People of Thesk
Although Thesk is populated mostly by humans (a substantial majority), it is still the most racially diverse nation in the Unapproachable East. Gold is the great equalizer here. No matter who a person is or what she may have done, her fortune speaks louder than all else. The people of Thesk respect those of wealth, especially those lucky or talented souls who earned their wealth with their own hard work and ingenuity.
Races and Cultures
Thesk is the melting pot of the East. Races who would be at war against one another in other parts of the world work side by side here. The influence of gold is certainly one factor, but many new peoples have also come to Thesk over the past several years. Given the situation at the time - the war with the Tuigan Horde and the ever-present threat of Thay - the Theskians were happy for the help, and their gratitude has waned little over time.
Most of the humans of Thesk are descended from the Damarans who settled this land 400 to 500 years ago. These folk came from the cities of Impiltur to the north, and for some time the lords of Telflamm owed fealty to the rulers of that land, but Thesk has been independent of Impiltur for well over 200 years. In Thesk, folk of Damaran blood have long mingled with Rashemi and a handful of Nars and Mulan who have come to this land, so Theskians show signs of both Damaran and Rashemi blood.
These people hail from the expansive Shou Empire in the distant lands of Kara-Tur, far beyond the Endless Wastes to the east. Many of the Shou currently living in Thesk were either slaves of the Tuigan Horde or refugees scurrying just ahead of its advance who slipped into Thesk mere days or tendays before their relentless pursuers. Others came with the long caravans of merchant wagons that have been crossing the Endless Wastes between Kara-Tur and the Unapproachable East for centuries.
No matter how they got here, the Shou have become a fact of life in Thesk. These foreign people with their strange tongues and exotic ways usually congregate in districts of their own, called Shou-towns, in just about every major city along the Golden Way and beyond. They are slowly starting to have an influence upon the societies of Faerûn as they become more and more common in the region, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the cities of Thesk.
When the Tuigan Horde was defeated, not all the Tuigans returned home. Some doffed their armor and threw down their swords, trading in a soldier's life for a peaceful existence in Thesk. Most of these folk have little to no education, but they are sharp. Many of them were pressed into the service of the Horde and felt no great loss when it disappeared.
Others refused to give up the violent ways that had gotten them to the doorstep of Faerûn. Many of these raiders knew no other trade than war, and. they were determined to make it pay. The bandits who held Tammar for so long, for instance, were mostly remnants of the Tuigan Horde. Such brigands continue to plague Thesk to this day, although in dwindling numbers. Few have enough determination to stand against the resolve of the Merchants' Council to keep the roads clear, and most such highway robbers have been summarily executed for their trouble.
Orcs and Half-orcs
The Zhents came to the aid of Thesk against the Tuigan Horde a dozen years ago. After helping to win the battle against the Horde, the Zhents opted to leave their orc units stationed in Thesk. Over the intervening years, hundreds of other orcs and half-orcs have come to join their fellows in one of the few human nations that has shown the capacity to tolerate their kind.
The oligarchs worry that the orc soldiers are still loyal to Zhentil Keep. If this is true, the Zhents could conceivably activate these troops at any time and destroy Thesk from within. For this reason, many of the orcs who came to Telflamm have been relocated, but most have been treated well enough in Thesk to reconsider their loyalties, should the call no arms come once again.
Life and Society
Thesk is all about business, at least from the point of view of most humans who live and work here. There are a few mines in the mountains and a number of farms along the Golden Way, but these collectively come in a distant second behind commerce, shipping, and catering to the caravans along the main trade routes.
Wealth is the means to power, station, and comfort in Thesk. Most often, this wealth lies in the hands of the so-called merchant lords, or oligarchs, who control the great merchant houses and the endless streams of caravans bound for the lands beyond the Endless Wastes. However, prosperous landowners and retired adventurers fit into this hierarchy as well. The merchants of Thesk do not look down on the farmers, craftsfolk, and laborers who populate their country. A merchant who has gained wealth and influence sees governing as a responsibility imposed by success and rarely seeks to do anything more than discharge his duties in the quickest and most efficient manner possible.
Theskians tend to be a warm people, always ready with a kind word and an open palm. They accept payment for services rendered in any form. To them, it's not who you are that's important so much as what you're worth. To call all Theskians schemers is a bit harsh, but most of them are always on the prowl for the next big deal. Others may see their commercialism as crass, but Theskians are some of the most open-minded folk in Faerûn. They didn't condemn the orcs the Zhentarim left behind. Instead, they saw them as valuable resources.
As the gateway between Kara-Tur and Faerûn, Thesk's fortuitous geographical location has transformed its people into one of the wealthiest nations in the East. Dozens of large trading costers and hundreds of minor entrepreneurs organize huge caravan trains to carry the goods of Faerûn to the distant eastern lands. These magnates invest thousands of gold pieces in cargoes that sell at a premium in Kara-Tur, then use the revenues to buy silk, spices, and other exotic goods no bring back to Thesk and sell to other merchants of the Inner Sea for a prince's ransom. An investment of 100 gp in western goods sent to Kara-Tur can return 500 gp in silk and spice, although the journey to Kara-Tur and back takes a full year and can be quite dangerous.
