One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Stealing from Sanderson: The Shattered Plains

As I wrote earlier I’ve been reading Brian Sanderson’s The way of Kings. It’s the first book in the Stormlight Archives an epic fantasy that looks as if it may rival Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. One of the things I noted while reading was about how so many fantasy series have a built in area for D&D adventures. For example, Tolkien’s “Mordor”, Jordan’s “The Blight”, Martin's "Beyond the Wall" . Even the Legend of the Five Rings RPG has “The Shadowlands’. In the Way of Kings, we have “The Shattered Plains”. Sanderson’s adventuring wasteland has a few interesting aspects that make it particularly ripe for use, at least in part, for a Keep on the Borderlands style campaign.

A staple of Fantasy, the unexplored borderland. Art from the Game of Thrones wiki

The Shattered Plains are essentially ground zero for some sort of apocalyptic event in the World of Roshar’s (the name of the planet) ancient history. From what I’ve read thus far and have been able to determine (I’ve read about half the book now) this was once a battle ground used to keep an evil known as the Voidbringers at bay. The way I have envisioned the topography of the Shattered Plains in my mind is as follows. Imagine a large patch of mud that had dried out leaving it cracked creating small islands of mud divided from each other by miniature crevices. Then zoom in and imagine that each one of those crevices are like the deep canyons. Each little mud flat is a rocky plateau. Most of the plateaus are crossable by someone who is capable of pole-vaulting across (in the book Alethi scouts do this), or in the case of the barbarian Parshendi people who have a unnatural ability to leap across them with their own legs. Typically, the Alethi Military use bridges they use either permanent or portable ones they use to cross.

Art taken from Brian Sanderson's The Way of Kings showing a stylized map of the Shattered Plains

In the present day the Shattered Plains is still a war zone. This time between the Alethi and the Parshendi. The while the two sides fight each other, the true battles tend to be over the birthing pods left behind on random plateaus by monsters known as Chasmfiends. When a birthing pod is discovered on a plateau, each side races to claim the gem stone that grows in it. The Chasmfiends themselves also have enormous gems inside them. They however, tend to fight back. For example, “[The King] ripped free the beast’s gemheart – the enormous gemstone that grew within all Chasmfiends. It was lumpy and uncut, but it was a pure emerald and as big as a man’s head. It was the largest gemheart Adolin had ever seen, and even the small ones were worth a fortune” (Sanderson, 210). In terms of stealing this for a D&D campaign, the hunting of Chasmfiends or their birthing pods could be reason enough for adventurers to brave the dangers of your campaign worlds own borderland area. Additionally, you now have built in adversaries who are also competing for these precious gems. These adversaries could be rival adventurers to barbarian natives, or perhaps other creatures who feed on the gems to gain magical powers or just requires the sustenance provided.  

A Chasmfiend - Art taken from Brian Sanderson's The Way of Kings 

Another example of how the Shattered plains can be used is the canyons that divide the plateaus. The plateaus while relatively large are still limited in space. Some plateaus are larger than others and some have features that make them treacherous to fight on. As a result, many warriors fall off and land at the bottom dead taking whatever valuable they had with them. Often the need to harvest the gemheart and leave quickly precludes the chance to recover these bodies (if at all) until later. To complicate matters dangerous and violent thunderstorms assault the land on a semi regular basis. This causes the canyons to fill with torrents of rushing water that scatters these bodies to distant places in the network of canyons. Unlucky work crews are occasionally sent on canyon duty to recover whatever salvage they can. One account in the book describes it like this; “It was like barrow robbing, only without the barrows…They carried sacks, and would spend hours walking around, looking for the corpses of the fallen, searching for anything of value. Spheres [equivalent to gold pieces], breastplates, caps, weapons” (Sanderson, 391).

Chasm Duty - Artist unknown 

Brian Sanderson’s The Way of Kings offers many great ideas that can be stolen for use in a D&D campaign. In particular, the dangerous race to steal gemhearts and salvaging valuables from dark and haunted canyons that are something in between a dungeon and the depths of Underdark in a more traditional D&D campaign. It lends a new sense of danger and exploration that could boost the fun and excitement of your campaign. The Way of Kings offers even more to steal and I hope to write about some of the other things I think would be perfect for use in most D&D campaigns including monsters, and magical weapons and armor like Shardblades and Shardplate.