Kara-Tur is part of the same landmass as Faerûn and Zakhara, but is considered a continent in its own right, separated from those two landmasses by the towering Yehimal mountain range. It is located due east of Faerûn, across the obviously-misnamed Endless Waste, and east and north-east of Zakhara, across the Segara Sea. Overland travel and trade between Faerûn and Kara-Tur is lengthy but frequent; trade with Zakhara is complicated by distance and geography.
Kara-Tur measures some 5,500 miles from the Land of the Snow Spirits – believed to be the local name for the Endless Ice Sea – in the north to the Southern Ocean. It is around 3,500 miles wide at its widest extent in the south. These dimensions comfortably make Kara-Tur the largest of Toril’s continents, especially when the extensive Wa and Kozakura island chains (among others) are added to the landmass. Kara-Tur is bordered by the Great Ice Sea, the Endless Waste and the Yehimal to the west and by the Yellow Sea, Celestial Sea and Eastern Sea in the east.
Trade Links with Faerûn
Faerûn and Kara-Tur enjoy regular travel and trade, and three great overland trade routes link the two continents.
The northern-most route is known as the Golden Way in Faerûn and the Spice Road in Kara-Tur. It extends from the port of Telflamm on Faerûn’s Inner Sea all the way to the Shou city of Chao Yang, from which further highways extend to Kuo Te’ Lung, the capital city of Shou Lung. It is roughly 3,400 miles from Telflamm to Chao Yang by road, with a further 1,600 miles required to reach the Shou capital. This route is obviously the longest of the three, but also the most convenient for nations of Faerûn’s Heartlands. This route was shut down by the Tuigan war of 1359-60 DR, but since the end of the war the Tuigan have reopened the trade route in return for (so far) relatively modest tribute for crossing their lands.
The central road is known as the Silk Route and extends from Dhaztanar, the port capital of Semphar on Brightstar Lake, to the Shou city of Yenching. This route is considerably shorter than the northern at just under 2,000 miles (with another 1,300 miles required to reach the Shou capital) and minimises the time spent in the Hordelands, with only a relatively modest distance to be covered between Howling Gap and the Alashan Pass into Khazari. However, this route tends to be the most expensive. Both Semphar and Khazari tax trade goods passing through their territories to the point that the northern route may appear preferable, despite being longer. There is also the issue of getting to Dhaztanar, which is already so far east – to the east of Mulhorand and even Murghôm – that it doesn’t even appear on many maps of Faerûn. To put this in context, the distance from Waterdeep to Dhaztanar is significantly greater than the distance from Dhaztanar to the Shou capital.
The southern-most route, and the least-known, is the winding pass between the Katakoro Plateau of Kara-Tur and the kingdom of Ulgarth in the Utter East of Faerûn. This route begins at the port of Suormpar on the Golden Water and extends north and east through the towering Katakoro Mountains (a north-western arm of the Yehimal) onto the plateau. The road then winds eastwards along the Upper Hungste to the Shou port of Mishan. This route is a relatively modest 1,600 miles in length and, since Mishan on the wide and fast-flowing Hungste, one of the great rivers of Kara-Tur, provides much speedier access to the Shou interior. However, the same problem applies here on much greater scale: Ulgarth is in the far south-eastern corner of Faerûn and the time spent travelling to Ulgarth could be better spent just traversing one of the other routes. Ulgarth does have the benefit of being located on the external ocean (the Great Sea, via the Golden Water), which means for traders travelling from Estagund, Halruaa, Samarach, Nimbral, Lantan or even Calimshan, there are arguments for travelling by sea to Suormpar and then overland. A counter-argument is that the pass through the Katakoro Mountains can be unreliable, closed by bad weather or avalanches, and the stretch of road along the Hungste west of Mishan is in unclaimed territory, with a dramatically increased risk of bandit attack.
Another option is by sea, although this is both lengthy and costly. Experiments to open a northern sea route to Kara-Tur via the Endless Ice Sea have ended so far in failure. Although routes around Faerûn’s northern coast do open in the summer, they tend to be fleeting and a ship will do well to get from the Trackless Sea to the Great Ice Sea before the routes close. There are no viable ports on the Great Ice Sea, and Kara-Tur’s northern coast extends for a vast distance to the east, more than can easily be covered by a single voyage.
