Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ranks of the Red Wizards Video

 Are you looking for an easy-to-watch video about the ranks of the Red Wizards? Would you like to see information about the Red Wizards that's up to date with the current timeline (post-Spellplague)? Forgotten Realms History has your back! They incorporated material from this guide with the goal of giving quick descriptions of Thay's hierarchies and explaining how things are in 5th edition's Forgotten Realms. 

It's an entertaining watch and gives a nice overview while also providing nice visuals, clear voice work, and nicely accurate closed captions.


I'd meant to share this video here many times before but got sidetracked (my apologies!). I was very pleased to see that what I'd developed was of use to other gamers. I was also glad for this kind of overview, which is just over 6 minutes long and easy to follow. Thank you, FRH!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Thay's Slave Trade: An Insider's Perspective

This post is an in-character overview of how slavery is conducted in Thay at its height, and after hundreds of years of supporting the ownership of other sentient people. It's offered as an inside view of how many Thayans see and participate in the practice, which can be helpful when building Thayan characters. Whether they are commoners, nobles, or slaves, everyone in the country will be faced with such views and have to respond to them. If you want ample reasons to despise Thay more, feel free to keep reading. If any of this already upsets you, consider passing on this post.

To make it abundantly clear, this post does not represent my views or feelings in any way; quite the opposite. I hate slavery in all forms with all I have, and believe that we all should. Few things have done as much harm to humanity as the slave trade. However, this is a work of fiction, and I hold imagination in a special place. I firmly believe we can explore things we despise in our minds, our stories, and our games without condoning them in real life. We might even understand these wrongs further - and how to combat them - by doing so.

What you will read below is a twisted perspective that seeks to justify grave crimes and invalidate ethical or humane concerns. These justifications are usually presented as part of national mythology and social rules. In this case, they're presented as a coming-of-age instruction manual to a younger noble who's expected to toe the party line, so to speak. The character speaking, Tari Govannon, has been reared with these views, and has benefited from her station as a noble and from slave ownership, her entire life. Part of the horror of this work is how completely she buys into this worldview. Another horror is that she's teaching it to the next generation, hoping young Salia Valgon will approve. 

It's even worse to know that, given her own warped perspective, Salia probably will.

From the Pen of Tari Govannon


My Dear Salia

Now that we are officially cousins, and now that you are on the verge of womanhood, you should learn about a cornerstone of our country's history, present, and future: the slave trade. You have grown up surrounded by slaves of every description, so you might think you already understand all you need to know. But soon, you will be given permission to pick your first personal slaves, and everything about their lives will be up to you. Eventually, you may want to replace them, but how will you know where to find what you're looking for? And someday, you will be sent abroad to find the best slaves for our house first-hand. But do you even know why we do any of this?

The answer is: probably not, because we take it for granted that every Thayan understands what's at stake. But people will take advantage of your ignorance when you're in other lands. They will try to twist the truth and sway you to their side, against your own kin. And they will never accept you as one of their own, no matter what they say. As soon as they are done using you to sabotage us, they will turn on you, and you will either end up dead or in prison for the rest of your life. I would not see that happen. We're better than that, and we are certainly going to be smarter.

So, let's begin with the broad view: Slavery in Thay is a year-round industry. Generally, slave-hunting begins across Faerun in the spring, since more people are on the move and in need of coin after the harshness of winter. (Or at least, the harshness of winter in other regions; our magical weather net saves us from that drudgery.) Caravans, ships, and other mundane means are used first and foremost to gather our servants, which are sent back to Thay through the fall. Winter does not stop our efforts, but it does slow them down on this plane. It's bad enough that Talos hates us and attacks our shipments whenever he can; there is no reason to battle the cold in other lands when we can just wait for the warmer seasons to come around again.  

The whole point of having slaves is to make our lives more comfortable, but that doesn't mean we do not work for our comforts. You have to make some moves to get the best out of this world. But I know you might be wondering why we expend so much effort, when we could just use magic instead. The simple reason is that half the time, we don't have to do more than show up.

