EDIT: It has come to my attention that there is a quest in the Neverwinter MMORPG that is called “Sphere of Influence.” This blog post has nothing to do with that quest. Sorry.
This is all copied straight from the text I submitted to the DM’s Guild. You can find Sphere of Influence there for pay what you want. This is why the font is all weird. EDIT: Also, since switching the blog to a new style, the font is not only weird, but nearly unreadable. Fixing the font makes the formatting go berserk for reasons I can’t immediately identify, so, fuck it, I’m leaving it. This post is only popular because of people mistakenly clicking on it hoping for information on that MMO quest anyway. If you really want the text, you can buy Sphere of Influence for pay-what-you-want off of the DMs Guild.
The Sword Coast is a handful of powerful and only moderately corrupt cities surrounded by a quietly churning chaos of constant, low-grade war between frontier outposts and hostile kingdoms of marauding barbarians. The instability gives rise to an uncontrolled wildlife, with most trade routes stalked by not only orc and goblinoid bandits, but also owlbears, manticores, and wyverns. Trade thrives, but not because the roads are well-patrolled by imperial legions, but rather because merchants hire small armies of mercenaries to guard shipments from one city to another.
Both politics and trade in the Sword Coast are dominated principally by the three major cities that sit on the coast itself, those being Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, and Neverwinter. Additionally, the Silver Marches are a large inland coalition of cities which collectively form a significant power bloc. That significance has diminished in recent years as Mithral Hall and other dwarven citadels have departed the confederation, while at around the same time Neverwinter was devastated by the Spellplague and has only begun to be rebuilt. This has left Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate as the two most powerful cities on the coast, and under the leadership of the Bhaalspawn, a powerful leader despite sinister origins, Baldur’s Gate has become the first city of the Sword Coast in centuries to surpass Waterdeep in economic and cultural importance.
Stuck between these major powers are the lesser kingdoms, like Misty Forest and Elturgard, minor towns that survive and flourish either because they are nearby more powerful neighbors (like Daggerford) or because they lie along trade routes and the heavily armed merchant wagons that regularly come down the those trade routes serve as a sort of patrol keeping monsters at bay (Longsaddle, Yartar), and areas of wilderness both mostly friendly (the High Forest) and very dangerous indeed (the High Moor).
There is a constant tug back and forth between wilderness and civilization. Even major nations like the Silver Marches must regularly repel hordes seeking to loot them of their wealth, and small towns along the trade routes are under constant threat that a sudden surge of monster activity will see their village sacked, and possibly even wiped off the map. The activities of the Dragon Cult saw the Greenfields’ population decimated and wealth almost completely stripped away. The Cult was ultimately defeated by a coalition of the Lord’s Alliance, the Order of the Gauntlet, and other, less public organizations, but even this powerful union has found itself preoccupied with major threats to the Sword Coast and Faerun and the small towns and outposts have been left largely to fend for themselves against the day-to-day hazards of the surrounding wilds. The lucky ones get permanent defense from the Order of the Gauntlet or the Emerald Enclave. The unlucky ones hope there’s friendly adventurers nearby whenever a warband too big for them to handle comes along.
“Is anything in this city actually, officially illegal?”
“It’s definitely illegal to bury the city under hot lava.”
—Thaemin and Langdedrosa Cyanwrath
Many cities along the Sword Coast are in the unusual position of being a part of the Lord’s Alliance sphere of influence (headed by either Waterdeep or Baldur’s Gate, according to the current winds of fortune) while at the same time commanding a sizable sphere of influence of their own. Neverwinter’s military power is the only defense the small villages of Neverwinter Wood and the Triboar Trail (including Phandolin) have against major threats, while their status as a vital trade link makes towns like Luskan and Mirabar as well as Icewind Dale dependent upon them to keep food from more plentiful lands flowing to the unforgiving north. If Neverwinter were to leave the Lord’s Alliance, these hinterlands would have little choice but to follow. At the same time, losing the favorable trade agreements that come with membership in the Lord’s Alliance would be a huge blow to the Neverwinter economy as well as leaving them isolated in the event of an attack from Reghed Glacier to the north, or even from raiding from the unsavory elements of Neverwinter Wood and the Mere of Dead Men.
