Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Baklunish West, Part II
Date: Wed, March 09, 2005
Topic: Greyhawk Gazetteer
At last, our grand tour of the Flanaess comes concludes with a glimpse into the far-off lands of Tusmit, Ull, and Zeif.
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer Addendum: The Baklunish West, Part II
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The independent state of Tusmit was originally a province of the Sultanate of Zeif, given over to Ekbir as compensation for the damage she suffered during the rise of the Brazen Horde. Social reformers from the caliphate came to Tusmit to organize reforms in the new province, but the notoriously independent nobles of the country forced Tusmit’s pasha to declare his state’s independence, though he acknowledged the caliph of Ekbir as his personal superior and paid homage to the latter. Even this would not be enough for those nobles who followed the True Faith, forcing the pasha to also request support from the grand mufti of the Yatils, the head of the True Faith exiled after the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar were stolen centuries ago.
In this way, the pasha of Tusmit pledged loyalty to both the Exalted and True Faiths, all while heeding the demands of his obstreperous nobles, who held no one as their superior. The status of “orem” or “one set apart” was the major source of the pasha’s power, showing him as chosen by the mufti of the True Faith to lead the nation.
For decades afterwards, Tusmit used skilful diplomacy, underhanded trickery or honest compromise as necessary to maintain her holdings and independence without engaging in war. She balanced the demands of those nobles who followed the Exalted Faith with those of the True Faith; she balanced all the desires and demands of her neighbors; and she avoided angering any of the more powerful states around her while heeding the desires of her people to always remain independent.
Of course, the excitable citizens of Tusmit would sometimes demand hard action, and the silver-tongued diplomacy of the pasha would wear thin with the people. This occurred with the unpopular Pasha Jadhim/orem, who was deposed by a charismatic young Faris, a knight of the True Faith, Muammar Quran. The endless sniveling and wheedling of the pasha had worn thin with the people, and when he was deposed, Jadhim/orem fled his homeland for the court of the caliph of Ekbir, where he now lives under house arrest.
Muammar Quran has set about reversing some of the actions of Jadhim/orem, attempting to clean up the debauchery, graft and incompetence of the old regime and seeking the return of state treasures stolen and hidden by his predecessor. All of these actions made him stand out from most of Tusmit’s previous pashas. But, what made Quran truly unique was his refusal to pay homage to the caliph of Ekbir or receive the blessing of the grand mufti of the Yatils. Thus, he offered no homage to either the True or Exalted Faiths of Al’Akbar.
Instead, he threw his support behind Murad and Zeif, and opened his nation’s doors to the advisors and ministers of the sultanate. This alliance has made many inhabitants of the Tuflik Valley, where most of Ekbir’s cities and urban folk are located, very pleased with his rule. Despite giving up Tusmit’s rich holdings south of the Tuflik River, the alliance with Zeif has brought a great deal of wealth into the pockets of the urban people. They also no longer fear attack by Ekbir, and believe that the sultanate’s influence can be used to deter any attacks by Paynims or infiltrations by Ket.
Infiltrations by Zeif are another matter entirely. With so many ambassadors and officials of Zeif in the region, a few people of the Tuflik Valley and the wilder northern regions of Tusmit are growing increasingly afraid of the sultanate’s influence. Many criminals from Zeif, Komal, the Ataphads, Ull, Ket and other regions are also thought to be flocking to Tusmit, attracted to what they feel is a more conducive atmosphere for “business” and the growing international intrigue.
What upsets the rural northern nobles much more are what they see as Quran’s religious faults. Fanatically devoted to the True Faith, they have little support for the new pasha, and are putting pressure on him to appear before the grand mufti of their faith if he wants to retain his office. This is something he is unlikely to do, given that the grand mufti would likely censure him for violating his oaths towards the caliph of Ekbir. While the Exalted and True Faiths are rivals, they would both disapprove of someone breaking an oath to the other.
In sum, Muammar Quran has brought new wealth and a sense of purpose to most of the urban folk of Tusmit, and they are very happy with his rule. The growing discontent of his rural northern nobles, however, and the souring relations with Ket and Ekbir may cause serious problems in the future.
Society and Culture:
The people of Tusmit are all essentially the same in that they all are rather selfish and conniving; while they hold to the honor, traditions, family loyalty and other main values of the Baklunish, they apply them in rather narrow, selective ways. Nobles tend to apply the principles they espouse only to others of their social class, while urban folk tend to reserve their most honorable behavior and charitable donations to other city people. Rural farmers tend to be suspicious and hostile towards outsiders, only behaving well towards other rural people and their own country aristocracy.
As a result, Tusmites are perceived by their neighbors as being crafty, sneaky, and conniving. It is true that they are skilled negotiators and hard bargainers, being able to get the best end of a deal even against Kettite merchants, but only some of the urban residents of the Tuflik Valley regularly engage in con games, cheating, and lying. More often, Tusmites are masters of finding legal loopholes in agreements, and resolving their disputes in a bloodless manner. Negotiation and compromise are common, especially in the urban areas.
