|“||Beyond the Sea of Silt there is a land of forests and lakes, where the sun is a kiss of warmth and the earth is rich and fertile. There the mountains are made of iron, and the streambeds are strewn with gold. And the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky fill the air with song and gladness, and no creature kills another. Some day this bliss shall be ours as well, when the Sorcerer-Kings are no more and the Dragon but a legend told to frighten children.||”|
|— From the dwarven saga of Mordek, the Hero of the Rising Sun|
Vast beyond understanding, the Sea of Silt fills the great basin east of the Tyr Region. The sway of the Sorcerer-Kings halts at its border; characters of the city-states find a world unlike any they have ever known.
No one has ever fully explored its borders or numbered the myriad islands and mud flats that dot its gray surface. Sages and Sorcerer-Kings can only dream of the great mysteries concealed beneath its deadly blanket of dust. Many believe that cities and ruins of the ancients lie upon the floor of the sea, just as they do the Tablelands and mountains of Athas.
The cartographers and students of the schools of the great cities believe the Sea of Silt is roughly circular and almost 400 miles in diameter.
In the very center of the Sea of Silt is a valley, a wound in the very earth itself. A furnace wind screams endessly through this devastated realm, carrying away the silt in an eternal pall of choking dust, scouring the earth to bare rock. If someone passed into this valley, he found fire and death. The earth is warped and barren, devoid of life. The sun is hidden behind the endless clouds of blowing dust. And at the heart of this tortured place a ring of burning rock encircles a city so large the eye could not encompass it in one glance.
From this central body deep rivers of silt snake their way into the Tablelands -the Estuary of the Forked Tongue is an excellent example. Expeditions around its borders have reported a series of impassable fjords and active volcanoes around the northern border and vast mud flats and open silt around the southern edge.
Water has long since ceased to flow on the surface and can only be found in the last sea, some oases, tiny lakes and streams. Consider the obstacles to circumventing the Sea of Silt: One must first cross the Ringing Mountains, heading almost directly away from the sea; then the Forest Ridge, against the will of the ferocius Halflings that infest the jungle; lastly, the eastward curve of the mountains on their unknown outer side to a region beyond the knowledge of Tyr sages.
Not only are the mountains nearly impassable (the name Ringing Mountains refers to the lightheaded feeling one feels from lack of oxygen when traversing them). Halflings are small creatures that live in tribes in the forest and do not hesitate to capture and eat intruders to their realm. This makes the prospect of going west across the mountains a near impossibility.
To be sure, Giants can wade the silt, and silt skimmers can travel its shoals. But only fliers can cross the deep silt easily. Even strong fliers such as Rocs shun a broad expanse of open silt. It is simply against their nature to fly out of solid land, and the rider who attempts to force his mount out over the open silt invites a tragic end.
In the place of an ocean, the world of Athas, due to Defiling magic, has a sea composed entirely of silt. The silt is incredibly dangerous as it is not capable of supporting the weight of humanoid creatures, and the particles themselves are extremely fine and get into the lungs quite easily. A strong wind from the Sea of Silt can cause people from nearby villages to have to remain indoors all day, though with a certain amount of water some people often make use of a mask-like object called a silter which is placed over the mouth and nose and kept wet in order to help the user breathe.
The silt actually becomes hard-packed a few metres below the surface, but this is of no help to a Human as the level within the first two metres is extremely loose and fine. However, Giants often make use of the packed silt roads further below and can be seen wading chest-deep through the silt. Humans have sometimes built crafts that can navigate these silt roads much like Giants do, though the going is much slower and both humans and giants still have to deal with the creatures that live in the sea.
There are also Shipfloaters, which are psionicists who, through use of a large obsidian orb to focus their power, can telekinetically levitate and sail the ship as if it were sailing through water.
What is the Sea of Silt? Where did it come from? One need only see the ruins of the ancients that litter its shores to realize that Athas was not always the arid waste it is today. Some people believe the Sea was once filled with water, so much water that one could stand on a shore and not see the other side.
The silt itself is a grayish powder, like very fine and dry dust. It runs through the fingers like water, leaving not a trace on one's hands. The slightest trace of moisture causes it to stick and clump; it can cake the eyes, nose, and throat in seconds. Breathing the airborne silt slowly lines the lungs with powder and chokes the life from even a Giant.
Like water, silt has a devilish ability to find its way into everything. A traveler walking along the borders of the Sea of Silt on a windy day finds boots, packs, and even pockets filling with gray dust. Most of the time it is merely annoying-but contamination of a canteen or food supplies is a sore blow to the wayfarer on short rations.
Silt is heavier than air, but far lighter than water. Stories tell of inventors who tried to copy the hulled, wheelless vehicles the ancients used to travel through water. The silt is so light, and of so little substance, that even the most carefully built boat sank through the dust to rest on the bottom. Others tried to strap great baskets to their feet, hoping that these could support their weight over the silt. They were no more successful.
Water sinks rapidly through the silt. A gallon of water thrown into shallow silt leaves a foot-wide muddy shaft through the dust down to the rock below. This rapidly fills over and collapses, but some Sages observing this effect have speculated that a sufficient amount of water, such as one good rain, could pound the entire Sea into a single mud flat. Of course, the terrible heat of the sun would soon dry the mud back into silt.
