The highest possible mountain on Earth is about 13km tall (Everest is 8848km), which is 1km into the stratosphere. That is 1km above any possible weather conditions, and up into the ozone layer as well. Air pressure is 1/1000 what it would be at sea level. UV radiation prevents turbulence and also heats things up above the -60C experienced at the top of the troposphere. This fits really well with the highest mountains in the north of Alaam, which I imagined piercing the atmosphere, so that if you somehow found your way to the top, it would be like being on the edge of space. There would be radiation, and a total lack of breathable air, but it would be slightly warmer than expected, though still far below freezing. No precipitation at all. Maybe something like being on the surface of the moon.
Approaching the Limits
Alaam is a world that is definitely bounded by clear limits – areas so hostile that even well-protected creatures have little chance of surviving there. It is also a world ruled by powers that are hostile to exploration apart from their own, approved expeditions.
- Spellcasters who can cast 3rd level spells are tested, or at least watched. Many of the spellcasters who work in the open serve the genies in some way, and those are the ones who definitely have access to the best arcane lore and supplies. One exception to this rule are the arcane crime syndicates in many large cities of Alaam.
- Scrying is taboo, like behaving like a domestic spy. It’s the kind of thing that is viewed as highly suspicious by society and the genies especially.
- Spells that contact other planes are considered taboo, the kind of thing only deviants who want to risk incursions from heaven or hell would do.
For example, to travel east, one would have to be protected from lighting storms that litter the desert with fulgurites, sand storms that can strip flesh from the bone, predators rumored to slumber beneath the sands awaiting a meal walking past above them – and those are only the known dangers. To travel far to the north, one would have to be protected from lethal cold, able to climb sheer surfaces that go for miles, survive lethal radiation (radiant damage) raining down from above, and ultimately survive in an airless environment long before they reached the highest summits.
Domesticated Beasts and Monsters
Alaam has a strange mix of wildlife, from the usual creatures you’d expect on an Earth-like world to entries from the Monster Manual and beyond. A few unlikely creatures have been tamed in the world, including juvenile rocs, giant goats, giant lizards, and avancs.
- Juvenile rocs are used in the north for the wealthy and powerful to travel between settlements in the mountains. Though young they are already huge creatures, and are fitted with hanging baskets that can accomodate up to four people at a time. Summoned down by their trainers with a special whistling call, they can cross mountainous terrain in hours that would take weeks otherwise. The main danger is that occasionally an adult roc comes down from the heights to reclaim the tamed juvenile.
- Giant goats are a more mundane mount in the northern highlands and mountains, and there are plenty of trails that can only be traversed by adventurous people or goats.
- Giant lizards are well-adpated to the central and eastern deserts, as they require less water than a mammal and seem to enjoy the heat. They are even able to store the warmth in their bodies somehow, enabling them to travel for a time during cold desert nights as long as they were able to warm up during the day.
- Avancs are mysterious aquatic creatures native to the western ocean and sometimes found moving inland along Alaam’s two great rivers. They are huge, mostly docile, aquatic creatures that some in the west have learned how to tame. They build special underwater harnesses for them, and lure them into the harnesses, and then use them to pull their ships across the ocean even when there is no wind.
Have you read The Scar by China Mieville? You should. Right now. It’s so good.
There are many secret societies in Alaam – one of which are the Whispers. The Whispers are a society of scholars and loremasters wish to learn the true nature of their world, whether are other worlds elsewhere, etc. All of the knowledge that they seek is illegal, and they are a superb patron group for an adventuring party, as they would have good reasons to send deniable assets out into the world to explore ruins, probe at the edges of the map, steal artifacts and pieces of lore, and so on. Later on, knowledgeable characters might even be invited to join the Whispers.