Adventurers are intrepid types and often disappear into the wilderness in search of gold and glory. Many such adventures seem to happen in the furthest reaches of barren deserts.
Use the table below, to breath life into adventures set in a desert. None of the happenings listed below are intended to spawn a full encounter; rather think of them as wilderness dressing designed to add realism and depth to proceedings.
- A lone desiccated tree emerges from the flank of a large dune standing across the party’s march. Its wide, frond-like leaves provide a modicum of shadow—and a brief respite—from the merciless sun.
- A smudge of black smoke stains the horizon. If the PCs investigate they discover three burning wagons along with the slashed and torn bodies of their drovers and guards scattered about the churned, bloodstained sand.
- Tracks—of at least a half-dozen humanoids—cross the party’s path. A PC steeped in wilderness lore can determine the creatures were trying to move single-file (perhaps to hide their numbers) and they were heavily leaden.
- In the valley between two dunes, the remains of a crumbling dry stone wall struggles above the sands. Its line straggles along for about 15 ft. before disappearing below the sands.
- A camel’s stark white bones lie amid the shifting sands.
- A small flock of buzzards circle the party for several hours, before losing interest and flying away.
- Heat rises in shimmering curtains. On the horizon, keen-eyed characters can make out what might be a small caravan trudging across the burning hot sands.
- A lone cloud scuds across the sky. Bizarrely it seems to be moving against the wind.
- A metal helmet—scorching hot to the touch—lies in the sand. Slightly further on, the party find a heavy steel shield and still later a breastplate scoured to near-blinding brightness by the wind-driven sand.
- In the shade of a deep valley between two towering sand dunes lies a seemingly dried up oasis surrounded by forlorn palm trees and stubborn, coarse grass. Characters digging in the dried up pool discover water several feet down.
- The sun reflects off something shiny on a far-off dune. The flash of light catches one of the party’s attention. Investigations (eventually) reveal a partially buried steel shield. The sigil of a local gnoll tribe is crude daubed across it.
- Seven rocks—placed to form an arrow—point back in the direction from which the party has come. Small drifts of sand around the stones suggest they will not be visible much longer.
- A ripped and torn carpet lies half buried in the sand. The worn fabric is wrapped around the desiccated body of a man wearing only a loincloth. Perceptive PCs notice it seems nearly every bone in the man’s body is broken—in the same way as if he had fallen from a great height.
- The mouldering body of a hyena lies amid a swath of bloodstained sand. Two arrows protrude from its body and a pack of buzzards peck and tear at its flesh.
- A pack of hyenas trail the party. They hang back well out of bow range, waiting for someone in the group to collapse. If attacked, they retreat in search of easier prey.
- A sandstorm blows across the horizon. Luckily for the PCs it is not heading in their direction.
- The party encounters a wide “field” of cacti. Many of the prickly plants are as tall as human. In the centre of the field lies a small oasis. Because of the cacti, the oasis is relatively safe from wandering predators.
- The party encounters an area of particularly soft sand. Although this is not quicksand, it makes travel even harder than normal. The area is quite extensive—several miles across in fact—but diverting around it could add a day to the party’s journey.
- The wind and shifting sands reveal the remains of an old battle. Skeletons scoured bright white by the sands lie where they fell. Amid the carnage lies the combatants’ desiccated and rusted equipment.
- The party witnesses a savage storm ahead. Later—as night falls—they encounter an area of rock upland scoured free of sand. Near its peak they discover a cave containing a worn set of steps leading down into darkness…
GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing
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