Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Champions of Urglorz" Chapter 3 of The Menace of the Swords through the Gate of the Icy Spire

Joroon's Dragoons have yet another change in line-up as they take on Gorak, leader of the Grunthers, in ritual combat.

Inza, totally not some kind of magic drow in a human disguise

Joroon's Dragoons:
  • Joroon Hicks, Hillfolk* Storyteller
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan** parentage
  • Arrn Anduin, Human Fighter and Mage-Slayer, cousin of Dornan
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk*** Barbarian
  • Dornan Anduin, Human Paladin of Vengeance, cousin of Arne
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior
* Hillfolk = Halflings from the Slopes of the Great Wall Mountains
** Sylvan = A fancy name for Forest Elves
*** Prairiefolk = Halflings from the northern plains

A Good Night's Sleep, Hot Meal, and a Lot of Exposition
Joroon's Dragoons took the grunther shaman Urglorz up on his offer of a night's rest and a warm meal of fatty gruel cooked over a magical fire. Urglorz's cave was cozy compared to the frigid climate outside. They learned that no normal fire would stay lit for long in this world and that Urglorz, as a shaman, was able to create magical flames that resisted the extinguishing cold. As a native of this realm Urglorz was more accustomed to the magical cold flame of his own people. However, he had learned that the people of the world of all elements needed the hot element of Imix to sustain life, so he obliged.

While they rested, each of Joroon's Dragoons took turns reading one of the books taken from the Ice King's tower. After several hours of reading, they had learned the following facts:

The Ice King was once a sage and antiquarian named Simon Petrikov. He was not a wizard and had no supernatural powers. He gained his magical ability when he obtained the crown of Urgence Evergreen, an artifact from an earlier pre-human age.
Simon Petrikov was once romantically involved with an adventuress named Elizabeth. Elizabeth obtained antiques and artifacts for Simon to study and sell. It was Elizabeth that obtained the crown on one of her adventures. She gave it to Simon to study and re-sell.
The crown is known as the Crown of Urgence Evergreen, a pre-human wizard contemporary with ancient Nagina Samrajya. Urgence Evergreen created the crown using ruby eyes from a lava titan and infusing the gold with the spirit and power of Cryonax. Its original purpose was to destroy the asteroid that threatened the world during that time. He failed and the kingdom of Nagina Samrajya was destroyed.
According to various contradictory legends, the Crown of Urgence Evergreen grants the following powers:
  • Immunity to cold
  • Ice Storm
  • Wall of Ice
  • Cone of Cold
  • Fog Cloud
  • Icy Ray
  • Chill Touch
  • Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere
  • Slow
  • Grease
  • Cloud of Daggers
  • Sleet Storm
It is also rumored that removing the crown from the wearer's head will cause the wearer to lose all of the wizard powers gained. 
Simon did not re-sell the crown. Instead, he started wearing it. Simon also started studying wizardry and conjuration. In addition, he became obsessed with the primordial Cryonax, the Prince of the Frostfell. He began researching ways to free Cryonax from his imprisonment in the Shadowfell.
Elizabeth did not like the influence the crown had on Simon, but Simon refused to take off the crown. Simon fell farther and farther into madness. Unable to help her friend, Elizabeth left Simon. She eventually married the Archon of Choke.
Simon, now calling himself the Ice King, kidnapped Elizabeth from Choke. His plan was to cast a spell to imbue Elizabeth with the immortal essence of Cryonax. He would then marry her and father a child. The child would reunite the essence of Cryonax with the spirit trapped within the crown. The child would reunite the two parts of and would be born the living reincarnation of Crynoax, freeing the primordial prince from his imprisonment in the Shadowfell and releasing him into the world of all elements.
In addition the information gleaned from the various books, the group was able to make the following deductions.
 Elizabeth must have managed to escape. During her escape, she somehow tricked the Ice King into passing through a portal into the Frostfell. Then she deactivated the portal and used her new-found ice powers to seal the tower in magical ice that would never melt, trapping the Ice King within the Frostfell forever.

The essence of Cryonax must have still lived within Elizabeth. When Elsa was born, the essence must have passed from the mother to the daughter. The essence remained dormant until this year. That's when Anna said that Elsa's began displaying powers and accidentally killed her father.
When Elsa’s powers manifested, she must have fallen under the influence of the essence of Cryonax. She was therefore compelled to return to the tower and enter the magical ice that imprisoned it. She made her way to the top and somehow reopened the portal. The portal has remained open since then, allowing the Ice King’s minions, the grunthers, to enter.
The Ice King's new plan must be to to marry Elizabeth’s daughter, Elsa, and father a child with her instead, thus freeing Cryonax.
Urglorz confirmed that the portal was opened several weeks ago, and that grunthers explored the portal and passed through it. There they took captives and brought them back to serve as slaves and food. The captives were in the village, and reiterated that they must defeat Gorak to free them.

