Don't eat anything. Don't drink anything. In fact, don't even touch anything. And it's probably best not to breathe too deeply.
Situated in Nalunara is a bleak and blasted wasteland known only as the Desolation. Once a fertile land the Desolation was created by a terrible catastrophe called the Night of Weeping Stars. The Desolation is bordered by Esé-Nal to the west, the Escana Forest to the north, Yol to the east and the ocean to the south. The Desolation is inhospitable and even actively-hostile to most life, and travelling through it is a risky and dangerous activity. Beyond the general lack of safe food or water to be found, and the various hostile monsters that make their home in the region, the Desolation is known to be cursed. Its spacial structure has been damaged somehow, making navigation unreliable, and those who tarry overlong in it risk contracting the disease called the Maddening, which is almost always fatal.
Geography & Climate
Although the area now called the Desolation was once a land of plains and temperate forests, the events of the Night of Weeping Stars have altered its climate, dropping its average temperature noticeably. Outside of winter it does not get cold enough to pose a serious concern, but it does make the region significantly less comfortable. The grasses and trees that used to dominate the area are now almost all gone, leaving little more than dead trunks behind. Those few plants that have survived the transition have all been altered - some obviously, some subtly.
Broken ground and strange rock formations are a common sight in the Desolation.
by Bobby Myers
Many parts of the Desolation are completely barren, and very difficult to travel through.
The land of the Desolation was broken and warped during the Weeping. Craters, steep hills and unnatural rock formations are all common. The severity of the damage varies - some parts are so rugged as to be nigh-impossible to traverse, while others are undamaged enough to let wagons pass through with only some difficulty. Occasionally an attempt is made to create semi-permanent bridges and roads, but they never seem to last long. Water collects in dips and recesses across the region, though it is usually stagnant and never safe to drink. The ground is not always stable, and occasionally hillsides collapse or shift.
The inhospitable nature of the geography is not helped by the fact that it seems to be mutable. Over time landmarks and geographical features have changed, moved or vanished entirely. Furthermore, the reality of the region is in some way broken. Spatial distances and directions are often subtly distorted within the Desolation. For example, travelling towards the setting sun may not always mean travelling due west, and a journey that may once take only a few days may next time take a week, with no apparent cause.
Even the more traversable parts of the Desolation are far from hospitable.
When night falls it becomes apparent that even the night sky has been altered, for the stars visible from within the Desolation cannot be seen from anywhere else on Calcerun.
Even in a region so hostile to life as the Desolation, there are those beings who make it their home. They fall into one of three categories: dust goblins, Maddened, and Relyth.
The dust goblins are the remnants and descendants of the Drorec Tribe of goblins who invaded the region before it was a wasteland. Those who survived the Night of Weeping Stars were irrevocably altered. They are severely emaciated, their skin is frequently cracked or bedecked with foul growths, and their lips and gums have shrivelled away. The goblins prey on anyone who passes through the Desolation. If pickings are slim they will also attempt to raid beyond its edges. Driven insane by the Weeping and their new environment, the goblins worship strange and alien deities unknown to the rest of Calcerun. Whether or not these deities actually exist is a matter of some scholarly debate.
The Maddened are those who managed to survive the ravages of the Maddening disease, but lost their sanity in the process. The title does not refer to a race, but a category of people. The Maddening seems able to affect any living being, so individuals of many races can be counted among the Maddened. Due to their geographical proximity, elves and halflings are the most common Maddened. There is no unity among the Maddened. They seems equally likely to travel alone or form small, temporary groups. Groups rarely seem to stay together for long, and stable communities are completely unheard of. Although the Maddened seem to gain some sort of insight into the nature of the Desolation and its threats, they typically do not last long before succumbing to one threat or another - or simply forgetting to eat and drink.
The final group that calls the Desolation their home are the Relyth. They are those rare individuals who pass through the Maddening more or less sane - or at least functional. Physically altered by the disease these individuals transform to become a Relyth, while still bearing physical similarities to their old race. The Relyth are the only inhabitants of the Desolation that could charitably be called stable. They have functioning communities, tentative relations with some outsiders, and generally seem to be adapted well to their new life. Worryingly, however, they appear to worship the same alien deities as the dust goblins.
