The Dark Lands is a stark and cheerless place where nature has rent the ground and burst the mountains apart. Amongst the peaks volcanoes spew black smoke into the filthy sky. In the plains the stench of tar pits and oil pools hangs heavily in the air. Steaming lava from beneath the earth's crust covers the ash wastes with a blanket of bubbling magma. It is bordered on both sides by the Worlds Edge Mountains and the Mountains of Mourn. Almost nothing can grow in the Dark Lands. The dim light and choking air combine to ensure that the land remains devoid of vegetation, except for a few straggly black thorns. The volcanoes and gaping pits bring up all kinds of minerals and gems from beneath the earth: gold and silver, iron and copper, diamonds and sapphires, as well as sulphur, oil and tar. It is a land rich in the materials that Dwarfs especially covet.[1a]
The Dark Lands is divided in several regions.
- Blasted Wastes - The parched lands of the Blasted Wastes are a great desert that supports very little life. The powerful winds that cross this land have long since destroyed the fragile ecosystems that once existed here. Scattered tribes of nomadic goblins live in valleys and hills; ambushing caravans and attacking other tribes to survive. Sand storms and the burning sun will force many traveling parties to fight for the shelter of caves, and access to water holes. One of the most notorious inhabitants of the Blasted Wastes was Grimgor Ironhide and his elite Black Orcs, Da Immortulz.
- Desolation of Azgorh - In an age before the race of dwarfs had even known of the Dark Lands, the ancient volcano Azgorh erupted with such force that it blew itself apart. Never before had such devastating force been known by mortals. The ash cloud blowing south was seen as far away as Khemri, and the sound of the explosion was recorded by elves in what is now Bretonnia. The colossal forces unleashed on the lands between the Ash Ridge Mountains and what would later be the Mines of Gorgoth rent the ground asunder from earthquakes and pyroclastic flows. This carved the landscape into a labyrinth of razor sharp rocks and vents of toxic steam, where no creatures or plants will live. Only the most foolhardy adventurers would seek to travel through these lands in search of precious minerals. The Desolation of Azgorh is also known for its sulphur pits.
- Gash Kadrak - Gash Kadrak, the Vale of Woe, is a large cleft in the northern Mountains of Mourn to the east of the Plain of Zharr that is inhabited chiefly by the Sneaky Git Hobgoblin tribe and numerous slaves of the Chaos Dwarfs, who are overseen by the cruel Hobgoblins.
- Gnoblar Country - A hilly country north of Pigbarter, relatively fecund, and once teeming with warrens of Gnoblars and Hill Goblins, until predations from slave raids, arrowhawks, and the Pigbarter townsfolk's javelin-sport of Runtspike severely reduced the native population.
- Howling Wastes - These bleak plains are forever plagued by a thin, devil-spawned wind that whips across the blighted landscape and pulls at ones clothes and hair like the grasping fingers of mean-spirited children. Upon the wind are carried voices, horrible voices that whenever the wind picks up rise into a wailing clamour like the protests of the damned.Since the disastrous test of the Hammer of Hashut, the Howling Wastes also serve as a test area for the Chaos Dwarf Death Rockets, due to its distance from Chaos Dwarf settlements. These desolate plains are plagued by near-constant gale force winds that shriek and scream across the blasted heath..
- Plain of Zharr - Also called the Plain of Zharrduk, it is the great mineral rich meteor crater that is the main population area of the Chaos Dwarfs. It houses their capital city, Zharr-Naggrund and also much of their industrial projects. The Plain is choked with pits of molten tar, rivers of burning oil, massive stockpiles of coal and other effluence of industry, pock-marked with countless pits and mines and home to many thousands of workshops and factories. Nothing is able to grow there, but despite this the Chaos Dwarfs remain in their ruined homeland because of its near-inexhaustible mineral wealth. Only one watercourse passes through the Plain of Zharr, the polluted River Ruin which enters from the mountains to the north and leaves choked with filth and waste.
- Scalded Delta - The delta of the River Ruin as it pours into the Sea of Dread. The swamp smells strongly of sulphur and the waters are heated near boiling - possibly a result of the volcanic activity of the region, possibly due to some industrial pollution from the Chaos Dwarfs to the north.
