The Burnt World of Athas

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Encounters of Athas 6 - Red Rock Village

The village of Red Rock is designed to be a relatively generic Athasian village to allow DMs to quickly drop it onto a map wherever they might need a moderately fleshed out village.

The Village:

The village of Red Rock is named for the large red boulder (easily eighty feet across and at least as tall) that stands near the center of the village. The so-called “Red Rock” is something of a local mystery, being unmarked and matching no other stone for several days’ travel. A pool of water lies to one side of the Rock, hidden from the crimson sun by the boulder’s shadow for much of the day. The pool isn’t particularly large, but recently it has substantially grown under the careful tending of the village’s resident Water priest.

Red Rock was initially founded by escaped slaves, who ran when their caravan was raided by elves. The former slaves stumbled across the Rock and, exhausted from their days-long flight, fell asleep in its shade. When the refugees awoke that night, they found water had pooled in a small depression at the base of the stone. They dug much of the pool out that night by hand, exposing a small spring and drinking their fill in the process. Over the next few days, the ex-slaves scouted out their surroundings and realized that they were deep in the desert, far from the nearest settlement. Seeing that at least here they had a source of water, the escapees went about founding a village in the shadow of the Red Rock.

Structures in the village are constructed as pit-houses, composed of a short aboveground wall of piled stones mortared in place with mud built around a dug out pit or trench in the ground (though such fieldstone walls often also line the inner walls of the pit). Roofs are usually animal hide and are supported with long sections of wood or bone. The homes are crude but effective single-room structures, being relatively cool in the day and warm at night, easily constructed and maintained, and, once windblown sand and silt pile up against and atop them, naturally camouflaged. Most of the dugouts house 2-3 villagers, in a relatively even mix of couples and single housemates.

Eventually, the villagers hope to construct another larger and more secure structure - built fully underground and connected to only a select few other buildings, this village “longhouse” could be used to store emergency supplies and shelter the young and infirm during attacks and times of hardship. For now, the villagers are focused on gathering enough wood and long bones to construct such an ambitious dugout structure, and digging out a large enough pit. If they ask about the pit, visitors are told the villagers hope to use the pit as an arena for beast fights.

The nearly 150 villagers of Red Rock survive largely through hunting/gathering, but they have recently managed to wrangle and partially domesticate a flock of erdlu. Small patches of wild neep grow in the area, and some efforts to establish a field of the food crop have been made, but the thick-rooted vegetable grows poorly in the rocky soil around the village. The suggestion has been made several times to establish a kank herd, in the hopes of using their honey as a backup food source and to produce broy (both for trade and the village’s own consumption), but there are no kanks nests in the region and no opportunities to otherwise procure kanks have presented themselves.

Red Rock exists in a dangerous equilibrium - the villagers depend on sporadic trade with caravans for supplies, but they also must occasionally raid passing caravans for goods they cannot otherwise procure. Lacking a better solution, the villagers currently keep careful track of which Merchant Houses caravans they trade with or raid, attempting to avoid attacking caravans that might stop to water and/or trade in the village, and only raiding caravans that are likely to pass the village by. When they must attack a caravan, the villagers make an effort not to kill anyone or make off with more than they truly need. It is, however, only a matter of time before the village’s convictions are put to the test. Raiders also present a unique problem: the village’s small number of extremely capable warriors are sufficient to drive off small or unenthusiastic bands of raiders, but the village has too few experienced warriors to fend off a concerted attack should a large band of raiders decide to make an example of it.


Miriam the Blade: The villagers of Red Rock are led by Miriam the Blade, an older female human gladiator who was never particularly popular enough with the crowds to warrant solo matches, but always did well enough in team events to live a surprisingly long time for an enslaved gladiator. When her owner felt she was too old to be an active gladiator anymore, he sold her off as an instructor for other gladiators. Miriam acts harsh and gruff, every bit the stereotypical village warrior-leader, but hides an almost grandmotherly sense of affection for her favorite villagers.

Zennom: The village’s resident priest is Zennom, a grizzled and sun-addled Water priest. Zennom simply wandered into Red Rock from the desert one day, set up a shrine behind the rock, and started worshiping the pool. When questioned, he to this day still replies simply: “The Waters called to me.” As Zennom’s careful tending and prayers seem to have grown the water source and trades clerical services (mostly healing and spellcasting) for the few goods and services he needs, the other villagers let him stay.

Tuft: Red Rock has a single halfling - a ranger the other villagers call Tuft, due to his long hair that stands up crazily. Tuft is one of the original villagers to settle the village, having escaped the slave caravan with the others. None of the other villagers know anything more about Tuft’s history however, as his tongue was cut out and he refuses to discuss the matter through any means - making his refusal known though simple hand gestures. Tuft hunts for game and trains local flyers (mostly birds) to warn the village of approaching groups by bursting into the air and making a ruckus. While the other villagers don’t know his story, rumor has it that he was a halfling warrior on loan to the Hamanu of Urik, but Tuft spoke out of turn or otherwise offended the Sorcerer King.

