I’ve been working on some of our existing PDF entries – specifically the incomplete gazetteers. Just to clarify, I’ve not changed anything significant, just filled in some of the missing details and where necessary tweaked what exists to match newer information. This is not about invalidating earlier work, just adding to it. Karazam is effectively our “Arabian” province, in the same way that Shoryko and Han the Gem-Studded are “vaguely Oriental”. I’ve tried to stay true to the spirit of that (its an important fantasy trope, after all) but without too much open plagiarism and obvious stereotypes. They're actually not very Arabian in the final writeup.
As usual, critique and opinion from the original author(s) would be particularly welcome.
Nothing really. The majority of the old writeup only dealt with the Uathein region, so all I've done is insert various other regions around it. The Desert of Sweet Sighs and Iskandria sections come from the Osmopondian writeup, by the way.
The 'current events' section from the PDF I haven't put in here yet. I'm going to either integrate them into the politics of the region, or expend them slightly into adventures for the "101 Orthorian Adventures section"
Proper Name: Karazam the Splendid and the Free Tribes of Uathein
Provincial Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Leaders: King Najzeruseg; the Héshun; the Council of Heroes
Provincial Capital: Já Bor the Sacred
Major Cities & Towns: Iskandral, Nadamrabszallitum, Derusebbé, Kuth-Yaol
Districts: Desert of Sweet Sighs, Desert of Uathein, the Lake Kingdoms, Nupersolum, the Protectorate of Errod, Iskandria, Lake Dou
Resources: Horses, silver, iron, salt, adamantine, holy relics
Coinage: Hoopek (a thick ring of silver worth 2gp)
Population: 75% Human, 10% Gnoll, 10% mixed other races, 5% Giant.
Languages: Common, Gnoll, Giant, Ogre
Alignment (Populace): Lawful Neutral
Alignment (Law): Lawful Neutral
Prominent Faiths: Rialondru and Tyerusus, Kar Az (nearly forgotten demigod), Iskandros (demigod, Iskandria only, largely subsumed as an aspect of Didairdin)
Karazam has been part of many empires during its history. The OCA is only the latest power to claim it and despite their presence life goes on here much as it has for centuries, maintained by the twin imperatives of honour and a harsh climate. The landscape hosts several different races and the remnants of countless ancient kingdoms. Many treasures have been lost to obscurity in its ruins, and treasure-hunters still brave the wilds in search of them.
Like most of the former Parsadian territory, wars and empires have swept back and forth across Karazam since time immemorial. The names and causes of many of them have been lost, but a few remain notable in the wider history of Ortho and the OCA.
Ancient legends speak of Kar Az, Father of Giants, First Of all Men, and the original lord of Karazam: He was born from a large cactus and the magical urine of a great cosmic dragon that alighted to relieve itself upon the plant. Most of the legends concerning him are equally ridiculous; deserts created by Kar Az slaking his thirst, estuaries created by blows of his stone axe, mountains raised up to be the stones around his campfire, etc. Modern folktales of Kar Az paint him as an accidental trickster spirit; a bumbling gluttonous giant often causing more trouble than he solves. It’s uncertain exactly how much Harmonium influence has affected these legends, but in earlier versions Kar Az was certainly a more serious figure – a hunter and sorcerer who destroyed many monstrous creatures at the dawn of time. He was also a figure representing death and rebirth: in the ancient tales he dies several times but always manages to somehow escape the underworld and come back to life. Various hills and mountains in Karazam are held to be his tombs.
The Tyrant Invasion
Assisted by the wizards of the Third Cabal, the people of Karazam (and their giant allies) fought off a beholder invasion of their nation, enduring tremendous losses to ‘persuade’ the powers Keln that conquest wasn’t worth their while. Both Old Ghal and Xinndi fought in this war and still view the people of Karazam unfavourably because of it. Historians now believe that the ‘defeat’ of the ruling beholder clique of this time lead to some major political upheavals back in Keln, with the consequence that the beholder nation (as a whole) didn’t bother the rest of the world for quite some time afterwards.
