Sarrukh are a reptilian "Elder Race" in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons. They were most fleshed out in the splatbook "Serpent Kingdoms" for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, which fleshes them out in detail and establishes them as the creators of all serpentfolk and scalykind races native to the Realms.
They subsequently returned in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, which mostly preserved their lore (albeit cut due to the drastic lack of space), but tweaked a few major details, most notably portraying them as sterile and with the ability to shapechange between lamia style and bipedal forms.
Official 3e Fluff
At one time, the sarrukh dominated all of Faerûn. Their mighty empires—the first in the world—encompassed the jungles along the shore of Azulduth, the eastern shore of the Narrow Sea, and the Chultan Peninsula. The sarrukh enslaved or sacrificed other creatures in the name of their god, the World Serpent. Eventually, problems of their own making caused the sarrukh empires to crumble. In the vacuum created by the fall of the sarrukh, their created races rose to prominence, establishing power centers of their own—many of which are still active today. Amazingly, however, the sarrukh have managed to remain relevant even in modern-day Faerûn. Despite their small numbers, they can still command the loyalty of the races they once created. But an immense rift has opened up between the surviving sarrukh clans, and the enmity among them could lead to a period of open warfare between the scaled races.
Sarrukh bodies come in two shapes: bipedal and snakelike. The latter resemble certain yuan-ti abominations, with snakelike bodies and heads as well as powerful arms that end in vicious claws. The bipedal sort has a humanoid upper torso, humanoid arms and legs, and a snakelike lower body. All sarrukh have distinctive, gleaming red eyes that strike fear into the hearts of all the scaly races.
The first significant civilizations of Toril were the empires of the sarrukh, which rose and fell between –35,000 DR and –33,500 DR. This race of intelligent scaled creatures first appeared in the area known as Okoth, south of Mulhorand. The development of the sarrukh was relatively uncontested in their homeland, and their population quickly surpassed the level sustainable by the local resources. Thus, the sarrukh were forced to expand. They spread rapidly throughout much of Faerûn, conquering other lands and sowing the seeds for civilization as they went. They encountered short-lived and disorganized resistance from the savages that inhabited the lands, but the fact that the sarrukh had already learned to smelt iron for steel weapons and armor made them virtually invincible. Within a hundred years, most of Faerûn was theirs.
The Mhairshaulk Empire arose in –34,800 DR on the Chultan peninsula, and the Isstosseffifil Empire followed in –34,500 DR, based in what is now the Great Desert of Anauroch. Okoth, the first of the sarrukh empires, still encompassed the race’s original homeland. Lesser realms, including the city of Ss’thar’tiss’ssun ( in what is now the Forest of Wyrms) and the city of Ilimar (which is split between the Great Swamp of Rethild and the Gulthmere Forest) sprang up outside of these two great empires. These regions constituted the major hubs of sarrukh civilization, and the first stable portals in Faerûn were created to connect them.
As the sarrukh spread out, they discovered that the shamans of the chaotic races living in certain wilderness areas held magical lore that they had not yet encountered. After studying these primitive forms of magic, the sarrukh consolidated their discoveries into a series of tomes. Upon completion, the books where brought to Oreme, the capitol of Isstosseffifil, for study. The most magically gifted among the sarrukh and their servitor races pored over these tomes, which contained both easily researched magical knowledge and obscure information. The empires of the sarrukh didn’t last long enough to gather the full fruits of their work, but this collection of minds eventually grew into its own secret organization, which was called the Ba’etith. The members of this group consolidated and extrapolated the bounds of their newly found knowledge, penning the Golden Skins of the World Serpent (otherwise known as the Nether Scrolls) many thousands of years after the fall of the empires.
The empires continued to grow until the sarrukh had conquered so many races that they became the minority in their own empire. Thousands of other races fulfilled their needs and satisfied their every desire. The sarrukh savored the finest meats, surrounded themselves with gold, gems, and other finery, and enjoyed all the luxuries of a civilization at its height. But as with so many empires since, their increasing dependence on other races and their growing indolence spelled the beginning of the end.
Okoth was the first empire to fall, collapsing about –34,100 DR after a century of civil strife that drove many sarrukh to the planes. Isstosseffifil followed suit around –33,800 DR when, during a war with the phaerimms, its leaders rerouted the Narrow Sea, fl ooding the Underdark and precipitating climatological changes that doomed their own realm. Mhairshaulk was the last to fall, sliding into a slumber from which it never emerged circa –33,500 DR.
Although most of the sarrukh died in the collapses of their great empires, many survived. The sarrukh of Isstosseffifil retreated into lichdom in the depths of Oreme where, protected by the asabis they had created, they sleep safely to this day. The sarrukh of Mhairshaulk, faced with starvation, began a cycle in which thousand-year hibernations alternated with brief periods of activity, during which food gathering and procreation could take place. The great clans of Okoth wandered the planes for millennia but never found a plane where they wished to remain for more than a generation. This nomadic existence hardened them, turning them inexorably toward evil.
