Proper Name: Empire of the Bright Lands
Ruler: His Percipient Magnificence, the Archmage Rary, Monarch of the Bright Lands (NE male human Wiz20+)
Government: Dictatorship; realm functions as a minor city-state surrounded by barbaric nomad tribes
Capital: No capital; “empire” administered from Rary’s tower in the Brass Hills and through military leaders at outposts throughout the Bright Desert
Major Towns: Ul Bakak (pop. 900)
Provinces: One oasis town, many desert nomadic tribes around the Brass Hills
Coinage: Currently none, but may be produced in near future
Population: 26,500—Human 79% (Fsob), Dwarf 20% (hill), Other 1% (mostly centaurs)
Languages: Flan (native tribesmen), Ancient Suloise (native tribesmen), Baklunish dialects
Alignments: NE*, CN, N, CE
Religions: Beory, Obad-Hai, Pelor (tribesmen); Geshtai, Istus (Paynims); various goblin gods (goblinoids)
Allies: Nomads of the Bright Desert
Enemies: Greyhawk, Duchy of Urnst, Circle of Eight, tribesmen of Abbor-Alz
Overview: In the midst of the Bright Desert, atop the craggy peaks of the Brass Hills, a single tower stands proud, defying the harsh, arid winds. Unlike the hide and cloth tents of the desert’s villages and oasis settlements, this tower is finely crafted of stone, topped by an onion dome common to the Baklunish West. It is the tower of Rary the Traitor.
From this tower, the archmage claims the entire Bright Desert as his personal demesne. From the feet of the Abbor-Alz to the rocky shores of Woolly Bay, armies of desert nomads, goblinoids, and mercenaries ride, enforcing the will of their liege upon the simple folk of the desert, proclaiming every oasis for their reclusive ruler.
As befits its name, the Bright Desert offers an oppressively unpleasant climate, with high summer days hot enough to cook food without fire. Evenings bring cool temperatures. Colorful desert plant life exists, if not thrives, in the more temperate regions near the coast, and along the northern hills, where sickly bushes and centuries-old pine trees live a meager, pathetic existence.
No roads cross the Bright Desert. Land closer to the Abbor-Alz tends to be rocky and less sandy than the desert proper, so most caravan routes avoid the heart of Rary’s lands altogether. Sparse traffic from Urnst arrives through Knife’s Edge Pass, though the duke has forbidden all trade with those who fly the banner of the archmage. Hardby, however, is not so moralistic. Despite strict instructions from Greyhawk, the despotrix of Hardby personally (though secretly) authorizes trade with Rary’s go-betweens in the neutral village of Ul Bakak, on the eastern end of Hardby Pass.
Rary’s armies are commanded by the doughty Lord Robilar. They range far and wide, seeking out enemies of the state, protecting emissaries to enclaves in the Abbor-Alz, or causing trouble for local tribes and desert centaurs, who resent claims of empire upon their sovereign homelands. The independent and reclusive dwarves of the Abbor-Alz have not yet been troubled by Rary or Robilar’s forces.
History: Long before the perfidious archmage Rary set his thrice-starred banner above the Brass Hill’s wind-blasted peaks and even before the Bright Desert was naught but the insane dreamings of a forgotten god, nomadic Flan wandered the belt of arid grasslands wedged between the Abbor-Alz and the Gearnat Sea. Simple folk, who worshipped primitive spirits of air and earth, they lived in harmony with nature, moving their rude tents as the seasons swept across the ocean of grass that was their home.
Bounded by the arid, monster-haunted peaks of the Abbor-Alz to the north, west, and east and set hard against the storm-wracked waters of the Sea of Gearnat to the south, events transpiring in the wider Flanaess troubled the Flan little. Only two passes –contested by fierce, predatory monsters – cut through the great crescent of the Abbor-Alz and the Flan had little knowledge of sailing. Countless generations lived and died without being troubled by what lurked beyond the grasslands’ bounds and, while they were poor in the sciences of civilization, they were for the most part content. Over time they consolidated into six great tribes – the Durha, Itar, Ronhass, Rhugha, Sulm, and Truun,– each claiming a portion of the grasslands as their own. Thus, did the Flan live in peace for centuries uncounted until events unfolding in far-off eastern land shattered for all time the peace of the grasslands.
Forty centuries before the golden sun of the Aerdi rose in the east and the rampant lion of the Rhola and Neheli crushed Vecna’s undead legions, a twisted civilization rose and fell upon the fertile plains of the Dragonshead Peninsula. Caerdiralor was a fell land dominated by Tiamat-worshipping priests and mystics. Obsessed with eradicating the dwarves and gnomes of the Headlands, the masters of Caerdiralor waged terrible war on them, giving no quarter. However, at the struggle’s climax Caerdiralor’s capital, Myrsyrna, was overtaken by a sudden and devastating catastrophe that all but wiped the city and the realm’s ruling elite from the face of the Oerth. A few priests and their adepts survived the devastation, however, and fled to the west across the Sea of Gearnat, carrying certain relics and holy texts of ancient provenance.