A party seeking to push Neverwinter to strike out on their own would have little difficulty convincing Lord Neverember, a man of great ambition ousted from his position of power in Waterdeep and now ruler only of a city beholden to its economic might. Still, before he would turn his back on the Lord’s Alliance he requires reliable new trade contacts to replace Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, and Silverymoon. The Lands of Intrigue might provide just such trade partners.
A party seeking to poach Neverwinter to a rival sphere of influence (or start their own) would have much greater difficulty convincing Lord Neverember to leave the shadows cast by the Lord’s Alliance only to step into that of another. Even so, Neverember greatly resents Laeral Silverhand, the Open Lord of Waterdeep who replaced him and left him with only Neverwinter, so he will be the first to desert the Lord’s Alliance should their ability to defend against outside threats begin to crumble. Alternatively, the monsters who threaten Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Wood might be forged into an army capable of overthrowing Neverember and seizing Neverwinter for a new regime, or an army from Neverwinter itself may be persuaded to do the same and displace Neverwinter’s self-appointed Lord Governor. Neverwinter is an extremely cosmopolitan city and thus, while tensions would certainly be high, it is even plausible that the (so-called) monster races of the wilderness would unite with the citizens of Neverwinter under a charismatic leader to overthrow the self-appointed Lord Protector.
Lord Neverember is well justified in his fears of economic collapse should the Lord’s Alliance turn against Neverwinter (or vice-versa). If the Lord’s Alliance began to embargo the city, the frigid climate would be unable to sustain the population for longer than a few months and the city would implode. A successful blockade would devastate Neverwinter’s economy and would convince any sane ruler of the city to concede to anyone who can maintain it. Even an irrationally stubborn or spiteful ruler would have no choice but to concede after the army starves to death.
Neverwinter faces an additional threat. The Ashmadai cult of devil worshipers were shattered by their war against the Abolethic Sovereignty and New Neverwinter for control of the city, but they are far from annihilated. The cult was a local power even at their height and now struggle even to maintain their influence over Neverwinter and its immediate environs, but despite these odds they seek to seize control of Neverwinter and establish a sphere of influence of their own. As the only faction who utterly and fanatically refuses to accept any result except total control over Neverwinter as a sovereign and unentangled state, the Ashmadai represent a wild card and a kingmaker who could side with or against almost anyone.
The Abolethic Sovereignty was a faction with significant influence in Neverwinter and deeply tied to the Spellplague, whose interests were almost purely related to using its corrupting influence to create mutant slaves to add to their choir. The Abolethic Sovereignty was never defeated, but the Spellplague has been reversed, which means the aboleths can no longer achieve their objective. What do they do now?
Presently, this is entirely up to the DM. They might begin corrupting creatures with new techniques, they might abandon the corruption plan but go ahead and just gun for world domination, they might attempt to murder some gods again in order to bring the Spellplague back, or they might just pack up and go home. That last one appears to be the stance taken by the Neverwinter MMORPG. Presuming the Abolethic Sovereignty are still active, however, they represent an independent sphere of influence, and one powerful enough that if they bent all of their resources to absorbing the Neverwinter sphere of influence, it is unlikely anyone could stop them.
There is an embarrassing overabundance of material available on the city of Neverwinter. The most up-to-date information on the city can be found in the eponymous MMORPG, which is free to play as far as is required to get a feel for the current state of the city. For a more in-depth look, the 4th edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting is only a decade or so out of date (in game time). The primary differences are the retreat of the Netherese sphere of influence following their defeat at the hands of Cormyr and Cormanthor and Lord Neverember’s losing his title of Open Lord of Waterdeep and becoming ruler of Neverwinter only.
