Sorcerer Monarchs, the Levy, life force, and strategy

I was considering the size of the Levy the other day (a much discussed subject, I know), and it got me thinking about how Sorcerer Monarchs (SMs) and Borys would view humanoid life. Here are the concrete points on my mind which I’m trying to reconcile in some way.

  • The Levy needs humanoid sacrifice to keep Rajaat’s prison intact
  • High level defilers can use humanoid life force to fuel spells
  • SMs seem to foster a culture that is quite deadly to normal commoners, showing a fundamental disdain towards humanoid life
  • SMs are not stupid, and must realize that the world is dying
  • SMs are also ambitious and power hungry.

So it seems to me that if I’m a SM, it would be foolish of me to create a culture where all of these walking magical sacrifices around me are simply wasted by murderous Templars, or in the arenas, or by normal street violence. It feels like SMs would have realized that any death which does not fuel either their own magic, or the Levy, is basically a wasted resource. And if I follow this reasoning a bit further, it implies that SMs would have created some kind of system where they could “control” death within their city states, legally, culturally, magically, psionically, whatever. The lives of their citizens are basically an elite currency. Every living thing is effectively cattle to them.

What do you think? Is there a flaw in my logic somewhere?


Ecological management. The population naturally rises to fast otherwise further stressing the environment. Killing them off helps preserve the balance, pruning the tree.

It also helps raise the levels of the survivors which has benefits.

Basically accounted for by the combined carry rate of the sapiens.

Of course, post Borys and the Cerulean Storm the inputs change drastically, which should raise the carrying capacity as well as eliminating the levy and freeing it up for other projects.


Right, but why wouldn’t they combine that? Like, “I need to prune the tree, but I’ll use what I prune as fuel for my ambitions”.

1 Like

Very difficult. The only ones that you can easily reach already serve you. Easier and more certain to set up natural processes and attrition whilst you and yours pursue other interests. You can return periodically to tweak the system as needed or as circumstance allows (if you have capacity in your schedule, nothing better to do or feel like a change).

1 Like

For sure, makes sense. But at least it sounds like we agree that the SMs would at least have this concept in mind, and do whatever has a good cost/benefit ratio in order to not let potential magical fuel go to waste, right?

Here are a couple ideas I had which seem relatively simple and could be built up over a thousand years (I’ll write like I’m the SM):

  • My Templars are forbidden to kill my citizens. All citizens which should receive the death penalty do so through a ritual sacrifice which has been built into the society of my city-state for over a millenia, so it is not questioned. Every death therefore feeds my energy.
  • In my arena, only my specially enchanted weapons are allowed. Every death from one of these weapons is considered a sacrifice to me and is siphoned.

I mean, I know I can do what I want in my homebrew, but I’m always interested in good discussion about such topics.

1 Like

More or less the situation in Draj and most arenas could be enchanted like Kalak (easier and more efficient than weapons).

Putting aside Templar corruption, most sentences are quick. Either death, slavery, instant corporal punishment or fines. Little imprisonment. A lot of times death is expedient or necessary to administer on site and you can’t hobble the secret police too much or it costs efficiency. It’s a cost benefit thing again I think.

1 Like

Right of course, thanks, basically if I were a non-insane SM, I could do Kalak’s thing without the genocidal nature, but more discrete. Maybe even just trigger one sacrifice a day.

And yes, granted, the secret police can’t be herding hundreds of people into ritual sacrifice. But even if there were only 1 such case a day (which seems logistically doable), that would still be hundreds of sacrifices a year.

So one arena sacrifice, and one “templar sourced” sacrifice, and you’re up to 750 sacrifices a year.

Couple other ideas

  • Seeing the general state of illiteracy and the draconian control SMs hold over education and history, it feels like some city-states could actually believably have sacrifices as a normal part of society, like the ancient South American cultures. This could be part of the SMs way of maintaining control, pruning, and also gathering energy.
  • Slaves also feel like a potential source. If your slaves in your obsidian mines start to reach “end of life”, instead of working them to the bone, take them into your palace and sacrifice them. Make it a cultural “final act of gratitude”, you’ve served your SM so well, you finally get to ascend to paradise."
1 Like

That’s more or less what happens in Draj I think. And yes, I think they get plenty of juice from gladiators and slaves/criminals. A weekly game might net dozens if deaths, boost the economy and entertain the masses.

It’s made explicit that Tectuktitlay of Draj has used his Arena and Pyramid to fuel his metamorphosis, although it appears most sacrifices are non-Draji:

Nevertheless, Draj is almost constantly at war, sending its armies far and wide in search of captives…Captives are returned to Draj itself, where they are forced to climb the great pyramid so that Tectuktitlay himself can tear out their hearts. - p.69, The Wanderer’s Journal.

