1.1 An Overview of the Frozen North
The PCs hail from the Klavek Kingdom, the most powerful country in the world. The kingdom is paying citizens to pack up and relocate to the small fishing of Rybalka. The monarchy has had difficulty convincing citizens to relocate to Rybalka due to its close proximity to Vikmordere territory.
The horrific stories of Vikmordere brutality keep many Klavekians from accepting the relocation offer. Tales persist of frequent raids on the Klavekian lowland towns and villages. All Klavekian children are told frightening bedtime stories of the Vikmordere. The tales speak of demon-like Vikmordere warriors who arrive at nightfall to slay the Klavekians and steal their belongings. They are described as ghostly demons who return to their ships with their loot, only to disappear back into the mountains from which they came. Recently the monarchy has sought out adventurers looking for fame and riches, both of which are promised to be found in Vikmordere lands. The Klavek Kingdom is paying a handsome sum to adventurers brave enough to make the trek. In the past, the journey to Rybalka has been plagued by many tragedies. Thus the Klavek Military now personally escorts new potential citizens and adventurers to Rybalka via ship.
But the Vikmordere are far from being the only problem in the North. Goblins, trolls, giants, remorhaz, mammoth and linnorms, even wooly minotaurs are rumored to live in the frozen lands, which are dotted with the occasional ruin of a civilization that’s named the Ancient by some, the Ancestors by others. The spellcasters of this long crumbled civilization are assumed to have enriched their blood with the magic of both Earth and Sun. Other rumors tell about the race of oreads, now scattered about the mountains of the Klavek Kingdom, being descendants from the Ancestors.
Who knows what kind of proof and what other surprises are covered by the endless snow? Some lunatics even talk about vast chambers being under the earth, of flying castles and precious flowers, of feys ruling the woods where devils run rampant, and a mighty dryad to rule them all.
People drink much in the North to keep themselves warm, and it reflects in their tales!
1.1.1 Flora of the North
This is a small flower with purple petals, small leaves and thin stem. From a distance it looks like a drop of blood on snow, hence its name. The petals of the Bloodflower can be crushed and are able to lessen the effects of intoxination with the single side effect of causing a bad breath. Winning a drinking contest versus an opponent who uses Bloodflowers in his drink is barely possible, for he won’t feel much of the effects and after a few mugs he just has to exhale in his opponent’s general direction. It not only stinks to turn all but a half-orc’s stomach, it also carries the alcoholic amounts it bound in the opponents direction.
Bloodflowers grow nearly everywhere, and certain people in Rybalka grow them in their gardens to give newcomers a special welcome in a friendly drinking contest.
The coldflower grows near the timberline. Its iceblue petals are cold to the touch. Coldflowers are liked by the remorhaz of the North, who eat them whenever possible. Even in a fight there’s a 1 in 4 chance that they eat instead of attacking. Additionally, when the remorhaz has eaten a coldflower the dreaded heat ability of the polar worms is dulled by the effect and only half as potent for an hour. Plucking a flower keeps that ability for but a day, and alchemists of the North have tried in vain to emulate the ability of the coldflower or at least keep it fresh for an extended time.
This flower is all green, petals, leaves and stem. It blooms only a few days each year, when the sun doesn’t set. The long leaves, which are curled when the eight orange petals are open, is highly prized in Klavekian noble restaurants, for it tastes like the very expensive fresh liver of a remorhaz. Obviously it’s much less dangerous plucking that taste then getting it fresh from a most likely enraged polar worm. The leaves have to be dusted as long as they are curled, then applied to meat like a spice. A single leave can turn the taste of a chicken into the taste of liver.
This plant is named after the notoriously closemouthed oreadians, for its petals are almost always closed, too. Only when its freezing cold the blue petals open and their nectar can be harvested. The oreadian flower is warm, almost hot, and attracts creatures by the warmth in order to procreate.
The nectar of one oreadian flower is enough to heal small wounds for 2-5 points of damage, but it heals the double amount of wounds from cold and, maybe due to its warmth, cures exhaustion from cold sources. Northerners are known for using magical cold to get the petals to open and to harvest them.