For information on the city before its destruction in the Spellplague, the Neverwinter Nights games are recommended. The city as depicted in these games is no more, but it’s only been about a hundred years, which means young dwarves or gnomes and even old elves depicted in the games will still be alive (provided they survived the destruction of the city), and as well the ruins of Old Neverwinter may have sunk into the ground or still remain amidst the reconstruction. These could be excellent hideouts for rebel forces, either a base of operations for players acting to overthrow whatever regime commands Neverwinter (Lord Neverember by default, but these locations remain just as usable if the city should change hands during the course of your campaign) or dungeons to be cleared by players acting to preserve whatever regime commands Neverwinter.
Neverwinter Wood and the Triboar Trail
Neverwinter Wood surrounds Neverwinter on nearly all of its inland faces, and is home primarily to elves, fey, and goblinoids. The goblinoids once inhabited the entirety of the region, but are now clustered around the eastern edge, starting at the Crags, a series of hills which cut through the northeast end of the forest, and curving around to the south almost to the borders of the High Road.
A pack of goblinoids operating out of the southern end of Neverwinter Wood called the Cragmaw Tribe menaces the Triboar Trail just to the south. Additional hazards in the region include a hag, cultists, bandits, and even a dragon. The great wealth of the town of Phandolin and their mines in the Wave Echo Cave, as well as the trade link between Neverwinter and the crossroads town of Triboar to the east (just within Waterdeep’s sphere of influence), have been almost completely crippled by these and other hazards.
The western edge of the forest and its interior (about 70% of the total land area including the most abundant areas as well as the most defensible save Mount Hotenow) is mostly controlled by the elven colony of New Sharandar and their allies the Ring of Swords druid circle. The colony was established after fighting an intense war in the forest with dark fey who invaded from the Feywild during the Spellplague, joining the Ring of Swords who had pushed the goblinoids to the forest’s periphery a century before but were overwhelmed by the otherworldly invaders. Although the fight against the dark fey was a decisive success, New Sharandar’s population isn’t nearly great enough to keep the entirety of the wood patrolled, and the dark fey remnants are adept at avoiding detection. Particularly in the heart of the forest near the Neverwinter River, the dark fey have a strong presence that New Sharandar will not be able to stamp out without outside assistance. Making matters worse, the portal to the Feywild is still open, and a renewed dark fey invasion is kept at bay solely by the vigilance of the guards at New Sharandar who constantly man formidable fortifications against a possible counterattack. The dark fey deeper within the forest are sometimes content to run amock, but whether out of loyalty or just a desire to have the numbers to cause more havoc, many of them plot to overrun New Sharandar and open up the portal to claim Neverwinter Wood for their masters in the Feywild.
The Crags are, for the most part, just a series of hills overrun by goblinoids, orcs, and human barbarian tribes, all of which fight with each other as much as with the merchants and patrols of Neverwinter. However, deep within Neverwinter Wood is Mount Hotenow, where lies trapped the powerful primordial Megaera, who caused the eruption that destroyed Old Neverwinter thirty years ago. Megaera has since been put back to rest, and the ancient dwarven city of Gauntlgrym has been reclaimed from the drow and the forces of wicked elemental fire by Bruenor for the dwarves of the North, peripheral members of the greater Waterdeep sphere of influence and thus allies (for now) of Neverwinter. Fire elementals and giants remain common in the volcanic heart of Hotenow and the drow of Menzoberranzan’s powerful and far-reaching Underdark sphere of influence are a constant threat just below. The colony in Gauntlgrym is both recent and surrounded on all sides by enemies, however they have the support of the entire dwarven society in the North, namely Mirabar and Mithral Hall. While these cities are somewhat distant (especially Mithral Hall), the protection they offer is not insignificant. Even if the drow or the fire giants do claim Gauntlgrym, they would find themselves soon besieged by dwarves from afar.
