Features of the Dalelands (1368 DR)
A discussion of the Dalelands is not complete without mention of some of the other important features of the area. Dark forests, dangerous roads, and ancient ruins lie between the small specks of civilization that make up the Dales.
The Elven Woods
Before humans came to the Dalelands, the ancient elven woods, Cormanthor, stretched from the Stormhorn Peaks in Cormyr all the way to Hillsfar, a vast unbroken forest older than mankind. Since the raising of the Standing Stone, the woods have retreated before the onslaught of fire and axe. While the elven woods retain only shadow of their former glory, they are still the greatest forest in the Heartlands.
The elven woods were once the home of the largest elven nation of the Realms, the ancient realm of Cormanthor, from which the woods take their name. The elves were the strongest and most enlightened power of the area, and dominated affairs from Cormyr to the Moonsea. The crypts and ruins of this great elven empire are scattered throughout the woods.
The elven woods of Cormanthor are now a darkening realm, as large stretches become wild and monsters and bandits grow strong. Only a handful of elves remain behind, and there are not enough rangers and druids to assume the elven responsibilities. A generation ago, a journey from Shadowdale to Essembra through the forest was an easy trip; now travelers along the same paths must be ready for trouble.
There are several areas of special interest within the old forest. The foremost is the ruined elven city of Myth Drannor. Vast riches and powerful magic are known to be hidden in the ruins of the city, and armies and adventurers have fought to reach it for hundreds of years. Before the elven Retreat, Myth Drannor was guarded by elven archers and wizards; afterwards, the Knights of Myth Drannor took up the mantle of guardianship until they retired.
Myth Drannor is now infested with horrible baatezu, evil fiends of the lower planes. It is rumored that renegade priests of Bane have risen in the ruins. Myth Drannor represents a great, but perilous opportunity to Dalelands adventurers - great risks for great rewards.
Besides Myth Drannor, the elves had several other homes within the forest. The community of Semberholme was a small camp by Lake Sember's cold waters. It is still a beautiful spot, and legends tell of elven treasures hidden in the caverns by the lake or beneath the dark waters. Semberholme was a community of noncombatants, women and children who were too valuable to risk in the other elven camps.
Tangletrees was another community, a tree-town in the southern forests. It still exists today and most of the remaining elves call Tangletrees home. Tangletrees was a young village, a camp of elven youths still in their first century of life - bold and brawling, without the sadness or seriousness of the elven elders. Humans and half-elves can be found in living in Tangletrees today.
The Elven Court was another community of ancient Cormanthor, but unlike Semberholme or Myth Drannor, the Elven Court was a vast region of inhabited forest as opposed to a village or city. The Elven Court served as the capital of Cormanthor after the fall of Myth Drannor, and for many years it was the heart of elvendom in the woodlands. It is now entirely abandoned and many of its halls seem to have vanished in the forest. The Elven Court was home to the Royal Hall of Cormanthor, a prize much sought-after by explorers and adventurers.
Adventure in the Elven Woods
Player characters looking for something to do in the Elven Woods will find that the forest hides many secrets. Abandoned bandit holds, ancient elven ruins, and mystical shrines can all be found in the vast woodland. Some specific areas that adventurers ought to investigate include:
- The Elven Court, where ancient elven tombs are rumored to conceal hoards of magic and gems. The Royal Hall of Cormanthor is rumored to lie hidden somewhere in the woods.
- The ruins of Myth Drannor, now infested with terrible fiends and awful monsters who guard the ancient elven treasures.
- The abandoned bandit hold of Galath's Roost, hidden somewhere in the woods between Mistledale and Essembra.
- Haptooth Hill, on the fringes of Battledale, once the site of the Red Wizard Dracandros's tower and a drow stronghold.
The Standing Stone
Located near the intersection of Rauthauvyr's Road and the Moonsea Ride, the Standing Stone is an ancient artifact that marks the pact of elf and man that founded the Dalelands. It is a gray obelisk 20 feet in height covered in mysterious runes. The Stone resists all attempts to deface or mar its surface, healing all such damage quickly.
The Stone is used as a meeting place and landmark these days. It is about halfway between Blackfeather Bridge and Hillsfar. Perhaps the Stone's most important use lies in its contribution to Dale Reckoning, the common calendar of the Dalelands; the Calendar begins with the raising of the Standing Stone.
