This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Thirty-six on 30th September 2020.
Ostron: All right, buckle up folks, it’s time to talk about Elminster.
Ryu: Oh good I had a bunch of other things to get done.
Lennon: Yeah, I’m going to fit a few things in the schedule and …
Ostron: Wait, what are you talking about? There’s a whole pile of notes I have here.
Ryu: How much could possibly be interesting about this guy? He’s the most stereotypical of stereotypical wizards.
Lennon: I mean, yeah, robes, beard, pipe, pointy hat, if Gandalf weren’t a thing this guy would be the prototype for every wizard in Fantasy.
Ostron: You guys clearly didn’t read the bullet summary. All right, here are your notes.
Lennon: Oh you better not have had ROSTRO pad this out.
Okay so as Mordenkainen is to Greyhawk, Elminster is to the Forgotten Realms, although he doesn’t necessarily get the automatic title of “most powerful wizard.” Despite that he is very accomplished as a wizard, which is interesting considering his background started in a very different place.
Unlike a lot of the defining characters from D&D who got their start in Greyhawk and had a lot of people pulling them in different directions trying to shoehorn them into various stories and adventures, Elminster was firmly under the control of Ed Greenwood. As the creator of the Forgotten Realms, he had most of the say over how the character worked and developed.
Again, unlike many of the Greyhawk figures, there is actually a fairly well laid out and referenced timeline of Elminster’s history and development because while he did show up in adventures and references related to Dungeons and Dragons the game, Greenwood authored several novels with Elminster featuring as the main character, and quite a lot happened before Elminster established his position as the so-called stereotypical mage.
To begin with, Elminster was a literal prince of a land called Athalantar, though at the time of his upbringing a group of evil magic users called Magelords were consolidating power, and a usurper killed Elminster’s parents. In response, Elminster took up his father’s sword…and ran away to become a highway robber.
Okay, didn’t see that coming.
He did okay at that for a few years but highway robbery involved too much killing for his taste, so he decided to just become a thief instead. Eventually he happened upon the chief priest of Mystra, goddess of magic, who suggested he should learn magic. He ignored him and stated that he hated magic users because of what happened to his parents. He kept up this stance until Mystra herself came down, made friends with him, and then…what?
I believe it says “Turned him into a woman”.
Okay, so Elminster or now Elmara, eventually became a priest(ess) of Mystra, and spent about a decade learning a lot of magic from another mage named Myrjala. Enough so that he learned a spell to turn him back into himself, and then return to his homeland and kill all the Magelords. He then abdicated the throne and left, but not before being attacked by the chief Magelord, whom they’d missed in the initial purge, where it was revealed his teacher Myrjala was actually the goddess herself. She then made him one of her Chosen.
He kept studying magic then accidentally got trapped in stasis for a century or two. Upon reemergence he spent a lot of time in the area known as Shadowdale, learning even more about magic and helping repel several attacks, while also being godfather to a few forgettable figures such as Laeral and Storm Silverhand.
By that point Elminster was basically established as the supreme magic user everyone’s familiar with, and most of his adventures fall into the category of “not for mortals.” For example, at one point a large portal to the Nine Hells was accidentally opened during a battle. Elminster went through and closed it from the other side, whereupon he was captured and tortured by the devil Nergal.
Mystra herself briefly went down to the nine hells to get him back but, being a literal goddess, her presence was noticed. She decided to send more “subtle” operators like, for example, Halaster Blackcloak. Elminster was eventually rescued by one of his lovers, Alassra Silverhand, also known as the Simbul or the Witch-Queen of Aglarond.
And yes, he said “one of.” Elminster, it turns out, is and was a bit of a ladies man. Apart from the near insane Witch-Queen, who is probably his most consistent paramour, he caught the eye of an elven woman with the title Lady of the Wood, slept with a literal dragon (though she was in human form at the time), and to top it all off, was also known to dally with the goddess Mystra herself on a few occasions. That’s not even counting the literal dozens of more mundane women he wooed, which resulted in a whole bevy of children of all ages; he’s centuries old and never let that slow him down at all. That ended up coming in handy when his body was destroyed and he needed a temporary place to house his essence so he hung out in the body of a great granddaughter for a bit until one of his other lovers (that Simbul lady from earlier) sacrificed herself to restore his original body.
Apart from the people he’s sleeping with, Elminster maintains a lot of alliances and friendships with prominent Faerunians. He had a bit of a rivalry with the original Blackstaff of Waterdeep until his death, knows and/or raised most of the Silverhand family, and has a good relationship with the Harpers. It can reasonably be assumed he knows or associates with most of the major figures of Waterdeep, including most of the masked lords. He’s also rumored to be the only one that can completely bypass the wards on Blackstaff Tower and is able to teleport directly inside, something that vexes many of the inhabitants.
It’s not clear if Wizards of the Coast intends to do anything more with Elminster than keep him as a prominent feature of the Forgotten Realms, or whether that’s entirely up to them. As mentioned, Greenwood has written several novels about Elminster so he may be the author’s intellectual property, but they were published under the Forgotten Realms banner. Regardless of his future, Elminster’s past establishes him as a fixture of Forgotten Realms lore.
Ryu: Okay, I’ll admit, definitely more than I was expecting.
Lennon: Speaking of, I think RaeRae was talking about the pool being close to full again.
Ryu: So much for those errands.