The southern route is more doable, but is somewhat hazardous, requiring as does a skilled navigator to pass through the maze of islands to the west of Zakhara (most of them uncharted, with corsairs and pirates a common problem), then turning east through the well-named Crowded Sea, then across the only-partially charted Segara Sea and then around Kara-Tur’s vast, inhospitable southern coast before finally making landfall in T’u Lung. Faerûnian traders generally prefer the intermediary trade, of visiting only Zakhara and then buying Kara-Tur goods or selling their own wares there, which depending on demand and the goods in question can be more cost-effective.
A more direct route has been proposed, by circumnavigating the globe and travelling west to reach Kara-Tur from the east. It was during a very attempt to do this by Captain Cordell and the Golden Legion of Amn in 1361 that led to the discovery of the western continent of Maztica. Faerûnian explorers and traders have gotten caught up in the exploration of Maztica instead, but the original plan remains valid, especially since a sea route from the Trackless Sea into the Eastern Sea via the Straits of Lopango is known to exist. However, travelling to Kara-Tur by this method would entail a sea voyage of more than 20,000 miles across vast stretches of open, featureless ocean, which so far has daunted even the bravest sea captain. There are also logistical issues, with no safe port known to exist between south-eastern Maztica and Kara-Tur for resupply.
For the time being, adventurers and traders alike stick to one of the most trusted routes.
Major Polities of Kara-Tur
If Faerûn is the land of kingdoms and city-states, Kara-Tur is the land of empires. Colossal nation-states stretch across Kara-Tur, several of them so vast that they have provinces and even districts that could swallow the largest Faerûn nations whole. Shou Lung’s Chukei Province, by itself, is far larger than Faerûn’s entire Western Heartlands, whilst noble Cormyr is still smaller than Shou Lung’s smallest province.
The Shou Lung Empire lays claim to being the largest, most populous and most powerful nation on Faerûn. The first two claims are indisputable. More than 2,500 miles fall between the empire’s northern-most and southern-most borders, and some 2,200 miles between the east and rest. The entire continent of Zakhara could fit into the empire with plenty of room left over.
In terms of population, the sheer number of people living inside Shou Lung is staggering. It is said that Shou Lung’s human population may exceed 100 million, which is more than the combined numbers of humans and non-humans living on the entire continent of Faerûn (currently estimated at just under 80 million). A colossal amount of Shou Lung’s land has been turned over to feeding this vast population, with immense rice valleys stretching for hundreds of miles along the major river-valleys, and fields cut out of the side of mountains through engineering and magical feats unlike anything seen in the west. Gigantic highways criss-cross the empire, which is defended by an army said to number more than a million strong, although it is also scattered across a vast swathe of territory, having to defend the southern border with T’u Lung and the Warring States, the Dragonwall against the Endless Waste, the western border with the lawless Katakoro Plateau and the eastern coast against naval adventurers from Wa and Kozakura.
Shou Lung is divided into fourteen provinces: Chukei, Mai Yuan, Ching Tung, Sheng Ti, Wa K’an, Ti Erte, Hungste, Kao Shan, Wang Kuo, Hai Yuan, Yu’ I, Arakin, Chu Yuan and Tien Lun. Its capital city is Kuo Te’ Lung and its largest port is Karatin, both on the Hungste River. Its current ruler (as of 1371 DR) is Kai Tsao Shou Chin, Lord of the Jade Throne.
T’u Lung is Shou Lung’s more fractious neighbour to the south. It was originally part of Shou Lung, but broke away 300 years ago when the empire was divided between two rival emperors. Shou Lung has tried several times to invade and reclaim T’u Lung, but failed to do so; devoting the manpower required to fully subdue the breakaway kingdom would endanger the empire’s other frontiers. T’u Lung has also faced a bitter and bloody internal civil war, which only recently ended.
Despite these struggles, T’u Lung may well be the second-largest and second-most populous nation on Toril, although it is more divided and fractious than Shou Lung. It also has more border challenges than Shou Lung, having to hold its frontiers against Petan, the Warring States, the Kuong Kingdom, the hill-tribes of the Purang and the jungle kingdom of Laothan to the south-east.
It consists of six provinces as follows: Joi Chang, Ausa, West Wai, East Wai, Bashan Do and vast Fengnao. Its capital city is Wai (formerly Chia Wan Ch’uan) and its largest port is Ausa. Its current ruler is Wai Yong, tenth Emperor of the Lui Dynasty.
Khazari is an intermediary kingdom on the Silk Route, located east of Semphar and west of Shou Lung, high up in the Katakoro Mountains. It is sometimes counted as part of the Hordelands, rather than Kara-Tur. Khazari is a land of trade and religious piety, but is divided by corruption and internal politics.
