There are going to be spoilers here, so players might want to keep out. Especially MY players.
Joseph (et al.), we did indeed play this today. We did not quite finish, but I wanted to get my thoughts out while they are still fresh.
--The party: Thief 2, Witch 1, Magician 1, Shaman 1 (White Elk), Fighter 1 w/Fighter 1 henchman, Cleric 1, Ranger 1, war dog.
--We did not use the setup. I think that if you were to publish the adventure again or something, you could start with the background for the ref. section and then stress that the village and the "Beginning the Adventure" section relate to your home game? Maybe? Maybe it's purely a matter of taste, but I like prewritten adventures with as little background as possible--to keep them more modular.
--So the setup I used was the kybernetes of Felchapel in Brigands Bay having noticed that the party had been flashing some cash around, and he hadn't gotten a taste. This is a dangerous way to run in Felchapel, and it was time to show the players that they had not been nearly careful enough if they wanted to conceal what they were doing. There was also a bad cold snap going on for the two weeks the party had been in town training and researching (it's month 3, year 3), so there had been some warming and a couple of harvests in. Tempers were pretty frayed in the town from the cold and what it was doing to the small crop areas and the possibilities of illicit shipping on the bay. So the kybernetes sent one of the lieutenants of his reavers (Lt. Reaverson) told the party that to earn back some good graces, they had to investigate what had happened to a Viking longship that was supposed to have made port the day before. Reavers had seen it round a headland 20 miles down the coast, but it had never reached town. The party was to go down the coast and look for any sign of it. Their main task was to bring back, preferably alive, Hallstan the Wayfarer, a Viking with whom the kybernetes has some important business. If they could not bring him back, he was transporting certain items that the kybernetes wanted.
--So the shipwreck setup I kept as it is, no wandering monster for the party on their way there. The encounter with the wolves was great. As Joseph specifies, the wolves are only interested in defending their food, not in a fight to the death. The party tried to stop them with a sleep spell from the treeline, but only one wolf went down. The wolves tried to drive them off by growling and did not attack until a round of arrows wounded several. The two alpha wolves did not engage and ust charged into the woods. The fight with the others lasted several rounds and involved some tree climbing and left one character and a war dog unconscious. Four wolves escaped, and two (including the slept wolf) were killed. Let's call it a draw.
--To go with my setup, I added one item to the gear on the ship: a well-made chest of laquered wood bound in steel. Poison needle trap that the party thief detected but could not disarm. So they started chiseling at the steel bands to get it open the slow, loud way, and a wandering monster check brought six giant bats. That was an awesome little fight. Two escaped, four were killed. Another unconscious character, and the dog went back down. In the chest, carefully wrapped in oilksin, there was a simple outfit of woolens and leathers of Viking make, the overshirt decorated with the sigil of a Viking house--a mountain and a war axe. Despite Quanmor the thief's wearing-based experimentation, the clothes did not seem to do anything special. However, the other thing in the chest, a strange glassy orb, black and purple and shifty, encased in a mesh of steel, did seem a bit odd. Experimentation revealed that pressing the stud on top caused the steel to unfold like flower petals and the orb to vibrate, producing a strange quiet hum that was nonetheless audible all over the beach.
--These are items Hallstan was bringing to the Kybernetes. The clothes are the house livery of a powerful Viking merchant captain. The kybernetes plans to slip someone aboard his flagship and use the Orb of the Overseer to put the crew to permanent sleep so that he can steal the ship and its goods. The orb, when activated around any sleeping humans, will indefinitely extend their sleep, even through pain or noise. Only dispel magic or the cessation of the humming will allow them to wake. The area of effect is one area: a ship, a dungeon room, a house, whatever the logical ends of the area might be. It is an artifact of serpent men technology/magic, used to pacify their human slaves.
--So anyway, they followed the tracks in the morning. With the delay, I asked for a tracking roll from the ranger, intending to double the time it took to reach the ice caves if she failed the roll. But she made it.
--I made the wood elf ice thrall an Atlantean. The Hybernian a Viking. Picts are Picts, clearly. The Atlantean was in the 1a-marked chamber to the NW. The party went that way, and the Atlantean ice thrall answered their hail with arrows. A couple of them charged, managed to not fall down on the ice, but I had the Pict tucked into the alcove on the left. I also rolled a 2. So the Pict did not last long. Missile weapons took out the Atlantean a round or two later, but in the meantime the Viking came up behind the party and put the magician on the ground wtih a single blow from its great axe.
--They rigged a litter for the magician (out of healing already) and moved NW. They were clever and had figured out the ice thralls were from various eras. They also figured out something weird was going on, what with the frozen innards and whatnot. They moved NW, and the fighter and ranger (and dog) triggered the pit trap. The ranger managed to avoid falling. The dog was injured. The fighter was knocked unconscious. The ice thrall in antechamber beyond hit the ranger with a thrown dagger while they were hauling up the others but then retreated rather than face a wall of missile fire. The party retreated to the outside to rest.
