Szass Tam Character in D&D Forgotten Realms | World Anvil

Szass Tam

Szass Tam was a powerful lich and a member of the eight Zulkirs who ruled the country of Thay and, after the War of the Zulkirs, he reigned as the Regent of Thay. He was the Zulkir of Necromancy and commanded Cyric's Legion and the Legion of Bone, a huge army of undead soldiers, led by his vampire and lich generals. Szass Tam's seat of power was the Citadel on the Thaymount.

Szass Tam's dreams are finally coming true. He has walked the Paths of the Doomed and gone unscathed past the Devouring Portal His destiny lies beneath the Thaymount, and when he looks to the future he sees all of Faerûn turned into a great charnel house, full of undead creatures which do his bidding. The other zulkirs have only one choice – follow him, willingly or unwillingly. Those who do so willingly are to be rewarded. Those who do not, lose both life and soul, and become Szass Tam's slaves. He means to do this, believe me. Seek the Paths of the Doomed, and you will see what I speak of.
- Lhaeo, Elminster's scribe

Physical Description

General Physical Condition

Szass Tam was thin and 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall. His face had fine-boned, intellectual features with dark eyes, a wispy black beard, and thinning black hair. He wore a vermilion robe with voluminous sleeves trimmed with gems and gold. He was gaunt and pale, but only his withered hands and the hint of dry rot occasionally wafting from his person truly attested to his lichdom. Szass Tam implemented illusions and the preservation spell to maintain his human appearance. He often took on the appearance of a fine-featured sixty- or seventy-year-old scholarly man with deep black eyes.

He often had an ebony staff with him. During the Spellplague, Tam's undead nature was apparent to every onlooker since the chaos rendered his magical powers close to useless, thus preventing the lich from altering his burned and ruined appearance.

Mental characteristics

Personal history

I have never understood why so many of my peers find it necessary to reveal themselves to the world. Is it not more useful for your enemies to wonder and guess at who was behind the latest trouble washing up on their shores? Arrogance serves you not at all in pursuing your objectives. Give into petty, human needs, and you will find your objectives drifting out of reach and your enemies converging against you. Instead, gird yourself in secrecy. Let your proxies act on your behalf, and keep them ignorant about whom they serve and what exactly you hope to achieve. In my experience, the lands are filled with potential servants. Should one fall, you will always be able to find another to take its place.
- Szass Tam

Rise to Power
Szass Tam was born in the Year of the Dark Dawn, 1104 DR. As Tam accumulated power in secrecy, he used the name of Tarloth Narmandur. As Tarloth, Tam sponsored adventuring companies to procure enchanted items for him, and once the bands brought "enough" magic, they were destroyed by the future lich before they could become dangerous or hold some things back.

At some point in his youth, Tam inherited his favorite polished, enchanted, several-hundred-years-old crystal ball that belonged to his mentor after the future lich killed him. Tam increased his arcane powers after wresting all sorts of arcane devices, elixirs, and books from his dead teacher. The teacher's body was reanimated by Tam and kept within his lair, patrolling the Citadel's halls as a simple skeleton. This was done not as an act of malice or proof of superiority but simple practicality. No body should go to waste, according to the lich. In the Year of the Wizened Mage, 1157 DR, he led a group of Red Wizards to slay "the Vampire Zulkir" Nyressa Flass, the Zulkir of Necromancy at the time. Afterward, Tam was named her successor, becoming the new Zulkir of Necromancy.

Before becoming a lich, one of his bitter rivals was a fellow Red Wizard, master of the school of evocation whom Szass Tam faced in a spell-slinging duel. The other Red Wizard was prepared to face Tam's necromancy spells and was caught off-guard when the future lich flung twelve fireballs into his face using a necklace of fireballs. This prompted Tam's opponent to waste most of his spells in deflecting and defending against the infernal onslaught, while Szass Tam had his entire repertoire of memorized spells at his disposal. Needless to say, the future undead emerged victorious.

On Lichdom
You are both vain and impetuous. All who have visited me in the past have been destroyed, regardless of their allegiance.
- Larloch, the Shadow King

In the Year of the Cloven Stones, 1159 DR, Szass Tam became a lich after leading an unsuccessful invasion of Rashemen. The Zulkir of Necromancy personally led an army against Rashemen but suffered mortal wounds on the battlefield. However, he did not perish; instead, powerful magics that coursed through his body transformed him into a lich.

