Thesk has had its share of trouble over the years. Besides being a constant target of slave raids from neighboring Thay, the Tuigan Horde nearly overran the place a few years back. To top it all off, the city of Telflamm - largest and wealthiest in the country - has fallen under the rule of the Shadowmasters, a powerful thieves' guild associated with the worship of Mask.
Despite this, the people of Thesk are honest, hardworking folk. As the gateway from Faerûn to Kara-Tur, a vast number of caravans pass through its borders each year, some of which are initiated by its own shrewd merchants. Those parts of Thesk that aren't based around the Golden Way consist of broad, prosperous farmsteads and forests with an occasional mining community.
Thesk lies between the Great Dale to the north and Aglarond and the Sea of Dlurg to the south. To the west is the Easting Reach, while Thay and Rashemen are to the east. The country is nearly 300 miles from north to south and a little less than 500 miles across. Like the Great Dale to the north, Thesk climbs as one travels east; Two Stars is about 2,000 feet above sea level.
Thesk is surrounded by water on two sides. The waters of the Easting Reach batter the western shore, but they also carry eager merchants to the two port cities of Telflamm and Nyth, places ripe for the plucking (or so it seems to such ambitious people). To the south, the Dragonjiaw Mountains define much of the land's lower edge. These steep slopes tumble precipitously into the waters of the Sea of Dlurg, across which the northern store of distant Aglarond is visible on a clear day.
The border with Thay is more ephemeral, defined by few geographical landmarks. To most Theskians, their land ends wherever the Thayan patrols begin. Over the past few years, this border has been more stable: The tharchions of Lapendrar and Eltabbar have made few efforts to edge farther into Thesk. The River Stir is well within Thayan territory, as is the River Umber. The Thesk Mountains and the vale between those peaks and the Dragonjaws to the south are Theskian, although settlements grow few and far between within fifty miles or so of Nethentir.
Lake Mulsantir and Lake Ashane form the rest of Thesk's eastern border. The Theskians have good relations with the Rashemi, and both parties have respected this border for decades. The southern edge of the Forest of Lethyr marks the boundary between Thesk and the Great Dale. Few Theskians live along the road from Tammar to Kront, conceding the forests to the rangers and druids of the Circle of Leth; they know that the penalty for trespassing there is often death. Theskian woodsfolk claim only the portion of the Lethyr that lies south of the River Flam, logging the southern eaves of the forest.
The Thesk Mountains (after which the entire country is named) dominate the center of the land, a range of low, rugged, scrub-covered peaks stretching more than 100 miles east from Phent. The mountains are inhospitable enough in their western vales, but as one travels east, they grow higher, more rugged, and more desolate. Snows persist on their northern faces until the end of summer, but the snow is usually gone by the middle of Eleasis. The sere brown peaks are visible from just about every point in the country, and travelers use them as landmarks.
Thesk is most famous for the Golden Way. This well-maintained road starts in Telflamm, crosses the River Flam, and then passes through Phent, Phsant, Tammar, and Two Stars, skirting the northern side of the Thesk Mountains before it dead-ends at the River Mulsantir, between Lake Ashane and Lake Mulsantir. From there, travelers and their cargo take ferries across the water to Mulsantir, in Rashemen, and continue along the Golden Way through Rashemen and the Endless Wastes all the way to distant Kara-Tur. The Golden Way is a major overland trade artery. Its existence is the primary reason that Thesk isn't simply part of the Great Dale or - worse yet - another tharch in Thay.
With the increase in trade in and out of Thay, merchants have developed a number of paths to Nethentir from Phent, Tammar, and Two Stars. They are well traveled these days, but all of them are long treks plagued by brigands and hungry monsters. The merchant princes of Thesk have no interest in building expensive new roads that would only make it easy for Thay to roll its siege engines from Eltabbar to Telflamm. Thesk may be a land of merchants rather than warriors, but its people know enough not to build a convenient invasion route for a power that has been their enemy in the past and will likely be their enemy again someday.
Major Geographic Features
For the most part, Thesk is a rural, lightly settled nation. Its main sources of revenue are farming and providing services to travelers along the Golden Way. Like the Great Dale to the north, Thesk s also a place of untouched natural beauty. Vast stretches of land are empty of people. Even most of the farmers in Thesk live along the Golden Way, making it easier to transport their harvests to market.
