A Tour of Kara-Tur
by: Tim Martin
Main areas of civlization in Kara-Tur:
Or the "Little Cherry Blossom," is inhabited by the same race of people as found on Wa, and has similiar customs and traditons. Kozakura howerver is far from a unified state. For several centuries it has been the scene of incessant warfare between powerful daimyos, all struggling to gain the title of shogun.
Kozakura exists as a number of islands (some volcanic), the largest of which is Shinkoku. This island of snowy mountains, piney woods, dense bamboo forests, and rice paddies is home to almost three quarters of the Kozakuran populaiton, and is the center of Kozakuran politics, culture, and civilization.
Unlike Wa, Kozakura is open to foreign trade, and ships are able to visit many ports. Shinkoku, as noted above, is a major population center; among its larger cities are Fukama, Senita, Dojyu and Masakado. Fukama was the original captial of Kozakura, and is best known for its artwork, handicrafts, and its Noh. Senita has been known as an area of fighting, but in more peaceful times exports of large amounts of rice, its fine seaport, and its excellent horses make it a wealthy city. Dojyu is the capital but due to fighting is many times not a port of call to visiting ships. This grand city is rumored to be a major source of leather, silk, and sake. Masakado has one of the finest harbors anywhere, and is a site of the otherwise infrequent trade with Wa. It is also known for its wicker and basket handicrafts and for a local red dye made from the roots of an indigenous tree.
The second largest island is that of Tenmei, which lies to the north of Shinkoku and forms the northern barrier of the Inland Sea. Major cities are Yoshida, which is the captial of Tenmei province and source of rice, fish, and ceramics, and Tanegawa, which is inhabited by barbarian humans and korobokuru and is the site of tin and copper exports.
Major trade goods of Kozakura include rice, artwork, fish, handicrafts, art, pottery, enamel work, obisidan, tin, copper, dyes, horses, and jade.
Kozakura is open to trade, but much of the country's focus is on the struggle for power and national unification. The country is still dealing, some nine years later, with the outcome of a major war - the Hojo War. Factions fight factions, samurai battle samurai, and ninja find much to do; the foreigner must be cautious.
A notable religion of Kozakura is that of the Eight Million Gods; an ancient religion of both Kozakura and Wa, a collection of beliefs and rituals that relate to various nature deities. There is no great teacher or book for the Eight Million Gods, nor uniform rituals of worship. Observances vary from deity to deity and shrine to shrine.
Nonhuman races also live in Kozakura. The Bamboo Spirit Folk are found in forested areas. Hengeyokai live in isloated enclaves throughtout the nation. Korobokuru (Kara-Tur dwarves) live in the remotest areas of Shinkoku and Tenmei.
Or "Receiver of the Dragon," is the largest and most powerful empire of Kara-Tur. It is also the oldest state of Kara-Tur and has been in existence for over 1,200 years in one form or another. It has been ruled by an emperor for all of its history, except for a few periods of turmoil. The bureaucracy he heads is manned by thousands of officials, major and minor, chosen by a system of standarized examinations given throughout the land.
Shou Lung is divided into 14 provinces, headed by a governor. The provinces are connected by a well-maintained network of roads and bridges, as well as Imperial Messengers. Dikes and dams are construced to control flooding, and coinage and paper money is minted and honored throughout the land (and indeed most of Kara-Tur and as far away as Afyal in Zakhara).
These paper notes are called Ch'ao. One cha'o is equal to 100 fen (lowest denomination coin, copper) or 20 yuan ( a higher denomination copper coin). Ch'ao come in various amounts - one, ten, and 100 notes being the most common. Ch'ao, because they are easier to handle, are preferred when dealing in amounts of 100 fen or greater. Silver coins are used, either the tael (equal to about 10 western silver pieces) or the ch'ien (equal to either 100 silver pieces or 5 gold pieces). Gold, although quite valuable, is not considered a proper form of currency. Rather, this metal is reserved for artistic and craft purposes.
