Crevasses – basically cracks in glaciers – are a type of dungeon I first encountered in the Secret of the Silver Blades, where they lead up to the evil Dreadlord’s castle. Cringeworthy as that sounds, I’ve always loved the idea of a band of adventurers exploring the bottom of crevasses – the combination of dangerous environment, bitter cold, and even unearthly beauty is quite potent. Snowy environments are also much neglected, in my opinion, so here’s the chance to kill two yetis with one chunk of ice.
The crevasses will be a fairly irregular mess. There are similarities with caves, but the passages will mostly be narrow and long. Lots of dead ends. A similar feature – ice caves – can offer larger, covered spaces.
Use: The crevasses is probably best used as an obstacle, or rather, a passage through an obstacle – the glacier. It could connect to one or more destinations. One trope is the hidden valley full of lush vegetation, warmed by magic or volcanic vents. Another the frozen castle or similar lair. Or turn it around – the crevasses are the only means of escape from the white dragon’s lair.
The crevasses also serve as a “man vs nature” subplot. Adequate equipment, food, and protection from the cold will be essential to the protagonist’s survival.
Enemies: Since the structures are of a fairly temporary nature, your adventurers won’t find much in the way of permanent settlements. Opponents will be related to cold – yetis, snow elementals, frost giants, ice mephits, you name it. Less fortunate adventurers who fell into the crevasses could now rise as frosted-over zombies, awoken by the warmth of the player characters’ campsite.
The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was a massive vehicle designed by Thomas Pulter in the late 1930s. Intended to facilitate transport in Antarctica, it was a failure: its smooth wheels were unsuitable for gaining traction in the snow and the vehicle’s weight caused it to sink 90cm into the snow. Ironically, the wheels produced more traction when the vehicle drove backwards. The snow cruiser was then used as shelter for the expedition before being abandoned. The start of World War II prevented further funding.
The snow cruiser was rediscovered twice; once in the 1940s – when it only needed air in its tires to become operational – and once in 1958. The fate of the snow cruiser is unknown; it is likely buried deep in the ice or sunk to the bottom of the ocean when the ice shelf it was left on split.
Use of the Snow Cruiser
The snow cruiser is an excellent gimmick for any type of campaign or story:
Discovering the Snow Cruiser could be an event/encounter in an Antarctic hex crawl. Wild animals or monsters could make their home in it, and perhaps some useful items were left in the vehicle.
Like the original, it could make the core of a makeshift base; it could even be used to hide the entrance to an underground base.
A working model may be used by secret agents in a Bond style adventure
Vehicles similar to the Snow Cruiser could be used on other planets in a Traveller science fiction campaign, presumably it would especially work on smaller, low gravity worlds.
In a steampunk or weird science setting, the snow cruiser may be even bigger than it actually was.
According to rumor the original Snow Cruiser was taken by the Soviets. This is almost certainly not true, but in your adventure or story this could very well be the case – Especially if some sort of classified information was left on board, or a secret technology used in the construction of the vehicle (perhaps a new type of nuclear battery or miniature fusion power plant in a Sci Fi context).
One of the great things about the Icy Embrace of Winter is that it introduces environmental dangers to an otherwise perfectly hospitable and safe region. The complications caused by these dangers add difficulty to an otherwise normal situation and create a sense of urgency since prolonged exposure to the elements can cause injury or death. Most of the dangers can be mitigated with preparation and technology, but even a modern society can buckle or break down under severe weather conditions.
Here’s a checklist of environmental conditions to consider in a winter scenario:
Snow: The most obvious one. Snow can make travel difficult and even block access to some locations entirely. Even in a modern setting, roads could be uncleared, making access to – or escape from – your adventure locale difficult or impossible. Buildings can be damaged or even collapse under the weight of accumulated snow. Snowfall reduces visibility and can covert tracks, making wilderness orienteering harder.
Ice: Lakes and even rivers can freeze over completely; this allows people on foot, or maybe even horse or car, access to locations they couldn’t go before, but it blocks travel by boat. Ice can be a hazard to shipping even if it’s not a continuous ice cover – famously illustrated by the fate of the Titanic. On land, ice can make roads or other terrain impassable (because it’s slippery) and it can damage or destroy infrastructure.
Wind: Storms and snow can combine to create blizzards. Without protective goggles, this can further reduce visibility – to the point of being essentially blinding. Wind also causes snow drifts and can shift snow into otherwise sheltered places. Wind chill will enhance the effects of low temperature on animals and humans by increasing the rate at which their bodies cool down. And of course, high winds can cause further damage to infrastructure by themselves.
