Let's talk about #Chult, the peninsula, and the #WesternShaar. These places are amazing, but there's not a lot of good anchoring on what they're about and their deeper history, or how any of that translates into kick-ass adventuring today. #DnD #ttrpg #blerd
Right off the hop, let's talk player races. The places is a little different, and its dominant populations =/= those found in the more familiar north. Humans of course, are everywhere. Specifically Chultans, Tashalan, Lapal, Shaaran, and Calishite humans are the dominant groups.
There's a strong argument that all of them should/could be Black; but let's leave it at "they're all POC" and non-European culturally. Next are dwarves. Gold Dwarf populations are top of the pile. Elves are actually relatively unseen, and mainly Wild/Wood types.
That sums up the conventional player races in the area, with the exception of Half Elves, who are definitely a thing. Now it gets fun. Lizardfolk, Yuan-ti, Aarakocra, Tortles, Grung, and Goblins make up the other significant populations, breaking clean from FR "norms".
The Yuan-ti have an ancient kingdom there, Serpentes, one of the few explicitly "monsterfolk" nations in the game, it's impossibly ancient by human and elf standards, and they're the traditional "bad guys" of the region, having been fighting there since before humans had fire.
And this is the basic building block of the larger region. Historically, it's been Yuan-ti vs everybody, and not without cause. They're terrible neighbours for the most part. The Lizardfolk were imported to the region to put down human slave revolts and bad blood persists.
The Aarakocra are relatively recent arrivals, and have their own issues with the Pteramen. The local goblins, the Batiri, are highly organized and disciplined, more so than goblins in the north, and this can be a surprise to unwary or complacent adventurers.
Overall, the feel of the place is "Deep History". 4000+ years of continuous occupation by humans, monsterfolk, and demihumans; and an equal amount of time in conflict (primarily with the Yuan-ti). Now the question becomes do you want a conventional D&D world, or a nuanced one?
I like "nuanced" so that's where we're going. Yuan-ti are, and will always likely be, the "baddies" in the region. Why? They're highly organized, their elites want to rule the place, and they use magic to infiltrate and corrupt non-Yuan-ti populations.
They're also in a long term blood feud at this point with their former human slaves, the Lapal, Tashalan, and Thinguth (a Chultan ethnic group). The latter of which spent over 3000 years fighting them before the loss of support from the Eshowe and Tabaxi Chultans dried up.
All of that said, there's way too much serpent blood flowing in the area for them to be totally hated, and I like agency, so you'll find Yuan-ti in human populations; likely treated poorly, but there none the less and probably pissing off the "real" Yuan-ti back in Serpentes.
Meanwhile, in the Hazur Mountains, you've got Gold Dwarves, the most populous and successful dwarf group in FR. They're having a hell of a time, because instead of the regular Underdark, they've got a flooded one. That means Aboleths, Skum, Chuuls, and aquatic nightmares.
They're not even in the same book as the other dwarves when it comes to "The normal dangers we face", and would, logically, have a bunch of wild cultural developments around their reality. They don't really care too much about "orcs" or "goblins".
Meanwhile, in Chult proper, you'e got a a legit cultural revolution going on. Mezro and Ubtao are gone, and the Eshowe no longer need to hide. So if you're wondering what sort of badassery in going down in the jungle, imagine a huge network of oppressed magic users reclaiming 1/2
2/2 their people's homelands in the western reaches. And I'm talking serious magic. Magic so powerful it required demigod and godling level powers to not quite succeed in breaking it. We're talking "Oh shit, these people might rival Halruaa or High Imaskar" levels of magic.
And it's some dark magic too. Shar has her claws in many of them, so there's a literal struggle for the soul of the Eshowe as they move into their future. Will it be a bright renaissance, or will it flounder in darkness as they organize to destroy the Tabaxi who oppressed them?