The Vale of Lost Voices
For many centuries, the elves of Cormanthor buried their fallen warriors in this lightly wooded valley. It is a rich, beautiful region, but the elves did not settle it nor allow any outsiders to come here. The vale is bisected by Rauthauvyr's Road, which runs from Essembra to Blackfeather Bridge. Travelers along the road report a vague sense of unease and unnatural silence when passing through the area, which has helped to deter settlement in the area.
Most elves may walk the vale without fear, but other outsiders may encounter the restless spirits of elven warriors. It is rumored that an old power of some kind resides in the valley and guards it for the remaining elves.
The Arch Wood
Between Archendale and Tasseldale lies the Arch Wood, an old remnant of ancient Cormanthor.
The Arch Wood is a dark, dense forest of gnarled oak, ash, and elm. It has always had a bad reputation in the local area, and it is haunted by dangerous owlbears.
The folk of Archendale are logging areas of the forest, and want to press ahead with a more ambitious timbering and settling plan. Very few Archendalesmen care to spend a night in the woods, though - they believe that the Arch Wood hates and hungers after humans.
Adventure in the Arch Wood
Heroes in Tasseldale, Highmoon, or Archendale may hear rumors of mysterious ruins hidden in the forest. Another source of potential conflict - and adventure - lies in the Archendalesmens' logging efforts in the Arch Wood, and the opposition of Deepingdale and Tasseldale. Small parties of highwaymen and bandits occasionally set up camp in the Arch Wood, using the forests to spring their ambushes along the East Way. Several small bands are now operating in the northern stretches of the forest.
Hidden deep within the wood are the remains of an old elven school of wizardry. No Archendalesmen know where to find them, although there are many dark tales cold in Archenbridge about woodsmen who never returned from the forest. The ruins are overgrown and there are several mage-tombs hidden within.
The Border Forest
North of Daggerdale lies the Border Forest, a large and wild woodland. It can be considered the Dalelands northern border. The Border Forest is mostly taiga or northern pine woods, with scattered patches of oaks and other deciduous trees. The forest is rugged, with dense undergrowth and scrub.
The Border Forest is the primary source of lumber for wood-hungry Zhentil Keep. Zhentish logging camps are scattered throughout the southern verge of the woods, centered on the ruined village of Snowmantle. However, the Zhentish loggers are not unopposed - the woods are inhabited by satyrs, sprites, and dryads.
The Flaming Tower can be found at the southernmost edge of the forest. The Tower was built by fire giants and dominated the lands about for many years.
It was also the site of the Temple in the Sky, a flying citadel tethered to the Tower. The Tower was destroyed by the Knights of Myth Drannor and the Temple cast adrift. Today, the Temple has been recovered and hovers above the Tower's ruins, which are still in the hands of Zhentil Keep forces. A powerful beholder leads a force of goblin warriors from the old stronghold.
Adventure in the Border Forest
The Border Forest is a wild and dangerous area, patrolled by goblins serving the Flaming Tower and Zhentarim mercenaries from the armed camp of Snowmantle. The forest's inhabitants have learned to regard strangers as enemies, and travelers should be cautioned to avoid the natives.
The Flaming Tower's ruins are now the site of a lot of evil activity, as the beholder organizes its forces and prepares to move against the lands to the south.
Southwest of Shadowdale the deadly Spiderhaunt Woods a dismal forest of oak, thistle-tree and pine. The wood is very dense and rugged, and it is black as night beneath the forest's canopy. The Spiderhaunt Woods are aptly named as the entire area is infested with several varieties of giant spiders and numbers of loathsome ettercaps.
A small hut dangerous Beast-Cult is known to live within the dark confines of the forest, venerating a shadowy figure called the Spider Lord. In recent years, members of the Beast Cult, aided by ettercaps and huge sentient spiders, have set upon passing travelers in the lands near the wood and dragged them to what must be a horrible fate.
Lying to the north and cast of Harrowdale, the Velarswood is lightly hunted and logged by the Harrowdalesmen. Near the borders, the forest is rather quiet and peaceful, but it becomes very dark and dire in its central reaches. The forest has a bad reputation in the Dale, and the locals will warn travelers away from the woods- especially on moonless nights.
Velarswood's darker stretches are infested with unsavory creatures such as trolls, stirges, bonebats, and cloakers. Even more disturbing are the rumors of a secret temple or hidden shrine of moon-worshipping lycanthropes, evil creatures that have plagued the woods since before Myth Drannor fell.
