The Wastes

The shrieking wind whips and stings exposed flesh, driving sand into everyone's eyes and mouth, and into the smallest crevices of the best desert burnooses. For five days, the sandstorm has pummeled nerves and will. The water is rapidly disappearing, and all fear to sleep, lest the storm bury them beneath the drifts: Prayers are offered up to deities, spells of protection are cast, and more speculative strategies are discussed. But to what end? Nothing can survive an excursion into the black sand.

A waste can encompass far more than the traditional image a sandy expanse dotted with cacti. One waste wilderness might be just dry, packed dirt, while another might have towering dunes of endless sand. It can be as exotic as the endless expanse of howling wind on the plane of Pandemonium, or as mundane as a dust bowl caused by overgrazing on a ranch on the Material Plane. Each different zone has its own unique combination of hazards, from choking pits of regolith to parching duststorms and whirlwinds of flaying sand.

This section chapter outlines the major types of waste environments, the various types of terrains within those environments, and the dangers that exist therein.

Formation of a Waste

A world can have many different types if wastes, which are most common in places where some sort of environmental degradation has killed off the normal processes that keep an ecosystem balanced. When an ecosystem dies, temperature regulation fails, life ends, and the sands take over.

For instance, a waste environment could appear quickly near a volcanic vent where the extreme heat has killed local fauna and flora. On the other hand, a waste environment could take thousands of years to manifest, resulting from generations of overgrazing by primitive tribes that keep herds of grass eaters. More advanced civilizations are able to produce waste environments far more quickly by means of technology, magic, or other destructive or environment-affecting forces.

A waste is not always a natural phenomenon, however. Intelligent species can sometimes create situations or events that cause the spontaneous or irregular formation of waste environments. Most have no idea that their actions could have such dire consequences. Lands, or even vast seas, that once bloomed with life can become empty wastelands as a result of some disaster or even the anger of deities.

Natural Instigation

Here are two ways that wastes can naturally form on a world, given enough time.


Human interference in the environment, particularly in sensitive areas that border desert regions, can quickly transform a green and fertile land into a worthless barren. The most common causes of desertification are overgrazing, non-sustainable farming practices, and excessive logging.

Certain grazing animals, especially sheep and goats, crop grasses down to the root and expose the soil to wind and weathering. If the herds graze overlong in a given area, the soil becomes too dry to sustain the grasses that once anchored it, and it blows away in great clouds. Constant pounding by hooves also degrades the soil, grinding it into finer particles that are more easily carried away on the wind.

Sustainable farming involves adopting measures to preserve the land's fertility, leaving a section of the fields to lie fallow each year (or seeded with a natural fertilizing crop, such as clover) is a common practice; it lets the soil recover and regenerate without a crop so that it can return to service the following season. Contour plowing, which girdles a hillside instead of traveling up and down its slopes, helps prevent soil erosion from runoff. Planting windbreaks of trees, shrubs, or tall grasses helps prevent erosion in windswept areas. If greedy landowners try to extract the maximum possible yield from their holdings, or desperate peasants over-cultivation in an effort to survive, the land quickly deteriorates. The result is the classic "dust bowl," with nothing but blowing grit replacing the former breadbasket.

Excessive logging can also reduce tree cover to the point that root systems no longer anchor the topsoil. Hillsides are especially vulnerable to drastic erosion from deforestation. Slash-and-burn farming also contributes to tree loss. In areas of tropical dry forest (wooded lands with long, dry summers and brief, wet winters), reckless logging can quickly transform ancient woodland into expanses of arid savannah.

Global Warming

General warming trends in the climate can convert forest to dry grassland, and grassland to sandy desert. This is a natural cycle in a world's life span, but again, the activity of intelligent creatures can accelerate or exacerbate its arrival. If the population is large, the widespread burning of coal, wood, animal grease, and similar organic fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and helps warm the climate. A vast active range of volcanoes can produce enough gas to seriously affect the environment. This might be a natural effect, along the edges of colliding continents, or the result of mighty magic.

Glossary Of Waste Terrain Terms

Below are some important geographical terms you might find helpful when using these environments and terrains in your campaign.

Barchan: A moving, isolated, crescent-shaped dune. The convex edge points toward the wind.

Basalt: A common dark, fine-grained volcanic rock.

Bench: A small terrace or steplike ledge breaking the continuity of a slope.

Caldera: Large depression containing volcanic vents.

Catena: A chain or line of craters.

Chasma: Canyon. An elongated, steep-sided depression.

Collapse Pit: A closed, rimless depression caused by subsidence.

Eolian: Term applied to wind erosion or deposition of surface materials.

Escarpment: A long, more or less continuous cliff or relatively steep slope produced by erosion or faulting.

Esker: A long, low, narrow, sinuous, steep-sided ridge or mound composed of irregularly stratified sand and gravel that was deposited by a glacial stream flowing between ice walls or in an ice tunnel of a continuously retreating glacier, left behind when the ice melted.

Fossa (Fossae): Ditches. Long, narrow, shallow depressions. They generally occur in groups and are straight or curved.

Graben: An elongated, relatively depressed area bounded by faults.

Labyrinthus: Complex, intersecting valleys.

Mare: Low-lying, level, relatively smooth plains-like areas of considerable extent.

Mensa (Mensae): Mesas. Flat-topped prominence with cliff-like edges.

Mons (Montes): Mountains. A large topographic prominence or chain of elevations.

Pahoehoe: A type of lava having a glassy, smooth, and billowy or undulating surface; it is characteristic of Hawaiian lava.

Patera: Irregular crater or a complex one with scalloped edges.

Pedestal Crater: A crater around which less resistant material has been removed from the ejecta, leaving an elevated surface of more resistant material.

Planitia: Plain. Smooth low area.

Planum: Plateau. Smooth elevated area.

Regolith: A general term for loose material overlying bedrock.

Rift: A narrow cleft, fissure, or other opening in rock (as in limestone), made by cracking or splitting.

Scabland: Elevated, essentially flat basalt-covered land with little or no soil cover.

Scarp: A line of cliffs produced by faulting or by erosion. The term is an abbreviated form of escarpment, and the two terms commonly have the same meaning.

Sediment: Solid, fragmental material originating from the weathering of rocks (such as sand, gravel, mud, or alluvium).

Tholus: Isolated domical small mountain or hill.

Vallis (Valles): A sinuous channel, many with tributaries.

Vastitas: Extensive plain.

Magical Instigation

Wastes can also form due to powerful magic, either intentionally or accidentally. For instance, at least one known world was laid waste by the over-utilization of life-consuming magic, leaving only a barren, desert world. Such places are easily identified as unnatural, with eternal whirlwinds, racing dunes, statues of salt, rivers of magma that never harden, or the like.

Global Warming

The epic spell global warming causes the atmosphere in a large region to quickly heat up. Arctic zones become temperate, and temperate zones become tropical. Inland areas experience drought and killing heat, while coastal lands become flooded as the ice caps melt. Former deserts become blazing hells. See the global warming spell description for more information.

Dire Drought

Powerful spellcasters can cover large areas with intense heat and dryness with the epic spell dire drought, which conjures duststorms and severe heat conditions, and deals nonlethal damage to unprotected creatures. The intense heat instantly evaporates small bodies of water and significantly lowers the levels of larger bodies. This dries out the landscape and causes hot blasts of sand, dust, and even salt crystals. See the dire drought spell description, for more information.

Sample Created Wastes

Here are two examples of lands that were affected by terrible magic and turned into deadly wastelands.

Plains of Purple Dust: On the eastern Mulhorandi region of the continent of Faerûn, the sand has a lingering magical aura, so few people venture into its depths (although nomadic humans wander its western edges). Purple worms writhe and burrow through these wastes, while desert caverns ruled by lizardfolk connect to the deeper dangers of the Underdark. This desert is thought to be the remnant of a magical battle between the deities of the ancient empires of Unther and Mulhorand.

Sea of Dust: Thousands of years before the present time, in the western part of Oerik (a vast continent on Oerth, the world of the GREYHAWK setting), two great empires grew and eventually clashed. The Suel people fought a succession of bitter wars with the Baklunish Empire. In a terrible culmination of their struggles, Suloise wizards called down a mighty spell, the invoked devastation, upon the Baklunish lands. In a desperate retaliation, the Baklunish invoked their own curse, the rain of colorless fire. The Suloise Empire was instantly reduced to a vast desert, now called the Sea of Dust.

Deep within this desert are ruins of the ancient Suel, and the powerful magic of that past age might still lie hidden in their depths. Unfortunately, the unimaginable energies unleashed in the destruction have also spawned horrific creatures and bizarre magical hazards, so finding this magic might be next to impossible.

Wilderness Waste Environments

While they are most closely associated with deserts, waste environments can be found in almost any landscape. No two wastelands are exactly alike, and oftentimes, the only defining features they have in common are a lack of precipitation and a high rate of evaporation. Even some low-temperature areas fit the definition of desert, though this book does not deal with such cold climates (they are described in frostfell

This section outlines some of the most commonly encountered types of aboveground waste environments.

Fire Down Below

On some worlds, drastic wastelands can form, where the ground literally burns and smolders, amid otherwise temperate land. The soil is baked black, and the roots of plants actually catch fire. The reason for this desolation lies underground, where deposits of organic fuel smolder in centuries-long fires. Such areas can develop from old peat bogs or seams of coal that ignite due to a lightning strike or forest fire. The fires, once lit, are nearly impossible to extinguish. Dangerous creatures that enjoy hot temperatures, such as fire giants or red dragons, might even move into the burnt region to plague the surrounding countryside.

Hot Interiors

Continents generally experience more moderate climate where the land borders the ocean or a very large body of water (such as an inland sea or a glacier-carved lake). On the other hand, the interior of a large land mass - or even a big island - is far from these moderating influences and might suffer extremes of temperature.

Environmental Sources

A hot interior can be caused by many factors. Most commonly, a high coastal mountain range blocks prevailing winds that carry moisture from the sea. (In our world, prevailing winds are generally westerly, but in a fantasy environment, prevailing winds could come from any direction.) This moisture-laden air collides with the mountains and is forced upward, where it cools and can no longer contain as much water. Rain precipitates out, producing wet coastal forests on the side facing the ocean. The cool, dry air flows over the mountain peaks and down the lee side, sometimes with terrifying speed, growing hot as it travels. In the shadow of the mountains, the land is parched and windswept, sometimes forming a wasteland.

These desert conditions might also occur in smaller, isolated regions where the local geography or climate prevents rainfall. If a sufficiently high barrier separates it from the moisture-bearing winds, even a small island can have a rain shadow where arid conditions prevail. It is quite possible for adventurers to begin their travels in a tropical rain forest, hike over some mountains (possibly experiencing cold hazards), and then descend immediately into a dry scrubland.


A typical hot interior waste climate is characterized by erratic, light precipitation and low humidity. Soils are dry, perhaps even salty (especially the dry beds of ancient seas). Real-world examples include the outback of central Australia, the Sonora Desert of the southern United States, and the Great Plains of central North America. In the FORGOTTEN REALMS setting, both the Endless Wastes and the Plains of Purple Dust are good examples of this climate, as is the Sea of Dust in the GREYHAWK setting.

The degree of aridity within a desert can vary considerably. Precipitation below 20 inches per year is the standard. All of a year's rain might fall at once, causing a sudden flood that scours the landscape into new shapes, or it might arrive in scattered sprinkles at unpredictable intervals. The most extreme desert climates might have no rain at all for years on end. Other environments, such as high steppes and prairies, receive significant rain or even snow during certain months, then practically nothing the rest of the year.

These standard waste environments pose a variety of dangers to travelers. Most significant of all is the heat itself, which produces fatigue, exhaustion, and sometimes even physical injury. Heatstroke (hyperthermia) is a common hazard, in which the body's temperature rises above the normal range. This condition can occur even in moderately warm temperatures with enough physical exertion. During hyperthermia, vital processes begin to shut down, with dizziness, nausea, and shivering in the early stages, leading to confusion, convulsions, and finally death if no action is taken. Additional rules for hyperthermia (and other desert and heat hazards) can be found in the Natural Waste Hazards section.

Salt Flats

Wherever you find a large body of water, you will find salt as well. Rivers dump tons of sediment (containing dissolved salts) into oceans, inland seas, and even large lakes. As water evaporates around the shores, the salts are left behind. Often, climate changes can cause a onetime sea to shrink, leaving a smaller, saline lake. The sea might even disappear entirely, leaving the land below exposed, gleaming in a white expanse of crusted salt. In these situations, a barren desert exists right beside an aquatic environment.

These salt pans or salt flats, although hostile to life, are also paradoxically attractive to many kinds of living creatures. Grazing animals crave salt, and herds of bison or antelope frequent such places to lick the deposits. Of course, predators follow them, and humanoids come both to hunt the animals and to collect the precious salt for themselves.


The summer season can turn any environment into a waste environment, even if only temporarily. Characters living in or traveling through a dry land during the summer can fall prey to hazards such as intensely hot temperatures, sandstorms and duststorms, deep sandy dunes or dust fields that impede movement, and patches of regolith - areas of seemingly harmless dust that conceal a horrific death by suffocation.

Summer begins with the summer solstice and ends with the autumnal equinox, although the onset of hot weather can begin well before and continue well past these calendar points. The severity of a summer depends on many factors, including the latitude, the brightness of the world's sun, and the rate of the planet's rotation. A tropical desert can experience daytime temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or even higher, and a more extreme environment might feature temperatures that human cannot survive for more than a few hours, if at all.


The length of the summer season ranges from a few weeks to six months or more, depending on the climatological, supernatural, and magical conditions of the area. A temperate zone experiences summer for an average of three months, while a subtropical or tropical zone might have summer conditions for up to nine months. Even a subarctic or arctic region has a summer, albeit brief, and temperatures can be surprisingly high. True desert conditions might even appear if the terrain receives little precipitation, such as with arctic tundra.


In temperate climates, the summer is a welcome event, with pleasantly warm weather and long days conducive to growing crops. However, in the arid mid-latitudes and tropical zones, the onset of summer can be deadly. Indeed, some such latitudes do not have a summer as such, but rather an extended dry season punctuated by a brief and intense period of rain. During the dry season, water bodies shrink and grow foul, and all but the largest vanish entirely. Plants lose their foliage and enter dormancy, while animals are forced to huddle around what water remains. In many ways, the dry season is more like winter, and some creatures estivate (the summer equivalent of hibernation) to avoid the extreme conditions.

Summer weather tends to the hot and dry, and in an area that is already arid, the climate becomes unbearable. What little humidity the air contains rarely falls as rain, and even when it does, the precipitation might evaporate before it ever hits the ground (this is known as virga). Sometimes violent storms can arise, particularly near the edges of the barrier ranges where cold air rushing down the mountainside collides with superheated air over the parched landscape. When this happens, thunderstorms of appalling strength boil up, spawning enormous hail, tornadoes, and even flash floods.

