How and where and when did the Forgotten Realms start? What's at the heart of Ed Greenwood's creation, and how does the Grand Master of the Realms use his own world when he runs D&D adventures for the players in his campaign? "Forging the Forgotten Realms" is a weekly feature wherein Ed answers all those questions and more.
"Fear me, pewling nothings! Cringe in abject terror and obey my every command, or die in slow and writhing agony!"
he humans cowering on their trembling knees before the mansion-sized beholder sank onto their faces—and then collapsed into limp and silent heaps and lay still.
The eye tyrant drifted closer to them, eyestalks whipping about in frustration, but found no subterfuge. They were senseless. Unconscious and leaking. It let out a slow, resigned sigh. Fodder, these days . . .
No backbones, any of them. Presenting the old, old dilemma one wearying time more: the biddable were useless for even simple tasks, but even the slightly more capable were only too apt to slyly work treason against their betters, foolishly believing they were different, they alone were special, for they would succeed in such deceptions where all before them had failed.
Oh, they were special, all right, but only insofar as the eye tyrants they'd dared to cross devised special demises for them in hardly-worth-it attempts to derive some amusement, however paltry and fleeting. In elder days, manipulating servitors involved fun, as one mastered ever-greater understanding of what moved humans to act thus and so, what could influence them without their being fully aware they were being nudged. These beholders learned what little touches could drive their servitors' puny thoughts into deluding themselves that they had personally conceived this scheme or come to that decision.
That was, and is, the true glory of The Way. The Tyranny is its older, blunter name; the ruling of lessers through fear. Oh, dragons and giants and even growling bears can make humans and leaping deer flee and shun large territories and not dare to even try this or that, but an accomplished eye tyrant can bring about exacting behaviors through terror, and they can muster and train armies of servants, skilled as well as mere muscle, to serve with eager loyalty for fear of the consequences of misbehavior.
An exacting eye tyrant can sway societies, changing attitudes and popular pastimes, and it accords itself every luxury while doing so. It is always informed—always "in the know" in the shadows behind thrones and at the hearts of things, part of back room and full court decisions alike, savoring the power. This might, subtly wielded to manipulate realms and races and even the most heroic and powerful individual puppets—and humans were the best puppets, with their widest range of emotions and diversions, their greatest naiveté and supreme boldness to try the new, the hopeless, the as-yet-unembraced—is meat and drink to eye tyrants. Both sustenance, the ongoing anchor of meaningful existence to which even beholders clung, and fine wine, the excitement and satisfaction savored as the triumphal reward of life, that which transformed mere existence into a life of meaning, that mattered. "Change realms, and change them again, your whim and will made reality; that is the Way," as the old, old eye tyrant saying put it.
Young eye tyrants duel each other, and with dragons and the like, in contests for absolute control that often rush into open conflict. They degrade and despoil the very toys they play with, blunting the successes and savoring of all. Some of them are too impatient and too impassioned to consider consequences or see far ahead at all, and many of them are utterly unaware of how their elders and betters manipulated them far more deftly than they manipulated the fodder. Fodder: merthrim, in the old tongue, literally "lesser and expendable beings." The blunt human term "fodder" is more popular these days, even among the True, since it so infuriates the humans who hear it.
For we of the many eyes are the True, the truly superior beings. Oh, illithids and the eldest wyrms and those who covet godhood and consort with gods in hopes of attaining their glories think themselves superior—but we True ARE superior. We are born thus and are driven by our hungers to dominate and manipulate into becoming greater than we were at birth, in an ongoing climb of personal development. Our superiority is innate and individual, not a matter of grudging cooperation to forge empires built on the follies of empty aggrandizement and doomed to fleeting flourishing before utter collapse or slow, inevitable decline. We excel all alone, each one of us, following our own weirds but considering consequences, seeking to empower and improve the merthrim and their lives, so as to forge better tools who can achieve more and so feed and entertain us better.
Oh, there are those among us who prove unequal to the strain—whose brilliant minds grow twisted. Some even sink so far from being True that they grow uncontrollably deranged, and they either wander lost in howling insanity or are reduced to the emotional excesses, lusts and greeds, and low and coarse aims of the fodder they seek to control. Who wallow in violence and in bullying and open threats, who eschew subtleties in favor of brutish excess and vile exultation. To do so is to be far less than True, for it is to become the very monsters humans believe us to be, the very dull things of undisciplined savagery we do and should dominate as a matter of course. Such beholders often fall to the swords and spells of so-called "adventurers," and so they should, for they demean us and deserve no better.
Yet such fates should not go unavenged, no matter how much we despise such fallen, for each such demise lessens our stature in the regard of lesser races, emboldens humans to dare more against us, to presume to thwart our schemes and directives, to repudiate the choices we offer, to defy the offers we make. Worst of all: to believe that their brutish swords can succeed against our superior intellects, that mere might and fury can sweep away all else. Such delusions fall so far short of the qualities rulers of all sorts must and should have—and who wants to live in a world dominated by idiots with sharp swords? By brutes who seek to take and despoil and wreak havoc because they can, regardless of what it does to all others and to the bounty of the realms they ruin? This rush into barbarism and wild bestiality is hardly the reward even the utterly selfish believe it to be. We True deserve to rule because we have the capabilities—the mastery to wield our powers for the ultimate betterment of all. There are always winners and losers; in the words of the Way, "There shall always be merthrim; it is the way of things." We True shall never be among them, for without masters, there are no merthrim, only witless, wandering prey. "Strayed cattle," to use a term popular among human priests. And strayed cattle can fall to any predator, not just the deserving. Wherefore such demises bring about no lasting improvement, no wider betterment in the world than the temporary filling of one predator's belly. Which is a necessary daily achievement to almost all living creatures, but hardly something in which to take overmuch pride.
A disquieting recent development in Faerûn is the increasing tendency of shapeshifting creatures to mimic the outward appearance of we True, in hopes of attaining the special regard of lesser beings, or even the covert aid of real eye tyrants. Some of these counterfeits are foolish enough to believe that there exists a fellowship among beholders that is more than deft dovetailing of schemes and manipulations, that some sort of secret society among the True exists to enable them to share in our spoils, or as humans might put it, "ride the tails of our cloaks."
These false beholders lack our powers of Art, of course, but more importantly lack our intellect and cannot hope to see the world as we see it. Wherefore they are an abomination to be stamped out even before their own follies bring them down. They deserve no less than to taste the swords of adventurers.
A fitting fate for all who are not True. Such lesser beings will perish or be swept aside in what their betters have set in motion, destined to play necessary parts in greater schemes they themselves can neither perceive nor appreciate. Doomed to die ignorant, and die sooner than they should have.
So shall you all.