History of Phlan

A Discourse on This Area and its Problems
by Jeff Grub

To most inhabitants of the lands of the Inner Sea, the Moonsea and its
cities represent the border between civilization and barbarism. The Moonsea
sits like a great plug straddling the territory between the Mountains of
Vaasa and the Nomad Steppes, protecting the southern territories from the
incursions of savage Northerners. To the south of the Moonsea lie the
civilized lands of Cormyr and Sembia. To the north lay hundreds of square
miles of cold and unforgiving waste. Even when the southern kingdoms are
themselves besieged by orcish hordes, dragons, and fell monsters, they take
comfort in the fact that, “It’s worse around the Moonsea.”

The Moonsea Reaches are defined by sages as being those lands bordering

on the Moonsea and its major contributing rivers. These major rivers are
the Tesh, flowing past the shadowed battlements of Zhentil Keep; the
Wyrmflow, a cold stream flowing from the east; the Duathamper, also called
the Evenflow, beginning deep in the heart of the Elven Court and flowing
north; and the Barren River which flows out of the Dragonspine Mountains
and into Phlan. The River Lis carries the waters from the Moonsea south to
the Inner Sea.

The Moonsea itself is an odd combination of abyssal deep spots,

ship-ripping shoals, and rich fresh-water reefs. Despite this, travel
across the Moonsea is generally safer than making the journey on land, so
that most of the major merchant activity is by water.

This is not to say that the Moonsea is without dangers. While monsters

are more infrequent along the Moonsea, those that exist are generally more
powerful than their landed cousins. Regions of the Moonsea are recorded as
being haunted, and there have been numerous sightings of ghost ships.


Phlan was the first great city of the Moonsea, reaching its peak some
thousand years ago. In those days, the Moonsea was better known as the
Dragon Sea, named for the large numbers of great Wyrms that inhabited that
area and the regions to the north. The Barren River was then called the
Stojanow, a dwarvish word meaning “Trade Route,” for it was down this
passage the ore-laden barges floated, bound for the south. Early Phlan was
a trading outpost on the north shore of the Moonsea, set up to facilitate
trade between the Elves of Myth Drannor (the most powerful elven capital of
the time) and the tribes of Thar, Vaasa, and the Ride, as well as the
Dragonspine Dwarves.

Trade between the powerful elves, the wild humans, and merchant-dwarves

was a great success for all sides. Soon Phlan was the most powerful city on
the Moonsea, outshining its only rival, the Elven Docks of Hillsfar, on the
south coast.

At this time, the elves planted the Quivering Forest north of the city.

This copse was mildly enchanted, hastening the growing season to produce a
great woods in the span of a human generation. Though the woods have been
felled on a number of occasions, it has always returned to its original
form, becoming a light woods within two years, and a deep shadow-filled
forest by the end of a man’s life.

The elves, the legend says, first discovered the Pool of Radiance. Its

description has varied through the passage of the years. Many wise sages
have declared it a myth and a con-man’s gambit. The location of the Pool
changes from tale to tale. Sometimes it is deep in the heart of an eternal
wood, sometimes on an island circled by great wyrms, and sometimes in the
heart of a huge solitary peak that rises above all others in the
Dragonspine Mountains.

It is said that the pool glows with its own energy. Those that approach

it feel new power within their bones, while an unreal melody holds them in
a rapture. Legends say that the Pool’s power created the Quivering Forest
and caused the Sorcerer’s Isle to appear.

The Pool is said to bring great power to the worthy, and death most

horrible to the unworthy. Some tales say that the individual should drink
it, bathe in it, or throw coins into it and wish. There are numerous folk
tales of the wise fool stumbling upon the Pool, and gaining wondrous power
or meeting a gory end. The abilities of the Pool change according to the
needs of the tale-spinner. In any event, a trader or adventurer who
encounters a sudden windfall or great riches is said to have “visited the

Whether the Pool is real or some literary invention, the First City of

Phlan (also called Archaic Phlan) survived in peace for many generations of
men. In the end, outside influences brought about its downfall. Settlers
began to intrude from the lands of Cormyr and Sembia into the south of the
Elven Court. At the same time, the beast-men of Thar, which are today
called ogres, began gathering into large hordes, ravaging the countryside.

Phlan built mighty walls and withstood a decade of constant invasion. In

the end, its fate was sealed by the elves withdrawing within the Court
combined with the dwarves pulling back into western reaches of the
Dragonspine Mountains.

With its trading lifeline cut, Phlan fell into disrepair. When the Black

Horde finally demolished the city walls in the Year of the Tusk, (112
DaleReckoning,) they found little but an empty husk. The greatness that was
Ancient Phlan had passed.


