Desert Dangers

The desert is a harsh and cruel mistress. Obey her warnings, and you will be lucky only to receive her lash. Ignore her, and she will forget you, and then you shall be truly lost.
— Admonishment of gnoll slavers to their underlings, loosely translated


While the desert is usually filled with a constant opressing and burning heat, sudden changes and rises in the weather may change the landscape entirely, spelling doom for unprepared travelers and sometimes even swallowing whole villages.

Severe and stronger winds pose a far graver danger than winds of equal velocity within landscapes that support a ground covering of grasses, sedges, and other terrain features that preclude instantaneous erosion. In waste areas covered by sand, loose earth, or grit, high winds are always accompanied by duststorms or sandstorms.
• ranged attacks gain a -4 penalty
• 75% chance to smoother unprotected flames
• visibility reduced to 1d10x5 feet
• 1d3 nonlethal damage per hour
• causes suffocation
• causes getting lost
• small creatures need a DC 10 Strength check to move
• contaminates most carried gear
• -4 on Perception checks

The iconic desert storms of Osirion are locally known as khamsin. These blasts of hot wind can last days, sweeping across the desert and carrying the dunes before them until the land is changed beyond recognition. Khamsin are capable of swallowing whole towns, uncovering ancient ruins, and scouring skin from the bones of anyone foolish enough to be trapped in one. Though they resemble the sandstorms encountered in other deserts on Golarion, the violent khamsin aren’t simply mere meteorological phenomena—they’re seasonal sandstorms made truly dangerous after being affected by spirited conflict between various elemental chieftains of wind and fire that dwell in Osirion’s deserts. Once set in motion, a khamsin can be as unpredictable and as tempestuous as the warring elementals themselves.
• ranged attacks are impossible, siege weapons gain a -4 penalty
• 100% chance to smoother unprotected flames
• visibility reduced to 1d6x5 feet
• 1d6 nonlethal damage per hour, 1d3 fire damage per hour
• causes suffocation
• causes getting lost
• medium creatures need a DC 10 Strength check to move
• contaminates most carried gear
• -8 on Perception checks

Storms or spring runoff from nearby mountains can send deadly walls of water through ravines or along low desert gullies. A flash flood can suddenly raise the water level of an area, filling a dry gulch to the top of its walls.
• raises water level in a matter of minutes
• DC 15 Reflex when struck to avoid 3d6 bludgeoning damage
• DC 20 Swim to avoid being swept away/keeping above water
• causes suffocation

In certain locations in the waste, magical fire falls from the sky like rain — a phenomenon that waste-dwellers call a flamestorm. Flamestorms occur somewhat more frequently than rainfall does in the desert, though they are hardly an everyday occurrence. Flamestorms are presaged by the formation of dark clouds in the sky, which the uninitiated might mistake for rain clouds.
• ranged attacks gain a -4 penalty
• 1d6 fire damage per round
• flammable items are ignited
• -4 on Perception checks
• small creatures need a DC 10 Strength check to move
• lasts 5d6 rounds

The deserts of Osirion are filled with buried ancient tombs and remnants of empires gone passed and their protective magic or other effects still linger and seep into the ground. Sometimes these energies form into a dangerous haze known as Curse Mists, particles of air infused with dangerous energies.
• causes getting lost
• spoils 1d3 rations per round
• DC 15 Will save per round to avoid a minor curse
• concealment for creatures up to 10 feet, total concealment beyond
• lasts 2d4 rounds

During powerful heat waves, the air itself is a lethal weapon as a sudden blast of hot air seems to blow from the sun itself. Open water immediately dries up and flammable materials may ignite – luckily these dangerous blasts do not last long.
• raises temperature to extreme heat
• breathing air deals 1d6 fire damage per minute
• DC 15 Fortitude save vs heatstroke/1d4 nonlethal every 5 minutes
• dries any open water
• lasts 4d4 minutes

Perhaps due to the presence of elementals or certain geographical features it is possible for the highly concentrated blasts of air called flaywinds to form. They are highly localized – most not larger than twenty feet – and bring with them a high pressured blast of sand, capable of rending flesh from bone.
• medium creatures receive a save, smaller creatures don't
• DC 15 Fortitude check to resist blown back
• 2d8 lethal damage from the sand
• blown back creatures are thrown 1d4x10 feet and take 1d4 nonlethal damage per 10

Luckily rare in the desert, tornados are still a possibility – and when they happen destruction and death follows. Typically trees are uprooted and buildings utterly destroyed.
• all flames are extinguished
• all ranged/siege attacks are impossible
• no visibility
• -8 on Perception checks, sound-based ones are impossible
• huge creatures require a DC 10 Strength to move
• large creatures require a DC 15 Strength check to avoid being blown back
• DC 15 Fortitude (large only) to avoid being sucked in
• sucked in creatures are whirled around for 1d10 rounds, takign 6d6 damage per round


In addition to the danger originating from high temperature and the weather, the ground itself may prove treacherous in desert environments, greatly hindering travel.

