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Traveling the Sandswept RoadsD&D Insider Article
Between the City-States of Athas

The Athasian Tablelands are tremendously hostile to travelers. Monsters, raiders, and the elements combine to paint a lethal backdrop to any journey. Yet people do travel regularly between the city-states. Merchants, diplomats, adventurers, and wanderers traverse the ancient, sand-swept roads that stretch between Athas's cities, caravanserais, and sparse oases. Even more daring are those who step away from the marked paths and venture onto the trackless expanse of the Alluvial Sand Wastes, the Salt Meres of Bodach, the Ivory Plain, or the endless, hazy horizon of the Silt Sea.

In many D&D campaigns, players and DMs don't bother too much with the details of travel. That's fine when characters can rely on finding a friendly inn at every crossroads or are trekking through temperate woodlands with plenty of game and water. On Athas, nothing is so simple. Getting from one place to another can be a daunting challenge for the well-prepared. It's often fatal for the reckless or impulsive.

Before player characters leave the relative safety of their city-state on a long-distance trek, it's wise for them to know how many days or weeks they can expect to spend in transit. That's the purpose of this map. It shows distances (in miles) between major landmarks of the Tablelands.

Two different types of mileage are marked on the map: road miles and off-road miles.

Road Travel

Distances in yellow medallions follow established paths, which on Athas means the ancient, semi-circular route from Balic to Draj on the Trade Road, the Great Road, and the Road of Kings, along with a handful of tributary roads connecting to Tyr, Gulg, and Nibenay. On Athas, the term 'road' means a marked, easily-followed trail, not necessarily a paved road. Near the city-states, the roads may actually be paved with stone or gravel. A few miles beyond the city gates, paving gives way to hard-packed, baked earth and bedrock worn down over centuries by the passage of countless wheels, claws, and sandals.

Distances along these frequently-traveled roads are well-known by Athasian merchants and scholars. Travel along a road is at normal speed. (See the Player's Handbook page 261 or the Rules Compendium page 169 for rules on long-distance travel.) Travelers who stick to the road will not get lost, barring unusual circumstances such as pushing on through a raging sandstorm.

Off-Road Travel

Away from the common routes, travel is far more perilous and unpredictable. Pale brown medallions show the distances between known or legendary sites which can't be reached along any road. Most of these routes are not marked in any way. Water may be completely unavailable. Shifting dunes and mirage effects make navigation difficult even if travelers know the landmarks to look for. Knowledge of a safe route through the wilderness is a prize beyond price, and it's well known that merchant houses will go to any length to protect—or steal—such information.

Distances indicated for wilderness travel assume that travelers follow the quickest route. That may not always be the shortest route; you might be able to shave a dozen miles off of a trek by heading straight across a dust sink, but you'll save time and have an easier job foraging by skirting around it on a mud flat. The printed distances can increase for many reasons, such as becoming lost, taking a wider course to avoid a monster's territory or a band of raiders, or following a twisting course to throw off pursuers.

Speed multiples for desert terrain are on page 198 of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting.

Notes on the Map

Distances in yellow are along established, well-marked routes. Distances in brown are across unbroken wilderness.

The hi-res and lo-res PDFs contain three layers: the map of the Tablelands, road distances, and off-road distances. If the DM wants players to know only the distances along well-known routes, the map can be printed with only the road mileages. Layers can be turned on or off using the toolbar along the left edge of Acrobat Reader. You will need Acrobat Reader version 8.X or later to view the map properly.

You'll get the best result by downloading the files to your hard drive and viewing them in Acrobat Reader rather than in your browser. (If you do open a layered file in your browser and it doesn't display properly, try switching from single-page view to continuous view.)

Distances were determined using the scale bar printed on the Dark Sun map, which is slightly different from the noted scale of 1 inch = 25 miles. The bar indicates a scale closer to 1 inch = 30 miles.

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