People of Thay
Thay is a land of divisions, many of which determine a person's place in society and her access to power. While the vast majority of Thayans are human, there is a substantial humanoid population as well. Most of the non-humans are either slaves or warriors in the various armed forces of the Red Wizards, but some have earned their emancipation.
Races and Cultures
Gnolls and orcs are the most common nonhuman humanoids in Thay. They form the backbone of the Thayan armies, especially the gnolls, who are often placed in city garrisons to keep the populace in line. The less-controllable orcs are usually employed as shock troops.
With the zulkirs' current policy of peaceful trade, the orcs often sit idle, itching for a fight of some sort. If one doesn't come quickly enough, they end up rioting among themselves. To keep this violence from overflowing into the rest of the population, the Red Wizards have set up a regular series of gladiatorial games. Orcs, gnolls, and other violent humanoids are pitted against one another in blood matches for the enjoyment of ever-growing crowds of spectators.
Goblins and halflings are also not uncommon in Thay, although they are almost always slaves. Their lives may not be as violent as those of the gnolls and orcs, but they are just as short. Tieflings and other planetouched creatures can be found here as well, although these rare folk are judged more by their human ancestry than their physical appearance.
In addition to the non-humans, Thay is home to two distinct human cultures: the Rashemi and the Mulan.
Mulhorandi blood runs thick in the veins of the Mulan. These are the descendants of renegades who rebelled against the Mulhorandi Empire 400 years ago, and since those fateful days, they have retained the power they wrested from their distant masters. Nearly all the Red Wizards are of Mulan extraction. There are a few exceptions, and most of these pass themselves off as the children of Mulan parents.
The Mulan people are tall and slim, sometimes to the point of being gaunt. Their skin is sallow, and they usually remove what little body hair they have by means magical or mundane. They wear intricately designed tattoos in place of hair, usually on their bare skulls and where their eyebrows once were. These tattoos often represent dragons, demons, devils, and other creatures of ancient evil. They are extremely stylized, sometimes to the point of being cryptic runes or even abstract designs. Many Red Wizards use tattoo magic, and the fashion of tattooing arose from this. Even those without the power of the Red Wizards wish to look as though they do.
Almost all nobles in Thay are of Mulan descent, although not all Mulan are nobles. At worst, lowborn Mulan are free farmers or artisans, although many seek power that does not depend on their family's wealth, becoming bureaucrats, soldiers, or priests. For those with the aptitude, the path of the Red Wizard lies open. In fact, most Red Wizards come from Mulan families of relatively humble means (although high-born Red Wizards have the advantage of personal wealth and noble alliances to aid their advancement when they complete their training).
The common people in Thay are almost exclusively Rashemi, kin to the folk of Rashemen. The Rashemi are a hardy people, short and stocky with dusky skin and dark eyes. They all have thick, dark hair, although most free Rashemi choose to shave their scalps (or at the least, crop their hair quite short) to distinguish themselves from slaves, who are forbidden to cut their hair. Wealthy Rashemi often have themselves tattooed in the Mulan style.
Thayan Rashemi are not a conquered people, nor are they oppressed. They do not have the same opportunities for advancement or wealth that people of Mulan descent do, but they think of themselves as Thayans first. The Rashemi are not happy about having the Mulan as their overlords, but they are resigned to their lot and take fierce pride in the strength and dark majesty of their land. Any Rashemi with sufficient means owns slaves, and most likely treats those slaves as harshly as they are treated anywhere in Thay. Few Red Wizards are of Rashemi descent, but Rashemi make up the bulk of Thay's free soldiers. Many of the most elite military forces are composed of cruel Rashemi warriors who are happy to serve the tharchions and Red Wizards.
Life and Society
There are four levels of Thayan society. They are, in order of increasing influence: slaves, commoners, nobles, and Red Wizards. It's no coincidence that this is also the decreasing order of population. There are far more slaves in Thay than any other group, but they have the least power. The Red Wizards, on the other hand, have few members but easily the most power.
The lowest level of Thayan society is, of course, the slave. The economy of Thay is built upon slave labor, and without it the country would quickly collapse. The current trade in magic items has changed this only a little, and it has not improved the lives of slaves one whit.
Slaves are not considered citizens and have no rights. They are chattels, like livestock. Killing or harming a slave is not murder or mayhem. It is merely damaging someone's property. A slave's owner can do with his own slave as he wishes, but if he harms someone else's property, he is expected to make reparations.
