Baldur’s Gate was first released 25 years ago today, on 21st December 1998.
In the summer of 1999, it was a Saturday and I was incredibly bored out of my mind. I had some money saved up and having absolutely nothing else to do, I decided that I should go buy a new game for my computer. I took out my stacks of collected game magazines to flip through them for any highly rated games that I had not really paid attention to before. (We did not have internet yet back then.) And one game that stood out for having extremely high ratings in several magazines was Baldur’s Gate, which had come out half a year earlier. It was a fantasy game, and I didn’t play any fantasy games, and it was in the RPG section, and I’ve never actually read any of the articles in the RPG sections. Strategy, Action, Adventures, and Space Sims were the whole game world for me. But Baldur’s Gate was at the top of any recent release rankings and so I did give the reviews a read. I didn’t really understand what kind of game to expect from that, but the reviews were nothing but high praise. And I really was just looking for something to waste some money on and play for a week or so.
So I hopped on my bike right there and then to ride downtown and see of any of the stores had Baldur’s Gate. Grabbed it, got back home, and played it all weekend. At that point, I had read The Lord of the Rings once because it looked interesting on my parent’s bookshelves, and thought it was quite neat, but didn’t think anything more about it. Other than that, all my experience with fantasy had been children’s books and fairy tales, which our parents had read to us a lot. Somehow fantasy had been something that I knew existed but really didn’t care about the least bit. But Baldur’s Gate had me hooked immediately. It got me into playing a lot more fantasy games after that, and got me into picking up Dungeons & Dragons when the 3rd edition came out the next year. All my hobbies and all my creative work for the last 23 years arr because I was really bored that day and desperate for about anything that could keep me entertained for a few hours hopefully.
Since I have the rest of the year off from work, this is now a great time to attempt my probably tenth complete playthrough of the game.
As people who have been to this site more than once or twice surely would have noticed, I have a huge fascination with the Forgotten Realms sourcebook The Savage Frontier from 1988. I still believe to this day that this is possibly the best single fantasy campaign setting book that has ever been made. It does not look like much at only 64 pages with very little illustrations, but this thing is densely packed like nobody’s business. It’s not a huge amount of content, but it is content that is almost all immediately useful for GMs for creating adventures and bringing the world to life. And every year that I pick it up again, it only keeps impressing me more.
My approach to The Savage Frontier is to always take it at its word. Any detailed that is mentioned in the book is assumed to be true. If there is anything about the setting as it is presented in a way that seems contradictory or implausible, I assume that the information is merely incomplete rather than wrong. Unless it seems absolutely necessary to make the setting feel believable, I always only add new details to resolve such conflicts instead of removing or changing anything that is in the text.
What do they eat?
When examining a fictional world for how believable and consistent it is, it’s always a good first step to ask “What do they eat?”
All large scale conflicts are deep down caused by economical issues. Someone wants or needs something that is not accessible and is willing to start a fight for it. And warfare is all about managing the resources that you have access to and disrupting the access of your enemy. Strategy is always about managing resources much more than fighting battles. Believable large scale conflicts always have underlying economic circumstances. If these circumstances are plausible, then you can have your actors make decisions that are consistent and believable. Those decisions might be bad or stupid, but they have to make sense in the minds of the people who make them. If the economic circumstances of the setting make no sense, then many of the decisions will be nonsensical as well. And the most fundamental level of all economy is food production. Most other aspects of the economy ultimately serve to improve and secure the supply of food for the population, and in a society with medieval levels of technology, food production takes up the vast majority of all labor output. If the food economy of your setting makes no sense, then the rest of the economy will make no sense either, and therefore all the major political and social conflicts as well. Food production is something that every setting has to get right to create a world and stories that are halfway believable.
So how does The Savage Frontier look in that regard? It’s a pretty large region the size of central Europe, full of great mountain ranges and vast forests, and with very long distances between most major settlements. And it’s a very cold place. This is a region in which growing crops will have a fairly low productivity, but the large scale import of food deep into the wilderness is also quite impractical. Being located in the most remote corner of the continent, there really isn’t any outside trade coming through the region. Adbar, Sundabar, Mirabar, and Ironmaster are major suppliers of metals for the southern lands, but only Ironmaster can be supplied by the sea. Hauling all the food to feed the 100,000 city dwellers in the Interior for a thousand miles up the river through the wilderness just doesn’t seem very plausible and what would Silverymoon and Everlund even have to trade for all of that? As I see it, almost all of the food in the Savage Frontier has to be produced locally.
