The "Find an Explanation for Yuan-Ti on Athas!" Thread

Originally posted by Pennarin:

I’ll revive this thread regularly, and post it inside the Archive.

Hopefully somebody, someday, somehow, will find the holy grail of an explanation, marrying logic, poetry, and a Dark Sun-ish twist to their culture, appearance, and demeanor.

Good luck everyone! And may the winner’s name be remembered for ages! Well, years.

Originally posted by ian.thomson:


What the Yuan-Ti believe: they are pure blooded descendants of the first serpent. They used to rule the world during the green age. The Yuan-Ti see no difference between their elemental priests and priests of the first serpent, the elements are facets of the first serpent. Earth is his body, water his blood, air his breath, and fire his lifeforce. Psions may also join the priesthood, and are highly respected as they are bringing the first serpent’s mind into the world.

One possible truth: A long time ago, a warlord in a small and remote desert tribe (whose totem was the snake) was compared with a snake due to how tricky he was, hard he was to kill, and for how well he survived in the desert. He slew a number of defilers and was almost ready to inspire his tribe to destroy the sorcerer kings, gaining the attention of a pyreen. When he was killed, his tribe nearly fell apart. The pyreen, wanting to inspire them to continue their war against the sorcerer kings, decided to attempt to return the warlord back from the dead. Either in a misguided attempt to improve his fighting abilities, or because of some mistake in the ritual, the warlord came back partially serpentine. The tribe, already favoring snakes, threw their women at him and his descendants.

Another possible truth: It wasn’t a pyreen, it was a sorcerer-king, either looking to fight off potential rivals, or looking to curb the potential threat this tribe could have had had they remained human.

Regardless, the tribe was composed of the descendants of some noble families from one of the empires of the green age.

Also, despite being against the sorcerer kings and for the elements, they are not necessarily good guys. Non-Yuan-Ti priests are looked upon as no different than defilers, they are defiling the first serpent. Although psionic power is more highly valued than arcane power, Yuan-ti always welcome their own preservers and may see non-Yuan-Ti preservers as valuable (or as meddling with the first serpent, depending on what they think of the preserver otherwise). Yuan-Ti hate all non-Yuan-Ti defilers, and Yuan-Ti defilers even more so. However, Yuan-Ti defilers do have the potential to become valued members of society, if they diguise their craft as bringing the wrath of the first serpent into the world (something the defiler might actually believe). A few defiler cults have started, some believing that they are actually removing the impure, non-serpentine elements from the world.

It is also possible that a few Yuan-Ti who are aware of their real origins have begun worshipping Borys, possibly thinking (or knowing) that the pyreen responsible for their origin is none other than Rajaat. If this is the case, it’s possible that the defiler cults that are starting among the yuan-ti are acting as templars for Borys.

Originally posted by 603:

They’re a failed experiment on the part of whatever created the Dray. They were dumped off in the Ringing Mountains because their creator figured they’d get devoured by the halflings and nobody would notice.

Originally posted by toriel:

I’m wondering why people are looking for a reason for them to be there. They don’t have to be religious at all.

I see them as slavers and poison/drug sellers. They might have caravans or simply occupy ruins and have merchants come to them. They raise different kinds of snakes and spiders and grow all sorts of plants for their different properties.

They are also scheming and like to stab each other in the back (and others too).

Originally posted by turlough:

I was thinking that they are the lizard men that were hunted by Oronis who changed themselves to get away from him instead of being protected by the Mind Lords. Once they were partially human, Oronis couldn’t detect them, however he did that, and concluded he had succeeded.

This allows me the possibility that lizard men could return, for those who changed back, and creates the yuan ti as those who started half human and half reptile.


Originally posted by Duke5150:

Ah, I seemed to have misunderstood the purpose of this project. Do we have an exact explanation of the origins of everything included in the setting? Like braxat, silt horrors and so on? If so, I need to do some more reading to refresh my memory. If not, then why the focus on yuan-ti?

I’ll be posting some stuff on my version of a current athasian yuan-ti “nest” and it’s social structure. As for the origin of the race. It could be as simple as natural evolution from an aquatic serpent species from the blue age. Maybe they even lived in the coral before the halflings began harvesting it for crafting.

