Constant battles among the city-states

(Brent Welborn) #1

In the original box set, it talks about the city-states constantly battling small skirmishes for food, supplies, and slaves. The revised box set downplayed this aspect.
I’ve never really used this aspect of the setting much. But I’m thinking it may be an interesting way to show how the players aren’t the center of the universe. Maybe they arrive at a city state and it’s under siege by another? Well, no getting in now and the water is running low. Oh no!
I am interested in others experiences and opinions on the topic.

(Zeque) #2

Mmm Road to Urik seems like a war between the cities. I’m just starting Asticlian Gambit and it looks like Gulg and Nibenay could start fighting in any moment.
IMHO, it could be that small armies fight outside the cities. Like someone found a new mine, oasis, forest, etc, and the closets SK send groups of fighters and Templar to claim control over that resource.
An invasion or a direct attack to a city looks like a world shacking event and should happen only if one SK really believes he/she has a real adventage over his/her enemy. I could totally do that as part of a long term campaign and the result will affect how the adventure continues.


There is every reason to believe that the wars between the city states, when they do not result in the destruction of a city like Yaramuke, are largely theatrical - at least in Athas during the time of the campaign setting.

We are assured that there are wars, but nothing much comes of it. This reminds me of the situation in the novel 1984, the state of war which is described in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” - a fictional book in a fictional novel.

This is known only to the Sorcerer Kings themselves. All the city states are held in a constant state of readiness, justifying the harsh conditions imposed on the populace.

(Joshua Slane) #4

One thing about the city states going to war with one another is that sorcerer king trumps army as a general rule.

(Esteban García) #5

Maybe there is an unwritten rule between sorcerer kings so that they don’t fight each other directly. Maybe for them war is just a game.

(Stuart Lynch) #6

I’ve always seen the Tablelands as a Cold War analogue. Most of the time the city-states behave cordially to one another, albeit through gritted teeth. Occasionally something will be found or for a domestic reason an SM will send troops out as a show of force. The closest CS of course has to put on their own show of force and skirmishes ensue.

I figured Gulg and Nibenay were an exception to this with constant low level skirmishing, ambushes and assorted trickery going on but only in the Crescent Forest (Ivory Triangle box has a map of significant battles in the forest). Draj and Raam could skirmish between Fort Ebon and Fort Firstwatch - probably with Draj initiating the battles to secure captives for Tec’s pyramid.

Tyr and Balic are generally too out of the way (or too valuable in the case of Tyr and its iron mines) that they probably don’t get smacked too often. Urik is the wild card in the pack. A martial SK combined with being close enough to project power to Raam, Nibenay or Tyr means its not out of the question Hamanu might launch probing attacks or retaliatory strikes against any of these. I thought I read somewhere that Urik once besieged NIbenay for a year but had to give up after running out of supplies (can’t find the reference anywhere though).


The way I saw it, a state of total war between the city states where one is actively trying to conquer the other is something the sorcerer kings could normally not afford to attempt. Keep in mind that during a military campaign logistics are crucial to success, without a stable supply line an army will crumble under its own weight. Not only does this mean a city state is forced to invest a truly immense amount of resources into the attempted invasion, there are also precious few areas between city states for the armies to prey on for supplies. For the longest time the way armies kept their supply lines stable was by living off the land they passed through (this usually involves robbing the local populace blind at the business end of a sword). Since this is a far less lucrative option in the Tablelands we have to assume that the vast majority of supplies are coming straight out of the sorcerer king’s graineries, if you thought famines were bad in the city states before you ain’t seen nothing yet.

But lets put a pin in that point and look at the second reason marching an army through Athas is a horrendous risk. The fact that this is Athas we’re talking about here. The land is teeming with all sorts of horrific monsters and opportunistic raiders. Any stragglers are in severe danger and it is worth bearing in mind that when an army is on the march its size is effectively doubled in the form of civilians following the army providing various services such as camp followers, smiths, carpenters, guides, etc. You’re basically ringing the dinner bell when you try and march thousands of men, women, and yes even some children through the tablelands all at once. Sure the soldiers can defend much of the force, but they can’t be everywhere at once especially in numbers sufficient to deter oh say a Braxat.

However the third reason total war is relatively rare in Athas is simply the matter of the sorcerer kings themselves. Depending on the edition you’re playing these guys are either a suitable replacement for an entire army or at least powerful enough to turn the tide of a battle between thousands on their own. Obviously the reigning sorcerer king would want to accompany his army if he is intending to conquer a rival city, otherwise the defending city’s sorcerer king would be all but guaranteed to turn back the invading army. There’s a slight problem with this though, namely the fact that the invading army has no sorcerer king currently at their home city. This means any city with ambitions of conquest has to worry about a rival city potentially capitalizing on the opening they are leaving at home. Sure the sorcerer king could make pacts with nearby city states to safeguard against this, but it seems clear none of the sorcerer kings trust or like each other.

Now with all of this said it is clear that total war between city states has happened in the past. The invasion of Tyr was a special occasion since they had no sorcerer king to protect them against Hamanu, but this also left Hamanu feeling confident enough to send his army forth without him personally there. The sacking of Yaramuke is more interesting still since this is a distinct exception to the rule. However my reasons were simply meant to explain why city states don’t usually try to conquer each other. Clearly it does still happen, but they are very rare and extremely bloody occasions. After all any losing army is unlikely at best to survive the trip home.

All this said, the idea of the city states mounting countless skirmishes with one another over mines, oases, and the like makes perfect sense. There is far less risk involved and still plenty to gain. Also it gives the city states the opportunity to posture at one another and twist their rivals’ arms in diplomatic talks. Hell it also means the city state has a chance to tax those pesky dune traders that are so fond of flaunting their independence.

(Matthew T Laux) #8

I had a DM in college obsessed with war campaigns in whatever setting he could get players for. In DS, this lead to a year-long campaign in which Draj and Raam were battling over a newly-discovered jade-mine. Neither sorcerer-monarch left their city, it was strictly armies facing off in the wasteland. We were Raamites(Raamians? Raamers? We never could agree) tasked with finding ways to neutralize the overpowered Draji forces. While we had the revised box set, our campaign was set before the Prism Pentad. We eventually tricked Daskinor into believing Draj was going to invade his city next, so he sent saboteurs to disrupt Draj’s economy by burning the hemp fields. Our party had purchased a mekillot-load of cannabis-flowers beforehand, so we decided to start our own merchant house. We were better at stirring up trouble than we were at trade, so we went broke


We always used Raamese.