Neverwinter Wood and the surrounding region are home to multiple minor factions, which range from enemies of Neverwinter to indifferent toward it to core members of its sphere of influence. The elves of New Sharandar and the dwarves of Gauntlgrym will by default help to defend Neverwinter from outside attack and vice-versa, but their alliance is informal and largely one of military convenience. None of them wants threats capable of successfully raiding powerful cities in the region, so they will unite to oppose such threats. It would not be difficult to convince New Sharandar and Gauntlgrym to declare neutrality in a conflict between Neverwinter and a rival, especially if that conflict was kept to blockades, raiding, and other actions which, while hostile, fall short of all-out war.
Players who find themselves fighting for or against Neverwinter might help New Sharandar in their fight against the dark fey and Gauntlgrym in their fight against the drow and the fire creatures of Hotenow in order to secure either their allegiance to Neverwinter (especially against another allied city like Waterdeep) or their indifference to Neverwinter. On the other hand, if Gauntlgrym or New Sharandar refuse to align with the players’ chosen faction, they might strike dark deals with the dark fey, the goblinoids of Neverwinter Wood, or the minions of Megaera to claim the region with a coalition of evil monsters. This would immediately make them enemies of both elves of Shaemoor and the dwarves of Mirabar and Mithral Hall. Players may also find themselves battling a villain attempting to create just this coalition (possibly Menzoberranzan) in order to seize Waterdeep.
The 4e Neverwinter Campaign Setting includes nearly up to date (it describes the region as it was a decade ago in game time) information on Neverwinter Wood and the surrounding area. Additionally, most of the region is accessible in the Neverwinter MMO, which is completely up-to-date with setting lore as of the writing.
The entire Triboar Trail area is described in great detail in an already fairly sandbox-y intro adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver. This adventure also describes Cragmaw Castle, the stronghold of the Cragmaw Tribe of goblinoids and a significant goblinoid stronghold in the southern reaches of Neverwinter Wood. Capturing and holding this stronghold will be a serious blow to goblinoids in this region, in addition to the damage done to them by securing the Triboar Trail against their raids (and general chaos) over the course of the Lost Mines adventure. This adventure is a great way to get players started with a small sphere of influence (albeit one beholden to Neverwinter and ultimately the Lord’s Alliance) right away, as its presumed end is with players being personal friends with the Rockseeker family of dwarves, who come to dominate the economy of Phandolin and the Triboar Trail by their reclamation of the eponymous mines in Wave Echo Cave.
Gauntlgrym unsurprisingly features heavily in the novel of the same name, which depicts the reclamation of the ancient city by Bruenor. The reclaimed city is also described briefly in Out of the Abyss. The information from Out of the Abyss may be particularly helpful in designing a confrontation between Gauntlgrym and Menzoberranzan. Although most of the information on Gauntlgrym found in the 4e Neverwinter Campaign Setting is now out of date, the general shape of the city remains the same.
The Mere of Dead Men
The Mere of Dead Men marks the southern boundary of the Neverwinter sphere of influence. In fact, it lies as much within the Waterdeep sphere of influence as within Neverwinter’s, which would be a point of contention if the entire swamp were not decisively under the control of the ancient black dragon Voaraghamanthar. In secret, Voaraghamanthar is actually two ancient black dragons, the twins who refer to each other as Weszlum and Wulzour (the second twin’s name is allegedly Waervaerendor, but he hasn’t actually been called that for over a millennium, so I think it’s safe to say the name change has cleared).
The Voaraghamanthar twins are an overwhelming deterrent to the establishment of a sphere of influence in the Mere, however they do not bother with minor creatures. Under their apathy, lizardfolk and bullywug tribes flourish and fight with one another. Many of these tribes (particularly the bullywugs) are hostile to outsiders, but others are indifferent, content to let strangers pass through (provided they do not linger) and perfectly willing to barter. They do not accept coins, as they lack anywhere to spend them.