Volcanic Deserts And Fields

Along the slopes of a large volcano (or within a region of many young and active volcanoes), the environment can embody such desolation that it is a wonder anything can survive. Here frozen rivers of once-molten rock hump into jagged forms, hot wind blows across wide plains of ash and cinder, and smoking orifices belch poisonous fumes into the torrid air. Still, highly specialized life does thrive here - much of it a hazard to travelers.

A solfarara (a still-active caldera left from a massive, ancient eruption) can create yet another volcanic waste environment. The terrain is filled with steaming mudflows or bubbling pits of mud, colored bright red, orange, and yellow with mineral salts. Geysers burst from boiling underground lakes, and vents release foul-smelling (and potentially deadly) vapors. Often, these regions feature fields of volcanic ash that can be used to produce very fine ceramics.

Dungeons And Cavern Complexes

Subterranean environments can also qualify as wastelands, and adventurers traveling underground might encounter desert conditions. These environments fall into four general categories: altered dungeons, salt karsts, volcanic caverns, and worked cavern complexes.

Altered Dungeons

Natural desert environments are not common underground, but beings that are comfortable in hot, arid conditions might transform a subterranean realm into one more to their liking. For example, a brass dragon might take over an ancient treasure-laden dungeon that happens to be cold and damp. Rather than abandon such a trove, the dragon might instead use its innate control weather ability (along with other appropriate spells) to produce a warm, dry environment in its new underground home.

When settlements of bhuka (see the bhuka racial description, page 39, Sandstorm) are hard-pressed by more powerful desert tribes, they sometimes retreat underground. Ancient caverns, perhaps even the sacred caves, thus become villages. The inhabitants carve rooms, great halls, and even pens for livestock from the rock. Shamans weave their weather magic to create an amenable climate in this home-in-exile.

More aggressive beings might establish a magically created waste environment as an outpost in a campaign to overrun and convert terrain of other sorts, perhaps to spread the influence of a fire deity or a demon lord.

Alternatively, a desert might contain underground complexes delved to escape the murderous heat of the surroundings. The inhabitants of such regions carve cliffside residences or even excavate entire cities within sheltered clefts. Such places offer twofold peril: the extreme conditions of the surroundings, as well as the usual hazards of any subterranean fortress.

Salt Karsts

The typical karst is a cave complex dissolved from limestone, but other soluble minerals can produce karsts as well. One of the rarest is the salt karst. These caves exist mainly in arid climates where rock salt is laid down through successive periods of flooding and evaporation, protruding from the earth in outcrops. They form quickly, since salt is easily dissolved, and generally do not last for more than a few thousand years. Not much can survive on any water found in the caves, which is as salty as pickle brine. Even if a cave is not entirely dry, the desiccating effect of the salt qualifies it as a waste environment.

A salt karst usually consists of large chambers with many small, twisting tunnels branching from them. The salty water drains slowly through fissures in the surrounding rock, creating confusing tangles that can give way without warning.

Although the caves do not contain gems, the salt is itself a valuable commodity in many cultures. Salt can be worth its weight in gold, and salt mining and shipment is the basis of continent-spanning trade. The air inside a salt cave is thought to be therapeutic, and people suffering from respiratory illnesses "take the airs" for hours at a time.

A related kind of cavern forms from dissolved gypsum, also known as alabaster. This is a brilliant white mineral, and karsts form quickly in it just as they do in salt. Gypsum karsts are more humid than those of rock salt.

Both gypsum caves and salt caves are usually worked by humanoids mining the precious minerals. A desert-dwelling dragon, such as a blue or a brass, might also make its lair in such a cavern.

Volcanic Caverns

Volcanic activity can create many different types of waste environments. In addition to the wasteland of ash, crumbled rock, and lava flows on the surface, the land beneath can be riddled with natural tunnels and chambers.

Lava Tubes

Lava tubes form when magma moves slowly through a fissure. The surface cools quickly, forming an enclosed pipe that keeps the molten rock hot for much longer. lava slowly oozing through subterranean fissures might produce extensive networks of twisting tubes while never actually forming a recognizable surface volcano. On a sloping surface, the lava drains out of the channel, leaving behind a smooth tube that can be miles long. The floors and walls of lava tubes are smooth and glassy, making it hard for plant life to take hold. If the surrounding landscape is still volcanically active, these passages can be unbearably warm.

Lava tubes can be remarkably straight and cylindrical, resembling worked passages. They are often inhabited and might be connected to worked chambers. More convoluted passages might also be inhabited, their tumbled surfaces forming excellent defenses just under the surface of what appears to be a flat scrubland.

Sometimes a tube remains partially filled by lava. If this is the case, the air is likely to be unbreathable and unbearably hot. In addition to heat, hazards can include slippery surfaces, crumbling ceilings, and poisonous vapors. On the other hand, cooled volcanic flows sometimes contain exotic materials, including gold or even diamonds.

Lava tubes can fulfill the same function as chutes and chimneys but are often at angles rather than vertical, and they might twist and turn.

Magma Chambers

A magma chamber occurs deep underground, at a weak spot in a planet's crust or at an intersection of crust plates (on a world where continental drift is still occurring). Melted by high pressure, rock is forced into the weakness and forms a shallow pool of magma. Eventually the pressure forces magma to the surface through narrower cracks, and a volcano is born. Where the magma contains a lot of gas, the chamber can resemble an enormous balloon, with high-pressure gases pushing a layer of magma to the top of the space. This can produce an enormous explosion that empties the chamber very rapidly, blowing the volcanic cone apart. The remnant of the chamber then collapses upon itself. It might fill with water, forming a crater lake, or become a volcanic desert of smoking fissures, black ash, and scalding steam blasts. Sometimes, these eruptions can result in partially or wholly buried chambers.

An ancient volcano whose fires have cooled leaves behind a hardened magma dome, or sometimes a shell of stone surrounding the space where the hot rock once pooled. Erosion of the surrounding rock, or deliberate excavation, can later expose these cool magma chambers. Few environments are more desolate than a once-isolated sea of magma.

Worked Cavern Complexes

Both underground civilizations and concentrated mining efforts can create massive cavern complexes over time. Some subterranean races regularly expand natural caverns to accommodate their growing cities and expanding civilizations. Depending on the size of such cities, the inhabitants can greatly affect or alter the environment in which they live. After centuries of habitation, the natural caverns are worked into extensive galleries with carvings and decorated rooms.

Additionally, most humanoid races develop mining operations of one type or another. These mining efforts often cause the creation or adaptation of entire subterranean environments. For example, humanoids have collected salt since ancient times. This is often performed by evaporating seawater or collecting deposits from aboveground salt flats, but salt karsts and undissolved subterranean seams of salt are exploited as well. These contain not only the hazards found in any salt cave but the additional presence of potentially hostile inhabitants.

In the culture of the bhuka, the salt caverns of the White Desert are considered sacred. The bhuka believe they are the openings to the great cave from which all life emerged. Access is restricted only to the holy ones and to youths undergoing a ritual quest. Cunning traps are worked into the surroundings, the locations of which belong only to those with authority to travel there.

Extraplanar Wastes

In addition to the formation of wastes in the Material Plane, several of the Outer Planes are made up of or contain supernatural and terrible deserts. These planes experience extreme heat conditions, often accompanied by terrible winds and magical dangers of the sort described under the sections on Natural Waste Hazards and Supernatural Waste Hazards, below.

Inner Plane Waste Characteristics

In addition to the normal characteristics of the surrounding plane, waste regions on the Inner Planes possess the following traits.

Enhanced Magic: Spells and spell-like abilities with the fire descriptor are widened (as the Widen Spell feat, except the spell doesn't use a higher slot). For example, a fireball spell cast in a waste region of the Elemental Planes has a radius of 40 feet instead of 20 feet. In addition, spells of the Sun domain benefit from being extended. Spells that are already widened are unaffected.

Impeded Magic: Spells and spell-like abilities with the cold or water descriptor (including spells of the Water domain) are impeded. These spells and spell-like abilities can still be used, but only with a successful Spellcraft check (DC 15 + level of the spell).

Sample Waste Planes

Many of the Inner and Outer Planes have waste regions (described in more detail in Manual of the Planes).

Bleak Eternity of Gehenna: The first and second mounts of Gehenna are Khalas and Chamada, respectively. Both are steeply sloping volcanic landscapes, punctuated by lava flows, burning ground, and hot ash. The fiery surface of Khalas boils away any water that touches it, forming a hideous mist of hot steam. Chamada's ash-choked air is suffocating and nearly impossible to see through, while the ground is a barely solidified field of sluggish magma.

Elemental Planes of Earth and Fire: The elemental planes are not uniform in composition, and each elemental plane intersects with the other elemental planes in multiple places, creating unique combinations of the native elements. Waste environments on these planes are extreme, but not as immediately deadly as the pure elements. Still, magical protection from energy of the appropriate sort (or at the very least, endure elements) is necessary to prevent damage.

Although the Elemental Plane of Earth is solid, its actual composition can vary from dense blocks of metal to relatively soft regions of crumbling stone and sand, as well as occasional tunnels (usually made by burrowing creatures). Where pockets of the Elemental Plane of Fire intrude, volcanic features such as magma domes and lava tubes are the norm. At the boundaries of the Elemental Plane of Air, vast caverns can sometimes form, but whirlwinds and duststorms often abound as well.

Likewise, the Elemental Plane of Fire contains pockets of water or earth, which produce steam clouds, rains of ash, and magma streams. Where the Elemental Plane of Air contacts the Elemental Plane of Fire, furnace-blast winds are a hazard.

Heroic Plains of Ysgard: Even the celestial realms can have harsh conditions. Ysgard is a plane of warriors, and the weak do not survive here. On the top layer, the seasons are intense; the summers are as deadly in their heat as the winters in their frosts.

The second layer of Ysgard, Muspelheim, is a land of fire, bare stone, and ever-present fumes. The ground is composed of sharp, uneroded magma flows that follow harsh volcanic peaks inhabited by fire giants. Throughout most of this layer, unprotected flammable materials instantly catch fire, and creatures take 3d10 points of fire damage per round (creatures made of water take double damage).

Tarterian Depths of Carceri: Minethys, the third layer of Carceri, is a place of eternal sandstorms. The entire layer is nothing but sand, and powerful winds fling the grit with such force that a living being would quickly be flayed alive. There is a 10% chance per 24-hour period that a sandstorm springs up. Tornadoes are common hazards.

Buried in this endless desert is the vanished city of Payratheon. The racing dunes and scouring winds sometimes part the sands long enough to expose the lost city, but it is a trap for any who try to investigate. The desert reclaims the ancient streets in short order, burying alive any unfortunates who are caught there.

Natural Waste Hazards

This section builds on the information provided in Wilderness, detailing the hazards characters might face within natural waste environments. Some of these dangers occur only in areas of sand or volcanic wastes, while others are more general features of any hot, dry environment.

Environmental hazards specific to a type of terrain are discussed in the Wilderness Waste Terrains and Dungeon Waste Terrains sections.

Heat Dangers

For game purposes, air temperature falls into one of the nine temperature bands described on below.

Temperature Bands
-51° F or lowerUnearthly cold
-50° F to -21° FExtreme cold
-20° F to 0° FSevere cold
1° F to 40° FCold
41° F to 60° FModerate
61° F to 90° FWarm
91°F to 110° FHot
111° F to 140° FSevere heat
141° F to 180° FExtreme heat
181° F to 210° FUnearthly heat
211° F or higherBurning heat

Temperatures in the hot band or above can be hazardous to unprepared characters. Characters can take damage from such extreme heat, a condition generally referred to as heatstroke. At lower temperatures, this damage starts off as nonlethal while the character is still conscious, but it becomes lethal for those already rendered unconscious by heatstroke (with no saving throw allowed). A character who takes any nonlethal damage from heatstroke is considered fatigued.

A character with the Survival skill can receive a bonus on saving throws against heat and desiccate damage, and can apply this bonus to other characters as well. See the skill description.

The levels of protection described here refer to a character's protective measures against heat (see Protection against Heat).

Hot: In this temperature band, unprotected characters must make successful Fortitude saving throws each hour (DC 15, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Characters wearing heavy clothing or any kind of armor take -4 penalties on their saves.

Characters whose protection against heat is at least level 1 (such as from the Heat Endurance feat or carrying a parasol) are safe at this temperature range and need not make the save.

Severe Heat: In this temperature band, unprotected characters must make successful Fortitude saving throws once every 10 minutes (DC 15, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Characters wearing heavy clothing or any kind of armor take -4 penalties on their saves.

To be completely protected against severe heat, a character must have protection level 2 or higher (such as from wearing keepcool salve and carrying a parasol). A character with protection level 1 is considered partially protected, and such characters must attempt this saving throw only once per hour.

Extreme Heat: In this temperature band, unprotected characters take 1d6 points of lethal damage per 10 minutes (no save). In addition, unprotected characters must make successful Fortitude saving throws (DC 15, +1 per previous check) every 10 minutes or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Characters wearing heavy clothing or any kind of armor take -4 penalties on their saves. In addition, those wearing metal armor or coming into contact with very hot metal are affected as if by a heat metal spell (which lasts as long as the character remains in the area of extreme heat).

A character must have protection level 3 or higher to be protected against extreme heat, level 2 is considered partial protection, and such characters take damage and make saving throws once per hour instead of once per 10 minutes. level 1 provides no protection.

Unearthly Heat: In this temperature band, which includes many environments normally deadly to all life, unprotected characters take 1d6 points of lethal damage and 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per round (no save). In addition, those wearing metal armor or coming into contact with very hot metal are affected as if by a heat metal spell (which lasts as long as the character remains in the area of unearthly heat).

Characters with protection level 4 or higher are safe at this temperature range. levels 2 and 3 are considered partial protection, and such characters take damage once per 10 minutes instead of once per round. Level 1 provides no protection.

Burning Heat: At some point, increasing temperatures push past even unearthly heat and graduate to actual burning - when material objects catch fire spontaneously due to the heat. For instance, paper catches fire at 451° F (and dried-out skin catches fire at around the same temperature). Characters carrying fuel for their lamps or other combustibles discover that it catches fire at around 260° F. Water boils at approximately 212° F (depending on barometric pressure), and many potions or elixirs could quickly boil away to nothing somewhere near that temperature range.

In a region in this temperature band (also known as a fire-dominant area), characters take 3d10 points of fire damage per round. In addition, those wearing metal armor or coming into contact with very hot. A metal are affected as if by a heat metal spell (which lasts as long as the character remains in the area of burning heat). Generally, non-supernatural methods of protection against heat offer no protection in areas of burning heat, and various levels of heat protection are meaningless if a creature is on fire unless it is immune or resistant to fire.