In the Year of Embers, 1201 DR, Szass Tam joined the newly elected Zulkir of Invocation, Narvonna Kren, and the Zulkir of Illusion Nymor Thrul, to invade the nation of Aglarond. The trio developed an elaborate plan: a feint attack on the Watchwall using Tam's zombies allowing the other two zulkirs to attack the nation from the flank, at the forest of Yuirwood. The initial attack was successful, and Tam's forces performed their part. However, the mortal troops of Narvonna's and Nymor's were disorganized and cared more about looting and pillaging rather than following the battle plan. This cost the zulkirs the element of surprise, and the invasion was a failure. Tam blamed Zulkir of Illusion, Nymor Thrul, for the fiasco, and after a heated argument, the lich killed Nymor with the suffocate spell.

Szass Tam became involved in the Harpstar Wars of the Year of the Horn, 1222 DR. During the last battles of the war, he slew the Harper King but was defeated himself by Elminster Aumar. This was the first open conflict between Thay and The Harpers.

In the Year of the Dragon, 1352 DR, Tam developed his animate dread warrior spell, and began using it to amass an army.

Tam became a prominent and widely known power in the mid–14th century DR after he and three other Red Wizards plotted to overthrow the governments of the cities on the Sea of Fallen Stars. The lich and his Red Wizards summoned an army of creatures from the Elemental Plane of Fire: efreeti and salamanders. The elementals were promised a payment, namely a permanent magical gate between Toril and the Elemental Plane of Fire, a promise the zulkirs never intended to honor. When the deception was revealed, Red Wizards failed to banish salamanders, leading to the Salamander War of the Year of the Prince, 1357 DR. Tam sent his undead forces to aid the three wizards against the salamanders, but the war still lasted for almost a year. During that same year, Tam allied with two tharchions and unleashed an army of dread warriors—known as Myrkul's Legion—in a failed invasion of Rashemen.

In the Year of the Serpent, 1359 DR, Tam and several fellow Red Wizards approached the Grand Army of the Tuigan, following the breaching of the Dragonwall. Bewildered Tuigans informed the Zulkirs that the leaders of the recent battles were Yamun Khahan, Illustrious Emperor of All Peoples, and General Chanar. With a demonstration of Thayan powers, Tam transported bath Yamun Khahan and Chanar using his magic to the meeting, leaving the Tuigan leaders no say in the matter. The lich showed Yamun Khahan a vision of the Grand Army clashing with Thayan forces and their defeat under the onslaught of Rad Wizards' magic. To avoid the war, Tam cemented an alliance between Thay and the Tuigans through flattery, intimidation, and demonstration of his strategic leadership. The horde was rerouted towards the lich's much-hated enemies in Rashemen. Together, two armies attacked: Tuigans from the east and Thayan forces from the south. Tam loaned Yamun Khahan the Red Wizards that arrived with him to the negotiations to lead the attack on Rashemen. The Grand Army of the Tuigan ravaged Rashemen, and as payment for the alliance, Tam used Thayan magic to part the Lake of Tears, allowing the horde to move west across Faerûn, until stopped by a united army led by King Azoun Obarskyr IV in the Year of the Turret, 1360 DR.

At some point before the confrontation with his nemesis Maligor, Tam had an apprentice named Frodyne. She attempted to claim a powerful magic item from a temple of Leira in Delhumide, despite the lich's claim to the artifact. When Tam arrived at the site to personally claim the crown of Leira, he realized that his favorite apprentice Frodyne was the first to descend into the temple's vaults. It was revealed that the treasure was a trap laid by the goddess Leira for a lich who refused to show her respect as a goddess deserved. The crown granted mortals who wore it eternal life, but if worn by the undead, it became a source of eternal pain and torment. Szass Tam allowed Frodyne to be captured by the temple's monstrous guardian and granted her eternal life as punishment for her insolence. Frodyne was left in the temple only to be killed by the guardian over and over again, endlessly, until the end of time.

By the Year of the Helm, 1362 DR, Tam's arch-rival among the Zulkirs was Maligor, the Zulkir of Alteration. Maligor's personal army was comparable to Tam's, so instead of war, Maligor hatched a plan to take over the Thayvian gold mines and, through it, the production of gold in the country. Willeth Lionson, the tharchion of Thaymount, was slain and replaced by Maligor's shapeshifting commander, the spirit naga Asp. The Zulkir's plan to outsmart Tam was foiled with the aid of the lich's unwilling allies: the Harper agent and druid Galvin, a politician from Aglarond named Brenna Graycloak, and the centaur Wynter. The trio was sent to Thay to investigate Maligor's activities, suspecting a looming war against Aglarond.[64] Seeing an opportunity, Tam put the Harpers in charge of his undead army that clashed with Maligor's darkenbeast and gnoll forces. The confrontation resulted in the collapse of the Thayvian gold mines, with Maligor seemingly swallowed by the tunnels. However, the Harpers made themselves an enemy when they intentionally decimated Tam's army in the process.

