Geography

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Geography of Athas edit
Auerbakk Mine edit top

The iron mines of Tyr. Located at the base of the Ringing Mountains a few kilometers North of Tyr, the mines are heavily barricaded by natural barriers and defense garrisons loyal to Tyr, including Fort Iron. And with good reason. The Warrior King has made more than one attempt at their capture. All have failed, including one attempt led by The Lion himself. The ensuing struggle brought The Tyrant and his personal half-giant guard to the battlefield. The engagement between what might be the two most powerful City-States of Athas rocked The Tablelands. In the end, Tyr held Auerbakk.

Depleted by Civilizations long dead, many slave-hours are required to produce even a few grams of iron ore. Paltry though it may be, those mere grams add up; Tyr’s iron makes its slaves more productive in tilling the fields, provides a currency basis for rich trade, and perhaps made the difference in that telling battle when dozens were hewn by the double edged steel execution axes of the King’s guard.

The Barrier Wastes edit top

A huge, bleak region extending from the Jagged Cliffs in the West to the Silt Sea in the East. The Barrier Wastes encompasses the twin regions of the Glowing Desert and the Scorpion Plains. Expansive and flat, the wind blows unhindered from West to East incessantly in this region, reaching dangerous velocities. The powerful gales pick up bits of sand and waste that can cut flesh from bone. Midday temperatures are such that the terrain blisters unprotected feet, while nighttime freezes those only prepared for the heat. A lush scrub plain is said to thrive at the bottom of a vast chasm in the center of the wastes. How could any man survive the terrain long enough to discover this territory?

The wastes are among the most desolate areas of all Athas.

Black Spine Mountains edit top

Crescent Forest edit top

The Crimson Savannah edit top

Past even The Hinterlands, few know what truly lies beyond the 3,000 meter high Jagged Cliffs. Those that have stood on the precipice of the Cliffs themselves claim to behold a Savannah as crimson as the Athasian sun under which it basks. And so it was named.

The Dead Land edit top

An unfathomably (and uncharted) vast glass flat of obsidian. Some say the flats are haunted by the dead of a deliberately forgotten holocaust.

Others say this is impossible. The blight of magic and the heat of the crimson sun enervates even in undeath. Afterall, what manner of creature could survive 50 degrees on a pitch colored plain?

Then again, the undead are said to wander the night…

Dragon’s Bowl edit top

A misshapen bowl some fifty kilometers in diameter, the Dragon’s Bowl is a 300 meter deep basin in the highest parts of the tableland plateau. It is situated in the Northern third of the Tablelands not far from Urik.

An unnatural and eerie silence hangs about the Dragon’s Bowl; this aura is either due to or the cause of the legend of the Bowl’s origin. Legend tells of the birth of the first Dragon, a mighty conglomeration of elemental wrath, forcing itself upon the world by tearing its body from the living rock. What was left behind are sheer cliffs that descend unforgivingly to what might be the last glimpse of what life resembled before the blighted science sapped and corrupted it.

Endless Sand Dunes edit top

An unimaginably large desert, the largest on Athas, that runs hundreds of kilometers from West to East forming the Southern boundary of the Tablelands. Quiet and gentle in first impression, the Dunes claim your life not by unending storms or insatiable predators, but with attrition. The Sand is patient and knows few who trek into the desert will ever find their way out.

The principle dangers of the Endless Sand Dunes are the enormity of the region and its mind-numbingly repetitive geography. Even the most diligent of cartographers cannot fathom the patience required to chart the expanse. Other than a few dwarf cacti the dunes show little life outside the oases. What’s worse is the enormous effort of marching up and down dunes that can become 100 meters high or more for days on end. And one finds no shade from the sun in such a landscape. Triple your water rations, at least, if you intend to survive a mission into the Endless Sand Dunes.

In the end, the ultimate punishment might be emerging on the other side of the desert: follow it to its finish in the East and you will find the Great Salt Flat. To the South is the Dead Land, the haunted plain of obsidian. If one stays close to the Northern edge when heading West and simply rounds the Ringing Mountains one will eventually emerge where the Forest Ridge meets the Hinterlands. Otherwise, you will follow the sand to the end of Athas. And there you will die.

