Plains come in three categories: farms, grasslands, and battlefields. Farms are common in settled areas, while grasslands represent untamed plains. The battlefields where large armies clash are temporary places, usually reclaimed by natural vegetation or the farmer’s plow. Battlefields represent a third terrain category because adventurers tend to spend a lot of time there, not because they’re particularly prevalent.
The table below shows the proportions of terrain elements in the different categories of plains. On a farm, light undergrowth represents most mature grain crops, so farms growing vegetable crops will have less light undergrowth, as will all farms during the time between harvest and a few months after planting.
The terrain elements in the table below are mutually exclusive.
Undergrowth: Whether they’re crops or natural vegetation, the tall grasses of the plains function like light undergrowth in a forest. Particularly thick bushes form patches of heavy undergrowth that dot the landscape in grasslands.
Light Rubble: On the battlefield, light rubble usually represents something that was destroyed: the ruins of a building or the scattered remnants of a stone wall, for example. It functions as described in the Desert Terrain section.
Trench: Often dug before a battle to protect soldiers, a trench functions as a low wall, except that it provides no cover against adjacent foes. It costs 2 squares of movement to leave a trench, but it costs nothing extra to enter one. Creatures outside a trench who make a melee attack against a creature inside the trench gain a +1 bonus on melee attacks because they have higher ground. In farm terrain, trenches are generally irrigation ditches.
Berm: A common defensive structure, a berm is a low, earthen wall that slows movement and provides a measure of cover. Put a berm on the map by drawing two adjacent rows of steep slope (described in Hills Terrain), with the edges of the berm on the downhill side. Thus, a character crossing a 2-square berm will travel uphill for 1 square, then downhill for 1 square. Two square berms provide cover as low walls for anyone standing behind them. Larger berms provide the low wall benefit for anyone standing 1 square downhill from the top of the berm.
Fences: Wooden fences are generally used to contain livestock or impede oncoming soldiers. It costs an extra square of movement to cross a wooden fence. A stone fence provides a measure of cover as well, functioning as low walls. Mounted characters can cross a fence without slowing their movement if they succeed on a DC 15 Ride check. If the check fails, the steed crosses the fence, but the rider falls out of the saddle.
Other Plains Terrain Features: Occasional trees dot the landscape in many plains, although on battlefields they’re often felled to provide raw material for siege engines (described in Urban Features). Hedgerows (described in Marsh Terrain) are found in plains as well. Streams, generally 5 to 20 feet wide and 5 to 10 feet deep, are commonplace.
Stealth and Detection in Plains: In plains terrain, the maximum distance at which a Perception check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 6d6 × 40 feet, although the specifics of your map might restrict line of sight. Cover and concealment are not uncommon, so a good place of refuge is often nearby, if not right at hand.
Bad weather can range from minor precipitation to a serious storm. The weather can include lightning strikes and cause floods, landslides, and other natural hazards.
Whether from a lack of water, a plague, or hostile magic, the plants and wildlife in the area are suffering. A blight lasts for 1d4+2 weeks. During a blight, Survival DCs to get along in the wild increase by +5.
A dust devil is a whirlwind not associated with a storm, particularly in a region with little or no topsoil. Treat a dust devil as a duststorm, sandstorm, or tornado.
Grass fires are often caused by lightning or careless camp fires. A grass fire is similar to a forest fire, except it can be spotted at twice the normal distance, and a PC caught in its area saves against heat damage only every 10 rounds.
The term plains generally conjures images of sprawling flatlands covered by nondescript grass and waves of grain. There are no rolling hills, majestic peaks, wizened trees, colorful canyons or other topographical features present in other environments. The average person envisions the plains as a monotonous repetition of green and amber plants blanketing dull, flat ground. While the plains may lack the breathtaking landscapes encountered in other environments, civilization as we know it would not be possible without this unique and delicately balanced habitat. Men and beasts alike depend upon food to survive, and no other biome can produce as much nourishment as the fertile grasslands. The edible grains that thrive in the environment’s rich soil are an essential staple of the humanoid diet. Though men cannot eat and digest most of the wild grasses that flourish in the fields, these abundant and resilient plants feed immense herds of grazing animals that humanity depends upon for meat, leather, wool, transportation and hard labor. What the plains lack in geographical scenery, they more than compensate for in biological diversity and sheer numbers. It is for mastery over this vibrant tapestry of flora and fauna that humanity has fought and died since the dawn of civilization.
The plains offer a wealth of opportunities for adventurers seeking to tame these wild lands and its feral beasts. Whether they began their adventuring careers as sedentary farmers tilling the earth, shepherds raising livestock in the pastures or nomadic hunter-gatherers born and bred in the saddle, the challenges and obstacles standing in the way of those endeavoring to make their mark in this environment are real and deadly. Evil men, fearsome beasts and covetous monsters represent just a few of the dangers that await men and women aspiring to further their own ambitions in their quest for fame, riches and glory. Adventurers must also prepare for the unseen as well as the plainly obvious. Fields of Blood provides players and characters alike with the tools needed to conquer their fears and foes in this ever-changing world. Sometimes, the keys to victory lie within the heart and mind. These abilities manifest themselves as new feats, spells, archetypes and alternate uses of existing skills specifically designed to overcome the rigors of this rugged, unforgiving environment. On other occasions, success depends upon having the right equipment on hand to win the day. Magic items such as an enchanted weapon, a transformative beast skin, an airtight mask and incendiary beans can mean the difference between life and death. There are also times when mundane objects such as a flame-retardant suit, an alchemical substance or an ordinary set of horseshoes may save an adventurer’s bacon in a tight spot. On the grasslands, shortcuts and easy ways out are few and far between. Adventurers that rely solely upon the whims of fortune and their tired routines frequently fertilize the rich soil in their unmarked and forgotten graves.
Weather is a fickle and perilous adversary in the GM’s toolkit. Extreme temperatures, ferocious rainstorms, severe winds and the awesome might of an angry tornado can wreak more havoc than a marauding army. Monsters not previously seen before also lurk within the tall grasses, waiting to spring from their hiding places and count unwary adventurers among their victims.
Without any trees, wind is a constant hazard for plains travelers, though it plays a critical role in regulating this unique biome. The steady breezes are a key ingredient in shaping the fires that ravage the grasslands. Wind constantly replenishes the fire’s source of oxygen, but more importantly, it ensures the flames do not linger too long in a fixed location. The breezes buffet the flames like seeds on the wind, allowing them to burn dead and dying organic matter without charring the soil itself for a prolonged period of time. This prevents grass roots from sustaining significant damage from the raging inferno. Wind also blows away any loose surface dirt, creating dust storms that hurtle across the land during the dry and dormant seasons. The wind keeps the topsoil relatively thin and dry, thus preventing encroaching trees and shrubs from establishing roots in the ground and toppling over the rare few that actually manage to establish a brief foothold in the grasslands.
Though grasslands hug the coastlines in several parts of the world, most plains are found in interior regions next to deserts and mountain ranges. For instance, Africa’s great savannahs border the Sahara Desert to the north and the Kalahari Desert and Namib Desert to the south and west. Likewise, the Great Plains of the American Midwest lie east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Mississippi River. This particular configuration of geographical features leaves the Great Plains especially vulnerable to tornadoes. Warm, humid air surging northward from the Gulf of Mexico interacts with cooler, drier air passing over the Rocky Mountains and Canada. The collision creates violent thunderstorms that spawn fearsome tornadoes. The vast tracts of low-lying flat land provide no natural obstacles to the swirling vortexes of intense wind and flying debris. During the winter months, the same weather pattern produces ferocious blizzards that howl across the prairies.
The runoff from these intense thunderstorms and melting snows gives rise to rivers and streams that carve paths through this expansive landscape, as well as lakes and ponds where the waters eventually collect. Still, finding water can be difficult in the grasslands. Though the search is not as desperate as those encountered by desert travelers, fresh water is not as plentiful as in other environments. For that reason, animals and men frequently live near sustainable bodies of water. The watering hole is a common gathering place for animals inhabiting the savanna’s. Likewise, villages, towns and cities spring up in close proximity to lakes and rivers that are used to irrigate fields during dry spells and to transport goods to distant locales.
