Wilderness encounters on a frozen lake - ideas wanted!


If your gaming group is dangerously preoccupied with centaur player characters, please do not read this:

So, I am to run a little adventure, for level ~10 characters, set along a frozen lake shore during deepest winter. The PCs are tasked with finding/rescuing a group of trailblazers, who disappeared while establishing a trade route from Port Ice to Chesed. More details here.

The players might be traveling on dog sleds, instead of magical travel, due to the region being rather uncharted and the mission including checking the the whole length of the route in addition to finding the lost pioneers.

I am looking to build an array of possible encounters - combat or otherwise. The environment is a frozen lake shore with large stretches of dense but low arctic shrub land. The region is largely inaccessible wilderness in winter, though in summer there might be some hunting camps etc.

Feel free to suggest anything, but I do have a preference for encounters playing with the theme of freezing temperatures, darkness, and utterly hostile weather conditions.

Thanks in advance!

Yuki-Onna under the ice. Flavoring them as less japanese and more just the natives of the region. Cause a blizzard while crossing the lake, pop out from under the ice to attack, retreat under it if they surround or get close.

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a frozen lake, I mean, a really frozen lake, has several feet of ice between you and the water. It's flat, clear (no trees or grass), and very, very white.

Hide a MacGuffin in the middle of a large frozen lake, and assault the players with advanced shadows in the middle of a blizzard. He, he, he...

If they have to cross the lake at any point, have an encounter where a suitably-sized beasty attacks by crashing through the ice. Creates water hazards every time it pops up or dives back down to reposition.

I feel like anything taking advantage of terrain could use a druid somewhere to usher other creatures or the environment.

Dark Archive

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If you want your party to find those trailblazers back alive, you might want to consider Andrazku Demons. These creatures kidnap and beat their captives, occasionally let them "escape" only to drag them back and beat them up some more. If you want them to be a challenge to your party, you might need to add some templates/class levels. But you could also use them as is to create an encounter that is meant to keep the trailblazers alive; your PC's might not find them so threatening, but those NPC's could die if they don't handle it correctly.

If you want an encounter to revolve around them navigating the tundra/ice lake, you might want to consider the Ijiraq. It is an Hide in Plain Sight Elk (Fey creature) that disorientates people with its gaze (causing a -20 on perception/survival). It could even be the reason the trailblazer party disappeared in the first place (they got lost and entered hostile territory).

As for a simple combat encounter, Thremindyrs could make a fun battle. These things can actually sense when someone has protected itself against cold damage (which they also loath you for doing). They might actually strip the party of their protection, making them more vulnerable during later encounters (or with less resources if they reapply their protections).

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I don't know what your APL is, but there's the old standby, the White Dragon.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 8

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You said suggest anything so, I'm gonna say... Red Dragon.

Now hear me out:

At around 10th lvl, the party is pretty tough. They probably have access to a lot of resources and they probably geared up for dealing with the cold, the weather, the icy lake - all of it.

Bet they didn't prepare for the exact opposite.

Imagine their surprise when, while crossing the frozen lake, along comes a Red Dragon whose breath weapon not only burns.. but melts the ice they are standing on. Especially if it starts to refreeze immediately after.

I said Red Dragon, but really, any fire based creature would do the trick.

Just a thought outside the box.

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Ice==Remorhaz. Their immunity to both fire and cold makes them challenging to blasters. The Heat ability is terrible surprise to the pouncing wildshaped druid and his animal companion, or the monk. "Ok Fred you hit the creature five times, take 40d6 damage". Other melee types might just melt their weapon. Archers are just fine as usual, sitting in the back, shooting their bows. Until the second remorhaza bursts out from under the ice. Have them use Awesome blow on the melee fighters and swallow the archers and casters whole.

Thank you for so many good ideas, this is great pool to pick from!

The dragon idea (especially the surprise red) is something that I honestly didn't even think of - unfortunately, due to a string of events during the preceding Kingmaker campaign (the new tsarina in the region is a devout worshiper of Apsu), the presence of a chromatic dragon in the region is highly unlikely. But then again, a surprise appearance of one could make for some excellent drama on a larger level too.

Other critters mentioned seem very plausible too - I'm somewhat infatuated with the Ijiraq idea.

A couple more things I came up with:

An akhlut could be a pretty cool - ambushing the party through the ice. Perhaps a young one, not a huge threat to the PCs but one that could still gobble up their sled dogs and leave them stranded.

And then, a wendigo. Now here me out, I'm thinking of sticking the young template on it and then afflicting it with a severe curse (one laid upon it during the last stand of a spellcaster traveling with the trailblazers). Still, going with this option might necessitate higher party level even with these adjustments... But I can't help loving the flavour of the wendigo in this scenario...

EDIT: Now that I think of it, a buffed Ijiraq with some minions might very well make for a more interesting main encounter than a gimped wendigo. It's thematically very appropriate too, considering the prominence of fey int the preceeding kingmaker campaign as well. Plus the whole scenario here is perfect for the Ijiraq, flavourwise!

The monster surfaces like this, showing only a "small" (gargantuan) part first...before its true kaiju-class bulk emerges.

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The ghosts of heavily armoured knights, who centuries ago were goaded into charging at their foes across the frozen lake - only to fall through the ice and drown.