Meanwhile, the Thinguth are back. Treated like junk for centuries because of their "lack of sophistication"; these are the OG warrior badasses of the region, and people may be reminded of that pretty quick. Their whole culture has over 4k years of war and rebellion, and that 1/2
2/2 doesn't breed lightweights. No other group, in the history of FR, has had a sustained conflict that long. Everything about them is organized around it, and even after they were defeated thanks to betrayal, they were the *worst* slaves the Yuan-ti had to deal with.
I can very easily see Thinguth and free Lizardfolk being very good friends and very ruthless enemies towards their former masters and to the Tashalan humans who treated them like garbage. Bonus? They're a population all over the peninsula.
If you're wondering what the "vibe" for the region is, think "Swahili Coast". Calimshan is very effectively a moorish-Africa analogue minus an Islamic religion, and they've had a huge cultural influence over the whole region, even ruling it a few times.

Which takes us to the Western Shaar. This is where things get "spongy" because the southern parts of Faerûn are a kludged mess of nonsense. There's two main populations, the Shaarans and Lapal. Neither is particularly well described, and the place is light on details.
Now, I keep the Lapal as a distinct and existing group of humans, since they're tied into so much of the region and writing them out seemed like a "Welp, I'm not sure what to do with this group... let's just shuffle them off..." move. Who are they? They're the Katashakans who 1/2
2/2 were left behind when the original, Elf magic making real estate, sundering happened and tore the world apart. They're direct relatives of the Chultans who were brought over by Ubtao 4k years ago, and they have had a less than ideal go at things.
Theoretically speaking, the Lapal, Chultans, Turami, Calishites, and likely the Durpari all came directly from the same Black Ur ethnic group, experiencing bottlenecks, intermingling, and island effects that shaped their modern phenotypic expressions.
But enough science, back to fantasy! So the Lapal are the "core" non-Chultan human group in the area. The Tashalan are from them mixing with Thinguth and Calishite populations, and the Halruaans are from them and Netherese refugees getting it on.
Just a note on that last one: D&D has a super nasty habit of white washing any population that comes into contact with a paler/white population. That's not generally how it goes. Halruuans are descended from a very small Netherese population in a much larger Lapal one.
Back on track though. The Lapal have had their own nation, and been under the rule of others a few times. If you're wondering what they might be like vibe wise, think "Medieval Sudan". They're also likely the dominant population up in the Border Kingdoms by the Lake of Steam.
Which takes us up into a new ecosystem. I find it's best to imagine Chult, the peninsula, and the Western Shaar as a continuum of broad eras. It starts with large dinosaurs in Chult, and graduates through the peninsula up into the paleolithic era in the Western Shaar.
So, basically, you go from dinosaur lost world to sabre-tooth tiger lost world. This continues north into the Golden Plains area, and hits modern animal stride in the central Shaar area. This is cool, because it means a whole host of things as far as adventure goes.
For one, it gives you a nice set of guidelines for monsters, and it means that the place likely developed different domesticated animals. This is a big missed stroke from ToA, because a host of stats and pics of humans and their domesticated dinosaurs would have been AMAZING.
It also means that horses probably aren't the go-to mount in the area. I imagine it would be dinosaurs graduating into terror-birds/axe-beaks. Which makes the whole animal fodder and ownership thing a whole different ballgame in the area.
Now let's talk clothes. Do you know what's awesome and stylish? Feathers. What's more awesome and more stylish? Kickass feather decorations from DINOSAURS. The whole region needs a redo on clothes and styles to reflect the realities of the place vs boring normal IRL style codes.
Then there's religion and ethics. It's a shitshow, and that's putting it lightly. Ethically speaking, the whole area suffers from the classic "dark skin = evil and badness" trope, with NE being the most common alignment ascribed to humans outside Chult. It's a lot of hot garbage.
Now, digging back, it's safe to say Ubtao was the literal worst god. In the fluff, if you couldn't pass his question about the maze of your life, you got sent back as a form of undead. Classy right? He also played absolute favourites with the Chultans, and then abandoned them.
He was also described as the only power in the region, under the older "regional gods" plan FR flirts with on and off again. Meaning he claimed the souls of everyone who died there, regardless of their faith, and the bulk of them got kicked back as undead on death.
