Population: 126,487 (yuan-ti 58%, wild dwarves 41%, sarrukh 1%)
Government: Empire (in principle), Tribal Alliance (in practice)
Religions: Seth (now Set) (sarrukh, yuan-ti), Thard Harr (wild dwarves)
Exports: Furs, herbs, jewelry
Alignment: LE, NE
The Serpentes Empire once stretched from the Lhairghal (Halruaa's West Wall) to the Peaks of Flame, and from Sheirtalar to the Snout of Omgar. Now, however, its leaders openly rule only in the Black Jungles. Still rent by the ancient tribal feuds that laid the empire low, Serpentes has only recently reawakened from centuries of somnolence and begun to reassert its authority over the Chultan Peninsula.
Life and Society
Of the five great yuan-ti tribes in the Chultan Peninsula, only three have significant holdings in the Black Jungles. At present, these tribes are openly contesting with each other for the throne of Sseth. Two of those tribes, House Eselemas and House Jennestas, have forged a loose alliance. In reality, however, that pact is more an acknowledgment of shared weakness against the more powerful Se'Sehen tribe than a sign of unity of purpose.
Each tribe claims a number of overgrown steadings in the depths of the jungle, from which its members dominate the surrounding terrain. Since the ever-encroaching jungle threatens any building left untended, most such habitations remain semi-ruined, even though gangs of slaves do their best to keep them habitable.
Until recently, the bulk of the serpentfolk in this area displayed a curious apathy that left them content to hunt, exploit and torture their slaves while dreaming of ancient glory. Since the Time of Troubles and the brief appearance of Sseth's avatar, however, centuries of such somnolence have given way to a newfound energy. Much of that energy is directed at undermining the plots of rival tribes and investigating the mystery of Sseth's condition, but the yuan-ti of Serpentes have also begun to work in concert against their common foe - humanity. In accordance with the Sacred Way of Sseth, the yuan-ti have begun placing their agents into positions of power so as to weaken neighboring realms from within. This strategy is in part one of necessity, since the human kingdoms currently possess far more military might than the yuan-ti do, but it also ties in with a prophecy. Yuan-ti legends speak of the rebirth of Sseth in mortal form heralding the rise of Serpentes, and no tribe wishes to move prematurely before the god (or his successor) returns.
Like yuan-ti elsewhere, the inhabitants of Serpentes are divided into three primary castes: abominations, halfbloods, and purebloods. The abominations rule through the halfbloods, who in turn command the purebloods. Tainted ones and broodguards are relatively new castes that rank below purebloods but above slaves. Anathemas are considered divine minions of Sseth, so they stand apart from the normal caste system. Holy guardians and mageslayers also hold unique ranks outside the caste system, although most are accorded the privileges of clerics and arcane spellcasters, respectively. The few surviving sarrukh are treated with reverence and their direct orders are always obeyed, but they lack the power to unite the tribes or truly rule them.
Major Geographic Features
The Serpentes Empire encompasses a wide range of geographical features.
Black Jungles: So thickly canopied that the jungle floor is cloaked in near-darkness (treat as shadowy during the day), the Black Jungles are home to thousands of animals, plants, and insects. So great is the diversity here that several hundred kinds of creatures may reside in each acre. Of the trees known elsewhere in Faerûn, mangroves, silverbarks, suth trees, and zalantar trees are most common. All kinds of predators stalk the Black Jungles, but carnivorous plants, dinosaurs, giant constrictor snakes, and winged vipers are most common. The southwestern reaches are dominated by tribes of primates, including apes, blood apes, cloaked apes, and gambols, as well as girallons, gorillas (treat as pacifistic apes), and monkeys. The yuan-ti rule supreme here, patrolling the jungles regularly and driving the most dangerous predators east into the Mhair Jungles to protect the ruins of Mhairshaulk.
Remnants of the past glory of Serpentes are everywhere, though most such ruins are overgrown with jungle plants. Stone statues of long-dead yuan-ti abominations and crumbling walls are the most common signs of past habitation, but larger ruins can be found as well. Ancient caches of building stones, pottery, glass, and metalwork are sometimes revealed when giant trees fall in storms. Those who dig beneath such troves may find ancient catacombs stretching deep into the earth.
Lake Lemas: This small, freshwater lake forms part of the border between the Black and the Mhair Jungles. Fed by innumerable streams and two small, unnamed rivers, it sends its waters to the River Lemas and thereby to the Lapal Sea. Lake Lemas lies at the heart of the Eselemas tribal lands, and numerous overgrown holds dot its western shore. The lake itself is home to a clutch of elder tojanidas, which the Eselemas clerics called forth from the Elemental Plane of Water long ago to defend the tribe.
