[WiC] Winter is a Cruel Mistress: Hazards of the Frozen North

Here's a version of game mechanics for several winter hazards in D&D 4E from guest blogger Chris "DeusInnomen" Dundon.
Part of the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

Eventually, one of two things happens to most heroes-for-hire. Either they find themselves heading to the cold frozen north to accomplish a task, or the cold gets impatient and finds them. Regardless of how it happens, winter is an inevitable conclusion in everyone’s life. Unnatural causes of extreme cold aside, even the worst procrastinators will find the time to prepare themselves for life in the outdoors with warmer clothing, heat sources and more rations to offset the lack of vegetation and wild game to hunt. A better prepared adventurer is likely to survive the north long enough to get to their goal, accomplish it and get home in one piece.

Life never works that simply, though, because the reality is the deep cold brings new and unexpected dangers that can end the career of even the best prepared individual with little warning. Heavy snowfall can turn rough terrain into a cold and difficult slog. Extreme cold can sap the strength and will to live from even the healthiest traveller. And there is little more terrifying than the crashing waves of an avalanche coming down the mountain, sweeping away everything big and small in its path. And this is even before discussing the creatures and tribes who live their entire lives in the wintry regions and have adapted to preying on the victims of the snows and cold.

What follows is a set of hazards Dungeon Masters can introduce to their campaign to add an element of danger for their winter-themed locales. Many of these hazards have been written to accommodate as many Tiers of play as possible, but feel free to adjust them as necessary to better fit into the challenge level of your campaign and the skill level of your players. All play on the theme that the cold itself is as much a danger as the living (or undead) foes you face there. 

Avalanche [Skill Challenge]
As the group makes their way along a path leading slowly through the Rimefang Mountains, a far off rumbling can be heard that is reminiscent of a distant storm. At first, the sound of rolling thunder made the Paladin instinctively secure her shield and sword while the Rogue pulled his cloak closer. However, the thunder continued and everyone slowed to a halt as that fact occurred to one person after another, glancing at the sky and looking for evidence of a storm. Without warning, the Druid bolted upright and the color drained from his face as he looked up the mountain and said, "Goddess preserve us, that's not a storm's rumble. It's an avalanche!" A scream came from the direction of the Cleric as everybody followed her pointing finger and saw what first appeared to be a foggy haze far above them was rapidly approaching! Chaos ensued as everybody scrambled to find a safe place as the rumbling grew deafening before the waves of snow came crashing down on top of them.

Normal Difficulty: Complexity 1 (4 Successes before 3 Failures)
Hard Difficulty: Complexity 2 (6 Successes before 3 Failures)

Primary Skills (with example usages):
Athletics (Medium DC): Clinging desperately to a tree, the PC attempts to keep from being pulled away and under the falling snow.
Endurance (Medium DC): The PC attempts to hold on against the crushing weight of the snow bearing down on them.
Acrobatics (Hard DC): Tucking their body in, the PC attempts to stay on top of the crashing waves of snow by rolling carefully.

Secondary Skills (with example usages):
Arcana (Hard DC): With a clever mind, the PC starts wrapping herself in arcane energy, attempting to partly deflect the impact of the snow. The PC may reroll one failed skill check during this challenge.
Nature (Medium DC): Knowing the dangers of an avalanche, the PC is prepared to handle one better than her peers. Add a +2 to all skill checks during this challenge.

Allow situational bonuses depending on the cleverness of the players, such as using ropes or other gear to secure themselves. For each failure, the PCs take 1d10 damage per Tier. The PCs should be scattered randomly along the path of the avalanche, the distance based on how their skills attempts were described by the players and whether they succeeded or not on them. For a simple method, roll 2d6 per failure and that is the number of squares the PC was carried. If the PCs failed 3 times, they are also Buried Alive and must use their skills to free themselves. While buried, the player must pass an Endurance check per the Suffocation rules until they have access to air.

Deep Snow [Terrain]
Snow that has accumulated enough to be at least waist deep on a creature can be incredibly difficult for them to traverse without proper equipment. Snow that could be tightly packed and stable one moment could be loose and entrapping the next. Deep Snow is an advanced terrain feature to add unexpected elements to normally simple difficult terrain.

While crossing Deep Snow, the PC may treat the terrain as Difficult Terrain and incur no further penalties. Optionally, the PC can move normally across Deep Snow but if the PC moves more than 2 squares in a turn (whether forced or by choice) they must make a Medium DC Athletics check. On a failure, the movement stops and they are Immobilized and immune to forced movement (save ends both) as they sink into the snow. Creatures with the Ice Walk movement feature are immune to these limitations and treat Deep Snow as normal terrain.

If a creature is knocked prone in Deep Snow, they must make a saving throw. On a failed save, they are also Immobilized and take a -4 to the saving throw to end this effect (save ends both).

While crossing Deep Snow with Overland Travel, the party must make an Atheltics roll. The roll is made by the player with the lowest Atheltics bonus with all other players assisting. On a Medium DC, the party moves at half speed through the Deep Snow region. On a Hard DC, the party moves at normal speed. All creatures travelling together must have the Ice Walk movement feature to be immune to these limitations.

Hypothermia [Level 5/15/25 Disease] Spending too long in the deep cold can have adverse effects on unprepared adventurers. Hypothermia saps away the ability to defend one's self, and if left untreated it saps their very will to live. It is wise to pack proper traveling gear when spending time in the outdoors during winter, for death comes from the very air itself. This disease can be contracted if you sleep too many nights outside without winter-appropriate gear on a failed Endurance check for resting in adverse conditions.

Stage 0: The target recovers from the disease.
Stage 1: The target's hands begin to stiffen, incurring a -2 penalty to all attack rolls and losing one healing surge that cannot be recovered until the disease is cured.
Stage 2: The target's limbs are stiff and painful to move. The attack roll penalty increases to -4, the target takes a -2 penalty to AC, Fortitude and Reflex and is Slowed (no save).
Stage 3: The target is barely able to function as the cold penetrates them deeply. In addition to Stage 2's effects, the target loses all healing surges and cannot regain hit points.
Check: At the end of each extended rest, the target makes an Endurance check. The DCs are based on the level of the disease.

Level 5:
9 or lower: The stage of the disease increases by one.
10-14: No change.
15 or higher: The stage of the disease decreases by one.

Level 15:
14 or lower: The stage of the disease increases by one.
15-21: No change.
22 or higher: The stage of the disease decreases by one.

Level 25:
20 or lower: The stage of the disease increases by one.
21-27: No change.
28 or higher: The stage of the disease decreases by one.

Frostbite Tincture [Poison Level 5]
Brewed from the water of frozen waterfalls and infused with arcane energy, this chilling poison streaks through the victim's veins causing pain and freezing their muscles from the inside.

Poison 250gp
Attack: +6 vs Fortitude; ongoing 5 cold damage and slowed (save ends both).
First Failed Saving Throw: The target is immobilzed instead of slowed (save ends both).
Aftereffect: Slowed (save ends).

Frostfire Tincture [Poison Level 10]
By taking a vial of Frostbite Tincture and continuing to distill it further, the potency of the poison can be increased making it harder to resist and more painful to experience.

Poison 1250gp
Attack: +13 vs Fortitude; ongoing 10 cold damage and slowed (save ends both).
First Failed Saving Throw: The target is immobilzed instead of slowed (save ends).
Aftereffect: Slowed (save ends).

See more entries in the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

1 comment:

  1. Adam Page (@blindgeekuk)Mon Sep 26, 02:26:00 AM

    Nice one. I've got a hazards piece coming, but didn't touch on the mechanical impacts, so I'm glad you did. I like the tinctures