The Burnt World of Athas

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Dear friends, I have another clairvoyant missive to share with you in the name of the Athasian Survey Project.

Two days ago, the Shom merchant skimmer reached the trade fortress of Altaruk. The journey up the northern branch of the Estuary of the Forked Tongue was a hostile one. It seems switching to travelling with humans has proven much less safe, as we’ve been on the defensive against hostile giant tribes all the way down the estuary.

This very much explains the geographical anomaly that is Altaruk. Only by visiting the place can you understand why it has proven a cartographer’s nightmare since the trade guilds set up their first dock and fortification untold years ago.

This corner of the Estuary has always had strategic value to the city states of the central Tablelands, but due to its relative shallowness, it has been a popular and defensible travel route for giants as well. As a consequence, it seems like no single attempted rebuilding of Altaruk has ever lasted longer than a king’s age, no matter where they relocate within this area or how heavily they fortify it. Indeed, the harbour has changed location far fewer times than the fortress itself. This explains why there are so many contradictory maps for both the location and the layout of Altaruk itself.

This is not to say those older maps aren’t still useful, as some have taken commissions from the merchant houses to raid the ruins of the old settlements in an effort to salvage goods or information that had been lost.

In the image, you can see the ruins we saw as we sailed into the harbour. The devastation visited even upon the heavy stone fortifications was testament to both how untenable this place is, and how intractable its residents must be.

When we arrived at the harbour, I followed the tenuous trail towards the rather heavily fortified village. This is where it became clear I had made the right decision to show up as part of a trade caravan– it seems the residents of Altaruk are every bit as armoured and guarded as their fortress. This guardedness remained true throughout my visit. Quick to barter and even quicker to anger, it certainly gave a ring of truth to the rumours that the governing trade guilds are accustomed to dealing with trade visitors as legendarily difficult as the Sorcerer Kings Hamanu and the late Kalak, and perhaps even worse.

Once trade house Shom had completed their business, we parted company and I rendezvoused with my contact, the landlord of one of the smaller pubs and a skilled Earth cleric. It has only been at his lodging where I’ve finally found a secure and private enough location to send my missive.

Tomorrow, I will make my way inland towards Urik. Until next time, may the moons guide you.

Altaruk Trade Fortress ruins
Altaruk Trade Fortress by Neujack

(To anyone who can guess the source of this image on Earth, I have a rather spiffing set of branded beer mats from Halgar’s Gilded Fester tavern. I was told by the dwarven landlord himself they were made of authentic half-giant’s hide, collected personally from the backside of someone who didn’t pay their tab. I wasn’t sure if he was having a laugh or not, but it would explain the hair…)

Sources: * The adventure: The Tunnel Beneath, from Adventures in the Dead Lands * Dark Sun Austin ( * Many, many different maps of Altaruk made by DS fans through the years


Been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs since 1987. Been playing Dark Sun since it was released. Returned to Athas in 2020 for its expanded timeline and geography.