On one of the western edges of the continent of Faerûn in the Forgotten Realms® (more specifically, a roughly rectangular swath of land lying along the southern shore of the Lake of Steam and occupying the northernmost eastern shores of the Shining Sea) is a hilly, well-watered, largely forested region known as the Border Kingdoms.
The Border Kingdoms are notorious across the wider Realms as being the home of outlaws, vagabonds, fugitives from justice, exiles, and other misfits—and for the fact that many adventurers retire there, and fight constantly, so the map of the actual lands within the region changes nigh-constantly.
Most of the Border “Kingdoms” are little larger than a dozen to a score of farms, and these “vestpocket realms” (as Elminster and many other sages have termed them) bear a variety of grandiose titles (such as the Grand Duchy of the Seven Golden Dragons, and the Empire of the Brightly Brandished Sword). They tend to last not much longer than the wizard or more often warrior who founded and rules them, ere giving way to the new name, laws, and borders of a successor. Lands are held by might in the Border Kingdoms; whatever laws and justice there may be are at the whims of these rulers (which is why many merchants venture no deeper into the Border Kingdoms than its largest Lake of Steam ports, which tend to be relatively stable and well-ruled, adhering to norms of justice when dealing with visiting outlanders.
Yet the Borders are vigorous, enjoy verdant soil and a mild climate, and many who dwell there are happy to do so, not seeing their homes as any sort of prison or “last resort” home. Despite the frequent violence, the population of “the Borders” (as they are colloquially known; a more formal and less friendly term sometimes used in the ruling courts of other lands is “the Debatable Realms”) tends to grow as the years pass, and they form a region less dominated by wizards and priests than most places in Faerûn.
So why did I create the Borders, and why should any reader or gamer care about this “little swords-out backwater” (as a Waterdhavian noble recently described them)? Well, they not only offer an adventurer splendid opportunities to recruit new sword-companions or hide or find a refuge or carve out their own tiny kingdom, all of this jostling to become Emperors or Kings or Grand Dukes makes for a fascinating place that changes by the month (and sometimes by the day). That offers any D&D® campaign set in the Realms a relief valve, and a ready stage for comic relief, if that’s personally desired, that need not lap out beyond its confines.
The Border Kingdoms are where many a thief or adventurer or deposed king or hunted wizard has hastily fled and hidden treasure (sometimes powerfully magical, or including crowns and royal writs and other regalia that might be used to claim a throne or title elsewhere), that still lies waiting to be found. In other words, the Borders can be a grab bag of presents and adventures all crammed together (so a Dungeon Master® who’s purchased a third-party published adventure that just don’t seem to fit in their current unfolding campaign can locate it in the Borders, enjoy running players through it, and “what happens in the Borders stays in the Borders”).
The published Border Kingdoms have suffered some hiccups down the years. As in, every time I set out to detail them, either in print or on the Wizards website, plans change and the unfolding presentation of the Borders halts abruptly with many locales and features unfinished. And then time marches on in the Realms, which means everything already presented is out of date (the Borders changing so often and so greatly that this affliction strikes them more heavily than, say, Cormyr), and we really should start all over again. And devote an entire long sourcebook to detailing the region. A sourcebook, of course, that never happens. This is a fate that befalls many corners of the Realms (we’ve never covered Sossal, for instance, at all, and places like Rashemen and Impiltur have been glossed over with such brief coverage in printed official Realmslore as to barely offer DMs the bare bones with which to run them), and of course every Realms fan will have their own priorities as to what we should detail first, the moment we get the chance.
Yet this state of affairs does impart maximum freedom to Dungeon Masters® by letting them put just what they want to put in this or that spot in the Borders, from crashed spaceships to stone circles to whatever gewgaw or McGuffin catches their eye from non-Realms fiction they’ve been reading, playing, or viewing—and that is the essential spirit of the Border Kingdoms, right there.
So grab the best map of the Borders you can find, make its features your given, and just start inventing from there. Which is ideal if you want to have a Realms campaign, and use all the little daily details of life (like the lore I put into Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms®), but not use specific places like Waterderrp or Neverwinter that might be markedly changed by this or that published product as the specific setting for Player Characters. So they can view such events as “the news,” but have their own adventures over here, largely unaffected by larger stories.
Sometimes more freedom than usual can be a very useful thing.
Image borrowed from “http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Faer%C3%BBn” ©Wizards of the Coast