This enables them to deal with their many neighbors, all of whom have varying interests and tempers, without getting the latter angry at them. Outright falsification and deception can be used in the most urgent cases, but otherwise, Tusmites prefer to avoid telling lies that could capture them later on. Given that Ket, Zeif, Ull, and the Paynims all covet Tusmit’s riches to some degree or other; it is not surprising that negotiation and slippery political maneuvering have become so prevalent. However, outright oath-breaking is considered an insult and grave offense, and an oath-breaker is treated even worse in Tusmit than he is elsewhere in the Baklunish West.
These traits stand out most clearly among the urban city-dwellers of the Tuflik Valley. In addition to the general cultural mores described above, the inhabitants of the Tuflik Valley are known for welcoming people of all races, faiths and most importantly all coins to their lands. Mercenaries from every surrounding land walk among the natives of the Tuflik region, as do fine artisans and craftsmen. Citizens of the valley use their negotiating skill to build on rich commerce, where anything can be had, for a price. Even mercenaries and thieves can sell their services more or less openly.
Thus, criminals and foreign interests hold great sway here, and crime and intrigue are thick as a result. This is more or less tolerated by permanent residents, as long as laws are not overtly broken, and outright crime such as murder or arson is not committed. If outright crime must be carried out, then it should be restrained as much as possible.
The rural farmers are very different in this way. They exploit laws and use agreements in the same way as do their southern urban countrymen, but adhere much more strictly to the letter of the law. Instead of signing agreements and finding loopholes later on, the rural farmers are much more inclined to talk openly and bluntly about their disputes, and are less willing to let smooth talking go. Being very conservative, uneducated, and fanatical in their adherence to the True Faith, the rural farmers openly loathe demi-humans, women who appear too independent, and outsiders in general, seeing them as corrupting influences from the debauched cities of the Tuflik Valley, or worse yet, foreigners who are a threat to their independence.
Since many of their neighbors are interested in their money, their territory, or both, Tusmites can be very nervous about and protective of their independence and sovereignty. They tend to react defensively to the proclamations of foreigners, and can go from their usual pliable selves to hard, harsh, and decisive in an instant when their usual policies of negotiation and smooth talking do not seem to be working. This is what brought about Jadhim/orem’s great unpopularity and eventual ousting as pasha by Muammar Quran. The aristocrats, who greatly magnify the traits of the common people they rule under whether urban or rural, always demand it.
The aristocrats are generally thought to be the true power of Tusmit. Either being wealthy and decadent or notoriously suspicious and hostile of foreigners, depending on where they live, they are the most important of the many interests the pasha has to juggle in his job. The only social distinction in the realm is between its commoners and nobles; nobles have many privileges commoners do not, and only nobles may participate in the government.
The pasha is supposed to stand above the noble houses and rule the realm as a whole, but in truth he serves at the pleasure of his people. While only nobles may become royalty by assuming the title of pasha, the common folk also have an important say in how long the pasha stays and whether he is doing a good job. If the people like the pasha’s policies, he may pass his throne on to his son (only men may be pashas in Tusmit); otherwise, it is common for unpopular pashas to be deposed in relatively bloodless coups. Such is accepted by the people, and regarded as a normal part of political life.
The pasha has no official checks or balances on his authority, but the simple fact that his hold on power is at the pleasure of the populace means that he can rarely act of his own full and free will. Only the most dominant personalities can hope to do this; otherwise, the pasha must use his political skills to keep everyone as happy as he can.
The people of Tusmit are not warlike as a rule, and as a result, most of their armies are weak by Flanaess standards. Medium cavalry in scale and bearing spear and scimitar is the best of the lot, although the Farises that command it lack the honor and dignity of their peers in Ekbir, most of them having acquired their titles by purchasing them. Heavy infantry usually wears chain mail, small shield, and falchion. Although, these generally have problems with coordination and discipline that are a perpetual embarrassment.
In general, the army is poorly commanded and poorly trained in comparison to its neighbors. Tusmit lacks the funding and discipline for its armies that its merchants and diplomats do, often forcing commanders to rely on hired mercenaries from different nations. The problems of national allegiance and rivalry, the language barrier, and coordination and training are all embarrassing problems as a result.
Jadhim/orem was both respected and hated by almost all who met him. A short, pudgy lump of a man, Jadhim/orem had bright black eyes, hands that perpetually twiddled his fingers, flashed bright toothy smiles, and seemed to waddle around as if he could not move his legs. His hair, moustache and beard were always waxed so they shone brightly, and he could be found dressed in the most ostentatiously colorful clothing and jewels. He spoke in a rather sniveling tone that nonetheless dripped honeyed promises and sweet compliments.
Most people who met Jadhim/orem hated him, for he was a man who would do anything and everything politically necessary to achieve his ends. While he had no religious feeling or sentiments, he cheerfully pledged loyalty to both the Exalted and True Faiths, receiving the title of “orem” as a way to endear himself to his subjects and prove himself a hard worker. He remained pasha because he managed to set himself up as the best man for the job by responding to the wishes and feelings of his people, skillfully reading them and acting however needed to stay in power. He blew as the winds blew, and always crafted policies to win public opinion. Of course, his irritating manner and smug condescension wore thin even with Tusmites who normally appreciated these kinds of policies, and his perceived weakness on protecting his nation’s independence eventually led to his ouster.