Lapal Sea: The Lapal Sea is actually a freshwater lake surrounded by jungle - the Black Jungles to the west and the Mhair Jungles to the east. The cool breezes blowing over the water break the sun's unforgiving heat and disperse the swarming clouds of gnats and biting insects that hover about the area.
The lake is fed by four rivers - two originating in a spur of the Hazar mountain range to the north, and the other two bubbling up in the midst of the Mhair Jungle. Water from the lake then flows gently toward the Great Sea to the south. Boats are almost unknown on the Lapal Sea, since the yuan-ti of the Sseradess tribe prefer to swim, and those of other tribes ride harnessed elasmosauruses. Herds of wild elasmosauruses dominate the Lapal Sea, although ahuizotls, chuuls, and darktentacles are numerous as well.
Lapalgulph: At the mouth of the River Lapal is a brackish bay that drains the Black and Mhair Jungles into the Great Sea. The Jennestas tribe keeps careful watch over these waters from the jungle-covered hills on the western side of the Lapalgulph, and a Gargantuan dragon turtle (advanced to 30 HD) guards the waters below in exchange for regular offerings from the yuan-ti. The eastern edge of the Lapalgulph marks the beginning of a vast mangrove swamp that stretches almost to Mhairhetel. This area is the preserve of numerous solitary sword spiders.
Mhair Jungles: The Mhair Jungles lie between the Lapal Sea and the West Wall of Halruaa. This dark, tropical forest contains all manner of plant and animal life, most of it unknown anywhere else. Large numbers of carnivorous plants, duskwoods, phandars, shadowtops, silverbarks, suth, and zalautars grow in this jungle, along with a profusion of less dangerous plant life.
Once the center of the sarrukh empire of Mhairshaulk, the Mhair Jungles are now home to all manner of monsters. Because the yuan-ti of Serpentes consider this land sacred, they come here only to hunt, scour the ruins of Mhairshaulk, and drive off, intruders. The northern Mhair Jungles are the preserve of dire tigers, digesters, and many nomadic tribes of wild dwarf hunters. Except for the absence of yuan-ti tribes, this area bears a strong resemblance to the Black Jungles. The wetter southern reaches eventually give way to vast mangrove swamps hunted by solitary sword spiders and nagahydras.
Yuan-ti anathemas dwell in and among the most important ruins of Mhairshaulk, attended by lesser yuan-ti who have foresworn their tribal allegiances. Othdt major ruins are claimed by solitary Faeriinian ha-nagas and nagahydras. Lesser ruins are uncommon on the surface because the jungle growth has wholly devoured them over the course of millennia. Scattered sinkholes throughout the Mhair Jungles lead into the Serpent Deeps, and explorers are advised to watch out for sinkhole traps set by dwarven hunters.
River Amarast: This sluggish watercourse wends deep into the heart of the Se'Sehen tribe's territory. The river is home to the ti-khana elasmosauruses that some yuan-ti employ as steeds.
River Chian: This fast-moving river races through a narrow gorge in the heart of the Jennestas tribe's territory. The river is too shallow for waterborne travel, but the limestone walls of the gorge are honeycombed with caverns that serpentfolk of all tribes employ as crypts. Several of the deepest tunnels are said to connect with the Serpent Deeps, and individual sarrukh occasionally arise from hibernation far below the surface and make their way to this region to forage.
River Lapar: Forming the southern boundary between the Mhair and the Black Jungles, the River Lapar marks the eastern edge of the Jennestas tribe's territory (with the exception of the Mhairhetel enclave). Mangrove swamps line both banks of the river, making it difficult to discern where the waterway ends and the jungle begins.
About halfway between the Lapal Sea and the Lapalgulph, seven stone pillars rise from the depths of the river to 40 feet or more above the waterline; The Pillars of the Sarrukh, as they are called, are inscribed with well-worn Draconic runes that detail the history of ancient Mhairshaulk under both sarrukh and yuan-ti rule.
River Lemas: The River Lemas drains Lake Lemas into the Lapal Sea and marks part of the boundary between the Mhair and the Black Jungles. It also marks the eastern border of the Eselemas territories, so its banks are often patrolled by yuan-ti. Somewhere along the river's length lies the shattered keel of a Halruaan skyship that was protected from decay by ancient preservative magics. No one knows what cargo it carried or what became of its crew, but the fact that Halruaan explorers continue to search for it suggests that the ruined ship may yet contain a priceless treasure.
