Arctic Climatic Zone

From simple snow fields to ice sheets 2 miles thick that bury entire mountain ranges, the polar regions of a world are both deadly and beautiful in equal parts, its apparent emptiness a facade that hides a complex ecology.

There are three primary geographic divisions of the arctic climatic zone, based on their proximity to the pole: the Boreal Expanse, the Outer Rim, and the High Ice.

  • The Boreal Expanse: The area within 5 degrees of latitude (approximately 350 miles) of the pole itself.
  • The Outer Rim: The area within 5 degrees of latitude of the arctic circle.
  • The High Ice: The remaining areas covered by the polar ice cap.


Temperatures in polar regions usually err on the side of being extreme—almost never rising above the level of “cold,” and even then usually only in coastal areas.

Canny travelers know to arm themselves with both mundane and magical forms of protection to safeguard against the worst climate effects of the polar regions. Cold-weather outfits, furs, and spells like endure elements are vital for voyagers hoping to make their way through the arctic while avoiding the cold’s ill effects. Travelers who are part of a caravan equipped with cold-weather gear have all the necessary supplies to make the journey, and can safely endure most challenges presented by cold conditions. Only when a character strays from the caravan does she need to make saving throws against the effects of cold or exposure.

Frostbite and Hypothermia

Creatures that suffer nonlethal damage from the cold climate become frostbitten or hypothermic, and are fatigued until the nonlethal damage is removed. It is possible for a character to undergo both frostbite and hypothermia simultaneously by failing two or more saves against cold or exposure, at which point she is treated as though suffering multiple fatigue effects, becoming exhausted.

Temperature Variation

The base temperature in the polar regions is in the cold range, and only during summertime in the Outer Rim is there any substantial increase in temperature. Most temperature change is governed by sunlight (or its lack), wind, and altitude. The entire High Ice region sits atop a frozen massif over a mile tall, often hiding subglacial mountain ranges. Its elevation alone plunges the average temperature into the range of severe cold, and during the perpetual dark of the winter or during bouts of severe weather, it can become colder still. Assuming the baseline temperature is cold (below 40° F), the following effects may increase the severity of the cold weather to either severe cold (below 0° F) or extreme cold (below –20° F).

Table 1: Temperature Variation
Severity Modifier Condition
–1 step Heat wave1
+1 step Cold snap1
+1 step Strong (or stronger) wind1
+1 step Nightfall
+1 step Low peak or high pass altitude (5,000–15,000 feet)2
+2 steps High peak altitude (15,000+ feet)2

1 See Table: Random Weather and Table: Wind Effects.
2 See Altitude Zones.

Polar Night and the Midnight Sun

The extreme latitude of polar regions causes a distortion in the normal pattern of sunrise and sunset experienced in more temperate climes. Near the pole itself, a single day may seem to last all year, with a slow and gradual ascent of the sun for months at a time, though it never rises very high in the sky. Eventually, the sun will slowly sink into the horizon as the paltry polar summer fades into a lingering twilight and lengthy winter night.

Near the pole, both day and night cease to have meaning, as many turns of the stars may pass without the sun ever making an appearance, or the sun may block out the stars for hundreds—if not thousands—of hours. The darkest time of year is around the winter solstice; likewise, the brightest time of year takes place around the summer solstice. Because a journey into the polar regions may span many months keep track of the passing of seasons to determine the gradual shift from perpetual day to perpetual night or vice versa. The lighting conditions described below are those that prevail in each polar region for a given portion of the year. Weather conditions (such as overcast) and the cycle of the moon may affect the total amount of light shed during any particular season.

Polar Day

At the heart of the midnight sun season, the sun remains fully risen and sheds its light all day and night, appearing to move in a circular pattern in the sky rather than rising and setting. This is treated as bright light during both the day and night.

Midnight Sun

During this time, the sun sinks only to or just below the horizon even in the middle of the night. This is treated as bright light during the day (which is usually about 20 hours long) and normal light during the night.


This is the normal pattern of distinct days and nights, though the length of these periods is as variable as it is in any other part of the world, depending on the season, with bright light during the day and darkness during the night.

Polar Twilight

The sun ascends only to just at or below the horizon during the day, never truly rising; its refracted light faintly illuminates the sky, but brighter stars are visible. This is treated as dim light during the day (which is usually about 4 hours long) and darkness during the night. Polar Night: The sun is far below the horizon during both day and night, and sheds little or no light, even at the southern horizon. Even faint stars are clearly visible. This is treated as darkness during both the day and night.

Table 2: Seasonal Lighting Patterns

Earth Month Outer Rim High Ice Boreal Expanse
January Polar Twilight Polar Twilight Polar Night
February Normal Normal Polar Twilight
March Normal Normal Normal
April Normal Normal Normal
May Midnight Sun Midnight Sun Midnight Sun
June Midnight Sun Polar Day Polar Day
July Midnight Sun Midnight Sun Polar Day
August Normal Normal Midnight Sun
September Normal Normal Normal
October Normal Normal Normal
November Polar Twilight Polar Twilight Polar Twilight
December Polar Twilight Polar Night Polar Night


Polar regions are distinct in weather patterns because the unique environmental conditions produce a continental wind condition called a polar vortex. Because of this effect, weather fronts and air masses from outside the pole are deflected or diverted away rather than bringing moisture or warmer air into the region. The coastal regions along its western and eastern edges may see very heavy precipitation in the form of snow (and, rarely, rain during the summer), as may the tundra regions along its southern edges on occasion, but the vast sprawling ice cap is essentially a cold desert, receiving only scant precipitation that is always in the form of snow.

Random Weather

To determine weather effects in a polar region, use the Cold Climate column of Table: Random Weather for areas within 100 miles of a coastline or mountain range. A roll of 81–90 (precipitation) has a 30% chance of producing fog, 60% chance of snow, and 10% chance of sleet or hail. Farther inland than this, the climate is much drier. Use the same column, but replace the result of 91–99 (snowstorm) with 91–99 (windstorm).


Severe or stronger winds carry gusts of snow and ice particles, creating whiteout conditions that block vision beyond 5 feet, as per fog. Creatures in a whiteout move at half speed and take a –4 penalty on Dexterity checks and Dexterity-based skill checks as well as on vision-based Perception checks. Creatures native to cold environments or with the cold subtype take only half these check penalties, but still move at half speed. Creatures able to see normally in snowy conditions, such as frost drakes and white dragons, are unaffected by whiteout conditions.


Besides the perils of keeping warm and navigating, there are a handful of natural and supernatural hazards that are unique to this desolate land.


The ancient race that built the eerie city at the North Pole left behind strange arcane engines that still produce emanations of weird blue energy as well as a vile black sludge. This sludge oozes below the surface of the Boreal Expanse through subglacial channels, occasionally burbling to the surface in pools of dark slurry. Arctic winds sometimes bear flecks of the viscous substance and deposit it as a residue of black frost on cliff sides and glaciers.

Type poison, contact; Save Fortitude DC 15

Onset 1 minute; Frequency 1/minute for 6 minutes

Initial Effect 2d6 hp damage (half acid, half cold); Secondary Effect 1d2 Con damage; Cure 2 consecutive saves


Creatures that take lethal damage from cold weather exposure may contract this debilitating ailment.

Type disease, injury; Save Fortitude DC 16

Onset 1 day; Frequency 1/day

Effect 1d4 Dex damage, and any nonlethal damage incurred from being in a cold environment becomes lethal damage (though it can still cause hypothermia); Cure 2 consecutive saves


Exposure to the strange arcane energies of the Nameless Spires taints those that come within 10 feet with their alien emanations and begins converting their vital tissues into liquefied blue energy. If a creature dies from ergia, its body dissolves and it cannot be raised.

Type disease, contact; Save Fortitude DC 20

Onset 1 day; Frequency 1/day

Effect 1d4 Str damage and 1d4 Con damage, target must make a second Fort save or 1 point of the damage is drain instead, and a creature that has suffered ability drain glows blue as if limned with faerie fire; Cure 2 consecutive saves

Howl of the North

Creatures exposed to the long night of the pole can become disoriented and even slip into a complete and fearful madness.

Type insanity; Save Will DC 13

Onset 2d6 days

Effect –4 penalty on Will saves and Wisdom-based skill checks; target is shaken while animals are within sight or hearing (see below.)