The grasses themselves are a critical component of this precariously balanced environment. They are the glue that holds the semi-dry soil together. Their intricate network of roots extends deep below the ground and anchors the fragile dirt in place, preventing it from blowing away during the dry and dormant seasons. These subterranean tendrils function like countless strands of string literally tying down the earth. In comparison, trees and large shrubs have shallow root systems that are better suited for the forest’s thick layer of damp earth. The fierce winds that rush across the plains deal no damage to the flexible grasses, but would quickly uproot any trees that stood in their path. Though trees provide a home for many animals, few creatures eat their leaves, stems and bark. Various species of grasses are a plentiful source of food for vast herds of herbivores and humanoids alike.
It is very likely that civilization as we know it would not exist without this remarkable biome. The temperate plains’ endless cycle of growth, fire, decay and renewal creates a nutrient-rich soil conducive to largescale farming that is generally not possible in a desert or a forest without expending considerable resources to irrigate arid lands or fell numerous trees. This environment has the right temperature and moisture levels to produce food crops essential for human survival. None is more important than cereal grass, commonly known as grain. Grain is an essential dietary staple, whether it comes as rice, wheat, barley, corn, oats or rye. In addition to its nutritional value, grains can also be dried, milled and pressed for long term storage and usage in other popular food products. Though fruits and vegetables can be dried, and meat can be smoked and salted, grain is far easier to store and secure than these foodstuffs. Even today, grain silos are a common sight on many farms. The ability to preserve grain for future use allows large populations to withstand temporary disruptions to the community’s food supply caused by prolonged drought, disease and fire.
Grain has a nearly indefinite shelf life, whereas dried fruits, vegetables and meats can only be preserved for limited periods of time.
Wild grains differ dramatically from the domesticated varieties that most people are accustomed to seeing. The maize plant originally encountered by the ancient Mayans bears little resemblance to the cornstalks seen today throughout the Midwestern United States. Crossbreeding and selective planting processes transformed these raw materials into a more desirable end product. For instance, if a particular cornstalk developed sweeter kernels than the neighboring plants, farmers would exclusively plant the seeds from the sweeter plant the following year. Over time, these grains transformed into their current forms.
Rice and corn are commonly eaten in their original form, whereas wheat and rye are frequently ground into powder and combined with other ingredients to create bread. As a result, many people refer to the plains as civilization’s “breadbasket.” The fertile plains of North Africa and the Nile River Delta were known as the breadbasket of the Roman Empire in ancient times. Likewise, many Americans still use the term to describe the grain-producing areas of the Midwestern United States. Grains can also be used as the fermentable base for many alcoholic beverages that were usually safer to drink than untreated water. Barley and hops are the primary components in beer, while barley, corn and rye are often used to make whiskey. Dried grains are also used as a construction material for building homes. Though commonly applied to roofs, thatch, the name used to describe threshed grains, is sometimes applied to walls as well. Thatch insulates structures, allowing the building to maintain a comfortable interior temperature regardless of exterior weather conditions. In spite of its appearance, thatch does not burn easily, and it resists the ravages of wind and water with remarkable durability. Likewise, straw, the dry stems of threshed grain plants, serves as a bedding material, fuel, insulation and even a decorative material for making baskets or stuffing scarecrows and dolls. Grain’s applications are virtually limitless.
Grass is also the primary food for many animals. Fortunately, the livestock found on the typical farm prefer to eat plants that few humanoids can digest. Cattle and sheep, perhaps the two most common domesticated animals, have specialized stomachs that break down grass. Horses also subsist on a diet of grass, though they can break down cellulose, the primary molecule found in grass, without a compartmentalized stomach.
The omnivorous domesticated pig can eat both meat and plant matter, but most farmers feed them a corn-based diet supplemented with grass and other plants. These animals are responsible for nearly all dairy products, meat, leather, wool, and, in the case of horses, the primary means of long-distance transportation across the fertile plains.
Domesticated animals are not the only creatures that graze in the pastures. Immense herds of wild beasts also feast on the rolling fields.
Luckily for them, grass is a renewable food source. Unlike trees and shrubs, grass grows back relatively quickly after an animal devours its stem. While it would take a forest years and perhaps even decades to ecologically recover from the devastation wrought by thousands of hungry herbivores eating its bark, stems and leaves, the hewn blades of grass reemerge from the soil within a matter of weeks. A diverse array of predators follows close behind the migratory herds on their constant search for greener pastures. No other biome can support such large animal populations without straining its resources to the absolute limit. Thanks to the wonders of grain, the grasslands bestow enough food to satisfy man and beast alike.
Grasslands often serve as a buffer between the arid deserts and the vibrant forests. As such, the residents of these biomes may cast an envious eye in the direction of their fertile and temperate neighbor.
Desert inhabitants seeking water, food and shelter from the relentless heat frequently cross the border to trade with the nearby plains communities or in extreme cases, take up arms to acquire these valuable commodities from their fellow men. Though forest-dwellers lack the desperation of their desert counterparts, the grasslands’ fertile soil is easier to work and more conducive to farming than the thick, damp forest floor. Likewise, plains residents need wood to build their homes and manufacture a variety of essential goods, such as furniture, weapons and tools. It is also possible that careless humans in either biome could deliberately or accidentally start a fire that spreads to the neighboring biome. In these circumstances, adventurers may be needed to repel desert raiders, to establish diplomatic ties with a foreign nation or to even extinguish a raging inferno before it destroys countless acres of valuable farmland. All it takes is a single spark to ignite a war between these competing interests.
As the name implies, grasslands are a biome dominated by grasses, though not all grasses are the same. Some grasses tower higher than the average man, and others are little more than greenish-brown stubble coating the dry earth. Naturally, temperature and rainfall decide which path the land is going to follow. Warm, humid climates give birth to tropical grasslands, generally known as savannas. Africa is home to the world’s best-known savanna, which is inhabited by many of nature’s most iconic animals, including lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras and gazelles.
Temperate grasslands, often referred to as prairies and steppes, receive less rainfall than their tropical counterparts and experience much greater seasonal temperature fluctuations as well as greater variations between daytime and nighttime temperatures. The Great Plains of the American Midwest and the Eurasian Steppe are the most recognizable examples of temperate grasslands.
Tropical grasslands, also known as savannas, are characterized by year-round warm temperatures and greater humidity than their temperate counterparts. Grasses are the most prevalent form of plant life; however, individual trees and even some clusters of trees can be found close to sustainable water sources, such as large lakes and rivers. Acacia trees are among the most common found in this habitat. Their fire-resistant bark and deep taproots allow them to withstand the seasonal fires and long periods of drought that plague this biome during the dry season. Baobab trees are also found here, though they adapted differently to life in the savanna. The leaves and branches of this tall tree lie far beyond the reach of the typical herbivore, including the giraffe. These plants also store water in their incredibly thick trunks. In addition to their unusual shape and size, some believe that these trees live for thousands of years. These claims remain unverified.
Temperatures peak during the summer months, though they rarely eclipse 90° Fahrenheit, and typically average around 80° Fahrenheit.
Temperatures generally remain constant throughout the course of the day with the difference between the daytime high and the overnight low being no more than 15° Fahrenheit. Winter is more noticeable for its lack of rainfall rather than any discernible drop in air temperatures.
Winter temperatures are roughly 15° Fahrenheit cooler than the summer highs, and also experience little variation between the daytime high and overnight low temperatures.
Savannas receive an average of 40 inches of rainfall per year, though the amount of rainfall is less critical than how it is distributed. Savannas have a rainy season, which lasts from six to eight months, and a dry season that encompasses the balance of the year. Roughly 90% of the average annual precipitation falls during the rainy season. Torrential downpours generally occur at the onset and conclusion of the rainy season, but are not exclusively limited to these periods. The typical rainy season starts in early April and ends in late October, give or take a month on either end. Violent thunderstorms and a persistent, drying wind usher in the start of the dry season. The dry season is critical for the savanna’s continued survival because the prolonged lack of moisture keeps the soil thin and arid and allows fires to destroy burgeoning saplings and dead vegetation, thus killing invasive trees and replenishing the soil with vital nutrients.