Another question. Athasian naga… Do they exist by default or is that something I’ll have to do on my own? Thanks.

Originally posted by hurgantsor:

In my Athas, Yuan-Ti were one of the races created after the fall halfling civilization. Halflings who lived in forests combined their essence with those of forest snakes who were seen as symbols of wisdom and nature.
The Yuan-Ti of that time were druids and mystics living away from civilization in villages and settlements within forests, near swamps and deltas of rivers. They were known for their knowledge about plants and healing but also feared by humans as holders of unknown mysteries.
When the Cleansing Wars came, Rajaat targetted them as one of the races for extermination by his Champions(yes there was a Yuan-Ti Slayer as well). The Champion combined military war with stirring up propaganda against the Yuan-Ti as well as fear.
They scattered among the land of Athas and were target of persecution, untill they were almost destroyed when the end of Cleansing Wars came.
Now they live in Silent Forest(the forest beyond the Sea of Silt on the other side) and are a race lead by evil druids, who make sacrifices on living sentient beings who they hate for destroying the world. There are several villages and druid circles in the forest, which they defend from mountain raiders seeking wood, animals for trade with other settlements in the region.

Originally posted by Sysane:

In my old game I had the Yuan-Ti act as servants to a tribe of ancient Snake/Beast-Headed Giants called the Slethren who resided in Rhulisti ruins found beneath Under-Tyr.

The Slethren would have the Yaun-Ti raid the nearby dwarven town of Kled with the intent of retrieving some sacred relic located in the lost Green-Aged keep of Kemalok.

I never really developed the idea beyond that. It was a two or three session adventure hook I used to get the party I DMed to fight some Yaun-Ti and befriend the dwarves of Kled.

Originally posted by Pennarin:

Wow, ancient servants of beast-headed giants (snake or reptile-headed, in this case), from a time when the beast-head giants and all giants in general had a strong footing on Athas…say the Green Age. I’m liking this explanation, Sysane!
Primal power was used by these servants/worshippers to turn themselves into animal hybrids, half-human(elf, dwarf, etc) and half-reptile/snake. Their Green Age masters died out by the hands of Dregoth (remember Taraskir, the lion-headed giant? those no longer exist either…nor do lions, for that matter), but the servants continue across the centuries on their quest to transform themselves, emulating their former masters, and some even becoming a lot bigger, attempting to become reptile-headed giants themselves. Someone could create a new yuan-ti variant that’s Large and has a giant’s body and a snake/reptile’s head, and the giant keyword…

Originally posted by Sysane:

The loose premise was that the Snake-Headed Giants were at constant odds with the dwarves of Kemalok during the early part of the Green-Age. At some point one of the Kemalok Kings took an important item away from them. In my game it was a rod of healing which the Yaun-Ti hoped to use to cure their ailing giant masters.

Originally posted by greyorm:

This isn’t an “origin story”, so I don’t know if it counts here, but there is The City of Scales.

Originally posted by evilvegan:

Well Johnny, when a man and a snake love each other very much…

Easiest explanation: (Borys) The Dragon’s ascension warped reality to the point that common serpents in the area gained malevolent sentience. Their zealotry is in serving the serpent (the dragon). They took on their humanoid aspects from his cast off aspects.

Though I do like the beasthead giant story a lot.

Originally posted by xiahouxu:

[i]“Our ancestors were the snakes, the natural beasts found under the deserts of Athas, hiding from the Scorching sun… But the world… the world forces us to adapt… And even the most mundane beasts upon these deserts have some talents of the wild…
We’re really all your fault. The one known as ‘Goblin Death’… He was so frightened, so scared. Assassins at every turn, lying in every shadow, behind every eye and he couldn’t, wouldn’t let that happen. He commanded his Templars to find us, young as we were, and take our venom. Drop, by drop.
He told them to breed us, to make new poisons, to keep ahead of those who would seek to destroy him. They farmed us. And we waited. We watched, and we waited. And generations passed, when our kind were young, and so did our abilities, augmented as they were by the search for more potent poisons… And we realised ourselves.
Some of us escaped, but some of our brothers and sisters are still captive underneath Eldaarich… And we cannot let this situation fester.
They come to us and we feed them our poisons… And we farm them.”

