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Athasian Society edit
Slavery The 3 Sciences Beasts of Burden
The 3 Sciences edit top

The three sciences of Athas are…

The Forgotten Science

Actually, this is a supposition. We suppose there to be a “first” science because Psionics, for reasons lost to history, is long referred to as the “second” science. Perhaps there was no “first”, and this is some mistranslation long forgotten by scholars that no longer exist.

Psionics, the Science of the Mind

The force of competition on Athas has done more than favor the strong of body. The minds of the children of Athas are also honed and deadly. From heightened senses and ESP to telekinetic abilities, the gift of psionics pervades the inhabiting populations of Athas as much as strength and durability.

The Will

The Will describes the innate Kundalini whence psionic power derives. As savagery selected for the most physically powerful while resources became ever scarcer so it also selected for the most mentally capable. The ancient Lords that shaped and created the discipline of the Second Science named the intrinsic force upon which it is built “The Will”. And so it has since been known.

Nearly every creature on Athas, including many mentally mundane examples such as crodlu, is possessed of some amount of psionic gift. Usually, lacking discipline or training, this manifests as a wild talent. Mostly these talents are little more than exceptional hearing or a special intuition for the feelings of others. Many lucky individuals are possessed of a useful skill, such as moving small objects from a distance or sparking a fire without a flint. Without formal training in The Way, that is all such untamed talents will become.

The Way

The Second Science has its roots in the exceptional mental strength of a few powerful Mind Lords many generations past.

Mind Lords

mind lords

Magic, The Blighted Science

The Third Science of Athas is also the most powerful and most corrupting force the world has ever known. “Magic”, as regards the Blighted Science, refers to the defiling power of the sorcerers. Other types of power, such as the primal power wielded by druids, is not labeled, and never confused with, magic. Elemental power, druidic sorcery, etc. might be used instead.

Magic on Athas derives its power directly from the force of life itself. It’s use literally sucks the life out of living things, most often nearby plants. More powerful evocations actually sap the life-giving ability of the surrounding land, leaving a poisoned and barren waste in their wake. They say The Dragon can suck the living essence from a man, leaving nothing but a dessicated corpse even the unholiness of undeath cannot reanimate. Such is the fate of victims of the Levy. So they say.

Little is commonly known about Magic among the riff-raff of The Tablelands, excepting:

  • The Sorcerer-Kings are Defilers of epic ability. Their use of this wicked power on an epic scale is dually responsible for their conquering of the known lands and the poisoning that created the Brown Age. Nothing is known of their derivation of this power. They guard their secrets jealously, and only members of their inner courts are allowed to practice the dark arts. Even then it is perilous: gifted students are likely to be offered in the Levy before they garner too much power.
  • It is illegal, and punishable by death, to learn, wield, use, understand, posses, or otherwise have any association with the defiling power of Magic. Not that these laws, ubiquitous in The Tablelands and enforced in all the City-States, matter in the least. The average Athasian knows well the defiling power of Magic and its connection to the current state of Athas. The denizens of Athas are likely to have ripped any practitioners of Magic to pieces long before the authorities can respond with an official death sentencing.
Barrenness edit top

If one were offered a single word with which to describe Athas it could be none other than “barren”. The tragic reality, from the wind scoured dunes to the ceramic-hard salt flats to the miserable bolder fields, is a land devoid of natural resources of all kinds. The only thing the scorched earth offers in plenty seems to be heat. The barrenness comes in several forms and is principally responsible for shaping the savagery of beast and man on Athas over fierce competition for the paucity of bounty the planet offers to its cursed inhabitants.

The most obvious natural depletion is that of water. The landscape, with a few exceptions, is utterly devoid of life giving water. Rain comes once a year or less to most of the known areas of Athas. When it does fall, what little water isn’t instantly absorbed by the parched land itself is quickly evaporated into useless oblivion by the over sized crimson giant in the sky. Subterranean waterways must still be prevalent, as revealed by the rare but tenaciously vivacious oases that dot the land

With a lack of water comes a lack of natural resources. Crops are difficult or impossible to grow. Food is scarce. What game exists is as hungry to eat you as you are to eat it, and probably savage enough to make hunting a poor choice of trade on Athas. Grazing lands for herders are limited to scrub plains with tough shrubs few species can palette. What’s worse, many of the plants themselves have evolved into deadly, poisonous, or even aggressive carnivorous versions of their ancestors. Bereft of water, evolution was quick to teach plants that the more mobile denizens of Athas are but walking sacks of liquid. As a result of all these factors, wood is very difficult to find. Most lumber resources must be hauled around the Ringing Mountains from the Forest Ridge.

