The Border Kingdoms
Due to the Spellplague, the Shaar has become a vast desert wasteland known as the Shaar Desolation. In the center of the Shaar Desolation lies an enormous area called the Underchasm where huge swathes of land around the Great Rift have collapsed into the Underdark. Bordering the Underchasm to the east is a region called the East Rift.
There are Legends and Rumours abound in The Shaar.
There is a belt of grassy plains and gently rolling hills that run along the edge of the Border Kingdoms before the wasteland begins. In recent years the effects of the spellplague on the area have started to reduce causing this belt to expand.
The otherwise featureless plains of the Shaar are dotted with isolated forests and a small collection of hills. Several shallow rivers and streams cross the Shaar, but these waterways tend to become sandy-bottomed gullies during the dry season.
The Shaar receives little rain, so little other than coarse grass, cacti, and thorny bushes grow on the plains. During daytime it’s blistering hot, while at nights it grows uncomfortably cold. But geographically and meteorologically, the Shaar is a land of extremes.
The people native to the Shaar share one very prominent feature – an indomitable spirit that lets them survive against unfavorable odds. Though the various races and cultures of the grasslands differ in dress, traditions, and outlook toward one another, they have all learned to overcome the harshest weather, terrain, and enemies that Faerdn has to offer, and to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Races and Cultures
Of all the regions of the Shining South, the Shaar is perhaps the most complex in terms of its great variety of races and cultures. Some races – such as the gold dwarves, of the Great Rift, the sedentary humans in the trading centers, or the reclusive wild elves and ghostwise haiflings of the various forests – are firmly entrenched in their ancestral homes. Many others – including humans, wemics, centaurs, and others – roam the grasslands as nomadic tribes, coexisting in a never-ending cycle of hunting and gathering. Still other races visit the Shaar only occasionally, yet their presence impacts every native creature’s way of life in profound ways. Few outsiders fully understand the delicate balance that maintains the Shaar, but the grassy sea has been the same for many centuries, and all who are part of it accept it as an intrinsic element of their very existences.
While most centaurs in Faerûn inhabit the great forests, some tribes roam the Shaar alongside other nomads. Like the other natives of the Shaar, centaurs hunt the grasslands, taking only what they need from the great herds that graze there. They either ally or squabble with one ax~iother and with other nomads, just as the humans do, though they ~re less savage overall than either humans or wemics.
A typical centaur stands 7 to 8 feet tall from front hoof to crown and measures 6 to 8 feet long from chest to tail, and weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds. The horse portion of a centaur’s body resembles a zebra – a trait that distinguishes him from the centaurs elsewhere in Faerûn – and his face is decidedly fey in appearance, with swept-back, angular features and somewhat pointed ears. He has golden bronze skin, light brown or golden hair, and eyes in any of a wide variety of shades. Shaaryan centaurs prefer to wear their hair long, though they usually tie it back and weave decorative tokens into it. The number and kind of decorations a centaur wears indicate his rank in the tribe, though such distinctions are usually lost on outsiders.
Male centaurs generally do the hunting, While females tend to the camp and the young. During times of danger, both genders fight equally well. In general, centaurs keep to themselves, though they occasionally join the humans in ceremonies at Council Hills, and they sometimes trade in the towns on the fringes of civilization. The centaurs get along best with the wemics, and they respect the loxo, though they typically give the elephant folk a wide berth.
Not many dragons are native to the great plains of the Shaar, but many of the winged terrors from all over Faerûn visit the plains on occasion to feed on the great herds. Though a number of different wyrms live in isolated parts of the mountains, swamps, and forests in and around the Shaar, others visit from as far away as the Sword Coast. A feeding dragon might make two or three passes across a stretch of the plains, swooping low and scooping up wild horses, rothé, and other herd beasts, then flying off to feed in peace.
Most of the time, these dragon visits are isolated events, and the wyrms that frequently use the Shaar as a hunting ground arrive at specific times of day dictated by their own preferences. Some prefer to come in low from the east at dawn, and others like to dive down from overhead, as though falling, out of the noonday sky. Still others hunt only at night. Occasionally, two dragons cross paths while hunting, and a frightening battle above the grassy plains often results. The nomads’ tales even speak of a handful of legendary sky-battles involving three, four, or even half a dozen huge wyrms at once. While such spectacles might be awesome to behold, the nomads know better than to stick around and wait to see which drake winds up the victor, since the winner is not likely to be in a good mood afterward.
Of all the savage humanoids that roam the Shaar, only the gnolls have the numbers to qualify as a formidable group. Though they have carved out traditional homes throughout the hills and on lower mountain slopes of every range across the Shaar, they are most common in the western half, especially along the various ridges north of the Channath Vale. The gnolls have historically preyed upon human settlemexits along the shores of Lake Lhespen and on the caravans that move through that region. The Lapaliiyans to the southwest have tried to eradicate the gnolls several times in the past. All those efforts were in vain, and the gnolls continue to plague the nomads in the western Shaar and the cities where they trade.
The Great Rift has been the traditional home of the gold dwarves for untold centuries. Since they first reclaimed the huge canyon and the tunnels and caverns beneath and around it from the drow after the fall of Telantiwar, they have proudly and unfalteringly stood their ground, never relinquishing control of their homeland. With the onset of Moradin’s Thunder Blessing, the gold dwarves have actually begun to overfill their domain, and some have started to seek out other locales in which to found new colonies. They plan a great western migration to the caverns of Old Shanatar, with an army of crusaders to serve as its vanguard.