So “What do they eat?” becomes “What do they produce?” I think the best comparison we have for the agriculture that would be possible in the Savage Frontier is the medieval Baltic region. Southern Sweden, the Baltic States, and the westernmost regions of Russia. In the 13th and 14th century, which is the time period that the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set gives as a reference, the region was actually home to numerous largely independent oligarchic merchant cities, which is very much like the social structure that dominates the northern Forgotten Realms. Novgorod and Moscow had populations of about 30,000 people, which is roughly the scale of Silverymoon, Sundabar, and Mirabar. (And dwarfs Neverwinter and Luskan.) So it is looking pretty promising that this can be made to work as a very plausible and consistent setting.
The main crop in Northern Europe has always been wheat, which should grow fairly well in the Savage Frontier as well. Barley as well, with Russia and Canada being among the top producers worldwide. The coast of the Sea of Swords at Neverwinter and Waterdeep and the lower Delymbiyr valley would all be great areas for growing grains.
An alternative food source that has been used widely in more harsher regions like Scotland, Iceland, and Norway is raising cattle and sheep. The Dessarin valley between Waterdeep and the Evermoors consists of a vast prairie, which is ideal for grazing.
A third source for food would be fishing. Ironmaster, Luskan, Neverwinter, and Waterdeep are all directly on the coast of a cold sub-arctic sea, which are typically very abundant fishing grounds.
These three sources of food cover the food supply situation in the western parts of the Savage Frontier very well. While Mirabar is located in a more inhospitable location, it is still fairly close to the sea and one of the most important mining cities in the world, so a heavy reliance on food imports would not be much of a stretch there.
Feeding the Interior
But this still leaves out the Interior region in the Northeast. This would be the area with the harshest winter and the shortest summers, with the least areas of open grasslands. While the Rauvin is a fairly major river that might provide decent amounts of fish, the catches would have to be split among Silverymoon, Everlund, and Sundabar, which I just don’t see as a reliable main food source. So having my big fancy map of the Savage Frontier and with a little bit of research and calculations, I crunched some numbers to see how much agricultural land would actually be needed to feed these three cities and Citadel Adbar as well.
Together the four cities have a population of 90,000 people. As a rule of thumb, it takes roughly 9-10 people working in the fields to produce enough surplus to feed each additional person living in a city. So we can estimate a total population of humans and dwarves in the region of 1 million. Available numbers on how much land was required to feed one person in the middle age cover a fairly wide range, but they all seem to cluster around 3 acres per person. Which in turn comes out to somewhere in the range of 125 people per square mile, or roughly 4000 people per 6-mile hex of worked fields. Of course, even in densely populated and worked areas, not all of the land is actually fields for growing crops. So in practice I think we have to look at more like 2000 to 3000 people that can be supported by each 6-mile hex of grassland.
Based on those assumptions, I made this following map.
This map shows the amount of grassland that all the major settlements in the Savage Frontier would need to completely sustain themselves by growing crops. It assumes that the hexes in the south and west can feed about 3000 people, while those towards the north and west feed more like 2000 people each. As we can see, it would be possible to feed the entire human and dwarven population by only growing crops, though in the Northeast things are getting pretty cramped.
The coastal cities could decrease their need for farmland by fishing, though I really don’t have any information on how much fish could replace grain.
The great prairie of the Dessarin valley is described in the text as having a lot of cattle and sheep herding going on. A great thing about grazers is that they have feet, and as such can transport themselves from the pastures all the way to their customers where they will be slaughtered. So even though Yartar and Triboar are fairly small and remote towns, each year could see massive cattle drives to Mirabar, Neverwinter, Nesme, Everlund, and Waterdeep, where the meat can further decrease the need for grain. Some of the herds could even be driven up to Silverymoon.