In private, Jadhim/orem was a notorious debauch, engaging in whiskey, women and drugs all at once. He could spend entire days on his couch and hookah, enjoying a drug-induced stupor that could only be broken by the direst emergencies. Dispensing government positions and appointments freely, he cared little if he gave important jobs to blundering imbeciles. It was done as a political tool to win the approval and support of citizens both urban and rural who might otherwise have viciously denounced him. He also stole and sold valuable treasures of the state, and what he did not sell he took with him when he fled to Ekbir after his overthrow.
Muammar Quran is almost the exact opposite of Jadhim/orem. Tall, dignified, and handsome, he cuts a dashing figure in his banded armor, deep green and saffron-gold robes, and with his two-handed scimitar strapped to his back. Generally quiet and reserved, he speaks only when necessary, and always does so incisively and to the point; he wastes few words and always gets to the point.
Known as a straight arrow, Quran is a non-drinker who scrupulously avoids both drugs and carnal pleasure like the plague; he is a hard worker who toils and works twenty-four hours a day and has no time to waste on frivolous pleasures, or so he says. Rumors circulate of Quran holding orgies to rival those of Jadhim/orem’s in private, and the previous pasha’s graft and patronage continue under Quran. However, what tends to alarm people is that rather than giving these positions to recalcitrant citizens, he is giving them to foreigners from other lands and powers, especially Zeif.
Whether he is honest or not about his private life, Quran is honest in his claims that the Baklunish peoples’ adherence to tradition has slowed their development, and that the presence of clerics and religion are a bad influence on secular monarchs. Religion should be secondary in service to the state, he claims. Hence his alliance with Zeif and his cooperation with Sultan Murad in the latter’s attempt to reestablish his influence over the whole of the lands the sultanate once lost. Hence, also his refusal to pledge allegiance to either the Exalted Faith’s caliph of Ekbir or the True Faith’s grand mufti of the Yatils.
Hence, also the source both of his power base and political opposition. Many Tusmites agree with him about the influence of religion and to a lesser degree about the adherence to tradition, though tradition still remains as strong in Tusmit as it does among the other Baklunish states. His desires to work more closely with Zeif has brought wealth to many of the people of the Tuflik Valley, and also been applauded by those urban aristocrats who feel that an alliance with Tusmit will be a valuable aid against Ekbir, Ket, and many demi-humans from the Yatils and Tusman Hills. The urban aristocrats are happy to find compromise with their neighbors and try out many different solutions to reach such an end – as long as it is to their satisfaction.
The rural farmers are not happy. They loathe the godless (as they see it) people and state of Zeif more than anything else, and distrust what they see as a takeover of Tusmit using Tusmite techniques of negotiation and clever talking. While Quran always talks straight and honest, belying his rural heritage, he is still an intelligent politician. The rural folk feel that Quran is helping Zeif take over their homeland. They also innately loathe him not only for rejecting the True Faith and refusing to see the grand mufti of the Yatils, but also for refusing to honor the caliph of Ekbir as they feel he should. While they have no love for the Exalted Faith, a promise is a promise, and the rural folk hate people who break promises.
Tusmit has little love for its neighbors, and they regard it in the same way, dealing with it more by necessity than by desire. Ekbir is grudgingly respected by most citizens, though they hate their neighbor’s prudishness and pompous attitude. Nonetheless, they still respect the law-abiding nature of the people of Ekbir, and find the latter’s honest and open virtue amusing and even charming at times. The people of Tusmit dislike the nosiness, greed, and trickery of the people of Ket, and feel that they have perverted the traditions of the Baklunish too much with their many variations and twists.
Zeif is seen as a mostly benign neighbor, though some fear its prevalent commercial and cultural influence, and are wary of its increasingly pushy diplomacy towards Tusmit. Tusmit hates and loathes the people of Ull, and dislikes the demi-humans of the Yatils for their hard commercial policies and their alliances with Ket.
The realm’s diplomacy reflects most of the attitudes of its people, except that Zeif and Tusmit are growing increasingly close, something that contributes to growing alarm in Ekbir and Ket. Ekbir and Tusmit are also engaged in a war of words that grows increasingly hostile over the diplomacy and actions of Pasha Muammar Quran. Neither side really wants to go to war, but this seems like a more and more realistic possibility. Some on both sides of the dispute whisper that Zeif is encouraging this to weaken its opponents before it strikes itself.
The Yorodhi were an Oeridian tribe who were much less warlike than most of their fellows, and thus avoided joining the rest of their people on the Great Migrations to the Flanaess. They eventually established villages and towns, and began peaceably trading with their Baklunish neighbors, who were for the most part fighting each other and suffering after the destruction of their empire. The Yorodhi took most of this in stride, happy to provide for all sides. Their only true enemy was the humanoids of the Ulsprue and Crystalmist Mountains. The Yorodhi had settled in the lands between these ranges, and generally dwelled in prosperity, fighting only when necessary.
