Sand. It’s course, rough, irritating, and gets everywhere. It also makes for some great adventures. Dune got a write up here back in 2020, and with the second half of the latest adaptation getting a trailer recently, it’s time to get back into the desert.
You don’t have to have a whole planet of desert, with giant worms and precog space cocaine, to give a little touch of the barren and sandy to your game. Heck, a good 3/5s of Star Wars seems to take place on a largely desert world too. So rather than getting tied to a specific franchise, let’s just take a look at what desert adventures might involve. The Galaxy Exploration Manual (GEM) does a lot the prep work here, with pages 60-63 giving you a rundown of where to find the relevant environmental hazards, a random desert inhabitant chart for possible encounter ideas, and even adventure hooks and vehicles. It’s a rich toolbox, and if you have access to it, I highly recommend using it for desert encounters or adventures.
If you’d just like a quick encounter to drop in, consider this setup. A piece of valuable tech, part of a crashed satellite, ship, or drone, is lost in the depths of an alien desert in the Vast. Time is an issue, and there is a powerful continent wide sand storm due to hit the crash site within hours. The party has to land in the nearest safe landing location, rush to the location of the crash site, and retrieve the tech. Use the Starfinder Flip-Mat Basic Terrain for a simple map, and spice it up with a dust storm (CRB page 398) as the precursor of the devastating winds to come. Finally, of course, the wreckage is protected by some native creature. A Dust Manta, or several, can work for a low level party, while a Crimson Helminth or two should provide quite the challenge for a party in the mid tiers, and for high tier a Titan Supenga works (or Greater Krayt Dragon, for a Tatooine flair) with a couple ghosts from the former crew if you need to up the challenge (apply the ghost template to CR appropriate NPCs for the right level challenge.) The party don’t necessarily even need to fight, just get to the wreckage, make a few skill checks (Engineering or Computers of course, but also probably some Athletics to move things, Survival to work things out of the sand, etc.) and get out with their macguffin. If they can do so without a fight, more power to them!
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