Slaves are costly (a young human field slave sells for about 50 gp in the markets at Eltabbar), so few commoners have the means to own them. Since slaves represent a significant investment for a small farmer or artisan, common Thayans take good care of them. Slaves consigned to the broad estates of noble Thayans face a harder existence, and those unfortunate souls sold off to the vast state-run fields or mines are treated as nothing more than beasts of burden.
Thay imports slaves from all over Faerûn, and just about every race is represented among the servile population. Those who survive the trip are usually the hardiest, but most do not last long in their job. House slaves live in relative comfort, caring directly for the needs of their Mulan masters. Those consigned to the mines rarely survive a year of scratching metals from the unforgiving Underdark.
As a whole, commoners do not have much better lives than slaves do. However, they are citizens, not property, which means they can't be indiscriminately tortured or killed. The Red Wizards can usually get away with such behavior, but they usually have to invent some sort of pretext for their actions.
Commoners have a far better life expectancy than slaves and better prospects overall. The worst jobs go to slaves, so by default, the commoners are a slight step up. Some have even managed to claw their way to the top of the heap, usually by becoming successful adventurers or wealthy merchants. A few are actually wealthier than most of the nobles and, even some Red Wizards. Most commoners are Rashemi, although there are a few members of this class from more distant lands.
Most of Thay is owned by ancient noble families of Mulan descent. The dividing line between a well-off Mulan commoner and an impoverished Mulan lord is starkly defined by ancestry. Certain Mulan families are noble, and others aren't. The nobles of Thay are content to be governed by the Red Wizards (after all, the most influential mages in that order are nobles themselves), but they jealously maintain control over the elevation of commoners, even heroic ones, to noble status. Nobles enjoy two paths to comfort, power, and wealth: land and service. Wealthy nobles often own vast tracts of land and make money by leasing it to those who reside upon it, whether they are farmers, ranchers, or miners. Land ownership is not restricted to the noble classes, but in practice, most land in Thay is already owned by a noble, so it is difficult for a commoner to acquire land of his own.
Landless nobles (or those who simply wish to make something of themselves) often take up service in Thay's army, bureaucracy, or clergy. While any free Thayan can become a soldier, official, or priest, leaders are most often drawn from the ranks of well-off nobles who purchase their rank or title. For example, in a typical Thayan garrison, the captain is minor landed Mulan noble, his officers are landless Mulan nobles, and his sergeants are Rashemi veterans. The troops, of course, are mostly Rashemi. A noble who buys a good post can enrich himself just as easily as one who owns a great estate It is expected that a powerful official or highly-placed officer will divert a certain amount of "taxes" for his own use.
The Red Wizards
At an early age, noble children are carefully examined for any signs of arcane talent. Any who are shown to have even small aptitude are immediately inducted into wizardry school, followed by a long and arduous apprenticeship to a Red Wizard. Those who survive their apprenticeship and are ambitious, resourceful, and talented are invited to join the Red Wizards. Some refuse the red robes, but this is rare: Becoming a Red Wizard is such an obvious path to power that the zulkirs don't need to recruit anyone.
The Red Wizards are the ruling class of this magocracy. It's illegal for any Red Wizard to take on an apprentice of other than Mulan blood. Some still do, however, and it's usually an open secret. At any given time, most Red Wizards claim up to a dozen apprentices (in game terms, wizards who have not yet acquired their first level in the Red Wizard prestige class), whom they keep at one another's throats to advance their own schemes. Apprentices exist to serve as the master's agents, minions, and thralls. What magical training they gain in the process is determined solely by their own ambition and initiative.
Only Red Wizards are permitted to wear red robes, their badge of office. The penalty for posing as one is instant death at the hands of the first Red Wizard to uncover the deception.
The Red Wizards are ruled by a council of eight zulkirs, one representing each of the eight schools of magic. These positions are for life - the only way a zulkir would ever deign to leave office would be feet first. Within each school exists an elaborate pecking order, in which standing is determined by magical ability and the patronage of more powerful wizards. The current leader of the council is Szass Tam, the zulkir of necromancy.
The Red Wizards are evil through and through. Their ultimate goal is nothing less than world domination, and they have spent much of Thay's history in pursuit of that effort by military means. It's only within the past few years that they have set aside the ways of war in favor of more insidious, economic methods.
Thay's economy has traditionally been borne on the backs of the vast number of slaves who are brought into the country in chains. With the increase of trade in magic items over the past few years, the number of slaves sold in Thay hasn't gone down one bit. In fact, now that Thay has enclaves in just about every major city of Faerûn, its merchants have even more access to slaves, and the slave population is actually growing.