Phlan remained relatively uninhabited for the next 500 years. The city’s
position at the mouth of the Stojanow did make it a useful meeting place
for traders. Twice during this period a pirate community grew on the ruins
of Phlan. The first time they were burned out by a navy sailing from
Mulmaster. The second time a group known as the Red Horde, led by a red
dragon of incredible age, leveled the community. Following this attack,
buccaneers never regained their power in the Moonsea (though small bands
still persist).

With time, the civilizations of man moved further north, the greater

beasts retreated, and many cities were founded on the shores of the
Moonsea. Yet the beasts did not retreat far. Dragons nested in the
Dragonspine Mountains, ogres raided from the Great Grey Land of Thar, and
horrible undead things lingered in the swamps and in the passes through to

Hillsfar retained its elven ties and flourished even as Phlan’s power

was deteriorating, growing from a small town into a large prosperous city.
The foundations of Zhentil Keep and Mulmaster were laid while Phlan lay in
ruins. Small towns such as Melvaunt, Thentia, and Elmwood were started
during this period. The inland city of Yulash, situated atop a great mount
that dominates the southwestern corner of the lake, rose to the zenith of
its power during this time.

In 712 DR, the year of the Moon’s Tears, Milsor the Valjevo, Founder of

the Valjevo Dynasty, journeyed to Phlan to re-establish the city as a
trading outpost. He was aided in his task, by the Wizard Rimon and the
Priestess Alonius of Tyr.

Milsor, Rimon, and Alonius gathered together interested adventurers and

cleansed the city of the evil orcs and goblins that had made it their fair.
They cleared the banks of the Stojanow and drove the arch-lich Zanakar from
the Sorcerer’s Island in the center of Lake Kuto. In return for his
efforts, Rimon was given the Sorcerer’s Island as his home. Alonius, in
turn, was given a wide area in the recovered regions of Phlan as a temple
to Tyr, the god of justice.

By 750 DR the temple complex has been finished. In its day, it was said

to be the largest temple of good in the entire North. The city as well had
recovered, and large numbers of immigrants arrived. Some were natives of
other Moonsea cities seeking to make or expand their fortunes in the new
lands. But others arrived as well, including men of the Dalelands and
Sembians, as well as farmers and lumbermen, intent on making the region
their home.

The newcomers built on the ruins of the old city, often not checking

what had lay beneath their foundations. Some curious souls reported great,
twisting passages leading far beneath the earth. Exploring such areas was
first discouraged. It was later outlawed after a party of adventurers freed
an extremely large beholder. The newcomers, led by Valjevo and his heirs,
closed off the passages choosing to ignore the past and seeking only the
future for their city.

The dalesmen spread up the Stojanow River. They diverted the river’s

flow and turned the rocky terrain into a rich landscape of fields and
orchards. The reach of the farmlands extended from Lake Kuto to the city of
Phlan at the mouth of the river. Some say the land was so rich because of
the proximity of the enchanted Quivering Forest. Others ascribe the bounty
to the wizardries of Rimon. Still others credit the series of dikes and
levees that the farmers, aided by magical spells, used to harness the river

Whatever the cause, the healthy harvests of the Stojanow River Valley

provided Phlan with a solid trading base. For the next 200 years Phlan was
the center of the trade around the Moonsea. Its grains, fruits, and tubers
filled vaults from Mulmaster to Zhentil Keep. It appeared that
civilization, after a false start, had finally made a major foothold in the
lands north of the Moonsea.

Such was not to be the case, for the forces of good and evil ebb and

flow like the shores of the Moonsea itself. In the 195th year of Phlan,
(907 DR), the golden age ended in rust. A plant rust, which affected most
of the farmlands around Phlan, destroyed harvests for the next three years.
Suddenly the Moonsea reaches were in the grips of a powerful famine,
relieved at great cost with shipments from the south. There was great
suffering, and other cities, once so enamored of Phlan’s gentle power, were
resentful that it had failed.

The native Phlanars were resentful as well. Their once good rulers had

fallen into a sloth and ease in the centuries since the reestablishment of
the city. The Valjevo blood was said to run thin in the Princes and
Princesses of Phlan. They reacted to the plague infesting the grain by
first ignoring it, then setting up committees, and finally legislating it
out of existence. Only when the magnitude of the problem became clear, did
they act. Even then they failed their people, overracting to the point of
placing a ban on all shipments out of the city, seeking to keep what
supplies were left for the native population.

The other cities, already angry with Phlan for its rising prices in the

face of the plague, rebelled against this new measure. Fleets from
Mulmaster and Hillsfar began to raid cargos destined for the city.
Smugglers operated out of the Twilight March and Stormy Bay despite
official attempts to enforce the ban on shipments.

A large land force equipped with siege machinery set out from Zhentil

Keep toward Phlan. The force encamped at Stormy Bay while the ruling heads
of Phlan negotiated to spare the city. In the end, the Keeper force was
turned back through a massive payment to their leaders. These leaders were
the first appearance in Phlan record of the Zhentarim, which would increase
in power over the next 300 years.

During this activity, Rimon, now old in the ways that only wizards can

be old, disappeared from his rocky abode. What became of Rimon is unknown,
for the rulers of Phlan had not sought his council for a generation. Some
say he became a lich himself, using the methods discovered by Zanakar.
Others say that he sacrificed himself in battle on a far-distant plane in
order to save the lands of Phlan. Still others state that he had found the
Pool of Radiance and became a great and powerful being in some other part
of the Realms. Most likely Rimon merely fell prey to the effects of old age
as all mortals do. Whatever the cause, Rimon was never seen again in the
Realms, and his citadel became a haunted, abandoned ruin within a decade.

The Famine of the Red Plants passed after three seasons, and an abundant

harvest returned to Phlan. But the harvests were never to be as great as
before, nor the fruit from the orchards as sweet. Whatever magic, true or
imagined, that had reestablished Phlan passed. The city began to become
gray and ordinary, losing power to the Keepers and the men of Mulmaster.
The golden age was over.

The Valjevo Princes, their blood thin indeed, continued for another

century. The century was filled with petty wars between the various
city-states. No longer the leading city of the Moonsea, Phlan battled with
its rival more often. Piracy, or rather privateering, was on the rise, a
situation that continues to this day among the city-states.

Phlan was wracked by interior torments as well. The people of the city

were well aware of their loss of power and prestige. Farms north of Phlan
were now being abandoned. Dark shadows lurked between the massive trunks of
the trees in the Quivering Forest. An attempt to clear a path through that
growth in 1023 DR resulted in the death of the last surviving Great Prince
of the Valjevo family.

The death of the Great Prince resulted in a three-year civil war within

the city, as various factions supported different candidates to take the
mantle of the Great Prince. All candidates’ claims upon the royal blood
were questionable and every faction sought to control Phlan’s future
through placing their choice on the throne. During this time, the great
temple of Tyr was looted and burned, leaving only a great blackened shell.
Many of the leading merchant families fled to other climes.

In the end, the last survivor was a young noble supported by a group of

powerful merchants. They created the first Council of Phlan to act as
regents for the youth. The Council spoiled the child, who grew into a
spoiled man who was unable and unwilling to take the reins of power. He
died without issue forty years later, and the Council has ruled ever since.


The last 300 years of Phlan have been a continual retreat from the
greatness that once was. Smaller rural towns were abandoned in the face of
increasing evil to the north. Sorcerer’s Isle was said to be inhabited
again by fell powers. The city fell back upon that which it did so well so
long ago: trading. It began to serve again as the middleman between the new
powerful Northern tribes and the established nations of the South. For a
short time, about a hundred years ago, the awful tide of retreat seemed to
be halted and the city was on its way to becoming a prosperous trading town
once more.

Yet dark things continued to lurk on the borders of Phlan. Sorcerer’s

Island was said to be inhabited by Yarash, an evil mage who was said to be
seeking Rimon’s power, the Arch-Lich’s magic, the Pool of Radiance, or all
three. The greatly diminished Dwarven Nations of Dragonspine reported great
hordes of orcs and ogres attacking their citadels, and their barge trade
came to a complete halt. Small towns and hamlets were raided and burned
with increasing regularity, sending refugees to Phlan seeking passage to
safer lands.

Then disaster struck, Raiders from the north, aided by dragons and other

dangerous creatures, poured down out of the northlands. The Quivering
Forest was burned in a massive fire that dominated the sky for a month.
Monstrous hordes containing every imaginable creature marched with
horrifying precision toward the city.

The Council debated, argued, and debated again while the hordes drew

nearer, much as the last Valjevo Princes did in their long-ago folly.
Finally, they chose to fight, but were overwhelmed by the forces of orcs and
dragons. Phlan burned and fell to the forces of evil, who looted and
pillaged that which remained.

The last remnants of the Council stood their guard, trying to evacuate

as many citizens as possible. Of the council members, the Last Priest of
Tyr, Ferran Martinez, held the last garrison, Sokal Keep, which stood at
the mouth of the Barren River. It is said that Ferran placed a terrible
curse upon the Keep to prevent anyone from taking it.

In the end, even the waters of the Stojanow river turned poisonous and

murky, and the river took its present name, the Barren. The rich farmlands
of the Stojanow River Valley were laid waste and became known as the
Scoured Lands.


That should have been the end of Phlan’s story, but it is not so. Men
remember the tales of Valjevo, who brought the first city of Phlan back
from its ruins. Adventurers, smugglers, and small traders visited the
region and brought back tales of Phlan under control of its evil masters.
Many of the buildings were burned, but many others were spared. The shell
of the temple of Tyr had been rebuilt, dedicated to some darker, more evil
god. Zhentarim spies and agents of dark Vaasan nobles met and planned in
Phlan, and the riches of the ages still survived for those who sought to

In time, more modest men returned to Phlan to rebuild her. A stockaded

community rose from among the rubble of the past glories. These men
intended to engage in the same profession as those before them, for Phlan
still occupied a prime position for trading on the Moonsea. However, until
the city was cleared, the Barren River made clean, and the competeing
city-states pacified, Phlan was likely to stay in impoverished ruins.

Two years ago, in the Year of the Worm, two things happened that would

mean a change of Phlan’s future. First was the Flight of the Dragons that
surged through the northern regions of the Lands of the Inner Sea. Due to a
cause unknown, great wyrms came down from the far north destroying all in
their path. These are not the rare, opportunistic dragons seeking alliance
with humanoid tribes, but rather huge waves of angry scaled monsters,
bringing destruction where they travel.

Many of the Moonsea and Daletowns suffered great destruction in the

battles that followed. Yulash was utterly ruined by the attack, and
Hillsfar was greatly damaged. The most telling blow was delivered by the
body of a great dragon that fell into the Hillsfar harbor, blocking that
entrance for a month.

Much of the Phlan was also smashed into a smoking ruin by these beasts.

Strangely, it worked in the favor of those men who lived there. Most of the
damage was taken in the already-ruined section of the city, where various
evil warlords vied for control and riches. The attack of the dragons broke
their power, creating a vacuum in the control of the city and giving the
men of Phlan a chance to re-establish themselves and their homes.

Yet this would not occur without leaders, and the reappearance of the

Council of Phlan was the second great thing to occur in the city.
Descendents of the last Council still survived all the turmoil that had
occurred, and many families wished to return to the land. These leaders
were no great mages or wondrous fighters, but traders, merchants, and
clerics. Their leaders, who remain to this day, were the shrewd and
powerful trader Ulrich Eberhard, the retired mercenary captain Werner Von
Urslingen, and the Bishop of Braccio of Tyr. They have been joined by their
junior member, Porphyrys of the ancient House Cadorna.

Together the council has proposed exactly that which Valjevo

accomplished so long ago, clearing the city by means of recruited
adventurers. The promise of great treasure and the myth of the Pool of
Radiance provided adventurers with an irresistable draw. The Council
published notices and paid traveling bards to make sure that the story of
Phlan’s waiting riches was distributed all around the Moonsea and beyond.


The city of Phlan, built on ruins upon ruins, is a city at war. It is
divided between the human forces of the Council, and those evil forces that
hold a great deal of the city under their sway.

The human territories of Phlan are nestled behind a strong stockade of

stone quarried from the ruins and trees lumbered from the Quivering Forest.
A substantial city-guard patrols the openings in the walls at all hours,
always ready to repel any attacks by the old city’s evil inhabitants.

The buildings of rebuilt Phlan are sturdy and utilitarian, with little

of the splendor of the ancient past. The glories of the past shine through
in an ancient column now used to support a stable’s wooden roof or a faded
fresco overlooking an adventurer’s taproom. The past is always with the
inhabitants of Phlan, reminding them of what once was and could yet be

The natives of Phlan are a mixed group, including descendents of the

families of Valjevo’s day and returnees who seek to reclaim lands and
treasure lost to the dragon horde fifty years ago. The city is also filled
with adventurers seeking new fortunes and traders hoping to reestablish the
old trading lines.

Orcs and other generally evil humanoids are viewed with alarm within the

city, though evil humans come and go unmolested with the ships. It is said
that spies from the other cities of the Moonsea make regular calls with the
ships, overseeing the progress of the Council in re-establishing the city.
If the Council is TOO successful, some say, then sabotage may be in order
to prevent Phlan from returning to its former power.

The lands beyond the civilized stockade are wild ruins controlled by

whatever local faction or tribe holds that piece of land. Control lasts
only as long as the reach of claw or sword. Petty bands of orcs, goblins,
and men vie for power, some led by more sinister monsters.

Much of Phlan’s ruined greatness can be found in the Old City. The main

sights include: the forgotten riches of the wealthy old noble’s houses;
Podol Plaza, the center of the old trading district; and the Old Temple,
now dedicated to the dark god Bane. Valjevo Castle has been refortified and
is being used as a headquarters for one faction leader or another.

Phlan remains now, as it has ever been, a city with the greatest of

potential. In the cycles of its rise and fall, legends have arisen before.
In engineering New Phlan’s renaissance, new legends are sure to emerge.

History of Phlan

Forgotten Realms - Pool of Radiance Lord_of_the_Ruins