The wind is blowing from the sea, casting the fetid summertime smell of the port inland. Those downwind can smell the hot pitch, rotting fish, and vats of fermenting ale while the Port itself enjoys the cool salty sea breeze. Dozens of ships, from small single masted coasters to larger lanteen sailed carracks bob on the gentle swells of the ocean. This might be a wretched hive of scum and villiany, but for the the day, it is merely another port shimmering under the heat of the summer sun.
The Opening Scene
Having recently completed their last adventure the hardy band of PCs have made their way to the outlaw freeport of Port Reliance. It shouldnt be long before they are ready to test their skills and arms against a new challenge. Scouting the local taverns nets the PCs a tantalizing lead, Mama Idira at the waterfront just happens to have heard a rumor about a certain well known Adventurer-Upon-Return who is looking to hire a good crew of like-minded explorers and treasure hunters.
She has a genuine lead and knows exactly where to find the man, he is actually staying over at her rival’s place, Kodo’s Book and Bell. This makes getting the information a bit tricky, but the easiest way to get his name and location from Idira is to grease her palms with a few bright gold pieces.
1 GP - Idira remembers that the man’s name was Saber Rat but doesnt remember much other than that. He didn’t stay long and he was miserly with his coin. 3-5 GP - Idira knows that Saber Rat has a two-master waiting for him out on the pier, but that he isn’t actually on the boat, but out looking for volunteers for his job. 6-9 GP - Idira suspects that Saber Rat, really Sabot Raith, is roomed over at the Book and Bell, and that his ship, the Har Karkom is sitting at Pier two. 10+ GP - All of the above, plus Idira knows that this is Sabot’s second attempt at this particular treasure and that last time he returned empty handed and alone, his crew of six missing and likely dead.
Our Man Sabot
Sabot Raith, aka Saber Rat, is a short barrel-like man with a scar and the demeanor of a cagey thief and a gladiator. He radiates a fair amount of magic, the strongest source being the Sword of Flame that he wears, as well as a variety of minor magical amulets, rings and charms; the sort that adventurers-upon-return are prone to hoarding. He is quite excited about hiring a new band of erstwhile heroes to join him on his quest to rescue the treasure trove of Alaxsxaq.
Talking in a loud and boisterous voice, over several mugs of Port Reliance’s local ‘hot ale’ (boiling the stuff gets the cooties out, along with most of the rancid taste) Sabot tells of the storied treasures of Alaxsxaq, chances are the PCs have never heard of it.
(Insert suitable tales of riches untold, forgotten on a desolate island that was once the throbbing heart of a maritime kingdom)
A-Sailing We Will Go
The Har Karkom is a heavy-hulled two master with lanteen sails. Oddly, the hull itself has a rectangular cross section with an overly heavy keep that gives the hull a walnut like appearance. Sabot has already hired a crew to sail the ship, but their only mission is to ferry Sabot and company to the island of Alaxsxaq and back to Port Reliance, otherwise the sailors will not be leaving the ship. A few are veterans from Sabot’s previous mission and in private are willing to talk about Sabot when he made it back to the ship.
He was a haunted man when he made back over the gunwhales, shouting for us to weigh anchor and put the wind into the sails. Almost stark-raving. He had a tough group with him, rough knuckles and mercenaries, and even had a half-elf trap-springer. None of them made it back. He wouldn’t talk about what happened, but he’s a cursed man. That’s why none of us sailors will step foot on Alaxsxaq. It was forsaken for a reason, I tell you.
The voyage to Alaxsxaq should take about a month, longer if the winds aren’t favorable, but really no less. The ship is cutting a course almost directly north from Port Reliance, and as the voyage progresses the air grows steadily colder, the seas more choppy and slate colored, and the weather should become more rough.
Travel across the sea is normally long periods of repetitive labor, hoisting sails, untangling rope and swabbing decks. While accurate, this sort of business makes for a dull game. Random encounters along the way are as often as important to a voyage as the destination. If there had been no random encounters for Odysseus, the Odyssey would have been a very short poem. The most obvious encounters would be islands. Each of these locales has the opportunity to expose PCs and players to a microcosm world, a chance to rest and resupply the ship, and plenty of things to do to break up a long voyage. Of course, if the destination is the thing, these islands might slow the game down too much and can be ignored entirely. Leaving out islands, there are still a variety of minor random encounters that can be found on the sea. These encounters can be used to help the PCs get accustomed to their ‘sea legs’, especially if their characters have been landlubbers to begin with.
