Elminster's Ecologies - Explorer's Manual

Design: Rick Swan, Monte Cook, Eric Haddock, Anthony Pryor
Editing: James Butler and Karen S. Boomgarden
Typography: Nancy J. Kerkstra
Production: Paul Hanchette and Dave Conant
Copyright © 1994 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Introductory Remarks

Now that bottle ought to hold thee for a time. Now, settle down! Don't get they antennae in an uproar - and do stop screeching at me.

Uh, excuse me? Elminster?

Huh? Oh, sorry. I didn't see thee. Elminster, aye, that's me. Well, don't stand there gawking. Come in, come in. Just don't get too close to this table. And stand clear of the bottle.

Why? It's only a cockroach.

A cockroach? A cockroach? Not hardly. Looks like thou arrived just in time.

You know why I've come?

Do I know why thou've come? Listen, youngster. I know why a snappersaw turns green in a rainstorm. I know the names of the meanest dog in Shadowdale and the last 20 people she bit. Of course I know why thou've come.

You read my mind! Your magic is strong!

That it is. But, er, actually thy mother told me thou were coming. I ran into her last week when I was buying eggs at Bestil's farm. She told me her oldest child was itching to see the world. She says thou know the ways of people.at least enough to get by - but thou art somewhat ignorant of the ways of the wilderness.

Now take my great-nephew. Very brave, but a little empty in the attic, if thou gets my drift. If he had come to me before he tried to net that thing in the jar over there... well, that's another story for another time. What's wrong, child? Are thou deaf? I said come in! Take a seat and make thyself comfortable. Move those books off the bench.

That gray book's on fire!

What gray book? Oh, that gray book. It always smokes a little. Just pick it up - carefully! - and set it by those herb barrels.

There thou go. Now, where were we? Ah, yes. A restless youth, eager to make thy mark. I know the type. Thou has heard stories about the Thunder Peaks and the Farsea Marshes, but thou wants to see for thyself if the stories are true. Mind if I ask of thine intentions? Once I get thee educated, what are thy plans? Explorer? Tracker? Trader?

I haven't made up my mind.

Treasure hunter?

Could we proceed?

Hmph. I see thou could use some manners, too. But don't count on Elminster to teach thee everything. Where were we? Ah, yes. Thy mother tells me thou are a hard worker and as sharp as a slaad's tooth. She says thou art good with a sword. Thou can read a map and hast mastered a language or two. And thou hast sense enough not to shake hands with a revenant. But if thou plan'st to go tromping through the wilderness and expect to get home in one piece, thou need'st to know thine animals. And I've got some books around here - someplace - that'll teach thee all about the natural order.

The natural order?

There's a reason why corn doesn't grow in the Great Glacier, and why polar bears don't live in the Desertsmouth Mountains. The world is designed so that every organism has its own place and its own role. A balance exists between all living things and their surroundings. Put simply, everything affects everything else.

Is that important to know?

It is if thou want to live to have grandchildren. Come over here - careful of the bottle! - and take a peek out the window.

See the old man pushing the wheelbarrow? The one with his arm in a sling? That's Fletcher Bockmann, a good wheat farmer, but a poor student of nature. A giant raven mauled him, nearly ripped his arm from its socket. Ravens are docile for the most part, but Fletcher didn't know they get grumpy this time of the year when they're looking for girlfriends.

Does that answer thy question?

Give me the books.

Keep thy trousers on. Thou remindest me of the ranger who thought he could make friends with a hydra because he was sure a couple of the heads would like him. They liked him, all right. They liked his arms, legs, toes... So sit still and listen. The books won't be of much use if thou knowest not what thou read'st. And I haven't the time or the patience to explain every line.


That's better. First of all, there are nine books. I wrote only the first, which accounts for the variation in styles and approaches. The authors, however, are experts, as each has studied a particular region in depth. Since all of them are friends and colleagues, I can vouch for the accuracy of their information. But be forewarned that personal prejudices may sometimes color the facts. Bryn Ohme, for instance, the gentleman responsible for the book on the settled lands, thinks the world revolves around farming. As a result, Bryn looks at the natural order from an agriculturalist's point of view, and his work reflects his bias. Note, too, that the authors acquired their information from many sources, including direct observation, local legends, ranger reports, and bits of gossip. For this reason, contradictions may exist between authors. versions of an identical phenomenon. Where such contradictions occur, assume the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Ultimately, thine own experiences will verify or disprove the authors' conclusions. While I had neither the time nor the inclination to rewrite my coauthors' efforts, I insisted that each follow the same format for the convenience of the reader. They complied, for the most part. So, with the exception of this book - which I'll discuss in a moment - the volumes comprise these sections.

