Rise of the Runelords
Thassilon: Notes on a Fallen Empire
The Thassilonian wizard is a fi gure straight from legend: rune-marked, sneering,
and powerful enough to destroy armies with a word or summon creatures who are
now myths themselves. Their empire rose on the back of a prudent king and his
seven greatest wizards, but magic and the corruptions of power unraveled it in the
end. When wizards runemark their goods, they take part in the traditions of the
Empire, where runes marked all the property of the great wizards, and giants and
dragons bent to human will.
The sprawling empire of Thassilon was powered by conquest and its sophisticated rune magic. That magic defi ned the empire’s rulers and included various forms of blood sacrifice, powerful glyph-laying, and dimensional warping. Without rune magic and the binding of the rune giants, the Thassilon legions would never have conquered their vast lands. With them, though, they were unstoppable.
The Laying of Runes
The early empire was not founded by the runelords who later grew to dominate it, but rather by the First King Xin, who was honored in the names of the empire’s seven capital cities. More than 11,000 years ago, Xin established lawful orders of knighthood and wizardry, endowed monastic traditions, and devoted donations of the kingdom’s wealth to charity and the end of hunger. Yet, more than a benevolent ruler, Xin was a visionary. In seeking to create a paradise of civilization within the span of his own lifetime, he called out to beings from beyond reality and bargained with ancient dragons. These mysterious accords granted Xin an understanding of rune magic—said by some to be the written language of creation—and brought the worship of the mysterious goddess Lissala to Thassilon. Inscribing his orders, contracts, and writs with these symbols of power, he regulated trade, established justice, and arranged his ever-growing lands into seven great domains with an effi ciency inspired by magical aid and compulsion.
Xin’s just, magic-suff used decrees became known as the Rune Law, and brought about incredible works, empowered the servants of the domain, and compelled the creation of wonders,
all of which motivated Thassilon’s swift ascendance in power and influence. This was called the Celestial Age of the Empire.
Ways of the Empire
At its height, the Empire of Thassilon covered an area more than a thousand miles wide, from the oceans to soaring mountains, over deserts and along rivers—a region vast in scope and natural riches. This empire’s fi gureheads were the sons and daughters of Xin, but they were almost powerless. In practice, Thassilon was ruled by the seven powerful runelords, maniacal arcanists who used magic to fuel their own decadence. It’s unclear from records whether the same seven extended their lives over hundreds of years or their apprentices took their names and titles upon their masters’ deaths.
DOMAINS OF THE EMPIRE
Thassilon consisted of seven individual domains, each of which was ruled by one of the seven runelords. Under distinct and exploitive law, each domain embodied its ruler’s favored virtues
of rule. Each runelord had a capitol city that shared the name of his domain, but was prefaced by the word “Xin”—ancient Thassilonian for “imperial” and “throne of,” after the fi rst emperor. Thus, the capitol of Shalast was called Xin-Shalast.
THE FALL OF THASSILON: GLORY AND DECLINE
Why Thassilon fell remains a mystery, but as the end drew near, the seven wizard kings of Thassilon retreated into the depths of their greatest monuments, entombing themselves with orders for their minions to release them later to reclaim their empire. Alas, Thassilon’s minions defi ed their orders, were enslaved, or were slaughtered. With no one left to waken them, the wizard-kings of Thassilon slumbered for countless ages. The few scholars who research the ancient empire maintain three common theories for its collapse.
The Aboleth’s Revenge: One theory is that aboleths destroyed the empire in a longdelayed
retaliation for the runelords’ theft or corruption of aboleth glyph and lifecreation magic. The invasion is said to have come from the sea, driving inland along the rivers and lakes, and ultimately subverting and destroying anyone who professed allegiance to the runelords. Evidence for this theory is sketchy at best, as most scholars are unwilling to consult primary sources among the aboleths.
Thassilon and Beyond: In time, the law and charity of the early empire gave way to corruption, cronyism, and the summoning of aberrations from beyond the planes. These included the shining children, the scarlet walkers, the inverted giants, and the Oliphaunt of Jandelay, a creature so powerful and yet so diffi cult to control that it was summoned only once to destroy an invading army—and even so, dismissing it afterwards destroyed a quarter of the Peacock Legion. This theory holds that the madness of these unknowable creatures warped all they touched, turning the rune magic of Thassilon into a mockery of its former glory. Without its magic, inherently corrupted Thassilon fell apart into squabbling fiefdoms, none potent enough to restore a central throne. Unfortunately, no one can prove a change in the quality of the empire’s magic, which is long since lost.
Revolt of the Giants: This theory holds that the rune giants who served the runelords and secured their power revolted against their masters one summer just before the harvest, setting fi elds and forests ablaze, tearing down monuments they had built, and devouring every soldier, every priest of Lissalaa, every monk of the Thassilonian Order, and every wizard and sorcerer they could find. They destroyed every sign of the Rune Goddess and the Peacock Spirit, and forbade anyone from learning or using the runes ever again. After destroying the ruling class, the rune giants wandered into the north, never to return. Some scholars claim this was a symptom of the empire’s fall, not its cause.