Treating Heatstroke

Nonlethal damage from heatstroke (including the accompanying fatigue) cannot be recovered until a character gets cooled off-by reaching shade, surviving until nightfall, getting doused in water, being targeted by endure elements, or the equivalent. Once the character is cooled or reaches a cooler environment (a temperature of 90 degrees or lower), the character responds normally to healing that removes nonlethal damage. When the character recovers the nonlethal damage taken from heatstroke, the fatigue penalties also end.

Conditional Temperature Variations

Temperatures can vary significantly with decreasing elevation or time of day. The presence of wind can also affect the relative heat and drying effect of a waste environment. A character might require no special precautions during the evening or at higher elevations, but at noon or inside a deep caldera, otherwise tolerable conditions can become dangerously hot. Conversely, with the onset of night, the temperature in a desert can drop sharply, producing conditions of cold even in the most torrid latitudes. The most common factors that affect temperature are described below.

Altitude: Regions that are comfortable at higher elevations can become very hot at lower levels. Some waste regions, particularly dry seabeds, are depressions in the surrounding landscape and might even be below sea level. The temperature increases by one band when descending from low peak or high pass elevations (5,000 feet to 15,000 feet) to hills. It increases by one additional band at extremely low elevation (200 feet or more below sea level). For example, a day of moderate heat at higher elevations is hot at medium elevation and becomes a climate of severe heat at the bottom of a dry salt lake. In addition, moving deeper into the earth raises the ambient temperature as the pressure of surrounding rock increases. This increase is approximately 10 F per 75 feet of depth; this can be much faster if there is geothermic activity in the region (magma, hot springs, and so on).

Night: When most people think of the desert, they conjure up visions of shimmering heat haze, sand, and blazing sun. These features do exist - during the day. At night, the clear, dry air allows the land to give up the day's heat with frightening rapidity. Within a few hours, the killing heat of the day is replaced by the chill of the night. It is quite possible to succumb to cold in the middle of the desert.

The temperature drop might be as much as three or even four temperature bands, and characters without adequate protection against cold run the risk of hypothermia.

Noon: In many climates, high noon (and a few hours afterward) is the hottest time of the day, as the sun shines directly onto the planet's surface. In the arid, cloudless environment of the waste, there is no barrier against the sun's blaze. Rocks can get hot enough to cook food or even produce first-degree burns.

In most places, temperatures rise by one band after sunrise, and sometime even by two bands by high noon. In the waste, this increase is more pronounced, with temperatures rising by three or even four bands between the chill of night and the heat of midday. Wind: Although a cool breeze on the skin can be a blessing during the day, many waste environments have winds that actually exacerbate the hot, dry conditions. A furnace blast blowing over a barren plain not only heats the air, it carries away precious moisture from the surface of the skin. If enough fluid is lost, the body responds by constricting surface blood vessels - which increases core body temperature and raises the risk of heatstroke. Winds that are hot or hotter, as well as strong or more powerful, increase the effective temperature by one band.

Protection against Heat

Few people venture into the waste without some form of protection against heat. By far the most common means of protection is dressing appropriately in flowing, light clothing or staying near shade and water. Magical protection further improves the chance to survive in hot, dry climates. In addition, special devices and alchemical concoctions can aid desert travel.

A character's protection against heat dangers is described by level of protection, which ranges from 1 to 5 or higher.

Such levels of protection do not confer any special fire resistance - a red dragon's breath still does the same damage. However, equipment that provides a bonus on saving throws against heat dangers contributes its bonus whether it is complete, partial, or ineffective protection against that degree of heat. Thus, even though keepcool salve is not sufficient to offer even partial protection against extreme heat, a character with keepcool salve still adds the item's +1 circumstance bonus on saves against nonlethal damage dealt by an extremely hot environment.

To determine your protection level, begin with your base protection level as determined on Table 1-2, and then add any applicable equipment modifiers from Table 1-3. For example, a bhuka using keepcool salve and armorbright has protection level 3 (a base of 1 for the Heat Endurance feat, with a +1 bonus for the salve and a +1 bonus for the armorbright), allowing that particular bhuka to survive conditions of extreme heat indefinitely without harm.

Base Protection Level Against Heat
0Creature with no heat adaptations
1Creature with Heat Endurance feat (such as bhuka)
1Nondesert cold-blooded animal or vermin
1Monsters native to hot climates
2Desert animal or vermin
2Monsters native to waste terrain
3Creatures with endure elements spell or effect

Heat Endurance Feat: Creatures with the Heat Endurance feat.

Nondesert Cold-Blooded Animal or Vermin: Creatures native to temperate or warm climates with a variable body temperature that lets them function well in heat approaching that of human body temperature (such as insects, lizards, snakes, tortoises, and toads).

Monsters Native to Hot Climates: Creatures whose Environment entry mentions warm climate.

Desert Animal or Vermin: Animals with variable body temperatures or special adaptation to hot environments, such as heat dissipation or water conservation (camels, scorpions, sidewinder snakes, and so on).

Monsters Native to Waste Terrain: Monsters normally found in regions of extreme heat (including natives of fire-dominant planes) belong in this group.

Endure Elements: Creatures currently protected by an endure elements spell or similar effect.

Equipment Modifier To Base Heat Protection
0No special equipment
+1Desert outfit
+1Keepcool salve
+2Hydration suit
+3Improvised shelter

Armorbright: This special alchemical item.

Desert Outfit: This special clothing item.

Keepcool Salve: This special alchemical item.

Hydration suit: This special clothing item.

Improvised Shelter: This bonus applies to characters who are not attempting to travel, but who stop and seek shelter by digging into the sand, erecting a tent or windbreak, tapping water from desert vegetation, or the like.

Resistance to Fire: A character with a spell or effect granting resistance to fire applies this resistance to both lethal and nonlethal damage from hot temperatures. For example, a creature with resistance to fire S subtracts S from the 1d6 points of lethal damage dealt per 10 minutes by extreme heat (and therefore might take 1 point of heat damage, if a 6 is rolled) and 5 from the 1d4 points of nonlethal damage dealt. In this example, since the creature ends up not taking any nonlethal damage from the heat, it need not worry about heatstroke or heat exhaustion.


As the body loses fluids, biological processes begin to break down. This leads to in pallor, shaking, nausea, and eventually, a complete collapse of the nervous system. Though dehydration can occur in any environment, the combination of high heat and low humidity typical in waste environments makes it an omnipresent threat there.

As noted in Starvation and Thirst, a character must consume 1 gallon of water per day to avoid dehydration. In particularly hot environments (those above 90° F), characters need double the normal amount. The amount of water required to avoid dehydration increases by 1 gallon per temperature band higher than hot (so 3 gallons in severe heat, 4 in extreme heat, and so on). A creature can go without water for a number of hours equal to 24 + its Constitution score. After this time, the creature must make a successful Constitution check each hour (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. In particularly hot environments (those above 900 F), the time a creature can go without water before making Constitution checks is reduced, as described on Table 1-4.

Dehydration Times
Temperature Band)Time before Con Checks
90° or lower (warm or cooler)24 + Con hours
91° to 110° (hot)12 + Con hours
111° to 140° (severe heat)6 + Con hours
141° to 180° (extreme heat)3 + Con hours
181° to 210° (unearthly heat)Con hours
211° or higher (burning heat)1/2 Con hours

Being Dehydrated

A lack of sufficient water can cause individuals to become dehydrated - a new condition described here.

Dehydrated: Characters who have taken nonlethal damage from lack of water are considered dehydrated and become fatigued. In addition, if a dehydrated character would take nonlethal damage from hot conditions, that damage instead becomes lethal damage.

A character who falls unconscious from nonlethal damage due to thirst begins to take the same amount of lethal damage instead. Damage from thirst, whether lethal or nonlethal, cannot be recovered until the character has been treated (see below); not even magic that restores hit points heals this damage.

Treating Dehydration

A character who has taken nonlethal damage from lack of water must be treated with long-term care (see the Heal skill description to recover. This treatment requires 24 hours of care and double the normal amount of water required per day for the conditions (for instance, 2 gallons of water in normal conditions). If the character has also taken lethal damage from lack of water or from a hot environment, add 5 to the Heal DC and double the time required to recover (to 48 hours). Once this Heal check has succeeded, the damage taken by the character can be restored through the normal means.

Alternatively, certain spells can be used to rehydrate a character in place of the recovery time, water, and Heal check. The hydrate spell accomplishes this function, as does the heal spell.

Sand And Wind

Winds in the waste can be violent or even deadly. Worse still, winds laden with grit - whether volcanic ash, sand, blowing soil, dust, powdered charcoal or bone, or even tiny chips of precious gems - pose a variety of hazards.

More information about the hazards in this section, including durations of typical storms, can be found in Weather. If the needs of the campaign dictate it, the DM can decide that a storm in the waste lasts for even longer than the normal maximum time.

Magical desiccate Damage

Sandstorm introduces desiccate damage, a new category of damage that spells, and in some cases, the attacks of creatures, can deal. desiccate is not an energy type, but certain spells and effects can provide enhanced protection against desiccate damage. Plants and elemental creatures of the water subtype are especially vulnerable to desiccate damage, and they often take extra damage from such effects.

Sometimes, but not always, spells that deal desiccate damage can render a victim dehydrated. Other spells and special abilities can render a creature dehydrated without dealing magical desiccate damage. Essentially, dealing magical desiccate damage does not automatically make a creature dehydrated, and becoming dehydrated does not mean a creature automatically takes desiccate damage.

The magical defenses against desiccate damage described in this book apply to the effects of the horrid wilting spell.


Severe and stronger winds pose a far graver danger than winds of equal velocity within landscapes that support a ground covering of grasses, sedges, and other terrain features that preclude instantaneous erosion. In waste areas covered by sand, loose earth, or grit, high winds are always accompanied by duststorms or sandstorms. The stronger the wind is in such regions, the more severe the effect.

Contrary to popular belief, nonmagic duststorms and sandstorms do not bury people alive. The accumulation does not occur so quickly as to prevent escape or digging, but a sandstorm can suffocate and kill victims by burying them under the accumulation. The heaps of debris left behind might be deep enough to cover small buildings, though, and the landscape is drastically reshaped after a major storm, which could remove landmarks and cause a party to become lost.

Sandstorm and Wind Effects integrates the wind effects rules as presented in the Environment with complementary sandstorm effects rules, described here.

Storm GradeWind ForceWind Speed MPHRanged Attacks
Normal/Seige Wpns¹
Sandstorm DmgListen/Visibility PenaltiesCreature SizeWind Effect on CreaturesFort Save DC
-Strong21-30-2/-None-2/-Tiny or smaller
Small or larger
Knocked down
Large or larger
Blown away
Knocked down
SandstormWindstorm51-74Impossible/-41d3 nonlethal-8/-4Small or smaller
Large or Huge
Blown away
Knocked down
Sandstorm, FlensingHurricane75-174Impossible/-81d3 lethaln/a/-6Med or smaller
Blown away
Knocked down
Sandstorm, FlensingTornado75-174Impossible/impossible1d3 lethaln/a/-6Large or smaller
Blown away
Knocked down
¹The siege weapon category includes ballista and catapult attacks, as well as boulders tossed by giants.
² Penalties to the Listen check are made due to roaring wind; see full description of visibility check penalties under Duststorm, Sandstorm, and Flensing Sandstorm entries, respectively.
³Flying or airborne creatures are treated as one size category smaller than their actual size, so an airborne Gargantuan dragon is treated as Huge for purposes of wind effects.
Checked: Creatures are unable to move forward against the force of the wind. Flying creatures are blown back 1d6x5 feet.
Knocked Down: Creatures are knocked prone by the force of the wind. Flying creatures are blown back 1d6x10 feet.
Blown Away: Creatures on the ground are knocked prone and rolled 1d4x10 feet, taking 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet. Flying creatures are blown back 2d6x10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage due to battering and buffeting.
4 Additional effects for tornado-strength winds are described in Wind Effects.

Duststorm: Duststorms arise in waste areas when the wind speed rises above 30 miles per hour. A duststorm blows fine grains of sand that reduce visibility, smother unprotected flames, and even choke protected flames, such as a lantern's light (50% chance). A duststorm leaves behind a deposit of 1d6 inches of sand. Visibility in a duststorm is reduced, so all creatures within a duststorm take a -2 penalty on Search and Spot checks.

Sandstorm: Sandstorms arise in waste areas when the wind speed rises above 50 miles per hour. Sandstorms reduce visibility to brownout conditions (see below), smother unprotected flames, and choke protected flames, such as a lantern's light (75% chance). Moreover, sandstorms deal 1d3 points of nonlethal damage each round to anyone caught out in the open without shelter and pose a suffocation hazard (see the Suffocation in a Sandstorm sidebar). A sandstorm leaves 2d3-1 feet of fine sand in its wake.

Brownout: Sandstorms create brownout conditions. Swirling grit obscures the horizon and makes it nearly impossible to get one's bearings. Any character in brownout conditions caused by a sandstorm takes a -4 penalty on Dexterity-based skill checks, as well as Search checks, Spot checks, and any other checks that rely on vision. These effects end when the character leaves the brownout area or enters a protected shelter.

Sandstorm, Flensing: Flensing sandstorms arise in waste areas when the wind speed rises above 74 miles per hour (flensing sandstorm conditions can also occur during a tornado in a waste setting). Flensing sandstorms reduce visibility to severe brownout conditions (see below), smother unprotected flames, and choke protected flames (100% chance). Moreover, flensing sandstorms deal 1d3 points of lethal damage each round to anyone caught out in the open without shelter and pose a suffocation hazard (see the Suffocation in a Sandstorm sidebar). A flensing sandstorm leaves 4d6 feet of sand in its wake.

Severe Brownout: Even more severe brownout conditions apply during a flensing sandstorm than during a regular sandstorm. Swirling grit obscures the horizon and makes it nearly impossible to get one's bearings. A character in brownout conditions caused by a flensing sandstorm takes a -6 penalty on Dexterity-based skill checks, as well as Search, Spot, and any other checks that rely on vision. These effects end when the character leaves the brownout area or enters a protected shelter.

Suffocation In A Sandstorm

Exposed characters might begin to choke if their noses and mouths are not covered. A sufficiently large cloth expertly worn (Survival DC 15) or a filter mask negates the effects of suffocation from dust and sand. An inexpertly worn cloth across the nose and mouth protects a character from the potential of suffocation for a number of rounds equal to 10 x her Constitution score. An unprotected character faces potential suffocation after a number rounds equal to twice her Constitution score. Once the grace period ends, the character must make a successful Constitution check (DC 10, +1 per previous check) each round or begin suffocating on the encroaching sand. In the first round after suffocation begins, the character falls unconscious (0 hp). In the following round, she drops to -1 hit points and is dying. In the third round, she suffocates to death.