He explained that, as a shaman, he foresaw that heroes would come through the portal so he set his polar bear to watch the portal and to bring them here when they came through. "And so are you all here."

They slept that night without further incident. Each person that took a watch was able to witness, for a short while, the dancing lights of the faraway land of fire reflected upon the crystal sphere of the night sky.

Morning came with no dawn. There was no sun nor moon, there was only a gradual lightening of the sky from deep darkness to twilight.

Pinch Hitters
While the team prepared to trek across the snow to the village of the grunthers, Joroon felt a magical buzzing in the stone of transposition in his pocket. Aware of its effects, he threw the stone onto the ground. Suddenly, Dornan Anduin appeared. Dornan seemed confused. Yesterday evening, he was in the wizard's tower. Then, he was in Swallow. He spent the night there, trying to get his bearings. He had a polished river stone in his pocket. This morning, he held it and pondered its significance. He thought of Joroon, and suddenly he was here! Just before Aline could explain the working of the magical stones of transposition, his cousin Arrn disappeared! In Arrn's place was a tall pale figure in dark robes, his hood drawn. The figure seemed calm and said, "Hello."

Dornan drew his weapon to claim vengeance for his cousin. Joroon and Aline held him and explained to him how the stoned worked. They asked the stranger his name and his origin. He was friendly and introduced himself as Inza the Shadow. He explained that he was recently in Swallow and was given this stone by a mysterious old wizard named Ezekiel. The wizard told him that whenever Inza was bored, all he need do was hold the stone and think upon a life of adventure and danger. Inza had seen Dornan thinking upon a similar stone in Swallow and had witnessed him disappear. He immediately seized upon the opportunity and did as the wizard bade, thus he found himself here.

When he learned of the workings of the stones, he calmed Dornan, telling him that his cousin was likely safe and warm in an inn in Swallow. Dornan tried to use his stone to travel back, but it was no use. Apparently, they are either unreliable or need time to recharge after each use.
Dornan still wishes he'd bought those boots.
Inza was filled in on the situation and the agreement made with Urglorz to defeat Gorak, leader of the tribe of Grunthers, in ritual combat. Afterwards, Urglorz would help them defeat the Ice King and rescue Lady Elsa of Choke. They further explained how the Ice King planned to wed Lady Elsa and father the reincarnation of the primordial Cryonax, the Prince of Elemental Cold, and one day plunge all of Agartha, indeed the entire world, into a wasteland of ice.

Inza replied, "What are we waiting for then?" And they were off.

A Display of Power
After three hours of hiking across the icy ravine, the entourage came within sight of a village. The village was made of stone and ice. The icy breath of cold flame rose from a collection of igloos. Grunther guards stood watch over the approach.

As the party neared, dozens of grunthers came into view. Uglorz called out to them in their native language, "Gork! Gork gork gork! Gork gork!" Joroon cast a linguistics spell and translated the proceedings for the rest of the party.

The grunthers on the wall were taunting Urglorz. Urglorz responded that he had returned with champions, mighty warriors! He warned the villagers that his champions were avatars of their god, Cryonax, and that they had come to destroy Gorak for his sins! He challenged Gorak to a test of leadership.

Urglorz then turned around and, using his ring of thought sending, instructed the members of the party to be intimidating and put on some display of force or prowess.

Aline cast a fire bolt spell at the gate. Many grunthers cowered in awe at this display of elemental flame!

Gravy spoke a prayer to Thumina and created sacred flame, causing more awe.

Dornan and Lodar both flexed and went through weapons katas as an intimidating display.

Inza moved to the edge of Aline's magical light, becoming a silhouette in the dim twilit day. The silhouette sank into the snow and stealthily reappeared 60 feet away next to Urglorz.

Finally, Joroon cast a Shatter spell, causing a section of the wall to explode into icy shards with a thunderclap. This last spell echoed throughout the canyon and was sufficient to cow all of the grunther onlookers.
Joroon's name is a killing word!
The gate opened and a tall dark form strode out accompanied by a dozen grunthers. The tall creature was head and shoulders taller than the grunthers. As he neared, it became obvious that he was different from the grunthers. He was massive and covered in long white fur with long arms that nearly touched the snow. He had curving rams horns, a pointed head, and a face like a gorilla. He wore chain armor and carried a scimitar that glowed hot in its sheath.

