For the past several months, I have been considering setting my next D&D campaign in the Old Empires region of the Forgotten Realms setting. It’s a fascinating region, loosely inspired by the ancient Eastern Mediterranean/Levantine Sea region of Earth, resplendent with crumbling pyramids and ziggurats, volcanic islands, nations ruled by physical gods, ugly wars, and endless storytelling possibilities.
However, running a 5th edition campaign in this setting takes more work on the part of a Dungeon Master than running a campaign set in a more popular region of the Realms such as the Sword Coast or the Heartlands, since the region has undergone great changes throughout the previous editions of the game, and very little has been published about where the Old Empires stand by the time of 5th edition. Thus, to update the region for the present day so it can stand alongside the rest of the 5e Realms, a DM will likely wish to put in a good deal of work on multiple fronts, including:
- collating previously published information about the setting and filling in the gaps for adventures set in the present day of the 5e Forgotten Realms
- examining the setting from a sensitivity standpoint, and revising aspects of the 30ish-year old setting that may reflect harmful ethnic, racial, cultural, and gender prejudices
- creating an up-to-date map that reflects the topographical changes the region has gone through over the course of the last several editions, which is what I am showing off today
There is no official 5th edition map of the Old Empires, and all old maps of the region are outdated in one way or another, so here is new version I have created to make up for that, made chiefly with Inkarnate:
And here is a simplified version I made for readability, with labels only for the names of nations, major settlements, and major geographical features:
The features on this map are, in large part, accurate to the information we have about the Old Empires circa 1489 DR, when the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is set. On this maps, dots represent settlements and forts, while squares indicate ruins.
This map is an amalgamation of several other maps of the Old Empires and/or the continent of Faerûn, in which the region sits. There have been numerous versions of the grand map of Faerûn over the years, and so the first question I had to answer for my map was which, if any, previous map did I want to use as a base from which to trace the shape of the coastlines and other landforms. My guiding principle was that I wanted my map to match the rest of the 5th edition Forgotten Realms, but the only two large-scale 5e maps of the Realms were unsuitable: one is limited to the Sword Coast and did not depict the Old Empires, while the second shows most all of Faerûn, but has is too stylized and contains far too few details my purposes. Using the 4th edition Faerûn map was right out, for reasons I will get into later.
I originally used the map of Faerûn from the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting as my base, but after nearly completing the map, I grew frustrated that the 3e map, and by extension my map, did not line up nicely with other maps of the nearby Realms continents of Zakhara and Kara-Tur, of which maps have not, to my knowledge, been officially published since 2nd edition. Upon closely inspecting the 3rd edition map, I realized that it had subtly changed the shapes and sizes of certain landforms from the 2nd edition maps of the continent in order to maximize adventurable land area on its rectangular poster map. Comparing the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th edition maps, I realized that there were also differences in shape between the 5e and 3e maps that I had not previously noticed, and that for the 5e maps, cartographers Jared Blando and Mike Schley had chosen to hew closer to the 2e map (which, along with the 1e map, I believe was directly based on Realms creator and archwizard Ed Greenwood’s original drawings) than to the 3e map.
Since the 5th edition sources clearly favor the original 2nd edition geography, I scrapped my old map and started again, this time using as a base this incredible map from Atlas of Ice and Fire, which is a modernized reproduction of the 2e maps of the Forgotten Realms, synthesizing details from all the major sourcebooks of the era.
Once I had a base map to work from, I could start deviating from it. The main reason that one needs a new map to run the Old Empires in 5th Edition is that the landscape of the region was changed dramatically during 4th edition, but most, though not all, of those changes were reversed in 5th edition. The new design philosophy of D&D 4th edition led to the world of the Forgotten Realms being turned upside down and inside out, so to speak, with the designers ruthlessly destroying nations, sinking landmasses, drying up seas, and spawning new kingdoms to replace the ones they had deemed antithetical to their vision. However, these changes were extremely controversial among long-time fans of the setting, and so when 5th edition came around, 4e’s changes to the setting were almost completely reversed, save for a few details that had been popular despite it all. One of these changes was the addition of a new country to the Old Empires region: the dragonborn nation of Tymanther. Thus to my 2e-style map I added the cities and lakes of the new land, along with a handful of other details from 4e, such as having the city of Luthcheq be the capital of the country of Chessenta (though “country” is a loose term in Chessenta’s case), and having Skalnaedyr (formerly Phannaskul) be the capital of Murghôm. I also left a few locations from 4th edition on the map as ruins, such as Skyclave and Brassune, and I kept the Maw of the God Swallower in Chessenta (though in my game I think the sphere of annihilation there will have vanished during the Sundering, so all that is left is a giant chasm). I also drew a scant few landforms in their 3rd edition shape, as I just liked them better—the salt lake of Azulduth (lakes change shape all the time, right?) and the peninsulae on which sits Erebos and to which flows the River Lapendrar, respectively. I also omitted several settlements that I thought were too small or hidden to appear on the map, such as Dahst, Surag, Tuulish, Arush Vayem, and the City of Werecrocodiles. Finally, I included one major unlabeled landmark on the map: the Sharksbane Wall that runs underwater from the Akanapeaks to Altumbel.
A handful of details on the map are non-canon in whole or in part, such as my choice to mark the Untheric/Mulhorandi towns of Firetrees, Kaoll, and Sekras as ruins, since I imagine they would not have been rebuilt by the dragonborn of Tymanther after the Spellplague. I also had to guess at the locations of the cities of Djerad Kethendi and Arush Ashuak, since I don’t think they appear on any maps, but are important settlements in Tymanther in the Brimstone Angels Forgotten Realms novels. I haven’t read all of those books, so I made my best guess as to their location based on other people’s descriptions online. The only blatantly non-canon locations are the towns of Djerad Ternhesh and Djerad Aurix, which were invented by Mr Dream for their DMs’ Guild fan sourcebook Supplemental Empires. I included them to make up for the fact that there are simply barely any settlements in Tymanther mentioned in the official canon materials.
It was fun to make this map; maybe there is even someone else out there who can also get some use out of it someday, too.