Estuary of the Forked Tongue edit top

Splitting the Northern two thirds of the Tablelands from the Southern third is the largest of the inland surging silt esturies. Some five hundred kilometers or more long, the estuary is named for its great split at Balic into two separate silt estuaries. The larger fork proceeds North-West and extends half the distance from Balic to Tyr. The smaller fork proceeds due West from the split about half the distance from the coast of the Silt Sea to the Ringing Mountains.

At some fifteen kilometers wide, the estuary is more that large enough to provide home for the same manner of deadly creatures that make the Sea of Silt itself dangerous. The estuary is strewn with islands that are home to Giants who wade through the silt to attack coastal outposts. Silt horrors swim the silt and Rocs roost in the mountains of the islands. The Estuary thus provides a massive barrier to trade, as all routes detour several days around the estuary rather than try to cross it when carrying wares form South to North (or vice versa). One clan of dwarves has already spent two generations, as is the dwarven way, slowly building a bridge North from South Ledopolus and South from North Ledopolus. Their eventual plan seems to be to meet at the island that lies between them. The giants inhabiting that island have a diffent idea about that altogether.

Forest Ridge edit top

Depiction of the Halflings of the lush forest region on the Western slopes of the Ringing Mountains as feral and menacing is wholly unfounded. The only thing even out of the ordinary about these Utopian tribes is their, shall we say, peculiar gustatory preferences…

Glowing Desert edit top

The Southern and Eastern-most portion of the Barrier Wastes, the desert is named for the eerie luminescence it emits after the sun sets. This glow is as cold as the nighttime temperatures of the desert. The second largest desert in the known regions of Athas, its topography is very different from that of the Endless Sand Dunes found South of the Forked Tongue Estuary. The Glowing Desert is largely flat, blown smooth by the terrible winds that characterize the Wastes generally. Gently rolling sand dunes extend as far as the eye can see; at least, on those days when the air is calm enough to allow good visibility.

Less desolate than the Scorpion Plains portions of the Wastes, the Glowing Desert is home to several tribes of escaped slaves. It seems the miserable existence of the desert is seen as punishment enough, for escaped slaves from The Tablelands that make it this far are simply written off as a loss. A few oases dot the landscape, and the water is quite suitable for consumption. The real complication for those few that make their lives here is the ephemeral nature of the oases due to wind, dry sand, and unforgiving heat. Dealing with the slave tribes, who recognize that resources are scarce enough without another thirst to quench, can provide much needed distraction from the winds and the Sun.

Great Salt Flat edit top

Great Salt Flat is one hundred thousand square kilometers of bone white, ceramic hard, salt-crusted nothingness. The only thing that breaks the monotony of lifelessness are the great fissures and crevasses where the earth itself splits from pain of thirst. If one were to find an oasis on the Flat, an unlikely event by any calculation, the water would be too briny and poisoned to drink. The one thing that can be said for the Flat is that, whether by magic or will, anyone who figures a way to live upon this bereft emptiness would reign uncontested by man or beast over the entire region. It is quite devoid of life.

Great Ivory Plain edit top

Dwarven legend tells of a salted lake in the midst of what is now the Tablelands. When magic changed the world, the lake evaporated leaving an unblemished, salted plain behind. Though it seems far fetched to imagine a body of water existing that could’ve been as large as the Ivory Plain, circumstances lend some credence to the legend: the plain is the only significant region of the Tablelands devoid of ancient ruins. If it actually was, at the time of the ancients, a lake bottom…that seems to make some sense.

Whatever its origin, the Plain is the largest unbroken geographical feature of the Tablelands, extending from North Ledopolus in the South nearly two hundred kilometers to Nibenay and Fort Inix in the North. Like most salt flats, it is baked hard, supports very little life and few oases, and the brilliant white glow of the reflected sun will blind travelers in their travels upon it. The region, though smaller, is actually more varied than the likes of Great Salt Flat or the Scorpion Plains. The salted flat is broken here and there by massive rocky protrusions jutting dozens of meters into the air. Often, the cracks in the salt around these protrusions can be successfully spelunked for water. Local myth holds these rocky interruptions to be the petrified tombs of some ancient, giant race.

The Hinterlands edit top

“The Hinterlands” are less a geographically defined region and more a linguistic catch all that means, “West of the Ringing Mountains”. Various landscapes and terrain features make up the vast area between the Jagged Cliffs on the Western edge and the Ringing Mountains on the Eastern edge. The mountains provide a barrier to trade and communication that limits contact between cultures of the Hinterlands and the City-States.