--This was interesting, as I realized that basically the party could retreat and rest at will, and the ice maiden could not really repopulate her caverns. That said, the party faced wandering monster rolls outside. They made it through the first night OK, though, and returned to the caves.
--They retraced their steps and tried went after the ice thrall in the antechamber. I had the ice thralls in the trophy room throw an axe as the party was edging past the pit and then retreat back into that chamber. The party ignored them and took out the Viking sailor, which was interesting indeed. They used ropes and pitons to climb the ice fall and then followed the long passage along to the north, which was a good learning experience in terms of how the sloping passages worked mechanically. That probably helped them a lot later.
--Also: The witch left her sea gull familiar outside, and I told the player that her connection with it seemed attenuated. It was still there, still possible to see through its eyes, but there was some kind of interference or thinning of the bond. They deduced pretty quickly that they were somehow beyond the normal world. Maybe I'm getting predictable.
--So I had had to think about what might happen in the night they were away. There's not a lot of reinforcing that can happen, but I had the ice thralls organize somewhat. The Viking in the antechamber collected the daggers from the fallen ice thralls (the thief had taken the short bow), and used those as missile weapons when the party was traversing the edges of the pit. The others had received orders as well. The party wound along the long tunnel and came to the ice tree, which they really liked. They experimented with the orb there, and I told them the buzzing sound was twice as loud, but since there was no other effect they could measure, they moved on. Just before they were about to chop down the statue, they decided to investigate the domed cavern. They were inspecting the carvings, and the Kelt ice thrall from the trophy chamber sneaked down and appeared in the cavern entrance. It did not get surprise, and the party won initiative, but only one of their missiles connected. For its attack, the ice thrall smashed the flat of its battle axe against the wall, bringing the ceiling down on the party. However, I rolled only 4 for damage. This knocked out the fighter and . Several others pursued the Kelt as it retreated. A couple of them fell on the ice and were out of the chase. The others managed a shot at the ice thrall as it scampered up the slope to the trophy room, but they missed.
--Out of healing and with the fighter down, they retreated again, heading outside. This did not go as well. A wandering monster roll brought a mountain ape as they made camp. The ranger had them set up well, but even so, it managed to kill the cleric (there was cerebro-spinal fluid, which is lovely on snow, it turns out). They brought it down with missile weapons as it scooped up the cleric's body and tried to retreat. I gave it a 25 percent chance of being one of the mountain apes that travels with its treaure, and it was. They got several gems, a potion of invincibility, a love potion, and a potion of flying. It cost them a cleric, however.
--Back inside, they were bent on revenge on the Kelt ice thrall. The thief tried to climb the slope to room 4 and secure a rope, but the ice thralls were on him before he could and he slid back down. Missile weapons brought down the Viking ice thrall from the bottom of the slope. Then they--and this was awesome-gave the magician's spider familiar a tiny bit of the flying potion and used it for scouting. It saw the Kelt waken the snow cobra and position it to the left of the opening while the ice thrall hid to the right. So the thief took some incendiary oil and climbed up the other slope above the pit trap. He did not get surprise but hit the ice thrall with the incendiary oil as it charged and was able to put it down. The ice cobra closed to spitting range as the rest of the party began trying to scramble up the slope, needing DEX tests to do so. There was much slipping and sliding. The thief, though, was able to take out the ice thrall and the cobra and act pretty tough about the whole thing.
--They investigated everything up there and chipped the Viking hero out of the ice block. And that's where we left it. There's obviously one pret-ty important thing left to do . . . and they have yet to find Hallstan the Wayfarer . . .
--So, it was loads of fun and plays very smoothly. Basically, it's a lair more than a full-scale adventure. The ice thralls draw off resources (HP, spells, weapons), and retreating outside to rest is, as always, a dicey proposition. A first-level party doesn't have quite enough HP to make it through in one go. The witch was pretty psyched to learn that the ice thralls were susceptible to sleep spells. She was much less happy about the fact the rest of the party kept hitting the slept monsters in the same round and waking them the hell back up, but that's not the adventure's fault! The main tactical problem for the ice maiden, though, is that she can't replenish her troops unless the party retreats for a significant time. Her resources are limited, too. Though, as an immortal, I figure she takes the long view--she can always make more thralls, as, indeed, she plans to do with the party, of course.
--So we'll pick it up next time. Missing the cleric's going to be hard on the party, but I figure they'll pull out the limited stops they have. I kind of expected them to retreat by this time, but they seem prepared to press onward. A first-level party is in for a hell of a fight. I marked a location for the throne. It puts the far landing in range of her song but not the ice spear. With those narrow paths and charmed characters as possible obstacles, I anticipate things getting messy. Should be great.
Nice work, Joseph!