Tried and True


Many kingdoms make a big production about outlawing slavery, but their people still contact us with leads. Some of these informants are desperate in one way or another, and we can help them. To a nobody in need of an expensive cure, we offer magical healing; to an official under pressure to make undesirables go away, we offer a solution. Others have grudges they want to take out on their neighbors, and that is their business. In the end, debtors, prisoners, beggars, and orphans are all easy targets, but remote villages and farmsteads work, as well. Never forget: a good portion of our slaves come from "good" and "neutral" lands where the locals sold each other out for a bag of gold or cache of magic items. They are a reliable avenue of opportunity; all we need do is wait. And no amount of self-righteous denial can undo that fact.

Spells are often used to subdue, secure, and transport targets, but selectively. We don't want to kill our prizes before we have the chance to profit from them, after all. Contrary to rumors, however, portals are rarely employed, even though they would bypass most threats. Why wouldn't the Red Wizards push for such an advantage to be used at every opportunity? For many reasons. One is a matter of history and pride: Thousands of years ago, Imaskar relied on portals to gather hundreds of thousands of slaves, but doing so was far too easy. They were able to gather more than they could handle, and then they blocked communication with their gods, which eventually led to their downfall. We are not interested in making the same mistakes of the Imaskari artificers before us.

On a more practical level, the pursuit of slaves keeps us busy and sharp, but focused outward. Rivalries and competition exist, but schemes are difficult to carry out when we are spread across Faerun and using different methods. In the early days after we gained independence, there was a lot of civil strife as families battled for power in the new Thay. No one will tell you this out loud, but it is a truth I have seen all my life, and it seems to be used for our benefit: Engaging nobles in the slave trade keeps us from getting lazy or tearing each other apart. 

It also shows us why we should be proud and present a united front to the world. You will see the conditions of other lands - the weakness, the poverty, and the simpering simplicity. Quaint notions of what is good for all strangle innovation and progress. We have many laws and rules, and some of them are necessary to keep fools from killing us all, but we allow for survival of the fittest. We do not coddle each other. We earn what we deserve, and we know what we deserve. So when we are outside of Thay, we present a united front and show our lessers how it should be done. We are already suspected and disliked by foreigners just for being who we are and having everything we've gained. If we don't at least pretend to get along, we will not make it back home. Expect to be punished harshly for infighting, and avoid it at all costs. Because in the end, we are working for the same goals.

One of the reasons why we have been so successful is because we use what is already present and give it their own twist, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. For instance, we resort to piracy regularly, but we don't do so openly. Although we have a noble house that maintains proud pirate traditions and connections, House Ankara has been given orders by the Zulkirs to keep any Thayan involvement quiet. As a result, seafaring nobles often work with unaligned pirates or disguise our ships as everyday vessels from other kingdoms. Through our whisper networks, we spread misinformation that makes sorting out the truth a difficult endeavor, even through spells. After all, someone can't tell you the truth if they they do not know it to begin with.

We also see opportunity in every tragedy. We have been known to show up after wars, natural disasters, and magical curses to offer vital aid - in exchange for a certain number of slaves, of course. We let the locals agonize over who is sent with us; we only step in if violence threatens their profits. We give help to those in need and simply ask for what the survivors have to offer in exchange. You could say that we work to keep the peace. The price we ask is small compared to everything we do for strangers in awful circumstances.

Innovations in Tyranny


When we finally felt the need to innovate, we struck gold. The embassies we have arranged across Faerun are another robust source of slaves, whether they wish to be or not. Officially, all enclaves must be allowed to accept slaves as payment; this is part of the basic agreement with a host city. In reality, slaves are rarely used as currency in "good" or "neutral" lands unless the person is a willing adult or a convicted criminal. In a few locations, anyone can sell anyone else, provided they can secure and transport their prisoners. But if slavery is heavily policed and strictly forbidden in the surrounding kingdom, an enclave won't usually waste time trying to sell slaves there.