This tree grow sparsely on the northern edge of the Dark Wood. Its wood is very hard, able to dull a logger’s ax, but it’s easily affected by magic like Warp Wood, which has a stronger effect on the material and can easily transfer two times the normal amount. The oddest thing about the trees are its fruits, though. They ripe in the short summer of the North, then the nutlike shells open, releasing the seed. The shells keep hanging on the tree and freeze over as early as autumn. In the winter the winds let the shells chime and sometimes even sing. Certain feys collect the shells right before they thaw in spring, before they fall down and shatter, and use them to built musical instruments.
The Winterflower is the rarest flower in the world and even a festival is named after it. It thrives in cold mountainous regions and has a reputation for growing on difficult-to-access mountain peaks and cliffs. It is the only known flower to grow through layers of snow to reach the sunlight. The one to retrieve a Winterflower and transplant it near Rybalka receives great praise from the entire village. The Wildflower is considered a blessing which protects the village from harm. Only once in the past eight years has this feat been accomplished.
1.1.2 Fauna of the North
The animal life of the northern lands includes common animals big and small like yaks, vultures, rats or cave bears, but also a few less well known like those described below.
Coppercats live near the mines or with settlers who have adopted them but are rarely seen in other parts of the Rybalkan peninsula. They are named after their long coppery fur, but legend tells that this is not the only reason for their name. Dwarves and oreads are rumored to use them to sniff out valuable deposits of ore, and a legend tells of an oread who found the Rybalkan mine by following a coppercat through the mountains. In settlements coppercats like iron ovens, but that may be connected to the warmth those oven produce more than to the metal. Experiments with leashed coppercats in the mountains have but produced disinterested cats and frustrated would-be prospectors.
The daggersheep lives mainly at the shores of the Serpent Lake and in the lower reaches of the Jagged Crags. Though it looks like a sheep from afar, the name is misleading, for the daggersheep is biologically related to the goat, not the sheep. The daggerlike horns for which it is named and its aggressiveness when cornered makes it difficult to tame, so it usually is but hunted. It has a soft wool which is easy to weave and fat flesh to offer, but tends to flee into the mountain ranges like the goat it really is. The white wool it grows when the temperatures start to fall makes it difficult to spot in the snow. Winter clothes made out of daggersheep wool are warm, but stink heavily and tend to curl when wet, which hasn’t made it very popular in the Klavekian kingdom. The horns of a daggersheep are known to be able to store electricity during the summer storms in the Jagged Crags (see there for details).
The fourflowerhunter is a tiny predatory bird with orange wings, way too small to endanger humans or even halfling children. They live from insects, which they hunt while emulating the liverleaf flowers with their wings. Four of the birds form the image of one flower by sticking their heads together so that insects are fooled and fall an easy prey, almost flying directly into the beaks of the fourflowerhunters until it’s too late to get away in time.
1.2 Serpent Lake
An expansive lake which meanders hundreds of miles through the Vikmordere Valley. The valley and the lakes were carved out over two thousand years ago when a massive glacier passed through the area. In the great Serpent Lake the preferred method of travel is by boat. One must be cautious and hire an expensive and well trained navigator to steer through the maze that is Serpent Lake lest they lose their way.
The Lake is named after large slimy black predatory serpents which are spotted surfacing from time to time. Legends speak of a behemoth Serpent which dwells in the deepest darkest part of the lake. The Serpent is rumored to surface and feast upon entire ships which lose their way in the confusing corridor of linked lakes of the Vikmordere Valley.
The Serpent Lake is largely navigable over the whole year in most parts, only the shores freeze in winter in its southern and middle parts. Further north the lake almost totally freezes, maybe due to a lack of depth. Sages speculate about the reason for the southern and middle parts being so free of ice, hot springs in the depth being the most common explanation, though the water does indeed feel very cold. The oreads do think that there is salt in the sea, even if it is defined as freshwater, but the salt was somehow changed by the Ancestors, who were experts at earth magic and known to work with subterranean salts, as the Wall of Salt that seals Aisnley’s Lake from the Serpent Sea confirms. Rumors speak of a whole palace made of salt with something sleeping in it, waiting with inhuman patience to be awakened once more.
Although the Serpent Lake has its share of dangerous sea serpents, there are of course countless other harmless animals in it also. The most common are listed in the following section.
The squids in the Serpent Lake are thick-skinned and even more rubbery then their more known cousins from the south. They are as white as snow, which let to their name. The meat of snowsquids takes about two hours to cook, but is very tasty. Its not storeable without magic, though, losing its consistency after a day and developing a stench that’s not only tough to bear – Fortitude DC 15 or nauseated as long as in 50 feet distance to the squid or 100 feet downwind from it – it also tends to attract remorhazes, who seems to think of it as a rare delicacy. After three days the stench (and remorhaz-attracting) stops and the meat is no longer eatable for creatures who are not carrion crawlers.
