Monday, February 23, 2015

The Savage Story of Lodar of Clan Long-Grass

Prairie Folk like Lodar ride Tuskers into battle

The following was written by Jeff, Lodar's creator and player:
“Young Lodar is 14, ready to become a man. In the tradition of Clan Long-Grass, he is given the basic elements of wilderness survival…a knife, flint and steel, tinder, a heavy cloak, twine, a small pouch to put them all in, a skin for water, and 1 day of dried rations (think pemmican), and sent out to survive for 1 month with only the skills he has learned to help him survive. If he comes back, he is a man according to the ways of his tribe. He can marry, have children, carry on his name, become a great warrior or leader in the future. 

If he comes back sooner, or has to be rescued, he is no better than a woman, relegated to gathering, cleaning, cooking, and other menial tasks. He may not marry, not allowed to have children, and is of the lowest rank in the clan. 

If he is killed, then he was not strong enough, but died as men do and is given honor as such. 

Lodar is a wild and rangy youth of the half-men. He studied hard to become a great warrior, like his father. He completed his trial easily, and returned to the village for the traditional fete and feast when a boy becomes a man…the clan chief’s daughter seemed to be *very* interested in all things related to Lodar. Maybe they could sneak off after the feast and what may be will be. 

Except there is only charred remains of the village, the smell of smoke is fresh, and the butchered remains of the whole tribe are scattered. Among the dead half-men clan are a few corpses of…monsters. They look like Gnolls, (a territorial enemy but not a significant threat if precautions are taken), but these are swollen and huge. Twisted into giant caricatures with huge muscles, protruding fangs, those few that fell were covered in spears and arrows like hedgehogs.  

Clearly, some evil magics were at play. Clearly, there is an evil tide rising, despoiling the land and the natural balance of things. Clearly, as the only survivor of Clan Long Grass, the only warrior with breath still to take, his way is clear. 

Clearly, Lodar must avenge the fate of his clan."
And here is some more info about the "plainsfolk":

The half-men of the far north call themselves Chotadami, a name that translates to "Plainsfolk" or "Prairiefolk". The Chotadami hail from the Maidanalu plains in the northeastern Agartha, hundreds of leagues away from the Xanthus River valley. They dwell in burrows, like prairie dogs, but are nomadic, moving from warren to warren as they follow the herds of the musk oxen across the plains.

Chotadami warriors ride Enteledont boars, which they call "Tuskers" (also known as "battle hogs" or "war-hogs"), as mounts.

Chotadami know nothing of the Bantami, or "Hillfolk", their kinfolk in the Xanthus River Valley, or of the even more remote Pygmi, or "Junglefolk" of the Jungles of Xoth.

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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"Lodar of the Prairie Folk", Chapter 2 of The Menace of the Swords through the Gate of the Icy Spire

The King of Ice
Joroon's Dragoons explore the tower of the Ice King in their quest to rescue Princess Elsa and find a portal to a frigid world. On their way, they meet a new friend, Lodar of the Prairie Folk.

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
Not Appearing This Week:
  • Dornan Anduin, Human Paladin of Vengeance, cousin of Arne

* Hillfolk = Halflings from the Slopes of the Great Wall Mountains
** Sylvan = A fancy name for Forest Elves
*** Prairiefolk = Halflings from the northern plains

An Unwanted Result
The wizard Aline sat with Princess Anna around a small table in a private room in one of the hostels of Swallow. The heavy curtains were drawn, the darkened room was illuminated by small motes of magical light that drifted through the air. Burning incense created a thick sweet miasma as Aline gently passed her hands over the crystal ball in the center of the table. Aline concentrated on the lock of dark hair set on the table between her and the crystal ball. She reached out for Anna's hands to help establish the link with the princess' missing sister. The globe began to glow faintly and ectoplasm started to seep down the walls.

Aline's eyes rolled back as she was overwhelmed by a sense of falling head first into an infinite void. Ahead of her lay a cold bright light, the closer she approached, the farther away the light seemed to recede. Aline was chilled by a feeling of intense cold. The light seemed near but remained forever away. Suddenly, Aline was snapped back through the void and back into the room and into her body. She was lying on the floor, having fallen out of her chair. She got up and looked around and saw Princess Anna frantically trying to open the door and escape the room, glancing back over her shoulder in terror.

