At the foot of the world
Background and GM’s notes
This adventure takes place in the World of Neyathis on the continent of Sagaris, but can be in any world with an isolated arctic region with Ice-Age flora and fauna. The adventure takes place in the dead of winter, so the sparse land is even more hostile.
One of the largest of the continents of Neyathis , it sites astride the planet’s southern pole. Not quite as cold as Earth’s Antarctica, this land is more akin to the North American Arctic region. Life is similar to Earth’s last ice age with a notably large population of mega-fauna. There are some intelligent races present, including numerous human tribes and isolated mining colonies from other continents.
It is a land mostly shunned by the peoples of the warmer clime, for the sea voyage to come here is long and very dangerous. The teeming seas are home to many large predators, some which will occasionally attack ships, and ferocious storms that can strike with little warning. None would come if it were not for the gold. It is not known exactly how the gold was first found - there were no explorers interested in these cold, dangerous lands, though sorcerous investigation is suspected. A consortium of powerful merchants out of Stoneholt, the largest nearby port, banded together to form the Sagaris Mining company, and set up a mine to harvest the richest deposit in memory. To defend their mine against possible rivals and hostile natives, the Ice Castle was built. A massive structure, it was partly built by magic, and partly built of countless gallons of water frozen into clear ice by the relentless cold.
The mine was fantastically rich in nature - the gold required little more then breaking up of the ‘ore’ to release solid nuggets of gold!
And so, even half a world away from civilization, the mine was very profitable. Even with gold laden ships occasionally succumbing to the elements, sea-beasts and pirates, enough treasure made it to Stoneholt to allow for major transformations in that vast city. Its growing wealth led to more and more immigrants settling there. And then the first ship came back empty…
There is no Mine. The source of the immense wealth is a massive necropolis covered by hundreds of feet of ice directly beneath the Ice Castle. Here are interred the remains of huge, 18’ tall reptilian humanoids - the Giants of Stoneholt! The location was found after a Temple of Stoneholt was successfully breached and an inscribed map found and partially translated.
But the reason why the ships are retuning empty handed is more mundane. Not all of the merchants in Stoneholt were part of the consortium, and a second group arose, largely Eastward merchants, who sent out a group of adventures and mercenaries to seize the mines. The Company suspects this but has no proof. Once the truth is known, possibly through the efforts of the PCs, the Mercantile Wars of Stoneholt will start, though in truth the strike against Ice Castle was the initial salvo.
The Eastward Merchants mercenaries were successful, but the battle was hardly one sided, and the battled awakened something… that then fell upon the victorious but weakened mercenaries and destroyed most of them. There where a few survivors who scattered into the icy landscape, and may be found later by the PCs.
Enter the PCs
The PCs have joined an expedition put on by the Sagaris Mining Company to retake the mines. The company has put out a call for mercenaries and ‘trouble-shooters’ and have offered high pay, free transport and supplies. Many have answered the call, including PCs, and now an expedition of three large merchantmen, armed to naval standards, and carrying supplies and powerful armed warriors is leaving port.
Terms of payment are up to the GM, but will be unusually high for such work. It is possible that even items of magic may be part of the deal, but this should be unlikely unless your world is very high magic. The company will prefer to pay with gold. Terms will be for up to 50% of the fee payable at the start, once the PCs have boarded ship. Virtually any reasonable equipment request will be provided, though no dog-sleds are currently available in Stoneholt. It seems any have already been purchased, though the sellers will keep mum on who has purchased what.
The PCs will be informed that the company has lost contact with their mine and that they are paying for the expedition to reestablish contact, even it if it requires besieging an invader. They have a theory that a rival Merchant union may be behind it, but currently have no proof. The last ship to return found that no caravans had come to the port when expected, and was more then a week overdue. A party sent to make contact similarly never returned.
Three ships are scheduled to leave Stoneholt to undergo the dangerous passage - the Cormorant, Marhy’s Mettle and the Frothrider, the PCs ship.
