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Musical instruments

“Music of the Forgotten Realms: Background notes (ahem) for all Forgotten Realms AD&D game campaigns” by Ed Greenwood (1987 July) Dragon 123, pp.13–14

The Forgotten Realms display as rich and varied a selection of music as does our own modern Earth, from the drums and wailing horns of orc tribes to the eerie tone-bells of dwarves and gnomes, from the whistles and tantans of halflings to the haunting nosepipes and harps of the elves. To describe even the ballads of the humans of the North would take an entire book, so a summary must suffice.

Same name

Most music of the Realms sounds to our ears akin to late Medieval and Renaissance dance airs—mellow and sprightly, with the melody carried by a horn or harp (or both, interweaving counter-melodies), and rhythm marked by deeper horns or drums. Both ballads and instruments in the Realms suggest widespread intercommunication between that plane and this in the past; many instruments known to the musicians of our past are commonly used in the Realms. These include the:


Double-reed ancestor of the oboe and bassoon.

Different name

Other instruments employed in the Realms would be immediately recognizable by musicians of Earth, but are known in the Realms by different names. These include the


A flute.


A guitar.




A recorder.


A tambourine.

However, some instruments of the Realms have no identical counterparts on Earth, although most would be readily understood (though not readily mastered) by musicians of Earth. These include the glaur, hand-drum, thelarr, tocken, wargong and zulkoon, described below.



The glaur is a short, broad-mouthed and flaring curved horn, resembling a cornucopia in shape and fashioned of silver (which gives the clearest tone), electrum, or brass. A glaur is almost always fitted with a row of tubular valves like those of a trumpet, so that the sound it makes can be varied in pitch. Those glaur without valves are known as gloon, and are always played by large groups of musicians, each having a gloon that sounds a different note so that tunes may be fashioned or fanfare chords assembled. A glaurs tone is a brash, bright, metallic roar. By mouth action, a glaur-player can make it snarl. The valves of a glaur do not change the horns sound by distinct changes of note as they are manipulated (if the horn is winded continuously), but rather cause the instruments tone to swoop or soar from the note presently played to that newly selected. A group of glauren (the plural form of “glaur players”) can make a continuous, swirling, melodic tone, somewhat reminiscent of bagpipes.


The hand-drum is a cylinder of thick, polished wood, sometimes of pieces bound together with iron bands and soaked to warp into a curve before being sealed, but ideally an intact section of hollowed-out trunk of ash, ironwood, or cherry tree. Both ends of the drum, which is typically 1–2′ long and 6–8″ in diameter, are covered with tightly stretched hide to form an instrument like a conga drum. It is typically slung on a shoulder strap and played by beating and slapping. Its tone can be muted by clasping the instrument to the chest or in the crook of one arm. It is used to hold rhythm or sometimes to indicate danger, the sound of feet, and (by beat) emotions in the telling of tales in taverns.


The thelarr, or whistlecane, is a long, canelike reed cut from swamps throughout the Realms, where it grows in standing water up to 40′ or more (but rarely more than a dozen feet above the waters surface). Only that portion of the reed that develops above the waters surface can be used. When severed, typically in 4–5′ lengths, and dried slowly on rocks near a fire of coals (or by being laid on exposed rocks or other sunlit surface in hot weather), the reed forms a long pipe instrument. One end is blown into, producing a tone varying in pitch according to the length of the particular pipe. A player may use several pipes laid on a rack close to hand, but these are never fastened together like panpipes, as the vibration of one reed causes all the others to sound, and the resulting cacophony is painful to hear. A thelarrs tone always has a sawlike, buzzing quality, produced by the dry fibers within the reeds hollow interior. The hard outer shell of the cane always remains slightly flexible, and a skillful whistlecane-player can vary the pitch of the tone very slightly, causing a warbling effect, by clamping down on the cane with his hands at differing distances from the blown end of the instrument.


