Winter stretches on and dangers abound. The long plains of white, stretching over the countryside and weaving between mountains, camouflage all manner of beasts and challenges. The party has faced many, but they are far from done. What else does the cold have planned for them?
Our icy adventures continue with the second set of snow encounters. As always, we aim for each to be as memorable and interesting as possible. Many are designed with more than one layer to the encounter, to keep your players engaged and enjoying the adventure. But don’t worry about them being too complicated. We include a detailed setting description and an explanation of how to prepare and run each one. They should have everything you need to start building and adapting encounters into your own campaign.
For the first 10 encounters, refer back to Part 1. We also have a d20 Encounter Chart for navigation and use at the table!
11 – A snow witch stands in the tundra, constructing a castle of ice for herself. She was not expecting company.
Beyond the howling of winds and blistering frost, the party first hear the sounds of a voice. As they travel closer, they find a lone woman. She is casting magic left and right. Ice forms and shapes at her will, weaving together to form a large structure that grows wider and taller as the adventurers approach. Coming closer, it seems as if the woman might be… singing? She stops abruptly as she hears their footsteps, spinning to face them. She had no idea anyone would find her so soon.
We probably don’t need to explain that this is a reference to Frozen. This will be just as obvious to your players as they see and hear more of it. The key to this snow encounter is to subvert the assumptions they form from the reference. There are two key ways to do this and both use a comedic variation on the ‘Elsa’ character.
The first is to make the snow witch somewhat incompetent and caught off-guard. This is to reverse the source character’s confidence and ability. Your players will approach suspecting either for the reference to continue or for some kind of trap to spring. Instead, the witch will turn and scream, realizing people were watching her. She could be embarrassed at the situation and not wish any ill-intent against the players. Rather than being a princess, she might be a young outcast from a small village nearby. Maybe the party is headed for that village and ends up meeting her modest parents, who speak highly of their daughter and her self-expressive ‘phase’. She recently came into her magic and has been practicing first with a field of snowmen, before storming off to “create her own ice castle”.
Our second option is to still use an awkward encounter but lean more in the direction of combat. In this case, you would describe the encounter almost the same as the movie. She should be singing and twirling, forming a structure around her. Except the singing is raspy and altogether awful. This one detail will pique the players’ curiosity and encourage them to approach. When they do and she notices them, the witch will spin around to reveal the form of a bheur hag under the dress. There can be an awkward, embarrassing silence before the initiative roll. If you wish to lean more heavily into the reference, have her assisted by a (giant) elk and a blonde-haired zombie. Perhaps she also animates a snowman and summons a snow golem?
12 – Rising from snow and ice is the petrified remains of a ship. Its crew is similarly frozen, but still animate.
From a distance, it appeared to be another rock formation. Ice crept up its sides and blankets of snow coated its surfaces. As the party walk closer, they begin to see the texture of wood covering what they believed to be stone. Circling around reveals the shape of a broken mast and split deck. The ship has clearly been frozen for ages but the reason for it being in the tundra is unexplained. There is a treasure inside for the party to claim but it does not come without risk. Frozen corpses crack and shift, rising to combat the newcomers.
Using the form of a ship is a great way to introduce a quick ‘mini-dungeon’. It allows you to break the snow encounter’s combat into multiple different fights, forcing players to think long-term about their resources and movement. This is strengthened further by them not knowing where they might find any valuables, as well as the ship being broken and buried at an angle for more involved battle maps. This setting comes with disadvantages, however. If the environment is one that others have traveled, people will know about the ship. This means others will have tried for the treasure. You can actually use this to your advantage though, by having villagers mention it in conversation before the party sets off. There may also be people currently in the ship, calling for help.
Choosing units for the encounter’s combat is relatively simple. Zombies, skeletons, and similar undead act as a great base but you should strive to involve creatures that are as unique as the location. Luckily, there is a very easy way to do this. Take the standard statblocks and combine them with that of an ice mephit. Keep the majority of the undead’s stats but strengthen it with a mephit’s vulnerabilities, immunities, Death Burst, spellcasting, and Frost Breath. Doing this does raises the difficulty but creates a unique, albeit still simple, monster. Remember to have the crew hold a variety of weapons to keep each room different from the last. If you want a climactic fight, consider making similar or stronger changes to a minotaur skeleton, like having its Gore ability leave behind a trail of sharp ice crystals.