Aline asked what was happening. Anna, panting, threw open the door and ran out of the room. Aline followed but closed the door behind her. She grabbed Anna by the wrist and demanded an explanation. Anna said that as soon as she entered the trance, Aline began to chant in an alien otherworldly voice from hell. The orb began to glow red. Light and smoke swirled above the ball and formed into a small devil, an imp from hell! The imp screeched at her and turned invisible. At that point, she screamed and ran out of the room. The imp had to still be in the room!

Aline told Anna to remain calm while she dealt with the imp. Aline returned to the private room, wand at the ready. The room was empty, the imp must be invisible. She cast a web spell, covering much of the small room in thick sticky webbing. The webbing revealed a struggling shape hiding in a corner.

Aline the Wizard

Aline called out, "What are you? What are you doing here?"

The voice answered, "You tell me! You summoned me here!"

Aline was momentarily confused, "No I didn't."

"Yes you did! And now you've caught me. If you release me, I am compelled to serve you. What are your terms?"

Aline thought about this, "You must serve me forever and do as I say."

"No way! Set me free and I will perform a single task for you."

Aline was offended, "Pfft. No. Forever."

"Okay, how about a year and a day."


"Okay then. Here's a better idea. How about I break free and eat your face!"

The imp burst out of the webbing and attacked Aline's face. Aline counterattacked with a super-charged magic missile spell, obliterating the imp which exploded in ectoplasm, fire, and sulphur. The walls were splattered with exploded imp slime.

Aline returned to Anna to tell her it was now safe. She paid the fee for the room cleaning and purchased some cold weather clothing. She bade Anna farewell, pulled a magic river rock from her pocket, and thought of Joroon.

Meanwhile, On the Slopes of Mount Zacha
Joroon, Gravy, Arrn, and Dornan stood in the foyer at the entrance of the tower of the Ice King. The interior was very cold, as if the entire tower had been dipped in frozen nitrogen and preserved. Hoar frost covered most surfaces. Dornan was about to say something when he suddenly disappeared and was replaced with Aline.

Arrn the Wizard Hunter
Arrn, never having met Aline and believing that wizardry had just killed his kinsman, screamed and prepared his axe to strike down the newcomer. Gravy and Joroon, having been made familiar with the Stones of Transposition, quickly held out their palms and stood between Arrn and Aline. Gravy explained that she had simply swapped places with Dornan, and that Dornan was likely safe. Arrn held his hand but demanded to know where his brother was sent. Aline explained that she was just in Swallow. She expected to appear in Joroon's wagon. Dornan must have taken the stone by accident. She told Arrn that his cousin was safe and likely warm. Arrn checked his book of wizard bounties and found no mention of Aline. He begrudgingly accepted her into the party.

The dragoons explored the first floor of the tower. To the left they found a sitting room with a few books and some antique furniture. A fireplace in the corner of the room contained a bright bluish-white flame that radiated cold. Within the room was a small crystal statue of a hideous creature with the body gorilla, tentacles for arms, and the head of some creature that was a cross between a baboon and an ourk. Perusing the books, they found a few tomes on the nature of the elemental planes and the elementals, including descriptions of the five elemental princes: Ogremoch, Imix, Yan-C-Bin, Olhydra, and Cryonax. The image of Cryonax matched the crystal statue. They also found a journal belonging to Simon Petrikov, Sage. Within were notes on the sellers and prices of various antiques and relics. On on wall was a painting of a beautiful woman with reddish-brown hair, a sorceress wearing bookish horn-rimmed glasses, clad in a dark green turtleneck and a grey cloak. The plaque underneath the painting said "Elizabeth".

Across the foyer was a dining room with a long table, empty for mundane furniture and another fireplace filled with magically cold flames. Also on the first floor was the servants quarters. Within were the bodies of two servants, clad in black and white livery, having died, frozen while hiding under their beds, decades ago.

Grunther Guardians
The dragoons then heard someone coming down he stairs. The team made a lot of noise as they scrambled to hide. Whomever it was paused to listen, then hurried back upstairs. The team abandoned their hiding spots and charged upstairs.

The second floor was a magical laboratory filled with desks, tables, bookshelves, and crates filled with alchemical paraphernalia. Six brutish creatures were grabbing morningstars made of hardened magical ice, having been warned by their lookout.

