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City-States of Athas edit

Even the vast powers of the Sorcerer-Kings are not sufficient to guarantee the well being of their constituents within a City-State. The punishing sun knows no mercy, and all bow to the power of 10,000 starving mad slaves, even Sorcerer-Kings. It is no surprise, then, that the City-States go to great lengths to produce sufficient resources for their denizens, slave and citizen alike.

It is also no surprise that even the efforts of a united City-State often fall short. And a leader has two choices when the stores are empty and the pang of hunger yowls uncontrollable: face mutinous revolt, or declare war. Thus it happens that the City-States have massive fortifications and standing armies that would make continental empires tremble on gentler worlds. If there is no Honor among Thieves, there is no Love among Sorcerer-Kings. And no love lost when City-States go to war.

Following are the City-States of The Tablelands.

Balic edit top
Ruler:Andropinis Dominant Merchant House: Wavir Principle Exports: Silver, Wheat, Olives, Livestock, Ceramics

Balic is an economic powerhouse of a city located at the base of the split of the Forked Tongue Estuary. Situated as it is between the silt forks, the city is unapproachable from all directions except the major road to the West. Not only would an invading army need to march down Balic’s fortified East-West corridor to actually assault the city, as the Southern most City-State rival armies also need to maintain troop morale and vigor while marching hundreds of kilometers around the big fork of the estuary. The only foe Balic faces as a true exception to this natural fortification is the giants. The mammoth creatures frequently wade through the silt to Balic’s fields to take advantage of the plentiful livestock and crops. Even the giants, powerful as they are, know better than to test the city’s walls. Balic suffered only one major military defeat since acquiring Andropinis as its patron over nine King’s Ages ago. Not too long ago, Balic came up short on the levy by one offering. Divergent tales suggest the poor soul died before being counted, escaped enroute, or was missing from the beginning due to a clerical error on the part of a young Magistrate. Whatever the cause, the result shook the Tablelands when the Dragon descended upon Balic in an insatiable fury. Neither Balic’s armies nor its dictator sufficed to thwart the beast’s rampage. The Dragon drank the life of hundreds that day; only recently, and at great cost, was the city able to restore the barren fields that marked the marauder’s wake.

Do not let Balic’s inability to protect itself from the Worst Scourge cause one to suppose its military might can be questioned. Quite the contrary, Balic’s military is a peculiar manifestation of its uniquely egalitarian culture. All denizens of Balic, slaves, nobles, Magistrates, and freemen alike serve month-long, rotating shifts in the state militia. While the reality of rank and wealth persist into the military organization (nobles tend to be officers, slaves infantry, for example) it still has a profound effect upon the consiousness of the city to force all peoples to train side by side in military regimens. The highly disciplined armies of Balic are known to march in tight formations with the front ranks carrying large round shields and stabbing bone daggers and the supporting ranks armed with longspears.

The effect of this peculiar military habit on the society at large is fascinating. Hollow though it may be, Balic is proud of its democratic assembly. In fact, Templars aren’t, as such, in Balic. Rather, they are known as “Magistrates” and elected to ten year terms of service. Andropinis is surprisingly tolerant of this tradition, though he is known to make his preferred candidates known from time to time. Supposedly, when his preferred candidate does not win, Andropinis has the winner executed and calls for a new election. Athas can only tolerate so much progress, so the story goes.

Military institutions, democratic traditions, and defensible location aside, the real power of Balic is in its currency. Only the iron Bar of Tyr holds more value on exchange than the ceramic Obolos of Balic. Given the intrinsic value of the Bar, this is no surprise. Balic’s trade business is lucrative and far reaching:

  • It has more arable land than all save Draj, creating surplus crops (generally wheat and olive products) for export.
  • Excess grain allowed Balic to surpass Nibenay’s House Shom as the leading inix breeders.
  • The city is surrounded, past the wheat fields, by scrub land that is perfect for raising erdlu.
  • Other than a few dwarven settlements (most notably North and South Ledopolus) Balic’s artisans are the best in the region, and their ceramic goods (currency, pottery, sculpture) are highly sought.

