Athasian Chess Variant

I’m playing with the idea of creating the Athasian variant of chess (Jetan anyone?) and wondering if anyone has done this before and if you have any good ideas for pieces.

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I have a game called Three Armies in my campaign world. I don’t have rules set, but the idea is it’s a three person mancala variant. I also use the game someone wrote up that you use ceramic bits to complete whole pieces, kinda mahjong variant with heavy betting.

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If its just a matter replacing the pieces names but retaining the rules of chess, then my suggestion is this:
Queen=sorcerer monarch
Pawn=slave soldier

So the aim of the game is sort of taking the other player city-state, the only problem is that the citadel piece representing it can move, which is kinda weird.

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My initial thoughts are a variant of chess (so pieces can differ). Here’s my initial list of potential pieces:

  • Sorcerer Monarch
  • High Templar
  • Earth Priest
  • Fire Priest
  • Wind Priest
  • Crodlu
  • Gladiator
  • War Beetle
  • Drik War Machine
  • War Chariot

Citadel not moving might make for an interesting game- like the Flag in Stratego. Not a perfect analogy as the Flag is hidden in Stratego.
Perhaps the Citadel could still attack one or two squares distant (simulating archers, catapults, etc).

Addendum: after reading @ouroboros ’ post I actually tried playing a few games where the king could attack two squares distant but could not move. Made for an interesting variant - you certainly held back more defenders to block potential attacks.

I like the Three Armies name and concept. Mancala seems like a good choice for a society with limited material wealth - all you need are some holes and some rocks.

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and I’ve started developing an alternative list of pieces with more of a Dejarik (Star Wars Chess) feel to them:

  • Braxat
  • Sand Wyrm
  • Nightmare Beast
  • Obsidian Golem
  • Earth Elemental
  • Rampager
  • Citadel
  • Dune Reaper
  • Tembo

Any apex predators I’m missing?
Maybe I should start a new thread on that topic…

I can’t see people making boards and unique pieces, what with the lack of resources, time, talent.

I see the populace playing games that require the moving of a shaped stone or stick into holes carved into a public flat surface. No cost, no board, no unique pieces, no crafting talent required.

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@Pennarin yet they can glaze ceramics to represent currency that isn’t easily forged? One can easily paint a character or image on said things.

And whittling wooden or bone pieces.

Set wax or resins (ock’n comes to mind) in a mold. Or carve a candle.

Using different colored stones as markers.

Psionically fashioning or manipulating pieces.

Playing said game entirely in a mindscape - where the game itself is imagined into existence.

Heck, complex stone statue and façade work is done in Nibenay.


ooooh…I love this idea. Perhaps the game even started not, as in our world, as a military simulation, but rather as a means of training Psionicists in psionic battle.

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Could be a game just for the nobility (or for the templerate, or for psionic academies…).
I’m guessing games like chess weren’t played by commoners in our own world until fairly modern times.

Athasians have no lack of talent. The original boxed set makes that clear. Athas is resource poor in terms of metal. Time and talent is in abundance. Athasians can produce chess boards.


If you wanna stick to the chess game, you can go with different races. Halflings as pawns, Thri-kreen as rooks, elves as knights, dwarf as bishops, then the Templar (queen) and The (Sorcerer) King. This is done from a SK perspective, where every race is under their heel.

You can have slaves and poor people play a different game, like the japanese Go (easier to make with just small rocks).

Personally i put in my campaign a whole different game, taken from another setting (Lone Wolf’s Samor). But i do so in every campaing i do on every world, kinda like an easter egg.


And of course, I’ve got to make a magic item out of this. Even thinking about a whole campaign which revolves around collecting all the pieces.
Each piece would have its own power (ala Figurines of Wondrous Power?) and additional powers unlocked with each piece added to the incomplete set.

@ Rhal-othan - “Mancala seems like a good choice for a society with limited material wealth - all you need are some holes and some rocks.”

This game of Stones originated with Athasian dwarves and has been played across Athas for hundreds of years. It is most commonly played by scooping out parallel rows of pockets in the sand and using small pebbles, bones, or seeds as markers.

In some locations of the Tablelands, Stones is played using game “boards” carved into rock. These are most often found around oasis or trade posts.

Wealthy Athasians who live in the city-states, who favor games of chance, will often commission artisans to carve Stone games boards out of agafari wood and game pieces out of beautiful, exotic pebbles or gems.

Similar boards, made of much simpler materials are commonly seen in wine shops, drink houses, and other establishments of ill-repute, however, patrons must provide their own markers. In many locals, the markers are actually “bits” gambled as wagers. Winner takes all!

**A word of caution! Dwarves are masters of this game. I strongly advise never getting into a game of Stones with a dwarf where you stand to lose anything.


I just finished watching the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. A great watch for anyone that is a chess lover.

That, and this conversation made me think of two powerful psionicists facing off in a stadium/arena filled with spectators. They play on a psionicly projected life sized board with the pieces all life sized. Each perform killing blows as they take others off the board.

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I would imagine that psionic face offs like that would replace gladiators arenas in the last sea, but in the tyr region these matches would be preformed by powerful mindbenders, and their pieces would be living people, either criminals, escaped slaves or war prisoners, Physically controlled by the players but very much aware and feeling everything happening. The players would have to both outmaneuver their opponent while maintaining control of their “pieces”, if any of them manage to break free the psion they belong to automatically loses

“It puts the “Man” in mancala!”

I’ll see myself out now.


Astral construct battle chess…