Hearth and Hell
The Forgotten Realms, spread across the continent of Faerûn, are part of Abeir-Toril, a world suffused with magic. From the Great Glacier in the north to the southern jungles of Chult, the kingdoms of Faerûn rely on arcane energies, even if their denizens never speak a single spell. These lands were created by gods, ruled by dragons and overrun by humans practicing the Art of spellcasting. For over twenty millennia, empires have risen and fallen in an endless tide of power vying against power, with victory almost inevitably decided by magical resources. Yet magic is a blade that cuts both ways, as often destroying the ambitious as the weak.
What makes Toril different from other worlds is the Weave: a tapestry woven by the goddess of magic (or made of her, if some stories can be believed). This intricate web connects living creatures with the magical energy all around them, allowing them to bend it to their will. Mastering the Art of manipulating the Weave is the work of decades, even centuries, and countless arcane secrets are buried with the ancient mages who discovered them. The haunted ruins of a thousand fallen kingdoms lie in the wilds of Faerûn, waiting to be rediscovered.
Despite the great catastrophes of the past, millions of intelligent and civilized creatures call Faerûn home. The great kingdoms of the elves and dwarves are (mostly) little more than dusty history, but the human kingdoms are varied: thriving metropolises like Waterdeep and Calimshan; leagues upon leagues of peaceful (relatively speaking) farmland in the Western Heartlands and Dalelands; slavish magocracies like Thay; great merchant kingdoms like Sembia. Mighty empires still flourish in the east, and the isles of the western seas are peppered with pirates, powerful sea-faring realms and tribal island dwellers.
You find yourself in the Dalelands: a collection of forested valleys filled with rich farmland and independent-minded humans. Each dale has its own government and unique culture, but they are all bound together by the Dales Compact: an ancient agreement with the elves of Cormanthor. Though Cormanthor is no longer the powerful forest kingdom it was in centuries past, the humans of the Dalelands abide by the Compact and do not encroach on the heart of the forest. Instead, they remain settled on its borders, restricting their farming and grazing to the land allotted them generations ago.
Though most elves left Faerûn in a mass exodus years ago, there are still many elven and half-elven folk who call the Dales home. Dwarves, gnomes, halflings and even half-orcs are not unheard of, though they generally comprise less than a tenth of the total population. The region has produced many adventurers and heroes, though there doesn’t seem to be a simple explanation why. Perhaps it is the independent spirit of the Dales, protecting their peaceful towns from incursions of monsters and foreign powers and preserving the commerce which is the lifeblood of the region. The Dales supply neighboring lands with furs, lumber, grains, ale and other agricultural products while importing glass, worked metal, textiles, paper and the like. Steady trade connects this region with the rest of Faerûn and while much of its populace lives simply, luxuries are available in the larger towns and even the poorest farmer can afford metal tools and decent boots.
Life in the Dales can be quiet and peaceful, but it is not without danger. Every dale has at least one haunted ruin, whether elven or human, and the wilderness between towns is never completely empty of orcs, giant spiders, or even the occasional dragon. The Zhentarim, an evil brotherhood of slavers, thieves and murderers, threatens from the north. Drow have taken up residence in Cormanthor to the east, and the kingdoms of Sembia and Cormyr don’t always keep their political intrigues to themselves in the south. Adventurers of all ilks can find steady work as caravan guards, treasure hunters, mercenaries or even spies. Choose your path, but choose it wisely.