The party had been floating amidst the icebergs on the Sea of Moving Ice for half a week without any idea of what they were looking for. They assumed that since they live in a fantasy world that they’d know it when they see it: a massive ice-castle (been there), or maybe some kind of towering draconic effigy…you know, something that screams “Hey! Over here! This is where the evil’s happening!” But, alas, no.
It was only by coincidence of the most opportune sort that a messenger bird reached them on their third day. “Greetings from Lady Dala Silverhelm,” the bird intoned. “She sends this important message to help you in your search.” Around the bird’s next was a messenger’s capsule, which contained a letter from Lady Silverhelm.
With this knowledge, the party’s druid took a bird form of her own, an
eagle more appropriate snow owl and flew out to perform recon for this distinctive-but-not-quite-so-obviously-evil iceberg. It was easily located, being about an additional two days row from their current general area. She returned with a good sense of the layout of the thing, including the fact that there seemed to be an Ice Hunter village sitting on the upper plateau.
The Frostskimmr tied up to a lower shelf of the berg and the party disembarked. Lerustah didn’t want to leave his ship or split his crew, what with the dangerous creatures that were swimming below them, so he offered the party a translator from his crew named Dugan who knew the Ice Hunter’s language and a bit about their culture. The boat skedaddled to a nearby floe where they could better wait for the party’s “all clear” signal to swing back and pick them up.
This lower shelf was the parking garage for the Ice Hunter fishing boats, but also seemed like it was a graveyard of sorts. Bones of all sizes were littering the ground, from small fish bones to what were probably/hopefully seal bones, all the way up to a massive set of bones that might possibly belong to some pelagic creature of some kind — if they were lucky. Speaking of being lucky, or rather the inverse of that, there were also human bones among the refuse.
In order to get to the plateau of the berg, the party used a set of stairs carved into a crevasse. At the top, the party was met with a gruesome site: a wall of solid ice, embedded in which were ten corpses. The Ice Hunters apparently do not like visitors.
After navigating their way through the frozen wasteland of the top of the iceberg, the party came to the village where they were met by…the village. The whole damn village, including the warriors, the chief and his champion, and the tribe’s shaman (shawoman). The chief was direct, welcoming them but asking them what they wanted. The party mentioned that they were looking for Maccath the Red, but the chief claimed that there was no one there by that name. The shaman added that they hadn’t seen any outsiders in quite some time, in fact. Nope. No outsiders.
“What about those bones down there?” the waladin asked.
“Oh, those old things?” the shaman replied. “We got the other tribes together to take down a leviathan, and everyone ate really well for weeks!”
The waladin didn’t see anything wrong with these answers, but the druid was skeptical, especially since the chief lost his shit when the party got around to asking about Arauthator. “He used to live here,” the shaman said. “But he got into a fight with some ice giants and was never seen again. We just really like the view from this berg, so we decided to stay.”
At this point, the chief basically expelled the party from the village, so the party turned and left….only about as far as they needed to go to be out of eye-shot.
“Maybe we can put them into a difficult position,” the waladin suggested. “Like if we challenge their champion to a duel.”
Dugan the translator replied, “the Ice Hunters do have a well defined code of honor, and one-on-one combat is a valid means for establishing a right among the tribes.”
“Or maybe we can sneak in,” the waladin added, covering all bases. “Whatever we think we could pull off.”
The party settled on the combat approach, knowing how their attempts at stealth had been in the past. Dugan informed them that because the tribe’s code demanded a test of physical strength, the use of magic would be prohibited, so the ranger elected to be the point elf on this task.
“Yo chief!” the party shouted as they returned to the village. “We challenge your champion to a duel of honor!”
“Aiight, fools,” the chief said. “You win, you earn the Right of Hospitality for the night. We win, you get the hell off our lawn, capishe?”
“Let’s do it,” the ranger said, and they did, down to literally the last hitpoint. There were a few stumbles for both sides: the ranger lost his weapon at one point, and the village champion slipped on an exposed patch of ice. Thanks to the ranger’s Colossus Slayer and the champion’s inability to get his shield to work correctly, the party carried the day, although the ranger was grievously (like, within 2 HP of his life) wounded.
“Fine!” the chief stamped. “You can hang out here for the night. We’ll be serving dinner soon, and we’ll talk then.”
+ + +
The timely arrival of the letter from Lady Dala was a last-minute band-aid to patch the fuck up of not having provided the party information on what they were looking for. Thankfully the Hosttower is within reach of the party’s cold-water launching pad, so their Harper guide could totally have gone there for more information and not made anything look too mea culpa.
Like a lot of RP situations, imparting an in-character vibe using OOC delivery to a group of meta-gaming players who should be limiting their understanding of the situation to what their characters perceive is really tricky all around. Ice Hunters are supposed to be nomadic, but here’s a tribe that’s obviously set down roots. That’s suspicious enough based on what Dugan told the party about Ice Hunter behavior, and although the denials from the chief and shaman seemed mostly legit based on the rolls people were failing, there was certainly an undercurrent of mistrust. What triggered that mistrust is the super tricky part: is it because of the subject matter at hand — the missing scholar and the dragon — or could it be something else?
I liked the fact that the party pretty much nailed the module’s approach almost on the nose. Although the stealth option wasn’t in the book, I had a plan for that…actually, I had a plan if they’d actually just turned and left the plateau, but instead they went with the avenue that the module provided: the one-on-one combat. I hadn’t actually considered the ramifications of this until the decision had been made, the combat tracker cleared and reset with the ranger and Orcaheart the village champion, and started eyeballin’ the champion’s stats: 165HP compared to the ranger’s 68, and the champion has three multi-melee attacks or two multi-ranged attacks, a shield bash, and (fortunately for the ranger, I didn’t grasp how best to use it) a Parry reaction which added 3 to his AC versus melee attacks. The ranger had two attacks, which triggered his Colossus Slayer ability for an extra d6 of damage when they both hit, so that helped. He also applied a -4 to enemy’s subsequent ToHit when the enemy hit the first time on any multi-attack, negating the three-pronged attack strategy more than a few times. When the champion did use shield bash the first time — with a critical roll that knocked the ranger down and disarmed him — I forgot to apply the Shield Bash damage, so additional hits with the same attack had to also go damageless to be fair. Had everything gone according to the letter of the NPC, the ranger would most certainly not have survived, and would have not-survived early on. As it was, the fight was insanely close: the champion was reduced to 0 HP and the ranger had only 2 HP left. That is what you call a duel.