Operation: Deepfreeze - A Montecon Adventure
By Will McDermott
Every year in March, Sue and Monte Cook (senior producer for online D&D and Star Wars content, and co-designer of third edition D&D, respectively) allow around 70 overworked game designers, editors, and friends to invade their house for a weekend mini-convention. With two to five events running at any time, plus the video room, there's always something going on . . . for nearly 48 hours straight.
Obviously, Sue and Monte can't do it all alone, and this mini-con sees a long list of gaming celebrities both running and playing games. If you don't recognize names like Andy Collins, Bruce Cordell, Dave Noonan, Chris Perkins, John Rateliff, Ed Stark, Mike Selinker, Stan!, Jonathan Tweet, or JD Wiker, then you have no right calling yourself a gamer. These were just a few of the luminaries in attendance this year.
My wife, Daneen (who plays in James Wyatt's Sumberton campaign) and I have gone to Montecon for the past two years. The highlight for me this year was Andy Collin's "Operation: Deepfreeze" on Saturday evening. This D&D adventure with a nostalgic twist brought together a pretty prestigious cast. At the table, we had Andy Collins (co-designer of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game), Ed Stark (creative director for D&D), Chris Perkins (editor in chief of both Dungeon and Star Wars Gamer magazines), Owen Stephens (Star Wars game designer), LJ Stephens (Owen's better half), Dan Kaufman (customer service rep and freelance writer), and me (just a lowly reporter).
"Operation: Deepfreeze" is a D&D adventure that Andy wrote about ten years ago and updated to third edition for Montecon. Four of the characters (played by Dan, Owen, LJ, and me) were space marines sent to guard a delegation on a diplomatic mission to a frozen world called Aslak. However, the tribe on this new world (the uldra) wanted the delegation members to prove their worth in a physical trial. So our unit was sent to a cave in the frozen wastes to bring back something of worth to benefit the tribe. To aid us, we were given a guide (played by Ed) and his interpreter (played by Chris).
Sounds simple enough, right? All we had to do was ride out, get the artifact, and ride back. Of course we had no horses, and the subzero conditions of the surface could kill. Plus, Andy had a few surprises in store.
First of all, Andy spent time with each player before the game, telling us a little about our characters, their quirks, and their motivations. Mind you, this information was not designed to make the adventure easier. The marine unit characters had motivations and quirks that made working together somewhat hard. For example, my character was second in command and had no respect at all for the commander.
In addition, our guide did not speak common, so he had to interact with the marines through an interpreter. But the interpreter was secretly trying to sabotage our mission because he belonged to a splinter group among the tribe that didn't trust offworlders. Ed and Chris roleplayed their characters beautifully. Chris used his character's power as interpreter to keep the guide out of battle and push us harder than we could really handle.
Ed was the only player who knew anything about his character before the game. Andy had given Ed a couple of days to prepare for his role of a guide who cannot speak common. Ed actually wrote up a short glossary of "common phrases" so the gibberish from his end of the table would sound consistent. "If anyone paid attention, they could learn a few of my key phrases," Ed said later. A sampling:
"Don't do that!"
"We should stop now."
"Come this way."
"What are they, idiots?"
According to Ed, he seldom said that last one to anyone but Chris's character . . . but it did get a lot of use!
The Grand Finale
In the end, we did survive the interpreter's treachery and the personality conflicts that Andy laid upon our characters, but just barely. In the ice caves, we found an ancient spelljammer ship that had crashed on Aslak during the elf-human wars. Unfortunately, the ship was home to an Amarthuldra, an "alien" creature that attacked the group and nearly wiped us out (not to mention the Amarthuldra eggs that we would have found later if we had played the entire adventure). The final scene of our adventure found my character (sorcerer Lt. Yuri Prefect) trying to fly the still functional but badly damaged spelljammer ship back to the tribe (where our mother ship was under attack by the splinter group). Meanwhile, the traitorous interpreter battled our guide and Private Dudley Horsan (LJ) after he tried to attack me in an effort to bring the ship down. At the same time, Commander Ricks (Dan) and Lt. Ozrick (Owen) were trying to finish off the Amathuldra in the drafty stern of the boat. It was a rip-roaring, chaotic conclusion to a great session.
Bonus Background Details
Want to know more about the players and designer/DM of Montecon's "Operation Deepfreeze"? Does the Amathuldra sound like the perfect monster to pit against your PCs? Read more!
About the Author
Before moving to the Online Media department at Wizards of the Coast, Will McDermott was editor in chief of TopDeck magazine and, before that, The Duelist. Will has written strategy guides for both Magic: The Gathering and the Pokémon TCGs, and is currently writing a Magic: The Gathering novel.