This form of insanity has its onset after a character is exposed to polar twilight or polar night for the stated number of days. A character afflicted with howl of the north begins to fear even the tamest beasts, fearing for her safety while simultaneously becoming more animalistic and primitive herself. Whenever a character afflicted with howl of the north sees a creature of the animal type or hears a bestial call (such as a wolf’s howling), she becomes shaken. Characters native to polar regions are immune to this affliction.

Polar Mirages

During any time when the weather creates bright light (such as during seasons affected by the polar day or during daytime of the midnight sun), characters are susceptible to mirages and must make a DC 15 Perception check at the beginning of each week in order to identify a mirage as such. If a character fails this check, he sees the mirage on the horizon as a body of water, tree line, or other geographic landmark, the specific details of which are subject to GM discretion. The character is not magically compelled to visit the location, but may convince his allies to head that way in hopes of reaching it or otherwise act accordingly if the mirage is tempting enough.


Explorers in polar expeditions are well advised to bring specialized equipment in addition to their normal supplies.

Item Cost Weight
Astrolabe 100 gp 6 lbs.
Cleats 5 gp 2 lbs.
Cold-weather outfit 8 gp 7 lbs.
Dog sled 20 gp 300 lbs.
Frostbite ointment 50 gp 1 lb.
Furs 12 gp 5 lbs.
Map maker’s kit 10 gp 2 lbs.
Pack animal, musk ox 24 gp
Shovel 2 gp 8 lbs.
Skates 10 gp 3 lbs.
Skis and poles 15 gp 6 lbs.
Snow goggles 12 gp
Snowshoes 5 gp 4 lbs.

Astrolabe: Anyone who has been taught how to use this mechanical device can use it at night when the stars are showing to determine the date and time. This process takes 1 minute. An astrolabe grants a +2 circumstance bonus on Knowledge (geography) and Survival checks to navigate in the wilderness (and on Profession [sailor] checks to navigate at sea).

Cleats: These footgear spikes improve the wearer’s ability to move across icy surfaces. Each square of icy terrain costs only 1.5 squares of movement rather than 2 (or 3 squares rather than 4, for sloped icy terrain).

Cold-Weather Outfit: This heavy, quilted outfit grants a +5 circumstance bonus on Fortitude saves against exposure to cold weather.

Dog Sled: This conveyance is typically pulled by 1 or more riding dogs; the sled and any cargo are counted against the total carrying capacity of all dogs in the team to determine encumbrance. If the party is using caravan rules, a dog sled has the following statistics: hp 10; Traveler Capacity 1, Cargo Capacity 2; Limit none; Consumption 1.

Frostbite Ointment: One hour after being applied, this alchemical salve cures any creature suffering from frostbite, though any nonlethal damage from cold or exposure remains until the victim recovers. A creature cannot benefit from frostbite ointment more than once in 24 hours.

Furs: These simple furs are worn over armor and other clothing and grant a +2 circumstance bonus on Fortitude saves against exposure to cold weather. This bonus does not stack with any bonuses gained from the Survival skill.

Map Maker’s Kit: This kit gives anyone drawing a map as they travel a +2 circumstance bonus on Survival skill checks to avoid becoming lost.

Pack Animal, Musk Ox: These husky, shaggy beasts are sometimes domesticated as pack animals. Their statistics are identical to aurochs, but they are immune to cold weather effects (though not severe cold and extreme cold effects). Domesticated musk oxen have the docile special quality (see horse, and treat their gore attack as a secondary natural weapon. In the polar rim mountains of more eastern regions, yaks are used as pack animals and have identical statistics.

Shovel: This simple tool is useful for digging shelters or through drifts and other snow barriers.

Skates: These honed metal blades are worn on boots to enable swift passage over ice. The wearer may move (but not climb) at her full speed on level icy surfaces. Her speed is halved when moving up an icy slope, but she may run or charge downhill on gentle or steep snowy slopes at quadruple speed. However, any skill check penalties for traversing rough ice while wearing skates are doubled, and the wearer takes a –4 penalty on combat maneuver checks to bull rush, drag, or trip, and to CMD against these maneuvers. Donning or removing skates takes 1 minute.

Skis and Poles: These polished wooden slats enable the wearer to glide across level snowy surfaces at his full speed. His speed is halved when moving up a snowy slope, but he may run or charge downhill on gentle or steep snowy slopes at quadruple speed. Any skill check penalties for traversing rough snowy terrain while wearing skis are doubled, and the wearer takes a –4 penalty on combat maneuver checks to bull rush, drag, or trip, and to CMD against these maneuvers. Characters cannot climb while wearing skis. Donning or removing skis takes 1 minute.

Snow Goggles: These goggles, carved from bone with a narrow slit opening and held in place with leather straps, work as smoked goggles. In addition, they provide immunity to polar mirages.

Snowshoes: This wide footgear made of gut or leather webbing laced across wooden frames improves the wearer’s ability to move across snowy surfaces. Snowshoes reduce the penalty for walking through heavy snow by 50%; for example, if moving through snow normally costs you 2 squares of movement per square traveled, snowshoes reduce this cost to 1.5 squares per square traveled.

Arctic Terrain

Source Cerulean Seas

An iceberg is a gigantic block or mass of ice that has broken off from a glacier or ice shelf. This iceberg then floats in the world’s oceans and moves via wind and ocean currents. Icebergs are famous for their size and their ability to hide it under water. Typically, only one-tenth of an iceberg’s volume is visible above the water’s surface, while most of its mass is below. In general, the total size of the average iceberg is 1d10 × 25 feet above sea level, with another 9d10 × 25 feet below sea level. They are typically 1d12 × 50 feet across. Icebergs can be several miles across and several hundred feet tall, however. These super-sized icebergs often break up into smaller icebergs when they reach warm waters. Despite their size, icebergs move an average speed of 10 miles per day, which equates to a speed of around 5 feet per round.

Table: Iceberg Terrain

Feature Growler Standard Super
Super cliff 10% 15% 20%
Crevasse 5% 5%
Slope, gradual 5% 10%
Slope, steep 50% 20% 15%
Pool 40% 55% 50%

Table: Iceberg Terrain describes in general terms how likely it is that a given square has a terrain element in it. It is divided into growlers (less than 100 feet across), standard icebergs (more than 100 feet across, but less than 2000 feet across), and super icebergs (more than 2000 feet across). Icebergs have a special terrain element, the ice wall, which is marked on the border between squares rather than taking up a square itself.

Cliff: Cliffs are similar to Hills Terrain, but are typically 1d10 × 10 feet tall. Cliffs taller than 60 feet take up 20 feet of horizontal space.

Crevasse: A crevasse is an irregular crack in the ice caused by ocean currents, shifting winds, or large air pockets in the ice. An average crevasse is anywhere from 3d10 × 10 feet long and 1d4 × 25 feet deep (sometimes deep enough to reach the water below), and 5d6 feet wide. A character falling into a crevasse drops into the water or onto the ice at the bottom. In addition, the steep, slick sides of the crevasse offer little opportunity to climb out of the crevasse unaided (Climb skill check, DC 30). Some crevasses are hidden by thin crusts of ice; a character approaching a hidden crevasse is entitled to a Perception skill check, DC 20, to notice the crevasse before stepping into it, although running or charging characters do not get to make this check.

Ice wall: A vertical plane of ice, an ice wall requires a DC 30 Climb check to ascend. A typical ice wall is 1d8 × 10 feet tall on standard icebergs, and 2d10 × 10 feet tall on super icebergs. Ice walls occur on the edges of squares, not in the squares themselves.

Pool: Melting icebergs often accumulate large pools of freshwater in their valleys, flat surfaces, and at the bottom of their crevasses. These pools are shallow, usually no more than five feet deep and 1d6×5 feet in diameter. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a pool and the DC of Acrobatics skill checks increases by 3. Pools are typically too shallow to swim in.

Slope, gradual and steep: These function as Hills Terrain, except that Acrobatic skill checks have +2 to their difficulty due to slippery ice.

Stealth and Detection on an Iceberg: The maximum distance in iceberg terrain at which a Perception check for detecting the nearby presence of others can succeed is 4d10 × 10 feet. Standing at a high point of the iceberg may provide a better vantage point, however.