Most Yorodhi were not inclined to violence, but the wicked Baklunish tribes of the Uli certainly were. The Uli were a Paynim tribe that was infamous for its looting, raping and violent savagery, who had been banished from the heartland of the Baklunish Empire centuries before its destruction. When the Empire was destroyed, the Uli found themselves in a powerful position compared to most of their more goodly neighbors, who were in dire straits after the empire’s fall. They looted and plundered, killing everyone they encountered, and eventually settling on the Yorodhi as their most persistent targets.
The Uli at first merely raided the Yorodhi, but eventually made themselves masters of the region, enslaving the Oeridian inhabitants and creating a new state in their own image, which they called Ull. The Uli made their living off the backs of the Yorodhi, even as they rekindled hatreds with their neighbors that had lasted for centuries. It was said that the Uli would always be outcasts and exiles from the rest of the Baklunish, hated by all except themselves; and this was indeed true.
When the Brazen Horde invaded the eastern lands of the Baklunish West, Ull suffered with all its civilized neighbors. It experienced raids and murder for itself, and suffered such depredations that some of the enslaved Yorodhi were able to free themselves and attempt to cleanse their homeland of the hated Uli. These efforts were unsuccessful, and the Uli eventually triumphed over all their enemies. The Brazen Horde moved on, and the Yorodhi remained enslaved, though some of the escaped slaves fled to the wilderness of the Dry Steppes, where they have become nomads who remain eternal enemies of the Uli.
Ull has perhaps changed least of all of the eastern Baklunish states since the arrival of the Brazen Horde. It pays no tribute to any of the Baklunish gods except for Geshtai, and holds evil gods such as Ralishaz and Incabulos as their patrons. They also hold to perverted versions of the ancient traditions, and have taken up the worship of demons and refusing to pay homage to the gods. They instead worship demon lords and the spirits of their own ancestors, who they hold to be superior to any deity. Their evil knows few bounds, and they remain as they always have a plague upon the Baklunish.
Society and Culture:
The Uli embody all the worst traits of the Baklunish character in their treachery, fanatical savagery, and their adherence to a brutal social structure passed on from their ancestors. They also have the abhorrent traits of faithlessness, racism, and cruelty that is appalling to most of their Baklunish neighbors. These traits could be considered sweeping generalizations for most other realms, but for Ull they are almost the unvarnished truth. And they apply even more to those clans who typically dwell in cities even more so than to the wicked nomads.
The only people of Ull that can properly be considered citizens of the nation are the human Paynim tribe of the Uli. They are organized into many nomadic or semi-nomadic families that are each ruled by some dictatorial leader or other. Usually it is the eldest, strongest, most charismatic, or magically skilled man in the group. He almost always enforces his dictates by brute force, and can take what he wants when he wants it from other members of his family. The only way his family can resist is to fight back. As a result, individual family members often fight each other for control and survival.
Each large family fights within itself, but it also fights with other families as well. Different groups battle with each other with both pen and sword for power, wealth, influence, and favor with the royal family. Between the major families of Ull exists backstabbing and cutthroat politics similar to those of Aerdy, without the civilized niceties that the latter empire has; every family except that of the royal house has to hold whatever it can by force. One family might control the city of Kester, either alone or with other families it dominates, in one year. Then one of the families it has dominated may ally with an enemy of the first, take over the city, and then slit the throats of his would-be allies.
Over this chaotic morass rules the Orakhan, part of the family that has ruled over the Uli since ancient times. He rules like a dictator over all the Uli, and by tradition he has the right to kill any who do not obey him, give him tribute in the forms of slaves, family members or treasure, or who simply get on his bad side that day. The position of Orakhan is technically hereditary, but the vicious codes of assassination and dueling set up in the traditions the Uli have held since their genesis, usually lead to the Orakhan getting killed and replaced by his slayer sooner or later.
The rigid social traditions of the Uli are in their own way very chaotic; murder, Byzantine politics, slavery and betrayal are all common facts of life. The Uli hold these traditions as being the most holy of all things; thus they worship the ancestors who passed these on to them, rather than any of the traditional Baklunish deities, save for Geshtai. Demons and rogue cults of Incabulos and Railshaz have also found strong followings here. The conflicting religions of Ull thus lead to ugly religious wars between clans, adding yet another ingredient to the fiery brew that is Ull culture.
The Uli society is both patriarchal and racist; most men treat their horses and even their pigs better than they treat their women. Dwarves, elves and gnomes, seen as allies of the more good and lawful Baklunish peoples, are reviled and persecuted. Some few halflings who have a particularly savage streak and antisocial tendencies are the exceptions to the rule, and they live and even thrive in Ull, though they wisely stay out of their human neighbors’ insane power games.
Slavery is not only accepted but common; in fact, a man’s wealth is more often measured in the numbers of people he owns as opposed to the number of horses. The Uli kidnap many of the slaves they sell and own by themselves, but unethical merchants commonly visit the markets of Kester and Ulakland to take part in the Baklunish West’s rich slave markets, as do amoral pashas, nawabs and emirs from the civilized Baklunish realms.
