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Return to the Ice Wall

by Shawn Stanley from Threshold Magazine issue 1

"We were out beyond Lake Ludaš, past the territory of the Jagged Rocks, when we entered a strange, icy world. Even though it was early Fyrmont the ground was covered in a thin layer of ice and the plants were frozen and brittle and similarly covered in ice; it looked like a winter wonderland. The creatures in the area were also affected; we noticed giant spiders weaving icy webs. Overnight we were attacked by strange bluish-coloured wolves that emitted a dangerous frosty blast. After we dispatched the beast, later in the early morning when it was Pyotr's watch, we were attacked by a frost giant. He never alerted us, it attacked us without warning; we were unprepared and we suffered serious losses. Afterwards we never found Pyotr or even his body; we don't know what happened to him. We escaped back here, we only have some of the spider webs to show for our journey - see, I have some of it here - they haven't even melted, whatever good they are. It's a dangerous place, I will never return."

- Heard from Yuri Golitsyn, an adventurer, in an alehouse in Novaci


Over the centuries gnomes have been moved - and moved on - around southeastern Brun as various humanoid hordes were raised and rampaged through the area. The gnomes always moved and rebuilt, sometimes even allying with humans. One such group of gnomes was a mix of refugees from those relocated from the Cruth and Altan Tepes Mountains by the Horde of Queen Udbala in 492 BC and those relocated from the Falun Caverns in the Northern Reaches by rampaging kobolds in 490 BC. Some of these displaced gnomes had found each other and allied with the human Cynidicean Empire, the heart of which is in present day Ylaruam. Over the years the gnomes lost close contact with the Cynidiceans through increasing distaste over the growing Church of Zargon. After a couple of hundred years of relative stability for the gnomes - if not for their human allies - the human city of Cynidicea was itself attacked by an Antalian horde from the north, in 98 BC. The gnomes were again relocated by the Antalian horde and, while fleeing, the Cynidiceans and gnomes again found themselves working together against the common threat. The gnomes helped the Cynidiceans found an underground city but, uneasy with the clerics of Zargon and the influence it had gained over the remnants of the Cynidicean Empire, the gnomes quickly moved on.

Fleeing southwest from the underground city the gnomes headed towards their ancestral homes in the Altan Tepes. At this time the immortal Brandan, patron immortal of the gnomes of Snarta, was expanding his sights - ultimately he was hoping to find new followers beyond the Vulcanian gnomes. Brandan had been following the plight of the gnomes of southeastern Brun and decided that now was the time to act, although he was wary of acting too overtly. Brandan had observed the human Traladara and considered them to be a healthier group of humans - compared to the Cynidiceans - for the gnomes to associate themselves with. Brandan sent dreams to some of the gnomes fleeing towards the Altan Tepes, guiding them to the overland route through the narrow pass in the Altan Tepes now known as the Gap of Yebedeska, and from there into the Traladaran lands. However, Brandan was wary of the possibility of renewed contact between the gnomes and the Cynidiceans, and so decided to implement the most overt part of his plan - while also satisfying his urge to create new and fantastic things. Brandan - also known as Brandan Earth-Mover, Brandan Earthshaker and Brandan the Builder - decided to create a great wall to protect the fleeing gnomes; a wall of ice.

Brandan chose the narrowest place in the Gap of Yebedeska for his construction. Unfortunately, this was also the place where, a millennium beforehand, the Nithians had engaged in their own attempt at terraforming. Nithians had been fighting Beastmen in their own territories, forcing them to flee through the Altan Tepes to Traldar lands. In order to ensure that they did not return, a council of powerful Nithian wizards raised the land in a part of the gap that effectively destroyed the natural passageway. Afterwards, once the landscape settled, and the avalanches and landslides has dissipated, a much narrower pass still existed; however the beastmen never returned. It was in this narrow pass that Brandan constructed his wall.

The Wall

Brandan has always been an inventor and a tinker; he wanted to create a permanent barrier, but he didn't want to create just a simple wall. Instead, he created something which could itself create and maintain a huge wall of ice - the Ice Box. Once Brandan had set the Ice Box in place and noted that it seemed to be working, he turned his attentions back to the gnomes who were now resettling at Highforge.