Merchants and traders know that the easiest way to purchase goods originating in Balic is with Obolos. So they come from far and wide to trade in one of the busiest markets on Athas, Balic’s agora. They then take the Obolos they acquire all over the Tablelands, where others are eager to trade their most precious goods for it, knowing that Balic is such a stalwart producer of high quality, useful wares that the Obolos is the best way to bank excess wealth for when the mercurial Dark Sun turns meager prosperity to starvation and need. Two final notes on the matter of trade. First, Balic is known to trade in precious silver from time to time. No public mining of silver occurs, and the source of the precious resource is unknown. Second, while House Wavir is unquestionably the dominant merchant house of Balic, House Jarko deserves an honorable mention. Instead of trading in general wares, Jarko specializes in breeding, raising, and training professional gladiators. One might add this to the list of Balic’s notable exports.

Ruins of Bodach edit top

East of the Mekillot Mountains, separated from the rest of the Tablelands by the deadly salt flats of the Great Ivory Plain is a massive, bulbous protrusion into the Sea of Silt. This area, isolated as it is by so many geographical barriers, is largely unsettled. But it was not always so. The region, now dominated by a vast, serpentine network of inland silt estuaries (or perhaps a massive silt basin with dozens of islands and peninsulas?) houses at its center what may have been the mightiest city Athas has ever known.

Approaching Bodach from any direction, one is immediately struck by its grandeur; its towering architecture can be seen from many kilometers away. Further, one never really knows when one truly arrives in Bodach, for there is no rampart, city wall, or other defensive, structural perimeter. While its monuments speak to its ages old majesty, the city is a dark manifestation of whatever proud existence it once knew. The city is silent during the daylight hours and no memory exists of what brought Bodach to its knees. They say no mortal has ever survived from sundown to sunup within its cursed jurisdiction.

Draj edit top
Ruler: Tectuktitlay Dominant Merchant House: Tsalaxa Principle Exports: Rice, Wheat, Hemp

The city of Draj sits upon a sizeable island on an inland silt basin at the far Northern edge of the Tablelands. The silt basin is peppered with springs that, while providing little in the way of surface or drinking water, make an abundance of mud flats that are the most fertile, arable, land in the known regions of Athas. The city learned long ago to best exploit this fertile, but swampy and boggish terrain by use of chinampas: woven, hempen rafts of pre-germinated seed beds. The chinampas are sewn together by the dozen and floated into place over the muck. Canoe paths cut through the chinampas in orderly spoke-and-wheel layout from the city-island; cultivation is as often as twice per season.

With such an abundance of rice and wheat, Draj may be the one place on Athas where starvation is not an issue, or, at least, need not be an issue. The Father of Life may be anything but when he empties the stores of grain for trade while leaving despondent prisoners, the poor, and some unappreciated classes of slaves to starve. Not that this should surprise anyone, since these downtrodden typically have their end of days prescribed anyway: sacrifice atop Tectuktitlay’s mammoth pyramid and personal palace.

The palace itself is nearly one hundred meters tall, in a stepped architecture, with a steep double staircase ascending each of its four sides. The Master of the Two Moons forces sacrifices to climb the Eastern stairs where they meet “their” God face to face. He then pulls the heart from the living wretch’s body and kicks the corpse down the stairs where it tumbles to the floor of the Palace of Gladiatorial Combat. The Sorcerer-God is a huge fan of the games, and the Drajian flavor of the sport is possibly the most savage of all the City-States. The private school for the nobles, barracks for the God-King’s bodyguard, Tectuktitlay’s personally run school of The Way, and servant quarters round out the walled royal compound.

Draj’s military is vast, both in numbers and the scope of the geography it combs looking for prisoners. Drajian soldiers are recognizeable by their light weight, padded hemp armor that is nimble and comfortable (as armors go) under the punishing Athasian sun. Armed with serrated obsidian edged broadswords called macuahuitl and short, barbed spears fastened to a length of rope, the warriors specialize in bringing captives back to Draj alive. The spears are thrown to impale a victim’s limb (usually the thigh); thereafter the victim is reeled into the corps of the infantry for capture, transport, and eventual sacrifice (either on the pyramid or as a participant in the games). Particularly dangerous or fiesty foes simply meet their end maimed by the razor edge of the macuahuitl’s obsidian.

