention.

Many bird species make their homes in the Farseas, although the more colorful songbirds seem to prefer the milder climate of the Tun Marshes to the south. Waterfowl like loons and ducks are seen often, and wading birds such as egrets, herons, and avocets are quite common also.

Less familiar creatures inhabit the marsh as well. The catoblepas, whose gaze can kill, is a constant hazard, as are roaming bands of trolls and the rare but deadly darktentacles. Orcs and their allies have been known to raid into the swamp from their homes in the Goblin Marches, but these raids frequently end in disaster for the attackers, who wind up lost in the swamp and cut to pieces by its inhabitants. The deadliest hazards in the swamp include hydrae - several are said to make the Farsea their home.and large tribes of bullywugs, or frog-men.

During my time in the Farsea Marshes, I came to see the land as a vast web of interrelated plants, animals, and climate. Far from being repulsed by the inhospitable region, and despite its occasionally unpleasant features, I came to love the land, and see that it needed protection and shepherding every bit as much as the plains and forests of Faerû;n.

The Marsh of Tun

To the south, in the center of the Tun River Valley, lies the Marsh of Tun. Similar in many ways to the Farsea, the Tun is also inhabited by a rich panoply of living things.


Weather and Seasons

Tun's climate is somewhat milder due to its lower elevation. Autumn and winter are virtually indistinguishable, with cold, drenching rains and high winds. The rain continues into the spring with decreasing intensity, as grasses sprout, flowers bloom, and trees grow green with foliage. Summer is muggy, humid, and unpleasant, with many disease-bearing insects swarming through the air.

Climatic Averages for the Tun Marshes

Spring65 ° F.
Summer75 ° F.
Autumn60 ° F.
Winter45 ° F.
Low Temperature (year)30 ° F.
High Temperature (year)85 ° F.
Annual Precipitation85 inches
Days with Snow5 days

Plants and Animals

Most of the plant and animal species of the Farseas are also found in Tun; in addition, many colorful species of songbirds nest in the rushes and trees of this southerly marsh, drawn by the preferable weather conditions. These include redwing blackbirds, which fill the air with their cheerful cries, meadowlarks, goldfinches, and swallows.

The place of the Farsea's bullywugs has been taken in the Tun Marshes by the lizard men. These tribal creatures are insular, but rarely openly hostile. From time to time, the lizard men clash with the Tun Bandits, but for the most part the two groups leave each other alone. Trolls, catoblepas, and basilisks make the Tun hazardous, but the greatest danger in the swamp arises from its human inhabitants. The Tun Bandits are a lawless, violent band of outlaws, totally unlike the peaceful Marsh Drovers. The bandits are united under the leadership of the self-styled "King of the Marshes," Thaalim Torchtower. This so-called "bandit kingdom" has become a serious danger to the Cormyrean caravans who traverse the Storm Horns. If their rumored alliance with Skurge proves to be a reality, Torchtower may yet prove to be a major threat to King Azoun IV's authority.

As will be seen later in this narrative, my experience with the Tun Bandits was not a good one, but I feel every bit as strongly about the Tun Marshes as I do about the Farsea - they are important, living places, completely unlike the dark, forbidding image most outsiders hold. Regrettably, there is one swampland in Cormyr that conforms in every way to the grim popular image of marshes, and it is my painful duty to describe it here.

Dangerous species include several carnivorous plants, relatively uncommon in the Farsea, as well as a powerful black dragon known as Skurge. She is old, sleeps much of the time, and rarely raids in her own territory. Her predations have taken her as far away as western Cormyr, and to the human villages near Proskur. No expedition has ever been mounted to slay Skurge, since her home region is so inaccessible. In addition, Skurge has a sort of mutual defense agreement with the Tun Bandits, making a foray against her that much more dangerous.

The Vast Swamp

As I have said, many of the popular conceptions of swamps. as dismal places of great danger and quick death - are borne out in the haunted depths of this foul region. A large, relatively shallow marsh, the Vast Swamp feeds the wide, sluggish Darkflow River.

Unlike the other two swamps, the Vast is thoroughly polluted by its inhabitants, and by generations of evil magic, serving only a minimal function in cleaning and filtering the Darkflow. As its name implies, the Darkflow's water is black with sediment, foul, and badsmelling, and harbors numerous dangerous creatures. In area, the Vast is almost as large as the Farsea and Tun Marshes combined. One of its few positive functions is that of safeguarding Cormyr's eastern border, for no army could possibly pass nearby unscathed.


Weather and Seasons

The Vast Swamp's climate is harsh and unnatural. A sticky mist hangs in the air constantly - hot in summer and cold in winter, clinging to the black branches of trees, gathering in hollows and depressions, flowing like a living thing.

Rain falls regularly, drenching the ground, swelling the Darkflow, and flooding the region. These rains have no real season.they seem to fall when most uncomfortable and inconvenient. Seasons vary primarily by temperature, stiflingly hot in summer and autumn, bone-chillingly cold in the winter and spring. With the constant discomfort of the rains and the fog, the Vast Swamp is a miserable and dangerous place no matter what the season.

Climatic Averages for the Vast Swamp

Spring55 ° F.
Summer70 ° F.
Autumn60 ° F.
Winter50 ° F.
Low Temperature (year)40 ° F.
High Temperature (year)90 ° F.
Annual Precipitation70 inches
Days with SnowNone

Plants and Animals

Plant species include the common marsh-reed and cattail, as well as swamp grass and several rare species of water lily, some of which provide components for spells, and magical or healing potions. Trees include willows, gall oak, and a number of dangerous carnivorous species, such as thornslinger and black willow. All of these plants seem somehow twisted and dark, often diseased, hung with trailing moss and embraced by the region's pervasive mists. Many claim that the swamp was once the site of wicked magics or the worship of forbidden gods, but this has never been proven. Just the same, no better hypothesis has been advanced to explain the festering evil of the Vast Swamp.

Likewise, the Vast Swamp's mundane animal species are all of unnatural mien and appearance. Black squirrels and other rodents scurry along the branches of trees, or fight for possession of the few bits of solid ground. Poisonous snakes are a constant danger, as are the lynx and swamp panther, which hunt here without apparent fear of man. Even normally shy species such as raccoon, fox, and otter behave in an aggressive manner in the Vast, sometimes attacking humans with deadly ferocity. Many of these animals are diseased, carrying such dreaded ailments as rabies and swamp fever.

Not surprisingly, the other inhabitants of the Vast Swamp are truly terrifying. My few journeys to the swamp (to further the Naturalists. Guild's understanding of its biology, and to see if the swamp contained any potential converts) were always exercises in caution and fear, interrupted by moments of stark horror.

Tribes of lizard men, hobgoblins, gnolls, orcs, goblins, and trolls inhabit the swamp, warring continuously upon each other and, from time to time, upon the outside world. At least two young black dragons (the get of Skurge, dragon of Tun) inhabit the swamp, along with even more evil creatures such as beholders, undead, and even illithids. As might be expected, my visits to the swamp yielded few new Chauntea-worshippers. I cannot subscribe to the common belief that swamps are evil, undesirable places. Nevertheless, honesty demands an accurate recounting of my words here, and I am forced to remind would-be travelers to beware of a terrible evil that does indeed fester deep within Cormyr's Vast Swamp... an evil that may, in time, spread to taint all its surrounding lands.

Elminster's Ecologies