For civilized folk, rivers serve as vital lifelines. A local river can supply a settlement with fresh water, serve as a highway for commerce, provide food (sometimes directly through fishing, sometimes indirectly by helping keep farmland irrigated), and function as a natural barrier against foes.
Not all rivers prove so benign, however. A river can hide innumerable hazards, from lurking monster to deadly rapids. A river can pose a hazard all by itself when travelers must cross an untamed stretch. The River of Dreams is the latter type. It winds its way through a desolate region of badlands, where high, sun-baked ridges and steep canyons make overland travel a nightmare. Closer to the river, spreading trees provide some shade. Here, too, one can find game, edible plants, and an abundance of water. The river provides a fairly reliable, if tortuous, path through the badlands as well. Anyone traveling the river had best beware, for the river and its banks hide many dangers. Explorers speak of vast whirlpools, deep gorges haunted by greedy (or hungry) spirits, rapids that literally boil with unearthly heat, mist-shrouded islands peopled by cannibals, and vast, flooded ruins guarded by unseen horrors.
The upper reaches of the river run fast and deep. Here and there, the current has literally bored holes in it own bottom, creating subterranean channels that carry water to the lower reaches. The largest of these submerged sinkholes create deadly vortices that can swallow boats and swimmers. A pair of local predators has learned to use this area to their advantage.
The Grove of Shrieking Idols
Downstream is a vine-choked gorge where a forgotten tribe erected a veritable forest of totem poles. A pair of water nagas has made this area their home, and they demand a steep toll from anyone who passes through.
One of the river's many stretches of white water also coincides with a geothermal area that makes the water literally boil in places. Vapor from the superheated water keeps the area smothered in fog, and geysers periodically shower passersby in scalding water. A group of salamanders lurks here, adding an extra element of danger.
Join Us for Dinner
Not far downstream from the boiling rapids, the river becomes fairly broad and shallow. The water remains fairly hot, and a warm mist hovers over the water. Numerous small islands dot the river, all covered with junglelike vegetation. A group of yuan-ti with decidedly unwholesome appetites dwells on one of the larger islands.
Many centuries ago, a city rose on the banks of the River of Dreams. The city dwellers dammed the river and used its waters to irrigate thousands of acres of crops. Today, the dam is broken and the city lies flooded. The foundations serve as a teeming nursery of the local wildlife, but ancient predators lurk in the ruins, too.
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About the Author
Skip Williams is a busy freelancer living in rural Wisconsin, where he finds the peace and quiet of the countryside the ideal environment for devising horrible deaths for player characters. Formerly an employee of Wizards of the Coast, Skip is the co-designer of the D&D 3rd edition game and chief architect of the Monster Manual.