The first-level PCs in my new campaign have found themselves stranded on the pass between SW Sterich and NW Yeomanry (almost but not quite as far as the glacier) towards the end of Sunsebb in a full-on blizzard. They've stumbled upon a small hamlet-size island of magical warmth and taken shelter there while the blizzard rages all around them (i.e. an adventuring locale!).
The PCs are all students at a school in extreme SW Sterich and, before getting themselves into this situation, let one of their teachers know where they were going.
I'm interested in having that teacher (a mid-level aristocrat with no transportation magic) attempt to stage a rescue; what I don't have a sense of is how difficult that would be, traveling along a mountain pass after a blizzard in the depths of winter.
In the real world, I've often heard the phrase "the passes are closed for the winter", but I'm not sure I actually have a good handle on what that means, adventuring-wise.
Could the teacher ride a horse up the pass? Could he walk? What about if he used snowshoes?
Is rescue only an option if he can teleport or ride a flying mount?
In real-world mountain passes, how closed is closed when it comes to mountain passes in winter? Would a native of Sterich have a good idea of how impossible and/or dangerous his rescue attempt would be? or could he get himself killed even while taking precautions?
Closed generally means "We're not shoveling it out over and over again so you can get through, go around please."
Getting a horse or wagon through will be impossible. On foot may also be impossible unless you're a Tolkien-style elf. On showshoes might be possible, but likely will be quite difficult. Flying will depend on the weather - no flying during a blizzard, and flying in the mountains with high winds is VERY dangerous. Teleport requires knowing where you're going.
With a medieval technology level, trying to take a closed mountain pass in the dead of winter after a blizzard ranges from foolhardy to suicidal. The locals are NOT going to agree to help, beyond giving advice (i.e. telling you to not do it) and selling you gear they expect to recover off your body in the spring.
Magic does change things a bit. Magical cold resistance, magical fire creation, magical movement capabilities, and even magical shelter make it more likely to survive winter in a mountain pass. But magic isn't cheap either, nor is it an easy solution to every problem you may encounter in such a situation. Avalanches, hungry predators, a second blizzard... the hazards are endless.
Which is why the passes are allowed to close in the first place; it just ceases to be cost effective (in treasure and lives) to keep them open.
I presume said teacher advised them NOT to go up into the mountains in the winter in the strongest possible terms, yes? He may make some effort to find them (how successful depends on what capabilities you've assigned him), but he is unlikely to press hard and risk his life over it unless there's a personal reason to do so.
And if he does, have the party find HIS body when they return from their adventure to drive home how unwise the timing on this expedition was...
This particular teacher is quite invested in being seen as a hero in the PCs' eyes, so I'm sure he'll make the attempt, regardless of the wisdom of it.
Right now I'm thinking he'll use snowshoes and have a druid friend of his cast endure elements upon him before he sets forth. (His druid friend is 7th lvl, so I'm not really sure what other spells she might have of sufficiently long duration to be useful and helpful to him.)
The trail the PCs followed begins in forested hills, rises into forested mountains, and then continues above the treeline for another six miles or so--probably about 20 miles or so of increasingly rugged terrain.
What I still don't quite understand is how obvious/visible/apparent would the pass actually be after having a day of snow dumped on it? Would the teacher be needing constant survival checks merely to find the trail through the pass itself? or would the snow likely settle in such a way that the trail would be visible?
(This particular trail up the pass is an old unpaved road, very rugged but in summer months accessible with some difficulty by wagons and carts.)
I'm awfully tempted to use your suggestion and have the PCs discover him dead, but before I do that, I want to understand exactly what he's up against and how successful he might be, given his resources. He's not a ranger/woodsman sort, but he did grow up high in the Stark Mounds (where his brother's lands are) so he knows a bit about the kind of trouble he's going into. It would be equally amusing to have succeed, knight in shining armor style.
How hard it is to stay on the right path depends heavily on the nature of the pass. Some passes are pretty obvious, while others meander around and branch off numerous dead ends. In the latter case, familiarity with the pass itself is vital once the snow starts flying. It only takes three or four inches of snow to conceal even a wagon trail pretty thoroughly. Mountain snowfall is commonly several feet deep on average, and can be quite a bit more right after a blizzard. This makes it VERY easy to lose your way if you're not familiar with the area.
Looking at the map, the warm Azure Sea is fairly nearby, moderating temperatures but providing a ready source of moisture. I would expect winter winds to come from the northwest, off the Panyim or Dry Steppes. The Crystalmist Mountains would shield the Jotens from the worst of the cold wind, but you would expect to see some pretty heavy snowfall from any winter storms that make it over. In higher elevation the snowpack could reach 20 feet or more deep.
The good news for the stranded traveler is that Jotens are fairly far south, so the generally moderate temperatures means the snow will melt off - at least in the lower elevations - fairly quickly. As in, over the course of a couple weeks, so if you've got a warm place to hole up and enough supplies to last, you should survive.
To be frank, the teacher stands a MUCH better chance of survival if his druid friend comes with him. If he goes alone he's one mistake away from death. Having a companion - especially one with wilderness skills - to help more than doubles his change of surviving.
You have got to get your hands on The Wilderness Survival Guide. Trust me, it's great when dealing with just this sort of thing.
In short, without modern technology (which still succumbs to the raw power of Mother Nature) or magical intervention, it would be extremely difficult to near impossible (agree with the term "suicidal") for a person to cross a mountain pass in the height of winter. I lived in Montana for many years and recall vividly how bad it got in those mountain passes during white outs, and when the roads were closed due to inclement weather.
It ain't pretty, it's dangerous, and terrifying. Best to hunker down and wait for the passes to clear on their own in spring.
If this teacher is hell-bent on going, he's either insane, underestimates the raw power of Nature, or is very well-prepared with magical items (or spells) and/or survival skills.
Agree with Lanthorn,
Living and working in central colorado and the far north of Alberta Canada gives one an appreciation for the power of nature.
The WSG is a great source for adding such realism into your campaign setting... However I would add, when generation of not only weather but the elements that affect the outcome, to do so in advance of game play so as not to slow down the speed that the "storm rolls in" (and game play of course) and treat the weather as a "monster encounter" of its own allowing for exp and challenges to overcome for the PC players...
Glad to see you prowling the boards, and posting, DLG!
I typically roll up weeks of weather ahead of time just to add realism and spice up my campaign. It definitely makes players consider what they intend to do if they have to contend with temperature and precipitation! In fact, my own characters are using the power of nature against our enemies whenever possible just as it's been used against me by my own DM.
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