Plans & Threats in the Dead Lands

(Stuart Lynch) #1

Can anyone with access to “Secrets of the Dead Lands” give a precis of whats going on down South in terms of politicking and plotting pleasr?
The Revised Campaign Set made the DL out to be a potentially devastating threat to the Tablelands but precious little info has emerged over the decades. I find it hard to believe Qwith and Gretch are just mad scientist types without an intended use for their research.
Likewise I find the idea of 2000 years of stasis hard to swallow - shouldn’t one power bloc or another in the South be close to realising at least some of its goals c. FY10-12?
Cheers in advance for any illumination!


I’ve heard a couple theories bandied about, but I don’t recall ever reading them in the original material (the old unfinished ad&d2e manuscripts). It’s been more than a decade since I’ve really read it, though.

Anyway, the first theory was that there was a barrier surrounding the dead lands that prevented the undead nations there from leaving. Again, I don’t think this is in any of the original manuscript, and in fact the pre-made adventure The Emissary involves Dregoth sending a caravan to Qwith in order to make an alliance for the purposes of invading the Tablelands.

Second theory is that the denizens of the dead lands simply don’t realize that all of atlas WASN’T covered in the obsidian deluge. None of them have ventured beyond their lands, because they don’t realize that there IS anything beyond their lands.

Another possible explanation is a further development of that second one. Namely, that the obsidian deluge that created the dead lands and the primary undead powers (the zhen) created some sort of link that keeps the Zhen focused on staying nearby.

Another thing to consider is that the humanoid powers that be within the dead lands are essentially locked in a stalemate with one-another, while at the same time locked in ANOTHER stalemate with the undead bug-nations to their south. They may just be too preoccupied to consider ranging beyond the dead lands.

I don’t remember one way or another, but I don’t think it’s clear just how long it took for the undead to claw their way free from the obsidian, so no way to tell how much time had passed between the creation of the dead lands in the cleansing war accident, and the establishment of the dead lands nations. It’s possible that once the primary factions/leaders were free that they DID look beyond the dead lands, saw a blasted wasteland that bore no resemblance to the green age world they once knew, and just gave up/didn’t bother looking any further while at the same time resigning themselves to their current state. Qwith’s domain, for instance, is entirely cloaked in an illusion that makes it LOOK like a typical green age fairytale kingdom. Even if all the citizens are a bunch of skeletal obsidian zombies.

There’s also the fact that the gate experiment that caused the cataclysm of the dead lands in the first place is still active/barely being held in check by a tree of life (the ONLY living thing in the entire dead lands).

Also “something” extra dimensional came through and exists within the obsidian (in 2e terms it was essentially some kind of uber obsidian elemental).

Also one of the leaders of the undead nations randomly gained the power to grant spells to his followers a la a sorcerer-king and is unsure what this means (basically one of the living vortices found a new host after Rajaat killed its host in the Prism Pentad).

Gretch is basically wasted potential. A preserver student of Rajaat who embraced necromancy, killed some students, made some abominations, fled the school (ironically, Rajaat probably would have approved of him and brought him into his inner circle if he knew), and turned himself into the first Kaisharga without realizing the ramifications (namely, in 2e, a Kaisharga STOPS gaining exp and is forever stuck at whatever level they were) and is now a blatant riff on Azalin from Ravenloft, lording it over his various failed experiments in necromancy and bringing life back to the dead.

The other primary movers and shakers have the barest minimum of characterization, really. Qwith gets the most as she’s in the adventure, but basically boils down to megalomaniac ruler willing to join forces with Dregoth because his emissary can puff up Qeith’s ego. It really seems at odds with Qwith’s prior characterization as a stabilizing force and brilliant scientist brought in to get Rajaat’s planar exploration experiments back on track and under control.

(Stuart Lynch) #3

Thanks Nagga. I’d picked up one or two snippets of what you’d said from various sources over the years, but not to the extent that you expounded them. thumbs up


“pre-made adventure The Emissary”

Does anybody HAVE this adventure? I’d never heard of it before.


