The Shadow Rising
The world of Toril is ancient, built upon and beneath the ruins of past empires, leaving the landscape dotted with places of adventure and mystery. Legends and artifacts of past empires still survive — as do terrible menaces.
The current age has no all-encompassing empire. The world is shrouded in a dark age, between the collapse of the last great empire and the rise of the next, which might be centuries away. Minor kingdoms prosper, to be sure: baronies, holdings, city-states. But each settlement appears as a point of light in the widespread darkness, a haven, an island of civilization in the wilderness that covers the world. No settlement is entirely safe, however, and many settlements may be actively hostile.
The world is still reeling from a cataclysmic event: the murder of Mystra, Goddess of Magic. It was Mystra’s weave that ordered and put the explosive arcane energies in check, and with her passing, magic went wild. Whole countries were destroyed, especially in regions south of the Sea of Fallen Stars. Islands of rock called earth-motes drift through the sky. Weird towers and spires of stone just from the landscape. Spectacular chasms and waterfalls abound.
All things were sustenance for the Spellplague’s insatiable hunger—it assailed and transformed flesh, stone, magic, space, and dimensional walls. Even the cosmos beyond Toril was affected. Some ancient realms returned that had been thought gone forever (such as the Feywild), and entire planes of existence have been realigned, bringing them much closer and in some places, even overlapping.
Some effects of the Spellplague persist to this day, especially in the so-called Plaguelands where wild magic yet rages unrestrained. After exposure to the Plaguelands, some creatures exhibit physical marks called spell scars. These spellscarred individuals develop unique abilities, but not without a price. Victims of the original Spellplague were horribly changed, not simply scarred, their flesh warped in unimaginable ways. The abilities of the spellscarred, though unique, are never as monstrous and powerful as those of plaguechanged creatures. Luckily, such monsters are few, and of those, only a handful are free-willed, mobile threats.
Though magic and magical items used to be common across the world, the use of such items or, heaven forbid, the actual practice of magic these days is likely to ’cause mass panic and even incite mob lynchings. Almost all magic items (and even those suspected of having links to magic) have been destroyed, or locked away in deep, dark, secret vaults.
Ancient elven lineages have returned to Faerûn. With the reappearance of the Feywild, its natives have begun exploring the world again. These fey folk collectively call themselves eladrin, and many Faerûnian elves have also adopted this name for their lineage, though they have not forgotten their traditional cultural distinctions and names. In casual speech, the world “elven” collectively refers to the two branches of this fey people: elves and eladrin.
Toril’s long-lost twin world, cut off for tens of millennia, was also caught up in the maelstrom. Large parts of Faerûn (the largest continent of Toril) exchanged places with equivalent land masses on Abeir, bringing their populations with them. Across the Trackless Sea, an entire continent of the lost realm reappeared, now called Returned Abeir.