Lore-friendly treatise on the Forbidden Zone. A bit of a work in progress; I’ll update it as I learn more about the area.
Drifter’s Guide to the Ashlands
If you’re reading this, you’re either a Tech Hunter or some kind of adventurer, and already your chances of survival are higher than most. I’ve seen so many set out with stars in their eyes and heads full of tales of treasure and secrets, and so few have returned. There’s a damn good reason there’s still so much loot out there, and that’s because even getting close enough to see the Ashlands is enough to get you and all your friends killed. But if you’ll indulge an old Ashland Drifter his ramblings, you might just survive long enough to find what you’re looking for.
I can almost hear you sayin’ it- “I’ve been to Mongrel” this and “I’ve killed a leviathan” that. Well let me tell you right now I’d rather face down a horde of Fogmen riding a damned leviathan than spend one night in the Sonorous Dark. Yep, the territories surrounding the Ashlands are just as responsible for its reputation as the Ashlands themselves. I’ve seen a man’s skin ripped from him while he was still screamin’ about it, and found plenty of corpses who obviously didn’t think acid rain was that big a deal. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bust friends and companions out of a reaver’s cage only to have them captured by southern hivers the next morning and fed to their king. So choosing your entry route is the first and most important step, and it all depends on what you and those poor fools traveling with you are equipped to deal with.
First things first- are there humans in your group? If your group is all-human, heading south by way of the Sonorous Dark is probably your worst option. If the acid rain doesn’t get you, the Skin Bandits will. Unless you’re packing top-grade gear and skills to match, steer clear of the Sonorous Dark. Trying to go to the south at all isn’t the smartest idea, as the Southern Hive territory makes fools of even experienced fighting groups. If you fancy yourselves the sneaky type, avoiding hiver patrols might be a bit easier, but coming in from the north through The Pits is probably the safest bet.
However, if you’re primarily traveling with hivers or skeletons, the Sonorous Dark might actually be your easiest option. The skin crazies won’t bother non-humans as long as you keep your distance, and acid rain doesn’t bother hivers or skeletons, as I’m sure you’re aware. All you have to worry about are the reavers and hiver patrols, and maybe the odd land bat.
If you’re going through the Dark, take a direct southeast path from Lagoon, riding the mountains on the side of Stobe’s Gamble. Following the edge of those two territories means you get the least of both, avoiding the hivers on Greyshelf as well as the bandits and beasts of the Gamble. As you near the Dark, be careful not to wander even a little north into Sniper Valley, unless you want to lose a limb before your trip even starts.
If you’re going through the Pits, just hug the coast and consider buying a crab along the way. The crab crazies take it personally if you don’t. The ones in the towns won’t bother you much, but watch out for the ones wearing strange armor- they’ll usually come up with some stupid excuse to start a fight, even if you bought a pet crab. Crossing the water shouldn’t give you much trouble, just make sure you aren’t caught off-guard by bandits or a wayward crab patrol, and watch out for the towers in the east and west.
And that settles how you’re gettin’ there, but don’t set off just yet. We’re still in the planning stage.
So you now have a chance to live long enough to cough on some ash. Fantastic. Now listen closely because we’re getting to the important part: surviving in the Ashlands. It don’t matter if you gave Arc a run for his money, fighting skills won’t count for much if you don’t live long enough for somebody else to off you.
The most common mistake I see even from experienced tech hunters is they don’t know about the gas. Dunno how nobody has figured it out yet, but they still don’t sell masks at the Lagoon so more tech hunters keep goin’ and keep not comin’ back. Don’t even think about setting foot in the Ashlands without one- they sell em in the swamps and in Mongrel, though if you know a smith who can make you one, that would be ideal; if you’re having trouble finding blueprints, check the library at Black Scratch, they’ve always got something.
Now if you’re one of those hivers with the wide heads, well, I’ve got bad news for you: they don’t make masks for heads that wide. Maybe I should’ve started with that so you didn’t get your hopes up, but it’s not gonna be a fun ride for you if you still wanna go. The most I can tell you is to keep an eye out for the pale yellow clouds that creep along the ground. They’ll sneak up on you real easy though, so make sure your companions are willing to carry your sorry hide when you pass out. You can also try to hide inside the Domes, if you really think an army of angry skeletons is less of a threat.
And that brings me to the next point: the inhabitants. Ashlands aren’t safe for anything to live. No plants, no animals. Only machines live there, and not a single one will take kindly to outsiders wandering around. If your party is the fighting type, try to keep your escape route open. A few iron spiders might not be a threat, but if you’re too busy fighting them to notice the Legion sneaking up behind you, or worse a Cleanser wanders too close, you can count on losing somebody. Speaking of, keep an eye out for those Cleansers- big, lumbering machines that clear out the gas as they go.
They aren’t too aggressive – you can think of them as mechanical leviathans – but they will attack if you get close to them, and they hit like a leviathan too. Short-sighted tech hunters go after ’em for their AI Cores but there are plenty to be found elsewhere for a lot less hassle. And besides, they’re working to get rid of the gas, so don’t bother ’em.
As for gear, If you don’t need to worry about the acid rains in the Dark, any good stuff of medium weight will be fine. Most of the machines just pummel you for mixed damage, and most of the skeletons use either cleavers or clubs, so its more important that you know when to run and when to fight, and survive long enough to do so. Heavier armor makes it hard to run when you need to, and lighter armor will just get you killed if you can’t slip away. If you’re packing dustcoats for the acid, wear some chainmail or something underneath, and you’ll bleed a lot less.