Like Naggarmakam said, the undead do not realize there is anything left beyond the Dead lands and are locked into conflict with each other. Also, there are only 4 leaders powerful enough to have the forces to threaten the Tablelands, Gretch, Qwith, Harkor and the Vizier (who recently became attached to a living vortex). That last one may throw off the balance of power in the region eventually.


The Emissary is the accompanying adventure to the original secrets of the dead lands manuscript. Those who have it either received it as part of a sorta promo giveaway at gencon or something in the late 90s (basically printed out in a doc format), have it in the form of the original document files from TSR staff, or received it from someone who falls into those two categories.

For nearly all intents and purposes SotDL and the Emissary were complete, bar some final editing and art assignments (including a map, which as far as I know was never made, although you can infer a lot of the relative geography from the text).


I appreciate all this info a lot (two thumbs up now). I am curious though if anyone could shed any additional light on the Vizier or Harkor. I am quite interested in the powers-that-be in the Deadlands and the nature of their kingdoms of the dead.


Harkor is a raaig wizard. He rules the country with the largest population that is also named after himself. He had the undead citizens carve the obsidian across the entire kingdom into tombs and mausoleums.

The Vizier is a zhen wizard who was part of the research type created by Rajaat. He has a temple district in his capital where he is honored as a god. With the living vortex now attached to the Vizier he is able to grant spells to his priests.


Harkor’s main strength is the population of his lands. One of the major considerations in the dead lands is the most important raw material: corpses. When DL residents die, the rulers can always raise them again. But in the course of waging war with each other and the bugdead to the south, there’s always attrition of corpse bits. You can only stitch together and reanimate a corpse so many times before bits and pieces become unusable.

Harkor’s deal is that (if i’m remembering correctly) his domain includes a number of mausoleums or necropoli that predate the obsidian cataclysm. He mined underneath the obsidian layer to all those sweet sweet corpse caches, providing an abundance of raw materials to supplement all the undead in his domain that were created via the cataclysm.

The Vizier (aka Kulrath) is now essentially a true (undead) sorcerer-king what with the living vortex. But he doesn’t know what happened and has no awareness of the living vortex: as far as he knows he had all his undead subjects treating him like a god and POW! all of a sudden he’s able to empower his priests. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!!?!11ONE


Much appreciated. Qwith and Gretch are both covered in the old Dead Lands pdf on silt skimmer, but Harkor and Kulrath I didn’t see mentioned. I have to admit this thread’s mentions of Qwith and Gretch seem very different from the old project I found by Gerald Arthur Lewis.

The Gretch I read about followed Rajaat willingly and is the primary reason for the Deadlands existing as he chose to open Qwith’s gate. The guy has been believed to have been destroyed for 600 years but there’s a plot hook about legions of undead now gathering at his castle. Gretch was very much giving off a Sauron vibe to Rajaat’s Morgoth here. The new Gretch sounds almost like Agar from Might and Magic, an evil wizard overlord that makes all sorts of strange and terrible experiments at the expense of the world around him.

Qwith on the other hand came off as a morally ambiguous person. She was the one who really began exploring and understanding the Grey and she was the one who figured out how to make the giant gate to the Gray, but refused to open it since she knew it wouldn’t end well. Rajaat kills her because Rajaat is a calm and rational man and then proceeds to tell Gretch to open the gate and finish Qwith’s research. Undead Qwith was the one who actually rallied druids to get the giant gate closed. Afterwards she basically went off to feel sorry for herself.
The new Qwith sounds pretty damn different from this. If she has some kingdom with a giant illusion that makes everything seem like some green age kingdom and she is actually listening to Dregoth’s overtures it seems to me she is more focused on escaping from undeath than anything else, Perhaps both for herself and the people she may feel responsible for. Hard for me to say, I haven’t read SotDL.


