Friday, 20 January 2023

On Tzunk

“When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly the forerunner of its fall.”
― Alexander Hamilton

Little is known about the Flanaess’ Pre-Migration history. Mayhap we have the Oeridians to blame for that. They marched across the continent, sweeping its history aside as they went, declaring “Hail the conquering hero!” There was nothing there before them, they say. A few elves, a scattering of gnomes and dwarves, a few hunter-gatherers, and one or two agrarian groups of little concern: The Flan, a people of little note or consequence.
The Flan were the first known humans to live in eastern Oerik, and it is from them that the Flanaess gets its name. [LGG – 5]
The fierce Oeridian tribes likewise moved east, thrusting aside Flan and Suloise in their path. [Folio – 5]
Migrating bands began settling the eastern portion of the Oerik Continent, Flanaess, over a millenium ago. The Flan tribesmen were hardy and capable hunters but not particularly warlike, and their small and scattered groups made no appreciable civilizing effect. [Folio – 5]
Thus, the history of the Flanaess is theirs.
That’s what the Oeridians believe, and that is what we now believe, seeing that theirs’ is the written history we have. Such is the spoils and legacy of victors.
But they could not erase what came before, not entirely. The Past persists, in song, in sagas and legends, carved in clay tablets and stone.
One persistent legend among the Flan is that of a wondrous citadel, said to have sat near the very heart of the Flanaess in ancient times, when kingdoms of the Ur-Flan spanned the length and breadth of the subcontinent. Known as Veralos, a word meaning “aerie” in the ancient tongue of the Flan, the structure was supposedly erected somewhere near the cracked and broken ridge of the Rift Canyon, in what is now referred to as the Bandit Kingdoms. According to the oral traditions, the stronghold was the retreat of princely Ur-Flan scholars, artisans, and mystics in ancient times. It was a repository of great knowledge, learning, and contemplation, drawing disciples from many neighboring kingdoms. These highly-skilled Flan were said to have created extraordinary wonders (such as magical tablets, statuary, ensorcelled jewelry, and astounding weapons) often by commission for the lords of lands such as Sulm, Itar, Ahlissa, and Nuria. The gathered lords of the citadel even paid fealty to the Wizard-Priests of the Isles of Woe, until that fell dominion sank beneath the waves early in prehistory.
[Dragon #293 – 90]
The kingdoms of the Ur-Flan?
Varalos. Sulm. Itar. Ahlissa. And Nuria. These names endure. So too the wizard-priests of the Isles of Woe, however forgotten and mysterious.

Rumors abound that the lake holds the sunken remains of an ancient pre-Migration civilization known as the "Isles of Woe," though many have explored the lake to no avail. [LGG – 149]
According to legend, the Isles of Woe once stood in the Nyr Dyv, but no reliable source catalogs their size, exact location, population, or even their number (usually put at three but ranging up to seven, depending on the story). The isles are said to be so ancient as to predate the arrival of the Oeridians. The origin of their name is unknown, but they are always said to have been highly magical. [TAB – 5]
The isles seem to be peaks associated with the easternmost branch of the Cairn Hills, just north of the Duchy of Urnst. [TAB – 5]
The lake of Unknown Depths is said to have once held a number (sources vary between three and seven) of very magical islands called the Isles of Woe, which apparently sank beneath the waves over a thousand years ago. [Slavers – 17]
Occasionally, strange silver coins and jewelry and even stranger obsidian carvings, found by lucky divers, make their way to market, but these are generally discounted as forgeries. [LGG – 149]
So much for there was nothing here before We arrived.

