The party has to reach the top of a mountain, navigating a difficult route climbing on a glacier. Ice… cold… isolation… madness.. maybe? Or maybe not. Climbing is kind of hard to DM well, honestly. I can’t say I have done a great job of it myself in the past.
“We climb the wall”. “OK, make a check”. “An 18!”. “It’s no problem for you, you zoom along and get it done”
We climb the wall”. “OK, make a check”. “A 5!”. “You find it difficult, at some point you lose grip. You take a short fall and take 1d8 damage”.
In the mountains, the biggest danger is the weather, the conditions, what happens around you. These are things that are so much more powerful than the climber, or anybody, really. Sure, a climbing mistake can happen even to a level 12 ranger. But the conditions worsening, something showing up, or some other natural or magical force working against the party while they are hanging by a rope are much more fun to navigate than a mistake.
These things- which is what is in this table- should be brought in when a check fails, or perhaps regardless of checks, for a scripted difficult section, or for something interesting anyways.
The following table contains descriptions to read to players. It somehow came easier to write in this format. I hope it can inspire a DM to design a mini-encounter or diversion during a climbing section of an ice adventure. For the players of 5e official modules (we don’t judge here), this may be used somewhere in “dragons of icespire peak” or “icewind dale: rime of the frostmaiden”.
I may have had to use this…
Anyways, roll a d12.
|1||“As you secure the next grip and throw your climbing hook over a ledge, you feel the ice wall a few inches from your face. It glows with a deep, otherwordly, purple color. Suddenly, your hook gets swallowed by the ledge, and appears as a reflection inside the ice sheet“.|
|2||“The climb is taking a toll on your arms and legs. Your face is getting covered in snow and you feel a numbing sensation. You look up and see that the end is in sight. However, the head of an ice goblin is poking over the top of the cliff. You can see he is up to something. After a few seconds, you see the goblin show up again, this time holding a large saw. He looks at your rope with malicious intent and begins to repel down towards your top anchor point…”|
|3||“As you climb up, you begin to realise the wall is much frendlier than it seemed from below. Several platforms and resting points you could not see from below are on your route. When you reach one, you are surprised to find it covered in orange mushrooms that poke strong roots through the ice sheet… wait a minute. Are those spores?”|
|4||“You continue moving up the mountain, trying to stay on a safe route. Every now and then you look at the sky, and you see clouds moving very fast across it. The weather is holding, but you don’t know for how long. Just as you think that, some light snow begins to fall. The combination of the frozen wall with the wet snow makes the surface horrible to grip. And yet, the rock just would not let you go. Suddenly, you realise that the features of this wall are actively gripping you, keeping you safe. But will they want to let you go at the end of this?”|
|5||“You are past the midway point. You do not want to look down, but you give yourself the luxury to look to your side. About 300 feet across a traverse, you see something sticking out of the rock. It appears to be a mirror, fixed to the surface for god knows what purpose..”|
|6||“During a difficult section of overhang, you have to pull yourself over a ledge by sheer strength. Your face comes very near the rock wall. You notice that this rock is covered in cuts and marks, as if made by a blade. Something was fighting here in the middle of a climbing wall. With a sword. But how? You feel the rock feature your are holding on beginning to move… you look up and the entire wall is shuffling. You will have to hold tight to see this through!”|
|7||“You pull your gear up below you after securing yet another anchor point. As you pull it up, you feel sudden strong crosswinds. Your gear is swinging wildly from side to side, threatening to smash into your fellow climbers.”|
|8||“The rock is crisscrossed by a number of small cracks. The quietness of the environment is broken up by loud, deep noises. You look in horror as the cracks begin to widen.. and widen… the pincers of a large insect1 smash through one of the openings.”|
|9||“Below the ice you are climbing, you hear a constant flowing sound. Looking above, you see a series of stones that seem to have been fixed into the ice by someone. You continue climbing up, until you approach some of the stones. As soon as you attach one of your hooks to it, the stone rolls over and a huge spurt of hot water comes flowing from the hole, like a geyser. The ice you are secured to begins to melt….”|
|10||“On a section of horizontal traverse, you find a series of metal poles pushed into the wall, acting as a series of secure points, or as jumping platforms. You use them to tie your rope as you move across. As you tie your rope to the first one, you hear the ice resonate with a hollow note. A crystal staircase appears from the poles, leading you up the mountain..:”|
|11||“You swing your hook up, planting it firmly over the next ledge, beyond sight. KWOOOOOOOOOK!!! Some small rocks and branches fall over your head, the remainders of the nest of a large bird you have just smashed. You see it taking flight above you, ready to dive straight down…”|
|12||The wall has a series of cylindrical features, lining up on top of each other. This makes the ascent relatively easy. You climb the first 6 or 7 of them, and take a short break. As you look down, you see the wall lifting itself off the ground you started from. With a thunderous noise, two giant rock columns, two legs, rip through the ground at the bottom of the climb, lifting your position. Two large sections of rock are now widening, creating a gap, to your left and right. You are resting on the spine of a huge rock golem that has just woken up…|