The Dagger Hills
The most rugged stretch of terrain in the Dalelands is the Dagger Hills, an area of steep hills, thorn-choked ravines, and high, hidden glens. The Dagger Hills separate Daggerdale and Shadowdale, and many small tracks and paths lead from one Dale to the other through the crags and valleys.
The Dagger Hills are inhabited by a thin scattering of shepherds, goatherds, and the occasional miner or two. In recent years, many of these folk have been driven out by bandits and raiding orc tribes. The Hills are becoming wild and dangerous.
Near the headwaters of the Ashaba lie the ruins of Castle Daggerdale, once the seat of the Morn family. The Castle is still intact, but large sections have been gutted by fire. Randal Morn, the leader of Daggerdale's resistance, often uses the ruins as a camp. The rebel has access to a complex of safeholes and escape tunnels that connect to the castle's basements.
Adventure in the Dagger Hills
It is rumored that the Morn family concealed a vast amount of wealth in the cellars of Castle Daggerdale, hidden in bricked-up side passageways. The cellars have all been relined to disguise the treasure passageways.
Another interesting site lies about 15 miles to the northeast in the heart of the Dagger Hills. This is the ruin known as the White Crag. The White Crag is a tower or battlement of incredible age, hewn out of a living hillside.
It may even predate the elven presence in the area. There are unreliable reports of an extensive Underdark connection beneath the crumbling ruins.
The Desertsmouth Mountains
West of the Dalelands lie the Desertsmouth Mountains, a monster-haunted wasteland that guards the Dales from the encroachment of the desert Anauroch. Hidden trails and forgotten outposts can be found throughout the mountains - in times past, the land was rich and green, and human and dwarven settlements could be found in the high valleys and beneath the snowy peaks.
The Desertsmouth Mountains hide many secrets. In the western foothills, the Lost Vale of Tarkhaldale is hidden; the dracolich Ashazstamn's lair is located in the rugged peaks overlooking the Spiderhaunt Woods; and the fabulous dwarven Mines of Tethyamar are concealed somewhere in the mountains.
Large numbers of orcs, ogres, and goblins make their home in the high valleys now. Worse yet, a rare dragon lair can be found in the canyons and rocky spires of the mountains. The Desertsmouth Mountains are avoided by most travelers because of their dangerous residents.
Adventure in the Desertsmouth Mountains
Heroes of the Dalelands often venture into the Desertsmouth Mountains. An expedition is rather risky - the mountains are treacherous as they are infested with monsters, and there is little to be found in the way of hostels or healers in the area. However, the rewards could be very lucrative. Adventures in the Mountains might include:
A search for the lost halls of Tethyamar, the dwarven mines that were overrun by fiends and orcs hundreds of years ago. Tethyamar's wealth was legendary.
An search for the location of the dracolich's lair. While the lair was destroyed, a large portion of Ashazstamn's hoard was not recovered and may still be there.
A foray against the orcs and ogres who infest the mountains. These creatures often raid the surrounding lands, and there's always a bounty on their heads.
The largest chain of hills in the Dalelands, the Dun Hills stretch from the Arch Wood all the way to Haptooth Hill. They are so named because of the chalky bedrock that lies under the hills, showing in hundreds of ravines or hill-sides. The Dun Hills are not as wild or rugged as the Dagger Hills, and numerous quarries and sheep-meadows can be found scattered through the pleasant highlands.
In a few places, ancient elven ruins of stone can be found in hidden Dales or lonely hillsides. The elves of Cormanthor rarely built stone, reserving it for their treasuries and fortresses. Many of the ruins are empty, but others contain hidden caches of elven treasure or powerful magic locked away from the world.
The mairshars of Tasseldale consider the Dun Hills to be part of their area of responsibility, and often arrange to patrol the highlands.
The Thunder Peaks
Rising between Cormyr and the Dalelands, the Thunder Peaks are a rugged and dangerous mountain range. Unlike the Desertsmouth Mountains, which are plagued by various orc and goblin tribes, the Thunder Peaks are almost uninhabited. However, a few small tribes of hobgoblins and ogres can be found in the mountains' higher reaches.
The Thunder Peaks gain their name from the frequent thunderstorms that sweep through the high passes in the summertime. The storms are very violent, and many travelers have lost their lives in sudden floods, avalanches, or lightning strikes.
The Thunder Peaks are home to many of the mines worked by Archendale. Copper and iron are the chief products, but several other minerals are excavated on a smaller scale. The folk of Archendale are very familiar with these mountains, and many work, hunt, or herd in the high passes and foothills.