Further into the Interior, Sundabar sits right in the middle of a huge valley between the Rauvin and Nether Mountains. Since the Rauvin river is flowing down through the Nether Mountains, the valley would have to be more of a highland plateau. Which I just don’t see as being able to support the kind of crops production we see in Western Europe. They really would have to support themselves with additional cattle herding in the valley and perhaps sheep herding in the lower hills of the Nether Mountains to the south of the city. Things look very similar with the valley outside the gates of Citadel Adbar in the uppermost right corner of the map.
Feeding the Orcs
While the space necessary to feed these cities is there, Adbar, Sundabar, and to some degree Everlund are finding themselves in quite precarious locations, though. The valley outside Adbar is wedged between the Ice Mountains and the Rauvin Mountains, which are both orc territory. I’ve come up with the theory that the orcs mostly support themselves through hunting and organize long hunting expeditions to restock their stores after the winter and prepare for the next one. Both the dwarven valley and the Sundabar valley would be the primary hunting grounds for the orcs in the Northeast. The plain between the Cold Wood and the Moonwood as well, though that area is being claimed by the Uthgardt of the Black Lion and Red Tiger tribes for the very same purpose. This makes the Interior the main area of the Orc conflicts. The orcs need these three valleys to feed their own population and are on all sides fenced in by the dwarves, the Uthgardt, and Sundabar. With only so much prey available, it makes sense for the orcs to try driving out the other groups from the area. And if in the process they can rustle some cattle and help themselves to sacks of grain, they are absolutely going to do that. With the food situation this precarious, the other groups aren’t just going to leave the land for the orcs, and so it’s understandable that this is regularly turning into a genocidal war.
What this map does not show is that further north beyond the Ice Mountains and the Spine of the World lies an arctic ocean. Just as many orcs as are coming south from the mountains to hunt deer, bison, and boar and steal cattle and sheep, would also be going north to hunt seals and whales. With this additional food source, we have at least some kind of plausible explanation for how the orcs in the area can survive without being able to destroy Adbar and Sundabar.
The other major orc populations have things a lot easier. The orcs of the Spine of the World have the mountains and surrounding lowlands pretty much for themselves, except for Mirabar and the Black Raven tribe in the westernmost ranges. A similar situation is found in the Grey Peaks in the southeast and inside the High Forest. In these areas the orcs are the only ones to do any large scale hunting and are not in direct conflict with any settlements, though they still might go raiding if an opportunity presents itself or they are feeling bold. But it would not have the genocidal character as in the Interior.
The last major orc population is found in the Evermoors, where they are in a permanent three way battle with the Elk tribe and the trolls. When prey becomes sparse, orc clans might try to raid villages outside of Nesme, Yartar, Everlund, and Silverymoon, but that would probably be the exception rather than the rule, and consists mostly of individual attacks with no greater organization rather than major campaigns by a great orc horde.
What have we learned from it?
I really am always having a lot of fun going over this map and poking it with a stick to find things that could be puzzling and implausible and trying to work out how what I’m seeing and reading could realistically be true. There is always so much more to discover here, and often it’s things that I think would make for very interesting and compelling adventure hooks.
The first thing I am taking from this analysis is that the largest cities all need to be surrounded by fairly densely populated farmland for a few dozen miles. Adventuring companies traveling on the roads would reach the outskirts of each city states two or three days before they get an actual sight of their walls, and also coming across sizable towns where they can find accommodations for the night instead of sleeping outside around a campfire.
In many places, these outskirts would also be under regular threat of cattle raids by orc or Uthgardt, or even other neighboring villages. I see this being a huge issue everywhere within 50 miles around the Evermoors and in the Sundabar valley.
Also, not engaging in the growing of crops, conflict involving the Uthgardt and the orcs would primarily be about hunting grounds. Hunting societies need huge amounts of territory to have a population of prey that can sustain them reliably every year. While there is plenty of open range with bisons in the Surbrin valley, things are much more cramped in the Interior where they are in direct competition with the need for farmland by the large cities.