Natural processes are responsible for the creation of most savannas, but men and even animals can give birth to this biome. The most common example of the former’s role in breathing life into a savanna occurs when farmers fell nearby forests and burn the trees as fertilizer in a vain effort to transform the former forest floor into farmland. The plan succeeds for a short time until the crops exhaust the soil’s limited nutrient content, and the farmers eventually abandon the withering fields. The surrounding trees make an attempt to reclaim the tilled land for the forest, yet the damage is already done. The neighboring grasses infiltrate the neglected earth, and seasonal fires do the rest to keep the encroaching forest at bay. In a similar fashion, massive herbivores with an appetite for tree leaves, branches and bark can wreak havoc on a forest. Unlike the humans, these animals did not intend to convert a copse of trees into grassland, but their insatiable hunger accomplished the identical ends by expending less energy.
Even in the preceding circumstances, grasses grow in a territorial manner. It is extremely unusual to see different grass species intermingled with one another in a particular area. In general, one and possibly two varieties of grass hold sway over a wide region, choking off any invaders that trespass on their space. Several species of grass found in the savanna can reach a staggering height of 9 feet, though the constant movement of immense migratory herds ultimately tramples even the hardiest plants.
Most are roughly half that height. Savanna grasses adapted to the thin, porous soil and extended droughts by storing nutrients and water in their underground root network. During the dry season, the plant no longer supplies these precious commodities to its expendable stem and leaves.
The plant’s exposed parts turn brown and eventually wither, only to be replaced by fresh, green ones when the rainy season returns.
Savannas teem with animal life, especially during the hot, rainy season. Insects, rodents and birds are plentiful during the humid summer months. Unfortunately, many of these small creatures carry an unwanted passenger with them — disease. Mosquitoes transmit an entire host of virulent pathogens, including yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitic viruses and the dreaded malaria, while rats and other rodents can transmit the rabies virus with their bite and are unwitting carriers of bubonic plague and hantavirus. Still, these pests take a backseat to the remarkable fauna that inhabit this lush habitat. The savanna is best known for the enormous herds of large herbivores that call this environment home.
At any given time, a million or more wildebeests, gazelles, antelopes and water buffalos may be grazing on a fertile tract of grassland or drinking from the refreshing waters of a lake or river. Though they are not as numerous as the preceding animals, the mighty elephant and the odd giraffe must be mentioned among the biome’s most-renowned and recognizable creatures. These animals do not stray far in search of food and water during the rainy season, yet the advent of the dry season sends them on an annual pilgrimage to find fresh, running streams and greener pastures. The savanna’s iconic predators always trail close behind them.
The sleek cheetah, the conniving hyena, the crafty leopard and the king of beasts, the majestic lion, occupy the highest rung of the habitat’s extensive food chain. In the eyes of most humans, it is impossible to separate these creatures from the savanna.
Humans living alongside these creatures lead a similarly nomadic lifestyle. In spite of the fact that it is warm enough to grow crops on a year-round basis, the thin, arid soil and protracted droughts generally make farming a difficult and laborious endeavor. Like the animals, Man is a hunter-gatherer. Humanoids follow their prey’s migratory patterns, practically walking side by side with the fearsome canine and felid predators that stalk the tall grasses. The hunt is a communal event in most humanoid settlements. A lone man is no match for an angry wildebeest, and faces grave danger when surrounded by agitated herbivores or in the sights of a larger predator. Like hyenas and lions, men organize themselves into groups in order to track down and slay their quarry. Numbers and strategies compensate for what men lack in raw size and strength.
Those that do not hunt forage through the grasses in search of wild grains, fruits and seeds, such as okra. In spite of their need to work together, humanoid settlements in the savanna are much smaller in size and population than those found in the temperate grasslands where wide-scale farming is possible. Most humanoids live in communities that consist of extended family members near a viable water source. The typical settlement consists of at least several moderate-sized huts. The residents that occupy these quarters share the space with their immediate families along with a few domesticated animals, most notably goats , that are used to produce milk, fur and meat. The crude abodes are constructed from plant matter, particularly grasses. There are some trees in the savannas, so structures crafted from tree branches and cut wood can be found in the largest and most established towns and villages.
Because the climate is fairly stable throughout the year, the structures are designed to provide shelter against heavy rains and high winds rather than keep the residents warm during the winter months. The roofs and walls allow light breezes to pass through their porous surface, while repelling rainfall. In spite of their lightweight construction materials, the huts cannot be disassembled with ease.
The tropical grasslands rank near the top of the most hospitable biomes in terms of weather. With the exception of the hot, humid summer, temperatures are generally comfortable throughout the rest of the year, allowing adventurers to explore the vast tropical plains without worrying about the dangers posed by intense heat and numbing cold. Still, finding water can be a challenge, especially during the dry season. Explorers therefore frequently carry sufficient quantities of water to last for the duration of their journey. Food poses less of a problem as wild grains, fruits and game are plentiful all year round, particularly along riverbanks, ponds and lakes. The same principle applies to most humanoid settlements found scattered throughout the savanna. Most communities are relatively small with transient populations and few, if any, permanent structures crafted from mud bricks or wood. Towns and cities constructed from stone do exist, though they are the exception rather than the rule. Most sprang up near coastal areas bordering oceans and other substantial bodies of water that facilitate commerce with neighboring regions. Here, the rural residents of the plains mingle and trade with the city’s cosmopolitan inhabitants and exotic foreigners visiting these far flung shores. Adventurers find these distant locales to be the best places to acquire information from the local populace and trade for vital provisions and magical equipment.
The tropical grasslands are renowned for their unique and abundant flora and fauna. But other valuables buried beneath the thin, arid soil also command the attention of monsters and adventurers alike. Diamonds are perhaps the most valuable and sought after of the savanna’s inorganic resources. Prospectors find the precious mineral in ores extracted from the earth as well as close to the surface in riverbeds, along the shores of lakes and in shallow ponds scattered throughout the savanna. Gold and platinum are also found in similar areas throughout the tropical grasslands. Makeshift towns and villages frequently spring up near the source of these valuable commodities. Naturally, conflicts between business rivals and the indigenous peoples and monsters take place on a regular basis. Adventurers are often hired by one or more of these parties to eliminate their competitors and protect their employer’s financial and personal interests.
In addition to scouring the land for buried riches, some wealthy hunters contract the services of adventurers to accompany them on safaris in the feral tropical grasslands. These intrepid explorers endeavor to add the land’s most dangerous game animals to their expansive trophy collections. Their prize kills include dire lions, rhinoceroses, elephants, leopards, water buffalos and cheetahs. Other hunters seek the assistance of adventurers to slay these creatures for commercial purposes. In addition to selling their fur, humanoids use the body parts of many of these animals for homeopathic remedies and magical concoctions.
Furthermore, ivory culled from the tusks of elephants also fetches a hefty price on the open market.
Temperate grasslands are commonly referred to as plains, prairies and steppes. Most people use each of the preceding terms interchangeably, but there are subtle differences among the three. The word plain is actually a geographical term used to describe flat terrain. It became synonymous with temperate grasslands because North America’s temperate grasslands are notoriously flat, thus earning the moniker The Great Plains. Prairies are temperate grasslands dominated by tall grasses. Short grasses are more prevalent on the colder and drier steppes. Regardless of the term used, grasses including wild cereal grains dominate the temperate grasslands.
Trees and shrubs are difficult to find, but a few species, such as poplars and oaks, grow near riverbanks and lakebeds.
Temperate grasslands experience more seasonal and daily variations in temperature than their tropical counterparts. During the hot summers, daytime highs soar above 90° Fahrenheit, and even exceed 100° Fahrenheit.
Because there is less humidity in the air than in the savanna, overnight lows can drop by as much as 30° Fahrenheit, especially in interior areas far removed from the moderating influence of large bodies of water. The same extremes are felt during the biting, cold winters. Highs barely crawl above the freezing point, and lows routinely dip into the teens and single digits with the occasional flirtation with subzero temperatures. The frigid winds howling across the prairies make it feel even colder on the plains during the harsh winters.
Steppes receive between 10 inches and 20 inches of annual rainfall, while prairies get between 20 inches and 35 inches of annual rainfall.
