The Nekari Wastes are a system-neutral adventure setting consisting of a large desert, the ruins of a dead empire, and a pleasant oasis town. Could your campaign setting feature a region like this? This article is designed to help you flesh it out.
Welcome to the Nekari Wastes. A successful empire once called this place their home. Because of their hubris, only sand and skeletons remain.
The Nekari Wastes
Shifting dunes of yellow sand form and disperse across this ancient land. Occasionally, when the weather is just right, the sand dips low enough to reveal the ancient sandstone buildings of the Nekari. Colloquially referred to as “tombs,” these structures often hold ancient treasures. Nekari coinage. Magical books. Perhaps even captured elementals or Ifrit.
A single river runs across the wastes: The Golden Serpent. Most of the vegetation in the region can be found along its banks. According to rumors, the old capital city (see below) sits somewhere on its banks. Several dry stream beds, known as arroyos, also snake across the landscape. The relatively compact ground of the arroyos can make travel quicker, but they are occasionally the sites of flash floods.
Legions of skeletal soldiers litter the wastes, often in proximity to a tomb. Even in death, they strive to fulfill their duty. Some have become twisted and strange, incorporating parts of destroyed comrades or fallen animals into their new forms.
Some skeletons seem to burn with a bright blue flame, which they can use in a variety of ways to harm adventurers. Some spew it out of their mouths, and other use it to form magical whips.
A sandstone city absolutely brimming with magic, the Nekari Capital is now a twisted parody of its glory days. Skeletons move through the streets, enacting daily routines in a strange pantomime. A skeleton may, for example, “wake up” in the morning, shamble down to the old bazaar and give a merchant some money in exchange for fruit, despite the fact that neither the money or the fruit actually exist anymore. Indeed, the merchant might not exist either, having been destroyed by some calamity or adventurer incursion.
This routine is broken whenever something else enters the city, however. If any fleshy beings are seen by the skeletons, the whole population of the city begins to converge on them. As long as one skeleton can see them, the whole city knows where they are.
At the center of all of this, controlling the skeletal hordes, is the Eternal Council. Five skeletons sit together, back to back, hand in hand, in the central square of the Necropolis. Their eyes glow blue with flame. Their minds, merged into one seamless entity, control the whole city. Their memories of the day to day rhythms of the city carry its skeletal citizens through their performances.
The Eternal Council has no desire to interact with the outside world, only seeking to live in its pale imitation of the city’s glory days. To this end, it will use the city’s population to fight against any intruders, controlling them all with its singular mind.
Various altars to the gods of the Nekari are scattered around the city. While the skeletons cannot speak, their daily attempts at worship and offerings have left a psychic imprint on each. If a character gets within 15 feet or so, they can “hear” incantations and prayers.
If you’re playing D&D 5e and using the standard set of languages, the Nekari tongue could be understood by speakers of either Celestial or Primordial. Or, if you don’t want to gate keep the contents of these prayers behind proficiencies, hand-wave it by claiming that the meaning is clear through the psychic imprint of the messages, even if the listener can’t understand the words themselves.
Prayers (Choose, or roll 1d6)
1. “I will give anything for a good harvest, my lord.”
2. “Please help my son, I fear he will not survive the infection otherwise.”
3. “Heavenly Watcher, I do not ask for grace, I desire only to know how we have offended you so.”
4. “May my blood, flowing onto this altar, let the river flow once again.”
5. “Bring me a husband whose wealth can see us through this strife.”
6. “If I must die, please do not let me starve.”
Many of the tenets of the ancient Nekari religion are lost to time, but three deities are attested to in translated works:
Dsjot-men, God of Harvest. Dsjot-men is generally depicted as an older woman with the head of a kit fox, carrying a hoe. According to the Nekari religion, the world of men is a burrow dug into the cosmic fabric by Dsjot-men, who then taught her digging ways to the people of the world, thus giving them agriculture.
Mehhur, the Heavenly Watcher. Skull is in capital, other body parts allegedly spread throughout the world after he was overthrown by Mehi. Mehhur was the patron god of Nekari civil society, and is generally depicted as a man with the head and wings of an owl.
Mehi, the Ransacker, brother of Mehhur, betrayed him and sacked the treasures of the heavenly realm. In the dying days of the Nekari empire, soldiers that turned to banditry prayed to Mehi. He is depicted as a man with the head of a vulture.
The Temple of Mehhur
Near the centre of the Nekari capital is a temple made of sandstone blocks. One side is open, with two stone pillars holding up the roof. At the rear sits a gigantic skull, about ten times the size of an average human skull. Many of the teeth are missing, including the upper two canines.
This is the skull of Mehhur, retrieved from the desert by acolytes in eons past. Mehhur, the Heavenly Watcher, was killed by his brother Mehi, and his body parts were spread across the world.
Two skeletal guards stand in front of the Temple at all times, each carrying a spear whose head is one of the canine teeth from Mehhur’s skull.