Not all Theskians are capable of sponsoring their own caravans to the far east, but many, especially in the larger cities, work as clerks, guards, laborers, and provisioners in the great merchant houses. Those who are not involved in the eastern trade make their living much as do people of other lands. Thesk exports beef, leather, grain, and some timber to the nearby nations of the East, although many farmers and ranchers simply provision the caravans instead of selling their produce abroad.
Thesk took a hit in the coin purse when the Tuigan Horde invaded. The disruption cost not only many lives but a great deal of gold, as two entire seasons of caravans were lost. Clearing the Golden Way became a top priority for the Merchants' Council and even the Shadowmasters, both of whom rely on the prosperity of Telflamm to fuel their own rise to power.
Law and Order
Aglarondans mutter that justice is for sale in Thesk, but this is not entirely true. Crime and disorder are bad for business, so the oligarchs make a point of keeping order in their cities and towns. The common folk are protected by a code of laws, enforced by city watches hired by the merchants' councils to protect people and property from the depredations of the lawless. However, there is little regulation of business practices, so unscrupulous merchants think nothing of bribing the clerks of their competitors to pass them information, charging usurious rates when lending money, or even paying marauders in the Endless Wastes to attack their rivals' caravans.
Most crimes are punishable by stiff fines as opposed to imprisonment or execution. A merchant lord can usually afford to buy her way out of any trouble short of murder, and sometimes even that can be atoned for with a sufficiently large payment to the city's ruling merchants. Common Theskians do not often have recourse to this sort of bribery, so it's not unfair to say that the laws of the land are more onerous to the poor than the wealthy. Thesk has a tradition of vigilante justice, though, and poor folk may take the law into their own hands when they perceive their wealthy neighbors have gotten away with something.
Defense and Warcraft
The Theskians are not a warlike people. They have never mounted an invasion of another country and have no desire to do so. They'd rather trade with their neighbors, and it's hard to do that in the middle of a fight. "War is bad business for everyone but the gravediggers," is an old Theskian maxim, oft repeated in troubled times. Still, the Theskians know their wealth makes them a target for those who conduct business transactions at the point of a sword. They invest considerable resources in securing themselves and their belongings against aggressors. Most merchants, not content to leave the safety of themselves, their families, and their belongings to anyone else, hire on large numbers of competent and loyal guards.
Thesk has no national army. Instead, the larger cities of Milvarune, Nyth, Phsant, and Telflamm each field relatively small forces of professional soldiers augmented by well-ordered and disciplined mercenary companies. These mercenaries abide by a long-standing, relatively strict set of standards that prevent dishonorable actions, such as changing sides in the middle of a conflict or refusing to fight unless their employers come up with more money. The mercenary companies also have a tradition of negotiating with one another before a battle to see if a show of force will suffice. Numerous conflicts between Thesk's cities have turned into little more than martial parades: The captains of both sides determine who would have won in open battle and report the results to their employers.
For the most part, the cities of Thesk stand together in a defensive league. A Thayan attack against Tammar, for example, would bring the armies of Telflamm, Phsant, and Two Stars to their neighbor's defense. Theskians may not have much of a martial tradition, but they can hire a lot of help (including sorcerers, wizards, and intelligent monsters) to fight a major war. When the professional forces are insufficient to meet the threat, Theskian towns muster numbers of well-armed militia. Thesk is a plutocracy, not a democracy, but its folk are willing to fight for the freedom and opportunities they do possess.
The typical Theskian soldier is an experienced mercenary, mounted and equipped with the best arms and armor he can afford. Thesk's defenses have been strengthened of late by the addition of thousands of orc warriors, many of whom serve in the armies and mercenary companies of the cities. The orcs may be less reliable than human soldiers, but they live for battle.
It's said that the people of Thesk worship only coins, but this is patently not true. In fact, most Theskians are extremely generous with their contributions to the gods, tending to favor several deities over one. Merchants like to cover all the bases, ensuring that most of the deities they recognize are happy with them. Waukeen, Tymora, and Shaundakul are all popular in Thesk, as these deities oversee commerce, fortune, and travel, respectively.
Few Theskians openly worship evil gods, although those willing to use any means to get ahead find Cyric's church compelling. The one great exception to this is Mask. Just about everyone in Thesk ends up contributing to the priests of Mask by allowing the Shadowmasters a cut of their earnings, whether they realize it or not. Those who choose not to contribute voluntarily are quite often required to pay later.
Adventurers are welcome in Thesk. There are plenty of dangerous jobs to be had - from poking around in ancient ruins to escorting caravans across the country - and never enough brave souls ready to undertake them at a reasonable price. The Theskians recall the role of adventurers in terminating the drive of the Tuigan Horde, and they respect the power of high-level adventurers. They try to get into the good graces of such people, hoping this investment of time and friendship will pay off in the future.
Thesk itself has only a few locations appropriate for a traditional dungeon delve, but it makes a great base of operations for an ambitious party willing to hire out its services to a wealthy benefactor.