The tocken is a set of carved oval, open-ended wooden bells of graduated sizes, hung in a row from a section of cane or branch (which may in turn be affixed to a straight or arched pole). It is played like a xylophone, by striking the bells with a wooden rod. Tocken are sometimes fashioned of brass in the South, but such specimens are sneered at in the North (roughly, north of the latitude of Amn all across the Realms in this case, from the Inner Sea to the Sword Coast) as being “cowbells”, not having the subtle tone of carved wood.


The wargong, or shieldgong, is an instrument sometimes fashioned of the battered metal shields of vanquished enemies, but more often made of massive, beaten brass circles, varied in tone by weight, thickness, curvature, and the number and pattern of cutouts—holes of varying shapes pierced through the metal. Wargongs are hung from tripods (when in the field), suspended from overhanging horizontal beams at a minstrels’ gallery of a court hall, or borne on carved wooden yokes on the shoulders of musicians in a parade or when marching to war. They are struck with wooden mallets wrapped in cloth or strips of rubber-bark, and are used for sudden effect (like our Oriental gong) or tapped lightly and rhythmically to produce a continuous, deep, rolling sound audible for miles—making them useful for signaling. A row of towers on a fortified wall in the Realms (such as those on the Wall of Giants, which defends Aglarond from Thay) employs such instruments as signal gongs.


The zulkoon is a long, rectangular, wooden box that narrows at the top. Its bottom has an accordion-bellow of heavy hide that has a tendency to rupture (creating an annoying whistle and loss of “wind”), which the player rests upon the ground (or litter or chariot, if mobile) and pumps with a foot-treadle. The wind thus created goes up the zuldoon’s body and emerges at a number of holes, which are overlaid by ivory or bone keys and metal strings, strummed or flipped by the player to create sounds, so that the zulkoon functions something like an accordion, with an underlying droning sound. Zulkoons require five or six arms to play properly, if their controls are at all complex, and some permanent court specimens are larger than the norm and are played by two musicians (plus two or more bellows-pumpers). Organs are rare and treasured instruments in the Realms, and are never portable; the zulkoon serves as a rudimentary organ when a true organ cannot be found.

Myth Drannor harps

“Airs of Ages Past: Nine magical harps from the Forgotten Realms” by Ed Greenwood (1986 Nov.) Dragon #115

Many magical harps were devised by elven, half-elven, and human craftsmen of skill in the long-ago days of the glory of Myth Drannor; a few of these instruments still exist and retain their powers. Elminster the Sage has located descriptions of nine such types of instruments in his library, and I set them down here for bards and other interested parties.

Harps of Myth Drannor resemble Irish harps in appearance, having a roughly triangular shape formed by carefully crafted pieces of wood. A robust body arm leans against the players shoulder and is covered by a tapering sound-board, down the center of which the harp strings are set, knotted to pegs which fit into holes in the soundboard. An upward-curving neck of wood holds the tuning pins at the top ends of the strings and stretches between the top of the body outwards to form the top of the harp, joining the outward-curving, prowlike forepillar, which curves down to the base of the body and completes the harp. Most Myth Drannan harps are small, 2–3′ in overall height, and have copper, brass, and electrum strings, twenty to thirty-six in number. These harps require great skill to play pleasantly, for the strings are closely spaced and very resonant; half the skill of playing lies in dampening the sound of certain already-plucked strings but not others. Nevertheless, the magical properties of Myth Drannor harps do not require the hand of a bard or even a trained musician to be unleashed. For this reason, they are sought after by bards and nonbards alike, Myth Drannan harps retain their powers when restrung; the magic does not lie in the strings. All were initially of finely wrought appearance, with ivory and gilt inlays on black and dark red glossy-polished wood; all radiate a faint good and magical dweomer. They may be used without harm or penalty by all creatures able to stir their strings (regardless of race or alignment), and have powers and properties as described below. Bards who employ Myth Drannor harps increase their chances of charming as follows: a base chance bonus of 9% plus 1% additional bonus per bardic level.