River Mhair: The River Mhair once wound through the heart of Mhairshaulk, and most of the remaining sarrukh ruins in this area lie along its banks. From time to time, the river adjusts its course to reveal new ruins, but for the most part, this waterway is as wild as the enveloping jungles.
River Tharynd: This short and wild river plummets south from the Delphin Mountains to the northernmost bay of the Lapal Sea. An ancient trail from the Abbey of Tharynd winds along its western bank, and the Se'Sehen tribe patrols that area regularly to guard against treachery from the Eselemas tribe as well as foolhardy interlopers.
Serpent Deeps: The Serpent Deeps lie beneath the Black and the Mhair Jungles, forming a vast subterranean network of caverns that stretches from Lapalgard to Mhairhetel to Delselar. At the heart of this extensive cavern system is the Lapal Undersea, which is fed by water leaching from the lake above. The Serpent Deeps are home to warring tribes of troglodytes, a few Mhairshaulk sarrukh, and trens - lizardfolk-troglodyte hybrids bred at the height of Serpentes. Although hibernating sarrukh have carved out small complexes throughout the Serpent Deeps, most are clustered around the Lapal Undersea. From time to time, the yuan-ti send emissaries to consult with their creators, but such requests for aid are usually ignored.
Serpentes encompasses numerous thriving cities and towns, as well as hundreds of ruins.
Mhairhetel (Small City, 9,182): At the southern tip of the Mhair Jungles lies the City of Renegades. This isolated redoubt is home to outcasts from nations all along the Great Sea. Because ships flying any flag (or even none at all) are welcome at Mhairhetel's docks, the city has become a port of call for pirates from Narubel and Yaulazna (the hidden Bay of Pirates in southeastern Halruaa), as well as a haven for slavers and disreputable merchants. The city's reputation as a pirate port has so far protected it well against attacks from the sea.
Hetel Hastalborn, a prominent Halruaan archmage who sought to exploit the hidden riches of the Mhair Jungles, founded the City of Renegades in the Year of Banished Wisdom (-125 DR). Within a year, Hetel had vanished and the settlement was all but abandoned. But every year thereafter, new immigrants arrived seeking a home far from the lands of their birth, and Mhairhetel slowly grew into a viable city.
For centuries, the yuan-ti tribes of Serpentes have found Mhairhetel useful. Until the recent alliance of the Se'Sehen tribe with the Rundeen merchant consortium, the City of Renegades offered the only marketplace through which the yuan-ti could trade with distant lands. Moreover, most humans of the Great Sea lands who are interested in exploring the Mhair Jungles begin their journeys from this port - a fact that makes them easy to observe and track.
However, the yuan-ti have always ensured that one of their own rules the City of Renegades, and that agents of the serpentfolk control all the hidden levels of power. The current ruler of Mhairhetel is Istasfis Nsaran (NE male pureblood yuan-ti fighter 7), a member of the Jennestas tribe.
Ss'dath'in'ssatath: Built along the western shore of Lake Lemas, Ss'dath'in'ssatath was once the provincial capitol of the territory stretching from Sheirtalar to the Lapal Sea and from the Defphin Mountains to Talath Pass. Most of the city has fallen into ruin, but the remaining structures house the bulk of the Eselemas tribe. The builders of Ss'dath'in'ssatath favored wall carvings over statues, so the facades that have not yet crumbled are adorned with bas-reliefs depicting writhing serpents and nagalike faces.
Ss'inthee'ssaree: The sprawling, ruined city of Ss'inthee'ssaree lies on the northwestern shore of the Lapal Sea. Once the capitol of Serpentes, Ss'inthee'ssaree fell into ruin after the disappearance of Sseth's avatar in the Year of Dreams (10 DR) and the subsequent feuding among yuan-ti tribes over who would succeed him as emperor. After centuries of intertribal skirmishing, the Se'Sehen tribe finally cemented its control over Ss'inthee'ssaree in the sixth century Dalereckoning. Since then, members of this tribe have used their slaves to clear the ruins of debris and rebuild wherever possible. Without the support of the other tribes, however, the Se'Sehen can hope for little more than to keep the jungle from reclaiming more of the ruins.
