My journeys to the Moonshaes linger as some of the more fascinating voyages that I have experienced, in a life not entirely devoid of fascination. These isles, so placid and pastoral on the surface, proved to be nests of tension and conflict. I must confess to some surprise as I began to perceive the true capabilities of the peoples of the Moonshaes.— Elminster Aumar, Travels Along the Sword Coast
Our land is beautiful, the life it gives us good. How could it be otherwise? The land is the Goddess. But the Goddess serves the Balance, and as goodness grows in power, so must evil have its day. Wherefore all who live in the Moonshaes have felt the bite of evil as it rises again and again to threaten us.— Andabbar Meihklann, Bard of the Snows
What can vanquish it, for a time? The forces of good. And what are they? They have a thousand faces and a thousand names. We call them — heroes.
Ffolk Lore, Year of the Huntin Hawk
The Isles are a somewhat different setting to mainland Faerun locations such as Waterdeep and Daggerford. There are key differences that anyone playing a character originating in the Isles will already be aware of; and it’s likely that those characters from elsewhere who come across the sea to the Isles will also either know some basic facts, even if they only picked them up on the way, or will soon be made aware of their ignorance of local custom.
As islands, there are ports across the setting, so player characters can have any reasonable background you desire prior to arriving in our current starting location of Corwell.
You will begin in the City of Corwell, a port city and the political center of the Kingdom of Corwell on the Isle of Gwynneth, where your adventures will take place. Speaking with the characters you come across upon your arrival will introduce you to the surroundings, especially the most popular gathering place in town for adventurers, the Red Stag Inn.
The fair city of Callidyr, on Alaron. The great fortress Caer Callidyr towers over the rest of the city and over Whitefish Bay.
Attitudes to Outsiders
In general, the inhabitants of the Isles are not friendly to outsiders. The Isles’ status on the mainland as being a backwater is not entirely without a basis in reality. The High Queen has during her reign attempted to open up the Ffolk parts of the Isles more to outsiders, but has only met with at best partial success.
Use of Magic
Magic wielders in particular are deeply distrusted on the Isles in most places save for in Caer Callidyr, where a council of 7 mages rules under the hand of the High Queen. Gwynneth can be an especially hostile place for anyone to attempt to openly wield magic, though attitudes do vary from settlement to settlement. Your PC may or may not be aware of this if they arrive as an outsider to the Isles – but if they do use magic openly around NPCs, expect an interesting reaction. The origin of this distrust is deep-rooted, but was not helped by the calamity that befell the isle of Flamsterd (see further below; ‘The Isles: Landscape, Geography and Character’).
A nature goddess worshipped by the majority of religious peoples in the Isles (i.e. by most of the Ffolk), and who in some way may represent the islands and the land itself, but whose provenance and being are in may ways a mystery that is likely unknown to any mortal creature. ((N.B. any references you may have picked up elsewhere to the Earthmother being a kind of pseudonym for Chauntea, should not be taken as canon. In general her nature is a mystery to all except, perhaps, the Moonshae druids.))
History, Geography, and Other Learning
The peoples of the Isles tend to have a strong oral history and rely on local knowledge as opposed to written histories and detailed charts or maps of the lands. Most local Ffolk do not often venture far from their home settlements during their lifetimes. You cannot find a complete map of all the ‘major’ inland locations of Gwynneth, as much of it is uncharted, and some locations (such as druids’ groves and moonwells) may be kept a secret and only discovered by exploration – though you are likely to be able to find (with effort, via a DM) a map that shows you the locations of known human and dwarven settlements, for example. Scholars and natural philosophers (and especially scholars of the arcane arts; see above) are relatively rare.
See this forums thread for more information on Moonshaes mapping and geography.
What Year Is It? Did the Spellplague Happen?
The year (as of 20/11/2021) is 1401DR. However, just like on the Waterdeep server, we have excised the Spellplague from our version of FR canon; it never happened. In the Moonshae Isles, we also ignore post-1365DR, the FR canon ‘uniting of the northmen and Ffolk’ by High Queen Alicia (in our Moonshaes, the Ffolk and Northlanders are in a long, uneasy truce brokered by the High Queen, but her efforts to unite the two peoples have born no fruit). The takeover of Gwynneth by Fae (Sarifal) also has not happened.
Worship and Gods
There are still relatively few worshippers of ‘mainlander’ gods amongst the Ffolk, compared to the vast populations of the faithful that inhabit the cities of the Sword Coast. Almost all Ffolk follow the Earthmother, whether devoutly or in a nominal way.