As the sarrukh of Okoth increasingly embraced their darker natures, a few dissenters, despairing of their kindred’s push toward evil, broke off from the main group. They entreated Jazirian, a fragment of the World Serpent, for succor, and it responded by transforming them into couatls. A bitter war ensued, but the couatls held their own against the more numerous Okothian sarrukh until Merrshaulk, a darker fragment of the World Serpent, finally slew Jazirian. At that point, the couatls were forced to flee to Abeir-Toril, where they eventually settled in Maztica. The god Qotal embraced them as his divine minions, and they acknowledged him as Jazirian reborn. Most remained there, but a few couatls eventually returned to Faerûn to deal with the fell legacies of their kindred in the Jungles of Chult. This splinter group embraced Ubtao as its patron deity.
After the war with the couatls, the sarrukh began to explore the Barrens of Doom and Despair, where they happened upon the khaastas. Believing these creatures to be inferior and weak reptilians, the sarrukh attempted to enslave them. Much to the invaders’ surprise, not only were the khaastas extremely resistant to serving, but they also had powerful demonic allies willing to aid them. Thus began a centuries-long war between the sarrukh and the khaastas, which the sarrukh ultimately lost. To escape the wrath of the victorious khaastas, the sarrukh secretly returned to Faerûn and began skulking around the ruins of Okoth, on the shores of Azulduth.
Before the Fall of the Gods, the Okothian sarrukh realized that Sseth had sunk into some sort of hibernation and was barely answering their prayers. To complicate matters further, the khaastas had finally tracked them to Faerûn and were seeking to obliterate the last few of them. Lacking the full support of a divine patron, the sarrukh once again found themselves in danger of extinction.
Then, during the Time of Troubles, Sseth stopped answering prayers from the Okothian sarrukh altogether. Clerics of Okoth felt the need for action, so the approached the minions of Set and bargained with the Lord of Evil. Set agreed to answer their prayers if they in turn aided him in binding Sseth to eternal slumber. The deal was struck, and at the conclusion of the Avatar Crisis, Set claimed Sseth’s portfolio. About eleven years after the Time of Troubles, Set began answering the prayers of all his newly acquired worshipers (including the yuan-ti, who s till believed their divine power to come from Sseth).
The treachery of the Okothian sarrukh has resulted in unintended consequences. Beset by nightmares, Sseth has begun thrashing against his bonds, awakening the serpentfolk elsewhere in Faerûn. The sarrukh of Mhairshaulk are emerging from hibernation, seeking a means by which to liberate their god from his prison and oppose the Okothian sarrukh. Toward that goal, the Mhairhshaulk sarrukh have begun working to re-energize the long-slumbering yuan-ti empire known as Serpentes. In Okoth, the Cult of Set is growing in strength under the leadership of Pil’it’ith, the legendary albino sarrukh leader. The cult’s membership consists primarily of Scaled Ones, but a few others have joined its ranks as well. Opposing the cult are the khaastas, which have begun appearing in the Lakes of Salt region. Battles between these two ancient foes have given rise to strange reports of tremendously powerful lizard races openly fighting one another.
The sarrukh have not forgotten the heights to which their race once climbed, but they also know that many other races would happily eradicate the last few sarrukh should they learn of their continued existence. Thus, they choose to remain in hiding, quietly seeking to increase their numbers so that they can one day rebuild their ancient empires. Occasionally the sleeping sarrukh of Mhairshaulk awaken and draw the yuan-ti to them, but even these former servitors have since found their own leaders in the form of anathemas. On the rare occasions that sarrukh do become involved with the outside world, they work to help the scaled races that they created.
The sarrukh are well aware that their race has fallen far from the heights it achieved just after the dawn of time. Though they are individually powerful, their low numbers now force them to rely upon the races that serve them, creating a high degree of vulnerability.
During the heyday of their empires, the sarrukh became lazy and domineering. Rather than become directly involved with the rest of the world, they delegated their building and fighting to the lizardfolk and the supervision of those activities to the yuan-ti, who also acted as their personal servants. To the nagas they delegated the tasks of magical research, exploration, and guarding individuals and places of importance. The sarrukh withdrew within the walls of their palaces and never emerged without heavy protection.
Despite the fall of Isstosseffifil, Mhairshaulk, and Okoth, the attitude of the sarrukh has changed very little. They have an interest in knowing what is happening in the world, but they still choose to remain separate from it. Rather than go out and explore, they send out their yuan-ti servants or small groups of nagas to learn what they can and report back to them.