The War of Giant’s Wrath
During the reign of King Shantofeir, some great insult or offence was committed against the native Karzite giants. The exact nature of it is sadly unrecorded, but the giant clans rose up against the Lake Kingdoms destroying several isolated temples, towns, and even a handful of cities. Eventually they were driven back by an army lead by priests of Riolondru, but the giants have retained a bad reputation with the Lake Kingdoms ever since. The nomads have more respect for the giants however, even though they must frequently compete with them for food and territory.
The Coming of Iskandros
History is first truly separated from myth with the coming of Iskandros, whose empire unified much of Karazam from the city of Guraket (modern Iskandral) along with Osmopondia and the Hazhkan coast. He was elevated to godhood upon his ritual suicide, and is still worshipped in Iskandral today. When his dynasty failed a few centuries later, formal rulership of Karazam passed to the Lake Kingdoms, largest unified component of the former empire. The Hazhkani coast however, chose to raise up a native general to be its royalty, but his domain soon fractured into a myriad of competing tribal kingdoms. Distance and terrain formed an effective barrier between Hazhkan and Karazam, and for many generations only nomad traders regularly used the spice road between the two countries.
In the aftermath of Iskandral’s decline the cities of Karazam soon fell back into ancient ways, warring amongst themselves for the various resources of the central peaks – especially the abundant veins of silver and adamantine. Land on either side of the future Osmopondia-Karazam border changed hands with fair regularity during this period, with no love lost between the two peoples.
Unlike their Osmopondian neighbours, the Karzites did not worship the Seven Archangels and were conservative in general. Religious differences combined with this and the authoritarian Karzite regime, creating cultural dislike between the two powers right through to the modern age. The Lake Kingdoms were enthusiastic applicants to the Alliance of Harmony, and assisted with great glee in the conquest of Osmopondia.
Beyond the squabbling city-states, the nomads and semi-nomads of the Free Tribes have lived almost exactly the same way for a thousand years. Proud of their independence, they come to the cities only occasionally, usually for trade but sometimes to setting a feud or other matter of honour. Even in these more integrated times the wanderers want little to do with their settled kin. In general the nomads prefer even a harsh life in the wilderness to the stereotypical soft, greedy, and deceitful world of cityfolk.
The Laughing Horde
A hundred years before Romhel, both the Free Tribes and Lake Kingdoms joined forces against a common foe: A vast horde of gnollish raiders, lead by a particularly brutal and cunning warlord from Kuth-Yaol called Azul Kemsa. His ruthless horse-warriors were supported by numerous monsters and a veritable army of ogres and ogre magi that disgorged from Kuth-Yaol, despite never having been seen in the region before. Gnollish lore claims that they came beneath the earth all the way from Mount Oriaguz in Shoryko, because both races worshipped the same debased fertility deity.
The horde was finally driven from the Lake Kingdoms when its nobles bribed Azul Kemsa’s sons to turn against him, but for almost a decade the Laughing Horde ruled virtually ruled karazam. During this time gnolls and ogres spread to every corner of the nation.
Life and Society
The human natives of Karazam are generally short, dusky-skinned, and wiry. Genasi are not unknown, mainly of earth and fire descent - some scholars think these are descendants of the slaves of genie kindred who came to Ortho long ago, but little of such matters can be proven. These half-bloods often figure in folktales (usually tricksters and malevolent sorcerers), and many still suffer prejudice among the nomads, save in enclaves like Derusebbé.
Karazam’s non-humans are made up of various different races, often migrants that came with some invasion or other but also several former ‘monstrous’ races that have joined the OCA. Gnolls and ogres are the largest racial groups, followed by giants – although the latter prefer an isolated existence far from civilization. Dwarves are also a sizeable minority, as are Aretai near the western border, especially Nupersolum (although they also dominate the ‘servant caste’ in Iskandral). Beholders are usually found on the Keln-border, either part of - or strenuously avoiding - Errod’s Warren.
As usual, ogres and lizardfolk are the most integrated ‘monsters’ in karazam, found mainly in the Lake Kingdoms. A few ogre clans live as Free Tribes in the wilderness (usually extremely primitively, sometimes as bandits), but they are rarely found in the tribes of other races; their giant-sized requirements make them too great a strain on resources. Lacerde are more welcome in the wilderness, as their traditional wilderness skills and mysticism usually stand even non-druids in good stead. In the hot clay city streets however, many lizardfolk seem to embody the ‘lazy rogue’ reputation of their race.