Steppes are often found adjacent to deserts and on the lee side of mountain ranges, which lessens the amount of rain received in the steppes because of the rain shadow effect. It is also common for prairies and steppes to border one another, especially in areas close to mountain ranges.
In either case, precipitation occurs predominately from early spring through late summer, typically peaking in May followed by a slow and steady decline until October. The contrast between the wet season and dry season is less severe than that experienced in the savanna. Temperate grasslands are less dependent upon fire to eradicate burgeoning trees and shrubs, in large part due to the lesser amounts of rainfall and the bitterly cold winters. In addition, most precipitation that occurs during the dry season falls to the ground as snow. The coating of snow prevents most fires from igniting and spreading across a wide area. Still, the flames eventually come, burning away the rotting vegetation slain by the lack of moisture and winter’s deep freeze.
The warm, moist months are better known as the growing season, whereas the colder, drier months are referred to as the dormant season.
Farmers working the land sow their seeds at the beginning of the growing season and harvest their crops at the onset of the dormant season. This is especially true with cereal grass plants such as wheat, rye, barley, rice, corn and oats. In spite of the bitter cold winters and moderate rainfall, the temperate grassland’s soil is slightly deeper and more fertile than the warmer savanna’s thin, arid earth. This is particularly true on the prairies where the warmer and moister climate is more conducive to growing than the cooler and more arid steppes. During the dormant season, some plants succumb to the lack of moisture and the frigid temperatures. The decaying organic matter adds another layer of topsoil to the already nutrient rich dirt. This is especially true when grasses die. Their complex, subterranean network of roots rots beneath the surface thus increasing the soil’s fertility. The decomposing plant matter also maintains a firm grip on the surrounding earth, which prevents it from drying up and blowing away. As long as the ground remains undisturbed, the land retains its stability and productivity; however the farmer’s plow frequently sunders the unseen bonds holding the soil together. Unless properly irrigated and maintained, the rich earth can turn into worthless dust during periods of extended drought, as exemplified by the Dust Bowl that devastated the North American Plains during the 1930s. Likewise, men hew the trees in neighboring forests in an effort to transform the former forest floor into arable land. Success demands several years of careful planning and fertilizing to build up the ground’s topsoil layers, yet permanent conversion ultimately depends upon climactic factors outside of humanity’s control.
Without man’s intervention, the land may revert to forest over time or turn into grassland under the right conditions.
Grasses coexist better in the temperate grasslands than they do in the savanna. Naturally, some thrive in the warmer and moister prairies, while others prefer the colder and drier steppes. The slightest variations in temperature and rainfall frequently determine where a particular species grows best. Prairie grass can reach a staggering height of 10 feet, though most varieties average between 6 feet and 8 feet in height. Mixed in among these conventional types of grasses are the wild varieties of important food staples such as wheat and barley. Other important cereal grasses including oats, rice, corn and rye flourish in this fertile soil.
Flowering plants also take root in the prairies. Most notable among these are some members of the legume family such as clover and alfalfa. On the other hand, the grasses encountered on the steppe are much shorter.
The tallest grasses, often located in areas bordering forests, stand approximately 4 feet above the ground. Most other grasses grow to a maximum height of 2 feet. The few flowering plants found in the steppe generally bloom during the early spring. In spite of the inroads made by several types of flowering plants, grasses still dominate other forms of plant life in the prairies and the steppe.
Winter is an inevitable fact of life in the temperate grasslands, and the creatures that call this place home must adapt to their environment in order to survive. Bison, also known as buffalos, are probably the best known of the large herbivores that inhabit the lush prairies, and they make an ideal example to demonstrate this important principle. The massive beasts grow thick, dark brown, shaggy coats to insulate their bodies during the frigid winters. They also use their enormous, furry heads as a makeshift snowplow, allowing them to eat the dormant grasses that lie beneath the white coating covering the ground. As spring approaches, they shed their winter coat and replace it with a lighter brown coat that is better suited for tolerating summer’s oppressive heat. Other animals cope with the changing temperatures in different ways. Some ride out the winter in subterranean burrows. The underground lair may be as simple as a hole in the ground, or it can be as massive as the prairie dogs‘ elaborate network of tunnels and chambers with multiple entrances. Larger herd animals huddle close together to preserve body heat and give them some protection against the frigid winds that howl across the plains.
Humanoids must also adapt to the changing seasons. How they do so depends upon whether they lead a nomadic or sedentary lifestyle.
The prairie’s hunter-gatherers live in portable shelters that consist of leather panels wrapped around retractable wooden frames. These hardy individuals spend their days in close pursuit of the migratory, herd animals that they hunt. They usually prey upon large game beasts such as bison, caribou and deer, though they are not averse to feeding on birds, rodents and smaller predators if left with no other choice. In addition to procuring meat, these nomads also harvest wild grains, fruits and vegetables that they use to make flour and meal.
These men and women roam the land as large family units that may number in the hundreds. They also loosely affiliate themselves with distant relatives living and hunting on neighboring lands. Despite rarely establishing any permanent roots, these nomadic people can be extremely territorial, especially when it comes to fending off rivals encroaching on their hunting grounds. Many migratory animals follow the same trail year after year; therefore, a territory that overlaps with the beasts’ preferred route is highly sought after and coveted by hungry nomads. Territorial disputes sometimes end in violence, and blood feuds between rival groups can last for decades and even centuries.
Sedentary farmers dwell year-round in permanent shelters crafted from wood, thatch and other natural materials. Men work the land, planting seeds for their crops at the first signs of spring and harvesting their yields at the onset of the dormant season. In addition to growing cereal grasses, legumes and vegetables, many plains dwellers also raise livestock for milk, wool, leather, bone and meat. These animals graze on the bountiful grasses under the watchful eyes of their owners. For the most part, sedentary residents are self-sufficient. They have enough stored grain and livestock to outlast severe droughts and famines. This allows farmers to sell their surplus food and goods to others. Villages, towns and even cities spring up close to these agricultural centers to facilitate the trade of these vital commodities and to protect the citizens from would-be thieves and marauders. Of course, water is a necessity for farmers and townsfolk alike. The shrewdest architects build their settlements close to potable and navigable waterways. Cities usually develop near riverbanks and lakebeds that can accommodate commercial vessels.
Individualism runs deep among the inhabitants of the temperate grasslands. As the saying goes, “all politics are local,” and the overwhelming majority of citizens have no interest in what happens 10 miles from their door, let alone across the vast breadth of the plains. In spite of their ability to feed, arm, equip and house large populaces, these communities are extremely insular and often completely apathetic about the prospects of nation building. The concept of taming and conquering vast swaths of territory is thoroughly unappealing and fruitless in their eyes. Surprisingly, the nomadic peoples are more apt to carve out an empire of endless grass than their sedentary, urban counterparts. The reason is rather simple: Nomads take whatever they need from those who already have it. This is especially true on the steppe, where vital resources are scarce and thus in greater demand. In fact, nomadic steppe people under the command of Genghis Khan carved out the largest contiguous land empire in human history, though his hard-won kingdom fragmented shortly after his death. While urban dwellers are bound together by commercial necessity and mutual convenience, the bonds of blood, kinship and desperation tie the migratory hunter-gatherers together.
Temperate Grasslands Campaign
The temperate plains offer a good mix of wilderness and urban adventuring opportunities. The untamed prairies and steppes are vast open spaces subject to the ever-changing whims of the savage beasts and hardscrabble nomads that constantly roam these lands in search of greener pastures. For those endeavoring to make their mark on this domain, it is practically impossible to do so without first taming the iconic symbol of these lands — the horse. Children are born and bred in the saddle and learn to fight from horseback at an early age. The temperate plains’ fortunes are shaped by the ability to maneuver and attack in unison with a trusted steed. Fortunately, these skills are not always needed, as most residents harmoniously coexist with the land and each other. Still, some men and monsters exhibit no reverence for nature or their fellow man. Instead, they take what they want from others regardless of the consequences. In the absence of any governmental authorities, innocent civilians frequently turn to adventurers to protect them from raiders and brigands terrorizing their lands. In addition to human adversaries, heroes also battle against aggressive humanoids such as orcs and goblins, as well as predatory beasts and herd animals such as hyenas, dire lions and buffalos. Monstrous humanoids and other intelligent foes also stalk the tall grasses and abandoned camps in search of sentient prey.