Lush scrub plains and grasslands dominate much of the geography of the Hinterlands (though the area is much too large to be defined in terms of one or two sets of topographical features) owing to runoff of the excess water in the Forest Ridge that forms streams and even some rivers on its way down the Western face of the mountains. At least two large pterran cities are known to the Hinterlands.

The Jagged Cliffs edit top

Residents of the Tablelands know little of this region. Supposedly, the Hinterlands West of the Ringing Mountains end abrubtly in cliff that stand thousands of meters tall and run North and South as far as the eye can see.

Lake Pit edit top

Located in the bottom of the Dragon’s Bowl, Lake Pit is the largest remaining known body of water. More than a mere pool in an oasis, its surface covers some sixty kilometers of crystal clear fresh water. Perhaps as amazing as it is that any such unspoiled creation still exists in the Tablelands is that such a treasure exists only a half day’s march from Urik.

That The Lion has not claimed the treasure as his own probably has everything to do with the geography of the Dragon’s Bowl, situated as the lake is at the bottom of the 300 meter deep earthen pore. Whatever force of will or luck preserves the Lake, it is teeming with the sort of life that exists no where else. For no where else does such a supply of life and water exist anymore on Athas.

Lava Gorge edit top

If one can traverse the Barrier Wastes, scale the slopes that lead to the high flat lands of the Scorched Plateau, and survive the 90 degree ambient temperatures that begin a few hundred meters from the Gorge itself, one can stand at the escarpment and look down a 1,000 meter sheer wall at the boiling rock below. At that point, with little doubt, the grumbling, gurgling Gorge will belch a poisoned cloud of gas that will race up the cliff walls and boil your flesh from your bones where you stand.

Mekillot Mountains edit top

Mountains of the Sun edit top

Due East of The Tablelands, a few hundred kilometers into the heart of the Silt Sea is a range of gargantuan granite peaks, gently rounded to reflect their age. Oriented North to South, the range creates a visual barrier to what might be beyond the Known East. Finding travel to this range is nearly impossible such that the idea of discovering what lies beyond is outside the minds of even the bold.

Separated so long, and so absolutely, from the main land results in only speculation as to what might be found on the mountains themselves. One can only assume they must be as barren as the rest of Athas, and whatever survives on the mountains does so by any means possible. Green Age historians (a farce, really; not enough history remains to make a living of cataloging it) theorize the region originally belonged to a dwarven kingdom, and the modern inhabitants must be the descendants thereof.

Whatever the history or geography of the Mountains of the Sun, this much can be said with certainty: they are so named for the indescribably beautiful way the Sun greets the morning by slowly surmounting their peaks.

Road of Fire edit top

Life in The Tablelands too mundane for your tastes? The ho-hum of 50 degree afternoons got you looking for a way to really feel a heat wave? For those looking to do a little bit more on an adventuring getaway, the Road of Fire has what you need. Come see what island hopping across an archipelago of active volcanoes has to offer. You can do hot anywhere on Athas, but why travel all the way to Lava Gorge to meet convection currents so strong they will blow you clear of the island where you are left to an untimely demise in the middle of the Silt Sea?

Ringing Mountains edit top

The insurmountable range of world topping peaks that runs hundreds of kilometers from South to North forming the Western border of The Tablelands. Said mountains create such an untraversable border to both man and beast that traders and nomadic herders are more likely to attempt the hundreds of kilometers and Barrier Wastes (at the North end) or Endless Sand Dunes (at the Sounth end) than a trek through the mountains themselves.

If you’ve ever peered down at Athas from such an altitude that your ears ring incessantly to remind you there isn’t air enough to breathe, you know whence the name of the Ringing Mountains came.

The Scorched Plateau edit top

Whether brave or stupid, the few that emerge on the North side of the Barrier Wastes stare at the edge of the known world. No doubt the Athasian landscape continues far beyond even the Scorched Plateau, but no one has made it that far and returned to describe it. With good reason: “scorched” is neither a term of endearment nor a metaphor. The major features of the plateau are Lava Gorge and Steaming Water oasis.

Scorpion Plains edit top

The plains are actually a large salt flat, possibly as large as the Great Salt Flat, despite the name. What little water can be found on the plain is, as one might expect, briny and unsuitable for drinking. Other than a few of the hardiest shrubs known to Athas, the indigenous creature are all insects of one variety or another. They feast upon the vegetation that makes its living in the cracks of the flats and the growth of the salty oases, or on each other (and hapless travelers). In fact, the insects might be called eponymous, as the abundance of carnivorous scorpions is the source of the name for the plain.