A number of cities are already known to westerners from the Silk and Spice Roads.
Karatin is a large seaport city located at the mouth of Hungtse, which one must pass to reach the Shou Lung capital. Built mostly on swamps, it is one of the older cities in Shou Lung and its particularly noted for its architecture. With a deep and well dredged harbor, ships constantly come here to trade for silk, rice, spices, and the advanced sciences of the Empire. It is a bustling port, where one can find almost any type of goods, and meet people from all over Kara-Tur, and even Zakhara. It is the largest city of Hai Yuan or the Maritime Provinces, and is a conduit for Keelung tea and silk.
Kirin is another major port city, largest one of the Hungtse province. Originally named Hai Sheng, the third Imperial capital was renamed for the huge kirin who visited the city during the years of the Ivory Plague, saving the populace from certain death. It is a noted source of rice, tea, and silk.
Tsingtao is north of Kirin, and is the largest city of Ti Erte or Second Province. It is famed for its beer and wine and its fine but very hot food among its many products, and is a major population center.
Other port cities of note include Taoshin, Hsiang, and Lo'Shan.
Shou Lung is famous for the Dragonwall, which marks the current western border of Shou Lung, forming a protective barrier thousands of miles long. Said to be the hardened body of a great dragon.
Ruler of this nation of well over thirty million people is Emperor Kai.
Tsao Shou Chin
Samurai emperor of Shou Lung and possibly the most powerful individual on all of Toril. Known as the Rebuilder of the Dragon, he is known as a reformer, seeking to heal religious shicsms in Shou Lung, replace corrupt officials with new blood, protect the peasants from nobles attempting to create new fiefs, and elevate science and alchemy to the traditional ministries.
Underneath him is the Mandarinate of Shou Lung, which is made up of the upper echelon of scholars and officials, and includes both court scholars and the heads of official ministries of the bureaucracy. It includes the Chancellor (right hand of the Emperor), the Chamberlain (responsible for maintaing the Household of the Imperial Court), the Emperor's Wu Jen, the High Priest (of the official Faith), among others.
The Emperor and the Mandarinate rule from the Forbidden City, located in the heart of Imperial Capitol. It is the truly the Empire of Shou Lung's center. Within this compound are the Palaces of the Emperor and his family, the halls of the government, and the great Hall of Judgement where the Son of Heaven sits upon the Jade Throne and rules the Empire. It is surrounded by huge walls nearly three stories high and about as thick.
The dominant religion is The Path, which is the officially recognized "state" religion of Shou Lung, primarily due to a well organized temple militia and strong influence at court. It emphasizes honor, duty, and respect to one's elders, ancestors, and the Imperial family. Out of character, it is Confuscianism. (The Path of Enlightenment is also observed among the Seng of the Jungle Lands). The Path also stresses respect and homage to the Celestial Emperor, the Nine Immortals, and other members of the Celestial Empire.
Shou Lung is far in advance of Faerun in technology, and while many may try to gain these advances, they will not come easily or cheaply. Shou Lung has had paper, printed books, and fireworks for centuries. Shou Lung inventors were the first to devise the compass, the sextant, the water clock, the treadmill-driven paddle boat, water pumps, the drill, and the chair. Paper money first appeared in the Empire. Shou Lung has also invented the kite and the hua hsiang chi or glider, the first nonmagical way to put a man aloft. Shou Lung mathematicians, astronomers, and physicians are far in advance of the West, and only the Zakharans come close in these fields (though there some notable Maztican astronomers). Although reality has shown the Shou Lung navy to be far behind in comparison to Western nations such as Cormyr or Sembia, wise men can see that this will not be the case for long.
Shou Lung is not merely a nation of humans, but contains a number of nonhumans as well. The province of Sheng Ti, "The Sanctuary Provinces," are one of the few places in Kara-Tur where fox folk and hengeyokai citizens walk openly, even in their bipedal forms. Also in this verdant, wooded province one can find a relativel large number of spirit folk.
