Unlike much of the rest of the continent, The Sword Coast boasts a certain amount of diversity among its people. Within the settlements of the North, one can find humans, dwarves, elves, and other civilized races commingling more or less peacefully. Waterdeep, in particular, is a melting pot of races from all over Faerun. Outside these communities, however, people have much less tolerance for other races, as folk tend to feel safer among their own kind. Small towns and villages dominated by humans tend to have few if any nonhumans, with most dwarves, elves, and halflings preferring to live in their own settlements, far from human-claimed lands. In generations past, most settlers of the North were fair-haired and light-skinned. Since then, the riches and promise of the Savage Frontier have attracted distant foreigners, and several generations of cultural intermingling have given the various peoples of the North much more diversity in their appearance.
Humans are the most widespread of the civilized races, but no unified human nation exists in the North—only individual cities, towns, villages, fiefdoms, farmsteads, fortresses, and outposts connected to one another by long, mostly unprotected rivers and roads. Human settlements rely on various industries for survival. For example, most of the humans of Ten-Towns and Port Llast fish to survive, the humans of Mirabar and Leilon are primarily miners, and the humans who live in Beliard, Triboar, and other settlements of the central Dessarin Valley are mostly farmers. Coastal cities such as Waterdeep, Luskan, and Neverwinter—as well as riverside cities such as Yartar, Everlund, Loudwater and Silverymoon—are home to human traders, shipbuilders, and artisans.
Although each city of the North enjoys and maintains its independence, all these communities are at risk of being overrun by the monstrous threats that live outside their walls. Fear of the wilderness and its many terrors led to the formation of the Lords’ Alliance. Members of the Lords’ Alliance include the cities of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Mirabar, Yartar, and Silverymoon, as well as the towns of Amphail, Daggerford, and Longsaddle and the dwarfhold of Mithral Hall. Baldur’s Gate, a city hundreds of miles to the south, is also a member.
Shield dwarves (also known as Mountain Dwarves) have a number of strongholds in the North, including Citadel Adbar and Citadel Felbarr in the northern mountains, Sundabar in the Silver Marches, Mithral Hall in the Frost Hills, Ironmaster on the Sword Coast, and Gauntlgrym under the mountains northeast of Neverwinter. Few non-dwarves live in these bastions of dwarvenkind. Outside their walls, clans of shield dwarves are spread thinly throughout the North, to the extent that it’s hard to find a settlement that doesn’t include at least a handful of dwarven residents. The dwarves’ affinity for trade brings them in contact with other races; beyond that, there’s also a sense among shield dwarves that all of the North is their land, as evidenced by the ruins of long-lost dwarven kingdoms scattered throughout.
Sun elves and moon elves, like dwarves, live among humans in settlements throughout the North, particularly in Silverymoon. The elven kingdoms of old are distant memories even to elves, and only a few ancient ruins and relics of these kingdoms survive. Wood elves are known to haunt the forests of the North, the High Forest in particular, but they are considered by some to be dangerous and xenophobic. Elves have no large numbers, but their long lifespans and natural talents have made them a force to be reckoned with despite this.
Small populations of Lightfoot Halflings can be found in most human-dominated settlements of the North. Scattered throughout the fertile valleys of the North are small clusters of Strongheart (AKA Stout) Halfling homesteads. Halfling homesteads tend to be off the beaten path and fairly well hidden, thus minimizing the halflings’ contact with bandits, barbarians, and marauding monsters. It’s not unusual to see a quaint hamlet of halfling homesteads nestled in a grassy ravine or along the shore of a river. And though at first they may appear to be prime targets for evildoers, most have learned over the years not to underestimate the cunning, willpower and especially the luck of Halflings.
