"The nightmare is deepest during the storms. But on the occasional bright day and the usual gray day we cannot shake from it. We live with the dust, eat it, sleep with it, watch it strip us of possessions and the hope of possessions. It is becoming Real."
- Avis D. Carlson
The past decade has seen the Western prairies between the cities of the Steel League and the the Stoney Mountains become choked by dust. Over-farming and relentless drought left the topsoil with nothing to hold it in place, and so it blows across the land in large, dark clouds, giving the area its nickname, the Dustlands. The blighted land has given rise to twisted and wrathful elementals--malign spirits in the form of dust devils, and even cyclones. They crisscross the land, warring with each other, the strong consuming the weak and adding the substance of the vanquished to their own, growing larger in the process.
The big storms terrorize the isolated dirt-farmers and small communities that remain. They demand tribute or sacrifices, and sometimes even worship, in the manner of ancient gods. Would-be adventurers, and often opportunistic grifters, roam the Dustlands offering to free the oppressed folk from the yolk of the tornado tyrants. Sometimes these champions meet their deaths in the howling winds that scour flesh and fill lungs. When they succeed, the farmer-folk often just exchange one overlord for another.
Even the cyclone bosses go to ground when the black blizzards come. These are elementals, too, but tainted. The thaumaturgic horrors unleashed in the Great War, had an unforseen backlash. The primal elements were partially corrupted by entropic energies. The birth-trauma of the creation of these black-dust elementals has driven them hopelessly insane and caused them to lose all power of reason. They live only to destroy, descending on living things and blinding, then suffocating them--but only after a period of terror. Their energies being inherently unstable, they don't survive long on this plane--usually only a matter of hours, at most days--but that's more than long enough to bring death to the unwary.
After the black blizzard itself dissipates, their evil lives on in the form of black-dust "undead." There is a 20 percent chance that the suffocation of a person by by the storm will cause a remnant of the black-dust elemental's substance to absorb a portion of dying person's soul, and become a black-dust ghost, which is essentially a small elemental that believes itself to be the spirit of the person slain. [Similar to a air elemental, but only HD 4. They also have the knowledge, skills, and personality of the person emulated, albeit with distorted by anger at the living. They are not actually undead, and so have no undead traits.]