D&D 1E "The Savage Frontier (DR 1358)" - Exploring and expanding the origins of The North


The Forgotten Realms sourcebook FR6: The Savage Frontier from 1988 has for a long time been one of my greatest favorites. I believe that it is quite possibly the best campaign setting source that has ever been published by having large amounts of highly evocative material for GMs to inspire great adventures without being restrictive or stifling and how it manages to condense it down to a very small and dense package. I also think that even with the fame of The Caverns of Thracia and Dark Tower, this is Janelle Jaquays greatest work in RPGs. Unlike D&D sourcebooks in later editions, this is not written as a lore book covering the established cannon of the setting. The Savage Frontier, like other Forgotten Realms material from 1st edition, is primarily set up as a toolbox for GMs to create their own version of The North as the backdrop for their campaign. It reads in many ways like a coloring book, describing the general outlines of the region and giving them to GMs to color in the specific details. There is very little material here that is usable out of the box. What it provides is pitches and suggestions for content you can create on your own. But making these pitches evocative and creating a strong image of the wider world is an art, and this book excels in it.

The Forgotten Realms are infamous for significantly overhauling the entire setting with each new edition of D&D, and often in quite radical ways. While no longer holding the spot for the most controversial revision, the Time of Troubles and the first timeline advance by 10 years did a lot more significant changes to the setting than just reshuffling the list of deities, and the North got hit with particularly wide sweeping changes. A large number of threats and villains from the original version of the setting were killed off off-screen and instead replaced with peaceful quiet and security. Which really isn't conductive to adventures about heroes descending into dens of evil. The original version of the Forgotten Realms lasted only for two short years before it was overwritten, but I think that it's actually a much more interesting and useful campaign setting than what came after.

While the thin size of The Savage Frontier used to be a big disappointment to me when I first saw it some 20 years ago after having already read the 2nd edition The North box and the 3rd edition Silver Marches, I think this one actually holds up much stronger as a resource that inspires me to run a new campaign in it.
In this examination, I want to look at the setting in the way it was originally presented as a place for adventures and imagine how it would have appeared to people reading and using it shortly after it's release. In addition to FR6: The Savage Frontier (1988), I am also drawing on the original Grey Box Campaign Set (1987), FR1: Waterdeep and the North (1987), the 1st edition Player's Handbook (1978) and Monster Manual (1977). In some places I include pieces of detail from Volo's Guide to the North (1993), which is a 2nd edition book but is written by Ed Greenwood himself and predates the big updates from The North from 1996 by several years. While it is already very quaint and twee in the way that the 1st edition Forgotten Realms never were, it does provide some more details that don't contradict anything from The Savage Frontier or are in conflict with the original style of the setting.
The Grey Box covers events in the Realms in the years DR 1356 and 1357, and assumes that new campaigns start at the very beginning of the year 1358. The Savage Frontier describes events in the region as they are happening throughout 1358. These would of course be overwritten by a completely new timeline for the Time of Troubles which is also set in 1358. Bit of a strange design choice, given that 2nd edition material is set only in 1368. Since I am interested in what The Savage Frontier has to offer us as tools to create a personal, customized version of the Realms for our own campaign, I'll also largely try to limit the influence of information from later sources. Unless it's ideas that I really like. But if I think later expansions on the material could have been done in more interesting ways, I'll be doing my own thing.

Both The Savage Frontier and The North come with large maps of the lands north of Daggerford. The 2nd edition map is mostly a direct copy of the 1st edition that has been traced straight from the original, but with a slightly different art style and a handful of locations that were not previously marked. These maps are significantly different from the maps used in 3rd and 4th edition material, where lands were squeezed and stretched to reduce the huge and largely blank spaces occupied by the Anauroch Desert and Great Glacier and some unremarkable places in the south. The relative positions of many places don't line up straight between the two versions, and as part of the changes, the continent as a whole was somewhat scaled down. Distances between cities are generally some 20% shorter, but in two dimensions that translates to reducing the square miles of area to almost half. Those maps that exist for 5th edition appear to have reverted back to the original shapes of coastlines and rivers and are set at a scale that is roughly halfway between the two previous versions. [source]
Since the original maps only exist as printed paper versions and the quality of scans and photographs are not too great, I have recreated the map from The Savage Frontier as a 6-mile hex map. It is missing the outlying islands in the Trackless Sea and is slightly expanded in the north to show Icewind Dale, and marks the locations of a handful of villages that were first introduced in Volo's Guide.


The map is free for public use and available in several high resolution variants. (And occasionally updated as I fix any flaws that went unnoticed before.)