Urglorz acknowledged Gorak with a grunt and the enemies exchanged insults. Urglorz told Gorak that his champions were sent by Cryonax to punish the tribe for their disobedience. He could surrender now or face them in the Test of Leadership.

Gorak accepted the challenge with a defiant sneer.

The Challenge
The party and the grunthers traveled nearly a mile to the place of testing, a steaming lake filled with boiling black water. Black-skinned seal-like pinnepeds, apparently the chief source of food and hide for the grunthers, dove underwater for safety. Dozens of huge ice bergs calved off the glacial banks of the lake and bobbed in the boiling water, the magical ice resisting the heat of the geothermic lake.

Each side was to select up to twelve champions. Only eight joined Gorak and his second in command, four declining Gorak's summons out of fear of the newcomers. Urglorz had the six members of Joroon's Dragoons. The champions took positions on the bergs. The rules were simple. Anyone touching foot on the shore after having touched an inceberg would forfeit the contest and would be killed. The last one alive in the lake would be the winner.

The teams took positions. They rushed towards each other, throwing ice javelins and jumping from berg to berg. Aline took the magic flying broom and flew into the sky. Dornan threw his magical javelin which transformed into a bolt of lightning. The second in command threw up an obscuring fog, protecting them from ranged attack. Aline threw a massive fireball spell, banishing the fog and obliterating everyone within, leaving only a few survivors who were quickly killed.
Aline doesn't mess around

The rest of grunther onlookers fled in a panic back to village.

Lodar claimed the glowing scimitar of Gorak. The blade had the look of being made of obsidian and basalt with a glowing red and yellow edge. He soon learned that the scimitar burst into flaming molten lava. He learned that the name of his new blade was Magmatar.

Upon returning to the village, Urglorz was reinstated as chieftain. Urglorz thanked the company, saying that they were not avatars of Cryonax, but truly were they avatars of Imix, Lord of Fire!

Urglorz held up his side of the bargain. He freed the captives and promised to show the way to the secret entance to the lair of the Ice King. Joroon instructed the freed humans to wait here in the village until they returned with the others. They then set off for their showdown with the Ice King himself.

The Lair of the Ice King
They found the secret entrance a mile away on the side of the cliff that formed the ravine, exactly where Urglorz told them to look.

Within the entrance was a passage made of ice. The interior was magically cold, even colder than air outside. They wrapped themselves tighter against the cold and soldiered on.

They soon came across a small room where six grunthers were corralling a large group of humans. Lodar charged at the first grunthers while Inza faded into the shadows. Inza immediately appeared in the hall on the opposite side of the room, where he snuck up on and attacked a guard by surprise. The rest of the party poured into the room around Lodar and the grunthers were soon dispatched.
Lodar, whose job description includes charging into rooms and killing everything.
The shivering human captives warned their rescuers of the room with the living water and that a blue giant was with the Ice King. The rescuers, in told, informed the captives of their freedom and instructed them to return to the grunther village and regroup with the others. They would return to the world of four elements soon.

As they advanced deeper into the lair, they came across an almost spherical room, sixty feet wide. The room was made of ice, as was everything in this subterranean abode. Sensing a trap, Aline flew across the room holding a rope while Inza merely appeared from the shadows on the other side. Aline's passage, however, awakened a water elemental guardian that was merged with the ice. Although the elemental momentarily engulfed Lodar, it was soon destroyed by the others.


Next Week!
A Wedding Interrupted. A Showdown with the Ice King and his Bride, Elsa. A fight with a Frost Giant. And MORE!

After Thoughts
I had fun with the book reading exposition scene this week. I printed up 16 or so little slips of paper. Each slip had a different little tid-bit on it. I asked each player "You need six hours of rest. Other than that, how much time do you spend reading the journals and notebooks?" Everyone answered two to four each, so they each got one random slip for every hour they spent reading. The random nature of the notes meant that they got a narrative all out of order, with bits of info here and there. It was up to the players to share their notes and put together a coherent narrative of what happened, which they did.

I did trick them up by giving them multiple descriptions of the powers of the crown that contradicted, so they don't know which is true and which is legend.

In all, it made what would normally be either me reading a boring story nobody cares about or me giving a handout to someone to not read into a fun exercise of putting together clues. Also, they didn't get all the clues I printed.

For the purposes of this blog, I assembled all their clues together into a coherent narrative and filled in some of the gaps. In reality, the story of the Ice King, the crown, and Elizabeth, was a lot more jumbled and filled with holes.