Campaign of the Month: January 2014
Greyhawk 937 CY: The Age of Steam
The Bright Desert
(Information taken and adapted from Rary the Traitor and the Living Greyhawk scenario)
The Bright Desert is home to what remains of the old Flan tribes that did not move to inhabit the area beyond. They are nomands with some herding population. They live a hard and, some would say, primitive life. But they embrace the old ways and are happy. Some are raiders who seek to rob caravans that trade out of the desert. Several rare herbs and plants as well as ancient treasures provide the basis for trade. The only other humans are criminials and bandits who make The Bright their home and some descendants of the ancient Suel who live on the edge near their old empire. This small group of Suel came there after the Rain of Colorless Fire.
It is also inhabited by troops from Greyhawk who work with the good denizens of the area to guard from evil. This is bolstered by the return of the Garment Sages to the world. Although small in number and often out in the world, there are always some here and they seem to lift the spirits of the nomads in a racial memory of a better time.
They have lived here for thousands of years. Only the old Flan have been here longer. But this good and honorable people suffered under Old Sulm and fought alongside the forces of good in all conflicts in the area. They are a proud people who are wary of outsiders.
The remains of Old Sulm. When their King lost his evil draconic allies he turned to the mad god and was given the Scorpion Crown. This turned him and all his people into these creatures. They have reproduced and remained in the region to this day. They are wild and cunning and evil.
A small race of goblins who live in the desert. Divided into tribes they murder and rob people and worship the evil god of goblin kind.
Geography and Climate
The Bright Desert is well-named. Most of its 250-mile length is composed of shining, shifting dunes, with a few oases scattered here and there. Mean daily temperature can reach as high as 120 degrees at midsummer and swiftly plunge to near-freezing after the sun has set. Hot winds periodically scour the desert, creating sandstorms which can last for hours at a time.
The men and creatures who inhabit this land are a hardy, dangerous lot. Around the perimeter of the dunes lie patches of hardpack, or scrub desert, where plant life of a sort flourishes. Hardy, scraggly shrubs and twisted pine trees, some hundreds of years old, grow in the rocky soil, nourished by the mere sprinkling of water that the region receives each year. Rising above the scrub plains are the hills of the Abbor Alz, a region of rugged, steep hill-sides and treacherous canyons. Like the desert, the Abbor Alz is home to hardy, hostile humans and animals. Although the Abbor Alz is arid and dusty throughout much of the year, it harbors stands of hardy scrub pine and oak, and during the rainy season (from mid-Fireseek through early Planting), small streams appear, rise to flood, and vanish overnight.
Flora and Fauna
Life forms native to the Bright Desert are both hardy and dangerous. Such familiar animals as camels and jackals dwell in the desert, particularly near oases and in the scrub regions. Deadly species such as giant ant lions, poisonous snakes, and fire toads survive even in the deep desert. The desert also harbors a species of giant insect known as the pernicon, prized by the nomads because its antennae are highly accurate water-diviners. The greatest scourges of the Bright Desert are the giant scorpions, which often lie in wait beneath the dunes and emerge without warning, and the savage manscorpions, which attack anything and anyone they see.
These strange creatures haunt the nightmares of even the bravest nomad warrior. Plant life is confined to the date palms and rich shrubbery of oases and a few lone cacti that scratch out an existence in the open desert. Vampire cacti, dangerous plants that survive by draining the moisture of other living things, are a constant hazard, although intelligent inhabitants of the desert have learned to recognize and avoid them.
Wildlife is more varied in the Abbor Alz, where the climate is somewhat more hospitable. Such familiar species as mountain lions, wild boar, and bears may be found in the hills. Dangerous species include trolls, hill giants, ogres, and the undead creatures of Azak-Zil
Woolly Bay and the Sea of Gearnat are seas south of the desert. They are rich, tropical waters, frequently traveled by merchantmen and prowled by pirates. Giant sharks cruise these waters, hoping to feast on debris or an occasional seaman from passing ships. Intelligent races such as ixitxachitl and sahuagin have been found in these waters, but the high frequency of armed ships and mariners prepared for combat help discourage any violent action.
The hulls of numerous ships litter the ocean floor, giving rise to legends of lost treasure. Sailors repeat tall tales of aquatic undead, rising to take vengeance on those living souls who violate their graves. A number of lacedon and seawolves have been reliably reported in the region, indicating that some of these tales may be true. Sailors also tell stories of an ancient mist dragon or dragon turtle who either revels in the deaths of sailors and the destruction of their ships or engages them in intellectual discussions and rewards them with gems and gold. These tales are generally discounted as the fantasies of bored mariners, but the area may well harbor both species.