Don't forget some oozes on the icy lake or in the surrounding snowbanks. A living lake ooze is probably way too powerful at this point, but freezing flows and glacial oozes could be safe to have the party stumble into or run over top of, possibly floating in holes in the ice and resembling the ice itself with only a minor covering or dusting of snow. A gray ooze is also immune to fire if the PCs try and use that against them (and does acid, since they'll probably be protected from cold).
None of the oozes are very powerful alone, so probably two should be encountered together. Their transparency abilities may not seem too high for a Perceptive PC to beat, but depending on the length of the dog sleds used, you could fairly make it much tougher to be spotted (and any fog or mist on the icy surface or swirling snow could hinder identification).

Having the first couple of dogs trample over an ooze and get automatically engulfed can be pretty scary, especially if the ooze was floating in a hole in the ice (looking like a solid patch) and after it engulfs a dog, it starts dragging its meal underwater, pulling the sled and the other dogs along. Possibly the tethers could snap before disaster occurs (or a gray ooze's acid eats through).

There are also some classic options.

Ice Elemental
Ice Mephit

a single mephit on it's own probably isn't much of a challenge, but a horde of them using hit and run tactics could be a major pain since they have fast healing and DR. So, Unless you drop one completely, it can run away and then come back at full health a little while later, with it's breath weapon recharged to boot.

You could even throw normal forest type creatures at them. Many of them do say "any forest" which would include a frozen forest lake and so they aren't unreasonable.

I second the Remorhaz. You could have it be the pet of the creepy Ijiraq man-elk thing. Both make sense thematically.

VoodistMonk wrote:
I second the Remorhaz. You could have it be the pet of the creepy Ijiraq man-elk thing. Both make sense thematically.

Is the wendigo what you are referring to?

No! The Ijiraq is a creepy elk thing, but it be a lowly CR 9, you see. It's a much less scary Wendigo. Has a gaze attack, throws some javelins, doesn't drain your wisdom or turn you into one of itself.

One thing's for sure: It'll convince the party to start flying full-time.

The Ijiraq (CR 9) is a warden of the north, and the Remorhaz (CR 7) is just a big dumb monster that eats stuff, so I figure it would be perfectly believable to have the intelligent elk-man thing conscript the help of one of nature's beasts to aid in his efforts to thwart whatever the party is doing.

The two of them together should be a nice encounter for a level ~10 party, in my opinion.

The Ijiraq gaze attack only effects Survival and Perception checks, so it's not going to be a huge deal. He just keeps hiding in plain sight, throwing his javelins.

The Remorhaz can actually swallow whole up to four medium creatures, individually, of course. And touching it hurts you, or your weapon, so discretion is advised.

Either one by itself is easy peasy for a level ~10 party, but together, in their own environment, you can make it as challenging as you please.

Grand Lodge

Why not the lake itself? an Elder Ice Elemental. ;)

1) Areas of naturally thin ice ... whether due to rapid water movement underneath where a stream, creek or river enters or perhaps a hot spring.
2) Regions of ice build-up particularly along the leeward shoreline. The ice in such areas can be anything but flat instead built into jagged ridges of icy chunks by the wind.
3) Frost giants on patrol riding huge catamaran-type ice boats. Or other humanoid raider type of choice.
4) Temporary dwellings, even small villages might appear on the lake particularly if several months of frozen lake are an annual occurrence.
5) I for one like to tweak and alter known creatures especially for experienced players. How about a Green Hag or Sea Hag (or a coven of such) altered to account for their cold/icy environment.
6) Flip the idea of a fire creature around and encounter something that normally screams use fire on it. A mummy or troll perhaps.

Skum are water-dwelling, cold-resistant humanoids. Perhaps some of their ruins are at the bottom of the lake. If so they might well keep tunnels to the surface open.

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An Aquatic Elf community lives at the bottom of the lake, and they've recently been plagued by Diresharks (or Weresharks).

Remorhaz have been increasing their attacks, especially nearby Ice-hole fishing towns.

Ice Wendigos have come down from the mountains to seek whatever food they can find on the frozen lake. They've even taken to raiding well-traveled paths between the townships of the lake.

The PC's come across a large manor on the middle of the lake that is quite lavish, effusive and luxurious. Many statues of humans, elves and other humanoids, as well as beasts, adorn the grounds of the manor like ornaments. A medusa Rogue and her two sisters live here, and they hunt for sport.

A Black (or White) Dragon lives beneath the ice, and he's greatly wounded a Silver Dragon. The PC's happen upon the wounded Silver Dragon, who appears close to death.

Arctic Druids have declared war with SleepyPeaceful town because an adolescent boy hunted and slayed a deer (or an arctic hare) near their grove. They sneak in at night and summon Ice Elementals and other allies of Nature to destroy the town.

An Aboleth erupts from the ice and attempts to eat the PC's and their sled dogs, possibly leaving them stranded on the ice.

The PC's happen upon a cast of Giant Crabs that have been forced to migrate, and they are hungry...

A troupe of Nereids have found a well-traveled path they can use to woo and beguile passersby.

A coven of Sea Hags and Winter Witches have abducted 5 adolescent teenagers from SleepyPeaceful town and are planning to sacrifice them in an unholy ritual.

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