In the darkest depths of the swampland, the uncontrolled undead hordes raised either by the lich Iniarv or else by the death of Myrkul wander about, further destabilizing the region. The whereabouts of the lich himself are unknown, as are any goals he may have.
The Voaraghamanthars want only to expand their hoard and have bargained with powerful heroes passing through to that end. In particular, they are interested in the contents of the Mausoleum of Ebondeath, the lair of a mighty dracolich who ruled the mere before they arrived. Ebondeath himself has collapsed into a pile of bones during a surge of Myrkul’s power, and now lingers in the mausoleum as a disembodied spirit amongst the legions of the dead who guard the place.
The Mere of Dead Men was once a kingdom before the vanished lich Iniarv flooded it in agitation over his slumber being disturbed by an invading orc army. As such, the place is strewn with ruins of castles and towns. Amongst these is Castle Naerytar, notable for the portal connecting it to Parnast, thus allowing a base deep within the Mere to be far more easily supplied.
What To Do With Iniarv?
Iniarv hasn’t been seen since he transformed the kingdom of Phalorm into a giant swamp full of zombies. The reason he cast this apocalyptic spell in the first place is because his (allegedly abandoned) tower was disturbed by invading orcs, and he overreacted a bit to the bother. A small Helmite order used the ruins of his tower (just outside the Mere) as a base for thinning the monsters of the Mere for two years (they were then captured by Voaraghamanthar) without being killed by an angry lich or accidentally provoking Armageddon, so if Iniarv still remains he’s clearly chilled out a little. If Iniarv is still around, he could provide either a potential ally if he doesn’t mind being a part of someone else’s sphere of influence or else a potential rival if he insists on indepedence and/or isolation. Alternatively, he may have left or re-died in the intervening eight hundred years since the fall of Phalorm.
The Mere of Dead Men is a no man’s land that would be incredibly difficult to tame. In order to be resettled, the swamp would have to be drained, the towns and castles rebuilt, the lizardfolk and bullywugs either befriended, subjugated, or driven out completely, the thriving population of undead and other monsters would have to be brought under control, and most importantly, something would have to be done about Voaraghamanthar.
All of this must be done using external resources, because no faction within the Mere would ever consent to having it drained. As such, the Mere cannot be claimed by picking sides and installing a friend into the government. There is no government. Instead, players seeking to reclaim the Mere (and removing that threat to the High Road would be enormously beneficial even before factoring in how fertile Phalorm’s farmland was before it was drowned) must assemble a (preferably small, fast moving, and easily supplied) vanguard, clear a defensible ruin, then bring in colonists to rebuild that ruin into a stronghold that can be used to push the frontier back and as a base for draining the swamp. Once a workforce to drain the swamp and sufficient guards to hold the lizardfolk, bullywugs, undead, and assorted monsters have been brought in to the cleared ruin, the vanguard can advance (slogging through mud dense with random encounters) to the next ruin to clear it as well.
The guards defending the captured strongholds will not only be occupied guarding those strongholds for at least a decade while the surrounding area is cleared out enough for a standard town watch to be sufficient for local threats, the guard will also take casualties during that time and thus require a steady trickle of reinforcements to be sustained long after the players have cleared all the dungeons and left.
It’s boots, boots, boots, boots moving up and down again. There’s no discharge in the war.
The Mere of Dead Men, and in particular Castle Naerytar, is the setting for an adventure in Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Additionally, a series of adventures was set in the Mere from Dungeon Magazine #69-73. There is also an article in Dragon Magazine #257 which gives an in-depth description of the Mere in general and its twin dragon overlords in particular. The Mere also features in the Neverwinter MMORPG. An enterprising DM would do well to use this material as basis for a hexcrawl in which the goal is to clear every encounter.