Adventurers making their way in the villages, towns and cities scattered throughout the temperate plains face similar perils. Dark forces lurk behind closed doors in the halls of power and the depraved underbellies of these settlements, though they hatch their schemes and plots with more subtlety than the brazen marauders harassing passing travelers.
Rare, exotic and illegal goods can also be bought and sold through the same illicit channels typically doubling as a legitimate business. An air of suspicion always accompanies newcomers; therefore, the average citizen usually keeps information about black markets and nefarious services close to the chest when dealing with strangers. In addition to the materials available within inhabited locales, abandoned settlements typically harbor vile secrets and forgotten treasures left behind in the haste to escape a long forgotten apocalypse.
Malevolent men and creatures are not the only dangers in the grass and grain fields. Weather on the temperate plains is harsh and fickle.
Adventurers seeking fame and fortune must be prepared for nature’s furious and sometimes unpredictable wrath. Hot, humid summers wither the hardiest warriors, and frigid winters literally chill the stoutest souls to the bone. Tornados destroy anything in their path and can even level a city in minutes. The fierce winds and blinding snow of a prairie blizzard can halt a giant in its tracks. A single lightning strike can transform a peaceful pasture into a roaring blaze in a matter of seconds. Plains adventurers soon discover that nature cannot be controlled.
Drought is a constant fear and reality in the grasslands. Even under the best of circumstances, precipitation is generally scarce during the dry season, especially in the steppes. Weather offers no guarantees. Sometimes, rainy seasons come and go with little or no precipitation. The problem gets exponentially worse for every year that passes without enough rain to replenish the waters lost to evaporation and consumption. Whenever the rains fail to come, the shortage places an incredible strain on the available water resources. No area feels the effect more dramatically than the large cities and towns that depend upon water to quench their residents’ thirst and also irrigate the surrounding fields that provide the overwhelming majority of the community’s food supply. Prudent civic planners and farmers ideally plan their settlements with water needs foremost on their minds. Though this would seem to dictate developing villages, towns and cities along riverbanks and lakebeds, this course of action has its own set of problems. Flash floods from torrential downpours and rapid snow melt are just as much of a reality on the plains as drought, particularly in nearby low-lying areas. To avoid such a catastrophe, architects construct the settlement’s infrastructure in an elevated location close enough to draw water from its source, but high enough and far enough away to avoid damage from flooding. Engineers must strike a careful balance between giving the residents easy access to water while ensuring public safety.
Grasslands are generally located on the continent’s interior, a great distance from the oceans. Rivers and lakes are an important water source and means of travel for settlers. The largest rivers and lakes are generally found in the savannas, which receive more precipitation than the prairies and steppes. For instance, the African savanna’s largest lakes, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria are considerably larger than any lakes in the Great Plains and the Eurasian Steppe. Lake Victoria is also a source of the Nile River, which is generally considered the longest river in the world. Rivers and lakes in the savanna accumulate much of their water from direct precipitation and lie in valleys encapsulated by mountain peaks. Small vessels can navigate most parts of these rivers, bus some areas are too shallow and rocky to negotiate without risking damage to the boat. When the dry season comes, predators gather near these narrow straits and wait for the migrating herds to ford the treacherous waters.
Most rivers in the prairies and steppes originate in adjacent mountain ranges or are tributaries of a much-larger river. This is particularly true in the case of temperate grasslands forming on the lee side of a mountain range emulating the rain shadow effect. Runoff from melting snow high atop the peaks accounts for most of the river’s water content. An individual river’s navigability depends upon precipitation totals. If the annual rainfall is at or above its annual average, the waterway’s entire length is usually navigable. Otherwise, large portions of the river are too shallow for vessels larger than a rowboat. Riverbanks and lakebeds are also important to plains settlers, because they are usually the only locations where trees grow. Wood is necessary to build shelters, weapons and other tools. Lakes found in the prairies and steppes are considerably smaller than those in the savanna and are used predominately as a source of drinking water and irrigation rather than commercial interests.
In the absence of a surface lake or river, settlements and farms sometimes rely upon underground rivers and aquifers to meet residents’ needs. As an example, vast areas on the Great Plains rely almost exclusively upon aquifers to irrigate their crops. Because they not are readily visible, successfully locating an aquifer is a bit of a challenge. If one is present, a PC detects the aquifer with a successful DC 20 Knowledge (geography) check. Finding an aquifer is only the first part of the equation. Water sinks to its lowest level, so a pump or a well must be used to bring the water to the surface. For this reason, engineers build settlements that rely upon an underground water supply in a low-lying area close to the subterranean reservoir.
The term watering hole does not describe an actual body of water, per se. The watering hole itself may be an accessible riverbank, a lake or a small pond. The term is used to describe an area where numerous animals come to drink from and bathe in the refreshing waters, particularly during the dry season when water is scarce. The breathtaking scene of watching hundreds and even thousands of animals gather around a small, blue oasis is one of the savanna’s most indelible images. It is also one of the tropical grassland’s most dangerous places. Predator and prey alike need water to survive, forcing the opposing factions in close proximity to each other.
Even a sudden flinch from a thirsty lion can trigger a mad stampede.
Adventurers approaching a watering hole must do so with extreme caution to prevent attracting unwanted interest from a hungry predator or setting off a mass panic among the nervous prey animals. To make matters worse, pathogens frequently lurk in the watering hole’s stagnant liquid.
The world’s grasslands may be the planet’s most hospitable environment, at least from a weather standpoint. With the exception of a few weeks during the summer months, temperatures in the savanna remain comfortable year-round. Likewise, temperate grasslands also experience comfortable temperatures for roughly half of the year, with the remainder split between three months of hot, sticky weather and three months of numbing cold. In a world teeming with life, finding food and water rarely presents a significant challenge except during the frigid winters in the temperate grasslands. Daily survival is usually not the life-and-death struggle encountered in the hot and dry desert and the frigid taiga. Still, the plains have their share of formidable hazards. Though frequently brief, the weather events that torment the grasslands rank among the deadliest. Animal predators often lurk in the grasses waiting to pounce on their next meal. Though these ferocious beasts generally target game animals, a sick, injured or vicious predator may zero in on a humanoid meal instead. The grasslands are home to many of nature’s fiercest and deadliest creatures, but they are not all renowned for their sheer brawn. Some of them, like the mosquito, are barely visible to the naked eye, but they are far more lethal than a pride of lions or even a mighty tyrannosaurus. These tiny pests are the unwitting carriers of countless diseases, including dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever. Insects and beasts are not the environment’s only living threats. Bandits, outlaws and highwaymen plague the land, depriving their unfortunate victims of their valuables and on some occasions, their lives. Savage, brutish monsters always pose a danger to those that stray too far from home to traverse the wilderness. Unseen hazards frequently hide behind the façade of tranquil fields and lush waves of grain.
Plains’ major hazards are organized into four categories:
- Terrestrial hazards: This section presents rules and information to adjudicate the effects of non-weather related natural dangers. These include large-scale disasters such as grass fires, black blizzards, sinkholes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
- Plants: This section describes the dangers caused by the native flora, particularly those with toxic properties and those able to produce widespread allergic reactions.
- Inhabitants: This section discusses the hazards posed by the indigenous species that inhabit this biome. Men, monsters, beasts and vermin hide in the tall grasses waiting to strike any hapless victim that crosses their paths.
- Weather: This section discusses the environment’s most fearsome weather events such as tornadoes and blizzards, and touches upon lesser-recognized dangers such as sunburn. This section also provides tables for generating random weather effects in a savanna, prairie and steppe.
Some of these rules expand upon rules that already exist. Others are entirely new ways to look at old and overlooked hazards encountered in the plains.
