Portals of the Frozen Wastes
By James Wyatt
On a small, ice-covered island in the endless expanse of crashing icebergs that is the Sea of Moving Ice, five smooth, greenish stones jut up from the frozen earth like the fingers of a gigantic hand. In the center of the standing stones, a sinkhole descends to unknown depths below. (A diagram of this area is available in the Map-a-Week archive: download the map here).
Long ago, this island was the tip of a peninsula extending westward from what is now called Icewind Dale, and a great city stood on its heights. The peninsula now drowns beneath the freezing waves, and the city is long forgotten. All that remains are the weathered remains of what was once a fine structure formed of magic stone, and the remnants of this structure barely support the magic of a portal in the air above the sinkhole.
Touching any one of the five standing stones activates the magic of the portal, causing a shimmering web of green energy to appear suspended in the air. The energy web connects the stones to each other and forms an intricate latticework that covers the sinkhole entrance. The energy seems weak, however, since it flickers when the arctic wind gusts and disappears again within a minute of being activated. Once the portal is deactivated, it must remain dormant for 24 hours before someone can trigger it again.
The portal is variable: It has two preset destinations. When activated as described above, the portal leads to a cavern under the High Ice in the desert of Anauroch. If the word "Jhothûn" is spoken while the portal energy is active, however, the lattice changes to a rich purple color and the portal leads to Jhothûn.
In either case, using the portal in its present condition is somewhat hazardous. The harsh elements of the freezing north have taken their toll not only on the physical structure of the portal but also on its magic. Entering the portal at the wrong instant, when its energy is flickering out (10% chance of it doing so), sends a character plummeting down into the sinkhole -- a fall of 100 feet into ice-cold water (2d3 points of subdual damage and 6d6 points of regular damage from the fall, plus 1d6 points of subdual damage per minute of exposure from the cold). Characters at risk of falling can make a Balance check (DC 20) to catch themselves before falling, and those who are prepared might avoid the fall altogether at the DM's discretion. Characters arriving in this portal from another destination must move out immediately or risk plummeting into the sinkhole when the portal's magic fails.
At least as dangerous as the failing magic of the portal is its guardian, who is an evil orc druid named Thurghom. An outcast from one of the orc tribes that lives on the ever-shifting terrain of the Sea of Moving Ice, Thurghom and his polar bear companion keep watch over the portal for reasons they do not fully understand. Thurghom believes that the sinkhole spoke to him when he was a child, charging him with guarding it and imbuing him with the druidical ability he now possesses. The truth behind this story, if any exists, is a mystery whose only possible answer must be in Jhothûn.
Thurghom does not even know that the site he guards so painstakingly is a portal. He has never laid a finger on the standing stones, believing them too sacred to defile with his touch, and he has never seen the portal's magic activated. He believes that a great spirit lives in the sinkhole, and he worships it from outside the ring of the stones and never approaches closer than required to hurl a still-living sacrifice into its depths. Thurghom guards the portal as a sacred shrine, not a magic artifact of an ancient civilization.
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