Organizations of Faerûn


The Zhentarim, also known as the Black Network, is an evil organization intent on dominating the land from the Moonsea to the Sword Coast North. Originally a secret society, for years the Zhents have operated openly in the Moonsea area, particularly around their greatest base of operations, Zhentil Keep. People who live near Zhentarim strongholds grow used to caravans with its symbol but live in fear that someday they will see armies marching under that banner.

While many of the Zhentarim are nothing more than opportunistic merchants, some resort to illegal acts such as attacking rival caravans, extorting villages for food, or more serious crimes such as arson and murder. The Zhentarim hire bandits to attack other caravans and towns, or have wizards conjure up or enrage monsters. Recently they have begun sending older members to frontier nations such as the Silver Marches, where they buy land and become peaceable homesteaders with families, biding their time until they are needed.

The agents of the Zhentarim are well equipped with both mundane and minor magic items. Masterwork items are common, and non-spellcasters usually have at least a potion of some sort. Spell-casters in good standing with the Black Network gain a scroll of two spells of any spell level they can cast every time they gain a spellcaster level (most wizards immediately add these spells to their spellbook).

Fear of this cabal has spread from the Moonsea lands across the Heartlands to the Sword Coast, where everybody "knows" the Black Network is a sinister, murderous organization of spies, informants, armies, and flying-monster-riding wizards engaged in all sorts of secret and terrible activities.

Folk who live in the Dragon Reach lands know rather more about the Zhentarim. They can tell you that it rose to open rule and power in Zhentil Keep, seized control of the Citadel of the Raven from the other Moonsea cities that shared it, conquered Tessendale, Voonlar, and Yûlash, and plotted the conquest of Shadowdale, Daggerdale, and Mistledale. The Zhents have entire armies hidden away in the Citadel and a sinister fortress, Darkhold, somewhere in the Western Heartlands. Zhent gold and sorcery govern affairs west across Anauroch (until the arrival of the shades, anyway) to the vales of the Gray Peaks, east to the walls of Mulmaster, north through the Ride and the Cold Lands to the Great Glacier, and south through the weaker Dales.

The Zhents are soldiers (from black-plate-armored veteran warriors to marauding orc mercenaries) commanded by aggressively cruel minor wizards of more ambition than power, who report to truly powerful mages headed by the sly-tongued Lord Manshoon. The Zhentarim seem bent on enriching themselves and controlling towns, villages, and entire realms along a trade route linking the Moonsea with the Sword Coast (specifically the Waterdeep area) via Darkhold. They smuggle slaves, poisons, and contraband.

They have spies everywhere. In their ranks is an evil unholy knight known as the Pereghost and Zhentil Keep's charismatic champion, the lady Scyllua Darkhope. (Scyllua administers the defenses and day-to-day affairs of the keep itself.) Anyone could be a Zhentarim, and some of them seem to want to seize all the magic they find, while others want to rule every town and steading between Shou Lung and Evermeet.

How much of any of this is truth, and how much exaggerated speculation, is the topic of endless conjecture in whispered conversations across half the Heartlands.

Zhentarim Spy: Human Rog2/Sor7; CR 9; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 2(1+4 plus 7d4+14 hp 45, Init +6; Spd 60 ft.; AC 18 (touch 13, flat-footed 16); Atk +4 melee (1d6-1/18-20, master-work rapier) or +7 ranged (1d8/19-20, masterwork light cross bow); SA Sneak attack +1d6; SQ Evasion, familiar; AL LE; SV Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +8; Str 8, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 16.

Skills and Feats: Alchemy +8, Bluff +6, Concentration +9, Diplomacy +8, Disguise +8, Escape Artist +7, Forgery +6, Gather Information 8, Hide +7, Innuendo +5 Intimidate +6, Jump +9, Listen +2, Move Silently +7, Read Lips +7, Scry +8, Spellcraft +8, Spot +4; Brew Potion, Heighten Spell, Improved Initiative, Iron Will, Spell Focus (Illusion).

Special Qualities: Familiar (rat) - Int 9, natural armor; +4, improved evasion, share spells, empathic link, touch spells, speak with master, speak with animals of its type, Alertness feat to master (figured in).

Spells Prepared (6/7/7/7; Base DC = 13 + spell level; arcane spell failure 10%): 0-detect magic, ghost sound*, light, mage hand, ray of frost, read magic, resistance; 1st-change self*, charm person, color spray*, shield, silent image*; 2nd-invisibility*, misdirection*, Snilloc's snowball swarm; 3rd-lightning bolt, major image*.

*Because of Spell Focus (Illusion), the base DC for saves against these spells is 17 + spell level.

Possessions: +1 mithral chain shirt, ring of protection +1, cloak of resistance +1, boots of striding and springing, brooch of shielding, arcane scrolls of blur, dispel magic, expeditious retreat, fireball, and levitate, wand of magic missile (3rd level, 27 charges), masterwork rapier, masterwork light crossbow, 20 bolts.

Manshoon and Fzoul

The Black Network was founded almost one hundred years ago by a dark and powerful lord of Zhentil Keep, the wizard Manshoon. Through guile, murder, intrigue, and his ever-increasing magical might, Manshoon created a cabal of like-minded wizards (the so-called Black Cloaks), beholders, wealthy Moonsea merchants, and servants of evil temples whose purposes did not cross his - most notably, the temple of Bane.

While Zhentil Keep was nominally under the rule of a council of lords, the real power in the city was Manshoon, absolute master of the Zhentarim. Through a small number of handpicked lieutenants (chief among them Sememmon, his second) he ran a secret empire of thousands of merchants, mercenaries, spies, and agents. In the years preceding the Time of Troubles, Manshoon cemented an alliance with Fzoul Chembryl, an ambitious cleric of Bane, to strengthen the Zhentarim even further.

In the last twenty years, the reach of the Zhentarim has extended to every corner of Faerûn, forging what amounts to a not-so-secret empire over much of the Moonsea and the North. But the Zhents have also suffered many setbacks, most notably the fall of Bane, internecine strife between Banite faithful and those who turned to Cyric, the destruction of Zhentil Keep in a holy purge, and vicious feuds between Manshoon's Black Cloaks and Fzoul's clerics. The winner in all this turned out to be Fzoul Chembryl, who assumed control over the organization and nearly destroyed Manshoon, driving the archmage into hiding for a time.

At the time of this writing, Fzoul Chembryl is the master of the Black Network, Lord of Zhentil Keep, and the Chosen Tyrant of Bane. Sememmon, Fzoul's longtime rival, has abandoned the fortress of Darkhold and is in hiding, conceding control of the western Zhentarim. Manshoon has recovered from Fzoul's attack and, ironically, returned to the Zhentarim in some kind of secret accommodation with Fzoul. The founder of the organization serves as a member-at-large, a free agent with the power and the authority to direct Zhentarim assets as he sees fit in the pursuit of power and influence across Faerûn.

With the Zhentarim fully under the thumb of Fzoul and the church of Bane, the Black Network is finally starting to see some of its major plans come to fruition. Over time, Fzoul plans to make the Zhentarim an arm of Bane's church in all but name.

Organizations of Faerûn
Lands of Faerûn