The Kaspary Steppes are a system-neutral adventure setting consisting of wide open plains, giant creatures and nomadic peoples. Does your world feature terrain like this? This article is designed to help you flesh it out.
In the northern part of the continent lays a region known as the Kaspary Steppes, a wide expanse of short-grass prairie populated by nomads and megafauna. The summers and winters are harsh in equal measure. Elves, halflings and dragonborn roam the steppe, carefully avoiding the gigantic creatures they share it with.
Gigantic creatures roam the step. Though they are unrelated and differ wildly in form and function, the locals refer to them all as “megafauna.”
Generally, the megafauna are disinterested in humanoids (as long as they keep their distance, of course) but every now and again, destructive rage takes hold of one or more of them, and they need to be dealt with.
Though killing is the most common way of dealing with this, there are a few documented cases of a megafauna being calmed down and returned to normal, possibly by divine intervention. The most famous of these is the Chained Elk, a gigantic elk with chains dangling from its antlers. These chains (among others) had been used to bind it when it went berserk, and when it returned to normal, the halflings and elves were unable to retrieve these chains.
Mammoths are a common sight on the steppe, wandering from place to place in large groups. Their fur makes exceptional winter clothing, but hunting a mammoth is a dangerous task indeed.
The other mundane fauna of the plains includes wolves, foxes, gophers, hawks and so on. They generally leave humanoids alone, but in periods of intense hunger (a particularly harsh winter, a major drought) they may decide it’s worth the risk.
Other Creatures of Note
The Mud-Man is the name the locals have given to a titanic construct that slowly wanders the steppes. It has wandered the steppe for as long as anyone remembers, and some of the halflings worship it as a sort of protector deity. It has glowing green eyes, and a glowing sigil atop its head. If it has rained recently, the Mud-Man is substantially harder to climb, due to the muddiness of its exterior. Otherwise, its surface tends to harden and crack, making it easy to climb, for a gigantic shambling humanoid.
The Gigalizard is a huge lizard covered in spikes of bone. It’s heavy enough to leave footprints visible weeks later. For most of the year, the Gigalizard is slow and ponderous, to the point of remaining almost entirely still for whole winter. During the heat waves of summer, the Gigalizard moves with surprising speed and lashes out at anything that gets too close.
The Steppe Halflings are a group of nomads that ride flightless birds they call autruches. They tend to be friendly to everybody except for the dragonborn, and are generally eager to trade.
During the summer, they move slowly around the steppe. Historically, this movement was very regular, following the same path every year, but the coming of the dragonborn horde has led to them to change their routes every year. They stop regularly, spending a week or two encamped while the livestock graze and the halflings forage.
During the winter, they live in what they call the Winter-City, a complex of tunnels dug into the red-dirt foothills to the south. The Winter-City is located near one of the tributaries of the Majestic River.
Horkin Lunareye, goat herder. Horkin is an acrobatically gifted halfling with a love for goats. He handles the tribe’s goat herd, shearing and milking them as needed, as well as generally keeping them alive.
Erlos Lonerabbit, hunter. Erlos is a keen-eyed halfling who is highly skilled with a bow. When the tribe is camped, he can often be seen shooting at targets from the back of his autruche, Gavin.
Bauto Lothran, broncobuster. Bauto is a spry halfling with a talent for training autruches. Some say she can speak to animals, but this isn’t actually true. She’s just very attuned to animal body language. In particular, she’s very good with autruches, horses and cats, but can’t make heads or tails of dogs.
Small areas of woodland dot the steppe. In the center of these are fruit-bearing trees, and various herbs growing in the soil. These are the homes and orchards of the elves of the steppe. From spring to autumn, they roam from wood to wood, tending to the plants and harvesting their bounties.
Each of the orchard-forests is home to a spirit, a sentient embodiment of the plants there.
The steppe elves ride majestic, long-eared horses and sleep in conical tents.
Phelleto Val’ro, elven trooper. Phelleto is an arrogant elf with long-pointed ears. She has little respect for non-elves, and only works with them begrudgingly. Regardless, she’s an incredible archer, which almost makes her worth putting up with. Almost.
Riram Tammas, hivemaster. Riram has an uncanny connection with insect life, and busies himself with taking care of the insects of the orchards. He carries several vials full of hibernating insects, herbs and so on.
Nym Fargeiros, elven druid. Nym is a deep-voiced druid, clad in a cloak of still-living herbal plants. Nym is very nearsighted and, as a result, he identifies people by voice more than face. He can often be seen kneeling and examining plants up close.
Fy’Tyer, orchard spirit. Fy’Tyer is the spirit of one of the newer orchard-forests, and appears as a small child wearing a wooden mask with a simple, smiling face carved into it. He will offer an apple, or sometimes a clod of dirt, to anyone who seems sad.
