The Kingdom of the Purple Dragon
When I first thought of Cormyr, I was, yes, thinking of King Arthur. Not in specific detail—not Round Table or Excalibur or the Grail or any of that—but I wanted a place in the Realms where the “shining knights in armor” came from, and called home, and were the accepted heart and soul of. Not knights errant, galloping around confronting fell wizards in their castles and rescuing fair maidens, but knights in matching armor. Galloping together, upholding laws and safeguarding prosperous farmers in a land that was therefore wealthy and verdant and could host fairly good lives for all. Which meant they could afford a decadent, squabbling, troublesome noble class, a truly corrupt and seedy seaport city (Marsember), a traditionally-rebellious upland trading city (Arabel), and generally have a lot of interesting “daily troubles” going on without anyone going hungry or the country ever threatening to collapse. Civil wars, yes, but split apart, no. Not with expansionist Zhentil Keep to the northeast, expansionist Sembia to the east, and traditional foe Westgate just across a narrow neck of sea to the south.
So those knights in armor became the Purple Dragons of Cormyr, the Forest Kingdom, the Realm of the Purple Dragon.
I wanted to build a “good place” into the Realms. A place that one TSR designer once privately called “A far too goody-goody place that has to go away. Soon.” A place readers and gamers could identify with that isn’t dark, and represents an ideal to be defended. Not boring perfection, but a vigorous and squabbling place that is always threatened, mostly from within.
Threatened by nobles who consider the ruling Obarskyr (a name coined by Jeff Grubb, my co-founder of the published Realms game setting; thank you, Jeff, like so much else you contributed to the Realms over the years, the name is perfect) royals just a “first among equals” family whose time on the throne should perhaps be over to make way for better rulers (such as, ahem, themselves), and who can find willing sponsors in Sembia, Zhentil Keep, and Westgate, Cormyr is supported by its War Wizards.
Who are themselves a peril to the kingdom. The nearest thing to a non-secret “secret police,” the Wizards of War have at times threatened to make the ruling King or Queen and the Court mere puppets—most notably, because so thoroughly and without open revolt or violence, in the time of the all-too-capable Vangerdahast, who held the titles of both Court Wizard and Royal Magician, and proved that while briefly being the apprentice of Elminster, he’d learned all too well the lessons of manipulation. Vangey (or “Vangy”) has always had the best interests of Cormyr at heart, but the problem for everyone else in the Forest Kingdom was that he always reserved the right to define those best interests himself, and if a particular monarch had to be sacrificed or betrayed or cozened into doing something evil or bad, so be it. He’s still around, though he left his post to defend the realm as a dragon for a time, and when the enchantments that bound him in that shape and awaiting Cormy’s need were smashed, he ended up trapped in grotesque form for a time. He still serves Cormyr, but from the shadows; others hold his posts now. So you might say he conquered his own ambitions—for now, at least.
Yet this triangle, of King and Court and Purple Dragon armies and Blue Dragon navies balanced against restive rebellious and just meddling nobles and against the manipulative and watchful War Wizards, is what makes Cormyr itself and not a pale copy of King Arthurland.
It is a bright and shining realm that is ever beset with troubles, which makes it an interesting place to game or tell tales in, and I have been delighted at how writers have been inspired by it over the years. Its history owes so much to Jeff Grubb, in the “past” chapters he wrote when we collaborated on a “doing a Michener” book (as in, writing a multi-generational novel of the scope of the bestselling novels then being penned by the mainstream author James A. Michener), Cormyr: A Novel. Many Realms experts (notably Brian Cortijo, who over the years has become the reigning lore expert on Cormyr) have collaborated on the Royal Lineage of Cormyr and published many other Cormyrean lore articles, and fiction writers such as Troy Denning and most recently Erin M. Evans have told great (and in Erin’s case, ongoing) tales that have reshaped the Forest Kingdom.
Cormyr is one place in the Realms I love to revisit whenever I can. In my recent Sage of Shadowdale trilogy and in the (forthcoming, as I write this) Spellstorm, I’m in Cormyr again, and loving it.
For me, just as for many other Realms fans, Cormyr is home. (I have other beloved Faerûnian homes, too, such as Waterdeep and the Dales, but if there are any perks at all to creating a vast imaginary world, it should be the right to have multiple residences all over it where one feels at home, and visit them at will.)
And of course, like every other corner of the Realms, the deeper Cormyr gets detailed, the more questions arise. We’ll never be done with it, I hope—and I happen to know there are revelations ahead!
Image borrowed from “Volos Guide to Cormyr” by Ed Greenwood ©Wizards of the Coast