Tuesday, March 20, 2018

History of the Salamander War - What Most Thayans Know

Art by Sandara

What the War Has to Do With My Game

The Salamander War is a SNAFU in Thayan history that was outlined in depth in the 2nd edition book, Dreams of the Red Wizards.  It was fleshed out further in Spellbound, but not without significant contradictions being introduced.  Dreams of the Red Wizards states that the Zulkirs of Conjuration and Evocation are involved in the plot but does not name either of them.  It can be difficult to confuse them with other characters of power because they remain unnamed.  Some details remain the same, but when viewed together, the narrative becomes a mess.  This is somewhat understandable, since the first was published in 1988 and the second in 1995, but more efforts for continuity and clarity would have helped.

Since then, it has been merely mentioned in a number of products and has been summarized officially thusly: "During the Salamander War (1357 DR-1358 DR) that ravaged the coastal cities of the Priador, the forces of Thay found themselves sorely beleaguered by former salamander allies. The salamanders burned everything in their path, because the Red Wizards had betrayed a promise to them to build a permanent portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire. An up-and-coming Red Wizard, Aznar Thrul, pleaded with the fire god Kossuth for aid, and Kossuth drove the invading salamanders away with his own elementals. Thay then occupied the Priador March and Thul was named tharchion of the land."

The Salamander War started out as a power grab over a region that Thay had been struggling to keep control of for centuries.  It had heavy costs for Thay because their key allies, fire elementals, turned on them.  In my game, it also took a toll on the Valgon noble family.  Halav Kallos, a shadowdancer who married into their ranks, was sent on a top secret mission during the trouble and never returned.  He has not been located via magical means, but he has not come up as conclusively dead.  The house standard bearer in Eltabbar and son of the head of house and Red Wizard Boris, Balogh Valgon, met his death during the initial treachery.  One of the PCs, the blackguard Augustus, lost both of his parents when they refused to retreat from the counter-offensive that herded the remaining elementals against the walls of Escalant.  They earned their legends by their deaths, especially since they were representing a  house that was derided as providing nothing but soft, weak schemers.  

The events of the war have been mentioned throughout our campaign, which has continued despite many breaks since 2009.  The war has now taken center stage in our game, so to speak, because a play called The Burning March is being written and produced in Eltabbar, Thay's capital, to commemorate its 20th anniversary.  Its writer/director is Igan Nymar, who has a lot of pull given the high reputation of his house. It is set to portray a number of key nobles, so it is a big deal even for Thayans who would otherwise pooh-pooh it as bardic frippery and egotistical nonsense.  It also has the input of the scribes of House Delizan, which is dedicated to preserving Thayan history. Casting has begun and though some roles will be dangerous to fill (out of fear for their living counterparts finding offense), many nobles are interested in taking part for their own reasons.

In order to keep themselves from being sent out of the city and to secure safety for Augustus's bride-to-be, Tari Govannon, the PCs have decided to become directly involved in the production.  Azonia urged her husband, the great bard Roniran, to endear himself and find a great role for himself and a place backstage for her (likely as a cleric to heal and buff actors).  Augustus has commanded the role of his father; a woman who had been vying to marry him has taken his mother's role, though she didn't expect him to join the play.  His bride-to-be has yet to be placed, but might try out for the role of Mari Agneh.  Viktor Valgon is aiming to portray Balogh, backed by his flare for the dramatic, his great disguise talents and his natural resistance to flames.  It is likely that Roniran will convince Azonia's mother to come out of retirement and that she will bring his son Nikos with her.  

It is safe to say that the Valgons are going to be up to their necks in the history, myths, and propaganda of the war, so I felt it was time to begin fleshing it out in earnest.  What I found in official sources was interesting but fell short of the kind of situation I had in mind, so I have started rewriting it and bringing my own vision to bear.  Below is information that any PC might know or easily be able to find about the war; any history-related checks below a DC 20 will result in varying amounts of what follows.

Reworked Known Events  

The cities of Delthuntle, Nethra, Teth, Laothkund, Hilbrand, Lasdur, Taskaunt, Escalant, Murbant, and Thasselen were known as the Free Cities. Most were founded by Unther as it sought a foothold in the region and welcomed reinforcements from the West. They remained as independent of each other as they dared out of pride and the spirit of competition. They fought among each other or trade rivals in Chessenta  more than anyone else, including Thay, for most of their histories. They fell under Thayan control at intervals for four centuries, but often earned periods of freedom. Thayans christened the area “the Priador” but they were the only ones to use the term or consider it to be part of Thay. Then the “free cities” began to work together to weaken trade to Bezantur and thwart Thayan influence within their borders, schemes which became their final mistakes.

When open hostilities began at the start of 1357, Delthuntle and Loathkund had populations of 70,000 each, and Hilbrand and Escalant boasted 30,000 inhabitants. Lasdur, Taskaunt, Murbant, and Thasselen were anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 people apiece and were utterly devastated during the war. The first assaults were waged by slaves, humanoids, and undead under the control of Thayan nobles, but they were only the opening salvo. Mid 1357, elemental reinforcements arrived with orders to burn everything in their path. Hilbrand swiftly surrendered when it saw the devastation of the elemental legions. Escalant was besieged but held out due to support from outside towns horrified by the Red Wizards’ scorched earth policy. It was on the fields outside of Escalant that the worst battle was fought, when the salamanders turned against Thayan forces en masse in late 1357. 

Although no one was sure of why the elementals attacked Thayans at the time, it was later revealed that they had been promised a grand, permanent portal to the Plane of Fire by the Zulkirs of Conjuration and Evocation. When no efforts were made to build it, the elementals grew impatient and delivered an ultimatum.  Many were banished back to their home plane (namely the efreeti); the salamanders initially agreed to continue their work but turned on their former allies during the battle.  They went on to terrorize the countryside, destroying free city people and Thayans alike, until Aznar Thrul contacted the god of fire, Kossuth, and convinced the deity to rein in the wayward elementals.

The end of the war led to a number of major changes in the balance of power in Thay: First, Hargrid Tenslayer was lost in battle, so another Tharchion rose in his place.  The tharch of Lapendrar was drained of many resources and people, so it fell into relative obscurity.  The Zulkirs of Conjuration and Evocation was reportedly killed in the fray, leaving Nevron to take over Conjuration.  Aznar Thrul became Zulkir of Evocation and Tharchion of the Priador (the tharch of Bezantur was erased, swallowed into the larger whole), garnering enough influence to set him up as a rival to Szass Tam.  This made many Thayans uneasy, since no other Zulkir had been a Tharchion, but since he saved the tharch, there was no denying him the right to be its governor, if that was what he wished.  He also defeated and claimed Mari Agneh as his own in the aftermath, before she could scheme to save herself.

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