After covering two areas that were already developed, the third FR-series module went off into new territory: the South. The area had of course shown up in the original boxed set, and had gotten a number references in FR1 Waterdeep (as its primary trading rivals are all down there), but there’s no sense that it had ever been a major focus of Ed Greenwood’s campaign, and there were no novels like Darkwalker on Moonshae set there. Part of the area covered would be covered again in Lands of Intrigue, and the rest in Empires of the Shining Sea (both which included areas outside the scope of this product) and one section in particular would achieve fame with Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.

Physically, it’s a typical TSR product of the time; a 64-page 8.5″x11″ book with a color cover. Like with Moonshae, there’s nothing on the inside cover, and the cover is detached from the main book, but that’s because there’s two 30-mile per inch poster maps wrapped around the book (one can fit in the middle of the book, but two would be too thick). As such, it is a much more expansive supplement than either Moonshae (which occupied about half of one map) or Waterdeep (which concentrated on a single city), and that presents some problems.

The main book is divided into three main sections for the three countries in the area covered: Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan. Inside of each section, there’s a quick overview of the country, talking about general cultural quirks, languages spoken, what races are present and the like. The longest section tends to be a description of the various prominent cities (and towns) of the country. Scott Haring stated that it was his intent that each place can serve as as inspiration for an adventure, and this largely works. There’s no ‘typical town, population x’ entries here. Many may not inspire the type of adventure a DM is looking for right now, but some will, and there’s always something.

The real problem is there’s no focus to the book at all. Each country gets about the same page count (they are all about the same size), and no particular city gets any sort of detailed look. There are also sections on places and people of interest, and these do tend to more detail. Castle Spulzeer gets one of the longest description in the book (and a map) at a bit over half a page. There’s two other maps, one a diagram of a cave complex near the described location, and the other is of the Plaza of Divine Truth in Calimport (which does have the longest description at over a page). Never is the general layout, or surrounding area, of a city shown.

In the center of the book are eight character sheets, and smaller reproductions of the poster maps (in black-and-white). Sadly, this last is the victim of the obligatory layout disaster of the book. The southern map is fine, but on the opposite side of the sheet, one part of the northern map (coasts and rivers) is rotated from the other, making it useless. Seven of the character sheets are pre-filled out with the details of the ‘Company of Eight’ (yes), an NPC group that’s not really described well enough for the DM to know well. The eighth is a blank Forgotten Realms-themed sheet that looks good, but because the book is done in the usual dark brown ink on faux-parchment pattern is difficult to reproduce well (and a few dark info boxes are impossible to photocopy usably).

The south is a much richer place than the north, with several cities larger than Waterdeep, up to the city of Calimport at 2 million (which I think is a bit much; Rome at its height was 1 million, and I’m not aware of any million+ cities in say the Middle East or Persia through the Middle Ages). While some of this it mentioned about in the overall descriptions, there’s no rules/pricing tie-ins given.

In general, it’s meant to be more of an Arabian/Middle-East themed setting, but this is not well supported in the text either. Amn is a stable merchant-dominated state (supposedly meant to have a Andalucia feel to it; I’d think more pre-Crusade Palestine coast), Tethyr has recently lost it’s royal family in bloody coup, and there’s currently no central authority (that feels more like Andalucia to me), and Calimshan is one of the wealthiest nations around, though the central authority is weak.

Calimshan was supposed to have a more Arabian Nights feel, and this actually comes through better, as the past history involves much of the area having been colonized by humanoids from the Elemental Plane of Air. In fact, it’s the one with the best developed history (outlined back 7000 years). In many ways, this feels like it should be the focus of the book, since there’s bigger hooks, that could have interesting consequences, but Calimshan gets the same page count as the other two countries. Also, Al-Qadim would come along and become the ‘Arabian Nights area’ of the Forgotten Realms, forcing a rewrite of Calimshan.

It is by no means a bad module, and if you like maps (I do!) it’s got those. And it does generate a lot adventuring possibilities. But it is unfocused, spread across a much larger area than anything other than the original boxed set (which was focused on Cormyr and the Dales). It’s not a bad module for an inventive DM, nor a bad place to visit, but basing a campaign anywhere in the area would take a lot more work.