Guistenal Ruins edit top

Ruler: Dregoth

History on Athas is hard to come by. At least, the reliable written type of history by which generations leave the wealth of wisdom to their heirs. A glaring exception to the rule that, if it happened in the past, it is long forgotten is the name of Lord Dregoth, long dead ruler of Giustenal.

While details of the demise of the mighty defiler are hard to come by, rest assured of two things: first, whatever ancient feud might’ve resulted in the death of one such as Dregoth is, one hopes, long since resolved. Second, whatever forces were conjured to bring about such heresy do not dissipate so quickly as the memories of men.

Most of ancient Giustenal itself is unplumbed ruins long since swallowed by the silt of the sea it borders. What portions remain explorable are to be avoided at any cost. They say someone or something calls to the minds of those explorers that try the Ruins.

Gulg edit top
Ruler: Lalali-Puy Dominant Merchant House: Inika Principle Exports: Cloth, Spices, Livestock

The City-State of Gulg, in fact, is not a city at all. At least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a vast wooded compound situated within the trees of the Crescent Forest, at the forest’s far Southern end. The lands controlled by the Oba include, to her accounting at least, nearly the whole of the forest and the expansive scrub plains existing at the forest edge before giving way to the salty barrenness of the Great Ivory Plain. Gulg is one of the corners of the prominent trade routes of the Ivory Triangle, and its exotic produce, nuts, and spices fetch high prices, keeping the city well funded. Its location puts it nearly at the center of the Tablelands, and Gulg benefits greatly from the caravan traffic this generates.

The stangeness of Gulg only begins with its forested location. The city walls, instead of the heavy stone and mortar creations of the other States, are living, carnivorous vines and shrubbery growing upon a ring of tree-like plants planted in dense formation around the city’s perimeter. Supposedly, the foliage animates and consumes intruders that wander too close. How the brainless plants determine citizen from intruder is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they don’t. Furthering the “architectural” wonder of the place, the Oba’s palace and her templars’ quarters are a series of elaborate thatched huts built into the dense canapy of a grove of epically proportioned agafari trees near the center of the city-compound. Though it is true that the Goddess herself occupies the highest branches, one cannot otherwise discern the rank of the inhabitants by the altitude of the hut. Instead, the templars of the Forest Goddess demonstrate their rank by the number of elaborate, beaded necklaces they wear. The High Templar wears ten necklaces while initiates wear only one.

Society within Gulg is as unique as its setting. Their is no birthright, and as such, no noble class, per se. Instead, the city is organized around a communal model. All of Gulg’s peoples are slaves, in a sense, to their Oba, and all the fruits of their labors, and all property in the city, belongs to her as well. Templars are assigned the duty of assigning youths, based on talents and attributes, to positions they will train for and hold for life. Most of these slaves end up as kaburu, or gatherers, whose job is to gather the nuts, berries, and other forest produce that both feed the people and become the spices traded to the outside world. Of course, gifted youths must also be found to keep the ranks of the templars sufficient to meet the demands of governing the people, overseeing the military, training the youths, and directing worship of the Oba. The most physically talented youths are destined to become judaga, or head-hunters, the closest thing Gulg has to a nobility. The judaga are renowned and feared for their stealth and combat prowess, and they are principally charged with guarding and controlling the forest. This puts them in direct conflict with Nibenay’s loggers, whom the judaga routinely harass. Their name derives from their tradition of collecting the skulls of their victims as war trophies and demonstrations of combat prowess.

Kalidnay Ruins edit top

Kalidnay is a city frozen in time. The city stands exactly as it did generations ago, save for accumulated sand drifts here and there. Kalidnay, at its height, was quite wealthy as revealed by the nature and number of structures abounding within the city’s walls. A monstrous pyramid marks what was the palace compound of a forgotten ruler. The pyramid stands cracked open like a giant egg.