Yeah, GAL’s website presentation of the deadlines shares some names but that’s all. Gretch had nothing to do with the gate experiments. When he fled the Pristine Tower to conduct his necromancy experiments he just happened to relocate to the area that later became part of the deadlands. He lords over a series of “kingdoms” that are each ruled directly by one of his various undead experiments. Once he learned the curse that went along with being a kaisharga/lich (namely that you no longer gain XP and cannot learn “new” things like new spells), he started experimenting with various undead states in an attempt to find a solution for his curse. Like I said, he’s a blatant rip on Azalin from Ravenloft, with almost exactly the same motivation.

As for Qwith, I haven’t read it in forever and can’t clearly remember what was from SotDL and what was from GAL’s page as far as what she was doing BEFORE the gate experiment. But after the gate experiment she’s very much an insane megalomaniacal despot living in a fantasy land. Which is actually an interesting take that I always liked: her kingdom (with the unoriginal name of “The Duchy of Shadowmourne”) is cloaked in a powerful illusion like I said. Which makes it super weird if you’re there as a living being: it LOOKS like paradise, but your body and all your senses except sight are telling you that you’re in an obsidian oven/desert. But she (as far as I can recall) has zero interest in escaping undeath. Her interest in helping Dregoth is simply out of self-aggrandizement, soaking up Dregoth’s emissary’s flattery, and the lure of all the sweet sweet corpse bits she can find/create by relocating to the Tablelands. Because really, why stick around in the sucky deadlands, continuing to be in a stalemate with her undead peers and barely holding the line against the bugdead, when she can move up to fleshy living meatball land that’s a veritable paradise in comparison to the Deadlands?

As for the gate, in 2E it was to the paraelemental (or quasi elemental? i forget my 2e cosmology sometimes) plane of obsidian. It wasn’t to the Gray, although the obsidian that flowed outwards has a link to negative energy (again, this has to do with 2e’s cosmology and the alignment/arrangement of the planes). There were no druids involved in stopping the cataclysm. The area that would later become the deadlands was already borderline desert-like, so to provide energy for the experiments there Rajaat’s “scientists” created 7 trees of life that the sorcerers there could tap into. The 7th tree was a kind of “super” tree of life with essentially limitless life energy, and the gate was (accidentally) opened directly on top of it. The obsidian deluge immediately destroyed all 7 trees, but the 7th tree’s root system’s healing factor went into crazy overdrive and basically became super cancerous and essentially clogged the gate by growing INTO it. The gate is still active, and only like 50 feet under the surface of the obsidian and it wouldn’t be difficult for someone to mine down to it. At which point the cataclysm restarts, eventually overtaking the entirety of Athas.

As for the 7th tree, it’s now the largest living being on the planet. Its root system actually spreads out over the entirety of the dead lands, in many places creating a navigable “tunnel” system of hollow roots. Another byproduct of the cataclysm and the tree’s resultant rudimentary sentience is that it developed a natural defense against the undead sorcerers who were trying to use defiling magic, to ensure its own survival. It’s now completely cloaked against their perceptions. They can’t tap into it, and when they encounter its root systems (which they have, on numerous occasions), all they “perceive” are weird twisted obsidian formations. Which they ignore.


Actually, IIRC one of Gretch’s motivations for turning to necromancy was that he felt snubbed by Rajaat for being overlooked when Rajaat was gathering his “favorites” (i.e., the ones he would empower as his champions). He developed necromancy, killed a few fellow students, and then ran off when he thought he was going to get caught. Again, if Rajaat HAD caught him, he likely would have approved and brought him into his inner circle as a result.

(Andrea Ferrari) #13

In the Silt Skimmer document about the Dead Lands they talk about a certain Evar’li: a wizard-psion from Urik sent by Hamanu to establish an alliance with the powers in the Dead Lands. He was transformed into a Kaisharga by Gretch, betrayed him and became the ruler of the city of 1,000 dead.

