This is one of my favorite locations in Chelonia, and has often been my launching off point for desert campaigns. It’s bustling and full of life, yet fragile and even delicate compared to the many threats and hardships of the surrounding land.
The Blighted Sands
The Blighted Sands is a stretch of desert in eastern Ashura that was ravaged in ages past by a war fought between the dragons and the archfey. The lattice of magical fields in these lands has been pulled and twisted, knotted and torn, resulting in a chaotic and wild landscape fraught with unpredictable weather, mutated beasts, and wild magic.
Humanoid settlements in these lands are few and far between, confined to those rare spaces that offer protection both from the giant monstrosities that burrow beneath the sand and the rukh birds that hunt and roost in the cliffs. Monsters are of such prevalence and such danger that all people who travel the desert travel in caravans for safety.
Magical effects of the Blighted Sands:
- Casting any evocation or illusion spell has a chance of producing wild magic effects in addition to the spell being cast.
- Transmutation spells have a high chance of producing the wrong effects entirely or not working at all.
Caldera is a desert city built inside of a glass-lined crater formed millennia ago from a colossal magical explosion. The glass shell averages one mile in thickness and the city’s inhabitants huddle together in relative safety. In the center of the city is a brass spire that pierces the center of its glass shell and transports water from a natural reservoir deep beneath the earth. Caldera’s constant supply of water and natural barrier make it a central hub for travelers and caravans, but the same monsters that its barrier deters prevent its people from spreading further into the surrounding land, growing food, or becoming truly self-reliant. As it stands, Caldera is as dependent upon deliveries of fresh produce, grains, and fibers as its neighboring settlements are dependent upon its fresh water — supply caravans of both constantly moving in and out of the city.
The first glimpse of Caldera that can be seen on route to the city is where the endless sand gives way to an uneven and bubbled landscape of smooth, towering, natural glass. A road roughly two-caravans in width has been meticulously carved through the glass and serves as the only readily accessible path inwards toward the center. At the road’s halfway point are stationed city guards, and where the road ends — just before reaching the city — is a guard station equipped for the loading and unloading of supply caravans. Someone approaching the city for the first time may be confused as they reach the station that they have not at any point laid eyes on an actual city, but as they move beyond it they will finally see that the entirety of the city is built into the crater below the level of the surrounding landscape.
The city’s architecture is comprised entirely of fixed and hanging platforms connected by rope bridges and densely covered in homes and buildings, one on top of the other. Knowing the geographical size of the city one would not expect it to be home to so many thousands of residents, but upon seeing just how densely packed all of the homes and spaces are it would be apparent. Some of the stronger platforms bear more traditional structures made from adobe or stone, but most are little more than walls, woven partitions, and cloth canopies in a myriad of bright colors and textures. Windows and roofs are rarities, but blankets and cushions are commonplace. A bridge jutting out from the lip of the crater beyond the guard station slopes down and over the city as it leads directly to a platform encircling the top of the brass spire. This circular platform connects to a vast number of smaller platforms that use an elaborate system of levers, pulleys, and tracks to transport people and supplies to the various key hubs and locations. Similar systems and platforms exist throughout the city, but the bridge connecting the lip to the spire is the only way in or out.
On a day-to-day basis Caldera runs on a mixture of fire magic, brass pipes, and clockwork. Glass globes and ornaments suspended from the bottoms of platforms lit up at night, softly illuminating the city, while the central brass spire draws water that is then transported through series of pipework to basins and faucets throughout the city. The largest water outlets are at the top of the spire and can be accessed from the circular platform. These large outlets are the only ones capable of moving a great enough volume to fill water trucks for transport, but the smaller system supplies each of the city’s inhabitants with reliably clean water. The city’s waste is collected in designated areas and washed away through a separate pipework system. At the lowest level of the crater is a reinforced steel ring, to which are tied overlapping nets secured to the lowest platforms as a security measure in case of a fall.