Additional Arctic Information

Source Icebound (Michael Mars)

Permanently encased beneath layers of ice and snow, the poles are the loneliest and most forbidding places on the planet. Numbing cold, howling winds, and blinding snow unceremoniously greet polar explorers daring to set foot onto this unforgiving landscape; the poles welcome no one. Death appears in many guises, yet the pervasive dangers cannot dissuade adventurers from exploring this harsh realm. Indeed, the frozen land’s innate beauty beckons visitors like an alluring siren. Trees blanketed in pure, white snow, magnificent glacial formations, clean, crisp air, and perennial sunshine combine forces to compel even the most jaded spectators to look on in wonder.

The rules here incorporate many elements from Siberian, Scandinavian, and First American cultures, mythology, and traditions.

Regardless of where your adventures are set, the poles present a study in stark contrasts. For six months out of the year, darkness rules the land, casting its frigid shadow upon this bleak, desolate world. Winter’s frozen grip brings life to a standstill. When the sun finally returns, it tenaciously refuses to set, basking the pristine, white domain in glorious light for six months. Despite the star awakening from its lengthy slumber, the chilly earth only escapes its frozen oppression for a few fleeting moments.

The creatures who call the poles home must contend with this divergent change for better or worse. White dragons, yetis, and frost giants have mastered the ability to adapt to this tumultuous environment. These monsters carve out vast kingdoms and territories atop the icy peaks, the endless glaciers, and the sprawling tundra. Yet even these mighty conquerors owe deference to the poles’ most feared and malevolent inhabitant, the dreaded wendigo. Spawned from the stuff of nightmares, the wicked outsider throws a stifling pall over every humanoid community scattered throughout the polar biomes. Fortunately, the men and women who dwell here prove up to the challenge. Most of these people dwell in the comparatively warmer coastal regions, living off the land and sea as hunters and fishermen.

The humanoid adventurers who brave the arduous trek to this desolate domain seek opportunities hidden underneath the ice and snow. Many venture here at the behest of commercial interests searching for viable overland or sea routes across the poles. Some travel to this frozen frontier to battle its denizens and to wrest their treasures from their greedy clutches. Others trek to the polar regions to stake their claim to its natural wealth, seizing exotic furs from its indigenous animals, precious stones and minerals buried under the white tapestry, and other valuable commodities harvested from the surprisingly plentiful land and sea creatures.

Icebound gives players and GMs alike the resources they need to immerse themselves in a polar campaign, providing both parties with a wealth of information about polar ecosystems and climate. Natural and man made hazards abound in the frozen wilderness. The brutal weather plaguing this territory can take a life in a manner of minutes. In that vein, GMs receive the tools to simulate the real-world effects wrought by the bitter cold temperatures, icy winds, and chilly waters. Likewise, other sudden calamities such as avalanches, glacial lake outburst floods, and hidden crevasses can bring any polar excursion to an immediate and tragic end. GMs also receive the tools to better adjudicate polar travel, applying the impacts of heavy snow and ice on overland travel, while also addressing the detrimental effects of sea ice, icebergs, and thin ice on watercraft navigating the treacherous polar lakes, rivers, and seas. Previously unseen monsters also stalk the snowy forests, cold plains, and polar deserts for purposes beneficial and nefarious.

Players gain access to a collection of new feats, spells, and equipment specifically designed for polar environments. Although some of these materials previously appeared in earlier books in the Perilous Vistas series, the vast majority of player resources are brand new. Many aid the explorers’ ability to withstand the cruel elements and fight the cold realm’s monstrous inhabitants. Players can also further their chances of success by adopting an archetype ideally suited to conquer the land and the hero’s enemies. Players who embrace the notion that preparation and specialization improve their odds of success fare much better than those who rely upon hope and luck.

Indeed, in the words of Roald Amundsen, the first man to lead a successful expedition to the South Pole, and the first man to stand atop the North and the South Poles, “I may say that this is the greatest factor. The way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and the precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it.”

With his insightful thoughts in mind, take your first step onto the pristine snow and etch your footprint alongside these legendary figures onto the domain’s unmarred white canvas in your quest to reach the top or bottom of the world. According to a popular native saying, “Every step can leave a lasting impression or be your last. The prudent traveler blazes new trails across the snow, while the reckless man builds his own icy cairn.”

A Polar Primer

The yellow dwarf star at the heart of our solar system continuously radiates light and warmth into the dark, empty expanse of outer space. Our world, the third planet from the glowing orb we refer to as the Sun, orbits approximately ninety-three million miles away from the roiling sphere of searing hot plasma that makes life on Earth possible. Given the vast distance the cosmic rays must travel to reach our planet in the first place, it would stand to reason that adding a few hundred or even thousands of extra miles to their journey would have a negligible effect on the beams’ strength or intensity. For instance, our celestial neighbors, Venus and Mars, which are respectively tens of millions of miles closer to or farther away from the Sun than the Earth, are only several hundred rather than thousands of degrees warmer and colder than our home. If the preceding logic were true, the whole Earth would have a uniform surface temperature, regardless of whether you were at the equator or atop one of the poles. However, climate data proves that the poles and the regions around them experience significantly cooler temperatures than the locales basking in the sun at or close to the equator, even though the mere 5,400 nautical miles from the equator to either of the two poles represent an infinitesimally small fraction of the distance that separates Earth from Venus and Mars.

These observations naturally beg the question as to why the poles are so much colder than the tropics when we take into account how close the two locations are in the solar system’s grand scheme. Several important factors provide the complex answer.

From the onset, it is important to note that our spherical world rotates on an axis that is currently tilted 23.5 degrees from the plane of its orbit around the Sun. This tilt — or obliquity in scientific terms — is caused by the uneven weight distribution of landmasses and dense ice sheets on or near the North Pole. To visualize this concept, imagine spinning a child’s top with globs of heavy glue randomly placed on and around the top of the toy. Though the object spins at a constant speed, over time the added weight causes its axis to wobble and shift from a vertical position to a tilted one, especially when the object revolves in an empty vacuum instead of spinning atop a hard, flat surface that causes friction. It is this tilt, rather than the Earth’s distance from the Sun, that causes the seasons to change especially at and around the poles, where the askew rotation can cause some regions to experience prolonged daylight during the summer and seemingly perpetual night and twilight during the long, harsh winters. Therefore, when the Northern Hemisphere tilts toward the Sun, it experiences summer while the Southern Hemisphere trudges through winter and vice versa. The Sun’s extended absence during the brutal winters is the first domino in a long chain contributing to the poles’ frigid temperatures.

Without the electromagnetic solar radiation that provides the planet illumination, and equally importantly radiant heat, frigid temperatures take hold during the poles’ protracted, dark winters. Removing the Sun, the lone source of warmth and light, offers a simple explanation for the bone-chilling cold pervading these areas for part of the year, but the same logic also suggests the Sun’s constant presence during the summer months would make these regions exceedingly hot during that season. However, the Earth’s round shape and its tilted axis again comes into play. To demonstrate this next principle, imagine the Sun as a giant flashlight. When you hold the flashlight overhead and point it straight at the ground beneath you, the narrowly focused beam basks a small area in bright light. This is how the Sun’s rays strike the Equator throughout most of the year and the planet’s mid-latitudes during summer. Thus, when you look into the sky in most areas of the world, the Sun appears to be overhead or at least fairly close to it with the exceptions of sunrise and sunset. The poles differ in the fact that the Sun is much closer to the horizon throughout the day than in other parts of the world. To simulate how sunlight reaches the poles, take the flashlight from the earlier demonstration and point it toward the same spot on the ground at a 45-degree angle instead of directly overhead. When you hold the flashlight in this manner, the light it emits diffuses over a wider area, decreasing the beam’s intensity and in turn the radiant heat it provides. The same effect occurs at the poles, minimizing the Sun’s effects on the cold temperature in these regions.

In addition to striking the Earth’s surface at a pronounced angle, sunlight must also travel farther through the planet’s atmosphere to reach the poles.

Reverting to the preceding experiment, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, which in the case of solar radiation would be holding the flashlight directly over a fixed point on the ground.

But, unlike your floor, our world is a sphere and not a flat surface. In other words, the pole at the sphere’s top or bottom is farther away from the flashlight than the 3 spot on the sphere that curves toward the flashlight.

The increased distance the beam must travel through the atmosphere, exacerbated by its low angle in the sky, increases the likelihood the already diminished radiant energy may be absorbed, reflected, or scattered by particles in the air and never reach the ground that desperately needs its warmth. Unfortunately, any sunlight that runs the daunting gauntlet and makes it to the surface faces another obstacle that may mitigate its effect. Ice, snow, and water covering the ground may reflect the solar radiation back into space, especially when the rays hit the liquid or solid water at a pronounced angle as is the case at and near the poles.