Indeed, there was an entire history upon the Flanaess pre-Migrations. An ancient history. None of it detailed in Oeridian annals, except what little has leaked through the cracks in the whitewash.
The Glittering Wizards
Some of the [Nyr Dyv]'s islands are likewise said to have been home to a group of very seclusive and ancient wizards as powerful as the Wind Dukes of Aqaa or the Glittering Wizards of the Isles of Woe in Oerth's pre-history. These islands are said to be almost alive as entities in themselves, assaulting those who set foot on them with hails of stone and rock as the very earth churns underfoot. Whether any of these tales are true and what remains of the long-dead wizards' magical treasures and hoards, is a matter of pure conjecture.
[WGR5 Iuz the Evil – 60] (1993)
The Wind Dukes? The Glittering Wizards of the Isles of Woe? Once one scratches the surface the Past begins to reveal itself.
Krovis’s avatar has, in the past, emerged from his crypt to bring down several empires that dominated the central regions of the Flanaess, including the dominions of the Isles of Woe and the Empire of Lum the Mad (both of which occurred more than 1,000 years ago). [Dragon #167 – 13]
What’s this? Evidence that there were empires that date from more than 1,000 years ago? But … the Great Migrations were a 1,000 years ago, at the dawn of recorded history. And the only Great Civilisations that existed prior to the Twin Cataclysms were the Baklunish and Suel empires, and those were to the west of the Crystalmist mountains.
Evidence of Civilisations of Yore
So, what empires are we referring to, then? Sulm, Itar, Ahlissa, and Nuria. And Vecna’s Occluded Empire. Could there have been other, older, empires?
That’s impossible, isn’t it? The Aerdi have informed us that there was no civilisation of note east of the Yatals and Crystalmists when they arrived. No great cities. Just migratory nomads and a few agrarian groups dwelling in adobe and sod.
Perhaps that was what they encountered. Perhaps that is what they would have us believe. Conquering heroes have little to gain by admitting to what came before, lest those who live beneath their benevolence have thoughts that they themselves are the heirs of the fields they toil for the benefit of their “betters.”

Who then were these Glittering Wizards of the Isles of Woe? We don’t know. We only have glimmers of who they might be.
Sages claim that the Isles [of Woe] predate the Oeridian migration. Others believe that the isles were once the location of Vecna’s spider-throne. [LGJ#2 – 19]
One could never imagine the Whispered One to be a Glittering Wizard, though. He was never referred to as such, ever. There are only a couple other names associated with the Isles: One is Yagrax.
The Isles of Woe, a small Aerdian enclave ruled by Wizard Priests (led by Yagrax), sink into the Nyr Dyv.
(5186 SD/315 OR) [OJ#1 – 15]
Aerdian? I think not! That enclave could not be Aerdian when the Isles are the sunken remains of an ancient pre-Migration civilization [LGG – 149], when the Oeridians had still to conquer the Flanaess. [Such is the difficulty of reconciling Apocrypha with accepted published canon.] If [t]he Flan were the first known humans to live in eastern Oerik, [LGG – 5] then surely Yagrax must have been Flan. [One could argue that “known” predicates the possibility of other peoples, but who might they have been? There are none noted in any published sourcebook. One might point to the Wind Dukes of Aqaa, but those fabled Dukes were declared by Skip Williams not to be human at all, but extraplanar vaati. Had he left well enough alone we might then have pointed to the Grey Elves or some long-forgotten civilisation of Flan to their origin. But alas…] Was Yagrax a Glittering Wizard?  We know next to nothing about him.
“Alterations of Tangibles and Intangibles” by Yagrax
(melt, transmute water to dust, item, material, fabricate, crystalbrittle) [Dragon #82 – 58]
Nor much about another Pre-Migration [thus presumably Flan] wizard coupled with the Isles, Tzunk, either. He too wrote a tome.
“Dissimulation and Obscuration
by Tzunk
(blink, invisibility, invisibility 10’ radius, improved invisibility, darkness, continual darkness, vacancy, avoidance, mass invisibility) [Dragon #82 – 58]

But it is not that tome with which he is most associated. He is best known by his use of Yagrax’s most famous creation, the Codex of Infinite Planes.
Codex of Infinite Planes
An ancient book containing forbidden lore and the secret to travel between planes and dimensions. Also called Yagrax’s Tome, after the fanatical wizard-priest of the Isles of Woe. [Dragon #299 – 101]

