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The Zhentarim is a fictional organization in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. Also known as the Black Network, it is an evil organization based on the continent of Faerûn. One of its goals is to dominate the lands from the Moonsea to the Sword Coast North. It is a criminal network and worshipers of Bane. Originally a secret society, the Zhentarim have operated openly in the area of the Moonsea, particularly around Zhentil Keep, its greatest base of operations. The organization was led for a long time by Fzoul Chembryl, Chosen of Bane and High Lord of the Zhentarim. In 4th edition, its leader is Manshoon, a vampiric clone of the original wizard Manshoon, formerly known as Orbakh.
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Many Zhentarim are simply opportunistic merchants; however, some do resort to illicit acts such as attacking rival caravans, extorting villages for food, or far more serious crimes like arson and murder. Bandits are hired by the Zhentarim to attack other caravans and towns. Wizards are also hired to conjure up or enrage foul monsters. During the period of time described by version 3.5, the Zhentarim have been sending some older members of their organization to frontier nations such as the Silver Marches, where they buy land and become peaceable homesteaders, raising their own families and biding their time until they are called upon again.
The original Zhentarim rose to open rule in what is now Zhentil Keep, then seized control of the Citadel of the Raven from the other Moonsea cities that shared it. They expanded their influence by conquering Teshendale, Voonlar, and Yûlash, and have plotted the conquests of Shadowdale, Daggerdale, and Mistledale. The Zhents have entire armies hidden away in the Citadel of the Raven and in a fortress called Darkhold, which is somewhere in the Western Heartlands. Zhents govern affairs east to the walls of Mulmaster, north through the Ride and the Cold Lands to the Great Glacier, and south through the weaker Dales.
The Zhents are soldiers commanded by cruel minor wizards, who report to powerful mages known as the Black Cloaks headed by Lord Manshoon—the Zhentarim's founder. The Zhentarim can also count amongst their forces some beholders (led by one named Xulla), many clerics of Bane, and clerics of Cyric. The Zhentarim's sole objective is to enrich themselves and control towns, villages, and entire realms along a trade route linking the Moonsea to the Sword Coast—the Waterdeep area, specifically—via Darkhold. Along that route, they smuggle slaves, poisons, and contraband.
Fzoul Chembryl, the ambitious Chosen High Priest of Iyachtu Xvim, joined the Zhentarim when Lord Manshoon (then leader of the Zhentarim) forged an alliance with him. He served as second-in-command for years, seemingly content with his position, but he schemed with another high-ranking Zhentarim, Lord Orgauth, a pit fiend, and eventually ousted Manshoon from power. Fzoul intended to turn the Zhentarim into an arm of the faith of Xvim (now the faith of Bane), and forced from the Zhentarim both loyalists to Manshoon (including Manshoon's lieutenant, the powerful mage Sememmon) and the faithful of the rival deity of Cyric. This led to a brewing war within the organization, with the western Zhentarim of Darkhold led by Sememmon and the Cyrisists opposing the Zhents and Banites, until Sememmon was forced to abandon Darkhold and go into hiding. The Zhentarim of Darkhold, however, led by the evil Cyrisist knight known as the Pereghost and a priest of Cyric called Dhamir Ercals, remain at odds and on the verge of war with the Banites. Fzoul, having slain Orgauth, had almost gained full control over the Zhentarim.
Among the ranks of the Zhentarim's other major players are the Banite priest Teldorn Darkhope—the lord of the Zhentarim in Mintar, and a close ally of Fzoul—and Lady Scyllua Darkhope—Zhentil Keep's champion, who administers the defenses and day-to-day affairs of the keep itself. Apart from Fzoul, the most influential member of the Zhentarim remains Manshoon, for despite being forced from command and slain, his death awakened over a dozen magical clones who attacked each other in the so-called Manshoon Wars, and eventually several escaped, including one who returned to the Zhentarim some time later to work directly for Fzoul.
Zhentarim are involved directly or indirectly as antagonists in the SSI / Stormfront Studios Gold Box computer games Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pools of Darkness, Gateway to the Savage Frontier, Treasures of the Savage Frontier and the MMORPG Neverwinter Nights (exclusively on AOL, 1991–1997).
The halfing assassin Montaron and mad necromancer Xzar work for the Zhentarim in the computer game Baldur's Gate. They were sent to investigate the so-called Iron Ore "crisis", and are available to join the Player Character's party.
The Zhentarim are also antagonists in Neverwinter Nights: Darkness over Daggerford.
- A person from Zhentil Keep. Not all Zhents are members of the Zhentarim.
- A defunct term for the military of Zhentil Keep to distinguish them from members of the Zhentarim.
- Can refer to either the organization itself or members of the organization (can be singular or plural).
- Donovan, Dale. Villains' Lorebook (TSR, 1998).
- Greenwood, Ed. The Code of the Harpers (TSR, 1993).
- Grubb, Jeff and Ed Greenwood. Forgotten Realms Adventures (TSR, 1990).
- Melka, K., & Terra, J. (1995). Ruins of Zhentil Keep Campaign Expansion. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc.
- Rolston, Ken (January 1988). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#129): 84–86.
- Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, Chris Sims. Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, (Wizards of the Coast, 2008). ISBN 978-0-7869-4924-3.