Each opens with an autobiographical note, explaining the author's background and credentials, and what prompted him or her to write about that particular area. I encouraged them to say whatever they wanted here, within reason. The only one who gave me any trouble was Lyra Sunrose. She included a lot of flowery reminiscences about an - er - alleged relationship with me. I cut out most of that claptrap to spare her embarrassment.

Next comes an overview of the area, a general discussion of the geography and the climate, and a look at points of interest.

Following the overview is a look at the area's common flora and fauna - trees, flowers, birds, and beasts. Of course, even though they're common, they can still be nasty. One bumblebee might not be too troublesome, but I'd hate to run into a hundred.

The next section I consider the most critical. This concerns monsters, the magical ones, the brutish ones, the ones thou want not to mess with. Thou will learn their activity patterns: when they migrate, when they hibernate, when they're in the mood to snack on strangers. Thou will learn how they interact with other creatures in the region, who they terrorize and who they fear, who they eat and who eats them. Why do they live where they do? Are they territorial? How do they behave during mating season? What do they think of humans? In short, thou will learn what makes these creatures important to the region's natural order, and what thou need to do to get along with them.

Of course, not every entry will address all these questions. Some information isn't especially important, some simply isn't known. And the books don't discuss every single monster in the region. There wasn't enough room for all of them, so I told the authors to pick and choose, concentrating on the most important, most unusual, most dangerous.

Finally, each book ends with a few rumors about the area. Most are from reliable sources, some are educated guesses, the rest may be just good stories. Are they all true? Are any of them true? Who's to say? Find thou the answers, and let me know. So there it is. I'll fetch the proper books if thou tell'st me where thou want to go.


Everywhere? I don't have a book for that. Ever seen an amphisbaena? It's a serpent with two heads, one on each end. If one head wants to crawl into a cornfield and hunt mice, and the other wants to crawl up an oak tree to chew on sparrows, know thou what happens? It goes nowhere. It just writhes on the ground and ties itself into a knot.

Suppose we try this. I'll tell thee the regions covered in each book, and maybe that.ll aid thee in making up thy mind. Now pay attention.

Book One: An Investigation into the Natural Systems of Organisms and Their Surroundings. That's mine. I'm not quite finished yet - perfection takes time, know thou that! - but when it's done it will be the definitive treatise on the science of natural order. The information I've gathered applies to the entire world, not just a particular region.

Book Two: Cormanthor. Cormanthor, also known as the elven woods, was perhaps the mightiest elven kingdom of all time. The book isn't concerned with the elves, but rather the forest itself and the wildlife that lives there, some of it mighty wild indeed. This is probably the most complex natural system discussed in the books, as it comprises not only the forests (several of them, in fact), but also the ruins of Myth Drannor. The magic of Myth Drannor has had powerful effects on the elven woods, some good, most bad.

Book Three: Anauroch. Anauroch, the Great Desert, is dry, desolate, and deadly. A steppeland where water is more precious than diamonds, a cool day as rare as an educated orc.

Book Four: The Thunder Peaks and the Storm Horns. These are two of the world's most formidable mountain ranges. Nearly impenetrable, home to vultures, desperadoes, and dragons. The weather here is nearly as treacherous as the peaks themselves, with pounding windstorms strong enough to level the tallest trees and blizzards that can dump ten feet of snow in an hour's time.

Book Five: The Cormyrean Marshes. Marshlands and swamps of staggering size, a haven for snakes, a nightmare for men. Hot, humid, and miserable.

Book Six: The Stonelands and the Goblin Marches. A pair of desolate plains, the first a dried-out dust bowl, the second a boulder-strewn wasteland. Both are crawling with monsters.

Book Seven: The Sea of Fallen Stars. A coastal locale, rife with creatures of the land and water.

Book Eight: The Great Gray Land of Thar. Hast thou a heavy coat? This is a bitterly cold steppeland where the temperatures sink low enough to freeze thine eyeballs.

Book Nine: The Settled Lands. This covers the farmlands of Cormyr, Sembia, and the Dalelands, where humans attempt to live in harmony with the natives. In this instance, the native include a wide variety of animals and monsters, some of them less than ecstatic about having humans for neighbors. That's it. So, tell me - where dost thou want to go?

I'm not sure...

Still not sure? I think thou've some amphisbaena blood in thee, my friend.

Here's an idea. Take the whole stack. Begin with my book, An Investigation into the Natural Systems of Organisms and Their Surroundings. In it, thou will find concepts that apply to all regions discussed in the subsequent volumes. It will give thee a foundation for understanding what the other authors have to say. I've marked the relevant passages.

