Zakhara, also known as the Land of Fate, is part of the same supercontinent or landmass as Faerûn and Kara-Tur. It is located south and south-east of Faerûn across the Great Sea, and south-west of Kara-Turn across the Segara Sea. Of the other major continental landmasses, it is the easiest to travel to, as it is located a relatively mild 1,000 miles south of Var the Golden across the north-eastern most gulf of the Great Sea, and well-established trade routes link ports in Dambrath, Luiren, Estagund, Var, Durpar and Ulgarth to northern Zakhara.
The mainland of Zakhara extends for approximately 1,800 miles from north to south and around the same from east to west at the continent’s widest point. These dimensions make Zakhara comfortably the smallest of Toril’s known continents. There are, however, extensive island chains located to the west and south of Zakhara which are generally held to be within the Zakharan sphere of influence, and including these were increase the size of Zakhara considerably (especially the islands of the Crowded Sea, which resemble a partially-submerged continuation of the mainland).
Politics in Zakhara
Technically, Zakhara is unified as a single grand nation under the rule of the Grand Caliph of Golden Huzuz, the City of Delights. However, this is less true in reality, where the cities of Zakhara pay lip service (if even that) to the Grand Caliph but otherwise go their own way. Local maps of Zakhara thus show the continent as a single nation with Huzuz as its capital, but realistically most cities in Zakhara are independent city-states.
Geographic Regions of Zakhara
Zakhara consists of several key geographic regions, as follows.
- The Yikarian Empire in the north, also known as the Land of the Yak-Men. The Yikarian Empire sprawls across the World Pillar Mountains and the surrounding regions, extending north to the borders of Konigheim (the extreme south-easternmost nation of Faerûn) and west to the Great Sea at the port of Lipo. The Empire cuts off all mainland travel from Zakhara to Faerûn, although it is centred in the great city of Nathong, high in the mountains. The Yikarians are a hostile race who believe all other species are fit only to be enslaved. The Yikarians of Lipo are somewhat more enlightened and are more open to trade.
- The Cities of the North, also called the Free Cities, are located along the north-western coast of Zakhara and stretch for some 880 miles from Mina to Hafayah. These cities are built around mercantile trade with one another along the coast and with Faerûn across the Great Sea. The largest and most powerful of their number is Qudra, one of the Three Great Cities of Zakhara, but all are relatively rich and prosperous.
- The Corsair Domains, a cluster of islands located off the north-western coast. The Corsair Domains are, as the name suggests, a haven for pirates, brigands and escaped slaves. The corsairs profess loyalty to the Grand Caliph and for this reason direct most of their piracy north to the coasts of Dambrath, Luiren, Estagun and Var (although generally not, after several pointed lessons by the native mage-lords, Halruaa). However, the corsair princes do have an unrelenting hatred of the mamluks of Qudra, among the richest slave-owners in Zakhara, and have been known to all on Qudrese shipping with abandon on occasion.
- The Haunted Lands are located within and dominate the continent interior of Zakhara. They stretch from the World Pillar Mountains south and west to Suq Bay and the Sea of Caravans, and from the Furrowed Mountains in the north-west to the ruined kingdoms of Nog and Kadar in the south-east. The Haunted Lands form the larger of Zakhara’s two major deserts. As the name suggests, they are filled with the ruins from ancient civilisations. The desert itself is divided between different landforms, such as the Weeping Desert and the baking hot wastelands known as the Burning Lands and the Great Anvil, as well as the Sea of Salt and the isolated valley known as the Genie’s Garden.
- The High Desert is located south-west of the Sea of Caravans and Suq Bay, and is the smaller and less hostile of Zakhara’s two major deserts. Several roads crisscross the High Desert and oases and small towns are more commonplace. At the south-western fringe of the desert lies the city of Akota, most isolated of Zakhara’s cities, which monopolises trade with the large island archipelago to the west (which some hold is also called Akota).
- The Cities of the Pearl are a group of city-states located along the edges of the High Desert, stretching from Tajar in the north to Ajayib in the south. These cities were fixated mainly on mercantile trade, especially in luxury goods and rarities such as precious metals and pearls.
- The Cities of the Heart are the part of Zakhara which lies at its geographic centre, most notably the relatively fertile and clement lands around Suq Bay and the Sea of Caravans, the two internal waterways which almost cut the continent in half. Zakhara’s two largest cities are located in this region, Hiyal at the northern end of Suq Bay and Huzuz at the far south, near where it opens into the Golden Gulf. Several other notable cities are to be found in this region, including Halwa and Wasat.