Dragons (especially Blues) are occasionally sighted out over the wilderness, with their lairs suspected to be somewhere in the Ulathein desert or high on inaccessible mountains. There’s also a dragon of unknown breed (known locally as the Salt Drake), thought to dwell somewhere under the salt flats around Lake Dou.
Giant clans generally prefer the wilderness, where the live in family-sized enclaves. A few have migrated to the cities however, using their immense size and strength to find work (often in the construction industry). A sizeable minority of giants also carry the mark of genie-blood, further enhancing their reputation for sorcery.
Gnolls can be found among both the Settled and the Free Tribes. The stereotypical nomad gnoll is a lazy scavenger, fun-loving, impious, non-too concerned with the law, and accompanied by jackals and hyenas. Gnolls in the lake kingdom have the opposite archtype: Formal, pious, mystically inclined and wise – either a priest, a temple guard. There are plenty of gnolls who are neither, however.
Undead of various kinds haunt the Desert of Sweet Sighs, both former harmonium and their elven enemies.
Karzite culture is broadly divided into four ‘kindreds’ – broad categories devised by the OCA for the harmonisation of Karazam’s various groups:
The Settled - Farmers and townsmen, but also used by the Free Tribes as a derogatory term to refer to just about everyone else in the world. Despite a reputation as soft city folk, many Settled face a strenuous, hardscrabble existence and the need to keep their crops protected from scavengers and the autharei. Honour, responsibility, and piety are still important to the Settled but they remain much more cosmopolitan than their close-knit and traditionalist neighbours.
The Free Tribes - These people are mostly nomadic, their lives centered on herds of goats, dogs, camels, and occasionally cattle, which accompany them across the plains and deserts. Nomad beasts are by necessity as rugged and disagreeable as the land itself, but highly prized for being able to adapt just about any terrain environment. As a result, Karzite breeds are in high demand on several off-world colonies.
The Free Tribes are more or less what outsiders see as the archetypical native of this land: hidebound, close-minded, knowingly ignorant of the outside world, and fairly xenophobic of anyone who doesn’t have it as difficult as they do. They are also extremely tough, fearless, pious, and honourable – qualities which make them highly prized as both fighters and scouts.
Rialondru and Tyerusus are the preeminent gods among them, part of a strict and orthodox faith much admired by certain elements of the larger temple hierarchy. Didairdin also has a very strong following among them, although those who dare to rank him preeminent among the gods are committing virtual heresy in the eyes of the tribal priesthood.
The Messengers – These honored souls have followed a calling to belong to no town or tribe. Sometimes they are outcast criminals who are simply too skilled and respected to simply kill, at other times an otherwise upstanding member of society feels the call. Whatever their history however, Messengers have a clean slate once they enter this caste. With the position comes an obligation to always speak the truth and a responsibility to spread news between tribes and towns. With all the enclaves, ethnic groups, and cultural differences scattered through Karazam, the Messengers are the vital glue keeping Karzite society together.
Messengers live alone but travel spreading news, rumors, tales of great deeds, and word of foul doings. Originally they carried small valuables and performed odd services for those who are otherwise isolated. In the modern age they are often encountered acting as merchants or guides for Venture Companies.
The Learned - A small caste not well-trusted by the Provincial authorities, this kindred is still too powerful to simply ignore. Heirs to the regional traditions of wizardry, scholarship, and other lore, the Learned mostly live apart from the rest of society, pursuing their own goals. When danger threatens Karazam however, they can respond with powerful magic.
The Learned study mainly matters of necromancy and transmutation, with an eye towards the latter for cruel and crippling reshaping of their subjects. They have still prospered with the coming of the Harmonium and exposure to the larger world. Only a cultural more of accepting apprentices only from within the Uathein tribes has kept the Learned as a kindred of the land, rather than dispersing into the larger society of Ortho.
It’s no secret that Karzite’s are prickly about their honour. The tradition is strongest among nomads, but even otherwise cosmopolitan city folk are unusually (to an outsider) concerned with propriety, duty, and a sense of ‘correctness.’
Karzite honour and spirituality are inextricably linked. Riolondru sets down the code of responsibility and conduct, and his son Tyerusus judges each being’s adherence to those laws when they die. Honourable conduct is pious conduct, and the dishonorable are sinning not just against their fellow men, but against the Lords of Order.