On at least two occasions there have been round wounds on a washed on wintereel (see below), causing rumors of a giant squid living somewhere in the Lake with tentacles big and strong enough to crack a ship’s hull.
Snow Water Lily
In remote corners of the Serpent Lake the snow water lily grows. Although it looks a bit withered and brittle to most observants, the kitsune of the Dark Wood trade a fortune in for each living exemplary. It’s unknown what they need them for, but it has raised the interest of other inhabitants in recent years.
Some say that the name of the Serpent Lake originated from a bad perception. There are some big eels in the lake easily mistaken for a sea serpent, which may give this story credit. Biggest among those harmless freshwater eels is the wintereel, which is 3 feet long and light blue in color. It can even go on land, and many an unsuspecting witness was shocked to see such a giant fish crawling through the mud. Wintereels are not tasty and generally harmless, they avoid fishing vessels and oretransports and are ignored by the twolegged landwalkers in turn. From time to time a badly mauled wintereel is washed on shore, giving fresh food to the tales of big sea serpents and sharks in the deeper parts of the lake.
Most notable of the inhabitants of the Serpent Lake is the wooly crab, which has patches of light orange fur in the northern reaches of the lake, deepening to a dark red in the southern parts. The crab burrows into the sands when threatened, but if unearthed can provide a healthy meal for a grown human that lasts for a day. The burrowed crabs are almost perfectly hidden though, one needs a survival check DC 20 to spot a part of their fur or shell poking up. The shells are recently coming into favor in Klavek as a new form to decorate noble estates, but it’s tough to say how long this particular fashion trend will stay.
1.3 The Rybalkan Territory
1.3.1 Dark Wood
Feared and respected by even the most powerful Vikmordere warriors, the Dark Wood is a shadowy and foreboding place. Legend speaks of a horrible deed done by evil druidic sorcerers long ago which created a rift to another world through which devils spawned. The Sun Lord Ka’Teek of the Ancestors along with his followers battled many of the beasts and were able to seal the rift. Unfortunately the damage was already done; The devils and maybe even demons had spread into the forest now known as Dark Wood. Over hundreds of years the devils from the rift bred with the creatures of the forest creating all manner of foul monsters.
Travel through Dark Wood is extremely dangerous during the day and considered suicide if undertaken at night. Regional hunters must learn the art of the warrior or die in this unforgiving land. The strong survive while the weak become fodder for the beasts of Dark Wood.
The three parts
In reality the feared Dark Wood consists of three separate woods with very specific features to each of them. One part of the forest is dominated and formed by the fey, the second by the devils that were let lose here, and the third is the contested area between those two, which is partly a battleground and partly ignored, which makes that tiny part a fairly normal wood.
The forest of the fey
This part of the wood has many great trees with leaves as thick as barrels, the canopy woven together like a roof. In most parts the sky can’t be seen from the grounds, which was a reason for the name of the Dark Wood. Oddly enough, and surely a sign of fey intervention, there is much undergrowth, narrow gullets and bramble-infested thickets. Strange berries grow in this land, but trespassers are advised to let them be, since the fey are known to hunt down all who pluck them. Thus very little is known about them and the other fruits of the faeries. There are rumors of healing berries, berries that cure sickness or even exhaustion, and berries that are like alcohol growing on bushes. A strange land it is, reigned by a mighty dryad if rumors are to be believed.
The forest of the devils
Where the fiends run rampart, the forest is bleeding. That’s not literary so, most of those rumors are regarded as at least inflated, but the devils have left their marks for sure. Since it’s almost impossible to reach the devil-part of the Dark Wood without crossing through the fey-part, which is dangerous enough, information about the home of the infernals are scarce. Sometimes a devil crosses the fey-part to reach human lands, though, and the resulting battles take a heavy toll each time. The current colonization reinforcement is partly caused due to such a transgression, and the Klavekian government has reacted to the demand for a whole legion of soldiers by sending a few adventurer groups. The joy of the populace of Rybalka is a bit less then boundless about this Klavekian decision to save money.