Tectuktitlay of Draj is actually a 22nd-level dragon, having used his own blood-soaked arena to further his metamorphosis. - p.10, Dragon Kings.

For the other SMs, we know Nibenay is advancing his change slowly - he knows the animalistic rage awaits him and doesn’t intend to suffer Kalid-Ma’s fate. Kalak, Kalid-Ma and Abalach-Re all tried to condense the process. Lalali-Puy of Gulg has too few people to waste on such things - she likely saves whatever excess population she has just to pay the Levy. Hamanu, if we follow RaFoaDK doesn’t want to advance his metamorphosis. Daskinor’s too barking mad to even notice. Oronis doesn’t come into the equation. Dregoth can’t advance from Stage IX to X because he’s undead (well, unless you use one of the optional outcomes in DA pt.III).

Awesome, thanks for those quotes. I knew I had seen something like that before. Ok so precedent is there.

Even though Hamanu might not want to advance as a dragon, he might have different ambitions which still need life force, and I would also think every SM would want an easy way to answer the Levy. Scrambling every year to find an X number of people has a high logistical cost, whereas if you can create a sustainable stream, things become easy. Like passive income.

But yeah, regardless of the actual operational way the SMs would deal with this, the realization I had was that population management is something which the SMs probably personally oversee, as it is so important to them. Needs to be kept under a certain number so that resources are not too strained, each life and death is potential resources, etc. So however they do it, it is likely that in every case, laws and regulation are setup in a way which directly serves whatever they personally need.

E.g. with Gulg, if Lalali-Puy has too few people to waste on dragon advancement, then she likely also would do everything she could to not allow unnecessary deaths of her citizens, so that they could instead be used for the Levy when needed. E.g. banning kills in the arena, Having a different breed (less lethal) of templar than perhaps Hamanu’s militant bloodthirsty style.

I would also fully expect them all to be thinking about breeding programs, although I’m not sure I want to go that route in my campaign, a lot of repugnant topics which I’m not sure I want to focus on.

1 Like

This is why 4E’s idea of having templars be warlocks that have a pact with a sorcerer-king makes so much sense: These warlocks are harvesting life for their SK pact-granters and receive a boon when they do so.


Way I see it, viewing human(oid) lives as currency to be spent goes part and parcel with slavery being the norm in Dark Sun. I imagine the SKs normally don’t care that folks are dying in the arenas, being worked to death by cruel slavers, or whatever as long as the population is relatively stable. I’m also in agreement that if a city state’s population takes a more noticeable dive (like oh say a very bad famine or plague) then the SK will enact measures to ensure the city state can bounce back sooner rather than later.

Also let’s not forget that SKs frequently grow large groves of Trees of Life as a reliable bank of life energy to draw from. I suspect this is a way for the SK to use defiling magic with no noticeable harm to the city state’s environment. I actually took inspiration from that little tidbit and depict Lalali-Pui as utilizing human sacrifice to expand the jungles of Gulg, essentially transferring life energy from humanoids to the immediate environment. Hell I’ve used that plan of her’s as a means of getting evil druids and a corrupted spirit of the land on her side.

1 Like

I really like the discussion here. This part though is the concept I have a hard time reconciling with the image of eternal, immortal, power hungry leaders. I imagine that they would be playing the long game, stuck in a world where life force is the major resource, in a cold war with the other SMs, and constant looming threat of Rajaat. I think I would be constantly looking out for a steady drip of power, not just being happy with what I have and only reaping when I need it. If I could potentially divert every death in my city over into storage (e.g. trees of life, obsidian orbs), why wouldn’t I? Even with a stable population, relatively low mortality, a population of 10k would have a couple hundred deaths a year. You could argue that this is just a pittance, but if I’m immortal, then 100 deaths a year is 10k a century, or 100k a millenium. I could fuel some awesome stuff with that.
And if I continue along this line of logic, then every SM would actually do what they can do build up their population. The larger the population, the more culling is possible. That even means that they would be environmentalists to some degree, at least within their city state.
Basically, it seems to me that it would be smarter to act more benevolent, while still harboring their evil motives. Results in more resources, more growth, and ultimately more power to use against the other SMs and Borys if needed.

But now I’m repeating myself :slight_smile: I’ll probably do some kind of homebrew story like this. Maybe an upstart Templar runs the numbers and tries to convince her SM to change his ways, or maybe Oronis actually realized being an Avangion is a sustainable way to power and doesn’t care so much about saving Athas, but just about building an empire of compounding power growth.