Preserving each and every living sarrukh is now the most important consideration for the race. Because none are expendable, sending one out into humanoid society is always a critical decision, even if there is much to be gained by doing so. In the past, a few sarrukh have used magic to take human form and infiltrate the leadership structures of human societies, posing as advisors or other important officials.
At its height, sarrukh civilization was as grand as that of any humanoid empire that has risen since. The arts flourished, and anything was available in the great markets of the sarrukh empires.
Sarrukh form lasting friendships unmarred by the petty jealousies and bickering that mark many of their servitor races. They take mates for life and treat other sarrukh with respect. In the days of the empire, one or two sarrukh constitutes a household, but circumstances have since forced many to live in communal groups.
Sarrukh hatch from eggs that are protected and tended by both parents until they hatch. A sarrukh can live up to a thousand years, or much longer if it undergoes periods of hibernation. This deathlike sleep, which can last for years at a time, preserves the sarrukh’s body and temporarily eliminates its need for food, water, and other valuable resources.
Beyond these facts, little is known about the life cycle of these creatures. Few creatures living today have had occasion to study the race up close, and the sarrukh, for their part, aren’t willing to share their secrets with “lesser beings.” Thus, they have remained godlike in their obscurity.
While the three great empires thrived, the sarrukh were organized into several great clans that lived in relative peace with one another. The clans that commanded the most troops and held the most political pow er ( by virtue of either wealth or social standing) made up the leadership structure. The acting leadership body of each empire was called the Sh’arrim and consisted of five to eight sarrukh drawn from the great clans. This group elected an emperor, called a kudzar, from its membership. The Sh’sarrim from the three great empires occasionally came together in Okoth to form a council called the Kazim, but that body had authority over the entire race only when a unanimous vote could be achieved.
The khuzdar provided spiritual, strategic, and social leadership for the rest of the sarrukh. The two most famous khuzdars were Ghiz’kith, founder of Mhairshaulk, and Pil’it’ith, the albino sarrukh who drove Ghiz’kith from Okoth. Pil’it’ith ruled Okoth until its fall, then used powerful magic to prolong his life into the modern day. (Pil’it’ith remains the leader of the Okothian sarrukh, but he no longer wields any authority over the sarrukh in Serpentes or Anauroch.)
Sarrukh law, which was administered by judges known as kleigmasters, was strict but flexible. Penalties were stiff, and the burden of proof fell to the accused rather than the prosecutors. The sarrukh disliked jailing citizens, so the preferred methods of punishment were death for more serious crimes and disfigurement for minor ones. Incarceration occurred only when the leaders felt that the offender had something important to contribute to the realm, despite his crime.
Penalties were assigned on a case-by case basis for greater flexibility, but the system became corrupt over the years. The same crime might result in death for one defendant and only disfigurement for the next. In any case, even the highest-ranking kleigmaster could be bribed into setting free the worst-offending defendant if enough money changed hands.
The sarrukh began keeping slaves even before they had any dealings with other species. Enslaving their own kind was viewed as right and proper, as long as the slaves received proper care and fair treatment. Sarrukh slaves lived in their masters’ homes, received good food, and were not overworked. Occasionally they were sold or traded from one sarrukh to another, but for the most part, slaves remained with the same family for life. When a slave became too old to work, he might be freed, or assigned to rear the master’s young, or be sacrificed to the World Serpent, according to his own wishes and his past performance.
Upon discovering the other progenitor races, the sarrukh quickly realized that such creatures would make passable servitors and enslaved them. Since the sarrukh felt little social responsibility for creatures of other races, nonsarrukh slaves were not treated nearly as well as sarrukh slaves. A Scaleless One might be starved for days at a time and then beaten for her inability to work. In the early days of the sarrukh expansion, Scaleless Ones were not even viewed as worthy sacrifices for the World Serpent. This abysmally low status meant that they could be killed with impunity and eaten by their masters.
By the founding of Isstosseffifil and Mhairshaulk, the sarrukh had enslaved so many creatures that they had stopped keeping sarrukh slaves at all. Each sarrukh lived in comfort, surrounded by the finery that had once been reserved for their leaders. Eventually, the sarrukh stopped fighting their own wars and trained their slaves to fight for them, promising that the best warriors would be freed to enjoy the same lifestyle as the sarrukh. Occasionally they actually kept this promise and freed a particularly powerful warrior as an example to the others. The lure of freedom and wealth created an enormous and loyal fighting force that helped the sarrukh maintain control over their empires.
Eventually, Scaleless Ones were deemed suitable sacrifices for the World Serpent, thereby freeing the sarrukh from the need to choose sacrifices from among citizens of supposedly equal rank. Though the World Serpent did not object to the decision, it did violate his original agreement with the sarrukh. To maintain the letter of the agreement while accommodating the changing needs and demands of his worshipers, the World Serpent split off an aspect of himself that was called M’daess, whose task was to purify the souls of unclean sacrifi ces and make them equivalent to sarrukh.
