Monday, September 2, 2019

[Mystara] Altan Tepes and the Tepeshy

The Altan Tepes mountain region on the border between Karameikos, Darokin, Ylaruam, and Thyatis is a huge area that is effectively independent. Karameikos is the only state that even attempts to maintain a garrison presence, and even this is recent, with Duke’s Road Keep and Castellan Keep being built certainly no earlier than 30 years ago, likely much less.

The area on the map within the blue border totals 9,625 square miles. For perspective, here are some real-world measurements:

Albania = 10,578 sq. mi.
Haiti = 10,640 sq. mi.
North Macedonia = 9,820 sq. mi.
Israel = 7,850 sq. mi.

So that is a HUGE territory into which just about anything can be placed.

Based on the known history of the Known World, this can include:
  • Ancient Azcan and Oltec ruins (perhaps with some long-lost Azcan/Oltec tribes);
  • Ancient Blackmoorian ruins (perhaps with robots and androids);
  • Ancient Taymoran ruins (perhaps with vampires and undead and lost tribes of Taymorans);
  • Ancient Nithian ruins ca. 1500 to 500 BC (perhaps with mummies and with lost tribes of Nithians);
  • Ancient Traldar and/or Hutaaka ruins, ca. 1400 to 500 BC (as in the Lost Valley of Hutaaka);
  • Ancient Gnoll ruins ca. 1000 BC and onward;
  • Ancient Dwarf ruins ca. 900 to 491 BC (as in Thunderdelve, and perhaps a surviving dwarven delve or three);
  • Lost Tribes of Thyatians, Kerendans, Hattians, etc., ca. 600 to 400 BC;
  • Early Traladaran ruins ca. 500 BC to 500 AC;
  • Plenty of Humanoid tribes and lairs from 491 BC (Battle of Sardal Pass) onward;
  • Displaced Alasiyan tribes from the Thyatian colonization ca. 150 to 250 AC;
  • Lairs of lycanthropes from 400 AC onward;
  • Primitive Traladaran hill and forest folk pushed out by the growing power of the city-states ca. 500 AC and onward;
  • Settlement of Darokin refugees from the internecine warfare in the fallen kingdom ca. 723 to 927 AC;
  • Settlements of Alasiyans either allied to Thyatians or not willing to convert to the Eternal Truth ca. 825 to 860 AC;
  • Settlements of angry Traladarans pushed here by Thyatians and later by Stefan ca. 900 and 970s;
  • Settlements of Darokin noble refugees from the Great Merger, fleeing the rule of the Merchant Kings ca. 927 to 949 AC;
  • Displaced hordes of Humanoids from Stefan’s crusade to push through the Duke’s Road ca. 970s and onward;
We also know that there are at least two major dragon lairs in the region (one centered in the region, the other nearer Duke’s Road Keep), based on Bruce’s article from Dragon #170, though their types, ages, and names are unknown.

So with that, here are some developments for the region:

There are the following minor remnant “Lost Tribes” in the region, usually a single small tribe and a handful of clans controlling a valley or highland region: Azcan, Oltec, Taymoran, Nithian, Traldar, Thyatian, and Alasiyan. Like the Traldar of the Lost Valley of Hutaaka, these Lost Tribes are rather inbred, highly xenophobic, and suffer from some cultural quirk based on their native culture.

There is also a single surviving dwarven delve, which also is home to a clan of gnomes; it is still producing large quantities of silver and gold, as well as high-quality gemstones. This, together with the vast wealth to be found in the Humanoid-haunted ruined delves, is the reason for the road (trail, really), that passes through the Keep on the Borderlands.

There are small settlements of Traladarans and Darokinians on the verge of the region, both descended from refugees from their respective invasion and revolution. Both group’s settlements are centered on a noble family that fled from the conquest/revolution, and thus they are insular and xenophobic.

All these groups are insignificant compared to two tribal groups, the Humanoids and the Tepeshy, which compete for dominance in the region. The Humanoids have greater numbers, but the Tepeshy are better organized (not much, but more than enough). The Humanoids live primarily in the old dwarven delves and other natural caves in the high mountains, while the Tepeshy live in the terraced valleys. The Tepeshy are semi-nomadic, moving every couple of years to other valleys to allow their terraced farms to lay fallow and allow local fauna and flora to recover from hunting and gathering.

The Tepeshy (singular Tepesh) are primarily descended from a mix of Taymorans and Traladarans native to the mountains, with long ages of intermixing with the Lost Tribes and the Humanoids of the region. The Tepeshy are for all intents and purposes a race of demi-orcs, and no few are full half-orcs (though their bloodlines actually include everything from kobolds to ogres and all in between), due to wife-stealing on both sides. They have the pale skin of their Taymoran and Traladaran ancestors (sometimes with a  light tinge of other color from the Humanoid side), with various eye, ear, nose, mouth, and other physical elements from their Humanoid ancestors (to a greater or lesser extent).

