People of the Great Dale
The people of the Great Dale are honest, hardworking folk who simply want the outside world to leave them alone. For the most part, they've gotten their wish, since few people see much reason to travel here. If it were not for the Great Road connecting Uthmere to the east, there would not be any traffic through the region at all.
The people of the Great Dale are a mix of old Chondathan, Nar, Theskian, and more recently, Impilturan blood. The clan-holds possess the oldest bloodlines of the land, with more than a little of the ancient Nars. The folk of the Great Dale place little importance on race or ethnicity - a good neighbor is a good neighbor. The older families do not always get along with Impilturan homesteaders pushing eastward from Uthmere, who see miles of empty land and believe they're free to settle where they wish. This has led to bloodshed, but for the most part, the Impilturan colonists have found land that doesn't encroach on the holds of the earlier Dalesfolk.
The people of the Great Dale dress simply and for the weather. They favor homespun linen fabrics in the summer and leathers and furs in the winters. Although sunlight barely reaches the floor of the great forests, the ground underneath them is well protected. The canopy of these elder woods is a blanket in the winter, a shade in the summer, and an umbrella when the rains come.
Races and Cultures
Once wild elves, wood elves, volodnis, and perhaps other races populated the Great Dale. Few traces of their presence remain in the land between the forests; since ancient times, this has been a human land. Settlers fleeing the destruction of ancient Jhaamdath moved into the area over sixteen centuries ago only to end up under the crushing boot of the Empire of Narfell. When that realm was destroyed in its war against Raumathar, the residents of the Great Dale were suddenly ungoverned and independent. They have avoided foreign rule ever since. The people of the Great Dale are almost exclusively human. The only exceptions, other than the odd wanderers are the few non-humans who have settled in Uthmere, the only place in the region that can lay claim to the label "civilized." In the wild eastern part of the Dale, that word is synonymous with "worthless" and "weak," carrying overtones of conniving and deceit. Using it usually leads to an all-out brawl.
While the Dalesfolk don't like outlanders at all, they don't care much for one another, either. The forests and fields are dotted with tiny enclaves of isolated clans. The common tongue here is Damaran, a legacy of ancient Narfell, but the Nar heritage of the Great Dale is long forgotten. The "old" Dalesfolk are descended from Chondathans who came to this land more than a thousand years ago, while the "new" are generally Impilturans who have settled the western reaches of the Dale for several hundred years. The Circle of Leth is the only unifying force in the region. If it were not for the druidic hierarchy, the two cultures sharing the Great Dale would be at each other's throats.
Life and Society
Outside the port city of Uthmere, three different kinds of people inhabit the Dale: farmers, herders, and the druids and rangers. Most of the farmers live under the trees in the western portions of the Dale and are often of Impilturan descent. They grow crops of all sorts but prefer hardier grains such as wheat and corn that can stand up to windswept springs and early frosts. The farmers usually end up with plenty for themselves and enough left over to barter with traveling merchants or their neighbors for things they can't grow or make on their own. Most Great Dale farms are homesteads of one or two families.
The herders keep their flocks in the open stretches of the central and eastern Dale. Their homes are often made of field-stone fitted together by hand and chinked with mud, half-buried in a hillside to stay below the winter winds. These goatherds and shepherds are more likely to be "old" Dalesfolk and gather in clanholds of five to ten related families.
The rangers and druids patrol the forests, keeping out strangers and protecting their beloved woods. They warn off wayward souls who wander into something they know nothing about. People who are out to maliciously harm the forests, however, receive the harshest treatment. The rangers of the Great Dale save their greatest fury for those fools who attempt to set up logging operations within their domain. Both rangers and druids prefer to sleep under the sheltering canopy of the Rawlinswood or the Forest of Lethyr. When traveling, they may spend a night or two under the stars, but they prefer to minimize their time in the open. These followers of the Nentyarch hunt and gather their own food. They sometimes call on the farmers of the land to contribute food or shelter, but they prefer not to trouble the Dalesfolk.
Uthmere has the only real economy in the Great Dale. Its lord mints coins that are used throughout the city but rarely beyond. The people of the wilds prefer barter to money. As the locals like to say, "Coins are too easy to lose." Uthmere makes most of its money on mooring fees charged to merchants who rise its harbor. In effect, this is a toll for the Great Road, as the only easy way to get to it from the coast is directly through Uthmere.
The people of the wild lands produce herbs, alchemical ingredients, and wooden goods of the highest quality. The Great Dale has no mines within its borders, and the only forges are in Uthmere, Bezentil, and Kront. With the exception of simple iron items such as horseshoes or nails, the Dalesfolk must import metal items and tools.
Law and Order
Uthmere is governed by an old code based on the laws of the Impilturan crown. The city guards are empowered to enforce the law; there is no separate town watch. An appointed magistrate hears most cases, although Lord Uthlain himself presides over issues of serious crimes. Uthmere is a haven for smugglers who ferry contraband into Impiltur across the Easting Reach, and the Shadowmasters of Telflamm are eager to bring this illicit trade under their control.