Further compounding the problem is the fact that extremely cold air rarely gets warm enough to evaporate water during the winter months. Humidity in the air retains warmth, thus the lack of water vapor translates into even colder air temperatures than those in a damp environment. By its very nature, cold air is inherently dry, though the dense layers of snow and ice covering the poles may suggest otherwise. In reality, the poles and many areas close to them receive very little precipitation. By definition, many scholars consider the arid continent of Antarctica to be the world’s largest desert, even though the wind-swept frozen landmass is the polar opposite of our widely held perception of a desert as a scalding inferno dominated by parched sand dunes.

The poles’ topography also plays a significant role in determining the prevailing climate conditions.

Although both poles experience frigid temperatures, on Earth the South Pole is significantly colder than the North Pole. Several reasons account for the vast temperature difference between the opposite ends of the world. The South Pole sits atop a 9,000 foot thick ice sheet virtually dead smack in the middle of the frozen continent of Antarctica. Air temperatures here generally decrease by 1 degree Fahrenheit for every 328 feet of elevation, so the increased altitude makes the South Pole and much of Antarctica 27° Fahrenheit colder than the temperature at sea level. To compound this problem, the ice and snow covering the landmass’s interior sections throughout the year reflect most solar radiation back into space. In addition, the Southern Ocean completely surrounds Antarctica. The atmospheric interaction between the immense body of water and the frozen continent generates fierce winds that continually circulate around the frigid landmass’s perimeter. The air current keeps warm air at bay while trapping cold air inside of the nearly perpetual cyclone. By comparison, the North Pole actually rests upon sea ice approximately eight feet thick in the middle of the Arctic Ocean rather than on solid ground. Ocean currents from the tropics and mid-latitudes substantially moderate the water temperature and in turn the air temperature at the North Pole. Nonetheless, the constant flow of temperate liquid from other parts of the world still cannot make the harsh landscape permanently habitable for humanity. The deep freeze enveloping the top and the bottom of the world transforms land and sea into a barren wasteland.

Ice is Nice

The inhospitable weather at the poles makes life miserable for humanity and most other creatures. Night seemingly lasts forever. The growing season, if there is one at all, is measured in weeks rather than months.

Sea ice blocks shipping lines, while treacherous ice sheets and frigid temperatures bring overland travel to a complete standstill for much of the year. In simple terms, the poles impede progress. Men can hew trees and turn a forest into arable land. Irrigation can funnel water into a desert and make the sandy dunes habitable. Engineers can even blast holes through mountains to allow vehicles and travelers to pass through a seemingly impregnable obstacle. However, civilization feels powerless in the face of constant cold and darkness. Humanity cannot beckon the sun to miraculously appear in the winter sky or magically conjure warmth from snow and permafrost. Taming the unforgiving land appears impossible, a realization that leads many people to conclude that the poles serve no useful purpose other than to flaunt Nature’s supremacy over Man. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unlike outer space, Earth’s atmosphere is not a vacuum. Sunlight, water, and surface features affect air temperatures, and in turn the temperature differences fuel weather. The jet stream, the current of air in the upper atmosphere that pushes storms and low pressure systems across the hemispheres, draws its energy from the temperature variations between the colder high latitudes and the warmer mid-latitudes. A marked divergence between the two extremes accelerates the steering mechanism’s speed, causing storms to quickly race across the hemisphere. However, when the difference between these counterweights decreases, the jet stream’s speed slows, creating several detrimental consequences. Instead of moving across the landscape at a steady pace, storms, droughts, and heat waves linger over particular regions for longer periods of time. The weaker airflow makes the jet stream’s normally linear pattern wobble and meander, prompting it to usher in cold air to regions unaccustomed to cool temperatures, while funneling warm air into the unprepared higher latitudes.

Poles covered in snow and ice play a critical role in moderating the planet’s climate, because they are the only regions that reflect more solar radiation than they absorb. Blue oceans, green trees, and landmasses absorb and retain more heat and light than they deflect back into outer space. The trapped warmth slowly accumulates over time, causing temperatures to consistently rise. However, the poles regulate the climate. Warm air that ascends into the higher latitudes slowly cools, while the poles function as a modern day air conditioning unit, introducing cold air into the midlatitudes to keep overall temperatures in check. Despite this natural precaution, the inanimate planet cannot precisely balance its climate on its own accord. At various points in Earth’s history, decreased solar output from the sun, changes in Earth’s orbit, the positioning of the continents, ocean circulation, and other factors caused the poles to undergo dramatic transformations.

During the Eocene period millions of years ago, trees and vegetation grew in Antarctica’s temperate climate.

Conversely, the planet’s Ice Ages saw sea ice and glaciers dramatically expand across the oceans and the continents. As the glaciers marched across North America, they gouged massive depressions in the ground. When the same glaciers finally retreated, the melted ice filled these enormous chasms and eventually became The Great Lakes. In fact, these mobile ice sheets created many of the continent’s other freshwater lakes, including the “thousand lakes” in Minnesota and other northern states.

In addition to providing potable water for humanoids inhabiting the landmasses’ interior sections far from the oceans and rivers, frozen water trapped in the colder higher latitudes also benefits humanity in a less direct but equally crucial way. Liquid transformed into solid ice and snow, particularly as glaciers and ice sheets, essentially removes or sequesters that volume of water, resulting in lower sea levels. In simplest terms, less water in the oceans and rivers means more habitable dry land for man and beast alike. To illustrate this point, when the glaciers melted roughly 20,000 years ago after the last ice age, worldwide sea levels rose more than 400 feet. The thawing ice morphed into deluges of water that reshaped coastlines by flooding areas that were previously dry land. If the glaciers that currently cover the planet suddenly disappeared, the swelling oceans would swallow up nearly the entire eastern seaboard of the United States, much of the Gulf Coast, parts of the Pacific Coast, and even extend into areas far from the shore. If all of Earth’s water flowed back into the seas, cities such as New York, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, and even Baghdad would vanish beneath the waves.

Game Applications

The poles earned their reputation for being inhospitable to humanity, especially to inexperienced strangers. Yet, such hostile receptions fail to dissuade explorers and even entrepreneurs from setting foot onto the frigid ice and snow in search of adventure and riches. The bravest few come here seeking to find an overland or nautical route across the top or bottom of the world in an effort to link civilizations that would otherwise be on opposite ends of the planet. However, most daring souls who venture into this realm of perpetual light or darkness do so to claim their share of its valuable resources. The vast, chilly forests growing along civilization’s edges produce some of the most prized timber in the world. When the snow and ice briefly recede back to the poles for their summer respites, fortune seekers in a manner akin to migratory birds flock to the cool yet habitable tundra to scrape the exposed earth for precious minerals and pan the pristine streams for nuggets of gold and silver.

Fishermen delve into the frigid waters on their mission to harvest culinary delights such as the fabled king crab from the icy seas and more temperate coastlines.

Hunters trek across the snowy terrain on the trail of the plentiful reindeer and other large game animals that dwell in this chilly domain. An elite handful of scholars and archaeologists comb the monotonous, white landscape for even the slightest hint of a forgotten settlement from a bygone era when the land was a warmer and more welcoming host. The poles’ most iconic monstrous denizens — greedy white dragons, barbarous frost giants, vicious trolls, and mysterious yetis — also entice the stoutest of hearts to enter their forbidden territory and wrest riches from their covetous grasps.

Polar Biomes

Life constantly demonstrates its extraordinary resolve, and even the chilly, dark places of the world cannot stifle determination forever. Indeed, many iconic animals such as polar bears, reindeer, penguins, walruses, and lynxes inhabit these frigid ecosystems that are all characterized by long, lightless winters and short, yet perpetually sunny, summers. Scholars refer to the coldest biome as the ice cap or polar cap.

Eternally covered in snow and ice, temperatures in this brutal realm rarely if ever exceed freezing. The North Pole and its immediate vicinity, particularly the sea ice floating atop the Arctic Ocean, fall into this category.

Likewise, nearly the entire continent of Antarctica with the exception of its coastline also shares the same distinction. Although ice and snow are seemingly everywhere, ice caps are typically just as arid as a traditional hot and dry desert such as the Sahara. In addition to contending with the sere conditions, vegetation cannot survive the wicked chill or the prolonged absence of sunlight during the extended dark winter. Furthermore, dense layers of ice and snow completely cover the soil, preventing plants from taking root within the earth. The ice cap’s only proverbial lifeline is the sea. Whereas terrestrial plants cannot survive on the frozen land, seaweed, phytoplankton, and algae thrive in these cool seas and oceans. These organisms occupy the lowest rung on the ice cap’s food chain, providing sustenance for the semi-aquatic and land-based fauna living along the coasts, underwater, and on the floating islands of ice in the open waters.