[/i]Yuan-ti venom on Athas is a highly addictive hallucinogenic substance, found often in backstreets, slums and gladiator pits across the continent, where it is also sometimes used as a painkiller before surgery.

Originally posted by Silverblade_The…:

as said elsehwere, my take on Athasian history is very different, more Clarke Ashton SMith etc

in times so remote as to be beyond mortal comprehension, abominations of all kinds were committed as dread emperors and and obscene cults wrathed the world in a pal of their foul machinations.
No deed was too base, no crime was too great in their lust for more power, and yet ever more power…

Who they were or why has long been lost, did they mate with a demonic marilith, or one of long dead gods? did they meld flesh with mighty psionics, or mahcines lost under mile high dunes?
Did they bargain with demons, or beings even worse?
Who knows, but they imbued some wretches with the essences of what seems to be snakes, but yet is not, it is much, much worse: some foul contemptable depravity that would forever soak their souls in cold, slithering debauchery, set them afire with base treachery and shadow their steps with dark arts, no longer human, no longer fit to walk in honest daylight.

Thus came the yuan-ti to Athas.

Originally posted by Pennarin:

Yuan-ti have been one of the least “introductorible” race in DS for as long as I’ve been on these boards, and one of the most desired race to be introduced. Failure in its introduction has consisted in the following: failure to provide an adaptation of the culture, backstory, motivations, and perhaps even look of the race. All other races have been adapted with an Athasian bent, but for yuan-ti it seems like they are eternally linked with a repitle god of some kind, intense worship, and an ever pervasive reptile/snake symbolism. These elements have survived settings and editions more unchanged than most.

On Athas there are no gods, furthermore whatever false gods were once worshiped ceased to be once civilization pretty much fell after the Cleansing Wars and the destruction of the environment.

One could say they worship a false god with intense faith (keeping them unchanged from Core), yet such things currently are not found anywhere on Athas, and haven’t been for millenia, and this fact is one theme of DS.

An effort should be made to seek out theories and points of views on what their society is like without a god to worship, and how half-humanoid, half-repitle/snake people came to be.

This is what this thread is about.

Originally posted by wordserpent:

The Yuan-Ti have always been.

Originally posted by Pennarin:

The only mentions of modern-times worship in the novels - that I can recall - are when Nok seems to say he’s the personification of such things as World Seprent and Swift Mountain, or whatever the names were (they might just be titles, or they might be archetypal beings of nature in the halfling society, and he symbolically takes their mantle as some kind of chieftain), and when the dwarf sun cleric has a devotion-like behavior towards the sun, but notice that Magnus who was an air cleric did not seem to worship his element like the dwarf did.

IIRC in 2e you were entrusted with the protection of and furthering of goals of a patch of nature and terrain (druid) by a spirit of the land as part of a pact, and of an element by elemental forces generally going unnamed (elemental cleric) as part of a pact.

In exchange for furthering the goals and offering protection, you received powers. I do not believe worship fell into it. One could worship, but the powers that be don’t appear to require or notice it.

And goldomark’s suggestion that there might be dozens or more idol-like imaginary beings one would pray to on a personal level also goes against what could be found in the novels, i.e. no such worship. Abbey and the other authors for their novels also did not include such worship, or even mention such beings of fate and luck.

Originally posted by Pennarin:

@Duke5150: Yes, they would be different. At least for the purposes of this thread.

Originally posted by Pennarin:

AFAIK the giants weren’t too bright. Brutes, really. That they revere or worship something/someone doesn’t come as a surprise.

Originally posted by greyorm:

Penn or anyone else still have that long write-up I did back in…er, gods know how long ago at this point, around a decade…of how Athasian religion begged to be more solidly rooted in the practices and ideas found in (and also described like) the animism and pantheism found on Earth?

Originally posted by bfishy:

how about the Yuan-ti are cast-off experiments by rajaat from when he was developing magic? they’ve thrived and survived in the dark, magic-twisted jungles and mists of the jagged cliffs region. perhaps they worship the massive black pyramids from whence their first ancestors slithered forth as their creators?

Originally posted by Pennarin:

Reggelids I believe fill up that niche…but if they aren’t included in 4e then you could rip the fluff for them from 2e supplements and add it to yuan-ti…saying they mutated and became like the snakes that live in that giant swamp (let’s say).