Long ago the wizard-cleric who ruled the Isles of Woe lost in the Lake of Unknown Depths used this work to gain knowledge of great power. It is told that this arcane wisdom is what eventually wrought the downfall of the mage-priest and caused the waters to swallow his domain. In any event, the Codex of the Infinite Planes somehow survived the cataclysm, for the Wizard Tzoonk, before his disappearance, recorded the following:
“. . . and thereupon the voice belled forth in tones of hollow iron and spoke of the Coming of the City of the Gods. Such future events interested me not, so I gave the command: ‘Answer in th …’ (here the fragment becomes entirely illegible) … so knowing both the secret and the spell which would unlock the Way to this horde of the Demon Prince Nql … (another break in the writing unfortunately occurs here) … gathered the nine as required and proceeded forth. With me in addition were the dyoph servants necessary to transport the Code, for I would not leave it behind on even so perilous a journey as this.” (Here the entire fragment ends.) [Eldritch Wizardry – 43]

In the distant past the High Wizard Priest of the Isles of Woe (now sunken beneath the waters of the Nyr Dyv […]) discovered this work and used its arcane powers to dominate the neighboring states, but legend also has it that these same powers eventually brought doom to the mage-priest and his tyrannical domain. It must be that somehow the Codex survived the inundation, for the archmage Tzunk scribed the following fragment prior to his strange disappearance:
“… , and the two strong slaves lifted it [the Codex] from the back of the Beast. Thereupon I commanded the Brazen Portals to be brought low, and they were wrenched from their hinges and rang upon the stone. The Efreet howled in fear and fled when I caused the page to be read, and the Beast passed into the City of Brass. Now was I, Tzunk, Master of the Plane of Molten Skies. With sure hand I closed Yagrax’s Tome [the Codex], dreading to – ” [DMG 1e – 156]

Aside from these missives, what is actually known about the life and times of Tzunk?
[I]t was reported that the archmage Tzunk once used the power of the Codex of Infinite Planes to raze the armies of his enemies and subjugate the entire region. [LGJ#2 – 19]
The Isles are reputed to have been the home of the wizard-priest Tzunk, who used the Codex of Infinite Planes to rule an empire. [Slavers – 17]
There’s that word again: Empire. One presumes an empire is a subjugation of peoples, of city states, and not a confluence of nomads and sod hut dwellers.

Empire (noun)
  1. an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress
  2. a large commercial organization owned or controlled by one person or group
  3. a variety of apple
I think we can eliminate the latter.
The Flan did indeed then have cities. There was, of course, Varalos, as noted above, and fabled Haradaragh: The founding of the first Flan city in the Lortmils "Haradaragh." This is counted as (3365 SD/1 FT)
First year of Flannae Tracking system (1 FT). [OJ#1 – 9] (-2150 CY)

Although no written descriptions of the city of Haradaragh have survived, there are cryptic fragments of songs still sung among those of Geoff, Sterich and the County of Ulek who count themselves of Flan descent. These tell of the spectacular visions of sunrise in the high plateaus of the mountains, the great wide boulevards and plazas of the city, the many-stepped pyramids devoted to the Sun-God, the agricultural terraces of the slopes, the labyrinthine walls protecting the city, and the tremendous wealth brought from the mines below. [OJ#2 – 16]
And Tostencha:
Some two thousand years ago, the wizard Keraptis established himself as "protector" of Tostenhca—a grand mountainside city of wide streets and towering ziggurats. [Return to White Plume Mountain – 3] (c. -2150 CY)
And Fleeth:
“The morning after the Feast of Himar, certain citizens of Fleeth came out of the town and entreated upon the besiegers to speak with Lord Vecna, the Whispered One, in his spidered pavilion. They told him they were ready to place the city and all their possessions at his discretion, provided their lives were spared.” [WGA4 Vecna Lives! – 3]
And Heraan [on the Isles, themselves]:
[A]ncient Heraan
– the city where the Codex of the infinite Planes was supposedly first inscribed and where countless other treasures still rest. [Dragon #294 – 90]
Sail on to the Isles of Woe
“Gone, like the three of Heraan.” – A strange saying among the Flan hillfolk of the Cairn Hills. [Dragon #294 – 90]
The long trek through the limestone caves has brought you to this strange underground cove. The cave entrance to this place is obscured by seaweed, and only a little light trickles in through the vegetation. The walls are decorated with strange symbols and artwork in a style unlike anything you have ever seen.
Upon the shore sit three longships. None have sails, and all are made of what appears to be corroded copper. In the center of each ship stands a column with a steering wheel attached. [Dragon #295 – 96]
This is the Heraan Boathouse—the once-lost passage to the strange, obscured city that dominates the Isles of Woe. [Dragon #295 – 96]

