A lot of things can be forgotten when you’re writing about a desert adventure. We may focus on one problem and forget others. Helps to do some research on how these places really are, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be boiled down for a foundation. Take these 7 things into consideration.
- Water is essential and can run out. This might sound like a ‘duh’, but you’d be surprised how often authors go to extremes. A hero might have no water and somehow survive for weeks for dramatic effect. Too much! Others will never run out of water, which removes the biggest risk entirely. Always think about how it is rationed and if the heroes were able to prepare. Available funds, carrying capacity, and number of party members/animals are important too. Camels help in some ways, but can the heroes really rush out to buy a bunch of those and known how to ride them? Finally, always remember that the water will heat up even when in a container, so it probably won’t be a cool, midday drink.
- Speaking of keeping cool, desert nights aren’t hot. The dry air isn’t able to retain the heat once the sun goes down, so it gets cold fast. There are variations, so it might fall to cool or warm. Still, it is a drastic change from the daytime temperatures. It’s a reason why so many stories have characters traversing a desert at night instead of the daytime.
- Aside from dehydration, a character should be careful about exposure threats. Sunburns, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are incredibly dangerous. With the possibility of a hero traveling in armor or how they might not be wearing a decent hat, the chances of succumbing to this becomes greater. Think about how you would avoid such things and have your characters do the same if they can.
- Surprisingly to some, deserts are not always vast expanses of sand with an oasis placed at every dramatically appropriate location. There are a lot of rocky regions in deserts that characters can look for. It might be a small spot or a ridge that follows an ancient range that has long since been turned to dust. Rocky areas can provide shade, maybe plants that are edible, and some animals for hunting. At the very least, it can help characters stave off the madness that can come from seeing nothing more than sand in every direction for days.
- Walking through a desert with no landmarks or sign of cities on the horizon can pummel the psyche. You don’t know when your journey will end or if you have enough supplies to make it. God forbid you got turned around at one point and are going in the wrong direction. This psychological aspect that stems from a sense of isolation and impending doom an really up the tension.
- Animals need to think about water and food if they’re going to live in a desert. You can’t drop anything in there that obviously can’t survive in there. How does a giant animal find enough food and water? Do the smaller ones have a way to avoid getting cooked on the hot sand? Researching real desert animals can help here because they have amazing adaptations. That or you can just make magic the reason.
- There’s no reason that you can’t have a civilization living in a desert. The barren wasteland approach is appealing and you can do that as well. Yet, there could always be a group of people who have found a way to survive and thrive in the desert. It may be that they found a source of water and built a town around it. Perhaps a nomadic group that follows storms or animals or anything that allows them to maintain their society. It isn’t easy, but it’s doable if you sit and think. After all, that’s how you get out of any problem.