Dungeons & Dragons 4E: The Forgotten Realms Arcane Age Conversion

Back in the days of AD&D 2nd Edition there was a series of supplements and novels for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting known as The Arcane Age, detailing the lands, people, and conflicts that toppled some of the most expansive empires the Realms had ever seen. This included Netheril and Cormanthyr: an empire of powerful spellcasters and the greatest of all elven civilizations, respectively.

One of my fondest memories of these books was that the greatly increased the default power level of most player characters, and detailed magic that literally moved mountains: in fact, there were spells to up-end mountains and turn them into flying fortresses!

For a variety of reasons, this seems like just the time and place to set a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign: the proliferation of high-octane maneuvers, combat- and action-oriented spells and magic items, and the general high-magic, high-fantasy feel sits right at home in The Arcane Age. With that in mind, here’s some work I did for a potential Arcane Age 4th Edition campaign. Use it as a springboard for your own imagination!

Lost Empires of Faerun

A lich attacking high-level characters. This won’t be a boring history book!

For a map of The Arcane Age circa -626 DR / 3233 NY (Netheril Years), head to our FREE STUFF! page.

A Note on Sources

I highly suggest using Lost Empires of Faerun (LOF) as the primary source for any Arcane Age information on Netheril, Cormanthyr and the surrounding areas.

While there was a series of Arcane Age supplements for AD&D 2nd Edition (Netheril: Empire of Magic and Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, among others), they were of varying quality, have been retconned for the most part, and spent a good deal of their word count on drastically altering the core rules of several 2E character classes…seemingly without much thought given to re-balancing monsters, magic items, spells, or anything else.

Glossary

The following terms may come up throughout this article, and except where it’s obvious (i.e. such as the Barbarian Class vs. folk that are members of a barbarian tribe), have campaign-specific definitions outlined below.

Arcanist: powerful Netherese Wizard capable of creating a mythallar.

Barbarians: two primary barbarian tribes occupied parts of Netheril, the Rengarth (magic-hating barbarians) and their former brethren, now mortal enemies, the Angardt.

Demense: Low Netheril’s steadings ruled by lower-level Arcanists in service to those of High Netheril.

Empire of Magic: Another name for Netheril during its height.

Enclave: a floating city powered by a mythallar and created by a powerful Netherese Arcanist.

Languages: The two main languages of Netheril were Loross (the draconic-derived language of High Netheril, generally only used in writing) and Netherese (the language of the commoners and barbarians of the area, simplified from Loross).

Mythallar: a ~150-foot-diameter bright crystal-like orb that powers quasi-magical items in its vicinity.

High Netheril vs. Low Netheril: High Netheril included the floating enclaves of the Arcanists, nobles, and well-to-do, while Low Netheril consisted of the ground-based cities, towns, mining operations and so on.

D&D 4E Conversion

Below are the conversion and background guidelines to fit D&D 4E races, classes, and concepts into the fiction and setting of the Arcane Age without terribly mucking up the canon of Forgotten Realms. In many cases, these clearly contradict some ideas, history, and background in the Realms, but I’ve strived to make them work with as little “handwavium” as possible so that you can make the most of the 4E rules without being a Realms historian, or spend countless hours re-working the mechanics to fit the lore.

Remember, these are guidelines and ideas; the campaign is yours, so use it how you like.

A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age. Psionic races/classes might be “native” to the areas around Jhaamdath, a group of (human) settlements north of the Chondalwood led by the Dath Dynasty, including Dhinnilith, the First City of the Sword. It became an Empire in -276 DR. Jhaamdath is described on LOF 119-120.

Races

Bladeling (Manual of the Planes)

Planar race; very rare. Some may be summoned by or hired by plane-hopping Arcanists to work as guardians, assassins, or agents in Low Netheril.

Deva (Player’s Handbook 2)

Exceedingly rare, Aasimar-like divine spirits continuously reincarnated in new bodies. Those that stray from their inherent goodness may reincarnate as Rakshasa.