The Dessarin valley is a giant cattle and sheep pasture. All the towns in the valley would have an economy based pretty much entirely on herding. And once per year, all the roads going out of Triboar would be completely swarmed with giant herds of cattle and sheep. This could be a really funny detail to work into the game if the party is traveling through the valley at a certain time of the year.
The Delymbiyr valley is a total backwater even by the standards of the Savage Frontier. Assuming that Loudwater, Llork, and Secomber are the largest settlements in the area, this is probably the least populated stretch anywhere in the North. While farming there would be possible, I would assume more remote homesteads than more densely concentrated medieval farming villages. There’s probably some herding going on there as well to sell beef to Waterdeep.
And there should be orc whalers. Which I think is cool.
As I mentioned occasionally in the past, I have a certain fascination with the Northeastern region of the Forgotten Realms. The third edition book The Unapproachable East is my second favorite setting book after The Savage Frontier, as I always found it very evocative and very well made.
“Traditionally”, Northeast Faerûn is treated as two broader regions. The Unapproachable East consisting of Rashemen, the Great Dale, Thesk, Aglarond, and Thay, and the Cold Lands consisting of Vaasa, Damara, and Narfell. However, I find these categorizations somewhat arbitrary and not really reflective of the political, economic, cultural, and geographic relationships that are implied by the maps and the descriptions of these lands.
While I keep using the name The Unapproachable East for the Northeastern region of Faerûn, the “natural borders” of the region that I see look more like this.
Impiltur is nor usually considered part of the Unapproachable East, but most of its population and centers of power are in the port cities of the Easting Reach, which are close neighbors of the Great Dale and Thesk just across the water to the East. In contrast, the Vast and the Moonsea in the West are physically separated from Impiltur by the great Earthspur Mountains. While I can see how at a first look, the Easting Reach of the Sea of Fallen Star might seem like a natural border, what I am seeing is instead a natural highway that reminds me very much of the Baltic Sea, considering the cultural influences seen in the surrounding countries. In the medieval Baltic, the port cities had a much closer cultural and political relationship with each other than with their respective neighboring territories further inland. With that in mind, I see Impiltur very much as an intrinsic part of the Unapproachable East.
To the North, the lands of Damara have a story that is inseparably linked with the savage tribes of Vaasa to the West. Both lands originally appeared in the Bloodstone Lands adventure and were only later added to Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms relatively shortly before the setting’s official publication as a D&D setting. (Similar to the Moonshae Islands.) However, as with Impiltur, the Earthspur Mountains form a formidable physical barrier between the two lands. In contrast, the rivers of Damara form a natural transportation network for trade with Impiltur (again reminding me of Eastern Europe), and there’s an easy land route to the Great Dale as well. Aside from the stories of the Bloodstone Wars, I can really only see Impiltur as the connection to the rest of the world for Damara, and the Earthspur Mountains and monster infested wilds of Vaasa as impassable obstacles for reaching the Moon Sea. As such, I think Damara should also be considered part of the Northeast, while Vaasa is more connected to the Moonsea.
And with Damara and Impiltur being treated as part of the Northeast, but Narfell obviously has to be included as well. It is possible to ride through the cold steppes past the northern edges of Rashemen into the Endless Wastes of Kara-Tur in the east, but Damara and the Great Vale are significantly closer and much more likely to have semi-regular interactions with the Nars.
Now the final land I want to mention here, and certainly the most controversial and debatable thought I have on this, is Thay. Just like Damara and Vaasa, the story of Thay is inseparably linked with Rashemen and Aglarond. Invading Rashemen and Aglarond is the Red Wizard’s thing! That’s what pretty much defines the country. There is only a single, easily defensible path between Thay and Mulhorand. And while Thay is a wayward province of the ancient Mulhorandi empire, the Red Wizards have fully secured their full sovereignty for more than 300 years. For most intents and purposes, Thay should clearly be counted as part of the Unapproachable East and Northeastern Faerûn. But when it comes to looking into the demographics of the region, I think this is one of those few cases were it should be excluded from the rest of the data.
