I’ve actually talked about sea journeys and a few other specific types over the years, but I realized that I never touched on this one. Desert adventures have been really popular for a long time. You find it in many series and some revolve entirely around existing in this setting. First examples I can think of are ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Dune’. So, what is appealing about this setting?
Well, it has to be one of the most brutal landscapes to place a story. It’s the polar opposite of . . . arctic adventures. Sorry about that one. Obviously, the difference is that the desert holds different threats. I’d argue it has more than its mate, which is primarily about freezing to death. The things that can kill you in a desert seem to be extensive and one gets the feeling that the setting is more of an enemy than the villains. After all, heroes have to contend with:
- Having no water.
- Intense heat.
- Sunburns to the extreme.
- Limited food (can’t go fishing).
- Scorpions, snakes, and other venomous creatures.
- Choking sandstorms.
- Bands of thieves. (Sometimes)
- Your mind playing tricks on you through mirages.
- Walking through sand.
That is a long list of difficulties, which is why it can be fun to drop a hero into the middle of such a challenge. Even if they’ve bested monsters and man, this is always a battle against the elements. You have Mother Nature to contend with and she is unforgiving when it comes to deserts. In the arctic, you can bundle up if you have the supplies. When it gets hot in the desert, you can’t strip down to cool off. That only exposes you more and makes sure your body is evenly cooked for the scavengers. Nighttime can get really cold too, so you have another extreme. That means you can’t prepare for only one part of the day and survive. You need to handle both and that requires a lot of equipment. If that horse or camel goes down then you’re in trouble. The chances of things going wrong and leading to death are high regardless of the heroes experience. Sure, you can cheat with certain spells and magic items, but that takes part of the tension out of it.
Another reason the desert can be an appealing and dangerous setting is because it has both mystery and loneliness. Imagining a character or group alone can bring up certain emotions. They’re staring off at an endless expanse of sand with no sign of water, towns, or other people in sight. Are they going the right way? How long will the journey take? Did they pack enough supplies? The questions will continue running as long as they travel and they should consider this too. You have a sense of the unknown here, which can be enhanced by the fact that you never know what is lurking under the sand. Something about anything moving beneath your feet and being able to explode up to attack is very unnerving. Unlike water, you aren’t floating about and can’t look down to see a shadow coming. You’re effectively on solid ground and able to move, but a giant scorpion can burst out to stab you before you can figure out why you’re getting taller. This could just be personal preference.
I’ve only done one or two desert adventures, but they were limited. The one in Legends of Windemere took place in both a town and with nomads, so the major risks weren’t there. The other was a single chapter in War of Nytefall: Loyalty because the characters were on a mission. They did have an unseen enemy using the sand and had to figure out how to survive in the heat though. Much harder for vampires when they get weakened in the sun. Clyde hadn’t figured out his secret yet. That’s really the extent of me trying this setting. I do plan on working more with it in the future though.
So, what do you think about desert adventures? Ever try one?