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Infinite Worlds / Desert

Desert Worlds

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 60
Desert biomes are commonly found on planets that orbit closer to their suns. Still, a degrading atmosphere, an aging star, or stranger factors can cause deserts to continuously spread on nearly any terrestrial world. For some planets, like Akiton—a dying world in the Pact Worlds system—the ecosystem’s decline is starkly evident. On the oldest of desert worlds, a complete lack of stored surface water exposes the ghosts of their oceans and reveals deep reliefs of steep mountain ranges and channels. Despite this, these planets can experience short, thick muddy rainstorms and flash flooding. In their polar regions, this rain can freeze to form heavy, dirty flakes up to a foot in diameter. Major wind events occur with great regularity, eroding even the most colossal mountains into dappled purple and bright white dunes.
Younger worlds may still maintain seasonal seas able to support gentle elephantine land mammals. The hub of such a planet might be a shielded oasis that resembles something like a typical tropical island, serving as a vacation destination for affluent residents and visitors. Alternatively, civilization could be in the middle of transition after a planet-wide dust storm devastated the above-ground infrastructure, forcing residents to flee to other planets and leaving those with less resources behind to fend for themselves and forge a new way of life. When winter falls on such a planet, the thick atmosphere casts deep burgundy light onto the skeletons of former palaces, museums, apartments, schools, and markets, where creatures displaced by the storm begin to take up residence.
Though water is universally lacking on desert planets, deep underground aquifers might still rest under bygone forests, cities, and volcanic mountain ranges, allowing the world’s ecosystems to flourish. Where a reef once filled fishers’ nets, leathery terrestrial descendants of octopi might now flex their tentacles to hide among blighted coral, searching for prey to snap up with their razor-sharp beaks. The exposed bones of an ancient city could become overrun by innumerable brightly colored succulents, their roots running deep into unused sewer systems. A desert within a desert, large swaths of equatorial land may form into pools of slick, holographic glass that creates hallucinogenic refractions and audibly sizzles from miles away, often interfering with any technology that comes within range.