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Forgotten Realms in 1988
It really won't come to anyone's surprised that D&D has changed very significantly over the year and different editions. Many character classes and character races didn't exist for a very long time before they were added to the game and then be given a place in the Forgotten Realms. The same goes for many monsters and various forms of magic. The mental image of what the kind of fantasy worlds of D&D looked and felt like where also very different. I recently put together collections of illustrations by Keith Parkinson and Jeff Easley, which I personally think represents the overall feel of AD&D in the 80s the most evocatively. But that comes from someone who only encountered any of this stuff very late at the end of the 90s, so I really have no claim to speak with any authority about the people who actually read the books and played the games 10-20 years earlier. Illustrations in 1st edition books are pretty sparse in general, but I feel that these artists captured the general feel the most strikingly.

First I quickly want to recap the available character classes in 1st edition and compare them to their presentation from 3rd edition onward. The Grey Box covers each class and their specific circumstances in the Forgotten Realms, but these don't really add anything new or unexpected.
  • Assassins are one of the basic character classes from the PHB. Their abilities are just what you expect, focusing on stealth, a strong sneak attack, and the use of poison. Assassins must be evil. NPC assassins are always members of an assassin guild and when they find out about assassin PCs operating in their territory they will invite the character to either join their guild or be hunted down to be killed. To reach 14th level, an assassin must kill the local guildmaster, either by assassination or in a duel. There can always only be a single assassin of 15th level or higher in the whole world: The Grandfather of Assassins. All character races except halflings can be assassins and reach up to 8th to 11th level. Only humans and half-orcs have no level limit and become Guildmasters or the Grandfather of Assassins.
  • Clerics are quite straightforward, casting cleric spells and turning undead. They are unrestricted by any kind of armor, but may only use weapons without sharp edges. (Because of reasons?) They can be of any alignment except Neutral and the choice of deity has no impact on the spells they can cast. (And from what I can tell, there is no limit on casting reversed spells either.) Only humans have no level limit as clerics. Half-elf clerics can advance to 5th level and half-orcs to 4th. Dwarf, elf, and gnome clerics can only be NPC limited to 8th or 7th level, and halflings can't be clerics at all. The PHB does spell out that single-class clerics are almost always human, which also explains that it was assumed that demihuman clerics would be multiclass characters. Multiclass fighter/clerics have no restrictions on weapons. 5th, 6th, and 7th level cleric spells can always only be learned by humans, which include raise dead, heal, and restoration.
  • Druids must be Neutral and they can only wear leather armor and use wooden shield. But there appears to not be any restriction on using weapons, and it is mentioned that they have a wider range of weaponry (compared to clerics). Their class obliges them to never destroy woodlands or crops and will only kill animals out of self-defense or when required to feed themselves. The PHB says that there can only be 9 archdruids of 13th level and a single Great Druid of 14th level at any time. If no position is vacant, druids reaching the XP to gain these levels have to duel one of the holders in a contest of unarmed fighting or magic for the position and the powers that come with it. The Grey Box explains that these limits apply to each druid circle which governs a 500-mile area. (I assume that means 500-mile radius?) Only human and half-elf PCs can be druids, but NPC halfling druids can reach up to 6th level.
  • Fighters are fighters as you know them. Humans have no level limits and half-orcs are limited to 10th level, dwarves to 9th level, half-elves to 8th level, elves to 7th level, and gnomes and halflings to 6th level.
  • Illusionists are the only specialization of wizards. They work just the same but have an almost completely different spell list, which explains the origin of nearly redundant spells like light and dancing lights. Humans can be illusionists of any level and gnomes up to 7th level.
  • Magic-Users are the classic wizard class. Humans can be of any level, elves up to 11th level (cating 5th level spells) and half-elves up to 8th level (casting 4th level spells).
  • Monks must always be Lawful humans, and like assassins and druids must compete with each other for power at a certain level. The Grey Box doesn't talk about monks at all and they have no mention in The Savage Frontier. (Though the Order of the Yellow Rose in Damara has a somewhat prominent role in FR12: The Bloodstone Lands and the Bloodstone Lands adventures.)
  • Paladins must be Lawful Good humans and they can never be in the same party with evil characters. They may only be in a party with neutral characters on a single case bases as part of a quest to defeat a great evil. They may not own anything more than what they need to arm themselves for combat and support themselves at a modest level. This really requires the whole player group to be on board for a specific kind of campaign to be viable as a character.
  • Rangers must be Good and either human or half-elves limited to 8th level. At 8th level they start to learn druid spells and at 9th level magic-user spells. They do not have any ability to sneak and as such have no restriction on armor. (No mention about their druid spells and metal armor.) No more than 3 rangers may ever work together in a party. They can only own what they can always carry with them on their back or on a horse.
  • Thieves can be of any Evil or Neutral alignment, including rarely Neutral Good. They can be of any race, but half-orcs are limited to 8th level.
  • Bards are very unusual in 1st edition. Bards must be human characters who start out as fighters and progress to 5th, 6th, or 7th level. After any of these three levels, the character has to switch to being a 1st level thief and advance to 5th to 9th level in that class before starting training as a 1st level bard under a druid. Bards can be of any alignment with a Neutral component and cast druid spells. While it is very difficult for any character to roll the required abilities to qualify for being a fighter, and a thief, and a druid at the same time (Str 15, Dex 17, Con 15, Wis 17, Cha 17), bards are very prominent in the Forgotten Realms and make up the core of the Harper organization.

