Into the Wintery Gale: Ancestral Appellations
This supplement clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now, the first thing you should know is that the information depicting the basics of Vikmordere culture and valley from the FREE Vikmordere Player’s Primer can also be found herein; the list of names has been moved to its own chapter, though, and there is some reorganization done – after all, this supplement is basically the crunchy GM-book on the subject matter, which also means that it contains pieces of information not intended for the players. I will attempt to remain as SPOILER-free as possible, at least until we get to the discussion of the mini-adventures contained in the book. As always, I will preface the discussion of the adventures with a spoiler-warning. A well-rounded group is generally suggested for attempting the modules.
All right, that component out of the way, we are introduced to the cultural production of the Vikmordere, here in the guise of new magic items, namely ones that make sense in the context of the society: Home stones are attuned to a settlement – even if it moves due to a semi-nomadic lifestyle, the stone allows the bearer to find it once more. Suffice to say, this is helpful for kids lost…and a potential quest waiting to happen, as they’d allow enemies of the settlement to track it. As an aside, they also act as a cool stand-in explanation for being great navigators at sea, as the pdf aptly mentions. AAW Games does the fairy-tale like really well; in a crossover of themes, the eerie loom represents a loom that weaves autonomously…an item that, if its construction is ever unveiled to more industrialized societies, could well shake the economy of nations to the core. Once more, we have a cool, simple item with a ton of adventure-possibility built into it. Clement cups heat beverages and can be helpful when de-icing surfaces…but also interact with the neat hypothermia-rules from the “Into the Wintery Gale” mega-adventure. Totem amulets, usable 1/day, can duplicate summon nature’s ally I. Prismatic vestments enhance the Stealth of the wearer, adjusting chameleon-style to the surroundings.
We also get an array of low-level spells that are available, RAW, exclusively for shamans: Showing snow makes tracks made in 24 hours in the affected area reappear from the snow. Complaint here: The range is incorrect: Long spell range is 400 ft., +40 ft./level, not 500 ft. + 50 ft./level. These deviations regarding ranges also can be found in subsequent spells, which *may* indicate that there’s intent here; still, as presented, I do not necessarily think that this is the best way to handle balancing these, considering that the existing spell-range defaults already provide a pretty solid selection. Anyway, the level 2 icebloom spell generates a beautiful flower of sharp ice from existing ice, but considering its relatively low damage output and terrain-based use-restrictions, I found myself wishing it had some sort of scaling mechanism – as written, damage remains static. Hunter’s companion is a cool idea: You touch a felled creature and it then follows you, lifted and animated by an invisible force to follow – great for bringing home prey. Not so great: RAW, it can’t affect anything in PFRPG. You see, it affects only “beasts” – and that’s 5e-terminology. Is it supposed to affect magical beasts? Yes? No? No idea. I assume it should only affect animals…but yeah. Avoidable glitch there. Detect Wellsprings detects hot springs; cast scent has another 5e-ism, though a cosmetic one, with a target of “Self” instead of “You”…and as a cantrip, it is pretty OP and lets you basically rid yourself of your scent and attach it to another being, making scent…rather useless. Not a big fan here.
Okay, so next up are rules for Vikmordere battle chants – these are combat feats. Formatting is a bit odd – the feat type is usually put in brackets after the name, not below it – as presented, these would be (Battle Chant Mastery) feats. Okay, so, these chants can only be learned by the Vikmordere, and we get 5: One for each of the saves, one for attack rolls and one for AC. All of them provide a +1 bonus that is applied to the character and all allies that can hear the chant (OUCH! – a scaling maximum number would have been more elegant…).
Okay, so I like this concept per se. At the same time, the 5 chants, even though they stack with themselves up to +3, provide a bit of a conundrum: They fail to denote what action, if any, is required to start and maintain them, making them RAW unusable. Secondly, from a design-perspective, they simple aren’t interesting. No matter how cool the concept, granting minor bonuses to self and allies is just so utterly anticlimactic. If their range wasn’t as wide open, they could grant something cool…or, well, let the Vikmordere do something unique. As presented, they#re a great idea, mired in an execution that is just an escalation of numbers.
