Manshoon is a powerful and ruthlessly ambitious wizard in the lore of D&D and the Forgotten Realms.
Prior to being betrayed and slain by his ally, Manshoon formed a shadowy organization known as the Zhentarim or Black Network. However this is far from the end of Manshoon’s story…
So who is Manshoon really?
Let’s take a closer look and attempt to unravel the mystery of the villainous archwizard, Manshoon.
The Infamous Evil Archmage
Manshoon is the quintessential “super villain” type evil Wizard with a love of schemes and a genuine talent for manipulating others.
Any who stand against the evil Archmage are quickly destroyed as he continually seeks to prove his superiority. He is obsessed with gaining power (both magical and otherwise) and obsessively seeks opportunities to dominate others.
For Manshoon, those who wield arcane abilities are superior to the rest of the people of the world. Therefore, growing his own magic abilities to conquer all other magic users is the quickest way to conquer everything else.
Manshoon longs for the solitude necessary to further his studies so that he can enact his evil plans. He will happily take minions to do his bidding, but he has no interest in getting caught up in the affairs of others unless absolutely necessary.
Founding the Zhentarim
Despite being a lord of Zhentil Keep, Manshoon feared that he was too exposed.
To remedy this, Manshoon formed a mercenary company by the name of The Black Network which would later be known as The Zhentarim. This organization would serve to protect Manshoon, serve his interests, and protect him.
The Zhentarim’s reputation preceded them and was well-earned. Diabolical mages, fanatical priests of Bane (the god of tyranny) and Cyric (the god of deception), spies, and assassins all filled the organization.
Members would commonly be sent on impossible missions in an effort to cull the weak or stupid from the organization. The Zhentarim only held room for the best of the best.
Though Manshoon had little interest in building an empire at this point. He set his sights on using the wizards of the Zhentarim to establish massively profitable trade routes between the Moonsea and the Sword Coast.
Manshoon’s Insurance Policy: The Stasis Clone
Operating from the shadows to manipulate even his own allies while working on his research, Manshoon grew more paranoid. This paranoia would lead to his most notorious Arcane breakthrough: the Stasis Clone spell.
Through using this spell, Manshoon was able to have a duplicate body prepared to awaken in the event of his violent death.
This clone would awaken with all of Manshoon’s memories (including the identity of his killer or killers). The new Manshoon could then set about reclaiming his spellbook and plotting his revenge.
The Manshoon Wars
Manshoon’s paranoia was not unjustified. After decades in power, he was attacked and slain by his former allies, Fzoul Chembryl and Lord Orgauth.
But Manshoon had more than one clone waiting in stasis.
At least a dozen clones woke from their stasis. As these clones all sought to recover Manshoon’s spellbook, they would begin to encounter one another.
Each clone believed themselves to be the real Manshoon and had an uncontrollable compulsion to destroy the other clones. Despite the patient and strategically ambitious nature of their creator, the Manshoon clones would develop this destructive madness when they were near another clone.
The closer one clone is to another, the more intense the madness becomes. Even a distance of five miles was enough to trigger this destructive impulse to ensure that only one Manshoon would remain.
The bloodbath and sheer destruction that resulted from these clones’ battles would later come to be known as The Manshoon Wars.
Reports of other such confrontations would surface in the years to come and rumors would occasionally surface of Manshoon being spotted throughout the known lands. There is no telling just how many more clones are wandering in the present day.
The Three Manshoons
Following the Manshoon Wars, there have been whispers of three clones in particular who survived the fighting.
Orbakh: The Vampire Clone
In the crime-ridden city of Westgate, one of Manshoon’s clones awoke. Curiously, he did not have the same waking desire to destroy the other clones that the others had.
Instead, he thirsted for blood.
The vampire known as Orlak, The Night King had found the clone in stasis and turned it into a vampire. Orlak waited patiently to see when this Manshoon would awaken.
Ever the schemer, this vampiric Manshoon would seize his first opening to overthrow Orlak and take control of Orlak’s organization, the Night Masks. Dubbing himself Orlak II and, eventually, Orbakh, he turned the Night Masks into a type of undead iteration of the Zhentarim.
Firmly seated in power once again, Orbakh quickly rose to dominate Westgate’s underworld affairs.
But this was still too small of an accomplishment for the ambitious Orbakh. He left Westgate and returned to the Black Network.
Now he schemes in the shadows waiting for yet another opening to regain the power that Manshoon once had.
The Manshoon Who Returned to the Zhentarim
Another Manshoon clone quickly made its way back to Zhentil Keep.
This one was noticeably different than the Manshoon that the others had known before. He was quiet, humble, and had no visible interest in running things.
This clone prefers to be left to his own devices. He continues to practice and refine his Stasis Clone magic to avoid another mishap.
Improving upon his initial design, this Manshoon has also begun researching the ability to transfer his essence to clones or magically compelled victims (including Beholders). If he is able to succeed in this, he would presumably never have to worry about death again.
While this Manshoon is less outwardly concerned with being in charge, he is still just as ruthless and calculating as one would expect.
The Manshoon Who Went to Undermountain
Still another Manshoon journeyed into the infamously dangerous Undermountain beneath the city of Waterdeep.
He sought Halaster Blackcloak, the Mad Mage, and wished for Halaster to take him as a student. It was Manshoon’s hope that the scrolls and research that he brought with him might be enough to tempt Halaster into making a deal.
Though the Mad Mage of Undermountain wouldn’t hear him out. He burned Manshoon’s scrolls and refused to allow the clone into Undermountain. It was only after Manshoon chose to stay and wait that Halaster would eventually allow him to come in.
Of course, Manshoon ultimately aimed to usurp Halaster once he had learned what he needed from the Mad Mage.
But he did not anticipate Halaster to put up such a fight.
Having successfully defeated and captured his assailant, the Mad Mage amputated the clone’s left arm at the elbow for reasons that are unknown.
Manshoon was able to escape Undermountain and fashion a metallic arm for himself upon realizing that he was unable to use his magic to regenerate his severed arm.
Using a simulacrum to handle his affairs around Waterdeep, this Manshoon lives as a hermit in the Kolat Towers of Waterdeep’s Southern Ward. On the rare occasions that he must leave the Towers, he uses a teleportation circle to make his comings and goings as discreet as possible.
Manshoon in Waterdeep Dragon Heist
The Manshoon Who Went to Undermountain is one of the potential enemies in Waterdeep Dragon Heist. Because of the module’s unique “seasons” mechanic, a story that takes place in winter will see the party attempting to outwit him.
From his isolated tower, he schemes to gain the support of the Masked Lords of Waterdeep through bribery and blackmail as necessary. With their support, he plans to oust Laeral Silverhand (the current Open Lord of Waterdeep), kill the Blackstaff (the Archmage of Waterdeep), and become the city’s Wizard-King.
Of course, this also means that he’ll be stripping the Masked Lords of their tiles and replacing the City Guard with his Black Network mercenaries.
Ever the schemer, only then will Manshoon turn his attention back to Halaster Blackcloak. With the entire city’s resources under his control, he aims to destroy the Mad Mage and claim the untold riches of Undermountain for himself.
Conclusion – Manshoon
A villain to the very core of every one of his clones, Manshoon is a classic D&D villain.
He is unapologetically evil and his calculating nature (combined with clones that may have yet to be discovered) ensure that heroes will likely never hear the last of him.
Because he is present in so many different areas of D&D lore (thanks to literally being many places at once), few villains have the potential that Manshoon does.
If you’d like to read more about what goes into designing great villains like Manshoon, check out this article on How to Make a Villain Your Players Will Love to Hate!
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