Fire is the force that shapes the plains. It simultaneously destroys and renews the landscape. The charred remains of burnt tree saplings and brown grass replenish the biome’s fertile topsoil with vital nutrients. As previously discussed, the flames keep trees and shrubs at bay. Without it, tropical grasslands would eventually transform into forests, while temperate grasslands would teeter between turning into forests or deserts. Naturally, grassfires are most prevalent during the dry season, as the sere, withering plant stalks reach the peak of their flammability. Yet the dry season can also bring more than fire. Poor farming practices, arid soil and wind may turn a once-prosperous farm into a massive dust storm known as a black blizzard. Besides stripping essential topsoil from productive, cultivated land, the massive cloud of swirling dirt can damage life and property. While there is no mistaking a black blizzard, sinkholes are nearly impossible to spot until it is too late. Formed by natural processes, man-made construction and the underground activities of several animals and monsters, sinkholes can turn a tract of fertile farmland or a patch of grass into an inescapable deathtrap in a matter of seconds.
Yet none of the preceding dangers compares to the raw energy released by an erupting volcano or an earthquake. Grasslands are usually not associated with either natural disaster, because plains are typically located in the continent’s landlocked interior sections, far removed from major fault lines and coastal regions. Despite this perception, earthquakes and volcanoes have ravaged the grasslands throughout history. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 violently shook large portions of the Midwestern United States. Any significant eruption of the world’s largest volcano, the Yellowstone Caldera, would utterly decimate the steppe and prairie land just east of the fiery cataclysm. Though these events are very rare, their wrath is often felt for generations afterward.
Whether ignited by a wayward lightning bolt, intense summer heat, a camper’s carelessness or a deliberate act, grassfires can start in an instant and spread across vast swaths of land in mere minutes. Buffeted by the wind, grassfires move extremely quick and do not linger in the same place for more than brief intervals. During a forest fire, it takes an extended period of time to reduce even a dry tree to smoldering ash. But desiccated grass plants shrivel and burn in a matter of seconds, forcing the starving fire to find more combustible fuel elsewhere.
The standard “Forest Fires” rules cover the details for adjudicating the effects of a forest fire. Some adjustments are needed though to accurately depict the effects of a grassfire. The flat terrain makes it relatively easy to spot a burgeoning grassfire from afar. A character who succeeds on a Perception check, treating the fire as a Colossal creature (reducing the DC by 16), can spot a grassfire from as far away as 2d6 x 800 feet rather than 2d6 x 100 feet as in the case of a forest fire. The leading edge of a grassfire (the downwind side) moves extremely quickly, traveling at a speed of 2d6x20 feet per round in light to moderate winds, 2d6 x 30 feet per round in strong to severe winds, and 2d6 x 40 feet per round when influenced by winds in excess of 51 mph. As previously mentioned, grass fires exhaust their fuel supply relatively quickly, so once a particular portion of the grasslands is ablaze, it remains so for only 2d4 minutes (1d4 minutes in the steppe) before it reduces the withered grasses and plants to fine ash, rather than burning for 2d4 x 10 minutes as in a forest fire. Lastly, characters engulfed in the blaze gain a +4 bonus to their Reflex save to avoid catching fire because of the fire’s speed as its races across the plains.
Of course, the preceding discussion relates to grassfires caused by unseen forces. Characters and their enemies may intentionally or accidentally ignite a grassfire while fighting on the open plains. A dropped torch, a neglected campfire, a flaming sword and many spells that create fire can set the grasslands ablaze. The risk of starting a deadly inferno is a significant consideration when battling foes outdoors, especially during the dry season. As a general rule of thumb, green plants subjected to an instantaneous flame do not catch fire, whereas dried, brown plants have a 50% chance of igniting. Fires that last for 1 round or more always ignite desiccated grasses, grains and other plants. On the other hand, every round there is a cumulative 10% chance that a green plant exposed to an open flame catches fire. Once a fire starts, the wind direction determines where it goes unless the characters or their adversaries use other means, such as a gust of wind spell to steer the blaze in another direction. Whether caused by nature or the actions of living creatures, virtually nothing can stop a raging grassfire except perhaps a torrential downpour.
Fires may be attributed solely to natural causes, but the dreaded black blizzard cannot spring into existence without human intervention. Grasses have deep and intricate root systems that keep the soil in place during prolonged dry spells. Whenever farmers till the fields where the plants once grew, the plow sunders these bonds to make room for new crops to grow in their place. Though the grassland’s fertile soil produces wondrous yields, farmers often forget that the biome is always one precarious step away from turning into worthless desert. Experienced farmers know that in order to prevent desertification from happening, they cannot exclusively rely upon rain to water their fields. They must use water from another source such as a nearby river or aquifer to irrigate their plants. Those that do not learn this valuable lesson helplessly watch as their crops die and the rich topsoil becomes fallow. The dusty particulates fuel the black blizzard, but one more ingredient is needed to finish the devastating concoction.
Location is another critical factor that plays into the creation of a black blizzard. The flat land’s lack of obstacles and undulations makes it easy to keep a close eye on the pastures and work the plow, but it also leaves the land vulnerable to the black blizzard’s catalyst — wind. Hills, trees and shrubs provide some natural protection against the wind, as do manmade barriers such as berms, stone walls and earthworks. An open, dry field with no protection against the wind is a black blizzard waiting to happen, especially when combined with unsound farming techniques. Farmers that fail to rotate their crops and leave their fields bare during the windy, winter months practically ensure the creation of black blizzards.
Black blizzards reduce vision to 1d4 x 5 feet and turn the sky so dark that it blocks out the sun, turning day into night (dim light). They smother unprotected flames and can even choke protected flames (50% chance).
Black blizzards are accompanied by windstorm-magnitude winds. The fine particulates deal 1d6 points of nonlethal damage each hour to anyone caught out in the open without shelter and also pose a choking hazard. (A character with a scarf or similar protection across his mouth and nose does not begin to choke until after a number of rounds equal to 10 plus his Constitution score). A character that begins to choke also has a chance of contracting dust pneumonia, a potentially deadly disease (see below). The dust creeps in through all but the most secure seals and seams, chafing skin and contaminating gear. In addition, there is also a 10% chance that the swirling dust generates enough static electricity to deal 1d6 points of electrical damage to anyone who suffered nonlethal damage from prolonged exposure. Black blizzards typically last for 2d10 hours and leave 2d3–1 feet of fine sand in their wake. These dusty cyclones can travel for hundreds and even thousands of miles before finally dissipating.
Type—disease, inhaled; save Fort DC 13; onset 1d4 days; frequency 1/day; effect 1d2 Con damage, as long as character suffers Constitution damage, he suffers a –4 penalty on Stealth checks and has a 20% chance of spell failure when casting spells with a verbal component due to excessive coughing; cure 1 save.
As if the black blizzard’s physical damage were not bad enough, its economic and social toll is far greater. Farmland ravaged by black blizzards may be rendered useless for years, forcing the resident farmers to abandon their farms and seek work elsewhere. In addition to losing their land, livestock losses are often devastating. Homeless and penniless, these migrants rarely receive a warm welcome wherever they go. It is hoped most learn a valuable lesson from the experience and realize that those who live off the land must also be its caretakers.
Volcanoes are hardly synonymous with the plains as the mid-continental land rarely experiences the fiery eruptions that plague many coastal regions and oceanic islands that are typically spawned by volcanic activity. The few volcanoes that scar the land differ from conventional volcanoes in the fact that they may not spew lava. Instead, some eject sodium and potassium carbonate minerals at a much lower temperature than the red-hot magma commonly associated with volcanic eruptions. This unique black lava is less viscous and behaves more like water than normal lava, so it moves at a speed of 120 feet per round. Creatures in the lava’s path must succeed on a DC 25 Reflex save to avoid being engulfed in it. Because it ejects at a lower temperature than other types of lava, this lava deals 1d6 points of damage per round of exposure, and 10d6 points of damage per round to creatures engulfed by it. Damage from lava continues for 1d3 rounds after exposure ends, but this additional damage is only half of that dealt during actual contact (that is, 1d3 or 5d6 points per round). This lava is extremely rare and valuable for some arcane magic practitioners because of the material’s unique ability to change mineral composition when exposed to air.
