Yea I know Zakhara isn’t technically the Forgotten Realms (though it is on Toril). So by writing about it, I’m breaking from the mould a bit.
With about 1.6 million people Huzuz is the closest thing the rest of Toril gets to a city that competes with Waterdeep (2 million). Sadly, like with a lot of the rest of Toril, it hasn’t been looked at much in the last three decades.
Review of Sources
Very little has been written about Zakhara (including Huzuz) in almost three decades. The best source for information about the continent I’d say is 2nd edition’s City of Delights and (to a lesser degree) Land of Fate.
City of Delights goes into an almost excessive amount of detail about every aspect of the city, everything from its economy to its architecture to all the different warehouse societies it has. It’s by far the most definitive source for the city, but it also contains a lot of information that will never come up in your campaign. The sheer amount of detail frankly makes it very unapproachable as source material. The military in the city alone gets 2.5 pages dedicated to describing it.
Land of Fate on the other hand is perhaps a bit more of an approachable source for the city. Far too much of the 6 pages it covers the city on are devoted to the politics of Al Qadim. It does, however, provide a whole map of the city in the back of the book for you to use (page 216 on my pdf).
It’s been almost 30 years since either of these were written, however. It’s also been over 130 years in the timeline. So the land of Al Qadim has likely changed quite a bit since then.
Huruz is the closest place you can find to another Waterdeep. It’s kind of a shame that more alternative sources aren’t available for it, given just the sheer scope of the city itself, but that means your adventure can be all the more memorable for your players.
While Zakhara does see visitors from far away lands, for the most part, the distances and difficulties that are involved in travelling between it and Faerun make visitors fairly rare compared to others. Those with the means to do so and need would likely choose to teleport here, unless they were seeking to carry large amounts of supplies.
This provides a unique opportunity to set your adventure in a place far removed from the politics of Faerun, but still on the same world.
While it shares similarities to the cultures of Calimshan and the Anauroch Desert, Zakhara has no clear connections to these very far away places.
What Makes it Unique Compared to Other Cities?
Its Distance From Faerun
If you want to throw your party in a place that they may not even have heard of, or may even have become the stuff of legends, this makes a great place. It’s so far from the politics of the Sword Coast as to almost be on another world itself (though it still is on the same world). Unlike Calimshan you also don’t have to worry about understanding the recent changes in 4E.
It’s Incredibly Rich and Distinct Culture
You might be able to get a similar feel setting your game in a place like Calimshan, but Huzuz is far larger than any place found in that nation. There are very strong Arabic influences at work there in terms of its architecture, political leadership structures, and just how the city generally operates. It’s a chance to throw the European renaissance society aside for a moment and experience something very different.
Genies and their magic have had a strong influence in this city. For instance, it’s waterways (the closest thing it has to a sewer system) use genie’s magic to separate the city’s refuse from its fresh water.
Mages connected closely to genies with their own distinct study of elemental magics. In reality they derive their power from genies so by 5E standards they are more like warlocks with an elemental familiar (called a Gen).
Public Displays of Magic Does Not Impress Its Citizens
Despite the magic at work in the waterways, publicly displaying magic does not impress the people of Huzuz. They’ve seen it all before and view people who do such things as being pompous blowhards.
What are the City’s Issues?
With so much at stake over control over this huge city, whoever controls the seat of power here has at least some say over the development of the Zakhara (the Land of Fate) as a whole. Similar to Darromar, this should be a place where intrigue and political conniving go hand in hand. While he is generally viewed by his people as being fair and is well-loved by many, the caliph here (as with anywhere else) will have his share of enemies to the throne.
Back in 1345 DR the Grand Caliph would however often disguise himself and wander the streets pretending to be poor to ensure his citizens were treating others well. Citizens know that the caliph could be the very person they are interacting with.
Even if the caliph is not in their midst it is likely that one of the Studious Mamluk Society (the spy network of the caliph that operates in the city) are watching.
Threat Posed by the Pantheist League
The Cities of the Pantheon, or Pantheist League, were a group of loosely aligned cities with similar views on matters of religion. They were far more restrictive than Huzuz on matters of religion, only permitting one of five gods to be worshipped. While their different views created tensions, they ultimately exist outside of the control of the Great Caliph.
Threats Posed by Dao and Yak Folk
The Dao have been known to spy upon the royal family and even use body possession and charming in order to do so. Makin al-Mutrattab is probably the best example of this. He was a close advisor to the Great Caliph, but a yak man took possession of his body. He went on to unknowingly be used as a spy for the yak folk.
With so many different towns and cities on the continent, trade and diplomatic affairs are a common concern in the city. The Great Caliph simply doesn’t have the manpower to have a deep sway over all of the decisions of these areas, but rulers of these cities still pay tribute to him.
How Can I Use It in My Campaign?
Honestly, a city this large could host an entire campaign. Every level should find something to do in a city like this whether that is menial mercenary work or investigating an abandoned wizard tower.
Ultimately it comes down to whether or not you want to set your campaign in a place that is strongly influenced by the Arabian Nights. If you aren’t looking to do a desert campaign, then this is not for you.