The average gold dwarf stands about 4 feet tall, but her stocky build gives her almost the same weight as an adult human. Her skin is a deep tan or brown color, and her eyes are usually brown or hazel. Hair color is usually black, gray, or brown. Both genders wear their hair long, and most males (as well as some females) also wear carefully groomed moustaches and beards.
The gold dwarves of the Great Rift share a proud but suspicious nature. They claim all the area that lies a full day’s ride by pony in any direction from the canyon, and they do not suffer the presence of bandits or explorers lightly. Nondwarves are rarely permitted inside their homes. They have established the city of Eartheart (see Cities and Sites, below) for dealing with outsiders.
The loxo of the Shaar are nomadic hunter-gathers who live side-by-side with the other great tribal races of the plains. The other nomads tend to leave them alone because an angry loxo is fearsome to behold – or to battle. Though their numbers are small, the loxo roam vast tracts of land, sating their huge appetites with grass, vegetables, and occasionally fruits and nuts.
A loxo is an elephantine humanoid that stands about 7 or 8 feet tall and easily weighs 1,500 pounds or more. He has blue-gray, wrinkled skin covered with rough, sparse hair, and his stout body has elephantine appendages, including thick, rpund limbs, flat feet, and pudgy fingers. His ears are large and swept back, but his most striking features are his twin trunks, which protrude from his face just above the mouth and are flanked by long, curving tusks. Each trunk is about 2 feet long and ends in three small, fingerlike digits.
The loxo organize by clans, each of which is little more than an extended family. All the members of a particular clan wear similar rustic clothing, with special designs woven into the fabric. Two or more clans might travel together in a herd.
Occasionally, loxo come to the edges of human civilization, bringing rustic works of art crafted from animal bones, wood, or stone to trade for food and supplies. Though the Shaaryan humans are wary of the strange-looking loxo, the elephant folk are not adversarial unless threatened. The loxo do not interact with the other nomadic tribes of the grassland on a regular basis. Unlike the wemics and centaurs, the loxo do not make a habit of venturing to Council Hills for the human gatherings, though in extraordinary cfrcumstances, they have been known to send a delegate.
The humans who roam the plains of the Shaar are known as Shaarans. They have wandered the grasslands as nomads since before the area’s recorded history began, enduring the hardships of an inhospitable environment, dangerous enemy tribes, and a host of predators from both the plains and the surrounding areas. This constant struggle has honed them into a tough, proud people who are loath to give up their ways, even in the face of conquest.
The typical Shaaran is long-faced and yellow-skinned, but not very tall (about 5-1/2 feet, on average). Her hair and eyes are usually black or dark brown. On rare occasions, a Shaaran is born with bright green eyes – a sign of good luck among the nomads. Few Shaaran males wear facial hair, and both genders cut their hair short.
Nomads: A Shaaryan nomad’s most prized posse~sion is her horse – a magnificent animal that thrives on the grasses of the plains where the nomads roam. In fact, Shaarans refuse to take their horses out of the Shaar because the animals never seem to fare well elsewhere. Almost invariably, they grow weak and eventually die if denied the opportunity to feed on their native grasses. A Shaaran carries everything she owns on her own horse or, if she is wealthy, on a pack horse. Children are practically born in the saddle.
The dozen or so tribes of Shaarans share a common culture, but each also maintains separate elements of its own tradition. Outsiders have difficulty distinguishing among the different tribes, but the nomads can readily identify one another’s tribal affiliation by the differences in dress, horse coloration, dwelling styles, weapon styles and decorations, and traditional roaming territories. Some tribes view women as equal to men, and a few have elected female chiefs.
No one has ever tried to unify the Shaarans. Some regions of the Shaar (particularly in the western half) have been conquered on occasion, but in each case, the Shaarans simply waited until the conqueror’s power base vanished, then resumed their way of life as though nothing had happened. Occasionally, two tribes form a close bond, usually through a marriage between a powerful family from each tribe. Such a relationship allows the tribes to reap the benefits of mutual protection, share water, and avoid territorial disputes with one another for several generations. Over time, though, intertribal relationships always change, as new bonds form and old alliances fade away.
Townspeople: The humans who dwell in the communities scattered across the Shaar are most often Shaarans who preferred a settled way of life to the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. Most of these towns and cities arose as a result of trade meets between various tribes, usually in prime locations where natural resources were abundant. Others were founded when nations and empires attempted to conquer or settle certain regions of the Shaar. The most significant settlement effort occurred during the Shoon Imperium, when the Shoonach held all the territory from the Shining Sea to the Landrise. The settlements founded during that period still exist, though they no longer owe anyone allegiance. Regardless of how and why they formed, the various urban centers in the Shaar have always remained small by Faerûnian standards, and they subsist primarily on the trade that passes through their markets and the sale of the few meager resources (such as fish, salt, lumber, or worked goods made from animal parts) that they have available.
While the majority of the people in these towns and cities are Shaaran, other ethnicities are also represented. Most often, such individuals arrive via trade caravans that wind their way through the grassland on a regular basis and simply decide to stay. Some locals are descendants of traders who came from as far away as Durpar, Turmish, and Amn. Whatever their origin, the residents of these towns live together in relative harmony and share two common purposes: survival and prosperity.