Blood and Thunder
The sages say that the Red Desert was created by the dusts raised by the fall of the Dread Star and it had once been a great forest. Seeing it today, it is hard to believe the sages. Rocks and thin reddish sand stretch for hundreds of miles in every direction, interrupted only by the occasional oasis. Despite its appearance, the Red Desert hides several treasures and marvels, like great forests of petrified trees, plains lined by veins of precious ore and dotted with gems surfacing from the ground and, finally, the Red Lotus, a very precious variety of Lotus that lives as tiny spores on the stone petals of desert roses. It is also a dangerous place, inhabited by deadly beasts. Besides scorpions and snakes of small to giant size, there are Skull Jackals, very dangerous predators, and the dreaded Ulatisha, The Being That Digs in the Sand, a semi-mythological monster.
It is a vast area extending from the Fallen Kingdom of Keron in the north, to the Ivory Savannah and Caldeia in the south, and to Kyros in the east. Although it is considered a single region by foreigners, the natives know that it is very diversified. Its central part is mainly a sandy desert; the sand is deep red and, in some places, so fine that a man can sink into it as if he were in a sea of blood. In the central desert there is also the biggest concentration of desert crystals, strange formations that contain the precious gems known as Desert Tears. Only a few nomad tribes live here, mainly herding camels and similar beasts. Life deep in the desert is extremely harsh.
The southern part of the desert is a rocky, barren land that gradually blends into the Ivory Savannah. It is the most densely populated area because herds of goats and similar beasts can find enough to eat. It is also rich in coal and ore deposits, and therefore often disputed, since the desert nomads trespass into the Savannah looking for verdant pastures, while the Black Tribes move north to mine for precious ores.
The northern part of the desert is the least known. It is a vast, desolate expanse offering some truly peculiar views, such as petrified forests. Legends also speak of places where precious stones are as common as pebbles. In truth, very few people, except the dreaded Red Nomads (see below), venture into this part of the desert, since it is tainted by the dark influence of the nearby Fallen Kingdom of Keron.
For what concerns its civilizations, the Red Desert hosts some Independent Cities and is home to nomads and tribes of herders, the only people capable of surviving in this harsh land. They are divided in clans, usually recognized by the color of their capes. Brown and green nomads are quite peaceful, but the red-caped ones aren’t.
The desert hosts a variety of beasts, some common, others very odd. The Syranthian sages say that, after the fall of the Dread Star, a great cloud of stardust was blown south and turned the verdant and fertile plains into the bleak land that is now the Red Desert. That’s why many creatures found here are twisted and mutated.
Tamed beasts: camels are common among the nomads, especially those living in the central desert, because they need very little water. Riding a camel is not quite the same as riding a horse. For this reason, foreigners who buy a camel and try to mount it are usually quickly unsaddled by the beast, causing great hilarity and mocking by the nomads. In gaming terms, a hero riding a camel suffers –2 to Riding rolls until acquainted with his mount (the process requires a week).
Goats are the nomad’s most common cattle. Glota goats, recognizable by their short legs, can eat almost any plant, even poisonous herbs, without negative effects. They are also very resistant to snake and scorpion venom. Glota droppings are gathered and dried, then used as fuel in the cold desert nights. The nomads also use horses, especially in the northern and southern desert. These beasts are not as tough as the Valk ponies, but are naturally very fast (+1 Pace).
Falconry is rather widespread but, since falcons are extremely rare in the desert, the nomads use vultures of many types. They have become masters in the art of training vultures for hunting and, in certain cases, even for war.
Wild beasts: The most common desert animal is the rattlesnake, which comes in many varieties. The terrible Sand Viper is no bigger than a man’s finger, but its poison is strong enough to kill a horse. The giant Stone Cobra, a twelve yard- long poisonous rattlesnake, can easily crush a human skull with its bite. Luckily, it is rare and its poison quite weak. The nomads also insist on the existence of the fabled Snake King, an amazing creature with two heads, so poisonous that it can kill a man merely with its gaze, but no evidence of its existence is recorded.
Other common desert dwellers are scorpions. The Black Stinger is found extensively in the desert. It is as big as a man’s hand, and its venom is very powerful. The problem is that they are rarely alone. If you find one, a nest of at least fifty specimens is bound to be nearby. The best thing to do is to grab your things and move your camp as far away as possible. But the real trouble starts when you find yourself face to face with a Giant Scorpion. It is a very dangerous beast, the desert equivalent of the jungle tiger. Usually the size of a dog, it can get as big as a pony. The Giant Scorpion is a fearsome hunter, and thanks to its thick carapace, has absolute no fear of opponents. If you must face one, aim to the eyes, and pray to your god.
The last type of scorpion is the Sand Bitch, as the nomads call it. As big as a cat, this evil beast is a natural hunter. It hides among stones or brambles and shoots a sort of egg full of poison from its tail. The egg is very thin and it bursts when it hits a target, causing paralysis. At this point, the creature approaches and starts eating its lunch, still alive but paralyzed. Sand Bitches have excellent aim, so the targets are often hit from behind or above and cannot detect the incoming attack.
Canines are represented by jackals. They come in two sizes, normal and giant, and some say that a particular type of two-legged jackal, the size of a man, lives in the northern desert, in the shadows of the Keronian mountains. Only the nomads believe these stories, while civilized people think that they are no animals but just primitive men, like the Nandals. Yet, too little is known about them to determine their nature.
Finally, the most dangerous desert creature is the Crystal Beast. In very rare cases, crystal formations get stuck into the flesh of animals, like jackals, snakes and scorpions. No one knows if the beast accidentally eats the crystal or if the stone simply gets wedged in its flesh, but the two merge, the crystal actually growing and expanding through the host’s body. These hybrid creatures are usually much stronger than their natural counterparts and develop strange powers, as well as an evil intelligence. Luckily this happens only to animals, though legends are told of lonely hermits with living crystals inside their bodies.
The Red Desert might seem totally barren and lifeless to the inexperienced eye, but several life forms, both animals and plants, thrive among its dunes. Cacti of every form and type are quite common, and they are a source of food and water for those who know how to harvest them.
In the south there are brambles that only goats and camels eat. But for short periods the brambles produce large amounts of juicy thorns that, if gathered while fresh, are tender and palatable. This is a time for feasting, and the women of the desert tribes bake the Bread of Thorns, which keeps for several months.
An evil, black herb, called Madness Herb, grows in the northern desert. Horses and camels become mad and must be killed after eating them. There are rumors that Red Nomads gather and eat this herb, which might explain their hatred towards anyone who is not of their race.
Umberto Pignatelli. (2011). Beasts & Barbarians, pp. 24-25. Studio 2 Publishing.ISBN 978-8393179657