The Border Kingdoms and the Lake of Steam (1372)
The Shining South cuts a broad swath across Faerûn, stretching for more than 2,000 miles along the coast of the Great Sea and covering nearly 1,000 miles from north to south at its widest point. The lands of Dambrath, Durpar, Estagund, the Great Rift, Halruaa, Luiren, the Shaar, Var the Golden, and Veldorn are bordered by numerous kingdoms, forests, and mountain ranges that the people of the Shining South trade with, war with, or just eye warily. To the east, Ulgarth looms as both a longtime threat and a potential trading partner, and beyond that is the Utter East. To the north lie the Firesteap Mountains and the Ghondalwood, the warring nations of Unther and Mulhorand, and the desolation known as the Plains of Purple Dust. To the west, the Shining Sea, the kingdom of Lapaliiya, and the mysterious Mhair Jungles form a line that serves as a boundary for the area. known as the Shining South.
The Border Kingdoms and the Lake of Steam
Just north of the Shaar's far western end is a stretch of coastline along the Lake of Steam that is occupied by a handful of small realms known as the Border Kingdoms. Despite the name, these realms don't truly border on anything except one another, and their boundaries are constantly in flux because the local rulers (mostly adventurers) rise and fall with the changing of the seasons. The common folk who dwell in this area make their livings by logging, mining, and fishing. They don't pay much attention to who the local lord is, since they know full well that the ruler who arises today might well be replaced tomorrow.
The nomads of the Shaar rarely ride this far west because the Border Kingdoms offer nothing that can't be obtained more easily deeper in the grasslands. The barrier formed by the River Scelptar makes the area an even less inviting target for raids. Still, a healthy level of trade passes through the Border Kingdoms from both directions, since caravans moving between the Shining South and Galimshan, Tethyr, and beyond often stop here. Some of these traders follow the road around the shore of the Lake of Steam - crossing the Strait of Storms between Theymarsh and Thuldolphor - while others brave the stinking yellow waters and foul inhabitants of the lake itself, crossing to the north shore to trade with the cities there.
On a regular basis, adventurer lords from the Border Kingdoms ride out from their small keeps and fortresses into the Shaar, seeking adventure to further whatever long-range goals they espouse. In most cases, the nomads leave them be, since they are usually on their way elsewhere and not worth confronting. Sometimes, however, adventurers are drawn into one of the tribal skirmishes or territorial wars that frequently rage across the grasslands. In such a case, the more heroic adventurers usually feel compelled to take sides, while the less savory ones provide weapons and magic to both sides in hopes of prolonging the conflict. Typically, the tribesfolk eventually grow tired of the adventurers, meddling and resolve their differences on their own, then turn on the interlopers and chase them out of the Shaar.
The Duskwood and the Querth Forest
A significant portion of the land encompassed by the Border Kingdoms is shrouded in forest, and nomads from the Shaar have long been gathering herbs and hunting for food and water in these regions. In recent years, however, some woodland-oriented adventurers visiting the Border Kingdoms have begun to settle the fringes of these forests. The Shaarans consider the Duskwood and the Querth Forest part of their traditional lands and do not look happily upon the encroachment of druids, rangers, and reclusive sorcerers in those areas. The more adventurers who settle there, the more volatile the situation becomes, and a number of major skirmishes have occurred in recent years.
This long stretch of forest runs from the north side of the Shaar past the north end of the Landrise and behind the Firesteap Mountains, extending all the way to the coast of the Vilhon Reach. Though much of this woodland is beyond the area known as the Shining South, the southern end of it flanks the Old Road, a trade route that connects Ghondath with many locales throughout the Shaar. At the very southern tip of the grasslands, the Old Road and the Road of Dust merge at Hardcastle.
The denizens of the Ghondalwood actively discourage outsiders from entering its deep, dark interior. In addition to the usual dangerous animals - such as snakes, spiders, tigers, and so forth - the forest houses numerous dangerous plants and plant creatures. Various fungi and mushrooms, as well as mistletoe and other parasitic plants, are prominent along the forest floor. Shambling mounds, tendriculoses, assassin vines, and other evil vegetable creatures also sprout here from time to time. But the true menaces to foreigners traveling these woods are the satyrs, centaurs, wild elves, and feral ghostwise halflings. In addition, rumors that a sizable contingent of giants has settled here have been drifting through the nearby towns of late.
