Archives of Nethys

Pathfinder RPG (1st Edition) Starfinder RPG Pathfinder RPG (2nd Edition)

All Rules | Downtime Rules

Infinite Worlds


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 60
A planet’s sun-bleached crust crunches loudly under heavy boots, breaking the silence and heightening the effect of the surface’s radiating heat. Small mammals hide among red rocks, and birds nest in ancient, towering cactus trunks.
Life in the desert bends toward two ruling forces: water and shelter. But apart from these, each desert is unique, providing a breadth of options for adventure. Caves born from nutrientrich lava beds of former tropical islands can offer quiet refuge to the galaxy’s outcasts. Slot canyons can obscure the hideaways of the most daring bandits—but these fugitives risk awakening long-sleeping predators slumbering at the center of such arid mazes.
Though even a mundane world’s deserts can feel distinctly otherworldly, consider an alien landscape permanently tinged with saturated sunset oranges and pinks where obsidian rocks litter the ground and swarms of large insects trail dusty clouds of fragrant, glittering pollen. On another world, a forest of deep blue cacti begins to open 3-foot-wide pronged blooms filled with potent and fuel-efficient nectar. Still other deserts might offer nutrient-rich soil, where epiphytic plants cling to the remains of long-dead trees, providing both shelter and sustenance to a troop of miniature two-headed marsupials.
The most desolate deserts are disorienting, wholly unforgiving, and unavoidable on older planets. Environmental obstacles such as windstorms carrying tsunamis of lung-blocking, equipment-wrecking sand require specialized respirators and constant maintenance of sensitive gear. Extended journeys on foot may be severely limited by the heat of the day, leaving travelers to navigate under a bitterly cold night sky. Unadapted vehicles can quickly become a liability in this landscape; lack of replacement parts or specialty equipment will leave travelers no choice but to improvise repairs and upgrades with whatever can be found and more heavily rely on desert inhabitants for support and fuel. Such inhabitants, meanwhile, might cling to rare oases, building a rich civilization around these fonts of life among the desolation, or might travel in nomadic groups, possibly cleaving together with systems of barter for rare resources, or constantly fighting over what little is available. For a visitor, an afternoon spent stranded behind a lone mechanic’s shop could provide some quiet downtime to gaze outward as the blinding sky and sand blurs into an indistinguishable horizon, a soft wind carrying the scent of the spiny sagebrush that still manages to cling to life.

Desert Adventurers

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 60
Survival in the desert requires cooperation and unwavering camaraderie among settlements. Adventurers must form a hardened symbiotic relationship with the land, its native lifeforms, and the elements. Though deserts frequently attract outsiders looking to exploit the terrain for valuable metals and energy resources, they also draw small, science-driven communities studying now-extinct specimens to further advance medical or magical technologies. Desert adventurers are usually well-adapted to extreme and unpredictable conditions. They’ve cultivated keen, practical Engineering and Survival skills to repair and upgrade their gear and vehicles as needed. They can weather prolonged isolation and expertly navigate confrontations with deadly, underfed fauna. They’ve often trained in Athletics to self-arrest on rocks during windstorms and heft durable stone to reinforce structures, and their keen intuitive nature has heightened their Perception, helping them dodge camouflaged carrion creatures. Characters who hail from more insular settlements may strike others as unsettlingly quiet or otherwise bizarre in conversation. Some prefer long-form and meandering conversation, while others offer few words, if any. The backdrop of the desert inspires innovation and deeper connection, offering sprawling space for the galaxy’s most capable spiritual travelers, tinkerers, artisans, and general misfits to thrive.

Desert Worlds

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 60
Desert biomes are commonly found on planets that orbit closer to their suns. Still, a degrading atmosphere, an aging star, or stranger factors can cause deserts to continuously spread on nearly any terrestrial world. For some planets, like Akiton—a dying world in the Pact Worlds system—the ecosystem’s decline is starkly evident. On the oldest of desert worlds, a complete lack of stored surface water exposes the ghosts of their oceans and reveals deep reliefs of steep mountain ranges and channels. Despite this, these planets can experience short, thick muddy rainstorms and flash flooding. In their polar regions, this rain can freeze to form heavy, dirty flakes up to a foot in diameter. Major wind events occur with great regularity, eroding even the most colossal mountains into dappled purple and bright white dunes.
Younger worlds may still maintain seasonal seas able to support gentle elephantine land mammals. The hub of such a planet might be a shielded oasis that resembles something like a typical tropical island, serving as a vacation destination for affluent residents and visitors. Alternatively, civilization could be in the middle of transition after a planet-wide dust storm devastated the above-ground infrastructure, forcing residents to flee to other planets and leaving those with less resources behind to fend for themselves and forge a new way of life. When winter falls on such a planet, the thick atmosphere casts deep burgundy light onto the skeletons of former palaces, museums, apartments, schools, and markets, where creatures displaced by the storm begin to take up residence.
Though water is universally lacking on desert planets, deep underground aquifers might still rest under bygone forests, cities, and volcanic mountain ranges, allowing the world’s ecosystems to flourish. Where a reef once filled fishers’ nets, leathery terrestrial descendants of octopi might now flex their tentacles to hide among blighted coral, searching for prey to snap up with their razor-sharp beaks. The exposed bones of an ancient city could become overrun by innumerable brightly colored succulents, their roots running deep into unused sewer systems. A desert within a desert, large swaths of equatorial land may form into pools of slick, holographic glass that creates hallucinogenic refractions and audibly sizzles from miles away, often interfering with any technology that comes within range.

