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The Zhentarim
Aliases The Black Network
Organization Type ???
Leader(s) Fzoul Chembryl
Founded 1261 DR
Base of Operations Zhentil Keep
Membership Over 10,000
Allies Temple of Bane
Temple of Cyric
Enemies The Harpers
Status Active

Zhentarim

Also known as the Black Network, the Zhentarim is an evil organization intent on dominating the land from the Moonsea to the Sword Coast North. Originally a secret society, for years the Zhents have operated openly in the Moonsea region, particularly around their greatest base of operations, Zhentil Keep. People who live near Zhentarim stronghold grow used to caravans with its symbol but live in fear that someday they will see armies marching under that banner.

While many of the Zhentarim are little more than opportunistic merchants, many others resort to illegal acts such as attacking rival caravans, extorting villages for food, or more serious crimes such as arson, slavery and murder. The Zhentarim hire bandits to attack other caravans or towns, or have wizards conjure up or enrage monsters to do their bidding.

Fear of this cabal has spread from the Moonsea lands across the Heartlands to the Sword Coast, where everybody “knows” the Black Network is a sinister, murderous organization of spies, informants, armies, and wizards engaged in all sorts of secret and terrible activities. People who live in the Dragon Reach lands - such as the Dalesfolk - know rather more about the Zhentarim. They can tell you that it rose to open rule and power in Zhentil Keep, seized control of the Citadel of the Raven from the other Moonsea cities that shared it, conquered Teshendale, and plotted the conquest of Shadowdale, Daggerdale and Mistledale.

Bent on enriching themselves and controlling towns, villages, and entire realms along a trade route linking the Moonsea with the Sword Coast, the Zhentarim are said to have spies everywhere: anyone could be a Zhentarim, and some of them seem to want to seize all that they can find. How much of any of this is truth, and how much exaggerated speculation, is the topic of endless conjecture in whispered conversations across half of Faerun.

The Black Network was founded almost one hundred years ago by a dark and powerful lord of Zhentil Keep, the wizard Manshoon. Through guile, murder, intrigue and his ever-increasing magical might, Manshoon created a cabal of like-minded wizards, beholders, wealthy merchants, and servants of evil temples whose purposes did not cross his - most notably, the temple of Bane.

In the last twenty years, the reach of the Zhentarim has extended to every corner of Faerun, forging what amounts to a not-so-secret empire over much of the Moonsea and the North. But the Zhents have also suffered many setbacks, most notably the fall of Bane, internecine strife between Banite faithful and those who turned to Cyric, the destruction of Zhentil Keep in a holy purge, and vicious feuds between Manshoon and Fzoul Chembryl, the Banite patriarch with whom he had cemented an alliance before. Chembryl emerged victorious, banished Manshoon and assumed control over the organization.

At the time of this writing, Fzoul Chembryl is the master of the Black Network, Lord of Zhentil Keep, and the Chosen Tyrant of Bane. With the Zhentarim under his thumb and the church of Bane, the Black Network is finally starting to see some of its major plans come to fruition.

The most prominent and powerful of the enemies of the Dalelands, the Zhentarim are a group of mages, priests, and warriors who seek to control the Heartlands through dominating trade routes. Several of the Dales have been infiltrated or attacked outright by the Zhentarim over the years, including Teshendale, Daggerdale, and Shadowdale. There is no doubt in any Dalesman's mind that the Black Network will not rest until the free Dales have been defeated and enslaved.

The Zhentarim are based in three major fortresses: Zhentil Keep, the Darkhold, and the Citadel of the Raven. Zhentil Keep's factions are most concerned with the Dalelands themselves, although the Darkhold and the Citadel of the Raven occasionally interfere with the Dales by their control of trade routes in the borderlands. The Zhentarim are led by Fzoul Chembryl, once a powerful priest of Iyachtu Xvim and now the chosen of Bane.

Before the Time of Troubles, Zhentarim activities in the Dalelands were extensive and widely successful. Teshendale was destroyed and turned into a Zhentish camp, and Shadowdale and Daggerdale were briefly ruled by Zhentarim puppets. The ruins of Myth Drannor were explored covertly by Zhentarim parties. Since the Time of Troubles, the Zhentarim have had few major successes in the Dales.

The Zhentarim's recent silence is a cause for comment and concern among many of the Dales. The Black Network has retreated to square one in its Dalelands policies, slowly rebuilding its infrastructure of spies, assassins, and secret sympathizers. Fzoul does not plan to be defeated by the Dales again, and the next attack will be a swift, certain stroke designed to instantly overwhelm any conceivable resistance.

While the Black Network members are preparing for their next offensive against the Dales, they are also keeping busy with nuisance tactics to draw attention away from their preparations. The Zhentarim are constantly stirring up the bandits and humanoids of the Desertsmouth Mountains and the Stonelands, encouraging them to raid and pillage the nearby Dales. With the elven Retreat, the Zhentarim are also moving to control brigandage and legitimate trade in the northern regions of the Elven Court. Fortunately, the city of Hillsfar vigorously opposes further Zhentish expansion in this area, and the two powers are locked in stalemate here.

Adventurers are not likely to confront Zhentarim agents directly at first, but may encounter their minions at work – bandits, raiders, and spies. Further investigation may reveal that the Black Network is supporting the activity, and interference in these activities may bring about the unwanted attention of the Zhentarim.

(STUB: Write about Scyllua Darkhope, Fzoul Chembryl.)