Travel on the plain is fast, for the flats are baked as hard as the unending obsidian of The Dead Lands. Aside from the normal troubles of traversing Athas, including hot days, cold nights, and hungry predators, the only real barriers to travel here are the deep fissures in the salty terrain. And the howling winds for which the Barrier Wastes are generally known.

Sea of Silt edit top

Supposedly, the basin filled with white suffocating powder we know as the Sea of Silt was brimming with life giving water as recently as the Green Age. Relics frequent travelers of the silt describe seem to confirm such notions: the hulls of enormous, petrified vessels jut from the surface. These craft neither demonstrate design consistency with the silt-faring vessels of today, nor any land traversing craft seen in The Tablelands. Presumably, they floated upon the surface of vast seas.

Whatever it used to be, it is now a fine-powdered sea of suffocating dust. There is solid ground to be found on the Sea’s bed, as evidenced by the giants wading chest deep through the silt en route to some poor tableland locale for “negotiating” provisions. Man sized creatures simply sink into the silt and silently suffocate without further ado. Hence, traversing the sea, or its many inland jutting estuaries, requires specialized craft, such as silt skimmers, or else the ability to levitate or fly.

And before that starts sounding simple, allow some discussion of the real dangers of the dust. First, the fine powder is easily swept about on the ravaging winds of Athas. The Gray Death can suffocate a man standing “safely” aboard a silt skimmer (and, in violent storms, hundreds of meters inland from the shores) as the fine dust fills the lungs and pores with little trouble. Calm days may be worse, for with the calm the silt settles, and visibility seems unlimited. Which makes it very easy for the predatory, airborne, inhabitants of the Sea’s many islands (such as rocs) to see their prey: you. If the birds of prey don’t find you, surely the silt horrors will. You’ll know your fate is sealed when the huge white tentacles shoot from the surrounding sea and either pluck you from your vessel or wrap the entire skimmer, crushing it. Some claim to have seen a giant pulled under by these terrors.

The Silt Archipelago edit top

Residents of the Tablelands know little of this region. They’ve only heard of a large chain of islands far to the Southeast.

Smoking Crown Mountains edit top

The Tablelands edit top

The Tablelands comprise a super region that cradles what passes for civilization in the known areas of Athas. Simply, this is a broad, arid plateau spanning the few hundred kilometers between the Silt Sea and the Ringing Mountains. The big tongue of the Forked Tongue Estury separates the upper two thirds of the Tablelands from the bottom third. The majority of the surviving population centers exist in this Northern area. Things get progressively more savage as one heads South, eventually ending up in the desert of the Endless Sand Dunes. Dragon’s Bowl, the Ivory Triangle, the Crescent Forest, and the Black Spine Mountains are all areas of geographic distinction contained by the Tablelands.

Given the somewhat expansive area of the Tablelands, the plateau has a besmattered sampling of most of the terrain types found in the known regions of Athas. As exsiccated and forboding as Athas has become, it is not without great variety of geographical features. Desert is not the only form of barren expanse the Athasian landscape knows:

  • Boulder Fields: Stony, broken, and nearly impassable terrain dominated by the cracked and fragmented remains of ancient mountains. Boulder fields are most often found as a transition area as mountains give way to scrub plains or stony barrens. The terrain is uneven, loose, and given to precarious footfalls because of rocks and boulders of all shapes ranging from man-sized chunks to building-sized behemoths. Worse still, the craggy, non-interlocking shapes create innumerable pockets and caves for sun-shy beasts to hide and wait. It is best to think of “climbing over” a boulder field as opposed to “walking accross” one; mounts and packs find the boulder fields impossible.
  • Mud Flats: Areas where springs bubble to the surface of a silt basin or the Sea of Silt creating a mucky, muddy marsh from the mixture of water and silt. Sometimes the sun bakes the surface of such mud into a tough crust permitting brisk travel. Usually, such areas are swampy and oasis-like, teeming with what vareity of vegetation remains on Athas. Little if any free standing water exists in these areas, and they are usually incredibly dangerous: the plants attract hungry vermin which in turn attract monstrous predators. Wherever there is surface moisture on Athas, expect to find territorial killers of all kinds claiming ownership.
  • Rocky Badlands: Labyrinthine canyons with nigh-unclimbable crumbling cliffs walling them on either side. The canyons typically cut into highland areas as they wander to nowhere. The bottoms of the canyons are easily traveled (supposing one doesn’t mind the mazy meandering) but the tops (assuming one can find a way to climb up) are sharp and given to broken rock, leaving one to fall back to the bottom of the canyon. The low cutting canyons brings them close to underground water resevoirs providing an abundance of oases in the canyon bottoms. This, coupled with the impossible navigation, makes badlands terrain a favored home of hermits and slave tribes. Several mean shrubs make an existence growing from outcropping rocks in the cliffs. The canyons provide protection from the sun. Never eat from these shrubs; some have leaves so abrasive they destroy the internals of those few individuals stubborn enough to swallow them.
  • Salt Flats: The name leaves little to the imagination with salt flats. The deadest of the poisoned lands of Athas, only the unforgiving obsidian of the Dead Land is less supportive of life. Numbingly flat, the salt is packed as hard as stone making travel fast and simple, if not incredibly uncomfortable as the sun’s heat is reflected off the white surface into the face of the traveler. The speed is a good thing; with nothing to forage for beasts and nothing to hunt as prey, your only hope of survival is to get off the flat as quickly as possible.
  • Sandy Wastes: Expanses of sand piled into dunes of various shapes and sizes. The almost fluid medium that is desert sand creates a vast expanse of material that the winds and storms of Athas sculpt into many forms. Giant mekillot dunes, wave dunes, crescent dunes, star dunes, and even flat wind-swept sandy plains all demonstrate the wind’s dexterity and skill. Beautiful as some of these may be, sandy wastes are incredibly dangerous and difficult to traverse. Moving upon the sand, even when flat, requires much more effort than other terrain types. Also, sand storms can literally be deadly, and even when they aren’t they are sure to leave you lost after they pass.
  • Scrub Plains: Flatlands that still have the semblence of life due to tenacious vegetation taking root in the rocky soil. Scrub plains usually support regular tufts of tough grasses, hardy shrubs, and the occasional methuselah or olive tree. The sad truth is that, while by no means lush, scrub plains are teeming with life by Athasian standards and scrub plains of the Tablelands are in grave danger of annihilation. The two primary threats are overgrazing by herders and the ruinous magic that poisoned Athas generally. Because of the density of life scrub plains support, they are favored by fledgling defilers learning the science and by powerful master sorcerers (including the Sorcerer-Kings themselves) looking to fuel some epic ritual. Travel in the scrub plains is generally easy; the greatest danger is that travelers will anger the local driud or run across a predatory animal.
  • Silt Basins: Inland dust sinks that are much the same as the greater Sea of Silt itself. The silt in these basins is more than deep enough to drown a man, though there are rumors that hidden pathways (supposedly the tops of walls and ramparts of ancient ruins swallowed by the silt) lie close enough to the surface to be traversible by men. The same precautions one takes when travelling the great sea apply as well to the inland basins.
  • Stony Barrens: The most common terrain type in the Tablelands, stony barrens are what remains after the winds of Athas have blown away whatever life-giving terrain might’ve existed, exposing the orangy sandstone bedrock below and leaving all manner of eponymous, rocky detritus. Some areas are covered in a thick ruddy dirt or puffy heaps of yellow dust but most are simply wind-worn bedrock covered in eroded debris. Travel over this lack of stable footing is difficult, slow, and to be avoided. Cacti don’t seem to mind, and grow here in abundance, supporting some manner of wild fauna.

The abundance of ruinous remains of empires past is a telling sign that the Tablelands have been home to mighty civilization-states for many Ages. Dregoth was not the first king of Giustenal. Bodach may well predate all the modern City-States, and by the expanse of the ruins certainly any of their accomplishments in its prime. The Pristine Tower taunts with promises of its ancient knowledge.

Valley of Dust and Fire edit top

The legend of the Valley is, like most legends, perplexing and insufficiently descript. Is the great valley beyond the Sea of Silt in some Eastern land still lush and untouched by magic? Or is the Valley within the sea itself?

And, in any case, could the legend of Ur Draxa even be true?

Vanishing Lake edit top

Residents of the Tablelands know little of this area. They’ve only heard of a lake that supposedly waxes and wanes in the heat of the Athasian sun.

Windbreak Mountains edit top

Geography

To Kill a Dragon Gravedigga