The baking ground of the waste heats air above it very quickly, producing spinning winds of varying intensity.

When the weather is clear, the rapidly rising hot air forms a dust devil. This resembles a tornado but is smaller and relatively weak, with winds rarely exceeding 60 miles per hour. Still, winds that reach severe or windstorm speed are strong enough to deal damage (see Wind Effects. At ground level, visibility is reduced to practically nothing, granting total concealment to creatures within.

A tornado is the most violent kind of mundane whirlwind, with winds that can exceed 200 miles per hour. It is very localized, though-the widest tornado is less than a mile across, and most have a diameter of only a few hundred feet. Tornadoes move relatively slowly across the landscape but can make sudden, erratic turns that are impossible to predict. They occur most often at the boundaries between waste environments and more temperate areas. A whirlwind spawned at the edge of a desert can move into the temperate region, or into the deep waste.

The most severe thunderstorms (roughly one in ten) also generate tornadoes. Even so, fewer than half of those whirlwinds pack winds above hurricane strength (75 to 174 miles per hour). For game purposes, assume one thunderstorm in twenty generates a tornado-force wind. In the heart of such a violent storm, visibility is reduced to zero (total concealment), and Spot, Search, and listen checks are impossible, as are ranged weapon attacks. Refer to Weather, for more information on these hazards.

Sand Dunes

Most people immediately think of sand dunes when they imagine a desert, but in fact many kinds of waste have no dunes at all. Winds carry away soil, sand, and even light pebbles, leaving behind a thin "pavement" of larger stones. Dried lake beds are plains of cracked mud crusted with salt. Lava flows cover the land with humped, rough stone. Still, hardy grasses and undergrowth do exist in some parts of the waste, catching grains of sand and holding them in place long enough for immense "waves" to grow.

Sand dunes are wandering things, although the mundane variety travels no more than a couple of hundred feet in a year. This is enough to eventually overrun farmland and choke out forests, but it is not an immediate hazard to most creatures. However, the constant action of wind on sand produces potentially hazardous situations.

Collapse: A sand dune has a long, shallow back slope shaped by the wind and a sharp leading edge with a steep drop on the lee side. This edge is precarious, with the pull of gravity just balanced by the tendency of sand grains to stick together. Coarser sand or lighter gravity produces higher and steeper dunes, while fine grains or heavier gravity produces low dunes with gentler slopes. However, the wind can swiftly shift the balance, blowing sand off the edge and triggering a sudden collapse. A collapsing dune is every bit as dangerous as an avalanche and follows the same rules.

Blowout: A change in wind direction can produce a blowout, hollowing out the center of a dune and leaving a large cavity. This cavity is not always visible, and a thin layer of safe-looking sand might cover a vast tomb that swallows people and animals without a trace. The crust covering a blowout is too weak to support any creature larger than Tiny. Noticing a blowout requires a successful DC 10 Survival check; however, charging or running characters are not entitled to a check. Characters enveloped by the sand begin to take damage and suffocate as though trapped by an avalanche. A blowout hides in one out of every one hundred sand dunes (1% chance).

Sand dunes that have been stabilized by grasses or shrubby trees are much less likely to collapse. Still, even such a place can hide a blowout if the undergrowth in the area is thin.

Quick sand

Quicksand can't occur without water. Saturated sand is surrounded and buoyed up by the surrounding liquid, forming a suspension that unwary travelers can mistake for normal sand. While an oasis or the edge of a salt lake might contain the conditions for quicksand to occur, it is not likely - and there is no chance of encountering quicksand in the dry waste. Supernatural hazards, though, such as slipsand, are sometimes mistakenly referred to as "quicksand," and such places give rise to terrible stories.

Sand Travel

Fields of deep sand can impede the movement of creatures that cannot fly, float, or otherwise stay off the ground when traveling. Most creatures do not automatically sink all the way into deep sand. A hard crust of dried mud or salt can make the surface hard enough to support some weight. Sand that has been stabilized by desert growth is generally safe to walk on.

The following new terrain features are provided to supplement those found under Desert Terrain.

Shallow Sand: Shallow sand is much more common in desert areas than deep sand. Areas covered by this terrain feature have a layer of loose sand about 1 foot deep. It costs 2 squares of movement to move into a square with shallow sand, and the DC of Tumble checks in such a square increases by 2.

Deep Sand: Deep sand is most often found in deep deserts near areas of rolling dunes and fierce storms. Many creatures unfamiliar with desert terrain mistake deep sand for quicksand, although deep sand is not nearly as deadly. Areas covered by this terrain feature have a layer of loose sand up to 3 feet deep. It costs Medium or larger creatures 3 squares of movement to move into a square with deep sand. It costs Small or smaller creatures 4 squares of movement to move into a square with deep sand. Tumbling is impossible in deep sand.

Sand Crust: A sand crust appears as normal solid ground. Usually formed from a hardened crust of dried mud or salt, sand crusts sometimes cover areas of shallow sand (or, very rarely, deep sand). If a creature weighing more than 100 pounds (including equipment carried) enters a square covered with a sand crust, it breaks through to the sand below. The creature treats the square as shallow sand or deep sand, whichever lies below that square of sand crust, and it must deal with the effects of the sand on movement as described above. Creatures moving through an area of sand crust leave a trail in their wake, turning the sand crust they pass through into shallow sand or deep sand squares as applicable. Creatures weighing 100 pounds or less can treat sand crust as normal terrain.

Sun Dangers

In the clear, dry air of the waste, nothing blocks the sun's rays, which can pose dangers of their own.


The sun can be extremely dangerous to unprotected eyes, drying and irritating the tissue. Areas of white sand, salt, gypsum, or similarly light-colored material reflect the sun's glare into the eyes even when not looked at directly. Sun glare is doubly dangerous during winter months, when the sun is low on the horizon and thus difficult to avoid looking at.

Characters traveling in such conditions must cover their eyes with a veil, dark lenses, or a similar eye covering. Those whose eyes are unprotected in such conditions are automatically dazzled. Such characters take a -1 penalty on attack rolls, Search checks, and Spot checks. These penalties are doubled for creatures that have light sensitivity (such as drow or orcs). Characters who take the precaution of covering or shielding their eyes automatically eliminate the risk of being dazzled by sun glare and take no penalties.

Glare-induced blindness lasts as long as characters remain in an area of sun glare and for 1d4 hours thereafter, or for 1 hour thereafter if the character enters a shadowed or enclosed area. The dazzling effect of sun glare can be negated by a remove blindness spell, but an unprotected character still in an area of sun glare immediately becomes dazzled again when the spell's duration expires.


Sunburn is a serious hazard when traveling in the waste. A mild sunburn is merely distracting, but more severe burns can be life-threatening.

Avoiding sunburn requires covering up exposed skin, wearing hats or robes, or carrying a parasol. Protective lotions also keep the skin safe, and beings native to torrid climates have developed dark skin pigmentation to protect against the sun. Of course, wearing heavy clothing carries its own risks (increasing the likelihood of succumbing to heatstroke), and sunlight reflected from light-colored surfaces can still reach beneath a hat or shade.

Characters who take even minimal care to protect their skin from direct sunlight (a hat, a cloak, or other body-covering garment will do) are not subject to sunburn. Wearing the desert outfit sufficient to prevent sunburn. In addition, several other items in Wastes Gear can protect against the effects of sunburn.

If a character is caught out in the sun and completely unprotected, serious consequences can result. After 3 hours of such exposure, the character is mildly sunburned and takes 1 point of nonlethal damage. After 3 hours more exposure, the character develops severe sunburn and immediately takes 2d6 points of nonlethal damage and a -2 penalty on Fortitude saves to avoid damage or fatigue from heat dangers until the nonlethal damage is healed.

Characters or creatures with naturally dark (or tanned) skin pigmentation are naturally resistant to sunburn.

Such individuals can remain in the sun unprotected for 6 hours before becoming mildly sunburned, and for 12 hours before becoming severely sunburned.

Other Dangers

Even without the threat of dehydration, heatstroke, or sandstorms, waste terrain can be deadly.

Flash Floods

Storms or spring runoff from nearby mountains can send deadly walls of water through ravines or along low desert gullies. A flash flood can suddenly raise the water level of an area, filling a dry gulch to the top of its walls. A flood raises the water level by 1d10+10 feet within a matter of minutes. Water washes through affected squares, traveling at a speed of 60 feet or more, unless impeded by slopes or solid barriers. Treat a flash flood as stormy water (Swim DC 20 to avoid being swept away). An additional DC 20 Swim check is required each round to keep the head above water. Characters who stay below the surface might drown). See Aquatic Terrain, for more about the effects of being swept away. Along with the hazards of fast-flowing water, the flow uproots trees and rolls enormous boulders with deadly impact. Characters struck by a wall of water during a flash flood must make a successful DC 15 Reflex save or take 3d6 points of bludgeoning damage. A flash flood passes through an area in 3d4 hours.


As air heats up over the desert floor, shimmering convection currents appear. These currents blur and distort features behind them and can even produce optical illusions called mirages. A mirage is formed at the boundary between hot air at ground level and a cooler layer higher up, which acts as a lens to refract light and reflect images of more distant objects. Mirages can disorient travelers in the waste by obscuring landmarks or making distances seem shorter than they actually are.

One can reduce the effect of a mirage by getting to higher elevation, which minimizes the amount of refraction. Of course, this requires not only a place to climb (or a fly spell) but also the ability to recognize what you are looking at. An observer can make a DC 12 Will save to disbelieve the apparent image. A character who suspects a mirage gets a +4 circumstance bonus on this save. Once the existence of a mirage is revealed, disbelief is automatic.

Getting Lost

As discussed in Wilderness Adventures, adventurers might become lost when traversing various sorts of terrain. Refer to that chapter for more information regarding the chances and effects of becoming lost as well as regaining one's bearings.

Additionally, sandstorms, steam clouds, mirages, trackless lava flows, and glaring sand can easily confuse and disorient characters. Disorientation or even hallucinations from heatstroke can also cause a character to become lost.

Survival DCs To Avoid Getting Lost
TerrainSurvival Check DC
Barren waste12
Evaporated sea10
Glass sea15
Petrified forest17
Survival DC Modifiers To Avoid Getting Lost
ConditionSurvival Check DC Modifier
Mist or steam+2
Heat shimmer+2
*See Overland Movement.

Steam and Mist

Although the waste is usually dry, circumstances can combine to produce thick clouds of mist or even steam. Some creatures living in such regions adapt and become able recover the precious moisture from the atmosphere.

Deserts that border coastal areas do not themselves receive much precipitation, but when cooler, moist ocean air encounters the superheated air over the land, water condenses out into a thick mist. During the day, this mist is uncomfortably hot, while at night it is more tolerably warm until it is dispersed by strong winds that kick up as the land cools. In active volcanic regions, hot springs and fissures vent scalding steam. Lava flowing into a body of water throws up huge clouds of hot mist, as well as showers of stone fragments and ash.

Areas of hot mist increase the effective temperature band by one (see Temperature bands), as humidity combines with high temperature to keep the body from cooling during the day and conversely moderates the cold of the desert night.

Steam erupting directly from a hot spring, lava flow, or other fiery source is much more dangerous, dealing 1d6 points of lethal damage per round to a creature within (no save). Such steam does cool rapidly in the air, however, and only deals such damage within a 30-foot radius of its fiery source. Beyond 30 feet from the source, the steam is just a warm mist.

Mist or steam obscures vision, providing concealment. If it contains dust, powdered salt, and similar noxious substances, mist also poses the risk of suffocation (see Suffocation). Toxic vapors mixed with fog act as an inhaled poison.

Supernatural Waste Hazards

In desert wastes, where one's survival always hangs by the narrowest of threads, heat and thirst are not the only dangers. Many kinds of waste terrain occur in unnatural environments, such as on the Outer Planes, or are created through magic. In such places, magical and supernatural perils add even more formidable hazards to those of the mundane waste, although magic traps and supernatural hazards can occur anywhere.

Supernatural terrains and hazards are places where the earth is infused with deadly power, and most magical hazards can easily lure the unwary to dusty graves. Some supernatural terrains and hazards are noticeably different at a glance, such as the bloody tint of a red sea or the swallowing darkness of a patch of black sand. Other forms of supernatural terrain resemble ordinary terrain and can be identified only by someone who knows exactly what to look for.

A few supernatural waste hazards are magical without being particularly threatening, and desert denizens, such as the sand shaper, put them to good use. Even those who can tame this awesome power know to always respect the magic of the waste, for it has risen up against countless conquerors and buried their mighty works and cities under mountains of sand and silence.

Avoiding Supernatural Hazards: Unless otherwise noted in a hazard's description, a character approaching an area of magical terrain at a normal pace is entitled to a Survival check to notice the danger before entering the area. The DC of this check varies with the particular terrain. Charging or running characters, or characters whose rate of movement exceeds the extent of their current vision, don't have a chance to detect the threat before blundering in. Usually, characters who enter dangerous terrain without noticing the danger complete their intended movement before becoming aware of it.

Black Sand

Mundane volcanic lands sometimes feature black sand composed of ground-up cinders. Other than its striking color, such sand is no different from any other. However, magical black sand is a vile peril, whether on the scoured surface of Minerhys in the Tarterian Depths of Carceri (where the Plane of Shadow overlays the Elemental Plane of Earth) or in lands cursed by foul magic.

Black sand is infused with shadowstuff and negative energy. A region of black sand literally swallows light; magical darkness rises to a height of 20 feet over the surface. Nothing short of a sunburst spell can disperse this darkness, and even then only for a period of 1 hour per caster level. In addition, creatures that come in contact with the sand take 1d4 points of damage per round from negative energy. Upon reaching 0 hit points, they crumble and join the black sand.

Devil Dunes

The fastest dunes advance only a couple hundred feet each year, but dunes made of sand under the influence of unearthly winds or particles of unusually fine material (such as ground bone or glass) might move many times faster. A "racing dune" is a mountain of grit that travels at least 1 foot per hour - often faster. It can choke an entire city in days, fill up precious waterways, and even smother sleeping creatures. These dunes, threatening as they are, pale in comparison with devil dunes.

Certain sand dunes seem to resent the disturbance caused by the passage of mortal feet across their surfaces, and seek to exact a grim vengeance for the presumption. These devil dunes move under their own magical power, rolling like great waves of sand as they pursue those who trespass against them.

Devil dunes measure 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 40 feet high. They move at a rate of 60 feet per round, as though blown by a powerful yet undetectable wind. They relentlessly pursue trespassers to the very edge of the waste - the limit of their domain. As long as their prey travels upon the sands, devil dunes always know where to find it.