After thou have finished, go on to any of the other books that strike thy fancy. Thou need not read them in order. Thou need not read them all. Concentrate on whatever looks interesting. How does that sound?

Great. I'll do it. But may I ask a question first?

Of course.

What about the cockroach?

The cockroach? I told thee, that's no cockroach! Come over here. Take thou a good look. Does that look like a cockroach's head?

It looks like a skull.

That, my friend, is a lichling, one of the world's most loathsome creatures. It has the body of an insect, the head of a human skull, and the disposition of a rattlesnake. Hear it hissing? If thou ever see one of these in thy kitchen, pack thy bags.

This particular specimen was crawling around the Flour Pot, one of Shadowdale's finest bakeries. My nephew, who fancies himself a great collector, tried to catch it with a net. It went straight for his throat. By the time I arrived, it had nearly separated his head from his neck. I'm planning to study it for a time, then send it on a one-way trip down Mount Bandalin.

The volcano?

Thou knowest thy geography, at least.

How did a lichling get into a bakery?

Keep reading. Thou will find out.

Excerpts from
An Investigation into the Natural Systems of Organisms and Their Surroundings

by Elminster of Shadowdale


The world is vast and varied, comprising towering mountains, dense jungles, and sprawling seas. There are regions so cold that their snow never melts, others so hot that their rain turns to steam as it touches the ground.

It is this variety of environments that accounts for the variety of life. In my travels I have noted 73 distinct types of pine trees, from the blue snowwood of the Great Glacier to the locust needle of the Pirate Isles. I estimate the number of fishes at well over five thousand. The number of insect species likely exceeds the number of grains of sand on the shores of Dragon Reach.

Every environment, no matter how hostile to humankind, is compatible with some form of life. The diversity and adaptability of organisms are staggering...

Consumption Chains

Organisms occupying a particular environment can be arranged in a chain according to what they consume. The dragon eats the boar, the boar eats the black snake, the black snake eats the field mouse. Much can be learned about an organism's role in its environment by determining its place in the consumption chain.

In most natural environments, organisms can be assigned to the following hierarchy. The * should be read as 'consume,' as in 'plant eaters consume vegetation'. The 'Major meat eaters' category refers to the area's largest and most vicious carnivores; 'Minor meat eaters' are smaller and less aggressive. The parenthetical entries indicate representative species of a typical jungle environment.

Major meat eaters

Minor meat eaters

Plant eaters


For more precision, meat eaters can be subdivided into major (couatl), intermediate (carnivorous ape), and minor (weasel) categories. Further subdivisions are possible.

This consumption chain model can help determine which species dominate their environment. Generally, the higher an organism on the chain, the more freedom of movement it enjoys, and the more of a threat it poses to the organisms below it. In this example, the couatl dominates the weasel, the chipmunk fears the meat eaters above it.

Some organisms may not fit neatly into this model. Technically, an omnivore belongs to both the meat-eating and plant-eating categories. Special abilities - such as magical powers - and high intelligence can effectively move an organism into a higher category. It could be argued, for instance, that humans dominate any environment they inhabit. Still, when trying to understand how a creature fares in relation to its neighbors, this model can be a useful tool.

A second type of consumption chain ranks organisms by quantity. The > symbol should be read as "is greater than," as in "the number of plants is greater than the number of animals."

Number of plants
(wild flowers, grass)
Number of herbivores
(deer, baboons)
Number of omnivores
(opossums, giant slugs)
Number of carnivores
(tigers, crocodiles)

The model helps us assess the general size of populations. The higher an organism is on the chain, the more of its kind there will be. Vegetation essentially supports the entire food chain; if too few plants are available, eventually the herbivores will die out, leaving the omnivores and carnivores nothing to eat. Most natural systems, then, contain more plants than herbivores, more herbivores than omnivores, and more omnivores than carnivores. A traveler investigating a region that supports only a handful of herbivorous species can expect to encounter even fewer omnivorous species. Conversely, if a large variety of carnivores are present, the traveler can expect to find a greater number of omnivores.

Two cases merit special attention: the matter eater (such as the galeb duhr, which eats only rocks) and the energy eater (like the eyewing, which presumably subsists on magical energy). On a consumption chain, matter and energy eaters have about the same status as plants. Just as an oak tree absorbs minerals from the ground, so does a galeb duhr feast on the stones of the earth. As a daisy is nourished by the sunlight, an eyewing draws sustenance from the energy around it.

But unlike plants, the galeb duhr and the eyewing are rarely eaten by other creatures. The availability of rocks and energy, not the presence of predators, regulates their populations. An environment where all matter emanates magic - rumored in certain alternate planes of existence - could theoretically sustain an infinite number of eyewings. A frightening thought, indeed...

