a quick practical overview of life as an adventurer in this region…
Important stuff. Nuts and bolts. To the point.
Weapons & Armor
Anything manufactured or otherwise crafted of metal or stone is going to be difficult to come by, at least new. Used weapons and armor are more likely to be found at Willowman’s Trading Post or in the market, but as no one locally crafts weapons, there is no local supplier to keep a shop stocked. Part of that is because of the distance to raw materials (no mines in this part of the world). Expect to pay near full price for used goods and higher than listed for new. Sembia and Hillsfar are your best bets for cheaper, more readily available weapons, though a brave soul might sail across the Reach to Calaunt for even better deals.
Food & Drink
Harrowdale has the best of both. The Dalelands in general have plentiful crops and livestock, and nearly every dale has a local brewer worth sampling. Expect to get fed solid meals and a wide variety of booze for far less than you will spend elsewhere.
*Artisan Crafts (fancier clothing, furniture, art, painting, etc.)
Not great odds. Harrowdale is a fairly specialized dale (everything caters to the rustic farmers or caravan travel/port labor). Harrowdale Town is a fairly specialized settlement, serving mostly to land and supply ships, pack caravans into the Dales with trinkets and textiles, and deliver foodstuffs from the Dales onto ships bound elsewhere. Craftspeople that do not specifically cater to the right mix of about 80% locals/20% merchants/sailors don’t last long. There is no real overland “stopping in” traffic to drive inn business. And counter to bigger trading towns, the caravan companies supply themselves.
Goldenleaf Stables is one of the most reputable breeders of horses in the Dales. The catch is that their horses cost more. Plus the elf who owns it gets very picky and tends to want to try to match people to mounts, making it that much harder to walk up with gold and leave with a horse.
Inns & Taverns
Not as many as you’d hope or expect. The Fouled Line is a sailor- and teamster-friendly place and generally unfriendly to others. Toss Your Tankard is a fairly quiet place to have a pint and the first choice of most locals who go out to drink. And Black Willick’s Pub, a Halfling-run place that is unpredictable and inconsistent in both what it offers and how much it charges.
For inns, it’s pretty much The Anchorage. It’s not cheap but it’s a nice place. Most sailors sleep on their ships, most caravan teamsters sleep at home (if they are local) or in one of the company barracks.
1355DR – The Year of the Harp
The Dalelands in General
Between the kingdoms to the south, the dark and corrupt Moonsea cities to the north and the greedy merchants of Sembia lay the Dalelands. This is a region of rich farmlands nestled amongst dark forests, settled in the places left vacant by the disappearing elves of the ancient woods and populated by humans over these last roughly 1400 years.
As a rule, the local human population is of average build, hardy and fair- to medium-complexioned. Most have brownish hair ranging from dirty blond to almost black with eyes usually green or brown. Many in the inner dales show signs of at least one elven ancestor, while those of the outer dales mix a variety of traveling humanity traits into the bloodlines.
Most of the humans in the region live in scattered towns and villages, fending for themselves and their neighbors, accepting no king or overlord to govern over them. The closest they have tolerated is the Council of the Dales, a very loose confederation of the leaders of individual Dales who come together once a year to discuss issues but who have no power over one another. The locals of the dales are generally proud and independent in all things.
Because of the remoteness of many villages and the rural nature of the communities, trade is an important part of the culture of the Dales. Merchants travel the inner lands gathering timber, hides, grain, bread and other foodstuffs to export abroad. Similarly, most settlements must import finished goods, metalwork, jewelry and similar fineries in exchange for their grown goods.
The first settlers of the Dalelands are thought to have come by ship over the Sea of Fallen Stars, landing along the Dragon Reach’s shores and putting down roots in Harrowdale. This is the oldest, longest-settled part of the Dales. It is also among the quietest of the Dales in its position in the east, sheltered from the worst of the imperial-minded cities to the north by a hundred miles of elven forest. Harrowdale has become a prosperous region of gentle farmers and small but friendly towns, most situated in the shallow valley that runs from the water to the wood. Not every small town has survived and various roads to nowhere and old stone bridges dot the landscape. Once travelers pass Velarsburg and the Velarswood on the Lis Path and turn truly east, most people consider themselves nearly out of Harrowdale. The region is known for its orchards especially.
Harrowdale Town is one of two true ports on the Dragon Reach that are part of the Dalelands (the other is Scardale town, some 50 miles south). The place sees a fair amount of traffic headed west to Essembra (Battledale) and points west from there. There is little (though increasing) trade traffic that heads up the Half-Axe Trail into the Elven Woods, a trail too narrow for the larger caravans. Smaller caravans do make their way west to trade with the remaining elves as well as Mistledale and Shadowdale beyond.
Anything approaching an accurate census just isn’t going to happen, but estimates put the population of Harrowdale Town at about 1,000, with maybe two or three times as many in the whole dale. This is perhaps the quietest and safest capital of any dale.
Velarsburg is a small settlement along the edge of the Velarswood roughly 30 miles up the Harrow Ride (the name for the Half Axe Trail once it leaves the woods) from Harrowdale Town. The majority of residents are loggers and woodsmen who work in the wood, though it is also the site of a major temple to Chauntea. The priests there are often found abroad in the dale assisting with farm-related tasks and aiding the good folk in other ways.
Velarswood is a relatively small forest (compared to the nearby Elven Wood, at least) but has a disturbing reputation. The border areas are quiet and peaceful enough and even lightly logged and hunted by knowledgeable locals. But the deeper one goes into the wood, the darker and more dangerous it becomes. There persist rumors of secret temples to beast lords, evil were-creatures and a variety of bats, trolls and worse.