A central area known as the Pit of Vipers still forms the center of yuan-ti power in the Black and Mhair Jungles. Priests of Sseth - and most other yuan-ti, regardless of tribe - consider the Pit of Vipers the most holy location on the face of Faerûn. A vast egg chamber, tended by broodguards, lies wider its central altar. Deep in the bowels of the temple, a portal links the priests of the Se'Sehen with their greatest allies, the yuan-ti of Hlondeth. Before the holiest altar of Sseth, where' the avatar himself coiled while he ruled Serpentes, lies a shallow pit full of writhing snakes. In the center of this pit stands a raised dais on which no snakes crawl. Inscribed with a mystical pattern formed of snakelike shapes, the dais serves as a keyless portal that activates 5 rounds after any creature sets foot on its surface. Yuan-ti accessing the portal use that time to assume postures of reverence and respect. The portal transports all creatures standing on the dais at the instant it activates to an identical temple in Hlondeth called the Scaled Halls of Varae. Because the two temples are exact images of each other, users are often unaware that they have gone anywhere at all.
Ss'yin'tia'saminass: Situated midway between the head of the River Chun and Dolsel Pass, Ss'yin'tia'saminass was once the provincial capitol of the southern Black Jungles and the Thindol Basin. The yuan-ti who dwelled in this city experimented upon the various primate species native to the region in hopes of creating a perfect slave race, but that effort was abandoned after the fall of Serpentes. Today; the surrounding region is overrun with the progeny of those experimental primates. Thus, in a sense, Ss'yin'ria'saminass is the legendary "City of Apes" that most Thindolese tales incorrectly place in the Guth Mountains. In recent centuries, the Jennestas tribe has claimed the ruins of Ss'yin'tia'saminass as its base, seeking to recover the ancient beast-shaping magics that their creators once employed. Rather than repeat the failures of their ancestors, however, the Jennestas have begun experimenting on human and halfling slaves. The latter were abducted from the borders of the Southern Lluirwood and brought back to the Black Jungles by way of a two-way portal.
The southernmost empire of the sarrukh was Mhairshaulk, which was founded about -34,800 DR and extended westward from the Lhairghal to the Jungles of Chult. The Mhairshaulkans are believed to have created nagas, pterafolk, and troglodytes, as well as numerous other races long since lost. The yuan-ti were the results of experiments that joined primitive humans with the sarrukh of Mhairshaulk, with varying amounts of serpent blood added to the mix.
Unlike such contemporaries as Isstosseffifil and Okoth, sarrukh-ruled Mhairshaulk declined gradually, sinking slowly into somnolence circa - 33,500 DR. The sarrukh slowly dwindled in number, and one by one, the remaining individuals entered a cycle of extended hibernation alternating with brief periods of activity. As the great clans of the sarrukh withdrew from the daily governance of their realm, Mhairshaulk increasingly became the preserve of the yuan-ti. Although the theocratic vrael olo ruled the heart of Mhairshaulk for millennia, the rising empires of the batrachi and aearee ensured that the yuan-ti would never achieve the dominance that their creators had enjoyed.
By the close of the Time of Dragons (circa -24,000 DR), yuan-ti-ruled Mhairshaulk had all but collapsed, thanks to repeated assaults on its cities by the great wyrms of the south. Around this time, an army of winged serpents known as couatls appeared in the Jungles of Chult from lands to the west, called into service by the god Ubtao. In the centuries that followed, these rival creations of the sarrukh battled each other for control of the peninsula. Time and again the yuan-ti were forced to concede their westernmost holdings to the couatls, until the war ended in a stalemate with the Hazur Mountains as the dividing line.
For millennia thereafter, the Chultan Peninsula remained the preserve of powerful individual serpentfolk, but no organized empires existed there. Around the time of Netheril's founding, the couatls began to decline precipitously in number, so they decided to seek out another race to keep the western end of the Chultan Peninsula free of yuan-ti influence. Eventually, they settled on the human tribes of a distant continent to the southwest and preached to them the teachings of Ubtao. The Eshowe, the Tabaxi, and the Thinguth tribes, as well as several others that accepted Ubtao's message, followed the winged serpents in a great pilgrimage across the seas to the Jungles of Chult in -2809 DR.
The tribes landed on the Wild Coast and marched inland to the Peaks of Flame, where the avatar of Ubtao welcomed them. After all but a handful of winged serpents had withdrawn from southwestern Faerûn, the Father of Chult's avatar founded the great city of Mezro in -2637 DR. He dwelt there for a time among the Tabaxi, the greatest of the tribes, while the other tribes scattered throughout the jungles. Eventually the Father of Dinosaurs withdrew, but not before imbuing Chult itself with a portion of his essence. As an unintended consequence of this action, a shadow of Ubtao was released into the ground.
