On the Thursday Trick: Sand

Sand (Category: Terrain, Vents/Sprays, Restraints/Hazards)

Trigger: AnyEffects:
Multiple Targets
Save: Strength

Duration: Special
Resets:VariesBypass: varies

Description: This is less "sand" or "quicksand" as a trap. Sand is often ill-considered during play, and yet. . .

Sand is more deadly than wild animals. Holes, unstable footings, and instability cause more deaths than wild animal attacks. From 1990 to 2016, there have been 16 deaths just from sand pits used for making sandcastles. Sharks only killed 12 people during that span. Source.

Culturally, if there is no lumber or tree industry nearby, non-industrial societies have 'sandmen' who Collect and 'clean' sand to bring into cities. It is used as a cleaning, degreasing, and abrasive agent. Once a lumber industry is running, sawdust is cheaper and more effective, causing this job to die off. But for non-industrial societies, collecting, moving, and cleaning sand is a necessary industry.

Green Sand
Sand describes a wide range of particles, from the large (64mm) to silt (.0004 mm). This consistency affects its behavior. You aren't going to sink into large grained sand. For example: Sand between .1 and .5 mm in diameter at the right humidity level will emit noises like whistling and barking. Video example 1, video example 2, video example 3.This can be up to over 100 decibels in volume. If you have a sand trap, where it pours in from somewhere, it could cause a terrible cacophony. If it happened elsewhere it could project the semblance of a terrible beast.

Sand near volcanic beaches can be straight up green. Olivine from the volcanic residue will produce a green color in the sand. Furthermore, sand can be beige or yellow. but also black, white, pink, red, gold, or purple, naturally.

Wizards who predict the future with sand would be called arenomancers. Arenolugry or Thaumoarenoists are sand wizards.

Areas with a lot of sand where it can be disturbed, (due to fights or fireballs) can put enough particularite matter in the air to cause illness, and if severe enough, cancer or death. Unprotected exposure to sand particles in the air can irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin, or flu like symptoms like runny nose, lack of breath, a terrible cough.

This isn't particularly helpful, but did you know some desert animals (like sand cats) are just so damn efficient that they literally never drink? They get all the water they need from the bodies of their prey. Like all desert predators they are nocturnal.

Sand, of the correct type, will often be sought by glassmakers, wizards, and other people who need specific grades of sand for glassmaking.

For sand dominated areas, feel free to to remember that heat and water are scarce in deserts.


Quicksand is not limited to any specific climate or region. It can be found anywhere you find sand. A necessary component of quicksand is nearness to some body of water, whether underground or nearby.

What actually happens with quicksand is that it's super saturated with water. It's basically a deep pool, filled with a great deal of sand. The water volume is so high, that there's no friction, the pool is in a "colloidal" state and can't support any weight, any more than a swimming pool could, but the sand prevents you from swimming effectively.

You don't actually sink in very far. But the mistake most people make is that they try to push themselves out. Any attempt to "lift" out of the quicksand will cause another body part to push. This pushing disturbs the support and people sink further in.

Since the sand is more than twice as dense than the human body, you will not sink if you don't struggle. Falling head first into the sand can be deadly, being that you cannot remove your head, nor hold your breath long enough for your buoyancy to bring you to the surface.


Sail over the sand sea.
Giant worms snake through the sand.
Armies of the dead rest beneath the sands.
Burrowing predators harass characters in packs that swim through the sand.
Towers and whole cities rest buried beneath the dunes, the only entrance a single window at the top of a tower.
Balloons and parachutes allow sailing, held up by head coming off the dunes.
Mirages and illusions mess with dehydrated minds.
Wizards hide their towers among the dunes.
Sarlacc's and their cousins, giant dire antilions can be found among the sands.
Sandstorms ripe with magic bring thunder, lightning, and astral disruptions to the desert.
Sphinxes that live in the desert may take a dim view of you arriving to remove their valuable sand. Giant city like barges drift across the sands.
Silt striders, or other giant water bug like insects cross the sands, only their legs visible to players, their bodies far above the clouds.
In the wastes lie beasts like basilisks, sphinxes, and amphisbaena.
Victims of a sand necktie may be human or something else, often long dead, sometimes alive.
Creatures made from sand, or controlled sand shapes from sorcery nearby. (Video, nudity)

Detection/Disarming: Whenever using sand as an environmental variable, it's suggested that you explain to the players what's occurring and allow them to respond. Don't just immediately penalize them for sand exposure, mention that it's clouding the air and burning their lungs and eyes. If they don't take action to fix or correct the problem (Cloth over mouth, holding breath/closing eyes) then the penalties can apply.

The players need to be told about the hazard, before they get the chance to interact with it. Having quicksand or difficult terrain or pits on the battlefield, all should be described (if examined) before a player interacts with it.

Players should be told that sand is difficult terrain (double movement cost), but for sand that is actually hazardous (say full of pits), let people know that they will need to make a check to keep their footing. Quicksand is actually pretty difficult to spot, but allow players to take an action to try to identify which areas are unstable.

This post about sand may or may not have anything to do with my research for my Sandbox project. Get excited. If you think this post is good, and want to help make sure I can keep doing it throughout 2019, consider patreon!

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources and inspiration may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.

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  1. The stat block here doesn't seem to contain much info, except maybe the relevant saves.

    Trigger, effects, duration, resets, and bypass end up meaning basically: it depends. So why not omit and save that space?

    1. (I would guess he’s going to use a similar system to describe other environmental effects)

      So maybe Sand isn’t specific, but he’ll have a similar block for ‘Sunstroke’

    2. To avoid a little monty pythonesque, "And now for something completely different".
      It's the same formatting that I've always used for the series. It may be due for a review, but that probably won't happen until it's collated in book form.

  2. A beach in NZ with volcanic black sand and pumice made for a weird bodysurfing experience. Black water, chunky in the churn and very loud under water water.


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