The Thunder Peaks are troubled by a small hill giant and stone giant population. The giants raid the lands around, retreating to their mountain fastnesses. Few heroes dare to pursue them. Other creatures that inhabit the area include perytons, griffons, and wyverns.
Adventure in the Thunder Peaks
The most remarkable location in the Thunder Peaks is the Arkhen Falls. The river Arkhen tumbles over a high, rocky cliff deep in the heart of the mountains. Behind the falls are an extensive series of caverns and mines once tunneled by Archendale's miners who cut many gems from the sparkling caverns. There are rumors that a hidden clan of dwarves guarded the caverns called "the Sparkling Stones" even further beneath the mountain.
The greatest of the Arkhen delvings was the Heart of the Mine, excavated around the source spring of the Arkhen itself. The river came to light through the mouth of the mine. More than 200 years ago, a great black dragon fell on the mine from the north and drove off the miners, claiming the riches for itself. The dragon was slain 70 years ago in a mid-air battle against another dragon.
The black dragon's treasure has never been recovered, and it is rumored that a fabulously large and valuable hoard still lies in the caverns.
South of the Pool of Yeven lies the Glaun Bog, a region of treacherous marshes. The bog is mined for peat and pig iron by the Tasseldalesmen, and its waterfowl and game are hunted for meat and fur. The Glaun Bog is relatively free of monsters and bandits, but its shifting patches of quicksand and mire make it dangerous to the unguided traveler.
On a small islet near the bog's center there is an ancient barrow or grave-mound. Like the Barrow Field of Mistledale, it appears to predate even the elven presence in this area. Unlike the Barrow Field, the Glaun Barrow has been opened and explored. It is said that the adventurers discovered a large hoard of ancient gold, but that the explorers each came to a mysterious and terrible end in the weeks that followed the opening of the tomb.
The folk of Tasseldale insist that the Barrow is an evil place and refuse to go anywhere near it.
The Cold Field
A treeless plain that stretches from Scardale to Harrowdale, the Cold Field is known as a place of the dead. Ancient battlefields lie scattered over the grassy downs, and by night many of the restless spirits of the fallen warriors walk the moors. It is rumored that Lashan of Scardale hid a portion of his treasury beneath a rocky cairn in the Cold Field, but no one has come across anything remotely resembling Lashan's loot.
The Cold Field is particularly inhospitable in wintertime. Flat and shelterless, it is swept by bitter northern winds. Most travelers try to avoid the open fields, choosing more sheltered paths. In the summertime, the Cold Field is used as high pasture by the shepherds of Harrowdale and rural Scardale.
There is a local legend that tells of the one night each year that the dead of the Cold Field walk. It comes in the deepest, darkest night of winter. The farmers and shepherds whisper of ghostly legions massing to fight again the great battles that ravaged this land hundreds of years ago. It is said that during this night the dead claim any living soul unfortunate enough to be out on the Field when they rise.
Once a part of the Dalelands, Ordulin is now the capital of Sembia. Hundreds of years ago, the city was known as Moondale, and it was one of the largest and most prosperous of the Dales.
Moondale was one of the first Dales founded after the raising of the Standing Stone. At that time, the Elven Woods still marched all the way to the shores of the Sea of Fallen Stars. Ordulin lay in a broad, grassy valley deep in the heart of the woods. Over many years, the forest retreated in the face of Chondathian settlers on the coasts. The woods retreated all the way to Moondale and farther still, leaving Moondale as a farming settlement in cleared land by the year 700 DR.
The folk of Moondale continued to flourish. They avoided the conflict between the new nation of the Sembians and the elves of Cormanthor. As they prospered, their town grew and became more dependent on Semblan imports and trade. Sembian settlers swelled the population, and Sembian merchants established permanent bases in Moondale.
The Dale was renamed Ordulin, and soon grew into a major city. The early rulers of Sembia selected Ordulin as the nation's capital because it was relatively free of the interference of the established merchant families of the older Sembian cities - Selgaunt, Daerlun, and Yhaunn. Ordulin commands many important overland routes, and is surrounded by rich fields that are the breadbasket of Sembia. It is also the jumping-off point for most Sembian trade in the Dalelands.
About 300 years ago, the Sembians formalized their control of Moondale, announcing the annexation of the area to their new nation. The take-over was peaceful; by this time, better than half the population was of Sembian descent, and the people of Moondale had nothing to complain about. They were happy to unite with their neighbor to the south.