Next up, we learn about the Northern Fury Council and the book thankfully regains its composure: A total of 12 one-page write-ups of the clans tell us about their settlements (yes, with settlement statblocks) and customs, as well as their totems, leaders, etc. – it is here that the full-blown wonder once more suffuses the pages – and we even get teeny-tiny full-color maps of the respective settlements…though, alas, we do not get one-page versions, so yeah…a GM can only use these to get an idea of the layout, not use them as proper handouts. Missed chance there.
All right, this concludes the setting supplement section of the pdf; from here, we move to the adventures. The 3 adventures follow a format somewhat akin to mini-dungeons, in that they depict small environments/dungeons suitable for one session of gameplay. Unlike most mini-dungeons, we have less constraints regarding page/word-count, which is why the respective entries for rooms etc. sport read-aloud text for your convenience, so that’s a deviation in presentation you should be aware of. Each of the full-color maps is btw. included in a proper 1-page, player-friendly version – big kudos there.
Since we’ll be looking at adventures now, the following will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first adventure, “Eye of the Ice King”, is intended for PCs level 5 – 6 and begins in Horasheimur, a Vikmordere village that suddenly found its populace to be susceptible to even mild temperatures…something potentially rather fatal in these environments. Thankfully, the village shaman suspects the culprit: The clan once defeated the mighty Ice King, his soul bound to a wretched golem and in the time since, they have, alas, been less than perfect at tending the site…the shaman suspects that this evil once more stirs. Hence, the PCs travel to the symmetrical tomb, where they have to explore a place that is suffused with, you guessed it, ice-themed adversaries. Drakes, elementals and spirits/undead…and, the fears of the shaman hold true…but to defeat the ice-king, the PCs will have to be smart and first unlock the seal. A carving helps provide a hint here which of the items is the correct key, requiring a bit of thought without feeling hamfisted. The boss-fight is also neat, with infinite, spawning minions complicating the combat. All in all, a solid adventure.
The second adventure “Caves of Cursed Ice” for level 7 – 8 PCs, brings the PCs to the caverns in defense of Therinholm, which is experiencing escalating raids by ice trolls. The adventure begins with the PCs helping to repel an ice troll raid and, provided they accept, gaining tools to survive the task at hand. The PCs exploring these caves will soon note a rather interesting feature: The ice trolls seem to be infected with growths of dark ice…and indeed, the tribe has been taken over by Grenda…a blighted hamadryad. Yeah. That’s CR 17 and pretty much an assured TPK if she’s played even to half her capabilities. Sure, she pretty much doesn’t care about the PCs slaughtering her troll slaves, but she’s the big bad here…and she can’t be realistically bested at this level. She also seems strangely bereft of agenda and just de facto spares the PCs or wipes them out; either feels like fiat.
Neither she, nor the troll chief get stats and the latter is an “advanced icy troll ripper CR 10”, which is actually an interesting way to use pregenerated monsters…but considering that the book doesn’t have the usual limitations of Mini-Dungeons, I still think we should have gotten stats for these fellows at least. On a weird side: The fey’s pet is a hound of Tindalos, which is completely out of left field as far as I’m concerned. Also rather weird: While the complex sports a couple of nice terrain features, it does not capitalize, at all, on the ice-cavern angle. Shoes? Equipment? Irrelevant. Apart froma slope and hard to scale walls, the place seems to favor safe footing. Final complaint: A readaloud-text sports a CR-reference in an obvious search-and-insert hiccup. All in all: A rather weak adventure, consider the oeuvre of both author and company.
