The Icy Embrace of Winter, this month’s Blog Carnival topic, has reminded me of a campaign I ran years ago. It was the first time I ran the Rotating Labyrinth, and the party emerged victorious to find that the wizard guild for which their half-orc assassin had once worked (and from whom he had stolen a powerful item) was waiting for them outside.
As an encounter, it would have killed them, but as a story hook, it certainly provided a motivation to follow through, especially when the new player at the table was introduced as one of their agents, tagging along to “make sure the job got done.”
They’d been sent to investigate a phenomenon that interested the wizards, but would draw too much attention if they investigated directly. The players didn’t feel like hanging around to ask too many questions and they just let the wizards teleport them most of the way to their destination: the abandoned city around Mirror Lake.
Most of the party had never heard of Mirror Lake, though the monk was familiar with the name from legend. A lake so smooth that the city around it was two cities, one above and one below. It had been the capital of a small nation until the city’s population vanished.
When they arrived at the city, they approached directly. It was abandoned after all. They’d been misinformed. A band of powerful mercenaries was being employed to guard the city and turned them away at the gate. The players made several attempt to fight their way in (climbing the gate house) before finally sneaking in. (The mercenaries were too much for them, but the mercenaries weren’t evil either, they just had a job. I’m glad they didn’t end up killing too many of them with a war of attrition.)
A little spying revealed that the palace was off-limits to the mercenaries, better check it out! In the palace they found sensory extensions keeping an eye on the place and knew they had been made by whoever had hired the mercenaries. They also found a journal which implied something magical about the lake.
As they continued to search the palace, the mercenaries suddenly coalesced on it, but per their orders they were unwilling to enter. The players thought they had plenty of time, but soon several dogs, apparently made of ice, arrived. They could speak, but mostly threatened before the players attacked. With the ice dogs destroyed, the players began looking for a way out. More dogs and their creator could only be a couple hours away at the most, and the creator knew they had defeated the first wave.
They made for the lake, thinking they could sneak to a different part of the city by water. It was what they had come to investigate anyway. They didn’t need the water breathing spells. As they descended into the lake, they found themselves surfacing again, but in a city that was cold and an eerie blue. People were in the streets: not mercenaries and just standing around. The people were unmoving, only responding to direct questions. Eventually they made their way back to the palace where they found the king and queen. The king complained that his son had left in a sullen rage, but expressed great pride in his genius and magical ability. He was sure he’d be back. The queen only muttered “such a cold boy” when approached.
The party caught on that they should check out the academy where the prince studied magic. There they learned from some of the professors that the prince had been dabbling with powerful ice magic. He was probably returning to his icy tower in the North where he did most of his work. It was for the best. He was angry because the king had restricted him (at the school’s recommendation) from experimenting with his dangerous magic near the mysterious magic of the lake (which the academy had been built to investigate). They were concerned that the Mirror Lake might have powers that would endanger the town if ever frozen. There had been one unsubstantiated instance in which the lake froze in part and several people were found dead in it when it thawed. Long story short, they realize that the people they are talking to ended up in the lake when the lake was frozen by the prince in an instant by a powerful spell.
They decided to go find the Ice Tower where the prince had experimented. They were confident it was he who had created the sensory extensions in the palace and that it was he who had sent the icy hounds. After escaping the city and evading the ice hound patrols, they reached the tower.
The Ice Tower
The ice tower is a pinnacle of pure ice. It is honeycombed with passages through the ice, sloping gently toward the top on the slick surface. The passages shifted and changed as the tower melted and refroze in sections. The mage knew they were there and his ice dog facsimiles were returning, pursuing the party up the tower. They found the mage in a frigid study at the top and the monk of the Sythaina—Mother of Tranquility—disguised and threw his voice, pretending to be the spirit of his dead father. The mage became distraught and enraged. Seeing him distracted, the intrepid attacked. The assassin and ranger followed suit as the mage cast an ice storm in the room. The monk wanted to save the mage and bring him back to his father. Seeing the mage near death from his own spell and the attacks of the others, he grappled him, subduing him and protecting him from the storm.
It was then the ice dogs began to threaten their wounded party from below. They initiated hostage negotiations to hold them at bay, but unfortunately, that was where we ended, and that group never got gathered around the table again. If they’d brought the living prince into the lake, he’d have become young again. When introduced to his father, he would have been able to cast a spell to return the city to life the same way he locked it within the lake. They would then populate the city and the mirror lake would regain its scrying powers. This outcome would not please the mage guild that had dent them on the mission, but they would fall under the protection of the reborn kingdom, with its skilled mage academy, and possibly have the remaining mercenaries at their disposal.
Alternately, they could bring back the mage’s dead body. His father the king would be devastated, but would find closure. The city within the lake would cease to exist (they’d have to swim to the surface) and the mirror lake would again be a powerful scrying pool. The mage guild would be very pleased.