An important aspect of the theme of this encounter is including treasure. For your players to feel motivated to engage with the ship, they would have to assume there is loot to be found. Having other explorers call for help is a way around this, but may still result in the players helping them out and then leaving. Consider having the rescued characters intent on and persuasive in convincing the party to assist, in exchange for a cut of the gold. The treasure itself need only be gold, gems, and weapons. If you want to include a magical item, be sure to keep it theme-appropriate. Boots of the Winterlands would be a great option. But any non-player explorers would attempt to take it for themselves, of course.
We have a number of premade ships as well as assets to make your own…
13 – A wide river blocks the party’s path. They can ford it, but icy beasts wait for those slowed by the current.
The river is wide and harsh and the bridge collapsed long ago. Bitterly cold water flows over rocks, casting an icy mist into the air. The party must reach the other side to continue on their journey and can come up with a number of ways to cross. They are successful in fighting the current and bracing against the painful, arctic chill. But the water seems to change as they push further. It begins to freeze around their waists, slowly them and threatening to stop them entirely. It would be a minor obstacle if not for the mounds of white fur and turquoise eyes rising on the opposite bank.
This is another encounter designed around having multiple layers. The first is the river itself. Crossing river rapids is a popular and seemingly plain environmental hazard that is common to many different terrains. In saying that, it should come with difficulty and consequence. Make sure that your players understand the kinds of checks they will be making to cross the water, adjusted based on measures they take to ensure their safety. They don’t need to be Les Stroud superfans, but simple precautions such as binding themselves together should give them a small advantage or contingency. Likewise, consider the effects of the cold. Contact with the water could slowly inflict ticking cold damage and freezing, water-logged clothing could slow travel or even make resting difficult.
The snow encounter’s second step is the attack. The enemy should have a distinct advantage in hiding before the players arrive, though a sufficiently high perception check might reveal spots of fur. When the party is nice and central in the rapids, the water will begin to freeze around them. The mechanics of this are up to you. A good starting point is slowing their movement speed and then building to restraining them or negating their movement, with a check to escape. As they slow, winter wolves will stalk out from bushes and snowbanks around them. You can adjust their Cold Breath to freeze the water before them to assist movement and visually link the water’s trap to their abilities and hunting tactics. You might also include regular wolves as their pups, in order to bolster their numbers.
14 – The party finds a village, ravaged and empty. Looking through the buildings, they hear the stalking footsteps of hungry beasts.
A collection of houses, stores, and small farms have been coated in white. The buildings are abandoned and heavily damaged. Signs of movement litter the snow’s surface and the party finds long claw marks on walls, amid stains of red. The most unsettling sign is a cart, devoid of its owner but too recent for any snow to have settled on it. As the party investigates, they catch something moving between buildings. They ready themselves, not realizing they have stepped into their predators’ territory. The townsfolk have been twisted into ravenous monsters and are preparing to attack.
You should start this snow encounter’s planning by understanding the resident monsters. The people of the town have transformed into wendigos, eventually attacking each other before expanding their hunting to those that would travel nearby. This can either come from a standard werewolf curse or you can play further into the wendigo legend. Perhaps the harsh winter isolated the town and killed their crops and animals. Their panic caused them to turn on each other in the worst way, which slowly changed them. Mechanically, think about using the werewolf with added cold abilities. They might have a winter wolf’s speed, cold immunity, and camouflage ability. To emphasize their ambush tactics, think about giving them a prone effect on a charge, similar to a boar. Just be mindful of how extra abilities increase difficulty.
The village itself should be structured to tell the story and host the fight, while also seeming realistic in its layout. Luckily, farming towns are easy to create. The outermost land will be farm plots that the snow has buried and killed. As the party travels further in, the houses should become denser, possibly around a central tavern or inn. Include evidence of the monsters and their prey, perhaps with journals to tell the story from before their writer was turned. These can be found anywhere, so simply include them in any house the party investigates or takes cover in. For the purpose of combat, the wendigos will use the tighter streets to dash through, taking quick attacks before disappearing again. Their abilities also mean they can scale buildings or hide in the snow.