The Frosted Shores of Alaxsxaq
rising from the ocean, seemingly carved from nothing but ice, is the island of Alaxsxaq. A large island of some 40,000 square miles (the size of Iceland) Alaxsxaq is mountainous and cold. From the ice and rock strewn beach, the PCs can see distant peaks, cone shaped monsters brooding inland away from the sea. Saber Rat and the crew make for their last landing sight, a sheltered bay where the ship is safe from the violent storms that often whip up in the frigid waters around the island. Saber Rat suggests a base camp on shore, but the crew of the Har Karkom decline and remain on the ship. They claim that there is only ice on the island and if they want that they’ll scrape it off of the rails and rigging.
A Chance Encounter
A mile or so after disembarking from the Har Karkom, the PCs, Saber Rat and the rest of the venture party (2D6 henchmen) are assaulted by a beast of the cold, a predator of the island. A shuffling humanoid form comes slogging towards the PCs, it almost radiates malice. Upon seeing it, Saber Rat draws his flaming sword and calls for the party to prepare itself for attack. The Ice Ghoul does just that. Shrieking like a blizzard the ghoul attacks with it’s jagged ice claws and frostbite inducing touch. Mundane weapons fail, but Saber Rat seems to be prepared in case the PCs lack magic, or magic weapons to destroy the creature.
A Magic Weapon Needed
Saber Rat has come up with an idea to temporarily make all of his henchmen’s weapons magical to deal with the menace of the Ice Ghoul. Rather than arduously enchant a stack of pikes, sword, halberds, and crossbow bolts, he has created a potion of magic. Held in a stoppered glass vial, this salve will render a mundane weapon magical for a short time, generally 1D4 minutes before wearing off. The weapon gains a magic aura, but no bonuses to combat use.
Saber Rat’s Tale
Aye, Alaxsxaq used to be a great place once. That was a long time age, before the Dirdums were rank with goblins and when the minotaurs still carried on with man. It wasn’t as cold then, but it was cold enough. The Lords of Alaxsxaq ruled an empire thousands of miles wide, almost every island from Port Reliance to the edge of the world was theirs to toll and tax. We are heading towards the old heart of that empire, sitting in the shadow of Shishold Rock. City had a name once, but no one remembers it now, most folks that know of it just call it Shishold, or Alaxsxaq City. Don’t matter too much now. It’s half buried under snow and ice, her treasures ripe for the picking. And if ye have to know it was the cold beastie back there that set me back last time. This time we was prepared for it. No worries mate.
A Marching We will Go
According to Saber Rat, Shishold Rock is a good three day’s march from the coast, but thankfully, most of the going is easy. True to his word, the trek is across easy terrain of smooth rock and dusted snow fields. Visibility when the wind picks up can be tricky, but the use of a rope to tether everyone together and a compass can keep a party on track for the duration of the crossing.
The Spurr Gate
The snow fields and ice crusted heaths end with a crossing of something that Saber Rat calls the Spurr Gate. A medium sized volcano, the Gate is named for the fact that someone near the base of the mountain, the volcanic chimney splits and produces not one but two calderas. The Gate is the saddle between these two and it is an almost picture perfect blanket of white. Crossing over the saddle, the gound seems to tremble underfoot, and there are signs of melting ice. In the distance around one of the peaks several avalanches let go and send tons of ice and snow cascading down the face of the volcano. While the PCs should be in no present danger it should offer a bit of foreshadowing that this path back might be closed.
The Cold Ones With a bone chilling howl, the PCs and Saber Rat are set upon back a pack of Ice Ghouls. Saber Rat is obviously surprised and caught off guard by the attack. Unlike the previous attack, these ghouls snarl and seem tof ocus their efforts on Saber Rat, though his defence must be better than the last time he was here. Several henchmen, or everyone besides the PCs and Saber Rat can reasonably be discarded in the snow for the hungry attentions of the Ice Ghouls. A thing to keep in mind, these corpses in a matter of 24 to 48 hours will cast up their own icy shades to increase the number of ice ghouls in the field. The ruins of Shishold Rock offer the PCs a place of refuge and once they penetrate so far into the ruins the Ice Ghouls will stop following them.
