The Black Dust Wastes are known for a number of things, foremost among them its inhospitability. A vast swath of utter wasteland, it has existed since time immemorial. So named due to the dark tint of the everpresent dust, it is a place promising death. The few plants that grow in the perimeter are wretched, stunted things, and there is no animal life to speak of. Those poor souls who take to the wastes for whatever reason are almost as a rule never heard from again.
Those who do enter the wastes, with enough provisions to allow them to progress some depth in, find that the desolation simply continues. In fact, the further in one ventures the worse the conditions become. Dust storms periodically blow through, the worst of which can actually tear at exposed flesh. There is little shelter to hide from such things, saving partially burying oneself in the sun baked soil.
The wastes only become more interesting if one finds the strength to continue pushing forward after all these obstacles. If they do, they will find things that seem out of place. There are few reports, but such things have been seen as solitary pillars of stone arcing into the sky, small piles of foreign animal skulls placed periodically, as though to mark a path, and perhaps most interestingly a lone stone building, looking older than any solid thing has a right to be, and still bearing an interior with very faint carvings and inscriptions on the walls. Who or what these things came from nobody knows, as the wastes have existed since time out of mind, even for the long-lived Elves.
Spellcasters have even reported that the desolation seems to twist their magic. Any spells that create or heal seem to be lessened in power; conjured food turns to ash in the mouth, healed wounds open up under strain, and summoned creatures are frail and weak. Conversely, magic that harms or destroys seems to have a greater force, fire burns hotter, desiccating spells can reduce creatures to withered husks and magical diseases are almost terrifyingly contagious.
Why then, would anyone choose to come to such a place? There are many reasons, either out of desperation, misdirection, or misplaced hope. If you are being chased, fleeing into the wastes is an almost surefire way of losing your pursuer, simply because very few people are worth chasing into such a situation. Those who are unaware of it, be they travelers or simply sheltered folk, sometimes wander in without realizing the magnitude of it. Following that group are the ones who try to track down their lost siblings, parents or other loved ones, and follow them into the wastes. There are even a few deranged sorcerers who, seeking greater knowledge of the destructive arts, attempt to build a stronghold within the wastes. Such places are almost always reduced to dust within a few years, either from the dust storms or simply from being abandoned in favor of someplace with easier access to provisions.
There are a number of interesting locations hidden deep within the wastes however, and they await the adventurous souls who would find them.
The Bones of the Father
Easy to mistake for a simple curved pillar rising into the sky, in the rare moment of a calm between duststorms one can see that there seem to be a row of them. If someone were to follow them, they would eventually discover another row, running almost parallel to them, a good distance away. If this person was particularly diligent about mapping, they would see that these rows actually formed what appears to be an enormous ribcage, although the pillars themselves are something other than bone or rock. In this place, necromancy is peculiarly strong, and any who die nearby often rise as the undead, at least until the dust storms rip them apart into the wind.
The Ghastly Trail
Pylons of skulls, every 37 feet, mark a trail through the wastes. The skulls themselves come from a variety of sources, from what appear to be primitive human skulls to those of animals that have never been recorded. The trail often runs near to a wide, gentle ditch, 10-15 feet wide and around 3 feet deep. The trail often splits off, and periodically ends. None of the paths seem to lead anywhere.
If a particularly sensitive individual were to pick up one of the primitive human looking skulls and wonder where it came from, they may be granted a somewhat cryptic answer. To them, and to them only, the wastes suddenly disappear, replaced with a similar landscape, except that while the wastes are a place of dust and death, this is a place where grass is abundant, the ditch, if nearby, can be seen as a clear river, and if they happen to be at one of the dead ends, they may even see a strange little town, the buildings in a wholly unique architectural style. The individual can walk around, but if they try to interact with anything, the vision ends. A cupped handful of water becomes dust, the building, if touched, dissolves into the air. The vision also ends if the individual would have seen anyone, although they can hear other beings if near a town. These sounds have a habit of walking up behind the individual, right before they feel a seven fingered hand rest itself on their shoulder. Should they turn around in fright, they may find it was just one of their companions, curious as to why they were suddenly acting strange, or if alone, there may simply be nothing there.
The Nameless Monument
There is a statue, lost in the depths of the wastes, though it is heavily eroded. It is apparent that it was once a statue of a head, possibly tilted towards the heavens. Time, however, has not been kind to the ancient giant. The features are worn away so much that the race and even the gender are now obscured, and little can be made out about the expression.
The most interesting thing about it is only revealed if someone notices that the base seems to have been mostly buried over time. If it is exposed, there is writing in a language that there are no current examples of, and even magic fails to translate. However, there is what appears to be a crude depiction of two raised humanoid arms, shattering a chain that bound them together.
The Twisted Paths
Intertwined upon the barren ground are small, grooved trails that serpentine amongst the landscape in no discernible pattern. Following any will inevitably cross another with the crossover leaving no firm clue as to which was the original trail.
If attempted, non-destructive spells seem to have a little more power where these paths intersect and if they find a spot where more than three intertwin in a nearby area, extremely rare, it would be found that spells act almost normally and hold their power.
However, if magic is attempted along a line then the destructive power of any spell is absorbed and released randomly somewhere else down the line. If attempted often enough, the location of the spell results can be somewhat predicted and used to advantage.
Not Registered Yet? No problem.
Do you want Strolenati super powers? Registering. That's how you get super powers! These are just a couple powers you receive with more to come as you participate.
- Upvote and give XP to encourage useful comments.
- Work on submissions in private or flag them for assistance.
- Earn XP and gain levels that give you more site abilities (super powers).
- You should register. All your friends are doing it!
? Responses (7)
I wonder what caused this area to become like this? 4/5
I like the place, full of atmosphere and unanswered questions. Mostly I desire the answers as well, but here, an open mystery seems right.
I've always been a fan of unanswered questions, because they allow for a given piece to be inserted into a setting much easier. If it had specific ties to anything, be it an existing culture or animal, and if that was out of place in a given setting then a lot of reworking can be required.
Beyond that, I find that mysteries that the GM doesn't necessarily have a ready answer for deepens the mystique, if used right.
Well done on the atmosphere and mystery. Good canvas for adventure and i like the trail of skulls.
A brilliant sub, with plenty of potential, i'm currently running a campaign where the characters will soon enter a desert wasteland on a whim, my players seeming to have got the idea firmly rooted in their brains, so this might just be what i've been looking for to help me out a little.
Great canvas for a desert area! Enough to use and the mysterious things don't even require a solid explanation. Some things can simply be unknown and unaswered.
Love the mystery that surrounds this. It reminds me of the vast deserts in Greyhawk where once the Suel empire stood before the Invoked Devastation.