Devil dunes kill by enveloping their prey and suffocating it. When any part of a devil dune enters a square containing its quarry, the creature is allowed a DC 15 Reflex saving throw. If the save fails, the quarry is buried. Buried creatures take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage per minute. Once unconscious, a buried creature must make a successful DC 15 Constitution check each minute thereafter or take 3d6 points of lethal damage until free or dead.

A devil dune seems almost like a living creature, except that no amount of ordinary damage can stop it. A soften earth and stone spell cast on a devil dune reduces the dune's speed by half for the duration of the spell. An earthquake spell breaks apart a devil dune, which takes weeks to reform.


A character in a waste environment who touches a corrupted object or a diseased creature, or ingests contaminated food or drink, might contract one of the following diseases. See Disease for explanations of the infection, DC, incubation, and damage entries in the table below.

Waste Diseases
SandeyesContact141 day1d4 Cha¹
Volcanic feverInhaled171d3 days1d6 Con
The wasting²Injury191 day1d4 Dex, 1d4 Con
¹ Each time the disease deals 2 or more points of Charisma damage, a victim must make another successful Fortitude save or become permanently blind.
²Victim must make three successful saving throws in a row to recover.

Sandeyes: A creeping blindness caused by desiccated eye tissue.

Volcanic Fever: This disease spreads through the inhalation of ash, which causes the victim's body temperature to rise to an unearthly heat. A character killed by volcanic fever crumbles into fine ash within 24 hours.

The Wasting: This is a supernatural disease spread by demons and other foul creatures of the waste. Skin and tissues slowly dry and toughen, mummifying the victim.

Fey Oases

Oases - watering holes where nomads and caravans can take temporary refuge - dot many desert landscapes. They are sometimes shared by multiple groups of wayfarers who use the opportunity to trade goods and news. Every so often, such an oasis is the domain of fey - and some fey, particularly mirage mullahs, delight in tormenting mortals who fall into their hands.

A fey oasis seems like any other oasis, except that a rich merchant caravan appears to be encamped there. Every member of the caravan is a fey creature. The magic of the oasis makes them appear to be mortals, just as it makes an actually barren stretch of desert appear to be a verdant glen filled with fresh water and date trees.

A fey oasis always appears at dusk and disappears at dawn - taking with it anyone foolish enough to remain in the camp that long. When it reappears at some point in the future (and, in all likelihood, somewhere else in the world), the "abducted" individual returns as well. That individual has now become a mirage mullah, and is bound to the oasis like the rest of the fey.


In certain locations in the waste, magical fire falls from the sky like rain - a phenomenon that waste-dwellers call a flamestorm. Flamestorms occur somewhat more frequently than rainfall does in the desert, though they are hardly an everyday occurrence.

Flamestorms are presaged by the formation of dark clouds in the sky, which the uninitiated might mistake for rain clouds (DC 15 Survival check to determine that they are not). A DC 15 Spot check reveals that the flashes of light in the clouds are more reddish-orange than ordinary lightning, or a DC 5 Spot check reveals that the darkness under an approaching storm cloud is pierced by streaks of ruddy light.

The fiery raindrops produced by flamestorms deal 2d6 points of fire damage each round to every creature in the area. The flaming raindrops automatically ignite any flammable item they touch; otherwise, they burn out immediately. The raindrops themselves are not magical, though the rain clouds that produce them are.

The constant crackle and low roar of the falling fire provides a -4 penalty on listen checks. Ranged weapon attacks in a flamestorm are made with a -2 penalty if the projectile is constructed - even partially - of wood (such as an arrow, a spear, or a throwing axe).

A flamestorm generally lasts 5d6 rounds.

Flay Wind

The terrible flaywind is feared throughout the planes. It propels sand with such velocity that it reduces a living creature to bare bones within hours, and exposed bone to fine powder in a matter of days. Minethys, the third layer of Carceri, is constantly scoured by flaywinds. A flaywind might exist on its own or as the sinister core of a larger sandstorm. The storm typically lasts 1d4x10 hours, but some flaywinds of legend have lasted for days.

The strength of flaywinds can vary. However, one is always of at least sandstorm grade (see Winds, for details on storm grades and their effects).

A creature caught in a flaywind, or any object with hardness less than 5, takes 1d4 points of lethal damage per round instead of the nonlethal damage dealt by a Material Plane sandstorm. Wearing heavy clothing (or any form of armor) reduces the damage to 1d3 points per round, but it cannot protect entirely from the abrasion. A barricade or enclosed space is the only sure protection. Inhabitants of Minethys have developed a special garment to block the stinging grit, but it is a hazard of its own in the stifling heat of most waste environments, imposing a -6 penalty on Fortitude saves to avoid succumbing to heat instead of the normal -4 for heavy clothing.

Necrotic Flaywinds: When a flaywind arises in a area of black sand, the storm is known as a necrotic flaywind.

A creature killed by such a storm is reduced to bone, which the negative energy of the black sand then animates into a skeleton (use the skeleton template. When a necrotic flaywind passes on, it might leave behind armies of skeletal beings.

Avoiding Flaywinds: In general, creatures in an area about to be struck by a flaywind are entitled to DC 20 Survival checks to detect the approaching danger 1 minute before it strikes. This might not be enough time to get out of the storm's path, but it could provide an opportunity to seek shelter or make other preparations.

Furnace Wind

In wastes of unearthly heat, the air itself is a lethal weapon. When the furnace wind blows, any open water dries up and flammable materials ignite.

A furnace wind arises at midday, seemingly blowing from the sun itself. It sweeps fiercely over the baking ground, and then passes as quickly as it came. A typical furnace wind lasts 4d4 rounds. It is never below windstorm force, and in addition to the normal effects of such a strong wind, it deals fire damage, as given on the following table.

Furnace Wind Effects
Wind ForceEffect
Windstorm1d6 fire damage/round (Fort DC 14 half)
Hurricane2d6 fire damage/round (Fort DC 18 half)
Tornado4d6 fire damage/round (Fort DC 22 half)

Avoiding Furnace Winds: In general, creatures in an area about to be struck by furnace winds are entitled to DC 20 Survival checks to detect the approaching danger 1 minute before it strikes. This might not be enough time to get out of the storm's path, but it could provide an opportunity to seek shelter or make other preparations.

Furnace Zones

A furnace zone is an area of constant, intense magical or supernatural heat that constantly deals the damage of a normal furnace wind. Furnace zones vary in intensity just as furnace winds do even though no wind actually blows in a furnace zone. Such areas of blistering heat, though magically or supernaturally summoned, afford victims no saving throw or spell resistance. Creatures with immunity to heat or fire, however, do not take damage from a furnace zone.

Leech Salt Flats

Ordinary salt flats found in the waste are dangerous enough simply because potable water is extremely scarce. Beyond that, in salt flat areas where the ground is suffused with arcane energy, the salt can drain moisture out of living beings.

A leech salt flat appears like any other salt flats, though it radiates a faint necromancy aura. living creatures that travel across a leech salt flat require five times the usual daily allotment of fluids (see Starvation and Thirst) to avoid becoming dehydrated, as the environment itself steals moisture from their bodies.

A traveler whose water supply runs out is in even more trouble: After a number of hours equal to its Constitution score + 4, the creature must make a successful Constitution check (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d6 points of desiccate damage. A creature that takes desiccate damage from leech salts is dehydrated. The creature must repeat this check every 10 minutes until receiving at least 2 quarts of water or until death. Leaving the leech salt flat extends the time between these checks to 1 hour.

Leech salts magically dehydrate victims, which means that creatures need not receive long-term care to become rehydrated; simply receiving adequate water clears the dehydrated state. Nonlethal damage from thirst cannot be recovered until a creature gets at least 2 quarts of water. Not even magical healing (such as cure light wounds) heals such damage until this condition is met.

Mirror Sand

When ordinary sand mixes with deposits of tin or silver, and the resulting granules are polished by windblown dust to a mirror finish, the sand itself can reflect light-and heat. Travelers in the waste dread mirror sand, because it is extremely unsafe to cross in the daylight. In addition to raising the temperature by 200°, mirror sand effectively blinds anyone who gazes at it - sometimes permanently.

A creature that wishes to make a Spot check while traveling over mirror sand must first make a DC 18 Fortitude save. Any creature that fails this save cannot open its eyes long enough to take a good look around. The DC increases by 2 each consecutive round that the creature has already been looking around. Plus, each full round that a creature's eyes are exposed to mirror sand requires a DC 10 Fortitude save. If this save fails, the creature becomes temporarily blinded, due to damage to its eyes. The creature can make another DC 10 Fortitude save to recover from this blindness after spending 24 hours in darkness or with its eyes closed.

If, for some reason, a blinded creature continues to expose its eyes to the reflected brightness from mirror sand, it must make a successful Fortitude save each hour (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or become permanently blind.

In the case of either permanent or temporary blindness, the spell remove blindness/deafness removes the condition immediately.

It is somewhat safer to cross mirror sand if one knows the route well enough to travel it blindfolded. Some desert dwellers do - though, of course, any creature traveling with its eyes closed is extremely vulnerable to nearby predators. If the terrain is unfamiliar, a creature risks stepping into a chasm or even over the edge of a cliff.

Moon Dust

"Moondust" need not occur literally on a moon, although the airless lunar surface is certainly a waste environment. Meteorites, many of them microscopically small, constantly bombard a world that lacks a thick atmosphere. The clashing cubes of Acheron or the grinding of the Elemental Plane of Earth can also produce moondust. This action pounds rock into a mixture of fine, jagged fragments and tiny droplets of glass created by impact.

Without wind or water, the normal forces of erosion are not present. The tiny fragments remain jagged rather than becoming smooth (as ordinary sand does), and thus they stick together tightly. Their extremely small size allows the particles to float readily with only a slight disturbance and then to stick to any surface with incredible tenacity. The dust penetrates almost any fabric, coats respiratory passages, and clogs machinery. Even covering the nose and mouth is no protection against suffocation from moondust (see the Suffocation in a Sandstormsidebar). Only an impermeable barrier, such as a mask of sweet air, or an appropriate spell, such as Leomund's tiny hut or avoid planar effects can prevent the suffocation.

Phantom Cities

Most mirages vanish when a viewer approaches them closely, but certain mirages persist even after the viewer has fully entered them. The most common of these are phantom cities - cities that appear completely real, but vanish as soon as the viewer departs the city's border.

Phantom cities always appear as fantastic edifices, existing against all probability in the harshest surroundings: gold-roofed buildings in the heart of bandit country; fountains gushing wine and water; cool breezes stirring palm fronds; and happy, healthy, physically perfect citizens going about their days with contented smiles. They might tell fantastic tales of how their city is magically protected from evil and from the elements, and of how they live for centuries rather than for years - all, they claim, because of the magical power of their city.

Lending some credence to such tales is the fact that only those of good alignment are capable of perceiving these cities. It might be that they exist in pocket dimensions (such as that created by a rod of security), or that they are planar gates to some unknown location. To those who visit them, they seem real; a visitor can climb high towers or wander through verdant valleys where no tall trees, cliffs, deep canyons, or even chasms exist. Though a visitor might stay for many years in a phantom city, when he emerges he is generally well fed and in good health, as though he had spent his time lounging in a palace, rather than wandering in the desert.

A phantom city does not magically fade from view once a visitor departs from it; the city does not disappear any more mysteriously than any ordinary city would in the eyes of someone journeying away from it. The same cannot be said of characters who enter a phantom city; those who cannot perceive the city see the visitor fade from sight, though the visitor can still see and hear those outside.

Phantom Voices

When the winds blow in the desert, it is easy to imagine that one can hear voices calling across the sands. This is a natural phenomenon. However, when the voices carry on conversations with a traveler, magic is at work.

Phantom voices are sometimes known as the spirits of the sand, because they seem to know a great deal about the wastes from which they emanate. They are able to point out dangerous areas and provide information about monsters that might be encountered. Unfortunately, they only answer direct questions, and only if the questioner makes a small sacrifice to them first by pouring onto the dry ground the contents of a full waterskin (or about one-third of the daily water requirement for a Medium creature).

Properly propitiated, the phantom voices answer with complete accuracy - provided they actually know the answer. (The voices are not omniscient.) For example, the question "Are there raiders in the ruins to the north?" would get a definite yes or no answer, but the question "Will we encounter raiders in the desert?" is a question the voices can't answer. (They can't foretell the future.) The question "Is the monster bigger than a polar worm?" is likewise unanswerable, since the phantom voices have no concept of a polar worm, which lies outside their realm of experience.

Answers other than a simple yes or no are expressed in vague terms. "What are the raiders doing right now?" would be answered with "Watching" (meaning that the raiders have guards posted), rather than "Some are standing guard outside a big tent while those inside plot a raid against the spice caravan that sometimes passes through this area." Likewise, "How many raiders are there?" would receive an answer of "Many" or some similar response, while the question "Do the raiders outnumber us?" would receive a yes or no response.

These voices never rise above the level of a whisper, as though they were originating from some distance away. Some travelers find them extremely disturbing despite their helpfulness because, once the voices are provided with water, they continually clamor for more. The voices depart after several hours, but in the meantime those attempting to rest find it nearly impossible with phantom voices whispering "Water? Water?" all around them.

Plains Of Glass

Very high temperatures melt sand into glass. Lightning strokes from thunderstorms might produce a number of small glassy areas, and a volcano's eruption can eject "bombs" of glass. Additionally, the energy produced by magical power, such as a vitrify spell or a sustained wall of fire or wall of magma spell, can create a wide expanse of fused sand that stretches for miles.

Traveling on a plain of glass is treacherous. The surface is as slick as an ice sheet. Each square costs 2 squares of movement to enter, and the DC of Balance and Tumble checks increases by 5. A DC 10 Balance check is required to run or charge across glass.

Glass plains are often fractured, with jagged shards sticking out in all directions along huge fissures. Explosive attacks against a smooth glass plain, or the impact of a siege engine's missile, throw up a devastating cloud of glass slivers that fills a 5-foot-radius area 10 feet high. Creatures caught in a glass spray take 3d6 points of piercing damage, though a successful DC 13 Reflex save reduces the damage by half. The glass is vulnerable to sonic attacks. The damage of a spell or effect that deals sonic damage increases by 50% and always generates a glass spray when the effect is targeted on a smooth plain of glass.


The poisons described below can be found in any region, although they generally originate in waste areas or with waste creatures.

PoisonTypeInitial DamageSecondary DamagePriceTrap DC Modifier
Crystal scorpion poisonContact DC 191d4 daysHelpless 1d4 hours,
1,500 gp+2
Dunewinder venomInjury DC 201d8 Con1d8 Con1,000 gp+3
Volcanic gasInhaled DC 13Unconsciousness1d6 Con-+1

Crystal Scorpion Poison: Distilled from the venom of monstrous scorpions, this alchemically treated (Craft [alchemy] DC 25) poison is often sought out by warlords or assassins who want to see a victim suffer for days. The process of treating the venom renders it translucent, but with the refractive qualities of a perfect prism when held up to the light in a clear container.

