In the Forgotten Realms setting, there exists a sinister society intent on exploiting every resource of Faerûn to its own ends. This society is known as the Zhentarim. The Zhentarim, also known as the Black Network, is an evil organization whose goal is to dominate the lands from the Moonsea to the Sword Coast North. Originally a secret society, the Zhentarim have operated openly in the area of the Moonsea, particularly around Zhentil Keep, their greatest base of operations. It is currently led by Fzoul Chembryl, Chosen of Bane and High Lord of the Zhentarim.
Many Zhentarim are simply opportunistic merchants; however, some do resort to illicit acts such as attacking rival caravans, extorting villages for food, or far more serious crimes like arson and murder. Bandits are hired by the Zhentarim to attack other caravans and towns. Wizards are also hired to conjure up or enrage foul monsters. Recently, the Zhentarim have been sending some older members of their organization to frontier nations such as the Silver Marches, where they buy land and become peaceable homesteaders, raising their own families and biding their time until they are called upon again.
Rumors state that the Black Network is a sinister, murderous band of spies, informants, armies, and wizards who ride around on monsters, engaged in all sorts of secret and terrible activities. These rumors spread fear of the cabal from the lands of the Moonsea and across the Heartlands to the Sword Coast.
The peoples who live in the lands of the Dragon Reach know a lot more about the Zhentarim. They can recount how it rose to open rule and power in Zhentil Keep, then seized control of the Citadel of the Raven from the other Moonsea cities that shared it. They can tell of how the Zhents conquered Teshendale, Voonlar, and Yûlash, and plotted the conquests of Shadowdale, Daggerdale, and Mistledale. The Zhents have entire armies hidden away in the Citadel of the Raven and in a sinister fortress called Darkhold, which is somewhere in the Western Heartlands. Zhents govern affairs east to the walls of Mulmaster, north through the Ride and the Cold Lands to the Great Glacier, and south through the weaker Dales. Until the arrival of the shades, the Zhents also greatly influenced affairs west across Anauroch to the vales of the Gray Peaks.
The Zhents are soldiers commanded by cruel minor wizards possessing more ambition than power, who report to truly powerful mages (the Black Cloaks) headed by Lord Manshoon—the Zhentarim's founder. The Zhentarim can also count amongst their forces some beholders (led by one named Xulla), many clerics of Bane, and (with much rarity, except in Darkhold) clerics of Cyric. The Zhentarim desire to enrich themselves and control towns, villages, and entire realms along a trade route linking the Moonsea to the Sword Coast—the Waterdeep area, specifically—via Darkhold. Along that route, they smuggle slaves, poisons, and contraband. They have spies almost everywhere in northern, eastern and western Faerûn.
Fzoul Chembryl, the ambitious Chosen High Priest of Iyachtu Xvim, joined the Zhentarim when Lord Manshoon (then leader of the Zhentarim) forged an alliance with him. He served as second-in-command for years, seemingly content with his position, but he schemed with another high-ranking Zhentarim, the Lord Orgauth (the lord of Zhentil Keep who was, in fact, not human as he seemed, but a fell pit fiend) and eventually ousted Manshoon from power. Fzoul intended to turn the Zhentarim into an arm of the faith of Xvim (now the faith of Bane), and forced from the Zhentarim both loyalists to Manshoon (including Manshoon's lieutenant, the powerful mage Sememmon) and the faithful of the rival deity of Cyric. This led to a brewing war within the organization, with the western Zhentarim of Darkhold led by Sememmon and the Cyrisists opposing the Zhents and Banites, until Sememmon was forced to abandon Darkhold and go into hiding. The Zhentarim of Darkhold, however, led by the evil Cyrisist knight known as the Pereghost and a priest of Cyric called Dhamir Ercals, remain at odds and on the verge of war with the Banites. Fzoul, having slain Orgauth, had almost gained full control over the Zhentarim. An agreement made with Khelben Blackstaff has prevented Fzoul from organizing Zhentarim expansion into the Sword Coast, but the agreement would not last forever.
Among the ranks of the Zhentarim's other major players are the Banite priest Teldorn Darkhope—the lord of the Zhentarim in Mintar, and a close ally of Fzoul—and Lady Scyllua Darkhope—Zhentil Keep's champion, who administers the defenses and day-to-day affairs of the keep itself. Apart from Fzoul, the most influential member of the Zhentarim remains Manshoon, for despite being forced from command and actually slain, his death awakened over a dozen magical clones who attacked each other in the so-called Manshoon Wars, and eventually several escaped, including one (seemingly the Manshoon) who returned to the Zhentarim some time later to work directly for Fzoul.
In Computer GamesEdit
Zhentarim are involved directly or indirectly as antagonists in the SSI / Stormfront Studios Gold Box computer games Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pools of Darkness, Gateway to the Savage Frontier, Treasures of the Savage Frontier and the MMORPG Neverwinter Nights (AOL, 1991 – 1997).
The halfing assassin Montaron and mad necromancer, Xzar work for the Zhentarim in Baldur's Gate. They were sent to investigate the so-called Iron Ore "crisis"
Zhent Terminology Edit
- A person from Zhentil Keep. Not all Zhents are members of the Zhentarim.
- A defunct term for the military of Zhentil Keep to distinguish them from members of the Zhentarim.
- Can refer to either the organization itself or members of the organization (can be singular or plural).
- A grammatically incorrect term that will bring derision on the user, even in lands unfriendly to Zhents. (This somehow wormed its way into the vernacular of more than one Forgotten Realms novel.)
- Lords of Darkness
- "History of the Zhentarim, Two Zhent's Worth"
- "The Zhentarim"fr:Zhentarimoc:Zhentarim