Rustwater Canyon lies along an arid plain far to the southwest of the more densely populated midland kingdoms. Less than a dozen small farms dot the surrounding countryside. Aside from the canyon, there is not much else of note. It is as far away as you can get from civilization without leaving the continent. A generation ago the area was known as Roserock Canyon. The rugged beauty of the land drew bands of pioneers. These pioneers fought against the local gnoll tribes to settle in the area. Unfortunately, these settlements began to fail when the local water ecosystem became corrupted.
Uliun began to bubble up in the ponds and streams connected to Roserock Canyon. Initially, it would mix with the water, turning it the color of rusted metal. Before long the liquid metal would replace all of the water and cause the surrounding land to dry up. The uliun spread slowly beyond the canyon infecting other underground aquifers. This caused droughts in the surrounding settlements and farms. No one was able to figure out where the uliun was coming from. Attempts to tunnel under the canyon to discover the source of the metal ended in disaster. Most of the settlers were forced to leave and seek out new lands. Their former homes became targets of gnoll scavengers and fell to ruin.
Not all of the settlers ended up moving on to greener pastures. The major settlements are gone, but a handful of farmers maintain small plots. Those who were unwilling to abandon their land after putting down roots. The remainder are a gruff and self-sufficient bunch able to produce what they need to survive on theirs and who prefer their privacy. As a rule, they are unwelcoming to strangers but there are some exceptions. The Rojo family owns the largest farm in the area and grows several varieties of corn. The family worships a water god and point to her as the continued source of their prosperity. The halfling Rafiel was gifted a parcel of land in his uncle’s will and has vowed to make the arid acreage green again. The dwarf Sophis was formerly a general in a far-off kingdom. He was exiled to Rustwater Canyon after a humiliating military defeat. Now he spends his days tending to his small herd of cattle.
Since the departure of most settlers, the gnolls have banded together into a single large group. The Sienna Tribe lives in the burned out remains of one of the larger abandoned settlements. The gnolls accidentally set the settlement ablaze during their celebration for “conquering” it after is original inhabitants left. They paint their bodies with colored clay for both religious and fashionable reasons. The tribe is very spiritually minded and is led by a trio of clerics of an earth god. The tribe takes no action unless all three reach a consensus. The clerics take credit for the uliun claiming their god sent it to drive out the settlers. In order to complete the work of their god, the gnolls raid the remaining farms in the area. They make off with food and metal tools and destroy anything they can’t steal.
The gnome Yelkoa has been making a name for herself in Rustwater Canyon. She won the respect of the locals by singlehandedly driving off a raid by the Sienna Tribe with her firearm. The experimental gunsmith set up a small shack near a pond of uliun to study the material. Yelkoa discovered that mixing different ratios of uliun with black powder can drastically increase its explosive power. She is still figuring out the exact proportions of each ingredient needed for the most powerful effect. But with an ample supply of uliun nearby, she believes it’s only a matter of time. To continue her experiments, Yelkoa has been importing kegs of black powder from the surrounding kingdoms. The latest caravan carrying the black powder is overdue. Yelkoa is worried it may have fallen into the hands of the gnolls.
In the past, the greatest danger from the uliun was the passive threat. It poisoned a watering hole, or someone would accidentally fall into a pool of it. As of late new threat has begun to rise from the thick metal liquid. Strange creatures have been emerging from the uliun to menace the countryside. Blood puddings have been attacking livestock and leaving almost nothing behind. There are also reports of blood golems rising out of pools of uliun and attacking passersby. No one is sure if the bizarre blood creatures are connected to the source of the uliun or if this is an unrelated occurrence. Because of their limited intelligence, they do not pose much of a threat when encountered on their own. But some in the community fear they may be overrun if the creatures appear in larger numbers.
Things have not been going well for the Sienna Tribe. A gnoll by the name of Maersha has been speaking out against the tribe’s religious leaders. He gained sorcerous powers by drinking uliun despite the mandate by the tribe’s ruling clerics. They say this makes him an abomination, but Maersha argues that he has discovered power beyond the tribe’s god. The clerics know that a direct assault could turn him into a martyr. Because of this they have been secretly looking into having Maersha assassinated by an outsider. By hiding their involvement they hope to maintain the status quo if something goes wrong.
Drag & Drop Encounter (CR 10)
You have been tracking Maersha since yesterday and picked up his trail last night. The light of the rising sun casts long shadows from his footprints in the sand. He is resting against a boulder near a pond of uliun. If Maersha notices you approaching he tosses a small stone into the pond before standing up to address you. “Let me guess, the clerics sent you right?” He sighs, “they forget they’re not the cleverest ones around anymore.” The pond continues to ripple long after Maersha’s stone has settled. “If you do live to see those desiccated windbags again, tell them to send someone better next time.” From the ripples of the pond, four large slug-like creatures crawl up onto the sand. Maersha gives a barking laugh and turns to run, keeping the creatures between you and him.