The contested forest
There are known ways through parts of the forest where the chances to avoid devils and fey are better than elsewhere. Those paths are shifting, though, depending on the latest conflicts, and adventurers are still strongly urged to keep away from the Dark Woods. There are some tough souls who live in the friendlier parts, most notably there is the Hunter’s Cabin of Cual Beartooth, but rumors tell the man who lived there has long been abducted by one of the fighting parties.
1.3.2 The Jagged Crags
The Jagged Crags are a low lying broken mountain range on the Rybalkan Peninsula. Most of the wilderness located within the Jagged Crags has not been explored by the Rybalkans.
The entrance to the Dwarf Realm, Icecrag Monastery, and the location of the rare Winterflower are all rumored to be hidden in these frigid mountain peaks. The crags get their name from the jagged points that jut hundreds of feet into the air throughout the region. Climbing these small mountains is utterly suicidal and unnecessary. There is a reason why this particular region has not been explored.
The Jagged Crags are dangerous enough for their terrain, but a strange weather phenomenon makes them even more hazardous. During autumn and spring the winds are gusting, which means that periods of calm breezes, lasting for 3d10 minutes, are followed by short busts of strong wind, lasting for 1d10 minutes and reaching up to 50 mph. During the onset of later phases those with strength 13 or less must make successful Strength checks DC 7 to not fall prone, and movement during strong winds is halved. The animal life of the Jagged Crags has adapted to these weather conditions and is thus not affected. Skilled mountaineers do get signs from this though. With a successful Survival check DC 12 they notice seemingly odd animal behavior like birds landing or soaring high, animals burrowing into the earth or snow and even oreadean flowers (see below) flattening themselves. Many a would-be-mountaineer was blown from a ledge by a gusting wind, never to be seen again.
In winter the Jagged Crags are stormy, with blizzards raging for 2d6 hours before a calm but still frosty breeze replaces them. Those calm phases are also longer and can last from a few hours to whole days. With a storm comes a great amount of snow, restricting vision to 10 feet, be it normal, lowlight- or darkvision. The daggersheep (see above) still have good movement rates under those condition, letting sages speculate that they have a strange additional sense of orientation.
In summer the Jagged Crags do explode with life. The snow never leaves the mountain tops entirely, but whole summits are red as blood with blooming bloodflowers (see below). In lower regions the snow does melt, creating the summer flows through ragged ravines. Oreads are sometimes seen to travel far and wide, collecting the water for the spirits they are supposed to carry. Dwarves also prefer to collect the cold waters, but they do it for their distillery operations. Since those summerflows that flow through the Dark Wood are a preferred home for water nymphs and other feys, sages do agree that there is something special about the flows of summer, but as of now no one seems to have a clue about the details.
While mountaineering in the Jagged Crags is best done in summer, many agree that it is best not done at all. Even in summer the mornings can be below freezing, but temperatures can rise to almost hot conditions within hours. Wind is between calm and light, but can reach 40 mph occasionally and carry heavy rains, which lower perception to 10 feet except for the aforementioned daggersheeps. During a summer storm, which can last from 15 minutes to an hour (roll 1d4 for 15-minutes increments), there is a chance of 70% per increment that 1d4 lightning bolt strikes near an adventuring party. Determine the victims randomly, but double the chances for members in heavy iron armor or with a pole weapon. Each bolt deals 3d10 points of electricity damage, a reflex save halves that damage. Daggersheep are not immune against this, its not unusal to find a cooked daggersheep somewhere on the Crags in summer. If you saw off a daggerlike horn of such a sheep, you can use it three times as a dagger with the shock special ability (extra 1d6 points of electricity damage), but this also affects the wielder. The lightning is stored for up to three weeks or until spend, whichever comes faster. Harvesting a daggersheep horn deals 1d8 of electricity damage unless protected. This doesn’t count against the shock special ability. A daggersheep horndagger can be reloaded with lightning bolt as by the rules.
1.3.3 Rybalkan Mine
A heavily fortified iron mine northeast of Rybalka. The mine imports/exports directly with the Klavekian Monarchy and does not fall under Rybalkan jurisdiction despite its close proximity.
1.3.4 Rybalkan Logging Camp
A small logging camp in the forested hills west of Rybalka. The camp contains two outbuildings, a smithy, and logging equipment. A water flume redirects water from a stream in the hills into the camp to turn a mill-blade and operate saws.
1.3.5 The Village of Rybalka