Dragonborn (Player’s Handbook)

Potential origins of the Dragonborn:

  • As for draconic/lizard creatures, there was House Orogoth, a Netherese group who bred with dragons and experimented with snakes.
  • There was also the lizards of the Marsh of Simplicity who were originally ruled by a lizard king (a half-fiend lizardman) but he was overthrown by a particularly powerful lizardman shaman – so powerful some arcanists thought he was the Netherese archwizard Ioulaum in disguise.

Drow (Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide)

While cast out of Cormanthyr (eladrin and elves) and the elven nations of Illefarn (elves) and Earlann (eladrin), Drow were not so reviled in other lands. In Netheril they traded quite freely with the Arcanists, and had been key in enslaving Gnomes throughout the earliest years of the Empire of Magic.

Dwarf (Player’s Handbook)

Gold and Shield Dwarves may have slightly different cultural alignments, but are otherwise the same mechanically.

Eladrin (Player’s Handbook)

High Elves – the Sun and Moon elves. Most closely associated with Earlann, but also often as the leaders and nobility of Cormanthyr.

Elf (Player’s Handbook)

Wild and Wood elves. Most closely associated with Illefarn and Cormanthyr.

Genasi (Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide)

These Elemental-touched planar humans are commonly found as agents of plane-hopping Arcanists, or travelers from distant lands to the South (Zakhara especially) or East (Kara-Tur and some closer realms).

Githzerai (Player’s Handbook 3)

See A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age regarding Jhaamdath.

Gnome (Player’s Handbook 3)

Closely allied to the Illefarn elves, many Gnomes were enslaved by the Netherese starting in -3649 DR, but shortly thereafter Eladrin began to free them (establishing the Trail of Mists in -3150 to speed the flow). Drow and Netherese were regularly involved in such slave practices. In -3095, Gnomes helped Cormanthyran elves steal one of the Nether Scrolls, directly aiding in their mastery of illusion magic. In -2387 DR, all Gnomes were finally freed.

For more on the Trail of Mists, see the Wizards of the Coast article here, or its copy here for archival purposes.

Goliath (Player’s Handbook 2)

Often considered a monstrous race, though they have some interactions with the Dwarves and less savory mountain-dwellers, such as orcs and goblinoids near Illefarn and points West.

Hengeyokai (Dragon 404)

Outlander from Kara-Tur.

Kalashtar (Eberron Player’s Guide)

These dream-folk are alien to Faerun. They might be Spelljammers or planar castaways.

Mul (Dark Sun Campaign Setting)

These Athas natives have little or no chance of appearing on Faerun. If they do, it’s likely because of terrifying planar magic…which is not at all unlikely in Netheril.

Revenant (Dungeon 376, Heroes of Shadow)

These ashen-featured humanoids have been given a bizarre, quasi-unlife by some hiccup of nature, magic, or the whims of some death-obsessed god. The chances of them being born from some Necromancy-inspired arcanist are pretty high.

Shadar-kai (Dungeon 372)

Natives of the Shadowfell, the Shadar-kai are shadow-infused humanoids who have a love of battle, and many have a love of inflicting pain and agony beyond this. They have been contacted by the members of the Shade Enclave (Thultanthar, the birthplace of the Shadovar), as well as other dark sorcerers throughout the lands. While rare, this pervasive contact with Faerun does make them widespread, if infrequently encountered.

Shade Enclave

This is like a common occurrence in the Arcane Age.

Shade (Heroes of Shadow)

Rare at this time, Shades are what will become of the elite of Thultanthar, the Shade Enclave. They leave for the Shadowfell shortly before Netheril’s Fall, and many more of the folk become Shades during their ~2,000 year sabbatical. Up until then, however, a few of the Arcanists, Swordmages, and other key agents of Thultanthar have already undergone experiments that turn them into Shades.

Shardmind (Player’s Handbook 3)

See A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age regarding Jhaamdath. Shardminds are natives of the Astral Plane, and are very rare on Toril. Some have dealings with the leaders of Jhaamdath — and occasionally with other powerful spellcasters — and thus a few may be present in Faerun.

Shifter (Player’s Handbook 2)

The weretouched are found throughout Faerun, without a true culture to call their own. Many become agents of the People of the Black Blood, the Malar-worshipping lycanthrope tribes spread throughout the forests of Faerun.