Few people live along the path between Phent and Nethentir, although this is one of the most breathtaking stretches of land in this part of Faerûn, running as it does between two mountain ranges separated by only twenty miles. Even in high summer, travelers can see snow high on the white-capped peaks to both the left and right.
Ashanath consists of the high, windswept plains leading up to the eastern border of Thesk, Lake Ashane. This region is almost entirely empty of habitation, even though it has the potential to be the most fertile land in all the Unapproachable East. Monstrous windstorms and cyclones (born of the Red Wizards' manipulation of the weather to moderate the climate of the Plateau of Thay) roar through the region in all seasons of the year, preventing all but the most foolhardy from putting down stakes here.
Two towns frame the Ashanath, one to the north and another to the south. In the north, Kront stands where the Great Road meets the Cold Road. The people here make their living by serving the needs of travelers who pass through. Destructive storms hammer the town at least once or twice a year, but every building features a cellar into which the place's inhabitants escape when an incoming tornado is spotted.
Life is much the same in Two Stars to the south. Built where the Golden Way meets the Cold Road, Two Stars is literally the crossroads of commerce in the East. The crossing to Rashesten lies only twenty miles east of the town, and in spring, when the River Mulsantir's ice has not yet broken but has grown too dangerous to attempt, eastbound caravans fill the inns and hostels of the town to bursting.
For more information about the Ashanath, see the description of this area in Rashemen.
The Dragonjaw Mountains form Thesk's southwestern border. This range of tall, majestic peaks rises quickly from the northern foothills and then tumbles down even faster into the Sea of Dlurg to the south. The Dragonjaws stretch from the Umber Marshes west into the Sea of Fallen Stars, although the broad Tannath Gap divides the range near the center. The tip of the western peninsula is known as Cape Dragonfang, and it is a useful navigational point for sailors on the Inner Sea. Creatures of all sorts call the Dragonjaw Mountains home, but only one settlement of any serious size exists there: the city of Milvarune. On the northern shore of the Sea of Dlurg, right at the bottom of a steep and narrow pass that cuts through one of the thinnest parts of the range, Milvarune is bounded by mountains on three sides and by the sea on the fourth.
Dozens of rock gnome clans live in high, hidden vales throughout the range. The Dragonjaws are unusually rugged, even as mountains go, so the gnomes have mastered the art of cultivating narrow terraces that cling to the steep slopes. They are also miners of great skill, and they trade precious metals and gems through Milvarune to the south or Phent to the north in exchange for goods they can't fashion for themselves, as well as foodstuffs that do not flourish in their mountain homes. A few of the gnome mines scrape copper, iron, and other metals from the ground, but the most successful ones chip up diamonds, rubies, and emeralds from the Underdark.
The gnomes of the Dragonjaws are reclusive and avoid humans (or other big folk) they don't know. They usually hide when strangers come along, coming out only once they have established that the intruders mean no harm. The gnomes distrust humans wearing any kind of red clothing. If the human has a shaved head as well, they remain in their hiding holes until he goes away. If he is bald and tattooed, they are likely to ambush him the first chance they get. The Dragonjaw gnomes have no use for Red Wizards.
The Dragon's Tooth
A hundred miles out to sea, sailors can spot the purplish peak of the Dragon's Tooth, the westernmost mountain of Cape Dragonfang. The mountain is home to an ever-growing family of copper dragons who occasionally descend from the mountaintops to rescue hapless ships from being plundered by pirates. The dragons' vigilance is another reason - besides the Simbul's famous edict declaring piracy in the waters of Aglarond to be punishable by immediate death - that corsairs avoid the Sea of Dlurg.
The patriarch of the dragon clan is named Filauxerimos (CG male wyrm copper dragon Brd8) who is said to have called celestial allies to build a great draconic castle near the peak of Dragon's Tooth. His clan includes two mature adults, a juvenile, two young, and two very young copper dragons, although the other adults (his daughters) live in mountaintop lairs elsewhere in the range. These dragons have taken it upon themselves to protect the region around their home. They don't care who rules Thesk, as long as the Dragonjaw Mountains are left alone; more than one arrogant Red Wizard has crawled home maimed by horrible acid burns. Filauxerimos and his kin stay away from the southern half of the range, in particular Mount Umbergoth, where Nartheling, the ancient fang dragon, has his lair.
