Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Creature Comforts - Deserts

The desert can be a harsh environment for those unfamiliar with its ways. Water is precious and rare, and food is difficult if not impossible to find. Treacherous terrain, rare resources, and deadly predators enable the desert to take far more often than it gives. Despite these hardships, however, there are civilizations for whom the desert is home. Desert dwellers almost always establish their communities around precious water resources and fight tenaciously to protect them. However, even while living in the desert struggling for survival, there are creature comforts that can be had. Here are but a few:

Evaporative Cooler

Primitive creatures learned eons ago, that air blowing over sweaty skin had a noticeable cooling effect. Desert civilizations have long realized that channeling the desert wind over pools of water can have a similar effect, even to the point of cooling an entire building. These evaporative coolers utilize fans that channel the desert wind over troughs or pools of water. As the water evaporates, it cools the air, to the comfort of all. While a source of water (such as an oasis) is required for such a device, for those that have it, it is certainly a creature comfort. While such a device eases the burden of the desert heat, staying too long in such a place can actual make the sun’s heat more of burden, so enjoy the cool cautiously.

Game Rule: A hero that takes an extended rest and spends at least 1 hour in a room cooled by an evaporative cooler gains a +1 bonus to Healing Surges & Endurance checks until his next extended rest. A hero that spends more than 1 week sleeping in a room cooled by an evaporative cooler, loses these bonuses.


In most deserts, sand is ubiquitous. It’s not too surprising then, that civilizations have learned to utilize this common substance in a number of different ways. While sand makes for a poor soil (at least for most plants), it can be an excellent building material or even an artistic medium. One of the things that sand is best used for, however, is making glass. Heat sand to a high enough temperature, and it melts. As it is shaped and cooled, the melted sand becomes nothing less than glass. Glass can be used for all sorts of things, including tableware, art objects, or even windows. However in the desert, where seeing over large expanses is a useful practice, glass is utilized for optics. A general term, “optics” means glass that has been polished (using different types of – you guessed it – sand) and used to focus light in different ways. Optics created for this use are called lenses, and come in several different varieties. Depending on the type of lenses used, optics can be used to start fires, magnify an object, or even see great distances. Being able to aid the naked eye is not only a useful too, but a friendly creature comfort as well.

Game Rule: Lenses for common use come in three varieties: Fire Starters, Magnifiers, and Scopes. Due to their careful craftsmanship, lens are expensive. Fire Starters are 5 GP, weigh .1 lb and can take the place of a tinderbox if the lens is used in bright sunlight. Magnifiers are usually set in a wooden or metal loop with a handle and cost 10 GP. A magnifier weighs 1 lb. Any hero using a magnifier gains a +2 to Perception checks when examining an adjacent object. Scopes are composed of two different sized lenses set within a wooden or leather tube. Scopes cost 50 GP and weigh 2 lbs. Using a scope allows a hero to see 5 times further than he could with the naked eye.


Hiking across the desert is no one’s idea of a fun time. Riding and pack animals make crossing such expanses easier, but require food & water to bear their burdens. Fortunately, in the desert, some enterprising civilizations have harnessed the power of the wind in order to move from place to place. For the purposes of this discussion, any wheeled vehicle powered by the wind is called a “windjammer”. Windjammers come in several varieties, from one person boards, to long carts able to carry several people at one time. Of course, a necessary requirement for such transportation is a constant blowing wind. A good wind is just the first step, however. Handling a wheeled craft using the wind is a bit like sailing a boat – it takes practice and skill. Looking like strange land-bound watercraft, windjammers can cover terrain quickly and effectively under optimal conditions. Quick travel in the desert is a blessing, and most certainly a creature comfort.

Game Rule: Windjammers are limited in size because they must be lightweight and strong to hold up in the constant wind. There are three types of commonly used windjammers: Heavy, Light, & Personal. For heavy & light windjammers, use the statistics provided for the chariot (heavy & light) that can be found in the Adventure’s Vault. Instead of pulled, the vehicles are “pushed” by the wind. Speed equals wind speed (determined by the DM) – 40 for heavy windjammers, or wind speed – 20 for light windjammers*. For personal windjammers, assume the following stats: HP:15; Space: 1 Square; Cost: 175 GP; AC: 6; Fortitude: 8; Reflex: 6; Speed: wind speed – 10*; Load: no passengers, 50 lbs. of gear. In higher winds, the sails of a windjammer can be set in ways that reduce the vehicles speed for increased safety.

The desert is a dangerous place, but as a DM, you can spread a few of these creature comforts around in order to ease the burden some on your heroes. Stay cool, let the breeze blow back your cloak, and embrace the wonders of the desert!

Until next time…

Game excellently with one another.

*These speeds are given in MPH (miles per hour). The Dungeon Master will have to work out the tactical movement rate based on the overland travel rates given in the Player’s Handbook.


  1. Thx for the ideas.. This goes great with the Dark Sun setting.

    I'm seeing Psionic Wind-wielding NPC with a Windjammer to make a nifty trader.

  2. @FrancoisB You're welcome! Sounds like an awesome character concept. Glad you're enjoying the posts!