Nibenay edit top
Ruler: Nibenay Dominant Merchant House: Shom Principle Exports: Rice, Lumber, Copper

Nibenay constitutes the North-West corner of the Ivory triangle, and like Gulg, benefits greatly from the large amount of merchant travel of that trade region. Also like their rival Gulg, Nibenay derives a large portion of its income via resources provided by the relatively bountiful Crescent Forest, as the City-State is located on a rocky rise not far from the Northern end of said forest. Nibenay’s location is actually a “domesticated” boulder field with numerous springs that bubble to the surface in the region. This creates a stepped geography of clear pools that provide good growing conditions for rice patties. As a result, Nibenay is largely able to feed its people without importing grain from the dominant producers such as Balic or Draj.

In a good season, Nibenay will produce excess rice for export. Their principle export with consistent demand is both raw agafari lumber and goods produced from such. Nibenay’s laborers fell these trees by the dozen and its artisans make all manner of craft from the raw material. Agafari is especially suited to weapons, as the wood is nearly as hard as bronze, and much lighter. While their practice of harvesting lumber arouses the ire of the Oba and her judaga, Nibenay’s harvesting is not nearly as devastating as Gulg’s citizens believe. The Shadow King knows well the value of the forest to his city, and while his practices are not nearly as ecologically kind as the Oba’s, Nibenay’s laborers are careful to both never completely clear a region and replant de-forested areas as a matter of course. Given the slow growth cycle of the agafari, these efforts are insufficient to prevent the forest from slowly shrinking from Nibenay’s end. Nibenay also controls a client outpost in the nearby Blackspine Mountains for mining copper in that region, but the resident gith make it a dangerous and costly operation.

The architecture of the city is noteworthy for both its superb craftsmanship and mysteriously stylized manifestation. Curved rooftops are painted in bright reds, greens, and golds and nearly every surface is decorated in freizes depicting fantastic varieties of monsters and disturbed, howling faces. The superstitious Nobles who commission these buildings apparently believe that such artforms will flatter would-be marauders into leaving the inhabitants in peace. It should come as no surprise, then, that the majority of this artwork depicts the Dragon itself in various triumphant positions. No one but the priestess-wives of the Sorcerer-King can claim to have seen the palace itself. It is supposedly a giant stone bust of Nibenay, with each of his priestess-wives carved in an intertwined, dancing fashion creating the bust’s hair.

The armies of this City-State are to be feared above all others for a singular reason: from elite shock troops to the King’s personal guard the soldiers are uncountable numbers of undead servants to their creator, Nibenay himself. It is this vast power of necromancy that leads some to believe the Shadow King may be the most powerful sorcerer of all Athas. Legends tell of a battle, many ages in the past, in which Gulg’s judaga destroyed an entire lumber camp belonging to Nibenay. The Shadow King responded personally by first devouring the life force of the entire judaga strike team, then raising the slain hunters as his thralls, and finally marching upon Gulg with her own, now undead strike force leading the charge. Lalali-Puy was forced to desicrate large portions of her precious forest to gather the power necessary to bring down the adversary. In a strategic mistake of equally epic proportions on the part of Nibenay’s armies, it was this demonstration of power by which the Oba attained deityhood in the hearts of her people.

Raam edit top
Ruler: Abalach-Re Dominant Merchant House: M’ke Principle Exports: Silver, Silk, Cloth

The Break Shore Estuary juts Westward into the Tablelands perhaps one hundred kilometers or so, breaking direct North-South travel between the Ivory Triangle and the Northern portions of the Tablelands. Near the estuary’s Northern edge, about midway between Urik and Draj, is the largest City-State of Athas, Raam. Tens of thousands of starving wretches of all sorts make up the populace of a city that is on the brink of complete chaos.

The population of Raam is heavily striated by a culturally enforced caste based system that allows no upward movement. While the practical reality of many City-States resembles this same type of static situation, in Raam it is a spoken reality. Slaves may never earn their way back to the ranks of freemen, and even fantastically wealthy merchants may never hope to purchase the privelege automatically afforded to the lowliest of Nobles. The worthlesness of life, given the teeming masses of humanoids, does nothing to encourage disruption of this status quo. The lowliest of the city’s inhabitants, slaves of various varieties, routinely find themselves in such a starved state that they haven’t the strength to muster opposistion to the system.