As if all this was not bad enough, the Uli are also known for consorting with humanoids. All of Ull’s human and demi-human neighbors are its enemies, and it receives support from the various humanoid tribes who stalk the wilderness and mountains around Ull and the Dry Steppes. Orcs and ogres openly walk the streets beside the Uli, and are as welcome in taverns as are men. Some families, seeking an advantage over their enemies, have plied their troth with humanoids, creating distressingly large populations of half-orcs and half-ogres over the years. This is claimed with some amount of pride by the Uli, especially some of the mountain tribes of the Ulsprue Mountains.
The Uli’s light cavalry and mounted archers are comparable to those of other Paynim peoples; very skilled at riding and unleashing missile fire while astride in hit-and-run tactics, but rather unskilled in head-on combat against an organized military force. They are, however, notoriously undisciplined and wild even for the riders of the Paynims, and so are much more likely to get involved in bloody conflicts with their enemies, whether they are the attacking raiders, or are defending themselves against a raid.
Surprisingly, the infantry of Ull is very skilled, wielding composite longbows, bizarrely-shaped polearms based on the guisarme model, and huge spiked maces while dressed in leather armor or brigandine. Many humanoids are to be found among the infantry, which can account for its berserk savagery in battle. Much like the Fists of the Flanaess, the infantry of Ull knows no fear and no surrender, and in their madness they can turn into human beasts, committing atrocities as horrible as any monsters. For this reason, enemy raiders, particularly the Yorodhi, choose the timing of their attacks on Ull carefully, as entering into direct conflict with the infantry of Ull is a death sentence for any but the most skilled forces the kind one might find in Ekbir or Zeif.
Ruler: Draske, the previous Orakhan of Ull, was quite typical for his race. Short, stocky, with a very trimmed moustache and only a shade of stubble for a beard, he wielded a mace and shot a bow with the best of his compatriots. A notorious debauch, he would pay enormous sums of wealth, both his own and the nation’s, for the most expensive wines and drugs the world had to offer, importing them from as far away as the Sufang Empire. In addition to seizing women at will from his subjects to serve in his harem, he actively killed any of his own relatives who became strong and intelligent, not wanting them to challenge his supremacy.
For all his martial skill and strength, Draske was a singularly stupid man. His strength could be compared to any ogre one could name, although comparing his intelligence to an ogre would be insulting to the ogre. Easily manipulated by those of his relatives who took care to pose no threat, they convinced Draske to seize the wealth of lesser families and actively lead raids on Ull’s enemies, allowing them to mind the situation at home and look after the fortunes of the royal family. It was suggested at several points to Draske that he was a dupe for his infirm relatives, but this apparently did not seem to bother the oversized lummox, given that he usually crushed the skull of whoever would dare utter blasphemy against his family. It may well be that Draske did not care if this was the case, given that he had wealth, prestige, and the title of being the greatest warrior among the Uli.
Of course, every warrior eventually met his better. So was the fate of Draske when he slew his brother, fearing that the latter would soon challenge his throne. In doing so, Draske made an enemy of his brother’s young bride, who loved her husband passionately and swore revenge on the murderer of her husband. She fled Draske’s court in Ulakand for the Ulsrpue Mountains, taking refuge with an ogre chieftain who had been a friend to her husband. She was impressed with the strength of her host, and realized a plan to revenge herself on Draske.
Bruzharag the Misbegotten, the son of the ogre chieftain and the woman whose husband Draske had slain, who made a name for himself terrorizing the Yorodhi and restoring his mother’s position in the royal family, soon challenged Draske to a fight and slew him after a long and brutal battle that lasted two straight days. Taking the title of Orakhan for himself, Bruzharag has taken Draske’s place and ruled with an iron fist that put even his predecessor to shame.
In person, Bruzharag is rude, crude, and a loud-mouthed bully and braggart. Any who call him out on his cruel personality, his bad hygiene, his penchant for carrying out orgies in the streets of Ulakand, his excessive drinking, or his plotting and scheming are likely to find out just how easily Bruzharag slew Draske. Bruzharag is a master of several different weapons, and will happily demonstrate his martial skill to anyone who displeases him, or refuses him what he wants.
Bruzharag revels in his power and title, knowing that he was in a twisted way born and bred for his position. His mother is still his primary advisor, and his father is an ambassador to his court on behalf of the mountain ogres, but both know that he is in charge. Bruzharag does not seem to need any honeyed words, subtle maneuverings, or even wanton acts of savagery to strike terror in the hearts of those around him-a mere glare is enough to make most people scurry to obey his commands. The half-ogre Orakhan does not need to revert to anything so crude as threats-his simple aura and mannerisms lead most people to feel and overwhelming sense of dread whenever they are around him, and their own imaginations can give them the details of what he would do to them if he wanted…
Foreign Relations: All that can truly be said about Ull is that it hates all its neighbors, and its neighbors hate it. Its most persistent enemies are the Yorodhi, who continuously raid the realm and any merchants daring or foolish enough to visit in matters of trade. Ull does not play any part in the intrigues occurring in the north, except in passing interest and wondering what kind of mayhem it could cause if it acquired any of the holy Baklunish artifacts. Every side in the drama, regardless of their alignment or goals, hates Ull and considers it an enemy.