In every case, we appear to follow and respect local precedent to the letter. Wherever slavery is allowed, House Zurn is in charge of intake and presents a kinder face to the public, keeping most slaves out of sight and only showing them in decent shape. Wherever it is forbidden, it's kept out of the enclaves. In practice, this means that visiting Thayans will hold meetings elsewhere, work through proxies, and operate in secret so an enclave has plausible deniability.

Any error that compromises an enclave's stability - especially its treaty with a host city - will lead to a rash of particularly grisly executions. Anyone responsible will be hunted, found, and delivered back to the motherland to meet their fate. And while lesser conspirators will be slain first (and quite publicly), whoever should have been watching them will be next - and their deaths might be worse. We nobles are usually punished in private, but this is one of the few exceptions, so executioners tend to make a particularly brutal show of disapproval.

In more recent years, House Dasselath has gained prominence by taking slaves from different planes during the leaner winter months. They have access to portals to many other places, including the City of Doors. They barter openly where they can and lead assault strikes where they can't. Since they are only one noble house, however, they often have to ally with others to get the manpower they need. They also refrain from slave-hunting during spring and summer, when their contribution is less likely to be noticed. During those seasons, they maintain connections, gather capital, and harvest information to plan their next moves.

Allies and Ringleaders


The lion's share of Thayan slavery is carried out by merchants, poachers, and pirates. This is one route for our commoners to become wealthy and respected, and a good number of them participate. Not everyone involved is Thayan, however, and some are not even aware of who they really serve - but those in the know are richly rewarded for their efforts.

The highest levels of power in the slave trade are reserved for Thayan nobility, for a number of reasons. It's not just because we can't trust foreigners or the lower classes to be loyal or competent (although we certainly can't). It's because being in charge of every major endeavor is how those in power stay in power. The real capital in the country lies with the noble houses, the Red Wizards, the Zulkirs, and the Guild of Foreign Trade, so the industry can't move forward without our support. And since we are the primary beneficiaries of the system, the houses are the only entities allowed to buy and own slaves en masse.

This is yet another way Thay has distinguished itself from Mulhorand. In our former country, slaves are the property of the temples. Mulan families and organizations can use and transport them, but only with permission. Clergy decide who else might be lent slaves, how many, and for how long. Anyone who draws the ire of a local temple can expect to have some of their slaves repossessed. In this way, the theocracy is maintained and every slave owner is indebted to the temples. 

So in Thay, the situation is reversed: only noble houses, the Red Wizards, and the Zulkirs can own as many slaves as we'd like. Temples are forbidden from owning anyone and must rely on the faithful for their laborers; guilds and most other groups can borrow slaves from patrons for periods of time. The numbers of slaves they employ are watched carefully, and if these groups get too aggressive, they can expect to lose a significant portion of their labor force. Individual citizens can own up to 5; individual nobles can own as many as 15.

This is why no matter who appears to be in charge of slave trading, once you go high enough up the food chain, you will find a Thayan noble who really calls the shots. Since we use magic, proxies, and other means of secrecy, however, it can be difficult to find or prove our involvement. And since most Red Wizards don't bother supervising this enterprise, you might use this path to power, if you choose. Magic is nice, but it is not required to lead most of these operations. 

House Canos and Kul, which specialize (and compete) in shipping, are vital to this process, along with House Ankara, which is dedicated to piracy. House Darnak's caravans are essential, and House Volkos' diplomats have also come in handy. House Kallos usually smuggles objects and forbidden goods into other lands, but has also helped to smuggle living cargo back home. House Focar and Thullos both range far and wide as explorers, and they find their share of prisoners. House Lectos and Mishkov are usually locked in vicious competition to find and tame the most impressive exotic beasts, but when they hunt outside of Thay, they compete to find the most slaves, as well. Houes Qarto and Rhaenys offer trained mercenaries to any other house or Thayan enterprise, and their members are all over the slave trade.