Tiefling (Player’s Handbook)

The diabolists of Imaskar, Raumathar and Narfell have all had pacts with extraplanar fiends during their wars, and thus Tieflings are not uncommon in these lands. Netheril is less focused on planar magic, so Tieflings are rarer here.

Vryloka (Heroes of Shadow)

This vampire-tainted bloodline of noble humans has been displaced by centuries of their rulership being dismantled by former slaves. They have insinuated themselves throughout Netheril and some of the Eastern Empires (Narfell, especially), though they are rare, overall, and don’t often organize together beyond small family units.

Warforged (Eberron Player’s Guide)

Potential origins of the Warforged (many of these may be used, as Warforged can be more “unique” creations, each built by different folk with different origins):

  • High Shanatar (Shield Dwarves) – LOF 118.
  • Raumathar, in their battles against Narfell, created many construct engines of war – LOF 70.
  • The people of Imaskar also built guardian constructs – LOF 64.
  • The Elven keepers of secret lore — the Olin Gisir (Prestige Class on LOF 21) – are renowned still for their creation of Shield Guardians, golems, and other arcane constructs to help guard their tomes and scrolls filled with forbidden lore.

Wilden (Player’s Handbook 3)

These nature-spirits-given-form are a race in their infancy at this time, seemingly a direct answer to the destruction of the natural world by the powerful empires of magic, the life-draining powers of the phaerimm and shades, and other affronts to the natural order. While they might seem to get along with the elves of Cormanthyr and other natural areas, they are wildly militant and bizarre in their interactions with others. Some may integrate into human and other race’s lands just to learn their weaknesses.

Classes

Ardent – Psionic Leader (Player’s Handbook 3)

See A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age regarding Jhaamdath.

Artificer – Arcane Leader (Eberron Player’s Guide)

Artificer Arcanists were among the few Netherese spellcasters of note that did not follow the generally holier-than-thou attitude of the empire’s spellcasters. In fact, it was a cabal of Artificers that first set up Old Owl Well and the Mine of Phandelver (see The Lost Mine of Phandelver in the D&D Starter Set), an alliance with Dwarves and Gnomes to create enchanted forges for new, utilitarian magical items usable by and for “the commoners of the Dwarves, Gnomes, Humans, and all civilized races.”

Barbarian – Primal Striker/Defender (Player’s Handbook 2)

The Rengarth Barbarians are notable as magic-hating conquerors and invaders, while their former brothers among the Angardt are much more accepting, though far less organized and numerous.

Bard – Arcane/Martial Leader (Player’s Handbook 2)

A few Bards have become Arcanists, having used their social abilities and magical powers to win the hearts and minds of the people. It is believed that several of the most “socially-forward” projects of the Arcanists that benefit the people of Low Netheril were started by Bards and Artificers either among the Arcanists’ ranks or closely associated to the Arcanist’s inner circles.

Battlemind – Psionic Defender (Player’s Handbook 3)

See A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age regarding Jhaamdath.

Bladesinger

Badass elves are rare, but they do exist.

Bladesinger – Arcane Controller (Neverwinter Campaign Setting)

The Bladesingers are strictly aligned with Earlann or Cormanthyr. There may be Bladesingers among the Illefarni, but they would be rare indeed.

Monk – Psionic Striker (Player’s Handbook 3)

Monks, unlike other psionic classes/races, need not hail strictly from Jhaamdath. Most of the Monastic Orders (see the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting p. 24) exist.

Psion – Psionic Controller (Player’s Handbook 3)

See A Note on Psionics in the Arcane Age regarding Jhaamdath.

Seeker – Primal Controller (Player’s Handbook 3)

These are the rangers and protectors of Rengarth barbarian realms.

Shaman – Primal Leader (Player’s Handbook 2)

Often the leaders of Rengarth and Angardt barbarians.

Sorcerer – Arcane Striker (Player’s Handbook 2)

These spellcasters often become Arcanists, especially because they aren’t beyond blowing up their enemies to obtain their material wealth and power.