The creatures were slightly larger than man-sized with broad muscular frames. They were covered in white fur, like a polar bear, and blue-skinned hands and feet and a bare face of blue leathery skin. Their legs were bowed and their arms long and dangling. Their faces were like a mix of goblin and polar bear with bearish snouts, black beady eyes, and long blue pointed ears sticking out horizontally from the sides of their heads. They wore black leather armor and carried heavy melee weapons made of magical ice. They spoke an unknown language that sounded like "Gork! Gork gork gork!" These creatures could only be the grunthers described by the Winter Wolf.

They met Joroon's Dragoons in combat. One grunther leapt on Aline while she ascended the stairs, pulling her down to the floor below and nearly killing her. Another grunther performed the same trick on Gravy.

The Rage of Lodar
Meanwhile, in a larder behind the first floor kitchen, slept Lodar of the Prairie Folk. He had entered the tower seeking shelter from the blizzard outside and had found a larder filled with frozen food. He managed to build a real fire, not one of the frozen flames burning throughout this accursed tower, and was able to cook a sausage. Afterwards he took a nap, his dreams filled with rage, hatred, and vengeance.
Lodar of the Prairie Folk
Lodar was suddenly roused by the shouts of those engaged in battle. He grabbed his magical scimitar and rushed out to see a man of the hillfolk, one of his remote kinsmen, engaged in deadly struggle alongside a female sylvan and two humans against foul inhuman creatures. He rushed into battle without hesitation, screaming "RAGE!!" and plowing through the blue-skinned white-furred creatures.

While the raging newcomer and Arrn dealt with the four grunthers in the wizard laboratory, Gravy, Joroon, and Aline dealt with the two down below. Lodar, in his rage, pulled a bookshelf down onto his opponent before slaying him with his magical scimitar. Soon, all the grunthers were dead.

The newcomer introduced himself as Lodar, from the northern plains. The dragoons explained their purpose and asked if the newcomer would care to join them in their quest. Lodar shared a similar hatred of evil wizards as Arrn and welcomed the opportunity to sate his rage killing the fiend.

The party explored the laboratory, noting books on magical research for future use and finding several vials of alchemical frost, but found no stairs or other way to ascend to the third floor. Aline, however, spotted a magical engraving in one corner of the room and deduced its purpose. It was a kind of Tenser's Floating  Disk spell that elevated those standing on the engraving who say the magic word. She had seen such magic on display when she trained at the Roving Gortleflexion of Emiril Legasse. She even recalled the activation word.

At that, the dragoons gathered over the sigil and the words were spoken. They rose magically into the air and passed safely through the illusory ceiling to the room above.

They found themselves standing in a library with a solitary desk and chair and a single door. Aline cautiously opened the desk with a Mage Hand spell, setting off the magical ward that protected the desk, causing it to explode into splinters!

Beyond the door, they found a bedroom with more bookshelves and fine antique furniture covered in black leather. A cold blue flame burned in the fireplace. The walls were hung with ancient tapestries. They checked under the bed and found a pair of nunchaku made of ice, an odd choice for a wizard.

They found a door behind one of the tapestries that led to an adjoining study with another desk. A hatch in the ceiling was open to the blowing snow and frigid air of the magical blizzard outside.

On the desk was a note, written in the scrawl of a madman, that read "That idiot archon has stolen my Elizabeth from me! He will pay! She will be mine, one way or another! In this life or the next!"

Aline used her Mage Hand spell to open the drawers, once more causing the desk to explode into splinters.

The dragoons found another levitation spell on the floor leading to the roof.

The Guardian of the Gate
Much of the roof was covered in great spiky growths of ice. A circular disk about ten feet wide hovered vertically over the center of the roof, rotating. The disk was a link to another world, and that world was bleeding into ours. Everywhere around the tower, one could see two universes superimposed on each other. One was the blizzard of the valley, caused by super-frigid air blowing through the rotating disk. The other was a cave, somewhere else. In that cave was a monstrous humanoid being of ice.

Footprints made a clear path through the snow towards the gate. A child's doll lay crushed into the icy snow. Gravy picked up the doll, noting that the captured villagers had been taken this way and through the gate.

Gravy, Priest of Thumina

As Joroon's Dragoons stepped towards the gate, the icy guardian on the other side came to life and stepped through the portal into our world.

The company of heroes sprang into action, doing furious battle with the icy beast. It was eventually destroyed, shattered into countless icy fragments, and the heroes pushed against the icy wind and stepped through the portal.