The notoriously hot-tempered and reactive elves of the Dry Steppes region hate Ull, as do the dwarves and gnomes of the Crystalmists and Ulsprue. All of these demihumans suffer attacks from Uli raiders and slavers seeking wealth in both slaves and gold, and will not suffer any Uli to live, even if they were to surrender. Of course, they never do.
ZEIF, SULTANATE OF
In the dark days following the Invoked Devastation, many evil deeds were committed by and to the Baklunish peoples. Many of the most powerful mages of the ruined Baklunish Empire gave in to their desires for vengeance and cast the Rain of Colorless Fire on the Suel Imperium. The vicious Uli drove the Yorodhi people out of their homelands, and created the vile nation of Ull in their place. The most debased nobles of the Baklunish Empire organized themselves into the Satrapy of Ghayar, proclaiming their nation to be a new empire sprung from the remains of the old.
The Satraps, known to some as the Imperial Pretenders, set about conquering many of the other scattered Baklunish peoples, conquering many of them and forcing them to pay tribute in both blood and treasure to the Satraps’ genocidal wars. Eventually, these outrages became too much for the Baklunish people, and with the spiritual leadership of Al’Akbar and the military leadership of Ozef the Warrior, the oppressed citizens banded together and destroyed the Imperial Pretenders and their evil nation along with it.
Al’Akbar would found the Caliphate of Ekbir as a spiritual homeland for the Baklunish, and would later ascend to the gods to act as mankind’s ambassador to its divine patrons. Meanwhile, Ozef organized the most powerful secular state of his people, based on the Sultan’s Truce he had established among all the clans, classes and races. This Truce was meant to have created harmony, justice and honor for all peoples, administered by the sultan in the name of the gods.
However, Ozef’s reign was cut short due to his untimely death at the hands of a dragon turtle in the Dramidj Ocean. Power in the government was seized by the viziers who advised the dead sultan, until Ozef’s great-grandson seized power and used the support of the military and the merchants to create a cultural and economic high point for the sultanate that has never been rivaled anywhere since in the Baklunish West.
Jehef’s grand-niece Ismuyin, reigning as Zeif’s only sultana, would later restore the viziers to their proper authority and establish relations with other Baklunish states, such as Risay, Mur and even some of the degenerate peoples of the Ataphad Islands. At the same time, some of the Bakhoury Coast emirates, who Ozef had put down by force after they sided with the Imperial Pretenders of Ghayar in ancient times, grew rebellious and began to openly traffic with pirates. The Paynims were also a persistent problem, remaining a thorn in Zeif’s side for centuries.
Eventually, Sultan Melek II grew so angered at the Paynim raiding that he sought to break the nomads to the south by importing another nation of nomads, the Brazen Horde, into the Plains of the Paynims. These nomads clashed with indigenous Paynims, and distracted the latter from invading Zeif, until an accommodation was made that assimilated most of the Brazen Horde. Mixed groups of the Horde, the Paynims, and other Baklunish groups swept up in the general upheaval of that time would eventually travel beyond the Yecha Hills to become the Tiger and Wolf Nomads.
Zeif had faced many challenges during the past few centuries, though they generally emerged triumphant. However, opposition had grown at an alarming rate over the years, and the conflict between the Horde and the Paynims would eventually prove the beginning of serious troubles for the sultanate. When the Paynims fled over the hills, they passed through Ekbir and the Zeifan provinces of Ket and Tusmit, causing widespread looting and destruction. Ket was seized by the nomads, and Zeif was forced to give Tusmit over to Ekbir as compensation for the damages she had suffered. No diplomacy could restore these eastern provinces to Zeif.
From here, the sultanate fell into a steep decline. Military attempts to regain Tusmit and Ket failed miserably, and conflicts with the matriarchy of Komal and the merfolk of the Dramidj led to Zeif’s navy being slaughtered at the Battle Beneath the Waves. Komal pressed home her advantage against Zeif both militarily and commercially, while the debased Bakhoury coast emirates took control of the Janasib Islands from the sultanate. Zeif managed to regain control of the emirs, but they remained stubborn and recalcitrant, as they always have. The Janasib Islands could not be regained, remaining independent to this day.
The current sultan, Murad, has attempted to restore the ancient glory of his country by laying claim to all the lands once held by Zeif, using his uncertain connection to the Baklunish imperial throne. More and more agents and diplomats have been dispatched to the surrounding states in a bid to curry their favor and convince them to follow the sultan’s lead, but most states have so far been unreceptive. Only a few Paynim tribes and the pasha of Tusmit have sworn loyalty to the pasha, and the pledges of both these groups are undermined by other considerations.
Some say that the sultan wants to go to war to press his claims, but this so far seems unlikely, given the dim view most of the other Baklunish nations have taken of Zeif in recent years. It may be instead that the sultan will seek the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty, as ownership of this wondrous relic would greatly enhance his pretensions to the ancient imperial line. However, other parties could easily seek the jacinth, and certain powers also seek the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar. Furthermore, the many conflicts Zeif has with other nations, such as Komal, the Ataphad Isles, the Janasib Isles, what remains of the Brazen Horde in the west, and the Bakhoury Coast emirates are all simmering, and the feeling is that these powers will strike when the time is right.
