Niland Geyser
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Basic Information

Niland Geyser is a bubbling pool of water in California that is probably the worlds only sustained mobile mud puddle. Believe it or not, this pool of water has been declared a national emergency, because it’s basically a miniature mud volcano that won’t sit still. Or won’t sit still any more, because from 1953 through 2007 it sat there in the California desert like any normal pond or spring. Now, it moves about 20 feet in a typical year, but there was one single day in which it unexpectedly moved 60 feet, so it’s unpredictable.

It’s also way more dangerous than “mobile mud puddle” suggests, even though it rarely erupts like a typical geyser. It looks like a fairly normal pool of muddy water, but it sucks down heavy objects faster than quicksand, including swallowing up large rocks that the government tried to fill it in with to dam up its progress. So then the engineers moved ahead of it, dug down the equivalent of 5 stories, and sunk in a wall 75 foot tall. Just a matter of months later, the mud puddle broke the wall, and jumped to the other side. The exact mechanism of its movement is unknown. Engineers do their best to keep ahead of it, relocating train tracks and a highway, moving a fiberoptic cable above ground and out of the way, and fill in the giant hole it carves in its wake (so that no one falls in and dies).

Also, it releases a constant stream of carbon dioxide, which is usually invisible, but can sometimes be seen as a heavy fog around it on a cold day. If you were to enter that cloud, you would quickly asphyxiate.


1. Video: Physics Girl

Game and Story Use

  • There could be some sort of elemental, dragon, titan, demon or other ultraterrestrial creature sleeping or in a coma beneath the desert, and the mobile mudspring is a side effect of its fiery or watery form twisting and turning in its sleep.
    • Or the egg or larva of such a creature, and the motion of the pool is caused by its hatching or growth.
  • Or some powerful artifact with water-based powers is buried in the desert. A decanter of endless water releasing 40,000 gallons a day, and being slowly pushed through the deep mud by its own output.
  • Speaking of buried treasure, maybe it's a completely normal geyser, except there's something indestructible buried beneath the earth that the water is being deflected off of, so that it cuts laterally instead of bursting straight up vertically. A huge vein of phlebotinum maybe, or a crashed spaceship.
  • Could be a normal mudspring, but The Fair Folk are having a bit of fun, moving it around for their own amusement.
  • A Geomancer, Waterwitch or Stone-Flying Wizard might be responsible. Perhaps all those tracks, roads and wires were disrupting the feng shui or leyline energies of the area. They are tuning the energies, or fixing the problem by way of forcing utilities to move the offending infrastructure.
  • Even with a completely mundane cause, these could still be plenty interesting, especially if there were a bunch more like this.
  • Having one of these near the PCs castle or HQ could allow you to feature a slightly different battle map at every major showdown, to keep things tactically interesting despite a campaign frame that's likely to see a lot of fight scenes in the same area.
    • For example, a game set in the Wild West could have one of these in the middle of town. The impact on those duel at high noon situations would be minimal, but the minor variations would help keep it on the player's radar. When you have a big set-piece battle, like a bank robbery or something like the gunfight at the OK corral, the status of the map will matter more. You can also work in plot points like a stagecoach that gets sucked into the muck and needs rescue, or a building that collapses when the pond swallows it up.
      • It seems like a good match for Deadlands, since the cause could be a curse or deal with the devil. Then the PCs can't just say "let's move to the other end of town", as the devil's mud will follow them.
  • Ironically, you might struggle to introduce this to many RPG settings as your players may struggle to accept a moving geyser with no supernatural attributes.
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