Originally posted by bfishy:

definitely…but isn’t it possible that they could be one of many cast-offs? i sorta’ remember WRotJC mentioning that rajaat had many different caches and lairs where he’d mess about with magic, and that the swamp could conceivably be crawling with abominations he tossed out. either way it would work i suppose…though if they’re truly returning to the core DS boxed set timeline then anything printed after it may just be moot - novels, supplements, adventures…including stuff about the jagged cliffs region, crimson savannah, saragar and points/stories inbetween.

Originally posted by Earthdawn:

“The simplest explanation is most often the correct one.”

Snakes love the heat

Originally posted by masato:

How about:

They are the product of Kalid-Ma’s researches for his “one-step” transformation. While most were “failures” some have been such an great success that after Kalid-Ma’s “death” they build their own hidden empire, where they still worship their “Snake God” “The one who shall awake”. Their Priests still search for the Orbs of Kalid-Ma, so their High-Priest (an immortal powerful Defiler/Psionicist Anathema) might fulifill his destiny and become the “gate” through which the great God Kalid-Ma will again set his mighty foot on Athas?

To put it simple:
Before you try something new, get some “rats” and see what happends ;D.

Originally posted by OskarOisinson:

I have to disclaim that I don’t know the whole story with Borys and such, as i started playing DnD in 3.5 and never played Dark Sun before. That said, I have tried to read a bunch of the 2e source material and I am wondering if it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to make them the servants of Borys, the Dragon.

My thinking is this, since the SK’s have to pay tribute to Borys in the form of slaves or whatever, to contain Rajaat, what if, instead of killing them, or outright devouring them as most people tend to infer, Borys uses his nigh-god-like power to transform them in Yuan-Ti, something like uber-templars but for the one dragon. In this way, Borys creates a cult of followers who aid him in imprisoning Rajaat, and provide him as well with the perfect spies for use against the other SK’s, making sure none of them ascend or whatever. They would already be pre-disposed to hep him since they were sacrificed by the SK’s and even more so once his imbues them with crazy arcane power. The upshot of this transformation however, is that they all go a little nutty, being linked as they are, to the most powerful being in the world. It would make sense to me, perhaps Borys is even the progenitor of various reptilian sentients and Yuan-Ti are just one example.

Anyway, just a thought.

Originally posted by mach4:

An old thread, but since it was sticky linked, I’d toss my own into the mix that we had whipped up for our homebrew continent on Athas.

It’s been years but essentially we had several minor towers that were linked with the Pristine Tower from the halflings of the Blue Age, enabling the works of the halflings to be on a more global scale (and spread the history of Athas a bit to more than just 'everything important took place in the Tablelands). When the Champions used the power of the Pristine Tower to transform Borys into the Dragon, it caused a backlash at the other nearly dormant towers. The transmuting energies warped any living being caught in the backlash into a monstrosity. The Primordial Tower was a last bastion for (insert chosen race here, we used elves) while awaiting the final onslaught from Albeorn’s troops. Of the few thousand elves that had rallied at the Tower, most were transformed into something that didn’t survive more than a few minutes. One that did survive was Nalethias, a pregnant elf woman who was wed only days before, transformed into a hideous being of scales and serpentine features and impossibly towering form. Driven mad with hunger and agony, she slew several other changed beasts and creatures that were her former tribe and feasted on them, fleeing in her own disgust at her wretched nature. She came a few days later before an army camp gathered in the foothills near the Primordeal Tower: the armies of Albeorn, the Slayer of Elves, nearly 70,000 strong. Her rage and new-found power drove her into their unsuspecting camps where she could end her unwanted life on the swords of her enemies. By the end of the day over two thirds of the troops were decimated, the remainder had fled into the wilds. Months passed and Nethalas wrought havoc where ever she went before succumbing to a torporic state. Days after, she gave birth to a clutch of eggs that would become the first yuan-ti on Athas. Decades later she would give birth to the Empire of the Scale.

