Before I get into that, I'd like to say I've always had a pretty negative opinion of the Forgotten Realms. I've read some of the books and found characters like Elminster Aumar and Drizzt Do'Urden repugnant and put me off the whole idea of running a campaign where there are these super characters running around.
I'm actually impressed. I've never run a campaign world of someone else's before. The campaign materials for the Forgotten Realms are super helpful and really really well put together. There's a useful wiki.
When I start a campaign, there's so much to do. Design a calendar, work up cultures, setting, history, etc. The game materials I've been using have given me the actual things I need. If I didn't have them I would need to do work to create them. The campaign and game materials don't spend any time making things happen that I have to trip over. The map is big, areas that are interesting or historical are marked, and the rest is left as empty for me to fill. If I need to know something, I just look it up. It's pretty nice!
It's a pretty nice setting after you kill off every super NPC dead, dead, dead.
There's that whole "Fiction of the Forgotten Realms" thing that you can throw right out a window. Once you do that, you've got a pretty awesome setting. They can go anywhere, because I can just look and see what's there! And there is plenty of room to put whatever I want there.
4th edition, per Mike Mearls happens around 5 to 10 years before the start of 5th edition. 4th Edition "Current Year" took place in DR 1479, with the latest current year given in the books as being DR 1486 DR. Mount Hotenow erupted in 1451 DR, and Phandelver mentions it's been 30 years from the eruption. Phandelver probably takes place in 1481 DR. I'm setting my campaign in 1486 DR. The official start date for Hoard of the Dragon Queen organized play is 1489 DR.
The Eruption of Mount Hotenow is probably the thing that effects the area of Phandelver the most.
- Neverwinter is a ruin struggling being put back together by a Waterdeep noble.
- Neverwinter is under siege by Zombies and Aboleths and Ashmadai demons and Theyans and the returned Netherese.
- Thundertree a "logging" community that collected fallen timber and shipped it downriver to Neverwinter is a ruin.
- Luskan in the north, once a pirate city is now in ruins and run by gangs in a state of total anarchy.
- Conyberry has been sacked by barbarians and is nothing but ruins.
- Old Owl well and the surroundings has Orcs from the many-arrows tribe scouting hundreds of miles from their territory.
- Neverwinter wood was unaffected by the mountains eruption and only Druids and Uthgardt Barbarians live there.
- Helm's Hold (not on the map, but a few miles South-East of Neverwinter) used to hold victims of the spell-plague. I can't imagine it's in good shape.
There's a lot of missing information on how the realms have changed. 4e advanced the timeline 100 years and had a spell-plague that devastated the realms and changed a great many things. R. A. Salvatore and Ed Greenwood made a plan to correct it called the Sundering. Here's a quick summary of many of the changes caused by the Sundering, bringing the realms back to a 2e/3e state that is more popular with fans.
- Old Gods have returned. Mask, Lathander, and Helm are back. Helm and Lathander only have chosen, not avatars. Mystra, the original one, was apparently hanging out being a bear in a cave. Eleminster died, only not really, and somehow fixed the weave.
- Those chosen by the gods are all over the place, because the gods are trying to get in positions of leverage before AO rewrites the tablets of fate tying everyone down in a new order.
- Abeir is leaving. The world of Abeir had merged back with world of Toril during the events of 4e. This is being undone. That means Dragonborn are gone, but I imagine that there are still a few hiding somewhere. Probably also means that other areas are coming back (Maztica).
- Spellplague ended. Fixed. Victims healed. Plaguelands gone.
- War time is war! Everyone is kung-fu fighting! The drama between returned Netheril and Sembia is somewhat resolved and the world is still here.
- The Underchasm has been filed.
- Netheril is down. No more motes. No more flying cities. I read that Elminster knocked one of them out of the sky? The shades and Netheril are still around, but no longer a world shattering power.
- Magic works like it used to.
What this basically means, is you are PRETTY OK using 1/2/3e forgotten realms sources for a lot of things!
Races in the Northern Sword Coast:
- Shield Dwarves are Mountain Dwarves
- Sun Elves and Moon Elves are High Elves
- Wood Elves and Wild Elves are Wood Elves
- Halflings are Lightfoot halflings (and very rare that far north)
- Humans are either Illuskan or Tethyrian.
- Illuskans are tall people with pale skin and light hair. The Illuskans towards the northeastern part of the region have dark hair due to their Netherese ancestry.
- Tethyrians are Olive to light skinned with brown or blond hair. They look much like Western Europeans, though their culture is more focused on mercantile ventures than military ones.
- Forest Gnomes, Rock Gnomes, Half-Elves, and Half-Orcs are rare but around.
Languages Spoken in the Northern Sword Coast:
- Common, which is pidgin Chondathan
- Chondathan, the most common language in the west
- Illuskan, The speech of the northern barbarians and native peoples
- Daraktan is orc speech
- Shantan is the norther shield dwarf dialect of dwarven
- Bothii is a language spoken by the Uthgardt Barbarian Tribes
These other languages also are around but more more rare.
- Kurit is the dialect of the arctic dwarves who live north of the spine of the world
- Uluik is the language of the ten towns and the hunters north of the spine
- The north central glacial barbarians speak Reghedjic
- Ghukliak is the language of goblins
- Jotunhaug is a dialect of hill and mountain giant
- Sylvan is the language of the fey
- Yipyak is the language of kobolds and dragon servitors
- Gnim is the gnomish language of research and acedemia
- Ruathlek is a secret illusionist script.
These are ancient languages
- Aragrakh, The ancient forgotten language of dragons
- Primordia, The ancient language of Abier
- Imaskari, Long dead human script
- Hamarfae, Long dead elven script
The most common gods worshiped in the north are listed below:
Auril: Winter, Neutral Evil, Nature / Tempest
Deneir: Writing, Neutral Good, Life
Moradin: Dwarf / Creation, Lawful Good, Knowledge
Eldath: Peace, Neutral Good, Life / Nature
Lurue: Talking Beasts, Chaotic Good, Nature
Mielikki: Forests, Neutral Good, Nature
Milil: Poetry / Song, Neutral Good, Light
Mystra: Magic, Neutral Good, Knowledge
Oghma: Knowledge, Neutral, Knowledge
Shar: Darkness / Loss, Neutral Evil, Death / Trickery
Tempus: War, Neutral, War
Talos: Storms, Chaotic Evil, Tempest
Silvanus: Wild Nature, Neutral, Nature
Shiallia: Fertility, Neutral Good, Nature
Uthgar: Totem Spirits, Varies, Varies
Tymora: Luck, Chaotic Good, Trickery