1 Like

If you go with the actual populations listed in VA but still assume it’s those that live within the city walls you end up with something like Gulg at:

Gulg 8,500 . 0.10 0.12 0.14 0.15 0.16 0.18 0.20
Templars 425 . 42.5 51 59.5 63.75 68 76.5 85
Nobility 1,275 . 127.5 153 178.5 191.25 204 229.5 255
Noble Kin 1,700 . 170 204 238 255 272 306 340
Slave 5,100 . 510 612 714 765 816 918 1,020

I’ve seen everything from 3%-9% growth rates in older sources for the middle ages. The growth rates above are much lower but cover the estimated growth rates of Europe from 1000-1500. At the high end (2%) they just cover a yearly levy so they would want to be very conservative with their slaves or gather a lot of foreign slaves. Higher growth rates can easily increase the willingness to kill a slave or even a freeman.

There is no actual requirement for the levy to be humanoid or even intelligent sacrifices. Dragons can pull power from any living creature. Intelligent and humanoid would be an artificial requirement that could be waved as was done after Hamanu sacked Yaramurke.

High level defilers (dragons) and some prestige classes all have been mentioned as using humanoid or animal, not just plants.

Humans and demi-humans are actually a very poor power source of life energy. They require too many resources and to much management. It would actually be better to use something like kanks as power.

If anything, the humanoid requirement of the levy would be a measure of population control or power control. If you fear being chosen for the levy, you will do a lot more to try to make sure the other guy is chosen.

In The Valley of Dust and Fire (pg 58) it states the Dragon returns every year with slaves from the outside. It also states Draxians rely on slaves more than any other city and that they execute slaves for just looking at them wrong. Maybe that is the real reason for the humanoid requirement.


@Freysi that’s essentially the situation for several SMs, Lalai-Puy, Nibenay (though he’s more interested in other pursuits), Hamanu and Andropinus at least. Maybe Tchtlukli.

@SeruZmaj for the Gulg figures, what about the (non-noble) freemen? I’d substitute the figures for the enslaved with freemen and have slaves roughly double the population. This isn’t included in the census (taxation) data, with similar numbers in the hinterland in client villages (or roving bands in Gulgs case). I’d have this gevthe case for all the cities. This mitigates the population demographic issues in canon whilst remaining true to canon.

1 Like

This is actually news to me. I did a cursory search and couldn’t find anything to contradict. I knew that the Dragon can pull power from any living creature, but I thought I had read that to maintain Rajaat’s prison, there was an actual sacrifice needed, i.e. not just magical power, but actual sacrificial power (the argument that a sacrifice is worth much more than just the hit dice of a being), and furthermore that it must be sentient life. If that’s not the case, then I wonder why the SMs allow Borys to demand so many humanoid lives.

Those growth rates show 10-20%, not 1-2%, that’s pretty high. But like stated in many other threads, this is relatively easily solved by just increasing the population size, non-canon.

1 Like

That’ll teach me for mathing on no sleep while trying to move house! I tend to fudge the numbers in my own world. The cannon numbers I treat as freemen that live within the city walls. 10x the number outside the walls. I also use the % show in cannon for slaves inside the walls, just adding them to the overall city population, then outside the walls slaves are an additional third of the population.

I do remember doing some population calculations on this years ago for some of the populations provided in the books. I tried to use realistic birth and death rates from real world cultures. What I seem to recall was that it would lead to populations with a lot of children and that the levy was unsustainable long term. Which was a very bleak and interesting take on the situation as the population continues to dwindle.

Perhaps a campaign can be built around that. The SMs know that after so long it will be unsustainable to keep providing people for the levy. Some therefore are a working in the background for a solution other than the levy.

I would add a couple more ceramic bits here. I would think the sacrifice for the levy needed to be humanoid or at least sentient. Maybe you get more bang for your buck if your sacrificial offering has a intelligence or wisdom score above a certain score.

The other part to this is that I recall reading in the athas dot org material that Dote Mal Payne was using zombies or undead to help build Kalaks ziggurat at night. So maybe the killing of people outside of the levy is all done in waste.

One more thought. I’m not sure if the levy was ultimately Transported to Ur Draxa or executed at a different location, but, depending on how they died, that may be a potential resource pool for a necromancer.

1 Like

It is possible victims of human sacrifice might be reanimated, but if nothing else we’ve seen that people killed by obsidian orbs using them as fuel turns the poor victim into ash. So I would wager most people that fuel any form of defiling can be reanimated. A particularly cruel defiler might exploit the potential hauntings mass death can cause, but I personally don’t see most of the SKs as gifted necromancers.

1 Like