Unexplored Realms: Arcadian Dunes

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Setting: Fantasy
October 2015, Boise, ID, US
0:14 - 31 May 2018

Update #129

Unexplored Realms: Arcadian Dunes

 Unexplored Realms: Arcadian Dunes

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Ancient Arcadia has become a myth, a legend so grand that no true history could measure up. It is the lost homeland of humanity; the shining city of which all modern metropoli are merely inadequate shadows. It is the fabled realm blessed with justice, peace, spiritual harmony, and driven by the love of pure learning.  It is also a historical civilization, and it left a physical record, albeit fragmentary and scattered. That makes it subject of legitimate study, and many scholars of widely divergent talent have happily spent their lives documenting and describing its intricate society, sophisticated religion, marvelous magic, and inestimable science.

Applying new principles and ideas without reservation or restriction, they built cities like the world had never seen, re-sculpted entire landscapes according to fashion or to align with arcane precepts, and created whole communities devoted to artistic and pleasurable pursuits. The magical research alone broke ground at a previously unheard of pace. The mystical theories formulated in this era are sophisticated, detailed, and (occasionally) shockingly insightful. Many of them are still the foundations of much magic today.

In addition to their raw exploration and creation, however, the Arcadian'€™s also opened much broader, far starker, gaps in their society. Education became more expensive and difficult, and numerous stories describe whole villages bankrupting themselves to put one promising student through university. Whole underclasses developed of menials with no hope of social advancement or economic advantage. All the nation'€™s efforts and energy when into expanding knowledge, even through useless and recursive accumulations of facts with no meaning or value. The prestige of sponsoring scholars spurred the wealthy, even when those scholars were mediocre or produced nothing of value.

The celestian who became the Dark Consul had served his nation in Arcadia for over a century before his obsessions showed. Perhaps their limited mortal lifespan helped insulate the humans from the vile call of darkness. Whatever the cause, this noble sorcerer sought beneath the land for power, and he found it.  The spawning cave that he found, and the subsequent evil he wrought, are well documented elsewhere. It bears saying, however, that the society and culture of Arcadia well-suited his efforts. While other portals to the Nether Realms may have'€”and might still'€”exist elsewhere, in Arcadia, the Dark Consul was perfectly placed to find and exploit it.

Ancient Arcadia was badly hurt by the war. The Dark Consul had spent a centuries preparing, recruiting and training his lieutenants, marshaling his forces, and laying his plans. The city of Hyerkos was ransacked and burned in a single, terrible night. At sundown, demons and fouler creatures bubbled up from the darkness to overwhelm the unsuspecting city. This was only the beginning, of course, and the Dark Consul'€™s forces cut a wide swath across Arcadia as they drove for the Goddess Tower.  

A century after the Dark Consul'€™s war, the celestians, already wounded and angry,   leveled a curse on all of Arcadia. The rains became sporadic and finally failed. The rivers slowly sank below the ground and eventually provided no soil or nourishment. The clouds blew away, and the sun baked the land. Within a decade, most of the Arcadian survivors had starved or fled. Within a century, the nation was no more, and the land could support only nomads. Glorious Arcadia became the Arcadian Dunes; cursed and reviled, praised in song and lionized in memory. A hot, pitiless, haunted, and magically dangerous contradiction in desperate need of Heroes.

The Lay of the Land

Though it seems lifeless, the Arcadian Dunes do not want for variety in its native plants and animals. Sometimes, this is a bad thing, as the pockets of twisted magic and nightmares change otherwise mundane life into monstrous reflections of the realm'€™s past and its sins. The small, carnelian flowers that cluster around a hidden pool of water might be merely beautiful nine times in ten. In the last instance, they may have a cloying sweet smell and poison the pool with an addictive chemical that causes travelers to drink all their water immediately and wander into the desert, gripped by vivid hallucinations.

Otherwise normal life might have strange properties that vary by location. The same breed of desert fox might flee from humans in one den and attack on sight at the next. One type of dune mouse is known to dig its nest complex tunnels that form the shape of forgotten magic sigils, no two alike. The milkrun bramble grows in small clusters of plants with extensive roots. If travelers sleep near them on the wrong nights of the year, the plants will grow over their limbs and trap them, slowly growing into their skin and consuming them. This only occurs four times each year, on dates determined by arcane ancient Arcadian astrology.

Alchemists distrust ingredients from Arcadia except those they personally gather or acquire from known, reputable sources. Often the same components have different properties depending on where and how they were gathered. Indeed, some components can stand in for wholly different ingredients from other regions. The oddly lustrous chalcedony crystals that grow just below the packed sand of the Colossus'€™s footsteps perfectly replace any one of a half-dozen different kinds of plants in divination potions, depending on when during the month the crystals are harvested.

The Desert Drop Oasis is easily the best known location in the Arcadian Dunes and for excellent reason. As the only stable source of above-ground fresh water in the entire realm, the Oasis has grown from a resting spot for nomads to an expanding, permanent township. The first immovable settlements were established less than three centuries ago itinerant tonnerians looking for a fixed, stable base for their wanderings. They soon discovered the unusual qualities of the spring that supplies to Oasis, and through careful stewardship and cultivation, they have managed to make better and more efficient use of them of the water. What was once a simple watering hole and stop-over has grown into a glittering jewel in the desert.

 The Oasis is the central hub for most activity in the Dunes, or at least that activity that connects to the rest of Crystalia in any meaningful way. Every race is represented here on at least a semi-permanent basis except freyjan and goblins. Even the harl'€™ikim orcs appear here regularly, though not frequently. Heroes traveling to or through the Dunes almost invariably stop here either as part of their quest or simply to marvel at what the tonnerians have built seemingly from nothing in the middle of nowhere. More than one has commented that their hosts'€™ quiet piety, warm hospitality, and wise care-taking of their home creates a model for others in the Dunes to follow, should water ever return to the land.

Update #129

This is only a preview of update. Read full version on update's page on Kickstarter.

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