Dagger Rock is a sharp, ugly formation rising out of the desert, surrounded by acres of broken rock and rubble. It serves as a navigational aid for the nomads. It was here the Heroes of the Codex fought a devil possesed Blue Dragon. It is also where the draconic empire of Tiamat first colinized before corrupting the Sulm. No one is sure of what lies burried nearby. But the long dead ancient blue must have been guarding something before the plans of Asmodeus and Bartholomew interrupted it. There might be more in this area than the Heroes never suspected.
No one worries because it is the residence of the small number of Oerth’s Garment Sages. When they began to reappear long after the Heroes of the Codex rediscovered ancient remnants of them, they came to Dagger Rock. The White Robed Sage who was in an item the heroes discovered came here and began to slowly, ever so slowly, rebuild their way of life. He still resides here, apparently deathless. He has called and trained the new sages, some think no more than 5-6 in number. They move between Dagger Rock and GaI Hur, using the two apparently as somber holy sites.
So named because, in the opinion of the Abbor Alz barbarians, only fools would rest here. This barren valley hides a deep fissure at one end, where local legend says a fierce beast lives. Near the fissure it becomes apparent that something is unusual. The bones of animals and sometimes men lie scattered about, along with numerous mystical carvings and offerings, which appear to be intended to ward off the evil in the cave.
This isolated outpost was built on the ruins of an ancient Sulmish fortress. The fort gained its name from the white granite of its walls. A small group of troops from the Greyhawk Militia man the fort. They cooperate with local nomads and Centuars to form a loose defensive patrol between Whiterock, Dagger Rock and Gai Hur. This prevents surprises from getting out or into the main part of the Bright Desert. There is a way around but it is all but impassible and there are magical warnings in place. The small number of Garment Sages also help Whiterock and the locals maintain watch.
This singular formation resembles an enormous column of rock rising from the desert floor. No one knows its origin. Perhaps it is a natural formation or the remnants of some mysterious Sulmish monument. Today it serves as a navigational aid in the desert and, more importantly, as a meeting place for the tribes of desert centaurs who wander the desert.
Each spring and fall equinox, the centaurs gather here to feast, talk, and make decisions about issues that affect their race as a whole. These events are grand affairs, with thousands of centaurs gathered, clad in colorful finery, engaging in races, archery contests, songs, dances, and feats of skill.
Strangers are welcome at these events and friendly human nomads attend often. Visitors are required to surrender all weapons, however, and acts of bloodletting are strictly forbidden, although occasional fistfights and wrestling matches do occur.
The nomads claim that the goddess Geshtai once visited this place, blessing it and causing what was once a bare patch of desert to bloom, put forth lush greenery, and produce pure, cool water. Doubtless, the spring is a place of rare beauty, resembling a small tropical jungle in the deep desert, but the nomads of the region hold it in such esteem that they do not allow outsiders to visit it. Tales surrounding it make it intriguing, including the legend that its waters have mystical effects on those who drink them.
Located in a hidden gorge near Knife’s Edge Pass, this small fortress serves as headquarters for the self-styled “Bandit King” of the Abbor Alz, Hugo the Axe. With a retinue varying from 100-300 bandits and miscellaneous camp-followers, Hugo exercises little real authority over the region’s bandits despite his pretentious title. Bandits use the fortress for refuge and accept Hugo as “king,” but ignore his authority at all other times.
Nevertheless, Hugo and his small band of loyal cutthroats are supremely dangerous. Those who dwell in Hugo’s fortress are all vicious criminals with large rewards, or even death sentences, on their heads. Although they owe Hugo little loyalty, they will fight for him if the fortress, and their refuge, is threatened.
The Abbor Alz barbarians, although they hate the bandits and fight them at every opportunity, have learned through bitter experience that Hugo’s fortress is tough to infiltrate.
Although they would like to see Griffon’s Nest gone, the barbarians cannot directly assault it. Any individuals offering information on the fort’s layout, or assistance in taking it through trickery will be greeted enthusiastically.
The fortress is of apparent dwarven make, with extensive tunnels and warrens honeycombing the hills behind and below it. Hugo has stocked it with enough provisions to supply an army through a long siege, and many of the tunnels emerge in the canyons around the fortress, enabling the bandits to stage devastating ambushes on approaching forces.
Not even Hugo knows the true extent of the tunnels, which may well be connected to other tunnel complexes in the region, or reach as far down as the Underdark.
Early on in his occupation of the fortress, Hugo’s forces were troubled by strange noises deep underground, unexplained but frightening sightings of shadowy creatures, and the disappearances of severe work parties.
Unable to stop the incidents, Hugo ordered suspect tunnels sealed and placed under guard. While this reduced the frequency of disappearances, it did not eliminate them entirely, and today the noises, sightings, and disappearances continue, though at a reduced rate.