Luskan, Mirabar, and Longsaddle form an arc marking the northern and eastern land boundary of Neverwinter’s sphere of influence (Icewind Dale to the north is also a part of Neverwinter’s sphere of influence, but the land route past Luskan is interrupted by the hostile territory of the Spine of the World).
Luskan is firmly a part of Neverwinter’s sphere of influence because their own port economy was deeply intertwined with Neverwinter’s. They were a halfway point between Icewind Dale and Neverwinter, which connected the inhospitable far north to the rest of the Sword Coast’s bountiful trade routes. When Neverwinter was destroyed by Hotenow’s eruption, Luskan’s economy collapsed overnight and it descended into anarchy soon afterwards. The town is now divided up primarily between gangs of pirates who are slightly, but only slightly, more civilized than you might expect of pirates. Luskan was an aggressive naval power and had a rocky relationship with all their neighbors save Neverwinter (who disapproved of their belligerence, but not enough to impose sanctions or otherwise expend political capital to curb this behavior).
The Arcane Brotherhood in Luskan are responsible for clearing out the goblinoids and undead who captured the city after Neverwinter’s collapse (for all the difference it made to reinstall the pirate captains as leaders), and thus are demonstrably powerful enough to capture the city more or less at-will. So far they haven’t done so for no other reason except that they can’t currently be bothered. It’s anyone’s guess as to how long that will hold out.
To the east of Luskan, along a road to the south of the Spine of the World, is Mirabar, a dwarven mining colony and the greatest of the mines at the southern edge of the Spine. The Spine is pockmarked by mines that make up tiny outposts of civilization in a rugged wilderness otherwise ruled by orcs, frost giants, and white dragons. Most of these mines are unstable and often perish to the wilderness within years of being established, but not so Mirabar and its outlying outposts. These are defended by the Axe of Mirabar, a powerful militia that keeps the monsters of the Spine at bay. The Spine of the World holds vast wealth and Mirabar is one of the wealthiest towns on the Sword Coast despite its remote location.
Mirabar was previously within the sphere of influence of Silverymoon due to their close affiliation with the dwarven city of Mithral Hall and the greater dwarven community, however an invasion of the Many-Arrows kingdom saw the dwarven city of Sundabar overrun, and this ended the military alliance between Silverymoon and Mithral Hall, and thus to Mirabar’s alliance-by-proxy with Silverymoon. At the same time, the re-establishment of Gauntlgrym has placed the dwarven community into close contact with Neverwinter’s allies, and this has pulled them, Mirabar included, into the periphery of Neverwinter’s sphere (the section on Mithral Hall provides more information on the dwarves of the North and their realignment from Silverymoon to Neverwinter, however Mirabar is included here due to the implications of the Spine of the World and the Lurkwood on their security). Although the dwarves of Mirabar consider the fellow dwarves of the Battlehammer clan’s holdings in Mithral Hall and Gauntlgrym to be friends, secretly many of them remain bitter over the (century-old) upset in their mining markets caused by Mithral Hall’s reclamation, and some fear that the colony at Gauntlgrym might further dilute their control of the mining markets. As such, a silvertongued diplomat with a good offer (especially an economic one) could convince Mirabar to split with the rest of the dwarven community and join a separate sphere of influence from Mithral Hall and Guantlgrym.
Not far to the southwest of Mirabar stands the Crags, large hills overrun primarily by goblinoids that run south into Neverwinter Wood where they culminate in Mount Hotenow, and on the southeast is the Lurkwood. The western fringe of the Lurkwood is settled by loggers from Mirabar and Longsaddle (to the south), but the forest’s interior is overrun by orcs and ettins, and its eastern reaches have been claimed by werewolf packs hostile to all civilization.