Another common, and often frightening sight in the North are Orcs and Goblins. The history of the North is replete with tales of Orc and Goblin hordes spilling out of the mountains to attack the mines, ranches, farmsteads, and settlements of other folk. Orcs tend to gather in tribes. When a particularly strong Orc chieftain unites multiple tribes under one banner, the resulting horde typically rampages across the land, laying waste to strongholds and slaughtering other creatures in its path. Even bitter enemies usually put aside their rivalries to oppose and destroy a rampaging Orc horde. Civilized communities form their own coalitions to combat rampaging orcs, with mixed results. The War of the Silver Marches (1484–1485 DR), the latest such conflict, saw Orcs fighting alongside Goblins and White Dragons. Though the Orcs and their mighty allies were defeated and sent scurrying back to their mountain lairs, numerous settlements throughout the Silver Marches were ravaged and left in ruins, among them the fortress-city of Sundabar. But not all Orc chieftains are bent on destruction. King Obould Many-Arrows forged a tenuous alliance with his dwarf neighbors and helped maintain peace in the Silver Marches during his tumultuous reign. The more peaceful descendants of King Obould still pepper the North, often confusing their wary neighbors.
Half-orcs in the North are often burdened with the evil reputation of their Orc cousins. It takes a half-orc of great character to step out of the shadow of evil and live as an equal among the civilized races. This is true of many of the “Half-Breeds” that are more and more common each year in The North. Half-Elves face stigma both from their Elven and Human brethren, neither truly wanting to claim them until they’ve made something of themselves. Tieflings, the offspring of Devils and Demons who took Humans or Elves as mates are almost universally distrusted. It takes a strong willed and tolerant Tiefling to make their way into the trusted places of Northern society. Most never do, and tend to fall toward the ways of evil or self service. Aasimaar, on the other hand, are often looked up to and admired for their ancestry. Typically beautiful to behold, these half angel, half mortals are often elevated beyond their ability in society due to superstition and belief that having them around ensures safety from angry gods. Similarly, Dragonborn are often treated differently based on the color of their scales. Those whose ancestry hails from the Chromatic dragon lines tend to be kept at a fearful arm’s length, despite their temperaments being closer to that of Humans or Dwarves. Conversely, those of Metallic dragon lines are thought of as trustworthy and honorable.
The most diminutive and reclusive people in all of The North are the Gnomes. These small humanoids are known to be clever and inventive, but also wary of strangers. Most often found in small tribes living in thick forests or caves, Gnomes are far more diverse than outsiders tend to realize. While some love to tinker and work metal, others prefer to put to use a naturally green thumb. From tribe to tribe the Gnomes of the North vary wildly. Most people base their judgments of Gnomes upon whichever tribes they have come into contact with. Many commoners are unaware of the long, impressive history of the Gnomes in other parts of Faerun.
Though a rare sight to see, and in some places considered to be a tall tale, the birdlike Aarakocra do in fact populate the North. They are reclusive and still beginning to integrate themselves with the other races of Faerun. The Aarokocra live in bands or tribes, mostly within mountain ranges difficult to get to without the use of wings. They tend to be misunderstood and have a hard time understanding the culture and traditions of other races. The Aarakocra have little concept of ownership, to them everything is as free as the sky.
Another mountain dwelling folk who are rarely seen are the large and intimidating Goliath. Believed by some to be the distant relatives of Giants, these hulking humanoids stick together and avoid contact with others. They have a very strong sense of fair play and honor, and if coaxed out of their tight knit communities, can be great assets on the battlefield. Once they make a friend, they see this person as family, and their loyalty knows no bounds. They are deeply saddened when a commoner is frightened of them due simply their size or appearance; but overjoyed when the very same intimidates an enemy.
The last, and by far rarest site to see in all of Faerun, inlcuding the North, are the Genasi. Genasi have no society of their own as their numbers are far too low. Some Genasi may go their whole life without ever meeting another like them outside of their immediate family unit. Genasi are the decendant of Djinni who mated with Humans. They have trouble blending in as their elemental natures cause their skins, hair, and sometimes even their eyes to have distinctive properties. As with all people, they vary wildly in their alignments, abilities, and desires. Only four types of Genasi are known to exist, each bloodline is based on a key element. Fire, Water, Earth and Wind Genasi are truly some of the most fantastic, and sometimes terrifying, denizens of the North. It takes a strong Genasi to decide to integrate itself into society, but they can be excellent friends and assets to any alliance or band of adventurers.
As difficult as it is to live in the North, there is an age old quote attributed to a Dwarf lord, spoken during the signing of the first pact in the Silver Marches: “Be we cold, be we hungry, be we beset upon by the vicious…at least we’ll never be alone.”
Next: The Passage of Time in Faerun (Tendays and the Roll of Years)