Dunewinder Venom: See the dunewinder monster entry.

Volcanic Gas: Active volcano craters, mud pots, and similar features often vent a poisonous mixture of gases.

Volcanic gas is an inhaled poison, but unlike with a thrown vial, the gas cloud persists in the area it fills. Characters exposed to the gas must continue to make saves each minute against the secondary damage until they leave the gas-filled zone. The volume filled by a cloud of volcanic gas might consist of many 10-foot cubes. A pit trap might include a volcanic fissure that adds poisonous fumes to the hazard.

Red Seas

Mundane salt lakes can acquire a red hue from a combination of the dissolved minerals and microscopic creatures that thrive in this unlikely environment. However, a red sea is a far more exotic hazard. It is pure salt - not salt water - kept liquid through supernatural or magical power and given a bloodred color by the corrosion of metal in the rock it touches. The River of Salt that flows through the layer of the Abyss called Azzagrat has the same properties, though its colors vary through a range of noisome hues as it meanders through that infernal realm.

Immersion in a red sea is deadly. The salt rapidly desiccates a living creature, dealing 1d6 points of desiccate damage per round of contact (desiccate damage, as opposed to damage from normal dehydration, is usually dealt by magic. Water elementals, plant creatures, and freshwater dwellers are especially vulnerable to this effect, taking 1d6 points of desiccate damage per round instead. On the other hand, a salt mephit's normal rate of fast healing is doubled if it is in contact with a red sea. Weapons or armor that are primarily metallic corrode away; the damage dealt by a red sea overcomes the hardness of metal.

A flask of liquid salt can be used as a splash weapon. However, the salt instantly corrodes ordinary containers made of leather, clay, or metal. Only a glass container can hold this stuff safely.


This substance, if encountered in the daytime, appears to be ordinary sand, albeit slightly darker than normal and cool to the touch. Even in subtropical and tropical climates, the temperature in an area covered by shadowsand rises only to about 70° F during the hottest part of the day.

At night, the true nature of shadowsand becomes apparent. The temperature of the sand plunges to below 0° F, catching many desert dwellers unprepared for such severe cold. (See Cold Dangers.) Shadowsand sucks the heat out of campfires and other blazes, preventing them from providing enough warmth to significantly improve matters. A DC 15 Survival check is required to realize that the radical drop in nighttime temperature in an area of shadowsand is not a natural occurrence.

If it were found in larger quantities, shadowsand might qualify as a terrain type, but areas of shadowsand are rarely more than a mile across. They are hardly a danger to those who are prepared for them, or who have the luxury of moving after night falls.

What makes shadowsand especially dangerous - and what might explain why it exists - is that certain types of undead (particularly vampires, spectres, and wraiths) are drawn to it, and they dwell under it during daylight hours. Any patch of shadowsand has a 25% chance of hosting one or more such undead. If the d% roll indicates an encounter, roll on the table below to determine its exact nature.

Shadowsand Encounters
1-4Vampire spawn (EL 4)
5-61d3 vampire spawn (EL 5)
7-8Wraith (EL 5)
91d3 wraiths (EL 6)
10Spectre (EL 7)


Shapesand shares many properties with the stuff of uncontrolled limbo - raw energy that can be molded into any form desired, according to the will of the shaper. The new shape is still composed of sand, but it has the qualities of the object it mimics.

Certain individuals attain a level of mastery over shapesand that allows them to exceed the substance's normal limitations (see the sand shaper prestige class). Even someone without that mastery can attempt to manipulate shapesand or take control of a shapesand item that was created by someone else (see the description of shapesand as a special material).


Tiny nodules of glass can form in the splash of a meteorite impact or as the result of a supernatural collision. Such particles have extraordinarily smooth, slippery surfaces. For this reason, a field of slipsand is far more deadly than the quicksand of the Prime Material Plane, or even supernatural softsand. The surface gives way readily under the slightest weight, swallowing up anything unfortunate enough to step on it. It is impossible to swim through or tread water in slipsand; a creature caught in it sinks to the bottom and begins to suffocate when it can no longer hold its breath (see Suffocation). Even asheratis are subject to this effect of slipsand, despite their ability to swim through normal sand. Slipsand looks no different from ordinary sand or dust from a distance, and a DC 15 Survival check is necessary to notice it. Charging or running characters are not entitled to a check.

Pulling a character from slipsand is similar to rescuing a character from quicksand (as described in Quicksand), but the DC of the rescuers Strength check is only 10 instead of 15, since slipsand does not have the gluey texture of quicksand. A character who fails to hold onto the rope or branch is not entitled to a Swim check, but immediately sinks to the bottom again.

Slumber Sand

Appearing in patches up to 1d3x100 feet across, slumber sand is deceptively ordinary-looking sand. However, when characters walk or ride over it for 2d4 rounds, the passage of their feet (or their mounts' feet) kicks up a soporific dust. Those who inhale this dust are affected as though by a sleep spell. The effect has no Hit Dice limit, but creatures can resist it by making DC 15 Fortitude saves. Affected characters remain asleep for 8 hours, minus 1/2 hour for each point of Constitution (to a minimum of 1 hour). Unless characters can fly or otherwise leave without disturbing the sand again, they might find exiting an area of slumber sand to be a tedious process of walk, sleep, wake, and walk again.

Areas of slumber sand can be identified as such from a safe distance with a DC 20 Survival check. Slumber sand can be made into an alchemical item of the same name that can be used to increase the effectiveness of the sleep spell.


Though actual quicksand cannot exist in dry environments, softsand can provide a similar effect in completely dry terrain. Not nearly so deadly as slipsand, softsand is not actual sand, but extremely light, powdery dust. Generally scattered harmlessly about by desert winds, it can sometimes collect in pits shielded from the wind, where it looks like ordinary sand.

A character approaching a patch of softsand can attempt a DC 10 Survival check to recognize it for what it is before stepping out onto it - though a charging or running character doesn't receive the same consideration. A typical patch of softsand is 20 to 50 (1d4+1 x 10) feet across. Running or charging characters usually make it about 1d2x5 feet into the softsand before beginning to sink.

A character in softsand must make a DC 15 Swim check to move 5 feet in any direction, and must get a result of 10 on a Swim check every round simply to remain where he is without sinking. A character who gets a result of 5 or lower on this check sinks below the surface and begin to suffocate (see Suffocation.)

A character below the surface of softsand can climb back to the surface if he can move toward the edge of the pit by making DC 15 Swim checks (as described above). Climbing out of a pit of softsand, once a character has reached the edge of the pit, requires a DC 15 Climb check.

Any character not trapped in softsand can extend a rope, branch, spear shaft, or similar object to the trapped character, then make a DC 15 Strength check to pull the victim to safety. The victim must make a DC 10 Strength check to retain a grip on the branch, pole, or rope, however. A victim who fails to hold on must immediately make a DC 15 Swim check or fall beneath the surface. If both Strength checks succeed, the victim is pulled 5 feet closer to safety (toward the character holding the branch, pole, or rope).

Wailing Waste

Where the winds blow constantly across the dunes, thin streams of sand pour from the dune tops with an eerie hum. Sometimes these singing sands are infused with a malevolent presence. Some claim that the spirits resent the presence of the living in their waste. Others believe the unearthly moans come directly from the planes - perhaps a howling wind from Pandemonium, or cries from souls tortured in the red-hot vaults of Dis. Whatever the source, an area of wailing waste is detrimental to those who hear it.

A creature within the area affected by a wailing waste's sound must make a DC 15 Will save or fall subject to a confusion effect (as the Confusion spell) for as long as the victim is able to hear the sound. Blocking the ears with wax or something similar seals out the sound and grants a new saving throw with a +4 bonus to end the confusion effect. A silence spell cancels the supernatural wailing, and any affected creatures return to normal after 1d4 rounds. A bard can also use the countersong ability to help allies resist the effects of the wailing sand.

Wilderness Waste Terrains

This section discusses the different waste terrains that adventurers might come upon in wilderness settings. Many of these terrains can exist simultaneously in the same environment. For example, a party might travel through a region of windblown dunes on the floor of an ancient crater, or scramble across rugged lava flows in the midst of a savannah.

Badlands Terrain

The result of thousands of years of wind or water erosion, badlands are mazes of canyons, gorges, tunnels, and cliffsides carved out of solid rock. Badlands appear in one of two categories: rugged (where the bare rock is mostly smooth) or forbidding (where the bare rock is mostly rough).

The table below lists the most common terrain features found in each of the two badlands categories. It is not necessary to roll for each square; rather, these percentages are presented as a guide for drawing maps. Gradual slopes, steep slopes, cliffs, and chasms are mutually exclusive. However, gradual and steep slopes might include light undergrowth or dense rubble.

Badlands Terrain Features
 -Badlands Category-
Dense rubble15%30%
Gradual slope60%20%
Light undergrowth10%5%
Shallow sand10%-
Steep slope40%60%

Chasm: Chasms function similarly to pits in dungeon settings. However, they are seldom hidden, so characters should rarely fall into them by accident. A typical chasm measures 2d4x10 feet deep, at least 20 feet long, and around 5d4 feet wide. Climbing out of a chasm requires a successful DC 15 Climb check.

Cliff: Cliffs in badlands terrain measure 1d4x10 feet tall, and generally require a DC 15 Climb check to climb up or down. They are seldom perfectly vertical. A cliff up to 30 feet high takes up 5 feet of horizontal space, and a cliff of 30 feet or higher takes up 10 feet of horizontal space.

Dense Rubble: The ground is strewn with large stones and shingles of loose rock. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with dense rubble. Dense rubble increases the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 5 and the DC of Move Silently checks by 2.

Gradual Slope: A gradual slope does not offer enough of a challenge to affect movement. However, characters gain a +1 bonus on melee attack rolls against foes downhill from them.

Light Undergrowth: Undergrowth in badlands consists of low-lying, short-bladed brush, sparse patches of dry moss, and small cacti. A square covered with light undergrowth costs 2 squares of movement to move into. Light undergrowth increases the DC of Tumble checks and Move Silently checks by 2.

Shallow Sand: Shallow sand is common in desert areas. Areas of this terrain feature a layer of loose sand about 1 foot deep. It costs 2 squares of movement to move into a square with shallow sand, and the DC of Tumble checks in such a square increases by 2.

Steep Slope: Characters moving uphill (that is, to an adjacent square of higher elevation) must spend 2 squares of movement to enter each square of a steep slope. A character running or charging downhill (to an adjacent square of a lower elevation) must make a successful DC 10 Balance check. If the check fails, the character stumbles and moves only 1d2 squares. Characters who fail the check by s or more fall prone in the square where their movement ended. Mounted characters, similarly, must make successful DC 10 Ride checks or face similar results with their mounts. A steep slope increases the D of Tumble checks by 2.

Other Badlands Terrain Elements: Because badlands are often formed by water erosion, streams in badlands are not uncommon. Such streams are usually 5 to 10 feet wide and no more than 3 feet deep. Likewise, dry streambeds are common (since badlands are essentially extremely deep dry streambeds, after all). Treat such terrain features as trenches 5 to 10 feet across. Remember, when adding a stream or streambed, that the water must flow downhill.

Stealth and Detection in Badlands: For most purposes, the maximum distance in badlands terrain at which a Spot check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 4d10x10 feet. The twisting, winding nature of badlands makes spotting at greater distances nearly impossible (which is why badlands are so favored by raiders and outlaws as hideouts). Cover in badlands is plentiful, from ridgelines and hilltops to caves and hollows. Because sound echoes so much in badlands, the DC of listen checks increases by 2.


A rockslide occurs when rocks dislodged from a slope gather momentum and tumble rapidly downhill. For the effects of rockslides, see Avalanches.

Barren Waste Terrain

Barren waste is the most desert-like of all waste terrains. They exist in any warm climate where the evaporation is extraordinarily fast and the rainfall virtually nonexistent. Water is even more scarce here than in ordinary deserts. Barren waste comes in two categories: sandy and gravelly.

The table below describes terrain elements found in both of the two barren waste categories. As with badlands terrain, you needn't roll for each square; the percentages are intended as a general guide for mapping.

Barren Waste Terrain Features
 -Barren Waste Category-
Deep sand10%-
Dense rubble- 20%
Gradual slope10% 10%
Light rubble10% 50%
Sand crust (shallow)10% -
Sand dunes20%-
Shallow sand20% 5%

Deep Sand: These areas feature a layer of loose sand up to 3 feet deep. It costs Medium or larger creatures 3 squares of movement to move into a square with deep sand. It costs Small or smaller creatures 4 squares of movement to move into a square with deep sand. Tumbling is impossible in deep sand.

Dense Rubble: Dense rubble functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Gradual Slope: A gradual slope functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Light Rubble: The ground is covered with small rocks and gravel, making nimble movement more difficult. light rubble increases the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 2.

Sand Crust: A sand crust appears as normal solid ground, but it actually conceals a layer of shallow sand. If a creature weighing more than 100 pounds (including weight of equipment carried) enters a square covered with sand crust, it breaks through to the shallow sand below. The creature treats the square as shallow sand, and it must deal with the effects of the sand on movement (as described under Badlands, above). These creatures leave a trail of crushed sand crust in their wake, turning the sand crust they pass through into shallow sand. Creatures weighing 100 pounds or less treat sand crust as normal terrain.

Sand Dunes: Created by the action of wind on sand, sand dunes function as hills that move. If the wind is strong and consistent, a sand dune can move as much as a hundred feet in a year's time. A sand dune can cover hundreds of squares and might reach a height of a thousand feet. It slopes gently on the side pointing in the direction of the prevailing wind, but can be extremely steep on the leeward side. Where the wind blows from several different directions, depending on the season, sand dunes take the shape of "stars" with three or more points - but where the wind blows steadily in one direction, sand dunes form row upon row of dusty ridges.

Shallow Sand: Shallow sand functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Other Barren Waste Terrain Elements: Barren waste is one of the few places where oleum springs can be found. The black liquid that bubbles up out of the ground is useful for lubrication. See the oleum special substance description.

Stealth and Detection in Barren Waste: In most cases, the maximum distance in barren waste terrain at which a Spot check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 6d6x20 feet. Beyond this distance, elevation changes and heat distortion make visual spotting impossible. Where sand dunes are present, the spotting distance is halved.

Barren waste imposes neither a bonus nor a penalty on listen or Spot checks. The DC of Move Silently checks increases by 2 in gravel, however.


Sandstorms occur in sandy barren waste, and many other areas of the warm desert, when the wind reaches windstorm speed. See the description of sandstorms for details.