When summer temperatures become warm enough to stave off and ultimately melt any ice and snow that accumulated during the savage winter, the frozen soil beneath the white tapestry finally sees the proverbial light of day. Yet even several months of constant sunlight cannot completely undo winter’s wrath. The frosty ground just below the surface remains rock hard throughout the year. Deep roots cannot penetrate the solid earth, thus trees, shrubs, and larger plants are completely absent from this environment. Instead, short perennials including sedges, lichens, mosses, and grasses dominate the biome that is commonly known as tundra or permafrost. Like the ice cap, the arid tundra receives very little precipitation. (It is important to note that on average thirteen inches of snow equals one inch of rain, though in the dry tundra biome one inch of rain can equal up to fifty inches of snow.) This harsh ecosystem experiences only two seasons — a brutally long, frigid winter spanning nine to ten months out of the year and a fleeting summer lasting for nine to twelve weeks. Temperatures during this brief respite almost never exceed 50° Fahrenheit. Ferocious winds, unfettered by trees and other natural barriers, frequently howl across the desolate tundra, sweeping away body heat from living creatures exposed to the unforgiving elements. Still, in contrast to the ice cap biome, fauna such as reindeer, foxes, and hares can thrive in interior regions far from the warmer coastlines.

Moving farther from the poles, the bleak tundra slowly transitions from treeless terrain to a thriving forest, which is called taiga or boreal forest. Apart from the world’s oceans, taiga is the largest biome on Earth, where it stretches across massive swaths of Scandinavia, Russia, Iceland, Alaska, Canada and some of the northernmost portions of the continental United States. These forests benefit from more precipitation than their frigid counterparts, thus allowing coniferous trees to draw sufficient moisture from the environment’s relatively young, nutrient-poor soil, which is the byproduct of the persistent cold and periodic fires that sweep across the green landscape.

While ice caps and tundra are relatively static biomes that experience little change, the infernos that race through this biome roughly once per century sow the seeds of the forest’s renewal. The more ecologically diverse taiga can see temperature extremes that dip far below those encountered on the usually chillier tundra, while also enduring summer temperatures occasionally rivaling those found in the mid-latitudes and even the tropics. In addition to playing host to the traditionally cold weather animals found on the tundra, wolves, bears, moose, lynxes, and tigers also hunt for prey in this winter wonderland of deep, pristine snow blanketing the tree canopy and the undergrowth in its mighty shadow.

Ice Cap

Massive sheets of accumulated ice and snow dominate the ice cap or polar cap biome, while enormous blocks of sea ice claim dominion over the frigid world’s open waters. Although the omnipresence of frozen precipitation suggests this ecosystem is subjected to frequent snowfall or ice storms, the opposite is true.

Scholars aptly refer to the ice cap as the polar desert because of the arid conditions. Bitterly cold air retains very little water vapor. On those rare occasions when snow blankets the ground, it usually descends from the heavens as powder. Although one inch of rain typically converts to roughly one foot of snow, in this structure, a single inch of rain can yield approximately four feet of snow. Although temperatures in the ice cap rarely if ever eclipse the freezing point, the fluffy powder still melts slightly in the sunlight and then refreezes when temperatures dip, morphing its powdery, crystalline composition into granular ice pellets. When fresh snow descends upon the land, the weight of the new precipitation compresses the fine bits into firn. Over 6 time, these layers of firn build atop one another until they reach a depth of roughly 165 feet, when the material undergoes another metamorphosis into a solid block of ice known as a glacier.


Propelled forward by their immeasurable weight, glaciers sweep aside or bury everything in their relentless march across the land. However, like liquid water, these amorphous sheets of ice and snow descend to the lowest point rather than move wholesale across the ground. Thus, an approaching glacier first fills in the gaps and depressions on the surface before expanding around the areas surrounding the basin’s edges. Even the moderating effects of open water cannot completely halt the wintry behemoth in its tracks. When a glacier reaches the coastline bordering an ocean or sea, it continues its progress into the water.

The ice that rests upon the boundary between dry land and water is known as the grounding line, while the structure that protrudes into the sea is commonly referred to as an ice shelf. Although this glacial ice floats atop the water, its extreme density causes roughly ninety percent of the enormous mass to sink beneath the water’s surface. In time, the warmer water in contact with the ice shelf’s underbelly steadily melts and weakens the shelf. Under the right conditions, this warming action can abruptly separate large chunks of ice and snow from the main body in a process scholars refer to as iceberg calving. Once set free, the prevailing currents take hold of these gargantuan frozen mounds and lead them out to sea where they become the bane of mariners everywhere. In 1912, an iceberg in the North Atlantic presumably set adrift from an ice shelf in Greenland famously collided with the HMS Titanic, leading to one of the world’s worst maritime disasters.

Indeed, some scientists now postulate that history’s most infamous iceberg originated from snow that fell 100,000 years before its untimely rendezvous with one of the most renowned vessels of its age. Because icebergs are composed of compacted glacial ice, they are frequently blue in color, making it difficult for the ship’s crew to see the largely hidden, floating monstrosity at night.

Although cut from the same cloth as glaciers and icebergs, the sea ice that bobs atop the polar oceans and seas differs greatly from its related counterpart in many important respects. Sea ice is frozen ocean water rather than snow and ice that accumulates over time.


Freshwater generally loses some of its density and ultimately transforms from a liquid to a solid state at 32° Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the saltwater found in the oceans exhibits divergent properties when it approaches its freezing point, which is actually 3° colder than freshwater. When saltwater cools, its density increases rather than decreases as in the case with freshwater, causing the chillier water to actually sink below the surface instead of float on top like the typical ice cube. This dynamic coupled with the regulating effects of comparatively warmer underwater currents surging in from the mid-latitudes substantially increases the amount of time it takes for ocean temperatures to be conducive to the formation of sea ice. In most spots, sea ice forms and grows during the protracted winters, while retreating and melting over the course of the sunny yet brief summers. The constant ebb and flow of the preceding underwater currents also limits sea ice’s maximum thickness to several feet even in the coldest spots, where it remains frozen throughout the year. In these frigid locations, the sea ice’s salinity declines over time increasing the concentration of salt in the water underneath the sea ice. The added salt content makes the chilly water even more dense, causing it to plummet to the ocean floor and ultimately make the long journey to the equator before beginning the cycle anew. This unending cooling and warming process fuels the ocean’s conveyor belt system that helps regulate the planet’s climate.

Obviously, green vegetation cannot establish roots on glaciers or draw nutrients from saline sea ice.

Furthermore, for roughly six months out of the year, perpetual darkness and twilight fall across the land, preventing plants from harnessing the sun’s energy to photosynthesize. The few animals that live in this harsh ecosystem typically cluster close to the coastline where krill, phytoplankton, algae, and other small aquatic organisms teeming in the chilly waters provide an ample and reliable source of food for the larger fauna living in this cold environment. Others lead a more nomadic existence atop the floating islands of sea ice that break up during the summer thaw. Penguins, polar bears, whales, seals, and walruses are among the biome’s most iconic and successful predators. These hardy beasts and fowl typically visit their familiar hunting and breeding grounds on the ice cap from spring through autumn, and then move elsewhere, hibernate, or simply go without food for months at a time when winter returns with its annual vengeance.

Conversely, glaciers and ice sheets provide an abundant supply of potable water, albeit in its frozen form. Sea ice that remains frozen for at least several years eventually loses its salinity and also becomes drinkable.

Like the indigenous fauna, the few humanoids who inhabit this land permanently blanketed in ice and snow take up residence along the comparatively warmer coastlines. Most lead a nomadic lifestyle, dwelling in temporary shelters close to fishing areas and hunting grounds. In what equates to summer at the ice cap, hunter-gatherers quickly assemble tents constructed from driftwood or bones covered by sealskin leather. These crude shelters provide defense against the still cool yet more manageable temperatures. During the winter, many native peoples build igloos, dome-shaped structures made from compacted blocks of snow and ice or a combination of packed snow built around a skeleton of whale bones and leather. Despite its outward appearance, this sturdy refuge provides ample protection against the bitter cold and fierce winds outside its covered or sunken entrance. Pockets of air trapped within the snow crystals function as crude insulation keeping warmth inside while preventing frigid air from entering the domicile. Body heat alone can sometimes raise the temperatures inside the home to a balmy 60° Fahrenheit. Like any domed structure, igloos face size limitations, thus they can accommodate only a small number of people at any time. To overcome this problem, extended families dig interconnected subterranean tunnels that link several igloos together.