To make matters worse still, the empires of the past devoured nearly all of Athas’ mineral resources to feed their own splendor. Iron resources in The Tablelands are almost non-existent. Precious metals such as gold and silver are unheard of. And really, under the circumstances, there isn’t that much “precious” about such metals anyway. When luxury means a full belly and water bladder, a few grams of iron forged into a durable spearhead is far more valuable than a few grams of gold for making trinkets.

What does any of this have to do with Society on Athas? Imagine the ways such powerful forces have shaped the peoples of Athas, and you have your answer. Without wood or metal, nearly everything on Athas is constructed of stone and bone. Mekillot femurs are used as structural girders. City-State ramparts are built, via slave labor, of pure stone. I know you uncle just passed, but his humerus is about the right size for a nice dagger. You see what depravity does to people?

Beasts of Burden edit top

“Of burden” is a bit redundant on Athas, isn’t it? What part of fighting for survival in a land of predators and savages could not be burdensome? These beasts represent, almost in its entirety, the list of creatures whose nature has not yet been so twisted under the dying Sun that they can’t still be trained and managed safely (and the mekillot pushes this definition, to be sure).

As mounts, pack animals, transports, and sources of food, each of these beasts (crodlu, erdlu, inix, kank, and mekillot) serves the peoples of the City-States and beyond in multiple capacities.

Crodlu

Crodlu are long-legged and long-necked beasts resembling large, reptilian erdlu. They share the erdlu’s resilience to the Athasian climate and a tolerance for all forms of dietary opportunities. Instead of wings, they posses two spindly arms that end in fierce claws used to rake combatants when forced to self defense. Able to make acceptable speeds when burdened with up to 150kgs thanks to their powerful hind legs, crodlu are preferred as mounts and pack animals. When grouped, males can become aggressive; their natural social structure is that of a mid-sized pack (15-30 animals) with a dominant male. This makes them less suited to herding than erdlu or kanks.

Not that it matters much. The animals, when reared in domestication, are eminently trainable. Their poor eyesight makes them trusting mounts and reliable pack animals, while their uncanny olfactory can offer early warnings in travel to handlers acute enough to understand crodlu behavior. When standing upright with neck outstretched they are at least three and a half meters tall.

Erdlu

A two meter tall, fleet of foot, scale-skinned, flightless bird. At around 100kg, most of which is quite edible, the erdlu is the perfect herd animal and well adapted to the Brown Age rigors of Athas. They naturally flock together for defense against predators, can outrun (over short distances, maybe a kilometer or so) many adversaries, and are possessed of unflappable digestive tracks. From parched vegetation and briny water to small lizards and insects, they pretty much take care of their own dietary needs. Erdlu eggs are a traveler’s best friend.

The erdlu is, in many respects, one of the pillars of demihuman life on Athas. Beyond being well adapted and easy to rear and herd, the animal seems almost purposefully engineered to be completely useful. As mentioned, erdlu meat is both delicious and ample (unlike the sinewy crodlu or unpalatable kank). Erdlu eggs are nutritious and provide a days supply of water in addition to quashing hunger. Their beaks are sharp and tough, making excellent spear heads and their long neck tendons are the perfect length and strength for bow strings. Their light weight and sturdy leg bones are terrific for crafting weapons and tools. Even their hides are saleable as a modest and breathable armor after proper drying and treatment. Truly a miracle animal.

Inix

Large lizards that serve as much as status symbols as useful animals. They are sized between the kank and the mekillot at some four to five meters long in the body (their tails add to this). Well tempered and very trainable, they are typically employed as mounts. They are capable of carting several hundred kilograms of cargo and are frequently used as a luxury form of travel. Their broad backs provide an easy mounting for howdahs, box-like carriages that provide shade and comfort while traveling under the Sun.

Inix plod along at an acceptable, if not brisk, pace that can be kept up for hours on end with one caveat. The creatures are voracious vegetarians, and scrub plains are difficult to find East of the Ringing Mountains. It is thus that only the very wealthy are likely to travel by Inix while in The Tablelands.

