With the Forgotten Realms setting being one of the most popular in both tabletop and video games over the years, I thought I would share my years of experience in the Realms with interested readers. I imagine a lot of you have probably never played a D&D game or read a novel set in the Realms, so I thought I’d put together a cheat sheet for any players who don’t know the setting (or any old hands who just want to brush up). Keep in mind that I won’t go too into depth, and this is pretty basic stuff.
My central goal here is to give players new to the setting a way to hit the ground running so they’re not too lost if they hear a place or person mentioned.
Places of Interest:
The Continent of Faerûn-
Icewind Dale – Located in the far north of the continent in the Spine of the World mountains, Icewind Dale is home to frozen tundra as well as the association of settlements known as Ten Towns. While each town is independent, they form a loose alliance centered in Bryn Shander, which is a trading hub for the region. Many of the other villages’ predominant industry is fishing for the knucklehead trout (renowned for its ivory-like bones), and each lake has fierce competition over the best spots – competition which sometimes turns violent.
The Sword Coast – The western coast of Faerûn is home to numerous settlements: Waterdeep, the City of Splendors; the great library fortress of Candlekeep; and the city-state Baldur’s Gate. On the northern reach of the Sword Coast is Neverwinter, regarded as the most civilized place on the continent (although you wouldn’t know it for the number of adventures that seem to start there).
South of there, south of Beregost and Nashkel, is the nation of Amn. While much smaller in actual land area than its northern neighbors, Amn controls many trade routes to foreign nations, and as a result is tremendously wealthy.
The Moonshae Isles – Off the Sword Coast is a groups of islands with Oman’s Isle at their center; however, the capital of the Moonshae Isles is Caer Callidyr on the northwest isle of Alaron. The Moonshaes are predominately home to humans and elves and tend to enjoy a more peaceful reputation than many parts of the Realms.
The Moonsea – A region of harsh weather centered around the eponymous inland sea, the Moonsea is home to several points of interest. On the north side of the sea, this includes Zhentil Keep, the stronghold of the Zhentarim, as well as the city of Phlan. Phlan has a colorful history stretching back over a thousand years; this includes a point where Old Phlan was destroyed to the point that it was walled off. Beneath the ruins of Old Phlan, a party of adventurers stopped the entity Tyranthraxus from drawing power from its fabled pool of radiance. On the south shore of the Moonsea is the city-state of Hillsfar, which is a hub for trade as well as a considerable political power in the region.
The Dalelands – The eleven dales are each independent, ranging from the peaceful Deepingdale to the military dictatorship of Archendale. This is the location of Elminster’s home of Shadowdale. To the Northeast of the Dalelands are the ruined city of Myth Drannor, whose magical properties and buried wealth have attracted intrepid adventurers for years upon years.
The Underdark – A dark and immense network of caves spanning the world. Expeditions to the Underdark are incredibly dangerous and adequate preparations must be made. The Underdark is populated by such vile creatures as mind flayers, beholders, and perhaps most notably the Drow. While they have many settlements in the Underdark, perhaps the most famous of them is Menzoberranzan. Menzoberranzan is a center of worship for the Drow’s Spider-Goddess Lolth, as well as the birthplace of one of the few non-Chaotic Evil drow, Drizzt Do’urden (see below).
People of Interest
Elminster Aumar – The archetypal wizard, Elminster, or “El” to his friends, is one of the most important movers and shakers in the Realms. He has been at the center of countless adventures and crises across the world and beyond. Although one of the most legendary mages in the land, he is perhaps just as well known as a raconteur, loving to relate stories of his adventures. He is also a notable force of good, allied with the Harpers and willing to guide adventurers, as he did with Gorion’s ward during the Bhaalspawn Crisis.
Drizzt Do’Urden – One of the most familiar faces in the Realms, Drizzt is a drow, a people largely known as sadistic, Chaotic Evil underdwelling elves that are all too willing to provide living sacrifices to Lolth. Drizzt grew disgusted with these conditions and began living on the surface, making friends with a band of adventurers in Icewind Dale, among them the dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer and his adopted human daughter Catti-Brie, the halfling councilman Regis “Rumblebelly”, and the barbarian Wulfgar.
He is known for his paired-scimitar fighting style as well as his countless imitators. In spite of his tendency to inspire copycats, there is only one Drizzt Do’Urden, and he does not take kindly to imitators.
The Harpers – An organization devoted to promotion of good, and its members span the full spectrum of good alignments, neutral, lawful, and chaotic. While their primary focus involves fighting evil in all its forms, they also work to preserve art, music, and history, as well as maintaining balance between nature and civilization (the prime focus of the organization’s many druids). They are numerous in the Sword Coast area, as well as the Dalelands. Jaheira and Khalid, two companions of Gorion’s Ward during the Bhaalspawn crisis, were members of the Harpers.
The Zhentarim – A well-known and highly successful mercenary company in Faerûn, they can be found operating across the lands, usually taking the most profitable jobs they can manage. As their prime concern is money and they are more than willing to take morally questionable contracts, they are at odds with the Harpers, and the two organizations consider the other to be enemies.