Your party will ultimately need to fight with the intention of escaping, but you might want alternative options for the resolution. It is important for the players to identify the monsters as the townsfolk, as well as hopefully find the aforementioned journals. You want them walking away understanding what they faced. This also means that altruistic players might attempt to help the people. A Remove Curse might work for single targets, but could they do it to the entire town? You might consider having the town’s madness and transformation come not only from desperation but also from a cursed object or malicious god. The writer of the journals may have pleaded to a god or devil for his people to be strong enough to survive. The entity twisted the wish, and the writings then lead the party to a central, hidden shrine.
15 – The snow and ground collapse beneath the party’s feet, dropping them into the cave home of a sleeping yeti.
One grows accustomed to their feet sinking deep into the snow with each step. It is common, after a heavy snowfall, to be pushing through a foot or more of slush. But as the party travels, their feet suddenly sink much further into the ground. As do their bodies. The immediate vicinity crumbles away into a wide cavern, with tunnels branching in numerous different directions. Collecting themselves from the freezing rubble, the adventurers spot a mass of white fur, breathing steadily in its slumber. As they begin to move, it rustles awake.
One of this snow encounter’s strengths is that it does not rely on surface terrain. The party is traveling unawares when they feel the ground shift. Try to use this in your description by focusing on the terrain and sights calmly, then moving into a faster and more panicked description of the cave-in. Your players will be able to quickly make checks to avoid or mitigate this, of course. Acrobatics checks or dexterity saves might allow them to deftly escape, with less successful rolls helping to reduce any fall damage. If some of them succeed, great! The challenge then becomes getting the rest out without waking the yeti. Characters at higher levels might have access to spells such as levitate or even fly, so consider having the collapse wake the monster, which will immediately engage.
Yetis, with their Chilling Gaze action, can easily snowball combat against unlucky parties. They are also faster than most player races/classes. This is the reason why we have the yeti asleep for the encounter’s beginning, particularly for lower-level groups. The obstacle is escaping the lair without waking the beast, through effective stealth checks and clever reasoning. Reward your players for creative problem-solving and give them some leeway if they need to make a run for it. The yeti might take a round to wake up and begin its pursuit, giving players a headstart. This also lets them see its superior movement speed, which they will then need to account for. Following a tunnel might eventually lead outside, where the yeti will give up the chase, returning to its home after a threatening roar into the wind.
For encounters like this, it’s important to remember that your party might fail. Upgrading the yeti to an abominable yeti for advanced parties increases this chance, as players that are frozen while escaping can quickly lead to the entire party falling. Luckily, this snow encounter comes with a great second chance for players. In the event that they are wiped out or a player is left behind, have them wake up some time later. The yeti is saving them for a future meal and has frozen their feet to the ceiling with its Gaze. Their weapons are on the ground below them. The beast itself could be asleep again, or absent (but returning soon!). This reference helps to lighten the situation without cheapening the loss, as they are in MORE danger than before. Players that did escape might have to return to help them.
We have all sorts of cave maps and tiles to make your own…
16 – Several cultists are casting a ritual, attempting to reawaken the beast on whose back they stand.
Long ago, a great beast of frigid malice terrorized the tundra. It fell, either in death or slumber, and has long since been buried in the landscape. But a band of cultists has located its resting place. They seek to raise the beast in the hopes that it will accept its worshippers as servants in an eternal winter. Unfortunately for the cult, a group of adventurers spots them as they are casting their climactic ritual. The region trembles and stirs. Will the party stop them before the creature awakens?
There are a few details here that allow you to make a truly interesting snow encounter. For one, your players are on the clock. A selection of the cultists will maintain focus on the ritual, with their compatriots acting to protect them. Make this clear to the players with the ritual visibly progressing, possibly leading to some form of environmental effect such as tremors or chills. The ritual does not need to take very long, as the party should quickly catch on that they need to stop it and will, therefore, move to attack the casters. You might have it start with a timer of three rounds, with the ritualists set back by one round each time a member falls or loses concentration. This pace can be slowed until they enter combat, but players should understand that spending time setting up comes at a distinct risk.
