The Obelisk Prophecy
The Sea of Sand, Natural Hazards
Natural Hazards in the Amber Wastes
The Amber Wastes are an endless ocean of sand. During the day the blasted wastes are scorched beneath the merciless rays of the sun. At night, dark hunters haunt the wind swept dunes. The land is parched and arid for months on end, yet without warning the skies can darken and flood the desert with a lethal torrent of rain, transforming the wastes into endless mire. Those who have walked the Wastes are wary of the dangerous, though the burning sands hold dreadful perils even for the most experienced travelers. Reluctant are the nomads and merchants who cross the desert, and foolish are those who travel unawares of the shoals on the sea of sand. Merciless Heat
The Amber Wastes are parched desert, scorched beneath the sun. Those who leave the safety of shade and shelter can feel the wrath of the sun god Ra as his merciless rays sears their exposed flesh. Just after sunrise the temperature begins to climb to an uncomfortable level. This is the time where the akiri attempt to accomplish most of their work, in the brief five-hour window of time where the sun lights the land but does not burn. In the two hours before noon the sun has heated the land to an unbearable level, with temperatures reaching as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Only the hardiest Akiri dare to continue their work in this time. In this time characters must make a fortitude saving throw each hour against a DC of 15 +1 for every previous check. On a failed check, the character sustains 1D4 points of subdual damage. This subdual damage causes the condition known as heat stroke; any character suffering from this damage is fatigued and suffers a –2 penalty to strength and dexterity. Characters in heavy clothing suffer a penalty of –4 to their check. Those characters rendered unconscious suffer normal damage from the horrible rays, taking 1D4 points every hour of exposure.
At noon, for one half hour, the temperature reaches an abysmal 110 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time the Akiri flee to their homes and hide within the safety of the shade. During this time characters must make a fortitude saving throw every ten minutes against a DC of 15 +1 for every previous check, to avoid taking 1D4 points of subdual damage. After this period of hellish heat, the temperature hovers back at 90 for four hours. The evening comes afterwards; bringing the temperature down to a bearable level for another four hours as the sun slowly sets. After sunset the temperature drops rapidly, becoming noticeably chilly by midnight. The environment of the Wastes is always hot an arid. Under these inhospitable conditions humans quickly lose precious moisture. Characters wearing armour or carrying heavy equipment require twice as much water as normal to sustain them. Those characters that avoid heavy labour and are wearing appropriate desert apparel require only the normal amount of one gallon of water.
In the complete absence of trees or any other objects to break the wind, the gentlest breeze can grow into a gale force. The sands of the Wastes are easily picked up and carried by the growing storm, combining into a force to smother the Amber Wastes beneath a hail of stinging dust. Every day there is a 1% probability of a sand storm striking. These sandstorms occur for 1d6 hours, usually in the evening. The storm is preceded by the gradual darkening of the sky as the clear blue heavens turn a greenish hue. The wind gradually picks up as the onrushing clouds blot out the horizon. The sand storm smothers unprotected flames with its chocking dust; even protected flames have a 50% chance of being smothered by a sand storm. By the end of the storm 1D6 inches of sand is deposited on the affected area. These sand storms can be huge affairs effecting areas as huge as fifty square miles.
Each sand storm has a 10% chance to grow into a greater sandstorm. In these massive gales the wind speeds reach a staggering speed of 74 miles per hour, making normal missile attacks impossible and imposing a –8 penalty to listen checks. Medium sized characters in a greater sand storm must make a fortitude save against a DC of 18 or be knocked prone, while small characters are knocked down and rolled 1d4 * 10 feet, suffering 1d4 points of subdual damage for every ten feet they roll. Furthermore, any character exposed to the greater storm suffers 1d3 points of subdual damage each round. While the storm rages, all characters without a scarf or some mouth protection begin to choke on the sand, effectively drowning. Those characters with a protective covering can hold their breath for a number of rounds equal to ten times their constitution score before drowning. These massive storms leave 2d3-1 feet of sand in their wake.