The druids who live in the Chondalwood jointly watch over the woodland and keep it healthy. Their enclave, which is even more secretive and aloof than most such groups, has assembled various kinds of creatures into patrols and instructed them to watch for and be wary of any groups other than trade caravans that pass along the Old Road. When evidence of adventurers or loggers comes to light, the creatures begin a campaign of terror against the encroachment, making menacing sounds and displaying strange lights in hopes of scaring off intruders before they set foot beneath the forest canopy. When that doesn't work, the creatures do not hesitate to take more aggressive action.
The legend of an ancient elf city hidden deep inside the Chondalwood has been told around campfires for centuries. The stories vary as to exactly where the city is, but most versions have a few common threads. The elves lived openly in the forest for several millennia - in a number of tree-cities. They traded with the humans who were settling along the forest's fringes at first, but when logging began in earnest, the elves tried to stop it. After a terrible defeat against a united force of humans, the remaining elves retreated deep into the middle of the forest, supposedly to the hidden city of Ruthien-Than. Some say that this city was abandoned during the Elven Retreat, while others claim it never existed in the first place. No one has been able to find any evidence of this ancient city so far, though many have looked.
The Firesteap Mountains
The Firesteap Mountains stretch from the tip of the Lake of Steam eastward to the Landrise and the Chondalwood, then continue along the northern boundary of the Shaar to connect with the lands beyond. As mountains go, the Firesteap range is not terribly forbidding or monster-infested, nor are its peaks particularly high. On the south side, Shaaryan tribes have claimed the foothills as sacred burial grounds; and the tombs of their ancestors are thickly scattered throughout the entire stretch of ridges there.
The nomads do not tolerate anyone entering these mountains - not even members of rival tribes that do not claim traditional rights to the site. Anyone they find trespassing in the region is attacked on sight and driven off or killed. On the north side, bandits and intelligent monsters such as hobgoblins and ogres make ~ nuisance of themselves by attacking caravans along the various trade routes that snake through the area. The Old Road from Chondath skirts the northern boundary of the mountains, squeezing between the Firesteaps and the Ghondalwood, while the Golden Road out of Sespech actually runs right through a narrow pass on the western end of the ridge. The militias of both Torsh in the east and Innarlith in the west send out regular patrols to prevent raiders from completely overrunning the roads.
Innarlith occupies the far eastern tip of the Lake of Steam, just north of the Firesteap Mountains. For the right price, any commodity can be purchased here, including illegal goods such as poison, narcotics, and slaves.
The recent ascension of Ransar Pristoleph (LE male Chondathan human wizard 12) to rulership of the city has brought about some fundamental changes in the dynamics of the region. First and foremost, Ransar likes his creature comforts, and he vehemently dislikes anything that prevents caravans from getting into or out of his city. Thus, he has taken an aggressive approach to dealing with the raiders who hide in the Firesteaps and attack the trade traffic on the Golden Road. Ransar has begun sending large military forces into the mountains to hunt down and kill any sentient being that doesn't have a legitimate reason for being there - and a few that do, just to be on the safe side. Furthermore, because of Pristoleph's secret ties to Cyric and his efforts to subvert most of the major trading houses to his cause, more and more of Innarlith's illicit trade has been spreading southward, to Shaarmid.
Lapaliiya is a confederation of city-states along the southeastern shore of the Shining Sea. It stretches from the eastern end of the Delphin Mountains to the Sheir Peninsula, and from the shores of the Shining Sea to the northern edge of the Mhair Jungles, the Walls of Halruaa, the western edge of the Bandit Wastes, and the peaks of the Dun Hills. Loosely ruled by the Overking of Sheirtalar, these small realms are sometimes known as the Lapal League or the Cities of the Seabreeze, though the latter name technically also includes Narubel, Tashluta, Ormpur, and the ruins of Procalith. But the city-states that compose this nation are a fractious lot, and conflict among them (both overt political confrontations and covert machinations) is more prevalent than disputes with neighboring countries.
