By Greg MacKenzie
The Project On The Borderlands – Great Desert Caldera is Dedicated to, and inspired by, DM’s Mike, Liz, and Jim of the Save-or-Die Podcast – Thank You!
To the east of the Desert of Mirages the Lost Road becomes visible once again and if the traveller follows it far enough in the distance can be seen a line of fractured hills which mark the edge of the Great Desert Caldera. This region displays active vulcanism and it is not unusual to experience small earthquakes. The ground here rises upward well above sea level the further east one travels. The caldera is a collapsed area sunk below the present desert rise and is so large it reaches southward to the shining sea. The main part of the caldera is still high enough above sea level to prevent it being flooded but a part of it lies under the shining sea. Active vents remain on the southern borders of the caldera at Furnace Mountain, and underwater, which provide an outlet for any remaining geological forces. Mount Whisper is quiet compared to its companion,Furnace Mountain, and continues to grow in size hinting at a potential eruption. Nevertheless within the caldera is a resurgent dome which is occasionally active and spreads ash westward with the prevailing winds.
To the north the foothills of the Northern Mountains are referred to as the Torn Lands, its gully’s and hills are an inhospitable water-less region. The main threat here is the inhospitable environment.
There is one sanctuary in the mountains, a secret hidden valley which is unfortunately inhabited by a feared band of bandits. They prey on travellers, not for their belongings, but as a source of meat, for they are cannibals. Their raids take them as far east as the Oasis, they strike in squared D3, D4, E3, and E4. They used to raid as far west as The Broken City but now avoid it as they are very afraid of the goat herd.
What remains of the Bordermen’s Road in the region is a heaved and broken pavement thrown apart and split by seismic activity; following the jumbled pavement eastward leads to what are unmistakably ruins, The Broken City. Near the caldera, this tumbled ruin was built by the same culture which once created the harbour of Lost Horizon on the Cactus Coast (refer to map B). It has long been abandoned. There is running water here, and the city is surrounded by savannas. Despite the availability of water the city is in ruins and many of its buildings have collapsed from seismic events.
There is a goat herd living near here who is friendly enough. He may take an interest in any ragged band of adventurers who stumble upon this ruin. He has a hut nearby where he will offer his limited hospitality. The hut is located at the south west edge of Hex 09012, on the outskirts of The Broken City. The goat herd has learned that it is not safe to dwell in the crumbling city houses due to the earthquakes. At night he protects his goats in a thorny corral from predators. The affable goat herd advises travellers to avoid sleeping in the Broken City, on account of the danger, and the whispers which one will hear if they stay too long.
In actuality the goat herd is a member of the Chaos Cult sent here to learn the secrets of the ruins however he will be very careful not to reveal this. Therefore he is affable, helpful, and even likable. Legend has it that those who built the city called upon the powers of Elementals, in particular Fire Elementals, and the Chaos Cult wishes to learn if there are secrets here which might grant them power over Elementals. He will take an interest in any exploration of the city but will not join a group of players, for that would reveal too much. He offers refuge, will care for the injured, and always listen. He will profess little knowledge of the desert region and will not mention the band of cannibals which raid the road east of the city. He will only say that he prefers his solitude, for his goats, unlike men, do not argue or fight. Travellers are welcome so long as they are not too frequent. This is all nonsense of course. He will of course be interested in any news of the lands to the west, or anything the player characters have learned, for he is a spy.
The Great Desert Caldera is surrounded by a fracture ring which separates the desert from the caldera below. There is an ash plain west of the caldera which indicates that although the resurgent dome of the Caldera Mountain is not currently active it has been so in the recent past. When it does erupt it is strombolic in nature and emits ash in a high plume which blows westward. It also throws lava bombs and emits pyroclastic flows within the caldera itself. It is only intermittently active and any eruption is preceded by days and weeks of tremors.
Beyond the Broken City it is a steep climb to the top of the fracture ring some 600 ft. above the desert floor. A path now continues over top of the layers of ash, leading in the same direction the Bordermen’s Lost Road once took. Any remnants of that road have long disappeared in the seismic activity, but a trail now leads up the slope and down into the caldera.
Once atop the volcanic fracture ring the floor of the caldera itself is 500 ft below. A wide plain is revealed and some miles distant at the center of the caldera is a resurgent dome, now quiet. Much of the plain in the caldera is covered with layers of pumice and ash. The path leads down the mountainside and toward the 600 ft. dome. It is only when one descends to the floor of the caldera that its surface is revealed to be scarred glass, polished by wind and ash. It is rather slippery, but what is disturbing is that on closer inspection the indistinct forms of humanoids may be observed to be preserved within it, and quite possibly the traveller will be filled with a sense of dread. This is no ordinary volcano.
If they are dug out of the glass, which is tough, a pick and shovel are required, they will be revealed to be human, fully preserved, and very lifelike. They soon collapse into dust, within a round, leaving only a few strange coins or other metal belongings. Were these once the inhabitants of the city?
The path winds eastward ever closer to the resurgent dome of the volcano and it is hard to imagine why anyone would take such a dangerous path. If followed it climbs part way up the slope of the volcano to a vent which sometimes emits gas. Here at Hex 12018 there is an ancient altar, raised by the city dwellers to the elemental spirits which may inhabit this area, it is identifiable as being of the same stonework. If elemental spirits are called it must be done here.
The path continues east and then north to the fracture ring where it climbs again to the desert. Once again the traveller finds themselves in the desert and the Lost Road of the Bordermen resumes its eastward route. It meanders, past geological features now lost and filled with sand to the welcome sanctuary of an oasis.
The Cactus Coast is interrupted by the caldera and is utterly impassible, except by sea, for Mount Furnace vents its fury continuously with flows of lava. Mount Furnace has a silent companion, Mount Whisper, which if anything is larger. It shakes with tremors from time to time.
Along the Coast prickly cactus flourish here but they are not all edible. Some do store water which is a valuable resource. The waters off this shoreline, insofar as they border the underwater vents of the volcanic fracture ring, are rich with fish. Parched and starving travellers on reaching the coast are able to survive here.