Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
This post is brought to you by beloved Patreon backer Arthur Brown. Thanks for helping keep the lights on! If you want to help keep this blog going alongside Arthur, head over to the Patreon page – and thank you!
Image credit: Tormod Sandtorv. Released under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
Doorway to Hell
Over 40 years ago, a drilling mishap may have led to a gaping, 230-foot-wide fiery crater ripping open the otherwise barren desert landscape of northern Turkmenistan. Soviet scientists supposedly set fire to the crater to burn off noxious gases after the ground under one of their drilling rigs gave way. The scientists underestimated the reserves of fuel below, as the fire they set has burned for more than four decades. Only recently, in 2013, did anyone voluntarily embark on an expedition to reach the bottom of the hellish pit. The crater is surrounded by nothing but desert. Tourist outfits come by, and people drive out on motorcycles, trucks, and sometimes camels. Nothing stops someone from driving up, walking over to the edge, and leaping into the pit of Hell.
Your first impression of the Darvaza Crater may be that it’s something ripped from a science fiction film. You are in a vast, sprawling desert with almost nothing around except for this gaping, burning bit. Natural gas fueling the fire warps the air until shimmering, dancing flames devour it. Standing at the crater’s edge, you have to shield your face from the scorching heat it constantly radiates.
To make the journey to the bottom of the hundred-foot-deep crater, you will want to arm yourself with a heat-reflective suit, a self-contained breathing apparatus, and a Kevlar climbing harness. Passing over the pit, via a rope-rigging system, gives you a straight-down view of a scene almost like another planet. Keep checking your air, clear your ropes, manage your fear, and then you can admire the beauty of the coliseum of flames. The gas burns clean, so there is no smoke to obscure your view. You can see every little lick of flame and all you can hear is the thousand small fires burning together in a roaring, high-pressure symphony like the sound of a jet engine. You are a small, vulnerable speck staring down into an entrance to Hell.
A descent straight down gives you the benefit of not having to traverse through walls of flame to reach the bottom, but you are still engulfed in an incredible heat, despite the suit. The distortion caused by the gas is even thicker, but flames cure it. The bottom of the crater is a collection of scorched sand and crumbled rock. Microbial life-forms thrive in the hot, methane-rich environment, but they are too small for the bare eye to see. Instead, you are at the center of the fiery coliseum, as if you are a contender in a demonic pit fight. If not for the suit, the gases radiating from the crater floor would choke you to death before any demon could approach.
Darvaza Crater in Play
The discovery of life at the bottom of the Darvaza Crater inspires scientists to explore planets that resemble the conditions inside the pit for possible life, so at the table, a location like the Darvaza Crater could be used as a portal to a world with alien lifeforms. Your PCs would have to be equipped to handle the heat and prepared to face an environment similar to descriptions of Hell.