Crackbone Hollow is a dried-out elliptical lakebed, four miles long and just under two miles wide at its broadest point. The desiccated mud of its shoreline is littered with the countless bones of fish, amphibians, and other aquatic wildlife. The lake was drained in a magical catastrophe years ago and some resonance of that event still lingers, for Crackbone Hollow is perpetually under the effects of an antimagic shell, the essence of magic itself having also been leeched away. It is often used for clandestine meetings between those who wish to avoid scrying, ambushes of spellcasters, and the interrogation of sorcerous prisoners
Jutting like crooked fingerbones from beneath the sand are the remnants of a petrified forest. Wisps of gossamer hang from the aged boughs and the area is deathly silent. By the light of the pale desert moons, the reason for this curious stillness becomes clear. Ghostly dark spiders haunt the woods, seeking to snare the living in their ethereal webs. Once their weavings festooned the place, but they grow increasingly rare and increasingly desperate as the years roll by.
Oasis of the Ebon Drik
The charred remains of a titanic war drik, now nothing but shell and skeleton remaining, lie but a few miles from a small oasis. Its left eye-socket is home to Calliaprene (female half-elf preserver 10), a wizened crone who specializes in divinations and the telling of futures best left untold.
The Lame Courier
Leading his hobbling mount through the sands, a courier seeks the aid of the characters. Jundareth (male human) claims to be a courier for the mighty House Inika and carries vital documents that must reach his patron in Gulg. His mount is lame, however, and he risks missing his deadline for arrival. He implores the characters to either lend him a mount or take the documents themselves to the enclave of his House in Gulg, where they will be richly rewarded. The documents (written in code) speak of the mercantile activities of House Inikas bitter rivals, House Stel. Unbeknownst to Jundareth, he is being hounded by soldiers of House Stel who are eager to recover that which has been stolen from them.
Soldiers on the Hunt: A squad of well-armed soldiers comes haring across the sands on their fleet mounts. They hail the characters and ask them if they have seen a certain traveler in the area. This traveler is a spy by the name of Jundareth, who stole vital documents from the soldiers liege, lord of House Stel. If the characters have any information regarding this nefarious thief, the soldiers will see to it that representatives of House Stel richly reward them.
A tumbled necropolis lies in the lee of a series of low hills, near Three Rocks. Far from being a place of dread, it is instead used as a market by a number of the local desert tribes. They meet here every full moon to trade goods, share tales and enjoy each others hearths. The dead of the necropolis watch over them, they say, and will pursue and punish any who cheat or steal from the traders at the market. What better place to ensure honest behavior?
Hazy Shade of Winter
Snow falls from the bleak desert sky, blanketing the dunes with crisp white flakes and riming the rocks with frost. Desert travelers wonder at the cause of this unheard-of phenomenon. Has a nearby spell gone awry or is it the result of a freak conjunction with a frozen pocket within the Paraelemental Plane of Rain or Kano, the kreen Hell within the Deep Gray? Or worse, is it some new weapon that is being tested in the deep desert, a device that can chill the sands and reduce its makers enemies to frozen corpses?
Spire of Sisyphus
Your party finds itself traveling in circles (or is it spirals?). In the distance, youve spied an ominous spire but, for one reason or another (lack of food, gut-feeling, remembered rumors, etc.) you decided to bypass it. However, the longer you go on, the more you feel you are being led, by some cunning means, nearer and nearer. You travel until night-fall, finally coming to what looks like new terrain, but when you pass a rocky rise, you find yourself at the gate of an imposing ruin of a tower.
The outside is adorned with all manner of bizarre sculptures; some remind you of monsters of the desert, some of creatures from song and tale, while others are wholly alien to you. Moreover, the style is unlike any you have ever seen, creating a surreal and disconcerting dreamscape that covers nearly every inch of the walls. As you approach, you can discern, beneath centuries of dirt and grit, that it must have, at one time, been painted with a cacophony of colors. As you brush some dirt away, it reveals an arabesque pattern of half a dozen colors, all disconcertingly undimmed by time. Likewise, for a ruin, the spire is in relatively good repair; there are obvious signs of wear, but otherwise, it seems structurally sound. It is close to the end of the day and, as the last rays of the setting sun hit the garishly painted stone gate, it slowly sinks into the ground, revealing a gaping maw of blackest black within.
This is the Spire of Sisyphus, The Last Gnome. He is in fact a kaisharga defiler who specializes in illusion, enchantment, and necromancy. Driven mad by time, Sisyphus was bound to his tower long ago for reasons now lost (or perhaps he simply stays there of his own accord and is unwilling to leave). He warps the land around him with illusions, enchantments, and other, more nefarious spells, forcing people to play a game of his own devising with him. Sisyphus has ample power, but only feels compelled to use it in pursuit of his art. He carefully constructs various tests of his opponents resolve, loyalty, perseverance and so on. Participants are presented with magically derived situations that allow The Last Gnome to learn what he sees as the truth of his opponents. If his opponents can persevere and figure out why they are playing the game and whom they are playing against (using clues that Sisyphus leaves during each situation), then Sisyphus will reveal himself and grant the party release and an additional boon. If they fail, they die, usually horribly. Sisyphus is a nihilist, pessimist, and cynic. He long ago grew bitter with the world for one reason or another but found great catharsis in his magically derived art. Rather than capitulate to or contend with the world order however, he created his spire, a demi-plane or pocket world, which he uses alternately as both parchment and palette for his seemingly deranged performance art. He believes that life is absurd in Athas and that only by recognizing the absurd condition of ones existence can one hope for transcendence. Although often viewed as evil and antagonistic, he is, in fact, simply content to make his art and interact with his audience. Being immortal and existing on the margins of Athasian society, he is simply unmoved by most mortal concerns. That being said, he will often refer to his Great Work, which seems to indicate that his madness does serve some greater purpose.
Sometimes he dons the guise of King Hanaskaman, though whether he was ever the true king, like everything else about him, remains a mystery.
The wreckage of a small wagon can be seen to the side of the road, overturned, with splintered wood and bone shards strewn about. A cage-like structure, composed of large bones lashed together with thick strips of leather, is attached at the back of the wagon. The top of the cage is smashed open. Close inspection might reveal that the bone bars have been broken from inside the cage.
Several corpses, presumably those of the caravan guards, lie lifeless on the ground, as do three kanks still attached to the wagon they died pulling. A fourth kank, somehow freed from its harness, is ripped to shreds, lying dismembered some thirty feet from the wreckage. The stench of dead kank permeates the area.
As the characters examine the site, a plank of wood suddenly shifts, and a man crawls towards them from beneath the wreckage. If conversed with, the man introduces himself as Hesteg, a reaver currently under the employ of the High Templar of the Games in Urik. He succeeded, he felt, in his duty to acquire a rare and exotic beast for the arena. Unfortunately, the creature managed to escape, and Hesteg now fears reprisal from his employer.
The creature may have escaped on its own having done so when the wagon overturned or may have even somehow caused the wreck in the first place. It may have, instead, been set free whether by intention, or as a result of an unrelated attack on the caravan. Either way, Hesteg vehemently requests the characters aid in recapturing the beast.
If the characters do not feel inclined to help track the creature, theres no telling who might fall prey to its attacks.
A band of hunters returns to the characters village or tribe. Shortly after their arrival, they begin showing signs of confusion and paranoia, and it is quickly discovered that large portions of the memory of their trek is missing. Furthermore, each of the hunters displays an unusual formation of raised, red markings on different areas of their body.