Character races is where things get a lot more interesting. Things are quite different in the 1st edition sources than they were presented later.
  • Humans are the dominant people of the Forgotten Realms to such an extend that it is almost an exclusively human setting in this early version. Human characters can be of any class with no level limits.
  • Dwarves in the Forgotten Realms are among the more prominent demihuman peoples, but their days have been long over and they know it. There are only two true dwarven kingdoms left in Faerûn, one being Citadel Adbar in the Savage Frontier, and the other being the Great Rift in the Shaar far to the south. Dwarven kingdoms used to cover most of the lands of the Savage Frontier, but now they are down to only two cities. They have been fighting against orcs and goblins nearly constantly for thousands of years. And they lost. The few dwarves that still exist in Faerûn see only two real options for their people. They either have to leave their mountains to build themselves new lives as minorities in human cities, or they can seal the doors of their underground strongholds for good and let their civilization and culture fade into oblivion with stubborn dignity. Dwarves seem to be not a too uncommon sight in the Savage Frontier, the western Heartlands, and some of the Dales, but there are almost no cities left and they are practically unseen in the east. Dwarves can advance to 9th level as fighters and assassins and be thieves of any level. Dwarven NPC clerics can reach up to 8th level.
  • Elves make even the dwarves seem positively numerous and prospering in comparison. The elves of Faerûn have gone. Those that still inhabited the remnants of their great ancient realms have disappeared to the mystical lands of Evermeet far beyond the sea over the last century. The great elven realm of Myth Drannor was mostly razed to ruins nearly a thousands years ago and existed only as a shadow of its former self until the last remaining elves all vanished over night just a few months ago. This leaves the remote and isolated mountain valley of Evereska as the only remaining elven realm in Faerûn. The general impression is that most people have never seen an elf in their lives. Elves can advance to 11th level as magic-users, 10th level as assassins, 7th level as fighters, and be thieves of any level. Elven NPC clerics can reach up to 7th level.
  • Half-elves are more common in Faerûn. They make up a large part of the population in Aglarond and there are considerable numbers living in the northern city Sundabar. Half-elven descendants of an old elven nation roam the High Forest as brigands. They can advance to 11th level as assassins, 8th level as fighters, rangers, or magic-users, 5th level as clerics, and be thieves of any level.
  • Gnomes are mentioned as being a common enough sight in human cities but having played no meaningful role in the history of Faerûn. The Savage Frontier states that there are no remaining populations of gnomes anywhere in the North. They can advance to 8th level as assassins, 7th level as illusionists, 6th level as fighters, and be thieves of any level. Gnome NPC clerics can reach up to 7th level.
  • Halflings are the most common demihuman people in the Realms. There are tales of a far away land of halfings in the south, but mostly they are a common sight in human cities and towns. They are a more rare sight in the colder regions and there are no halfling settlements in the Savage Frontier. They can advance to 6th level as fighters and be thieves of any level. Halfling NPC druids can reach up to 6th level.
  • Half-orcs are not really mentioned in the Forgotten Realms, but The Savage Frontier states that they are very rare in the region. They can advance to 10th level as fighters, 8th level as thieves, 4th level as clerics, and be assassins of any level.
One of the most interesting things I've ever come across in the Forgotten Realms is hidden away in the introduction of the Grey Box. (Which I assume nobody reads these days because we all know what the Forgotten Realms are.) Since this is kind of a textual analysis and historical research into popular culture, I am feeling free to cite the relevant passage directly:
"The Forgotten Realms are a world very similar to the Earth of the 13th and 14th centuries. Most of the area under discussion here has until recently been covered by wild forests and unsettled grasslands. Civilization is still a novelty in much of this world, even the oldest of cities on the Inland Sea, or the founding of Waterdeep, the greatest City of the North, are within the memory of the oldest living elves of Evermeet.
The people of these realms (including man, dwarf, elf, gnome, and halfling) are similar in mindset and advancement to the men of the 13th century. City-states are common, and nations on the increase as more of the wild lands are pushed back and gathered under a single king or government. Skills such as metalworking, farming, and craft industry are common in the civilized lands, so that swords and heavy metal armor are all-too available to the warrior. Literacy and the quest for knowledge in on the rise, with the recent introduction of printed hand-bills in Waterdeep. The merchants-class is increasing in both wealth and power as more markets and resources open up. Faith, while not as dominant as in Europe of this period, is a major force in the lives of the people.
There are great differences between that world and this as well. Great beasts and evil humanoids wander the wild (and not-so-wild) country of the Forgotten Realms. Ruins of ancient cities and towers may be found among the underbrush, old lands and names that are lost to memory and the past. And there is magic."