A Whole New World
Joroon's Dragoons found themselves in a cave. A constant frigid wind blew from the mouth of the cave into the portal. They pushed against the wind to the mouth of the cave and looked out over a canyon more than six miles wide and twenty miles long, bending in the distance out of sight to the left. The mouth of the cave was located about two hundred feet up the side of the canyon wall. A path led down to the canyon floor to the right. Large boulders stood at the foot of the path.

The frigid cold air outside of the canyon drained into the portal of the cave into our world.Once outside the cave, the wind was more tolerable.

The sky overhead was dark blue, there was no sun nor were there stars, yet a dim chill illumination like bright moonlight permeated the place.

Joroon, Storyteller of the Hillfolk
Joroon produced his magical flying broom and, saying the activation word, flew up into the sky to scout around. As he breached the edge of the canyon, he caught a brief glimpse of a flat plane of ice punctuated by sharp mountains of ice before he entered an area of turbulent wind of hurricane force. He tumbled about, his face turning white from the freezing air, barely holding onto his broom. He quickly descended back into the pocket of safe air in the canyon below.

He then descended to scout the rocks below. There he spied a large white bear with a spiked metal collar. The bear saw Joroon, looked at him, and turned away. After a few steps, the bear paused and looked back over his shoulder, then walked a few more steps.

Joroon came near the bear and used his magical bardic skills to communicate with the beast. After a brief conversation, Joroon learned the bear had been waiting near the cave for several days, waiting for heroes to come through. He was to lead the heroes to his master a few miles away.

Joroon flew back to the rest of his dragoons and filled them in. They climbed down the path and followed the bear through the deep snow of the canyon floor. The journey to the bear's master took about an hour and many of the company were cold, wet, tired, and miserable. Finally, they reached a cave in the canyon wall. The entrance to the cave was covered in thick black leather skins, creating a door. The bear bade them enter.

Inside the cave, they found an older grunther stirring a large pot heated with warm flames, actual warm flames! The pot smelled delicious and was filled with some kind of meaty stew. The old humanoid appeared to be some kind of shaman or druid. He motioned them to enter his cave.

Joroon quickly cast another spell known to Bards, that of Tongues. The old shaman spoke in his own native language, "Gork gork gork? Gork gork?"  Joroon responded, "Yes, I can understand your language. Why have you brought us here?"

For a moment, the middle-aged grunther looked slightly disappointed, then continued. He introduced himself as Urlgorz, former chieftain of the grunthers of this valley. He spoke to the party flatteringly, complimenting them on their fearsome appearance and demeanor, muttering under his breath that they would do just fine, and offering them a warm meal of hearty stew.

When he realized that only Joroon could understand him, he looked a little relieved, then surreptitiously touched a ring on his hand. Suddenly, he was sending thoughts directly into the minds of everyone present in a language they could understand. He continued.

Joroon told Urglorz that they were here to rescue a princess and some villagers from the Ice King.

Using telepathy, Urglorz indicated that he knew all about it, and informed them that he knew where the prisoners were being held. His thoughts revealed that he would take Joroon and his dragoons to the hidden place, but first they had to provide him with a service.

He said that he had until recently been the chief of the tribe of this valley, but that his power had been usurped by his rival, Gorak, and exiled. If Joroon and his dragoons defeated Gorak and restored Urglorz as chieftain, he would help them free the captives and the princess.

After a brief discussion, the party cautiously agreed.

Urglorz was delighted, and offered his cave as a refuge where the party might rest and recover. He offered some of his stew, which he had prepared in case outsiders came. The party took a short rest and ate the stew.

Meanwhile, Aline produced her crystal ball and sat in a corner of the cave. She wished to attempt to scry upon Princess Elsa. She once more entered a deep trance. This time, she could see the princess clearly. She wore a blue and white dress and had long silver white hair in a braid. She was lying supine on the floor at the base of an icy throne, draped over the arm of the throne and staring up at its occupant like an adoring puppy. Her eyes appeared glazed and vacant.

The occupant of the throne was a middle-aged man with light blue skin and a vulture-like beak of a nose. He wore long blue wizard robes and had white hair and a long white beard. He wore an ancient gold crown on his head studded with three rubies. His eyes were cold and white.
All around them, villagers wearing black and white livery were appearing for some kind of wedding ceremony. Some of the villagers were frozen in blocks of ice, their eyes darting about in desperation. The hall was made entirely of ice and cold dim light filtered down from overhead. The entire palace seemed carved from the interior of a glacier.