Keedis, orchard spirit. Keedis is a much older orchard spirit, and takes the form of an owl. Keedis has seen things beyond this world, but tries not to think about them. Her orchard is the largest and most well-developed, and it is where most of the elves spend the winter. As such, she sees herself as the protector of the elven tribe, not just her own orchard-forest, though she cannot leave her domain.
Nobody will admit to accidentally addressing a normal owl as if it were Keedis, but many have done it. This is not helped by the fact that Keedis will sometimes pretend to be a normal owl when she doesn’t feel like talking.
The Horde hails from just east of the steppes, a high, rocky area known as the Dragonlands. During the warm seasons, they roam the steppe, pillaging and stealing. Somewhere deep in the Dragonlands rests an ancient, grey-skinned dragon known only as the Grey One, who serves as a sort of deity for the dragonborn. The Grey One uses dark powers to mutate creatures, making them more draconic. The leader of the horde, the Grax, is the most prominent recipient of these mutations, but in some circumstances they are used on others. The few winged dragonborn are the result of this.
Dragonborn typically ride domesticated rhinocerous-like beasts called rhinocrex. Rhinocrex are leaner and taller than their feral cousins.
The Dragonborn of the Steppes are a monogendered group, and all use ve/ver/vis pronouns for everyone, including non-Dragonborn.
Criccon Grax, Lord of the Horde. Criccon Grax is a tall, red dragonborn. Ve speaks with a deep, booming voice. Ve has little desire to deal with anybody outside of the clans, and nothing short of a threat to the entire steppe will make ver cooperate with outside forces. Short of that, the best you can hope for is for ver to agree not to interfere.
Laanxil, scout. Laanxil is a green dragonborn with bright yellow eyes. Ve carries a bow, arrows and several vials of poisons. Ve does not speak much, preferring to describe what ve sees while scouting with diagrams in the dirt.
Curth, priest. Curth is a black dragonborn with intricate scars on ver shoulders. Ve is responsible for the physical and moral well-being of most of the horde, and ve is blessed with mystical healing abilities and a cornucopia of charisma.
The town is a small village along Lake Choral. It has no proper name, though a few maps list it as “Lakeside,” “Lakefront,” or similar. A small group of orcs founded the place many years ago. Now they live a fairly idyllic existence, fishing in a gorgeous valley.
The residents of the town have very little knowledge of Common, but speak excellent orcish (of course) and can read dwarvish.
The orcs’ boats are all brightly decorated, as they believe that the bright paint will draw curious fish closer. Some have wooden carvings of animal heads on top of the bow, as well. The boats are heirlooms, passed from generation to generation.
At the center of the village is the storehouse, where communal resources— leather, cloth and so on— are stored.
Mug, fisherorc. Mug is the current owner of the largest boat on Lake Choral, Nar’s Folly, a five-person boat built with overlapping boards, like what we would call a traditional Viking longship. Nar’s Folly is built for staying out on the water for up to a week at a time, whether the weather is calm or stormy. Mug himself is an orc with two distinct facets: On hand, he always seems stressed and anxious (the Nar’s Folly is not a cheap vessel to keep afloat), but on the water he’s calm as can be, plying his trade and that of his fathers before him.
Uruug, fishmonger. Uruug has no love for the water, and spends his days on the docks, buying, processing and selling the catches of others. He’s quite cheery and always looking for somebody else to teach his trade to.
Xurek, lumberorc. Xurec is a burly orc with a deep fondness for nature. He uses his brute strength and an ancient axe of dwarven make to chop down trees, and he uses a few ornery goats to haul the trunks back to town.
The Majestic River: Running from Lake Choral to the ocean to the east, meandering slowly as it goes. It runs deep but slow, punctuated by the occasional oxbow lake, where years of corrosion have turned what was once a loop into a lake.
Abandoned Bridge: Along the Majestic River, an ancient stone bridge sits. While most of the bridge proper has collapsed into the river, the towers on either side still stand, displaying their intricate masonry to any passing traveler. Repairing the bridge would be a major boon to the region, cutting travel times significantly, but it would require at least a season of work and none of the locals are willing to commit that much to it.
Lake Choral: Lake Choral is a long, narrow lake. The water is a dark green, rich with nutrients and sediment. A town primarily made up of orcs sits on its shore, near the center of the lake’s length.