Wrecked upon the shores of the lands of the Rhugha, the newcomers initially parleyed with words of peace and rich gifts the like of which the indigenous tribes had never seen before – subtle secrets and scraps of knowledge saved from the fall of their land. Initially welcomed by the tribesmen, their coming also presaged bloody war, betrayal, and the eventual doom of all those dwelling amid the grass-sea. The fall of their homeland had not changed the hearts of the newcomers. They were still black-hearted and evil and the natives quickly divined their true nature. Where once words of peace greeted the newcomers, now volleys of bronze-tipped arrows drove them from the nomads’ camps. In desperation, they sought escape but the harsh terrain of the Abbor-Alz and the many monsters dwelling therein frustrated their attempts (as they would the wandering bands of Suel escaping the utter destruction of the empire four millennia later).
Trapped between the rugged wall of the Abbor-Alz and the vengeful Flan tribes, the wanderers went to ground, hiding themselves away in secret places, passing on what remained of their ancient lore across the generations and praying to their dark gods for the means to regain the dimly remembered glory that they had lost across the sea. Perhaps in answer to their supplications, the dark priests discovered sites of ancient magic, wellsprings from which they could build their power once more. They established new temples, and slowly began to rebuild their shattered heritage.
Other changes were afoot in the grass-sea. A new influence was growing among the tribes – that of Vathris the Maker, the Subtle Teacher. Said to have been born as a mortal man, Vathris, through his knowledge, deeds and wisdom, raised himself to the cusp of immortality, embodying the ideals of progress and ingenuity. Under his influence, the tribes ceased their wandering and began to plant and sow and harvest. Their camps became settlements and their settlements became towns and cities. The six great peoples of the grass-sea became six realms.
It was among the mightiest of these realms, Sulm, that the dark seeds of Caerdiralor found fertile ground in which it put forth its insidious malfeasance. Emerging from their hidden fanes, the dark priests won the favor of the ruling house of Sulm, promising that their gods would bring power, wealth and glory to the Sulmi. Thus it was, that after centuries of peace, ambition and hubris, fanned by their mastery of these new sciences, sent Sulm’s iron-shod legions marching against her neighbors.
The roots of evil in the Bright Desert grow deep within the ground, beneath the shifting, windswept sand to the unhallowed ruins of an ancient civilization. The remnants of that fallen land’s people, primarily Flan nomads, have populated the desert for ages. In the more than two thousand years since cities last flourished here, few nomads had conquered enough territory, or gathered enough pretense, to claim anything approaching statehood.
That changed in Harvester 584 CY, thanks to disastrous events in the city of Greyhawk. The Day of Great Signing was to have been a celebration of the end of three years of brutal conflict that touched nearly every nation in the Flanaess. Instead, the day ended prematurely in a brilliant display of destructive magical fire that swallowed the building where the event was to have taken place only hours later.
When the smoke cleared, two archmages, Tenser and Otiluke, lay dead. A badly wounded third, Bigby of Scant, claimed that their assailant had been their one-time ally, Rary, member of the Circle of Eight. Rary and his co-conspirator, the wily Lord Robilar, were nowhere to be found, and Rary’s Tower in Lopolla, also vanished. Months later, the duo and the tower surfaced in the Bright Desert. Robilar led his fanatically loyal men from desert village to desert village, systematically defeating the local warlords and incorporating their warriors into an ever-growing army. Rary, too, had transported several bands of Paynim horsemen from the west, who promised glorious death in service to the mage they called “The Rider.” Early victories against nonhumans and the Tukim, the most powerful human tribe in the desert, bolstered the armies. Few openly defied this powerful force.
Wherever the armies went, so too ventured immoral adventurers in Rary’s employ. These humans, mostly sages and enchanters, scoured the desert, paying particular attention to local ancient ruins. Rary seldom left his tower, but all knew that he sought some object rumored to be terrible and powerful.
Rary’s forces have grown significantly since 584 CY. More than ninety percent of the desert nomads now swear fealty to the Monarch of the Bright Lands. The native desert centaurs, who remained neutral immediately after Rary’s arrival, now bitterly oppose Robilar’s armies. In 589 CY, Chief Strongbow, an influential leader and strong proponent of balancing the nomads against Rary and staying out of the conflict, was found murdered in his quarters. Though there was very little proof, the young bucks among the centaurs called for a guerilla war against the westerners—a plan that has met with some success.
Despite the centaur attacks and certain stubborn native tribes, Rary’s searches continue, often with frustrating consequences. In late 590, an entire company of Robilar’s best Paynim and nomad guards vanished while investigating an abandoned necropolis. Rary’s response, ordering Lord Robilar’s own personal guard after the lost soldiers, so enraged the warrior that he left his post for a week, not returning until he single-handedly slew an old blue dragon that had been considering an alliance with the archmage. The two have patched up their differences, but tensions between them remain strong.
It has been suggested that all is not as it seems here. Rary was renowned for his complex plotting in the Circle of Eight, and some of his former associates refuse to believe that he has turned to evil of his own accord. Still, rumors that the former Archmage of Ket now consorts with fiends have caused most of his family and friends to brand him a traitor forevermore.
Conflicts and Intrigues: Thousands of desert folk have suffered under Rary’s armies. Many fear that he is close to achieving or finding that for which he searches; few believe the result will benefit anyone but him. Robilar, though a villain, has a soft spot for adventurers, and he is tired of playing catch-up with Rary’s schemes. If there exists a path into the archmage’s organization, it likely lies through friendship with this gregarious one-time lord of Greyhawk.