Kank

Large docile insect with a triptych anatomy, not unlike a two and a half meter long ant. Like their smaller brethren, they organize into a caste-based hive. Producers, soldiers, and brooders round out the hive-roles. The hive mind makes them a more stubborn animal than the Erdlu, but skilled herders have no problems negotiating this dynamic. The producers secret a greenish nectar for feeding the young (and the hive generally when resources are scarce) that is highly sought for its sweet flavor.

Believe it or not, kanks are fast.It is simply impossible to comprehend until one actually sees those legs churning like the granite wheels of a silt-skimmer in a sandstorm. It is for this reason kank herding is monopolized by elves. First, kank hives can march at a pace to match Elven runners over large distances, and are the only beasts so gifted (erdlu tire too quickly). Second, Elves seem to be the only demihuman race fast enough to keep pace with the kanks long enough to steer the herd. Additionally, the Elven temperament seems to tolerate the extra effort such a niche product as kank honey requires. The animals are wholly unsuited for consumption, as their flesh is a foul substance even a starving scavenger cannot endure to palette. They also make splendid mounts, though life expectancy is impacted without the structure of the hive.

Mekillot

Enormous, ill-tempered, carnivorous beasts as likely to eat their trainers and wander into the silt as to pull their pack in the desired direction. Weighing several tonnes, they grow over ten meters long. They are protected on both head and body by a thick, armored shell. Were it not for the insurmountable expense of rearing the animals, this shell might be used effectively for production of armor and shields. Such armaments would not grow too hot to touch under the glaring sun, and would be far lighter than many alternatives.

As already mentioned, their appetite for meat and imposing physical stature makes them dangerous animals. At the same time, their strength is undeniable; the slave trade would be seriously hindered without the multi-level mekillot sand barges that feed the labor needs of the City-States.

Blood Sport edit top
Citizens edit top
Druids edit top
Dune Traders edit top
Elemental Priests edit top
Hermits edit top
The Levy edit top

The past offers little to those daring enough to be curious about the Levy. No one seems to know when it started. Or why. Or how. No one that is talking, anyway.

The annual offering of the Levy to The Dragon is the only time one will meet the presence of that awful, malefic beast. Once per year, The Dragon visits each City-State expecting 961 healthy demihumans to be arranged in a tidy 31×31 grid. The enormous creature can be seen approaching from several kilometers in the distance, and never offers parley or quarter. Instead, it arrives in either a state of satisfaction or displeasure. When satisfied, it departs with a seemingly tireless column of

Literacy edit top

Literacy is a hard skill set to come by on Athas, for a few reasons. Perhaps most importantly, the ramshackle nature of what remains of civilization is too broken and fragmented to support formal education. Simply finding someone who knows how to read and write to pass on the skill set is a serious challenge. Moreover, the savage nature of the landscape itself leaves little time to devote to such non-survival related skills. Pragmatically, the survival and trades skills that dominate life on Athas don’t require a written medium and the disciplines that demand written form such as history, philosophy, and mathematics are all but dead.

A further complication to the practical difficulties that writing skills face in staying relevant is their outlaw in what passes for civilization on most of Athas, the City-States. The self anointed God-Kings replaced the discipline of history with the dogma of reverance within their dominions. Like magic, writing is a closely monitored skill set only teachable by the elite of the City-States. “Elite” in this case refers to the Templars and nobles. Even then it is not universally distributed. The outlaw of writing seems directly related to the Sorcerer-Kings’ need to replace the actuality of real history with something else entirely. No doubt dark secrets reside in the truth of the legends of past tragedies.

There are still plenty who have use of literacy, most notably the Merchant Houses. The reality is that the bookkeeping of the merchants and traders involves written records, and therefore literacy. And the Templars know it. So long as the catalogs are kept simple and out of sight, the Sorcerer-Kings and their followers know it is better to leave well enough alone. Goods have a way of becoming scarce and overpriced when merchants are persecuted over their bookkeeping necessities.

For those few with both the gift of literacy and the gumption to explore, the empires of ages past left vast libraries behind in the wake of their demise. What power, attributable to knowledge and truth, lies buried in the silt and sand of Athas?

Merchant Houses edit top
Nobles edit top
Nomads edit top
Slavery edit top

Slavery

Artisans

artisan slaves

Gladiators

gladiator slaves

Laborers

Slave Scholars

Soldier Slaves

Slave Tribes edit top
Templars edit top

Society

To Kill a Dragon Gravedigga