They won’t kidnap you or anything though, so if worse comes to worse, just lay still and wait for them to turn their backs. Your best weapons are going to be the exact same stuff they’re using- hackers and clubs. Anything particularly good at smashing through metal will serve you well here. And yes, that means NO katanas. Dunno why people are so attached to ’em. Sure they’re light and fast, but they’re about as useful against a Legion soldier as a feather duster.
Now there aren’t any settlements of the typical kind in the Ashlands, but there are about half a dozen Domes scattered about. How they got there is a neat story for another time, but each one is filled with an army of armed skeletons just itching to tear something apart. Each one has a leader, too – a high-ranking skeleton that goes all the way back to ancient times.
If you can get ahold of their CPU core you might find out more about their pasts, but unless you’re a top-rate fighter or sneak, I’d focus on getting in their goods and getting out as quickly as possible. I’d swear they were packin’ Cross weapons too. Anyway, they’ll have a ton of safes piled around, and plenty of Cores if that’s what you’re there for. The bottom floor also usually has some unused areas you can hide in if you need to rest a bit, and you’ll be safe from the gas in there. Just don’t get careless and be prepared to run if you’re found out.
Now a lot of these machines are pretty old, and I’ve never asked a skeleton but I’m pretty sure you’re not s’posed to be able to just rip out their cores. Yet whether its from damage or design, a lot of these older ones you can do just that. Once you’ve taken them down, rip out the core or any exposed circuitry and they’ll stay that way. Real handy if you brought a sneaky type with you.
One last word of warning- You see the big star-shaped imprint on your map, in the southeast? Stay away from there. Clearing out domes is one thing, but Cat-Lon the Mad himself is another. If you don’t bother him, he won’t bother you. Hell, if you pick the right location, you could set up a cozy place to live right nearby without much trouble.
And that leads me to the last bit of this long ramble….
Now if you’re some kind of crazy yourself, you might be thinkin’ about now how great a place this would be to live. Well… you’re not wrong. If you don’t like being bothered, you won’t find a better place to settle. It’s not going to be easy, though.
First thing to know about the Ashlands when it comes to settlements: Bring whatever it is you need with you. You’ll find nothing here. Even the stone and scrap littered all over the place isn’t usable- probably some side-effect of all the disasters that turned this place into what it is. And forget being able to find usable water or fertile soil. You’ll be needing some of that fancy hydroponics stuff the tech hunters are getting all excited about these days, for starters, but more importantly you’ll be needing a steady supply of stone and iron.
Your best bet is to set up a fortified mining base, either in the Dark or the Pits. The Dark is definitely closer, with shorter trips and plenty of rain for water, but you’ll really need to defend it from all the crazies and such we discussed earlier, and make sure and pack dustcoats for the frequent acid rains for any shek or humans. Unless of course you’ve got plenty of non-humans. When the skin crazies pay you a visit, simply hide off in a corner somewhere out of sight until they get bored and move on. As long as there aren’t any humans among you, they won’t go out of their way to find you. They’ll even haul off any reaver or crabby bodies you’ve got laying around on their way out.
Now the Pits definitely won’t be quiet, you’ll still be dealing with crabbies, reavers, and whatever those weirdos with the masks are, but anything is better than dealing with Skin Bandits. The downside though is that water will need to be welled up from the ground more often and trips to your Ashland settlement will be longer and more difficult.
As for the settlement itself, don’t get too excited and just set down anywhere that looks flat. Look for tracks in the ash, paths and roads that are darker, and stay away from them. The best places are either along the coast or on top of hills, especially around some of the larger ruins where the machines seldom wander. You’ll still meet the rare iron spider or Legion patrol, and maybe a Cleanser will wander through, but it shouldn’t be worse than what you’ve already dealt with by now. Just put up some walls as soon as you can, and they probably won’t even notice you’re there.
Now after the walls, your first priorities are food and beds. It goes without saying that you won’t last long if you can’t make food at your settlement, so getting some of those hydroponics up and running should be one of the first things you do. Even if your whole team are skeletons, using pack animals will really cut down on the trips back and forth. When it comes to power, you can rely on windmills to bring in a bit, but your best bet will be to use those hydroponics-grown foods to make fuel. Hemp works the best but if you’re trying to keep things to a minimum, use greenfruit or wheatstraw instead, since it can also be used for food. And keep at least one bed or sleeping bag inside to manage the injured.
Lastly, it’d be a good idea to do as much production as you can on-site. Your mining base is well and good but there’s no reason to clog up your poor Garru’s inventory with three different kinds of metal plating when you can just transport the iron in bulk and manufacture what you need where you need it. It’ll take a little extra power, to be sure, but it’ll save you a lot of hassle. It’s a different story with the stone, though. It’s better to transport refined building materials than raw stone, no doubt about it.
So if you’ve made it this far, you should have everything you need for a successful trip to the Ashlands. Us drifters have been doin’ it for years but it’s getting a little lonely out there, especially since crazy ol’ Stone-Head passed away, leaving less than a handful of us scattered around, and I haven’t seen any of the others in a long time. Some of us liked having the Ashlands to ourselves, for reasons I won’t get into. But if you ask me, it’s about time we shared this treasure with the rest of the world.
Not like we’re gonna be usin’ it anyway.