Tepeshy are organized into tribes and clans, all of which engage in internecine feuds and vendettas, though they readily unite against Humanoids or other invaders. Like their Humanoid cousins, they prefer to live underground, in the dwarven delves dug lower in the valleys; if such dwellings are not available, they build dugout pit-houses using stone walls and sod roofs, for themselves and their animals. They keep small gardens and maintain larger terrace farms for grains (some of the terraces date back to the time of the Oltecs). They also herd mountain sheep, mountain goats, and small wooly long-horn highlands cattle; some clans have giant sheep or giant goats that they use as steeds. They supplement their diet by hunting (mostly boar, deer, and bear), gathering, fishing, and raiding. Some tribes and clans keep mastiff hounds as pets and guards; others keep and train brown bears or grey wolves. They also keep hawks for hunting and sport, and homing pigeons to send messages between major tribal settlements.

Tepeshy dress in colorful woolens, leathers, and furs, and their technology is such that they can make leather armor, fur armor, scale mail, and wooden or hide shields and bone helmets; they wield spears, long and short swords, battle and hand axes, slings, and short bows. If you use the barbarian class in your campaign, they can take the barbarian class (they are a mountain/hill people).

Culturally, otherwise, they are mostly similar to Traladarans, though even more superstitious. They have the avarice and wildness of their Humanoid heritage; the tendency to engage in internecine feuds of their Azcan and Oltec heritage; the will to conquest of their Traldar and Thyatian heritage; and a fear and reverence for the Immortals of their Taymoran, Nithian, and Alasiyani heritage. Their language is originally derived from Taymoran with many Humanoid and other borrowings and is not mutually intelligible with any other language. They have a unique writing system, maintained by their priests and sorcerers/witches, also descended in a long line from Taymoran.

The Tepeshy do not worship the same immortals as the Traladarans or the Humanoids; they worship a pantheon of generally dark and dreadful Immortals and Demons:

  • Burza, Mother of Night, Queen of Wolves (Nyx)&;
  • Vadok, Father of Death, King of Vampires (Thanatos)*
  • Burguul, Lord of Shadows and Lies, Messenger of Burza (Masauwu)&;
  • Opasha, Lady of Lust and Debauchery (Talitha)*
  • Rumgoth, Lord of the Underworld and Undeath (Orcus)*&;
  • Strigz, Lord of War (Demogorgon)*
  • Zahovara, Mother of Mountains and Jewels, Protector of Lairs (Pearl)&;
  • Zhurm, Patron of Sorcerers, Messenger of Vadok (Alphaks)*

Especial enemy immortals include:

  • Akul-Gurz, Lord of Icy Doom, Father of Giants (Thrym)
  • Gajarpan, the Dread Serpent (Atzanteotl)
  • Magath, the Hammer (Kagyar)
  • Timorsham, Lord of the Burning Sun (Ixion)
  • Zajar-Bal, Lord of Fire and Destruction (Rathanos)
  • All the Humanoid immortals (Hel, Bartziluth, Jammudaru, Karaash, Ranivorus, The Shining One, Wogar, and Yagrai)
  • The Traladaran immortals (Halav, Petra, Zirchev)
Vampires and lycanthropes (werewolves, wereboars, and werebats) have a special place in Tepeshy society. Vampirism and lycanthropy are considered rewards for long service to the tribe and faith; the gift is not given out willy-nilly, and especially not to mere strangers! Heroes of the people, as well as high-level clergy and magic-users of the faith, can be granted vampirism (*) or lycanthropy (&) (depending on their patron god or goddess). Followers of Burza and Burguul are granted lycanthropy (werewolf or werebat); followers of Vadok, Opasha, Strigz, and Zhurm are granted vampirism; followers of Zahovara are granted lycanthropy (were-drakes); and followers of Rumgoth are granted either lycanthropy (wereboar) or vampirism. These “Lords of the Tribes” are respected by all, and usually have their own temple, fortress, or manor apart from the settlements, to retire in some lonely high valley or in some important mountain pass to protect the tribes.

“Altan Tepes” means “Golden Spires” in Traladaran and “Red Dawn Peaks” in Tepeshyan; Tepeshyan legends speak of their immortals impaling enemy immortals on these very peaks at the dawn of time. The Altan Tepes in Tepeshiya are very tall and steep, giving the appearance of narrow cones or spikes, though most peaks are atop long, winding ridges, like some sort of giant stone labyrinth. The Altan Tepes are a karst formation, meaning that they are riddled with natural caverns and tunnels. They combine elements of the Carpathian Alps and the Dolomite Alps, with the valleys heavily terraced as in the Andes (though not all terraces are actively farmed, some are lost and crumbling amidst forest and bracken).

