Sunday, December 16, 2018

Time Travel, Chronomancy, and the Hard Working Men and Women Who Make it Possible

Time Travel Disclaimer

You need to be very very careful when introducing time travel into your game. Its tricky, lots of fantasy is ruined by it. So how do we play with one of the most explored ideas in modern fiction? Carefully, with moderation.

This means introducing time travel to your party at the right time, and limiting its use either through prohibitive resource scarcity or unique circumstances leading to its application.

This guy is clearly a chronomancer, who else has the time to learn to balance on their cane like that?
Source: ReznovKG


But of course some wizard somewhere fucked that right up and invented time manipulation magic, Chronomancy. They probably thought, "Oh, I'll just go back in time once to kill the Dark Lord when he was a mortal and zip back to the modern day", and then ended up causing some horrible paradoxes that ripped up the mortal plane.

Luckily in this timeline the wizards haven't done anything too stupid yet and if you are very rich or powerful you too can toy with the sands of Time like a child plays with dirt. Here are some of the most common services for sale in the exclusive Time Market:
  • Chrono-experiential effects: This is time magic cast on the mind, to let you relive times past or to make time go by faster for you. Be careful, walking down memory lane is tilt shifted into the red spectrum of light, lending these experiences a rosy hue...
  • Time rate adjustment spells: Haste and Slow are the most common examples of this form of chronomancy. Its relatively easy to change how someone or something flows through time, their hearts just might not like beating at 240 bpm every fight though.
  • Time stoppage: Pausing time is much more major magic, though it carries none of the dangers of tampering with the timeline. Some Chronomancers have made mistakes meddling with this magic, and have trapped themselves inside a single moment as TIME HERMITS (thanks Arnold for the idea).
  • Time travel: The pièce de résistance of time magic, flinging a whole person through the timeline. Its not accurate, and its not cheap, but you can do it. Be careful when traveling forward in time, you don't always land in the most probable timeline. For example, if the odds are 1 in 10 that the Chancellor to the Emperor will successfully assassinate him and take the Empire for himself, there is a 1 in 10 chance that the future you travel to will be in the reign of the new Emperor. This gets nuttier the farther into the future you go, as possibilities branch and timelines fork. Its much more reliable to travel back in time, though you may have trouble finding your way back to your origin point.
The primary constraint on chronomancy is getting enough raw resources, specifically Time, to work with. Thats where the Time Market comes in...

The Time Market

The Tardy Sifters and other groups who preform Time accumulation labor are the bottom rung of a tall ladder of movers and users of Time. This economy can't really be altered, indeed if they were any more efficient at collecting Time their Time would be lest potent and thus would be Time wasted. No, grueling and inane labor are the best ways to accumulate a lot of Time.

Tardy Sifters making making their way to market
Source: Artur Sadlos

Its like crack cocaine or a pyramid scheme, its a viscous cycle designed to keep more and more people down while those running the show profit. The chronomancers don't pay in gold, but rather chrono-experiential potions.

Here's how it works: Say you miss your first cat. You go to the Time Market and ask a chronomancer for a way you could hang out with your cat again. The chronomancer prepares a draught for you that lets your mind travel back in time and play with your cat while your body is catatonic. You get snapped back to the present after the potion wares off. You ask the chronomancer for more time with your cat, but you are out of gold. He says its no problem, just go into the desert and collect me some sand, its easy work and in return you can hang out with your cat more. And so you are well on your way to chrono-experiential dependency where you are locked in a self reinforcing cycle of labor and blissful visits to a more rosy past as your body withers and the present feels like a prison.

Keep in mind this is not memory magic, this is a way to actually send the mind back in time. This is relatively easy because minds don't weigh anything and can't mess up the timeline like whole bodies can.

He might not have intended to visit this future, but he's making the most of it.
Source: Nate Abell

Monday, May 28, 2018

Raccoons Might be Real Life Goblins

I've a growing suspicion.

It has to do with raccoons.

And our favorite green men, goblins.

Here me out here: Raccoons may be as close as we in the mundane world get to interacting with goblins.