The party’s goal within the encounter means that the cultists benefit more from numbers than from individual strength. You want the challenge to be in breaking through their ranks to target the ritual. Their protectors might summon wolves or ice mephits, both of which have powerful abilities when in groups (Pack Tactics and Death Burst, respectively). Have them communicate with each other and form a blockade to show their purpose. The cultists themselves should use basic weaponry and ice magic. Start with Frostbite, Ray of Frost, and Ice Knife, building up depending on party level. Their individual attacks should not be too powerful due to the additional summons and ritualists joining in when their concentration breaks. There will also be the lair effects as the ritual progresses.
Similar to the previous snow encounter, this situation comes with the distinct possibility of your party failing. In this case, combat will likely conclude with the ritual, as the ground will split and the beast will rise. Players might need acrobatics checks to resist falling off its back. Once they have moved away, they will watch the beast. An ancient white dragon is a good choice unless you want to winter-ize something like a tarrasque. These monsters are extremely powerful, so dealing with them can become a point for the story rather than a direct fight. An extended quest might have them repeating the steps of the ancient adventurers who first defeated it. In the meantime, have the creature’s presence show clear effects. The temperature might drop further, with violent snowstorms swirling in the area around it.
17 – A basin oasis exists within the frigid plains, maintained by a mysterious circle of druids and their ritual site.
The frigid tundra breaks into a large expanse of vibrant green. Steps lead down into a basin, populated by trees, foliage, and animals that should not be native to the area. The air is warm and soothing. Making their way into the valley, the party meets a group of reclusive druids who were not expecting to have visitors. They invite the travelers to stay and rest but make them aware of a recent problem with the same object that created the oasis. Its power is expanding and it has begun releasing monsters that the druids cannot control.
The centerpiece of this snow encounter is the location. It should be an idyllic forest glade, starkly opposing the icy surroundings. The air is pleasant and fruit grows all around. It would be a perfect place to stop and rest. The druids should reflect the area’s inviting nature, having been drawn by the phenomenon and tending to the grove. They will happily welcome the party and offer for them to stay. During the exploration and conversation, it’s important to also begin hinting at the issue. Harsh, thorny overgrowth might be expanding outwards from the center, or the druids might rush away to deal with “another incident”. This encounter is not a trick or a trap like the others, but rather an interesting locale that needs assistance from the players.
There are many different options for the issue befalling the location. A central obelisk could be creating the plant life, with the rate of growth outpacing what the druids can control. If they allow it to continue, it might consume the entire region. Or the foliage could originate from a rift into the Feywild. In this case, it might have grown large enough for dangerous creatures to make their way through. The druids can no longer contain the portal or deal with the errant fey. The idea behind both of these is that the initial reason for the basin’s existence is now running rampant and must be brought back in line. Depending on the party’s solution, the area might either become manageable again or return to being frozen and dead. Their influence will have a tangible effect on the region.
Both of these options allow for use of a ‘villain’ character or group. This allows players to deal with the issue more readily instead of it turning into a long adventure. Though if you would prefer to extend it, feel free to. Perhaps a legion of redcaps is looking to conquer a territory and players must push them back while the druids conduct a ritual to contain the rift. The party could be required to fight on both sides of the portal, making it back before the rift shrinks too small. Alternatively, waves of vine, twig, and needle blights could be spreading through, with rapid plant growth, at the behest of either a spring eladrin or conclave dryad. Players would enter the Feywild to eliminate the leader or convince them to come to a balance with the druids. Showing that their plants are killing another environment might work.
18 – The party makes its way into a small town, unaware of the influence that isolates the people within its borders.
The town is unassuming from the outside, sitting on a hilltop in an area clear of trees or obstruction. It is small, seeming to rely on farming to sustain itself. The party enters happily and makes their way to the single inn for a night’s rest. People watch them with curious eyes and gleeful smiles. The tavernkeeper welcomes the travelers openly and regales them with stories and tales of the town as they eat. She speaks of the snow faeries that gave sanctuary to the area’s founders and the ways that they aid the settlement in return for companionship. This deal is imposed on the party the next day when they attempt to leave and are stopped by the fey magic.
