Most of the world is barren desert - sandy wastes, rocky badlands, salt flats, stony barrens and scrub plains. Only the most desperate or destitute people scrape a living from the desert. To the East is the Silt Sea, and endless expanse of choking dust that will swallow a man in seconds. To the north, south, and west are the unclimbable Ringing Mountains, beyond which only the savage Halflings live. The only true civilization occurs in the few fertile areas in the Tablelands, where mighty cities grow, under the rulership of the Sorcerer-Kings. There are scattered villages and oases in the desert, allowing people to cling to a form of civilized life.
There are many peoples in the world, in many forms. Most common are humans like us, who sometimes seem the most varied of the peoples - it is said no two families have the same colour of skin. The city-states are Human things, although other races go there to live. The noble families and the merchant houses are also almost all human, although there are Dwarven and Elven noble families. Humans are the most important race in the world. Never forget that.
Then there are the Elves - taller and thinner than us, with pointed ears. They mostly live in the desert, travelling from city to city, raiding and stealing, and selling their booty at the next city. They have their market in the run-down end of the city - you can buy anything there, if they don't cut your purse first. Don't ever trust them. However, in the Elven markets you can find things that you cannot in legitimate markets. Have your trusted slaves peruse them from time to time, for luxuries unavailable elsewhere. Elves value their freedom above all, so do not expect them to remain slaves long. They make excellent artists if they do, for they have a flair and delicate touch that is unsurpassed.
Sometimes, Elves have bastard children with humans. Shorter than true elves, they can pass for human, sometimes, but you can tell if you look carefully. No-one likes them, neither human nor elf. They don't form their own communities, but live where they can, making what living they are able to. They inherit the deviousness of their inhuman parents, so trust them not. However, many of them seem to have something to prove; careful manipulation can make them work hard.
The Dwarves grow no taller than a boy, but have the width and strength of a grown man. They are hard workers - single-minded and dedicated. Once they have set their mind to something, they will do anything to complete it. Indeed, it is said they are afraid to die with a task uncompleted, because their spirits would be unable to rest. The Dwarves have their own villages, where everyone in it is dedicated to the same task. Dwarves make excellent slaves - except where the task they dedicate themselves to is escape. Find them another challenge to pursue, and they will work tirelessly to fulfil it. Free Dwarven artisans are amongst the best in the world.
Dwarves have their half-breeds too - Muls. Unlike the half-breed Elves, almost all Muls are deliberately bred by the Sorcerer-Kings or ourselves. They are stronger and hardier than humans, taller and heavier than Dwarves. Like Dwarves, they are hard workers - they can work literally for days at hard labour. Most are slaves, labourers or soldiers, but some have managed to win their freedom. If their sheer size doesn't give them away, you can tell a Mul by the ridges over they eyes, the swept-back ears, and the fact they have no hair anywhere. They are too independently minded to make good soldier-slaves, but as labourers they are outstanding. Mul labourer slaves should be treasured, as they are expensive and difficult to breed. As you know we have a few in our gladiatorial stable - Muls are amongst the best gladiators. A good gladiator is worth his weight in silver, so be prepared to pamper them should you acquire one.
Another race who were bred by the Sorcerer-Kings centuries ago are the Half-Giants. Twice the height of a man, they are hugely powerful, but not very intelligent. Most of the time you will see them as guards with the Templars, or fighting in the Arena. They are expensive to feed, requiring many times the food and water of a human, which is why we do not bother with them. They are quick to imitate their betters, and do learn simple tasks quickly, but their temperaments are unstable, being docile and tractable one day and surly and hostile the next.
In the desert roam packs of huge intelligent insects, called Thri-Kreen. They make good labourers and farmers, as they need little water and never sleep. However, they consider other intelligent peoples to be food animals, so never allow them access to a weapon. Their own claws and bite are fearsome enough. They particularly like eating elves, so be careful never to let those two races together. As gladiators, they command some novelty value; I have heard that they make an excellent pair partner, if they ever grow to trust their stablemate.
Beyond the Ringing Mountains live a feral race of Halflings, no larger than a child. They, like the Thri-Kreen, are cannibals, eating each other and any other intelligent race who encounters them. They are completely untrainable, pining away to death in captivity. Should anyone offer you Halfling slaves, refuse, unless you plan to throw them into the Arena for entertainment.
There are other peoples too - winged bird-people and reptile-men, and others. I've only ever seen them in the Arena, when some hunter captured one of them to fight for the crowds. There are too few to know much of them. Be on the lookout for new racers, for they may have useful abilities that would make them good slaves.
Aside from the Sorcerer-Kings and their Templars, there are four types of people - Nobles, merchants, freemen, and slaves.