Society and Culture: The Sultanate of Zeif was originally founded to be a realm where the sultan would rule all Baklunish peoples, human and nonhuman, in fairness and justice without regards for their wealth or stature. This truth was never fully realized after Ozef the Warrior’s death, and the culture that has emerged as a result is not quite what Ozef had envisioned.
Many of the people of Zeif are very patriotic, stubborn and even hard-headed, according to their detractors, but they also have the same senses of honor, charity, loyalty and tradition that all Baklunish share. Zeifans differ from their neighbors in these parts of life in their apparent belief that Zeif is the rightful heir to the rich heritage of the Baklunish Empire, and that all other variations on the beliefs passed down to the people by their ancestors are corrupted at best, or bastardizations at worst.
This lead to Zeifans being perceived as arrogant and self-centered, though this is only partially true. It is important to realize that many Zeifans have also never seen things from the perspective of other peoples, and that they walk around with blinders on, as it were. Many Zeifans are caring, honest and decent people who live their lives according to the dictums passed on through the ages, but who have difficulty setting themselves apart from the beliefs they have had for centuries. Their prejudices are not intentional or hateful, but merely the product of centuries of life in a rather closed society, not fully realizing the mores and attitudes of their neighbors.
The people of Zeif also have a very specific social hierarchy, where each man has his place and knows who are his betters and who is below him. The middle and lower classes tend to look after each other quite well, though many of the upper classes, including the elves, are more concerned with acquiring power and wealth in the complex network of government that rules Zeif. Anyone can climb this ladder of power, though the more one rises the more one must engage in the corruption and backstabbing that are present at the highest levels. A peasant might be able to marry into the bureaucracy, or even found a noble family after much hard work, but he will have to carry on with the patronage and graft that are a regular fixture in the sultanate’s politics.
While most Zeifans are good-natured people toward each other and other men, they tend to apply the same unintentional biases towards women and demi-humans. The people of Zeif believe that a woman’s place is inside the home, not outside of it; unless a woman displays exceptional ability in combat, writing, magic, or in government and mediation, she generally remains at home to care for a family. Demi-humans are equal citizens of Zeif, though they all have very specific places on the social ladder.
The intelligent scholars, sages and astronomers of the elves generally tend to be high class, as do some wealthy dwarves. The most ingenious gnomish engineers attain this status as well, though they generally remain outside government itself. Other gnomes remain middle-class. Most halflings, orcs and half-orcs are of the lower class, although the latter two races are perhaps the most spectacular examples of lower-ranking folk attaining great power. Orcs are well-integrated into Zeifan society, and serve as valuable military warriors against other humanoid races, such as goblins and ogres, who invade.
Government in Zeif is very complex and has many layers, all of which are spread out in a spider web-like shape with the sultan at the center. The sultan is the supreme commander of the military and oversees many important decisions in ruling the realm, and has a grand vizier as his adviser. The vizier serves the same kind of functions chancellors do in Flanaess kingdoms, but also has extensive powers in all areas of government, and has the right to overrule any other viziers, or ministers, that serve as heads of the sultan’s cabinet, or Diwan. The sultan can set the national agenda, make military decisions, and issue orders to his Diwan, but the Diwan drafts most of the realm’s laws and acts as the bureaucratic administrators of the realm’s day-to-day business.
The Grand Vizier controls the Diwan, and otherwise can only be checked by the sultan himself or a concerted effort by the whole of the Diwan. The nobility is entrenched in the Diwan, and most of its positions are hereditary or semi hereditary. Each family sends one vizier to sit at the Diwan’s head, and these viziers then elect the grand vizier to act as their leader.
A separate council also decides which noble family will get responsibility of a certain province or government department. These positions are passed down from father to son, or occasionally to daughters if these display exceptional promise. This council meets only when necessary, mainly to take a province or responsibility from one family and give it to another if the current holder fails to live up to his responsibilities, as judged by his peers. As a result, noble families are always engaged in bribery, patronage and corruption to attain the best positions, either selling their influence or soliciting favors to attain their goals. Newly established noble families often have a terrible time getting started in this atmosphere, as the old guard jealously guards its power.
Zeif’s armies are both numerous and very powerful in general, with excellent heavy cavalry dressed in the Baklunish version of plate mail wielding longsword and lance, and powerful heavy foot dressed in banded armor and wielding two-handed swords. The sultanate’s land forces are all well-disciplined and trained, and Zeif is also blessed with perhaps the greatest number of army wizards in the Baklunish West. Some of these are as high as the fifth or sixth circle, and they provide an incredibly valuable contribution to the country’s defense.
The navy also has many very good vessels and crews, though it is generally not thought to be an overall match for Komal or Ekbir. The Janasibs and Bakhoury emirs cannot hope to compare with it, however, and so the navy generally commands the eastern half of the Dramidj Ocean. One potential weakness is that the best of Zeif’s vessels must often guard her critically important sea trade, leaving secondary vessels great in number but mediocre in quality to guard the ports. If war comes, then the ports are certain to be a key point for Zeif in naval battle.