Under the rulership of the ranger Kamuk, the village of Histak has grown into a fairly successful stop for nomads, explorers and scholars. It is a place of truce and any violence is frowned upon. It is close enough to the sea and bay side of the Bright Desert to benifit from trade if the traders are ambitious and there are plans to build better roads to the coast to increase this option.
“The Leap,” as its garrison calls it, is an abandoned fortress in the southern region of the Brass Hills. Along with many of Rary’s other installations, it was built practically overnight by enforced yuggoloth labor. Completely surrounded by steep, winding canyons and hillsides, and large granite walls, the Leap is virtually impregnable when manned. It has sat abandoned for over three hundred and thirty years since Rary’s defeat in the Archlich war. There are many reasons for this but the main one is that almost to a man the locals insist a dark presence resides here. One best left alone.
This small village crouches in the protective shelter of the Brass Hills.
The village is located at the head of a deep valley. An adobe wall closes off the mouth of the valley and protects the village and farmland beyond. Despite the wall, the villagers have always had to be on guard against raiders.
Mainly goat herders and simple farmers the residents of Kalundi are repositories of local lore and simply want to live in peace. They have a local defensive band but work with Whiterock to ensure safety.
Knife’s Edge Pass
The Knife’s Edge Pass is the only continuous path through the Abbor Alz, but it only barely qualifies as a pass. It is narrow, tortuous, infested with monsters and haunted by Hugo the Axe and “his” bandits. It is traveled only rarely. Numerous frightening tales are told of the Knife’s Edge. There are also tales, from the days when trade with the Bright Desert was more common, of whole treasure caravans disappearing into gorges, never to be seen again. It is said that spirits wander the pass at night, crying out for vengeance, and that unpleasant creatures tunnel through the surrounding hills, emerging in the dark of night to drag off unsuspecting travelers. Even if such tales are false, the depredations of the bandits, trolls, ogres, and barbarians, as well as the dangerous route through twisting canyons, sheer ravines, and boulder-strewn trails, are more than enough to keep sensible travelers far away from the Knife’s Edge.
A cluster of ruins lies a day’s march from the oasis that have an evil reputation. The area beyond here is also filled with man scorpions.
They are home to the duergar and their mysterious leader, Father Eye.
Necropolis of Unaagh
This site is well known to the Bright Desert nomads, but it is never spoken of openly. The ancient burial ground of Sulm now lies rotting beneath the desert sun, ravaged by winds and scoured by sand. The necropolis consists of row upon row of long, tiered mausoleums, all filled with the mortal remains of Sulmish nobles, sorcerers, kings, and priests. The necropolis was once a place of considerable beauty, with ornately carved and decorated buildings, pleasant gardens and shrines where mourners could remember the departed. Unaagh is now a place of ruin and decay.
The nomads believe the necropolis to be filled with gold and other treasures in the form of funerary offerings and personal wealth interred with its owners. But the nomads cannot easily be persuaded to discuss the place. The treasure is not unguarded, of course, for un-dead roam the necropolis in huge numbers. A vast army of skeletons, ghouls, zombies, crypt things, Sons of Kyuss, and other creatures roams the streets each night, and prowls the buildings by day, swarming after any living thing encountered.
The undead exist only in the region of the necropolis. The undead that move or are carried even a few yards from its buildings immediately collapse into inanimate heaps of bone. Whether the undead exist to protect the riches hidden in the necropolis or as a further ghoulish effect of Shattados’s curse, no one knows. The nomads know only that the city is a shunned, evil place, one which travelers are well advised to avoid.
The Pits of Azak-Zil
The Pits of Azak-Zil are described in the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover book. These pits were once the site of a dwarven mine, and were dug to extract iron, gold, and possibly mithral from a “falling star” which an ancient Aerdish scholar claimed had landed in the region.
When communication with the mines ceased, and undead creatures began to creep from the hills, the entire project was abandoned. Today, few claim to have seen the mines and those who have say that it is infested with undead, particularly highly cunning and intelligent races of ghouls and ghasts.
Plain of Spears
This grim, desolate wasteland of rock, rubble, and blowing sand is the site of the kingdom of Sulm’s final battle against the neighboring kingdom of Itar, its last rival for power in the region. Ancient fragments of metal, bones, and the remnants of weapons lie scattered everywhere. The howl of the wind is a constant companion.
Local legend claims that the site is infested with swordwraiths. Each night, it is said, the creatures continue to fight their final battle, as well as any unfortunates who happen to wander into the region. The plain is a place of sad tales and evil repute, and would be best avoided were it not for the rumors of lost treasure and fabulous enchanted weapons to be found there.