Azler’s harp

When struck, the tones of this harp soothe rage of all sorts, and drive away fear, hopelessness, and despair of natural or magical origin within one round of being heard. The harps maximum range about 8″, or more if played in caverns, in a breeze (downwind only), or in a quiet place. While it is played, all charms and mental controls of any sort are blocked (not removed or ended, but held in abeyance) in all creatures hearing the harp’s tones—and no new charms or suggestions can be successfully laid on those listening to the harp, even by a bard using the harp for such a purpose. The strings of the harp glow with bluelight (as in the magic-user cantrip) while they are being played.

Methild’s harp

The music of this harp parts all webs, opens all locks, breaks all bonds, and unties all knots within 1″ of the harp (as per multiple uses of knock). Magical locks and knots gain a saving throw vs. breath weapon to avoid being affected; anything thus saving against such a harp is forever immune to the effects of that particular Methild’s harp. All webs, bonds, locks, and knots affected by the harp are outlined with an orange faerie fire from the moment of their being affected (within one round of being within effective range of the harps playing) for one turn. Magical barriers such as protective symbols and pentagrams, shields, walls of force, force-cages, and the like, having no designed opening, are not affected by the harp. A rope of constriction, rope of entanglement, or rug of smothering within 1″ of the harp when it is played cease to function for 1–4 rounds and release any creatures they have entrapped—although a creature actually entrapped by such an item could not itself play the harp to free itself.

Esheen’s harp

The tones of this harp cause all glass and metal within 3″ to ring and resonate, “singing along with” the playing of the harp; this is an eerie and attention-gathering effect. When the harpist plucks the lowest string on the harp, all glass and crystalline objects up to 3″ distant which face the harpist must save vs. crushing blow or shatter instantly into tiny shards. A single metallic object within this range may be affected as well. Magical armor, bracers, weapons, and other magical items (note that the metal or glass vial containing a magical oil, ointment, or potion is not itself magical) gain a bonus on their saving throws of +1 or whatever their magical “plus” may be to avoid being affected by the harp. The harp can shatter items that have saved successfully against its effects on earlier rounds, but the harpist cannot choose to affect some items in the harps path of effect and not to affect others, save for choosing the metallic item to be destroyed. The harp can be so used once per round.

Nithanalor’s harp

The music of this harp affects only its player and all things held or carried by the player (including the harp itself). The player is instantly protected for as long as the harp is played as though by a stoneskin spell (as per the fourth-level magic-user spell); the harp and all things worn or carried, no matter how fragile, are similarly protected, making them almost immune to physical attack. In addition, a moving field of protection exists about the harp and the players arms, so that it is extremely difficult to physically prevent or restrain the harpists playing. Note that magical attacks are unaffected, and the harp’s protection is ended by a silence, 15′ radius or a hold person cast upon the harpist. No other creatures or items can be protected by the harp’s music, even if touching the harpist.

Dove’s harp

The playing of this harp causes a gentle soothing in the minds of all within 2″ who hear it. This soothing quells insanity while it is being played, and instantly (and permanently) calms listeners, dispelling fear, despair, discord, rage, and hopelessness of any sort, and lightening black moods or grief for a time.

The music of Dove’s harp can also cure light wounds once on any listener within 2″ who hears the harps song for at least two full rounds in succession, such curing being effective in that creature only once every nine days. The harp cannot otherwise combat the effects of poison. While the music of Dove’s harp is aiding a being as described above, the harp and harpist (not the being aided, unless the harpist is that being) radiate a faint white faerie fire or nimbus.

Zunzalor’s harp

The tones of this instrument create a 3″-radius globe of pearly-white continual light centered upon the harp. This radiance lasts as long as the harp’s strings sound, and within this radiance the following effects are present: dispel illusion (as per the fourth-level magic-user spell), dispel invisibility (all sorts except psionic), and reveal glyph or symbol. This latter power reveals things all magical or illusionary runes, marks, or inscriptions, including wizard mark, illusionary script, unreadable magic. It also uncovers protected writings, glyphs of warding, symbols and the like, revealing them in outline in a luminous blue so they can be located or even tentatively identified or drawn for later study. The harp’s music does not trigger such magicks and cause them to visit their effects upon persons studying them. The harp does not prevent the normal operation of such magical things, and they may be triggered by being touched or in some other prescribed manner). Shadows, tweens, and other hard-to-see creatures are made clearly visible, outlined in blue radiance, if they pass within the harp’s globe of radiance. A mage employing duo-dimension appears as a thin vertical line of blue radiance in midair while within the sphere of effect of Zunzalor’s harp.