An empire on Oerth wasn’t good enough for one such as Tzunk. Tzunk moved on to bigger and better things, in time: The City of Brass, for one.
Now was I, Tzunk, Master of the Plane of Molten Skies. [DMG 1e – 156]
Not bad for a scion of a people of little note.

But Tzunk, in his ambition and hubris, would reach too far. One might think that it cost him his life.
The Tomb of Tzunk's Hands: Tzunk, Wizard-Priest of the quasi-mythical Isles of Woe which sunk below the Nyr Dyv in prehistory, is said to have had his body sundered into a hundred parts to thwart any attempt at resurrection. The portions were scattered to the winds, burned in fire, dissolved in acidic waters, and buried below the earth. Great golems with special powers such as paralysis, petrification, and worse are said to guard a tomb holding his hands here. The approaches to the tomb chamber are riddled with traps, mazes, secret portals and passages, and many magical hazards. [WGR5 – 64]

What became of the mysterious Isles of Woe, and who dwelled there? [LGG – 13]
The islands now lay somewhere beneath the surface of the Lake of Unknown Depths. [LGJ#2 – 19]
Gone, but not forgotten.
Warnes Starcoat 
Concerned by stories of the resurfacing of the Isle of Woe, Warnes Starcoat is sponsoring an expedition into the Brass Hills to explore a site called the Zochal. According to the Nesser Opuscule, [the] only surviving fragment of a greater work attributed to Tzunk, the Zochal is an echo point for the planar confluence that infuses the once lost sunken isles.
[Dragon #297 – 91/ COR2-08 Echo]
I wish Warnes Starcoat luck. His sponsored expedition, as well.
I would let long-dead Flan wizard-priests lie, myself. They were/are all obsessed with the continuance of their life – the necromantic ones, anyway.
If retrieved from their resting place, the hands are said to animate themselves, serving the one who rescued them as divinatory tools, but seeking out the other parts of Tzunk's indestructible, scattered body and slowly beginning to take over the mind of their owner. [WGR5 – 64]
Tzunk, like others of his ilk, doesn’t care a whit for the expedition members’ lives. Or Warnes Starcoat’s.
Or yours, for that matter.

“You’re some kind of thief, then?”
“That’s a very narrow-minded way of looking at it. I prefer to think of myself as a merchant of delicate tasks.”
― S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass

One must always give credit where credit is due. This piece is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Veralos, by Kalman Andrasofszky, from Dragon #293, 2002
Isles of Woe map, by Sam Wood, from The Adventure Begins, Adventure Maps, 1998
Warnes Starcoat, by Sam Wood, from Living Greyhawk Journal #0, 2000

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9309 WGA4 Vecna Lives, 1990
9399 WGR5 Iuz the Evil, 1993
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
11434 Return to White Plume Mountain, 1999
11621 Slavers, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Eldritch Wizardry, 1976
COR2-08 Echo
Oerth Journal #1, 2
Living Grayhawk Journal #2
Dragon Magazine #82, 167, 293, 294, 295, 297, 299
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

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