Think of the attributes of a goblin: small, mischievous, stupid but devilishly clever, creepy hands, they are most active at night, their teeth are small but sharp, and while they are a nuisance alone they are a terror in large groups.

Now think of raccoons, everything in the above list can be applied to them.

So for your delight, photographic proof that raccoons and goblins might as well be the same:

A failed goblin ambush

Might as well be a raccoon


The situation would be the same if they were all raccoons
Source: Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), from “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti, George G. Harrap, 1933

They both seem fascinated with shiny things

And to finish it off, a gif of a raccoon climbing a crane (when I saw this i was genuinely surprised, it moves like a humanoid!):
Assassins Raccoon
I rest my case.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Limáni, the City of Wharves

City of Wharves

Limáni was once a small crescent shaped atoll, barely sand bars at low tide but with sturdy (and treacherous breakers) keep the worst of the surf off. Located just to the southwest of the patrolled waters of Minoan Republic, these sand bars were used as a way for traders to exchange goods and avoid Minoan taxes before entering the Republic's domain.

It started small, a few boards lain in the sand and a few crude moorings. Through time docks were built in the shallow water, and pilings were driven into the sand. Not through careful engineering but sheer weight of  convenience and shortcuts a lattice of gangplanks and derelict vessels formed the bones of the floating town.

An atoll
Source unknown

In the modern era hardly anything is built on the shifting sands of the atolls, they are used more like a unstable foundation upon which the rest of the city is tethered. There are no great structures in the City of Wharves, nothing is taller than decks of the ships that make up her body and the masts swaying above. The bulk of living and business actually occurs below the waterline in the hulls of ships, where psári oil lamps burn in damp claustrophobic cargo bays never built to be used as a tavern in the sticky humidity.

Few people call Limáni home permanently, most of the stable population is of descendants of merchant exiles from the Republic and pirates. Most are just passing through, though they may stay for a night or a year they are all trying to get their ships free and sail to less rank waters. 

Hazards in the City


As the tide rises and falls, so does the City of Wharves. You may go out to dinner in the central part of town, and find you have to hike up to the rim and down the other side to return to your ship. The city is only roughly level at hightide, and with three moons the tide in Ánemos are erratic at best and extreme and deadly at worst.

Because of the extremely flexible topography of the city navigation can be difficult, the path you took out will look very different if it is there at all when coming back the same way. The decks of ships moored in the city are considered open to the public, there would be no other way to get around if everyone kept each other off their decks.

Think of the city as a large net, at every node a wooden block of variable size and buoyancy floats, and there are little people trying to get their little block out of the net all the time while other little people try and shore up sagging parts of the net. Its chaos.

Medieval Venice was much too organized

Use the below table for generating random events when chasing across the decks of the city:
2: Rapid low tide! As you jump from deck to deck the sea seems to drain like a bathtub, and a great rip sunders this part of the city. A successful Dex/Reflex save will get you on the far side of the rip away from your pursuers, a failure will trap you on with no where to run from your pursuers.

3: Falling mast! +6 to hit, 2d8+4 bludgeoning damage to the (1d3): Pursing party, the pursued party, or the deck (it may smash open!) between the parties (this makes the pursuers loose a turn to clamber over it)

4: Dead end! Either dive into the water of face your pursuers.

5: A crane is lifting cargo crates, if you jump you might be able to grab on and get swung far ahead of your pursuer. This is an Str/athletics check, on a failure you 1d3: get thrown into the water, get thrown right into your pursuers, or you miss to no adverse effect.

6: Popup market! Roll on the goods table a few times and thats whats being sold. Make it effect the chase: resins means people might get stuck to the deck, silks can be hidden behind, pottery can be smashed, etc.

7: No chase event

8: You dash into a tent-tavern on the deck of a large ship. Its very dark compared with the glaring sun outside, giving you enough time to hide. The party all roll stealth checks, using the highest, against the pursuer's perception checks, again using the highest. Even if caught here a tavern brawl can be easily started.

