The Scorched Plains are a vast expanse of grasslands, plains, and desert terrain. They are home to raging wildfires, volcanic activity, and the suspicious clans of the plainsrunners. While much of the Plains are actually relatively safe from the fires, the rest can be hazardous for the ill-advised traveler, and the wildlife is often less than friendly either. Though the region is widely thought to be one of the most inhospitable regions in the known world, the proud plainsrunner clans not only refuse to leave their wretched homeland, but are fiercely protective of the riches they claim it holds.
The Scorched Plains hosts many a strange and interesting creature, for all its inhospitable appearance. Many of these creatures are similar in nature to ones from outside the Plains, but like the plainsrunners, have lived apart from their brethren long enough to be changed by the fire-infused terrain.
The most well-known species that inhabits the Scorched Plains is the firecat. It is descended from the common leopard, but has changed its fur to be black and dark red, giving it its name. This name is popularized even outside the plains by the existence of the Firecat clan of plainsrunners, one of the least unfriendly clans. The firecat has grown stronger from its isolation and lifestyle; treat one as an advanced leopard.
The flame rats are less known to outsiders, but the plainsrunners curse them as pests. There is nothing they won't eat, and their immunity to fire renders them difficult to deal with. Treat a flame rat as an ordinary rat with fire immunity.
The ocani are large, ravenous landworms that feast on the living and the dead. They are fiery creatures found mostly in sandy desert areas, comparable to a purple worm with fire immunity. The plainsrunners avoid them, but other, less wary travelers sometimes fall victim to these unpleasant beasts. Particularly brave adventurers may set out to slay these creatures, as they often contain many gems or valuable minerals which they have consumed.
Insectoid creatures known as firegem beetles roam the plains, seemingly indifferent to the fires which ravage the land. One of the region's natural resources, the firegem beetles grow beautiful, encrusted shells which are used for decoration and armor by the plainsrunners, and which are sought-after by trophy-hunters. The beetles are of little actual threat, however; treat them as advanced fire beetles with immunity to fire.
The aurochs is a large herd animal reaching masses of up to 2400 pounds. With razor-sharp horns over two feet long, the bull aurochs is a sight to behold. The animals tend to keep the females and young in the center of the herd, while the bulls patrol the perimeter. A herd can contain anywhere from a few animals to thirty, with larger herds leaving bare dirt in their wake as they travel through the grasslands of the Scorched Plains. Treat an aurochs as an advanced, 7 HD bison.
The spirestalker is a variant of the giant gecko which lives on crags and other rocky areas, their gray coloration enabling them to blend in with the surrounding rock. They are opportunistic, feeding on whatever they can catch, snatching their unsuspecting prey from above. Rare, black-scaled spirestalkers live in harmony alongside basilisks in dark ravines, eating whatever pests dare the basilisks, while other predators avoid the area for fear of the basilisks' ire.
While ordinary horses do roam the Scorched Plains, the black horses which can be found there are a race apart: quick, strong-willed, and fearless in battle. Taming one is a challenge in itself, as the creatures resist attempts to use normal methods, and attempting to break them simply fails, often spectacularly. However, some of the plainsrunner clans have found secret ways to train the black horses to accept a rider; such horses are incredibly valuable and entrusted to outsiders only in cases of dire need. Treat a black horse as a 4 HD heavy horse with the Fleet and Iron Will feats. They are worth about 350 gp on the open market (600 if trained, which includes combat training), but are incredibly difficult to find outside the Scorched Plains. Black horse animal companions use normal horse statistics, but are still difficult to obtain.
Plants in the Scorched Plains must either grow quickly or be able to resist the fires. Since resisting the fires is nigh-impossible, most plants grow rapidly on whatever water is available, though exceptions exist. This makes grasses the most prevalent form of plant life, though there are some enterprising trees and shrubs that have developed rapid growth habits to adapt to the risk of being burned to ash at any moment. In the Scorched Plains, the rule is "grow fast or die out." Some plants hoard water, others have evolved to adapt to fire, and still others tolerate drought by entering dormancy when water is unavailable. All have accelerated growth habits, particularly when they do encounter water. Notable plants include the Roanti pepper, which the plainsrunners make into a potent, spicy drink known as firebreath brew. Other plants include cacti, grasses, and flowering groundcovers, varying by area.
The colored lotus plants of the Scorched Plains are highly sought after by arcane spellcasters and divine spellcasters alike. The flowers of the several varieties each increase the caster level for a certain elemental school by one when used as an additional spell component for a spell. However, the plants require the rich soil of the Scorched Plains to grow, and have no effects when cultivated elsewhere. The plainsrunners often dry these blooms and use them as trade goods when negotiating with traders from elsewhere.
The firebloom plant grows in areas ravaged by wildfires, its tough seeds actually requiring the intense heat in order to germinate. It has a signature red bloom that can be turned into a powder that increases the potency of fire-based effects (save DC +1). The powder can either be used as an additional spell component or ingested by a creature with the fire subtype to increase the potency of the next use of one of their fire-based abilities.
Climate and Weather
The Scorched Plains are hot and dry. In many areas constant winds suck moisture from every living thing. But far and above, the worst thing about the climate of the Scorched Plains are the dreaded emberstorms, found nowhere else on the planet…
Imagine a towering cloud of darkness rushing at you, miles wide, in a land where there are no clouds and no rain. Now imagine you know what this cloud is, that it is a vast tornado of embers and fire that kills whatever it catches. With this imagining, you can get a small glimpse into the horror that is the emberstorm. Born of great wildfires, these massive storms reach self-sustaining levels and can travel hundreds of miles across the landscape, destroying anything even remotely flammable and carrying away anything that isn't. Even the plainsrunners fear the emberstorms, and entire clans have been wiped out by them in the past, leaving no traces behind. To be caught in an emberstorm is assumed death, for the storms are death incarnate. The plainsrunners have a myth that someday, after a tremendous fire, a giant emberstorm will form and cleanse all life from the Scorched Plains.
Pillars of Orcanis
While they're not emberstorms, the Pillars of Orcanis or shara-va, are a potent force. They are swirling storms of fire and ash up to thirty feet high which form in wildfires. While less dangerous than the fires themselves, these Pillars move independently of the fires. It is said that some of the flame druids of the plainsrunners are able to call down the shara-va upon their enemies, but these reports are unsubstantiated.
Tears of Sarenrae
The frequent volcanic eruptions of cinder cones in the Scorched Plains produce ballistic, tear-shaped shards of glass that can land up to a mile away, often exploding if disturbed, even days later. These Tears of Sarenrae (or shara-kaos) can be either small or large, creating larger explosions depending on size. A typical Tear deals 6d6 damage (half piercing, half fire, reflex 20 half).
Hair of Sarenrae
More dangerous than her Tears are the long, filamentous strands of glass known to outsiders as the Hair of Sarenrae, or the plainsrunners as the ruda-kaos. Difficult to see, these strands float on the wind near cinder cones, ending up in jumbled heaps. When wind storms (or worse, emberstorms) form near cinder cones, they often get picked up by the wind, stripping the skin from anything unfortunate enough to get in the way. The ruda-kaos deal 2d6 slashing damage per round in addition to the normal effects of such storms.
Invisible gases vent from the ground in some areas, known as groundgas. This invisible gas is flammable (and explosive), and can be found seeping from isolated vents or entire gas fields. These vents fuel the wildfires even more, and while the gas is nontoxic, it can be ignited by even the smallest spark.