Part of the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.
The Winterlands of Nerath are a dangerous place at the best of time, but there are additional threats that can quickly turn the hazardous environment into a deadly challenge.
While the winter lands are cold, there are some arch mages who have the power to control the elements, altering the weather patterns on a massive scale. With the inherent overlap with the feywild that occurs in these remote hills, the magical energy that gathers here allows these arch mages to practice their dark arts.
These mages conjure forth incredible storms where the winds whip snow from the ground and drive it swirling upwards in a vortex of white, allowing it to fall again, but accelerated via magic, becoming a torrent of driven shards of ice. In these intense storms, the line between the land and the sky blurs creating a whiteout so intense that corpses have been found lying upside down, their bodies so convinced that they were upright. These storms are given a hushed name amongst those who dwell in these lands... Dire Winters.
While the Winterlands see the changing of the seasons, there are remote valleys and glaciers, well beyond the reach of all but the magically enhanced. These places see no direct sunlight, and are unnaturally cold. Almost without fail, these places are filled with the purest ice, a deep blue in colour and as smooth as glass. In some places, it has formed in gigantic sheets, almost impossible to walk across due to the lack of traction. In other places, it is formed into towering pillars and arches that shatter at the slightest touch, falling in chunks of incredibly sharp ice that slice through armour with ease.
From the entry to the Winterlands the peaks rise rapidly, forming a barrier at the top of the world. Those who choose to climb these peaks in search of the secret entries to the underdark and the feywild take their lives in their own hands.
The rock is jagged and brittle. It slices through your gloves into your hands as you grab it to pull yourself up on it, then it crumbles causing you to slip and fall. In addition to this, as you climb higher the temperature drops quickly. And where the snow has gathered on these peaks it is held in place by balance and luck, where the disturbance by weight or sound can cause the snow to collapse in an avalanche, sweeping adventurers of the rock face and burying them under metres of snow that becomes as hard as rock when the avalanche comes to a halt.
Glaciers are the slow moving masses of ice that build up over centuries, making their slow but inevitable journey, scouring away the land to create new wide valleys. Atop these glaciers there are many dangers, including the deep crevasses that can swallow a man whole, their entrances hidden beneath a thin crust of snow. In other places, the surface of the glacier has broken up as it moves, creating a field of boulders of ice, each of them as big as a dwarf. These boulders are unstable, tipping and rolling if they are bashed hard enough, creating a chain reaction that can crush travellers under a mass of ice.
Finding shelter from storms is important in the Winterlands, where unwary travellers can be wiped out by exposure to sub-zero temperatures. Throughout the Winterlands, there are caves, the occasional ruins, and tribal villages that can provide shelter in times of need.
When the weather turns and your life is threatened, most travellers do not take the time to consider what kind of cave they have entered and hunkered down in. But there are more than just caves in the Winterlands. Most caves are what you would expect, natural breaks within the rocks, just deep enough to cram your body and gear in. In other places, there are obvious signs that the caves have been expanded in the past, providing significant space to rest and recuperate. However, the caves you should avoid are those made from ice.
These structures appear to be natural at first glance, but there are telltale signs that these were made from carved ice and packed snow, arranged in such a way to create chambers and tunnels. The beings that formed these caves are long gone, but the magic that maintains the caves structure in a frozen state remains, although in some places this has begun to decline, making passageways perilous.
Specific Terrain Features
While many of the hazards of the Winterlands can be avoided or mitigated, there is one ever present threat that is hard to avoid: the ground. Each step a traveller takes upon the frozen paths of the north is a difficult one. The ground chills the blood in your feet, drawing precious warmth away from your head and heart, making it harder to concentrate. As the body chills and chills, the frozen ground begins to stick to the travellers boots, forcing them to expend more and more energy to lift each foot off the ground until each step becomes an epic journey. Most fall long before then, their bodies cushioned and surrounded by the snow’s cold embrace, drawing them into a sleep from which they never wake.
In some cultures this threat is known as frostbite, but amongst the natives of the Winterlands they call it frost burn. Exposed skin quickly becomes numb and pale as the blood supply decreases as the body brings the blood supply closer to the heart. However, the magical forces present in the Winterlands takes this damage to the skin one step further. The skin seems to burn with the intense cold, and unless the area is treated and healed through the use of magic the numbness spreads quickly, turning the arm or leg blue and then black as the skin and flesh withers.
Rimefire is a strange magical phenomenon which is thankfully rare, occurring where ancient magics have torn small rifts into the Elemental Chaos. It appears to be a normal flame but blue in colour, leaping and flickering as if it was unmagical. But this hides the arcane and chaotic nature of the manifestation, a flame that is both hot and cold which flows swiftly like a liquid, moving uphill or across water with ease, almost as if the flames were alive. For those unlucky to encounter rimefire, they must be prepared to contain and dispel its magical energy, and all without touching it, for contact with the flame will see their flesh burn as the moisture inside it freezes solid.
The Feywild is a magical realm, the ancestral home of the elves, the gnomes, and the satyr. But the feywild is home to darker things, and what appears luscious can hide malevolent dangers. While most portals to the feywild are found in the forests and jungles the wild elves call home, the Winterlands, home to a sub race of the elves, the Aeskakiaur, contain plenty of ancient portals that they used to move around this cold region safely. In these areas the layers of ice and snow seem to glimmer in mesmerizing pattern, and the frost crystals that form as you breathe sparkle even in the darkness. But this radiance belies a more dangerous threat, for disturbing these sparkling crystals of frozen water can have a euphoric effect when inhaled, causing travellers to dance wildly, straying from the safe paths though the winter lands and out into the glacial boulder fields or over cliff edges.
In the same way that the Feywild exerts an influence upon the winter lands, so does the Shadowfell. The barrow tombs of ancient tribesmen hide portals to this nether realm, and unholy curses inflicted upon beings exiled to these northern wastelands provide a focal point for the shadow energy to manifest. Shadow Ice is blacker than the night itself and seemingly draws light to it, dimming the flames of torches and making the great patches of it gleam with dark energy. While normal ice is difficult to walk upon, Shadow Ice is almost impossible. Each step must be planned - there is no running or charging across this. And this is a worry, for the animate dead that stalk the winter lands are drawn to Shadow Ice like moths to a candle, becoming bolder and stronger when in its presence.
Ancient battles, fought before the first age of man, long before the fall of the Tiefling and Dragonborn empires, resulted in terrible massacres atop the glaciers of the Winterlands. These graveyards are home to thousands of corpses, their bodies mummified by the freezing cold, their armour and weaponry glinting in the bright spring sunlight, their blood spilt onto the snow, making the slow but steady progress to the heart of the glaciers. Luckily, these glaciers experience little in the way of surface melt, and much of this millennia old blood, filled with primordial power and ancient grudges remains locked away, but occasionally some is borne upwards in the wind, only to fall again as Blood Snow, a shower of crimson snowflakes. Those unlucky enough to be caught in such a storm lose their minds, maddened by the feuding armies’ hatred and anger, turning upon their allies in an orgy of slaughter.
See more entries in the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.