The Dead Lands


The Dead Lands are a vast spill of volcanic obsidian which lie to the south of the Tyr region, rumored to have been created aeons ago by destructive necromantic magics. Many believe the Dead Land is as large as, or even larger than, the Tyr Valley region, but no Tyrian explorer has ever measured its exact borders for the region is inimical to life.

While some believe the Dead Lands to be a nearly featureless plain of obsidian from one end to the other, this idea is no more accurate than the idea that the deserts of the Tyr Valley region and beyond are comprised only of endless sand dunes. The environs of the Dead Lands are as varied as those of the Tyr region: there are deserts of black sand made from obsidian ground down by wind and other forces over the aeons, twisted towers of black rock that claw at the sky, unstable plains of razor-sharp shards of black glass, volcanic vents that glow with red fire and belch smoke and toxic gases, valleys made by vast cracks in the obsidian bedrock, oozing pools of dark magma, fields of ash and petrified wood, foetid and poisoned oasis wellsprings, even a vast, horrid sea whose waves are lit with impossible flame. These terrible wonders, and more, showcase nature’s majestic variety in even a forsaken place like the Dead Lands.

Of course, I have not seen these places myself. Mad is the mortal who tries to walk the Dead Lands, even upon its borders. Rather, I rely on the journals of the Ormur of Piith, a spirit like myself, and a spirit literally, who has crossed the obsidian lands, recording all he sees and knows of them.

– The Wanderer’s Journal

The Dead Lands are a land of phantasms and mummified corpses, hungry and angry. You do not cross the Dead Lands without seeing the dead. At every step the eye can discern translucent shadows shimmering in the distance like desert mirages: the images of men and women long-since passed beyond life, standing or moving, fading and resolving.

Disconcerting as this may be, it is the mindless, hungry ghosts that appear from nowhere to attack travelers, and can be banished but never destroyed, that prove the true danger. Abandoned caravans litter the trade routes — does it surprise you? Yes, the dead trade among themselves here.

The Dead Lands are bleak, colorless rock and fire-lit ashen skies. An obsidian-preserved nightmare of forgotten things, twisted in the manner of all nightmare, charged with an unreality that is yet all too deadly, a black and warped mirror upon what was. Does it surprise you the dead have poetry in them yet? That we yet remember dreaming? Our curse is that we can not forget.

There are pools of water unfit to drink by even the ever-thirsting throats of the dead, bracken, acidic, and steaming with the venom of the unquiet land. There are trees that rot where they stand, and have done so for a thousand years, filled with the corpses of ever-moving insects. There are screaming chasms, and haunted valleys, and seas of fire. And there are mysteries yet unsolved.

The greatest of which is why this was done to us?

– From the Books of Ormur of Piith

The Dead

Ghosts — what Tyrians would call spirits — are a constant danger on the plains, accosting everything that crosses them. Lost souls that have not made the crossing into the Gray, but do not realize their lives ended decades, centuries, or millennia ago. They have no sentience or will to speak of, existing only as moments of terror and death trapped in time. The rumor of the Queen of Ghosts terrifies even the mightiest among the undead.

Karuhm comprise the majority of the corporeal dead of the deadlands, really little more than echoes of memories, with speech limited to but a few stock phrases, and obsessive, repetitive behavior; mobile corpses and skeletal remnants preserved by wind-and-sun. Yet sometimes these re-awaken to sentience.

Drow were elves born into the genocidal conflict during which the elves were hunted down by xenophobic men; they were defilers who perpetuated their existence beyond the moment of their deaths through a conjunction of arcane forces and ritual mummification.

After their Rise, each of these elves became uniquely physically marked by the sorcerous power they wielded in life, which they hide under bandages if able; this mark also allows them to be able to conjure minor sorceries at will. Yet not all continue to follow the path of the defiler or of sorcery, and they have forgotten much.

Drow have skin the dusty or opalescent black of obsidian, though they also paint themselves still with lines of ancient tribal symbols in phosphorescent oils, drawn upon them by slaves with excruciating care, and which they are too proud to cover. Some, even, could yet pass for one of the living if they cared to.

