Art by Beck Michalak
Adventure Calendar is a series of 25 winter-themed random tables that mesh together to build an evolving setting and campaign for your favourite fantasy RPG, whatever that might be. You can learn more about the project and find the full list of published tables here.
As the world becomes a frozen wasteland, the people of the north are searching for meaning and security in unusual places. For years now, as the echoes of the First and Final God’s awakening reverberated backwards through time, cults in service of it have blossomed into being as human minds attempt to rationalise what’s about to happen to them – although none of them have got the name right. While each of these cults is devoted to a facet of the First and Final God, they certainly don’t know that (and if they do they don’t care), and will happily go to war with one another in an effort to please their deity.
1: WRETCHES. Followers of Pondiferous Wretch, prophet of the end times, who froze to death thirty years ago but hasn’t let that stop him leading an effective cult. Pondiferous is kept in a windswept temple on the northern slopes of Svartfjell where he never defrosts, and from his frostbitten and withered lips come vile orders from the cult’s patron diety – The Bastard Winter.
A monstrously cruel god, The Bastard Winter doesn’t go in for the ineffable you-are-as-ants-to-me shtick that a lot of immortals wind up in – he hates the living, hates sunlight, and hates when anyone’s doing better than him. He is the god of grandparents frozen to death, of rotting harvests, of gangrene and necrosis. The Wretch cult are hell-bent on taking everything they can get from people too weak, kind or stupid to stop them in an effort to outlast the apocalypse on the right hand of their misanthropic lord.
2: SLAYERS OF THE PINNED GOD. The Pinned God – they never got a name – was a primordial storm of frost, a walking wasteland, an end-of-the-world waiting to happen. They were speared in the chest by one of those handsome gods with good hair and a sensible number of limbs and, while they couldn’t be killed per se, they were pinned to the earth and damned to spend the rest of eternity caught between life and death. When they breathe in a ragged and sucking lungful of air, the world experiences summer – when they breathe out, a fraction of their power spreads through the land, and the land freezes over. The Slayers reckon that the god who threw the spear did half a job, and that – with the correct rituals and maybe tricking a few other immortals to help out – they can rid the world of winter and bring in a perpetual summer, ending hunger forever.
They’ve just now pulled out the spear – it’s within the centre of the mountain Svartfjell and also the mountain itself, which is hard to wrap your head around but they’re doing their best – and realised how much trouble they’re in. The Slayers are a group of well-meaning academics and militant gnostics whose careful calculations and algorithmic ur-calendars have done nothing to prepare them for an unfettered eternal winter.
3. THE MIDWIVES. Blood-soaked aunts and grandmothers who have buried more than their fair share of stillborn babies, the Midwives are a sect of zealots devoted to ending this world and replacing it with a better one. As hopeful and glorious spring comes from the depths of hideous winter, they reason, a truly glorious spring must await the survivors on the other side of the worst winter the world has ever seen – and so they rolled up their sleeves and set about making it happen. First, they must descend into the great stone womb beneath the temples of Dovescopp to the west, then deliver the avatar of the great winter and overcome the labour throes of the earth herself, and only then begin the task of raising it to adulthood before ritually slaying it in the depths of winter.
All that happened roughly seventeen years ago. The avatar of the great winter is an unremarkable girl who guts fish in some smokey Bostivol back-room and can’t seem to keep her hands warm, no matter how long she sits by the fire, and with luck the Midwives will be able to drown her in a lake on her eighteenth birthday – as long as no-one else determines her true nature and tries to exploit her latent power for themselves, or she learns of what’s happening and tries to change things.
4. ONIEROMANCERS. “The Dreaming Deep! The God Beneath the Earth, whose dreams are the flickering auroras in the sky that bring blessed madness to men! Whose body is stone and whose tongue is lashing meltwater! Whose mouth is a thousand caves! Whose voice is wolf-song and scything wind! God of star-sight and obsidian visions, who slumbers fitful awaiting the coming dawn!”
The Onieromancers are a cult of soothsayers, wizards and warlocks who believe that they have seen behind the curtain of divinity and fate and witnessed the terrible truth – that the Dreaming Deep, the God Beneath The Earth, is behind it all. All other gods are but facets of its majesty or fractured interpretations of the truth by mortal minds unable to comprehend the enormity of the cosmos. The most eldest members of the society operate in a chemically-induced trance that allows them to slip into the living dreams of the God and “ride” them to gain impossible foresight and arcane power at the cost of being asleep all of the time and coming wholly unattached from reality. They believe their god’s awakening is an inevitability and they hope to hide within its consciousness to escape the coming apocalypse.
5. SEERS OF THE TWELVE. The mountain is going to give birth to twelve terrible horses and they will trample us all to death. Storm, whose mane is lightning, will run to the north; Darkness, upon who light does not shine, runs to the east; Terror whose eyes are pitiless stars, runs to the west; Tumult, the thousand-legged, runs to the south; Murder the bloody-hoofed, Treachery the white-barded, Starfall the sky-spanning and Frost the glacial-paced cover the four intercardinal directions; the identities and directions of the remaining four are subject to much discussion amongst elders.
The seers are part of an ancient tradition that originated in the nomadic tribes of the Bone Steppes; on a clear day you can see all the way to Svartfjell even from the southern coast. The horses are representations of natural (or unnatural) phenomena but also, crucially, actual horses that an enterprising eschatologist could ride, assuming they don’t immediately die upon contact. As the end of time draws forth, many of the tribes in the steppes have selected a champion to ride one of the horses and are offering sacrifices in an attempt to secure a seat on the back of the apocalypse.
6. THE TRANQUIL. Life is chaotic and strange and dangerous; far better is still and stable death, a gradual and predictable decline into nothingness and peace. The Tranquil are a cult that attracts broken, melancholic individuals who feel like life passed them by; husbands jilted at altars, mothers of dead children, or those unable to pursue their passions due to injury, circumstance or lack of talent are common recruits, but there are no end of tragedies both great and small that have driven desperate people to find solace in religion.
The Tranquil preach that death is the natural state of the universe (far more of it is dead than not, after all) and life, as frantic and surprising as it is, is an abomination that we have been cursed with in exchange for some ancient sin. There is peace in understanding that you, and the world of those around you, are wrong – that it’s not you, it’s everyone, and you’re the only one smart enough to have figured it out. In addition to standing motionless in the cold to bring themselves closer to understanding the perfection of death, the Tranquil espouse many small acts of faith rather than singular gestures – poisoning harvests, setting fires, strangling cats, stealing heirlooms, and sabotaging machinery. To be alive is to hope, and to allow others to hope in the face of their inevitable demise is a sin.