First thing, the population of Thay is massive compared to the rest of the Northeast. Thay alone has almost as many people as all the other lands combined, including Impiltur and Damara, which both are only rivaled by Aglarond and completely dwarf anyone else. And the demographic makeup of Thay is a very strange one compared to all other places in Faerûn. It has massive populations of slaves captured from other lands, including 400,000 dwarves, 200,000 halflings, and half a million of both orcs and gnolls each. These slaves have no interactions with the world outside of Thay except as expandable soldiers in armies trying to invade Rashemen, Thesk, and Aglarond. Any demographic observations about Thay have no representativeness for the rest of the Northeast, and putting these two very distinctive but equally sized populations into the same data set would result in something that is representative of neither. So for all my further observation, we’ll be looking only at the populations between the Earthspur Mountains, the Sea of Fallen Stars, and the Sunset Mountains, excluding Thay.
Going with the numbers from the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, the area in question has a total population of 5.5 million people. The largest country by population is Damara with 1.32 million people, followed closely by Aglarond with 1.27 million and Impiltur with 1.2 million. Damara taking the number one spot seems somewhat strange, as it doesn’t really have major cities and no ports at all, nor does its geography provide it with rich farmland. I think this is something where the writers might have been making a mistake. But then, Impiltur and Aglarond are really mostly a few port cities with barely much else.
A good way further down in population on fourth place is Thesk with 850,000 people, followed by Rashemen with 650,000 people. The Great Dale makes it to barely 200,000 people and Narfell only 37,000.
Taken as relative percentages, the population sizes of each country rank like this: Damara 24%, Aglarond 23%, Impiltur 22%, Thesk 15%, Rashemen 12%, Great Dale 4%, Narfell 0.7%.
This makes the four kingdoms pretty even players as population sizes go, with Rashemen only slightly lagging behind. Though assuming that trade and the wealth that comes with it gives a country considerable influence, Rashemen is clearly the trailing underdog here. The Great Dale and Narfell can’t really be regarded as states of any kind. They are scattered villages and roaming clans that have no political or economic weight to throw around.
Throughout the whole region, humans make up 84% of the whole population, numbering at 4.7 million in total. Nonhuman minorities are 380,000 half elves (7%), 140,000 dwarves (3%), and 100,000 halflings (2%), followed by 70,000 gnomes, 60,000 elves, 50,000 orcs, and 25% half-orcs.
Taken by themselves, these numbers appear like showing populations that are clearly dominated by humans, but also feature a considerable diversity of nonhuman minorities. However, when looking deeper into the available information on the different countries, it actually becomes clear that these nonhumans make up very distinctive and relatively isolated population, and the mixing of different peoples is much less common than it first might appear.
The 50,000 halflings are found in comparable numbers in Damara and Impiltur, where they make up roughly 4% of the total population each. Halflings in Faerûn are regularly described as integrating commonly and easily into human societies, and I am assuming that this is what also is taking place here. There are no major halfling towns and probably few halfling villages in Damara and Impiltur, but they would probably be common sights in the larger cities, and found at all levels of the social hierarchy.
Dwarves are also found exclusively in these two countries, but unlike the halflings, I see the dwarves as living very much segregated from the human kingdoms, having their own completely separate kingdoms high up in the Earthspur Mountains. Dwarven traders and perhaps also mercenaries would be common sights in Damara and Impiltur, but I don’t see them constituting significant minorities in the human cities.
Aglarond is famous for being the only place where there is something that could be considered a half-elven nation. While they are commonly considered to be one country, the coastal cities of Aglarond and the villages of the Yuirwood are two very distinctively different societies. Taken together, Aglarond has a population that is roughly two thirds humans and a full one third half-elves. However, with the humans living in the coastal cities and the half-elves in the Yuirwood, the demographic makeup of individual towns would look very different. Based on descriptions from AD&D, when Faerûn was still largely being described as a near human-exclusive world, I would treat Aglarond as having nearly fully human coastal cities and pretty much exclusively half-elven Yuirwood towns. As the two populations are on fairly good terms, there would of course by a lot of interactions and exchange between them, but I would regard them as two very distinctive ethnicities. The Unapproachable East sourcebook also introduces a new elven sub-species that has been completely hidden in their extradimensional realm that can only be reached through portals in the Yuirwood for many centuries. I assume these star elves are the 64,000 elves listed as living in Aglarond, where they make up 0.5% of the population.