The Ice Box

The Ice Box appears to be a small mechanical device contained snugly in a small box-like object about 45 cm long, 10 cm high and 15 cm deep. The Box is made of thin sheets of translucent mica, which make the device difficult to examine in detail, although it looks like a mechanical construction with several cogs, wheels, pistons and belts in evidence. The Ice Box is a Greater Artifact with 450 power points. Brandan programmed the Ice Box with a simple set of instructions and with the details for the maximum dimensions of the intended wall. The device follows these instructions in order to build and maintain the structural integrity of the Wall. In the first hour of a day the Ice Box uses its locate object power to identify areas within the dimensions of the intended Wall where there is no ice. If there are gaps, in the next hour the Box activates its ice wall and permanence powers; in the next hour, it activates its control temperature and permanence powers; then, in the next hour, it activates create water which quickly freezes in the sub-zero temperatures, helping to cement everything together. If the Ice Box has detected no areas without ice, or once it has completed its ice construction, it then activates its defensive powers which Brandan included to ensure that nobody comes to tamper with the Wall. It activates its sense life power and then either feeblemind or mass charm powers depending upon the number of creatures identified which might want to harm the Wall.

Attacks: feeblemind (40), mass charm (75)

Information and Movement: locate object (20), sense life* (20)

Transformations: control temperature (35), create water (20), permanence (90)

Defences: ice wall (25)

Handicaps: Magic Error, Memory Penalty, Polymorph.

Penalties: Alignment Change (to Lawful), Forgetfulness, Obsession, Paranoia, Weak Magic.

* Sense Life is a first level spell from 3.5E, a similar spell has probably been created for Mystara at some stage. I gave it a slightly higher power point cost than similar detection spells as it is slightly more powerful/useful than those.

The resultant Wall is constructed on a narrow, half-mile, winding trail through the high mountains. The Wall itself rises up to a height of 50 feet from the ground and extends across the mountain trail and through the impassable slopes on either side to a maximum length of 2 miles. It has a thickness of 10 feet. The base of the Wall follows the sloping topography perfectly, creating an impregnable barrier to overland movement.

The area where the Ice Box functions still has a remnant magic about it, left over from the great spell which the Nithian wizards worked a thousand years beforehand. The magic of the area interacted with the device, and vice versa, and it started to affect how its handicaps and penalties acted on creatures, so that they now act upon creatures in the immediate vicinity of the Wall which the Ice Box creates instead of just upon mortal users of the Ice Box. Some of these effects were also altered as described below. In addition, certain cold-related creatures such as white dragons and frost giants seem to be attracted to the Wall.

Simple non-humanoid creatures that remain in the immediate vicinity of the Wall (that is creatures with less than 6 hit dice or levels) have a 35% chance plus 10% per continuous day of remaining in the immediate vicinity of the wall to be polymorphed into ice variants of their base forms; see the Ice Creatures sidebar. More powerful non-humanoid creatures that remain in the immediate vicinity of the Wall (that is creatures with 6 or more hit dice or levels) may be similarly polymorphed into ice variants of their base forms but also have a 25% chance plus 10% per continuous day of remaining in the immediate vicinity of the wall of being affected by a combination of the memory loss and feeblemind effects of the Ice Box, effectively leaving the creatures with 8 less intelligence, with a minimum intelligence of 2, and no memory of what led them to the place. It should be noted that these effects are in addition to the active feeblemind-ing which the Box itself continues to do to any creatures in the immediate vicinity.

Humanoid creatures that remain in the immediate vicinity of the Wall have a 35% chance plus 10% per continuous day of remaining in the immediate vicinity of the wall to be polymorphed into an ice-variant frost giant with Hit Dice equal to the level of the humanoid creature. Humanoid creatures have the same chance of being affected by intelligence and memory loss as described above for powerful non-humanoid creatures.

Ice Creatures

Creatures affected by the Ice Box, as described above, gain the following abilities which may be treated as a template in a non-BECMI system. The creatures gain a bluish-white tinge and seem to exude an aura of coldness, with their normal breath coming out in cold clouds and their skin being freezing to the touch. In BECMI terms the creature is hardier, gaining +2 hit points per hit die of the normal creature. The creature also gains the ability to emit an icy blast at a single target within 15 feet. The attack does 1d4 points of damage per hit die, or level, of the normal creature. The target may make a saving throw vs. dragon breath to take half damage. Ice creatures are immune to normal cold damage and take half damage from magical cold effects, taking only one-quarter damage if any allowed saving throw is made. Conversely, they are vulnerable to fire, taking +1 point per die of damage from normal fire effects and double damage from magical fire effects, taking only normal damage if any allowed saving throw is made. The experience value of the new creature should be amended accordingly, including the special abilities gained which are treated as two additional asterisks to the base creature.