Yuan-ti naming is a reversal from the yuan-ti typically presented. Nalethias’ direct offspring are called purebloods and have serpentine heads and bodies with humanoid arms. The most elite are chosen to sire more of their caste with Nalethias. Those purebloods who breed with each other however sire tainted. Tainted replace the snake’s body with humanoid legs while still retaining scaled skin and a serpent’s head. The clutches born from tainted are called abominations and are warm blooded with smooth skin and fully elven features save for slitted eyes and retractable fangs. Yuan-ti society is a caste system of the higher castes oppressing those lower than themselves. Since it is based on birth, no yuan-ti ever rises higher in the caste. Yuan-ti keep human slaves as labor and feeding and do not allow untethered humans to wander their territories. Through trading outposts on the outskirts of their territory, they establish relations with others in the region, but rarely allow non reptilian foreigners to wander far into their lands unopposed. Dark rituals enable them to create anethma war-beasts that they use as a shock troop in their conquests. Naga, Ssurrans, nikaal, and other reptilian races are welcome in yuan-ti lands. Yuan-ti speak a dialect of Elvish and generally still follow a version of Elven naming convention.

Originally posted by Kurmudgeon:

The yaun-ti are not of Athas, and never have been. Only the sorcerer kings and perhaps a few members of the Veiled Alliance know the truth of the Yaun-ti. They are invaders from an alien world bent on conquering all of Athas. Even fewer still know that that this so-called alien world is actually well known to all on Athas, as it rises and sets nearly every night in the Athasian sky. The yaun-ti homeworld is Ral, the more distant of Athas’ twin moons. Covered with vast steaming jungles and marshy seas that gave birth to the yuan-ti and their civilization. During the green age a powerful wizard (some claim it was Rajaat) opened a portal to Ral and made contact with the yuan-ti. The yuan-ti brokered a false peace with the emissary of Athas, in order to further investigate this strange new world. Once established on the planet they began to construct secret portals linking Athas to Ral to facilate their invasion plans. At some point their treacherous plot was uncovered, the yuan-ti on Athas were exterminated and the portals to Ral were sealed. A few yuan-ti managed to escape the assualt on them and went into hiding, secretly scheming and waiting for the day they can manage to open the ancient portals and allow their kin to invade Athas.

Ral is covered with yuan-ti city states that constantly war upon one another. Despite this constant state of warfare all yuan-ti worship and are ruled by a single powerful yuan-ti lord (replaces Zehir), who is as powerful as any sorcerer king.

Just my take on it.

The DS campaign guide does mention that Ral is covered by jungles, and that gates in under-Tyr open to a yuan-ti temple. Smash those two statement together, and that’s what I came up with.

Originally posted by orionone:

Kurmudgeon has the same idea I have used and it works. Also in the DSCS under the forest rigde listing is the temple of the sky serpant (pg155) that fits perfictly with this explanation.

I have also added that Ral may be lush but it to lacks resorces that are needed such as slaves, obsidion, salt or what have you so they must periodicly raid Athas for them.

Originally posted by terminus_vortexa:

I have always just explaind them as either Pristine Tower mutants or one of the races that the Rhulisti transformed themselves into at the end of the Blue Age.

Originally posted by mach4:

The originating question was, in a nutshell, can someone come up with something more interesting and varied. There are three very easily ways to introduce almost any race or creature built into the setting (The Rebirth, The Pristine Tower, and Sorcerer -King experiment). The first one would have required a genociding Champion sent by Rajaat, something people seem a little less inclined to do. The second is a change in form but not in mind (a dwarf mutated into a bear-like creature still has the mind of a dwarf, he’s just happier now that he is bigger than everyone else) and the mutations don’t tend to spawn entire races since they are effectively random occurances when a creature near the tower is wounded. The last gets very dry very quickly and doesn’t seem to be used often by people. I also think that Penn was asking for a way to introduce them without changing existing cannon (adding to it, sure, but not changing it as you would need to do with the first two core explanations).

Originally posted by eluriondirenfxr:

There are snakes in the jungle and there are snakes in the desert.

Simple reasoning.

Originally posted by IAmSylar:

I would have a surviving clutch be slaves to a maddenes primal spirit.