Similar to encounter 14, the town itself does not need to be complicated. It will be situated primarily around the tavern/inn, which is the lure for attracting visitors. The difference for this snow encounter is that the town is functioning perfectly fine despite the climate. Their crops are flourishing, animals are content, and warmth should even fill the air despite the snow. The people will effectively be snow-hippies, acting overtly welcoming to the party and quickly regarding them as fellow townsfolk. After all, the players can never leave. This gives your party an effective and easy-going place to rest which is a great respite from the other encounters. They can eat, bathe, and talk with each other and the tavern staff all night long.
The monsters will manifest when it comes time for the party to leave. Imagine a set of three borders around the town, about one turn’s movement speed apart. Crossing the first might simply have townsfolk come to them and implore the players to stay longer. The second can act as a wide-spread version of Fey Charm from a snow dryad that will appear later. Their third and final attempt will be a series of icy imps and ice mephits rising from the snow and vastly outnumbering the party. They will form a distinct border and only fight if attacked. The people will tell the returning party that they are safe in the town but cannot leave. That is the deal that encompasses their village and all who enter.
There is the possibility that the party makes it out on their first attempt. In this case, they can look back and see the pale white and blue dryad waving from amongst the locals. If, however, they cannot make it out, they will need to find a way to escape the fey. The simplest approach is to allow negotiation, with the dryad’s voice carried on the chilly breeze. It will ask them for an equivalent offering that might entertain it, which will be up to your players to choose. Let them be creative and always remember that the dryad is primarily non-hostile. Of course, some players will elect to kill the creatures. Fighting with the snow minions should be difficult due to numbers, but the dryad will react to the deaths of her ‘friends’. Once enough fall, she will cast the players out and lock them off from the village.
19 – A storm blew over a camp of travelers in the night. A shapeshifter has used the obscurement to infiltrate their ranks.
A thick snowstorm blew through the night before. The party now travels through a wooded area when the sound of distant yelling interrupts their journey. The adventurers follow the sound but are disturbed by what they find on the way. A body, burned to unidentifiable ash, has been uncovered in a shallow pit of snow. Tracks lead away. The footprints bring the party to the source of the commotion. A small camp of travelers sits in a small clearing with tents, packs, and a now-extinguished campfire. The six residents of the camp stand in a wide circle, weapons drawn and pointed at each other. Listening in reveals that the body was one of the six, who has now been replaced by a doppelganger.
Obviously, this entire snow encounter hinges on the conversational investigation. Unlike its inspiration, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the monster won’t be revealing itself to eat more people. Each character will have their own knowledge and the party (provided they intervene) must carefully question each member of the volatile situation. Try to design them in the way an experienced player party might function. They are friends and know a lot about each other, but not everything. Much of their motivations will be the same as each other, but each character should feel distinct and separate from the rest. Their relationships should differ in the same way. Maybe one or more of the characters are newer to the group and therefore less trusted or liked?
Start off the planning with the most recent events. The travelers had made their camp in a clearing, with several tents and a central fire. They went to sleep not long before the storm picked up, some of them sharing tents and others on their own. As with most parties, they had a roster for watches during the night. But sometime during the storm, masked by the snow and darkness, a creature killed one of the party members. They burned the body beyond recognition, aside from a tattoo that identifies it as one of the group. It was dragged away and hidden in the snow but another member discovered it in the early morning. The doppelganger had mimicked the body’s form, tattoo included, and now wears its clothes. It is visually indistinguishable.
With the basic story outlined, you need to create a network of clues and character knowledge. You want to make it intricate, detailed, and littered with questions. Think about when the murder took place. Who was on watch at the time? Did someone wake up and see something from within their tent? Was the victim sharing a tent, and therefore missing from it during the night? The fire was reignited in the morning, so did the doppelganger light it to burn the body? Create intentional holes in each person’s story to cast suspicion on everyone at first. It should only be through comparing each story on a red string conspiracy board that the players uncover the truth. How your party approaches the situation will determine the reactions of the characters, with diffusing the initial tension leading to easier questioning.