Desert Rules And Reference

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 61
The desert terrain section on page 397 of the Starfinder Core Rulebook is a good starting point for the dangers adventurers might face in these challenging environments, including navigating and enduring desert conditions. Further, the rules for heat dangers on page 402–403 and storms on page 398–399 are relevant to all travel within this biome during any season. Explorers navigating a desert may choose to don patchwork dust manta hide armor (Alien Archive 2 47), providing them additional concealment and protection. Kasathas originally hail from Kasath, a desert world, and most retain their ability to move through difficult terrain in deserts with ease. In the Pact Worlds, Akiton (Pact Worlds 48) is a hugely varied desert planet, while Fullbright, an entire hemisphere of the tidally locked Verces (Pact Worlds 58), is constantly sun-scorched.
Vehicles, frequently modified beyond recognition of their original models, are the primary method of transport among the swaths of arid nothingness, creating the opportunity for chase encounters, races, and obstacles that are an everyday reality of desert life. Rules for vehicle chases are found on pages 282–287 of the Core Rulebook, and the Desert Environment subsection on page 286 provides more detailed tips for running a desert chase.

Desert Toolbox

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 62
See Biome Subsections on page 46 for advice on how to use the following tables.

Desert Inhabitants

9–12Dragon, abysiumDinosaur, dromaeosaurid
13–16Dragon, goldDinosaur, thyreophoran
17–20DragonkinDust manta
25–28FormianElemental, earth
29–32Ghibrani, huskEllicoth
33–36Giant, sunHerd animal, desert
37–40HaanMephit, radiation
45–48IkeshtiMountain eel
49–52IztheptarPredator, desert
53–56KasathaRageshkor, rock
57–60Oracle of OrasRobot, mining
61–64Planar scion, suliSalamander
65–68QuorluScavenger slime
69–72ReptoidSolar wisp
73–76RyphorianSpookfish swarm
81–84ShobhadSynapse worm
85–88StrixThermophilic ooze
93–96WitchwyrdVoid palm
97–100YsokiWysp, fire

Desert Adventure Hooks

D20Adventure Hook
1 A rare and beautiful medicinal flower’s first super bloom in centuries is expected to occur in the foothills just outside the planet’s capital city, attracting tourists, alarming surface botanists, and enticing enterprising smugglers.
2 A sinkhole has appeared in a bustling marketplace, revealing an elaborate series of tunnels and broadcasting the threatening and haunting calls of unseen creatures. Locals are looking for a group to enter the sinkhole and locate its source, charting the underground system along the way.
3 The annual dune rallies are about to begin! All sorts of competitors, both local and from across the galaxy, are vying to enter, qualify, and win to claim the grand prize—a priceless arcane artifact—all while fending off ruthless competition on and off the course.
4 The water and energy systems in a desert settlement begin to collapse, sinking further into the sand each day, with no discernible natural cause. While the residents welcome outside help, the local government blames any further damage on outsiders’ arrival and interference.
5 A survey crew goes missing while studying nutrient-dense crystals lining the bottom of an evaporated ocean. With the camp left intact and no signs of struggle, it’s up to a brave group of rescuers to find them.
6 Major trade routes across the desert are under constant attack by an infamous gang of raiders who hide their whereabouts in a dizzying forest of thin, rocky spires, their tactics directed by a mysterious leader shrouded in wild rumors.
7 A catastrophic storm has plunged the world into endless night, causing crops to die and residents to flee offworld. Stranded locals and cultural relics alike need rescuing before the atmosphere completely degrades.
8 The migration patterns of electrified creatures have suddenly and unseasonably changed. Their passage will soon take them over a domed vacationer’s paradise where their energy fields will disrupt the power systems that protect the tourists and staff.
9 A strange metaphysical shift recently revealed that a previously impassible stretch of dunes was in fact a permanent mirage hiding a vast, empty city of untold wealth. The discovery draws opportunists and scientists alike.
10 Larger-than-normal dust storms issuing from a remote part of the desert are wreaking havoc in other regions of the world. Local environmental and governmental authorities are looking for adventurers to investigate the potential source of the phenomenon.
11 Vehicles carrying loads from a food-modification district to smaller desert outposts have been found destroyed and abandoned. Stranger still, the crates of produce appear to have been broken open from the inside.
12 Surveyors locate plentiful subterranean lakes underneath a desert plateau—an ideal spot for a new settlement. However, the entire survey crew disappears without a trace... until one of their walking corpses shambles out of the desert.
13 A merchant begins selling capsules of powdery blue silt, claiming that it increases endurance and promotes wellness. Though it’s a rapid success, failure to disclose its source—a forbidden shrine in a vast salt flat—results in nightly phantom attacks.
14 A remote rest stop in the desert is the last known location of a string of disappeared travelers. A living hologram has taken over the depot and has been capturing visitors, forcing them to build it a new machine body so it can escape from its desert prison.
15 A desert starport is infamous for scavengers that pick ships clean while their crews are distracted by the famed local cactus-bloom liquor. But the robbers have just relieved a notorious gang of its latest haul, and someone must intervene before tensions erupt into a war.
16 Each year, highly valuable and culturally revered bioluminescent moths return to the cactus forest. This year, they haven’t arrived on time, nor have they been spotted along their migratory route, throwing local traditions into chaos.
17 A powerful water elemental is holding an entire desert region ransom by withholding the much-needed annual rains. None have been able to determine the elemental’s exact demands.
18 An old and unused system of beacons for communicating during ionic storms suddenly lights up, sending an incoherent distress call that speaks of living sandstorms and animated dunes.
19 Farmers across the biome report that the aquifers they rely on have abruptly run dry. An exploratory team ventures into the empty ducts to find massive, swollen moonflower root balls that are about to break the desert’s surface.
20 A roving settlement of wind-powered dune skimmers is rapidly approaching a more permanent desert settlement. Does the approaching community offer hope of trade and cultural exchange, or something far more sinister?