- Wolf Lands - Amidst the barren lands and wind carved rocks south of the Barren Wastes are the Wolf Lands, populated by the vicious breeds of wolf that give this area its name. The constant struggle for survival has long since killed off the weaker breeds of creatures, and only the strongest and fiercest exist. The hunting packs of wolves stalk the lands around Crookback Mountain and Mt. Grey Hag in search of prey, and are a continual source of danger to any who will travel unprotected in these lands.
- Zorn Uzkul - Zorn Uzkul, the Great Skull Land is a vast plateau lying to the north of the Plain of Zharr. It is said to be extremely inhospitable, consisting only of barren rock as far as the eye can see and with thin, cold air. It was the sight of this desolate land that caused most of the migrating Dwarfs to turn south and retreat from the region, leaving their more adventurous kin to explore and later become the ancestors of the modern Chaos Dwarfs. In recent history, it was briefly home to the horde of Grimgor Ironhide, who crossed the Worlds Edge Mountains in search of a greater challenge. While there he and his warriors fought against the Kurgan tribe known as the Yusak and became a target for marauder warbands of all descriptions who sought to prove themselves against the "Green Daemon". It wasn't until Archaon's assault on the Empire that Grimgor left these lands, returning to the Old World to take part in the Storm of Chaos. Zorn Uzkul is named for the bones of great beasts that come to the desolate region to die. These bones carpet the plateau, forming towering mounds of ivory.
- Black Fortress - The Black Fortress is a stronghold west of the River Ruin opposite Flayed Rock, and south of the Sentinels. It is avoided by traders of the Ivory Road when travelling south to the Spice Route.
- Daemon's Stump - The Daemon's Stump is located south-east of the Plain of Zharr on edge of the Mountains of Mourn. The River Ruin flows just east of its location. In the year -2130 (IC), an Ogre and a Bloodthirster had a great battle in the Dark Lands, and the The Bloodthirster was imprisoned in a great pillar of rock that was from then on known as the Daemon's Stump. The Daemon's Stump is referred to as a Chaos Dwarf stronghold. It is speculated that the Chaos Dwarf stronghold was built atop the Daemon's Stump sometime following the defeat of the Bloodthirster, as evidenced by the pictorial representation on maps featuring this structure.
- Tower of Gorgoth - Deep within the remains of the long extinct volcano Azgorh, the Dawi Zharr found there to be vast seams of precious minerals. Untold numbers of slaves have been brought here over the centuries and the mines have developed into an extensive network, as well as a number of hellish furnaces. As the seams get deeper, they require increasing numbers of slaves to dig and numerous slave trading clans have set up permanent residence within the Tower of Gorgoth itself. "Of the original mining colonies, the greatest was the Tower of Gorgoth, a black poisoned dagger sunk deep into the infertile earth of the south. Although its resources are now almost depleted, Gorgoth still operates as a slave labour camp, the largest of its kind, where many of those captured by the Chaos Dwarfs can expect to end their days."
- Uzkulak - Uzkulak, the Place of the Skull, is the northernmost stronghold in the Chaos Dwarf empire, which sits at the opening of the tunnel beneath Zorn Uzkul that connects the River Ruin to the Sea of Chaos. As a port to the north, Uzkulak is a central location for the gathering of the Chaos Dwarf fleet when they ply the seas for slaves. Its proximity to The High Pass and the Road of Skulls also makes it a convenient stronghold for forces raiding into Kislev.
