Welcome to Points on a Map!
This series aims to offer small, system independent locations that can be dropped into a particular campaign easily and provide a jumping-off-point for side-treks and adventures. The first few PoaM articles will introduce Ashid, a small settlement built around an oasis that could appear in any desert on any fantasy world (or tweaked slightly for more modern settings as well).
Ashid & The Oasis of Del Foor
Built long ago around the oasis of Del Foor in the Waste, Ashid had humble beginnings. Between a few shady palms hid a small trader’s post, tavern, and inn. Travelers would arrive to replenish their supplies, possibly spend a night or two to rest or wait out a storm, and be on their way. The oasis was little more than a clear pool of water, and a handful of trees, buildings, and tents.
At least that was how it started…
In the last 100 years, Ashid has undergone an unusual change. Some oases shrink naturally over time or stay the same size for years, but Del Foor has grown larger. The desert people may not understand how the change has come about, but they can adapt quickly to embrace any advantage that nature’s miracles may provide.
Since the growth began, the oasis has doubled in size every few years, creating a few problems for business owners but also creating new opportunities for profit. What was once a reluctant way station has become a choice location for first brief, then longer vacations to enjoy what the oasis has to offer. Ashid is now home to more than 100 people year-round and has between 500 and 1,000 visitors in any given year depending on the weather in the Waste. Some years are more forgiving to desert travel than others.
And then there’s the small case of the disappearances… Each year since the oasis began to grow, at least one visitor never left. As you might expect, local business owners don’t publicize that fact. Until recently, those travelers lost in Ashid were limited to criminals and other undesirables. Unfortunately the number of missing visitors has shot up sharply in the last handful of years and hasn’t been limited to those who wouldn’t be missed. This has many people concerned.
Initial Impressions and Description
When characters first see the oasis, it seems like a tropical island in a sea of sand. Many may initially discount it as a mirage brought on by the pounding heat of day. Occasionally a lone traveler will happen across Ashid, but local guides know its location and benefits as a point of resupply and entertainment. (For some pictures of oases, check out this article at Environmental Graffiti.)
The oasis of Ashid lies in the middle of the Waste, a desert that stretches for vast distances in the middle of the continent. The oasis itself occupies a roughly oval shape if it could be seen from a height, with a large pool of water serves at its center. Much debate has raged over where the fresh water comes from, but most believe it is a blessing as the oasis is far from any other large source of fresh water. The pool is calm and shallow at the edges, but very deep at the center. The oasis itself now stretches nearly a mile along its long axis and half a mile across at its center.
Around the pool is a ring of date palms, used for their fruit and leaves as well as for shade. In small tended gardens beneath some of the trees, locals have planted crops of small fruit trees (figs, small oranges, and apricots mostly) and vegetables. These crops, as well as the small number of animals raised in the oasis, are used to supplement the traded goods arriving by caravan and sparse edible vegetation (roots, berries, nuts) found elsewhere in the Waste.
About 100 years ago, a traveler lost in the Waste stumbled on an ancient tomb in a hill not far from the oasis. Nothing was visible but the tomb door, which the visitor found when he tripped over an exposed corner of stone on his way to fetch water. He dug out enough of the structure to use it for some small shade from the sun. While he rested, a strange voice enticed him to open the sealed door with a promise of power and riches. Weakened by hunger and thirst, but a greedy man above all, the visitor agreed to the request and followed his unknown benefactor’s directions to open the sealed door.
The visitor’s name was Roovi El Vaz. He is now 130 years old and the most powerful man in Ashid. He owns several businesses, holds much power and riches, and a dark secret. Each year he wishes to maintain his power, he must provide a sacrifice to his benefactor. Each year he wishes to increase his power, he must provide two sacrifices.
El Vaz has lived with his secret for a century. As a result, his power and the oasis grew. But he has been patient, slowly growing his domain over generations to avoid attracting unwanted attention. And he has avoided asking any questions of his mysterious benefactor for fear of learning too much.
Unfortunately another visitor stumbled upon the tomb three years ago: Maaz Al-Yad. By this time, the tomb was well within the oasis borders and hidden in the basement of one of El Vaz’ businesses. And El Vaz’ benefactor was all too happy to make a similar deal with Al-Yad. However, Al-Yad doesn’t have El Vaz’ patience. He has decided if one or two sacrifices a year would provide wealth and power, more sacrifices would yield that much more wealth and power. He has since gone mad with a lust for power and murdered dozens of innocent victims for sacrifice to his new master. Now, having proved himself, he is willing to do much more to please his new master and garner more power for himself.
What El Vaz stumbled across in the desert was the smallest portion of the underground complex where the Benefactor resides. The demon Beyesh was trapped by the protector of the oasis in another time and buried deep beneath the sands. Sometime after the tomb complex was built, the desert swallowed the oasis in a massive sandstorm and the priests tasked with keeping the demon at bay all perished. The oasis eventually recovered, but the tomb of Bayesh still waits just beneath the surface to be discovered. Now that the demon has once again had some exposure to the outside world, he is plotting and scheming, waiting for an opportunity to break the spells that bind him to the oasis and hold him in his tomb…
Next time we’ll focus on the people in Ashid and their relationships and motivations. What are El Vaz and Al-Yad hiding? How can so many lives simply have disappeared without anyone noticing?