Caravans & Border Guards
Although the Desolation is hostile and difficult to traverse, it blocks off direct access between the western and eastern ends of the Alliance. Prior to the Night of Weeping Stars a vast amount of trade went through the region. Now the only routes that avoid the wasteland are north, through the Escana Forest, or south, across the sea. Neither option is ideal, and so many merchants prefer to risk the direct route through the Desolation. There is safety in numbers, and so the rulers of Esé-Nal and Yol have established a convoy system. Large caravans with heavy guards and expert navigators move through the Desolation on a regular basis, traversing routes which are known to be somewhat safe - at least compared to the rest of the region. The mutable nature of the Desolation means that these routes must be constantly re-mapped as the geography rearranges itself. Through great effort and expense the Alliance have managed to get the rate of destroyed caravans down to just one in twenty.
The slow journey through the Desolation, combined with the enforced ten-day quarantine afterwards, has eliminated the land trade in perishables and greatly decreased trade in other goods. The caravans are still viewed as an important trade option to compensate for the difficulty of moving goods through the Escana Forest and the shortage of sufficient ships to conduct all trade by sea. Thus the land route through the Desolation remains active for non-perishable goods, albeit in lesser quantities than before the Weeping.
The three nations bordering the Desolation - Esé-Nal, Yol and the Escana Union - have taken great pains to contain the dangers that threaten to spill out from the cursed region. Chains of watchtowers dot the borders, and regular patrols are ever-alert for monsters or dust goblins that seek to ravage lands beyond the Desolation. From time to time punitive expeditions are launched into the wastes to cull numbers of monsters and goblins before they grow too numerous. In this goal the nations are aided by factions from two normally-seclusive races: the Wilden and the Shardminds.
The Wilden are a race of fey with a single purpose: combat and contain threats of the sort found within the Desolation. They hunt the horrors that infest such regions, and war against the followers of the alien gods. They have effectively taken over the edge of the Escana Forest bordering the wasteland, and have established numerous defences to stop anything from the Desolation getting into the forest. They also regularly conduct hunts into the Desolation, slaughtering anything they find. The Wilden are absolutely ruthless in this duty, and have been known to slaughter groups of travellers who they suspect of having contracted the Maddening.
The Shardminds appear to have much the same agenda as the Wilden, but for reasons of their own. They appeared in the Desolation not long after the Weeping occurred, and have been resolute in combating it ever since. In pursuit of this goal they are happy to cooperate with the Alliance forces, and have proven themselves very effective in the fight against the Desolation's horrors. They have even managed to clean a small section of the land on the Yol side, though the Yollata have been very hesitant to return to the area.
The deceptive thing about the Desolation is that, at first glance, it doesn't look as awful as everyone says. Oh yes, it's clearly barren and not very hospitable, but all things considered it doesn't seem that bad. It's only when you look closer that you realise just how wrong everything is. Of course, in the Desolation, if you're looking that closely at something it's about to either eat you or turn you mad.
The most-feared danger the Desolation has to offer is the disease called the Maddening. It seems it can be contracted from just about anything native to the wasteland - plants, bugs, monsters, water, perhaps even the ground itself. Those who travel through the Desolation must bring all their own supplies with them, and avoid interacting with any part of the region, and even then they will still sometimes contract the disease.
The flora and fauna of the Desolation have become corrupted too. Insects are more vicious than their cousins in the surrounding lands, and even plants hold deadly secrets. Not only should a traveller avoid touching anything from the region, they should also be constantly on the lookout for something that seems innocuous to turn out to be deadly and aggressive.
The Desolation is also well-known for being home to a wide variety of horrors and aberrations. Any attempt to catalogue the monsters is doomed to failure, for they are too varied in form. Most bear at least some resemblance to aberrations found in other parts of the world. There are stories, however, of beings so indescribably bizarre that they cannot possibly be from this world at all, beings so horrifying that the mind breaks just looking at them.
The most numerous and readily-identifiable monster in the Desolation is the species of vicious bug-creatures called Kruthiks. They appeared soon after the Weeping and rapidly established great underground hives scattered across the Desolation, and consider vast swathes of the wasteland their hunting grounds.
HistoryMain article: Night of Weeping Stars
The Weeping falls on Ormithlor
The region that became the Desolation was previously a lush and bountiful land of plains and forests. Its most notable feature was Ormithlor, City of a Thousand Spells. In 1245 PC (220 AR) a large warband from the Drorec Tribe of goblins invaded via the Underdark, seeking to conquer Ormithlor and plunder its countless artifacts. During their assault on the city something happened to trigger a calamity. Great blasts of eldritch energy fell on Ormithlor and its surroundings, turning the region into a corrupted wasteland. This event became known as the Night of Weeping Stars.
Cover image: by Nathanaël Monney