Evaporated Sea Terrain

As a sea dries up in the extreme heat of the waste, it leaves behind a vast stretch of dry land that was once a seafloor. These types of terrain come in three categories: silt seas, dry seas, and salt flats. Inland seas evaporate to leave fields of moist silt or dry sand, while salt seas leave behind salt flats dotted with occasional high-saline lakes.

The table below describes terrain features found in each of the evaporated sea categories. Drawing maps for evaporated sea terrain is essentially the same as drawing hill maps. Define the peaks and valleys, with an eye toward the direction of slopes, then indicate which valley portions, if any, are actually lakes rather than dry land. Refer to Wilderness for rules on aquatic terrain. Gradual slopes, steep slopes, cliffs, and chasms are mutually exclusive. Gradual and steep slopes might include undergrowth or dense rubble, however.

Evaporated Sea Terrain Features
 -Evaporated Sea Category-
 Silt SeaDry SeaSalt Flat
Chasm -10% 5%
Cliff 10%30% 10%
Deep sand -10% 5%
Gradual slope 10%30% 5%
Light rubble 5%20% 10%
Light undergrowth 20%5%-
Sand crust (shallow) 10%20% 25%
Sand crust (deep) -10% 15%
Shallow bog 15%- -
Shallow sand 10%20% 10%
Steep slope 5%20% -

Deep Sand: Deep sand functions as described under Barren Waste Terrain, above.

Chasm: Chasms function as described under Badlands, above.

Cliff: Cliffs function as described under Badlands Terrain.

Gradual Slope: A gradual slope functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Light Rubble: light rubble functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Light Undergrowth: light undergrowth functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Sand Crust: Sand crust functions as described under Barren Waste Terrain, above. For sand crust over deep sand, use the deep sand description for the sand underneath, rather than the shallow sand description.

Shallow Bog: Especially damp silt can hinder movement like a bog does. If a square is part of a shallow bog, it has deep mud, silt, or standing water about 1 foot deep. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a shallow bog, and the DC of Tumble checks in such a square increases by 2. Shallow bogs also increase the DC of Move Silently checks by 2.

Shallow Sand: Shallow sand functions as described under Badlands Terrain, above.

Steep Slope: Steep slopes function as described under Badlands Terrain, above.

Other Evaporated Sea Terrain Elements: The remnants of ancient grottoes, underwater passages, or cave entrances are often located in cliff and steep slope squares. They typically range from 5 to 20 feet wide and are 5 feet deep. Beyond this initial 5 feet of depth, the cave could be anything from a simple chamber to the first room of an elaborate dungeon. Caves used as lairs by monsters usually have 13 rooms that measure 14x10 feet across.

Streams (5 to 10 feet wide and no more than 5 feet deep) are common in silt sea areas, especially at the site of a former river delta. Similarly, salt flats might be dotted with salt lakes, ranging from a few feet to perhaps hundreds of feet in depth. See Wilderness for rules on aquatic terrain. Because the high salt content provides natural buoyancy, the DC of Swim checks in salt lakes is reduced by 2. Dry streambeds (trenches 5 to 10 feet across) are common in evaporated sea terrain.

The bottoms of waterways are frequently littered with the ruins of ships; when the water is gone, these wrecks are exposed to the open air. They are not particularly hazardous and can, in fact, provide a source of wood for campfires. As with caves, though, these wrecked ships can also serve as monster lairs.

Stealth and Detection in Evaporated Seas: In evaporated seas, the maximum distance at which a Spot check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 2d12x10 feet. In dry seas, this distance is 2d8x10 feet.

Hiding in salt flats is virtually impossible (because of the flat terrain), and silt seas (with the comparative lack of vegetation) aren't much better. Dry seas, however, provide many more opportunities, if only in ridges and peaks. Evaporated seas have no particular effect on listen or Move Silently checks.

Glass Sea Terrain

Where the desert heat is great enough - whether by scorching sun or boiling subsurface magma - sand bakes to glass. In such places, the desert can have a layer of glass, ranging in thickness from 10 feet down to as little as an inch. The glass can splinter and break, resulting in terrain covered with dangerous, jagged shards.

Glass seas come in two varieties: solid and shattered. The table below describes terrain features found in both of the two glass sea categories.

Glass Sea Terrain Features
 -Glass Sea Category-
Crevasse10% 30%
Dense rubble- 10%
Gradual slope10% -
Light rubble5% 20%
Razor glass-5%

Crevasse: Tectonic shifts and air pockets in the glass create crevasses. They function much like pits or chasms in a dungeon setting. A typical crevasse is 1d4x10 feet deep, 4d12x10 feet long, and 5d8 feet wide.

A thin layer of solid-looking glass can hide the existence of a dangerous crevasse underneath (25% chance). This glass sheet is too weak to support any creature larger than Tiny. A character approaching a hidden crevasse at a normal pace is entitled to a DC 10 Survival check to spot the danger before stepping in, but charging or running characters don't have a chance to detect the crevasse before falling in. A character falling into a crevasse can attempt a DC 20 Reflex save to catch himself on the edge, in which case he falls prone in a square at the edge of the crevasse. Many crevasses in glass seas have a large quantity of broken glass lying on the bottom, dealing an extra 1d6 points of slashing damage to those who fall in.

Because glass conducts and, in some cases, intensifies light, glass sea crevasses can build up a great deal of heat during the day. The temperature increases by 5 degrees every hour that the sun shines on the glass until midday; after midday, the temperature decreases by 5 degrees every 2 hours.

Glass sea crevasses can be climbed (up or down) with a DC 22 Climb check.

Dense Rubble: Dense rubble functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Gradual Slope: A gradual slope functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Light Rubble: The ground is covered with small bits of broken glass, making nimble movement more difficult. The DC of Balance and Tumble checks increases by 2. Any character who falls prone in a square containing broken glass rubble takes 1d4 points of slashing damage.

Razor Glass: Shards of broken glass poke up from the ground, slashing any creatures that come into contact with it. Razor glass deals 1d6 points of slashing damage to those who pass through it, but it is fairly easy to identify (DC 10 Survival check).

Other Glass Sea Terrain Elements: Glass seas are even more featureless than the sandy deserts from which they were formed. Though the glass can form interesting patterns, glass sea terrain in itself rarely interferes with movement except when lubricated in some fashion. The contents of a full waterskin, if poured on a 5-foot square of solid glass sea terrain, causes the square to be treated as though under the effects of a grease spell. Plus, an actual grease spell (or salve of slipperiness) is especially effective on smooth glass sea terrain, adding 5 to the DC for the Reflex save for those standing in the square when the spell is cast upon it, and 10 to the DC of the Balance check to avoid falling when moving through the square. The DC should be even higher if the slippery section is located on a slope (+2 for gradual slopes and +4 for steep slopes).

Stealth and Detection in Glass Seas: In a solid glass sea, the maximum distance at which a Spot check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 2d10x10 feet. In a shattered glass sea, this distance is reduced to 2d6x10 feet.

Hiding places are rare in solid glass seas, though somewhat more common in shattered glass sea terrain. The occasional patch of dense rubble or razor glass affords a few opportunities for those within to make Hide checks. Glass seas have no effect on listen or Move Silently checks.

Mirror Sand

Particles of tin or silver sometimes mix with the sand and glass of glass seas to produce mirror sand. Mirror sand blinds those who look at it while simultaneously increasing the temperature of the surrounding air. See Mirror Sand for more information.

Petrified Forest Terrain

The result of millennia-long processes involving sediment, mineral deposits, and erosion, a petrified forest consists of a great barren field of colorfully banded stone logs. This jumble of rocks makes for difficult traveling, though the view is often spectacular. Petrified forests come in two categories, rugged and forbidding.

The table below describes terrain elements found in both of the two petrified forest categories.

Petrified Forest Terrain Features
 -Petrified Forest Category-
Dense rubble50%60%
Gradual slope10%10%
Light rubble30%20%
Light undergrowth5%5%

Chasm: A chasm functions as described under Badlands Terrain, except that in forbidding petrified forests, chasms are generally 2d8x10 feet deep.

Dense Rubble: Dense rubble functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Gradual Slope: A gradual slope functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Light Rubble: The jumble of petrified wood covers the ground so heavily that nimble movement is problematic. The DC of Balance and Tumble checks increases by 2.

Light Undergrowth: The undergrowth in petrified forest terrain consists mainly of the odd stand of scrub brush and the occasional tuft of patchy grass. It functions as described under Badlands Terrain.

Other Petrified Forest Terrain Elements: A petrified forest might include an occasional dry streambed (treat as a trench, 3 to 5 feet deep), but actual streams are rarely more than trickles, measuring only a couple of feet wide and a few inches deep. In summer months, such streams completely dry up.

Stealth and Detection in Petrified Forests: In petrified forest terrain, the maximum distance at which a Spot check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 4d10x10 feet. In a forbidding petrified forest, the rubble is so heavy that the spotting distance is reduced to 2d10x10 feet.

Cover in petrified forest terrain is plentiful. The abundance of dense rubble provides plenty of things to hide behind. Petrified forests have no effect on listen or Move Silently checks.

Dungeon Waste Terrains

This section discusses the different waste terrains that adventurers might come upon in the dry, dusty caves and dungeons below the desert floor. These terrains can be natural in origin, or they can result from magical tampering or transplanar portals. Sometimes, a combination of several elements is possible. The following are typical features of a waste dungeon setting. All of the feature types detailed in Chpter 4 of the DMG can be found in these complexes, in addition to those described here. However, wood tends to be less common in the waste.

Many waste inhabitants live in cliffside dwellings, whether natural caves or carved from the rock. These offer shade, relatively cooler temperatures, and natural fortifications. Where high cliffs are not available, desert dwellers sometimes excavate homes in the upper regions of fissures and gorges. These are high enough above the canyon floor to avoid danger from flash floods but still offer excellent defenses and shelters.


In waste dungeons, walls might be made of stone (see chapter 4 of the DMG for information on masonry, hewn stone, and unworked stone walls) or more exotic materials, such as sand, glass, or even standing flows of magma. Sand is loose and shifting, and cannot naturally form walls; these must be held together with alchemical substances or magical force. Salt mines and caves provide a natural building material. Glass can be found in mundane wastes, but not usually in large quantities. The vitrify spell is the usual source for such material, melting the surrounding sand. Still-hot magma walls might be permanent walls of magma or natural flows held in place with magical force.

Wall TypeTypical ThicknessBreak DCHardnessHit Points¹Climb DC
Adobe1 ft.2555413
Glass6 in.18(13 if cracked)1630
Magma (wall of force)variesn/an/an/an/a
Magma (wall of magma)variesn/an/a15/in.40
Sand (magically fused²)3 ft.22318015
Salt2 ft.2027215
Magically treated²-+30x2x2³+20
¹Per 10-foot-by-10-foot section.
²These modifiers can be applied to any of the other wall types, except magma walls.
³Or an additional 50 hit points, whichever is greater.

Adobe Walls: A simple and strong building material, adobe is a mixture of mud, sand, and straw, baked in the sun to form a hard clay. To build walls, adobe is cut into bricks or spread over a framework while still wet. Because it is not kiln-fired, adobe is not as strong as pottery.

Glass Walls: Glass occurs naturally in fast-cooling lava flows, and glassmakers often use the waste's abundant sand to produce containers and art objects. However, getting sufficient quantities of glass to build stronghold walls usually requires magic. Volcanic glass is usually dark with dissolved minerals, but when it is made magically, the creator can set its transparency by choosing the type of sand. Glass offers many advantages: It is strong, it can be transparent, and it can be poured into any desired shape. However, it is also brittle, and its surface can crack easily. Thus, glass walls are often reinforced magically (see below).

A smooth glass surface is nearly impossible to climb, but one marred by cracks or chips offers some handholds (decrease the Climb check DC by 5).

Glass Walls, Doors, And Detect Spells

Glass walls are usually thick enough to block most detect spells, such as detect magic and detect thoughts. A glass door or other partition that is less than 3 inches thick does not block detect spells, however.

Magma Walls: Heat-loving creatures might build their stronghold in the middle of a volcano, the most extreme of waste environments. To shape the still-liquid rock into freestanding structures requires sandwiching it between permanent walls of force. This has the added advantage of preventing the passage of ethereal creatures and blocking most magical and supernatural effects. It is impossible to break or scale a wall of force, which has no real thickness. The magma wall between two walls of force can be as thick as desired.

A wall of magma spell can be made permanent with a permanency spell. Being liquid, the magma cannot be broken as such, but an object or large creature could force its way through, assuming it can withstand the abysmal heat. The roiling surface is nearly impossible to maintain a grip on, and most climbing gear melts or catches fire almost immediately.

Salt Walls: Whether the hewn passages of a salt mine or the natural caverns of a salt karst, mineral deposits are a ready building material. (Similar minerals, such as gypsum and sulfur, also form caves and have the same properties as salt for game purposes.) Salt is quite crumbly and relatively soft, however, and it has the additional disadvantage of being soluble in water. Directing a constant blast of water (such as a geyser from a decanter of endless water) at a salt wall dissolves the mineral, dealing it 10 points of damage per minute, which hardness does not reduce. For this reason, salt walls are often reinforced magically.

Sand Walls: Magic can cause sand grains to stick together with great tenacity, making them into a material suitable for building structures. Sand treated in this way forms a fairly soft and porous surface, so walls tend to be very thick to compensate. However, it is very expensive, requiring the services of a spellcaster and a large quantity of material. Walls of sand can have a variety of colors, ranging from the common tawny hue to the glittering black of volcanic sand to snow-white or rust-red.

Magically Treated Walls: Reinforcing magic can greatly increase a wall's hardness and hit points. It adds 30 to the break DC and 20 to the Climb check DC of the wall. A magically treated wall gains a saving throw bonus against spells equal to 2 + 1/2 the caster level of the magical effect, as well as immunity to damage from water. Creating a magically reinforced wall requires the Craft Wondrous Item feat and the expenditure of 2,000 gp and 160 XP for each 10-foot-by-10-foot wall section.


Like walls, floors in waste complexes come in a variety of types.

Dense Rubble: The ground resembles a field of boulders interspersed with smaller debris. Dense rubble increases the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 5, and the DC of Move Silently checks by 2. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square containing dense rubble.

Hot Ash and Mud: An underground complex in an active caldera might be paved with still-hot ash and volcanic ejecta, steaming mud, and similar dangerous materials. The terrain is difficult to navigate, increasing the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 5 and doubling the normal movement cost to enter. In addition, unprotected feet in contact with the smoldering surface take 1 point of fire damage per round; thick-soled shoes or boots prevent this damage. The speed of characters whose feet are injured in this way is halved until they are treated with a successful DC 15 Heal check or receive magical healing.

Glass Floors: Floors of glass can form naturally but are usually of magical origin. Their extremely slick surfaces increase the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 5. In addition, it costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a smooth glass floor. The reduced friction makes running or charging impossible.