Longsaddle is south from Mirabar along the road towards Triboar, It is a minor hamlet notable only because it is defended by a friendly pack of werewolves descended from a cursed citizen of the village who retained his loyalty to his home. Longsaddle’s hinterlands include logging outposts in the Lurkwood alongside Mirabar, the edge of Neverwinter Wood to the west (in particular the sections where goblinoids still hold out), and to the east the lands of the Uthgardt barbarians. The Uthgardt are fractious and some tribes fight against all nearby (including other Uthgardt tribes), some honor the ancient alliance between the tribes against orcs and goblinoids and refuse to attack other Uthgardt unless forced, yet are willing to attack all outsiders, and still others are peaceful entirely and prefer to avoid conflict as much as possible. In any case, very few of them engage in open raiding and those that do meet a swift end at the hands of Longsaddle’s werewolf protectors, so the Uthgardt have little impact on Longsaddle one way or another.
Longsaddle, Luskan, and Mirabar are a grab-bag of fringe settlements united primarily by their geography. They share nearby wilderness threats in common with one another, but little else (even then, it’s more accurate to say that Mirabar shares threats in common with both Longsaddle and Luskan). As such, parties may find themselves dealing with each town individually with their internal politics, imposing a stable government on nearly-lawless Luskan, winning the allegiance of Mirabar by fighting against frost giants and white dragons menacing their frontiers, and helping Longsaddle by driving the goblinoids in eastern Neverwinter Wood out once and for all. Alternatively, they could be brought in by association, with Longsaddle dependent upon trade from Mirabar and Mirabar a close ally of Gauntlgrym and Mithral Hall, which means that (with the exception of anarchic Luskan, whose government has no friends or interests because it does not exist) this region can be brought into a sphere of influence simply by bringing in other regions.
The region can also be tackled as a unified entity, however, using Mirabar as a base from which to fight against the dark forces of both Lurkwood and the Spine of the World, and thus also secure defense treaties with Longsaddle and whoever controls Luskan (assuming they are open to negotiation, which will depend on the state of the world and player actions). Alternatively, an alliance between orcs of the Spine and Lurkwood (possibly with allied frost giants) could be used to overwhelm the entire region with pure military power.
There is little written about these locations. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide goes into all of them in some detail, but entirely in-character, and it’s not always clear how reliable the information is meant to be. Relevantly, it’s not especially clear what the difference is between Luskan’s current government and their previous state of having been overrun by monsters other than the fact that it is now humans and not orcs or goblins who are raiding the Sword Coast.
Icewind Dale is a confederation between the Ten Towns, each pledging to support and defend the others in times of trouble. Due to the inhospitable landscape just south of the Reghed Glacier and the monsters that surround their dale on all sides, the towns have no choice but to rely on one another or perish. Add to this their long history of inter-reliant not-perishing and the odds of breaking up the confederacy is damn near impossible.
To the south of Icewind Dale is the Spine of the World, where orcs, frost giants, and white dragons thrive. The northern side of the Spine holds far fewer mining outposts than the south, and is wholly overrun. On the north and east is the Reghed Glacier, where the Reghedman Barbarians live until they give way to the great frost giant kingdoms of the far north. On the west is the Sea of Moving Ice. Infested with white dragons and ice trolls, skirting the edge of this sea is one of two ways Icewind Dale can do vital trade with lands to the south. The other is to run a path through the western foothills of the Spine of the World, along the northernmost parts of the Sword Coast. Both are fraught with peril.
The unending tide of monstrous forces that encircle the Dale entirely are not so deadly nor so vital to exerting influence over them as the simple cold. Unable to sustain themselves through farming, the Ten Towns are completely dependent upon trade with the Sword Coast to survive. Whoever controls Neverwinter and Luskan, the two nearest major ports, will have significant influence in Icewind Dale even if neither they nor their representatives ever set foot in it. If one faction were to have at least enough influence over all the Sword Coast ports to convince them to cease trade with Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale would have no choice but to concede to any and all demands such a faction would make.