Originally posted by SKOOK:

I prefer to keep the details of history vague and focus on the outcomes. In my 2e Athas the nikaal (which I elevated to a player race to replace the elves, half-elves dwarves, and muls that I ditched because tolkein) are descendents of histachii (human’s enthralled and twisted by the yuan-ti). The yuan-ti themselves are long gone, for all intents and purposes. But I did a fun little adventure that involved an ancient yuan-ti blood-temple and a tribe of nikaal whose history and racial-memory were re-awakened. They believed they could ascend into purebloods and abominations, returning the yuan-ti to their lost glory. All the PCs were at risk of mutation, the humans could have been turned into (enthralled) nikaal, the nikaal PC was tempted to “ascend”. Didn’t happen but it would have been interesting if it did!

Originally posted by DarkMag1167:

yuan-ti started as a human cult worshiping a demon lord called Sch’theraqpasstt, who resembles a great, black-scaled winged snake. They used arcane magic and potions to tie themselves closer to snakes changing them in to the creatures they are today.
During the height of the cleansing wars they were discovered and hunted down by all sides. There was no truce just a general belief that the Yuan-ti were a greater threat. Realizing their danger the Yuan-ti went in to hiding and a few were able to survive to today.
Since Sch’theraqpasstt has gone silent and did not help them during their time of trouble the Yuan-ti no longer worship any god other than the perfection they believe they are moving towards.

Originally posted by OskarOisinson:

Well, I’ve handled it one way but also thought of a few other ways that it could be handled.

When I do DS, I usually use the Rebirth in the following way: for whatever reasons (not going to go into it) the Rhulisti (in my campaign Pyreen/Changelings rather than Halflings) felt compelled to disperse themselves and their sapience/wisdom amongst the other beings of the world. Thus, they took on many shapes and lay with the beasts of the forests and fields, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, etc. etc. thus begetting the Rebirth Races. At first, their progeny were very heteromorphic but all of them combined some animal aspect into the ‘humanoid’ form of the Rhulisti. So essentially in my campaign, I use the rebirth to account for different branches of what I think of as ‘beast-people.’ These I generally divide from the Seelie and Unseelie Courtes (Fey Races), Elemental Races, Kreen, and a few other major classifications.
For instances, amongst these ‘beast-people’ there are the Avians, the Saurians, the Mammalians, etc. And within each branch there are various more or less distinct species (Humanoids that don’t fall into another group are assumed to have arisen from a branch of the Mammalians called Primates). The Yuan-Ti for me are just another branch of the Saurians. Their religious zeal for their god has been replaced by deep reverence for nature and the primal spirits, though they are quite adept at psionics as well, using innate psionic abilities to detect, hypnotize, and trick their prey. I had an idea that they lived in the swamps along the Jagged CLiffs and the Crimson Savanna and had developed an extreme animosity toward the Kreen, being in many ways too similar yet different to get along. They often become warped by Rajaat’s Curse in a way akin to the Rhul-Thaun though they have come to view it as a blessing that brings them closer to what they perceive is their true form, that of the Anathema (I use a different name). They are usually neutrally aligned but operate very strictly in terms of predator and prey like the Thri-Kreen, thus there is often a natural antagonism to most encounters with them.

Other thoughts I’ve had though include using them as part of an ‘undead hierarchy’ on one of the moons (which is associated deeply with the Black). In this case, they are the race begot of the Nagas and served by Gargoyles and other stone constructs and represent one of the 7 deadly sins (possibly sloth/vanity, as does each of the ‘undead’ races). In this instance, I use Gorgons/Medusae in addition to Yuan-Ti to mechanically represent the ‘race’.

Another way to include them that I like was mentioned before, as an offshoot/progenitors of the lizardfolk who escaped into the swamps and become powerful in illusion and divination magic as a means of hiding from destruction.

Originally posted by DarkMag1167:

[quote]DarkMag1167 wrote: yuan-ti started as a human cult worshiping a demon lord called Sch’theraqpasstt, who resembles a great, black-scaled winged snake. They used arcane magic and potions to tie themselves closer to snakes changing them in to the creatures they are today.
During the height of the cleansing wars they were discovered and hunted down by all sides. There was no truce just a general belief that the Yuan-ti were a greater threat. Realizing their danger the Yuan-ti went in to hiding and a few were able to survive to today.
Since Sch’theraqpasstt has gone silent and did not help them during their time of trouble the Yuan-ti no longer worship any god other than the perfection they believe they are moving towards.

I forgot to mention that this is a modifed version of an old dragon article.