There are only, perhaps, a couple hundred drow in total, only a dozen of whom are ever seen at a time; they live in exquisite obsidian citadels carved upon and into the twisted mountain crags of the Dead Lands, only rarely descending to mix among the society of the dead below.

The drow are ruled and guided by a hive-mind inhabiting giant spiders; they take the chitin from empty casings the hive-mind has abandoned, mixed with carefully crafted obsidian, to craft wicked drowish weapons and sorcerous tools.

Some elven tribes among the Tyr region revere the drow for their knowledge of ancient elven lore, and young elven defilers sometimes brave the Dead Lands to train with the drow.

-They have seen great wars and been twisted by them.
-They are few, perhaps a few dozen to a couple hundred at most.
-They live atop the mountain peaks and rarely deign to descend to the desert lands.
-Their ruined citadels of obsidian and ash host the Elloth: giant spiders psionically linked as a hive-mind.
-The elves often wear the spider’s chitin, along with spidery symbols.
-Their exact relationship with the Elloth is unknown.
-They are revered and worshiped by the elves of the Tyr region, as the oldest elders and repositories of forgotten elven lore; many young elven defilers train with the drow.

The Plain of Shards: The ground here is covered with razor-sharp shards and chips of obsidian, in some places the layer of shards runs quite deep. Walking is difficult, not merely because the shards can cut all exposed flesh to bloody ribbons, but for those without flesh because the shards are treacherously unstable and shift and slide underfoot even as one walks. Somewhere within the plain there is a black pool from which shades of the long-dead can be summoned by those who know the forbidden lore, and nearby a Tomb of Forgotten Kings that leads deep into the earth, protecting secrets of lost ages.

The Black Sands: A parched stretch of desert of black sand, known for blinding, skin-flaying sandstorms the likes of which Tyrians have never experienced, and monstrous, undead beasts of gargantuan size that tirelessly hunt to feed insatiable appetites for destruction and violence. Deep in this region, one can find ruins buried in the sands, those which have not been worn away by the howling winds, and more usually the catacombs that remain beneath the surface, whose sand-widened entrances are sometimes exposed.

The Vulcan Rent: A deep crack in the obsidian plains that spews fire and smoke; so hot it sears flesh from bone. This is the home of the djinn and jann, and the Court of Wishes, who live in vast brass palaces built alongside churning rivers and lakes of molten rock, mining metal and crystal from the earth to trade for slaves and goods from the Golem Lands.

The Ashland: Things become dim and hazy here, even the hungry ghosts who otherwise wander the Dead Lands are suspiciously absent or weak, some believe those who cross the Ashland become lost upon paths leading into the gray void of dissolving spirits beyond Athas. Others believe this is the demesne of the terrible Queen of Ghosts, whom all fear.

The Crags of the Dead: The winds of the valleys amid the Dagger Crags moan with the voices of the slain, where villages of the undead eternally reenact the last day of their lives, their bones collapsing each sunset, rising each sunrise, staggering through mocking motions of life while the sun touches the sky. There is no will or intellect here, and undead victims hung from spikes, eternally tortured, mark entries to the region to give all warning.

The Wailing Valleys: there are deep crevices that lead down into the earth, so far down that some say one cannot see the sun from the bottom. Others say they are bottomless. From them rise the unearthly wails of a lost race of peoples whose civilization was slain in some long-forgotten apocalypse. None has descended who has ever returned.

The Twisted Towers: The black fingers of giants clawing at the sky, curled and spike-laden, thrusting from the broken ground beneath which the giant owners are buried — if giants were a thousand feet tall. The bones of drakes and nightmare beasts litter the ground around the towers, some not quite dead for all the flesh that has withered away.

The Eternal Forest: Trees of petrified rock with obsidian leaves drop razor-sharp leaf-shards to the ground in a vast, dead forest even the wind does not touch. Golem monks come here to meditate and pray in the silence. Some say there are silent, invisible spirits here that teach them their ancient arts.

The Plains of Black Glass: Mystical and horrible, the plains are a flat sheet of obsidian almost untouched by the elements, polished to a reflective sheen. It is said one can see the future, the past, the present in the glass of the plains, speak to shades long passed, and learn dark secrets, but the brittle ground can break open under a traveler at any moment, swallowing them into darkness or releasing a burst of steam and magma that chars them to ash.