She returned to her body in the cave of Urglorz to find the aftermath of a battle.

The other members of her party had just slain some kind of shadowy amorphous creature, a devil from hell! They told her that as soon as she entered her trance, her eyes began to glow and she began to chant some kind of infernal ritual. A cloud of black smoke coalesced above the crystal ball and formed into the shadow fiend. They had just slain the monster before she regained consciousness.

Aline was perplexed. She informed them of the earlier encounter when she tried to scry upon Elsa. She theorized that since her first use of the crystal ball had no ill effects, the devils must be a side-effect of using the crystal ball to scry on this world. She promised not to use the artifact again until they once more returned to their own world.


After Thoughts

The Stones of Transposition
The Stones of Transposition are a convenient device to introduce player characters who have no logical way of entering the story, and also of eliminating player characters from the middle of the story. Trevor was out sick this week and Lucinda was back, so Dornan was gone and Aline returned. Next week, when Trevor returns, he'll accidentally use the stone in his pocket to magically reappear. If no one is holding the stone on the other end, he'll just switch places with the stone.

Elsa and the Ice King? Really???
Yes. Elsa and the Ice King. It's an ice-themed adventure. Sue me.

Really, its because I bought a miniature that looked like Elsa so I painted it liked Elsa. And the Ice King just because it's funny. When they found the Ice King's bedroom in the actual game, I described it as a dude's hangout. There was a drum set, a weight set, the tapestries displayed various bards and princesses, and a Kung Fu magazine, the kind you'd find in convenience stores in the early Eighties, was next to the bed, and port was under the mattress. Few of my players watch Adventure Time so few got the references. They just thought it was strange. I rescinded the descriptions with a "Just joking" and replaced them with more fantasy world appropriate decor.

I promise that my Ice King will be actually evil and not the sad sympathetic story of Simon Petrikov from Adventure Time. He's got a cool (no pun intended) back-story and evil agenda in my world. I'm just waiting for my players to take the time to read his journal.

I thought about making the Ice King be Urgence Evergreen's pupil Gunther since Gunther lives in a time roughly contemporary with the age in which my campaign is set. But that would ruin my back-story and Simon's obsession with Princess Elsa.

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! 

Epilogue of the Deception Pass and the Fates of Kalmath

After the rebellion in Kalmath settled down, Valerius and company returned to the secret citadel with Sablius and a small army of workers. While the workers and masons set about fixing up the citadel, Valerius led an expedition to Mount Ignoit to search for the lair of the legendary bronze dragon Pitala. They found the lair but the dragon had been slain several years ago by the Oni brothers. There was no home here for Sablius.

The company returned to the secret citadel to oversee repairs and improvements. The citadel would become the new base of operations for the company and Valerius' home.

Valerius sent Joroon and Gravy to Swallow with a message for his wife. She was to join him at the secret citadel. Once completed, they were free to follow whatever path they wished.

Aline joined them on their return trip to Swallow. She had business and research to perform at  the magic shop and secret academy known as "Wizards Only, Fools!"

Other general news from around the valley:

  • Snow is falling in the valley. Snow is not unheard of in the upper elevations of the mountains, but rarely does it reach the rivers, even in the highlands of the upper river valley. The effect seems to be centered around Mount Zacha.
  • Feisty never returned to Flinch. Valerius presumes that Harra Thorntooth had her killed in order to take over Flinch. 
  • Harra Thorntooth, for her part, is interested in investing in rebuilding the secret citadel and fortifying the Defile of Castragon. Daro (Dwarfs) are returning to the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch and gold and atuta dhatu (metal used in magical weapons) will be flowing out of the mine soon. Flinch is once more poised to capitalize on trade between the east and the west.
  • Valerius sent letters to each of the archons asking for support in securing the Defile of Castragon. Other than Harra Thorntooth, none of the archons were able to provide any assistance. 
  • There was a worker uprising in the port city of Thither. The uprising was led by Bomont Oacha but was put down by the city guard and mercenaries hired by the patricians. 
Coming Soon: 
The Menace of the Swords through the Gate of the Icy Spire

A new story of the Xanthus River Valley with an exciting new team of adventurers: Joroon's Dragoons!