Several other noble houses are actively involved in the hunt for new slaves: Metron, Xeraston, and our own House Valgon. One reason for this is because our houses teach slaves special skills so they can create specialty products. While House Metron has taught alcohol brewing since ancient times, Xeraston and Valgon are young houses that focus on forging and courtesans. Each house is looking for people who already have skills or traits they can build on, but the most promising are usually sold before they reach Thay's heart. We have all had better luck tracking down our own slaves, and as you know, House Valgon's exploits abroad have also garnered grudging respect back home. Never forget that doing what your rivals don't expect of you can reap great rewards.

Closing Thoughts


Now that you know how widespread and intricate our system is, I hope you appreciate how much it takes to bring slaves to our markets and keep them doing the dirty, menial jobs that keep our nation strong. I hope you see the house's slaves in a new light and consider the value of your own property someday. When you see guard patrols keeping the rabble in line, consider that they are securing our investment. When you notice groups of slaves being transported to new tharchs, realize that this is how we maintain our power. And if you hear that spies are conspiring to sabotage a shipment, or hear rumors about runaway slaves, I hope you will consider it your duty as a Thayan noble to crush their efforts relentlessly. Because that is what we do to those who would steal from us.

Cousin Zelsea can teach you the finer points of pricing, bargaining, buying and selling at our markets. While I can do well in such endeavors, she has many decades of experience more than I, and as your cousin Augustus says, she has an abacus instead of a heart and knows the worth of everyone she sees, down to the last copper piece. In short, I bow to her expertise.

You would do well to find the right opportunity to show off this new knowledge to my husband. Augustus is always looking for evidence that your mind is being sharpened, as well as your body, and learning the art of tyranny is sacred to those who serve the glory of Bane. He is, after all, tyranny personified, and has no shame in it. Follow that example: whatever you are, be it completely and unabashedly.

I am ever at your service and watching for your best interests.

Sincerely,

Tari Valgon, née Govannon

Saturday, March 13, 2021

A Missed Opportunity in Forgotten Realms Design

It occurred to me this morning, rather out of the blue, that 4th edition was a huge missed opportunity for necessary development in the Forgotten Realms. Now, it's no secret that I dislike the official decisions about Faerun during 4th ed. and the rationale for making them. My version of the Realms (in my games and on my sites) ignores those developments entirely, and I don't own the books. This isn't because I'm behind; it's because after serious deliberation, I opted out. 

But that's not important right now.

What's important is that we're still feeling the effects of what wasn't done to the Realms during 4th ed., but in a subtle way that's difficult to recognize. The changes that were made have been largely incorporated into 5e materials, but there have also been efforts to roll some of them back (like undoing many geographical changes of the Spellplague and returning some gods that had been weeded out). By and large, though, Faerun trundles on, much as it had before, with many of the same elements. But the elephant in the room is made up of old problems that could have been addressed, but remain unresolved.

The 4th edition design philosophy of "points of light" (small bastions of civilization in wild, dangerous regions) wasn't needed in Faerun, where gamers went to experience different fantasy kingdoms at various levels of advancement, including higher levels of organization. The aim to tear down Realms history so it wouldn't intimidate new gamers ran counter to the love of lore that kept people in the setting for decades. Sweeping "Realms-shaking events" weren't needed to make Faerun exciting again; there was already plenty going on in that area of the world. 

It seems like big shifts in lore are now S.O.P. when a new edition comes out, so some of what happened may have been inevitable. But where these design choices were truly needed was in the rest of Toril.

Behold the world in which Faerun rests: 



Map of Toril from the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting by Wizards of the Coast

Although it's easy to forget, Faerun is just one slice of one continent - and a small slice, at that. There's a whole world out there, and only some of it has been developed before. Once upon a time in 2nd edition, other continents were their own settings: Al-Qadim, Oriental Adventures, and Maztica. They were largely products of the 1990s, when a number of popular game materials (not just in D&D) were based on real-world ethnicities and cultures that had been remixed and presented in a fantasy format. D&D's great competitor during the 90s, the World of Darkness, relied heavily on real-world stereotypes for some basic character types, and while some weren't comfortable with it, there wasn't much blowback at the time. After all, that's just how it was, and all the cool kids were doing it.