Forgotten Realms Campaign Set: Cyclopedia of the Realms, p.4
The references to the 13th and 14th century and Europe are very interesting. We are talking here about the mid 1200s to mid 1300s. As I recently saw someone point out, the year of DR 1358 can easily be mirrored to the year 1358 CE as a reference. And they are not just throw away lines from someone just making up a number out of thin air. The appearance of a merchant class and autonomous trade cities, woodblock printing, and the introduction of early paper money that is mentioned in a different place really are good examples representative of the mentioned period. This is the time of the beginning of the 100 Years War and the Hanseatic League developing into a confederation of independent cities. It's the time of the Teutonic Order becoming a state after the conquest of the pagan Balts, and of King Valdemar IV and his daughter Margrete taking over Scandinavia. The time of the fifth to eighth crusades and the Mongol conquests and of the Black Death. This paints a drastically different picture from the more 16th century and Renaissance aesthetic of the Forgotten Realms that is seen in 2nd edition, and the early 20th century with swords style of contemporary D&D.
It also mentions in many places that much of Faerûn is a wild world that is still in the process of being settled by humans. And this would be even more so the case with the remote Savage Frontier. It's in the name. It's the frontier, and it's savage by the standards of high society. The description of rangers states that they are really only found in "the North" (though at this point the term refers to all the lands north of the Sea of Fallen Stars and Amn) because these lands are in need of these trailblazers and scouts.
When I think of the Savage Frontier in this incarnation, I am seeing the Baltic Sea region in the 13th century. With cities like Lübeck, Riga, Uppsalla, and Novgorod, standing in for Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter, and Luskan. This is of course colored by me being a native of the region, but I think it's a really good fit, despite the sea being to the side instead of the center. But the Dessarin-Surbrin-Rauvin river network could take a similar role to the Baltic Sea, connecting the majority of trade cities in the region.
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The Geography of the North
Even with the maps of this region certainly being the fantasy map I've been studying the most throughout my life, I was surprised at what details you can discover while drawing a copy of it by hand and thinking about the implications they could have for the various settlements and the people who inhabit them.

Volo's Guide divides the North into a set of five sub-regions, which I largely agree with as being an obvious system or organize the primary landscapes and patterns of settlement. I would make some changes to the specific boundaries, split the Coast into two separate regions, and also consider the islands of the Trackless Sea an additional region to be counted as part of the Savage Frontier.
Concentrating only on the human and dwarven settlements, my classification looks like this:


As mentioned and not shown on this map, the first very distinctive region is the Islands of the Trackless Sea. While geographically removed by some distance, Luskan, Neverwinter, and Waterdeep are the closest major ports on the mainland and the Northmen sailors of the islands are very important players in the maritime trade and warfare of the northern Sword Coast. The most important island by far is Ruathym, followed by the Gundarlun, Tuern, the Purple Rocks, and the Ice Peak. These are sub-arctic island similar to Iceland, the Faroes, the Shettlands, and the Orkneys with a very much Viking inspired culture.

Next is the Frozenfar, which Volo defined as the towns north of Luskan, but I think should consider this largest port in the far north as well. Besides Luskan, important towns are the great mining city Mirabar in the Spine of the World, the dwarven city Ironmaster, Fireshear, and the Ten Towns of Icewind Dale. Aside from sizable numbers of dwarves, the population here consists mostly of the same Northmen who are native to the Isles of the Trackless Sea. It is also the main hunting grounds of the Black Raven and Grey Wolf tribes of the Uthgardt barbarians. I do not believe that there is any meaningful agriculture happening in these parts and so food will primarily come from fishing in the sea and rivers and from raising sheep. With Mirabar, Ironmaster, and Fireshear being major mining towns, they probably trade much of their metal exports for food from cities further south. While the port of Luskan is certainly more famous, it's population of 16,000 people is significantly exceeded by the 23,000 of Mirabar.

Continuing south, we come to the region that I uninspiringly call the Neverwinter Coast, following the Neverwinter Woods and surrounding the city of Neverwinter on the Neverwinter River. Aside from Neverwinter with a population of 17,000 people, it also includes Leilon to the south with 3,000 people, and the village Port Llast. The village got its name from being the northernmost human port on the Sword Coast at a time when the site of Luskan was controlled by orcs. Neverwinter is also always giving the impression of being much more similar to Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate than to neighboring Luskan, which makes me believe that it's population is more closely related to the people of the South and that the Frozenfar region was settled by Northmen from the islands at a later point. This is the primary reason of why I consider this part of the coast to be a distinctively separate region from Luskan. Being flanked by the Neverwinter Wood instead of the Spine of the World, I also think that this region has much more of a logging industry than mining. The famously mild climate along the warm Neverwinter River also allows for agriculture of a type that isn't possible in the lands further north.

