Athas

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“Almost all the Tyr Region is a desert wasteland, though it is beautiful and spectacular in its own fashion. Over each hill, behind each sand dune, the terrain appears more awesome than the land before. In my travels, I have often been overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this land, cowed by its indifferent brutality, even frightened by the unrestrained might of its elements—but I have never been bored. Can I impart the grandeur and majesty of this area with mere words? I wonder. I can describe the queasy feeling of sliding down the glassy slopes of the Smoking Crown, or make your eyes sting with tales of walking the salt flats on a windy day. My words are but transparent reflections of this magnificent land, but perhaps they can be of use.” ―The Wanderer’s Journal

Athas is still a largely unknown world. Millennia of misinformation, wars, and natural barriers have created isolated pockets of civilization between large expanses of desert terrain.

The known world is currently divided into the Silt Sea, the Tablelands (also known as the Tyr Region), the Ringing Mountains, and the Hinterlands. The Tyr Region is defined as the area bordered by the Sea of Silt on the east, the Hinterlands to the west, and the Endless Sand Dunes to the south.

Outside of those regions, the Jagged Cliffs, the Deadlands, and the Valley of the Cerulean Storm wait to be discovered, charted, and plundered. The surface of Athas stretches from horizon to horizon, a patchwork of fields and forests, oceans (of water and sand) and mountains, deserts, swamps, jungles, and more. Beneath the crimson sun, Athas’ varied environments give way one to another across the Tablelands. Mountains rise, valleys fall, and desert surrounds the land.

Athasian Environment

Much of Athas is a desert: sun-scorched and wind-scoured, parched and endless. From the first moments of dawn to the last twinkling of dusk, the crimson sun shimmers in the olive-tinged sky like a fiery puddle of blood. It climbs toward its zenith, the temperature rising with equal relentlessness: 100°F by midmorning, 110°F at noon, 130°F—perhaps even 150ºF—before the sizzling day gives way to night. The wind doesn’t help matters. As hot as a forge’s breath, it blows up sandstorms that last for as long as a month or more. Even gentle breezes feel like flame licks, carrying throat-searing and nose-clogging dust.

In most locations, the greatest danger is the lack of water. Much of Athas sees rain but once a year, while a few locations experience storms no more than once a decade. Even with the advent of the deadly Tyr-storms, actual rainfall has increased only slightly across the land. Evidence exists that water was once as plentiful as sand in this burning world, but now it’s as rare as a cool breeze at midday. Nights are as brutal as days. Low humidity allows the day’s heat to escape into the clear sky, plunging the temperature to 40°F or less. In higher elevations, the temperature can plummet to zero. The light of Ral and Guthay, Athas’s twin moons, provide no warmth as they shine over the darkened land.

Extreme temperatures and lack of water aren’t the only features of Athas. Since the Great Earthquake that struck in the Year of Friend’s Agitation, tremors and aftershocks have been a constant threat in the western Tyr Region. That same year saw the birth of the Cerulean Storm over the Sea of Silt. This huge storm of lightning and rain hasn’t abated since it appeared. In fact, it seems to be growing stronger. Periodically it spins off a smaller tempest that sweeps across the Tablelands as a dangerous Tyr-storm.

Still, the deserts and sandy wastes do give way to other terrain types in some locations. A few lush forests, for example, cling to the earth with a desperate desire to survive. Jagged mountains rise into the sweltering sky, dividing one barren landscape from another. To the east, the ever-present and seemingly endless Sea of Silt fills the horizon. To the south, vast plains of blackest obsidian form a desert of chipped stone. To the north and west, great cliffs overlook grasslands that stretch off as far as the eye can see.

Athas is a rugged world with a majesty that commands admiration. The land has personality and a beauty that’s as awe-inspiring as it is deadly. One must respect the land and learn to anticipate its capricious moods, for its relentless cruelty and indifference will sweep away anyone who does less.

Boulder Fields

Boulder fields consist of broken, jagged rock. Some are old lava flows long since cooled, and others are valleys choked with rockslides or slopes of scree. They usually lie near mountains, and most are no larger than a few miles across. Boulder fields are for midable obstacles since they lack water, vegetation, and shade, and if travelers do not have sturdy boots or sandals, the sharp rocks can cut their feet to ribbons. Deep gulches and crevices crisscross boulder fields, offering plenty of hiding places.

Dust Sinks

Windblown dust, ash, and silt accumulate in depressions to form dust sinks or silt basins. The largest known example is the Sea of Silt, but smaller sinks exist in almost any low-lying terrain. Even a light wind stirs the dust into billowing clouds. On calm days, a dust sink appears to be a smooth plain of pale gray or dun powder. Appearances are deceptive. The dust is too light to support a traveler’s weight, but it is thick enough to suffocate anyone who falls in. Sometimes, the ground beneath the powder is uneven, concealing a dangerous drop. One misstep, and a traveler can disappear beneath the dust.

Large bodies of silt often extend like the rivers of old into more solid terrain, following narrow channels called estuaries. Many estuaries of silt are shallow enough for human-sized travelers to wade with care. Very tall creatures such as giants can navigate correspondingly deeper silt; a giant can wade through silt 10 feet deep without difficulty.

