Region Altaruk

Altaruk, the "Trade Fortress"
Once a small trading post with moderate defenses, Altaruk has grown into a formidable and highly defensible fortress with a fluctuating population of three to four thousand. It is strategically situated between two towering cliff faces. The majority of its inhabitants are mercenaries waiting for work from the many caravans that pass through on their way to Tyr and Urik. 

History
Altaruk started as a trading post over 150 years ago. It was built around a large oasis formed from moisture collected on opposing cliff surfaces. In time it became a well-traveled route from the southlands to Tyr and Urik.  The outpost supplied many weapons to armies and mercenary companies, and opened up a trade agreement with Tyr for slave laborers. However, Kalak renegged on their weapons agreement, and readily sided with Tithian to ensure the fall of the now-deceased sorcerer king. Altaruk expanded rapidly, seeing an influx of gladiators seeking employment that they were able to offer, as caravans were seeing an increase in bandit activity and needed seasoned warriors to protect them.  

Racial Groups
Many races coexist in Altaruk. While their coexistance is far from peaceful, the citizens of Altaruk represent perhaps the most racially diverse population. The largest racially organized group is the elven merchant company known as the Sand Runners.  They only employ elves and maintain a standing army of roughly 160 mercenaries, used exclusively for guiding caravans.  

Major Political/Religious Figures

Gunflas Rijend
  • Gunflas "Steward of the Pass" Rijend is the acting ruler of Altaruk, though it is more accurate to think of him as a coordinator. He is impatient and pompous. He is rarely seen outside of his six-story wooden fortress in the heart of the city. On the occasions where he ventures into the city, he is always seen with a large gang of 6-12 mercenaries. Gunflas meets irregularly with his city officials. He has a penchant for games and competition, and is a generous patron of both the Muscle Festival and the Entyad.  
  • Inemen is the trade minister, perhaps the most wealthy and powerful man in Altaruk, after Gunflas.  He is loud and judgemental. Ineman was instrumental in bartering trade deals with the major companies in Tyr, Balic and even Urik that all do business in Altaruk. Unlike Gunflas, Ineman is frequently seen roaming the streets of the city, meeting with the various trade guilds and companies. Many do not like his "hands on" approach to running the trade affairs of the city. 
  • A mercenary captain named Unt' Raku runs a fearsome mercenary company called the Midnight Talons. He is grumpy and soft spoken. He is well known for paying cheap wages, but he always has work so most mercenaries have worked for "Uncle Unt" at some point. 
  • The Sand Runners is a quiet but powerful merchant outfit. They avoid politics altogether, unless their trade business is impacted. There is an uneasy truce between Gunflas and the Sand Runners. It is no lie that he would like to see them gone from his city, but the last time anyone tried the death toll was catastrophic. Both sides have learned to set aside their differences for now. The organization and bylaws of the Sand Runners is not well known among non-elves.   
  • The Cult of the Tower has a large following here, about 120 followers, led by an aloof thri-kreen wizard named Yuent'Cha, who is chatty and helpful. 
 
Major Laws
The most heavily enforced laws involve trade and mercenary contracts. Many trade arrangements are made in the presence of a magistrate (or the trade minister himself if large trade arrangements are at stake). Willful failure to fulfill contractual obligations carries heavy penalties: flogging, fines and enslavement of the guilty parties is typical.  

Thieving is rampant, but punishment is usually left to the victim and thief to figure out. The most common and acceptable resolution for disputes is spike fighting. Most watering holes and gambling establishments have well-used spike fighting rooms, which are bloody, smelly messes.  Participants tie their off-hands together, and strap stone knuckles to their fighting hand (tipped with sharp obsidian or bone spikes).  The officiator will set conditions for the fight appropriate to the offense: first to draw blood, first to yield, and to the death are all common terms for a spike fight.  

Dead bodies are carted out daily to the Stinking Pit just outside the south entrance. 

Major Holidays
  • The Muscle Festival is a week-long celebration of contests, fighting and drinking.  At the end of the week, three victors are crowned: one for strength, one for skill, one for luck. Each receives a large monetary reward and fame.  While the games are fun to watch, it is widely suspected that the games are rigged.  While the monetary reward is substantial, the entry fees are astronomical and many able competitors cannot compete without some form of noble sponsorship. 

Competitors in the Entyad
  • The Entyad is a desert race, a 17-day course through the harshest parts of the desert between Altaruk and Urik.  The Midnight Talons occupy five checkpoints along the route during the race, to ensure each contestant follows the proscribed route and collects the requisite tokens. The winner receives a lavish party in his honor and is awarded a modest plot of land in Urik, on which to build a villa - this is to symbolize the first days of Urik, when freemen braved the deserts to seek a new life in Urik.  In addition to the land and party, the winner receives fame and a glut of small gifts and trinkets from adoring fans and merchants.  
  • Altarukites observe an hour of silence at sunrise in the first day of each month. This is known as the Gray Hour, and is a moment to reflect upon fallen friends and comrades.  Brief speaking is acceptable, but loud or prolonged speech is considered rude, and insulting to the memories of those remembered. At the conclusion of the Gray Hour, toasts are customarily raised.  Pomegranite wine is customary, though any potable liquid will suffice (water, milk or juice).  It is considered good luck to begin new business relationships over Gray Hour, and to show respect for the mutually honored dead.

Customs/Mindsets
Most inhabitants live and die by their swords on a daily basis. In Altaruk, "reputation preceeds brotherhood", as they say. Most inhabitants make a living off their reputation. So while the outpost is rough and bloody, the majority of mercenaries are skilled and professional - especially when dealing with the larger outfits. 

People carry weapons openly. 