9: Float Patrol gang sinking a ship directly in your way! You can try and dash over it as it sinks, a Dex/reflex check; or you can face your pursuers.

10: Rotten gangplank! A random party member of the either the pursing or pursued party must spend the next 2 chase turns struggling to get free, or 1 turn if their party helps them.

11: Rouge wave! You can see it coming, the decks a few ships away violently surge up and then down. Dex/relex save or be thrown into the drink.

12: Fire! As you run someone accidentally kicked over a lantern and the inferno is burning brightly behind! 2d6 fire damage, Dex/reflex save for half. Loose all pursuit but their is a 2 in 6 chance someone saw it and thinks it was you that started the fire, they will report you to the Float Patrol for justice, which in the case of arson means death. They will come looking for you in 1d4 days.

*Its very hazardous to swim in the middle of Limáni, you are always at risk of getting crushed between rocking ships. Smaller players have it a little easier. Everyone is vulnerable to drowning if they get tangled in the many nets/mooring lines in the murky water.

The Float Patrols

These roving bands of  "public servants" are half police force, half protectionist racket, half public works crew, half vigilante mob, and half fire brigade. They haphazardly patrol the city tightening lines between ships, adjusting gangplanks, maintaining pilings, condemning sinking vessels by cutting them loose, collecting "docking fees", and generally working twords keeping the city afloat.

Think of them like douchey lifeguards: they are doing something important for public safety, but you can't help but roll your eyes at them.

Saturday, May 26, 2018


You may remember Treanets. That was half the story of magic tree people, dryads are the other half.

Yes, dryads are the "free flowing avatar of the id of a tree and forever tied to their groves." And yes, they are whimsy fucks.

But they also hold something within their coils that the treants rebel against, a true and abiding love for their home.  Treants are born of agony and hardship, they survive a cataclysm and find it within themselves to (literally) uproot themselves and leave the place of their birth to make the best of their circumstances. They have cracks and scars in their bark, sun seared leaves and bundles of hard roots, but they wear their history and triumphs in their bark proudly.

Conversely dryads only ascend to consciousness when their grove reaches some level of abstract beauty in the eye of a passerby. Perhaps a maiden pure of heart and of taste wanders into a glade in the fever of spring to find just the right amount of flowers, lush grass, and shady sweetly blooming trees. She sighs and traipses on, and in her wake a dryad is born of the collective narcissism of the grove.

If treants are bonsia, dryads are English landscape gardening.


..vs this.
The Stowe House

Once a dryad is born they immediately begin to manicure and cultivate their grove to reach even greater heights of beauty. They will obsessivly turn over every rock until they find its perfect face and orient it just so to go with the lilly line pool. They will prune their trees of dead wood so that the breeze can whisper through their crowns more sweetly. They will train squirrels and other woodland creatures to do cute things like frolic and sing.

Every time a sentient being passes through their grove the nymph will take careful notes on how they respond to their grooming. If the passerby seems unimpressed the nymph will confront them and interrogate them as to why they are not captivated by the (psuedo)natural beauty that the nymph strives for. In this way the nymph's concept of beauty grows and adapts to their audience, though the firmest stamp on their aesthetic remains the first observer's impression of the grove.

In this way dryad groves will reflect the society of their neighbors and the drifting standards of beauty, A grove in orcish lands will look very different from a grove in gnomish lands. A dryad born of the whimsy of a child playing make believe in a forest is very different from the bleak observation of beauty on a winters morning by a starving man.

The elves understand some of the mechanics of the dryad-aesthetic relationship and send their most tasteful landscape artists to hike around their lands and appreciate beauty in hopes that dryads are born with their tastes imprinted upon them, thus creating a dreamlike landscape of diligent dryads cultivating elvish ideals of beauty.

A dryad grove in elvish lands

Dryad Encounters:

When traveling players may encounter an area of astounding beauty, the dryads grove. 

