Water infrastructure on Athas: Collecting, cooling, refrigeration, and irrigation

Something we can glean from the various adventures and novels in Tyr, is that Under-Tyr has fairly extensive sewers and tunnels. Water in the setting always seems to rely on a local spring or aquifer by means of direct drawing through wells and pumps. That’s all well and good, and would certainly be done, but there is a method of irrigation and cooling that I’m shocked to say has not even been mentioned on this site once by my search yesterday! That is, the Qanat! Qanat - Wikipedia
A long tunnel punctuated by vertical venting shafts, these are dug by specialized teams into hills and mountains to access the higher water table and bring water out of the otherwise underutilized mountain watershed. Essentially, they are long underground aqueducts that can be attached to agriculture, homes, or other works. A building with a connection to the Qanat tunnel and a wind tower may utilize a form of evaporative cooling to draw air through the tunnels, cooling it up to 59F/15C compared to outdoor temperatures and providing a pleasantly damp basement in the arid desert climate. They’ve been in use for at least 1000 years on Earth.
These sort of evaporative cooling systems can be so effective a to create ice-boxes, and have been utilized in this method even longer than Qanats, with records as far back as 400BCE attesting to these structures Yakhchāl - Wikipedia

The cities may already utilize this sort of technology, but it would be a great addition to any druid’s arsenal in restoring Athas if it is not yet in use!

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Somehow I forgot possibly the best irrigation engine for a labor-surplus like Athas’ - the noria! Combined with qanats the mountains can make the deserts blossom green!

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A natural feature here that may play a prominent role in many settlements’ survival. This sort of formation is extremely common, and many mountains and valleys have these in abundance. They often flow directly beneath seasonal creeks, streams, etc. that only appear on the surface during rains. An example not listed here that I’m somewhat familiar with is Dry Creek in Lafayette, Georgia


We did something similar (but not the same) in The Emissary with Verdant Promise Oasis.


These would be awesome is use but I would do so rarely, as an abundance of these would remove some of the harshness of the setting.


Yes, to me this sort of thing is good for party activities, particularly in a focused “Druids and Preservers: The Restoration of Athas” plotline, but in terms of NPCs and existing in the world it takes special knowledge that is relatively rare for sure or for which manpower or the resource is not available. There is one example of a noria that @IAmGiff pointed me to in Verdant Passage (I’ve been rereading but slowly) at the Asticles estate, but this was potentially a result of his agricultural knowledge from collaborating with the druid Kitarak. However the Mericles estate is also 5 miles outside Tyr despite the king’s fields only being a 3-mile ring and surrounded by scrubland so the exact prevalence of this sort of irrigation tech is not certain. I believe more is addressed in the council meetings after Kalak’s demise


Thank you for the ideas and input.
I use Saqiyah (Saqiyah - Wikipedia) in some places in my campaign, powered by carrus or by slaves, rather than norias that need large streams of water to power them, though (or was it the device you ment to lift the water ?).

For different kind of oasis, you can also have a look at this site, it is in french, but the schematics are quite self explanatory : Systèmes hydrauliques traditionnels dans l’Oasis - LabOasis
If you want to use a more unusual way to get water in the middle of nowhere, you can put a place that gets its water by air wells : Air well (condenser) - Wikipedia, but it is more high tech for Dark Sun (I used them in a village built on ruins where some air wells were still functioning, their technology lost long ago).

I tend to use lush oases to explain why some villages can boast hundreds of inhabitants and how large tribes can survive in the wastelands of Athas. It really depends on how consistent you want to be, but I like the dynamic it creates : attraction of raiders tribes and monsters, trade, etc.


I first became aware of the word Noria from the game Anno 1404 and have apparently been using it to mean Saqiyah (though historically there is some interchangeability depending on time and place) which is how it’s used in the game as well. Basically a screw-pump, typically powered by wind or muscle power. I think in a place as desperate as Athas, Air Wells/Wind Traps (at least in form of passive condensers) would have been developed, the extreme conditions forcing specialized development. Powered models are unlikely, but powerful rain, air, or water clerics as well as druids and maybe certain psionicists would be able to design them, I don’t think mundane experts would necessarily be able to develop their architecture enough to do such a project on their own due to lack of resources. I agree oases are absolutely critical to Athasian life, and make for strong agricultural centers in the wastes which allows for complex plots in places otherwise lacking.

These cooling fountains would be ubiquitous in noble and merchants houses. I believe they’re even described as present in Hamanu’s palace in the Urik novels, though not by their proper name. The associated “Sabil” kiosk is also likely to be the form state wells take in the various city-states (except perhaps Gulg with their monarcho-primitivism lol)


For those interested, the description of the village with aerial wells in my campaign.


The village of Rhasal stands amidst stony barrens, built upon the remnants of an ancient city. The ruins of this former city have been repurposed by the current inhabitants to construct their homes and defenses. Traces of the past are omnipresent throughout the village, where eroded stone walls form the foundations of houses, and fragments of columns and arches support the new buildings. At the heart of Rhasal, several imposing conical stone towers proudly stand, bearing witness to the craftsmanship of the ancients who once inhabited this place. A palm grove and a fig orchard, under which barley is also cultivated, extend just outside the village.

Main Buildings
Aerial Wells
The monumental conical towers of Rhasal, made of stone and clay, reach nearly 25 meters in height. Large protrusions resembling sails are arranged in a spiral around each tower. These intriguing edifices, designed and built by the ancients, allow the condensation of nighttime air moisture, capturing water that feeds two large underground cisterns and irrigates the village’s palm grove and fig orchard, where barley is grown for the sustenance of the inhabitants. Of the original eight aerial wells, only five are still operational, the others having been repurposed or dismantled for other uses.

Council Tower
Formerly an aerial well, this imposing tower has been converted into a central building housing a large meeting room and the council chamber that governs the village. Its height has been reduced to about fifteen meters, its top now forming a flat roof.

The village is surrounded by a robust wall built from the stones of the ancient ruins, protecting its inhabitants from external threats. A watchtower, converted from a dilapidated aerial well, has been turned into a solid defense, equipped with firing posts for ballistae, vigilantly watching the horizon.

Key Characters
Matriarch Selma - Head of the council of Rhasal, Selma is a wise and respected leader. A former warrior, she now uses her experience to guide and protect her people.
Engineer Joram - Responsible for the maintenance and optimization of the aerial wells, the dwarf Joram is a born engineer. He has dedicated his life to studying the techniques of the ancients and understanding their workings, just like his predecessors. Half of the inhabitants of Rhasal village are dwarves who, like Joram, have dedicated their focus to the study and maintenance of the aerial wells.
Captain Rael - Commander of the guard of Rhasal, Rael is a skilled tactician and formidable fighter. He leads the village’s defense and ensures the training of the villagers so that everyone is ready to defend the village if necessary.