Prevalence of Magic
Magic users are generally put to death if they are suspected of practicing their arts within Altarak. This sentiment is fairly common across Athas. As most common folk cannot distinguish between defilers and preservers, it is simply safer to destroy practitioners of magic on sight. 


A Midnight Talon ready to fight
Style of Clothing
Clothing and armor is worn to look tough. Spikes, paint, and openly displayed weapons are displayed along with patches or marks of prominent mercenary companies.

Educational System
Mercenary companies offer many forms of combat training.  It is relatively easy to hire a personal tutor. Other skills readily available for teaching are languages (over 24 distinct races and 31 languages on average), wilderness survival, thievery (there are many guilds operating in the city), and some basic trades (weaponsmithing and repair, armorsmithing, etc)

Notable Products
  • Halgar Meads (drink) - a variety of meads from inix honey, which the locals affectionately call "gretch". 
  • Drackcloth (textile) - a rough woven fabric made from the plants that grow on the cliff faces surrounding Altaruk.  It is expensive and somewhat dangerous to harvest, but yields a very durable cloth that is popular among mercenary groups that spend a lot of time in the Alluvial Wastes.
  • Gold-tailed Inix (livestock) - inix breeders in Altaruk are known for their stronger but slower gold-tailed inix. They are noticeably larger, with thicker legs and a shorter abdomen. 
  • Altarukian Daggers (arms) - very elaborate blades, while useful and combat ready, are designed more for show than for practice. They are on par with typical combat blades, but very showy and very expensive. Most seasoned mercenaries would rather sell one than own one.  However they are popular among thugs and rogues outside of Altaruk. 
  • Tattoos (art) - a local half-elf named Gavik inks tattoos of a quality not seen elsewhere in Athas. Gavik is often mistaken for a mul given his broad shoulers, bald head and gladiator build. He can be found at a small shop in Traders Row. He uses an ancient inking process, crafting the dyes himself and customized for each client. There is currently a wait list to even speak to Gavik, and he interviews each client personally before he decides if he is willing to mark their skin with his art.    
Folklore

The Curse of the North Stairs - Fourteen years ago, a cult leader named Samad threw himself from the cliff face north of Altaruk that overlooks the city. He ascended the narrow, treacherous staircase and made an unintelligible declaration to the city before tossing himself onto the rocks below. The north stairs are cursed with his ghost, and it is widely known that ascending the stairs before nightfall will surely result in seeing Samad's ghost which will posess you and cause you to leap off the stairs to your death. It is believed that saying the phrase "I follow Nassangul" may allow safe passage.

Halgar's Guild Hall - A small gambling hall near the city gates is marked by a sign painted gold. The proprietor Halgar, a wiry dwarf, is purportedly an ex-slave who worked on Kalak's golden tower before escaping into the desert and finding himself a home in Altaruk. He built the inn with his own hands, using scrap wood and stone to expand an abandoned stable. Years ago, he single-handedly slew a mercenary company of six who refused to pay their tab. He slew the leader as he stood arguing, and the rest of the company dragged Halgar out into the street for some "fun". Their fun turned to terror as he one-by-one, broke their necks with his bare hands. Many witnesses verified this story, and the saying "Always pay your tab at Halgar's" has been heard uttered as far away as Balic. 

Map



  1. North Gate - Road to Tyr and Urik. Earthen walls are 30' high at the base of the canyon, with towers reaching another 20' higher
  2. Tower of Maltaris - an imposing guard tower rising 80' above the canyon floor    
  3. Gald Hall - the North Barracks and assembly hall.   
  4. Altaruk City Stables - sufficient to house pack animals of many caravans    
  5. Inn By The Rock - Proprietor Stella Bloodmont, a young widow and ex gladiator  
  6. The Grave - Meadhouse and gambling hall   
  7. Fort Altaruk Armory - the original outpost and fortress, which is still used as an armory  
  8. Fort Altaruk Stables - military training and mounts for standing cavalry.  
  9. The Midnight Talons' Guild Hall - Proprietor Unt' Raku 
  10. The Steward's Residence - formal living quarters for the administrators of the city, 
  11. The Steward's Tower - a six-story complex of wooden and earthen buildings, catwalks, back alleys and hidden rooms. It is a vibrant location at all hours of the day and night. It boasts several taverns, a luxurious inn and parlor, a private barracks and armory, a stable, an artesian well an many other amenities.   
  12. Halgar's Guild Hall - A gambling house 
  13. Private Residence 
  14. The Hollow - Altaruk's arena  
  15. Mercenary Guild Hall 
  16. Temple of the Way - a sanctuary for students of the way
  17. Warehouse 
  18. Private Residences 
  19. The Last Hope - Inn and tavern, Proprietor Jiri Kuhaz  
  20. Trader's Row - weapons, perfumes, leather and hide goods, tattoos, arrows, pottery, herbs, scrolls and paper, ink, metal and stone items, clothing, textiles and footwear 
  21. Minister of Trade Offices 
  22. Traders Commons - livestock, grains, plants, seeds, slaves, fermented beverages 
  23. Sand Runners Market - a sprawling mini-city of tents within a large earthen-walled field. 
  24. Private Residences 
  25. Private Residences 
  26. Mergalt Hall - South Barracks, Armory and Stables  
  27. South Gate - Passage to Balic 
  28. South Keep - Stone walls built 50' high with parapets and half-giant guards 
  29. Falris Family Livestock Yards - purveyors of trained Gold-Tail Inix 
  30. Wex Family Livestock Yards - purveyors of trained Gold-Tail Inix 
  31. Tradesmen Guild Hall 
  32. Black Neri's - Meadhall, Proprietor Neri the Gaunt 
  33. Private Residences 
  34. Mercenary Guild Hall 
  35. Private Residences 
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Roland Chambers,
Jan 16, 2012, 6:40 PM
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