- Zharr-Naggrund - Zharr-Naggrund, also known as "The Tower of Zharr-Naggrund" and "Mingol Zharr-Naggrund", is the capital city of the Chaos Dwarfs and lies in the heart of their empire, in the centre of the Plain of Zharr. Its name means "Place of Fire and Desolation" in the language of Dwarfs. The city is built of obsidian in levels to form a great ziggurat; legends have it the ziggurat was not built, but magically carved from a single black mountain thousands of years ago by the most powerful Chaos Dwarf Sorcerers. The lowest ranks of Chaos Dwarf society are found towards the bottom of the ziggurat, while atop the massive stepped structure lies The Temple of Hashut. Across this gargantuan industrial city, the Chaos Dwarfs work unceasingly. Huge workshops with mechanical forge hammers work night and day beating out a cacophony of noise that can be heard from many miles away. From all across the city towering chimneys rise to pierce the sky, spilling out their black smoke and covering the lands in a perpetual choking darkness. Hundreds of ziggurats built from black obsidian stretch out as far as the eye can see, each illuminated ominously by flaming torches. The four gates of the city, one on each side of the ziggurat, are immense beyond any practical need, bound with iron and stretching up to the battlements on the steps of the vast pyramid, which bristle with arcane engines of destruction and pierce the tortured sky like fangs. Traveling towards the centre of the city and the Temple of Hashut the Chaos Dwarfs have built two roads paved with slabs of gold and brass, aligned east and west to the points of a compass. Each passes over several bridges, under which the Chaos Dwarfs use a network of roads and steam wagons to live and work. From the northern gateway the River Ruin passes through, cooling forges throughout the city and carrying other waste out the southern gateway. The road to Zharr-Naggrund is lined with strange statues, which are actually Chaos Dwarf Sorcerers whose bodies have turned to stone after a lifetime of using their dark brand of magic.
- Crookback Mountain - The largest Skaven stronghold in the Dark Lands, Crookback Mountain is the stronghold of Clan Rictus, which is known for the large number of Stormvermin it breeds. Originally a Goblin hold, Crookback Mountain was conquered by Clan Rictus around the time of Sigmar. The Skaven mine iron and copper at Crookback Mountain and mount slaving operations against the Goblins of Mt. Grey Hag and Mt. Grimfang. The Skaven also mount expeditions across the surface of the Dark Lands to retrieve warpstone meteorites, but they face Orcs, Goblin Wolf Riders, and Chaos Dwarf slavers. Other Skaven clans must pay a toll to Clan Rictus to pass through Crookback Mountain, in and out of the Dark Lands.
- Pigbarter - A trading settlement where the Spice Route meets the River Ruin, shrouded by the acrid yellow fug produced by that poisoned stream. The ground level is a ramshackle shantytown occupied by Goblins and Gnoblars, market stalls crowd the small, crooked streets where boars rut openly. Human houses are raised up on wormwood, centipede and louse-ridden stilts above, their rims and supporting beams studded with nails and sharpened glass to keep the Greenskins out. Traders use large eagle owls to protect their goods during the night, and any Goblins caught thieving are staked to the roofs of the stilt-houses as a treat for the huge birds. During the day the town is a busy marketplace, and pig-jousting is a favoured form of entertainment.
- The Sentinels - A pair of gigantic standing stones and a trading post, just west of the River Ruin, along the Ivory Road. It is the last place before crossing the River Ruin that traders can buy Rhinoxen and provisions before reaching the Ogre Kingdoms. The trading post has been hollowed out from the smaller standing stones and rocks that surround the base of the Sentinels. Horses, mules, and rhinoxen are kept in rough paddocks, tied to the stones by great iron rings. Ogre mercenaries and Gnoblars can also be bought.
- Fortress of Vorag - The Fortress of Vorag was built by the Ghoul King Vorag Bloodytooth, with the aid of enslaved Chaos Dwarfs and Goblins, only for it to later fall into ruin when Vorag was destroyed.
- River Ruin - The great waterway of the Dark Lands, the River Ruin is fed by the streams and rivers of the Mountains of Mourn. In the north, it is connected to the Sea of Chaos by a great underground canal carved from the Falls of Doom to Uzkulak; in the south it empties through the Scalded Delta to the Sea of Dread.As the river passes Zharr Naggrund, it is polluted with all manner of toxic and industrial wastes, effluence, scrap metals and the bodies of slaves. These pollutants have long since killed off any life that could exist in the river itself, and very few creatures will now live along the river banks. At very few places can the river be safely crossed, this makes it an ideal natural defence against all the denizens who populate the Mountains of Mourn and the lands beyond. The great caravans from the East will usually use the Ivory Ford or the docks at Pigbarter to cross the river.