People from the nearby Dales, Archendale and Tasseldale, often journey to Ordulin to trade or simply sightsee. It is the nearest and friendliest "big city" for the Dalelands, and the Sembians exercise little control over foreigners' movements and purchases. Adventurers visiting the city will find that nearly any service or equipment is available here, and that the city enjoys its own intrigues and adventuresome troubles.
Northeast of Shadowdale is the small town of Voonlar. Located at the junction of roads from Shadowdale, Yulash, and Teshwave, Voonlar is only slightly larger than Shadowdale itself and is Shadowdale's chief rival in the area. Voonlar is independent on paper, but in practice it is ruled by a Zhentish puppet.
Voonlar is a relatively peaceful town, and its natives have accepted their corrupt leadership and the burden of supporting mercenaries and evil temples. They tend to regard Dalesmen as disruptive rogues and highwaymen who make a practice of harassing Voonlar. Over the years adventuring companies based in Shadowdale have raided the town's temples and mercenary garrisons, creating a great deal of trouble.
Voonlar is governed by an elected sheriff, known locally as the "bron", In theory, all the villagers gather to elect a new bron every year, but in practice the Zhents keep their man safely in office from year to year. The bron is Buorstag Hlammythyl (LE male human Ftr8), a loyal follower of Cyric's teachings and ex-mercenary.
Buorstag is an aggressive and greedy man who gives his loyalty to Zhentil Keep in exchange for the power to run the town as he sees fit. Buorstag extorts "protection taxes" and other pay-offs from most of the people of the town.
Like Shadowdale, Voonlar is basically a farming community. It is slightly more urbanized - the extensive outlying farms of Shadowdale are not present, and the town is more developed. Several inns, taverns, and traders cater to the various passers-by, and Voonlar is a relatively safe (if expensive) place to visit.
There are two major temples in Voonlar one dedicated to Cyric, and the other to Chauntea. The temple of Cyric is known as the Dark God Reformed, and is commanded by Gormstadd the Rerisen (LE male human Clr14.) Gormstadd is served by 14 lesser priests and an elite temple guard of 16 4th-level warriors. The Dark God Reformed has been raided many times by adventurers from Shadowdale, and Gormstadd has a standing bounty of 10,000 gp on the head of the Lord of Shadowdale, Mourngrym Amcathra.
The second major temple of Voonlar is the Bounty of the Goddess, dedicated to Chauntea. Lady Shrae of the Goddess (CG female human Clr12) supervises 14 lesser priests of various levels and a guard of 20 2nd-level warriors.
Lady Shrae is on good terms with her counterpart in Shadowdale, and she occasionally aids good adventurers in the area by concealing them in the temple and smuggling them out of danger.
Voonlar is defended by the bron and his six deputies. The town also musters a militia of pikemen, augmented by companies of archers. From time to time, the Zhents "suggest" to Buorstag that he allow a band of mercenaries to quarter in the village, and the bron usually complies. Currently, there are no Zhentish troops posted here.
Once a large and important city of the Moonsea region, Yulash has become a battleground between the forces of Zhentil Keep and Hillsfar. For centuries the fortified city had been a neutral power, a fulcrum in the balance between Hillsfar and Zhentil Keep. About 70 years ago the leading noble families of Yulash became embroiled in a bitter feud over the lordship of the city, and civil war ensued.
Both Zhentil Keep and Hillsfar made good use of the city's troubles to find powerful factions to support. The civil strife lasted for more than 40 years before the Yulashians agreed to abolish the lordship and share power in a Council. By that time, the people of the city had become strongly factionalized, and the Council rapidly became completely useless. Within a few years, it was clear that the city was falling into anarchy.
In 1353 DR, Zhentarim agents arranged a series of incidents to incite the city to civil war again. In two short years, Yulash fell. Zhentil Keep declared Yulash to be a protectorate, much in the same manner that Cormyr claimed Tilverton and moved in forces to take over. Hillsfar responded by moving in troops to support the "freedom fighters" opposing the "foreign invasion." In the years since, the Zhentish and Hillsfarian forces have leveled the city between them, and most natives of Yulash have either joined one of the two powers or fled to safer lands.
Yulash is built on top of a great plateau of stone and earth that rises above the nearby lands. The city's location commands the roads for miles about. The mount of Yulash is reputed to be riddled with secret caverns and passageways, and there are rumors of extra-dimensional accesses hidden in the deepest tunnels. Not too long ago the god Moander rose from a hidden temple below the city and oozed its way into the forests south of the city, carving a swath through the elven woods of Cormanthor a hundred yards wide.