Its center piece is:
1: A majestic and ancient tree
2: A quiet pool in a cool running stream
3: An open glade
4: A rock outcropping on a hill
5: A dell nearly hidden by shady trees
6: A waterfall

If the party is suitably impressed the dryad may appear and gloat, if they are unmoved it will appear and attempt to enchant them so as to get constructive criticism (though they take this very poorly).  They are laughably easy to flatter, and are happy to share what they know about the locality. Their ultimate goal is to ensnare a suitably appreciative paramour to appreciate the loveliness of their grove. The bones of great heroes entranced by the dryad may fertilize her flower garden, and they are known to give artifacts of power to those that earn them as they have little use for magic swords and staves.

If you are lucky the dryad might have exactly what you need! Just make sure to compliment her pond.

If any part of their grove is threatened the dryad will call on it's animal allies to divert the threat. When truly incensed they become elemental avatars of rage, as they are effectively demi-gods of their grove, having absolute control of the limited geography.

If a dryad is killed or forcibly removed from their grove they will lay a curse upon their foe: to slowly turn to wood, (mechanically 1 Cha save per month or 1d4 Cha damage) but if they survive the curse for a year and a day the blight stops spreading. Their grove dies with them, any beauty is scorched and mutilated and it becomes an weeping sore of the homely upon the land.

The heart of a dryad is exceptionally valuable, wizards use them for spells and potions that affect perception of beauty. A fresh heart will sell for 5,000 gp, a dried heart will sell for 1,000 gp.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

1d20 Idioms as D&D Monsters and Encounters

1: The Bird in the Hand is Worth the Two in the Bush
The small flightless birds are in a brushy courtyard. They will lunge at the characters and try and latch onto them. When one latches on, another two burst out of the bushes. The fight is multiplicative, if you can remove birds two others rush to hide back in the bushes. They aren't terribly dangerous, and could provide many rations for the desperate adventurer.

2: Back to the Drawing Board
Upon entry into this room the party finds itself on a balcony overlooking a large maze. The maze is diagrammed on a board on the balcony with notes on traps and monsters. If they change what is drawn on the board the maze alters to match. (They should try the maze first, then drop some hints about the drawing board)

3: I'm All Thumbs
These are just a monster made of thumbs, like the thumb-thumbs from Spy Kids but even more horrible to look at. They can wield a bunch of different weapons at once, because they are OPPOSABILITY INCARNATE. The trick is that they are pretty short, have poor reach, and are rather clumsy.

4: Barking up the Wrong Tree
The room of the dungeon is open to the air with a grove a trees growing. There is a small man with a crossbow who, after taunting the party and shooting them, nimbly scampers up a tree. If pursued the party wont find him, and he'll shoot them from some other tree.  He'll keep appearing in a different tree. The solution is to cut down all the trees.

5: Beating a Dead Horse
This thing just wont die. The party will defeat it, move on through the dungeon and it'll drag itself in still wanting to fight at the least opportune moment. Its like the black knight from Monty Python, but stretched out over a whole dungeon.

6: By the Skin of Your Teeth
You have to beat this monster by exactly its HP or it wont die. Its like the very end of parcheesi where you are waiting to roll the right number to go home. Forces you to adjust weapon load out to do less damage. Need to project this situation to the players, otherwise this fight will just piss everyone off.

7: Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
...or else they will be demon chickens. Found in a room with a bunch of nests and eggs about to hatch, and if one of the players asks how many there they will hatch as a lot of chicken monsters. Otherwise they just hatch as cute lil chickens.

8: Elephant in the Room
A behemoth ineffectively hiding in the corner of a room that wont attack unless you acknowledge it. Probably has a lamp shade over its head.

9: Get Bent Out of Shape
This is just how this monster attacks, it tries to bend you out of shape. Its magical so it wont break your bones, but it will bend them into horrible shapes and leave them that way. It has big strong hands.

10: Head in the Clouds
This monster keeps its conscious non-locally, specifically in the clouds. Its reaction times are pretty slow but it is protected against psychic attacks, and killing their remotely controlled bodies will annoy them and they will probably hunt you with their next ones.

11: Heard it Through the Grapevine
These magical grapevines run through the whole dungeon, whispering what they hear all over the place. Useful and dangerous for a party! Who knows who else is listening?