Khazari’s capital city is Skarou, with the town of Alashan guarding the Silk Route west to Semphar. The fortress-town of Manass watches over the Hordelands to the north. The nation’s ruler is Prince Ogandi, a canny ruler who took advantage of a threatened Tuigan invasion in 1359 to consolidate power and authority under his banner.
Ra-Khati is a secretive and almost unknown country located south and west of Khazari, deep in the heart of the Katakoro Shan. Unlike Khazari, which lays in a vast bowl of open land between the mountain peaks, Ra-Khati winds between the mountains and lakes. Towns and villages are built around the rivers, streams and lakes of the country.
Ra-Khati’s capital city is Saikhoi. Its ruler is the Dalai Lama (high priest) Tsenya Garbo. The kingdom was invaded and conquered by Ambuchar Devayam, the Necromancer Emperor of Solon, in 1360; the nation was liberated in 1362 when Devayam was slain in Khazari and the rule of the Dalai Lama restored.
Tabot is a large kingdom located on the eastern flanks of the Yehimal, the tallest peaks on all of Toril. The mountains tower a staggering 35,000 feet or more above sea level and few who have tried to climb them have ever returned.
Tabot consists of two immense valleys separated by the Peerless Mountains but joined by the Lokar Pass. The kingdom is decentralised, with authority shared between the great monastery-fortresses and local rulers.
Tabot’s cultural and trading capital is U’Chan Gompa (formerly Koko Nur).
Petan is a small country located south-west of T’u Lung, along the lower Fenghsintzu River (T’u Lung’s greatest river network) and the Rendah, north of the Intan Mountains.
Relatively little is known of Petan, save it seems to be relatively peaceable but fierce in its independence. Its capital city is Penting.
The Warring States
The Warring States are a small number of petty-kingdoms, bandit principalities and tribelands located east of Petan and south of T’u Lung, in the jungles north of the Malatran Plateau. Little is known of the States beyond their unrelenting hostility.
The vast but secretive Kuong Kingdom is located in the jungles of south-eastern Kara-Tur, south of T’u Lung and Purang, east of the Warring States and south-west of Laothan. The Himasla Mountains form the southern border of the kingdom and the vast Malatran Plateau forms the western.
Kuong is a strongly unified country whose people obey their rulers unquestioningly. The nation has a strong army and a strong economy, thanks to a well-developed system of internal markets and trade with surrounding nations. Kuong’s remoteness and its apparent primitivism hides its true strength. The T’u like to think of the Kuong as a primitive and barbarian people, although their generals are less relaxed about the network of strong Kuong fortresses located along their mutual river border.
Kuong is ruled by the Priest-King Vishnan VII from the city of Ranguri, located on the Kunong River, deep in the jungle. The kingdom’s largest port is Marabaya on the Eastern Sea.
The Purang Hills form a complex highland landscape extending almost from Bukai Lake to the Laothan and Kuong jungles, around the headwaters of the Henai. The tribes of the hills are a mixture of friendly and the decidedly militant.
The Purang do not recognise a single capital, although Kumok is their largest settlement and the White Monkey Tribe who control it are the friendliest and most open to external trade. The unrelentingly hostile Twisted Palm tribe, which controls the southern hills near the jungle, is best avoided.
Laothan is a large kingdom stretching along the south-eastern coast of Kara-Tur, south and east of T’u Lung, east of Purang and north-east of the Kuong Kingdom. The Laothan nation is actually an alliance of tribes known as the Seng; the Thok are the largest and currently most dominant tribe of the Seng. The Seng people settled down some centuries ago and are currently transitioning to farming and trade as their main sources of income rather than migratory wanderings.
Laothan’s capital is Cheinang. Its current ruler is Thok Lian.
Malatra is not a political entity, but a geographic one. The term “Malatra” is used in Shou and T’u Lung to refer to all the jungle lands to the south, although this is inaccurate. Malatra proper is the name of a vast plateau in southern Kara-Tur. Almost a thousand miles across, the plateau towers a thousand feet or more above the surrounding lands. Access to Malatra is extremely difficult, with some believing it is protected by magical and religious forces as well as simple geographic inaccessibility.
Those who have managed to enter Malatra report a land dominated by the so-called “Living Jungle” and divided into regions by savannahs, rivers, volcanoes and mountains. Remote and mysterious, Malatra daunts even the most dedicated explorers.