Spear of Mehhur (plain text)
Weapon (spear), rare (requires attunement)
This spear consists of a wooden pole and a gigantic human tooth. Pieces of cloth are wrapped around a few spots on the spear, where one’s hands would grip it.
You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. It can be either thrown or used for melee combat. It does 1d8+2 damage in either case.
The tooth can also be used as a clerical implement for adherents of the Nekari religion.
Near the Golden Serpent, just before the wastes begin, sits the town of Tombsgate. Initially founded as an outpost for expeditions into the wastes, the town has taken on a life of its own. Some of the nomadic people of the wastes have settled down here as well. A small pond, fed by the Golden Serpent via an underground cave system, sits near the center of town.
Anyone who dies in Tombsgate is cremated, lest they come back as a living skeleton or worse.
The Desert Rose
The largest building in Tombsgate is the tavern and inn, the Desert Rose. It has been expanded several times, most recently with the “covered courtyard” in the back. This area has a large stage and tables strewn throughout the area. Plays and other performances are often held on the stage in the evenings.
The main bar area is slightly below ground level, so it always feels nice and cool. Like the rest of the structure, the floor is made out of adobe. The bar itself is made out of wood, stained and worn from decades of use by travelers, locals, and adventurers alike.
Behind the bar, a shield and sword are mounted to the wall. The shield has a red chevron on a white background painted on it. Several slashes, burns and dents are still visible on it. The sword beside it is a short sword with a D-shaped guard. It is mounted in a plain leather sheath, so the blade is not visible, but the blade has a simple silver inlay along the flat of the blade. Both the inlay and the blade are very well maintained, despite the lack of use.
Yogurt-Marinated Antelope: Marinated in yogurt mixed with cinnamon and mustard seeds, the steaks are tender and tasty. 1 gp per plate.
Stew: Made out of whatever meat and vegetables were available that morning, this stew is filling and nutritious, but not particularly tasty. 1 sp per bowl.
Honey Cakes: Baked with wheat flour, dates and honey, this sweet treat is baked in a loaf and then sliced into pieces and eaten with one’s hands. 1 gp per loaf, which is enough to split between an average adventuring party.
Local Beer: This cloudy, caramel-colored brew is incredibly nutritious, and bitter in a way that you could eventually learn to enjoy. 5 cp per mug.
Cactus Cocktail: This greenish, clear concoction is made by mixing cactus sap with vodka. It tastes sour, but burns less than drinking the vodka straight. 7 cp per mug.
Vodka: Kept in stock largely to keep Corpus von Granpus from complaining, this clear drink is highly alcoholic, and usually mixed with something else. 1 sp per shot.
Ancient Wine: This glass bottle of deep purple liquid sits high above the bar. Its stopper is sealed in place with wax, and a label that, presumably, describes its contents is written in Nekari script. It was found in a Nekari tomb, on a shelf in a luxurious bedroom. The grapes used to brew it have been extinct for at least a century. If the party purchases it, they will find that it tastes slightly sweet and is full-bodied. It’s alright. 1000 gp for the only bottle.
There are two private rooms for rent at a cost of 5 sp per night. Each can comfortably fit two people on the bed. There are also 16 bunks in a communal sleeping area available for 1 sp per night each.
Brin Lee, proprietor. Brin is a pale, bald man with several liver spots on his head. He came to Tombsgate as an adventurer many years ago, but after he lost one too many friends, he decided to settle down for a more stable way of living. He’s an excellent source of information about the wastes, and the dangers it holds. His index and pinkie fingers are missing from his left hand.
Jovias Softstride, halfling guide. Jovias (stress on the “VI”) is a barefoot halfling with a fondness for alcohol. He has a set of dowsing rods that his grandfather, or possibly cousin, gifted to him. He claims that, with these dowsing rods, he can find large amounts of gold. He offers his services to adventurers searching for tombs in the wastes. Often, the only gold he finds is what he gets paid. He will run at the first sign of danger.
Zashhk’s Forge sits on the south edge of Tombsgate. It consists of a two-story adobe building with a crooked chimney. Black smoke pours out of the chimney every morning as its proprietor works metal into useful things. Outside of the building sits several wooden barrels of various liquids, used for quenching various creations. The mark of the shop, carved into both the side of the building and into the handle of every weapon produced, is a Z with a line down the center.
Zashhk, armorer. Zashhk is a lizardman with red scales and yellow horns. He runs a smithy in Tombsgate and, as a hobby, collects old Nekari weapons. He’s currently trying to replicate the exact metal composition and forging methods used to create their khopeshes and other equipment. He speaks with a noticeable stutter, and is more likely to be looking at an adventurer’s weapons than making eye contact with them.
Ruapana’s Retail is a general store on the north side of the town’s main street. The area accessible to customers is very small, but the shelves behind the counter hold many goods. A list of them and their prices sits on the counter, near a cube. The cube is Ruapana, the owner of this place. Two metal gauntlets sit behind the desk, out of the view of customers. Ruapana can control these telepathically, to punch shoplifters.
Most common goods can be found here at 125% of the standard price.
