[WiC] Winter's Wrath

Drag your D&D 4E heroes into the frigid horror of this scenario from Grim Tree Games of the Grim Tree Games blog.
Part of the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

Fireside stories are told next to the warmth of the flame about Winter's Wrath. Few have survived to tell the tale of the bone chilling cold and the shapeless entities that reach from the ice.

Winter's Wrath envelops whole towns with darkness and ice, only when it’s finished claiming the souls of all within does it wither back to reveal an empty town, all living creatures pulled into the abyss. The few that have managed to escape the Wrath are left half mad and gibbering about ice monstrosities claiming all lives in sight.

Winter's Wrath is an adventure side track to give your campaign a winter feel any time of the year. It’s designed so you can spring it on the players during any town-based down time. As the players are relaxing the sky grows dark and blots out the sun, ice spreads over the ground and freezes all water where it stands, then creatures of ice pull themselves from the ground to lay waste to the townspeople. That is, they do until the players do something about it.

The Wrath Cometh

It would be good to set the scene up before introducing the Wrath. A good hook would be to have one of the aforementioned mad men that has seen the event from a nearby town burst into the tavern the players occupy, and blurt out the horrors he has just seen. He witnessed the sky grow black, the very air seem to freeze, and ice formed monstrosities emerged from the ground. He hid whilst the other towns folk were enveloped by the ice creatures and pulled into the earth. In time once everyone else had been taken the dark sky and ice passed, and he fled the town.  This could prompt others in the tavern to declare they have heard of Winter's Wrath, building it up as a mysterious event that claims all the souls of a town then moves on. Of course a few people in the tavern will declare them as mad and a debate will ensue.

As this conversation is happening, the sky slowly starts to grow dark. Not just night time, pitch, unholy dark (obviously much more effective if this is done during a day time setting). Once the sky goes dark, the players notice they can see their breath in the air, a thin film of ice begins to creep across the floor and over the tables, Ale freezes rock solid in their flagons. At this point panic spreads and the patrons of the tavern will flee outside, to see shifting shapes of multi limbed creatures formed from moving ice grabbing people and pulling them into the ground.

Once the tavern freezes over, the players should go outside and encounter a group of ice creatures. The screams of innocent people should prompt them to go outside, if not just have the ice creatures burst into the tavern. Either way the towns folk are being attacked and pulled into the ground around them. A group of the ice creatures focus on the players. The players see the townsfolk being attacked, put one or two of the attacked villagers close the players encounter. The players then have the option to save their own skin or help the villagers. As soon as combat starts have 2 villagers grabbed by Frozen Earth as described below, they have 5 rounds from the start of combat to rescue them by defeating the ice creatures that are pulling them down. If they rescue them they then have companions for the rest of the adventure.

Seeing the villagers being pulled screaming in the earth is indeed maddening, and will have an effect on the most hardened hero. Make an attack (Heroric +8 vs Will, Paragon +18 vs Will, Epic +28 vs Will), on a hit the character is Dazed, save ends.

Use any group of creatures that is a suitable build and XP cost for your level of players. Use the stats for that group of monsters, however describe the creatures as shifting forms of ice. Their legs come from a main body of ice that walk it across the frozen ground, and limbs that end in blocks of ice for smashing or blades of ice for slashing. In the centre of the body is a cold black orb for an eye, never blinking. Any attacks your chosen creatures have substitute the descriptions for ice related attacks, bow attacks become launched shafts of ice, axe attacks become swinging blades of ice limbs. For example if you were to use an Orc war band for this you would build the group of monsters as you usually would spending XP and balancing the group, but describe their abilities as being ice related, e.g. Orc Sergeant’s Warriors Surge, use the same attack but describe the attack as a sharp appendage shooting from the creatures body and hitting the player, then seemingly drain life force and reform the damaged ice. Use your imagination here, the idea is to make this scalable and compatible with whatever groups of monsters you with to use. As well as the monsters usual stats add the following ability:

