Forgotten Realms has always had a problem with expansion. When it first drew breath as a world for writing for Ed Greenwood, it was Faerûn and not much else. It was a tight package that more or less worked. Then they bolted on Kara-tur and Zakhara, and things got confusing, especially when Zakhara was fused into Faerûnian history as the source of both the Bedine and Calishites, and in the latter case, completely ignored the people in place. However, the recent release of Dragon Heist has changed this, by giving us a solid look at what a Tethyrian looks like. The vibe and coding for the Lands of Intrigue, Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan, got thrown for a loop, but in a good way.
To get what I’m driving at, we have to go way back to the first Sundering, an Elf caused event that broke the landmasses of the Days of Thunder into the form we’re familiar with today. At the time, a human population was present in the areas we know as Chult, Calimshan, Katashaka, and the Chultan Peninsula. It’s not a far leap to say that the population that gave us Chultans, Lapal, and Tashalan were what we would consider Black African in appearance. However, the art for Calimshan has always been generic Arab-esque dressed white people. So what gives?
In antiquity, in the age of the pre-enlightenment era of Zakhara, there were two migrations to Faerûn. The earliest was the one to modern Calimshan, consisting of Djinn and their human and halfling slaves, who drove out the dragons and giants, conquering the place and establishing the core of what would become Calimshan. The second came thousands of years later and was via a portal to the desert of Anauroch, that nonsensical hot desert in the temerate and cold climate zones. It’s the first group that concerns this post. It was a huge move, and it’s very likely that they simply enslaved the existing Black human population, who then mixed with the Arab coded human slaves. That would account for the rapid expansion of the human population which ultimately came to rule.
The issue here, as ever, is that art in the books concerning non-white, non-asian ethnicities was extremely dodgy until relatively recently. Peoples described in ways that flagged them as POC were seldom drawn or shown, and white people in costumes has the norm. Arab -coded? White people in Arab fashions. South Asian coded? White people in turbans. This changed in 3e, where a small image showed Black Tashalans fighting Yuan-ti, and again in 5e with the art of the new Blackstaff of Waterdeep, Vajra Safahr. Who is, by any reasonable standard, Black. Her image in is Dragon Heist, but her origins as a Tethyrian are in the novel Blackstaff Tower. This changes how things look, and adds support to the idea that the Southwest of Faerûn is much darker than advertised.
Previously on Twitter, I’ve argued that Calimshan is cooler as a North African, Barbary Coast analogue than as another 1001 Arabian Nights knockoff, and that Tethyr works amazingly well as an analogue to Moorish Al Andalus Spain, especially with the Spanish coded Amn to their north and the tumultuous relationships the three nations have had. It also adds a dimension and level of nuance that helps justify the Swahili Coast feel of Port Nyanzaru in Chult. Having Tethyrians as Black solidifies all of this, and makes the Lands of Intrigue that much cooler. But what exactly does it do, and how does it potentially change things? Find out in part two, right here!