There are 70.000 gnomes living in Thesk. Which are in fact the only gnomes that are mentioned anywhere in the region. These gnomes come from a small gnome realm in the Dragonmaw Mountains. Some of these gnomes travel and have even made home in the major trade towns of Thesk, but otherwise I would consider them an isolated realm of their own which is simply much too small to be listed as a region in its own right.
Damara has a small population of half-orcs. I believe this is simply because of its proximity with Vaasa and the lands beyond, which are one of the main regions for orc in the Forgotten Realms. At only 26,000 in a total population of 1.3 million, I’m assuming that these are mostly individual families living among the clans at the edges of civilization. I don’t see them as being a typical part of the social makeup in the larger population centers.
And finally there are the orcs of Thesk. 12 years before the present day of the 3rd edition sourcebooks, a huge horde of horse raiders from the steppes of Kara-Tur invaded the Unapproachable East. Fearing their rapid successes, the rulers of the Heartlands set their various differences aside and send their armies to fight together against the Tuigan Horde in the plains of Thesk. Among these armies were many companies of orcs from Zhentil Keep. And once the war was won and the invaders repelled, somehow many of the Zhentarim soldiers were forgotten and left abandoned. Some have taken to banditry while others tried to find some kind of honest living as mercenaries now that they were free from the iron grasp of their dark masters. There are still some 50,000 orcs in Thesk, where they now make up some 6% of the badly ravaged population. Being Zhentarim soldiers, these orcs would be mostly men. While there are large numbers of native orcs in Thay, it seems unlikely that Thayan orc women could freely move into Thesk in large numbers to create long-term, stable orc settlements in the country. The situation of the orc population in Thesk is something that will probably take a bit of work to turn into something that feels actually believable and satisfying as a setting element. But I think that we can at least assume orc mercenaries being a pretty frequent sight in the employment of a wide range of different masters in Thesk.
I’ve recently been again captured by the charm of the 2003 Forgotten Realms book Unapproachable East. It came out right after the released of the revised 3.5e edition, but still feels in many way like the tone and style of of the earlier books. Back in the day when the revised rules came out, I was very much in love with the changes, and so was pretty much everyone else I knew about. Even though the changes to the rules were not that severe, the people at WotC used the opportunity to make new versions of many of the splatbooks to begin a stylistic remodeling of D&D, which in hindsight was one of the biggest shifts in feel and tone that D&D ever did. Instead of simply dividing D&D’s different phases of identity into TSR old school (1974-1999) and WotC new school (2000-present), I think we could just as well split it into Oldschool D&D (1974-1983), Middle Period (1984-2002), and Dungonpunk (2003-present).
I find myself having a lot of nostalgia for 3rd edition books from the first three years, but feel absolutely nothing for Eberron-Pathfinder period. I actually really like Wayne Reynolds’ art style, but it doesn’t mesh with the kind of fantasy campaign I want to actually play.
So these last days I’ve been pondering the admittedly very silly idea of perhaps maybe running another game with the original version of the 3rd Edition rules 20 years later. No rational reasons for that choice, just plain, straightforward nostalgia. Over the years, people have been looking back at the changes made by the rules revision, and a good number of people have shared the opinion that many of the apparent improvements actually made the game worse. There’s even some really fringe weirdos who think the original version is actually better suited to running and playing a modern D&D game with a more oldschool approach.
But this morning, I had for a moment a thought that maybe, I could even run the campaign idea I am pondering simply with 5th edition and call it a day. But I soon remembered several reasons why 3rd Edition is still beating out both 3.5e and 5th edition as the rules that feel the most right:
Damage reduction in 3rd Ed. only cares about the modifier of the main enchantment of a weapon to overcome. A +3 weapon will go through the DR of any enemy who has DR against +3, +2, +1, and silver weapons. No need for a golf bag of different blades for different types of enemies. Also, having a plain +2 sword can be a visible game changer instead of just a +1 increase to attack and damage from your previous weapon.