The few active plains’ volcanoes are typically found in rifts formed by continental plates attempting to separate from one another. Stratovolcanoes comprise the majority of plains’ volcanoes. This type of volcano appears as an inverted cone. Numerous layers of ash, rock, pumice and other volcanic debris piled atop one another give the volcano its upside-down conic shape. In some instances, the volcano’s weight becomes so great that it collapses upon itself, forming a caldera. These volcanoes are extremely dangerous and are usually categorized as supervolcanoes because of their immense power. The Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming is considered by many to be a supervolcano, and its previous eruptions were so powerful that they transformed a nearby mountainous area into the Snake River Plain. Fortunately, eruptions are infrequent and brief, but the explosion is incredibly violent. Lava ejected by the blast travels at a speed of 60 feet per round. Creatures in the lava’s path must make a successful DC 20 Reflex save to avoid being engulfed by it. Lava deals 2d6 points of damage per round of exposure, but it deals 20d6 points of damage per round to engulfed creatures. Damage from lava continues for 1d3 rounds after exposure ceases, but this additional damage is only half of that dealt during actual contact (that is, 1d6 or 10d6 points per round).
Like most features of the natural world, man frequently takes the stability of solid ground for granted, but at any given time nature can literally shake this belief to its very foundations. The planet’s surface is not fixed or immobile. Instead, it is more like pieces of an interlocking jigsaw puzzle floating upon a sea of molten rock. The “pieces” are known as tectonic plates that are large masses of contiguous land or ocean floor that interconnect with the tectonic plates around them. The space between adjoining plates is known as a fault or a fault line. The tectonic plates are constantly subjected to the tremendous pressure exerted by the tectonic plates surrounding them. When a portion of one or more tectonic plates can no longer withstand the pressure, they shift, resulting in an earthquake.
Though the vast majority of earthquakes occur along a fault line, some occur within a contiguous tectonic plate as witnessed by the New Madrid earthquakes of the 19th century. In addition, some earthquake activity may be attributable to a hotspot, a volcanic region where the earth’s mantle is inexplicably hotter than the surrounding mantle. Earthquakes in these regions typically occur in conjunction with volcanic activity. However, these types of earthquakes are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Earthquakes are among nature’s most powerful forces, but they pose no real danger to someone standing out in the open unless they are literally standing atop the fault line. Otherwise, the tremor would likely knock him to the ground and disorient him for a few minutes afterward.
Grasslands generally lack trees, so there is little danger of being struck by a falling tree. On the other hand, settlements are extremely vulnerable to an earthquake’s devastating effects. The violent shaking can easily damage poorly constructed buildings or extremely tall structures. Earthquakes deal 20d10 points of damage to all structures subject to its effects. GMs may want to increase the damage by up to 50% for buildings located near the epicenter and decrease it by up to 50% for buildings in outlying areas. Many plains natives believe that earthquakes are the handiwork of malevolent subterranean creatures such as the derros and the drow. Whenever one occurs, calls arise for adventurers to delve into the scarred earth and bring the responsible culprits to justice.
Geologically, the plains are less susceptible to sinkholes than most other environments. Though the grasslands typically occupy elevated plateaus several hundred and sometimes several thousand feet above sea level, there is usually not enough groundwater to erode the rock layers beneath the surface that is needed to create a naturally occurring sinkhole.
Instead, man-made subterranean structures and the burrowing activity of several animals and monsters account for the plains’ seeming abundance of sinkholes. Abandoned mines are another common cause of sinkholes.
Over time, the support structures holding the tunnels’ ceilings in place steadily rot and weaken. When they fail, the mineshaft collapses, creating a sinkhole. Faulty sewer tunnels in urban areas can also lead to the development of a sinkhole. Men are not the only creatures that delve into the earth. Ankhegs burrow just below the surface, leaving tons of displaced and disintegrated soil in their wake. Likewise, prairie dogs dig elaborate networks of tunnels and chambers. Ultimately, the rocks and dirt above these complexes slowly give way until they completely collapse under their own weight or under the weight of a creature passing overhead, such as an unsuspecting adventurer.
The typical sinkhole measures 4d6 feet in diameter and descends to a depth of 2d4 x 10 feet, though they can be larger or smaller depending upon the circumstances surrounding their creation. Terrain conducive to creating a natural sinkhole can be spotted with a successful DC 15 Knowledge (geography) check, though a successful check does not verify the presence of a sinkhole or pinpoint one’s exact location. It merely tells the character that a sinkhole is more likely to be found in a given region than elsewhere. Likewise, a character moving at a normal pace can notice a potential sinkhole with a successful DC 18 Survival check. (A character not actively searching or looking for a sinkhole should be treated as if he were taking 10 on his Survival check.) Creatures that fail to detect the sinkhole walk 1d6 feet past the edge before the ground suddenly collapses. A creature can avoid falling into the sinkhole by succeeding on a Reflex save (DC 15+1 per foot beyond the sinkhole’s edge). Those who fall into the sinkhole suffer the appropriate falling damage (1d6 points of damage per 10 feet fallen). The damage caused by the sinkhole determines its CR (see the “Challenge Rating of a Trap” for guidance). In general, for every mile traveled in the savanna and prairie, there is a 1% chance of stumbling across a sinkhole. Passing through areas near abandoned mines, prairie dog complexes and ankheg lairs may increase the percentage chance of encountering a sinkhole to 5%. In this case, a successful DC 20 Knowledge (nature) check spots the telltale signs of these creatures’ presence in the area. There are fewer sinkholes on the steppes, so there is a 1% chance of stepping onto a sinkhole for every two miles traveled across the steppe.
Green plants are endemic throughout the grasslands. Luckily, the overwhelming majority of the plains’ plant life provides more benefits than detriments. Grasses, legumes and other edible species sustain vast populations of animals and people alike, yet mixed in among the vast fields of nourishing grain are several plants with unintentional and deliberate abilities to harm other creatures. Some expel immense clouds of irritating pollen, and others develop defense mechanisms to prevent hungry animals and people from eating and injuring them.
Humanoids generally do not walk into a field and eat grass. However, most herbivores, including livestock and horses, regularly do. In general, poisonous plant species have a bitter, unpleasant taste, so after a few tentative mouthfuls, the animal wisely moves on to better-tasting fare with no ill effects. Still, some varieties do not display the outward signs of toxicity such as bad taste, prickly texture and odd coloration. Naturally, these varieties are the most dangerous because the animal’s keen senses of taste and smell fail to protect it from the perilous meal. Johnson grass is perhaps the most invasive of these species. Under normal circumstances, eating a healthy Johnson grass plant’s leaves and stems poses little danger to livestock and horses unless consumed in extremely large quantities.
However, merely chewing on an injured, wilted or frozen specimen can be fatal. Under these conditions, a chemical compound within the leaves changes, coating the plant with lethal cyanide. Recognizing the presence of Johnson grass and other plants toxic to grazing animals, such as locoweed and larkspur, requires a successful DC 16 Knowledge (nature) check, Profession (gardener) check or Profession (herbalist) check. These grasses are most prevalent in the savannas and prairies (2% chance of encounter per square mile). They are less common in the steppe (1% chance of encounter per square mile).
While the preceding grasses only pose a danger to grazing animals, other species are not as kind. Stinging grasses are the most common and painful hazard to men and beasts alike. Fine, translucent nettles cover the plant’s leaves and stem and inject a weak, yet painful acid into the skin.
These plants blend into the surrounding foliage, making it difficult to see them and their nettles amid the sea of vegetation. Doing so requires a successful DC 15 Perception check. Once spotted, the plants can be easily avoided. Otherwise, creatures moving through the area take 1d6 points of piercing damage and 1d3 points of acid damage per round of exposure. A successful DC 12 Reflex save halves the damage. Natural and manufactured armor reduces the piercing damage by an amount equal to the creature’s total armor and natural armor bonuses, but neither armor type lessens or negates the acid damage. It takes a successful DC 27 Handle Animal or DC 22 Ride check to coax an animal through the area containing stinging grasses after it sustains damage from the plants. Stinging grasses are most prevalent in the steppe where there is a 2% chance of encountering them within a 4-square-mile area. They are less common in the prairie (1% chance) and are extremely rare in the savanna (1% chance per 25-squaremile area).
In many respects, poison ivy is the chameleon of the plant kingdom.