The Tribes of Ama Basin
Ama Basin is located north of Shou Lung, beyond the Koryaz Mountains. The basin is colossal, stretching for two thousand miles from east to west and almost eight hundred from north to south. The central part of the basin is dominated by a marshy swamp, easily the largest on Toril, with extensive forests surrounding it.
The forests are home to powerful tribal groupings, at least three of which are strong enough to be called nations: the Pazruki in the west, the Issacortae in the central region and the Wu-haltai in the east. These three tribal nations are secretive and keep to themselves, but are somewhat open to external trade; the Wu-haltai have permitted the building of the great coast road linking Shou Lung to Koyro.
Koryo is located on the peninsula of the same name. The peninsula is slow to reach by land, as the only existing road goes right around the far northern coast of the Yellow Sea and requires negotiating passage across Wu-haltai lands and various tribes who control the northern part of the peninsula. Most travellers visit the country by ship instead.
As the north-eastern-most nation on the main landmass (an impressive seven and a half thousand miles due east of Waterdeep), Koryo is remote and relatively little-known. It is an alliance of three formerly independent kingdoms: the island nation of Saishu, the Koguryo Peninsula and Silla, the heartland of the kingdom. The three nations were forcibly united by the King of Silla, but subsequent rulers have tried to integrate the three kingdoms more peaceably.
Koryo is a heavily defended nation due to the twin threats of barbarian invaders from the north of the peninsula and the constant threat of invasion from Kozakura. Koryo has thrown back multiple invasions from Kozakura but has also launched assaults itself, once invading the northern island of Shinkoku before being driven back into the sea. The enmity between the two kingdoms is such that no Kozakuran citizen is permitted to set foot in Koryo and Kozakuran currency is not accepted. Koryo does enjoy strong relations with Wa and distant but cordial trading relations with Shou Lung.
Koryo’s capital city is Xi Hulang. It is currently ruled by King Wanang Sun.
Off the southern tip of Koyro lies a huge archipelago of sizeable islands. The archipelago is divided between two powerful empires, Wa in the west and Kozakura in the east.
Wa consists of the islands of Tsukishima, Shidekima, Paikai and Machukara. Wa also claims the Outer Isles located to its south-west, not for territory but to protect outsiders from them. Hidden amongst these islands is the Isle of Gargantuas, home to beasts of titanic size, each capable of comfortably destroying entire cities by itself.
Wa is a peaceful nation under the rule of law. Wa has enjoyed a longer period of peace than any other nation in Kara-Tur and has pursued a path of mercantile trade in recent centuries, with its ships trading from Koryo to Zakhara. Aside from occasional border naval clashes with Kozakura, Wa has not engaged in warfare for centuries and its policies are around continuing the current status quo. How long this is practical, especially as there is some evidence of growing internal dissent by the peasantry, is unclear.
Wa is ruled from the city of Uwaji by Shogun Matasuuri Nagahide. On paper, the Shogun is merely the military governor of the nation and rules at the pleasure of the Emperor; in reality, the Shogun (the most powerful of the daimyo or warlords) holds the true power in Wa and the Emperor rules merely as a figurehead.
Like Wa, Kozakura is a sprawling island empire. Unlike Wa, Kozakura is a land of constant, bitter struggle which has been in a state of constant political intrigue, occasionally spilling into open civil war, for decades. Kozakura has unified several times for attempted invasions of Koryo, the failures of which have sparked further internal dissent.
Kozakura sprawls across the islands of Shinkoku, Tenmai, Mikedono and Hinomoto. Shinkoku is the largest island and the site of the imperial capital.
Kozakura is ruled from the city of Dojyu by Emperor Gonijo, who took the throne at a young age. As is his tradition this did not happen upon his father’s death, but upon his “retirement.” Retired Emperor Gokammu still lives and provides advice and assistant to his former heir. As in Wa, the Emperor’s power and influence is less than it was, although the Kozakuran Emperor is perhaps not quite as powerless as his western counterpart. The Kozakuran Shogun, currently Hojo Kawakubo, commands the empire’s armies and wields considerable authority, but he also has to work harder to maintain the loyalty of his daimyos.
As with my other maps, this one started with the base map from the Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas (1999). However, in this case there was an error in the base map, as the Malatran Plateau had been placed in the wrong place based on misinformation. As a result, Malatra as depicted in the original map was far, far too small compared to the original maps (from the Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “Living Jungle” campaign) and the text descriptions.
As a result, I deviated to follow the solution proposed by mapmaker Markustay a decade ago, of moving Malatra to the south-west and expanding its size to compensate, which worked very well.
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