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Kaprak: City of the Druid

Outpost Kaprak was a small, remote storehouse and waypoint for House Malaxi, a once-great merchant house that fell on hard times.

Kaprak:City of the Druid

by:Shikken (Lloyd Brown)

History

Outpost Kaprak was a small, remote storehouse and waypoint for House Malaxi, a once-great merchant house that fell on hard times, firstting some of its assets go free, and then declaring bankruptcy. The outpost struggled along between caravans for a hundred years or so, housing guards, storing food and water, and sending out patrols to try to keep Malaxi’s interests safe.

About 60 years ago, young man named Venhis Nourald dedicated his life to the way of the druids. His guarded lands included this minor outpost. House Malaxi, then still busy but unprofitable, was doomed to imminent disintegration. When the inevitable came, the residents of outpost Kaprak appealed to Venhis for his aid. He sadly refused, for his time of wandering had begun. He left the area for seven years.

When he returned, the outpost had grown in size, but its people were poor and miserable and held in virtual slavery by raiding tribes, bandits, monsters, and hunting thri-kreen. Venhis defeated all of these threats in turn, demonstrating the necessary savvy—and savagery—to survive and prosper as a leader. This time, Venhis accepted the people’s petition to rule and quickly set up the bureaucracy that has allowed the town to grow into a small city.

Appearance & Demographics

The city of Kaprak covers a large surface area for the small number of people who live there. Unlike other cities of small, cramped quarters, each family owns a freestanding home, with fertile ground around it. Much of this ground is the home of weeks and even some poisonous plants, but some has been cultivated for the growing of vegetables for the family’s use.

The city does have poor people, most of which live in rented homes that they share with many other families, each in a large room of a wide, multi-story home. These hovels are two or three stories high, made of mud brick, and house three to six families per level. Other poor live in small buildings with two to three rooms near the center of the city.

The craftsmen, merchants, and artisans try to live as close as possible to one of the many springs and ponds that dot the city. Each is surrounded by concentric circles of houses of mud brick construction, although these homes are often cleaner, better built, and much larger than the homes of the poor. They are also likely to be decorated with flags, chimes, and banners on the outside, and tapestries, potted plants, and paintings on the inside.

The wealthiest members of the city live farthest from the center for the most part. They have houses of worked stone, or at least a center of stone, with mud brick walls added on as their wealth necessitates. These homes are airy and often contain a private well. Even the wells of the rich run dry, however, and a well is no guarantee of water. Decorations in these homes include the tapestries and paintings of the middle class as well as sculptures, exotic pets or plants, flowering vines, and for the lucky few, tiny fountains.

Each of these largest homes sits on several acres of land, on which the city’s crops grow. The rich don’t like the necessity of having slaves an free farmers plod about their property all day, but the only other choice is to live further from the protection of the city or closer to the center, where even more poor live. Instead, they spend most of their time indoors, entertaining themselves with arts and crafts or indulging in plots to make themselves richer.

To the west, this circle of wealth breaks down, as lands owned directly by the Prime Druid fill most of the space. The crops grown here go directly to Venhis, and serve as money, keeping the necessity for minted coins low. In fact, taxes in Kaprak consist mostly of work on this communal farm, with the amount of work generally dependent on social class. Slaves and freemen generally work the fields, while the richest folk supervise. In Kaprak, however, supervision generally means that you get your choice of jobs; it still involves hard work.

Most of the citizens are humans. Few muls live in the city, and these are nearly all slaves purchased through trade. No local slavers breed muls. A fair number of elves and half-elves live in the city, and some of the half-elves have become druids, but the number of druid applicants is so high that few of any race are accepted. The largest group of demihumans is the dwarves, who are almost universally members of the working middle class. They make up the best craftsmen in the city.

A smattering of other races live in Kaprak—pterrans, thri-kreen, halflings, and aarocokra. These individuals are visitors who have chosen to settle here, and abide more or less by the city’s laws. None are native to the outpost.

Citizens with character classes are few. Many are fighters, but not as many as in some other cities. Thieves are common, as are bards. Preservers are mentioned elsewhere, and defilers are believed to be non-existent. Psionicists are in high demand and seem to be much rarer than they really are, since so many of them are secreted away by one merchant house or another. Druids, of course, are the most prominent, although their numbers aren’t as high as they might seem.

