Random Encounters12/08/2003

All Adrift on the Dune Sea

Any stretch of desert demands respect from those who would cross it. Seasoned desert travelers take care to be sure of their route, their equipment, their water supplies, their pack animals, and their companions. Death awaits those who enter a desert unprepared.

The desert called the Dune Sea demands more respect than most. Swirling winds pile the loose sands of the desert into fantastically tall dunes shaped like great stars with five, six, or even seven arms. Over the weeks and months, the dunes' arms shift and writhe like living things, sometimes merging into new dunes, sometimes vanishing altogether. The great dunes themselves slowly move about like vast, sluggish sea creatures creeping across the ocean floor. Consequently, no permanent trails cross the Dune Sea. A trip over the Sea's shifting dunes requires either an unerring sense of direction or a lifetime of experience in desert navigation. Without one or the other, a traveler risks getting lost amid the trackless dunes and dying a slow death from dehydration.

Still, the Dune Sea beckons to travelers and adventurers. Merchant caravans cross the Sea fairly often, though usually only during calm weather. Tales of lost cities and treasures amid the dunes abound. In fact, the sifting dunes uncover bits of ruins from time to time. These areas seldom remain exposed for long, because the sand covers them again in a matter of days. Unfortunately tales of treasure are much more plentiful than treasure itself in the Dune Sea. Treasure hunting in the Sea proves dangerous at the best of times. It's easy to get lost among the shifting dunes, and the desert holds other dangers. The most infamous of these are various giant vermin that infest the dunes and ruins. Massive, dun-colored spiders and scorpions as big as camels remain utterly invisible beyond a few paces, thanks to their coloration. The locals say that if the Dune Sea doesn't get you, the scorpions will.

A Plague of Scorpions

Tales of giant vermin lurking among the dunes are not exaggerated. In fact, the tales don't go nearly far enough. The scorpions of the Dune Sea are much bigger than camels.

Not Exactly a Thorn in His Paw

Calibmennon, an androsphinx, has been scouring the Dune Sea in search of monstrous scorpions. He found a big one and did battle with it. He narrowly defeated the scorpion, thanks to his spells and ability to fly, but not before suffering repeated stings from the scorpion. Due to a delay poison spell, Calibmennon survived the fight, but he's living on borrowed time. The PCs can earn a big favor if they help.

Mummies by Moonlight

Recent sandstorms have uncovered part of an ancient necropolis. Not all its denizens are wholly dead, and the rising moon awakens them, or perhaps the PCs do.

Birds of a Feather

A flock of hieracosphinxes is on the wing and on the hunt. They're seeking a gynosphinx or two, but they'll settle for some fresh meat and the bodies of the PCs will do as well as any.

A Taste of Desert Hospitality

The PCs find a nomad encampment pitched beside an oasis with lovely palm trees and a sparkling pool of sweet water. The nomads welcome the travelers, but not all is as it seems in this idyllic setting.

About the Author

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and has been the Sage of Dragon Magazine since 1986. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (his borscht gets rave reviews).

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