The Karzite Code is exceptionally long and complex, and racial and cultural biases swing various aspects of the code in and out of prominence, but in general the Code can be summarized as follows:
• Every fellow-tribesman is your brother and sister. Their parents are your parents; their children are your children. Family should never be betrayed; they must be given respect, obedience, aid, and when necessary chastisement – all in accordance to your rank as that of those in need.
• If a member of your family fails in their duty, you must complete it. Those who refuse their duties are refusing the will of the gods and the bonds of family. No tribe shall tolerate such a person. Exile is the punishment for their sin
• Propriety in all things. The correct way of doing something is that set down by Riolondru. Impropriety is a blasphemy. One who acts in the proper way cannot fail; even if they do not achieve their goals, the attempt is worthy and they will be rewarded in the judgment of Tyerusus
• Your place is appointed by Riolondru. Accept your lot. Life is hard because all life is a test. The true reward and true punishment comes only in the afterlife.
The key to the OCA’s success in Karazam is that they have made everyone part of the same ‘family’ (the OCA and Harmonium), obliging every honourable Karzite to uphold its dictates (and obliging the OCA to defend every Karzite as well). Their philosophy of “a hard life and a reward in the afterlife” also makes the people of karazam particularly fatalistic, but stoic to the harshness of their world and fearless in the face of danger.
The Province is administrated from the city of Já Bor the Sacred, heart of the Lake Kingdoms. King Najzeruseg VIII rules, but not autocratically; he must answer to a parliament of religious patriarchs, secular lords, and OCA officials called the Héshun (although many nobles derogatively call it ‘the council of Viziers’ in private). The parliament is strictly divided between its power groups, but the church is acknowledged to be the most powerful clique within it. Among the Free Tribes however, official edicts rarely receive more than cursory obedience. The clans’ chiefs form a “second Héshun” called The Council of Heroes, which is fiercely protective of nomad rights and downright obstructive to just about anything set out by the King - Karazam’s nomads prefer to administer themselves.
Honour-bound to follow OCA dictates but otherwise interested only in their personal freedoms and strict traditions, it is with some difficulty that the Harmonium has managed unified the nomad code of law, and the justice system is now largely harmonious and roughly in line with the Orthorian norm (although punishments are usually harsher). Tribal chieftains rule with few limits to their power, but are elected by means of challenge and contest at a special gathering called a Nadaam every eight years. The modern times a permanent ‘tent city’ for use in nomad gatherings has been provided by the OCA - The ‘city’ of Nadaamrabszallitum. Only here can tribal rulership be formerly acknowledged by the OCA.
Nadaams are nomad gatherings, where tribes meet yearly for trade, alliance, and general communication. Tribal leadership is also decided here: Those wishing to stand for chieftain compete in a series of grueling competitions (archery, wrestling, diplomacy, endurance, etc), with the eventual winner raised to the rank of chief for eight years. Any upstanding member of a tribe may apply for the Challenges, but most are weeded out swiftly.
For many people karazam is synonymous with parched deserts, windswept grasslands, and barren plains. There are more than nomads dwelling within her borders however, and despite its modern unity the land is divided by lines drawn in ages past (which often had no meaning to the inhabitants). Ancient empires have come and gone, and their peoples cling to local traditions; although peaceable, they have no intention of becoming a homogenous whole.
Desert of Sweet Sighs
The ever-creeping Desert of Sweet Sighs now extends far into both karazam and Osmopondia, and is one of the few points where the two Provinces cooperate fully. Ironically, the border of this otherwise desolate land is relatively busy: Units of Harmonium patrol the border and monitor its expansion, experts (cleric, druid, and wizard alike) study the sands, and there is a slow but constant trickle of refugees driven out as it approaches. Only the glittering city of Derusebbé seems able to withstand the desert, and even its inhabitants must content with the sands’ many ghosts and desiccated revenants.