Damage reduction and energy resistance in 3rd Ed. tends to block very large amounts of damage to the point of easily outright cancelling an attack instead of just making it less efficient. This means more situations where an enemy is close to invulnerable to what the players can throw at it, and that require them to come up with unusual out of the box solution instead of just brute force attacking.
In 5th edition, demons, aboleths, and other big critters lost almost all of their spells that make fighting them different from oversized ogres.
The low-levels in 5th edition are stupid. That’s the fun part of the game, not something that should be rushed through as fast as possible.
Even with just the PHB, 3.5e and 5th edition try to put cool new special abilities into every level of every class, creating a much stronger incentive to get deeply invested in character builds. Class level tables looking boring and empty in 3rd Ed. is something I regard as an advantage.
Concentration in 5th edition really changes the fiction of how Forgotten Realms used to work in its original presentation.
When you invite players to join a 5th edition game, they want to play tiefling bards, dragonborn paladins, and githyanki warlocks. Even when you specifically tell them in advance that this version of the Forgotten Realms is not that kind of setting.
The ancient borders of Eaerlann, Netheril, and Delzoun are fairly well described in the material. In contrast, the borders of Illefarn and the Fallen Kingdom are only mentioned very vaguely and the outlines here are purely my own personal guess.
One discrepancy in the description of the elven realms is with the inhabitants of Eaerlann. “For millennia, gold elves dwelt in Illefarn (where Waterdeep now stands) and Eaerlann (along the River Shining).” This sentence seems to state that the people of both Illefarn and Eaerlann were gold elves. However, it is stated in other places that the half-elven renegades of the High Forest are descended from moon elves. It is also stated that the only known group of elves still living in the North are moon elves in Ardeep Forest. And Ardeep Forest is one of the explicitly mentioned places belonging to the Fallen Kingdom, which was founded by elves from Earlann long after the elves of Illefarn had all left for Evermeet. I believe this to be a case of editorial error and that Eaerlann was in fact a realm of moon elves. Wood elves are never mentioned at all in any of the 1st edition sources for the region.
I have never actually seen any maps showing the areas that the Uthgard tribes are calling their homes. All we’ve ever been given explicitly are the locations of their holy ancestor mounds and the towns of Griffon’s Nest and Grunwald. However, the descriptions given on each tribe in The Savage Frontier does provide quite a bit information to work with, which resulted in this interpretation of where the Uthgardt would commonly be encountered. Not much information is given on the way the Uthgardt live, but it appears that they do not practice any kind of farming, and so probably rely on a combination of hunting, gathering, and possible some herding.
When comparing this map with my earlier map of the areas where towns are located and most farming would be done, the areas where the two overlap happen to be the ones of the Grey Wolf, Griffon, Elk, and Blue Bear tribes. Which also are just the tribes that most commonly come in conflict and attack the new settlers. Which makes me think that there really was some thought put into the placement of towns and tribes, and gives me more confidence that my interpretations are pretty good.
Knowing that the distance between two given cities is 800 miles generally isn’t very helpful in regards to really getting some degree of intuitive understand how big the area on a fantasy map really is. So to get a better impression, I overlaid the map of the Savage Frontier with the outlines of Northern Europe.
I think to have the best match for the environment and climate conditions, the map should probably be placed further north in Europe, but there’s not a lot of well known cities up there that would make for good reference points. Also, the large body of water of the relatively shallow Baltic Sea greatly moderates winter temperatures by storing a lot of energy during the summer. So when winter comes to the Savage Frontier, imagine it to be way colder than southern Sweden and Finland.
I used Hamburg as a reference point to place Waterdeep, and there’s a number of big European cities that line up quite nicely with various important towns in the North.
Waterdeep – Hamburg
Secomber – Szcecin
Llork – Kaliningrad
Yartar – Göteborg
Silverymoon – Stockholm
Citadel Adbar – Tallinn
Grunwald – Oslo
Luskan – Bergen
Gundbarg – Aberdeen
Ruathym – Liverpool
As said, climate-wise none of these would be good matches, but it gives some reference regarding the distances between places in the Savage Frontier.
The land area is about 420,000 square miles. That’s very close to Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark combined, or three Germanys. Or roughly comparable to either Ontario, Quebeck, or British Columbia in Canada.