The Cold Field is a treeless stretch of plains south of the valley that covers most of the ground between Harrowdale and Scardale to the south. Everyone knows that it is a place of the dead with ancient battlefields scattered across the wide lowlands. Many restless spirits are feared to walk the moors by moonlight. The land is especially difficult to traverse in winter due to it being so flat and without shelter with the winds out of the north scouring travelers for days on end. The region is sometimes used as summertime high pasture by shepherds from both Dales.
The coastline of the Dragon Reach forms the eastern border of not just Harrowdale but the Dalelands in general, running a hundred more miles north and maybe five hundred southward then west to the great ports of Sembia. Very little of the shoreline allows for landing ships, explaining why Harrowdale and Scardale are the lone ports. Tall cliffs, rocky beaches and rough waters keep seafaring here to the experienced. The Dragon Reach is the northern arm of the Sea of Fallen Stars, a great expansive sea that connects regions thousands of miles apart. Pirates are more numerous in the southern seas, but there are some who plague the shipping lanes of Harrowdale from time to time.
Law and Order
Harrowdale is led by the Seven Burghers, the wealthiest people in the dale. When someone is elected, he or she holds that position for life or until they resign. When that happens, heralds from around the Dales descend on the Town to determine who the next wealthiest person is and elevate them to Burgher. It is public record who the burghers are, but for the most part, no one thinks much about them as they don’t interfere in day to day life very often.
The people of Harrowdale tend to look after their own affairs for the most part but they are supported in times of need by the Grey Riders. These 20 or so mounted rangers lend their swords or bows most often when monsters or bandits make trouble from either of the wooded areas. The Grey Riders don’t legally have the right to arrest a person which sometimes leads to permanent, on-the-spot solutions from local citizens.
In Harrowdale Town, the burghers’ authority is enforced by the Watch, a well-armed and armored force of around 30. The Captain of the Watch (a female elven fighter-mage named Ellarian Dawnhorn) is empowered to arrest and sentence most criminals and she is known to be fairly hard-nosed about doing so.
There is no militia or standing army; if a problem exceeds the ability of the Grey Riders and Watch to handle, the Riders will attempt to muster support from neighboring Dales or adventurers.
There are several neighboring villages and sites that impact Harrowdale to greater and lesser degrees.
This dale and port lies to the south, some 50 or so miles away. The port there is Harrowdale’s chief competition for Dragon Reach sailing merchants, with most traders choosing a landing spot based on personal preference (though Harrans will tell you that the road to Essembra and other inland trading centers is shorter from there). Scardale has a reputation for being a rougher town with more palms to grease to accomplish things. Fair traders are known to prefer Harrowdale while those who might deal in questionable goods prefer the more subdued attitude of Scardale’s town leaders.
To the south, west and up the river and road from Scardale is Featherdale. It is a quiet string of farming towns, a rustic region not unlike Harrowdale. The main town, Blackfeather Bridge, is another noted busy trade stopping off point at the junction of the road from Scardale and the road up from the southern merchant cities of Sembia.
This increasingly busy dale sits along the same busy road as Blackfeather Bridge, further north. It lies at the western end of Harrowdale as well, making its main town of Essembra into another busy trading center.
Cormanthor (the Elven Woods)
The Elven Woods dominate the cultural and physical landscape of the entire Dalelands region. In the past decade, the elves have been disappearing at astounding rates. No one has noticed an overland exodus but they are assuredly leaving their ancient homelands. The elves who remain behind are mostly the young, the tolerant of other races and those somewhat angry, dedicated spirits who are intent on keeping their woods safe.
In years long past, the woods were said to have reached from the sea coast to the Moonsea, covering most of Sembia to the south and going as far west as man could travel. Old elven ruins dot the woods and lands throughout this region and the few settlements that remain keep very much to themselves.
Regional and Distant Lands
As one ventures further and further from the local area, information becomes less and less reliable. What follows might be true…or it may be the misinformation of wandering bards.
North – The Moonsea
Everyone knows that the Moonsea is cold, deep and dangerous. The cities that lie there are large, dark, unfriendly and highly dangerous. They are also competitive with one another, waging naval wars and continuously trying to get an advantage in trade and position. Mulmaster is the closest and holds one of the most sinister reputations. Hillsfar isn’t much better and is actually in a land position to affect trade through the Dales. Zhentil Keep is farthest west and may be the most dangerous with its famed dark organization, the Zhentarim. In short, most people think going anywhere along the Moonsea is the height of foolish and dangerous unless you happen to be a well-armed merchant caravan.
East – The Dragon Reach
The region beyond the Dragon Reach is often called The Vast, though no one really remembers why. There are collection of free cities there, with Calaunt being the closest. Beyond those cities somewhere lies the Kingdom of Impultar, high in the mountains.
South – Sembia, The Sea of Fallen Stars and farther…
Sembia is a rich merchant nation where gold makes a man right. Traders, entrepreneurs and outright thieves ply their skills here and abroad, bringing glory and wealth back to the competing cities here. Sembians travel the region (and the world) buying up businesses and lands.
The Sea of Fallen Stars, also called the Inner Sea, lies south of Sembia and the Dragon Reach. Pirates abound in the central area but beyond lie any number of legendary nations. Thay, the land of the Red Wizards, lies far south, as well as jungles, merchant empires and the oldest nations of the world who once sent their people to colonize the Dalelands.
West – the Western Dales, Cormyr, the great desert
There are several dales scattered beyond the Elven Woods. Daggerdale, Shadowdale and High Dale all lie somewhere to the west, and beyond them the great desert that stretches on forever. South of the dales and the desert lies the forest kingdom of Cormyr, a good and decent nation who has proven time and again to be the Dales’ best supporter, coming to their aid more than a few times against dark forces of the Moonsea.