Journey back 5,000 years into Faerun's past and visit the archwizards of Netheril. View their fantastic floating cities, enclaves of magic that shook the ground far below. Travel to a time when magic was raw and powerful, when spellcasters stood supreme in the eyes of their nation. Meet Karsus, an archwizard so powerful he wielded magic that made him a god...
This new campaign expansion details everything a Dungeon Master needs to establish an exciting campaign in the magic-rich kingdom of Netheril. Inside you'll find:
- The Winds of Netheril: This 128-page reference book contains the long-awaited most mysterious kingdoms. It provides new rules for spellcasters during the reign of Netheril and the rules for time-traveling within the Realms. An encompassing almanac details the floating cities and groundling cities of lost Netheril during the different ages of the nation.
In addtion, this book explores the floating city of Karsus, noting key landmarks in the most important enclave of Netheril. Many of Metheril's most prominent personages are likewise detailed. The book concludes with Monstrous Compendium entries for the phaerimm, sharn and tomb tapper.
- Encyclopedia Arcana: This 32-page book describes many of the magical items and spells of Netheril. Also included are spells lists specialized for use within a Netheril campaign.
- Two Poster Maps: Full-color poster maps show the lands of Netheril during the height of its power and at the time of its fall. The back of one of the mapsheets contains a detailed look at the enclave of Karsus.
Netheril: Empire of Magic (1997), by Dale "Slade" Henson with Jim Butler, kicks off the Arcane Age for the Forgotten Realms. It was published in October 1996.
Origins (I): Arcane Origins. Ed Greenwood discovered the ancient arcane empire of Netheril — with its magical flying cities and its underclass working on the ground — in 1971, making it a part of the Forgotten Realms from very early on. Greenwood used it for "explaining the origins of 'fantastic magic you come across that's bafflingly unfamiliar to most PC and NPC wizards you know or meet,' and reinforcing the idea that humans aren't rising from savagery to greatness in a smooth, unbroken line". In other words, there were past Golden Ages.
Greenwood often mentioned Netheril in his early Dragon magazine articles, but those references were always cut before publication because they were "considered too long a digression". The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987) ended up being the first print publication to actually allude to the ancient empire. In the next decade, Netheril would be frequently mentioned in Realms supplements, to the point that Realms continuity guru Julia Martin once told Greenwood "to stop 'explaining magic away by citing Netheril'". But Netheril had always been a distant part of the Realms' backstory, not something relevant to the modern day.
Origins (II): Arcane Novels. Netheril became something more in May 1996 when TSR began publishing the Netheril Trilogy (1996-1998) of novels with Sword Play (1996) by Clayton Emery. The idea of a novel set in the distant past was a first for the Forgotten Realms — though not for D&D novels generally. The Dragonlance fiction line had long ago broached this possibility. The Dragonlance Legends trilogy (1986), where some of the Companions traveled back to the past, probably paved the way, but The Legend of Huma (1988) was a pure historical. All four of those books were quite well-received, so it was obvious there was interest in the fantastic history of D&D's worlds.
Origins (III): Arcane Age. The Netheril novels also had an interesting bit of branding. A graphic between the Forgotten Realms logo and the book title said "Arcane Age". It suggested that the novels were part of something more.
The associated roleplaying shoe dropped with Netheril: Empire of Magic, a major sourcebook describing the Arcane Age of Netheril. Like the Maztica Campaign Set (1991) some years earlier, Netheril: Empire of Magic marked the beginning of a roleplaying subline. However, the idea of a subline set in a different time period was all but unprecedented.
TSR had but one forerunner for the Arcane Age series: the short-lived Blackmoor line (1986-1987) for Basic D&D, which was set in the past of the Known World. But, that always felt like a matter of convenience: a way to squoosh Dave Arneson's Blackmoor into a different setting. The Arcane Age was something very different: a way to explore the history of an extant campaign world.
Origins (IV): Arcane Outline. So, how much of Ed Greenwood's original background for Netheril ended up in TSR's brand-new Arcane Age line? As it turns out, not much.
Greenwood did write up a seven-page outline for TSR in advance of Netheril. He also wrote a Netherese glossary (which may or may not have been included in that outline). Impiltur expert George Krashos, who's seen the outline, says "Slade did use some of it, ignored much of it, placed significant and product-defining emphasis on very small parts of it". And the glossary? That simply "wasn't used at the time".
Origins (V): Arcane Line. While TSR was working on Netheril, they'd already lined up one more book for the Arcane Age line, an adventure called "How the Mighty Are Fallen" (1996). "Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves" (1998) and "The Fall of Myth Drannor" (1998) were both planned to continue the series in 1997, but would be delayed due to the fall of TSR. When they appeared a year later, they would mark the end of the line. Whether the Arcane Age would have survived longer in other circumstances is unknown.
Name Games. Netheril was founded on the fishing villages of "Fenwick, Gers, Gilan, Gustaf, Moran, Nauseef, and Janick". These names are references to the Ian Gillan Band (1975-1978): guitarist Ray Fenwick, guitarist Janick Gers, vocalist Ian Gillan, bass guitarist John Gustafson, keyboard player Mike Moran, percussionist Mark Nauseef, and (once more) guitarist Janick Gers.
Expanding D&D. Netheril provides rules for time travel (including a 9th level spell and time gates) and has some notes on the races of the past. However, its biggest rules expansions unsurprisingly involve magic.
This includes a new arcanist class and several specialty priests, as well as a wholesale renaming of spells to reflect their creation by specific individuals in Netheril. However the biggest addition is a spell point system. Arcanist have "arcs" and "weave depth" attributes and priests have "wind" and "wind depth" attributes; they describe the total number of levels of spells and the highest level spell that casters can cast each day. In other words, no memorization is needed; Vancian spell casting was gone for the first time in D&D's (official) history.
Levels have also been juiced up. The pure spell casters can go all the way up to level 45(!), while spell levels run up to 12.
Exploring the Realms. The Arcane Age is 3520 NY which is said to be 5,000 years before the current-day of the Forgotten Realms, in 1370 DR. According to more recent sources, however, 3520 NY is equivalent to —339 DR, which puts it about 1700 years earlier.
The Concordance in this box covers the entire Netheril Empire, with particular attention to the Karsus Enclave. In modern times Netheril is the Anauroch Desert. In fact, the maps in Netheril: Empire of Magic are a perfect match for the maps in FR13: "Anauroch" (1991). If you lay them side by side, you can see how the same features have changed from the Arcane Age to the modern day.
About the Creators. Slade did work for TSR throughout the early '90s. His work on the Arcane Age followed his development of The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier (1996). His Realms work would continue with "How the Mighty Are Fallen" (1996) for the Arcane Age.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.