12: Hit the Sack
A big ol room with a bunch of big ol baddies. Suspended from the ceiling is a sack. If you hit it they all fall asleep.

13: Ignorance is Bliss
These poor guy have been in this dungeon for a long time, probably from kinder times in the past. They will ask about the outside world and the more you tell them the more upset they will get. They eventually fight you, but if you leave them ignorant they are happy and docile.

14: Let the Cat Out of the Bag
There is a bag that the party might find in some loot. Its decorated with embroidered kittens, and seems to have a live cat in it. If you let it out of the bag it becomes a massive cat monster and is quite upset, it will fight to get back in its bag.

15: Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
The dungeon's goblins are giving the horse as a peace they say. Don't look it in the mouth or you will start to notice that its a horrible horse construct (like Arnold K's fucked up horse monsters). Once they realize they are compromised the goblins operating it from inside will cause it to self destruct. Could be weaponized if given to other unsuspecting people.

16: Pull my leg
A giant crab monster who's legs are really easy to rip off if pulled, otherwise quite dangerous.

17: Shoot the Breeze
A shootable but antagonistic wind that harasses the party. When they try and climb something the breeze is there to blow them down, it'll blow dust in their eyes when they are fighting, and just make a general ass of itself. It also really likes to talk.

18: Straw that Broke the Camel's Back
This talkative dried stalk of grass has grown too proud of its defeat of a camel, it'll try and get someone to put it on your back. If it succeeds it breaks your back.

19: Two Birds with One Stone
These huge carnivorous bird must be killed in the same round or else they wont die. The room they are caged in has a few mounted ballista that pass through foes.

20: Devils Advocate
There is a devil in this room with a normal guy. The devil will engage the party while the guy says things like "You know, [the devil] really isn't that bad", "I know its an unpopular opion, but maybe it [the devil] is right", or "Okay, okay. For  the sake of argument you folks look like the bad guys here".


Most of these are bad puns, but it could be fun to populate an idiom dungeon with these if your players are down with a slapstick dungeon. They are really easy to write, so share yours below!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Inverted Ziggurat

(Follow up on the dungeon hinted at in the Mangrove post. This is meant as a sketch of the broad concept, not a keyed dungeon.)

The crazed ecologists who study the Flowing Forest have long posited that at the center of it must be some great mystery. Its well recorded that the forest will "swim" against prevailing currents and winds, and it takes a proper monsoon to alter its path. Theories gain and loose favor, but a few have remained popular:
  • Its on the back of a truly massive crab, crawling slowly on the shallow ocean floor, maybe hoping to scrape off the forest on an island
  • At the center is a slumbering Spirit of life, restlessly riding its vine-y cradle over the sea, making it wander as its dreams shift
  • Most of the mass of the forest is sub-aqueous and so the important variable is deep ocean current, which are poorly understood
None of these are the right theory of course. If you survive the journey to the center of the forest you will find a great terraced valley, its bottom is a few hundred feet bellow sea level. The terraces are paved with great stones and look more like ancient gardens than jungle, the root-filtered fresh water trickles slowly down to the bottom. At the bottom a great clear pool steams, and the very top of a structure can be seen...

The whole place feels like this, but in a few hundred years when a jungle is growing on it

The Terraces:

These where gardens. Remnants of greenhouses and fountains are every where, and amongst the lush ruins on the top terrace a few final warning/warding shrines from the local Automata tribes rest, invoking their most vile imagery.

Hazards on the terraces include: feral plants, decaying architecture, insta-rot fungi, leeches, half functioning gardener constructs that WILL POT YOU, large still pools of lily pads that probably aren't hiding water snakes in them, terraced edges to descent on vines, balloon plants that accumulate hydrogen and explode easily, and giant sloth breeding grounds.

But you may find: potions of grow plant, half functioning gardener constructs that you can manipulate, exotic and potent plants from all over the world. Indeed the gardens themselves are a treasure trove in themselves to a trained botanist, the diversity and rarity of the flora is enough to bring a life time of rich research.

