“Slush, ice, hail, blizzard. How lovely it all appears from in here, behind thick glass, whilst we sit by the roaring fire eating honey-roasted pig trotter.”
“Whilst you sit by the fire eating, great one. I have to content myself with blocking the gap in the window-frame with my posterior.”
“And so you should, maggot-sired, so you should. How lucky you are to be inside, however. Imagine if I decided suddenly on a whim to command you to sit outside…”
It all looks lovely from inside, but out in the cold, horrors lurk. Is that snowman really a caryatid column, is that blizzard hiding an unseen terror in its wake, is that enormous tureen nothing more than a lurking mimic? Here are some serious, and some not too serious, horrors to throw at your players over the Yule period. These wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing scenarios promise to be more than they appear.
Snow conceals many things: tracks, frozen rivers, and perhaps even whole houses. Use snow as a cover to spice up your encounters, or, if you wish, conceal the foe right before a PC’s eyes by having creatures covered in snow or resembling snowmen. Remember, it’s not just creatures like golems, constructs, and animated objects that can remain totally still; gargoyles, for example, can remain motionless, an ooze can squat frigid beneath a thin later of snow, and even a sleeping giant can slumber beneath a thick fur that has become covered overnight by a blizzard. Each of these can, essentially, hide in plain sight due to snow.
The Field of Twisted Snowmen is an outer defense for a particularly cruel enemy. Outside, throughout the long winter, the ruler of the dungeon complex beyond leaves gargoyles guarding the entrance. These creatures sit throughout the day among numerous carved stone and wood gargoyle statues that grip prisoners, who remain bound and gagged in the statue’s grasp until death greets them. What PCs see is a group of deformed snowmen. What they don’t see are the prisoners who still live among the snow’s icy grip.
Whatever he is called, every land has a spirit of winter. This figure may be one of joy, a herald of the coming spring, or a figure of terror—master of the longest night. Cunning enemies may take advantage of this appearance by disguising themselves as the spirit. Does the cruel devil wander the rooftops at night as Father Yule, the laughing figure who distributes presents to children, only to take the babes away to be eaten? Do petty criminals disguise the Thieves’ Guild activities by donning disguises of Father Long Dark, who wields his scythe and beheads anyone who dares leave home after dark?
Seasonal disguises, be they Father Yule or carnival costumes, offer nonhumans a chance to walk within a town, possibly to learn secrets or to take things.
Ice sculptures depicting acts of horror and encasing terrified dismembered victims adorn the outer woods belonging to a tribe of demented inbred trolls. A tribe of giants delights in making huge men of snow that encase the crushed and pulped bodies of their enemies. The village of the goblins is decorated in mites bound in thorny briars and holly.
Monsters with any amount of intelligence may use the snow and ice as seasonal deterrents; with them they can hide entrances, leave enemies outside to freeze to death bound to ancient trees, or partially submerge foes in freezing streams to leave icy sentinels rising from frozen waters.
Horrors Behind the Glaze
What better way to disguise the smell of poison than beneath the glaze of honey, what finer time to attack the settlement than when all its guards are drunk, what better way to dupe someone than to give them a gift disguising vengeance in bright colors and fancy wrappings? Furthermore, paranoia can be a wonderful tool if your players know someone is out to get them, and it allows you to create a good atmosphere for an adventure with very little work; simply run through a few menus, games, and innocent conversations in the festive spirit and watch what transpires.
The Wolf-Jester hides in the open at the royal court, his werewolf blood boiling beneath the disguise of a fool. As the winter celebrations pick up, the lord’s hated foes arrive to sue for peace, and, unless the festivities pass well, war is coming. What part does the Wolf-Jester play in the coming carnage, and can the PCs unmask the true wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The sweet sound of singing and hymns keep enemies from the door, but do they also herald the return of damned spirits or spectres of the brutally slain looking to avenge themselves upon the living?
Of late, villagers have been terrorized by the singing of a ghostly choir, which echoes at the entrance of homes in the dead of night. The singers are actually wraith-spawned children, taken one winter night by an evil wraith who devoured their souls in a nearby, long-abandoned chapel. Outside in the night, the wraith awaits victims who are foolish enough to venture into the dark. In the meantime, others use the wraith’s foul activities for their own devices.
For many, the long winters are too dangerous to be abroad in, and doors are locked against the cold outside. During this period, such communities are cut off and become prey to whatever horrors they have sealed in with them. Do the PCs get embroiled in such adventures? Do the creatures rise from the caverns beneath, or are they mixing freely with the locals?
Using this technique to oppress and imprison gives an adventure that can bring feelings of claustrophobia and isolation. You could set it up so that only the PCs become so trapped in a fortunate refuge against a terrible winter storm, only to find they are not alone.
What person would wish to be abroad on so foul a night? Sometimes, even the vilest creature may be drawn toward hearth and home. So, with all this in mind, what knocks at the door in the dead of night?
Perhaps the PCs find lodging in a ruinous inn one wintry night. As midnight approaches, the innkeeper and his sullen wife become more agitated and often stare at the front door. Suddenly there is a pounding knock at the door, but as the PCs move to open it, the innkeeper and his wife beg the PCs to leave the door shut, for it is the devil that visits the tavern at midnight on this day…
The Center of Attention
The PCs may be in the wrong place at the wrong time when they arrive at a settlement whose locals delight in the taste of human flesh. Such locals ply the PCs with as much food and ale as they can consume over a three-day festival before introducing their guests to the belly of the Hungry One, an iron statue of a troll that has a great oven in its belly.