Each city-state in Lapaliiya has a civic deity, and its citizens discourage all other faiths. The dark deity of Lapalian myth is Amphisbaena the World Serpent, who has wrapped the world in his coils and is slowly crushing it into pulp as he devours himself.
Today, Lapaliiya is inhabited mostly by Shaaryans and Calishites, and Tashalans make up only a small minority. Regardless of their ethnicity, Lapaliiyans are zealous warriors and industrious merchants who place tremendous value on personal honor and propriety. Duels and feuds over slights that folk of other lands might readily dismiss are common. Clerics and monks enjoy positions of respect and authority in Lapaliiya, while arcane spellcasters are viewed with some suspicion - an attitude that dates back to the Rage of Wizards (1142 DR).
Lapaliiyans consider serpentfolk the greatest threat to their lives and property. Such creatures are slain on sight if they reveal themselves as such, and overt dealings with them are punishable by death. Nevertheless, the yuan-ti wield considerable influence in Lapaliiya, and officials routinely overlook suspicious dealings involving persons with significant political strength.
In centuries past, Lapaliiya was a nation in name only, ruled by an essentially powerless Grand Council composed of the satraps of the five most powerful city-states. The union of the ruling houses of Sheirtalar and Luslipool in the Year of Glad Tidings (1147 DR), occurring as it did in the immediate aftermath of the Rage of Wizards, led to the installation of a ruler - the Overking of Lapaliiya. In addition to ruling the cities of Sheirtalar and (through the heir to the throne) Lushpool, the overking theoretically governs all Lapaliiya with the consent of the Grand Council, which can vote on the policy he sets forth but cannot initiate its own decrees. In practice, however, the overking must still secure unanimous consent from the representatives of Sammaresh, Ithmong, Lushpool, Sheirtalar, and Uzurr for any new policies, and this process usually involves negotiating with the reigning Shoonsar of Ithmong and the Satraps of Lushpool.
Ormpur (Large City)
Also known as Ormpar in the local vernacular, the City of Saffron (population 24,612) lies at the head of Ormpur Bay on the eastern end of the Shining Sea. Ruled by High Suikh Ijelbareim "the Storm Wind" Alanasker, the city is known for its production of saffron. In fact, Ormpur Bay is the only spot in Faerûn where the crocus flower needed to produce this rare spice grows in abundance. Unlike Lapaliiya to the south, the majority of the human population here is of Tashalan origin. The difference in ethnicity stems from the fact that Ormpur has never been conquered by Shaaryan nomads - primarily because those folk have always been welcomed in the city's markets.
Ormpur has long been a powerful and independent city-state, thanks to ~ long-standing alliance with a clutch of chromatic wyrmlings. Even during the era of the Shoon Imperium, Ormpur retained its nominal independence via careful diplomatic maneuvering in the court of the qysars and the unspoken threat posed by its wyrmling-mounted cavalry. In recent times, however, bloody infighting among the royalty of the city combined with a number of other unfortunate events has reduced Ormpur from a great city to the lesser realm that it is today. Although it still retains its nominal independence, Ompur is increasingly falling under the sway of the Overking of Lapaliiya.
The Shining City by the Sea (population 52,135:) sits at the head of Sheir Bay on the northern end of the much larger Talar Bay, which is located at the foot of the Sheir peninsula. The land slopes sharply down to meet the waters, allowing those arriving on ships to see almost all the city at once. The city's apt nickname arise from the fact that most of the prominent buildings are domed and leafed in silver and gold. Sheirtalar is the capital of Lapaliiya and the largest and most powerful of the confederated city-states. Its ruler is the Overking of Lapaliiya, Shaliim Wyrmslayer (CN male Tashalan human fighter 5/sorcerer 5/eldritch knight 7). The Domed Palace of the Overking, the most prominent of Sheirtalar's landmarks, sits atop a granite outcropping in the upper third of the city. The Gilt House of Gleaming Coins, the temple dedicated to Waukeen, the city's civic deity, is also incredibly opulent. Because most trade goods exiting the Shaar for western Faerûn pass through this port, it has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the South.
For more information on Lapaliiya, see Serpent Kingdoms.