Outside gods are generally mistrusted and temples are therefore not overly common. However some religions do send missionaries to the Isles in the hope of converting Earthmother worshippers; Friar Nolan of the Chapel of Lathander in Corwell is one such example.
Some outsider gods are more known to Moonshaes inhabitants than others. For example; Milil, the goddess of poetry and song, is well regarded throughout the islands by both Ffolk and Notherlanders. Legends claim that he brought the harp to the Moonshaes and taught the first bards.
Northlanders are often not overly religious. Whilst many might nominally consider themselves worshippers of Tempus or Umberlee, in recent times Valkur, the Captain of the Waves, has gained the most followers, surpassing that of Tempus. As the patron of sailors, Valkur is loved in a way that Umberlee never could be. Offerings are still made to the Queen of the Depths, but out of fear and obligation.
Moonshaes halflings often follow Yondalla, known as Perissa.
In general, harsh nature deities such as Malar are more likely to find followers in the Isles than other mainlander gods. The dark gods of Talos, Bhaal, and Malar have left their mark on the Moonshaes in the past – though general knowledge of this amongst the local populace and non-lore-focused characters may of course be limited.
The general absence of ‘ordinary’ priests wielding divine magic means that there is an even greater reliance on herbal remedies and traditional medicine in the Isles than on the mainland. Settlements will often feature a local elder, a ‘wise woman’ or man who tends to the sick and provides other such services.
(for a list of deities to choose from, look at the ‘1374DR’ list on this page: https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Portal:Deities)
Druids and Bards in the Moonshae Isles
Druids are especially at home in the Moonshaes, given that much of the islands (at first glance, at least), appear to be dominated by vast stretches of untamed wilderness only interrupted by the occasional small settlement, druids’ grove, or dwarven Hold. Usually human, like the majority of Moonshavians, indigenous Moonshaes druids are the guardians and servants of the Earthmother. They and their Order, such as it is, are cryptic and reclusive. Many dwell in the groves that are sited near or around Moonwells, those mysterious pools which are considered to be sacred to worshippers of the Earthmother. They are the guardians of the Mother’s sacred places, and uphold the Balance above all.
Bards are the favoured sons of the Ffolk. Traditionally they were givne the same regard as most kings of the Ffolk, when the people were divided amongst many kingdoms; nowadays they might be given almost the same respect as a Laird, depending on the reknown of the bard in question. According to tradition a Moonshaes bard is either a Greater Bard or a Lesser Bard; the latter is any bard who has not acquired one of the legendary instruments of the bards. A Greater Bard is a possessor of one of those rare and powerful instruments. Lesser Bards serve generally as travelling entertainers, singing at fairs and feasts in exchange for a warm place to sleep and a meal. They move about continuously, visiting all the lands of the Ffolk, the nations of the northmen, and even countries beyond the Moonshaes. If they are able to grow in ability and reknown, they may gain access to the halls and manors of the various Lairds who will wish for them to play at feasts or festivals, or may simply call upon them to while away the long and dreary Moonshaes winters.
In the Ffolk capital of Caer Callidyr on Alaron, one of the seven great Bard colleges is located; the College of Mac-Fuirmidh, founded by Falataer himself, the great half-elven bard who also founded the original college of Ollamh in Waterdeep.
Landscape, Geography and Character
The visual and often cultural details on the Isles are rooted in the UK and the Nordic/northern European lands in our world. The sea and isles are cloaked in mysticism, which is key to what makes Moonshaes unique. That mysticism is embodied in the concept of the Earthmother, whose provenance and domain are objects of mystery both to outsiders and to many of her native worshippers.
The region is a chain of islands formed from volcanic activity, mainly composed of rocky materials such as dark granite and limestone. Islands have been known to disappear under the waves and new ones form. The shoreline beaches tend to be rocky as well, and often feature high crags and cliffs.
The two largest island, Gwynneth and Alaron, are very large, dwarfing the other Isles.
Norland in the west was by far the third-largest island, being at most half the size of Gwynneth or Alaron; all the other isles are significantly smaller still.
Moray also lies in the west, south of Norland, and is even wilder and more untamed country than Norland and the northern isles can be said to be.
The other major islands are Norheim (which has an accompaniment of smaller islands collectively referred to as the Norheim Isles) and the Korinn archipelago, both in the far north; Oman which lies in the centre of the isles between Norland, Gwynneth and Alaron; Snowdown lies in the south-east.
