A day's walk to the southeast of the Black Hills, rolling green prairie suddenly cuts open into a multicolored abyss of sand, rock, and scrub. It's easy to miss, even though The Waste goes on for miles and miles. The Waste hides in plain sight within the prairie. If your scouts come back to you after they find The Waste, keep them in your party. They are trustworthy and doing their job.
Many seek their fortunes here amid the rocks and ruins. Few return, as the hills, cliffs, and caves are extremely brittle. Sudden collapses are the norm. And there are other dangers.
At first sight, The Waste appears to be an unusual and very hostile land feature. Sometimes it is beautiful; at other times it is menacing and sinister. The Waste's coloration and appearance changes throughout the day, with different qualities of light and shifts in the weather.
Some tribes hunt here for game. You often see pronghorns on the cliffs, and there are rabbits, snakes, and other game - as well as stranger creatures - living mirages - that appear and strike from thin air.
But spend time looking at the cliffs, and you will see why strangers come here. The Waste is an ancient ruined city, blasted by the gods for some horrible sin committed in times long-past. The Waste may once have been one giant city, miles across, with walled cantons for different clans. Or perhaps the "city" was in fact a cluster of walled villages, temples, and citadels. Between the walled areas were carefully tended commons for hunting and gathering, as well as farm lands cultivated by specific walled village compounds or city precincts.
The pattern would have been:
walled compound - farm lands - wild commons - farm lands - walled compound
The Waste's original inhabitants may have been distant ancestors of the Xeno-Meso peoples in the far south. Clan-based city builders, mound builders, kiva, ball court, and temple builders. Players of games - from ball games to flower wars.
They sacrificed millions in their temples. Once you discover the Chopped Bones, the vast subterranean ossuaries where the bones of their sacrifices were dumped, you will see and believe.
Delvers from as far away as Xeno-Meso have discovered many treasures and horrors within and below the ruins. Subterranean tunnels and mazes extend for miles under the ruins, crumbling crawlways filled with death and wonder. There are gates here, too.
Photo copyright 2013 by John Everett Till.