We are nobles - the highest of the free peoples of Athas. Our responsibility is to rule our lands and farms, gather in our crops and feed our people. We control much of the water and food in the city, and are recompensed as is our due. It is our right to control our wealth and land as we see fit. Our slaves and servants are ours to rule. Only the highest-ranking Templars, or the Sorcerer-King himself, can enter our lands without permission, or pass judgement upon us. Each of our families can send a representative to the Council, to advise the Sorcerer-King. We are the only ones other than the Sorcerer-King and his Templars allowed the secrets of literacy. We are the most important people in the world, apart from the Sorcerer-King himself, of course.
The next most important people are the Merchant Houses. They trade between the City-States, marshalling enormous fortified caravans to traverse the perilous desert wastelands. They swear allegiance to no city, but consider themselves independent. The Sorcerer-Kings allow this only because of the valued good they bring. Each of the Merchant Houses have trading emporiums in each city, where goods from all over Athas can be bought. We, naturally, have them come to us with their goods, so we may buy in comfort and at our leisure. Never cause a merchant harm, or their House may never deal with our family again. Even the Sorcerer-King knows that trade is the lifeblood of the city, and protects the Merchants accordingly.
The freemen are those between the merchants and slaves. Most live worse than slaves, eking out a living selling their skills or their wares for ceramic pieces. Some few have raised themselves to wealth that rivals the lowest Nobles, but money alone will not make a commoner one of us. Many possess useful skills, or produce useful items, deal with them fairly, for although they are lower than us they are still free, and deserve that small shred of dignity.
Then there are the slaves. Slaves are born to other slaves, captured in wars, or sold to recover debts. Slaves are chattel, like the beasts of the field. Slaves have forfeited their rights, and their freedom. As you grow, you will have to learn how to manage the house slaves. We have artists and artisans to produce goods, domestic servants to keep the estate in order, soldiers to protect our fields from raiders, gladiators to bring us prestige and money in the arena, concubines for our pleasures, and farmers to work our lands. You must learn to evaluate a slave, place them in the position best suited for them, and how to get the best work out of them. Watch them closely, learn how they live. For if you transgress the Sorcerer-King's laws, or raise debts you cannot pay, then that terrible fate awaits you. You must do anything, pay any price, before that dishonour strikes our family.
The honour of your family is the most valuable thing you own. You carry the honour of your House in every action you perform, in every word you speak. Never dishonour your family.
After our honour, value our lands. They are the lifeblood of our House. They bring us our wealth and our power. Our lands are our protection. Only the highest of the Templars may enter our lands without our consent.
Next, value our slaves. Without them, our lands would lie fallow, wasted, unproductive. Sell or eliminate individual slaves who ferment unrest or fail to work, but in the main your slaves should be well-fed and able to work well.
If you mean which commodities fetch the highest price, the answers are water and metal. There is only barely enough water to irrigate the farmlands and feed the thirst of the populous. To journey from city to city, one must carry enough water to make the journey, or else risk the guarded oases, and pay whatever price is demanded. Water is life itself. We command many of the springs that feed the city, and it gives us much of our power.
Almost as rare, and almost as precious, is metal. It is the strongest material there is, capable of forming the finest blades, better than stone or even obsidian. Metal armour protects better than chitin. Metal shoes on a beast's hoof allow it to work longer. Metal tools can double a slave's productivity. Metal items can cost over one hundred times as much, but the expense can be worth it. Metal also forms precious jewellery to display our wealth, and coins that buy items too expensive for ceramic pieces. Metal is always a good investment. If you manage to find a fresh source, our family's survival will be assured.
The Sorcerer-Kings rule the City-States. They are our head of state and the ultimate source of authority. Our position allows us certain privileges, but the Sorcerer-King can revoke them with a word. No-one and nothing can stay his wrath. His power is supreme - it is through his will alone that the Templars gain their powers. The devastated land you see about you is the result of mighty magical battles fought long ago by the Sorcerer-Kings and others like them, now dead. Fear them, obey them. Never risk their ire, or our entire family could be doomed to death or worse.
The Templars are the living will of the Sorcerer-Kings. They implement the policies and laws of the ruler, and gain their powers from him. They perform the daily tasks of management for the City and the Sorcerer-King's vast holdings. They are the bureaucracy, the enforcers of law, the tax collectors. They are chosen from the people of the city, the children of noble, freeman, and slave alike. Raised in the Templar's quarters, they are fanatically loyal to the Sorcerer-King. They worship him as a god, and gain fearsome powers from him, as well as the force of his laws.