Overpopulation is a likely scapegoat for the city’s problems, but the reality is that the weak, paranoid leadership of Raam’s Great Vizier is the cause. She lives atop a hill within the city in a beautiful palace of ivory walls and alabaster rooftops. At the base of the palatial hill is a series of ramparts and military trenches heavily patrolled by elite troops carrying bronze scimitars. It seems the only thing truly capable of arousing Abalach-Re’s ire is a failure on the part of her people to respect the regular schedule of mass prayer and acts of obeisance.

The Great Vizier’s inability to command anything more than token fealty from her subjects has lead to the great chaos that is the city of Raam. Nobles vie for power and dominance in all but open displays of violence and power gambits, acting more unto raiding tribes within their own city than stately nobility. Slaves go unutilised and farmland grows wild and untended, leading to food shortages, starvation, and riots. Templars dare not wander their own city alone, fearing open assassination. Merchants find the city almost completely unmanageable, and routinely have their caravans and emporiums sacked and their agents murdered. This necessitates the use of the most vulgar mercenary forces for protection, contributing to more violence and causing the price of goods to escalate.

In the midst of this chaos, the real question is how such a city as Raam can still be standing, as it is midway between the two most militaristic states of Athas: Urik and Draj. The answer is that the Great Vizier has the largest store of weapons in all Athas in a tightly controlled military vault beneath the palace. If necessary, she can arm every able bodied denizen with a wood shield, bone dagger, and erdlu beak spear. For obvious reasons, she is loathe to arm her own people in this way, but no military power of the Tablelands could hope to stand against such an overwhelming force.

Tyr edit top
Ruler: Kalak Dominant Merchant House: Vordon Principle Exports: Iron, Silk, Dyes

Possibly the most powerful City-State in the Tablelands, Tyr is, by any definition, a slave-state. Slaves outnumber citizens two-to-one and, moreover, to be a slave in Tyr is to moil through every waking minute of one’s life. The Tyrant of Tyr takes his moniker seriously.

Tyr’s source of both economic and military strength is its most jealously guarded possession: the Auerbakk Mine. The paltry yields of this punishing pit would’ve long led to its abandonment in times past. But such is the current Age of Athas. Tyr’s is the only known army of Athas to equip every soldier with a steel blade.

Some twenty years ago, Kalak ordered commencement of construction of a massive stone ziggarut. The ziggarut’s location is directly across Tyr’s proud gladatorial stadium from Kalak’s palace. Known as Kalak’s folly, the construction of the ziggarut over the past twenty years has slowly strained mercantilism and stable relations around the Tablelands. The closer the massive structure draws to completion, the more of Tyr’s resources its King devotes to its completion. It started with orders to force more “criminals” into slavery. Eventually, the King required slave quotas be filled by his Nobles. Recently, the mines at Auerbakk were empied, and iron production for the entire region ceased.

This caused a crash not only in Tyr’s economy, but also the likes of Urik, Nibenay, and Raam whose mining operations and exports depend upon iron tools. Kalak assures his people the structure is worth the trouble. That is, when the Tyrant bothers to assure his people of anything. The rest of the time he reminds them it is his vastly superior power that allows him to command his subjects as he chooses. Even among Sorcerer-Kings, the Tyrant is not to be trifled with.

Ur Draxa edit top

Ask any of the silt skimmer captains of the Merchant Houses that ferry wares across the Sea of Silt and you’ll get a telling story of some of the harshest lives on Athas. If the Giants don’t pillage your wares in demanding “tribute”, the Silt Horrors will swallow your entire caravan. And these captains never stray from the known trade rountes, most of which pass through the estuaries rather than the sea itself. Now, try to reconcile that account with the fantasy of the fabled City of Plenty existing East of the Mountains of the Sun in the Valley of Dust and Fire and you will realize the truth: Ur Draxa does not exist.