Quicksand and sandstorms are both constant threats in the desert. If you encounter quicksand, it is best to avoid the area. Newcomers to the desert won’t recognize quicksand until it is too late. Unlike water-based quicksand in marshes, desert quicksand is dry and results from very fine blown sand, so sandstorms can create new pockets of dry quicksand in a previously safe area. Though it contains no actual water, dry quicksand is safe to walk on using spells such as water walk.
• staying afloat requires a DC 10 Swim check
• escape requires a DC 15 Swim check
• failure by 5 or more causes sinking beneath the surface
• rescuing requires a DC 15 Strength check to pull victim
• victim needs a DC 10 Strength check to hold on
• success pulls victim 5 feet closer
• failure requires DC 15 Swim check from victim to avoid sinking

Deep sand is most often found in deep deserts near areas of rolling dunes and fierce storms. Many creatures unfamiliar with desert terrain mistake deep sand for quicksand, although deep sand is not nearly as deadly. Areas covered by this terrain feature have a layer of loose sand up to 3 feet deep.
• medium or larger creatures require 3 squares of movement
• smaller creatures require 4 squares
• Acrobatics checks are impossible
• doubles overland travel time

Mirages are naturally occurring optical illusions that result from light refraction and produce the appearance of false images on the horizon. Though they are not magical, mirages function as illusion (glamer) spells, generally blur and hallucinatory terrain. Unlike magical illusions, mirages cannot be dispelled, though some of them can be disbelieved.
• presence makes navigation as a whole harder
• triggers getting lost
• true seeing and similar reveals a mirage
• DC 15 Survival to estimate distance for reaching
• DC 10 Will save to disbelive the mirage after distance
• reveal mirage allows save regardless of distance

Heat haze appears in areas where the air close to the surface of the desert is heated to a significantly higher temperature than the air above it. During the day’s hottest points, when hot air rises and cooler air above it sinks, this causes the air to appear to shimmer.
• creatures beyond 30 feet are under the blur spell
• true strike and similar effects negate this

Even amongst the burning sand of the desert live still prospers and uhm.. finds a way. Not such much in salt flats, areas nearly fully dry of any moisture with the ground cracked and barren of any elevation or vegetation. In these areas truly nothing prospers and navigation is even more difficult here.
• creatures require twice as much sustenance per day
• all DCs related to desert effects increase by 2
• encountered creatures are sickened

When ordinary sand mixes with deposits of tin or silver, and the resulting granules are polished by windblown dust to a mirror finish, the sand itself can reflect light—and heat. Travelers in the waste dread mirror sand, because it is extremely unsafe to cross in the daylight. In addition to raising the temperature, mirror sand effectively blinds anyone who gazes at it—sometimes permanently.
• temperature increases by 1 step
• triggers getting lost, DC+2
• DC against glare and desert blindness increases by 5

A change in wind direction can produce a blowout, hollowing out the center of a dune and leaving a large cavity. This cavity is not always visible, and a thin layer of safe-looking sand might cover a vast tomb that swallows people and animals without a trace.
• functions as a pit trap with 1d6*10 feet
• triggers suffocation as victim is buried

Underground vents and natural depressions may cause the gathering of dangerous fumes and gases in the desert – Unnoticed they burn the lungs of those inhaling them.
• DC 15 Fortitude save to avoid 1d4 Constitution damage and 10 minutes of nauseated
• inflicts dehydration

Appearing in patches up to 1d3×100 feet across, slumber sand is deceptively ordinary-looking sand. However, when characters walk or ride over it, the passage of their feet (or their mounts’ feet) kicks up a soporific dust. Those who inhale this dust are affected as though by a (creeping) sleep spell.
• DC 15 Fortitude save vs sleep
• sleep duration equals to 8 – Constitution score / 2 (min 1)
• may be crafted into an alchemical weapon

Although not a terrain feature in themselves, duneworms are often regarded as a force of nature and part of the desert, rather than living creatures. These ridiculously massive worms burrow through the desert, attracted by the rhythmic walk of other living beings. They are capable of swallowing whole carvans or villages whole but are luckily extremely rare and only found in areas far away from most cities.
• you are fucked (special encounter)

The fastest dunes advance only a couple hundred feet each year, but dunes made of sand under the influence of unearthly winds or particles of unusually fine material (such as ground bone or glass) might move many times faster. A “racing dune” is a mountain of grit that travels at least 1 foot per hour — often faster. Certain sand dunes seem to resent the disturbance caused by the passage of mortal feet across their surfaces, and seek to exact a grim vengeance for the presumption. These devil dunes move under their own magical power, rolling like great waves of sand as they pursue those who trespass against them.
• DC 15 Reflex save to avoid the crashing down
• failure deals 3d6 bludgeoning damage and causes suffocation

Desert Dangers

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