The Flower in the Sepulcher
The Venom Kingdoms
“I sing of the castles in the wind that take
The shapes of ten thousand serpents.
O! And the whispers of the deserts are
Nothing before the beasts within the hearts of men.”
—The Masnavi of the Lotus
Area: Approximately 500,000 square miles
Area Comparative: About the size of Peru
Population: Hard to determine, but censuses from the five largest sultanates give a figure of about 7 million. Nomadic tribes and civilizations probably add another 1.5 million to that total.
Demographics: Again, difficult. Humans make up the majority, and elves are scarce. The monstrous humanoids (goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc.) make up the largest minority at, perhaps, 30% of the population. Dwarves are more common in the southern deserts and a fairly prominent percentage of exotics (half-janni, bhukas, giants, etc.) persist in the deep sands.
Demonym: Desert-folk is perhaps the most common, but most take their titles from their sultanate or beylik (Spider, Asp, Scorpion, etc.). “Sand devil” is a common epithet. “Camel-fucker” is less a racial slur and more a general insult applied throughout the deserts to everyone from hated enemies to dear friends.
Location: The Venom Deserts are a large, arid vale in the rain shadow of the Coal Mountains and the highlands of the Imperial Marches. The River Parvolo and its tributaries are the lifeline of the region, and the major settlements all connect to one of these rivers. The deserts are bordered to the north by the Sea of Dreams and to the east by the Shining Sea.
Geography: The phrase “Venom Deserts” doesn’t quite capture the variety of biomes present here. There are genuine, deep-sand deserts in some quarters, but along the river valley and in oases there are incredibly vibrant ecosystems swelling with palms and aquatic life of great varieties. Close to the mountains the desert grows colder and turns to steppe. Rain is rare, and the climate grows very hot in the summer months. Winters are cooler, but snow is more or less unheard of in the lower altitudes. Temperatures are more livable by the seashore. In all, North Africa would be a fair comparison.
Government: No unitary government. The competing kingdoms, sultanates and beyliks mostly govern through absolute monarchies, with a few checked by majlis or parliaments.
Capital: None. The largest city at the time of writing is the capital of the Kingdom of the Asp, Naja.
Ancient Motto of the Kingdom of the Lotus: Here Is Your Answer
Brief Description: In the Time of Legends, it is said that great Pharaohs ruled the wastes and built pyramids and statues to their hubris that offended the Gods and invited great catastrophe. In actual recorded history, The deserts were united by Akbar Shahjahanabad in the year 380 AC, after he called a jihad against the devils that had, according to legend, taken up residence in the ancient cities and thrones and kept the tribes scattered to the four winds. For a time his was a Kingdom that flourished in the arts, sciences and study of magic. But years of war against the Empire of the Horse, the Kingdom of the Ram and finally the wretched Mosquito Empire brought the Kingdom down on itself and its dissolved into warring factions. Populations are either nomadic wanderers or concentrated along river valleys, where cities rise beautifully from the wastes only to be razed by some invading army or forgotten abomination from the sands. The deserts are not particularly aligned in any way, although one could call the whole of the territory weakly Chaotic.
Religion: The ancient Gods of the pharaohs are long dead (or so they say…), but many other deities have found a place here. Many desert dwellers follow djinn-worship practices, seeing these spirits of the wastes as incarnations of the divine. Others have taken up a sort of austere mysticism propagated by wandering holy men called nawriz that preaches enlightenment of the spirit through self-denial, meditation and travel. In the river valleys and cities, temples to gods of power, knowledge and trade are most common. Wee Jas, Boccob, the Trinity, Kord and others are worshipped here, as well as other more regional deities and spirits. Obad-Hai is known in the wastes through an incarnation called The Man of The Field of Reeds, where his cult has taken on a peculiar afterlife-focused aspect. Demon and devil worship are sadly prevalent among the rich and powerful whose ambition leads them to pacts harmful to lord and serf alike.
Military: With almost every able bodied Waster having borne arms in combat at some point in their life, a united Desert Kingdom would probably field one of the strongest forces in the Known World. Even divided as it is, the armies of the beys and pashas are masters of the strike and retreat, inflicting devastating blows on enemy caravans or encampments and fading into the sands. Assassination, poisonmaking, sabotage and spycraft is not so much a profession here as a respected art, and firstborn sons of sultans are trained in these arts like those of the soft southern lords are trained in dancing and heraldry. The illusionists of this shifting land are renowned in the four corners of the world, and many of the wandering nawriz take up a form of ascetic combat that turns seemingly wizened old men into warriors of deadly capability. Add to that the wandering orc hordes that emerge from the steppe to pillage the cities of the valleys periodically. This is a violent place, with violent and capable people.
Economy: Although the lack of a united authority for directing trade means that merchants must resort to heavily guarded caravans making their way down the Parvolo or across the deserts, this is all the same a region bound together by trade. Rare spices, incenses, drugs and other such things grow in the desert and are spread over the known world. Melee weapons made in the forges of the great cities rival those of any dwarven make, and the inundated fields of the Parvolo and its tributary rivers produce large crops of warm-weather produce like wheat, pomegranates, chickpeas, barley and flax. Finally, goldsmithing and jewellery are ancient traditions in city and waste alike and the products from the Deserts are coveted the world over.
The Largest Factions: In descending order of power and influence—
The Kingdom of the Asp
The Spider Sultanate
The Kingdom of the Golden Scorpion
The Beylik of the Eel
The Sultanate of the Antlion
The Death’s-Head Moth Confederacy (this last is a deep desert coalition of monasteries and oases, not so much an organized kingdom)