Rary’s tower was transported from Ket and extensively renovated by Rary’s yuggoloth servants. It has sat empty since his defeat in the Archlich War 330 years ago.
The Ruins of Darkbridge Temple
The ruins are isolated in the desert and, like most sites of the vanished kingdom of Sulm, shunned by the nomads. This was once a place dedicated to the worship of Sulm’s dark gods. Now in ruins, the site is said to be cursed, and the nomads claim that anyone who visits it will inevitably sicken and die. The aboveground portion of the temple is known to harbor poisonous snakes and manscorpions. No one knows the extent of the underground portion of the temple, but ancient tales state that large numbers of sacrificial victims could be housed there, and that elaborate ceremonies were often performed. Recently, local nomads have begun to experience unexplained disappearances and blame some malevolent force in the temple ruins.
The Ruins of Utaa
Utaa was once the thriving capital of Sulm. Sand has eaten up most of the city now, leaving only the central hub of palaces and temples rising above the desert floor.
Surrounding these ruins are acres upon acres of ancient buildings, all buried under shifting sands. From time to time, the wind reveals a building or two, allowing entrance and possible exploration. This is not always desirable however, for the buildings may house things best left undisturbed, and the fickle winds can suddenly rebury the structure, interring would-be explorers with their quarry forever.
Nomads tell stories of the buried ruins being inhabited by undead, scorpions, tentamort, and even tanar’ri summoned by the city’s evil inhabitants and now trapped on this plane.
The city is truly vast. It consists of over 100 square miles of homes, temples, castles, palaces, and every other imaginable type of structure. It was swallowed up by the desert after Shattados’s curse took hold, and the city still contains substantial amounts of wealth. But reaching the wealth and wresting it from the various creatures which still lurk beneath the sand could be more trouble than even the most experienced adventurer can handle.
The Ruins of Zarak
These ruins, fully described in the GREYHAWK® Adventures hardcover book, are the remnants of a once-prosperous dwarven city, founded to exploit the mineral wealth of the Pits of Azak-Zfi. When the mines were destroyed by an alien artifact, Zarak was abandoned. Today, its empty halls and ruined dwellings are inhabited only by an occasional barbarian tribe which never stays for long, trolls, ogres, hill giants, and undead creatures that have crawled from the pits. As the departing dwarves, in typical fashion, took all their wealth with them, there is little to draw the average adventurer to this sorrowful place.
This oasis is important as a source of water, supplies, rest, and shade, but is remarkable because nomads visit it only during daylight and always leave well before sunset. They will not explain why this is, but it is obvious that something about the oasis frightens the nomads. Careful inspection of the oasis reveals what might be ancient foundations of finished stone, but no other artifacts are immediately apparent.
The Tower of Sleep
The nomads of the deep desert tell tales of a tall, white tower that appears in desolate areas, then mysteriously disappears. It is so named because anyone who approaches the tower is said to lapse into a deep sleep, which lasts until the tower has vanished. Theories, legends, and tales abound as to the identity of the tower’s occupant. Some claim that a fiend or evil god, chained by the forces of good, seeks to escape from the tower. Other stories tell of a grim, undead wizard who moves the tower from place to place to steal the dreams of sleeping victims. Still others suggest that a beautiful sorceress uses the tower to travel between worlds, and returns to the Bright Desert between journeys.
This small but lush spot in the desert serves as a watchpost for local nomads who look for danger coming from deeper in the desert.
The Twisted Canyon
Some say this is the way into the lands of Old Itar by land. This seems a reasonable conclusion since the god Vathris walks out of the canyon a few times a year on a journey to where he was killed on the Plain of Spears. It is known that at least one ancient site of worship to Vathris exists in the canyon. But no one has ever successfully navigated it.
The White Sage of the Garment Sages leaves Dagger Rock every time Vathris walks and watches his trek. Last year it seemed to observers the god noticed the sage and wished to talk, but some unknown drive caused him to grimly continue into the Plain of Spears and vanish.
Some say that the god, normally filled with anger and regret, seemed to show a brief moment of hope when he noticed the sage. The next time the god walks the sages plan to all watch with the White Sage. Perhaps this reminder of the good of the old ways that has returned will give the grim walker pause long enough to wake from his rage and sorrow.
This village, located on the border between the hills and the desert, is one of the major places for trade between the Bright Desert nomads and the Abbor Alz barbarians. An unwritten truce prevails in U1 Bakak, where members of rival tribes, or even those engaged in blood-feud, can meet, trade, and associate without fear. Anyone who violates this truce is immediately slain by those who witness the attack, but no violation has occurred in decades.
Var is a major oasis that serves hundreds of nomads every month. It serves as the last stop to those who wish to enter Old Itar.