This article gives a short introduction to five of the prominent evil deities of the Forgotten Realms. There are many, many gods in the Realms, and the current state of several of the gods is unknown. If you see that I’ve missed something in my descriptions, please let me know! Links in the article will typically be to where you can get the sourcebooks – either DriveThruRPG or Amazon.
Bane, the Black Lord
If the Forgotten Realms has an iconic evil deity, Bane would probably be it. He gets this status by being the patron deity of the Zhentarim, and by being the God of Tyranny, basically one of the most dependable of traits for evil you can think of. If Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine had a deity, Bane would be it.
Bane is the patron of those who want to rule the world. His alignment is Lawful Evil, and his followers basically think that the world would be a lot better if it everyone lived in one big empire, with one person on top. (Exactly who is on top depends on the individual… and yes, it’s normally that individual!) This isn’t a chaotic view of world dominance, but one that is well-organised and has everyone in their proper place. Mostly as slaves.
Bane was originally human, and ascended to godhood along with his co-conspirators Myrkul and Bhaal through the beneficence of an old god, Jergal. In 1358 DR, Bane and Myrkul precipitated the Time of Troubles by stealing the Tablets of Fate, which led to all the gods walking Faerûn as mortals. Bane, Myrkul and Bhaal were all killed in that time, with the mortal Cyric gaining their powers and becoming a god. For a while, Bane’s son, Iyachtu Xvim walked the Realms gathering support, but in 1372 DR, Xvim suddenly transformed into a reinvigorated Bane. Since that day, Bane has renewed his desire to dominate the entire Realms.
Unfortunately for Bane, the Zhentarim are no longer the force they once were. Once ruled by Manshoon the Mage and Fzoul Chembryl, High Priest of Bane, the Zhentarim have suffered many reverses, including the destruction of their major stronghold, Zhentil Keep. The current Zhentarim are trying to use more underhanded methods of gaining power than before, and seem unable to muster the mercenary armies that once threatened the peace of the Realms.
Bane is the chief god in Mulmaster, and for a while was the only god worshipped in Thay.
He is worshipped by members of the Lord’s Alliance and (of course) the Zhentarim.
Bhaal, Lord of Murder
The assassins of the Realms have their own patron, Bhaal, Lord of Murder. When someone wishes another killed by underhanded methods, it is in Bhaal’s name that the deed is done.
In fact, Bhaal was the god of all death, but we tend to associate him with just assassinations. Truly, Bhaal didn’t care how people died, it just needed to be often.
Bhaal is Lawful Evil. As with Bane, he was slain during the Time of Trouble. However, he was exceptionally busy during that period, and afterwards there appeared a number of mortals who were descended from him: the Bhaalspawn. Their story is told in the Baldur’s Gate computer games, in which your character is one of the Bhaalspawn. The two Baldur’s Gate games are brilliant. Released using the AD&D 2E ruleset, they’re very close to the pinnacle of what can be done using D&D concepts in a computer game. They’re currently available in enhanced editions through Steam.
Bhaal’s plan was to be resurrected through his spawn, but that didn’t work as well for him as it did for Bane, as it turned out that Abdel Adrian, one of his spawn, was a far more virtuous figure than expected and lived for many years as one of the Grand Dukes of Baldur’s Gate. (His story is told in the two Baldur’s Gate novelisations. I’ve never read them, but they are not well-regarded!) However, during the Sundering, Adrian was struck down by another Bhaalspawn and the resulting conflict between factions in Baldur’s Gate provided the power needed for Bhaal to rise again. (These events are played out in the adventure Murder in Baldur’s Gate, which I rather enjoyed).
Incidentally, servants of Bhaal are the chief antagonists in the very first Forgotten Realms novel, Darkwalker on Moonshae! (Published in 1987!)
Due to Bhaal’s recent return, I’m unsure where shrines to him are – the Citadel of Assassins in Damara and the Murder Hall in Tashalar are the old temples to him, which might be a place to start. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s a small shrine to him in Baldur’s Gate…
Cyric, the Prince of Lies
The mortal Cyric, after killing Bhaal and Myrkul (and his companion Kelemvor), was “rewarded” with godhood. He didn’t use it well. He was granted the powers of Bane, Bhaal and Myrkul – the powers that were once Jergal’s – and from there let his hatred and jealousy consume him. Kelemvor stripped Cyric of some of his powers when Kelemvor became the new God of Death, and Cyric has continued on his merry (and insane) way since then.