Revenue from the sale of discounted magic items in the enclaves has far exceeded expectations. Thayan merchants have long traded, their nation's goods throughout the world, but they are finding their wares in high demand these days. Before the change in policy, the vast bulk of Thayan exports were raw foodstuffs, timber - including that of the highly prized blackwood tree - and Thayan artwork, jewelry, and crafts, mostly fashioned by skilled slaves. Such trade continues to this day, cementing Thay as a mercantile powerhouse.
Everyone the Thayans do business with is aware of their horrible history and their evil ways. The prices and quality of their wares, however, are just too good to turn down. This suits Szass Tam and the rest of the zulkirs, who have not given up their goal of world domination. The current plan is to use the greed of other people as a tool against them. Bearing discounted goods, Thayans should be able to work their way into every major economy on Faerûn. Once the Red Wizards have become entrenched in a nation, they can learn enough about the locals to dismantle them quietly from within.
Not all the zulkirs agree with this policy. This is particularly true of the more aggressive leaders such as Aznar Thrul, as well as those who aren't in a position to line their own pockets with the wealth brought in by this new venture, such as Zulkir Nevron of the school of conjuration. As with most large projects in Thay, this one could be brought low at any point by the bickering of the zulkirs.
Law and Order
Anyone, foreigner or Thayan, traveling in Thay must carry a pass issued by a tharchion allowing the traveler to use specific roads and visit specific cities. All tharchions delegate the task of issuing passes to minor officials and officers, which means that a travel permit for most points can be purchased with a suitable bribe (generally, 10 to 50 gp for foreigners). Soldiers, messengers, and officials engaged in the performance of their duties are exempt from the requirement to obtain permission to travel, but they generally carry tokens of their authority.
Outsiders traveling without authorization find it difficult, if not impossible, to move about the plateau. Patrols constantly scour the roads and byways, searching for escaped slaves (and the occasional brigand, criminal, or foreign spy). The penalty for being caught is usually death. Those found inside a Red Wizard's estate, on the other hand, are in for an even worse fate as the subject of painful magical experiments.
The laws of Thay are, simple, and the penalties are brutal. They are mostly concerned with establishing who's in power. The tharchions and zulkirs consult a set of tomes known as the Library of Law when faced with a serious problem. However, most of the time, the authorities ignore these books in favor of expediency. These are the most important laws of Thay.
- Only Red Wizards may wear red robes, so that all shall be able to identify them instantly.
- Do not steal from other Thayans or harm their belongings, especially their slaves.
- Do not kill or harm another Thayan. (In practice, this means, "Do not kill or harm anyone from your class or above.")
- Obey the orders of your betters.
The proscription against wearing red robes is unusual, but Thayans take it so seriously that most refuse to dress in any clothing of that color. The penalty for being caught in such garb is execution on the spot. It's rumored that some of the forces of the Red Wizards always carry a spare red robe or two. This is then supposedly thrown onto the body after the guards have killed someone, giving them an excuse for their actions.
The laws of Thay are enforced by whoever claims to have jurisdiction over the people involved or the location in which the disturbance occurred. In Thay, just about every Red Wizard employs slaves or commoners as private guards. The more powerful the person, the more numerous and more skilled the guards. In Thay, might makes right, and the Red Wizards have plenty of might. The trouble comes when more than one group of guards claims jurisdiction over any particular issue. This happens often, and when it does, a fight usually breaks out.
Defense and Warcraft
Thay is a military powerhouse, its combined armies outnumbering those of all its neighbors put together. However, due to a lack of cooperation between the various forces, Thay has never been as effective as it should be.
Each zulkir and tharchion is expected to form a body of troops known as a legion. Only a sponsor's resources limit the legion's makeup and size. Other Red Wizards are permitted household forces or bodyguards, too. The wealthiest of them may have thousands of troops at their disposal. Sadly - or fortunately, depending on one's point of view - the disparate Thayan forces work together as poorly as do their leaders. Only during extreme threats to the entire nation are the various armies able to put aside their differences and work with one another. Even then, their cooperation is hardly complete.
