The Peninsular War
The Magocracy of Thay
Thay is perhaps the most mysterious and most unforgiving country within the Unapproachable East. The land is dark and forbidding, covered in windswept mountains and inhospitable badlands. Native Thayvians are hardly any better – believing that the Gods favor those who are strong and resolute rather than the gentle and compassionate. This has led to a society built upon the backs of slaves, awash in petty cruelties and venomous ambition.
Thay was not always the powerful state it is today, however. Less than six centuries ago, the lands of what is now Thay were subject to the God-Kings of Mulhorand. However, their location far to the north of the Mulhorandi capital in Skuld meant that the Mulan peasants of Thay hadn't the same reverence for the Mulhorandi God-Kings in their upbringing. Many of these future Thayvians remembered a time two thousand years earlier, when their oppressors in Skuld had arrested and executed the man many peasants believed to be their founding father: Thayd of the Crimson Cowl.
Unlike the God-Kings and foolish high-priests of the Mulhorandi pantheon, Thayd believed that his people could accomplish so much more if they set aside their limiting religious dogmatism, and embraced an enlightened magocratic form of governance instead. His attempts to implement this idea on a local level in Delhumide had branded him a traitor to the Mulhorandi Empire, however, and after a short-lived resistance, he was beheaded in -1081 DR.
For centuries, the spark Thayd had created smoldered among the peasants of the north, and in 922 DR, it ignited into a blaze of revolution. The Mulan peasants were led by a group calling itself the Red Wizards – spellcasters honoring the memory of their philosophical forefather, Thayd – and with their command of the arcane arts, these wizards quickly overwhelmed the Mulhorandi garrison in Priador. Proclaiming their nascent state the Magocracy of Thay, the Red Wizards then began to march on the Mulhorandi provincial capital, Delhumide. Once stationed outside the city gates, the leaders of the rebellion worked dark, unspeakable magic to overcome the magnificent citadel city – scourging all life from Delhumide and tainting the location for centuries to come.
Despite the brutality of their methods, the Red Wizards secured their independence from Mulhorand that day, and neither the Thayvians nor the Mulhorandi would ever be able to best one another decisively again. This did not mean attempts were not made by the Thayvians to expand, however. Two invasions of Mulhorand were made in the years 1098 and 1280 DR, and raids or outright invasion attempts were made on Aglarond and Rasheman with what their neighbors considered disturbing regularity. The most recent assault on Aglarond, made in 1370 DR, resulted in significant enough losses on either side that it somewhat destabilized both countries, and attempts have been made by the Zulkirs of Thay to maintain uncharacteristically cordial relations with the Aglarondans since then.
In the years following the peace with Aglarond, Thay has seen the ancient, cunning, and charismatic Zulkir of Necromancy, Szass Tam, work behind the scenes to increase and consolidate his power. The other Zulkirs made some attempt to stymie the efforts of their necromantic colleague, but the Lich's popularity among the common people has made this difficult – and in 1385 DR, they were forced to accept Szass Tam's ascension as the leader of the College of Zulkirs and Regent-Lord of Thay.
Government of Thay
As a magocracy, almost every position of importance held in Thay is held by a practitioner of the arcane arts. While elevation to an important post is ostensibly a meritocratic promotion – with the best mage receiving the position best suited for his ability – the truth of the matter is that promotions usually go to the person most prepared to capitalize on a vacancy… and many Red Wizards have found that the best way to be prepared for a vacancy is to "arrange" for a vacancy to open up with one of their rivals' deaths. This system has led to a strangely stable government which somehow manages to keep new ideas cycling through the hierarchy while also maintaining a deep pool of governmental experience.
Traditionally, there has been no single leader of Thay – although Szass Tam's creation of the title of Regent-Lord has changed that in the past few decades. Since nearly the inception of Thay so many centuries ago, the country has been ruled by a council of the most powerful Red Wizards in each school of magic, called the College of Zulkirs, or the Zulkirate. In the past, each of the eight Zulkirs have been co-equal in matters of state, though Szass Tam's coronation as Arch-Zulkir has changed that as well.
While the Zulkirs are technically able to make any edict they desire, most of the management of the country is done on local levels, by provincial leaders called Tharchions. Each Tharchion rules a portion of the country called a Tharch – roughly equivalent to a duchy in most aristocratic countries. Eleven Tharchs exist in total within Thay, and each Tharchion is served by various appointed Ministers, each of whom acts as the ultimate municipal authority in one town within the Tharchion's domain.
Demographics and Economy of Thay
In all of Faerûn, Thay is something of an oddity, both demographically and economically. Despite being neighbors with the heavily Elven and Half-Elven country of Aglarond, Thay has a significant minority population of almost all races except those of Elven descent. This alone would not make the demographics of Thay interesting, however, but the fact that Thay has the largest concentrated population of Undead does. Perhaps due to Szass Tam's ever-present influence on Thay from the day of its founding till now, Thayvians have always accepted the fact that not all undead are mindless husks – and thus any undead creature looking to start a new life among civilized society eventually finds its way to the borders of Thay. Some of the most highly-regarded lawyers in the Thayvian capital of Eltabbar are undead, as are many of Szass Tam's chief Ministers.
Thay is also home to significant minority populations of Gnolls, Goblins, Orcs, and other races traditionally considered monstrous. Many speculate that this may be due to the prominence of slavery as a driving economic force in the country, but this alone does not explain why free members of these races are still accepted so readily. Even Thayvians themselves likely woult not be able to answer this question – but the most commonly accepted theory is that, due to the Thayvian philosophy that might makes right, there is a subconscious respect for these rough-and-tumble races who so often fight against the whole world for survival.
Nonetheless, that does not stop any Thayvian from buying an Orc, Gnoll, or even an Elf as a slave. As mentioned previously, slavery forms the economic backbone of the entire country…