The Kuth-Yaol region is home to Karazam’s gnolls, located in the southwest near the Osmopondian border. Once fearsome barbarian raiders who existed on a diet of intelligent beings and hallucinogenic fungi, the gnoll were thoroughly ‘pacified’ by the Harmonium during the War of Unification. Unlike many other monster races however, the gnolls accepted defeat before it became utter destruction and became loyal members of the Orthorian Central Authority. In much reduced numbers, they have now adopted the customs of civilized society; many migrated to the River Kingdoms (and beyond to Osmopondia) where food was plentiful. A remnant however, continue to live a nomadic life and a reputation as scavengers and thieves.
The Ruins of Kuth-Yaol
Kuth-Yaol the region is named after Kuth-Yaol the city, a ruin buried beneath the peak of Mount Ba-Megaron, former ‘sacred mountain’ of the gnoll tribes. Consisting of caves and tunnels spiraling deep beneath the earth, Kuth-Yaol was destroyed by the Harmonium because of its blasphemous religious practices and traditions of cannibalism and human sacrifice. Some have even linked its vile practices to the ogrish cult of the Dark Foster-Mother. It’s certainly no secret that the ogre invasions of Osmopondia swept out of this region, assisted by gnollish cavalry.
The gnolls now guard their own former capitol, watching for signs of evil spirits and the entombed former inhabitants. Occasionally a party of historians or Harmonium troops launch an expedition into the city to disarm its traps, destroy its lingering undead, loot its vaults, or uncover its secrets. Adventurers are also tempted to raid the ruins, braving the dangers for its potential reward. Every year the gnolls hang a band or two of potential tomb-robbers, but the Freefolk don’t seem to be getting the message.
The Lake Kingdoms
The Lake kingdoms have had a long history with the Province of Osmopondia, sometimes being all but a part of that land; sometimes fighting hard against just that. From the City of Ja Bor the Sacred on the shores of Lake Kara (‘Lake Splendour’), King Najzeruseg VIII rules over city states renowned for their clerical arts, and also oversees Provincial leadership as best he can.
“There are more temples than people by the lakes” as the saying goes. Temples dot the landscape, sited upon every spring and river in the otherwise generally parched land. Churches are a powerful political influence on local politics, controlling much of the arable land. The greatest, most ancient, and most honourable temples are those to Riolondru and Tyerusus of course, but in this enlightened age all the Lords of Order are paid their due.
Lake Dou & the Eastern Salt Flats
Lake Dou is an expanse of undrinkable salty water, a dead inland sea whose presence seems to taunt the dry lands around it.
A few villages and Hardhead bases manage to cling to life here in modern times, relying on magic and giant mechanical processing plants to provide them with food and water. Otherwise the lake is inhabited only by a colony of Mer, who are able to survive in the saline waters despite being far from the sea. Even they only survive through hardship however. As a result they are rather more reclusive and glum than most of their kind; peering out from unusually thick, salt-encrusted shells, the Dou Mer have a secretive and dangerous demeanour that sometimes seems to border on paranoia.
Lake Dou is also home to the brutal Saltbreaker Prison, which mines the areas copious salt reserves for export. Conditions are so harsh that even the guards consider assignment here to be a punishment. To be condemned to Saltbreaker is considered a fate worse than death among native Karzites.
In the remote eastern highlands of Karazam are the desert and plains of Uathein, stretching in a barren crescent that blights the land as far south as the mountains of Keln. A harsh, hard and unforgiving land, it has formed a natural boundary between Karazam and her neighbors for as long as anyone can remember. Its tribesmen are a people are insular, tough, and only nominally beholden to the Harmonium – the fiercest, most pious, and most dangerous of the Free Tribes.
The Uathein Desert is a bleak and forbidding expanse of ragged stone - granites and feldspar, difficult to crack or weather and resistant to any sort of plant life. The general lack of moisture and precipitation only make this land more desolate, creating a vicious circle of isolation - lack of rain keeps plants from taking form to break apart the rock into soil, lack of soil means the few plant seeds that do blow here fail to take root. There are a few instances in which life does blossom, though. Lichens, small mushrooms and other fungi can serve at the base of a scant ecosystem, able to cling somewhat to life even with so few natural resources. More prevalent is the autharei plant - a kind of vine that has sometimes been deemed 'desert kudzu' for its resilience, high ability to retain water and other nutrients, and rapid ability to grow to the limits of any cultivatable space and regrow after being damaged. Autharei is, in a sense, the keystone of any ecology in Uathein - one variety or another is usually the most commonly found plant, and those creatures able to feed off it are the dominant animal lifeform.