The various legions include a motley conglomeration of races and even monsters in their numbers. Goblin slaves, orc and half-orc mercenaries, and human cavalry are the most popular troops. Gnolls are common, but due to their cowardly natures, they are most often deployed as skirmishers and raiders rather than as front-line troops. Companies of hill giants, ogres, and trolls make terrifying foes on the field of battle. Cavalry units use many different kinds of mounts, including creatures not ridden anywhere else in Faerûn. Centaurs, manticores, leucrotas, griffons, hippogriffs, giant beetles, and even dragons serve Thay's elite troops, although horses are much more common. The most notorious units feature female riders mounted on the feared black unicorns bred by the Red Wizards. The best-known army of Thay is the Griffon Legion, a group of some four hundred Red Wizards commanded by the tharchion of Pyarados - currently Tharchion Nymia Focar - soaring through the skies on the backs of griffons. The most successful soldier breeding program in recent years has been the blooded ones, or blood orcs. Fierce, loyal, and physically powerful, the blooded ones make excellent shock troops. It's now rare to find a legion that doesn't have at least one unit of blood orcs in it. The Red Wizards are experimenting on other races with the techniques used to create blooded ones, too, so it may be only a matter of time before even more "blood" races are seen in the armies of Thay.
Few of Thay's cities have walls or other defenses. The Thayans regard the First Escarpment as a wall around the entire country and plan to halt invaders at the edge of the precipice. Thayan cities that lie below the escarpment (Bezantur, for example) are often protected by extensive walls. The first line of defense for Thay is the constant and vigorous patrolling of both its borders and its interior. This provides the zulkirs with an early warning system that allows them plenty of time to respond to any massive attack.
Arcane magic is supreme in Thay, but even the most jaded of the Red Wizards can't deny the power of the gods. Even the zulkirs at least pay lip service to a chosen deity. To do otherwise is to invite retribution. Evil deities - Beshaba, Loviatar, Shar, Talona, Umberlee, and Gargauth the Outcast - are openly worshiped. Veneration of good gods is not forbidden, but it is discouraged. Still, the Red Wizards know that there are times when anyone - even a lawful good deity - can come in handy, so they rarely advocate the burning of any metaphorical bridges.
The most widespread and powerful faith in Thay is that of Kossuth, the Lord of Flames. The Thayans find the neutral-aligned elemental deities to be a good match for their oppressive land. The tenets of good deities such as Tyr or Lathander stand in direct opposition to the hierarchy built by the Red Wizards, and evil deities demand the submission of their followers. Kossuth represents power and mastery without constraints, and so he finds favor among the Red Wizards. Kossuth's faith enjoys a primacy of position and numerous special considerations in Thayan society. Clerics of the Firelord are among the very few people a Red Wizard cannot harm or kill with impunity.
The worship of Bane has had a long tradition in Thay. While the church of the Black Lord suffered after the Time of Troubles - during which Cyric arose to take Bane's place - the return of Bane has resulted in strong and well-organized churches of both Bane and Cyric in Thay. A number of Thayans venerate Mask, and this number has been steadily but quietly growing in the past few years.; Shar's faith is also strongly ensconced in Thay.
The brutal humanoids in the service of the Red Wizards continue to worship their own pantheons. Orcs venerate Gruumsh, much as they do elsewhere, and gnolls worship the demon-god Yeenoghu.
A common misconception outside Thay is that the Red Wizards worship demons and devils. Actually, many ambitious Red Wizards do make regular contact with such evil outsiders, but only to strike bargains with the creatures. The Red Wizards consider themselves the equals of such beings - at least when they band together as a group, just as they did when they summoned the demon Eltab to help them in their quest for independence from Mulhorand.
Outlanders are observed suspiciously throughout Thay. The zulkirs have done enough spying of their own over the centuries to know they are likely being spied on too. This is especially true because of the anti-scrying magic that covers most of the country. The only way for most foreign governments to learn what is happening in Thay is by sending in spies to handle the investigation personally.
Thus, it's hard for a party of adventurers to get into Thay without being watched. Those suspected of espionage are summarily executed, and most Red Wizards aren't above accusing troublesome innocents of espionage just to have an excuse to kill them.
However, the zulkirs have realized that there are times during which a group of adventurers might come in handy. There are many ruins scattered about Thay, for instance, especially in Delhumide and in the Sunrise Mountains. The zulkirs and tharchions permit adventurers to poke around in such places, as long as they get a cut of any profits. They manage this in several ways, from overcharging for supplies to selling permits to actually demanding a share of treasure. Adventurers can stay at many inns across Thay. However, the locals are wary of people who are ignorant of the ways of the nation. There are just too many ways to run afoul of the Red Wizards and their cronies for most people to feel comfortable around visitors. On the other hand, many commoners and even some nobles see such newcomers as the perfect pawns in their schemes, unschooled as they are in the art of Thayan politics.