The Mhair Jungles
The Mhair Jungles lie between the Lapal Sea and the West Wall of Halruaa. This expanse of dark, tropical forest contains all manner of-plant, animal, and monster life - most of it unknown anywhere else, and much of it deadly. The yuan-ti, who consider these jungles sacred, come here to hunt, scour the ancient ruins of their ancestors, and drive off intruders. The northern Mhair Jungles are also the preserve of dire tigers, digesters, and many nomadic tribes of wild dwarf hunters. The wetter southern reaches eventually give way to vast mangrove swamps hunted by solitary sword spiders and nagahydras.
Yuan-ti dwell in and among the ruins of Mhairshaulk, and other major ruins are claimed by solitary Faerûnian hanagas and nagahydras. Lesser ruins are uncommon on the surface because the jungle growth has wholly devoured them over the course of millennia. Scattered sinkholes throughout the Mhair Jungles lead into the Serpent Deeps, and explorers are advised to watch out for sinkhole traps set by dwarf hunters.
For more information on the Mhair Jungles, see Serpent Kingdoms.
Once a sprawling-empire that included much of eastern Faerûn, Mulhorand is now but a shadow of what it was at its height. Despite its general decline and the fact that mortal leaders have replaced its former deific rulers, Mulhorand is still a mighty nation and a potential threat to any country in its vicinity. Fortunately for the nomads of the Shaar, most of Mulhorand's attention has been turned north and west, rather than south. Thay was once a part of the Mulhorandi Empire, and the Mulan of both nations still remember that fact. Mulhorand has also been a traditional enemy of Unther, and Mulhorandi forces have recently invaded that country and nearly conquered it.
Because so much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to other interests, Mulhorand's leaders have given little consideration to the possibility of southward expansion. In fact, the nomads have benefited from the current situation, since Mulhorand requires a steady stream of trade goods to equip and feed its armies in Unther. The flow of goods and coin back and forth between Mulhorand and the Golden Water region would be even greater if not for the monster problem in Veldorn, and the Mulhorandi are sure to address that issue at some point in the future.
The Dragonsword Mountains
This narrow band of mountains divides Mulhorand from the Plains of Purple Dust. Since its peaks are infested with sphinxes, griffons, yrthaks, and several blue dragons, it serves as an effective barrier between those two regions. The mountains jut down into the fringes of the Shaar, and the only navigable route from the Golden Water to Mulhorand and back again passes between the tip of the range and Azulduth, the Lake of Salt.
The small city of Mishtan, which serves as a gateway to the City of the Dead, marks the end of the trade road from parts south. Ruled by clergy dedicated to Osiris - the Mulhorandi deity of the dead - Mishtan serves as a base of operations for the continual construction of the City of the Dead. Mishtan houses the workers who build the tombs, and its warehouses store supplies and food, a substantial portion of which comes from the south.
The City of the Dead, where the Mulhorandi have traditionally buried their honored dead, lies a little east of Mishtan, nestled in the foothills at the southern end of the Dragonsword Mountains. Tombs, obelisks, and other grand features jut up from the low hills here, and such structures would be inviting targets for tomb robbers and adventurers if not for the swarms of zombies and skeletons housed in the finished tombs. The few brave souls who do try to steal the riches sealed in the graves often inadvertently release undead to roam the foothills, and occasionally these creatures venture west into Mishtan or south toward the trade route.
The Plains of Purple Dust
Like Raurin, the Dust Desert, the Plains of Purple Dust consist of a vast wasteland marked by blowing sand and buried ruins. Reputedly formed when deities of Unther and Mulhorand battled one another, the sand is said to be faintly magical, though no one can agree on its exact properties. Despite the rumors of fell magic and the perils of a wind-torn desert, the plains are not completely uninhabited. Hardy nomads roam along the far western fringe, staying just close enough to the foothills of the Dragonsword Mountains to find water and game, but far enough away to avoid the worst of the predators that live on the mountain slopes.
In fact, the dangers of the Plains of Purple Dust go far beyond the scorching sun, lack of water, and blinding sandstorms. Mammoth purple worms lair in the sands, rising up like massive snakes to devour anything and everything that comes within range. These behemoths can easily best any creature except the largest and most cunning dragons of the region.