Plotting out these kinds of mysteries can be very difficult. To help with this, here is a basic outline of example events. Keep in mind that character details and biases should still be added. This is simply a quick example to get you started or give you an idea for structuring the linking clues. From there, make detailed notes of everything each character knows, what they believe, and the accusations they will make. And feel free to adjust the number of characters or other details as you see fit.
The group of six will be labeled with their numbers, 1 to 6, in accordance with both their shift order and their formation around the campfire in a clockwise direction. 2 and 3 share a tent, as do 5 and 6.
It starts with 1’s shift. The storm starts during this, extinguishing the fire, but the time is otherwise uneventful. The storm runs through 2’s shift, during which 2 is killed and replaced by the doppelganger (2D). It hides the body nearby. 2D wakes 3 for their shift, secretly staying awake to wait for the storm to end. 3’s shift sees the storm persist, though it begins to clear towards the end. Early in the next shift, 4 is knocked unconscious, something they are shameful of and hesitant to later admit, though there is physical evidence. 2D is the one who struck 4. With the storm clearing, 2D reignited the fire and burned 2’s body, then moved it. 6 wakes during this time (4’s shift) and sees the fire being relit, but does not see 4 lying unconscious and assumes it is 4 relighting it. 2D silently returns to bed.
4 wakes up in time to wake 5. 5 wakes 3, as the two are involved in a secret relationship. They notice the fire is relit, making them both smell of ash in the morning. They lose track of time together and 5 ends up waking 6 later than intended. 3 returns to the tent, waking 2D during what should be 6’s shift. 6 realizes that 5 woke them later than they should have and that the fire is burning. In the morning, it is 3 that finds the body.
We have a multitude of tokens for caravans, camps, and NPC’s. They are perfect for our last two encounters…
20 – The party finds fellow travelers, headed in the same direction. They are friendly and inviting, but hold their own secrets.
Traveling the cold and silent wastes, the party happens across a caravan of welcoming faces. Both sides are wary of each other, thanks to experience in traveling. Conversation and investigation reveal nothing suspicious, allowing the party to travel with the group for a stretch of their journey. Together, they are able to survive much more easily. Food, shelter, and stories are shared over each camp until a satisfied parting of ways.
For our final snow encounter, and as a reward for a 20 if players are rolling on the list, we have a beneficial and relaxing crossing of paths. The idea is not to outright trick or deceive players, though there are some small twists that we will speak of. Feel free to not use them, though. The idea here is to give your party a reward and reprieve from the other encounters. The people of the caravan, however many you wish there to be, will be welcoming and accommodating (after the requisite suspicion). A number of them can also be experienced fighters, allowing them to aid the party in other encounters they cross. This does come with the caveat of protecting the caravan in some instances, but the benefits tend to outway the drawbacks.
This is very similar to a story point I used in my own campaign by having the party travel with a small caravan. It allowed me to introduce some allied characters, which was a welcome change from the players antagonizing everyone they met. Some of these characters have been reintroduced since then to apply known faces to other areas and moments. Just be careful to not make the caravan too dense as overloading players with new names and information dilutes their memory, undoing the close-knit intentions of the encounter.
As for twists, there are some basic changes you can make. The first would be making the caravan vanish like a dissipating illusion when they part ways. This is a great way to add mystery and the question of what was aiding the party and why. It might play into a particular character’s lore. Unfortunately, this does remove the ability to reuse the characters later and tends to invalidate the party’s relationship with them. Alternatively, you could reduce the caravan to a single person. This is a great option for a character that will be useful or important later, and more care can and should be given to making them interesting. Perhaps they are a wanderer in the wastes, becoming close friends with the first people they have seen in months. When they help the party in combat, they reveal their were(polar)bear form.
That concludes the second half of our snow encounters. Make sure to refer back to Part 1, to ensure you don’t miss out on any ideas. We also have other d20 encounter lists, including both oceans and islands. Have any feedback, comments, or related stories you want to share? We’d love to hear them down below. We’re always looking for new settings, environments, and ideas for articles, so feel free to suggest some!
Being a Dungeon Master is snow laughing matter. But there’s no need to freeze up because we’ve got you covered with some cool maps, assets, and articles…