But the present day isn't the 1990s, and in some important ways, that's a good thing. Over the last 20 to 30 years, we've heard from various groups of gamers, including those who've seen their cultures loosely pasted onto game products. We've seen that stereotypes can be off-putting to people who would otherwise be comfortable, welcome members of the community. And we've learned that the old approach isn't necessary moving forward. Yes, gaming development often starts with stereotypes because they're patterns we know well and can call upon quickly. But there's no reason to leave those stereotypes in place or to rely heavily on real-world equivalents, and there's a lot to be gained if we don't. 

Fantasy tabletop games are fantasy and deserve to be unique, in their own right. That doesn't mean we can get away from reality entirely; we base what we know on what we've seen. But designers can look deeper into the decisions they make and create more exciting things by going against common expectations regularly. They might start with stereotypes, but they don't have to maintain them. We can all throw more imagination into the blender and mix everything further, not just to see what happens but to respect everyone who might be - or could end up at - the table. 

But this hasn't happened with Faerun's 3 sister settings. For the most part, they've been left to gather dust since 2nd edition, although Oriental Adventures (itself a problematic title) was given a 3rd edition treatment. Each setting still has some fans and is included in Forgotten Realms wikis; they're just frozen in time. The older books are available for purchase via DriveThruRPG, but the disclaimers are some of the only new things about them. For the most part, they've been like an embarrassing family secret that only some family members discuss (and only with others they believe will agree with them). 

On one hand, I can understand why. It would take a prodigious amount of work to update them, and the gaming community explodes into nasty name-calling whenever diversity comes up. "Censorship" and "cancel culture" would no doubt become the buzzwords of the day, and nobody wants to deal with vitriol from customers every day at work. The good people at WotC don't need to deal with the rage that would result, which means the settings will probably remain like vestigial limbs, awkward and without much use.

But it didn't have to be this way. In fact, 4th edition's entire approach would have provided everything needed to solve these issues. The very map of Faerun was changed during the Sundering, with entire countries like Halruaa moving to other planes. Something this could have been done with Kara-Tur, Zakhara, and/or Maztica, if one was looking for the quickest route to resolving them. This doesn't mean each continent needed to be lost, leaving gaping holes in the map of Toril; they could have been replaced by continents from other worlds, or even demiplanes. 

The "points of light" approach could have been employed instead to transform these regions in major ways, while retaining some of the original material. This could have also been used to inject more fantasy elements and move away from real-world stereotypes. Tearing away sections of history could have been helpful for reforging these settings, as well. Updated mechanics could have been used those who wanted to update their old games to the newer edition. Fans who might have been upset by all the changes could have relied on older books for lore and newer ones for crunch, rather like some of us did did after 4th ed. tore up Faerun.

And there was also the possibility of taking one of the unknown continents of Toril and making something great there. 4th edition designers certainly wanted to keep Forgotten Realms players onboard and were bound to handle Faerun in some way, but they didn't have to stick only with Faerun. Imagine it: "Want to adventure someplace new, but still be able to sail to Waterdeep? Here are modules about the X continent, which was protected by a magic barrier for thousands of years. Those in Faerun recently felt the shockwave when the barrier fell - but what's happened to the peoples who lived there? Why was there a barrier in the first place? What kind of legacy can the PCs make by exploring where no one from Faerun has been before?" 

I understand that hindsight is 2020 (ugh, that saying just doesn't feel right after having survived what 2020 was), and many variables go into design choices and philosophies. I respect everyone who worked hard to keep D&D and the Forgotten Realms going; I don't have to agree with all of their decisions to respect designers who were doing their best. Of course, dealing with these old settings wouldn't have been easy, and designers would have run the risk of being crucified either way - but under the banner of updating Toril for a new edition, the Realms could have truly moved forward and some of the explosive reactions could have been reduced to smoke. And it will be awhile before such a golden opportunity comes around again.