Many large sinks and estuaries are sprinkled with islands of high ground, isolated from the “mainland” by stretches of dust of varying depths. Some of these islands are rocky protrusions just large enough to accommodate a giant or two, and others can support an entire village. Miles of silt have sheltered many islands over the years from the touch of defiling magic, and those islands remain surprisingly verdant.

Mountains

Low ranges such as the Mekillot Mountains, the Stormclaw Mountains, and the Black Spine Moun tains dot the Tyr Region. They are daunting obstacles. Their bare, rocky peaks—sometimes as tall as 6,000 feet—offer little water or shelter to make the climb worthwhile. After a daytime temperature of well over 100 degrees, temperatures at night can plunge near the freezing point. Most of the exposed rock crumble under the twin hammers of heat and cold, so great slopes of broken rock and frequent rockslides make for arduous travel.

Mountain vales, on the other hand, often are watered and filled with heavy scrub, cacti, or sparse forest. Little of the land is suitable for cultivation, but savages and monsters such as goliaths, gith, and kirres make their homes in vales. Large networks of caverns lie under most of the low mountain ranges, home to all sorts of strange creatures that prefer to hide from the sun.

A truly awesome mountain range marks the western border of the Tyr Region the Ringing Moun tains, whose highest peaks reach 20,000 feet or more. Some of these peaks have thin but permanent snowcaps.

Mudflats

Little open water remains on the surface of Athas; most is buried underground. In a few places, water seeps upward, saturating the land to create mudflats. Most common near or in dust sinks (especially the shallows of the Sea of Silt), mudflats hide beneath the churning dust, revealed only when the winds clear an area and expose the soupy mess to the air. Uncov ered mudflats usually dry out in short order, leaving behind hard, cracked clay that might or might not be solid enough to support a traveler’s weight.

A few mudflats manage to survive, sometimes through cultivation and sometimes by happenstance. These areas are lush with vegetation, including desert grasses, thorny bushes, and small trees. Where mudflats stand in silt basins, low islands of dense veg etation rise above the dust. These mudflats are rarely large; most measure only a few hundred feet across. Tangled underbrush and mucky ground make travel ing through these areas difficult but not impossible. In general, mudflats offer little to travelers; there isn’t much standing water, and dangerous predators hunt creatures that subsist on the greenery.

Obsidian Waste

waste. obsidian. obsidian waste.

Rocky Badlands

Most hilly regions on Athas are rocky badlands - highly eroded mazes of sharp-edged ridges, winding canyons, and thorn-choked ravines. Daunting escarpments force travelers into meandering courses along the ravine floors, which often end in blind canyons or loop back on themselves. Badlands can be barren, waterless wastes, but many are filled with thorny brush that can completely clog the ravine floors.

Rocky badlands are difficult to cross, no matter which way a traveler means to go. Sticking to a canyon's floor is easy enough, but a canyon rarely leads in the direction one desires, and the thick, prickly brush makes for very hard going. Climbing up the walls to crest a badland ridge usually involves a dangerous scramble of several hundred feet, and travel along the top of a knife-edged ridge is equally challenging.

Salt Flats

Great flat plains encrusted with salt that is white, brown, or black, salt flats can extend for miles. Some are dotted with briny marshland, but most are barren and lifeless. Any water is usually too brackish to drink and might be poisonous. Salt flats offer no shelter, and the temperatures reach more brutal extremes than anywhere else on Athas. Sun sickness can kill an unprotected traveler caught in a salt flat.

If the salt flats have one asset, it’s that no creatures linger in them for long. A prepared traveler can cross a flat without risking an encounter with a wild beast or roving band.

Salt Marshes

Salt marshes and shallow, ephemeral lakes can form in and near salt flats, dust sinks, and sandy wastes. Most are only a mile or two across, but a few—such as the Salt Meres or the Maze of Draj—extend for as much as hundreds of miles. The water, too salty or alkaline to sustain life, is undrinkable. Many salt marshes dry out completely in the months of High Sun, and some remain dry year-round if the following Lowsun comes and goes without rain.

A salt marsh contains low grasses, reeds, or brush. Ankle-deep channels of briny water encrusted with caked salt wind through the marsh, sometimes open ing out into large, shallow lakes. Here and there, tough stands of scrub or the occasional tree stand above the grasses. Few creatures can digest the tough vegetation, but the marshes buzz with tiny insects that can drive a traveler half mad.

Sandy Wastes

Vast stretches of yellow sand, sandy wastes are the most identifiable deserts of Athas. Some wastes are plains where the air is still and no winds disturb the trackless land. In other wastes, the landscape takes on a rumpled appearance as winds pile up sand to form great dunes. The topography of such wastes changes endlessly; old dunes slowly erode under the wind, and new ones form when deadly sandstorms whip up with little warning. Travelers caught in a storm hear the wind howl in a deafening scream while stinging sand bites their skin. The worst storms can scour flesh from bones.