The lands of Pharazia and Sebua are rarely struck by sandstorms, enjoying the protection of the Western mountains from the wind. In these lands, sand storms occur only once a year at the most, and never suffer from greater sand storms that have struck Har’Akir. The Akiri, however, live in dread of these nightmarish storms. It is whispered that when these storms descend upon the land, it comes in the pharaoh’s likeness, a massive wall of swirling sand in the shape of his cruel face. As the greater storm crashed upon Har’Akir, the mouth opens wide and swallows everything in the storm’s path. It is said that these storms are sent by the sleeping king, that his divine force, his ba as it is known, is punishing the Akiri people out of petty malice. The clerics of Har’Akir discourage these rumours, actively punishing anyone who claims to have seen the face of the storm.
Beneath the blinding rays of the sun, the horizon dances in the shimmering air of the Amber Wastes. Light bends and twists in the searing waves of heat, contorting into strange reflections on the edge of sight. As well, the merciless temperature of the desert is harsh upon the mind of any beleaguered traveler, driving the clearest mind to confusion. This dizzying combination gives birth to the mirage, the infamous illusions of the desert.
Mirages are seen as blurred images on the edge of sight, they are warped reflections of the sky and ground, twisted by the intense heat. The extreme temperature plays tricks upon the mind, shaping these optical illusions into fantastic phantasms. Some travelers have seen huge lakes on the horizon; others have seen mighty mountains spring from the sand. Those foolish enough to investigate these sights find that these illusions remain on the edge of the horizon, always out of reach. The mirage can become a lethal illusion, drawing the heat-addled deeper into the desert, to their doom.
Each hour that a character travels in the desert, during the day, he must make a will save against a DC of 5, plus 1 for every hour that he has been walking in the sun. The character may apply both his constitution and his wisdom modifiers to this save. On a failed save, the character sees a mirage in the distance. This mirage is a blurred image, though in this state of mental stress the character perceives it as real. Common mirages include mountains, lakes, cities or castles.
The nomads of Pharazia are well versed with mirages, often trading tales over the campfire of encounters with the imaginary. There are tales of the wind calling with a human voice, and stories of strangers found in the desert that vanish in the blink of an eye. Legend has it that one band of riders once discovered an unknown village where they traded with the friendly locals and spent the night in an inn. As the story goes, they woke the next morning and prepared to leave, stopping only to drink from a well. To their astonishment the water turned to sand in their mouths, and when next they looked the village had vanished, leaving them alone in the desert.
Even in the desert there is water. Water drains through the large particles of sand, flowing deep beneath the surface where it is protected from the rays of the sun. This water lies within the protective sands, collecting into a pool as precious little precipitation drains into the growing hollow. The result is a boon to local plants, and a curse to travelers. Found in low areas, quicksand is a layer of sand lying over the mélange of mud into which water has recently drained. These natural traps can be of any size, though in the Amber Wastes they are rarely larger than fifteen feet in diameter, and twenty-five feet deep. A patch of quicksand can be spotted with a spot check with a DC 20, with characters native to the Amber Wastes receiving a +5 insight bonus. The surface layer of sand is only strong enough to support itself over the mud; any character weighing more than ten pounds breaks the surface. Characters may make a reflex save against a DC of 15. If the check succeeds the character escapes the sand, if it fails the unwitting victim falls into the sucking mud.
Characters in the mud begin to sink, just as if they were in water. Characters within the mud must make a swim check against a DC 15, with full penalties for heavy loads. Climbing out of the mud is extremely difficult, for the character must wrestle against the vacuum suction caused by his own motions in the mud. Every round that a character takes any action other than remaining afloat, he takes 1d3 points of subdual damage. Climbing out of the mud requires the character to reach the edge of the quicksand and make a climb check against a DC of 20.
A character that sinks beneath the quicksand begins to drown. The victim may hold his breath for a number of rounds equal to twice his constitution score, and afterwards must make a constitution check against a DC of 10, plus one for every previous check. If this check fails the character falls to 0 hit points. Following this failure the character drops to –1 hit points on the next round, and drowns on the round after falling to -1.