The Scaled Races
Part of the reason that nonscaled slaves were treated so poorly was the fact that their masters actually loathed them. They found the Scaleless Ones’ odor offensive, their primitive languages grating on the nerves, and their smooth skins unsettling.
While exploring Faerûn, the sarrukh encountered numerous scaly animals in the wilds, including dinosaurs, snakes, and lizards. Some of these animals were developing along the same lines as the ancestors of the sarrukh had, but they hadn’t evolved to the point of sentience yet. The sarrukh collected thousands of such creatures in hopes of breeding one or more new intelligent races to serve them.
Realizing that breeding programs alone would not be enough, the sarrukh began magical experimentation on the creatures they had collected. They combined a few of their scaly specimens with humans to see whether a single servitor race that was less offensive to them could be formed. Their earliest experiments resulted in badly deformed creatures that didn’t survive long. But through selective breeding and more subtle forms of magical manipulation, the sarrukh finally managed to create viable races that were much more to their liking.
Their first successes were the asabis, the lizardfolk, and the pterafolk. Though not as intelligent as humans, these creatures had the same bipedal form and were relatively easy to manipulate. Once they had reassured themselves as to the loyalty of these races, the sarrukh began handing off fairly easy tasks to them. At first they were trained as personal servants, then as warriors. Finally, entire groups of them were planted in the wilds of Faerûn in the hopes that they would multiply and conquer the surrounding territories.
The next successful experiment produced the nagas. Though the sarrukh approved of the serpentine form with a humanoid head, the nagas proved difficult to control. Rather than destroy their creations, however, the sarrukh allowed those who posed little threat to remain in their service as guards, explorers, and magical researchers. The rest were freed.
Their final—and perhaps finest—creation was the yuan-ti, developed by the sarrukh of Mhairshaulk. This race represented the first truly successful cross between human and sarrukh, with a touch of serpent thrown in. The yuan-ti came in several different physical forms, depending on the amount of sarrukh blood used. Though not as obedient as the lizardfolk subraces, the yuan-ti were more biddable than the nagas, and highly intelligent besides. Because they greatly enjoyed being in charge of Scaleless Ones, the yuan-ti became the slavemasters, military leaders, and managers of the sarrukh empires.
With so many highly skilled servitors, the sarrukh were no longer forced to find their own food, build their own cities, or even care for their own slaves. The sarrukh of Mhairshaulk slowly withdrew from the cares of the world as they turned over more and more of their responsibilities to the yuan-ti. For their part, the yuan-ti appreciated the lifestyles that their creators allowed them to h ave, so they remained mostly loyal. A few, however, would periodically withdraw from sarrukh society, strike out on their own, and form their own groups. The sarrukh knew of such defections but ignored them, knowing that yuan-ti who were allowed to leave in peace would go out into the world and create their own societies, which the sarrukh could later call upon for aid.
The sarrukh lived in stonework buildings, which were typically adorned with the holy symbols of the World Serpent. Icons set into the walls depicted the sarrukh concept of divine creatures, which often appeared demonic by modern standards. Statues of sarrukh in plazas, courtyards, and along the roadways depicted either the noble sarrukh leaders, resplendent in their flowing robes, or armored sarrukh in dramatic battle stances.
Official 4e Lore
Sarrukh are the progenitor race of all serpents and most nondraconic reptilian creatures on Toril. They view those not of such a glorious heritage as weaklings suitable only as slaves.
Each sarrukh is a distinct elite monster, usually of epic tier, with its own powers and goals. It can have any role but favors artillery, controller, or soldier, often with the leader subrole. Some sarrukh use magic items to supplement their own formidable abilities.
Sarrukh Lore: A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
- DC 15: All creatures have an innate fear of sarrukh that can be quelled only by seeing one near defeat. The sarrukh’s primeval splendor allows them to warp an enemy’s perception with a look.
- DC 20: A sarrukh can take one of two forms: a humanoid body that tapers to a serpentine tail or a bipedal humanlike form, either form topped by a snakelike head. Their dual nature inspired the sarrukh to create such a diversity of creatures.
- DC 25: Supernaturally able to avoid danger, sarrukh seem to bend around some attacks. Although they use rituals to do careful shaping, they all have the ability to quickly seal eyes, bend bones, and inflict great pain.
- DC 30: Like their creations, especially the yuanti, sarrukh once lived in clans or noble houses. Now their numbers are so few that they are unified, with their eyes toward the Imperator of Okoth. Sterile and outnumbered, they move slowly and subtly to reclaim their former glory and birth new generations.