In the countryside, the Great Dale is almost lawless. While most folk don't steal from or injure their neighbors, they expect only what justice they can carve out with a blade. Many people do not venture away from their homes unless armed, even if only with a quarterstaff or a club, but a well-worn longsword or longbow is preferred by travelers in the wilder reaches. Bandits and marauders are not very common, but the lands of the Great Dale are filled with wild animals and monsters. Only a "civilized" person would even consider walking around without a weapon at his side.
Outside of Uthmere's walls, justice is either swift or left undone. Wrongdoers who are caught are punished on the spot by their captors. The favored method of execution is to bind criminals high in the branches of a tree, where they either die of thirst or are eaten by animals. It's not unusual to see sun-bleached, picked-over skeletons hanging in the trees along the perimeter of either forest. These are an object warning to those who would intrude on the peace of these woods.
Defense and Warcraft
No one has tried to invade the Great Dale in centuries. The Great Road could be a path of Thayan aggression against lands farther west, but the Great Dale is hundreds of miles from Thay, and even the Red Wizards would have difficulty sustaining an army so far from home. Even if invaders were to attack the Dale, most of its people would let them pass unmolested, as long as their armies stuck to the Great Road. Any troops who entered the woods, however, would have to contend with the full fury of the Nentyarch and the Circle of Leth.
It's hard to imagine why another nation would want to conquer the Great Dale other than out of some kind of mad land-lust. The riches of the land lie almost exclusively within its mighty forests, and the danger involved in extracting them would be ridiculously high. It is simpler, safer, and far cheaper to barter with the locals - and that's just what most of the Great Dale's neighbors have done over the years.
The rise of the Rotting Man and his blightlords in the black hold of Dun-Tharos has finally brought a real threat to the Great Dale. The blightlords command an army of blight-spawned treants, volodnis, and animals, a slavering horde strong enough to overwhelm everything east of Uthmere. Only the vigilance of the Circle of Leth holds them in check, and the Circle may not be able to contain the Talontar blightlords for much longer.
The Dalesfolk have seen enough of the blight to understand that their homes' and lives are endangered by the fell power in the northern woods. For the first time in living memory, the clanlords of the eastern Dale are making ready for war. Nentyar hunters carry messages from hold to hold and farm to farm. No one hold can muster more than a dozen or so militia, but the druids hope a call to arms from the Nentyarch will bring fighting men and women from a hundred such settlements. Only an immediate and dire threat could bring the Dalesfolk to forget distance and differences, and the Rotting Man's feral army poses exactly such a threat. Led by the Circle of Leth, Dalesfolk under arms may be surprisingly determined soldiers.
The citizens of Uthmere venerate most deities of the Faerûnian pantheon. Even so, the most popular gods here are those who are worshiped throughout the Dale: Chauntea, Eldath, Mielikki, and Silvanus (although Tyr's faith is also wide-spread). Of these, Eldath garners the most worship in Uthmere because of her association with the waters that tumble out of the forest and into the sea. The secret House of the Master's Shadow (recently founded in an anonymous building in the city's poorest quarter) is the local branch of the Shadowmasters. The Shadowmasters have already started their standard tactic of recruiting from the youngest and poorest inhabitants, and they have had a lot of success so far. Mask is pleased.
Chauntea, Mielikki, and Silvanus are worshiped widely in the rest of the territory. The people of the Great Dale understand that while they may seem alone, they are always surrounded by their chosen deities - nature gods all. The farmers who work the open fields favor Chauntea. Silvanus appeals to most of the druids and rangers, although Mielikki comes in a close second. Women are especially fond of her, and when a person of the Great Dale is in need, they appeal to her kinder nature first. People who live along the Great Imphras River or near the headwaters of the Easting Reach often prefer Eldath.
When most adventurers look at a map of Faerûn, they pass over the Great Dale without a second thought. The reputation of the Nentyarch and his followers is well known, as well as the fact that the forests they protect are perilous to intruders. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure in the Great Dale: elven ruins to explore, rampaging monsters to defeat, and terrorized communities to rescue. But heroes who come here must deal with the Circle of Leth eventually. If they are not careful in where they go and how they answer challenges, they are certain to have, problems with the guardians of the Dale, possibly deadly ones.
Adventurers passing through the area find accommodations few and far between. A fast-moving traveler on foot requires at least fifteen to twenty days to walk the Great Road from Uthmere to Kront, depending on the weather. In that entire journey, she'll find inns or welcoming farmhouses for no more than three or four nights. It's rare for anyone to take in strangers. It doesn't matter if they are noble heroes on a quest to free Faerûn from its worst nightmares. They'll have to earn the trust and friendship of the Dalesfolk, and that will not be the work of a day.