A major difference in the setting from Earth is the presence of magic. The system of magic is subdivided into divine and arcane categories, with the former empowered by a Faerûnian deity, and the latter by rituals or innate abilities which manipulate a mystical field called the Weave, the source of magical energies on Toril. Faerûn has a pantheon of deities that are worshipped by the inhabitants of this region. These are comparable to mythological deities of the ancient Greek pantheon, and cover a range of ethical beliefs and portfolios of interests.
Faerûn is home to a number of non-human creatures of varying degrees of civilization or barbarism. Among these are several different races of dwarves, gnomes, halflings and elves, as well as goblins, orcs, lizardmen, ogres, various giants, and even dragons.
There are a number of organized alliances in Faerûn, with each pursuing their own particular agenda. A few are dedicated to decent and honest causes, such as the Harpers, who protect the good-natured races and seek a balance between civilization and nature. The Harpers are opposed by evil organizations, including the Red Wizards of Thay and the nihilistic Cult of the Dragon. In the northern lands, the Zhentarim is an evil network seeking to dominate the region. Their efforts are being resisted by the Lords' Alliance, a council of knights that pursues the interests of the northern cities. Other organizations of Faerûn include the magical Seven Sisters, a band of assassins called the Fire Knives, a group of ruthless thieves operating out the city of Waterdeep named the Xanathar's Guild, and the mysterious Shades—the returning survivors of the long-fallen Netheril empire.
The sub-continent of Faerûn is set on the planet Toril, or, more formally, "Abeir-Toril". Faerûn is the western part of an unnamed supercontinent that is quite similar to real-world Afro-Eurasia. This continent also includes Kara-Tur, which was the original setting of the D&D Oriental Adventures campaign setting, and Zakhara, home to the Arabian Nights setting Al-Qadim. Maztica, home of a tribal, Aztec-like civilization is far to the west, across an Atlantic-like ocean called the Trackless Sea. The subterranean regions underneath Faerûn are called the Underdark.
Faerûn includes terrain that is as varied as Europe, western Asia, and much of Africa is on our planet Earth. Role-playing campaigns in Faerûn can be set in a wide variety of locations, each with its own hazards and potential rewards for the participants. Likewise, the region that the players explore can determine what types of monsters they will face, which famous individuals they will encounter, and what types of missions they assume.
Besides the exterior coastline to the west and south, the most dominant feature on the continent is the Sea of Fallen Stars. This is an irregular inland sea that keeps the neighboring lands fertile and serves as a major trade route for the bordering nations. Next in significance is the Shaar, a broad region of grasslands in the south that, together with a large body of water called the Lake of Steam, separates the area around the inland sea from the coastal nations at the southern edge of the continent. To the east, Faerûn is bordered by a vast region of steppe that separates it from Kara-Tur. In the north are massive glaciers, named Pelvuria and Reghed, and a region of tundra. South of the continent, separated by the Great Sea, is a sub-tropical land called Zakhara.
To the northwest, Faerûn is a region of wilderness, difficult winter weather, hordes of orcs, and barbarous human tribes. This region is generally referred to as "The North". It is a mostly-untamed region that lies between the large Anauroch desert in the east and the expansive Sea of Swords to the west. This area contains huge wooded regions such as the High Forest and the Lurkwood, the frozen Icewind Dale to the north, and an untamed region called the Savage Frontier, which includes the Silver Marches (Luruar). The coastal region is called the Sword Coast. Here lies the city-state of Neverwinter and the large port city of Waterdeep. Deep inland is the ancient dwarven citadel of Mithral Hall, which was featured in the Legacy of the Drow series of novels. This area is one of the most popular regions for role-playing campaigns set in Faerûn, and has been the setting for a number of popular computer role-playing games.
North of the Sea of Fallen Stars is a region that stretches from the wide Anauroch desert in the west to the eastern edge of the inland Moonsea, in the northern region of the continent. It is a region of contrasts, with the forested Dalelands, the desert wastes of Anauroch, the coastline of the Moonsea with the infamous Zhentil Keep, and the bitterly cold steppes of The Ride. Along the east coast of the Dragon Reach (a northern branch of the Sea of Fallen Stars) is a temperate region called The Vast, consisting of farmlands, forests and the Earthsea mountains. This area includes the city of Ravens Bluff, which for many years was home to the RPGA's Living City role-playing campaign and the site of the Living City series of game modules.
Northeastern Faerûn is a remote area that begins in the cold, forbidding lands along the great ice sheets and continues south toward the northeastern shores of the Sea of Fallen Stars. It is bordered on the west by the mountain-hemmed land of Vaasa and stretches east to the vast steppes of the Hordelands. This region also contains the lightly populated kingdom of Damara, the Druidic forests of the Great Dale, the coastal kingdom of Impiltur, the fallen and once evil empire of Narfell, and the trading nation of Thesk. Mystical Rashemen is a land ruled from behind the scenes by spiritual witches, and it is the location of the Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer computer game. The lands of Damara and Vassa were described in a 1989 publication, FR9, The Bloodstone Lands. This area formed the setting for the "H Series" of modules that used the Battlesystem rules to resolve battles.
With the exception of the Shining Plains, the interior lands of Faerûn lie along the irregular coastline of the western Sea of Fallen Stars. In the north the Dragonmere arm of the sea extends far to the west, ending close to the Western Heartlands. To the south, the Vilhon Reach forms a second arm leading to the southwest. The notable areas within this region include Chondath, Cormyr, the Dragon Coast, Hlondeth, the Pirate Isles, Sembia, Sespech, Turmish, and the Shining Plains.
Along the eastern expanses of the Sea of Fallen Stars, the water forms a long arm that travels to the east before turning south to become the Alamber Sea. The northern nations of this mysterious area are termed the "Unapproachable East" and the southern nations the "Old Empires" in campaign setting publications. This region includes the nations of Aglarond, Altumbel, Mulhorand, Murghôm, Thay and Unther. Chondalwood is a long, forested region to the south of Chondath and Chessenta.
South of the Sea of Fallen Stars is a region somewhat isolated by the Lake of Steam in the west, and the vast length of the Shaar. It is bordered along the south by the Great Sea; to the west by the Chultan peninsula region, and in the east by Luiren. The south includes the Border Kingdoms, Dambrath, the Great Rift, Halruaa, the Lake of Steam, and The Shaar.
South and east of the grassy plains is an area known as the Shaar, along the shores of the Great Sea opposite the land of Zakhara. The region includes the lands of Durpar, Estagund and Var the Golden (collectively called the Shining Lands), Luiren, the land of Halflings, Ulgarth, the Eastermost extent of Faerûn, and Veldorn, the land of monsters.