In Marpenoth of the Year of the Shield, 1367 DR, Szass Tam manipulated a group of adventurers into delivering a box filled with plans for the Thayan invasion of Rashemen. Tam sent an anonymous warning to the Simbul, the ruler of Aglarond, leading to the box falling into her hands and the adventurers being tried as Thayan agents. The Simbul, ever-prepared, had spies watching the adventurers and knew of their innocence. She tasked them with traveling to Rashemen, warn the huhrong, and aid in defending the country from Thay. Tam used the invasion to discredit his main opponents among the zulkirs Lauzoril, Aznar Thrul , and Nevron. This stunt drew some zulkirs to support Tam, namely Mythrellan, making him a major power in the Thayan government.

The same year, a powerful earthquake shook Thay, destroying a big part of Eltabbar. The disaster was caused by Szass Tam releasing the demon lord Eltab, who had been imprisoned under the city for centuries since the early days of Thay.[68] Tam used two powerful artifacts to capture Eltab—the Death Moon Orb and the Thakorsil's Seat. The lich was attempting to bind the demon lord into servitude through the Ritual of Twin Burnings. Tam inscribed Thakorsil's Seat with eight out of the nine Runes of Chaos, shielding Thaymount from the Simbul's magical gaze. Once the ninth Rune was finished, Tam would become the eternal master of the enslaved demon lord. Each rune was inscribed through a sacrifice of a powerful mage of goodly nature. For the ninth, Szass Tam captured a Harper ally named Azargatha Nimune. However, Tam's one-time ally Nathor informed the Simbul of Tam's plans before mysteriously disappearing. She assembled a group to infiltrate Tam's holdings within the Citadel, travel past the Paths of the Doomed, and stop the Zulkir of Necromancy from becoming the supreme ruler of Thay. The group was evidently successful as Eltab slithered out of Tam's clutches and hid underneath Thaymout, within its demoncyst. Tam used magic to trap the demon lord within the demoncyst but the spell had a tiny flaw the tanar'ri would exploit with time.

Another attack on Aglarond was helmed by Tam in the winter of Year of the Gauntlet, 1369 DR. The lich unleashed an army of undead that marched across the Umber Marshes. Waves of Tam's undead crashed against the Watchwall but ultimately failed to breach it.

In the Year of Rogue Dragons, 1373 DR, he was aided by Thazienne Uskevren of Sembia against an assassination attempt by Naglatha, Thay's Spymaster. Thazienne was forced by Naglatha to retrieve Tam's hidden scrolls and unwittingly unleashed Eltab and his minions on Thaymount.

Thayan Civil War
In the Year of Risen Elfkin, 1375 DR, Tam orchestrated the murders of the Zulkirs Druxus Rhym and Aznar Thrul and betrayed a Thayan army, under the command of tharchions Azhir Kren and Homen Odesseiron, to the Rashemi to create a climate of fear within the Thayan population. He hindered the proper investigation of the murders and solved these issues by himself. He thus tried to convince the nobles, legions, and common people that he was the only one who could deal with these problems, in order to get himself elected supreme ruler of Thay. When Zulkir Dmitra Flass rallied other Zulkirs originally loyal to him to stand against his aspirations, Tam decided to achieve rulership by force and declared war on all opposing Zulkirs.[76] When Dmitra's council achieved a great victory against his undead army at the Keep of Thazar, Tam called upon the united armies of Gauros and Surthay to march south toward the great city of Bezantur

By the Year of the Haunting, 1377 DR, Szass Tam had solidified his seat of power in the Citadel at Thaymount by evicting his enemies from their estates on the plateau. Some of the Zulkirs switched sides during the war and ended up as Tam's allies. One of them was the diviner Yaphyll. However, after realizing that Thay under the lich's reign would be a nation of undead, she decided to switch sides again in favor of the council of Zulkirs. As a result, Tam took her prisoner in the Year of Blue Fire, 1385 DR, binding her with the Death Moon Orb and Thakorsil's Seat, powerful artifacts of domination. He forced Yaphyll to perform the most powerful divination known to her order, no matter the consequences to her own well-being, and to tell him how to arrange for a decisive victory over the other Zulkirs.[80] She performed the task and told Tam to lay a trap at the Keep of Sorrows. Then she left him with another cryptic vision.

At the end of the vision, Yaphyll was surrounded by a blue flame and broke free of Szass Tam's power. The lich killed her with his poisonous touch, while trying to regain control over the diviner. Later, it became apparent that Yaphyll saw what became known as the Spellplague, the blue flames being a result of the event. As Yaphyll predicted, the fight at the Keep of Sorrows turned in Tam's favor. With the help of the Death Moon Orb, he tried to coerce his former ally Dmitra Flass into fighting for his side. But then the Spellplague hit. The Death Moon Orb exploded in Tam's hand, freeing Dmitra of its power. The lich was hit by a wave of azure fire, rendering his magic close to useless and burning the illusory flesh off his face and hands. The lich fled from the scene with the help of his atropal ally Xingax.

