The sands of the treacherous Bright Desert mask ancient ruins and the lost lore of a dead civilization. Throughout history, men of will and ambition have attempted to plumb those ruins and explore the time-lost secrets hidden beneath the shifting sands. Doing so means braving a trackless dune sea inhabited by the monstrous descendants of a people ruled by oblivion-obsessed sorcerer kings. Most who attempt to master the desert instead find misery and death. But one man, the archmage Rary of Ket, also known as Rary the Traitor, believes he can discover the lost secrets of the Bright Desert and for now the story of the desert and its would be conqueror are one and the same.
Locations within the Bright Desert:
- Barren Point
- Brass Hills
- Dagger Rock
- Darkbridge Temple, Ruins of
- Fool’s Rest
- Fort Whiterock
- Gai Hur
- Geshtai’ Spring
- Ithar Hills
- Knife’s Edge Pass
- Kolum Oasis
- Plain of Spears
- Rary’s Tower
- Sennerae, Ruins of
- Shattados’s Palace, Ruins of
- Shembai Oasis
- Sulm Fortress
- Tulwar Oasis
- Tower of Sleep
- Twisted Canyon
- Ul Bakak
- Unaagh, Necropolis of
- Unath, The Uplands of
- Utaa, Ruins of
- Var Oasis
The Empire of the Bright Lands
As the Greyhawk Wars drew to a close, the arrival of Rary and his army irrevocably altered the Bright Desert’s balance of power. None could stand before their might and the factious politics of the region ensured that no alliance would arise to threaten the fledgling empire. Within months, Rary’s forces had swelled to include a clan of norkers and several tribes of desert nomads defeated in battle and offered mercy in exchange for service. Initially Rary claimed only the land surrounding the Brass Hills but in subsequent years his domain has swelled to include most of the region. As the first days of 593 CY unfold, dissent has been all but crushed amongst the desert tribes. Of the nomads, only a few insignificant clans of Suel still defiantly cling to their independence.
One of the most fervent opponents of the empire was the handsome, well-liked Tolan Kai (NG human male Ranger L12). His capture in 591 CY was a great blow to the free nomads and led to the capitulation of several tribes. Tolan’s ultimate fate remains a mystery.
Ancient History: Two millennia ago, Flan civilization reached it zenith on the arid grasslands of Sulm. Here the Flan learned the secrets of agriculture, ironwork and engineering, founded great cities and raised majestic temples to their gods. In a series of swift, hard-fought campaigns, Sulm’s neighbor states (Ronhass, Durha, Rhugha and Truun) fell before the might of her iron-shod hosts. Continued aggression brought open warfare with an implacable enemy – Itar.
Situated in a rich coastal region southeast of Sulm, the valorous Sun Kingdom of Itar honored gods of light and progress and posed a serious military, financial and ideological threat to Sulm. It wasn’t enough. after three decades of open warfare, Sulm obliterated Itar’s armies, mingling the blood of its soldiers with the ebbing life-force of Vathris, an Itarran god of ingenuity who had manifested to aid his people on the field of battle only to be stricken down by dark Sulmish magics.
With Itar’s destruction, the entire region fell under Sulmish hegemony. Her people grew proud and her leaders corrupt and arrogant as wealth and tribute poured into the great temple-city capital, Utaa, seat of Sulmish rule. Sulmish society stagnated for centuries as decadence and evil grew into the hearts of her people; simultaneously tendrils of insurrection crept among the subjugated folk of the hinterlands.
For all its might and wisdom, doom came suddenly to Sulm. The nation’s rulers, desperate to stem the rising tide of civil unrest and rebellion, delved too deeply into the poisonous wellspring from which their civilization had sprung. The last of Sulm’s rulers, an ambitious an undoubtedly mad sorcerer named Shattados, cried out to the Lords of Evil for aid and received a whispered promise in exchange. His divine patron, Tharizdun, granted Shattados a powerful magic artifact, the Scorpion Crown, that would allow him total control over his subjects. The greedy overlord thrust the crown upon his head and brought doom to the entire region.
The Crown’s fell curse initiated an agonizing transformation in Sulm’s citizens, who found themselves transformed into hideous “man-scorpions,” half-breed wretches magically bound to the wearer of the Scorpion Crown.
Within a decade the grasslands were dead, withered into nothingness by an unnatural heat that yet plagues the region or scoured from the face of Oerth by violent and prolonged storms sweeping in from the Gearnat. The small pockets of vegetation surviving these twin perils were finally buried beneath an insidious unstoppable tide of sand issuing like a cancer from the cities and holy places of the fallen Sulmites. Soon the curse took hold throughout the area and what had once been called Sulm became the Bright Desert.
And somewhere, deep within the darkest recesses of the Lower Planes, Tharizdun chuckled softly to himself.
Recent History: Thus Sulm passed into history, languishing all but forgotten until events transpiring in the city of Greyhawk in the year 584 CY thrust the accursed lands of the Bright Desert into the minds of the great and the good. In Harvester of that year, delegate from several nations gathered in the free city to sign a pact of non-aggression, hoping to bring an end to the so-called Greyhawk Wars. On the Day of the Great Signing, the archmage Rary of the Circle of Eight betrayed the city and his allies by attempting to destroy the entire delegation in a fiery conflagration. Rary’s companions Tenser and Otiluke discovered their friend preparing to sabotage the treaty and were killed for their trouble. The archmage Bigby, also present, was wounded to within an inch of his life. But their sacrifice saved the treaty and revealed Rary as a traitor to his friends, to Greyhawk, and to the whole of the Flanaess.
But Rary hadn’t acted alone. On the day of his treachery, cohorts and apprentices under the direction of the wily Lord Robilar (late of the Citadel of Eight) ransacked the lairs of Tenser and Otiluke, destroying potential clones and ensuring that the wizards would not return to avenge their deaths. Rary gathered his forces late in the day, teleporting en masse to his tower in Lopolla. Calling upon unrivaled magical powers, he wrenched his tower who from the very foundation-rock of Ket’s capital and transported it, along with Lord Robilar and his fanatical followers, thousands of leagues eastward to the Brass Hills, at the center of the Bright Desert. In short order Robilar’s forces pacified the indigenous desert-folk, forcing them to pay homage to a burgeoning empire of the Bright Lands. A new power was born.
To this day, rumors abound about what drove the previously calm and peerlessly intelligent Rary to betray his former friends. Mordenkainen and wizards of Greyhawk’s Society of Magi believe that Rary knew of the ancient histories that cluster thick about the Bright Lands and that he likely seeks the catalyst of Sulm’s unnatural fall. The Ketite archmage was always obsessed with ioun stones, and scholarly adventurers recently turned up a 574 CY paper he’d logged with the Great Library of Lopolla that suggests the Bright Desert might contain the highest concentration of these magical rocks in the Flanaess. Control over such a resource would make Rary mighty (and rich) beyond belief.
But in the Bright Desert, all is not yet lost. Although warriors of many native tribes have joined Rary’s massive army in the years since his arrival, a few tribes still resist. None stand so bitterly opposed to the Traitor’s machinations as the Hueleneaer ( a race of desert dwelling centaurs). A fierce and proud people, they yet war with the outlanders, for in Rary they recognize the countenance of evil and ambition personified. Their guerrilla tactics have stained the shifting sands with the lifeblood of hundreds of Robilar’s soldiers and their constant raiding continues to tie down and harass the empires forces. A steady stream of adventurers also now trickles into the region, beguiled by tales of high adventure and the near limitless wealth said to lie discarded in ancient Sulm’s abandoned cities.