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Worldbuilding: The Desert

11 January 201301:09PMworldbuilding

While there's actually plenty of scope for adventuring elsewhere, the bulk of the Fun Stuff happens in the desert, and more specifically on the road through it. This is logical - the desert is frickin' huge and the road is where most people come into contact with it.

Actually should clarify that- most people never go near the desert. It takes a certain type of person to be a trader, and an even more certain type to tag along with one specifically because it's dangerous, as guards do.

At any rate, I haven't written nearly enough about the desert and it's time to do it.

The Road

Hey look, it's another one of those capitalise-things-to-make-them-mysterious things!

The road is a 500-mile long stretch of slightly more trodden-upon sand. Some sections pass through canyons, or the foothills of the Unnamed Mountains, but mostly it winds along the path of least resistance through the desert dunes.

The closest thing The Road has to fixed features are the waycamps. They're spaced every week or so through the desert, about a week apart. That's about a hundred miles, which means there four or five. The one next to an oasis has permanent inhabitants, but the rest are entirely traders passing each other. Some caravans will leave with a full load of water and supplies specifically for the purposes of trading with people coming the other way at waycamps.

The waycamps aren't under anyone's jurisdiction, but they're far from lawless. There's an unwritten code of desert courtesies - You don't steal cargo, you don't touch beasts of burden, and you don't kill paying passengers (guards are a bit of a grey area.) And since it's a desert, you should share water with someone who needs it. Most expedition leaders are hardened badasses, and then there's the cohort of armed guards they inevitably hire, so this stuff tends to be enforced pretty well.

Caravans and Traders

Traders aren't your stereotypical double-chinned silk-wearing merchants. They're sand-blasted desert-hardened Badasses. They also have a reputation for being crazy, and there's a fair amount of truth to it too. You can't spend your life fighting off hordes of goblins and stuff while worrying about other people valuable stuff and also not dying of thirst and also... without getting a little touched in the head.

Speaking of other people's valuable stuff, let's talk about the contents. As a general rule traders don't own the contents of their vans, but they are responsible for them. There's usually bonuses for getting all or most of the goods there, and traders are expected to pay for anything they lose. One of the main functions of the Merchant's Guild is selling insurance against this, and mandating that certain precautions then be taken, like the employment of guards. These costs get passed on to the person who wants their stuff moved - sure an unguarded, uninsured, non-guild caravan is cheaper, but you're probably gonna lose your stuff.

Some traders buy their goods outright instead of transporting other people's, and hope to make a profit selling them elsewhere. While this can be highly lucrative, it also cuts down on how many trips you can make, since you have to find buyers and stuff instead of just unloading and turning around.

Most bulk trade consists of food going east and metal coming west. Valuables, spices, mystical treasures, and settlers go both ways, and tend to tag along with a bulk group for safety. There could be up to fifty civilians, with an entire town's harvest or thousands of gold worth of metal, in one caravan.


Caravans move slowly, are as lightly guarded as the Guild will allow, and follow a pretty consistent path. This makes them pretty obvious targets. Wild animals are attracted to the wagons full of food, and bandits to the piles of valuables. Metal carriers used to be safer, but either the Goblin population has grown beyond their mines ability to support them, or they've just run out - because ore caravans are increasingly coming under attack from goblin raiding parties.

Then, of course, there are the traditional denizens of the desert, who don't necessarily appreciate ox-drawn carts shambling through their territory...

Basically, there's nothing I can't find some excuse to throw at you:

Ruins and Treasure

Obviously, it wouldn't be a desert without mysterious ruins popping up now and again. That's probably one of the few reasons people venture into the desert other than trade: there's been a sandstorm, and they're off treasure hunting. Treasure hunters travel lighter than caravans, usually just with the packs on their backs, or if they're particularly successful (most aren't), horses they've bought from the Goblins.

Due to the aforementioned monsters and the sandstorms and dying of thirst you'll find below, the survival rate is... not that great.

What kind of treasures, then? Well, the Old High Kallish were masters of sorcery, so there are plenty of weird and wonderful magical artifacts to be found. I want to avoid the item grind - magic items should be special - so this is the canonical way to get magical artifacts. That way I can concentrate on making fun ones instead of handing out a constant stream of +1 swords.

And of course, there's weirder stuff too. In the very deepest parts of the desert, where few men dare to tread, there are tales of genies, devils, and enormous fire-breathing lizards with treasures beyond imagining...

Sandstorms, thirst and getting lost

Actually, I'm not sure what to write here other than that these things are obviously something you have to consider. Bringing a map, compass, and adequate water should be common sense for most adventurers. Though, since rescue missions are always fun, not common enough sense.

I think I'm heading towards done on this. I think the only stuff left to cover is religion, and that city inside the vent of an active volcano that I promised. Those plus a summary make 15 posts, which seems like a nice round number. A lot of specific stuff will have to wait until actual play to sort out, but if you think there's anything I haven't covered, like obvious stuff wise, let me know.

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