However, Templars are still human. They can be bribed, if they are not directly following the Sorcerer-King's will, and they do retain the family ties. We have a few members of our family in their ranks, so if you are ever in trouble, you may be able to get them to help you. The best policy, however, is to avoid trouble. Only the highest Templars may enter our lands or summarily condemn us. Never forget, though that today's lowly bureaucrat may become tomorrow's Exchequer. Make your enemies carefully.
Cities are oases of civilisation in the midst of barrenness and chaos. In the cities we can obtain the luxuries that make this existence bearable. In the cities we have our power and influence. In the cities we can live in safety, protected by our walls and slaves. In the cities are the people and slaves we command.
The cities are strictly segregated, with areas for the Templars, nobles, freemen, and the Sorcerer-King's slaves. From richest to poorest, each has their place. You should learn you city, learn where you should and should not venture. The poorest areas are unsafe, without the largest armed escort, as the poor and dispossessed foolishly resent the power and privilege which they were never entitled to. In rebelling against the way things are, they may attempt to kill any noble they can find.
Some herders wander the least barren areas of the wilderness, scraping an existence from their beasts. The elves run through the desert with their kanks, raiding, stealing, and selling by equal measure.
Dwarves form their own communities wherever their ambition requires them to. Some seek to excavate ruins, some to build bridges over silt estuaries.
There are other villages, small specks of civilisation in the barrenness. Most are maintained as fortresses by the Sorcerer-Kings, as wayposts by the Merchant Houses, or to exploit some natural resources.
It is said that escaped slaves have formed communities in the desert, where they may pursue the foolish mirage of freedom. I personally do not believe in these tales - or perhaps I should say, I choose not to believe them. The slaves continually delude themselves with fantasies of escape from our 'tyranny' to these mythical slave tribes. I do not dignify this stupidity with acceptance. Certainly no slave of mine shall ever join these supposed renegades.
Magic is the unnatural manipulation of the very force of life itself by a person to realise their desires. Magic leeches living essence from plants and creatures, forming it into energy that can blast boulders, melt flesh, or even transform sand into gold. Sorcery depletes the already destitute land, making it unsuitable for our exploitation. However, a Mage can be a useful tool, in the right circumstances. Naturally, as the Sorcery-King outlaws all such use of foul and evil practices, our family would never stoop to such infamy.
The Way is the training and harnessing of the inner powers of the mind and body. The Will is the energy of the mind, body and spirit. Properly honed and tutored by the Way, the Will can accomplish many seemingly impossible things. The Way can manipulate objects at a distance, pierce the veil of a man's thoughts, harness the hidden strengths of the body. Most people, some say all, have some ability in the Unseen Way, some trivial talent. This talent often manifests on its own, but may need training to bring it forth. Other have a true facility with the Way, and can produce an incredible array of powers.
We have several in our employ, both to protect our secrets and to probe the secrets of others. You will learn from them, learn how to hone your talent. If you have true ability, you should explore your potential, so better to serve and develop our family's influence.
They are the ones who worship the elemental power. The truly devout can gain power in the same way as the Templars gain power from the Sorcerer-King. Their devotion to otherworldly beings gives them strange thoughts - they do not think like other people. Material rewards, power, and influence do not always sway them. Their religion - almost an insanity - can make them oppose you one moment, then aid you then next. Their powers can be great, especially in the realms of healing and restoration, but their strange ideas make them difficult tools at best. Some openly incite revolt amongst the slaves, while others trade secrets of agriculture that increase our crop yields. Be careful.
Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. Not the simple things we see around us, they say, but the true essence of the Elements. Everything, they say, is made up of the four elements in some fashion or other. That is supposedly what allows them to gain power over the world through their worship. Many of the common folk and slaves share the priests' belief in the Elements, claiming that these powers shape our lives and determine our fate. I do not share these beliefs. We shape our own destiny, by our actions and influence. But leave the slave the delusions, it keeps them docile.
We come from a long line of illustrious ancestors. Our veins run with the blood of the leaders of men, and the wielders of influence. Our kind have always ruled, and always will.
If you mean in general, what does it matter? The world is the way it has always been. If it was different once, if we were different once, it makes no difference. We are what we are, and we must fight to remain so, else we will descend into the degradation and destitution of the common herd.
We are here to promote and facilitate the power and influence of our family. We must build and even greater legacy for our descendants. We must rule our slaves and our servants. We must exploit the few resources our lands still possess, so that the city may be fed and our coffers filled. That is why we are here.
Our remains are burned, and the ashes placed in the mausoleum of the ancestors. There, the spirit of the departed remains, to advise and counsel their descendants. It is our fate, and reward, to serve the family after death as before.