Caldera’s defense system is comprised of arcane runes arranged in concentric circles on top of the glass shell at fixed points everywhere but the main road. Stepping near these runes produce fire spells directed towards the offending target, with increasing power and lethality as they become closer to the city itself. Interspersed between all but the outermost circle of runes there are also alarm wards which, when triggered, cause all of the glass globes in the city to illuminate with red light.
Individual inhabitants of Caldera have little use for gold, gems, or precious metals compared to tangible means of survival, and the city’s economy exists largely on a system of barter and scrip. The value of scrip is backed by the city itself, and is denoted on scraps of linen stamped with the magistrate’s seal. Scrip can be exchanged for goods and services throughout the city, and though it cannot be purchased with gold it may be obtained by donating supplies to the city’s coffers. Conversely, the city has its own supply of gold that its magistrate is always willing to use to buy out any residual scrip.
The city is home to a diverse population of humans and non-humans from across the continent, but predominantly humans and mir. It is a popular place to visit for aspiring engineers and historians, and its people are proud to call it home. Those who have settled there permanently have a strong sense of community, and there is no shortage of volunteers for community positions such as guards, couriers, lift operators, and maintenance workers. The city is overseen by a magistrate of the crown, who is tasked with preserving the peace, enforcing the law, conducting official matters, and seeing to the welfare and safety of the people. Guards can be identified by short black rectangular cloaks with otherwise no official uniform, couriers can be identified by red cloaks as they leap and climb quickly from platform to platform, and lift operators can be identified by white cloaks so that they can be quickly flagged down as necessary.
An elderly, dark-skinned human woman with her silvery hair pinned up in elaborate braided coils. She wears wide-sleeved robes of deep blue and gold, and on her collar is a gold pin with an intricate design: a sun and hand surrounded radially by twelve six-pointed stars. In place of her left leg is a white porcelain prosthesis, trimmed in gold and delicately painted with dark blue floral patterns.
Her voice is direct, articulate, and kind. She takes her position seriously, and sees to it that all its inhabitants are cared for and fed. She believes in hospitality, but she is not shy about imposing on visiting merchants and adventurers when the city has need.
Intelligence (History) DC 12: The design on Nadya’s pin contains three significant elements. The sun design is the royal seal of Sadira, the open palm denotes her position as magistrate and enacter of the crown’s will, and the twelve stars represent the 12 great cities of Ashura.
A large, muscled human man with a prominent gray mustache and thick accent, he looks like he may have once been a refugee from the Scorched Lands. He is most often found in or around his workshop wearing goggles, a heavy leather apron, and gloves over otherwise oil and soot-stained clothing.
He is one of Caldera’s longest standing permanent residents, and it’s he who designed the spire and the pipework systems. He can be direct and uncouth at times, and despite a love of accolades and the occasional loud complaint to anyone who will listen about his long hours and bad back he cares deeply for the city and all of its people and wishes for it to succeed above all else.
An agender flame-haired fire genasi with eyes like obsidian and pupils that burn like coals, they are the resident sorceror who lights the glass globes each nightfall.
They are also responsible for the city’s defensive wards and alarms systems, as well as enchanting stockpiles of explosive gems used in mining. Their wild nature and penchant for self-indulgence and sarcasm is off putting to most, and many people simply avoid them or show a grudging sort of fear and respect. They are occasionally jealous of the adulation and praise bestowed upon Balthazar, and are not afraid to antagonize or criticize him openly. They are very skilled with magical reagents and identifying magical items and spells and have a surprising wealth of knowledge about arcane history, however they have little interest in offering assistance to travelers without payment — often in terms of abetting one of their many schemes.
Kippur and Chiffa
A pair of mir couriers and best friends. Kippur is a brown and white tabby with a missing eye. She puts on a tough act and is protective of Chiffa, who she regards as her little sister. Chiffa is a yellow tabby with brass prostheses in place of her right arm and leg. She is playful and naive, is open with her thoughts and emotions, and loves food.
Both are likely to bluntly address their observations and ask questions when they are curious. Kippur was raised in Caldera, while Chiffa was found injured in the desert and brought into town by a merchant caravan. Due to her injuries at that time she wasn’t able to accompany the caravan when it departed, but the people of Caldera took her in and she quickly made a home for herself.