The Golem Land: The undead are not the only things who have built a civilization upon the plains. Men forged of bone and obsidian have crafted a sprawling kingdom in the ruins of the Dead Lands. This is a land of constructs, soldiers crafted for a war long-since over, living in feudal cities and villages built of slabs of basalt and obsidian, trading and warring with the undead and with one another.

The City of 1000 Dead: The undead do not live in shining cities, but the decaying ruins that remain of those cities that once stood where the Dead Lands now are. Whatever this city was in life, only the palatial district of its kings remains, continuing on in death as it did in life, servants, priests, and psychophants pampering the bones of the king, who lives on, scheming the schemes of dead men.

Obsidian Fortress: An outpost of the Golem-lands built of shining black glass, carved from the rock of the plains, it falls regularly to the attacks of undead, only to be reclaimed later, and may at any given moment be either shelter or death to those crossing the plains.

Small Home: Though the city was buried in black rock, the undead dwarves who are its inhabitants have spent the ages since tunneling out the streets and buildings, creating a catacomb beneath the obsidian rock. And they continue to dig even deeper towards some purpose unknown, if purpose there even is.

It should be remembered that the dead are not the living. They are not ruled by passion, except those darker ones retained from life; they desire only what they desired in life, not new things, and desire that which brings memories of living, yet feel an equal hatred towards it once obtained; they care for news from a thousand years ago as if it were fresh and unknown, and act upon it; and they live their lives entirely in the past, with no thought of the future.

“There can be no peace with the kingdoms of the dead. They hate us for a war aeons gone, one they still fight as though freshly struck.” – General Irho-maul, Confederacy of Geiru

Suggested Terrain Types

Petrified rock fields: fallen forests whose trees turned to stones scattered everywhere.
Black desert: where the obsidian has been ground down into deep, shifting black sand.
Shards: where unstable layers of razor-edged obsidian shards cover the ground.
Volcanic vents: splits and cracks in the obsidian release smoke, ash, and toxic clouds.
Magma: churning pools or slow rivers of molten rock surrounded by basalt and etc.
Ooze: volcanic sand and ash combine with moisture creating fields of ill-colored muck.
Ash: dry, blinding areas coated with ash and pumice.
Crystals: huge black crystals grow in large clusters from the ground.
Spike forest: Narrow spines, spikes and splinters of obsidian, like a fallen forest.
Razor-trees: large clusters of sharp obsidian spears that crack and fall at the slightest touch.
Undead Trees: eternally rotting trees that give off an overpowering stench and cause despair.
Pools: standing water that has become brackish and fouled.
Obsidian Badlands: columns, plateaus, and twisting natural towers of obsdian.
Cliffs and chasms: uneven splits cutting through the obsidian.
Polished glass: where the obsidian is level and unbroken and has been polished smooth.
Brittle: the ground here appears solid, but can crack and shatter with the slightest weight.

Suggested Environmental Events

Firewinds: clouds of ash and fire.
Sandstorms: black, cutting sand and ash is stirred up by powerful winds.
Ghoststorms: these roiling storms disintegrate matter, turn the corporeal incorporeal, etc.
Groundsplits: the obsidian suddenly cracks and breaks, opening chasms or pits.

Undead eternally tortured atop petrified spikes of obsidian wood.
Some undead are of a strange form made of bone, dress, and witch-fire — a translucent green flame that shines with the rotting visage of their living forms, that shifts such that it is hard to tell what is spirit and what material, showing one, then the other.
Though no living thing can live long on the obsidian plains, things do survive, even prosper, here.
The orc fire traders.
The Underground.

The Wombforge — These are mysteries around which each village and city of the golems are built, from which new golems randomly emerge. The days of a birth are heralded by signs and celebrated. Golems are born with full intellect and ability, but without personality. After birth, each golem must discover who they are to be.

– Strong psionic beasts
– Limited arcane magic
– Twisted divine magic
– The only wizardry here is necromancy

copyright (c)2010 Raven Daegmorgan
Athas, Dark Sun, and related properties are owned by Wizards of the Coast