The Amber Wastes lack the seasons that so many domains enjoy, the sun beats down each day with the same merciless intensity. Though stable for months at a time, the weather conditions of the Wastes can rapidly deteriorate into freak storms. The Akiri blame this instability on the collapse of harmony throughout their lands, and though outsiders dismiss such an egocentric theory, few can rationalize the rapid and chaotic shifts of the heavens. Each day in the Amber Wastes there is a 1% chance of a flash flood.
Though Sebua and Pharazia are occasionally blessed with gentle precipitation, the only rain to water the domain Har’Akir come in flash floods. Clouds roll forth from the heavens, as if from nowhere while the sun darkens and the wind rises. In mere minutes the sun is blocked out and dark shadows blot out the desert. The rain comes forth in a merciless torrent, thick droplets pelt down like hail stones, quickly flooding the banks of the Oases, filling pools of muddy water and crashing down the cliffs. Visibility is poor in these rains, halving the range of sight and imposing a –4 penalty to spot and search checks and missile attacks. These floods stretch over whole domains, even drenching the entire cluster in extreme cases.
These rains last only 1d6 hours, though they can cause lasting damage. The dry cliffs of the Amber Wastes are susceptible to great mudslides as the sand upon them slips down the side in massive tides of deadly sludge. One hour into the deluge the sands upon the cliffs destabilize and flow over the edge. Mudslides affect two areas, the slide zone and the burry zone. The slide zone occupies the sides of the cliffs and the very top plateaus. All characters in the slide zone may make a reflex save against a DC 15 to avoid the slide, suffering 3d6 damage and being pinned on a failed save. Characters climbing a cliff at the moment of the slide are not pinned on a save, but fall, suffering falling damage and damage for the slide zone. The burry zone occupies the area just below the cliffs. All characters in the burry zone are pinned and suffer 8d6 damage, though they may make a reflex saving throw against a DC 15 for half damage. All characters pinned suffer 1d6 points of subdual damage each minute, and if unconscious must make a constitution check against a DC 15 each minute or suffer 1D6 points of normal damage.
Though life in the Amber Wastes barely survives beneath the merciless sun, there still exists a parasite to plague the desert. Despite its wiry shape, the mosquito is a hardy insect, capable of thriving even in the Wastes. The Akiri breed of mosquito is blessed with a rapid lifespan, growing to maturity at the astonishing pace of only three hour’s time. The permanent oases of the Wastes contain enough predators to keep the mosquito population at a bearable level, though when the rains shower the desert, the vampiric fliers explode in numbers. Often heard before seen, The wining drone of a million wings haunts the dreams of every native of the Amber Wastes. The black cloud is visible with a spot check against a DC of 12 and audible with a check against a DC of 10. Mosquito swarms exist for only short periods, usually only a day after a rainstorm. Flying above muddy pools, the mosquitoes form a spherical cloud nearly fifteen feet in diameter, filled with breeding couples of mosquitoes. These clouds of insects move as if controlled by one mind, seeking out sources of water and fresh blood. Mosquito swarms have dark vision with a range of 100 feet and a movement rate of forty feet. These swarms wash over any living creature they find and drain their victim of precious blood. The long proboscis of the female insect can reach through the tiniest chink in armour while its agile body squeezes into the smallest nook. Character adequately clothed for the desert may swath themselves in their clothing, avoiding the sting of the swarm with a successful wilderness lore (survival) check against a DC 15.
Living characters caught by the swarm are tormented for 1d6 rounds, during which the character suffers 1d3 points of subdual damage each round. If a character falls unconscious during this assault, he begins to suffer normal damage from the mosquitoes. At the end of the feeding, the mosquitoes flee back to a source of water to lay their eggs. This process requires ten minutes, after which they seek out blood once more. Mosquitoes are feared for the diseases they carry and deliver to their victims. The disease known as Red Ache may affect a character subjected to the hideous feeding of a swarm. This disease has a DC of 15, an incubation time of 1d3 days and deals 1d6 points of strength damage. Symptoms include red welts and severe irritation of the skin.
Even amidst the desolation of the wastes, there are springs of life. These are the Oases, blessed places where cleans water springs from the earth and nourishes the land. Though these oases are crucial lifelines for the travelers who cross the wastes, they can just as easily become their graves. Oases are gathering places for the denizens of the desert, including predators.