Organization

Venhis’s administrators are all druids, and they all take their orders from him or his second in command directly. He has taken the title of King when dealing with merchants, outsiders, and Sorcerer-Kings, but in Kaprak he goes by the title of Prime Druid, with his subordinate called the First Druid. A council of 5-9 druids at a time are all called Second Druids. Lesser bureaucrats become Third Druids and so on. The druids are not concerned with a specific duty, like bureaucrats in other areas. Each is instead responsible for a ward or neighborhood of the city. At the center of each area is a natural park or spring that the druid considers his guarded land.

Venhis has insisted that the people of Kaprak obey the druidic rules concerning the balance of nature, as sensitive as it is on Athas. Wild animals are allowed to move freely throughout the city, although they rarely do. Fires are encouraged, but they must be carefully watched lest they burn out of control.

The prevalence of druids gives the people some benefits other cities don’t enjoy. The druids encourage the earth to provide great quantities of food and water. Their ability to speak with plants and animals on their guarded lands makes discovery of crime and criminals easier for the druid than for his non-magical counterparts.

While the theocracy has its benefits for the people, the rule is hardly benevolent. Waste of water or natural resources is a capital crime. Defiling brings death for the entire family. Spies are often tortured to reveal information, and even suspicion of espionage brings brutal punishment. Slavery is not only allowed, it is considered necessary to harvest the bounty the earth provides in Kaprak.

Trade & Commerce

Naturally, foodstuffs provide much of the surplus for trade in Kaprak. Feathers, hemp, figs, nuts, vegetables, and wheat make up the most reliable sources of income. Fruits travel less well, but they can bring in a fortune when certain fast-moving caravans come to visit. Wax and honey are commonly produced, but their exportation is erratic. They are also in high demand locally, so most wax and honey stays in Kaprak.  The area produces several unique products that make their way around most of the Tyr region. One is the momo nut, a large nut the size of a peach. Its shell is thick but not very hard. The meat is soft, chewy and very flavorful, although it has a bad aftertaste. Another product that travels well and is becoming very popular is the sado, a large tuber that usually grows between 5 and 8 pounds. The people of Kaprak eat hundreds of these a year, and the very poor eat almost nothing else. A sado is sometimes cooked and served alone as a family meal, but the wealthy mash it and add nuts and sometimes honey and spices and eat it with meat. Small (about half-size) erdlu also provide numerous by-products and form a dietary staple.

Major imports include ceramic, any kind of metal, and any alcoholic drinks. While the people of Kaprak drink as much as anyone, many of the druids see the distillation of spirits as waste of good products. The locals do make a wine out of sado, but it is an acquired taste at best, and they are unable to export it due to a lack of demand. The wealthy also purchase gemstones when they are available, since the only sources are distant.

Local coins include an 8-piece, rather than 10-piece ceramic coin, struck bronze coins worth 5 cp, and tiny silver coins worth 10 cp. The ceramic is octagonal, so that each bit is a perfect triangle and shows the Prime Druid on the obverse and contains the symbols for all four elements and all four para-elements on the reverse. The metal coins are struck incuse, with the design imprinted into the coin rather than raised above it. The bronze tumaks feature an inix on the obverse, and a spade and a hoe on the reverse. They appear fairly regularly in large transactions. The silver coins, or antas, show an erdlu and a rim of feathers on the obverse and a distant mountain on the reverse. An anta is very rare and commoners are unlikely to see one in their lifetime.

Interaction With Other Cities

Kaprak and distant Tyr trade ambassadors and are on relatively friendly terms. Each has important items that the other desires in trade, so both cities benefit from a civil relationship. The leaders of Tyr seem to think that they can convince Kaprak to abandon its slave trade, but the Kaprak envoy maintains that no such liberation will occur in the foreseeable future.

Kaprak would like to be on friendly terms with Gulg and Nibenay, but ambassadors to Nibenay return without their heads, and the last ambassador to Gulg proved not only incompetent but downright harmful to further negotiations. The oba refuses to recognize Kaprak at all. Many of her followers favor closer relations and think that their precious forest could benefit from the presence of a few druids.

