Shadows over Ustalav
Tar-Baphon The Whispering Tyrant
The Whispering Tyrant was perhaps the greatest threat that the people of the Inner Sea have ever known. Even after his defeat atop Gallowspire, he wasn’t finished. The forces that brought him low had no choice but to seal him within the tower that was once his capital.
Before becoming a lich, the Whispering Tyrant was a powerful necromancer by the name Tar-Baphon. Though his origins are lost to time, it’s thought that he grew up on the shores of Lake Encarthan, where he first studied the necromantic arts. As his power grew, so did his ambition, eventually leading him to the Cenotaph, the resting place of the slumbering runelord of gluttony. After unlocking the powers of Zutha, Tar-Baphon gained power beyond that of mortals. He realized then that true greatness required bringing the world itself under his control—alive or dead, all would serve him.
His campaign was brutal. Enlisting nearby orcs and undead, he quickly conquered Ustalav and began a conquest that consumed most of central Avistan. He set down stones on the Isle of Terror, intent upon making it his capital. His actions drew the attention of Aroden, the Last Azlanti, who knew what destruction the runelords had caused, and refused to allow the world to return to those ancient ways. The two met on the Isle of Terror in 896 ar. The battle raged for days and leveled the entire surface of the island. Tar-Baphon’s broken form lay among the rubble, and Aroden buried him there, thinking that was the end of the threat.
However, Tar-Baphon had intended to die by Aroden’s hand all along. His studies had revealed to him that his only true path to immortality lay in undeath. For Tar-Baphon’s last step in becoming a lich beyond compare, he needed to be killed by a god, and Aroden served this purpose. The process sparked by Aroden took time, however, and for 2,307 years Tar-Baphon’s body laid dead in the ground before he returned to grim unlife. The Whispering Tyrant was born.
He soon reestablished his power, animating thousands of dead. For centuries, the forces of the living were unable to resist the tide of the dead—with Aroden gone, nothing could stop the Whispering Tyrant. Only the Shining Crusade had a chance to end his threat. Bearing the Shield of Aroden, General Arnisant faced the lich, but when the Whispering Tyrant used a wish to summon the general’s heart to his waiting claw, the symbol of Aroden flared to life, the shield shattered, and the lich’s body was destroyed. Without a means to locate the Tyrant’s phylactery, let alone destroy it, the crusaders instead sealed him away in his tower, where their descendants remain ever watchful for his return.
A more detailed history follows:
Tar-Baphon was a powerful wizard-king who ruled central Avistan at the end of the 9th century AR. Killed by the god Aroden himself in 896 AR, he rose as the lich known as the Whispering Tyrant in 3203 AR, and ruled the country of Ustalav for centuries. He was finally defeated by the Shining Crusade in 3827 AR and imprisoned within his capital of Gallowspire.1
Much of the early life of the infamous Tar-Baphon is shrouded in myth and mystery, for he must have been born nearly four millennia ago. What is known for certain is that the wizard-king Tar-Baphon lived in the 9th century AR and was widely known as a powerful necromancer. He eventually attracted the attention of the god Aroden himself. Tar-Baphon sought immortality and possibly looked down upon the Last Azlanti for not having ascended to godhood on his own, but for having had to rely on the power of the Starstone. Whatever the true cause of their disagreement was, the two came into conflict, which ended when Aroden killed the wizard-king on the Isle of Terror (at the centre of Lake Encarthan) in a mighty battle in 896 AR.
Return of the Whispering Tyrant
In 3203 AR4 he was somehow able to use the power of the Whispering Way to return as a lich. An ancient tome, the Whispers of the Immortal, purportedly written by a disciple of Tar-Baphon, documents his transition into undeath. However, there are significant doubts about its authenticity.5 He sought to attract the attention of Aroden, and to gain his revenge, but Aroden did not take up his challenge.6 Styling himself the Whispering Tyrant, Tar-Baphon united the orcs of Belkzen under his rule and conquered Ustalav, taking the city of Adorak as his capital.4 When his troops fell in battle, he simply brought them back to unlife, greatly bolstering the strength of his armies. He continued this for over five centuries, holding much of central Avistan in his skeletal grasp, and tolerating no threat to his rule.3
Centuries later, in 3754 AR, Taldor sought to oust the Whispering Tyrant, giving rise to the drawn-out conflict that became known as the Shining Crusade. The forces of Taldor were aided by the dwarven kingdom of Kraggodan (in modern day Five Kings Mountains), and the Knights of Ozem.7 In 3801 AR 4, the crusaders finally established a beachhead in the (then) Ustalavic town of Vellumis, and began the slow and brutal process of advancing to the Tyrant’s capital of Gallowspire.7 In 3818 AR the Knights of Ozem summoned Arazni, the Herald of Aroden, to aid them in the war. However, in 3823 AR the Tyrant killed Arazni.4 At last, in 3827 AR, the crusaders reached Gallowspire, in ruined Ardorac. The Taldan general, Arnisant, fought the Tyrant and using the artifact known as the Shield of Aroden was able to withstand the lich’s magic. When the shield eventually shattered, it burned the lich with holy fire, weakening the Tyrant enough that the crusaders were able to imprison him beneath Gallowspire, using a powerful magic ward known as the Great Seal.
The province of Lastwall (now an independent country of the same name) was established to watch over the Tyrant’s prison.