"Earth Dragon" was a part of Shou Lung until a dispute over imperial succession 300 years ago. Claiming its own emperor, T'u Lung set up a separate imperial court. After many wars between the two states, the situation has stablized, though no love is lost.
In the wars of succession, the Emperor of T'u Lung was supported by powerful officials and nobles of the rebelling provinces, though this later proved to be a problem, as future T'u Lung emperors were unable to rule without the nobles' support. The nobles replaced the examination system with hereditary positions, and T'u Lung's public works in its six provinces subsequently declined.
T'u Lung was once as vibrant and civlized as Shou Lung (as of course it was once part of Shou Lung), but is now racked by corruption, decadence, and chaos. T'u Lung is open to trade, but can be unsafe; conscription is daily fact of life, corrupt officials demand high taxes and kickbacks, the government does not control bandits and wako, and the government is rife with political conspiracy. Travelers beware.
Major port cities are Pe Nok, H'sin-to, Chunming, Ausa, and Keeling.
A series of islands that are a unified military state. Like Kozakura, Wa is a nation of islands, with Tsukishima being the largest, home to the captial of Uwaji. Although there is an emperor, the title is honorary and real power rests in the hands of the shogun or "barbarian-suppressing general." The island is divided into fiefs, granted by the shogun, and ruled individually by the daimyos.
Within Wa the status of the warrior, particularly the samurai, has been raised above all others. Each daimyo maintains a household of samurai, each expected to give absolute and loyal service to their daimyo. Under the warriors come the peasants, then the craftsmen, and finally the merchants.
Wa has a culture similar to that of Kozakura, but here law and order prevails. The same rigid social system which ensures domestic tranqulity borders on tyranny and oppression for most. Distinct social classes are rigidly enforced, travel is closely monitored, even relgion is regulated by the state. Prosperity is concentrated among the ruling military, condemning a staggering number of commoners to lives of hardship and poverty.
Regardless of their social status, the citizens of Wa are united by their fierce national pride and deep distrust of foreigners. Contact with the rest of the world is limited to a few trusted Kozakuran merchants, and very few details of Wa are known outside its borders even in Kara-tur.
Foregin and especially non Kara-Tur ships are intercepted by ships of the Wa navy and are not permitted to make landfall. Wa apparently has no interest in relations with its neighbors, let alone gaijin.
Uncivlized region to the south of the Land of the Snow Demons and north of Shou Lung. It is primarily made up of the Ama River Basin, which includes extensive regions of taiga and swamps. The Northern Wastes also includes the northern Koryaz Mountains.
Three "nations" or tribal groupings live in the Ama Basin, differing according to appearance, dialect, and culture. They are the Issacort (the most cohesive, forming a tribal confederation), the Pazruki, and the Wu-haltai (the least cohesive, its clans forming alliances only in times of need).
Aside from the three nations, there are a number of small native tribes, some thought to be recent immigrants from the Plain of Horses or the Land of Snow Demons.
The Northern Wastes are a very difficult region to travel and trade in, and there are no port cities in the region.
Or the Jungle Lands, are south of T'u and Shou Lung, and is a collective name, encompassing several peoples. The main civilizations are the Kuong Kingdom, the hill tribes of Purang, and the Seng of Laothan.
Laothan is the northern jungle area of Malatra, sweeping south in a curve from the T'u Lung border to the Dwai river. A region of vast rainforest and monsoons, its people bear many similiarities with those of T'u Lung.
The largest seaport of Laothan is Sayan, known for doing much trade with seafarers from more northerly countries. It is also known to be a town ruled by a powerful clan, and is widely considered to be a center of decadence.
Another place is Deikhou. This town is a source of pottery, tiles, and other ceramic goods sold all over Laothan and the region. Deikhou is well known as a haunt for the mysterious wu jen.
