Monday, February 2, 2015

"Boots!", Chapter 1 of The Menace of the Swords through the Gate of the Icy Spire

This week starts a new story with an all new team of adventurers: Joroon's Dragoons!

The dragoons brave an unnatural blizzard to track down villagers who have been kidnapped by strange snow-goblins (snoblins) and taken to an abandoned wizard's tower.

Joroon's Dragoons:
  • Joroon Hicks, Hillfolk Storyteller
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina
  • Arrn Anduin, Human Fighter and Mage-Slayer, cousin of Dornan
  • Dornan Anduin, Human Paladin of Vengeance, cousin of Arne
Not Appearing This Week:
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage
  • Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Azi** Priest of Bahamut

*Sylvan = A fancy name for Forest Elves
**Azi = What Dragonborn call themselves

Joroon and Gravy traveled from the Secret Citadel to the city of Swallow to deliver a letter from Valerius to his wife. Having done so, they stopped off at the local notice board to post a bill. Joroon was a storyteller. He sought out interesting people and situations in order to inspire his stories. Valerius and Absolom were retiring from the adventurous lifestyle so he needed to recruit a new team to follow. His bill proclaimed, "Heroes Wanted".
Joroon recruits new heroes.

While he was posting his notice, a female voice inquired, "Oh, do you need heroes too? I'm afraid I'm in dire need of them myself."

Joroon turned to see a young woman with red braids wearing a thick woolen mantle. Joroon introduced himself and inquired about the lady's trouble. She introduced herself as Anna, younger daughter of the archon of Choke. She had come to Swallow seeking mercenaries to rescue townspeople who had been kidnapped by strange invaders from Mount Zacha, invaders who appeared to be half-bear and half-goblin with white fur and blue skin! She fears that her sister may also have been kidnapped!

Joroon invited Anna into a nearby inn to listen to her story. 

Gravy often wonders where everybody went.
A Princess' Tale
She said it all started a few months ago when her sister, Elsa, began secretly exhibiting unusual magical abilities. First, her hair turned silver-white. Then she began to spontaneously cast spells. It was becoming obvious that Elsa was a sorceress with in-born magical ability. She kept her powers secret for several months. Coincidentally, the overall temperature of the valley began to drop and the region saw a cold winter for the first time ever. However, the cold seemed centered over nearby Mount Zacha, not over Choke itself.

A few days ago, her father, the archon, became aware of Elsa's secret abilities when she accidentally froze him, almost killing him in the process. Horrified at what she'd done, she fled the village. 

The archon, unfortunately, had been mortally wounded from frostbite. As he lay on his deathbed, he confessed to Anna a terrible secret. Elsa was the victim of a terrible curse. Years ago, a wizard calling himself the Ice King threatened the entire valley. He was ultimately defeated and banished to another dimension. Before he was exiled, the Ice King promised that the archon's first-born daughter would one day belong to him, and that he would return to claim the girl as his bride!

After the Ice King was banished, the archon never gave it a second thought. But the emergence of Elsa's powers made him wonder if this was somehow connected to the Ice King's threat, and that the Ice King was returning. 

Search parties were sent to find lady Elsa, and tracks in the newly fallen snow, unheard of in these parts, indicated flight up the slopes of Mount Zacha, towards the haunted tower that once was home to the evil Ice King. The search parties encountered bands of strange humanish creatures, part bear, part goblin, with blue skin and white fur, some were small like goblins, others were as large as bears. These search parties fled.

The night the archon died, a powerful blizzard battered the valley. The guards of choke were huddled in their towers against the cold and did not see the advance of the dozens of goblin-bears and bear-goblins. They swarmed over the walls and opened the gates, defeating the meager guards and swarming into the village. They captured dozens of prisoners and made off into the night.

That was two nights ago. Anna made her way to Swallow today to seek help. She first sought the aid of Archon Hrundinin of Swallow. The archon denied her any help. Second, she sought assistance from the Temple of Justice. Demi-Magistrate Zhamach refused to help as this was not a matter of justice or injustice. 

Frustrated, she turned to the notice board, where she met Joroon. She needed to hire a team to rescue not only the captured townspeople, but find and return her sister. She was willing to compensate them 500 gold pieces.

A stranger's voice made an unexpected comment, "That's quite a story."