Once part of the Imaskar Empire, the Plains of Purple Dust still hide many of that ancient nation's secrets. Numerous ruins are scattered across its surface, and abundant routes lead down through the sand and rock into the Underdark below. Wedged between the Earthroot region and Deep Raurin, the area of the Underdark below the Plains of Purple Dust is home to several fierce and cruel tribes of lizardfolk - creatures that haven't seen the light of day in centuries, if not millennia. These scaly beings routinely bring old Imaskari magic to bear in defense of their caverns, utilizing items of power unheard of in modern-day Faerûn.
The Shining Sea
Except for the Sea of Fallen Stars, the Shining Sea supports the most merchant traffic of any body of water in or around Faerûn. A significant portion of its commerce runs directly to the eastern tip of the sea, to Lapaliiya and the independent city-state of Ormpur. Those ports function as staging points between the seagoing traffic and the overland caravans, which transport goods throughout the Shining South. As a result, goods from the Chultan Peninsula, Calimshan, and as far away as the Sword Coast make their way into the western end of the Shaar, through the Talath Pass into Halruaa, and into still other areas of the Shining South. Even vessels that have ventured as far away as Maztica often bring strange and exotic items to the markets of the Shining South via the Shining Sea.
Though geographical proximity might lead some to consider Ulgarth part of the Golden Water region, the marked differences between this nation and the others on the bay are significant enough to merit its classification as a separate realm. In many ways, Ulgarth is an isolated nation, bounded on the north by the Dustwall, on the west by Durpar and the Golden Water, on the south by the Great Sea, and on the east by the vast plains of the Utter East. Like the other offspring countries of the Raurin Empire, Ulgarth endured centuries of dark barbarism after that great nation was destroyed. Little technological or commercial development occurred here while rival tribes from the Shining South and beyond waged countless small wars on this region. Finally, after the bloodshed had reduced the local population to a fraction of its previous size, the people of the Ulgarth region grew tired of war and turned to agrarian pursuits. The nation developed a highly structured caste system consisting of lords who owned the land and peasants who worked it on the lords' behalf.
Today, Ulgarth is a traditional monarchy ruled by King Drasna Bluemantle (LG male human aristocrat 6/fighter 8) and divided into six distinct baronies. The barons who oversee these sections must provide troops to aid in the defense of the country, and they engage in heavy trade to pay for the support these armies.
As with its neighbors on the bay, much of Ulgarth's wealth and prosperity stems from the trade on the Golden Water. The nation has become a strong exporter of crops, shipping foodstuffs to many other regions along the southern coast of Faerûn. Ulgarth's proximity to the ocean moderates the inland temperatures, and the almost daily rain and generally humid climate result in rich, fertile cropland.
The rulership and governmental policy in Ulgarth are very localized. The barons oversee most of the law enforcement, trials, and punishment of criminals; Religion is not as dominant in Ulgarth as it is elsewhere in the Golden Water area, and priests do not play as active a role in making and enforcing the laws. The people strongly believe in a clear separation of secular and spiritual roles, and they feel that a person's worldly behavior should not be the purview of the temples. But even so, those who dispense justice recognize the value of a good truth-seeking spell, and they often call on priests or mages who can wield such magic.
Ulgarth's criminal system is quite strict. Any citizen found guilty of a capital crime is usually sentenced to a quick death and executed. For a lesser crime, the guilty party can choose between enforced service in the army, working a baron's fields, or serving a prison sentence. Few choose prison, though service in the army often means patrolling the eastern border of Ulgarth and watching for invading hordes of barbarians from the Utter East. Once a criminal has served her sentence, her record is clean, and she is free to resume her position in society with no stigma of any kind.
The population of Ulgarth is overwhelmingly human, though other races are more than welcome here. Few elves, dwarves, gnomes, or halflings feel comfortable in the feudal society of Ulgarth, though, so those who do visit tend to attract attention from the locals. A few dwarves live in the local mountain ranges and work the mines there, but they are distinctly separate from the rest of Ulgarth's society and rarely mingle with the humans except to trade. Other humanoids are not welcome in Ulgarth, particularly since the country has had a history of trouble with incessant raiding by the gray orcs of the Dustwall. Most of the time, humanoids other than those noted above are slain on sight.
Ulgarth and Durpar have a hostile history that has only recently been put to rest in favor of peaceful relations. Though the two nations have finally found a means of understanding one another, the Ulgarthans still maintain a strongly fortified border with their neighbor to the northwest.