The Ziggurat

At the bottom of the terraced valley is a large steaming pool of water, no plants grow near its edges but at its center is a large square structure. Through the startlingly clear water you can see that it is a many leveled ziggurat. The water is very hot, but not quite boiling and there is a sharp mineral odor to the mists coming off the pool. Upon investigation the water is not only hot, but caustic and will dissolve organic materials after a few moments of immersion.

Once the party figures a way across the pool (boat that wont dissolve, parachute with hydrogen balloon plants from higher terrace, cooling the water some how, divert the water from flowing into it till it all evaporates) the real dungeon can begin.

Some things you might find in the Zigguart

At its heart is a sun. The party will see glimpses of it occasionally through thick glass windows and deep water, giving eerie illumination. They will find hints of it else where: in rooms dedicated to its maintenance and control with panels of inscribed glyphs that hint at their utility, in the flooded chambers soaked in near boiling and caustic water that will start to make them sick with radiation poisoning after a few hours in the dungeon, in the strange slimes and fungi that seem to grow abundantly around these leaks, and the slow perversion of flesh they will experience through mutation.

Deep at the base of the ziggurat, far below sea level, they will find the Torch. If they are clever they might even figure out that the Torch is siphoning the massive heat generated by the sun to solder shut fissures and faults in the sea bed. Perhaps they will understand that this Sun-Engine is literally keeping the world together. To keep the Torch at a steady distance from the bottom of the sea the entire structure expands and contracts like an accordion. This introduces a crushing hazard as well as a changing dungeon layout that may shift every time the party returns to it.

The central command room is locked, the party will have to find a way to bust in or find the secret to unlocking it. There is heavy machinery all around, perhaps they can use it for demolition? Once inside they will have to solve some sort of puzzle to figure out how to manipulate the Sun-Engine. There will be illusions/holograms of the builders of the Ziggurat There are a few possible outcomes:
  • Meltdown: The Engine has been in slow motion melt down for a few centuries at least, and the party wittingly or unwittingly brings about a run away acceleration to this process. The delicate fields that suspend the sun will start to break down; the improvised fresh water coolant system was already malfunctioning, but now no new water is reaching the core and the containment walls are melting. Run! The world will likely tear itself apart without the Engine to keep it together and perhaps usher in a new Age...or the End of all Ages.
  • Fix It: Through careful experimentation or dumb luck the party may figure out how to fix it. They can find out that the outflow of coolant is leaking badly, that the vegetation surrounding the Ziggurat is gunking up the mechanisms. If they fix it the Sun-Engine will start operating at peak efficiency again, the Torch will actually make headway in keeping the world together instead of fighting a slowly loosing battle to decay, and the Flowing Forest will be shed as the Ziggurat once again rides just above the waves with water intake pipes trailing behind as in the Days of Old.
  • No change: Through caution or awareness of their hubris the party can walk away and allow the Sun-Engine to continue to meltdown slowly. It will eventually fail, but at least the world continue for a few hundred years more...

Thoughts on the Inverted Ziggurat

Its a metaphor for a nuclear reactor. Built by some anonymous precursor civilization and abondened long ago, then rediscovered and haphazardly repaired by a more recent society. The terraced valley and gardens where built by the second comers as a way to keep the Sun-Engine cooled but when they abandoned it the radiation allowed the Flowing Forest to take root on the Garden Terrace edge until that was all that people knew of it.

When considered with the rest of Ánemos setting this is the first demonstration that world is a few Ages past a technologically advanced civilization and implies that its a post apocalyptic world, or at least a world fallen into decay and forgetfulness where the glories of the past are misunderstood and clouded (like the implied setting in the wonderful Ghibli film Castle in the Sky). I like this. It adds a dimension and depth to an otherwise gonzo-Greek-fantasy setting. I love fantasy that is secretly sci-fi. I also love romantic fantasy (the type that +Joseph Manola writes about here, and he makes some great points on ruins here) where the characters have the chance to have a meaningful effect on the world.

