The Lands under Shadow
The Eastern Heartlands
The lands north and west of the Inner Sea were mostly settled by immigrants from Chondath (to the south) between 1500 and 1000 years ago. A second wave of settlement from Vaasa and Damara in the east occurred around the Moonsea about 500 years later. Consequently, the majority of humans in the region speak similar dialects of the Chondathan tongue and resemble each other in appearance and culture.
The Dales are a collection of independent communities occupying land around the edge of the ancient forest of Cormanthor. The earliest dales were founded following the erection of the Standing Stone 1300 years ago, marking an agreement between the elves of Cormanthyr and the newly-arrived humans. The agreement stipulated that the humans would be allowed to make limited use of the forest’s resources, provided they did not overuse it, and that the humans and elves would stand together against invaders. In recent centuries, that agreement has begun to collapse as Myth Drannor has fallen to darkness, the elves have gone into Retreat and Sembian and Zhentish invaders have begun to push into the area.
The inhabitants of the Dales are fiercely independent. Each dale stands alone, with its own ruler, trade and customs, although a central council attempts to encourage cooperation. Dalesmen tend to be somewhat rural by the standards of visitors and, despite a cultural tradition of hospitality, somewhat mistrustful of outsiders. They favour longbows, spears and longswords in combat, adopting skirmishing and guerrilla tactics against invaders. Their armour tends to be light, practical and individualistic.
Archendale, lying in the gorge of the Arkhen in the far southwest, is one of the strongest and most influential Dales, ruled by a trio of military officers known as the Swords. Archenbridge is the largest trade centre in the region and contains temples to Lathander, Chauntea and Tempus. The Dale boasts a powerful army, based at the fortress of Swordpoint.
Battledale is the historic site of many battles, rather than the source of armies, although Aencar, the Mantled King, made it his seat of power three centuries ago. A small population is spread out over miles of perfect farming country, with the only concentrated population at Essembra. Rauthauvyr’s Road, which connects Hillsfar on the Moonsea to Ordulin in Sembia, runs right through the Dale. Despite his title, the War-Chancellor, hereditary lord of Essembra, has little military might and the Dale primarily relies on the reputation of the Abbey of the Sword, dedicated to Tempus, for its defence. Essembra also hosts a temple to Gond.
Lying between the Desertsmouth Mountains and the Dagger Hills, Daggerdale guards the northern approach to the region. It is a land under siege, suffering repeated attacks from brigands, monsters and Zhentish forces. The largest community, Dagger Falls, is ruled by a Sheriff imposed by Zhentil Keep, and its rightful Lord, Randal Morn, leads a resistance movement from the forests. Daggerdale is primarily composed of small, walled villages and its people have become tired and guarded against outsiders.
Lying in the south of the Forest, Deepingdale honours ancient traditions, especially regarding the pacts with the Elven Court. Consequently, the valley is relatively heavily wooded and about half the population has elvish blood. The Lord rules from Highmoon, a trade town on the East Way from Ordulin to Arabel, and there are two villages that are exclusively populated by elves. The Dale maintains a sizable army and temples to Oghma and Corellon Larethian of the Seldarine. A deep valley to the north, known as the Darkwatch, seems to be the source of twisted creatures reported in the area.
This small region along the banks of the Ashaba is a popular stopover for travellers along Rauthauvyr’s Road. Featherdale has no large towns or ruler and its farming villages tend to look after themselves. The largest community is Feather Falls. Temples to Lathander and Leira can be found here (although the latter only after much searching).
The oldest dale still in existence is Harrowdale, on the Dragon Reach. The largest town, Harrowsdale, is a busy port, favoured by merchants avoiding Sembian trade practices, but the dale is otherwise a quiet farming community. It is ruled by a Council known as the Seven Burghers, made up of the wealthiest people in the land and maintains a group of rangers known as the Grey Riders, who handle law and order. Temples to Oghma, Tymora and Mystra can be found in Harrowsdale, and a temple to Chauntea is close to Velarsburg.
The High Dale
The High Dale is a steep pass through the Thunder Peaks, between Hooknose Crag and Wyvernfang. It is one of the oldest dales, notable for the carved farming terraces on the valley slopes. The Thunder Way through the pass is rarely used, so the dale is very quiet and its inhabitants like it that way. The dale’s council of six elected councillors, plus a selected High Constable, governs from Highcastle, centred on the ancient fortress called the High Castle. The pass has no temples, but a number of shrines and other sacred spots exist, including the famous Dancing Place, where a number of deities are believed to have manifested at various times.
