[Review] Ice Daemon
by Creede and Sharleen Lambard (1992, GDW)
Ice Daemon is a 16 page adventure published in 1992 by GDW for the Dark Conspiracy gameline. It is the first of a new type of folio style adventures produced for the company (a format that would be used in one other Dark Conspiracy adventure – Nightsider – and at least one of the company’s adventures for the MERC: 2000 gameline). With a pretty typically average level of gaming art (for the period), the illustrations, both cover and interior, are a little below what GDW usually produces in its products (whether this was due to the lower price point of the adventure, or the way in which it was produced, I can not speculate). Fortunately the cartography is still top-notch and the entire adventure’s presentation does have a good ‘unified’ style and theme; ice blues mixed with washed out colours on the cover and end pieces, and easily read black & white text.
I love the introduction to this adventure, to me it brings out one of the best aspects of horror gaming – the ability to throw the characters in the deep in at any time, and in any place. Ice Daemon does just that, starting the adventure in Texas during what could easily be one of those cut scenes when the Referee says – you head out from X and arrive in Y a few days later. Sure you’re tired, and a little short on ready cash, but you made it in good time. In particular the characters here are travelling in the desert heat, likely bored, hot and more than a little irritated.
The folio format itself deserves some explanation, especially as, in my opinion, it is quite an innovative and interesting design during a time when most game companies were looking more and more towards full colour hard-backed supplements. The basic design is similar to the old Dungeons and Dragons adventures one might recall from the early 1980’s; a tri-fold cardboard cover which wraps around (but otherwise unattached) to the staple-bound adventure text. This ‘cover’ is full colour and on one side has the end pages (what one would call the traditional cover and back of the product), while on the other are the full colour maps of the important area(s) described in the adventure. The third panel details important information from the adventure, be it additional maps or statistics and descriptions of key Dark Lords or Minions. This panel is also perforated allowing the Game Master (GM) to remove it prior to play. By doing so, they are actually creating an adventure specific GM’s screen, which is a definite added bonus when running the scenario.
Into this comes a strange weather pattern – high cumulus cloud – that at first sight seems to indicate a welcome thunderstorm. But, as they soon find out, and is reported on the local news, this storm quickly brings colder than expected weather that soon has the group reaching for the car heater!
This style of ‘surprise, you’re in an adventure now’ setup, as I said, really appeals, especially in Dark Conspiracy, where the evil facing the world is usually only encountered in seemingly chance encounters by most of the population. Here you get the mental image of a Dark America, which, while it might be bad by our standards, is still a place where you can life; work and raise a family in ignorant bliss– unless you luck out and have an encounter like this.
The adventure proper starts when the group are forced to seek shelter from the worsening storm, which as you can well imagine, is causing havoc on the usually parched country side. Here the party meets Albert Vincent, a helpful though cowardly young man who will assist the group in getting better prepared to face the sudden change of weather. Within this shelter the characters will have a chance to discover that the weather system seems to be focused a few miles north of their location, and centres (as the reporter or weather channel graphs will report) on a spot which seems to blink like a beacon on the weather radar.
Here Albert’s role comes to the fore and he can be used to prompt the characters to investigate this strange occurrence, either getting them out into the weather, or dying a horrible death at the jaws of the Ice Wolves. Once outside any suggestion that the weather might be natural is dispelled when the group encounters the aforementioned Ice Wolves. These large, aggressive beasts will attack immediately, and once killed will reveal tracks heading off in the direction of the blinking beacon seen earlier.
Following this, the characters come across an odd mound clouded in ice and snow, and more impressively a collection of creatures that could only be described as Yeti! These shaggy beasts seem to originate, although with the wolves from within the mound, and as they seem not aggressive or even to interested in the characters, access to this ‘complex’ is easy enough.
Once within the characters will quickly realise that they in the midst of some odd research facility, and will find a Greenhouse growing hydroponics, Mess and Bunk halls, and a storeroom. Exploring this complex is easy enough, until the group encounters either more wolves, or one of the humans who work along side the Yeti. If this does happen, a sharp and deadly firefight is likely to quickly break out, and the chances of the party ever discovering the truth behind the complex and the weather are remote. On the other hand, if the group succeeds in keeping from being discovered, they will soon discover what can only be called the Portal room.