Urik edit top
Ruler: Hamanu Dominant Merchant House: Stel Principle Exports: Slaves, Obsidian

Nearly as far North as Draj, Urik is perhaps one day’s travel West of the Dragon’s Bowl and two days’ travel East of the Smoking Crowns. Geographically, then, Urik is well positioned. Travel into and out of the North end of the Tablelands and West of Dragon’s Bowl passes trough Urikite lands. While the area between Dragon’s Bowl and the Smoking Crowns is no pinch point (it is several days’ travel), it nonetheless means enemy forces must approach roughly from the North or the South, reducing angles of attack. Finally, what subterranean water systems feed, or are fed by Lake Pit seem to also feed an abundance of springs and oases in and around Urik. The unmistakably unique hanging gardens of the Warrior King’s palatial compound, while not outside the excesses of other Sorcerer-Kings generally, owe their existence to Urik’s abundance of water.

While the City is well watered, it is not necessarily well fed. The land surrounding Urik is some of the poorest of all the City-States. This may owe, though no one is brave enough to speak it aloud, to Hamanu’s unashamed demonstrations of sorcery dozens of generations ago. The Lion’s focus on physical discipline and prowess over the past several Ages curbed the further withering of the City’s natural resources.

And it doesn’t seem to matter much. Urik’s economy is based upon its monopoly on the obsidian trade obtained via its exclusive control (won via the decimation of Yaramuke) of the Smoking Crown Mountains, the only region close enough to the Tablelands for mining of the mineral to be profitable. Only Tyr’s monopoly on iron is more valuable (and The Lion has made more than one play for control of both). Urik trades surplus obsidian and obsidian weaponry in exchange for surplus food stores from Draj. In this way, the two most militaristic City-States of Athas have formed an uneasy and dangerous symbiosis.

As to the City itself, Urik reflect’s its ruler’s personality vividly. The laws in Urik are explicitly codified, posted at each of the City’s gates (mostly as a formality, no one can read them), and strictly enforced. All traffic into and out of the City is subject to a thorough search, including the caravans of Urik’s resident Merchant House, Stel. This is unusual for two reasons: first, Stel is a partially State-sponsored entity and second, most City-States could care less what you do on your way out of the city. Travelers are advised to only visit Urik with genuine hard currency (iron Bar or even gold coins) lining their pockets for ingratiating themselves to Templars. Visitors inevitably violate the expansive code of conduct, and the obsidian mines are an awful way to finish one’s life on Athas.

Urik’s military is its defining characteristic, and it is daunting. Urik’s power is not in the size or scope of its troops, but in the discipline and variety of units it fields. The palatial compound is approximately two and a half square kilometers, and aside from the hanging gardens of the King’s actual palace is entirely composed of military training facilities and soldiers’ barracks. Such is the fanaticism of the loyalty of Urik’s troops that they are quartered within the King’s compound. Units include infantry of slave and freeman humanoids, half-giant spear weilding shock troops, crodlu mounted cavalry, and a peculiar group of halfling specialty forces secured through Hamanu’s dealings with a halfling chieftan of the Ringing Mountains. Templars hold rank and title as befits their military position.

Yaramuke Ruins edit top

Ruler: Sielba

Recently enough that the succession of generations hasn’t erased the memory, Yaramuke vied for control of the obsidian trade with dangerous rival Urik. Disputed quarry rights to and jurisdiction over the Smoking Crowns escalated over a time period no longer remembered. What can never be forgotten is the ultimate outcome: Hamanu marched upon Yaramuke himself. It was not enough to defeat Yaramuke and resolve the dispute. Nor was it enough to decimate her peoples and raze the city to the ground. In an especially rare demonstration of arcane prowess from the Warrior King, he evoked a tragic ritual and permanently blighted the lands of his rival. Some generations later, even the water of the oases that once supported Yaramuke and her people is poisoned and lifeless. Supposedly, the wondrous treasures of Yaramuke’s matron, Sorceress Sielba, still lay in the vaults beneath her royal palace. Those that might discern which pile of crushed, poisonous rock mark the ruins of the palace may claim the treasure for their own.

City States

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