Additional Ideas (6)
Chapter 1: The Icy SeasThe passage from Stoneholt is a long and dangerous - fully two weeks at sea. To add to the stress is the presence of the mercenaries and other adventurer groups, who may be rivals of the PCs. Stress, boredom and rivalries could spark a full blown battle on the confined area of the ship. In addition to the simple hazards of such a journey, they will face several threats en route:
1. The Seamonsters:The Salwar, Giant walrus-like carnivores unnaturally hostile to humanity, will attack the ship during a period of fairly light winds. They are strong enough to propel themselves from the water onto the ships. They can also try and knock crew off into the water by bowling into them. The Salwar are almost psychotic in their intent to kill and their size makes them a deadly threat. Unable to sink the ships by breaching the hull, enough of them can overburden a ship and swamp it.
2. The Ice Storm"All hands on deck" The day is as dreadful as any has been so far on the trip. Heavy seas make it impossible to get comfortable below. Suddenly, a hatch is opened and the boatswain calls 'All hands on deck - and that means you! The ship is in danger!" If the PCs venture on the deck - and they had better, unless they want the ship to flounder, they see that virtually everything is coated with ice. The tallship's mast and rigging groan under the weight of it. Sailors frantically scramble over the icy rigging, desperately trying to remove the ice before the weight causes the ship to turn turtle, and condemn all to an icy, wet grave. "For Gods sakes, help chip off the ice!" shouts the boatswain. The PCs can help as their resources and ingenuity will allow. Careful use of spells and magic items may speed the effort. So long as they try, the ship will survive. Not all of the ships will be so lucky: To their right, The Cormorant is less lucky, and suddenly, the vessel tips - sending sailors screaming into the frigid waters, and the keel swings into the air. Shortly thereafter, the stricken vessel slips beneath the waves. The PCs might be able to help with magic, but virtually all of the passengers and crew are likely to be lost in the killing waters. While working, PCs need to occasionally make dexterity or equivalent checks to avoid injury. Possible outcomes of failure are injury to self or other with tools, loss of tools/weapons overboard, falling - either on deck or overboard, being hit by falling debris or anything else the GM can think of. This work is dangerous.
3. The Killing FogA strange fog descends upon the ship, limiting visibility to just a few feet. Within the fog is an array of evil spirits who will then enter the ship and cause one or more misfortunes:
Effects of the Killing Fog... 1. A crew member or rival adventurer is possessed and become psychotic. This may or may not spark a general brawl depending on how blatant the possession is. 2. A crew member or rival adventurer simply disappears into the fog. Someone _might_ hear a body fall into the water, but the encompassing fog makes rescue unlikely. 3. A shipboard animal - perhaps a pet, war dog, or other beast, undergoes a grotesque transformation, becoming demonic in visage and attacking. 4. Several crewmen are found dead, their skin a dreadfully pale white. Unless properly disposed of with funeral rites, they will come back to haunt the ship. Searching of the ship turns up nothing. 5. Incorporeal undead board the ship - perhaps as minor as poltergeists, or as deadly as wraiths. 6. All sources of fire are snuffed and refuse to light for many hours after the fog dissipates. The cold may claim some unless magical warmth is available.If the GM chooses to lengthen the voyage, Appendix A contains a list of other potential occurrences to fill the time. Towards the end of the trip, yet another violent storm strikes, putting the ships in grave danger and sending the PC's ship (at least) horrendously off course.
Chapter 2: The BarrensThe terrible storm rocks and shakes the ships and cuts visibility to zero. Once the storm clears after several violent, dangerous days, the PCs find their ship blown very much off course and the Marhy's Mettle no where in sight. During the storm, many of the crew were lost, and the captain among them. While the crew tries to restore order, the ship runs aground hard! Little time is available to abandon ship, as the hull is battered against hard rock and ice, enough for the surviving PCs and crew to manage to make their way ashore. All of the extra provisions and supplies not carried personally are lost beneath the icy waves. The GM is free to have as many or as few NPC's survive the landing as desired. Perhaps a rival party will try and strike it to the castle before the PC's do, or perhaps they will join forces. As the survivors pull themselves ashore, sputtering and shivering, they see a formidable group of people and .. things .. approach. Not far from where the ship has gone aground is a Megamoth Hunter's village, and shortly the PCs are met on the beach by a war party of the the Hunters, for the hunters have learned to be wary, and they have brought along at least one Megamothoid. The Hunters are not hostile, but very wary. Once the Megamoth Hunters are satisfied that this is not an attack - easily done given the dire condition of most of the crew, the PCs are approached by Nomak Unotak. This