Game Fodder: The Wizard Wasteland

Occasionally a wizard will go off the deep end with an experiment gone awry… Once in a while a wizard may execute a final Hail Mary to decimate an invading army and sacrifice himself or herself in the process… Sometimes two wizards will have a disagreement that results in a duel…

However it begins, the worst possible end is to render an area magically unstable or kill every living thing within the blast radius. Consider it a Chernobyl with mystic forces with random chances of monsters, dimensional or temporal rifts, and whatever else Pandora should have left in the box.

When this happens, it leaves a scar upon the land for future generations. Of course, knowing how our own “future generations” work they’ll probably ignore the signs and commit their own horrific acts… But hey – at least you left a message, right?

As a GM or world-builder, these sites are ripe for the picking. What caused it? Who caused it? What are the ongoing effects? Will it fade? What’s its history? Can it be fixed? Are there any associated figures or items, monsters or madness that go with it? Rumors? What does it look like? Sound like? Taste or smell like?

One of my favorites I came up with eons ago and have yet to actually integrate with any game was inspired by the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The imagery and power wrapped up in that short piece summed up by these words in the last four lines:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
the lone and level sands stretch far away.

To me this inspired a desert of shifting sands and traveling storms of dimensional energy picking things up and dropping them off… At this point I have more questions than answers, but thought I’d share my notes.

The Empire of Sand

Ozymandias, King of Fools, reigns supreme over his imagined subjects. A seer of sorts, the King has control of the spirits he sees as his subjects and can be very dangerous if
provoked. He remains in the desert to see what has come before and what has yet to pass.

The Shiftwinds plague the Empire often, sometimes taking travelers unaware. Depending on which way the winds blow, they will either take things away or leave things in their wake. Traveling in a northerly direction, the winds take items and people. Traveling southerly, the winds leave only islands. People do come back sometimes, but they are most often irrevocably changed.

It is rumored that a tribe exists, wandering the sands. They know how to survive and thrive among the shifting dunes.

Perhaps a spring of magical energy lay a the desert center, spawning the Shiftwinds each time the spring erupts.

Questions

  1. What happened to create the desert? If it was once an Empire, are there any remnants left? With the Shiftwinds as evidence, obviously something big and bad happened magically to create temporary rifts. Where do the rifts go?
  2. Who and what is Ozymandias? I suspect he is a lich created when his Empire fell around him, but what’s his story? Was he actually the Emperor? Or was he a mage with dreams of immortality gone awry? What does he look like? Does he speak? What does he say?
  3. Who are the spirits roaming the dunes? Are they truly ghosts and undead animated by the well?
  4. What can the seer see? How does he “control” his subjects? What has he done when provoked?
  5. What does he see event-wise in the past, present, and future? Why is he unaffected by the Shiftwinds?
  6. What are some examples of what has been lost and found by the passing of the Shiftwinds? Do any survivors live today? Has anybody been lost recently? What items have gone out and what have come back? Any new items returned that weren’t here before?
  7. How does anyone exist in the desert? What do they look like? What do they eat/drink? How do they avoid provoking the Emperor? Why do they choose to live there?
  8. What about the spring? Is it corrupted in some way or pure? Where does it flow from? What happens if it runs dry? What properties does it hold? Does it have any rumored properties? Has anyone tried to get a sample of it?
  9. Where does the Emperor live in the desert? Is he constantly roaming or does he stay near the spring? Does he travel with an entourage?

At this rate I’ll still be asking questions for another 15 years (this idea came up doing some brainstorming in 1997 and I just ran across it again recently). And this is obviously one single example of what may have happened as a result of some kind of magical mishap.

Do you have any examples of wizard wastelands in your campaigns? How did they come to be? Care to share?

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