A quiet, orderly land populated mostly by farmers, Mistledale is considered one of the duller places to visit by those seeking adventure. The valley is mostly open meadowland with scattered woods and the Moonsea Ride, from Cormyr to Hillsfar, cuts right along the middle. The largest community is Ashabenford, a trade centre and home to the Council of Six and their police force, the Riders of Mistledale. Abbeys to Chauntea and Silvanus lie within the valley.
Thirteen years ago, the Lord of Scardale, Lashan Aumersair, launched an attempt to reunite the Dales by conquest. Defeated by allied forces from Cormyr, Sembia, Zhentil Keep, Hillsfar and the other Dales, Scardale became an occupied land, ruled by a council of representatives from the victors. The capital city, a port also known as Scardale, was one of the most powerful in the region, and despite its current ruined state, continues to wield influence. The dale lies along the steep-sided gorge of the Ashaba known as the Scar and the walled villages scattered along its length are suffering from increasing banditry. Temples to Tymora and Tempus are situated in Scardale-town.
Also known as the Dead Dale, Sessrendale was destroyed by the forces of Archendale after a long war of words between the Swords and the Dusk Lord of Sessrenglade. The population of the dale, situated on the east slopes of the Thunder Peaks, was driven out and the ground salted to ensure no-one could return. Refugees now form part of the populations of many Dales communities. In its heyday, Sessrendale was a major source of iron and steel goods.
Shadowdale is probably the most famous small community in Faerûn, primarily for its legendary residents; retiring adventurers often settle outlying farms in the dale. The dale lies along the road from Tilverton to Voonlar, with the village of Shadowdale itself lying at a bridge over the Ashaba. The majority of the broad valley is given over to pasture and various crops, farmed from holds, small walled compounds housing a landowner, several labourers and their families. With the fall of Daggerdale, residents of Shadowdale are well aware that they lie on the front line against the acquisitive cities of the north, and the militia is surprisingly well-trained, although the main defence has always been the afore-mentioned adventurers. The dale has faced two conflicts in the last couple of years, the Flight of Dragons and Lyran the Pretender’s attempts to gain the Lordship. The Lord of Shadowdale is Mourngrym Amcathra, who rules from the Twisted Tower built by the former drow overlords, with the assent of the landholders of the dale. He is currently attempting to beef up defences, traditionally poorly maintained, and is convinced that Zhentil Keep will attempt an invasion sooner or later. Temples to Chauntea, Lathander and Tymora exist within the dale, along with an ancient Druid’s grove.
Tarkhaldale was located on the west slopes of the Desertsmouth Mountains and failed as a result of the advance of the desert. The Lost Dale is now home to a number of tribes of goblins, kobolds and ogres, and is beginning to be a threat to the lands on the other side of the mountains.
Tasseldale, located south of the Dun Hills on the border of Sembia, is one of the youngest Dales, founded less than four hundred years ago. The scattered towns, known as tassels, are very Sembian in character, full of craftsmen producing goods of all sorts for export. They also trade manufactured goods exported from elsewhere in the Dales. All the tassels are around the same size, but Tegal’s Mark hosts the Sharburg, the home of the Mairshars, the dale’s constabulary and standing army. The Grand Mairshar is effectively the lord of the dale, but rules with oversight from the Elders of the tassels. There are no temples in Tasseldale, but an abbey to Tyr lies in the Dun Hills.
Teshendale lay along the valley of the Tesh to the west of the Moonsea. It was invaded by the Zhents in 1316 and those members of the population unable to escape were slaughtered or enslaved. To their eternal shame none of the rest of the Dales reacted, with Shadowdale and Daggerdale both crippled by Zhentarim activity. The former dale is overrun with bandits and golbinoids, where it is not being exploited by its conquerors. The Zhents seem primarily interested in logging the woods to the north.
Cormanthor and Myth Drannor
There is often confusion among outsiders as to the distinction between Cormanthor and Cormanthyr. The former is the formal name of the huge forest that reaches from the Dragon Reach to the Desertsmouth Mountains. The latter is the name of the powerful elven empire that once existed within the forest, with its capital city at the legendary city of Myth Drannor. A couple of centuries before the raising of the Standing Stone, Cormanthyr was at its peak, a shining centre of sun elven culture, knowledge and magic. It retained its glory for a thousand years beyond the arrival of man, and even allowed non-elves to take up residence in the capital, but around 700 DR, Myth Drannor’s wards were broken and it was invaded by demons, falling in a matter of days. Since that time, the empire has collapsed, its inhabitants withdrawing into the forest to create the Elven Court and fight to regain the city. They failed, and the majority of the elves have subsequently gone into Retreat, leaving the ruined city to become a beacon drawing in adventurers from across the Realms. Very few get to go home.