Frozen Earth

The creature performs a normal grab action. On its next turn instead of attacking it pulls the player into the ground. As characters are varying heights measure the depth of the pull in rounds. After 5 rounds the player is totally submerged in the earth, effectively being buried alive. Once being pulled down no push pull or slide can break the grab. Once the ice creature has been defeated or has released the grab a strength check is needed to free them, either from the affected player or by the party. The DC starts at 8 for Heroic tier, 13 for Paragon, 18 and Epic, then add +2 for every turn they are pulled further. Once submerged only another players can dig the earth to reach them, as the earth is frozen this is a difficult task and can only really be done out of combat, effectively taking any player submerged out of combat until the end of the encounter. As long as the other players don’t dawdle they have time to dig up any companions at the end of combat and pull them to safety.

Make this an easy to moderate encounter as it is relatively easy to quickly bring all the party down. This encounter should serve to make the players wary of the ice creatures.

Once these creatures are defeated the screams have subsided, the PCs realise that they are the only people left in sight, unless they managed to rescue a couple of villagers. These can be known NPCs if the players are in a familiar town, or new ones of your devising. They can give the players a bit more background on the town as described below, but should also be used to add tension. In any future combat the villagers will run to the shadows and avoid combat at all costs.

Clues in the Dark

After the attack they can explore and try to find a way out of the situation. The town is suitably eerie, being void of life and totally silent, and this should be played upon. Shadows cast on walls of creatures waiting to pounce when investigated will just be old brooms, distance cries will be heard then muffled.  If the players had rescued some villagers the villagers can be used here to crank up the tension. When they pass a house which belongs to someone the surviving villager knows, the villager runs inside shouting their name. The players should panic about this and try to stop them from making massive amounts of noise. One of the villagers can have a melt down and curl up into a ball, refusing to take another step, a diplomacy check needed to move them on.

If the players try to leave town any street they walk along will be lead them back into town. If they leave one player in the middle of town and walk out they will eventually end up back in the middle of town. Streets and building seem to shift. This should make the players feel very uncomfortable and very uneasy.

Trying to determine what has happened and what to do is a skill challenge, this can be a complexity 3 with 8 successes before 3 failures, as this can be an opportunity for the players to use their ingenuity to try and work out what has happened. Any good ideas the players or yourself come up with as skill checks to determine what has happed are valid, however few suggestions are:
  • When exploring the town they can enter buildings, a moderate Perception check can determine that drawers and cupboards seem to be open as though someone was looking for something. An easy Perception check at another house can see the same thing, in fact most houses they have been in. If they don’t seem to be exploring the houses have a noise come from within. It’s just something falling to the floor, but it will build tension.
  • A moderate thievery can see that some of the houses' locks have been tampered with from the outside to gain entrance.
  • A hard tracking perception check can see that there seems to be a single wheeled track in the frost outside, leading to each house.
  • A moderate Arcana check can help determine firstly that there is an air of magic behind the mysterious events. A hard check can help the player feel a pull to a central location, as though there is a source of the magic. They won’t be able to find the source just based on this roll as the sensation is too faint, however it will help in the overall skill challenge.
  • If the players rescued villagers they can try Streetwise or Diplomacy when talking to them gain a better insight to the layout of the town.
  • A Climb check could allow a player to climb to the top of a building to get a better view of the town and the surroundings.

A Wizard did it

If they succeed in the above skill challenge they are lead right to the cause of the Winter's Wrath. The wheel tracks lead to an old storage / barn house that stands empty, apart from a large open trapdoor and a wheel barrow full of miscellaneous goodies, loot plundered from people’s houses around town. The trap door leads to a large dug out cellar with steps down. If the players are cautious at this point they can attempt to sneak down. In the cellar is a balding crooked man, muttering to himself. His robes are filthy and worn, and his features are worn and wrinkled. He looks very very old. He is gathering up some belongings. In the centre of the cellar is a 4 foot staff planted into the ground standing upright. The golden shaft leads up to a large shining sapphire which is glowing brightly. Sparks of blue and white ice leap out from the jewel and skitter across the floor.

