Few stretches of desert are truly featureless. The shifting sands hide many secrets and reveal them from time to time. Other edifices and landmarks are simply too huge to bury. Such sites often draw adventurers to them as offal draws flies…
The desert’s shifting sands periodically bury and then reveal the leavings of previous civilisations. What is today a featureless dune field could tomorrow shift to uncover a sand-choked temple, buried tomb or some forgotten ancient edifice.
Use the table below, to determine the basic details of a forgotten ruin uncovered by the desert’s shifting sands:
- The broken remains of a long, low stone wall disappear into the base of a dune. Scoured by sand and wind, the wall is fragile; only the inertia of ages holds it together.
- A set of carven stone steps set into a low hill disappear downwards into a steep-sided, sand-choked depression. Attempts to dig out the depression result in more sand tumbling into the hole from above. Perceptive PCs investigating the steps discover faint carvings depicting a grand procession of people carrying a sarcophagus down a long set of steps into a deep, hidden crypt.
- The desert’s shifting sands have revealed a ceremonial corpse way flanked by evenly placed stone obelisks. Once elaborately carved to represent the deads’ journey to the afterlife, they are all but rubbed smooth by the sand’s remorseless action. Still, sharp-eyed PCs may be able to make out some of the lurid carvings depicting skeletons, demons and other unidentifiable winged creatures.
- The broken crenulations of a tower peaks through the sand. Thanks to its stone shutters, the tower’s upper chambers—accessibly through a trapdoor in the roof—are largely free of sand. Inside, it is dark and comparatively cool.
- The shell-like remains of a small village are arrayed along a dried-up riverbed, which emerges from a sand-choked cave. Nothing now lives in the village except for scorpions and a few snakes. Digging in, or searching the, ruins inevitably draws their attention. Even a cursory search throws up a surprisingly amount of bones among the ruins.
- Amid a belt of arid wasteland, a ring of forlorn stone obelisks stand stark atop a lonely, steep-sided hill. Visible for miles in every direction, the obelisks could have once been a temple, celestial observatory or other sacred place. Investigations reveal the “ring” to actually be a strangely squashed oval and that each obelisk to be vaguely triangular shaped. A steep-sided shaft pierces the hill’s rocky summit, at the centre of the “ring”. Invisible from above—due to the shaft’s immense depth—a pool of clean and fresh drinking water fills a cavern deep below the hill.
Much of the desert likely comprises nothing more than unending sand dunes. However, very few deserts are actually featureless. In some places, certain features struggle above the cloying, ever-shifting sands. These landmarks provide vital “signposts” to desert travellers.
Use the table below, to generate the details of such landmarks discovered by the PCs:
- A deep, 40-ft.-wide chasm cuts through sand like a gigantic, jagged wound. Its precipitous sides drop over fifty feet into cool shadow. Below, the remains of a river course are visible amid the sand and boulders.
- Visible from a great distance, a high hill rears upwards toward the sky. Deep drifts of sand on its windward side provide a ramp of sorts against its steep, pitted flank. Its flat summit is clear of vegetation and sand but is dominated by deep carvings of complex geometric shapes. Cut by unknown hands, anyone viewing them from the air realises the shapes form an enormous pentagram. PCs with arcane knowledge can confirm the pentagram’s shape is designed to trap something within.
- An immense star-shaped dune—formed by the complex interplay of wind in this region—rears from its surrounds like some gigantic, otherworldly beast. Almost 200-foot high at its zenith, it is an excellent vantage point, and its long ridges provide shelter from the savage winds ravaging the surrounding sands.
- The vast wind- and sand-blasted stone head of a gnoll yet struggles above the shifting sands. The head—the size of an elder wyrm’s—hints at a vast statue buried beneath the sand. Whatever the truth, the statue is obviously ancient—much of the face’s fine detail is no more-eroded by the remorseless wind and sand.
- An oasis of blessedly-clear water nestles in a wide chasm emerging from a small range of low, nameless hills. Dates and palms cluster thickly about the long, narrow pool. Caves—clearly cut into the rock with hand tools—pierce the chasm’s walls and provide resting places for travellers. A hermit dwells in one of the caves.
- The bleached bones of a gigantic dragon lie sprawled along a long, low hill. Slain centuries ago by the great battle-mage Kardath Uvo, the remains are those of Atar-Unar. Knowledgeable PCs recall Atar-Unar’s lair (and treasure) remain lost. Rumours speak of strange sounds emanating from the hilltop and of lightning arcing down from the cloudless sky to strike the bones. Consequently, few travellers tarry here long.
This article appears in 20 Things #24: Sun-scorched Desert.
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