It can grow as a small vine along the ground, as a shrub or as a climbing vine, making it impossible to positively identify poison ivy without a successful DC 17 Knowledge (nature) check, Profession (gardener) check or Profession (herbalist) check. Poison ivy is commonly found along the transition zones between grasslands and forests. But it also grows in open fields where it is least noticeable and more dangerous. Even if the character can identify the plant, it is sometimes impossible to see it tangled amid the neighboring grasses. In this instance, a character moving at a normal pace locates poison ivy within a mixed field of greenery with a successful DC 17 Perception or Survival check.
Whenever the plant’s leaves or stem are injured, it releases a toxic concoction of oils. Injury occurs whenever a creature brushes against any part of the plant. The oil clings to skin, fur and clothing, though it only irritates skin. Removing and thoroughly washing any clothing or fur that came in contact with the poison ivy plant eliminates any possibility of future contamination. If these items are not removed in a timely manner, transferring the oil to the skin becomes a foregone conclusion. Poison ivy causes a severe rash and blisters to develop on the skin. In spite of its ugly appearance, the rash and blisters cannot be spread from person to person unless the second individual comes in direct contact with any residue still present on the first person.
Burning poison ivy to eradicate it from a field is an incredibly bad idea.
Inhaling the smoke has the same effects on the lining of the lungs as it does on the skin. In addition to the effects detailed above, inhaling poison ivy also deals 1d2 points of Constitution damage.
Ragweed is the bane of many farmers and allergy sufferers worldwide.
The flowering weed is an opportunist. It lacks the hardiness to compete with entrenched grasses for nutrients, and must rely upon natural forces and living creatures to eradicate its competitors before it can take firm root in disturbed soil. Ragweed commonly appears in recently tilled or burnt fields, along riverbanks and in other areas devoid of dominant plant species. Ragweed is most prevalent in the prairies, though it can also be found in lesser concentrations in the savannas and steppes. Identifying the plant and its allergic properties requires a successful DC 10 Knowledge (nature), Profession (gardener) or Profession (herbalist) check. The plant survives for only one season, but midway through the summer until the onset of winter, its flowers open and release up to a billion grains of pollen into the air. The wind propels the lightweight, roughly spherical grains across the plains, where they can travel for several hundred miles before finally settling back to earth. As a general rule of thumb, any creature within 3d6x10 feet downwind of the plant comes in contact with its pollen.
The pollen has no detrimental effects to living creatures other than humans. Ragweed pollen may trigger a severe allergic reaction in some people. Those affected by this irritant must endure several days of the classic symptoms associated with hay fever — watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, itching and a sore throat. Whenever the character first comes into contact with ragweed that season, he develops an allergy unless he makes a successful Fortitude save. Creatures that succeed on the initial save are immune to ragweed allergen for 1 year. If the same creature is exposed to ragweed pollen again, and he successfully saves, that creature gains lifelong immunity to ragweed pollen.
Every day from midsummer through late autumn, a character traveling through the prairie has a 5% chance of encountering ragweed pollen. The chances decrease in the savanna (3%) and the steppe (2%).
Type—disease, contact, inhaled; save Fort DC 12; onset 2d4 minutes; frequency 1/day; effect 1 Con damage, as long as a character suffers Constitution damage from ragweed allergen, he takes a –2 circumstance penalty to Perception and Stealth checks and has a 20% chance of spell failure when casting spells with verbal components because of his watery eyes and frequent sneezing; cure 1 save
After a while, a long journey across the grasslands can turn into drudgery.
To break up the monotony of plains travel, the GM is encouraged to use these spontaneous events to keep the adventurers on their proverbial toes as they make their way across the forbidding landscape. To do so, roll 1d100 and consult the following table.
|1||A lone horse missing its rider crosses paths with the PCs.|
|2–3||The PCs stumble across hops and barley plants growing wild in a field.|
|4–5||Strange sounds emanate from a dilapidated grain silo on an abandoned farm.|
|6–8||Someone or something mowed large swaths of grass and corn plants into geometric patterns.|
|9||A tiny meteor crashes into the ground and creates a 40-foot-diameter cylinder of dust, duplicating the effects of an obscuring mist spell and lasting for 1d4 minutes before dissipating.|
|10–11||A pair of mischievous teenage boys attempts to start a fire in a dry field.|
|12–15||Mosquitoes are out in force, biting nearby living creatures.|
|16–18||Numerous ticks lie in wait on the tall grass stalks.|
|19||The PCs come upon a corn plant fashioned into the shape of a man, with a pumpkin carved into the likeness of a human head sitting atop the central stalk.|
|20||A dozen sheep litter the ground. A close examination reveals that something ripped out their throats, yet the carcasses are otherwise intact.|
|21–23||A deadly sinkhole lies underfoot.|
|24–25||The PCs happen upon the exposed roof of a long-forgotten burial mound. The entrance is still buried beneath 10 feet of earth.|
|26–27||A persistent merchant selling dubious potions and cures insists that the PCs try his latest concoction — a potion that cures male pattern baldness.|
|28–29||The PCs encounter a traveling monk selling all six volumes of a famous collection of books for the low price of 10 gp for the entire collection.|
|30–34||A rusty helmet, splintered wooden shield and broken spear protrude from the ground.|
|35–38||Tall grasses and weeds cover a neglected family burial ground.|
|39||Dried husks and cornstalks inexplicably lie in the middle of a rye field. No other cornstalks are in sight.|
|40–41||Three brew giants traveling to a cousin’s house ask the PCs to try their latest batch of beer, a bitterly strong ale they call “Giant’s Fuzzy Beard Ale.”|
|42||Someone finds a skeletal severed hand still bearing a gold ring. An inscription inside the ring says “Forever yours.”|
|43–44||Four hunters on the trail of a wounded antelope ask the PCs for help finding and killing the injured beast.|
|45–49||Scavenging birds circle overhead, following the PCs’ footsteps.|
|50–51||Flashing streaks of light from a passing comet illuminate the night sky, granting a +2 bonus to all Profession (astrologer) checks attempted that night.|
|52–54||The full moon is particularly bright this evening, basking the grasslands in dim light.|
|55–56||A family of down-on-their-luck farmers asks the PCs to help them perform a “rain dance.”|
|57–59||A young man (CG male human ranger 1; Dex 14; Survival +5) begs the PCs to look at a mysterious bite mark on his arm. He insists that some invisible beast bit him sometime the previous evening.|
|60–61||A headstone can be seen through the tall grasses surround the gravesite.|
|62–63||The handle of a broken longsword is visible just beneath the surface of a large puddle.|
|64–75||Roll a plains random encounter.|
|76–77||The PCs cross paths with three troubadours on their way to their next gig in a nearby town. Their singer’s laryngitis prevents him from singing, so they ask one of the PCs to fill in for him.|
|78–79||While in a plains community a male rogue (CN male human rogue 2; Dex 14; Sleight of Hand +8) or other NPC attempts to pick one of the PC’s pockets.|
|80–81||A young man and his girlfriend ask one of the PCs to marry them before their parents discover that she is pregnant with his child.|
|82–83||The PCs cross paths with a rogue (NE male human rogue 3; Dex 16; Bluff +8) and his 2 accomplices (NE male human rogue 2; Str 15; Disable Device +7) who are on the run from their latest heist. They ask the PCs for food and directions to the next town or village.|
|84–85||Overcast skies reduce the temperature by 1d4 degrees.|
|86–87||The body of a decomposing, headless lion lies in the middle of the field with a spear embedded in its chest.|
|88||The PCs come across a shallow open grave containing the body of a slain warrior.|
|89–90||Several dozen panicked animals apparently fleeing some unseen horror attempt to cross a nearby river.|
|91–92||Arrows protrude from the side of an overturned wagon and a horse that pulled the wagon. The mortally injured driver whispers a few mysterious words before dying.|
|93||A family lives inside of the decaying carcass of an enormous, dead grainworm.|
|94–95||The PCs stumble upon a nomadic madman who insists that the worms are eating his brain.|
|96–97||A beautiful woman (CG half-elf female, bard 1; Cha 16; Perform [string instruments]) asks one of the male PCs to pretend to be her boyfriend at a family function later that evening.|
|98–99||Four young boys tell the PCs that they can take them to see a dead body they found by a nearby stream.|
|00||An old farmer offers to sell the PCs a pair of magic beans that he found as a boy.|