- Huzuz, often called Golden Huzuz or the City of Delights, is the largest city in Zakhara and considered the continent’s cultural, religious and sometimes political capital. It sprawls for many miles along the Al-Sarif River, from near its mouth to some distance inland. Huzuz proclaims itself the grandest city in the world, with its dizzying array of golden temples, the Grand Caliph’s daunting palace and its vast markets, all surrounding by merchants and residents’ districts unfolding further than the eye can sea. The city’s claim to be the largest on Toril is debatable – Calimport in Faerûn and Karatin in Kara-Tur are both notable challengers – but it is certainly one of the most impressive.
- The League of the Pantheon lies to the south-east of Huzuz (to which it is closely allied) and consists of several cities unified in the strict belief of the Zakharan pantheon and no other gods. The cities are noted for their conservatism.
- The Ruined Kingdoms are located south and east of the Haunted Lands, along Zakhara’s much wetter eastern coast. The two kingdoms were Kadar in the south-west and Nog in the north-east. Many of the towns and settlements in this region used to be part of these ancient kingdoms ere their fall and have come late to the cultural beliefs of the rest of Zakhara. The most notable city in this region is Kadarasto, believed to be the ancient capital of Kadar but now a much more modest trading settlement on the Nogaro. The northern part of this region is uncomfortably close to the Yikarian Empire, so is generally avoided. Further north, the overland route to Tabot and the other south-western kingdoms of Kara-Tur is blocked by the vast Sempadan Jungle, which is infested with hostile creatures. The entire region is ill-omened, leading to its relatively low population despite it being more hospitable than the desert interior. The Ruined Kingdoms extend to the nearby islands of Sahu and Afyal as well.
- The Crowded Sea is well-named, for its refers to both the waterways and the many hundreds of islands south of mainland Zakhara, stretching from the Isles of the Crab in the west to the Wild Isle of Bariya some 1,700 miles to the east and for around a thousand miles from the Golden Gulf in the north to the fringes of the cool Southern Ocean. Notable islands include Harab (the Isle of War), the Steaming Isles, the Djinni’s Claws, the Nada al-Hazan, the Al-Zulm and Al-Qirmiza chains and the distant Islands of the Utter South. Some of the islands are heavily settled and trade with the mainland, some are wild and untouched by civilisation and some are home to ancient ruins of unknown origin.
Behind the Scenes
Zakhara is the setting of the Al-Qadim campaign setting, developed by Jeff Grubb and Andria Hayday for the Dungeons and Dragons game. It was part of the big wave of campaign settings developed for the 2nd Edition of D&D, being the fourth released (after Spelljammer, Ravenloft and Dark Sun). Unlike those settings, Al-Qadim was designed to be a short-run product line, but the early releases were much more successful than expected, leading it to be being expanded before a sharp drop-off in sales led to it being cancelled.
Part of Al-Qadim‘s success may have been down to its canonical location being part of the same planet as the Forgotten Realms product line, although the Al-Qadim line carried its own logo and distinct visual art style and identity. The idea of a “fantasy Arabia” fit in with a line of products TSR had developed for non-European settings, which had also resulted in “fantasy Asia” (with Kara-Tur and the Oriental Adventures sub-line of products), “fantasy Mesoamerica” (Maztica) and “fantasy Mongolia” (the Horde line of products). Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood had envisaged his world as not being so distinctly comparable to real-world cultures, so was somewhat cool on this approach (especially the “fantasy Egypt and Babylon” nations of Mulhorand and Unther). It’s notable that Zakhara is the only one of these lands to be marketed separately from the rest of the Realms, with an emphasis on adding Zakhara to an already-existing DM’s campaign world.
Al-Qadim did have one benefit on the core Forgotten Realms product line, as it made the earlier, slightly more cartoonish “fantasy Arabia” vibe of Calimshan rather redundant, so when it was fleshed out in later products (particularly Steven Schend’s superb Empires of the Shining Sea boxed set) it moved away from that influence and more towards a kind-of fantasy Ottoman Empire vibe, which was much more appropriate and interesting.
Al-Qadim, by the way, was supposed to be an Arab translation of “The Ancient,” but it was later discovered that, depending on context, it was more literally translated as “The Old” or even “The Stale.”