For a nearly a thousand years, the nation of Istar viewed itself as the moral center of the universe — home to the people chosen by the gods themselves as the champions of Good and caretakers of morality and justice. If there was any truth to these beliefs, the nation and its leadership at some point strayed from the path of good and grew so corrupt that the gods visited the ultimate punishment upon the nation. A fiery mountain fell from the heavens and destroyed Istar’s capital region, and all but scattered remnants of Istar were swept beneath the new ocean that rushed in to forever hide the blight that Istar had become. This article provides a brief overview of the geography of this lost land.
From its earliest times, the political, spiritual, and geographical heart of Istar was the fertile lands around a large freshwater lake. Teeming with fish and surrounded by a valley of rich, red soil that yielded bountiful crops, here five human-dominated city-states arose, and, after some initial friction, coexisted with one another peacefully. Protected from the marauding ogres and more savage human cultures to the west and south by a ring of low mountains, these cities traded with one another and developed a sophistication of arts and culture that rivaled even that of Krynn’s elves. The preeminent city was Istar, and when the five eventually united as a nation, it was under the name and banner of this leading city.
For all of Istar’s history, the valley around the large lake was the most heavily populated area of the realm. The five original towns grew into mighty cities, each possessing its own architectural flavor, and each sparkling with vast wealth gained through trade with the distant Empire of Ergoth, the kender nation of Balifor, and the southern elven realm of Silvanesti. Marvelous elevated roads linked the cities, and below them villages and towns sprawled among fruit orchards and bountiful gardens. At the height of Istar’s power, a person on foot could travel from one village to another in less than half a day.
The Lordcity of Istar, however, remained the most glorious, with towering structures capped by sparkling white domes and shining spires of glass and metal that reached to the heavens from which Istar seemed to draw its blessings. Istar was also home to Great Temple, an ancient structure that was devoted to the gods of Good, and which stood uneclipsed in its grandeur until the construction of the Temple of the Kingpriest. As part of this process, much of the Lordcity itself was torn down and rebuilt so that new avenues would radiate from the new temple, a structure which the Kingpriest described as a declaration of Istar’s glory to both mortals and gods.
When the hubris and growing evil of Istar’s final Kingpriest prompted the gods to destroy him and the entire nation, the city of Istar was the impact site of the flaming mountain that was the divine tool of punishment. Istar, its five sister cities, and the lake upon which they sat were consumed by fire and earthquakes. Then, as the Courrain Ocean spilled to fill the mighty craters and crags created by the earth-shattering impact, central Istar and its tens of thousands of citizens vanished beneath the waves.
In modern-day Krynn, central Istar is located at the bottom of the Blood Sea, and its waters are tinted by the stirring of Istar’s red soil. Until the dawn of the Fifth Age, a mighty maelstrom swirled in the sea, with its bottom being exactly over the point where the Temple of the Kingpriest had once stood. The maelstrom stilled as Chaos strode the land, and it has allowed the minotaurs and other raiders who live on islands of the Blood Sea — once the tops of Istar’s mountains — freer reign of the waves.
The Western Plains
As the valley around Istar’s five founding cities became increasingly crowded with people, settlers began to spread westward. The plains west of Istar were even more fertile than the red soil of the valley that had given rise to the nation. As Istar’s might grew, hundreds of small villages spread across the western plains and grew up around mills and stockyards. Just ahead of them, courageous farmers and ranchers planted new crops or started running livestock to help feed the growing population of the expanding nation. The expansion westward eventually caused clashes with the Silvanesti, who considered the lands immediately southeast of the Khalkist Mountains to be part of their territory. Ogre raiding parties and human barbarians descending from the Khalkists or emerging from the southern desert regions proved to be a growing threat to Istari settlers. The struggle against the elves and these barbaric forces caused Istar to greatly expand its army and grow increasingly militant. The experiences while expanding westward helped transform the one-time peaceful, almost-entirely trade-focused nation into a major military power.
