Imagine if you will a seemingly independent city surrounded militarily by a hostile, authoritarian, tyrannical power controlled by a cabal of powerful wizards. Seems pretty far fetched right? Well if you can break from this unheard of reality for a moment then you have for yourself an understanding of what life must be for the citizens of Amruthar.
Review of the Sources
Despite it being a city in a quite unique situation it gets very little written about it in previous works. While understandable given it’s relatively small population of 40,000, it still is a bit disappointing that such a unique place has been so overlooked. In fact, a mere two paragraphs sadly in the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide are dedicated to it. The next most recent book to cover it is the Unapproachable East and it is probably the best source for anything relating to it. After that you’ve got Spellbound (but the material in it is largely repeated in Unapproachable East) as well as earlier campaign settings (which make little mention of it). In any case, little more than a page has been written about the city in any given source and about half of that is dedicated to describing the conflict between it’s three major factions (a conflict that centres around its relationship with Thay that may no longer be relevant). We really don’t learn much about it’s major sites and features as a result.
Still, a city surrounded by an overwhelming power like Thay presents some unique adventuring opportunities that are worth a closer look.
The government in the city is an important topic of conversation here because it seems to have changed dramatically between editions.
In 1368 DR the city was controlled by a Hierarch. They were effectively a puppet of the Zulkirs in Thay however and through the wealth they gained from this relationship they managed to keep the people happy through the building of parks, wide streets with extensive shopping options, colourful marketplaces, many celebrations and festivals, and just generally doing whatever they needed to do to stay in power. In return they were permitted to remain independent in exchange for a small percent of all transactions in the city (to be given to the Zurkirs). This is a relationship that has apparently existed for centuries. They also were essentially only permitted a city guard that handles criminal matters and had no standing army.
By 1479 DR the only government that seemingly remained in the city stemmed from the head of the temple of Kossuth. The mummy lord Chon Vrael maintains the city and apparently is a fierce enemy of Szass Tam. By now it seems as though it’s previous financial relationship with Thay is over (perhaps a result of Szass Tam taking over Thay) and instead it maintains its independent through it’s small army of fanatics, elemental creatures, and even a tribe of fire giants.
It’s not clear why Szass Tam permits this or how trade and other valuable functions of the city now operate.
What Makes it Unique Compared to Other Cities?
Unique relationship with Thay: the fact that Thay has yet to conquer it makes it a really unique city. Whatever Szass Tam’s reasons are for not doing so it really stands out for this reason. Not a lot of cities this small could stand up to a nation like Thay and still remain independent.
Artifact beneath the city: according to Forgotten Realms Adventures, there was once a powerful artifact beneath Amruthar that gave the Red Wizards even greater powers than they had today. This artifact apparently was either stolen, destroyed, or disabled during the Time of Troubles (1358 DR). This may be why Szass Tam doesn’t attack. Maybe Chon Vrael has access to the artifact and in turn has forces that are much more of a threat to Thay than they otherwise would be. Or perhaps Szass Tam simply wants to acquire the artifact undamaged and fears what an attack on the city would do. Either way, finding this artifact could be a quest granted to the party by either a Red Wizard or Chon Vrael.
What are the City’s Issues?
Relationship with Thay
Clearly given that the city is surrounded by Thay they must have some kind of a relationship with them in order to trade and get the things they need.
Maybe this source of conflict between these two sides could be a source for you to use for your party to get quests. A party for instance is tasked with travelling into Thay by a wealthy nobleman in Amruthar who is looking for a particular valuable good. That sort of thing. Alternatively, Thayans could hire the party to infiltrate a smuggling ring that has been bringing something (perhaps even food) illegally into the city.
Szass Tam could even offer a higher level party with the opportunity to lead the city in exchange for destroying Chon Vrael.
A change in this relationship could also mean the “vast tent city” outside of its walls (where its migrant workers come from) could also become a ghost town.
In 1385 DR the spellplague hit and badly damaged the city. It got hit by earthquakes, lava, and mud wrecking parts of it. By 1479 the city doesn’t seem to have really recovered physically and it had been left with deep chasms that had formed that were filled with molten rock that never cooled.
Any kind of catastrophe like this means work to clean up after it. That either means direct work for the party or indirect work (for instance having to deal with strife between a group of labourers working on the reconstruction).
With the relationship with Thay much more hostile the city may no longer have the wealth it once did for reconstruction. With buildings destroyed the city therefore may be more cramped as residents are forced to live in a smaller number of buildings.
The four factions in the city clearly represent an important part of how the city functions. You can read more about them in the Forgotten Realms wiki (frankly what is there covers everything you can learn about them). I thought however I would propose a few questions to consider on how the motivation of these factions may have changed with new developments.
Realists: how are they handling the new relationship with Thay? Are they looking to return to the old ways? If so think about quests they could offer the party that would undermine the leadership of Chon Vrael to bring about this.
Independents: what is their relationship like with Chon Vrael? Is having him and his fire giant buddies really want they intended for the city? If not then what could a party do that could further their goals?
Aglarondans: are there still those in the city that believe in this? Especially following the death of Simbul?
Thayans Thayans may not be a listed faction in the city but effectively they are one. They’ve especially been known to keep tabs on the Independent and Aglarondan factions in the past and have even arranged for prominent sympathizers of these groups to disappear. Have they stopped their ill deeds in the city? Or have things only gotten worse?
How Can I Use It in My Campaign?
Amruthar I think works best as a Thay-light city. When you don’t want to throw a party right into Thay but you want them to get a strong feeling for what life in Thay would be like.
It can also work well as a ‘city under siege’ adventure, where you needing to help the city’s leadership defeat an external foe (probably the Thayans).
Finally, the presence of the artifact underneath the city also opens it up to being used as the starting point of a dungeon crawl.