In this dungeon they are presented with a machine that literally keeps the world together and the three outcomes all are meaningful. They can play with fire and get burned with the world at stake. They can fix an ancient construct and perhaps start an age of re-disovery and healing. Or they can make the decision to find a way to love a more and more broken and shattered world. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What they Sought in the Great Desert

If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitare

...And even when a road hazards its way over the desert, you will see it make a thousand detours to take its pleasure at the oases. Thus, led astray by the divagations of roads, as by other indulgent fictions, having in the course of our travels skirted so many well-watered lands, so many orchards, so many meadows, we have from the beginning of time embellished the picture of our prison. We have elected to believe that our planet was merciful and fruitful. But a cruel light has blazed, and our sight has been sharpened...
Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Mojave Desert, CA, source

1d10 Things You Might Find When Crossing the Great Desert

1: Heaven's Gate
They say that out in the rock and sand, where the sky curves under the great weight of the Heavens, on windy days the hangings that veil mortals eyes from the glory of Heaven brush and dance across the lonely sands. Patient pilgrims wander the high places sometimes meditating on the zenith of a mountain for a weeks at a time, hoping to see the parting of the veil and glimpse Paradise. They sigh with contentment, their souls soothed by the promise of glory, and they pick up and leave the desert better than they entered.

Other, less scrupulous seekers wait below. They wait for the drapery of Heaven to skim across their dunes, after them they gallop on black horses lean from hard years and water scarcity. The legends say that if you ride fast enough even the foulest of sinners can grab a hold and climb their way into the Heavens.

Or perhaps it was simply a passing Sky City built on a lump in the sky...

2: The Book of Dreams

It is well understood that in the Great Desert you can sometimes find the Book of Dreams. You'll see it when you sleep first, sitting on a desk behind your grammar school teacher or in your parent's basement that you have to clean. You might not even notice it those first few nights, but if you happen to be headed to the book in the material realm it will start to take more... noticeable... roles in your nightly ethereal wanderings. You may be crushed by it or fall off of it, you may be chasing it down endless corridors or trying to keep it from sinking in a lake of shell-less snails. You know, anxiety dream stuff.

The Book of Dreams is not trying to sell you stuff like a Dream Merchant, it wants you to find it in real life and read it.

Most stories say that you will find the book in the possession of a noble knight or wise priest, but usually its just a sleepy person. They generally will glad to be rid of it, others will fight you ferociously for a chance to glimpse its pages.

Everyone's experiance reading the Book is different: 1d6
1-3: It reads like someone else's dream journal, mildly interesting but mostly incoherent. Makes you drowsy
4: Get sucked into a nightmare! The Book is gone when you awake
5: Fall into a deep sleep and wake up knowing a new random spell. You can no longer read the Book, its just gibberish. Compelled to check the book often just in case you can read it again
6: Gain the ability to enter the Realm of Dreams, but only when you have the Book in your possesion

3: A Place to Find Yourself

Austere landscapes separate the wheat from the chaff. Long hours in the warm sun and under the bright stars can elevate the spirit and cleanse the body of evils. Sweat can cleanse, and a simple diet and quiet habits can expel disease and other maladies of the body and soul.

Some simply wander, looking for a modest water hole and some shade to heal and grow. For every year spent in the desert only doing quiet and contemplative actions (no adventuring, item creation, spell research, etc) you can get a re-roll on a single failed disease check, or you can use these rules for personal growth.

4: A Place to Loose Yourself

Not everyone finds solace in the hot sun and the cold stars. Life in the desert can bend the back and and break the will. As life becomes more desperate those that were once strong turn to stone licking and cannibalism for survival.

Perhaps they turn to ghouls that walk the dunes at night looking for travelers, and if you don;t keep close watch you may awake with gritty hands strong and desperate in their strangle hold around your sweet warm neck.

Worse yet a spirit of hunger and famine could be born in such despair, a wendigo could hunt in the dunes. This is especially common of the souls upon large failed expeditions where they lingered in starvation for months while they consumed their brothers.