Meanwhile, the new Vampire: the Masquerade is showing how these efforts can be made with care and many fans are showing how such efforts can be received with support and gratitude. And WotC, via D&D, seems to be trying to find ways to shift course toward more inclusiveness in the middle of 5th edition, regardless of the waves of outrage that batter their stalwart ship. In that charted course, I am certainly on board.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Town of Rathor

The tharch of Gauros, updated to show created settlements

Rathor

Alignment: CN
Races: Rashemi, significant half elf population, half elves are commons slaves
Classes: Druids predominate, rangers common, rogues and experts common
Temples: Beshaba, Malar, Shar, Talona
Shrines: Auril, Geb (open secret), Shaundakul
Age: Recent
Reputation: Discounted
Virtue: Industry
Vice: Vanity
Recent Event: Attacked
Desires: Recognition
Security: Top Notch
Access: Often Visited
Repair: Basic
Impression: Fuming
Sanitation: Comfortable
Lighting: Decent
Streets: Dirt

Rathor is a small town of woodsmen and miners nestled at the base of the foothills of the Sunrise Mountains. What maps do not tend to show are the forests which cover the foothills and provide much of the town's livelihood. There are two reasons for this: first, maps are not made with intimate knowledge of Thay (and are often seeded with false information), and second, because Rathor and its environs are largely forgotten on the country's stage. On one hand, the inhabitants are glad to be away from political nonsense, but on the other hand, they secretly crave recognition for all they contribute. For better or worse, they may soon get it.

Normally, Rathor receives many visitors for trade, so it is set up with more inns than one might expect. They also welcome the druids and rangers who frequent the region, however, so they are mindful of the land when they build anything. Streets have not been paved and the town has carefully developed away from the treeline. The wooden walls are treated with fire-resistant alchemical pastes. Waste is carried by slaves to central vats and then disposed of in batch lots, by magic or creatures. Food animals are used down to their smallest components and composting is mandated. Magical lights are set close to the forest rather than fires, and only trees marked by druids are logged (and are swiftly replaced). This makes Rathor a more pleasant place than it might be otherwise.

The presence (and protection) of druids and rangers is relatively rare in Thay; this is one of the few places they are powerful, well away from the city streets of sprawling metropolises like Eltabbar. The town also has a higher population of elves than elsewhere, particularly wood elves; they have been sent for specifically to benefit the forests. Elves who think they will have an easier time escaping soon meet defeat in the woods, where the druids are not kind, and in the steep, unforgiving mountains. Slaves in Rathor are worked hard and given the more unpleasant tasks, but the townsfolk all work hard, so they do not tend to outright abuse slaves who perform well. Justice in Rathor is swift and harsh for all, with duels to the death, being hunted by beasts of Malar, and being fed to wicker men being common sentences.

Once each year, the temple of Malar hosts a High Hunt. Slaves who wish to participate are hunted in the forests and hunted for the next night and day. They are not forced to do so, generally, because it is a challenge of their will. Those who survive win their freedom. Needless to say, few have ever succeeded. One who did was Vesdan, an elven woodsman who hid his druidic magic. Upon winning the hunt, he left Thay - but to everyone's surprise, he returned to Rathos and married a local Rashemi woman, taking her surname of Szollos. His daughter Lucindiya was born free and developed skill as a wizard. Although he was often scorned, Vesdan worked in the town's defense and won some begrudging respect.

Recently, the tharchioness Azhir Kren fell in battle, trying one last time to strike at Rashemen. There was no clear successor and a number of contenders arose to take her place, throwing Gauros into civil unrest. Attacks from strange Underdark creatures were on the rise, but all anyone seemed to care about was the power vacuum. It was then that Vesdan Szollos threw his hat into the race and petitioned the temple of Malar in Denzar to end the stalemate. He knew this would outrage the populace and wagered that it would get them to work toward a conclusion, and he was right. A Battle of the Tharchions was arranged and overseen by the temple on the plains near Rathor. The various contenders gathered and moved their forces, not against each other, but against hordes from the Underdark that were driven upward.