This chamber houses numerous databanks and computer stations, and is dominated by a strange platform through which Yeti seem to suddenly appear. Here also is a small alien, the titular Ice Daemon, who with its empathic powers has infiltrated a corporation and is now funnelling its resources to create the complex and the dimensional platform. As the group watches the ‘parade’ of arrivals, it soon becomes clear that some sort of invasion is in progress, one that must be stopped!
It is likely that the climax of the adventure is one large battle, from which the Ice Daemon will flee, escaping through the portal (in a rather Deus ex machine moment). After its departure the real threat to the party appears – the Ice Wyrm. This massive creature is described as “is 1O meters tall and has a snake-like shape. Its long muscular body is armoured with sharp, chitinous plates. and ends with a spiked tail that it lashes as a weapon” and much too small for the room started to destroy the complex.
After what is likely to be a long and bloody fight, the characters must then stop or destroy the beacon – the now obvious source of the increasingly cold weather. Once achieved, Texas will slowly return to normal, although the Ice Daemon still remains at large.
Ice Daemon rounds out with notes on awarding experience, and a couple of pages of descriptions on the main enemies in the adventure; the Yeti, Ice Wolves, Ice Daemon and Wyrm, although details on their stats are listed on the third panel of the wrap-around cover (see below). Included here also, is information on the various item of Ice Dimension Darktek the group might have seen in action or have come to possess. None of this is very new or interesting, but it is good to see it collected together like this.
As I described earlier, Ice Daemon was published in a folio format, and for the most part follows the format I mentioned there. In particular the third panel deserves a special mention; perforated it detaches from the other section (which forms the front and back cover of the product when closed, and on the ‘inside’ a full colour map of the Ice Daemon’s complex), and details all the stats for the Minions and the Dark Lord. This is extremely handy and removes the need to flip back and forth between statistics and location description when actually running the game.
I have fond memories of Ice Daemon, having run it a couple of times. It is a brief (4 or 5 hours in my experience) adventure that gets right to the point and into the action. Players have said that it is atmospheric (especially when run in winter) and has a nice climatic ending.
From a personal point of view, the scenario does what it says on the cover, and I could only gripe about a few things. The way Albert is used in the set-up confuses me a little, and I get the feeling he might have been a bit of a late inclusion aimed at ensuring the players get quickly on with the plot. I’ve always used him as a bit more of a more rounded character, having his own motivations and needs to both assist and hinder the party, this moves him away from just be a simple ‘trigger’ (i.e. get on with the adventure or more die) and more of a ‘red herring’ and plot devise (i.e. could he have something to do with the sudden snow fall).
In this I’ve also always set the beginning of the adventure in a small town ship, demonstrating how ill equipped the townsfolk are in dealing with the snows and sleet. This, I feel, helps place a sense of urgency, between the rapid collapse of the town and the attacks of the wolves, on the characters to solve the mystery. I’m probably being a little harsh here, as Ice Daemon is only 16 pages long, and does a good job of creating enough of a narrative to at least build on with ideas like this.
That said, one aspect of the plot I can never abide by is the ‘miraculous’ escape of the Ice Daemon needing to trigger the arrival of the Wyrm. Suffice to say that there are a myriad of options a Referee has to make this scene feel a little less ‘contrived’, but personally I’d have preferred if they were included in the adventure. Beyond that, however, I think Ice Daemon is a pretty good example of an adventure of this sort, and demonstrates one style of plot that is, in my opinion, sorely missed in this day and age of gaming.
Ice Daemon, 1992 GDW (GDW 2111) – ISBN 1-55878-124-2
Design: Creede and Sharleen Lambard
Development: Nick Atlas
Editing: Dave Nilsen and Lester Smith
Cover and Interior Color Illustrations: Allen Nunis (pencils & inks), Steve Bryant, and Kirk Wescom (colors)
Interior Illustrations: Rick Harris
Art Direction: Steve Bryant
Graphic Design and Production: Amy Doubet, LaMont Fullerton, Rob Lazzeretti, and Kirk Wescom
Typesetting and Proofreading: Steve Maggi
Proofreading: Stephen Olle