Population Control

In addition to consumption chains, nature has a variety of other methods for regulating populations. Some examples follow.


Many organisms, plants in particular, have developed ways to inhibit the growth of their own offspring. The mature retch plant produces pepperlike dust on its leaves, which washes off into the surrounding soil. The dust poisons most retch seedlings in the area, reducing competition for nutrients and water.


In general, two species depending on an identical food source cannot inhabit the same environment indefinitely. Eventually, one species comes to dominate, usually by sheer number, and forces the other to vacate or become extinct. Occasionally, the less populous species will adapt by changing its diet. Thousands of years ago, a species of umber hulks and a strain of fire toads competed for ankheg larvae in the caverns beneath Giantspire Mountains. As the umber hulk population swelled, consuming virtually all the larvae, the fire toads adapted by learning to eat beetles and other insects. No longer competitors, both species continue to thrive in the area.

Seasonal Cycles

Climate changes regulate certain populations on a cyclical basis. Springtime in the Duskwood produces an abundance of ash wheat, which results in a population explosion of badger mice (rodents the size of small badgers). The increased number of badger mice gives puff adders more to eat. By the end of summer the following year, the puff adder population peaks, increasing competition for the badger mice. A harsh winter invariably takes its toll on the puff adders, and the population shrinks. When spring arrives, the ash wheat grows, the badger mouse population swells, and the adders begin to multiply.

Rules of the Rabbit

Years ago, I undertook an expedition into the forests near Myth Drannor. I had not seen a human face - or a face remotely human - in several weeks and longed for company. As a youth, I had raised rabbits as pets and knew them to be amiable, if somewhat dispassionate, companions. Throughout the day, I had noticed dozens of red-furred rabbits frolicking in the underbrush. I decided to befriend one.

I spotted a suitable specimen, a handsome buck with a powder puff tail and bright green eyes. I extended my hand, palm open, so as not to frighten him. To my surprise, he cawed like a crow, stood erect, then bounded away on his hind legs.

That night, I pondered my experience with this unusual hare. I concluded that my failure to make contact was entirely my own fault, the result of false assumptions. There and then, I began to formulate what I call the Rules of the Rabbit, general principles applicable to all creatures of the wild, animals and monsters alike. A traveler would do well to remember these principles when encountering creatures outside his homeland.

Rule One

A rabbit isn't always a rabbit. That is, a rabbit from one region doesn't necessarily behave like a rabbit from another, even though they may look alike. I discovered a rabbit in the Hullack Forest that sleeps on its back, its feet straight in the air. A species from Harrowdale can rotate its eyes in opposite directions. I have heard of a rabbit from Brynwood that not only whistles like a canary, but can be taught an impressive repertoire of tunes. A hippogriff from the Dragonspine Mountains may be docile, even passive, while his cousin from Ring's Reach may be quick to take offense. It is often impossible to make these distinctions from casual observations. As in the case of the excitable hippogriff, experience can be a cruel teacher.

The physical form of an animal can also vary dramatically from region to region. The pseudodragon presents a striking example, evidenced by the sketches elsewhere in this chapter. All variants exhibit virtually identical mannerisms and attitudes. They differ only in appearance.

Rule Two

A rabbit doesn't want to be rich. Foolish is the traveler who assumes that all creatures share his motives and emotions. A squirrel may covet a silver bracelet, but only because it admires the sparkling metal, not because it desires wealth or wants to impress its companions. Who would doubt that a crocodile basking in the sun feels pleasure? But it seems unlikely that a crocodile experiences passion or pity. Ah ankheg cannot be stirred to sentiment. A gelatinous cube will not respond to flattery.

Observing, experimenting, and perusing scholarly texts are valid ways to learn the nuances of animal behavior. But wondering how a man would act in a similar situation is rarely the best approach.

Rule Three

A rabbit doesn't always stay put. Though I've never actually seen a rabbit at the beach, it wouldn't surprise me if I did. Though most animals are associated with specific habitats, they can turn up virtually anywhere. Colleagues have told me of gibberlings that live in crude houseboats on the Lake of Dragons, and I have it on good authority that a rare species of couatl nests in the mountains of Anauroch.

Some use the phrase wandering monsters to describe creatures encountered in unusual locales or those who have strayed from their lairs for no apparent purpose. The reasons for this wanderlust, however, are many and diverse. A roving gorgon may be attempting to expand its territory. An urge to explore may motivate a curious bullywug. Male leucrotta have been known to journey hundreds of miles to locate a suitable mate. In any case, travelers are advised to approach all such wandering monsters with caution; whatever their purpose, these creatures may not take kindly to human interference.

Elminster's Ecologies