In 1e, there were supposed to be two gods there (unnamed), but that got nixed in 2e-4e, and in 5e, other gods have always been there. This latter move is probably one of the better ones in ToA. Ubtao was a bag of dicks, and the source of a lot of strife.
So, with his monopoly broken, things get cooler in the area. But there's still the issue of NE being the regional default. It's not cool. So how do we get around it? Well, for one, make the place less assumed evil all the time, everywhere. Serpentes? Sure! Thindol, Samrach, 1/2
Tashalar, Lapaliiya, and so on? Not so much. Also, let's hit the breaks on "merchant princedoms". I don't know why TSR and WotC love this model so much for FR, but it is super boring and makes every region a palette swap of others.
Now, into the Western Shaar. TBH, this region is even less described than Chult, and that's a low bar to pass. The most interesting thing to happen to it was the Underchasm, something I fervently hope they keep in 5e. It's people are primarily wood elves, gold dwarves, and 1/2
2/2 Shaaran humans. Shaarans take the prize for "ambiguous ethnicity" in FR, sometimes portrayed like First Nations/Native Americans, other times like Asiatic or proto-indo-european nomadic tribes somewhere in the neolithic technology wise. But then it gets weirder.
In a recent interview, WotC staff pegged them as "African". Which was a weird flex, but okay. I say this because what little there is about them doesn't code as African; but I guess with so little written, they're ripe for a serious retcon and re-approach.
And there has to be one. Their previous fluff was problematic. Turn them into a low tech tribal African coded operation and you're literally asking for racism to flow wild and free. So this needs a deliberate and determined approach to create something cool that isn't racist.
And in part, this is why I like the Underchasm. The Shaar was way to bloody big to work with, and Shaarans were ultra-ambiguous as a result to fill all the FR is an Alternate Earth (it is, that's its creative origin) ethnic groups for the vague region it is.
The Underchasm though? It forms a natural break, and with a retcon, lets us do something creative with the Shaarans. Making them African though? We need to go somewhere else in Africa than where we've already dipped into for inspiration.
I'll need to think on that one for a bit, but while we're in the area, let's talk about the real powers of the region. Calimshan, Serpentes and Halruaa. These three are the dominant forces in the region politically and culturally, with Amn being a distant 4th.
In 5e, Halruaa is back, and at full stride, making it the only nation in such a state in the region, and putting it pretty high on the list for Faerûn in general. It has flying ships, magic, and a population in desperate need for resources while they try to restore their land.
Serpentes is back, battered, and still a threat. They'e likely lost almost all their Lizardfolk and human slaves, so they're probably going to go on a tear to get more and start building up the war machine before their enemies realize how weak they are.
Calimshan is recovering from it's second run of direct Djinn rule, and is likely looking to reestablish itself as the dominant trade power in the region. With Mezro gone and Port Nyanzaru effectively a non-player, they'll like to be keen to play up old relations and 1/2
2/2 start establishing trade colonies and outposts the way it did in the distant past. This is a great way to establish some alternative landing sites in Chult and on the peninsula, and to get more going on in the area. With Calishites come Genasi, which is a another extra!
So we have two nations hungry for trade, one for conquest, and then there's Amn. Amn are the original white colonizers in Chult, and their influence remains like a heavy hand on its main port, Port Nyanzaru. This makes me crazy on several levels, so let's unfuck this situation.
Port Nyanzaru is fine as is. Yeah, you heard me. That is, it's fine within this greater conceptual basis: Living Chult. ToA did a lot to expand on Chult, but then killed it all in some sort of ruin obsessed fit of pique. So to counter balance PN, we need to make the rest of 1/2
2/2 the place come alive. Let's kick off with Mbala. Mbala was cool as hell, located in an optimal position for people to thrive, and was somehow wiped out by a singe hag who is actually pretty friendly and not so evil or malign. It's nonsense and it needs to stop.
How's this as an alternative: Marsh Kingdom Mbala? Population: Humans, Lizardfolk, Grung, Other. Logging, palm tree plantations, bamboo harvesting, dinosaur herding/hunting, clay, bronze wood, elukian clay industries. Trades along the rivers. Has hag problems.