Cold: Prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause hypothermia and frostbite. Elderly people and infants are more susceptible than adults. Temperature below freezing can damage vegetation, and thus destroy harvests if it’s unseasonal. It can cause pipes to burst. If a city depends on an external source of fresh water – for example brought in by Aqueduct – this can complicate life, though the citizens can always melt ice and snow for drinking water. Remember that cold is relative; a society in a Mediterranean or tropical climate is less prepared to deal with cold than people who live in subarctic regions.
Frostbite: Damage to body tissue caused by cold. A wind chill of -30C will cause frostbite in 30 minutes. Frostbite causes loss of feeling in and a white or pale appearance of fingers, toes, ear lobes or the nose. Extreme frostbite can cause these to essentially die, requiring amputation. It’s not pretty and presumably not something you wish to inflict on your protagonists; but there are always side characters/NPCs.
Hypothermia: If a person’s body temperature drops below 35°C, it can eventually kill. Survivors may still experience lasting damage to internal organs. Warning signs include shivering, memory loss and disorientation, and incoherence. Victims will also appear drowsy and exhausted. This is probably more suitable for a protagonist or player character, and, as it increases the difficulty of regular tasks, much more likely to add drama and tension to a situation than frostbite.
Creatures: In a more fantastic or science fiction setting, winter may bring creatures to inhabited lands that do not normally venture there – The Wendigo, Yetis, ice elementals, or even white dragons. Such creatures may actually also be beneficial, since sources for food are scarce in winter, and their fur or scales may be a valuable commodity.
February’s Blog Carnival is about the Icy Embrace of Winter, and I will be posting on an assortment of winter-related topics. To start my contributions off, I decided to post something I almost never do. Information about Enderra – the titular world of this blog. Enderra is host to a large pantheon; the Enderran god of Winter is Borell:
Borell God of winter, ice and snow, coldness Personality: Grim, emotionless, stubborn Appearance: An old man, bearded and grim and clothed in furs. Symbol: Snowflake Alignment: Neutral (evil tendencies) D&D 3rd Ed. Domains: Water, Air, Winter Preferred Weapon: Long bow
Borell is the grim lord of winter. If the world was built according to his will, then everything were to freeze over, and snow would blanket the world. Borell is constantly locked in conflict with Helion, the solar deity, and neither of the two gods can ever gain an upper hand in their struggle. The seasons are the direct result of this conflict. This means that Borell is one of the most powerful gods, as he is able to stand up to the sun god himself.
Borell is usually depicted as a grim man wearing furs of arctic animals. He wears a long bow on his back. He has gray eyes and white hair, as well as a white, thick but short beard. He is grim and bad tempered, and doesn’t acknowledge his worshipers much – although his clerics are granted spells as normal.
As a consequence, Borell doesn’t have many temples or an organized cult. Instead he is usually worshiped by hunters, savages who live in the subarctic and arctic areas, and by rural folk during the winter months. His holiday is Snowfall, which is celebrated when the first snow falls (and thus never falls on the same day). On this day, people pray to Borell and ask for a merciful – short and mild – winter.
This month I am hosting the Blog Carnival for the RPG Blog Alliance. Our topic: The Icy Embrace of Winter.
How do you incorporate Winter, Snow, Ice, and Frost into your games? What evocative places have your adventurers visited? What terrors lurk our in the snow-covered forests? What alien creatures burrow beneath the glaciers of the polar continent? How do you simulate the effects of the cold season (or the frozen continent) in your game? Is winter somehow strange and unusual in your world? What are the cultural effects of cold climate on your game world, and are there any important holidays or customs related to it? Do wizards make use of cold-related magic? Do vengeful gods terrorize the people with unnatural blizzards?
Winter and snow are a good choice for “Man versus Nature” settings; snow can add isolation and thus a sense of danger and urgency to any adventure. It doesn’t have to be a fantasy setting either; think of the snow planet Hoth in Star Wars, the Wendigo as used in Call of Cthulhu, or The Thing from Another World, which would not be the same story anywhere but the North Pole.
It’s a topic as wide open as the snowy plains of the northern Tundra. Let your imagination run wild, and share your posts on the subject with us throughout the month. Please post a comment with a link, or send me a personal message so I can include your blog and post in the summary post!