Swordmage – Arcane Defender (Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide)

Swordmages are the elite guardians of the Arcanists of Netheril. To some, they are the human/Netherese equivalent of the Bladesinger, but it’s more like they are a military order, loyal to the last…to their specific Enclave, at least.

Warden – Primal Defender (Player’s Handbook 2)

These are the rangers and protectors of Rengarth barbarian realms, much like Seekers.

Warlock – Arcane Striker/Controller (Player’s Handbook)

Pact-making spellcasters, most often encountered in Narfell and the Eastern Empires. A few become Arcanists, or lesser Arcanists ruling Demenses throughout Low Netheril.

Wizard – Arcane Controller (Player’s Handbook)

Along with Sorcerers, Wizards are the most likely to attain Arcanist status, or become the apprentices of Arcanists. They almost universally receive greater social standing for their magical power, unless they are widely known to actively working against the Arcanists in their Enclaves.

Deities

The following conversions are not replacements. Instead, they are equivalencies for mechanical benefits, specifically for picking up Channel Divinity feats and other ‘player-facing’ 4th Edition rules that may require selection of a 4e deity in the online Character Builder tool.

Note that the page references refer to the Arcane Age products for further detail, though most of these deities can be found on the Forgotten Realms wiki with enough information to run them; all the mechanics are here. All links go to the respective wiki page — note that many deities have had name changes over the years or have been subsumed by other deities with similar portfolios, so the wiki links are the most current.

  • NEM – Netheril: Empire of Magic
  • CEE – Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves

Netherese Pantheon

Amaunator – LN god of Law, Order, the Sun and Bureaucracy – NEM 34 – Power of Amaunatar (FRPG); Domains: Civilization, Justice, Sun

Jannath – NG goddess of Nature, Forests, Animals, Agriculture – NEM 37 – Chauntea’s Blessing (FRPG); Domains: Hope, Life, Wilderness

Jergal – LE Greater Power of Death, Tyranny, Dusk, the Undead – NEM 40 – Onatar’s Gift (EPG); Domains: Darkness, Tyranny, Undeath

Kozah – CE Greater Power of Storms, Destruction, the Ocean, Rebellion – NEM 42 – Balinor’s Prey (EPG); Domains: Sea, Storm, Strife

Moander – CE Lesser Power of Rotting, Decay, Corruption – NEM 45 – Raven Queen’s Blessing (PHB); Domains: Death, Poison

Mystryl – CN Greater Power of Magic, the Weave, Creativity, Knowledge, Spells – NEM 49 – Ioun’s Pose (PHB); Domains: Arcana, Knowledge, Skill

Selune – CG Greater Power of the Moon, Dreams, Marriage, Wanderers – NEM 51 – Eyes of Selune (FRPG); Domains: Change, Love, Moon

Shar – NE Greater Power of Darkness, Hatred, Illusions, Betrayal – NEM 55 – Domains: Darkness, Madness, Trickery

Targus – CN Greater Power of War, Plunder, Berserkers – NEM 58 – Righteous Rage of Tempus (FRPG); Domains: Strength, Vengeance, War

Tyche – N Lesser Power of Fortune, Luck, Fate, Adventure – NEM 60 – Tymora’s Coin (FRPG); Domains: Fate, Luck

The Seldarine

Corellon Larethian – CG god of creation, art, music, and war – CEE 52 – Correllon’s Grace (PHB); Domains: Creation, Skill, War

Hanali Celanil – CG god of romance, love, beauty – CEE 52 – Arawai’s Abundance (EPG); Domains: Love, Protection

Labelas Enoreth – CG god of time and longevity – CEE 52 – Oghma’s Recall (FRPG); Domains: Arcana, Life

Sehanine – NG god of the moon, omens, mysticism, journeys, death – CEE 52 – Sehanine’s Reversal (PHB); Domains: Fate, Moon, Death

Solonor Thelandira – CG god of hunting, archery – CEE 52 – Kord’s Favor (PHB); Domains: Skill, Wilderness

Aerdrie Faenya – CG god of avians, air, weather, rain – CEE 52 – Domains: Freedom, Storms

Rillifane Rallathil – NG god of wild elves, wilderness – CEE 52 – Light Within (EPG); Domains: Protection, Wilderness