Despite the horrific weather conditions beyond the igloo’s door, humanoids must venture outdoors to find food. The sea offers the best opportunity for locating a meal during the unforgiving winter. The community’s hunters board their kayaks, one-man vessels crafted from aquatic animal skins stretched around a bone frame, and paddle into the frigid waters in search of game to feed their families. They primarily target the biome’s largest aquatic and semi-aquatic beasts such as seals, whales, walruses, and fish. These excursions can last for days as the men and women must navigate around and sometimes over the abundant sea ice.

During these prolonged trips, the participants frequently build igloos atop the floating sea ice to give them a temporary respite from the freezing temperatures and icy winds swirling around them.

When they finally return from a successful hunt, their often large and fatty prey fulfills all of their basic needs. The animal’s carcass provide ample meat for consumption, bones for tools, leather for clothing and construction needs, and even oil to fuel their fires. In a world almost completely bereft of life, nothing goes to waste.

Ice Cap Campaigns

Adventurers physically and mentally unprepared for the rigors of an ice cap campaign meet a swift and painful end. In winter, the bitterly cold temperatures routinely dip more than 100° below freezing before taking the chilling effects of the wind into account.

Even summer offers little respite from the frigid conditions as the mercury barely approaches 32° Fahrenheit even on the warmest and sunniest days.

Mundane perils such as extended darkness and insomnia caused by constant sunlight may wear on the psyche of even the most battle-hardened veteran.

During the bitter winters, clothing alone cannot protect adventurers from the merciless elements. Magic becomes a necessity under these savage conditions.

Travel grinds to a standstill as poor lighting, blowing snow, and numbing cold halt nearly all explorers in their tracks. Similar logistical nightmares also plague any attempt to erect permanent man made structures in the ice cap. In addition to dealing with the unfavorable weather and diminished manpower in the region, stone, timber, and mortar are not readily available. Likewise, any buildings constructed in the distant past usually lie buried beneath dense sheets of ice. Therefore, exploration typically takes place in the great outdoors.

Merchants may hire scouts or mariners to locate a feasible overland trade route across the barren glaciers or passable shipping lanes through the sea ice.

Ambitious men and women endeavoring to reach the top or bottom of the world for the sheer thrill of the pursuit may hire guides and mercenaries to protect them on their trek over the frozen landscape. Worried sea captains looking for a vessel lost amid the ice pack may call upon local residents and experts to find the almost certainly wrecked ship and its besieged crew.

Those who embark on a life of adventure by choice enter a frozen, sparsely populated world inhabited by a handful of creatures specifically adapted for life at the poles. Dreams of acquiring an impressive treasure hoard from a feral white dragon or a noble silver dragon may inspire adventurers to delve into the reptile’s icy, cavernous lair and wrest the beast’s amassed wealth from its greedy clutches. On a more altruistic note, beleaguered coastal populations may request the assistance of outsiders to protect them from marauding frost giants and their winter wolf pets. In hushed whispers, community elders occasionally speak of a mysterious otherworldly being that haunts their folklore and troubled minds. Most deem the malevolent wendigo as humanity’s most feared and greatest enemy, yet some worship the monstrous entity as a deity, appeasing the outsider with living souls or ritualistically devouring the flesh of their fellow man.

Other strange monstrosities such as the devious glacier toad and the bizarre remorhaz take up residence atop or even in melted recesses within the ice sheet’s frozen heart.

Deviating from the realm of the fantastical, the massive animals that stalk the sea ice and frozen ground also feel the gnawing pangs of hunger. The powerful polar bear, the largest land carnivore on Earth, poses a significant challenge to any adventuring party especially in and around the islands of sea ice it calls home. The mighty walrus presents significant danger and opportunity to polar explorers hunting for sustenance and wealth. The blubbery creature wields a deadly bite, but its meat can practically feed an army for weeks and its ivory tusks fetch a handsome price in more temperate markets. Orcas, commonly referred to as killer whales, exhibit more intelligence than their bestial counterparts, making them a worthy adversary for any adventurer. They typically hunt in close-knit pods that can formulate and communicate battle tactics to other members of their group. Whereas polar bears and walruses are equally at home on the land and in the water, orcas are strictly aquatic predators even though they are mammals that breathe air.

Needless to say, ice and snow cover every terrestrial square in an ice cap campaign regardless of its specific location. It costs two squares of movement to enter a square covered by either form of frozen water. Furthermore, the DC for Acrobatics checks made on any icy surface increases by +5. The preceding movement requirement and penalty also apply to sea ice.

Tundra Biome

While winter never completely releases the ice cap from its frosty grip, the tundra escapes its frigid grasp for roughly two months out of the year and experiences a brief yet crucial interval of mild temperatures that approach and occasionally exceed 50° Fahrenheit. This fleeting respite of comparative warmth melts any snow and ice that accumulated during the prolonged winter, giving green plants their lone opportunity to take root.

Short perennials such as sedges, mosses, grasses, low shrubs, and lichens make the most of this chance. They sink their green tendrils into the chilly earth composed of gravel and other fine materials and hang on for dear life. Larger plants, on the other hand, cannot take advantage of the changing circumstances. Although the top layer of soil partially thaws, the ground less than one foot beneath the surface remains frozen solid throughout the year. Trees cannot embed their woody stalks into this impenetrable permafrost, thus preventing them from growing in the tundra. Even water cannot seep through this unyielding barrier.

Instead, rain along with melting snow and ice collects on or percolates to the surface, where it spawns lakes, marshes, streams, bogs, and fens that teem with life during this momentary recess.

The tundra biome essentially experiences two seasons, an expanded winter that lasts for roughly ten months and a summer that encompasses approximately fifty to sixty days. Technically, spring and autumn still appear on the calendar, but the changes are so negligible that they are generally just considered an extension of winter. Sunlight prevails throughout nearly the entire day during the summer, though the smoldering star remains close to the horizon lessening the amount of heat the solar radiation can generate. In winter the converse is true. Indeed the sun does not rise for the few weeks immediately before and after the winter solstice, though the tundra experiences periods of twilight rather than complete and utter darkness throughout those dreary days.

From a logical standpoint, it stands to reason that the seemingly endless winter would generate enough accumulated snowfall to last through the compacted summer and coat the ground in a constant layer of ice and snow. While most precipitation in the tundra falls as snow, by definition the biome, like its ice cap neighbor, receives so little moisture that it also meets the criteria for being a desert. This factor gives the sun and any accompanying rainfall enough time during the summer to melt or wash away any residual snow and ice that fell during the winter. The lack of rainfall and snow coupled with the permafrost further inhibits biodiversity amongst the ecosystem’s flora.

Furthermore, the complete absence of trees and other tall, sturdy plants along with the tundra’s typically flat terrain offers no protection or buffer against the wind.

On our planet, this biome lies on or close to the landmass’ coastline with a polar ocean or sea. The interaction between the colder air on the surface and the comparatively warmer body of water adjacent to it fuels strong breezes that whip across the defenseless landscape, uprooting plants that dare to reach into the skies. Therefore, plants must overcome not only the 9 rigors of protracted cold and darkness, but they must also contend with adapting to frozen soil, receiving little moisture, and withstanding fierce winds in order to survive in this challenging domain.

Vegetation adopts several approaches for dealing with these harsh conditions. Most species are perennials, cyclical plants that grow and bloom in the summer, die in the winter and then regenerate from their underground root stock the following summer. Their shallow roots embedded in the gravely soil just above the rock hard permafrost make them vulnerable to strong gusts. To overcome this problem, flora generally stays low to the ground, keeping out of harm’s way from the howling currents of air sweeping across the land. This strategy also benefits plants in other ways.

As in the case of the man made igloo, a blanket of snow offers plants natural insulation against the most frigid temperatures. Even when completely covered by snow, some plants can still photosynthesize to produce energy. Furthermore, simple root structures allow these plants to cluster close together, which fortifies them against the detrimental effects of blowing snow and wind. Various dwarf shrubs, grasses, liverworts, heath, sedges, mosses, and lichens make up the tundra’s limited flora. These include bearberries, a short evergreen that produces edible fruit and can also be used for a host of medicinal and recreational purposes.