While not technically part of the Dales, Tilverton is often grouped with them. A thriving independent city, it lies on the junction of the main roads from the western Moonsea to Cormyr and the Sword Coast. It exists mostly on trade, but is also the central distribution point for the mines in the Desertsmouth Mountains. It maintains peaceful relations with all its neighbours but there are constant rumours that Cormyr is looking to expand in Tilverton’s direction.
Cormyr is the region’s oldest human nation, a feudal kingdom founded 25 years after the raising of the Standing Stone. The current king, Azoun IV, traces his ancestry back in an unbroken line to that date. Cormyr maintains a strong military, known as the Purple Dragons, made up of professional legionaries and cavalry, reinforced by the War Wizards and led by a well-established nobility, and tends to be very stable, although it did face a nine-day civil war courtesy of a pretender to the throne a few years ago. It is the breadbasket of the region, providing agricultural goods to much of the Dales, Sembia and even the Moonsea cities, but is viewed as somewhat backward legally, with serfdom laws not seen elsewhere in the region.
About two centuries after the founding of Cormyr and the Dales, Chondathan immigrants began settling the rockier parts of the lowlands to the east of the Thunderpeaks. The settlements quickly established themselves as convenient locations from which to send trade caravans northwards and, before long, well-made roads stretched across the marshes, while ports appeared on the coasts. Crops and livestock were grown where the land was dry enough and, in later centuries, much of the marshes were drained using gnomish and dwarvish technology to provide more land. A couple of the new cities even began looking towards the forest as a possible source of further lands, although the elves put paid to that idea with a series of conflicts culminating in the Battle of Singing Arrows. Despite this, a number of southern Dales lost their independence to the invaders. Although the city-states have never formally united, they do operate a common council and deal with the outside world as a single league. Sembian forces are almost always mercenary in nature.
Nearly a millennium after its first settlements appeared, the Moonsea remains a frontier region, and its people retain a predominantly dour outlook. The Moonsea itself and the skies above are dark and grey and many of the surrounding settlements follow suit: the city-states are solidly-walled and contain ruthlessly efficient armies. Bitter wars between the cities are common, when they’re not fending off the goblinoids and giants of Thar, and a number of smaller communities have been wiped out, or change hands on a regular basis. The most powerful city-states are Mulmaster, Zhentil Keep and Hillsfar. Moonsea troops are well-drilled and utterly ruthless, armed with the latest in armour and equipment.
Hillsfar was once an open city, dedicated to trade between humans and elves, but changed with the beginning of the Retreat. The increasingly corrupt city council was overthrown last year and the city is now ruled by the First Lord, a ruthless merchant-mage named Maalthiir. The city has become aggressively expansionistic, maintaining an existing rivalry with Zhentil Keep and Mulmaster with the mercenary Red Plumes seen as far south as Essembra. The First Lord has expressed his desire to put the northern half of the Dales under his “protection”.
Built in the south-eastern corner of the Moonsea, Mulmaster is Zhentil Keep’s chief rival for dominance in the region. It is ruled by the Blades, a council led by the High Blade, and maintains a standing army of over 6,000. Like the other major city-states on the Moonsea, the government is authoritarian and dissent is violently crushed. The city is well-known for its segregated neighbourhoods, dividing the population by social class and profession.
The strongest city on the northern edge of the Moonsea, Zhentil Keep is the home of the Dark Shrine, seat of the Church of Bane. While not a theocracy, power is almost entirely concentrated in the hands of the Church, in the persons of Fzoul Chembryl, High Priest of Bane, and his ally Manshoon, head of the Zhentarim. The Zhentarim, also known as the Black Network, is an organisation dedicated to gaining control of the region in the name of the Tyrant God, and their machinations have led to the Keep’s gaining control of large portions of the northern and eastern coasts of the Monsea.
The region to the east of the Dragon Reach is referred to as the Vast. Largely pastoral land, it is dominated by the city of Raven’s Bluff, an outpost of the Damaran culture of the east. These lands are particularly notable for the number of adventurers they’ve produced; something in the Vastar character seems to inspire wanderlust.