Highdale 1372 DR
Population: 8,179 (humans 86%, gnomes 10%, half-elves 3%)
Government: Republic with elected High Constable
Religions: Gods of the Dancing Place
Imports: Armor, books, metalwork, paper, textiles, weapons
Alignment: LG, LN, NG
Those who were born in High Dale swear by its crisp air, its splendid views of the Thunder Peaks between Cormyr and Sembia, and its citizens' self-sufficient, self-determined lifestyles as shepherds, small farmers, craftsfolk, or stonecutters. Those not born in High Dale regard it as nothing more than a convenient or strategic mountain pass just barely below the tree line.
Life and Society
The people of High Dale have one huge advantage over their low land cousins: Except for their land's strategic importance as a between Cormyr and Sembia, they don't have anything anyone else wants.
The Highdalefolk live relatively free of the political intrigues and mercantile competition that frequently intrude in the lowland Dales. Vigilance against monsters that don't care about politics and economics is always necessary, but if simple lives are happy lives, the people of High Dale are happy.
High Dale's peacefulness may be nearing an end, though. During the Time of Troubles, Zhent mercenaries occupied the dale. More recently, several powerful Sembian merchant-princes have taken note of Cormyr's troubles and entertain ideas of invasion. If this should come to pass, High Dale is a perfect route by which a flanking army might penetrate Cormyr and trap any forces committed to defending the plains south of the Vast Swamp.
Major Geographic Features
Some maps fail to note High Dale's existence, tucked as it is just below the main section of the Thunder Peaks and just north of the splinter of that range that runs alongside the Vast Swamp of Cormyr to the west. The main area of High Dale is a high plateau suitable for farming. The Highdalefolk supplement the land of plateau by carving terraces into the mountains alongside.
High Dale's pass has three hidden valleys branching off to its sides: Copper Gulp, the Dancing Place, and Hidden Vale. Casual travelers seldom see these lands, which are not much settled by Dalesfolk. The Dancing Place, though, has some powerful human and nonhuman inhabitants.
Copper Gulp: Copper delvings riddle this small valley. Roughly half are still actively mined. If any of the copper mines intersect with the Underdark, the miners don't know it yet.
Hidden Vale: Centuries ago, with the blessing of the Highdalefolk, gnomes settled in this difficult-to-find valley. Depending on the season, humans who pass through the valley are too taken by its innumerable alpine wildflowers (late summer and fall) or swirling fogs (other seasons) to notice the gnomes' homes, tucked back among the trees and boulders of the vale's walls. The gnomes participate in the life of High Dale, but until the Time of Troubles they had little to do with the world beyond the dale. After Gond manifested as a gnome during the Time of Troubles in 1358 DR, several of the younger gnomes of the Vale left its comforts to seek adventure. Friends left behind often try to coax news of their friends from traveling adventurers.
Wyvemfang: North and east of the rest of the dale, this mighty spur of the Thunder Peaks is a notoriously dangerous wyvern roost. More than a dozen wyverns of varying ages lair upon the mountain. At least one of them possesses above average intelligence and organizational skills. The wyverns keep lookouts posted for aerial intruders. Even stranger, small herds of ill-kept sheep can be found hidden in pockets of the Thunder Peaks that are accessible only by air. Monster slayers speculate that the wyverns provide themselves with renewable food source by allowing some of the animals they steal to breed in isolated mountaintop pens. They also speculate on the position of the treasure belonging to the hundreds of wyvern victims ambushed along the Thunder Way.
High Dale lays claim to one shining spot on the great map of Faerûn: the Dancing Place, a valley sacred to the major gods who ask their worshipers to make the world a better place.
Arrowpoint: The Pegasus Archery Company, a mercenary band from outside the dale, built this earthen strong point just outside the town of Highcastle. As a condition of basing themselves in High Dale, the members of the company had to agree to be magically bound not to take up arms against the dale or attempt to rule it. Given the Company's remote location, it pays low rates to those who wish to join, but its members can provide excellent training.
The Dancing Place: The third of the hidden valleys of High Dale, just a few miles north and west of Highcastle, is preserved as a sacred garden by clerics of Mielikki, Mystra, Oghma, Selune, and Silvanus. The site is sacred to humans and elves; more than a dozen human and elven deities manifested here in 72O DR to inspire the founding of the Harpers. Elves and Harpers come to the Dancing Place as pilgrims, though the agreements they made with their gods prevent them from staying here long. Other agreements related to the Dancing Place call upon Cormyr to defend High Dale if it is threatened.
Highcastle (Village, 818): Only a few of the shops and taverns in High Dale's biggest settlement stay open all through the winter, since most travelers have enough sense to avoid Thunder Way in bad weather. Highcastle endured hard times during the brief Zhent occupation, losing the few riches its wealthier citizens had accumulated.
High Castle: This castle with the same name as the town it guards is partly ruined by rocks rolling down from the mountains above it. The castle's ballistas and catapults still command excellent fields of fire down upon Thunder Way and the rest of the dale. The Zhent attack in 1358 DR bypassed the castle's defenses by coming in through a magical portal.
Thunder Way: This wagon track cuts from Thunderstone in Cormyr up into High Dale, then down again to the small city of Saerb in Sembia. Few travel the Thunder Way, which is rougher and less direct than the preferred route through Daerlun to the south or Thunder Gap to the north, but it's the closest thing High Dale has to a major trade route,
Compared to Archendale, Battledale, and Shadowdale, High Dale has had little to do with pivotal moments in the history of the Dalelands. High Dale is noteworthy for what has not taken place within its borders. Despite occasional posturing and skirmishes, Cormyr and Sembia have not fought a war over control of this dale's high pass through the Thunder Peaks.
Historians outside High Dale judge only two events in its history as worthy of mention: the manifestation of over a dozen of Faerûn's mightiest deities at the Dancing Place, six centuries in the past, and the recent occupation of High Dale by the forces of Zhentil Keep during the Time of Troubles. Elminster and the Rangers Three eliminated the Zhents before they could do lasting harm, and Highdalefolk are happy to leave history's stage.and return to the quiet lives they love.
Plots and Rumors
Just as the forces of the giant Storm King menace Deepingdale, so is High Dale threatened. The mountains north of High Dale are virtually impassable, but the goblin servants of the evil cloud giant have subterranean passages leading from the Storm King's black keep into the upper reaches of the Copper Gulp and the Hidden Vale.
Hunting the Hunter: The magical defenses of the Dancing Place are too powerful for all but the mightiest villains to assault directly, but are the pilgrims who trek in secret to the blessed spot so well defended? Evil druids and the People of the Black Blood have earmarked these pilgrims for cruel death in the badlands between Thunder Gap and High Dale.