Three hundred years ago the Traladaran magic-user Talfris found the Wall while he was flying through the area. He was intrigued by the palpable magical aura which emanated from the Wall and, having an obsession towards cold-related magics, he was also attracted to the Wall itself. Talfris noticed this pull, which he correctly surmised as an unnatural attraction coming from something related to the Wall. Talfris was a magic-user of some power and as a result had gained a healthy cautious attitude towards powerful unknown objects. So, over the following months he travelled to the area regularly for hours, and then a day, and then a couple of days, conducting research and experiments.

Talfris realised that an item of great power was associated with the Wall, but with time he grew increasingly annoyed by his lack of progress in discovering how it came about. He had also noticed the unusual propensity of particularly dim-witted young frost giants and white dragons to congregate in the vicinity of the Wall, as well as otherwise regular creatures with peculiar abilities. Correctly surmising that this was somehow related to the Wall itself, Talfris tested his theories by introducing and penning in normal creatures in the vicinity of the Wall. By this means, Talfris deduced the polymorphing effects of the Wall, and so obtained magical items for protection. Properly equipped, he decided to build a tower and relocate himself to the area so that he could continue his research and experimentation.

Talfris built a tower out of a spike of ice which he conjured about a mile away from the Wall; he infused the ice with protective spells and wards, particularly to keep him safe from the polymorphing and stupefying effects of the Wall. From his new base he worked with a particular obsession, continuing his research into cold-related magics and learning what he could about the Wall, and ultimately he gleaned some knowledge about the device contained inside. Through these studies Talfris learned a little about immortality and ultimately started his own journey.

Unfortunately for Talfris, while on this journey he encountered a powerful fire mage, Barimoor, who lived under the desert of Ylaruam to the northeast. He became unnaturally paranoid of Barimoor and saw him as a direct threat which needed to be dealt with. Despite his researches on the Ice Box, Talfris never appreciated that his obsession and paranoia were being caused by the Ice Box itself. On the day on which Talfris directly confronted Barimoor he also never appreciated that he was under the effect of the magic error, forgetfulness and weak magic effects from the Ice Box. As a result, Barimoor was a little bit more powerful than Talfris expected. In the ensuing battle Barimoor drew Talfris away from his mountainous home and away from the Wall; Barimoor had also noticed the magical aura coming from the Wall, although he was wholly uninterested in it - he just wanted to draw Talfris away from a possible source of personal power. Barimoor lured Talfris to Thirst Hollow near the ruins of Iunyt and there slew his challenger.

The Legacy of Talfris

Although Talfris was slain many years ago - about 820 AC - he has left behind some treasures for erstwhile adventurers, and a terrible legacy for everyone. Talfris' Tower has remained undiscovered since his passing and contains his research into cold-related magics as well as scribblings from his research on the Wall (which in some writings Talfris purports to have created himself) and the Ice Box. Of course, as this is the tower of a reclusive, obsessed and paranoid magic-user, there are protections; the careless should beware.

Through his studies Talfris had also identified the residual magic in the area left behind by the great working of the ancient Nithians, although despite his researches he never identified the source of the great working. Although he knew that the two effects had become intertwined somehow, he never truly appreciated all of the intricacies of how the residual magic was interacting with the Ice Box; and yet he tampered and tinkered with his magic. The tampering of Talfris has left behind a legacy, which he himself had not identified when he died.

About 745 AC, a magical experiment which Talfris was conducting in the vicinity of the Wall went awry. It linked itself with the control temperature effect which the Ice Box was at that time manifesting and amplified and extended it. From that day forth, the Ice Box has been dropping the temperature in an ever-widening sphere around itself to sub-freezing temperatures. Additionally, the polymorphing effects of the Wall occur within this spherical area of effect, not just in the immediate vicinity of the Wall. Vegetable matter in the area freezes in the form which it was in, while the land itself becomes similarly cold and ice-rimed. The area affected has been growing each year, and not only that the rate of growth has been increasing.


As noted, the area affected by the ice-rime has been growing exponentially, and while the growth has not yet been noticed, that is about to change... perhaps for everyone. Once Talfris conducted his spell, almost overnight an area within a 100-foot radius around the Ice Box became ice-rimed. Over the next 128 years this slowly grew until an area double the size was covered; at this time the rate of growth changed, so that it took half the amount of time for twice the amount of area to be affected. Consequently, by 873 AC the area within just over 200 feet was ice-rimed, and as of 1 Nuwmont 1000 AC a spherical area within 5 miles around the Ice Box has been affected. In only three more months it will cover 10 miles. By 25 Klarmont Specularum itself will be affected, and within a few days the Outer and Hollow Worlds will similarly be under an icy grasp.