Mbala is the trade "heart" of actual Chult, while Port Nyanzaru is its primary outlet for external trade. There's a lot of cultural friction between the the two, as Mbalans see the Portfolk as having lost their way and become beholden to outsiders. Omu refugees are there.
The rulers of Mbala are human and a lizardfolk in a dual-monarchy, ruling the dry and wet respectively to the benefit of both. They'e had this arrangement since before the Spellplague, and it has worked well. They patrol the local areas for undead and dangerous monsters.
The vibe for this alternate Mbala? The Kingdom of Benin. Unique look, differentiates them from the more Moorish aspects of Nyanzaru, and the climate in Benin is roughly equivalent. Does this ruin the claustrophobic feel of Chult's jungles? No. It 1/2

2/2 enhances them. How? It's one thing to have jungle all around you, and be scared. It's another to be in a small Mbalan village or the main city, and be surrounded by hostile jungle so much that you have to build walls around your cultivated areas. It's an illusion of safety.
Now lets go a little further south. SPOILERS! Omu was ground zero for the whole ToA thing. It was also a huge, thriving city whose fall sounds like it was planned before they decided that other gods could operate in Chult, and that they forgot to update that part of the plot.
The seven trickster gods were a cool add in, and opened up some cool mechanics that will likely never be explored again, but the history of Omu doesn't jive with the ToA revised Chult, or this Living Chult concept. Omu needs to be alive, and not just in a princess' heart.
Omu should be an active combat zone when the party finds it, with corrupted Yuan-ti under Ras Nisi and their minions/spawn fighting it out with forces loyal to the crown, all while Acererak is doing his thing below their feet. Refugees are all over the place, and it's on!
This places a lot more pressure on the players. The your Princess has been spirited away to the Aarakocra aerie, and wants to join the fight. The peoples of Omu are suffering horribly, trying to survive in the hostile jungle. Meanwhile, a huge Yuan-ti incursion is happening!
There's a lot more options going on with that than in the ToA book, and you could even mix in "good" Yuan-ti, dispatched there from Serpentes to stop Ras Nisi from aiding Acererak and destroying the place. What will the characters do? Who will they help? Or trust?
Now, the "canon" good ending to this is that the party defeats Ras Nisi (who isn't an optional encounter now, but a full on mini-boss), defeats Acererak, and the people of Omu start to rebuild. This is important because Omu is the southern contact point for civilization in Chult.
More specifically, its settlements on the southern coast and concrete roads are the link to the rivers, and from there to Mbala and Port Nyanzaru. Why is this important?
1. Omu has roman concrete because of the volcanoes. This is huge in a wet environment like Chult.
2. The south coast needs more than Tortles and pirates, & a reason for pirates. Trade coming in at a modest port is a good reason.
3. It links the region to Durpar, Zakhara, and other southern sites as the furthest west trade point they go to.
4. Royal Omu Navy fighting pirates.
One could even argue that that Omu is an "Empire", and I'm not going to lie, the phrase "The Jungle Empire of Omu" is pretty sweet. It also livens up the area, because honestly, Samrach is a drag. Worst nation ever. Just paranoia, snake people, and murderous micro-monkeys.
But, it's likely Samrach and Thindol are no longer as we knew them. Between being sandbars, probable slave revolts, and so on, they're probably pretty different. Given the ease in which Yuan-ti infiltrated Chult, I'd argue Samrach fell during the Spellplague.
But that opens up another option that 3e skirted around ToA hinted at. Non-hostile Yuan-ti who just want to live and let live. Of course they'd be on guard against attempts by Serpentes to undermine them and conquer them, but there is some G and N left of the World Serpent.
A resurgent World Serpent Cult, seeking to restore balance and destroy Sset, the usurper, would actually make a pretty dope campaign in of itself, as heroic Yuan-ti and their allies seek to breath life back into the sleeping form of the World Serpent.
Time for a new Thread. Gotta talk about Yuan-ti!
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