If they fail the above skill challenge the old man sees the players as he is wheeling his wheel barrow of loot into the barn as they walk around the streets outside. As both parties see each other there is enough distance and surprise for the old man to run into the barn, into the cellar and close the trapdoor. The scenario plays out the same as below, however they now have a trapdoor that needs to be broken open before they can get to him and he will still summon ice creatures next to the players whilst he is in the safety of the cellar.

The staff is the cause of Winter's Wrath, and the old man has been using it a long long time to clear towns of their valuables then move on, to do to the same again.

If the players manage to talk to him he is called Gilbert, however he does not want to talk to them and seems horrified that is cunning plot has been foiled after so many years. For stats use an appropriate human of the same level of the PCs, that will only be for HP and defences, he will not try to actively attack himself. Once the players see Gilbert they have options. He is in no state to fight, so when confronted by the players he will quickly hold out his hand and clench his fist, he is wearing a golden ring with a glowing sapphire embedded in it. He mutters a magic phrase and summons more ice creatures to do his bidding. The ice creatures pull themselves from the ground between the old man and the players as a form of protection. If there were rescued villagers at this point they will avoid combat to hide in the shadows, and as the ice creatures are protecting Gilbert they will not actively attack them.

For the ice creatures use the same abilities as before, only this time, as soon as one is destroyed, the old man summons more to take the place of any fallen creatures when it is his turn as his standard actions (he can summon as many as need to replace them in one standard action). Use any monster soldier stats of the same level of the players and summon one creature for each player. The ring also has protective qualities, whatever stats you are using for Gilbert, add +10 to his defenses for Heroic tier, +15 for Paragon and +20 for Epic. Any attempt to attack him is met by a shower of blue ice as the attack it hits a protective field projected by the ring. If the players manage to perform a grab on the Gilbert (at his normal AC) one of them can try and take his ring off. If they do this the ice creatures stop in their tracks. They slowly turn to Gilbert and advance. He screams at them to stop, declaring himself their master, but to no avail. They advance, envelop him and pull him into the earth.

Alternatively they can just kill him by getting hits past his defensive ring, at which point the ice creatures melt away. Once the staff is pulled from the ground Winter's Wrath fades from the town and all returns to normal.

However, if all the players are grabbed and are being pulled into the earth at the same time Gilbert sees the opportunity to flee. He grabs the staff and runs for the exit, when he does this the effects of Winter's Wrath fade and the players are freed from the ice creatures, but the process is slow enough for the Gilbert to flee with his loot, leaving the PCs with nothing.

Wrapping up

There are quite a few ways this can end, and this leads to different potential further adventures.

Depending on how dark your campaign is, even if the players retrieve the staff the villagers can remain in the earth and the town a turn into a ghost town. If they failed to rescue any villagers they now stand alone, probably the last people to be seen leaving the village. This could lead to the law enforcement hunting them down and getting them to explain what happened.

Or on the other hand the villagers can all be regurgitated back to the surface safe and sound, the soul that now handles the staff a kinder one than the last if they retrieved the staff. They will be hailed as heroes and rewarded handsomely.

The loot in the wheelbarrow can go back to the town if the town’s people are brought back, if not that can be the encounter loot. The staff and ring have value, but without knowing the arcane methods the players cannot use it to summon and control Winter's Wrath or use the ring for protection. However if they spend the time to find the right help they may be able to use their powers again, to what ends would depend on your players own imagination.

The staff and ring were actually stolen from a very powerful wizard long ago by Gibert when he was a young boy. The wracked body and etched face of Gilbert is not just due to old age, it is the constant fear of the wizard finally catching him and exacting his revenge.  Unearthly Servants of the wizard were always tracking Gilbert on is travels, constantly searching for their masters artifacts. Now the players have them they will be unaware of this, it’s only a matter of time before the wizard's underlings try to take them back. Will the players try to bargain a way out and hand over the items, or keep the chase going and flee with them?

Whether this ends with the players defeating Gilbert, freeing the villagers and gaining loot, or empty handed with all the towns’ people dead, I hope you enjoy Winter's Wrath.

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

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