Cyric’s powers are likely reduced in the current age, since Bane and Bhaal (and possibly Myrkul) have returned. At his height, he was the most feared god in Faerûn, but even now his followers are everywhere. He and Bane are enemies, both competing for the hearts and minds of the Zhentarim (and everyone else). While Bane was dead, Cyric was the chief god of the Zhentarim, and it’s almost certain that not everyone in the organisation returned to Bane once that deity returned.
Cyric is Chaotic Evil, and his actions are a far cry from the measured plans of Bane. He is impulsive and rash, and loves to hold grudges. His murder of Mystra (Midnight) ignited the Spellplague, and for that crime, he was imprisoned by Tyr, Lathander and Sune in his own plane, the Supreme Throne, although his influence is still felt throughout the Realms. His followers care little for laws and morality – they seek power, and care little who they betray to get it.
Temples to Cyric are in something of a strange state, as he basically took over all of those belonging to Bane, Bhaal and Myrkul, but with Bane and Bhaal returning, the current status of the temples is unclear. They’re mostly hidden, however, as few rulers enjoy having worshippers of Cyric amongst their citizens.
The primary tales of Cyric can be found in the Avatar books: Shadowdale, Tantras, Waterdeep, Prince of Lies and Crucible: Trial of Cyric the Mad. (The first three tell of the Time of Troubles, the last two are set after he became a god).
Auril, the Frostmaiden
A few readers may be surprised by my inclusion of Auril in the first set of evil gods I’m covering. I’m doing so for a very specific purpose: her Chosen is one of the primary antagonists of Legacy of the Crystal Shard, the second adventure in the Sundering series.
Auril is the goddess of winter, and a servant of Talos, god of storms. She has a singular purpose: to cover the lands of Faerûn in ice. Not surprisingly, very few actively worship her – possibly some of the Frost Giants, although their own god Thyrm tends to hold their allegiance – but she’s feared and sacrifices are made to her in the northern lands, especially amongst the barbarian Uthgardt tribes of the Far North.
During Legacy of the Crystal Shard, she invests part of her power into a scorned barbarian woman named Hedrun. You can gain a lot of insight into Auril’s state of mind when you learn that Auril froze Hedrun’s lover because Auril wanted Hedrun to love no-one but her. She takes jealousy to an art form. And fickle doesn’t even begin to describe her; she is amused by at first aiding her petitioners, only to betray them at the last moment. Despite that, she’s Neutral Evil, not Chaotic Evil.
The harsh winter that Auril and Hedrun created around the Ten Towns caused a few to convert to her worship – and several would have survived the adventurers who came to the region to end the unnatural winter. Whatever the result, Auril’s power is strongest in the frozen north, and those who travel there fear her power.
Despite Auril’s connection to ice, she does not feature in the Elemental Evil campaign. At least, not that I know of… (Ice isn’t exactly one of the four elements, despite being frozen water. Occasionally we get paraelemental planes, of which Ice is one).
Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders
Which god has featured in more Forgotten Realms novels than any other? I don’t know, but I’ve got a very strong feeling that it’s Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. She’s the chief deity of the drow, and as such her shadow hangs over Drizzt; she’s never forgiven him for betraying her. This is despite the fact that Drizzt never really worshipped Lolth at all. In Lolth’s mind, he was hers because he was a drow. He was brought up in Menzoberranzan. He was hers. And he fled rather than be killed or do her bidding!
Lolth was once the consort of Corellon Larethian, chief god of the elves, but she rebelled against Corellon and was banished to the Abyss in the form of a spider demon. (The elves also split, with those evil elves banished beneath the earth eventually becoming the drow). Lolth has, since that time, attempted to gain power for herself.
Her mindset can be witnessed in the affairs of the drow. They constantly scheme against each other for power over the drow race, with treachery and dark magic being their weapons of choice. Females are dominant to males, and only female drow may be priestesses of Lolth. Meanwhile, men are condemned to the lesser art of arcane magic. A few years ago, Lolth attempted to become the new goddess of Magic following the destruction of Mystra; although she was unsuccessful in that task, her interest in arcane magic caused the status of wizards to rise, which caused more than a few ripples throughout drow society.
Yes, Lolth is Chaotic Evil. Unlike some demons, she’s able to plan far, far ahead, but those plans tend to be strange, labyrinthine affairs that are hard for outsiders to comprehend. Every time the drow appear on the surface of Faerûn, it’s wise to assume that they’re serving Lolth in some way.
Well, there’s a brief summary of five gods of evil. My primary source for these articles is the 3rd edition sourcebook Faiths and Pantheons, supplemented by research from the Forgotten Realms wiki. Other sources include Faiths and Pantheons (2e) and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (4e). Links are to DriveThruRPG if the book has been released in PDF, or to Amazon otherwise. (Novels are always on Amazon).