Likewise, the marsh tea plant is another species that produces leaves with healing properties. These plants and their stubby, hardy counterparts form the foundation of the tundra’s food chain for its herbivores.

Unlike its plant life, the tundra’s fauna comes in all shapes and sizes ranging from smaller plant eaters such as lemmings, voles, squirrels, and arctic hares to its bulkier herbivores such as musk oxen, reindeer also known as caribou, and the undisputed kings of the tundra’s plant-eaters, the fabled woolly mammoths that walked the Earth during the last ice age. The carnivorous species that prey on these beasts include arctic foxes, wolves, wolverines, and bears, including the polar bear though the latter animal rarely ventures inland and typically hunts close to neighboring bodies of water with sea ice. Like the indigenous flora, these mammals developed a host of adaptations allowing them to outlast the extended winters. Bears and other beasts hibernate in enclosed shelters when snow covers the ground and food is scarce only to reemerge when the weather warms and life returns to the frigid tundra.

Thick fur and layers of fat beneath the skin retain body heat and provide insulation for those creatures that tough out the cold, such as the iconic reindeer and musk oxen. Still, other species including the tundra’s migratory birds, such as snowy owls, falcons, ravens, and loons, along with some mammals retreat altogether and seek out warmer climates only to return during the fleeting summer to breed and raise their young in the numerous marshes, bogs and fens that spring up when the snow melts and the ground thaws. Numerous insects also awaken from their winter slumber and descend upon the freshwater havens dotting the chilly landscape, providing the tundra’s avian population with a reliable and bountiful food source. In perhaps the most unique adaptation, the tundra’s native mosquitoes shed water from their bodies as winter approaches and replace the fluid with glycerol, a chemical that functions as modern day antifreeze. This compound allows the pest to withstand winter’s bitter chill and return in summer to plague warm-blooded guests visiting the tundra’s marshes, bogs, and fens.

Like the peoples of the ice cap, the humanoids who inhabit this desolate region predominately lead a nomadic lifestyle primarily focused on dry land rather than navigating the open waters seeking sustenance.

Though some settlements still spring up close to large bodies of water, many exist in remote interior regions sheltered from the wind by the prevailing topography or alongside lakes, rivers and streams with plentiful supplies of fish. Instead of constructing igloos and kayaks, native residents build stable peat huts during the long winters, and then transition to more mobile leather tents when traveling across the grassy terrain throughout the brief summer. Unlike the ice cap, the domain’s numerous bogs and fens produce tremendous quantities of peat in the tundra. Residents use this organic material as insulation for their homes and a fuel source for heating and cooking purposes. Indeed many scholars refer to this biome as a carbon sink because the frozen landscape, particularly its chilly wetlands, absorbs and retains more carbon dioxide than it releases into the atmosphere.

Despite the existence of a growing season, the poor soil quality, aridity, and prolonged cold prove too much for even the hardiest food crops to overcome. Instead, humanoids frequently resort to hunting and animal husbandry to get through the arduous winters.

Extended family units or entire villages may raise a herd of reindeer or musk oxen that serves as the community’s primary source of leather, bone, and meat. They supplement this diet with fish caught in nearby lakes and streams as well as any other smaller game animals or larger predators killed during a hunting excursion into the untamed wilds far from home. When the weather improves during the shortlived summers, residents gather wild berries and edible leaves from the handful of plants that thrive in this difficult environment.

Tundra Campaigns

Despite receiving a brief reprieve from the elements, tundra campaigns face many of the same natural hazards that torment ice cap explorers. Freezing temperatures, frigid winds, snow, and ice curtail most outdoor activities and travel throughout much of the year. Travelers endeavoring to make their fortunes in this rough and tumble environment must take the necessary precautions to escape winter’s grasp with their lives and treasures intact. Although the ground briefly thaws during the short summer, the layer of permafrost just beneath the surface remains rock hard throughout the year. The subterranean complexes and underground lairs that house fabulous riches and fearsome denizens in more temperate environments are few and far between in this realm dominated by frozen earth. Permanent man made structures are also a rarity in this windswept world, thus adventurers accustomed to delving into forsaken dungeons and poking around in lost ruins must quickly adjust to their newfound reality in the great outdoors.

Nonetheless danger abounds in the tundra, particularly near the fetid bogs and malodorous marshes that abound on these icy plains. In addition to the wolves, bears, and canine predators stalking their prey across the snowy terrain, vicious monsters and men also inhabit these regions. Ferocious white dragons, frost giants, and other denizens encountered in the ice cap biome also dwell here, where they compete with cold riders, ice trolls, winter hags, yuki-onnas, and other malevolent creatures for humanoid prey. Evil men also sometimes gather in the tundra’s most isolated corners to venerate the vile deities of cold and darkness holding sway over their temperamental lands. These worshipers vainly hope their sickening offerings appease these sinister deities and in turn prevent them from unleashing their wicked servants and foul weather upon the tenuous humanoid communities struggling to survive in an unforgiving world. When their sacrifices and pleas for mercy go unanswered desperate times occasionally call for more direct measures. When these dark times befall a community, its elders cast their eyes in the direction of brave adventurers to save the day.

When intrepid souls come face to face with any of these horrors, they generally do so somewhere on the tundra proper rather than inside a man made building or an underground chamber. The disgusting stench from a festering bog or anomalous plant growth in a particular spot occasionally marks these adversaries’ lairs or usual stomping grounds for adventurers who seek out these wicked creatures. Peat harvested from the decaying wetlands may be used to construct rudimentary huts, but these precarious buildings crumble into ruin much quicker than stone structures erected in a more hospitable environment. Despite the pervasive permafrost, melting snow and ice can gradually carve out abscesses in rock formations, giving birth to caves that frequently host hibernating beasts and monsters alike.

Taiga Biome

The milder and wetter taiga, or boreal forest as it is known in some circles, covers more square miles of dry land than any other biome on Earth. Spread across the breadth of three continents, the sprawling evergreen forests actually benefit from receiving significantly more snowfall than their normally chillier counterparts. Although the cold temperatures and deep snow are not conducive to fostering deciduous trees and plants, coniferous trees thrive in the cool, moderately moist environment, giving this ecosystem its signature characteristic as a year-round green forest with a dense canopy. These woody giants never shed their needle-like leaves. Hence, the absence of decaying organic matter on the forest floor leaves the taiga’s young soil thin, acidic, and nutrient poor. To make matters worse for low-lying plants, the tightly bunched spruces, pines, larches, and birches greatly restrict the amount of meager sunlight striking the ground beneath them. In general, the taiga’s undergrowth remains spotty at best, consisting almost entirely of mosses, wild flowers, and pockets of shrubbery.

While trees are commonly associated with great age, the world’s taigas are relative newcomers to Earth’s proverbial stage. They made their first appearance roughly 10,000 years ago when the last ice age’s glaciers steadily retreated toward the frozen poles and allowed life to again take hold on land previously covered by dense sheets of compressed ice and snow.

Though damper in comparison to their polar cousins, taigas are significantly drier than temperate and tropical forests. On average, fires spawned by the inherently sere conditions sweep across this verdant landscape roughly once per century, forcing the taiga to begin the process of renewal again from tentative saplings. In more ways than one, these cold forests adhere to cyclical changes closer to those experienced in temperate climates.

Unlike the ice cap and some parts of the tundra, taigas witness sunrise and sunset on a daily basis, though both may take place in close proximity to one another.

The sun basks the forest in light for twenty hours per day at the peak of summer before receding to dim twilight, though as in all polar biomes the yellow star remains fairly close to the horizon. Conversely, during the extended winter, the forests remain shrouded in darkness for much of the day, seeing the sun peek over the horizon for only a few fleeting hours before withdrawing from the sky. This important difference from its polar counterparts lessens winter’s duration to approximately 200 days out of the year. However, the taiga’s winter is still brutal even by typical polar standards. Temperatures can occasionally drop below –50° Fahrenheit and even approach the planet’s record lows, especially on clear nights devoid of any cloud cover. While deep snow typically covers the ground, the majority of precipitation falls during the short yet surprisingly warm summers where the mercury often reaches a comparatively balmy 70° Fahrenheit. Spring heralds the sun’s prolonged return to the heavens, where its solar radiation dispels any residual snow from the long winter. The taiga’s flowers bud, its frozen bodies of water melt, and its hibernating animals awaken from their slumber. Those beasts that slept through the cold and darkness feast and breed in earnest during their waking hours in preparation for when autumn’s chill comes back just a few months later. Naturally, some predators that outlasted the elements during the savage winter hardily greet the sleepy newcomers with bared fangs and sharp claws, thus granting them an unexpected eternal rest.