Dug into the land surrounding an oasis are snake pits, the burrows of the viper species that make their home in the desert. Adapted to life in arid climes, these asps and cobras need only to live within travel distance to the water. Those who approach an oasis must be cautious to avoid these temperamental serpents. Most of the poisonous snakes found in the Wastes are tiny creatures, though snakes as long as a full-grown man have been reported. Closer to the Oasis are the week grasses the mark the barrier between the oasis and the desert. These grasses are home to a thriving insect community, including the traditional arthropod predators. Spiders and mantises are found in these grasses, terrorizing the insect prey, though it is the desert scorpion that strikes fear into the hearts of large animals. The tiny scorpions of the Wastes are notorious for their lethal sting, proving that it is not size that makes a creature dangerous.
Beyond the grass stand the towering palm trees that provide the shade that makes an oasis a sanctuary from the heat. Amidst the leaves of the mighty tress are vultures, hawks, owls and a variety of other arid climate birds. These desert foul jealously guard their nests, loudly protesting should anything try to climb into their trees. Hidden in the shade lie the predators of the desert, jackals, the hyenas and the plains cats.
These large predators do not willingly share their territory with other species, so a given oasis will be ruled by only a single pack. Though mere animals, these creatures know that their oasis is all that sustains them, so they will fight to the death to protect their watering hole. A few members of this pack might even patrol some distance from the oasis, keeping an eye out for prey.
Rarely, oases are found to be completely devoid of animal life. Though peaceful in appearance, these groves are in truth lethal traps. An aberrant species of lash weeds (Monster Manual, 114, 120-121) is known to exist in the Amber Wastes, appearing to be a miniature form of palm tree, covered from top to bottom in branches of broad green leaves. To protect them from the arid climate the lethal weeds have evolved an insulating covering, which keeps water from escaping or entering. With this advantage the lash weeds are also capable of surviving completely submerged in water.
These abominable plants gather in groups of ten to twelve, always based around a body of water. Though capable of surviving normally on water and sunlight, the lash weeds crave animal carrion with which they fertilize their oasis, create new soil and expanding their tiny territory. The lash weeds have evolved a deadly hunting strategy, entrapping unsuspecting animals that approach the oasis. Desert lash weeds coordinate their attacks with the members of their grove, communicating with a haunting hooting noise. The grove allows its prey to reach the water and bend low for a drink before signalling the attack. Lash weeds emerge from the water in which they have been hiding and spray their blinding toxin. The remaining lash weeds on the perimeter use their entangle ability, trapping the creatures in a mass of grasping roots. The lash weeds then wade into melee with their spiny leaves, slaying their prey. The bodies are torn apart and distributed over the oasis.
Desert Lash Weed: CR 4; large plant; HD 2d8+12; HP 30; Init +1; Spd 10ft, swim 20ft; AC 13 (-1 size, +1 dex, +4 natural); Atk 4 whips +6 melee (1d4+1); SA entangle, spray poison; SQ Plant; AL N; SV Fort +7, Ref +2, Will +3; Str 18, Dex 12, Con 16, Int 4, Wiz 14, Cha 12. Skills: Listen +7, Spot +7
Combat: Desert lash weeds enter combat by releasing a spray of blinding poison and then entangling their opponents. Once their enemies are blind and immobile they close to melee and slash at their prey with their spiny leaves. Lash weeds are slow and incapable of surviving outside of their oases, thus they never flee.
Entangle: Three times per day a desert lash weed may use the entangle spell as if cast by a third level druid. This ability can only be cast on an area of vegetation, excluding the desert surrounding the oasis. Spray Poison: A desert lash weed may spray a 10 ft cone of poison as a full attack action. This poison has a fortitude DC of 15, blinding any effected character for 1D4 days. This spray can be used only once every three hours.
Dark Vision: Unlike their temperate climate counterparts, a desert lash weed lacks tremorsence. To compensate, desert lash weed evolved light sensitive leaves, capable of dark vision with a range of 50 feet.