Written by Valentýn Poláček, and first published on 2023-03-05
The latest in a series designed to provide DMs with encounter or location ideas to add flavor to their campaigns. In this installment, we focus on encounters involving the rulers of the city-states of the Tyr Region.
Encounters of Athas 04 - Lords of Athas
*By Valentýn Poláček
Most of the time, the sorcerer-kings of Athas remain sequestered within their palaces, maintaining their iron grip on the few remaining cities of the world indirectly through their representatives, the templars.
This article covers those instances where that is not the case.
Taking into account the vast differences in culture between each city-state, compiled here for your perusal are several possible instances where a lucky (or more likely unlucky) individual of otherwise unexceptional stature may find themselves confronted with one of the most powerful beings in existence.
Abalach-Re, Great Vizier of Raam
This unfortunate sorcerer-queen’s attempts to secure recognition from her populace and divert anger away from herself have unfortunately resulted in nothing but dismal failure. As the people reject worship of Badna and her claim to the position of ‘Great Vizier’, Abalach-Re’s powerbase is shaky at best. Most of the time, she remains within her palace, surrounded by the unsightly rings of ditches and other fortifications erected to defend her from her own people, but there are times when she departs to move about the wider world.
The Great Vizier is well aware of her highly precarious position atop the most populous city in the Tyr Region and seeks to entrench herself further by any possible means. As her templars are unable to move about the city except in large, obvious groups, she maintains a corps of well-trained clairsentients capable of directing their strikes in advance. On occasion, particularly skilled visitors to the city can find themselves suddenly demanded by a voice in their head to complete all manner of dirty work in exchange for a great deal of wealth.
Andropinis, Dictator of Balic
Despite the fact that the last vestiges of this Green Age democracy vanished centuries ago, the lord of Balic chooses to maintain the illusion of a free government in an effort to keep the dissatisfied elements of his populace under control. Unlike anywhere else in the Tablelands, the law in Balic is a matter of debate - constant and vicious debate, usually by the templars, who are skilled in twisting the letter of the law to suit them.
Andropinis oversees the election of new templars for their ten-year terms, but the counting of the vote has ceased to be performed by the Dictator himself as of late, in order to combat claims of a biased count. Instead, he picks a random individual from the crowd to count the votes. The catch, of course, is that should the individual correctly read the votes, Andropinis will have them enslaved for illegal literacy. Therefore, in order to survive such an encounter, the chosen individual must either declare themselves unable to count and thus escape responsibility or simply choose a candidate and count out a stunning victory for whoever they favor, regardless of what the votes say. In this way, the chosen civilian could declare the victory of a write-in candidate and elect almost anyone, even themselves, to the templarship. Anyone who challenges the verdict can only prove its illegitimacy by being arrested for literacy.
Andropinis, it is said, is exceedingly proud of this method by which he flouts democracy.
Borys, the Dragon of Athas
Rarely, if ever, leaving his sanctum of Ur Draxa in the Valley of Dust and Fire, the one and currently only Dragon of Tyr still manages to be a common sight to the Tablelands’ beleaguered masses. Every year he demands the Seven Cities fulfill The Dragon’s Levey, where one thousand souls from each city are taken away by the Dragon to some distant clime, whereupon they are never seen or heard from again. This has been occurring for as long as any Athasians can remember - even tales as old as the oldest living Athasian’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather do not predate The Dragon’s Levy. Most believe it will never end.
Encountering the Dragon in person usually means a quick, painful death at Borys’ claws, but there does exist testimony to the effect that this is not always the case. He is known to come early for The Levy on occasion, thus allotting time for the lords of the Seven Cities to bluster and delay in providing their share without missing his deadline. As a result, when that time of year rolls around, the Dragon may be found perched atop one of the sorcerer-king’s palaces like a vulture waiting for prey to pass below. Those bold enough to disturb him would do well to understand that their lives last only as long as his amusement.
Daskinor, Warden of Eldaarich
Terrified Daskinor is the ruler of Eldaarich, a far northern city where none wish to live and no life is fulfilling. Constructed for no other reason than to put walls and gates between Daskinor and the objects of his fear, whatever they may happen to be, this place is ruled by terror and misery as the irrationality of its ruler perpetuates a cycle of horror that permeates every aspect of Eldaarich’s society to this day.
While most might imagine that Daskinor would never leave his palace bedroom, cowering behind locked doors and shuttered windows, the irrationality that characterizes his fear has often resulted in many highly peculiar situations, some even involving the unlikely prospect of Daskinor departing his palace for fear that it has been infiltrated. At the height of his episodes, he has even been known to run screaming from his palace, seizing the hem of a foreigner’s cloak and demanding protection from a squad of crack assassins that do not exist.
Hamanu, Lion of Urik
By far the greatest threat to freedom in the Tyr region, Urik’s indefatigable army has never known defeat beneath the watch of their great commander, Hamanu, possibly the greatest military genius to ever draw breath in the history of Athas. The only section of the populace that can claim any sort of love for the king-cum-warlord is the military, who have a greater respect for their liege than any of their counterparts in the Seven Cities or beyond.