The Seng are noted for a small amount of spices, but more so for vast quantities of rice, for leather and wood products produced by skilled craftsmen, silver, and jewelry. Many exotic woods such as teak are bought through the Seng of Laothan.
Purang is a hilly region, little known, home to primitive tribesman, noted for hunting with blowguns and poison darts. This region of dense jungle is fiercely defended by its inhabitants. Their contact with outsiders is limited, and trade and travel through and with the Purang is practically nonexistant.
Kuong is the southern jungle country of this region, and has the heaviest jungle of all Malatra. The people are racially similiar to those of Purang, but more advanced. Its people worship what are known here as the Lords of Creation, a pantheon of deities that includes Indra, Garuda, Yama, etc (i.e. the Indian pantheon).
The people of the Kuong Kingdom concentrate a great deal less on rice and more so on fruits and vegetables. Obvious to any casual visitor is that the Kuong are master workers in stone, as evidenced by their temple cities, made of massive and elaborately carved stone. Gems are another major source of income.
Largest seaport, and indeed largest readily accesible city is that of Marabaya. The largest seaport in the entire region, seafarers take on cargos of gold, silver, ivory, furs, exotic woods, spices, and precious gems in Marabaya and deliver silk, pottery, sugar, and other goods to be sold throughout the Kuong Kingdom. It is worthy to note that due to the great distance from major armed forces and the lucrative trade here, wako are well known in local waters.
A general note - the Jungle Lands are an area where borders are irrelevant. In the dense jungles, swamps, and misty mountains of the region, home to fierce poison-using tribesmen, tigers, and worse, it is considered very unsafe to venture far from the coast or the few towns in the region. Foreigners are welcome only in a few places. Even Shou Lung and Kozakura traders occasionally disappear in the region if they get too far off the beaten path. The Jungle Lands are truly the "heart of darkness" on Toril.
A long peninsula that extends from Shou Lung down to the northern islands claimed by Kozakura. This mountainous land was once known as Choson, and is really a loose association of three kingdoms, united under a strong warlord king.
Koryo is a heavily militarized state, always watchful for Shou Lung and more likely Kozakuran invasions. War and invasion are constant threats which keep the people of Koryo ever alert, and these people only trust their own, often wrongly accusing strangers rather than malign a fellow Koryoan.
Koryo is not a friendly place to visit, and the foreign ships are not welcomed in its ports.
Series of island nations to the south of the main continent of Kara-Tur. The most well known are Bawa and Bertan. Known for their volcanic origins, dense jungle, seagoing merchants, and wako (Kara-Tur buccaneers or pirates).
In Bawa, a caste system is rigidly enforced; from top down are the nobles, the propertied, the laboring, and the outcasts. This is similar to what is found in Afyal in Zakahara, evidence of a common cultural heritage.
One of the most important settlements in Bawa is Djagong, the hub of much commerical acitivity. Goods from across the sea and the interior of the island can be found here. However, despite the wealth that passes thorugh its gates, Djagong is a squalid city, teeming with poor driven from the countryside by economic need. The yakuza (thieves) thrive in this environment, and to a large extent are better regarded by the populace than the merchants.
Most merchants have moved to the city of Nadepa'an instead, which is growing in commerical importance. This the is proud, elegant capital of Bawa. The name means "scented," as the city is the heart of the spice trade in the region; nutmeg, cinammon, cloves, mace, and other spices are found here. Also, the abundant local flowers are used to make exotic perfumes that are known and prized throughout the Orient.
The kingdom of Bertan has a very similar culture to that of Bawa. The main geographical difference is that Bertan evolved as a collection of small islands, while Bawa has been formed on a single piece of land. Some of the Bertanese islands used to be wako haunts, and this one reason that Bertanese are sometimes derisively labeled as a nation of pirates.
The islands of this region are also infamous for cannibals and headhunters.
Copyright © 1998-2006 Phillip Riley
Last Updated Sat Aug 11, 2007