Kelazzan (Large Town)
Kelazzan (population 5,000) is both the southernmost and the westernmost community in Ulgarth. Because the country's naval shipyards are based here, the port is much larger than a city its size would normally support. Most of the residents make their livings constructing and maintaining ships, but a considerable number work in government operations.
The baron of this region is Land Herokimal (LG male human paladin 13), a war hero and devoutly religious man. He does not foist his beliefs on his people, but he does insist that those who would live within in his barony abide by what he considers a just and fair system of laws. He does not tolerate criminal activity, and he devotes an unusually high level of resources to rooting out and eliminating thieves and other miscreants. On the brighter side, the baron also wishes to see everyone partake of the fruits of his own labor as much as possible. This attitude does not stem from any noble notion that all people are equal in station - Herokimal just feels that no one should be allowed to take unjust advantage of another or prevent another from taking advantage of opportunities. As a result, trade is brisk, and the living conditions within Kelazzan are uncommonly pleasant.
Orvyltar (Large city)
Situated on Copper Bay (so named because its water does not appear quite as golden as that of the larger bay to the north), the capital of Ulgarth is also the site of King Bluemantle's vast estates. Orvyltar (population 21,000) is also Ulgarth's primary trade link with the rest of the world, and commercial sea traffic is very heavy through its port, which is defended by nearly two dozen warships. In addition to its strong naval presence, Orvyltar maintains a sizable standing army, and three massive towers protect its harbor, each equipped with a huge ballista that can fire a quarter-mile out into the bay.
Sizable quantities of foodstuffs and precious metals leave the port each day, and luxury goods of similar value arrive. The marketplace in central Orvyltar is not quite as large as those in the Durpari cities, but the trade is just as vigorous. Ulgarthans are happy to conduct business with the Durpari these days, and though their neighbors to the northwest still get the better of most deals, the Orvyltarans have become commercial masters in their own right.
Once Just as mighty and proud as Mulhorand to the east, Unther is now a nation divided - a broken image of its former glory torn apart by civil unrest and invasion. After the fall of Gilgeam and the military invasion by Mulhorand, Unther's people are both terrified of what the future holds and hopeful that a new way of life is on the horizon. Resentful of the decades of division between the haves and have-nots, commoners have turned on the clergy. Law and civility have fallen by the wayside as people struggle to take what they need to survive by force or theft. The resulting chaos has driven many refugees out of Unther ahead of the approaching Mulhorandi armies.
Those refugees who have fled down into the Shaar have discovered that the journey across the open grasslands to other places is both long and perilous. Many of those who have not succumbed to the elements have either been captured by tribal raiding parties and sold as slaves or slain outright for trespassing on sacred lands. Others have managed to reach nearby trading communities, where they struggle to find work or hope to join caravans heading elsewhere.
The war has also served as a boon for traders moving up into Unther from the south. Initially, Untherian soldiers needed supplies to defend their homeland, and after they were driven back, the Mulhorandi forces needed the same sorts of goods. Weapons from the Great Rift, food from Var the Golden, and even some magic from Halruaa has made its way into the war-torn regions of southern Unther to aid in the conflict and feed the refugees.
The Black Ash Plain
Named for the thick layer of volcanic detritus that constantly showers down from the Smoking Mountains to the north, the Black Ash Plain is home to sizable populations of brown dragons and ash giants (stone giants with black, dusty skin). A number of refugees from the Untheric-Mulhorandi conflict were forced to flee through this area, and those who managed to get through unscathed insist that they saw several ruined buildings jutting up from the ashy ground. Those who claim to have taken refuge in those ruins almost universally claim that substantial works exist below the surface of the ground. No one, however, was brave (or foolish) enough to venture into the subterranean levels to find out more.
The Green Lands
In normal seasons, the fertile fields in this region of Unther are magically enhanced to produce crop yields sufficient to feed a good portion of the nation. During the invasion, however, the Green Fields were churned to mud and the crops ruined. To avoid widespread famine and -possible rioting among the locals, the Mulhorandi forces imported large quantities of food from the south, particularly the Shining Lands and Luiren. As a result, trade in foodstuffs has been more brisk than usual throughout the Shining South.