Encountering the Lion of Urik is rather a simple matter, for all one must do is stray too near to an army encampment on the wrong day. Most of the time, Hamanu remains in his palace to train the soldiers there, but not all of his soldiers are stationed within the city, and at times he finds it necessary to depart in order to ensure that men posted far from the crown are not growing idle in their duties. Strong-looking foreigners that stray too near an army camp while Hamanu is testing the mettle of the men there may find themselves thrown into the fray by the Sorcerer-King, demanded to teach some of the harsher lessons of the martial arts to particularly recalcitrant troopers.
Kalak, Tyrant of Tyr
Once the jewel of the Tablelands, Tyr’s precipitous decline has come in no small part because of the power-hungriness of its ruler, the self-styled Tyrant of Tyr, the sorcerer-king Kalak. Once nearly as efficient as the city of Nibenay, Kalak has torn the economy of Tyr asunder so that he might instead accelerate the construction of the ziggurat that will grant him ultimate power. In his frenzied state, the only thing that matters at all to him is the completion of this structure, no matter the cost in coins or in lives.
Meeting Kalak results in death a large portion of the time, even for particularly high-ranking templars or other such important officials. Luckily, his only public appearances are at the city’s gladiatorial games, which have become more and more frequent in an attempt to buoy the mood of the city. However, his recent paranoia has spelled danger for sellswords and other traveling warriors – when he feels he cannot trust his templars with a task, he may psionically demand a foreigner to complete it soon after they enter the city, under the assumption that someone not tied up in Tyr’s political intrigues will be less likely to betray him. Woe to these unfortunates, for attempting to flee Tyr or failing in Kalak’s task will spell certain doom.
Lalali-Puy, Oba of Gulg
Gaining access to the sorcerer-queen of this forest city is surprisingly simple – anyone can simply request an audience. Though it may take months for an individual who is not noteworthy to reach the front of the line, through this means, almost anyone can obtain an audience with mighty Lalali-Puy.
The question, then, is why would one want to? The Oba is known for her mood swings and may, depending on her mood at the time of the audience, either condemn the unlucky individual to an ugly death or make them a permanent fixture in the court. Many an arrogant bard has, in the past, believed his talents to be sufficient to land him a permanent position in the court, only to find out that Lalali-Puy did not favor his choice of instrument and ended up in the arena, instead.
Oronis, Lord of Kurn
Perhaps the least notable of all sorcerer-kings, Oronis’ city-state has been dying for many years now. More and more of the city is found empty every year, and soon the entire place shall be nothing but an empty shell. Oronis, the lord of Kurn, sits perched in his palace in the center of the city, seemingly caring little as to where to or why his populace is disappearing. Despite the fact that his city has declined to the point that raiders see it as a promising target – something that none of the other city-states have ever had to fear – he seems content to simply while away his days studying various esoteric topics rather than investigate the phenomenon.
Foreigners who visit the city often find it a chilling sight: most of it is empty, and the parts of it that are not are very dissimilar to their equivalents in other cities. Slaves seem content and their masters gentle. Food is plentiful and beggars are nowhere to be seen, yet fewer and fewer people exist within its walls every day. Just as in Gulg, anyone, even foreigners, may petition the Lord of Kurn for an audience, but unlike in Gulg there is no waiting period. Indeed, the only obstacle to those wishing to speak with Oronis is the peculiar fact that he seems to take frequent outings from his palace, lasting sometimes a week or more. When he is present, he politely refuses to discuss the strange circumstances within his city, dismissing anyone who presses him too intently.
Nibenay, Shadow-King of Nibenay
This hooded eccentric is the second-most reclusive sorcerer-king in the Tablelands and certainly the least involved in his city’s affairs. Almost all of his time is spent within the Naggaramakam, which places him quite thoroughly out of the reach of anyone besides his Templars and those scholar-slaves that are permanently confined to the place.
However, more than one unfortunate traveler has reported encounters with strange lone individuals in the wilderness. It is possible and perhaps even likely that on those occasions when Nibenay finds himself in need of a particularly rare ingredient or possessed of a particularly degenerate carnal craving, he may find himself with no choice but to quietly slip out of the city and seek his quarry in the wilderness. Any wanderer unfortunate enough to encounter him during his hunt may find much more than they bargained for.
Tectuktitlay, Master of the Two Moons
Adopting a similar style of rulership to the Queen of Raam, Tectuktitlay seeks to deify himself in the eyes of his people, but unlike the so-called Great Vizier, Tectuktitlay has been vastly more successful due to his incredible dedication to the act and the brutality with which he demands the populace go along with it. Only the citizenry of Gulg is more thoroughly indoctrinated by their evil master than the Draji.
Tectuktitlay is not particularly easy for the common man to approach, as his godlike stature – or his efforts to be perceived as such – keep him distant from the main body of his population. However, there is an exception to this: when his warriors are particularly successful in bringing him prisoners to execute, the sorcerer-king of Draj has been known to declare the day dedicated to a series of gladiatorial games, for which those he favors are allowed easy viewing. Among these are weapon-crafters, the services of which are in high demand among the Draji. Visiting weaponsmiths may find themselves quickly reported to the sorcerer-king and ‘convinced’ to take up permanent residence there. For, indeed, who can decline the hospitality of a god?