The one fortunate aspect of life in Uathein is that the lack of plant life and animals generally corresponds to a lack of predators and monstrous beasts. Though the land itself can be dangerous and difficult for humans to live in, it generally is the only threat to life and limb - other beings generally seek more hospitable climes.
Last remnant of an ancient empire, Iskandral is a city of faded glories drowning in sand and dust. The desert of Uathein encroaches more and more each year, turning grass to sand. Druids and ‘dust mages’ fight to prevent the area’s decline, but it’s a hard-fought struggle and probably a hopeless one.
The nobles of Iskandral fanatically maintain their ancient traditions (stemming from mixed Ulfrheim and Osmopondian blood), even going so far as to marry only among themselves. Concerned only with their internal rituals and the obedience of their Karzite subjects, the ‘Princes’ of Iskandria go to great lengths to pretend that Iskandros’ empire never crumbled. To them, all outsiders are barbarians and even the OCA is barely tolerated. The Harmonium nominally leaves the dying city to itself: They may be decadent and dying, but at least they’re lawful about it.
With all the kingdoms an empires who’ve claimed Karazam over the centuries, its unsurprising that ruins dot the landscape. Some are inhabited by the Settled, others by only wind and ghosts. Since the OCA took charge, many of these ruins have been pillaged for building materials and constructed upon – with ghosts of the past (sometimes figurative and sometimes literal) often being dragged into new towns an cities.
Nadamrabszallitum sits on relatively verdant stretch of plain. Originally forced on the nomads as away of keeping track of them, Nadamrabszallitum has been embraced by the nomads as their only ‘city’ and a permanent neutral locale for trade and arbitration. Once every eight years the population swells as nomads from across Karazam meet for the Great Nadaam – a great competition (and census) by which tribal nobility is determined and policy set.
The city of Nupersolum was capitol of the later Osmopondian colonization of Karazam – or invasion, as the Karzites called it. Situated on the narrow gap that leads from the sea to the bay of Drakonnghisi (‘Dragondrowned Bay’, another geological feature ascribed to a deed of Kar Az), this metropolis maintains many of the influences that founded it, also remaining Karazam’s largest seaport and strongest connection to the Osmopondia.
To its great regret, Nupersolum was left out of Osmopondia when the provincial borders were drawn. Since that time the inhabitants have championed constant calls to be made part of its former homeland – and the rest of the time it tries to seize the position of Provincial Capitol from Já Bor the Sacred. It is certainly a richer and worldlier city.
Seven-tiered Derusebbé sparkles on the desert horizon like a mirage made of jewels. Like many other cities of old Karazam, the Desert of Sweet Sighs stole the water from its wells, but the city not only survives but thrives in the waterless sea, sustained by powerful magic.
The Bright City is home to many sorcerers and conjurors, who consort with spirits, genies, and elementals under the watchful eye of the Harmonium. Genasi are a common sight here, especially among the magical elite.
Isolated in the depths of the desert, the Bright City is built and maintained by magic. Arts both arcane and divine provide food and water, raise buildings, and provide for the populace: Automatons (including tireless equine constructs for its cavalry), genies and elemental servitors, animated machinery, magical lighting, phantasmal art, and countless other wonders.
The Uathein nomads regard Derusebbé with mixed feelings. The Bright City is a luxurious refuge from the desert but a by-word in decadence. Elemental half-breeds also have a longstanding reputation as tricksters and curse-speakers, which does not endear the city’s wizards to the Free Tribes.
The Protectorate of Errod
Errod is a beholder colony in the Karazam’s southeastern mountains, occupying a locale that was once infamously dangerous due to an infestation of magical crossbreeds and monsters, set loose during the Age of Cabals. Many say with a wry smile that the area still is, just with more bureaucracy than before.
Errod’s Warren rules an expanse of inaccessible plateaus and jagged valleys, a single trade pass that leads to both Keln and Bafatai. Many ‘domesticated’ monsters live under Errod’s (metaphorical) iron fist, as do a few villages of mixed Bafatan and Karzite heritage. Although tolerant of legitimate travelers, Errod and his minions fiercely resist those who pry into their affairs.