Without the direct rule of the Father of Chult, a great war broke out among the tribes, lasting from the Year of Dripping Daggers (-438 DR) to the Year of Unleashed Sorrow (-122 DR). During the conflict, the Eshowe released the Shadow Giant from the floor of the Valley of Lost Honor. After nearly destroying Mezro and the Tabaxi, the giant (who was called Eshowdow) turned on the Eshowe and nearly annihilated them. The remaining tribes (except the Eshowe and the Thinguth) were assimilated into the Tabaxi, tribe, whose diverse peoples became known collectively as Chultans
The arrival of the Chultans, who lived free of oppression, indirectly inspired a revolt among the Lapal tribes that had been serving the yuan-ti as slaves. After centuries of scattered uprisings, the Lapaliiyans finally escaped in -1732 DR, fleeing north and east to the lands now claimed by Lapaliiya and Halruaa. Deprived of their slave race, the yuan-ti were forced to capture tribes of lizardfolk from the Great Swamp of Rethild and bring them back to the shores of the Lapal Sea and the Thingulph.
In the Year of Netted Dreams (-320 DR), the Hss'tafi tribe of yuan-ti was magically called to the ruins of Ss'thar'tiss'ssun by the ophidians of Najara. The tribe's disappearance from its traditional holdings on the western shores of the Lapal Sea upset the long-standing status quo among the neighboring yuan-ti tribes, precipitating two decades of intense warfare amongst the remaining yuan-ti in Mhairshaulk. When civil war threatened to destroyed the ranks of his remaining worshipers, the long-somnolent Merrshaulk responded by dispatching a winged avatar named Sseth through one of the portals beneath the Peaks of Flame in the Year of Erupting Crypts (-304 DR).
Under the guidance of Sseth, the yuan-ti forged the empire of Serpentes on the ruins of Mhairshaulk. Because the Lapal states had been severely weakened by the Empire Plague (-375 DR), the yuan-ti tribes had no trouble conquering all the lands from the Lhairghal to the Peaks of Flame by the Year of Sunned Serpents (-189 DR). Sseth's reign as emperor of Serpentes abruptly ended in the Year of Dreams (10 DR), when he vanished beneath the Peaks of Flame. Some say that his disappearance resulted from a failed attempt to unleash Dendar the Night Serpent and thus end the world; others say he withdrew deliberately to undergo apotheosis. Whatever the reason for his departure, the clergy of Sseth began to venerate their vanished emperor as Merrshaulk reborn. The once-allied tribes of yuan-ti began to feud over who should succeed their one and only emperor while the empire collapsed around them.
In the centuries since the fall of Serpentes, the yuan-ti tribes have continued to dominate the Mhair and the Black Jungles, and to a lesser extent the lands now claimed by Samarach and Thindol. Nominal rule of the peninsula, however, passed to the nation of Tashtan, then to the Shoon Imperium, and then to the individual kingdoms of Lapaliiya, Samarach, the Tashalar, and Thindol. Although the yuan-ti have never agreed upon a new emperor of Serpentes, the tribes have begun to work in concert once again, collectively exerting influence over many of the surrounding states.
The Time of Troubles brought new energy to the serpentfolk when the avatar of Sseth reappeared briefly above the waters of the Lapal Sea just before battling the dinosaur-avatar of Ubtao on the eastern edge of the Jungles of Chult. But after the Avatar Crisis, Set and the traitorous Okothian sarrukh bound the Great Serpent in a slumber of endless nightmares. Once again the yuan-ti are actively seeking to subjugate the human realms of the Chultan Peninsula and the Shining Sea. At the direction of the Mhairshaulk sarrukh, small bands of serpentfolk have also begun wandering Faerûn in search of clues about the nature of Sseth's unending slumber and how it might be ended.
Plots and Rumors
Serpentes is in a constant state of flux, with its inhabitants vying for power and position.
Tribal Warfare: Since the Time of Troubles, the Se'Sehen tribe has grown significantly in power and influence, primarily at the expense of the Eselemas and Jennestas tribes. As their growing armies of broodguards attest, the Se'Sehen have been readying themselves for a war of conquest, which they believe will begin as soon as Sseth returns to reclaim his empire.
The abominations of the other two tribes are all in favor of taking back Serpentes, but not if doing so means subordinating themselves to the Se'Sehen. Rather than initiate a civil war, which they would ultimately lose, agents of both lesser tribes have begun spreading rumors about lost treasures throughout the cities of the South in hopes of drawing human adventurers into Se'Sehen lands. Through such traitorous acts, they hope to weaken the Se'Sehen tribe just enough to raise themselves to prominence before the emperor reclaims his throne. Of course, their plan runs the risk of drawing too many Scaleless Ones into the jungles and thus setting back the plans of all the tribes, but for now the treachery continues.