Going to the Wall

How player characters may become involved in dealing with the ice-rime depends upon where in Karameikos or the surrounding area that the player characters are; characters who are too far afield may not be able to reach the area in time before the whole planet is affected. Characters in Castellan Keep will be alerted around late-Yarthmontearly-Klarmont when the ice-rime will be approaching; the keep itself is expected to be ice-rimed on 8 Klarmont and at this stage the ice-rime is advancing at about 1 mile per day; as the ice-rime reaches Castellan Keep the ice-rime will again accelerate to 4 miles per day (for the next 10 days, etc). Once word of the ice-riming reaches the keep the news will quickly spread around Karameikos and eventually to Specularum and erstwhile adventurers will come to the area to investigate.

Once the ice-riming nears Highforge Brandan also starts to take notice and alerts any followers in the community; he also starts his own investigation as he has a nagging thought that it might involve something which he did in the past. As he investigates he quickly finds that his device might somehow be involved in the current predicament. However, he also realises that something went awry and he is unwilling to get directly involved unless he has to. As he continues his investigations he sends messages to his clerics in the area to alert them to specific detailsnamely that there is a device within a wall of ice which is involved with causing the predicament. He also eventually alerts them to TalfrisTower.

Once player characters arrive in the region they will hopefully do an aerial reconnaissance of the area and identify that it is expanding in a spherical manner from a central point. Pinpointing that area will bring the characters to the Wall and the nearby tower. Although the investigations at the Wall will prove fruitless at this time, a further investigation of the tower will move the characters to the next step. If necessary, gnomes from Highforge could arrive at any time to help the characters towards the Talfris' Tower, or the Wall itself if required.

Talfris' Tower, being the retreat of a powerful, paranoid, magic-user still has a number of magical traps to be overcome, but once inside, the protections against the polymorphing and stupefying effects of the Ice Box are also still in place and the tower can make a good base for the characters to use while they investigate the Wall. The characters will have to go through the works of Talfris, and piece together what he learned to try and work out a safe way to access the Ice Box and undo the ice-rime.

It is only through the relocation, destruction, or reprogramming of the Ice Box that the ice-rime will be stopped. To relocate or destroy the Ice Box, it must first be reached through the Wall. The Ice Box is located on a stone plinth about two feet off the ground in the centre of the Wall. The DM is encouraged to be inventive in the amount of effort required to deal with the Ice Box.

Dealing with the Ice Box

Reprogramming the Ice Box would be simplest method of dealing with it, as it does not require directly accessing it, although it can only be done through thought control within about 1 mile of the Ice Box. The studies of Talfris provide the greatest insights on the techniques about how it can be done. The more time which is spent studying Talfris' papers will ultimately lead characters to a method to turn the Ice Box off, although if time is a factor then reprogramming it - most efficiently by resetting the control temperature setting - would halt the ice-rime.

If characters are not inclined, or do not think about reprogramming the Ice Box then they need to access it so that they can relocate or destroy it.

Talfris' studies showed that the Wall was vulnerable to certain frequencies of sound. Sphinxes from the nearby Iunyt region could be enticed to try and crack the Wall; the concentrated blast from a number of sphinxes should be sufficient to crack the Wall. Unless inappropriate for the party, the application of a device like a horn of blasting seems to create sound at an appropriate frequency.

Alternatively, the application of a powerful flame such as the breath weapon of a red or gold dragon, could be employed. Conversely, unless appropriate, lobbing fireballs at the Wall doesn't seem to create sufficient heat to melt the Wall.

Once accessed, the Ice Box could be relocated. Simply moving the Ice Box away from the area affected residually by the Nithian magic would be insufficient as the two have become too closely linked. Instead, the Ice Box would need to be relocated to another plane. If this were an option, Brandan himself could be convinced to take the Ice Box away. Alternatively if the characters wish to attempt to destroy the artifact then some suitably difficult, but readily achievable - given the time constraints at this stage - scheme would need to be considered.

The Vaults of Pandius

The Return to the Ice Wall was inspired by Gordon McCormick's article introducing the Ice Wall .html. For more information on the immortal Brandan see Marco Dalmonte's article . Elements of the history were taken from Joaquin Menchaca's article on the Highforge Gnomes and the Dungeon Master's Guide to Cynidicea edited by Geoff Gander. The map was recreated, with some significant amendments from Simone Neri's map in the Central Altan Tepes mini-Gazetteer, thanks are offered to Simone who agreed to its use and modification. Additional information for the region is available in the mini-Gazetteer and in Giampaolo Agosta's A Karameikan Companion .