By revealing to Malark Springhill, a monk of the Order of the Long Death, why he killed Druxus Rhym, the lich convinced the spymaster to switch sides and work for him and his greater cause henceforth. In order to learn more about the ways of magic in the time of the Spellplague, Tam summoned Bane, the Lord of Tyranny, by sacrificing the enthralled tharchion Pyras Autorian in the ritual. Bane made a bargain with the lich: he would reveal to Tam his knowledge about the chaotic magic, grant the lich the ability to raise more dead for his cause, and augment the lich's powers. Szass Tam, in turn, agreed to surrender his soul after 1,000 years had passed when his quest of conquering Thay was completed. Tam knew that the mystical strength lent to him by Bane would gradually fade, so he chose to exploit it immediately.

When it came to another fight at the Keep of Sorrows, Szass Tam summoned a dream vestige to turn the tide in his favor. He succeeded in beating the legions of the Zulkirs, chasing them all the way to Bezantur. His undead legions and loyal priests of Bane further forced the Zulkirs to leave the town aboard vessels. Tam summoned the bodies of drowned men and undead aquatic beasts[88] for a final and lethal victory over the Zulkirs. Accompanied by a fleet of warships made from darkness, he followed the fleeing Zulkirs, entangling them in a marine war. His enemies and the Zulkir of Conjuration Nevron's conjured denizens of the infernal oceans proved quite adept at sea fighting, thus beating back his undead minions. Tam conjured the dream vestige again, finally exhausting his magical powers bestowed by Bane. When Bareris defeated the dream vestige, and the Zulkir's forces beat Szass Tam's minions, the lich and Malark Springhill withdrew to the Thaymount, the lich being content with his conquered lands.

Tam didn't bother chasing the remaining Zulkirs anymore, leaving Alaor and the Wizard's Reach to them, as he did not fear any retribution by the Zulkirs' depleted forces. He revealed to Malark that he found a book once in the possession of Fastrin the Delver.

Regent of Thay
By the Year of the Dark Circle, 1478 DR, Thay was a country under Tam's absolute control. He attempted to ascend to godhood and unmake the world with the use of the Dread Rings his minions constructed in Thay. Even though the plan failed in 1478 DR, with the help of several zulkirs who died in the process and a group of heroes,[5] the lich was adamant in expanding the borders of Thay to attempt the ritual once again as the Dread Rings of Thay were unusable.

By the late 15th century DR, Tam had reestablished the zulkirate by elevating powerful arcanists loyal to his rule. Tharchions and autharchs were allowed to run the territories of Thay under his control. The main army of Thay and Szass Tam became known as the Dread Legions, a horde of undead, orcs, and gnolls, as well as other monsters, all serving mainly as the defensive force of Thay. By the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR, Thayan agent Valindra Shadowmantle, supervised construction of a new Dread Ring deep within Neverwinter Wood; however, the devastation of Neverwinter left the Ring unfinished.

Morality & Philosophy

Where others see misfortune, I see only opportunity.
- Zulkir of Necromancy

Szass Tam embraced the traditional habits of the Red Wizards. He was a talented manipulator and planner, working from the shadows through agents, servants, and a vast number of undead minions, including skeletons, zombies, juju zombies, ghouls, ghasts, wights, and vampires, who later were joined by a new breeds of risen creatures created with the help of the god Bane. His undeath gave him almost limitless patience. Tam was quite prepared to abandon servants or allies and plans that failed and simply try again later in a better way. Lucky or unlucky individuals who encountered Tam in person or through a magical projection were surprised to discover him to be calm, learned, sophisticated, and even pleasant. He treated his favorite servants with fairness and even kindness. The lich was polite and civilized but communicated in a direct manner. If angered by the insolence or bullish defiance of others, Tam could become consumed by rage, albeit icy and controlled. The lich showed immense respect towards those who successfully foiled his plans through cleverness and skill and Tam treated them with the same respect and politeness as they showed him. The lich was a mastermind who juggled a plethora of intrigues at the same time. He enjoyed long-lasting great games of plots, schemes, and intrigues. He hated not knowing things.

The lich kept his study always filled with lit candles. He liked to keep his home shrouded in the dim light of candles, which he preferred to daylight. Tam kept the curtains closed even during the day.

As for religion, Tam did not worship any one deity. As years passed, the lich found no drive to venerate any deity that promised him eternal life. Whatever deity received mortal Szass Tam's worship, the undead wizard had no patron god. He showed respect to some gods, such as Cyric, but others were not worth attention in Tam's eyes. Even the goddess of deceit Leira received no attention nor respect from him.
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