Further down lies Waterdeep. While also part of the Sword Coast, the large Mere of Dead Men and the Sword Mountains create a large gap of rugged wilderness between the city and Leilon on the Neverwinter Coast. The city itself is one of the great oddities of the Realms. Despite being rather remote and isolated from the Heartlands and the very last outpost of what could generously be considered the civilized world, Waterdeep is widely considered to be the largest city north of the Sea of Fallen Stars with a population of over 100,000 people. The reason for the city's prosperity is that all the trade from the Savage Frontier has to go through it's port. Even most caravans traveling south along the road through Daggerford have to pass through it. How far the Waterdeep region stretches to the North is very debatable. There are good reasons to count Goldenfields, Rassalantar, Amphail, and the Bargewright Inn as being part of the Dessarin Valley, but their proximity to Waterdeep surely makes them economically and culturally much more oriented towards the great city than to distant Yartar and Nesme. Their proximity to the coast should also result in much milder winters than the rest of the North is seeing, allowing for a more efficient growing of grain and other crops. I see this region as being a northern outpost of the Western Heartlands and settled by people from that region.

Going up the great river towards the North, we have the Dessarin and Surbrin River Valley. These are part of the great water transport system that connects most of the interior Savage Frontier. The main settlements in this region are Yartar and Nesme with both a population of only 6,000 people. Next comes Triboar with 2,500 people and after that it's really only a scattering of villages of various sizes. With maps showing the area mostly as just blank land, my interpretation of the landscape is that of the northern parts of the North American Prairies. With Greenwood being Canadian and TSR being located in Wisconsin, it seem likely that this is what the creators had in mind. The Savage Frontier has a map that clearly shows that this is cattle county. Endless expanses of grass from horizon to horizon is perfect for raising grazers, which make for a great food source to feed this otherwise harsh and inhospitable land. You'll be seeing enough beef and cheese to last you for a substantial part of your remaining life. As with most of the coasts, I see this region as being settled primarily by people from the Western Heartlands. The plains east of Yartar are the lands of the Elk tribe, while those between Neverwinter Wood and the Evermoors are home to the Griffon tribe. Both are widely considered to be among the most hostile tribes towards the other peoples of the North. I expect there to be a lot of cattle rustling going on around these parts.

On the other side of the Evermoors lies the flow of the Rauvin River, which Volo calls the Interior. The Rauvin connects the cities Silverymoon, Everlund, and Sundabar, and an old dwarven road continues further east to the great dwarven stronghold Citadel Adbar of King Harbromm, the last true dwarven king north of the Sea of Fallen Stars. This region is dominated mountains, hills, and various forests and should experience brutal winters, but also potentially quite hot summers with warm winds blowing from the Anauroch desert. While this land does not seem well suited for any kind of agriculture, it is still home to many of the region's largest cities. Sundabar at 36,000 people (including many half-elves and dwarves), Silverymoon at 26,000 people, Citadel Adbar at 14,000 people, and Everlund at 12,000 people. The Moonwood and Cold Wood to the north are the home of the Black Lion and Red Tiger tribes, and the northern edges of the High Forest to the south are the territory of the Tree Ghost and greatly feared Blue Bear Tribe.
The humans inhabiting these remote city are distinctively different from both the Northmen and the people from the Western Heartlands. Like the Uthgardt barbarians, they are one of the surviving peoples from the ancient magical empire of Lost Netheril, as seen quite easily by their black hair. Other than legendary Halruaa many thousands of miles in the far away South, Silverymoon is the last heir of the great magic of Netheril.
(It bothers me that this region has no apparent food source to supply four major cities. This is something for which something needs to be cobbled up together at some later point.)

Finally, there is the Delimbyr Valley south of the High Forest. The river itself continues north for several hundred more miles, but the lands between the High Forest and the Greypeak Mountains is barely explored wilderness uninhabited by humans or dwarves. The lower Delimbyr valley is even more sparsely populated than the Dessarin valley, with the largest settlements being Loudwater with a population of 4,000 and Llork with a population of 2,300. There has been some mining going on in the Greypeak mountains, but this has been in decline since the dwarves of the region have increasingly come into conflict with the Zhentarim. The economy of the Delimbyr depends almost entirely on trade caravans from Zhentil Keep that go all the way from the Moonsea around the southern edges of the Anauroch desert and towards Waterdeep. Llork has essentially become a Zhentarim town over the years and more of a caravan stop than a mining town. The location of Loudwater close to the High Forest and Southwood makes it a good candidate for logging, especially for the shipyards of Waterdeep, and the lower parts of the valley should be suitable for both cattle raising as in the Dessarin Valley and growing crops as in the vicinity of Waterdeep. Like the people of the Surbrin river to the North, the native inhabitants of Llork and Loudwater have the dark hair of Netherese descendants, but no other signs of that great ancient civilization still exist. As one moves down the river to the west, these native people begin to blend together with the new settlers from the South.