Flamsterd is situated in the south west and is a true curiosity; an island community of magic-wielders was established there by the eponymous mage Flamsterd, but fell to disaster not long after. The entire southern portion of the island exploded. All that remains is a bleak wasteland of poor farms, small fishing villages, and the occasional wandering horror that survived the cataclysm.
Alaron is the most populous of the Isles; even the southern port town of Llewellyn is significantly bigger than Corwell City (the largest human settlement on Gwynneth) is.
In-shore, many of the islands have both highlands, including great mountain ranges, and lowlands, featuring huge forests, bleak moors, and bogs. Water is everywhere, in the form of streams and rivers as well as the sea and lakes. The land is often cloaked in mist. The northern isles, which are either entirely untamed or in the
Moonshavians, the People of the Land
Humans: 90% of intelligent ‘civilian’ creatures on the Moonshaes are humans. They come in two varieties:
The Ffolk (pronounced ‘folk’), the people of the High Kingdom of the Moonshae Isles. Ffolk are usually dusky skinned and dark haired, and the common populace are hardy farmers and fishermen who tend to use longbows and swords in battle. The vast majority of Ffolk are worshippers of the Earthmother, and even ordinary Ffolk have been known (albeit rarely) to make pilgrimage to Moonwells to give tribute to their mother goddess.
The present ruler of the Ffolk is High Queen Alicia Kendrick, daughter of Tristan Kendrick, Prince of Corwell who united the Ffolk for the first time in centuries and became the first High King in modern times. His wife (and Alicia’s mother) was the druidess Robyn Moonsinger. The seat of the High Queen is Caer Callidyr, on the isle of Alaron. The High Queen’s only sibling, her younger sister Diedre Kenrick, is deceased, as is the High Queen’s husband, the arch-mage Keane.
Alicia Kendrick is mother to Prince Bryon Kendrick of Corwell.
The Northlanders are sailors, raiders, and fishermen. They are fractious but somewhat united under the kingdom of Gnarhelm, the eponymous capital of which lies in northern Alaron, ruled over by King Brandon Olaffson. Northlanders are usually paler and sturdier than Ffolk, with yellow or red hair. Weapons of choice are axes, spears, hammers and shortbows. Some northlander raiders are able to enter a berserker rage during combat.
Northlanders are often not overly religious, though many are nominally followers of Tempus or Umberlee.
The Ffolk and Northlanders are historic enemies, though formally speaking an uneasy truce has reigned for many decades since High King Tristan Kendrick brought Ffolk and Northlanders together to sign the Treaty of Oman in 1347. Whilst the twenty years that followed the Treaty were largely peaceful, Northlanders have still been known to occasionally raid Ffolk settlements.
(N.B. post-3rd edition canon may suggest a formal alliance occurred between Ffolk and Northmen but this is not canon for ALFA).
Roughly 5% of population, they are happy to benefit from being near humans, both financially and for protection. Many Moonshaes halflings follow Yondalla, often called Perissa.
Uncommon in most of the Isles, those dwarves who are resident tend to keep to themselves, save when they trade minerals and ore to humans. Large dwarven settlements are present in various places on the Isles however, in particular High Home in the Cambro Mountains, in eastern Gwynneth.
The Llewyrr are very rare in MS, many believe they no longer exist. They look as High Elves, thin, muscular, fair skinned, often with long black hair. If you want to play a Llewyr elf (i.e. indigenous to the Isles, not simply one who came from elsewhere or one whose recent family (parents/grandparents) came from elsewhere) then you must contact a DM to let them know.
The Isles are a riot of untamed land and natural abundance. Giants, in particular Firbolgs, are not unknown even in more populated regions such as southern Gwynneth. Given the geography of the islands, underground caves and caverns are common, and therefore so are creatures which dwell underground. The vast forests on the Isles contain all manner of creatures both mysterious and uncounted.
From the north comes the wild wind— Carlyth Grylloch, a bard of the Ffolk
The cold wind,
The ice wind.
Barren trees, barren fields
The barren hearth, unlit
As icy winter’s fingers seek
To end life, to bring chill death
From the north comes the death wind
The deep winter
The mountain waves.
The gray sea, the pounding sea
Upon the shores, smashing
As frozen water’s heavy fists
From the north comes the blizzard wind
The snowy gale,
The water white.
Every winter, every darkened Yule
The north wind brings its message
Until the spring’s awakening,
The long night holds its thrall.
From the north comes the wild wind,
The cold wind,
The ice wind.
From the north comes the death wind,
The deep winter
And dreams of the sun’s rebirth.
From ‘Song of the North Wind’
The Moonshae Isles – a primer (adapted from a post by Gelcur)