Even breathing can be a challenge, because the dust is shot through with magical particles (perhaps the magma pushes up through a vein of mithril or some other magical mineral). Breathing this dust without some sort of protection or filter will result in strange magical effects or even mutations. For every half-day the PCs spend traveling through this terrain without the proper protections, roll a 2d6 and consult the following table.
2-3: the character’s skin sprouts (roll a d4): 1 - iridescent scales (+2 to AC), 2- golden feathers, 3 - porcupine quills (+1 damage in melee) 4 - a glistening lair of slime (+1 to AC, -1 to reaction rolls, +2 on saves vs. poison or to resist fire or magical fire).
4-5: the character acquires (roll a d4): 1 - nictating membranes over the eyes (+1 to saves vs. blinding or gaze-attacks), 2 - a prehensile trunk (may be used to wield an additional weapon at -4 to hit), 3 - a forked tongue, 4 - a prehensile tail.
6-8: the character develops a hacking cough. So long as they are exposed to the dust, they get a -1 to all dice rolls.
9: character behaves as if under the influence of a confusion spell for 1d2 hours.
10: roll for a random insanity. Only a lengthy clerical purification ritual will remove it.
11: character gains ESP for six hours. At the end of that time, roll a save vs. spells to see if the character acquires a random insanity due to the thoughts of others intruding upon their mind.
12: character gains the ability to cast a single, randomly determined first-level magic-user spell at will so long as it is cast in the next 24 hours.
The western line of mountain and the broken lands at the northern point of the territory are inhabited by wandering tribes of nomadic gnolls. They wear complicated masks with filters to catch most of the dust, but incidents of mutation are still fairly common among them.
In the fungus forests along the river live myconids and similar critters. These have no need to protect themselves from the ash and soot falling from the sky. In fact, their lives may very well depend on the stuff.
At the river’s end, where it flows sluggish and silty into the sea, is a large elven city. These are Melnibonean-style elves, wicked and cruel and wracked by ennui and caprice. They are most assuredly not likely to be allies of the PCs, and any alliance they do make will last only long enough to allow the elves to betray the PCs at the worst possible moment. It’s rare to meet any of these elves outside their city, but occasionally their sleek corsairs are sent out to raid along the coast or seek out merchant ships for plundering.
Over half of the city’s population are slaves. This far out, they don’t need to worry about the effects of the ash (though nobody drinks the water if they can avoid it), but the elves themselves delight in “improving” their slaves. Most of the slaves are thri-kreen, imported to the island because they appear to be largely immune to the worst of the ash-fall’s effects. However, members of nearly ever population on the island, including some humans, are represented among the city’s enslaved.
Long ago, the elven empire laid claim to the entire island. As their numbers dwindled, they’ve been forced to abandon all but this last bastion. Still, they consider the island to be theirs and theirs alone, and treat humans or other recent arrivals (and by “recent” they mean anyone who’s landed in the last 600 years) as interlopers. Luckily for everyone else, those elves who don’t spend most of their time indulging their depraved vices are too busy squabbling among themselves for lordship of the city.
Still, the city and the fungal forests to the north are rich in magical resources. Characters interested in rare herbs, psychedelic fungi, and exotic flora will find a veritable cornucopia of varied species along the river’s banks. Ever hour spent exploring beneath the towering mushroom caps will reveal one of the following (roll a d8):
1: random lotus type
2: tangerine smut: grows on other fungus. Horribly toxic to touch, causing nerve damage on contact with bare skin, resulting in the loss of 1d4 points of Dexterity. (Powerful clerical magic can undo this damage.) If the smut is dried, it will produce a bright orange powder with anesthetic properties (heals +2 hit points per level of the wounded when used in bandages on open wounds; each found collection of the smut results in 1d6 such uses when dried).
3-4: cleric’s wort: a small plant with silvery fuzzy leaves. If these leaves are dried and added to 100 gp worth of incense which is inhaled by a cleric who is meditating or praying to prepare spells, the cleric will be able to prepare one additional spell of their highest level available that day. However, there’s also a 1 in 12 chance that the cleric will also permanently lose one point of Constitution. Each plant found gives enough leaves for only two such uses.
5-6: berserker pods: red and green puff-balls that grow in wet, sheltered spots. If a pod is crushed under someone’s nose so that they inhale the spores, they will be filled with amazing strength, (treat as a 19 strength or a +4 to hit and damage bonus) for 2d3 rounds. However, every round they are under the influence of the spores, there is a 1 in 10 chance of the character behaving as if subject to a confusion spell. Harvesting results in the collection of 2d4 viable pods, but they lose their potency after a week.
7: Tartarus’ slime: a blackish-purple slime mold. If coated on a blade it will render anyone even scratched by the weapon catatonic for 1d4 hours if a save vs. poison is failed. Each crop found will be enough to coat 2 swords, six daggers, or eight arrows. Tartarus’ slime loses its potency 2d6 days after being harvested.
8: A shrieker: roll on the wandering monster table.