The History of the North
According to the best of my knowledge.

In ancient times, there existed two elven realms on the Delimbyr river. Illefarn on the lower river near Waterdeep and the High Moor, and Eaerlann on the upper river between the High Forest and the Greypeak Mountains. Illefarn seems to be clearly identified as a realm of gold elves, and it appears to be implied that Eaerlann was as well. But the half-elven brigands of the High Forest are descended from moon elves and there are a few old moon elves living in Ardeep Forest near Waterdeep, indicating that Eaerlann was probably a moon elf realm. There are no mentions of any kind that there were ever wood elves living in the Savage Frontier.

East of the Greypeak Mountains were the lands of Netheril the first great human nation north of the Sea of Stars. It's eastern border was the
Narrow Sea, which seems to have spanned from the Nether Mountains in the northwest to the Dalelands in the southeast, but its outlines are now completely obscured by the sands of the Anauroch Desert. Netheril was ruled by powerful wizards from its founding 4,000 years ago until about 3,000 years ago when the Narrow Sea began to disappear. The wizards then apparently left, at least some of them presumably to distant Halruaa in the South. Yet the common folk of Netheril remained and inhabited the shrinking lands against the Greypeaks, which are now the Fallen Lands, for another 2,000 years.

At the same time as Netheril was declining, the dwarven hero Delzoun united the dwarven strongholds north of the Nether Mountains under a kingdom of his name. The dwarven realm endured for many centuries but eventually became overpowered by the orcs of the surrounding mountains. In the end, the greatest orc horde the North had ever seen swarmed down from the mountains and destroyed much of Delzoun and what had remained of Netheril. After the orcs were eventually defeated, the remaining Netherese abandoned the Fallen Lands and settled the now abandoned dwarven city Sundabar and founded the cities Silverymoon and Everlund in the north. In the south, they settled in Llork and Loudwater and build the city Karse in the High Forest, at the feet of the Star Mountains.

Some time later, Northmen from Ruathym and the Moonshae Islands started to settle on the Sword Coast. In the North, they founded Luskan with the help of a Netherese wizard. In the South, Northmen raided Illefarn, and the elves eventually left for Evermeet. Luskan itself would later be conquered by Uthgar Gardolfson from Ruathym. When the other Northmen of the Sword Coast took back the capital of their kingdom, Uthgar and his remaining men had to flee into the Wilderness. There they encountered remnants of the Netherese and together became the Uthgardt tribes, which still inhabit the wilderness between Luskan and Silverymoon.

Like all elven realms in Faerûn, Eaerlann also became a fading power. Fearing new orc hordes from the north coming over the Nether Mountains through Turnstone pass, they build the great fortress Ascalhorn and gave it to Netherese descendants to guard the northern border of their realm. Ascalhorn became infiltrated by devils, and when some of the wizards discovered the deception they summoned demons to drive the devils out. Eventually the demons won the war, but also overthrew the wizards, claiming the city for themselves, which then became Hellgate Keep. One of the wizards of Ascalhorn named Wulgreth escaped from tbe city and fled south to Karse, where he caused the destruction of that city as well soon after.

With demons on their doorstep, the next horde of orcs managed to destroy Eaerlann, with the elves moving south to the lands that had once been Illefarn, where they created a new kingdom together with dwarves and humans. This kingdom was short lived and destroyed by the last great orc horde, and is only remembered as the Fallen Kingdom. (If the elves of Ardeep forests are the last elves of the Fallen Kingdom, then it would support that Eaerlann was a moon elf realm.) Further north, the Northmen kingdom around Luskan also fell to the orcs, yet Silverymoon and Citadel Adbar remained.

It was only centuries later that Waterdeep was founded by Northmen from the islands of the Trackless Sea snd southern merchants from the Heartland, and the first lord of the city was a wizard from Silverymoon. The Northmen also drove the orcs out of Luskan, beginning the current phase of settlement in the Dessarin and Surbrin valleys.

Two years ago, devils from Dragonspear castle near the High Moor descended upon the lands with armies of orcs, devastating the Western Heartlands and making the land rout between Baldur's Gate and Waterdeep impassable for over a year. Soldiers from Waterdeep mostly managed to keep the devils and their minions from reaching past Daggerford into the Savage Frontier, but the war took a heavy toll on the armies of the Lords' Alliance and the mercenary companies of the North. Meanwhile the sailors of Luskan have been at war with those of Ruathym for nearly a year. Fearing danger for their own ships, Waterdeep forced the two sides to make peace, but that seems to only have encouraged them to join forces and turn their piracy against their many shared enemies.


Based on the information that is given in the 1st edition sources, I created these two maps.