Nuuko: Nuuko is an elven bard and trader who serves as a kind of quartermaster for the village directing the village’s crafters to produce certain items as supplies run low, managing food supplies, etc.; he also makes poisons for the hunters and village guards. Nuuko is the main driving force behind the recent suggestions to begin keeping kanks and brewing their honey into broy - he desperately wishes to get his hands on some, but will trade favorably with anyone willing to part with an alcoholic beverage of any kind. The elven bard has often considered running off to find his tribe, but after the slavers that captured him decimated his tribe, he has no idea where they might have run off to, or even if they’re still alive. Instead, each time he resolves to stay in Red Rock, where the foolish humans are willing to trust him with all their goods and coin. Miriam, for her part, knows that the village will suffer more for the loss of Nuuko’s poison-making and management skills than anything he could carry off should he decide to leave; having been close to several elves during her days as a gladiator, she understands elven tests of trust and is more than willing to let Nuuko hoard and oversee the village’s worldly possessions if it convinces him to stay - especially since he’s so good at it.

Niv: Niv is a human woman and former scholar-slave who was sold off when her templar owner was slain. With little reading or writing to be done in the village, Niv does much of the butchering - she seems surprisingly skilled with a blade and strong of stomach for a former scholar-slave, but the other villagers age just glad she’s worth her water. Niv always keeps her face veiled, supposedly due to harsh Athasian sun and her pale skin, but she actually keeps herself veiled because she doesn’t want to be recognized: “Niv” is actually high templar Jorvazze of Tyr (her supposed master; Niv really did exist and was in fact Jorvazze’s scholar-slave). After Kalak fell, she maintained much of her power during Tithian’s reign until an incident with a dwarven banshee left her weakened and distracted enough that her rivals could turn on her, imprison her on trumped-up charges, and ship her out on a secret slave caravan. Surprisingly glad to be away from the infighting of the templar bureaus, Jorvazze has grown comfortable in Red Rock, but is not interested in being stoned to death by her new neighbors and will cheerfully slit throats if necessary to preserve her secret.

Jav: Jav is a young half-elven male that has lived in the village for some time now. He spends much of his time alone, and the villagers believe he keeps to himself in a typical brooding teenage half-elven fashion, but Jav actually spends much of his time staring in wonder at the stark beauty of the surrounding land. Jav has been hearing a voice speaking to him in his sleep lately, a voice speaking of service, the natural beauty of the world around him, and of power - power to punish those who threaten him and the lands around him. The voice is that of Red Rock, a spirit of the land.

Mathi: Some time ago, a village patrol returned with an especially pale young human girl, named Mathi, having rescued her from a small but especially vile-intentioned band of raiders. Mathi has yet to speak and seems to have no appreciable skills, so the villagers have placed her in the care of Evri, an older human woman and former house-slave. Evri spent most of her enslavement acting as a nursemaid for her owner’s children and now cares for those children in the village who are too young to help their parents with tasks during the day. Recently, Mathi has begun to manifest psionic powers - mostly small, unintended effects - and the villagers are overjoyed, as they lack a proper manifester, and a powerful psion could greatly aid in the defense of the village. Evri, however, suspects (rightly) that Mathi is actually a villichi and fears what might happen should her “sisters” come looking for her.

Adventure Hooks:

Them Bones: Something attacked a large caravan nearby, damaging one of its argosies and killing the mekillot that pulled it. While the villagers already scavenged the wreck some time ago, they increasingly fear that whoever or whatever attacked the caravan will come for them next. The Red Rock villagers prevail upon the PCs to accompany them back to the ruined caravan and stand guard while they harvest the argosy’s timbers and butcher the mekillot to retrieve its long bones. If asked why they want such parts so badly, the villagers only reply “defensive measures”.

Deep Pit: Recently, Thiup Dai - a trader watering his caravan in the village - demanded “some entertainment” and grew offended when told that Red Rock’s ‘beast pit’ was still not quite complete, demanding it host a beast fight when he returned. The villagers would simply ignore the merchant’s demands, but Thiup stops in Red Rock quite regularly, always pays for his caravan’s water with desperately-needed supplies, and travels with a rather large contingent of guards. Thiup is due back in less than ten days, and Miriam the Blade asks the PCs to help resolve the situation, either by going out into the wastes and bringing back a beast for her and some of the other villagers to fight (or better yet, for the PCs to fight), or for them to help complete the village’s planned underground ‘longhouse’ and convince Thiup that a freak storm blew through and filled in the pit.

One in the Hand, Two in the Bush: Red Rock’s villagers are always on the edge of starvation. Despite the possibilities around them, the villagers lack the proper knowledge and experience to take full advantage of their resources. If the PCs have any experience with or knowledge about agriculture or animal husbandry, the villagers will richly reward the PCs who can instruct them on how to boost productivity in their neep fields or how to ranch, care for, or produce goods from their erdlu flock.

