Outsiders coming into a distant land with the best of intentions can have the worst of effects. Poor understanding of culture, climate or even geography will convert help into disaster. This post is a sequence of adventurers for a party composed of people native to the desert or a town on its edges. Several months will pass between quests, to allow the flooding to progress.
The first in a series of posts exploring how real world disasters may be used in fantasy tabletop RPGs.
Aelaimo is the god of rivers; fresh water is his gift and promise to all who worship him. When his clerics heard of a land far to the west where no rain fell, they felt compelled to bring relief to this desert. The journey took them months and despite the stories learned along they way, they were still unprepared. The Baraad desert covers most of a continent with its dry rock and sand, robbed of water by the dry winds that blow away any moisture. The entire desert is a great bowl, the remnants of a great meteor strike, surrounded by low mountains. Aelaimo’s clerics had hoped to douse for fresh water, to either build a well or uncover a new river source. With such a starting point, their god would have been able to provide for the people of the desert. They found nothing.
Quest 1 – A group of clerics from the far west have arrived in town. They’re offering a large sum of money for an escort to the centre of the desert and help with a spell.
To the eyes of the clerics, the desert dwellers suffer harshly under the brutal sun. Without water, the locals cannot settle down to farm. Instead they live as nomadic traders who make their living bringing goods across the desert. So the clerics made their way to the centre of the desert and found it’s lowest point. Here they spent days preparing to cast a grand spell. It would link this place with a nearby sea, creating a passageway through which water could pour. The spell also purified the seawater and removed any life to make it drinkable. Backed by the power of their god, the clerics were delighted with the new lake they had created. Believing their work to be done they found a high point in the boundary mountains and have begun to build a grand temple to Aelaimo to oversee the new great lake.
Tens of thousands of gallons a day now wells up into the Baraad desert. It pours over the rocky surface, filling in depressions and deluging old dead valleys. It spreads and spreads, drowning more and more as the heat of the sun can’t evaporate it quickly enough. The traders share stories of impassable rapids and rock outcrops that are now islands. Some caravans have disappeared without a trace.
Quest 2 – An old friend seeks the party’s help. His brother’s caravan is now a week late and he needs someone capable to go look for it. They were last seen near the pass of Enond. He hopes the party can find and rescue them before the waters cut off the way back.
Quest 3 – As the waters flow onwards, they drive a wave of refugees ahead of them. The magical creatures of the desert are being pushed into the boundary mountains, breeding conflict amongst them and between them and the locals. On their return from the rescue, the party find their home beset by problems needing their attention.
With their livelihoods nearly destroyed, the nomads are trying to preserve their culture by joining existing trade routes. They have been met with hostility by the merchants who don’t want the competition. Local nobility have not been understanding or charitable, as they do not know the value of pride in maintaining a laborious lifestyle. No help is offered to undo the damage, only remonstrations to learn fishing. Most people simply see it as a good thing that the desert now has water, not caring of the costs.
The greatest of these costs is the wrath of the Djinn. The new lake has flooded their ancient sites of worship, all because of the hubris of a dozen clerics and their foreign god. The clerics grand temple is now an island surrounded by flowing waters, placing it out of reach of the magical Djinn. Unable to strike directly at their foes, they now march east, taking their anger out on any mortal that crosses their path.
Quest 4 – The Djinn’s path will take them through the party’s home town unless they can be diverted. The town elders also worry that the Djinn’s destructive rage will bring more easterners to the desert, looking for recompense for the Djinn’s actions.
In their lack of understanding of Baraad’s geography, the clerics set the spell to keep portally water until the water level stopped rising. Their idea was that the water would soon find away out of the desert and that this new river would stabilize the water level. But the mountains around the desert are too high, so the water keeps pouring in and pooling up. The waters are slowly but inexorably rising towards the lowest point in the surrounding mountains, the party’s home town. The outburst flood will explode eastwards and carve a new set of canyons across the face of the continent.
Quest 5 – The southern mountain range is also the southern shoreline of the continent. If the party kind find a way to get the water flowing this way into the ocean, the desert and western lands might be saved. The party must struggle against the now frequent storms that lash the mountains, as the evaporated lake water returns to earth.
Image Credit – Lake Powell by Michael Wilson – CC-By-NC-ND-2.0