The old bordes of Eaerlann, Netheril, and Delzoun are actually described with enough detail to make a very accurate map. The Nether Mountains being named after Nethril is a bit strange, since the borders of that realm could only barely have touched it. But since Ascore used to be a harbor on the vanished Narrow Sea, that gives us a clear limit for the northermost boundary.
The borders of Illefarn are much less clear, as very little specifics are given about that realm. For the Fallen Kingdom, which existed for only a short time after all the other realms were gone, there are several sites mentioned as being linked to it. The red outline is my best approximation for the area it might once have occupied to include all those places.
This is to my knowledge the only map that shows where the various Uthgard tribes actually live. The descriptions for each tribe in The Savage Frontier do provide a good number of clues for how far they would typically roam.
Interestingly, the Grey Wolf, Griffon, Elk, and Blue Bear tribes are describes as the most hostile to the cities of the North and the new settlers of the land, and they are just the ones whose hunting grounds overlap with the settled areas.

Disclaimer: Greyhawk fan with little knowledge of FR. I‘ve read some Dungeon adventures and series - like the Mere of Dead Men and Vampires of Waterdeep, plus some articles on the Wiki, etc.

But I appreciate your work.

I have long wondered why the Sword Coast - which appears to be the main focus - apparently has no major states, just city states or wilderness. GH has city states, small states, and major powers, and their wars are a huge part of the setting. Plus, I’m a history guy - why all fractured Italian-like city states, no Ottomans or HRE or even Venice building empires? The only thing I’ve seen above cities is the Lord‘s Alliance - not a state. Yeah, I know there’s Sembia or Cormyr whatever, but that’s not where I see the action. Zhentil Keep seems imperialist, but I don’t see their empire.

If your regions are viewed as states or spheres of influence or city-states with empires like ancient Athens and Sparta - Neverwinter Coast, Waterdeep, Dessarin Valley, Delimbyr Valley, and Frozenfar as rival political entities trading with each other, and alternatively cooperating or vying for power and influence in different combinations - hey, now we’re cooking.

I have a retired PC from GH campaign in Iriabor (sp?), but I figure he’s headed to Candlekeep.


I seem to recall from Ed Greenwood's comments on the Candlekeep forums that the Western Heartlands have no States because there are no easily defensible natural borders. If you look at the States that do exist, like Cormyr, Sembia, Impiltur, Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan, these all tend to exist within geographical boundaries (mountain ranges, bodies of water, forests, etc.).

As for Zhentil Keep, it's not so much the city-state of Zhentil Keep that is the main imperialist force (although it is out to conquer its neighbours). The world-spanning imperialists are the Zhentarim, a not-very-secret society that seeks to control trade routes across the western Forgotten Realms to get rich. Their core leadership just happend to reside mostly in Zhentil Keep. A high-octane protection racket, on the face of it.
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I don't think the regions have any kind of structures of states. But I do see them as different countries. Geographic areas with their own local environmental and cultural character.

My overall perception of the Forgotten Realms from the AD&D material of both 1st and 2nd edition is that the entire northern half is the actual "campaign setting", and the whole southern half a neighboring region from which human civilization originated. It's there, it's big, it's powerful, but described only in the most vague terms. Southern Sword Coast got a bit more than the rest over time, but still very sparse compared to the whole northern half of Faerûn.

In the south, we have a lot of proper kingdoms. I think the Shaar and the Border Kingdoms are the only places without a unified state. In the north, the eastern sections also have states. Impiltur is some kind of confederation of cities and Thesk is mostly just tiny villages scattered over a big plain with no specific borders, but they also each have a king. Even the Rashemi have something in the way of a unified government.

The phenomenon of city states is mostly found in the Northwest and central North, where the only kingdom is Cormyr. Sembia seems to have some sense of nationhood as well, though I believe there is no single ruler. It really is the Moonsea, the Western Heartlands, and the Savage Frontier were independent city states in the wilderness are the default form of state.

And the first edition material states very clearly that these regions are in a phase of transition and settlement. No specific time frames are given, but it very much sounds that these cities are not very old yet. Later they added timelines of historical events to the setting, and I believe in the process they made many of the cities way too old.

And there is precedent for relatively major trade cities in remote regions. With 13th century Europe being given as a reference, the free city states of the Hanseatic League and the various principalities that would later become Russia are coming to mind. And Iceland didn't have a ruler until the 1260s. Of course, there were various kingdoms and powerful duchies throughout the region as well and it wasn't all free cities surrounded by wilderness. But the overall idea is not that outlandish. Especially when seen in a kind of Wild West context.


