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Design Diary: Desert of Lost Relics

Posted on July 23, 2019 by Billzilla

Available now at

    I’ve recently finished my third community content project, and it went live today, Tuesday July 23, 2019. It’s an adventure for D&D 5E in the Scarred Lands setting, and it’s called Desert of Lost Relics. Desert of Lost Relics is suitable for 4-6 characters of levels 4-6.

    I wrote this adventure for two reasons. First, I was invited to participate in the exercise, which involves a series of connected adventures written by different authors and set in the Scarred Lands. Second, I find the background of the Scarred Lands intriguing; a mix of high fantasy and various world mythologies, heavily influenced by Greek myths. A tremendous amount of world-building has gone into the setting, and the fact that Onyx path has made the setting available for community content contributions meant I could explore it with a purpose: it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

    Initially, I had concerns. With the basic premise already established, I was afraid there would be very little room for my own creativity to have room to work. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that this simply wasn’t true: I had a good starting point to work from, and was able to take my adventure in a direction I wanted while still contributing to the overall story. I’m very happy with how my adventure turned out, and with how it fits into the overall storyline. Travis Legge did a great job shepherding us all through this process, as well as adding a few necessary touches here and there to help keep the continuity strong between adventures by different authors.

    My first published Scarred Lands adventure, Consumed, was uploaded to the site in April of this year; so far it’s selling at a steady pace. The inspiration for it was the need to come up with a one-shot adventure on the fly to run for some folks at GameHoleCon late in 2018. The adventure worked well, and I was encouraged to clean it up and publish it on the Scarred Lands community content site, the Slarecian Vault. It’s perfect as a convention adventure, as in the half-dozen times I’ve run it, it typically runs in about two hours, and is easily scalable to accommodate any size group of players. It also works fairly well as an introduction to the Scarred Lands, as the antagonists are titanspawn creatures, punished horribly for some failure during the war between the gods and the titans.

    Desert of Lost Relics is part four in a series: the first, A Mishap of Ill Portent, written by Travis Legge, is for 4-6 characters of levels 1-3. The second chapter, by Catherine Evans, is for 4-6 characters of levels 2-4, and is called A Scholarly Schism. The third installment, The Treasure of Magister Yama, is for 4-6 characters of levels 3-5, and is written by Dan Layman-Kennedy. There’s also a side quest adventure, Sundered Sisters, written by Jessica Ross. Sundered Sisters is a bit farther ahead than the regular series, being for characters of levels 6-9.

    I enjoyed writing Desert of Lost Relics, and running a group of friends’ characters through it as a playtest was immensely rewarding, though it was also time-consuming and nerve-wracking. It was nerve-wracking because it was the first real test of how my scenario ideas played out when faced with a group of adventurers. It was difficult not to herd them in one direction or another, and hopefully I avoided doing so. It was also interesting to see how they matched up with the challenges I put in place, and as a result some adjustments needed to be made after each game session. The Scarred Lands setting is rich in background and in detail, and paging through the books looking for interesting elements to add usually ended up with me having far more ideas I wanted to employ than I could possibly shoehorn into a single adventure. The setting also has ample opportunity to inject a horror element into the game, which is something I particularly appreciate.

    I’m delighted with how this story is unfolding, and look forward to seeing what the other authors do in the upcoming chapters.

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