The taiga features a diverse array of flora and fauna specially adapted to cope with the polar biome’s tremendous extremes and seasonal changes. Indeed, the disparity between its summer high temperature and winter low temperature exceeds those encountered anywhere else in the world. As previously noted, coniferous trees dominate this chilly forest. These green behemoths’ shallow roots are ideally suited for the thin soil, while the trees’ downward-facing needlelike leaves mimic the action of a slanted roof, causing excess snow to slide down to the ground rather than accumulate on their limbs. Furthermore, the trees’ dark coloration and the retention of their leaves allow them to absorb more sunlight and photosynthesize throughout the year instead of exclusively during the brief growing season. Smaller green plants are forced to make due in the literal and figurative shadows of their burlier brethren. Lichens and mosses flourish in damp patches of earth beneath trees or in some cases on their trunks. In spots where sunlight actually reaches the soil, wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs lay down roots and stake their proverbial claim to this precious piece of real estate. Some of these resourceful plants produce berries that supplement many omnivores’ diets. Still, in most locations, undergrowth tends to be sparse or completely absent within the shade.

More animals and species populate the cool forest than the other polar biomes, but the ecosystem’s biodiversity generally pales in comparison to temperate and tropical climates. Several varieties of bears and the fearsome tiger make up the taiga’s apex predators. Many of these beasts’ relatives, such as wolves, foxes, lynxes, and wolverines also hunt for prey in these woods alongside the ecosystem’s smaller mammals, including minks, sables, and weasels.

Moose, reindeer, musk oxen, and bison stand atop the taiga’s list of herbivores. Hares, squirrels, beavers, mice, moles, and a host of smaller mammals feed on any edible leaves and berries. The cunning creatures that dwell in this wintry environment rely upon several adaptations to make it through the coolest six months.

Rodents and small mammals typically live beneath the snow close to ground level where they feed on refrigerated plants that survived the winter or burrow underground and ride out the winter in subterranean chambers and tunnels in a near comatose state. Larger beasts grow shaggy coats of coarse hair or fur over layers of accumulated fat to retain heat by insulating their bodies from the elements. Others insatiably gorge and pack on the pounds when food is plentiful during the spring and summer. As winter approaches, these animals locate a suitable shelter where they hibernate until spring returns the following year. The taiga also hosts many avian guests that descend upon the forest in spring to mate and feed on the abundant insects that emerge from the ground within and adjacent to the taiga’s plentiful bogs and fens as well as its swampy sections. Ravens, eagles, and buzzards stick around when the weather turns cool, but nearly all other birds depart in autumn and head for warmer lands elsewhere.

Despite the comparatively warmer climate, the growing season remains too short to adequately support most humanoid food crops. Some legumes and grains such as barley, millet, peas, and wheat can persevere in the thin, acrid soil. However, few individuals engage in large-scale agricultural operations. In addition, the act of clearing any patch of arable land requires felling numerous softwood trees.

Instead, the rugged residents gather wild berries and hunt game in the forest while raising livestock herds or individual animals for food, milk, and clothing. Unlike the inhabitants dwelling in the barren ice cap and tundra, humanoids generally lead a sedentary existence, erecting a permanent shelter made from wood and other readily available materials in one particular location. Communities rarely expand beyond the level of a disorganized, scattered settlement spread out across a wide area. Villagers are typically self-sufficient, producing enough food, clothing, and other goods to satisfy their individual and familial needs, though they are not averse to banding together when one of their own is down on their luck, especially if they share some common lineage. In their minds, pitching in to help a friend or relative through tough times comes from making a voluntary and deliberate decision rather than obeying a civic obligation. Thus, while the residents share a common identity, the concept of banding together to establish a formal government escapes them. Choice and not duty governs a person’s actions.

Some industrious humanoids look beyond the boundaries of their little world and engage in a host of commercial enterprises with neighboring populations.

Most notably, the biome produces tremendous quantities of prized softwood timber that citizens use to construct their permanent settlements and homes.

Logging interests, both local and from foreign lands, export this valuable commodity to merchants throughout the civilized world for building purposes, firewood, and to manufacture paper. Exotic, luxurious pelts harvested from the indigenous fauna such as foxes, lynxes, minks, and sables also command high prices as they frequently communicate the wearer’s social status and wealth among that person’s peers.

Some members of the furrier profession trap these coveted animals in the wild. However, the most successful businessmen breed and raise some of these creatures, particularly the smaller and less-aggressive species, on sprawling farms. Keeping large predatory beasts in captivity for any purpose poses too much danger to the animals’ handlers in addition to necessitating constantly satisfying their voracious appetites for fresh meat. In addition to the native flora and fauna, rich deposits of stone, minerals, and precious metals frequently lie just beneath the taiga’s floor. While the same natural resources are often prevalent in other polar biomes, the more hospitable forest presents fewer logistical obstacles than its desolate and unforgiving counterparts. Prospectors seeking fame and fortune venture into the taiga to fulfill their dreams of striking it rich by unearthing a mother lode of gold, silver, copper, coal, or some other valuable commodity. Nonetheless, the taiga can still be the most ungracious of hosts, especially to those seeking to exploit its natural treasures.

Taiga Campaigns

Adventuring in the cold forest adheres more closely to conventional norms than the wicked extremes found in the tundra and ice cap biomes. Frigid temperatures and deep snow still persist as a brutal fact of life in the taiga for roughly half the year, but the chilly woodlands are a far cry from the destitute glaciers and frozen plains in terms of finding suitable shelter and necessary resources, particularly food within an established settlement. While the natives may not greet visitors with open arms, they are more accustomed to interacting with strangers than the isolated nomads found in other polar environments. Civilization’s tenuous foothold in the region also offers more opportunities for explorers to embark on perilous quests to save embattled townsfolk from the domain’s sinister denizens or gather crucial intelligence about a nearby monster’s immense treasure hoard. These settlers commonly build permanent structures made from wood, stone or a combination of materials that may remain active or fall into ruin and disrepair when the residents abandon the community or another entity forcibly expels them from their homes.

In addition to many of the same sentient monsters encountered in other cold locales, the biome also supports megafauna including dire versions of many common animals such as bears, tigers, wolves, and wolverines to name just a few. However, the ice cap’s iconic creatures, most notably frost giants, white dragons, silver dragons, and yetis are less commonly encountered here than in the harsher and usually more isolated polar domains. Whereas the dense ice sheets and permafrost prevent many of these denizens from constructing or dwelling within subterranean lairs, the loose ground in the trees’ shadow can accommodate underground complexes to a degree. The bedrock typically found just a few feet below the ground’s surface provides a stable foundation to prevent caveins, provided the builder possesses some engineering skill, yet the frozen soil farther down inhibits the ability to excavate far beneath the forest floor.

Extensive dungeons burrowing into the earth remain a rarity. Instead, caves and small hovels dug into the roots of decaying trees or into the sides of elevated mounds represent the norm in the taiga.

Giant beasts and wicked monsters are not the only terrors that stalk the taiga. Most humanoids who call the crisp woodlands home are content to lead quiet lives tending to their herds and hunting for game.

However, the taiga’s valuable natural resources draw all types of men and women to this demanding biome.

Some of them respect the land and its people. These upstanding individuals may seek assistance from intrepid explorers ready, willing, and able to clear out wicked creatures from a targeted patch of land.

Likewise, entrepreneurs may need security to protect their investment from thieves, unwelcome trespassers, and stray animals. Conversely, the most amoral of this lot treat the land and its residents like property.

Whether they harvest timber, gold, furs, or peat, the allure of amassing an immense fortune spurs them to commit unspeakable deeds to satisfy their greed. The unlucky, powerless souls in their sights may seek adventurers to right their countless wrongs and preserve their way of life in the face of their reckless exploitation. In addition, the careless actions of these unscrupulous developers may deliberately or inadvertently unleash a slumbering horror upon the terrified local inhabitants. In any event, organized settlements and businesses provide adventurers passing through the taiga a home base or a way station to replenish their supplies and get some much-needed rest.

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