When all was said and done, Vesdan Szollos had the most - and most impressive -  victories and was declared tharchion. He is the first and only non-Mulan tharchion, and although he moved to Denzar shortly after to take up office, he has brought outside attention to Rathor for the first time in many years. What this will mean for the town has yet to be seen, but if it is going to make a name for itself, the time is now.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Fortress of Dhalinax

The tharch of Gauros, updated to show created settlements

Dhalinax
Alignment: LN
Races: Rashemi, significant dwarves and gnomes are commons slaves
Classes: Fighters, clerics, rangers, rogues and experts common
Temples: Helm, Oghma, Shar, Tempus
Shrines: Auril, Beshaba, Grumbar
Age: Historical
Reputation: Tolerated
Virtue: Hope
Vice: Sloth
Recent Event: Imbued With Evil
Desires: Necessities
Security: Nearly Impenetrable
Access: Major Hub
Repair: Luxury
Impression: Too Quiet
Sanitation: Tolerable
Lighting: Poor
Streets: Tile

Once an abandoned, historic dwarven fortress, Dhalinax is now the northernmost town in Gauros. It bridges the gap between the Sunrise Mountains and the nearby hills, serving as security between Gauros and Rasheman. It is also a gate of trade between Gauros and Surthay, as well as the drow outpost below the shores of Lake Mulsantir. It serves as a launching point for expeditions into the mountains and the Gorge of Gauros. There are several great main gates on either side which require heavy-duty mechanisms to open; they are made of layers of stone and metal and benefit from magical wards. The machinery was based on old dwarven designs but has been updated with gnomish ingenuity, and it is no surprise that there are more dwarven and gnomish slaves than are typically found elsewhere in Thay.

The fortress is locked in a vicious cycle of feast and famine. At times, it is overcrowded with adventurers and merchants flush with currency and goods. At other times, the vaults are mostly empty and those who live there ration necessities. It survives because it is strictly organized by the temple of Helm, which has the greatest influence on the populace. Everyone who shelters within its walls must donate time and services to the upkeep of the fortress. All visitors are apprised of this before they are allowed inside. If they refuse to serve, they are turned away, but if they wish, they can trade their service for room and board. The central garrison has a system of task boards and tokens to keep track of chores, and an interview matches a person’s skills with a set of duties.

Given its location, the fortress does not enjoy the full protection of the Thayan weather net. It’s believed that the Red Wizards see little use in protecting the mountain range, especially when bad weather will help hamper escaping slaves. While the worst conditions remain in the peaks (hail, blizzards, avalanches, and anything else Talos can send through the porous net), the fortress is known to be colder than most places in Thay. The great vaults are not temperature controlled, but the rooms which line the vaults are warmed through magic or mundane means. Locals tend to wear layers as they venture from one side of the fortress to another and then shed them once they’ve reached their destination.

A stream from the Sunrise Mountains has been routed to serve as the fortress's main water source, emptying into a magical pit that stores the excess. Altogether, the fortress is impressive, with marble tile floors, high arched vaults lined with terraces, as well as a series of elevators that are operated via a blend of magical and mundane means. The lowest levels are forbidden to most (requiring permission from the mayor and/or the temple of Helm), and while justice is swift for offenses, it is not as inhumane as elsewhere in Thay. 

This is because there is more of a focus on order and efficiency than kindness and cruelty, and this attitude even extends to slaves. They work hard but they are allowed more freedoms in their spare time. They can craft, cook, brew, and so on, so long as they do not work against Thayans or Thayan interests. As a result, although the slave district is in the dankest part of the fortress, it has an engaging blend of styles, scents, and sounds. Visitors and inhabitants alike venture there for experimental gnomish cuisine and dwarven specialties. Slaves who follow the gods represented in local temples and shrines are allowed to worship at these official spaces. (In most of the country, slaves worship on their own and must construct their own shrines out of detritus.)

All in all, a visit to Dhalinax is a memorable experience, if one has occasion to go there.