Joroon, startled, inquired the stranger, a human male with dark hair, of his identity. 

"I am Arrn Anduin. This is my cousin Dornan Anduin. We're bounty hunters. We specialize in wizards and mages. It sounds like you've got a problem with a wizard. We can help you."
Arrn Anduin, Wizard Hunter
 After a brief interview, Joroon welcomed the two newcomers to the team. 

The Wolves of Winter
The next morning Joroon, Gravy, Arrn, and Dornan, aka "Joroon's Dragoons" purchased some cold cold weather equipment, heavy over-clothes, a sled, and an ibex to pull it. Dornan eyed a pair of magic boots in the curio shop. The proprietor promised Dornan that the boots protected the wearer from cold weather, allowed one to walk unimpeded atop the softest snow, and kept the wearer warm no matter the temperature. Dornan considered the purchase, but instead went with the javelin that once belonged to Bijali, the demi-god of Lightning. He would later come to rue this decision. Their shopping done, the company set off up the 12-mile trail to Choke, a morning's journey under normal conditions now made difficult by knee-deep snow and driving icy winds. Joroon instructed Anna to stay behind in Swallow where it was safe.

The going was slow and treacherous. At one point, while passing between two large boulders, they were set upon by two massive white wolves. The supernatural wolves immediately exhaled an icy blast upon the party. Upon feeling the freezing effects of the breath of the white wolves, Dornan shouted, "I should have bought the boots!"

The party retaliated. They killed one wolf and seriously injured the second when it surrendered, shouting "Stop! Stop! I surrender! If you let me go, I'll tell you useful information!"

The party, stunned by the talking wolf, held their attack. Joroon stepped forth. "What are you?"

"I am a Winter Wolf. We normally live high on the mountain peaks where there is snow. We rarely come down this far into the valley. It is normally too warm for us. But this weather has opened new hunting grounds for us all! My brother and I saw you pork-on-two-legs, and we were hungry, so we attacked. All hail the return of the Ice King!"

"Where does the Ice King live?"

"He lives in the old tower on the mountain, the tower known as the Icy Spire. He is protected by his snoblins and his gunthers. I have given you useful information, now let me go!"

Joroon honored his deal and the winter wolf slowly backed away before turning and disappearing into the blowing snow. 

The swirling grey sky had darkened to the color of charcoal when the dragoons arrived, weary and injured, at the gates of Choke. 

Choke was a small walled village with a temple, a home for the archon, and a sawmill powered by a water wheel. The town was protected by a wooden palisade. The name Choke came from the narrowing of the Xanthus River. Here the river plunges under a layer of harder rock, creating a natural dam and land bridge. The river then roars out of its subterranean funnel into a deep gorge. The village harnesses the power of the river using large water wheels, which in turn drive the saws. 

That night, the dragoons did what they could to help the village. Some used their skills in carpentry to help repair the town gates while Joroon told the huddling survivors stories of bravery to ease the tension and fear they all felt.

Off to See the Wizard
The next morning, the team assembled to head across the natural bridge and up the slopes of Mount Zacha to the Icy Spire, aka the Tower of the Ice King. 

The tower lay only four miles away but more than three thousand feet of elevation stood in their way. The tower was perched on the edge of a mountain ridge overlooking Choke. Dark clouds swirled overhead, the center of the clouds directly above location of the tower. There was no path to the tower, the party had to blaze their own trail.

Dornan led the way, but after one hour, it was clear that party was no closer to their destination. Arne took over and led the rest of the way. The party climbed steep rocks and vertical cliffs covered in snow. Several times Gravy, Dornan, or Joroon took an injurious fall. Dornan once again decried, "Why didn't I buy the boots?!" Finally, they were atop the ridge and in sight of their destination. Ahead of them, half a mile away, was the tower, totally encased in a large spike of ice. Blue light shone from its roof, pointing to the epicenter of the swirling clouds.

Joroon spotted several small dark shapes hiding among the rocks. Snoblins! They were hiding among tall rocks a few hundred feet in front of the tower. Having detected the ambush, the party took a wide detour, arriving behind the ambush but still needing to pass between the snoblins. 