Jhantra’s harp

The playing of this harp causes the harpist and any other creatures touching him or her, up to a limit of four creatures, to be concealed. This occurs after the playing of the harp continues for one round. Those hidden are invisible even to animals, infravision, and ultravision, and they cannot be scented or tracked. They can also pass without trace (as in the first-level druid spell) and move and speak while cloaked in silence, even though their speech and movements are clearly audible to one another. This protection lasts for as long as the harp is played (its own music can be clearly heard, but it always sounds far off and as though coming from all directions). Any creature losing even momentary contact with the harpist instantly becomes audible and visible, and cannot regain this protection even if touching the harpist or other protected creatures again until the harp has been stilled. When it is so stilled, and playing begins anew, a full round of playing must always occur before the harps concealment is renewed. Spellcasting is possible when under the harps concealment, but at the instant of the spells taking effect, the caster appears even if contact with the harpist has not been lost: A creature cannot play the harp and cast spells or cantrips of any sort simultaneously, nor activate and control magic items.

Rhingalade’s harp

The tones of this harp cause the harpist to blink (as in the third-level magic-user spell) for as long as desired, and the harp is played. In addition, 1–4 mirror images of the harpist are instantly created, and these blink in the same manner as the harpist at slightly different times, so that the harpist (or rather, at least one image of the harpist) is always in view. Such images vanish forever when struck by a weapon (using the harpists own armor class), but they otherwise remain in existence until the harp is stilled. The harpist cannot cast other spells or make attacks during this time, for when the harping ends, so do its effects, and they cannot be recreated until the harp rests unplayed for at least three rounds.

Valarde’s harp

The player employing Valarde’s harp can, at will, cause either of two effects to occur, each taking effect at the end of one complete round of play: a gust of wind moving outwards from the end of the body piece of the harp, or a wind wall of 2″ square, lasting for three rounds, although the harper can end it sooner if desired. Tiny points of radiance flicker, dance, and wink out on the strings of Valarde’s harp, and about the brow or head of the being playing it, while its strings are in motion.

Elminster believes that a score or more of each of these nine types of harps may still exist, with powers intact; others that have lost their powers—usually by having the wood frame of the harp smashed (for even if repaired, the dweomer is gone after such a mishap) are known to be in the private collections of mages and kings. If anyone does find an intact harp of one of the types described, Elminster is interested in acquiring it.

Calendar of Harptos

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, p.15

The world of the Forgotten Realms uses the Calendar of Harptos, named after the long-dead wizard who invented it. Each year of 365 days is divided into twelve months of thirty days each, which roughly correspond to months in the real-world Gregorian calendar. Each month is divided into three tendays. Five special holidays fall between the months and mark the seasons. Another special holiday, Shieldmeet, is inserted into the calendar after Midwinter every four years, much like leap years in the modern Gregorian calendar.

No. Month Common name
1 Hammer “Deepwinter”
  Midwinter (Annual holiday)
2 Alturiak “The Claw of Winter”
3 Ches “The Claw of Sunsets”
(equinox on 19th)
4 Tarsakh “The Claw of Storms”
  Greengrass (Annual holiday)
5 Mirtul “The Melting”
6 Kythorn “The Time of Flowers”
(solstice on 20th)
7 Flamerule “Summertide”
  Midsummer (Annual holiday)
Shield meet (Quadrennial holiday)
8 Eleasias “Highsun”
9 Eleint “The Fading”
(equinox on 21st)
  Highharvesttide (Annual holiday)
10 Marpenoth “Leaffall”
11 Uktar “The Rotting”
  The Feast of the Moon (Annual holiday)
12 Nightal “The Drawing Down”
(solstice on 20th)