5: Star Children, to Raise Them in the Light of the Lord

There is a high desert plateau, far from any watering hole where the caravans and tribes to not trek, upon which the stars fall. At their cores sleep giants made of molten glass who breath radiation and death. After cooling they begin to crack open their vessels and to behold this new world they have come to with mute horror or confusion.

Are they beings from another place, crashed on our planet out of desperation or long intent? Are they the stars themselves, sick of watching terrestrial affairs from far above? Are they fallen angles, cast out of the Heavens? Are they cast aside experiments from some higher being living on a moon?

Who knows!

All that matters is that the faithful find these dripping behemoths and make sure they are converted. Word of a Star Child fetch a fine fee at any pilgrims church on the outskirts of the desert, a living and walking one will provide you with favors from the Church, perhaps even an audience with a bishop... For what better examples of the ever-forgiving light of the Church than to tour the civilized world to demonstrate that anyone can be forgiven?

6: The Sands of Time

You can see the bent figures scouring the dunes in the heat of the day, mirages dancing about them while they remain sullen dark smudges. With noses bent nearly to the ground their many lenses flashing in the abundant light, they search. With delicate tools they pick up individual grains of sand upon which the focus their lenses. Their hauls hang at their belts in pitifully small sacks.

They are collecting Time.

Wretchedly small amounts of Time, but Time none the less. And when their sacks are full they leave the desert to sell their haul to the wizards who wish to make hourglasses.

Up close the Tardy Sifters, as they call themselves, are a sun burnt, bent over, leathery, squinty eyed, and slow moving bunch. They aren't great conversationalists, but they do have a wizard contact at the nearest oasis they could get you introduced to for some water skins and food. Or, if you are feeling a little more murderous, you could kill them and take their sack of Sand. What kind of Time is it? You'll have to inhale some and find out...

7: Meet the Devil and Know His Temptations
...and perhaps strike a deal.

On cold nights when there are no moons and the scavengers cackle just out side of you camp's dungfire light, the Devil dances across the sand and plays his xalam to the beasts of the night. Should the Devil spy your fire he will approach and with utmost courtesy ask to share in your hospitality and companionship.

If you refuse the Devil you must extinguish your fire and flee into the night, running from his tune until you cannot hear it. As you flee the Devil will haunt you until dawn or your death, inciting the creatures of the desert into a wild hunt. He will call your name and know you have defied him. If you brave the darkness and elude the Devil as dawn breaks he will forget your name and you will have defied him.

If you accept the Devil you must offer him food and drink, then regal him with song, verse or story. If he is pleased we will offer you a boon from his shoulder sack. If he is displeased he will offer you a boon from his hip pouch. Both contain wondrous things, both at the cost of your soul to be collected at your death or in a year and a day's time, respectively. Refusal is incredibly impolite.

8: A Wise Hermit
There are a lot of cooky people that live out in the Great Desert. Prophets and madmen are often driven for well watered lands, they find that their persecutors stop when the dunes and rocks begin. They might be siting atop a column. Or just hanging out. Or maybe they are all wizards?

I dunno, but one of them probably knows something you want to know, best to talk to them all.

9: Bones from Eons Past, Exposed by Wind From Cold Stars
Bones are pretty useful. You can use them to make stocks.  You can use them for fertilizer. You can use them for spooky decorations.

Or, if you have the inclination... and the time... and the finances to fund a multi-month expedition... and the required skills... and an evil intent... and tenacity, you can search the Great Desert for and excavate the bones of long dead terrors to tap their ancient power for your own benefit. If you are lucky, or just rich, you can obtain a complete skeleton to animate.

But that is terrible bad luck.

10: Simply Find an Oasis and Rest
The desert is a hard place to travel. The ground can be soft and make walking and pulling carts hard or be hard and make footing uneven and rough. The wind blows constantly with no vegetation to slow it, sandstorms range from irritating to deadly. The sun bears down intensely causing sunburns and dehydration and exhaustion, and when its not in the sky warmth flees from the desert for bitterly cold nights. Foraging and hunting all day may not yield even a mouthful of edible material and leave you tired and demoralized.

The Great Desert is not a place for the weak.

Oases are.

Star Child, source