They Mostly Only Come Out at Night, Mostly: Miriam’s worst fear has finally come to pass: each night for the past several nights, a shadowy group seems to have been testing the village’s parameter, and each night, a villager has disappeared. The former gladiator fears that a large band of raiders have found the village and are testing its defenses in preparation for an all-out assault; the only question in Miriam’s mind is who: a band of hungry and especially well night-sighted gith, a tribe of elven slavers, or a group of reanimated villagers sent back as thinking zombies to kidnap other villagers by their power-hungry t’liz overlord? The village headwoman promises the PCs all the raiders’ possessions and a recently-recovered golden statuette if they hunt down and eliminate the raiders before they can attack the village en masse.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: It was inevitable - while stalking a caravan for desperately needed supplies, the villagers misidentified the caravan and, instead of raiding a caravan that neither knew of, nor intended to stop in the village, they raided a caravan knew of Red Rock and was headed to the village. Now the village raiders have been recognized, and the caravan’s wounded and outraged merchant lord is bound for civilization to gather reinforcements and punish the double-dealing villagers. Red Rock’s inhabitants will beg the PCs to catch up to the weakened caravan and finish it off before their unfortunate mistake can become known.

Blood in the Water: While the PCs are in Red Rock, fierce dust storms lash the village for three days straight, preventing travel and fouling the village’s pool of water. On the fourth day, Zennom - the village’s resident Water priest - approaches the PCs and explains that the spirits of Water have told him that a Silt priest is responsible for the dust storms. Zennom asks the party to seek out the Silt priest and return with his head because: “His blood must feed the waters.” If the PCs return with Silt priest’s head, Zennom waves the severed head over the pool of water as blood drips into the waters, performs a ritual of thanks dedication to the Water Lords, and then grins as the pool of water visibly swells by several inches, saying simply: “The Water spirits are pleased.”

Birds of a Feather: If the party includes a powerful healer, the villagers might entreat the PCs to restore Tuft’s lost tongue, eager as they are to repay all that the halfling does for the village (and more than a little bit hoping to hear his tale). Tuft, however, will refuse such efforts. Instead, the halfling will use his simple hand gestures to communicate his interest in capturing and training an avian that is big enough for him to ride! If the party can do so, Tuft might even be willing to teach the PCs to train and keep hunting birds of their own - whose sharp eyes make them excellent scouts and guards.

A Mug of the Good Stuff: If the PCs are new to Red Rock or enter the village with kanks, it won’t be long before the elven bard Nuuko approaches them, interested in purchasing their kanks or information on where a herd of kanks can be obtained, and offering hefty discounts or payments if a deal can be made. If Nuuko cannot have his kanks, he will offer to buy any globules of kank honey or alcoholic beverages (especially broy) the PCs might have - though at less favorable pricing. If the PCs have a lead on some kanks, the elf will immediately offer to hire the party to help retrieve the kanks. If Nuuko ultimately gets his kanks, he will be overjoyed at the thought of the village’s lucrative (and liquor-filled) future.

A Smile from Ear to Ear: While in the village at the same time as a caravan (perhaps as guard for the caravan itself), one of the caravan members (a man known as Mav of Tyr) is found dead, his throat neatly cut. When the caravan master demands answers, Niv - who refuses to remove her head covering and seems visibly shaken when confronted by the caravan master - eventually admits to killing Mav after he tried to assault her. The caravan master is having none of it though, and hires the PCs to discover the truth after explaining that Mav was a good and honorable man, and that they’ve been close friends ever since they were city guards together in Tyr. The PCs must discover what, if anything, would such a supposedly noble man to attack such an unassuming person as Niv.

In Dreams: Young Jav has gone missing, and several concerned villagers ask the PCs to go looking for him - a teenage half-elf given to spending time alone and daydreaming, the villagers worry that he was taken unawares by a beast from the wastes. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth: even as his fellow villagers fret about the beasts that might be stalking the least of them, Jav has followed the voice in his dreams into the wilderness around the village in order to commune with Red Rock, the local spirit of the land, and take his pact to serve as a druid. If they find Jav, however, the spirit of the land will not understand or appreciate the PCs interference with its new servant and respond poorly, summoning several beasts of the wastes to chase them away.

Traveling Sisterhood: PCs traveling in the area around Red Rock hear rumors of a small group of women traveling together. The women are said to be lithe and beautiful, and to have especially pale skin, but also seem to be surrounded by a dangerous air, despite the fact that they travel unarmed. Rumor also holds that the women are seeking someone - their missing “sister” and those who mistreated her. If the PCs happen to travel to Red Rock and share this rumor, a nearby older woman will collapse on hearing it. As her neighbors try to bring her around, the woman - who the villagers will identify as Evri - will only mutter: “They’re coming for her and they’ll kill everyone” over and over again. What could have made the old woman collapse like that, what ‘her’ is she talking about, and what, if anything, could it have to do with the PCs’ rumor?