The fifth FR-series book not only returned to the geography of the Realms, but returned to presenting an area that had already gotten a boost from the rest of the line. It was also a return to “The North” of FR1’s Waterdeep and the North. The latter had given some information on the region, but without proper maps, it hadn’t been very useful. Finally, The Crystal Shard had been a hit early Forgotten Realms novel, making this region supplement highly anticipated. It has continued to be a popular region, seeing more Drizzt novels, the Neverwinter games, and further supplements such as Volo’s Guide to the North and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

The Savage Frontier is typical of the series as 64-page book with a faux parchment pattern on the pages, a detached trifold cover, and two poster-sized maps. The maps are in the usual 30 miles/inch ‘small’ scale, and join up north of the ones in the original campaign set, covering from a bit south of Waterdeep to the Spine of the World mountains (a somewhat convenient straight east-west mountain chain that defines the northern boundary of livable land), with the main map reaching from The Great Desert in the east to the coast in the west. The coast runs further west near the north, forcing a second map for the last four inches of land, leaving most of that map to be left to ocean, with some fairly major islands scattered about. One quarter of the map is used for insets, including a northern extension to the bit of land in the corner of this map, showing Icewind Dale, as well as a couple location maps. The cover includes a repeat of the main Waterdeep map, and five other locations, making this the first FR book to not leave at least one panel empty.

The book is supposedly written by an in-universe character, Amelior Amanitas of Secomber, though this is generally limited to humorous little intros and outros to chapters, and does not affect the main text. (It is also worth noting that he is originally from DQ1 The Shattered Statue, also by Paul Jaquays, which does happen in Cormyr, despite getting no Forgotten Realms logos.) It starts with a two page history, goes on to an overview talking of trade, climate, major factions, and the various peoples of the region. There is then six chapters of geographical description, broken up somewhat oddly. The first one is just cities and towns and the like, and is in a smaller font as well as based off of the similar chapter from FR1 (I don’t think any description is exactly the one from that book, but they’re often about 80% the same). There’s a separate chapter for ‘lost lands, strongholds, & ruins’, each with their own subchapter, then one on pure geographical features (mountains, rivers, etc.), and then a chapter just on the High Forest, which is something of a central focus of the book. And, towards the beginning of all this, is a chapter on the islands, folding all of their towns and geographical features together. So part of the description of the area is broken up by type of feature, and part of it by region. It’s obvious enough to not interfere with looking things up, but it is a bit grating, and presumably partly caused by the reuse of material from FR1.

Overall, a fair amount of attention is given to barbarians in this book. I’m not sure if it was seen as TSR’s best chance at showing how the backgrounds for that character class should work, or what, but there’s a lot here. In the section on the various peoples of the North, the Uthgardt barbarians get five pages, going into detail about various tribes, the broad outlines of society, special shaman powers, and the like. Also, the Northmen (more of the Norse-analogues from FR2, who can be barbarians) get two pages, while everything else (aarakocra, dwarves, orcs, trolls, etc… aaand the barbarians of Icewind Dale) gets two pages. And then there’s a three-page chapter on the ancestor mounds of the various Uthgardt tribes. Three of the location maps are actually of these, one showing ‘typical’ ones, one is an adventure one, and one is… atypical. What makes all this coverage work is that the barbarians are not all the same, and each has it’s own attitudes, from the extremely conservative, to tribes that are settling down and farming and becoming ‘civilized’, to one that is completely under the thumb of devils from Hellgate Keep.

The final chapter of the book is three pages outlining various prominent people, including, of course, the main trio from The Shattered Shard, and another refugee from a different Jaquays project, I12 The Egg of the Phoenix (which, no, is not a Forgotten Realms adventure, he’s been exiled here). And then there’s four appendices in the last four pages, with some new magic items (including a minor artifact), a new non-weapon proficiency, an expansion of one from the Wilderness Survival Guide (plant lore, including a handy table of medicinal plants of the region), a year’s worth of events and rumors (Year of Shadows/DR 1358, the year considered ‘just beginning’ in the original set), and six adventure ideas.

I consider this product one of the highlights of the the FR series, and certainly the best one to this point. Moonshae has mood without detail, Empires of the Sands lacks mood while providing detail. Waterdeep and the North suffers (just a bit) from the chapter on the North that is unusable thanks to the lack of maps. This is a well-rounded supplement that stands well on its own, and you could run games here without ever getting the main boxed set.