Humanoids and Monsters

Of the demihuman races, dwarves are the only ones that still live in the North in substantial numbers. Citadel Adbar in the Ice Mountains and Ironmaster on the Sea of Endless Ice are their largest cities, but there are also numerous small dwarven holds hidden in the hills and mountains throughout the savage frontier. But they are also found as the largest minorities in many human cities like Mirabar, Fireshear, Llork, and presumably Sundabar and are not an uncommon sight in the towns along the main trade roads.
The native elves of the North are almost entirely gone. The only exception being a few old moon elves from the Fallen Kingdom who still live in Ardeep Forest near Waterdeep. Half-elves are much less rare, but their fully elven ancestors usually lie many generations back. The half-elves of Sundabar and Loudwater live alongside the humans of these towns without much special attention given to them. There are also clans or bands of renegades in the High Forest who seem to be generally hostile to outsiders. The half-elven groups in the North are all almost entirely descended from the moon elves of Eaerlann, many of which later became part of the Fallen Kingdom.

Orcs play such a disproportionate and complex role in the Savage Frontier that they will require a whole post just for themselves. Greatly outnumbering the dwarves of the regions, they are second only to humans and perhaps even equal to them in number.

There is very little mention about goblins. They are found on some of the islands of the Trackless Sea, where orcs do not live, and mentioned as inhabiting the Crags, the Greypeak Mountains, and the lower foothills of the Spine of the World.

Hobgoblins get more specific mentions. Like goblins, they live in the Crags and the Spine of the World, as well as the Fallen Lands between the Anaurochs and Greypeak Mountains. There is also a powerful clan of hobgoblins in the eastern peaks of the Nether Mountains serving the Morueme dragons.

Bugbears appear to have a significant presence in the region between Mirabar and Nesme, being found in the Crags, the Valley of Khedrun, and the Lurkwood.

Kobolds are mentioned as being found on the islands of the Trackless Sea, but not in regards to the mainland at any point.

Trolls are quite numerous in the North and widely regarded as the second greatest threat to human and dwarven towns after the orcs. Their largest population lives in the Evermoors, which are often called the Trollmoors as well, and primarily threaten Nesme and Yartar. They are also mentioned to live in the Nether Mountains and in the Mere of Dead Men, and a horde of trolls once nearly destroyed Waterdeep when the area was first being resettled by humans after the end of the Fallen Kingdom.

The two main kinds of giants in the North are hill giants and frost giants. Hill giants are found mostly in the foothills of the Spine of the World but also the Sword Mountains near Waterdeep, while frost giants have their homes higher up in the Spine of the World and the Ice Mountains, and in the frozen wastes beyond. There are also stone giants living in the Greypeak mountains, and some fire giants on the volcanoes of Tuern in the Trackless Sea. Fog giants and mountain giants are also mentioned to exist in the region.

Lizardmen are found in the Savage Frontier only in the Mere of Dead Men and the Lizard Marches near Daggerford. While being quite rare, the lizardmen of the Mere are a constant threat against trade caravans traveling between Leilon and Waterdeep.

Bullywugs are mentioned as occasionally being seen in the Mere of Dead Men. But I think they would also make good inhabitants for small tributaries of the Dessarin to add some local color to the area between Yartar and the Bargewright Inn, that is mostly very nondescriptive.

Drow are not normally seen in the North. Some of the half-elves of the High Forest are descended from drow instead of moon elves but that's the most extend of their presence in the Savage Frontier. While large drow cities exist in the Underdark deep beneath the High Forest, they don't seem to be known to come raiding the surface.

Duergar are mentioned once as having lived in Luskan during the time when the city was ruled by orcs. Implying that they probably live under the Spine of the World, but nothing else is said about them.

The main kinds of dragons found in the North are red, green, and whites. White dragons are inhabiting the frozen lands in the very far North among the peaks of the Spine of the World and the Frost Mountains. These are also home to red dragons, which are also found in the mountains of many of the rocky islands in the Trackless Sea. Green dragons are primarily found in the High Forest.
There is also a family of blue dragons living in the easternmost peaks of the Nether Mountains that overlook the western edge of the Anauroch desert.
One gold, silver, and bronze dragon each are mentioned as living in the Savage Frontier and interacting with humans almost only in magical disguises.

There are various mentions of beholders having been encountered in the wilderness of the North, ruling over hobgoblins and bugbears or secretly working with the Zhentarim in Llork, and of course Xanathar of Skullport beneath Waterdeep.

While rare, illithids show up in various places and situations. Often being implied to be involved in shady dealing with local secret societies.

Demons have a permanent presence in Hellgate Keep since they were summoned to destroy a group of devils that had infiltrated the fortress city Ascalhorn. They are rules by the balor Grintharke and the inhabitants of the city also include a death knight and several liches. The demons of the keep have been exiled from the Abyss and are unable to return to their own world. They also can only summon additional manes, dretches, and rutterkins. Since manes are formed from the souls of the damned, they can be transformed into ghouls, ghasts, and shadows, which makes them much more useful as soldiers for Hellgate Keep.


Considering ecology of orc, age of being adult - I think that population of orcs must be in general larger the population of humans. Also in 1350-1360 (not remember date) there was battle between 50000 army of Obould and 100000 army of another orc warlord at Citadel Felbarr.
p.s. thank you for maps

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