outgoing and bubbly toothless old warrior is the tribes spokesman and knows several languages - partially. He will welcome the PCs, surviving NPCs and crew to his village where shelter, food and limited medical aid will be provided. If the PCs ask Nomak to purchase dogsleds or the like, he will indicate that they have too few to spare, and even more so if they inquire about the Megamoth. However, this will prompt him to say thay there might be the possibility to get one. The Hunters recently lost two of their megamothoids to a crevasse occupied by a great evil spirit, and if the PCs help recover them, they will lend them one to make the journey across the glacial ice to the Ice Castle. Few other options exist, for apart from seizing goods from the Megamoth hunters, there is little available to mount an expedition - either to the ice castle, or to Port Leeward. So the PCs are left with the choices of staying and waiting for spring or rescue - 6 months distant, attempting to travel poorly equipped, or making the requested arrangement for access to a Megamoth. The Crevasse Deep in the glacier, a creature of nightmare dwells. The Methranar is lost spirit of an older age, and wears the form of a massive bearlike creature with white fur. Its claws and teeth are of razor-sharp ice and its breath can steal the warmth from the stoutest soul. Eyes filled with cold, bright light gaze upon the world with malice. It was awoken by the footfalls of the Megamothoids which regularly passed by. He carved a trap, creating a chamber under the ice, weakening the surface so that the next procession of Megamothoids on their patrols, would fall within. His plan worked, and now his lair is adorned by the two massive bone and sinew figures, along with the bones of their devoured crews. And so he waits for others. The hunters will not risk another of their precious Megamothoids on the recovery effort, but will send a number of large dogsleds equipped with much hide rope and other supplies. These will, however, follow the PCs at a safe distance and avoid any combat. If the PCs want their aid, they must defeat the Methranar themselves. Within the icy pit, the Methranar is a deadly foe - there is little cover and the ice is slippery and sharp in places. If the beast misses on a strike, his claws will send showers of ice shards if they happen to hit the walls of the pit. There are side tunnels and overhangs the Methranar can retreat to if assaulted with missile weapons, and it can carve new tunnels though the ice at walking speed. Should the PCs defeat it, it will quickly lose its coloration and fade into a mound of transparent ice. This ice, when melted, can be used in the production of potions with either greater ease of brewing, or slightly greater power. Once the threat is ended, recovery can proceed. The task is difficult and dangerous, but is straightforward. Both of the Megamothoids are somewhat damaged, their crew compartments torn open and some controls damaged. Once they are brought back, the local shamans and craftsmen can quickly rebuilt and restore the mystical constructs, and one will be made available to the PCs for use in their quest. It is expected that it is to be returned, otherwise the hunters will consider the PCs enemies in any future encounters. The Methranar can be substituted with other monster types - Frost Giants, icewyrms, etc, as long as there is a rather hard going battle. Complication: A rival group of adventurers will attempt to recover the Megamothoids once the coast is clear, trying to beat the PCs to the punch.
PCs and the Megamothoids The Megamothoids are a little difficult to control, with separate bone levers controlling the arms and legs. A Megamothoid takes a crew of three to operate properly, one for the arms, the other for the legs and a third to 'command', keeping an eye out without having to concentrate on moving each limb. Additional tent-like compartments armored with heavy hides and bone plates can contain additional passengers and/or cargo, with up to 8 man-sized beings (including crew) carried. The magic of the Megamothoid is strong, and so the Megamothoid will keep from toppling over unless it is very badly mishandled, or struck by a very severe blow.The Trek to the Ice Castle Depending on if the PCs are using a Megamothoid, dogsleds or hoofing it, they will find the trek quite lengthy. It is 200 miles from the Hunters Village to the Ice Castle. Skillful negotiation on part of the PCs could obtain a guide to get them withing sight of the castle, though the guide would return as soon as the PCs were that close. The Megamothoid can travel about 100 miles/day over the icy plains before needing to 'recharge' for 8 hours. The Megamothoid has excellent traction and mobility in the snow, so it is able to maintain this speed regardless of terrain (unless blocked by deep water, ravines or the like). There is little fuel or food apart from the occasional 'tumbleweed' and rare encounter, so it will be tough going unless the PCs are well prepared. The physically weak and/or poorly equipped will not make it across the wide ice-fields unless truly lucky. Once the Glacial lands are reached, they will not encounter any living encounters - only terrain, weather or remnants will be found. During the winter, even the Megamoths avoid the ice. See Appendix B for additional encounters as desired.