Is that from the original manuscript or was added by Gerald Arthur Lewis?


It’s not from the original, it’s something that GAL made.

(Andrea Ferrari) #15

Ok :slight_smile:

From what I read in this thread it seems that even the Deadlands are quite “arcane centric”, with Gretch, Harkor and Kulrath as wizards (And I suspect Qwith, too is a wizard).

Are there any powerful cleric or psionicist, too? And powerwise, how strong are the “big four of the Deadlands” compared to the Sorcerer Kings?


this is all 2E

Qwith: Zhen Necromancer 14 / Psion 8

Harkor: Raaig Necromancer 24

Kulrath: Kaisharga (or zhen) Necromancer 16
(note that the fluff explains Kulrath performed the rituals to become a kaisharga based on notes left behind by Gretch, but then they refer to him as a zhen, as does his stat block. But they ALSO refer to him increasing in power and knowledge, which kaisharga are not supposed to be able to do . . . Also he’s described as super powerful, once defeating a small army all by himself; yet he’s also started as 16th level, even though he has servants who are 19th level necromancers, and the head of his magical university is a necromancer 25.)

Gretch: Zhen / Kaisharga Necromancer 22 / Psion 13
(again, the text is contradictory on whether he is a zhen or a kaisharga. The fluff describes his undead transformation as being a kaisharga—and it’s an important plot point that he can no longer advance, just like a kaisharga—but then his stat block has him as a zhen.

Overall, their power levels are fairly underwhelming. There are some interesting bits, like how Gretch and Harbor both have access to 10th level spells (likely just a typo), but overall they just seem obviously unbalanced and not in line with the power attributed to them. On the one hand this is an unfinished manuscript so maybe someone meant to go through and revise their stat blocks, but on the other it’s essentially 100% complete so who knows.

(Andrea Ferrari) #17

Thank you very much. 2e stats but there’s conversion rules for them :slight_smile:

And I agree yes, besides Gretch and Harkor they don’t seem so powerful. For Kulrath, if he’s so hyped and has such achievment, a quick and dirty correction could be raise his level to 26.

For Qwith, since she’s the one willing to join forces with Dregoth, it makes sense if she’s the less powerful one. I’d rise her necromancer level to about 18-20 (making her able to cast 9th level spells).

Being an unfinished work I think it’s normal if it hs some typos or strangeness, but even the unfinished work can be a nice guideline for any DM with a taste in stats building.


The only reason Qwith is the one to ally with Dregoth is literally that his Emissary stumbled across her Duchy, first. It’s on the northeast edge of the obsidian plain, making it the first one entered. She was the head of the extraplanar experiments, essentially immortal, and was described as exceedingly capable—if unambitious—in life.

(Andrea Ferrari) #19

OK, so even Qwith just “deserves” to have quite a bump in her levels.

I find a nice coincidence that Kulrath is “the Vizier”, and he got the bond with Abalach-Re’s (the “great VIZIER of Raam”) vortex. We could create some interesting headcanon… Maybe they were lovers or mother and son.


I think we should be specific on what references are being talked about. There seems to be 3 different versions that are being discussed.
There is Gerald Arthur Lewis’s Net Project: The Dead Lands of Athas. This was an unofficial project he did. As far as I know he did not have access to the original draft and used only the references to the Dead Lands in the WC and the TOA to create this project. There is also an update to 4E of the project on

There is the original 2E draft from TSR, that Naggarmakam has referenced.

There is the completed 3E version, based on the original 2E draft, that will be releasing.

Here are the levels of the four rulers for the 3E version:
Qwith, (female human zhen, wizard 20/ necromant 10)

Harkor (male human raaig, wizard 14/necromant 10).

Vizier of Deshentu (male human zhen, wizard 16/necromant 10)

Gretch (male human morg, wizard 5/psion 5/cerebremancer 8/necromant 10)