Deep Sashelas – CG god of seas, water, magic, creation – CEE 52 – Domains: Creation, Sea

Erevan Ilesere – CN god of rogues, change, mischief – CEE 52 – Domains: Change, Trickery

Fenmarel Mestarine – CN god of outcasts, scapegoats, wild elves – CEE 52 – Domains: Freedom, Strength

The Gods of Myth Drannor

Mystryl – CN Greater Power of Magic, the Weave, Creativity, Knowledge, Spells – NEM 49 – Ioun’s Pose (PHB); Domains: Arcana, Knowledge, Skill

Silvanus – N god of nature, druids – CEE 53 – Blessing of Silvanus (FRPG); Domains: Life, Storm, Wilderness

Shaundakul – CN god of travel, exploration – CEE 53 – Waukeen’s Silver Tongue (FRPG); Domains: Change, Freedom

Mielikki – NG god of forests, rangers, dryads, autumn – CEE 53 – Fleetness of Mielikki (FRPG); Domains: Freedom, Wilderness

Eldath – NG god of serenity, pools, waterfalls, druid groves – CEE 53 – Melora’s Tide (PHB); Domains: Earth, Life

Selune – CG Greater Power of the Moon, Dreams, Marriage, Wanderers – NEM 51 – Eyes of Selune (FRPG); Domains: Change, Love, Moon

Moradin – LG god of the dwarves, smithing, war, craftsmanship – CEE 53 – Moradin’s Resolve (PHB); Domains: Creation, Earth, Protection

Dugmaren Brightmantle – CG god of scholarship, invention, discovery – CEE 53 – Gond’s Craft (FRPG); Domains: Creation, Knowledge

Myrkul – NE god of decay, death, corruption, dusk – CEE 53 – Undying’s Command (EPG); Domains: Darkness, Death, Undeath

Garl Glittergold – NG god of gnomes, gems, humor, protection – CEE 53 – Harmony of Erathis (PHB); Domains: Protection, Trickery

Dumathoin – N god of mining, secrets, underground exploration – CEE 53 – Angharradh’s Favor (FRPG); Domains: Earth, Fate

Campaign Seeds

The Lightning Rail

And here is a scene from the 2nd episode of Firefly…er, I mean, Eberron

The Lightning Rail

In this campaign seed, the players are tasked with helping the nobles of Netheril in the creation of the Lightning Rail to unite some of the Lower Demenses (yeah, that’s right, I’m stealin’ from Eberron!).

Route idea:

  • Starts south of Moander’s Footstep at Blister, and runs north
  • Between the God’s Legion Mountains and the Lodestar Mountains to Xanth
  • Along the Wolfsberg River to Delia
  • North to Scourge, in the southern-most Channel Mountains

The campaign starts in mid- to late-Heroic Tier, when the PCs are put in charge of the defense of the building of the Lightning Rail across various dangerous areas of Low Netheril. They are introduced to the “other half of life,” as the many Demenses in Low Netheril suffer from the lingering effects of a now-defunct slave-trade, the dangerous of encroaching monsters in areas unwatched by the Arcanists overhead, and general corruption.

By late Paragon Tier, the players have made choices to either confront the Arcanists and attempt to better the lives of the people of Low Netheril, or side with the Arcanists and establish their rule more firmly.

The Trail of Mists & the Slave Trade

Though Gnomes have been free since sometime in the Silver Age of Netheril, there are still some Demenses that practice slavery and subjugation, especially when the need is for constant manufacture of simple goods, rather than quality craftsmanship. Perhaps the PCs stumble upon a hidden military outpost or manufacturing center that continues to enslave Gnomes and Dwarves. The Earlanni Elves and their Gnomish allies would be interested in emancipating any such slaves by setting up new pathways into the Trail of Mists (see the linked article).

If you enjoyed this article, please comment, like, and share! You can support future reviews and articles at our Patreon. We publish supplements, campaign accessories, and adventures for Dungeons & Dragons at Dungeon Masters Guild as well as other OSR games and Cortex Plus at DriveThruRPG.

Send feedback and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, or email us via the About page.

neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

Posted in Resources Tagged with: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply