Less than Good
The Silver Marches:
Once the Silver Marches was a powerful and prosperous nation. Founded on the principals of justice, diversity and equality, the Marches was composed of city states and communities where all of the goodly races (the player’s handbook races basically) lived and worked together creating marvels of magic, science, art, and architecture. Though it endured for over 600 years, surviving even the devastation of the Spellplague, the events surrounding the return of Mystra and magic with her (commonly called “The Sundering” by most folk in the Realms) finally ground the alliance, once hailed as the “Jewel of the North,” into dust. The Marches was besieged by staggeringly massive horde of orcs from the neighboring Kingdom of Many-Arrows. At the same time an army of Drow marched up from the bowels of the Underdark and assailed the kingdom from below, attempting to procure a cache of artifacts held by the High Council of the Silver Marches. Finally, displaced by such a large movement of orcs, a flight of 50 white dragons descended on the eastern quarter of the region cutting off a large portion of the Marches’s army, which included many of the nations’s most elite soldiers. The worst of the fighting lasted for the better part of a year, with the entire series of conflicts taking nearly 3 to resolve. In the end the capital of Silverymoon was breached and heavily pillaged; (though it was ultimately retaken) the great fortress of Adbar, which watched over the most accessible path out of the mountains was overrun and claimed by the orcs as Bloodspear keep. Finally the flight of white dragons was eventually lured to the evacuated city of Sundabar. It was hoped that they would loot the city of valuables and then return to the mountains. Instead they settled in and around the city, bringing with them an unnatural and unending winter that extends for miles around the captured city.
Though the area is still referred to as the Silver Marches, no overarching authority claims those lands. The city-states have reverted to being unaligned and indifferent to one another. The only reason that the area hasn’t been completely abandoned is the fantastical amounts of natural resources the area still possesses. Dig into most hillsides and you’re likely to find at least a small vein of some valuable metal. The woods still brim with valuable lumber and the area’s depopulation has led to an explosion of game and animals with valuable furs. This is the region the Zhentarim hope to gain control of.
In the days shortly after the Spellplague the Zhentarim came into conflict with the city of Shade and it’s resurgent Netherese Empire. The Zhentarim lost this conflict quite decisively. The god Bane withdrew his support from the organization at a critical moment in the conflict. The city of Zhentil Keep, once the center of the organizations power, was shattered and left in ruins. Nearly all of the high level agents of the organization were tracked down and killed, and it’s armies and military units were hunted and massacred. By sheer luck, a single squad of some 300 men happened to be overlooked by the Netherese. This squad had been secretly deployed to the border of Cormyr and it is likely this secrecy which allowed them to survive. Realizing what was happening, the commander of this squad chose to abandon the organization and moved his squad to the Sword Coast. There they hired themselves out as a mercenary company named “The Broken Brand.”
Over a hundred years ground past, the Broken Brand became feared throughout the region as a ruthless and efficient company. Knowledge that the company once served the Zhentarim was eventually lost by all but the company’s most senior members. 10 years prior to the present day, a half-elf named Gamil Venlar took command of the company, which now numbered nearly 500. He felt the time was right to attempt to re-found the Zhentarim. However the Sword Coast is full of powerful factions which are ever on the lookout for competition. Though Venlar managed to make some contacts, the area simply proved too hostile to expand into. Venlar has decided to change his tactics somewhat to compensate. He has decided to send small cells to regions of the world that don’t already possess well established competition for the reborn Zhents. The mercenary company will eventually come and join whichever cell manages to do the best job establishing itself in a region.
Your group will be one of these cells. You can either be from the mercenary company, or on you can be one of the contacts the company made in its initial attempts to re-found the Zhentarim. You will be sent to the Silver Marches.
This is Venlar’s vision for the reborn Zhents:
Seek to become omnipresent and inescapable, more wealthy and powerful, and most importantly, untouchable. The public face of the organization must appear benign, offering the best mercenaries and “services” money can buy. When a merchant needs an escort for his caravan, when a noble needs bodyguards to protect her holdings, or when a city needs trained soldiers to defend its honor, the Zhentarim provides the best-trained fighting men and women money can buy. However, the cost of doing business with the Black Network can be high.
The Black Network strives to make it necessary—and preferable, even—to deal with its members. It wants to secure, over time, an iron-fisted monopoly. Members must be the best—the cheapest, the fastest, and the most secure—at providing services and goods both legal and illicit, willing to lose coin if it means destroying a competitor, and securing profits from everyone they deal with, except when to do so would work against the Black Network’s ultimate goal: to make everyone dependent on it.
A member of the Zhentarim thinks of himself or herself as a member of a very large family and relies on the Black Network for resources and security. However, members are to be granted enough autonomy to pursue their own interests and gain some measure of personal power or influence.