This series looks at the corruption that the extended use of violent and uncontrolled magic might cause on the landscape, from pollution to neglect to the destructive aftermath of conflict. We continue by contemplating magical wastelands caused by the collapse of civilizations.
The collapse of a civilization is a tragic low point in the timeline of a world, but in a fantasy setting, such a fall leaves far more than just a note in a history book. The magical side-effects of an empire’s fall scar the land, sometimes far longer than the civilization who created it were around, especially when the end comes due to war or violent internal conflict. To use a euphemism, these civilizations “go out in a blaze of glory.” The death throes of the fall spawns living spells, cursed items, corrupted flora, mutated fauna, and even extra-planar incursions.
A whispering word, repeating endlessly, drifts on air suddenly tinged with the smell of blood.
This living spell is a corrupted version of the 4th-level spell power word pain (see Deep Magic). Its sole purpose is to feed off the pain it inflicts on any creature it encounters.
Large Construct, Unaligned
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 95 (10d10 + 40)
Speed 0 ft., fly 25 ft. (hover)
|1 (−5)||18 (+4)||18 (+4)||3 (−4)||11 (+0)||6 (−2)|
Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
Damage Immunities necrotic, poison, radiant, thunder
Condition Immunities blinded, charmed, deafened, exhaustion, frightened, poisoned, prone
Senses blindsense 60 ft., tremorsense 30 ft., passive Perception 10
Challenge 6 (2,300 XP) Proficiency Bonus +3
Amorphous. The living spell can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.
Magic Resistance. The living spell has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Pain Glutton. If the living spell has not dealt at least 50 damage with its Cacophonous Utterance attack over the course of the last 12 hours, it is starving. While starving, the living spell’s AC is reduced by 2, it gains advantage on its Cacophonous Utterance attack rolls, and it will direct its attacks on a single foe regardless of tactical consequences. Once it deals 50 damage or more, it is no longer starving.
Unfettered. The living spell can move through any barrier, even a wall of force.
Unusual Nature. The living spell doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.
Multiattack. The living spell makes two Cacophonous Utterance attacks.
Cacophonous Utterance. Ranged Spell Attack: +7 to hit, reach 60 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) force damage and 7 (2d6) thunder damage.
Devastating Word (Recharge 5–6). The tormenting cryptolect channels its absorbed pain and howls an arcane utterance, a word of power. Each creature within 60 feet of the living spell must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 27 (6d8) necrotic damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one. After using Devastating Word, the living spell is starving. It can’t use Devastating Word if it is starving.
Injunction. As a reaction, the living spell speaks a one-word command to a creature that begins its turn within 5 feet of the living spell. The target must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or follow the command on its next turn. The effect functions like the command spell, except the living spell can cast it as a reaction
Salvage from the Blight: Broken Runes
The denizens within and around the collapsed empire scavenge among the ruins, often using functioning but broken arcane items in ways not originally envisioned by their creators. Active magical runes, for example, can cause a wide variety of interesting effects when suddenly released. Two example of broken runes or glyphs is described below:
Broken Rune: Healing
Wondrous Item, Uncommon
A glowing sapphire rune rests at the heart of this small spherical piece of transparent crystal. As an action, you can make a ranged attack against a creature within 60 feet, treating the orb as an improvised weapon. On a hit, the quartz vanishes in a flash of azure light and is destroyed. The target is healed, regaining 2d4 + 2 hit points.
Broken Rune: Uplift
Wondrous Item, Very Rare
An arcane rune engraved on this ancient, decorative tile glows faintly. As an action, you can toss the tile to the ground within 30 feet of you. For 1 minute, gravity reverses in a 10-foot-radius, 50-foot-high cylinder centered on the tile, mirroring the reverse gravity spell, except falling creatures take no damage from falling. After the duration ends, the tile crumbles to dust.
Midgard: The Abandoned Lands
Fallen civilizations are not uncommon in the world of Midgard (see Midgard Worldbook), but no collapse rivals the fall of Glorious Umbuso in the Southlands. The ancient titan empire came to an end some 3,000 years ago, so today, only ruins rise out of the wide savannas of the Abandoned Lands while the titan’s shattered ley line lattice spreads wild and chaotic magical effects into the region. The corrupting and altering influence of so much primal magic gives rise to baffling terrain, dangerous aberrations, and other hazards. Of growing concern, recent reports speak of creatures learning to tap into the broken ley lines. The arcane power of a mage in the hands of a dinosaur only elevates the dangerous nature of the Abandoned Lands.
Story Seed: Beneath the Ley Line Storm
The discovery of a crumbling travel journal sends the PCs on a race toward an ancient titan vault in the center of the Abandoned Lands with two other adventuring groups in close pursuit. Once on the Aggesal Plains, an arcane storm of unstable primal magic shadows their route, culminating with a confrontation with the tormenting cryptolect guarding the entrance to the floating island containing the vault. Once inside, the PCs find themselves between the ancient traps and guardians ahead and their competitors arriving in pursuit. With a fortune in broken runes to be had, it will take everything they have to come out victorious.