The Slumbering Tsar
The Desolation is a vast expanse of wasted, war-torn fields. They felt the tramp of countless soldiers’ feet and drank the blood of humans and other creatures beyond imagining. Mighty engines of war and works of horrific magic slammed into the armies manoeuvring across the countryside and left only death in their wake. So powerful was the magic involved, so pervasive the terrors unleashed that even now, centuries later, the lands remained indelibly marked by the legacy of battle. Where once were verdant plains and fertile fields now are only ashes and boiling craters of ooze. The Desolation does not bear the characteristic fires and brimstone of what many would consider in the traditional sense, but it is often likened to the Hells nonetheless. Smoking fumaroles and burning gas vents would actually enliven this land. Instead there is only the depressingly bleak landscape of gray fading into the haze of the horizon. Even the devils of the pits might find such a place unpleasant.
The Desolation stretches roughly 70 miles east and west and 50 miles north to south. Its southern boundary, marked by the tiny refuge known as the Camp, gradually rises to the stony hills that mark the northern edge of the civilized kingdoms. To the north the trade road passes another set of hills before, according to rumors, eventually entering a true desert land fi lled with oasis kingdoms, genies, and the exotic peoples known only in legends in the lands to the south. East the Desolation gradually enters a wild and broken land, more verdant but perhaps no less inhospitable. For here the lands are the homes of the many orc and goblinoid clans before fi nally reaching a little-visited and rocky sea coast. The western edge is the Desolation’s clearest demarcation as the sheer vertical cliffs of the Stoneheart Mountains march along parallel to the trade road, visibleas a seemingly impassible wall of gray stone.
The climate of the Desolation is universally dry. A few gully washers hit in the late fall, but otherwise it remains bone dry. In fact, the ground stays so dry that there is an almost constant haze from whitish, powderlike dust that rises with the constant breezes. This haze lends to the overall gloominess and feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that is sometimes experienced on this otherwise wide-open plain. Occasional dust storms whip up and race south, usually petering out before reaching the Camp. These billowing white clouds are called bone storms because of the general opinion that the white dust is actually the powdered remains of the fallen soldiers’ bones trampled underfoot by the armies and then left to bake in the sun for centuries. Visiting necromancers have taken samples before and tend to concur that there is some truth to these tales. In the summer the temperatures rise as high as the 90s with an extremely low humidity, but in the winter bitterly cold winds come down off the mountains to the northwest and create conditions well below freezing for weeks at a time.
The Desolation is divided into four quadrants. These are clearly marked by the two roads that cross in the Desolation’s center. The landscape even tends to change somewhat, roughly corresponding to these artificial dividers. The four quadrants are called, going counter-clockwise from southeast to southwest, The Ashen Waste, The Chaos Rift, The Boiling Lands, and The Dead Fields. Where the two sunken roads meet here in a depression in the centre of the desolation is known as The Crossroads.
The mood of the Desolation is always be somber and depressing to those travelling through it. Thousands of beings died here, good and evil, extraplanar and mundane, Celestial and Abyssal. It is almost as if the lands retain a memory of that time of strife and countless horrors. How many voices were stilled to never be heard again is beyond count. The wind seems to sing a funeral dirge, low and constant; perhaps it is the voices of those lost. Never let the players forget that they are in a place marked by the agony of thousands. Never let them think of the Desolation as just another terrain feature to be crossed. Much of the atmosphere of the adventure comes from the constant reminder that the Desolation is first and foremost a battlefield, and that the adventurers are merely following in the footsteps of thousands of others who have already fought and bled on this land
The Boiling Lands
The main fighting in the Battle of Tsar occurred in the western half of what would become the Desolation, the area closest to the walls of the city itself and what would become known as the Western Front. The Boiling Lands lie in what is the northwestern quadrant of those fields. These twisted and battle-wracked lands get their name from the many craters that dot the landscape like the boils of a diseased beggar from the back alleys of Tsar itself. In addition the name is derived from the many geysers and boiling pools of mud that appeared during those terrible battles and in the years since. This is the wettest of the Desolation’s regions, but let the traveller who dares to drink from the natural springs or boiling fountains of the area beware. Their waters can bring death as surely as the foul denizens that make their homes among them.
The Dead Fields
Like in the Boiling Lands above, some of the heaviest fighting occurred in the southwestern quadrant nearest the city walls. As a result this region has become known as the Dead Fields. This area once served as the bread basket for the temple-city and its outlying holdings. Great fertile fields of grains stretched for miles across the land. When war came, hordes of troops and cavalry regiments thundered across its expanse trampling the fields flat.