At last, the PCs, now winded and possibly injured have reached their destination. The city itself obviously is very old, but the thick snowfalls and sheets of ice have done a magnificent job of preserving the ruins of buildings from the ravages of wind and time. Very little is rotted or eroded, but about half of the buildings have collapsed or show signs of strain from the load of ice that has built up on to of them. The PCs can hunt from house to house, but venturing too close to the edge invited the attention of the Ice Ghouls and after a while a certain boundary can be discovered. Something within the ruins is preventing the ghouls from coming any closer.
Loot gathered from the houses should be minimal at best, the collectors of paraphenalia and artefacts should be pleased with an absolute treasure trove of pottery, flatware, objects of art and day to day goods present. There is some jewelry and coinage to be found among the rock hard frozen corpses and salvaging it should be gruesome, along the lines of chiseling the gold necklace from the now hard flesh of a long dead lady of the house, her face frozen in a snarl of fear.
Saber Rat leads the PCs on until they reach what is estimated to be the center of the city and the gateway to the catacombs beneath the city. This is as far as he got last time, when the first ghoul attacked and he is visibly excited about getting into the vaults beneath the city.
Into the Dungeon
The door to the catacombs beneath the city is protected by a suitable combination lock requiring the pressing of arcane symbols carved in the stone door. This can be made for the PCs to do, but if they can’t figure it out, Saber Rat has already figured out the combination to get in. The door swings open and the PCs are assaulted by an exhalation of stale dungeon air.
Insert Standard Dungeon
At this point a standard dungeon crawl will suffice, with the PCs following a regular labyrinth of maze-like passages studded with frozen corpses in funeral niches. Wandering monsters tend to be ice-loving creatures but undead are noticable absent. All the while, Saber Rat will generally hang back and let the PCs do the heavy fighting as needed. He isnt interested in any loot or XP to be gained in the dungeon.
The Altar of the Sun
After several tough engagements with Ice-demons and the like, the PCs open a door into a small room filled with warmth and light. This is the center of the dungeon, and the sole reason that Saber Rat has spent so much time and energy trying to find a way in. Sitting in the center of the room is a pedastal, illuminated with pale light. There is a gold idol sitting on the pedastal. As soon as he sees the idol, Saber Rat grabs it and runs out the door. The light in the room dims and there is a sudden feeling of prickling dread.
As soon as he is out of the light, Saber Rat vanishes in a puff of magic. All the while he has been wearing a pair of magic boots that allow him to step through shadows. Sabar Rat has grabbing the McGuffin and made good his escape. The PCs are left with the rest of the treasures of Alaxsxaq, a rather minimal collection of some old gold coins, some platinum jewelry and some semi-precious cut sapphires and snow agate. It is an okay haul, and the less valuable snow agates have the ability to protect their holders from natural cold.
The Paling Falls
As the PCs exit the dungeon, they start noticing the bodies in the niches start moving, slowly at first. With the mcguffin removed, the magic protection from undead has fallen and the naturally occuring zombies that are found in abandoned catacombs are starting to rise. These zombies are easy to dispatch, but the real problem comes when the PCs exit the dungeon. More than a dozen Ice Ghouls are lurking outside the entrance.
If the PCs left henchmen at the entrance, they have all been torn apart but there is no sign of Saber Rat. After the PCs fight their way from the ruins of Shishold, they have to backtrack along their old path, facing old landslides and harassing hit and run attacks from Ice Ghouls. By the time they reach the coast, they find that the ship has gone, leaving them stranded in Alaxsxaq.
An Second Chance
1. The Salvaged Ship - The PCs find a badly damaged but not entirely unrepairable ship. With some work, the ship can be made seaworthy and the PCs can make their way back to Port Reliance slowly.
2. The Unlucky Merchant - a merchant vessel puts into the harbor looking to gather fresh supplies and water. The PCs can garner passage back to Port Reliance easily with the crew of the ship, for a small fraction of their loot.
3. The Windwalker - The PCs find a dilapidated stone circle near the harbor. It is set with gold inlay and is an obvious magic altar and if there is a wizard, they can power it and teleport the party and accompanying goods to an equally forgotten altar two days from Port Reliance.
A Bitter Homecoming
Everyone is surprised to see the PCs alive, as Saber Rat has told everyone they died valiantly in Alaxsxaq, fighting murderous undead. What the PCs do afterwards is up to them, they can persue Saber Rat for ditching them and then abandoning them on that frozen piece of hell. If they do hunt him out, he escaped with the Idol, and later sold it to a antiquities collector (insert suitable evil Liche Lord).