Urik once sent a military expedition to engage Kaprak. The leaders were inept, and the solders’ morale was low. The trek took its toll on man and beast, and the army was in poor shape for combat when it arrived. The onslaught was determined once it actually met the Kaprakians, however. The Prime Druid wisely chose to meet the Urikites on their own terms and held his powerful magic in check. The battle was close; the druids could have made the victory clearer and less costly in lives had their used their spells. Apparently, the foray proved to Hamanu that the fledgling city presented no threat. He never sent another official expedition, although junior officers occasionally find time to test small companies against Kaprak’s militia in order to blood their troops.

Power Sources

One merchant house has official sanction in Kaprak. House Ostuin has first bid on any government purchases, which supplies it with nearly all of its business. Because of its size and support, House Ostuin actually maintains a small school for training in the Way, solely for its members. The House is the largest in Kaprak and fairly ruthless with competitors. It stops just short of putting them out of business, however, because the ones that remain are so small that they fight amongst each other. These houses are all willing and eager to grow, however, and hire on adventurers eagerly.

House Ostuin has two dozen people involved in organization and administration, none of whom are druids. In fact, several of them are clerics who see things different than the druids do. About half are psionicists; Pory Ostuin, the House’s titular leader, has attracted the attention of the Order, although he refuses to join. He is fabulously wealthy and probably has enough bodyguards and slaves to protect him against nearly any physical attacks by the Order.

While the people here generally know the difference between defiling and preserving magic, they still distrust wizards and assume that anyone casting spells in the open is a defiler (except for the druids, of course). The Veiled Alliance has a chapter here, but its eligible membership numbers less than a dozen, of whom only six are members. The meetings are little more than social gatherings, and they don’t practice their craft even among each other very often. Because of the close friendship that the local preservers have developed, members of other Alliance chapters doubt that they would enforce requital if one of the members decided to quit, and so they don’t disclose secrets around members of the Kaprak chapter. This keeps Kaprak’s preservers ignorant of news that might be helpful.

Thieves naturally flock to the busy trading center. A small but active guild that calls themselves the Kirre’s Claw operates in Kaprak, robbing the merchants who visit and playing con games on their guards. They are not above picking the pockets of citizens and foreigners alike, and dark alley muggings occur here, too. The nominal leader is Rieza, a half-elven thief of great patience and control, but the real leader is her illithid "partner", a powerful psionicist even among mind flayers. Five years ago Seilan disintegrated someone who disagreed with him during a planning session. Nobody interrupts him ever now.

The Kirre’s Claw concentrates on foreigners whenever possible, trying to hit their caravans while stationed outside of the city. They like to steal coins (especially local ones), weapons, metal objects, and written documents. They do not steal from the druids, and they have even been known to return items accidentally lifted from them.

The current First Druid is a human female named Nkill. She owns a percentage of House Ostuin, albeit a tiny one. It allows her a reliable source of income and little else. As the premier legislator, however, she is offered bribes by virtually everyone with an interest at stake. House Ostuin is the main source of these bribes, and she accepts many of them. She doesn’t necessarily pass the laws that they prefer, however, and they understand. They attribute a decline to a power play and chalk it up to the loss as the cost of doing business. Nkill would not hesitate to execute anyone who grossly offered her a bag of coins. If someone wishes to bribe her, they should offer her a gift of jewelry, art objects, or an interesting magical toy.

The slaves in Kaprak actually have a sort of union, led by a mul named Miske. Two decades ago, he led the slaves to a near-successful revolt, only to be captured again. His high Charisma kept the druids from executing him. Further, only a quarter of the slaves were killed, and he was allowed to form his union to see to the betterment of the slaves. Since then, he has had many chances to leave Kaprak, but he has chosen to stay to do what he can for the slaves who once trusted him with their lives.

Miske has petitioned the First Druid to declare the killing of a slave to be a crime—although the punishment is a mere fine of 10 ceramics—and that the firstborn of any slave be a free person. These free children are generally kept on as servants at little pay, since they have no opportunity to learn useful skills for themselves or accumulate enough wealth to travel to another city. In return for favors, Miske has been known to help members of the Veiled Alliance pose as slaves (and return again). Conversely, slaves with an interest in magic can count on Miske to introduce them to the Alliance, in order to help them find a mentor.

NPCs

Venhis Nourald human druid

Pory Ostuin human psionicist

Rieza, female half-elf thief

Seilan, mind flayer

Nkill, 2nd druid

Miske, mul fighter

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