The final adventure would be “The Tomb of the Crooked”, for PCs level 11 – 12. Rand the Crooked was the only non-Vikmordere to ever rise to the title of Jarl…oh, and he was a minotaur. Yeah, that is pretty badass. Alas, the shaman of the tribe wasn’t too thrilled, but Rand was a good Jarl and mighty leader; he led a great life and his newformed tribe, the tribe of the bull, prospered. On his death-bed, alas, when he received the final rites, the Vikmordere Ancestor spirits refused him…enraged for being ostracized after a lifetime of faithful service and rulership, the minotaur died, a tragic figure, with a curse on his lips. His tribe did not survive his demise for long. Ages have passed, and now, the PCs have been hired as treasure hunters by a wealthy Klavekian, one Sigmund Torvan, to make their way through the haunted Black Pine Forest (random encounter table included), to find the ruins of the minotaur’s erstwhile settlement and his tomb. This is, by far, the best of the three modules: The traps employed are brutal and breathe an old-school aesthetic; the threat of undead is constant and the final boss fight against the dread wight-ified Rand is a fitting finale…though, again, stats would have been appropriate – this is no mini-dungeon!
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are pretty good; on a rules-language level, we have a couple of unpleasant inconsistencies here, some of which influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the gorgeous two-column full-color standard AAW Games employs for the “Into the Wintery Gale”-supplements. The full-color artworks are fantastic, though fans of AAW Games will be familiar with most. The cartography is nice and in full-color, with the player-maps for the modules being a nice plus; on the downside, not getting properly-sized settlement maps sucks a bit. It should be noted that the FREE Vikmordere Player’s Primer is included in the DL, so you don’t have to get it separately. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Justin Andrew Mason and Jonathan G. Nelson provide something of a mixed bag here; on the one hand, I utterly adore the Vikmordere. The player#s primer-section is amazing and the everyday magic items ooze flavor; similarly, I loved the oh-so-brief (1 page each) clan-write-ups of the 12 clans.
BUT…and, alas, it’s deserves its allcaps, this book feels rushed. The spells sport needless deviations from standards; the battle-chants, an amazing idea a) don’t work and b) are executed in probably the least interesting way possible. And then there are the adventures. They are the second-most puzzling aspect here. AAW games know how to make superb adventures; the main author has penned quite a few of them. However, they feel…rushed? Tacked on? They obviously once were Mini-Dungeons that have been slightly expanded…which is nothing bad per se, but for a full adventure, I expect at least multi-templated creatures done for me. One template? Okay, if I have to. Once I have to apply two for a single creature, the workload gets somewhat annoying.
Module #1 is solid, if unremarkable compared to “Into the Wintery Gale”’s ice-themed dungeons (~3.5 stars); module #2 is just…weak. (2 stars) Module #3 oozes flavor… but, much like its predecessors, it suffers from the artificial limitations imposed by the presentation.(~4.5 stars) Why can’t we have a full-blown haunted forest exploration? A ruined village to explore? Where are the global ice cavern complications and the means to outsmart the superior boss in #2? I would have loved to see one of these modules done properly and fully detailed…but as presented, they feel as though they restrict themselves in ways that simply are not required by the format. They also eat up a ton of real-estate, word-count-wise.
You know, space that could have been devoted to more information on…Vikmordere Culture and Society, as noted in the title? Religious rites? Holidays? Food, drink, daily life? Developing them further? Or, well, the “ancestral appellations”? Where are the benefits for calling upon heroes? Where is the cool archetype that gets to channel named heroes with unique abilities and background stories? Heck, you know, you could just provide flavor-modifications à la “Vikmordere mediums call spirit xyz by the name of Ghost Serpent; channeling the spirit…”; there could be real POWER in the ancestral names…you know, traits, feats…it’s a wide open field and one that would thematically have been a perfect fit.
Okay, my disappointment of the lack of the like aside, the real estate devoted to the adventures could have been used to further elaborate the differences between the clans! The final, baffling decision herein would pertain the respective clan’s settlements. We get these teeny-tiny maps for them…even if the maps wouldn’t have been that great, it would have been useful to get them in a proper size. Some ready-to-use maps are almost always better than none and they obviously exist…so where are the full-sized versions?
Honestly, this supplement is somewhat baffling to me. It sports superb prose and cool ideas and contrasts them with problems. The good sections are fantastic, but the less impressive sections…well, are significantly less impressive. Now, I do love the good parts, but when all is said and done, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this one.
You can get this supplement here on OBS!
You can get the FREE Player’s Primer here on OBS!
You can get the amazing, massive Into the Wintery Gale mega-adventure here on OBS!