Grass and shrubs blow in the wind. Heat scorches the landscape. Storm clouds boil on the horizon. Summer on the steppe is hot, punctuated by storms. The longer it’s hot, the worse the storm is, generally.
|2: Hailstorm. Roll any die with an even number of sides. Odd, the hail is small and simply annoying, coating the ground in crunchy white balls but providing no real hassle. Even, the hail is large enough to injure. Any exposed character without a helmet rolls a d6. Odd, they take minor damage from the hail. Even, they take none.
|3: Heavy Winds. Sharp, unpredictable gusts of wind blow throughout the day. While outside, most conversation needs to be shouted, and any ranged weapon attacks are penalized, due to the unpredictable gusts. To determine the direction of the wind, roll a scatter die (if you have one) or roll 1d8, with 8 representing north, 1 representing north-east, and so on.
|4-5: Rain. Cold rain pelts the landscape. Any check to sneak up on a target gets a bonus due to the sound of the rain.
|6-8: Beauty Day. There’s a light breeze, it’s not too hot, not too cold. No penalties today.
|9-10: Scorching heat. Anyone wearing medium or heavy armor must remove it or suffer an exhaustion penalty. Add +2 to the next roll. This bonus accumulates until any condition other than “Scorching heat” is rolled.
|11-12: Thunderstorm. Bright strikes of lighting fill the sky, followed quickly by loud peals of thunder. Any check relying on hearing is penalized. Any navigation checks during the storm are penalized due to the disorienting lightning and thunder.
|13-14: Supercell Thunderstorm. A slowly-rotating cloud fills the sky above the region, unleashing lightning, hail and rain on the area. Conditions for Hailstorm, Rain and Thunderstorm all apply.
|15+: Tornado. Sickly green clouds rotate slowly in the sky, and near the center of the rotation, they begin to drop to the ground. This tornado will leave a path of destruction in its wake as it tears up the ground, smashes buildings and throws trees like twigs. The writer recommends that you do not allow the tornado to kill or severely harm any major characters (especially the party) unless they really tempt fate during this event.
Leaves turn, fall and crunch underfoot. Cold winds blow. The moon hangs low and large in the sky.
Autumn is a fairly calm and predictable season on the steppes, as the weather gradually cools. Large storms are rare and most days are quiet, but there is some degree of day-to-day variation, as represented by the table below.
|2-4: It’s Foggy. Roll 1d6. Vision is reduced to the result times 10 feet. Everything in the area is coated in a thin frost. There is no statistical effect to this, but it is quite pretty.
|5-9: It’s Brisk. On the chilly side. You can feel winter coming.
|10-11: Rain. It rains, but not hard.
|12: Freezing Rain. Rain falls from the sky and immediately freezes upon hitting the cold ground, coating it in sheer ice. Any creature attempting to move more than 20 feet in a turn must roll to see if they lose their footing.
Howling winds blow through the snow-covered trees. Ice-crusted snow sparkles in the sun. Every breath makes a cloud of mist.
For the purposes of this article, snow coverage will be tracked on a scale of 0 to 9. 0 is no snow, 1 is a light dusting, causing no ill effect. 5 is a foot or two of snow, most paths will still be navigable but trekking through the wilderness will be slow going, unless the party can find a path made by animals. 9 is unreasonably apocalyptic. Travel, even on paths that should be maintained, is incredibly slow at best. Many buildings are entirely buried by this point.
If the party enters the region some time after the start of winter, roll 1d6. This is your starting Snow Level. If the party stays in the region as autumn turns to winter, Snow Level starts at 0.
|2-3: Snow Eater Winds. Unseasonably warm winds blow in from the mountains, providing a respite from winter’s icy chill. Snow Level drops by 3 over the course of the day, as the temperature soars to that of a decent summer’s day.
|4-5: A Brisk Day. The temperature rises just above freezing, and the snow on the roofs and trees begins to melt, dripping to the ground. Such a day will surely improve the party’s mood. Decrease Snow Level by 1.
|6-8: Calm and Clear. The bright sun glints harshly against the top layer of snow, which is unpleasant but not actually harmful.
|9-10: Snowstorm! Roll 1d6. On a 1-3, Snow Level increases by 2. On a 4-6, Snow Level increases by 1. Now multiply that same roll’s result by 10. Visibility beyond this distance in feet is severely hindered by the blowing snow.
|11: Bitter Cold. A freezing wind blows across the land. The sky is completely clear. It is easy to see long distances, but travelling too far from a heat source will put the party at risk of frostbite.
|12: Blizzard. The air is filled with blowing snow, coming down at a rate you can hardly believe. Visibility is reduced to 10 feet outdoors, and the Snow Level increases by 3 over the course of the day.
As spring dawns, the remaining snow melts. If any Snow Level remains at the end of winter, the melting snow halves travel speed on dirt roads for as many days as there are remaining Snow Levels.
|2-4: It’s Foggy. Roll 1d6. Vision is reduced to the result times 10 feet.
|5-9: Warm. Lovely day. Plants are sprouting, leaves are starting to grow. The sort of day that makes you happy to be alive.
|10-11: Rain. It rains, very hard. All dirt turns to mud and is difficult to move through.
|12: Thunderstorm. Bright strikes of lighting fill the sky, followed quickly by loud peals of thunder. Any check relying on hearing is penalized. Any navigation checks during the storm are penalized due to the disorienting lightning and thunder.
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