Thursday, December 8, 2022

Idaho Deathlands

My plan to write more got derailed by ending up flat on my back with the flu the last three-four days. Just a bad week to be sick (and, yes, now it's hit other family members, including the wife and daughter) what with the in-laws in town and mi suegra's birthday to celebrate. Ah, well. Most of us...including me...are on the mend and the boy's iron constitution has once again proven to be immune to the soft depredations of the rest of us frails.

SO. What am I working on today. Sticking the Desert of Desolation into my campaign world. Specifically in Idaho, in the eastern half of the Snake River Valley, a.k.a the "Great Rift of Idaho." This was a tricky one; not only did I need to find an area of similar size in specifications (the I3-I5 series encompasses a mapped wilderness roughly 110 miles long by 60 miles wide), it had to be an area that could be 1) easily converted to desert, and 2) be bordered by mountainous foothills and broken lands of the type described in the modules. A great sandbox of death, in other words.

Building on my Micronauts-inspired, post-apocalyptic wasteland, the easiest way to get to where I wanted was to look at climate change projections and blow-up the human-made irrigation systems that allowed Magic Valley to transform from an uninhabitable wasteland it was as recently as the 20th century. Knock out the dams and infrastructure and Twin Falls dies in (probably) a cannibalistic apocalypse...especially when you factor in standard D&D monsters looking for sustenance. 

Fortunately (for me), there really aren't that many towns I need to raze /de-populate once you remove the "Magic Valley" issue. Gooding is pretty much the "last outpost" of humanity: 2020 census puts the population under 4,000 anyway, and my campaign generally cuts pop by a factor of seven to ten...well, when I'm not using the 1890 figures (my go-to default). As such, the Great Kingdom of Boise is really the only organized civilization west of the Desert...and it may be more "bandit kingdom" than anything else at this point. 

Well...maybe. Thing is, when doing pop. figures I'm generally looking at post-European settler / pre-railroad for determining what kind of populations my "D&D-tech-level" can support. Because despite the existence of magic, it's a tough ol' world for these fantasy colonists and this ain't no magical Renfair society. Magic-users (um...sorcerers? witches?) are generally feared and/or misunderstood and the "awe-inspiring" bit only holds until you've got a big enough mob of peasants with pitch-forks. Magic (and its counterpart, "high technology") is generally blamed for the current shambled state of 'the world that is;' peoples are trying to make their way without magic, rather than with it. 

What's the stress-level of people living near Hanford? Do you really want a wizard capable of summoning demons living inside your town? Even one claiming to be beneficent? Yeah, clean, nuclear power...totally cool with that, right?

So, yeah. No railroads. Lose the infrastructure it makes possible. Up the temperature a few degrees, add some heavy desertification (possibly helped along by a magic/tech catastrophe a couple centuries prior) and voila!...a setting for exploration and uncovering of ancient, treasure-filled ruins. 

Now, I did say that the Desert of Desolation wilderness is about 100-110 miles long that, even starting with Gooding, doesn't quite take us all the way to Idaho Falls, let alone I-15 and the cities along that route. But, that's actually fine as it helps explain one of the things left unexplained by Oasis of the White Palm, namely where the heck are the slavers of the Sandvoyagers Guild selling their kidnapped victims. Yes, yes, the module tells us that Thurnas Netmaster (leader of the slavers) "is working with Drow allies," from which we might infer that captives are being taken into the UnderDark...except that the presence of the Drow in the desert is patently ridiculous (how the hell did they get there? There are no subterranean tunnels or methods of reaching the UnderDark from the oasis. The slavers own excavation efforts have led them nowhere! And there are no ways for a dark elf to get across the burning sands with their special "Drow gear" intact...the two presented by the module are given nothing in the way of personality, background, or motivation and exist solely to fight and die on the blades of adventurers).  So, Drow. Which means we still need a buyer of slaves. And while the savage centauri are likely to use such captives as a foodsource, I'm thinking of placing a slave-owning/slave-trading nation/culture EAST of the desert...should the players decide to continue adventuring that direction.

After all, I've still got the Slaver series to re-work. And if one needed a place to put the volcano-situated city of Sunderham, well, you really need look no farther than the caldera of Big Southern Butte, some 90 miles east of Gooding and 47 miles west of Idaho Falls...a perfect location for the secret City of the Slave-Lords. 
; )
The adventure to follow....


  1. I don't know why, but I feel strongly that Idaho as you describe it needs to basically be Athas.

    1. It’s actually very tough to make it Athas unless you remove the Snake River completely…and probably the Pacific Ocean and the Rockies.

      But, yeah…the vibe was indeed starting to go that way. Especially when you consider dumping a bunch of poison/toxins into the existing water table (“purify water” is going to be a staple of every cleric’s inventory).