Sultan Murad, in his youth, embodies his title as Glory of the West perfectly. Dressed in fine silks and jewelry at all times, he carries a ceremonial sword carved of pure diamond, worth hundreds of thousands of gold efrits, and is often found wearing ceremonial armor that Flanaess smiths would recognize as full plate. His high, domed forehead, thick black moustache, piercing eyes, hawkish voice, and angry scowl do nothing to diminish the great impression most people receive when they first meet him.
The young Murad was a powerful and strong leader – some might say too strong – given that he often butted heads with his older and wiser grand vizier and most members of the Diwan at one point or another. He was a deeply avowed patriot, believing that Istus had given him the destiny of re-acquiring those territories Zeif had lost, and restoring the sultanate to its proper status as the temporal home of the Baklunish people. Caring nothing of whether he did so through military conquest or through hard diplomacy and bargaining, he was quite prepared to use his nation’s power however necessary to reach his goals.
However, Murad was not a dishonorable cur, like some of his predecessors and many in the Diwan. His devotion to the Baklunish gods was deep and sincere, and he was determined to mend the breaches many Baklunish religions, especially Al’Akbar’s, had suffered over the centuries. The pressure he put on himself was his own worst enemy, some might say. That, along with his desire for power and manic-obsessive tendencies, were what led him to act so aggressively in general.
In his old age, Murad will have faded greatly from the fiery warrior he was in his youth. In the 580s and even more so the 590s CY, the sultan will have an aura of faded glory and half-remembered dreams around him, the effects of nearly forty years of searching in vain for something that seemed so near and yet so painfully far away. Murad has taken up to writing poetry in his old age, and many of these are laments for his country and his people, and he seems more and more distracted, even as his goals are closer than ever to his reach.
Murad still desires to restore his family to the throne of the Baklunish Empire, and still works towards this goal, but he has slipped into an uncertain quietude that does not sit well with his viziers in the Diwan. They are the ones now pushing for more aggressive action, as opposed to the moderates that oversaw the Diwan in earlier days. Now, it seems, those hard-line patriots who want Zeif to re-assert her power by force have taken over the Diwan, and they are now the ones pulling the strings in Zeif’s government, as the sultan wearily tries to keep up with them. Murad grows old and hesitant, while the viziers grow ever more militant as corruption festers in their midst – something that could eventually prove a disastrous combination.
Zeif has been sending agents and diplomats into the courts of all the lands it formerly held, encouraging them to pledge their loyalty to the sultan as is their duty. Most of these nations are wary of Zeif’s increasing heavy-handedness in governing the realm, especially given that criminals and spies are following Zeif’s ambassadors. Few people of great stature or authority are willing to pay homage to what they see as a corrupt and immoral court in a nation that has fallen far; the actions of the viziers and corresponding inaction of the sultan in stopping them are doing little to correct these notions. Ket views the sultanate as a pushy and overbearing nation with no claim on it, the Paynims mostly distrust them, Ekbir is on the verge of cutting all ties to the nation, and only Tusmit views Zeif with anything more than cool hostility or suspicion. Even in Tusmit, there is growing leeriness of the actions and motives of the sultan.
Sultan Murad seeks the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty in order to strengthen his claim to rule the lands of the former empire, while other parties seek to keep the artifact out of Zeif’s hands or even covet the gem to make their own claims of rulership. Most of the eastern nations are more interested in the controversy surrounding the Cup and Talisman of Al’Akbar, and are only interested in the Jacinth to keep it out of Zeif’s hands. However, the western nations of Risay, Mur, and Komal might all seek any of the artifacts for themselves for their own purposes. They might seek to weaken Zeif, or even establish their own claims on the easternmost part of the Baklunish West, however tenuous this might be.
The Ataphad Islands, the Janasib Islands, Risay, Mur, and Komal are all either neutral or hostile towards Zeif, and all would like to thwart its ambitions both in the east and at home, if possible. Spies and assassins from all these states are present in Zeif, although most of these nations still have normal diplomatic and trading relations with the sultanate. Zeif’s importance as a supplier of food and precious chrysoberyls mean that most of Zeif’s neighbors must not anger it, lest they suffer both in their purses and their stomachs by angering their still-powerful neighbor.
The largest problem facing Zeif may be the obstreperous Bakhoury Coast emirs. The emirs accept Zeifan rule only grudgingly, and believe they would be stronger and more prosperous on their own. As a result, they are likely to meddle with Zeif’s diplomacy, trade and whatever else as much as they can, until Zeif grants them their independence. Failing this, they may resort to force of arms.
All of this, as one might expect, has led to a frenzy of intrigues, maneuvering, spying, and influence-peddling among all the Baklunish states, and feuds and tensions are growing by the year. The Flanaess has passed through the Greyhawk Wars and survived, but one would have to question what will happen in the Baklunish West should there eventually be a war in that area, and even more so, what will happen if there is no war?