The Captain of the City Guard, Maliksi, holds the position by permanent appointment. He appears to be an orc refugee from the Riverlands, and his olive bronze skin is adorned with cultural tattoos. His salt and pepper hair is elaborately braided into a tight mohawk which gives way to loose beaded braids near the back of his head. Maliksi directs the volunteer guard, tracks the movement of monster populations, and when necessary leads search and rescue parties into the desert.
He is a proud survivor of the Skulltaker Clan, possibly the last of his kind, with strong connections to culture and community. He serves the magistrate diligently and has little trust or patience for outsiders. He is not one to seek out company, but will be courteous if approached and can occasionally be found playing somber music on a small ivory flute.
A old friend of Balthazar who moved to Caldera upon his invitation, Gerkin is the dwarven overseer of Caldera’s refinery. His red and gray beard is famously cropped short for a dwarf, and keen observers can notice irregular burn scars beneath his beard hair around his mouth, throat, and chest.
The only response he will give to questions about his beard or scars is a grunt and a shake of his head. Otherwise he is generally cheerful, and downright raucous after a few drinks. He is helped at the refinery by his human apprentice, Tessa, and on occasion by his husband, Norvald. On days when he is not refining he sometimes visits the nearby mine.
A dwarven brewer by trade, he has a swarthy complexion and a great braided black beard which he clearly takes great pride in maintaining.
Norvald is Gerkin’s husband and originally of the Stormshod clan. This is somewhat ironic, as the Blackbrew clan has not been in the brewing business for generations and Norvald is currently its sole brewer. He enjoys poking fun at Gerkin on occasion by pointing out that when he accidentally dips his beard in his work it only results in a snack for later. He is also a talented cook, and on rare evenings when the city is oversupplied with perishable goods he enjoys preparing a community stew and proffering ale to anyone who wishes to join in a night of camaraderie.
Tessa is a dark-skinned human woman with a head of natural curls which she pulls back and ties up in a bandana while working.
Though not officially related, Gerkin considers his apprentice to be an honorary Blackbrew and daughter. Metallurgy is her passion and she dreams of making her name by one day inventing a new kind of metal alloy. She is generally reserved, but diligent and opinionated. She often assists with checking and maintaining the city’s lifts and pipeworks, for which she keeps precise records.
The armory is used to store the weapons, armor, and other equipment used by the town guard. Some prefer to use their own, but most borrow from the armory during their assignment. Most of the armor is light, a balance between comfort and protection given the dry heat and relative safety within city walls. Guards are more likely to don light or no armor while keeping the peace and heavier armor while staffing the road and station.
The armory stock is overseen by the magistrate and the captain of the city guard, who are willing to pay scrip for used equipment but unlikely to trade or sell out of it.
Balthazar lives and works out of a large workshop, cluttered with drawings, parts, and in-progress projects. Notably there is a wax cylinder phonograph through which he plays music while he works. The workshop is currently dominated by a large machine covered by a canvas tarp and an unfinished miniature model of an irrigation machine. The workshop contains all the tools he needs to shape the sheet brass from the refinery into parts and pipes, as well as a small attached stone building with a foundry for casting fittings and more complex pieces.
The central machine is one of his numerous attempts to harness electrical energy, or, as he puts it, to “trap lightning in a bottle”.
The refinery is built low down near the base of the city and has all of the tools to sift the raw material extracted from the mine, smelt the copper ore into copper and tin, and roll the resulting metal into sheets and wire. The refinery outputs intense amounts of heat, which causes many inhabitants to give it a wide breadth.
An abandoned workshop that currently serves as storage for supplies and loose ends, brimming with barrels and crates beneath an ever present coating of dust.
It once belonged to the glass blower who crafted all of Caldera’s hanging orbs and ornaments, but now sits empty. Notably, all of the glass-making supplies and fixtures are at a height more suited for a gnome or mir.
A long stretch of platforms where volunteer craftspeople weave blankets and throws. The city imports raw materials which are processed by volunteer weavers — blankets are kept, stored, and distributed as needed, while the rest are traded or sold to other settlements.