A glass floor can become chipped and cracked through wear, physical attacks, and the like. In this case, the broken surface increases the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 2. Movement through such areas still costs double.

Light Rubble: Small chunks of volcanic cinder, pebbles, bones, and other desert "pavement" cover the ground. light rubble increases the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 2.

Loose Sand Floors: These floors are as difficult to move through as naturally sandy areas are (see Sand Travel). Sand floors in underground complexes usually exist because the sand has been blown or transported inside, or they result from digging into a buried pocket. A builder using adobe might leave loose sand around the base of the walls as an additional defensive feature. This sand is rarely more than a few inches deep. Instead of sand, the floor might consist of other granular material, such as ground bone, salt, or volcanic cinders. The loose sand can also conceal hazards, whether natural sinkholes filled with moondust or a deliberately placed field of slipsand.

Packed Sand Floors: Sand becomes packed by heavy traffic or purposeful pounding. If a salt lake or sulfur spring is nearby, the poisonous water might be used to help pack the sand more firmly. Packed sand does not slow movement the way loose sand does.


Crafting doors in a waste complex can be difficult if the surrounding material is relatively soft, since pins and hinges can eventually work loose. As a result, doors and gates usually exist only where they are necessary for security, and alternative materials are common.

 -Break DC-
Portal TypeTypical ThicknessHardnessHit PointsStuckLocked
Glass sheet3 in.131818
Petrified wood2 in.7242020
Saltslab¹6 in.21520-
Sandheap¹20 ft.----
Sandstone slab6 in.77822-
Stretched hides1 in.251013
Thorn barrier¹10 ft.----
Magically treated²-x2x2³+10+20
¹See the description below for special rules.
²These modifiers can be applied to any of the other portal types.
³Or an additional 50 hit points, whichever is greater.

Glass Sheet: Because they are fragile, glass doors are not common. When they are crafted, they are generally reinforced magically (see below).

Petrified Wood: This is an uncommon material, but near a petrified forest it can be found in sufficient quantities to use in building. Petrified wood is fairly hard but more brittle than typical building stone.

Salt Slab: Salt is common in many waste environments and, being relatively soft, it is easy to carve. However, it can also be dissolved. Directing a constant blast of water (such as a geyser from a decanter of endless water) at a salt door dissolves the mineral, dealing 10 points of damage per minute, which hardness does not reduce. For this reason, salt doors are often reinforced magically.

Sand Heap: A 10-foot-tall pile of sand makes the simplest of barriers, and a remarkably effective one. Digging through the shifting, yielding grains is slow and dangerous work. See Cave-Ins and Collapses, for rules on digging through rubble. Within a sand heap, there is also a high risk of a slide; for each minute of digging, make a DC 15 Survival check. On a failure, characters in the slide zone must make successful DC 15 Reflex saves or take 3d6 points of damage and become buried. A buried character takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage per minute; unconscious characters must make successful DC 15 Constitution checks each minute or take 1d6 points of lethal damage.

Sandstone Slab: like a salt slab, sandstone is easy to carve and readily available. However, it doesn't hold hinges or pins for long, so this form of portal instead uses ropes or straps of hide to pull it into place. The straps are pulled through to the inside afterward, leaving the slab stuck in the opening. To dislodge the slab requires a DC 20 Strength check.

Stretched Hides: A simple door can be constructed of a wood or bone frame with animal hides stretched across it. Such a door is not effective against intruders but is more than enough to block wind and sand, and to provide privacy.

Thorn Barrier: The indigenous plant life of the waste can make a simple barricade. Thorn bushes, prickly cacti, and sword-leafed grasses impede movement and deal damage to characters attempting to force their way through. Treat this barricade as a 10-foot-thick wall of thorns spell, except that creatures cannot be caught between the thorns and the wall. Characters with woodland stride or a similar ability can move through the thorns without impairment.

Magically Treated Salt or Glass Doors: Reinforcing magic greatly increases a door's hardness and hit points. It also adds 10 to the break DC, or 20 if the door is locked. A magically treated door also gains a saving throw bonus against spells equal to 2 + 1/2 the caster level of the magical effect, as well as immunity to damage from water. Creating a magically reinforced door requires the Craft Wondrous Item feat and the expenditure of 2,000 gp for each 10-foot-by-10-foot door section.


Passageways in waste complexes resemble those in any other dungeon setting, except perhaps for their composition, which might include fused sand, magma, and any other material that forms its walls. Traps - natural, mechanical, and magical - can include deadfalls of sand and rubble, lava flows, slipsand fields and pits, or deadly wasteland magic. See Chapter 4 of the DMG for more information on dungeon corridors.


Rooms in waste dungeons have walls, floors, and portals made of the same materials described above. The arid, hot environment produces specialized chambers in addition to the normal sorts of rooms.

Ceremonial Chamber: The bhukas believe that they climbed into the world from another world beneath the ground. Their religious observances memorialize this subterranean origin, using deep circular pits with carved and painted walls, and roofed with hides. Such a chamber is cut into the floor of a large public area within the complex. At least one shaman is always in the pit, and during feast days, all of the complex's religious officials are there, along with the adult population of the settlement. These pits are not constructed as traps, but they can contribute to the dungeon's defense, since intruders who are unfamiliar with the complex and the inhabitants' religious practices might stumble into them.

Treat this as a 10-foot-deep camouflaged pit trap, but without a trigger or reset.

Cistern: A cistern is a worked or artificial vault for storing water. It might be built from stone bricks or simply carved from the native rock. Cisterns are usually dug into the floor and have heavy lids of stone to prevent evaporation.

Larder: A salt mine or cave is a natural preservative environment. A dry, sandy cave also keeps food from spoiling. Waste dwellings usually include special excavations dedicated to food preservation. These might be covered pits in the floor or unworked caverns. larders and wells are usually in the most heavily populated area of the complex.

Wellhead: Protecting scarce water resources is vital in the desert. A cool, deep chamber is the best location for a well, and evaporated water condensing on the walls can be collected so that none goes to waste. This room usually has only one entrance with a door to minimize the loss of water vapor. The well opening itself is a pit that can be hazardous to characters blundering around in the dark.

Miscellaneous Features

Miscellaneous features specific to waste complexes include the following.

Basket Lift: Dwellings on cliffsides or canyon walls are inaccessible without some means of ascent and descent. A basket lift is a harness of ropes around a container of wood, straw, hides, or bones, attached to a long cable of rope or leather. A pulley system allows a single operator to lift the basket's load, though heavier cargo might require mules or other livestock to provide power. It is easy to defend a complex whose only access is through such a lift, which can be pulled up quickly into upper chambers and is much lighter than a ladder.

Hidden Cleft: This narrow cleft forms the natural entrance to a dwelling behind a cliff face. From a distance it looks like a crack in the rock wall, and the tight space does not permit more than one creature of Medium or Small size to pass at a time. The access is easily defensible for this reason.

Hoodoos: These weirdly shaped pillars resemble statues that have been shaped by the natural action of wind and water. They are like wide pillars (see chapter 4 of the DMG), taking up 1 square and providing total cover. However, their softer material grants them only hardness 7 and 780 hp. Due to their irregular shape, hoodoos are easy to climb, requiring only a DC 15 Climb check to scale.

Hot Springs and Geysers: In an active caldera, the earth's fires heat up water and mud to the boiling point and sometimes beyond, which can form hot springs and even geysers.

Hot Springs: These are often used for bathing or cooking, and some believe their mineral-laden waters have curative properties. A hot spring's temperature can vary from comfortably warm to scalding hot, and immersion in water of unearthly heat deals damage just as boiling water does (see Heat dangers). Where there is less water, a hot spring might instead be a mud pot, which combines the hazards of quicksand with damage from boiling water. Hot springs often also expel toxic vapors.

Geysers: Water can become superheated, its temperature rising above the boiling point, so that it explodes in a fountain of steam and scalding spray. A geyser might be anything from a small plume to a 100-foot-tall pillar. Geysers are usually periodic, the pressure building to an explosion at regular intervals. Between eruptions, a geyser's blowhole looks like a small crater the edges of which are encrusted with minerals.

Lava Pools and Lakes: The depths of a volcanic complex might contain fissures or exposed magma chambers opening directly onto their hellish contents. A lava pool might have a thin crust of hardened rock on top (supporting varying weights) that prevents someone from plunging into the liquid rock, though the heat is still unearthly.

A 1-inch-thick crust can support up to 50 pounds of weight. Hardened lava 2 to 4 inches thick can handle weight up to 200 pounds.

Natural Bridge: A chunk of sandstone, or even another soft material such as salt, is sometimes eroded by wind or a long-ago water flow to form a natural arch. Such a bridge is narrow, requiring a Balance check to cross (DC dependent on width; see the Balance skill). In addition, the arch has an uneven surface that makes footing treacherous, making it impossible to run or charge across a natural bridge. The DCs for Balance and Tumble checks increase by 5.

Life in the Waste

Though waste environments are deadly, life has a way of adapting. Moreover, intelligent life has the ability to develop tools that allow it to carve a niche for itself. If it's a choice between adaptation and death, bet on adaptation. The most inhospitable desert has its oases, hidden homes, and sandy cities.

Those who live in the waste must be tougher than common folk. They must survive the daily rigors that include searing heat and blasting sandstorms. Thousands of years of existence in such conditions have led to entirely new forms of life that are equipped to handle the worst the waste can throw their way.

Living things in the waste cannot survive for long unless they learn to adjust to the extreme of heat and scarcity of water. Many native races, over many generation, develop hereditary traits that enable to them to adapt permanently. All waste-dwellers, whether natives or newcomers, face challenges unlike those found in any other clime.

Surcease from Heat

The greatest threat to life -and the root of nearly all other threats in the waste - is the heat. A member of a native race might have extraordinary or supernatural resistance to excessive heat, and the average humanoid might develop, tolerance for the overwhelming high temperature of a perpetually arid environment after months or years of habitation. More often, clothing and other equipment is necessary for survival - loose, flowing robes are common. Such garb keeps sand and grit out while simultaneously preventing excessive perspiration, and thus, loss of precious bodily fluids. Time-tested techniques for locating potable liquids, even in subsistence quantities. ensure that a waste-dweller can survive everyday challenges.

Individuals with a great deal of money or magical talent can further guarantee their survival with spells or magic items. Spells such as endure elements, resist energy, and protection from energy - or items that provide those effects - are common among wasteland spellcasters and their allies. Those with the wherewithal and desire can obtain during protection from heat in the form of the cloak of shade spell.

Water, Food, And Settlement

The high temperature of the waste leads directly to the second most common threat: thirst. Moisture evaporates more rapidly in arid environments, meaning that traditional sources of fresh water - rivers, lakes, and streams - are rare at best, and sometimes entirely nonexistent. Water that can be found is sometimes contaminated by salts or mineral deposits. Consequently, living creatures that are water-efficient survive longer in the waste, while those that need large amounts of moisture die out.

The lack of water leads, in turn, to a smaller number of game animals and less edible flora. Areas with a fair amount of moisture in the soil - such as in valleys - are often arable. These regions produce crops of fruit, grain, and vegetables, particularly those hardy enough to thrive on less water than their counterparts in temperate zones need.

The presence of water and arable land, along with the specifics of the local terrain, determines whether people in the waste establish permanent settlements or opt for a more nomadic existence. Villages only appear and persist where locals have access to a supply of water and suitable land for farming and grazing. Communities can only grow into towns and cities if the water and land can support such populations. While this fact is true of any settlement, it is especially important for areas in which failure of a single crop, or one dry well, can spell doom for the entire town.

Nomads, on the other hand, take advantage of their mobility to ensure that they are never more than a few days' travel from food and water. They remain mobile by carrying only what they need and by adjusting to the rules of the waste, rather than trying to apply their own rules to an environment that can hardly be described as accommodating. As a result, nomads in the waste possess only what they and their pack animals can carry, living in light but sturdy tents, sleeping with little more than a single mat between them and the ground, and always conserving supplies. The next source of food or water might be depleted, and the price of survival is a few more days of travel.

Although this all paints a picture of a civilization constantly on the edge of extinction, most waste-dwellers survive and even thrive. Food is plentiful for a small population, if one knows where to find it. Fruit, plant matter, and most animals (even those of the monstrous variety) are edible. Some areas provide land for crops, while others support raising livestock. Wise villagers or nomads always set aside stores of food and water for those unpredictable times when the environment is particularly unforgiving.

It could be said that only those who are unprepared for the rigors of the waste are those who truly need to fear for their survival. Being ready for emergencies is the main key to continued existence, whether one does so by careful management of resources or by the auspices of a divine spellcaster. Most waste-dwellers use both methods, combining judicious stores with access to spells that generate sustenance, such as create food and water, or that make full use of existing sources, such as plant growth or purify food and drink.


Transportation in the waste, when it's not on foot, is almost entirely provided by animals. Wagons and carts are fine in the cities, where one can rely on solid footing, but a conveyance that is a tremendous convenience in settled areas can be a complete nuisance in the wild. A cart can have a difficult time traversing terrain that a horse or camel can negotiate with ease.

For truly heavy loads, the most popular form of nonmagical transport - when waterways are not an option - is the sledge. This vessel is far more suitable for smooth terrain than for rocks and hills, however. A step up from the sledge is the frame wheel, which is a massive wheel built around a heavy object, so that the object itself acts as an axle. While efficient for a specific job, the frame wheel suffers from the problem that it usually must be custom-built around each load, making for longer assembly times at the point of departure. Like a sledge, a frame wheel can be difficult to maneuver over rough terrain, though it usually fares better.

A few waste-dwelling cultures have developed other means of transport, but they are usually specific to a certain type of terrain. Those who live among the dunes sometimes employ the sand skiff, in which a lightweight framework is mounted on smooth runners and propelled by wind power. Relatively easy to construct, sand skiffs are rarely considered much more than a diversion, because they operate only on sand, rely on the wind to move, carry very little, and require an experienced pilot.

Even so, where the winds are strong year round, and the smooth sands stretch as far as the eye can see, sand skiffs are not only the favored transportation, but also models for the capacious sand schooners and sand galleys.


Many who live in the waste, no matter what race, are polite almost to a fault, seeing the hostile environment as a common foe for all beings to strive against together. Simple hospitality, such as the sharing of food and water, has a great deal of ceremony and unspoken understanding involved. Common courtesies become formalized, so that no confusion occurs. While no one wishes to let someone die of thirst or starvation, every additional person puts more strain on a community's resources. For this reason, many nomad tribes have no compunctions about leaving to his fate someone already rendered unconscious by heat and thirst. Such a person requires many days' worth of provisions to nurse back to health, and who is to say whether someone found abandoned to the elements deserves all that care? Obviously, each race puts its own individual twist on this philosophy.