In the flat areas of Athas, sandy wastes do not hinder travel. Oases, wells, and stands of tough scrub can sustain desert-dwelling creatures and people indefinitely. Flat sand is easy for travelers, although a lack of landmarks increases the risk of becoming lost.

In areas that have dunes, travel is more challenging. Mekillot dunes, named for their passing resemblance to the huge drakes, can be hundreds of feet tall, but most dunes rise no higher than a hundred feet. In wastes where the winds shift or collide, star dunes might form. The ridges of these mounds extend away from the main mass, forming arms that spread out like tentacles in all directions.

Scrub Plains

Scrub plains are savanna, prairie, or chaparral with just enough water to support extensive vegetation. Tough, dry grass punctuated by creosote bushes and tumbleweed dominates the ground. One can even find a few small trees scattered across the landscape. By Athasian standards, scrub plains are almost lush, supporting a high concentration of wildlife.

Excessive grazing and the use of defiling magic have reduced some scrub plains in the Tyr Region to ruin. Only a few such areas survive in the wild lands between the city-states, protected by primal guard ians who use ancient magic to destroy intruders and safeguard their homes. However, beyond the Ring ing Mountains stretch vast scrub plains such as the Crimson Savanna.

Stony Barrens

Stony barrens dominate the Tablelands. Most barrens are bedrock shelves exposed by windstorms. These weathered plains are covered with rocks that range in size from pebbles and gritty dust to huge piles of standing boulders. In places, the bare rock gives way to hard-packed red earth, and yellow sand collects in crevices, forming dunes or drifts. Huge mesas and pointed buttes dot the plains, a testimony to the erosive power of the elements.

Cacti proliferate in stony barrens. Hundreds of species grow throughout, appearing in all shapes and sizes, from small, thorny buttons to towering saguaros. Some cacti are edible, making suitable fare for travelers low on supplies. Others are stealthy predators that can kill careless travelers; in the Athasian wilderness, one can never be certain who is the hunter and who is the hunted.

Verdant Belt

Verdant. Belt. Verdant Belt.

Time

Each year is made up of exactly 375 days: the exact time between highest suns. Athasians have no seasons that govern their thinking of time, for there is no marked difference in temperature or weather patterns. However, the year is divided into three equal phases: High Sun, Sun Descending, and Sun Ascending. Highest sun is the first day of the year, and lowest sun indicates the midpoint of the year (which, incidentally, occurs at midnight and is generally observed in night-time ceremonies).

the Calendar of Kings

Every city-state and merchant house has its own calendar, but the most commonly used is the Calendar of Kings. In the Calendar of Kings, years are counted off using a pair of concurrently running cycles: one of eleven parts, the other of seven. The eleven-part, or Endlean cycle, is counted and spoken first, in the order presented below. The seven-part, or Seofean cycle, is counted and spoken second. The Endlean cycle is complete when Athas’ two moons, Ral and Guthay, meet in the heavens, resulting in a major eclipse that occurs every 11 years. The Seofean cycle is more abstract, occurring after Agitation has led back to Fury in the cosmos.

Every 77 years the cycle repeats itself, ending with a year of Guthay’s Agitation and starting again with a new year of Ral’s Fury. Each 77-year cycle is called a King’s Age. There have been 189 complete King’s Ages since this calendar was adopted more than 14,500 years ago. So, the first year of each King’s Age is a year of Ral’s Fury. The next year is a year of Friend’s Contemplation, etc. The 76th year of each King’s Age is a year of Enemy’s Reverence, followed by the 77th year, a year of Guthay’s Agitation.

Endlean Cycle Seofean Cycle
Ral Fury
Friend Contemplation
Desert Vengeance
Priest Slumber
Wind Defiance
Dragon Reverence
Mountain Agitation
King
Silt
Enemy
Guthay

the Merchant's Calendar

While each city-state has its own official calendar, the dynastic merchant houses have, over the centuries, come to use a standardized book of days. This has evolved slowly over time as the need to efficiently coordinate activities with trading partners grew. The calendar is generally referred to as the Merchant’s Calendar. In the cities, it usually bears the name of the largest merchant house (which also generally receives the credit for inventing it).

The Merchant’s Calendar divides the 375-day year into three 125-day seasons―High Sun, Sun Descending and Sun Ascending. Each season is divided into four 30– day months made up of six day weeks. A five day long festival week in the middle of each season lies outside the confines of the months. The year begins on the day of Highest Sun, midway through the season of High Sun.

Season Month Days Star Sign
High Sun Dominary 30 Balimarash the Caravan
Sedulous 30 Fiddle the Beetle
Sun Descending Fortuary 30 Hesper the Kenku
Macro 30 Saurus the Lizard
Dessalia 5
Fifthover 30 Hortle the Spider
Hexameron 30 Sylk the Wyrm
Sun Ascending Morrow 30 Tasker the Scorpion
Octavus 30 Pyrus the Wheel
Assalia 5
Thaumast 30 The Dragon
Anabasis 30 Tyrospur the Lion
High Sun Hoard 30 Scratch the Basilisk
Flagstaad 30 Krawler the Kank
Zenalia 5