Few important cities emerged on the western plains, despite the importance it served for Istar. Late in the nation’s history, the original city of Neraka was an important gateway between Istar and the nations of Solamnia to the north and west, as well as a mustering point for pilgrims traveling to Godshome, but it was destroyed utterly in the Cataclysm. (Modern-day Neraka has no relation to the original city and is named so only because the first people to settle there after the Cataclysm misread ancient maps and assumed the ruins there were of the original Neraka. They were, in fact, portions of the Temple of the Kingpriest that Takhisis the Dark Queen had magically transported there as part of her plan to be restored to power in Ansalon.)
The Southern Desert
Stretching from the Courrain Ocean in the east to the Khalkist Mountains in the west, a stretch of barren desert served as Istar’s southern frontier. Early in the nation’s development, it shielded them from influences from the kender and elven civilizations in the south, and it allowed a uniquely human culture to exist. Later the desert served as a barrier for Istar’s imperialistic ambitions and largely protected its southern neighbors from out-and-out invasion. (As enemies of Good, these other beings became subject to destruction in accordance with Istar’s Kingpriest’s Declaration of Manifest Virtue.)
Although the leaders of both Istar and Silvanesti — each of whom claimed portions of the desert in southern Istar — preferred to deny it, the desert was home to human, ogre, and gnoll tribal societies. An offshoot of the Silvanesti elves was also reported to live in caves beneath parts of the region. These population groups spent most of their time fighting one another over the scarce resources that existed in the desert, but occasionally a charismatic leader would unite several of them under his or her flag and attempt to strike out in conquest. This led to Istar constructing a series of fortifications along the northern edge of the desert, some of which have survived to the present day and now serve as strongholds for ogre lords. The most famous of these structures is Bloodwatch, which was both a religious center, trade city, and a massive fortification in its day. Much of the structure was shattered during the Cataclysm, but the main monastery remained intact, though its inhabitants are cursed to an eternal existence as ghosts and wraiths.
As the Istari hagiocracy grew more and more despotic, an increasing number of would-be rebel leaders attempted to unify the desert tribes into a force to fight Istar. Istar believed these rebels were being supported by the rival nations of Ergoth and Silvanesti, so construction of forts along the southern edge of the desert was also started to prevent support reaching the rebels from Balifor of Silvanesti. Most of these structures remained unfinished at the time of the Cataclysm or were swept away when Balifor and portions of the desert were washed away by tidal waves.
The Northern Reaches
To the north, the vast plains rose toward hills shrouded in lush, mist-swaddled rainforests. The land continued to rise, giving way to the Worldscap Mountains to the far north and the Endscape range to the northeast. During Istar’s rise, the forests were home to a mixture of human and minotaur tribes, while gnomes and scattered human communities were found in the mountains. The humans and gnomes mostly submitted to Istar’s rule, but the minotaurs desired to remain free. Karthay was the only major Istari city in the north, and it served both as one of the nation’s major trade ports and as the main guardian of the entrance to the Bay of Istar. One of Karthay’s main landmarks was Winston’s Tower, a massive lighthouse and fortress that was equipped with catapults able to fire flaming pitch several miles into the strait it overlooked.
After the Kingpriest issued the Declaration of Manifest Virtue, those minotaurs and ogres who weren’t enslaved or killed fled into the mountains of this region. The minotaurs who fortified themselves here proved particularly troublesome for Istar’s legions. The attempted genocide of the minotaurs forced a cultural evolution in the minotaurs, transforming them from a nomadic tribal society into a coherent kingdom unified under a single warlord. For the decade or so prior to the destruction of Istar, the minotaurs were as serious a threat to Istar’s northern cities and trade routes as any the land had known. In the ultimate irony, the minotaurs survived the destruction of Istar because the peaks of the mountains they had been driven into remained clear of the ocean that rushed in to wash Krynn clean of the remnants of Istar after the gods destroyed the Kingpriest and his temple. Many modern-day minotaurs who inhabit those peaks — now the islands Mithas, Kothas, and Karthay — believe their ancestors were spared by the gods because of their righteous resistance of the Kingpriest’s forces.