Ruapana, intelligent cube merchant. Ruapana is a cube roughly the size of a man’s head. He is dark blue when quiet, but lights up in a brighter blue whenever he speaks. He speaks with a deep, sonorous voice. If asked where he’s from, Ruapana will explain that both he and Kragg come from a jungle far to the south, there they had many adventurers. He has some degree of telekinetic ability, allowing him to make change for adventurers out of the till and, as mentioned above, punch shoplifters with metal gauntlets.
Kragg, Ruapana’s assistant goblin. Kragg is a talon-footed, green-skinned goblin with a better grasp of math than most of the other townsfolk. He wears a red apron and speaks with a slight lisp, on the occasions he does speak. At night, Kragg sleeps upside down, hanging from a bar near the till. He finds it comfortable. Somehow.
Corpus von Granpus, Expert. Corpus is a middle aged man who looks decades older. He lives in one of the buildings on the northeast side of Tombsgate. It is filled with books about the things he has learned about the Nekari society. Currently, a large slab of stone is propped up in his office. It is written in Nekari script. He can identify most magic items and archaeological finds, and is willing to pay about 50% of what they’re worth on the open market.
Jortan Manjaller, artificer. The engineering genius Jortan Manjaller has traveled far to this hot desert with one goal: To build a flying machine. It works on the same principles as a sailing ship, save that it also has sideways sails to catch the thermal updrafts from the desert. In this way, he intends to use it to sail above the desert, safe from skeletons and the heat. Depending on your desires as a GM, this could either be a fantastic method of travel, or a great way to crash your players in the middle of the desert! His voice cracks whenever he calls himself a “genius,” which is quite often.
Buzwall Murg, painter. Buzwall is a short, wide man who paints abstract landscapes and portraits. His work is great if you’re really into art, and very unimpressive if you’re not. He owes large sums of money to various taverns and inns, for unpaid tabs.
Mother Lizard’s Tribe
A few nomadic groups still wander the wastes, gathering food from oases and the high parts of the desert. This one lives in a symbiotic relationship with a gigantic horned lizard, trading protection for its natural water-gathering ability. A party of adventurers would be very lucky to encounter them in the wastes, especially if they were low on water or food. Mother Lizard’s tribe has no desire to see others die.
Melissos, Lizard Priest. Melissos is a scrawny, tan woman with one eye clouded by cataracts. Mother Lizard seems quite fond of her, and so she interprets Mother Lizard’s moods and wishes for the rest of the tribe. Generally these wishes are benevolent.
Pleuron Eagle-Eye, scout. Pleuron is a dark-skinned man who generally wears a light cloak and carries a bow. He hunts the animals of the desert to feed the rest of the tribe, and keeps their hides to sell in Tombsgate.
Kanake, young-herder. Kanake is a broad-shouldered, dark skinned woman who is almost always carrying at least one child. She spends most of her time wrangling the group’s youngest members.
Roll 1d8, or choose one that the party knows.
- The Nekari Desert was once a verdant prairie, but years of overfarming destroyed the land. (True)
- The Nekari were destroyed by a plague that still lurks in the desert’s tombs. (False, it was starvation.)
- Nekari wizardry was leagues beyond the magic of today. (False, except in the realm of necromancy)
- Tombsgate is full of swindlers who lure adventurers into desert ambushes. (False, there’s only one of those.)
- Famed Artificer Jortan Manjaller has perfected a “desert sailing ship” that uses heat rising off the sand to float above the desert as it crosses it. (False but only in the sense that it is incredibly dangerous and nowhere near perfect.)
- The famous painter, Buzwall Murg, calls Tombsgate home these days. He owes a lot of money to multiple gangs in the nearest major city. (True.)
- Some of the people of Tombsgate are direct descendants of the Nekari. (True but irrelevant. There are no secret bloodline powers or ancestral rituals.)
- The Nekari Capital still sits deep in the wastes, full of treasure for anyone brave enough to venture out for it. (True.)
First off, I’d like to thank my friend LeeNyx for consulting with me about what deserts are like. You can find her true crime podcast, A Memory of Malice, here.
If you’re playing D&D 5e, Troy’s Gal’varen’s Legion article contains some excellent Weird Skeletons to spice up encounters in the wastes. Troy’s Rousing the Ruins adventure would also fit right in with the Nekari Wastes.
There are a lot of adventures from other creators that would fit in the wastes just fine, all you need is a sandy ruin, but I’d like to point to JD’s The Library Beneath the Sands. It’s written for Knave, but should work with most OSR systems, and maybe 5E with some fiddling. If I had written this article before running it, I would’ve set it here in the wastes.
Map & Asset Downloads
Last of all, here are a selection of desert maps that would fit neatly into the Nekari Wastes. We hope that you enjoy!
Desert OasisPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Crumbling Desert TombPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Winding Desert CatacombPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Desert TemplePWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Desert Map AssetsPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Desert Oasis TownPWYW: $1 or FREE $1.00
Desert Map Assets Pack$5.00
The Everything Pack$70.00
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Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I’m in and interviews I’ve done over on YouTube.
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