The Gray Death
Silt travelers must be forewarned of the Gray Death: suffocation from windborne dust while wading or flying above the silt (or even traveling near its borders) on windy days. The lungs and the throat slowly clog with dust, and unprotected characters traveling in these conditions suffer as if they were drowning. Breathing through a thin, fine cloth is adequate protection for most humans and humanlike creatures. The cloth must be kept damp and clean, which consumes ½ gallon of water per day.
2nd edition rules
(see "Holding Your Breath" Player's Handbook or PHB), except all times are computed in turns, not melee rounds. See the Sea of Silt Weather Chart (under Encounters) to find when Gray Death conditions exist. Creatures suffering from the Gray Death have an initiative penalty of +4 and -4 to hit and damage.
Wind and Weather
The endless flat expanse of the Sea of Silt allows terrifying winds to develop across its empty scope. It is a rare day when the Sea is still. Most of the time, it is whipped into a blinding, pearly haze by the fierce winds that sweep across the dust.
On very windy days, the top layer of the silt is actually carried away and borne into the atmosphere. Dust can hang in the air for many hours, and sometimes even days, after a major storm. Depending on the depth of the silt and the power of the wind, this stripped layer can be anywhere from a few inches to dozens of feet thick. In many places a large storm can strip shallow silt right down to the bedrock and carry a blanket of silt over lands that are not normally covered. The borders of the sea are thus fluid and shift with the wind. Eventually, the wind always replaces what it has taken away, and the Sea returns to its normal limits.
Beneath this top layer lies the wave silt. This behaves like any body of water, forming waves when agitated. Running snakewise before the wind, the endless rise and fall of the gray dust can become hypnotic. Unlike water, the dust is too light to ever break or fall, and if the wind should suddenly die, the silt is left frozen in endless rippling dunes. They are deceptively solid to the eye, but are no more dense than other silt.
Underneath the wave silt is the deep silt. This layer lies so far down (40-50 feet deep) that it is almost never disturbed by the surface weather. Even the most knowledgeable sages can only guess at conditions in the deep silt. Presumably it is lightless and airless, and some amount of silt compression most likely takes place. What creatures make their homes here, or what secrets the deep silt hides, no one knows.
Sea of Silt Visibility Range Categories
|None||Clear sky||By # moons|
|Light||Silt Sea, calm||By #moons|
|Moderate||Silt Sea, rolling||By #moons or Silt Sea|
2nd edition rules
Categories above refer to Table 62, Visibility Ranges (page 117, PHB) and DARK SUN Visibility Ranges (page 84, Rules Book).
Sea of Silt Weather Chart
Choose the weather according to the needs of the story. If there is no preference, use this chart. The first column gives the number rolled; the next two give day and night temperatures; the last two give day and night wind strength. Roll first for temperature, then roll again for wind. Check weather at midmorning and midevening.
Temperature: Cool and Cold temperatures halve water requirements. Very hot temperatures increase water requirements 50% over normal. Furnace temperatures double water consumption and cause characters wearing any armor to suffer heat exhaustion as though wearing metal armor. All terrain costs increase by +1 MP (in 2nd edition).
Wind: Moderate winds cause Gray Death conditions for silt waders or silt walkers only. Strong winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within one mile of the dust basin and flyers at less than 500 feet altitude. Aerial movement costs double. Storm winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within five miles of the dust basin and all flyers, regardless of altitude. Terrain costs triple; aerial movement costs quadruple. Sirocco winds cause Gray Death conditions for anyone within 20 miles of the dust basin. No flight or surface movement is possible. When a sirocco arises, it lasts 1d4 days and nights before ending. Do not reroll weather until the storm blows itself out.
Denizens of the Silt Sea
The silt has some indigenous plant life outside the mud flats. In regions of shallow silt (10 feet or less) the olom-reed flourishes. This hardy plant roots in the solid bottom of the silt basin and reaches up through the dust blanket to the sun. Its stem is strong and flexible, with a tassel of soft rushes at its top. Travellers welcome sight of the olom-reed because stands of hundreds of reeds may conceal a small spring or mud flat.
Another plant, driftweed, is more common in the deep silt. This rootless network of thin, brittle branches is so light that it actually floats on the silt; it is one of the few substances able to do so. Driftweed is often carried hundreds of miles from the Sea by the worst dust storms.
Creatures of the silt
Despite the difficulty of survival in the silt, the basin is not uninhabited. Many creatures have adapted to life in the dust-flyers, Floaters, and burrowers that can move in or over the silt. For them, the silt is not death; it is instead their home, their refuge from the predators of the tablelands, and their hunting ground.
The creatures of the silt include countless varieties of small insects, bats, Floaters, Razorwings, and the different species of Silt Horrors. The small insects include Dust Beetles, Mud Wasps, Tsek-Flies, and Silt Spiders, all fascinating creatures and well adapted to their environment, but of little concern to the silt traveler. Floaters and Razorwings are far more dangerous, often attacking humans near the sea. They are true silt creatures, perfectly adapted to their environment.
Many dangerous creatures use the silt as concealment as they stalk their prey. Some, like the Silt Horrors, can sense the vibrations or disturbances of the silt from a great range. Others rely on psionic detection of their prey. Sighted creatures such as Humans or Athasian Giants are at a great disadvantage in fighting off the attacks of the silt predators -the dust is impervious to any kind of vision, and a creature buried even a few inches cannot be detected by most humans.
But in the deep silt, there are creatures from which even the Silt Horrors flee. The mighty Sink Worms and Silt Drakes command the respect of the most powerful Silt Horror. And the dreaded Sand Vortex fears nothing that lives.