Monday 13 March 2017

[REVIEW] Beyond the Ice-Fall

[REVIEW] Beyond the Ice-Fall
by Joseph D. Salvador
Published by Raven God Games

Winter has been hard on the small Viking villages of the Skallafjord, wolf attacks have been on the rise and a supply ship has gone missing. The player characters – either locals or visiting travellers – are asked to investigate. This is the premise of a beginning (level 1-3) adventure module based on two pulp stories, Algernon Blackwood’s The Glamour of the Snow, and Robert E. Howard’s The Frost Giant’s Daughter. Like almost all modules which try to turn pulp stories into RPG scenarios, it is heavy on the mood and light on the actual game content. The whole package consists of 28 pages, but while what we get is generally good, it is very little. Some of this is due to thanks to the airy layout (with rather good-looking interior illustrations, some by the author), but the real issue is the adventure’s limited scope.

Attack of the Ice Bint
What we get is a hook (missing ship), a broader mystery (the heavy winter the Vikings have been enduring), and a bunch of rumours that are ripe with further adventure potential. Of these, only the first is explored in this module. Which is a shame, because the author almost starts detailing a small wilderness setting that could have a lot of potential to realise these promises, but stops in his tracks right after the beginning. We get the descriptions of two villages, presented in fairly broad strokes – they have their interesting NPCs, local adventure hooks, and just the right amount of well-presented information to make them feel distinct and engaging – but little is actually done with them. This is followed up by a wilderness trek that inevitably leads to the adventure site, bolstered by a small but well-done random encounter chart (the entries are given descriptions which elevate them above “2+1d6 wolves”) and all of two wilderness locations (one of which is the entrance to the dungeon). They are cool (the first site is really powerful), but this isn’t really exploration, because there is nowhere else interesting to go.

Then we get an eight-location mini-dungeon beyond the ice-fall, and it almost becomes interesting again. There are some challenges related to navigation and movement in the hazardous icy environment, and there is some damn fine imagery representing the best of the pulps. Icy passages, cursed slave warriors enthralled by the main antagonist, a guy frozen in a block of ice along with two interesting magic items, a spectacular ice tree, and the crown jewel, an underground cavern with an iceberg floating above a bottomless rainbow abyss that’s actually a dimensional gateway. Damn spiffy! Unfortunately, imagery it remains: things mostly remain on the decorative/treasure/fight/trap level, and you can’t interact much with these wonders (although, again, that iceberg... that’s something). The good classic adventures tend to have a depth of interaction with their magical enigmas, and that is missing. There are the obligatory new monsters, which over-explain things a bit, two cool magic items, and three spells everyone already knows from AD&D. Also, a random table for Viking names.

There is almost something here, and there are the beginnings of an interesting Nordic-themed mini-setting in the text. The individualised monster encounters are a major feature of the adventure, and some of the wild imagery – even if not really exploited – is to die for. There is an undeniable style to it all that could sustain more than the product really offers. If this wasn’t just a glorified lair dungeon, but a collection of three or four mini-scenarios and a dozen smaller wilderness sites centred on the Skallafjord area, and was a bit more tightly packed, it would be going places. As it is, it is almost worth three stars thanks to the execution and attention to detail – but that’s just another almost.

Rating: ** / *****


  1. Gabor---

    Have you picked up any of Jeff Talanian's ASSH modules? They have a great pulp atmosphere, but are packed with usable gaming content too (and very evocative artwork)! Would be interested in a comparison to Ice Fall, if possible.


    1. Hi Allan, I have Charnel Crypt in its original Knockspell edition, but not the update or the others. I have plans to pick them up some day, but haven't gotten to it.