Exerting influence through military means would be much harder. Icewind Dale is constantly pummeled by monster raids. Defending the Dale to the point where they come to rely on that protection and would be unwilling to refuse demands for fear of losing it would require either the conquest of no less than three wilderness areas inhabited by white dragons, frost giants, and orc tribes, or else a massive investment of troops in the region such that these hostile elements can no longer threaten the Ten Towns. On the other hand, anyone seeking to wipe out the Ten Towns and replace them with a new, more friendly government would have their pick of local rulers.
Icewind Dale is the subject of two video games of the same name as well as the trilogy of novels in which Drizz’t made his debut, all of which give an excellent close-up look at the Dale itself. The Sea of Moving Ice was explored in Chapter 2 of the Rise of Tiamat.
The Dwarven Citadels
In addition to Gauntlgrym (described in Neverwinter Wood and Triboar Trail above) and Mirabar (described in Neverwinter Periphery above) there are three major outposts of the dwarven civilization in the North. These are the Mithral Hall, Citadel Felbarr, and Citadel Adbar. Mithral Hall and Citadel Felbarr were reclaimed within the last century and change from drow and orcs (respectively), while Citadel Adbar has developed a strong isolationism due to having endured on-and-off siege by the same for a similar amount of time. With these dwarven citadels returned to their creators, the areas surrounding have become significantly less dangerous, and even the isolationist Citadel Adbar is becoming more open to outside contact again.
These three underground cities are geographically located much closer to Silverymoon than Neverwinter, and both the citadels lie well within what is otherwise Silverymoon’s sphere of influence. The Mithral Hall stands on the westernmost extreme of Silverymoon’s sphere, what is now the easternmost extreme of Neverwinter’s sphere since the dwarves of the North realigned towards them. This realignment occurred due to a war with the orc Kingdom of Many-Arrows in the Spine of the World to the north (a section of the mountain range east of where it intersects with the rest of Neverwinter’s sphere of influence). The dwarven strongholds were left largely to hold their own early on due to the city of Silverymoon falling under siege. Mithral Hall, Citadel Felbarr, and Citadel Adbar managed to hold out, however the mixed dwarven-human city of Sundabar was overrun. Although the territory was reclaimed, the dwarven presence in the city was nearly wiped out, and the city is now effectively human. In the aftermath of the war, the dwarves of all three major cities formally departed the confederation of Luruar led by Silverymoon, and drifted into the periphery of Neverwinter due to trade relations, largely from Mirabar and Gauntlgrym.
The Dwarven Sphere of Influence
The only thing stopping the dwarves of the North from forming their own sphere of influence is a lack of desire to do so. Should they ever feel the need to cut ties with Neverwinter and go it alone, they would not find their trade collapsing or be exposed to new threats, because their most vital trade agreements are with each other and their greatest military allies are also each other. The dwarven economy wouldn’t even notice economic backlash from the nearby human and elven nations unless it reached the level of total embargo. On that note, two additional dwarven strongholds should be noted: Ironmaster in Icewind Dale and Thornhold just outside the Mere of Dead Men, both of which currently have very few connections with the regions they’re located in (in Thornhold’s case, because there aren’t really any connections to have) and either of which could be good bases for the expansion of the dwarven sphere of influence should they decide to strike out and create one. Since both these lands are themselves on the periphery of Neverwinter’s sphere of influence, it’s unlikely that poaching them would even provoke a strong response from the weakened city.
The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide goes into particular detail on the dwarven strongholds (and there is limited information on anywhere but Gauntlgrym and Mithral Hall outside of the Adventurer’s Guide). As with the Neverwinter periphery, the disclaimer remains that these lands are described in-character by what is not necessarily a reliable narrator (and in fact, this one is clearly biased in favor of dwarves in general and Adbar in particular). The Silver Marches sourcebook for 3e also goes into some detail on these citadels, though it is a bit out of date (most notably in that it paints them as still being a part of the Silver Marches).