Joroon's Dragoons attacked. Although the snoblins saw them coming, they were still flanked. A fight erupted among the three small hills, with the majority of the fighting taking place on the larger hill with the snoblin witch-doctor.  Shortbow fire filled the sky with smallish arrows as the snoblin witch-doctor tried to flee, all the while casting ice spells at his pursuers. Bearing the brunt of many of the spells, Dornan could be heard to cry out, "Agghhh!! Boots!!!"

The snoblins were soon defeated and the company rested for an hour before continuing on to the tower.

The Guardians of the Icy Spire
The tower was covered in several feet of glacial ice. A tunnel led to the entrance of the tower, itself covered in over a foot of ice. A dozen stone statues of gruesome creatures sat on pedestals lining the path to the entrance. A small winged statue was entombed in ice, perched over the doorway. 

Arrn and Dornan started hacking and chipping away the ice. Huge chunks broke off, freeing the top half of the door. Freed from its ice, the winged statue came to life, launching itself into the air. Simultaneously, four of the statues came to life. 

The stone guardians attacked the intruders, attempting to defend the tower. As the statues were damaged, stone chunks fell away, revealing robotic armatures underneath. The statues were soon defeated. 

Arne tried to open the door but found that, even with all his strength, he could not. Joroon then set himself to the doors lock with his lockpicks and soon had the door unlocked, dispelling the wards placed upon the door as he did so.

The company opened the door and entered into the tower of the Ice King. 
Dornan regretted not buying the boots.

After Thoughts
This story is a mash-up of two separate adventures, a popular film, and a popular TV series. The first part is Menace of the Icy Spire by Sean Molley, a Fourth Edition scenario that appeared online in Dungeon Magazine 159. That story was about unnatural cold coming to a village and the PCs seeking out the wizard tower that is the source of the trouble.

The second is Swords Through the Ice Gate by Mike Mearls, who would later go on to be lead designer for Fifth Edition, a Third Edition scenario that appeared in the compilation module Nature's Fury. That story was about unnatural cold coming to a village and the PCs tracking the kidnapped villagers through a gate into another dimension, what would later be called the Frostfell.

The two scenarios just happen to go well together because the first ENDS with a gate to a dimension of unnatural cold and the other BEGINS with a gate to a dimension of unnatural cold. I just changed some of the details.

Of course, I'm also adding in Frozen, about unnatural cold coming to a village and the PCs tracking down the princess in order to stop her. Plus I'm throwing in a dash of Adventure Time, about unnatural cold coming to the kingdom of Ooo in the form of the Ice Kingdom.

I thought it would take longer for my table of forty-something dudes to catch on to the Frozen angle, but as soon as I described Anna with red braids, they immediately asked, "Where's your sister, Elsa?"

Dammit! Surprise ruined!

I had a bit of trouble converting some of the 4E opponents to 5E. In the original module, the "snoblins" were "frost goblins", which are essentially regular goblins with cold immunity. They were easy to convert. The goblin hexer, however, doesn't have an equivalent in 5E, so I started with a goblin chieftain, swapped DEX for INT, and made him a wizard with a few low-level spells, notably Ray of Frost, of course, and Burning Hands, which became Freezing Hands.

Later, they party ran across the defenders of the tower: four Iron Defenders and a Clay Scout. I substituted Animated Armor for all five, but I gave a flight speed and a Mind Touch ranged attack to the Clay Scout. I flubbed the Mind Touch, though. In 4E it was an attack against the target's Reflex defense that does damage and dazes the target. Except that there's no Reflex defense or Daze condition in 5E, so I just ignored it. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have eliminated the attack and made it a DEX save vs. a static number with the effect of making the Clay Scout invisible to the victim.

Finally, a warning. The Winter Wolves were CR 3 monsters. A single Winter Wolf is a challenge to a third level party. I had a party of four sixth level characters, and I could have TPKed the party. Both Winter Wolves recharged their breath weapon before they died and had I not ignored this, it would have been a bloodbath.

Also, a quick scan of the notes said that Winter Wolves blah blah blah Common and Giant, so my Winter Wolves spoke Common. Unfortunately, it said they UNDERSTAND Common and Giant, not talk it. I shrugged and said "Fuck it! This one talks!" and why not?  It was awesome.

I'm going to have more monsters talk more often. Plus, in a story inspired by Frozen, it was a very Disney  moment.

Next week: Olaf the Ice Golem! Gunther the Gunther Shaman!