The valleys are often filled with fog and mist, the result of much of the rain that would be taken to the Alasiyani Desert or the Darokin Plain falling in the mountains in addition to the natural level of rainfall. This makes the forested portion of the mountains effectively a temperate rainforest. In summer the mountains are cool, the valleys warm, both hidden and shadowed by mists. In the winter much snow falls due to the magical influence of the glacier, Akuliima (“Ice Throne”), and then the raids of the frost giants reach deep into the lowlands.

The southern and northwestern foothills are covered in oak, hornbeam, holly, rowan, ash, maple, hemlock, dogwood, and lime, among other deciduous trees; the northwestern foothills are barren wastelands. The mid-range mountains, ridges, and valleys are home to beech, fir, spruce, and sycamore; conifers such as the fir and spruce predominate the higher one goes. Above the timberline among the alpine meadows are found thickets of mountain pine, juniper, and alder shrubs. Many tall, nigh vertical ridges, peaks, and cones are barren save for tangles of shrubs and vines and the odd trees growing out of cracks. Oddly, motile and carnivorous plants and fungi are not found in the region, for reasons unknown to myth or legend (these kinds of lifeforms are found in the Underworld of the Humanoids, however, as are many animate molds, jellies, and slimes).

The mountains are home to the following normal animals, among others: bats (normal and giant), bears (black and grizzly), beavers (normal and giant), boars (normal and giant), bobcats, cattle (highland longhorns), chipmunks, deer (red, roe, and white-tailed), dogs (wild), dormice, eagles (normal and giant), ermine, ferrets (normal and giant), foxes, goats (normal and giant), grouse, hawks (normal and giant), jackals, lizards (normal and giant), martens, minks, moles, mountain lions, owls (normal and giant), porcupines, rabbits, raccoons, rats (normal and giant), ravens (normal and giant), salamanders (normal and giant), sheep (normal and giant), skunks (normal and giant), snakes (normal and giant), squirrels, trout, turkeys, weasels (normal and giant), wildcats, and wolves (normal and dire). There are many other species of birds (notably the death-warbler, which has a black and white skull pattern on its wings and back) and countless insects, though especially bees, beetles, butterflies, centipedes, flies, mantises, moths, spiders, stick-bugs, ticks, and wasps (normal and giant-sized).

The mountains are also home to at least the following monsters, among others [NE refers to the northeastern mountains and hills facing the Alasiyani Desert, GL refers to the glacial and alpine region of the frost giants]: apes (snow, GL), baboons (normal and higher, NE), bugbears, chimeras, devil swine, djinni (NE), dragons (white (GL), green, red), dragonnes (NE), dwarves (duergar), efreet (NE), elves (deep), ghasts (NE), ghosts, ghouls (NE), giants (hill, frost (GL)), gnolls, goblins, griffons, hell hounds (NE), hobgoblins, jackalweres, kobolds, lamias (NE), Lammasu (NE), lizardfolk, lycanthropes (werebats, werebears, wereboars, werewolves), manticores (NE), minotaurs (eastern reaches), morlocks (Blackmoorian ruins), mummies (Azcan, Oltec, and Nithian ruins), nymphs (eastern foothills), ogres, orcs, owlbears, pseudo-dragons (and their less intelligent cousins, the drakes) remorhaz (GL), rocs (small and large), salamanders (frost, GL), satyrs (eastern foothills), scorpions (giant, NE), shadows (Taymoran ruins), skeletons, spectres, sphinxes (NE), vampires, wights, winter wolves (GL), wraiths, wyverns, yeti (GL), and zombies. Notably absent are any sorts of surface-dwelling elves, fairy-folk, and many of the sylvan folk (though there are some in the eastern reaches); the Tepeshy are inimical to all such creatures to due ancient feuds (dating from the settling of Traladara by the Vyalia ages ago).

Note that though their realm is on a smaller scale, the variety of monstrous inhabitants of the phantasmagorical Underworld of the Humanoids is on par with that of the Broken Lands and the Shadow Elves.


  1. Great background for the region! I will keep your ideas in mind as I write my Keep on the Borderlands comic. :)

  2. Hi James, would you mind saying exactly which RW-culture you are aiming to model in the Tepeshy?

    1. Actually, I am not trying to model a Real World culture do kuch as a Fictional clan... the Tepeshy are supposed to be Dark Age Addamses, as in the Addams Family. Some years back I found a blog that developed a race based on the Addamses, called the Macabre; I've not been able to find it since, but that plus the original Addams Family, with a dash of a few Vampire clans, was the original inspiration...