The copper dragons all take part in an annual festival in Milvarune every spring. The central event of "Dragon Day," as this festival is known, is a riddle contest between the gnomes and dragons. The dragons normally win handily, but the occasional gnome victory always keeps the hope of the little people alive.
The Old Swords
At the eastern end of the northern range, overlooking the Tannath Gap: stands the distinctive peak known as the Old Swords. Near its acme, the mountain splits into two great rocky piers that jut a thousand feet into the sky, creating a landmark known by all who pass this way. In the cleft between the two pillars a tribe of evil dragonkin has made their home, venturing out to raid the Nethentir track and harry farmsteads in the valley below when the mood takes them. The leader of the tribe is a hulking monster called Daggerclaw (NE male dragonkin Ftr3/Clr7 of Tiamat), who delights in capturing humans for sacrifice to his dark draconic deity.
Filauxerimos and his clan haven't been sufficiently provoked to destroy the raiders' stronghold, but they attack and kill any dragonkin they come across. The dragonkin have learned to hide at the first sign of a copper dragon. Daggerclaw is plotting to secretly gather all his warriors and ambush one of Filauxerimos's younger and weaker kin, dreaming of a truly worthy sacrifice to Tiamat. Such an act would, of course, bring down upon the dragonkin tribe the full wrath of the copper wyrm and all his followers.
Bare and inhospitable, the Thesk Mountains loom brown and sullen over the western stretch of the Golden Way. Little grows here, and the land is dry and infertile. The mountains are not terribly high - the tallest peak is only about 7,000 feet tall - but they are unusually steep and difficult, with few gaps penetrating the maze of ridges and canyons. The last patches of winter snow melt by late summer, but for most of the rest of the year, the higher elevations are blanketed in white.
The biggest danger in the Thesk Mountains is a landslide. Incautious adventurers who make their way into unexplored portions of the mountains run the risk of bringing literally tons of loose rocks and earth down on their heads. Trails that have been safely used for generations can suddenly drop off into space, victims of the latest rainfall or rockslide. This is no place for an unwary traveler.
The Thesk Mountains are infested with all sorts of creatures, but the most common these days are orcs. The Zhents left these former warriors behind when they, along with the other armies of the West, faced down the Tuigan Horde many years ago. Today, many orcs work small iron mines scattered throughout the mountains, coming down to the city of Phsant to blow off steam whenever they scrape together enough ore and the time to enjoy the profits from their labor.
This is a small community of about forty hill giants based in the northeastern foothills of the Thesk Mountains. They live here with an assortment of dire wolves, ogres, and orcs, an unstable arrangement that frequently devolves into brawls over who is in charge of the place.
These creatures do some hunting and gathering, but their favorite means of feeding themselves is raiding the Golden Way. They're careful not to take advantage of travelers on this road too often, though, as they've been punished by the Shadowmasters of Telflamm before for such indiscretions. These days, the marauders more commonly harass people on the path from Phent to Nethentir. The giants never raid a caravan escorted by a Red Wizard or one bearing the mark of the Shadowmasters. They are prepared to deal with just so much trouble.
The tallest of the Theskian peaks, Mount Nirg is a rampart of barren rock and loose, gravelly slopes that winds almost ten miles through the eastern reaches of the range. Its lower reaches are littered with hundreds of ancient tombs and the remnants of old stone roads built by some folk lost to history, and the mountain itself has an even worse reputation than the rest of this bleak range.
In a high, rocky tor near the summit lurks a drow outpost of the city of Phaundakulzan, which lies deep in the Underdark about halfway between the Thesk Mountains and the Thaymount. The outpost is nearly impossible to reach without flying, but the drow use a series of seemingly endless staircases that spiral upward through the mountain. The occupants of the outpost monitor the movements of the Red Wizards up and down the path between Nethentir and Phent. The drow can scarcely believe the zulkirs have given up their warlike ways and keep a close eye on them at all times. Just why the drow care about Thayan movements is unclear, but one theory favored by those in Telflamm who know of the outpost is that they are waiting for Thay to launch an all-out attack against someone. When they do, the drow plan to sweep in and take the Plateau of Thay - or at least Thaymount - for themselves.