This began as service to one of my players (as much of what I do does). He was playing a barbarian in Icewind Dale in the Rhime of the Frost Maiden adventure. He began to ask around (literally going to blacksmiths and asking) about magically enhancing his axe. Now, I’m sure there are a few weapons along the way to be picked through and he could possible have close to what he wanted just by being patient. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as DM, it’s that if you can develop a homebrew solution that doesn’t break the game and serves the players goals, I’m all for it.
Now, I have had little interaction with any Artificer; PC or NPC. And it’s one of those beleaguered classes that doesn’t get much love since it can’t be brokenly optimized (or can it?). But, I’ve always wanted to see one in action and see what can be done to make it interesting to players. What does this have to do with my player? Obviously, an Artificer is his solution.
None of the players are playing or subclassing into an Artificer. But, of course, developing one as an NPC seemed to be the best option. I mean, all he wanted was a bit more damage and he’ll need that in the days to come. Also, I’m still learning about the Icewind Dale adventure. But I assume, as they level up, they will have need for magical weapons as most do in a D&D campaign. And, although Icewind Dale seems to, at least, begin in a low magic setting, there will still be fights where magic weapons may make the difference between life and a TPK.
So, I went to develop an NPC that could do what he needed.
THE TRIALS OF THE MAKER
But first, I realized that this NPC couldn’t just live with the barbarians; making all the magic weapons for anybody and everybody. Being low magic, it still needed to be rare. So, with four remaining tribes, the Artificer NPC would exist outside of all of them, while serving them all as a neutral power. I also concluded that acquiring this enhancement couldn’t be just about gold or as easy as just ordering it.
So, to meet with a character I am calling THE MAKER, it takes respect of all four tribes. Each tribe respects different aspects of the warrior spirit. So, to earn their respect and, at the same time, the respect of THE MAKER, there were four trials that a warrior would have to go through to earn the chance to get magic imbued onto his or her weapon.
Now most of the above and what comes next is purely homebrew material. As a discerning DM, pick and choose what you want. But choose carefully.
The BEAR Tribe, obviously, respects strength, so tests of great strength and a one-on-one wrestling match with one the tribes’ champions would be the best bet. According to older lore, at one time, all tribes worshiped Tempus, the god of war. So, being a people that respects strength, they would gravitate to a god like Tempus. It also works into my story where the cleric ill-advisedly burned down a shrine to the same god.
The TIGER tribe worships the FROSTMAIDEN (via the adventure: Appendix C). So, I would think endurance would be their focus. A cross-country race across frozen rivers, through blizzard conditions and climbing a mountain may be a part of this test.
The WOLF tribe (or, at least, its leadership) worships MALAR (Also the adventure: Appendix C). So, they would be the most savage and ruthless of the tribes. They would respect ferocity in battle so nothing less than a one on one, to the death fight with one of the champions will do.
The ELK tribe is a bit harder. Considering they respect their connection with wild nature, Silvanus may be a perfect fit. Both the god and the people care nothing about the balance, but worship the pure savage nature of the wild in places where it rages unhindered and unconquerable. I could see a ritual where the warrior goes out to meet an avatar of Silvanus and some how find himself one with the untamable force of nature. I would think a favorable connection or previous relationship with the Chiwinga would be a positive here.
The end goal is, of course, an audience with THE MAKER. But that doesn’t mean that the DM couldn’t gift them with something for finishing each trial. Maybe award them a special inspiration point for something specific. From the BEAR TRIBE, it could be for a strength save. From the TIGER TRIBE, it could be for avoiding an exhaustion point. From the WOLF TRIBE, it could be enhancement of a reckless attack or damage. And, from the ELK TRIBE, it could be one of the Chiwinga gifts.
This is exclusively for the actual class BARBARIAN, in my opinion, but do what you want in your game. This could be a way for the group or, at least, the Barbarian to earn the respect of all four tribes in an uneasy alliance. Leaving Ten Towns to the north of Lonelywood or west, the barbarian tribes could be a welcome help or, at the very least, you could keep them from attacking you. As your heroes move closer and closer to a confrontation with Auril, this could be a great help.
He is spoken about in hushed whispers Sang about around the fires of every barbarian tribe. THE MAKER has left an indelible mark of the minds of every barbarian warrior. Legends say he is a mountain of a man; a man of fire and steel. His is not from any of the tribes, in fact, most say he is not a mortal man, but a godling. Those that see him, speak in wonder of his stature and abilities with the forge.
Also, the stories of the forge he works in are a thing of wonder and mystery. The holy men of the four tribes say that he steps between the worlds to enter it. This is why the barbarians can’t just point you in its direction. It ‘travels’ with THE MAKER. It is there waiting for its master to enter and begin work.
The description of the ‘HIDDEN FORGE’ sets it in polar opposite of the cold reality of Icewind Dale. Whereas the Dale is a frozen wasteland of relentless winter, the ‘Hidden Forge’ is a place of fire, lava and intense heat. The heat is almost unbearable to mortal sensibilities and only the most hardened warrior can stand in the presence of THE MAKER when he works his magic in the forge. But those who DO get to witness this are blessed to no end, not only because they receive a weapon of heightened power, but they have stood in the presence of a true master of the forge.
The truth of THE MASTER is that he is a lone FIRE GIANT who has set onto the world to make powerful weapons for those who are worthy. Sure, he could create wonders for the highest bidder, but he doesn’t see that as a true worth of a warrior. If he is to create a truly unique weapon which is more powerful than before he touched it, he must know that the warrior earned it. Thus, the tests. The only time one of the other tribes are to step into an enemy camp is for the trials or for joint chieftain meetings. And the latter doesn’t happen that often.
Fire Giants respect bravery above all other traits of a warrior and THE MAKER will make an individual work against his fears to achieve a weapon worthy of the strong hearted. He very rarely comes out of the Hidden Forge. He does so only to invite a warrior who has passed the tests to enter into his pocked dimension. It is said he will look deep into the warrior’s soul and, if he doesn’t like what he sees, he will not make or enhance the weapon. He is known also to refuse just to see what the warrior does. Always ready for a challenge, he expects the warrior to fight. He can, probably, dispatch the warrior easily, but just the fact that warrior would attack a creature so obviously larger and more powerful than him or her, solidifies the resolve of the maker to create the warrior something special.
THE MAKER was born weak and sickly, but his mind was sharp and his resolve was sure. His father decided to train him in the forge and in the ways of Artificing even though his strength was waning. It was through the making of magic weapons artifacts and the aid of his superiors that he was able to overcome his limitation and rise above his peers and his teachers. He never looked back.
I am posting numbers for him below, but he isn’t really supposed to be fought. But here they are in case your players just can’t resist.
More CHARACTER REFERFENCES and CLASS DISCUSSIONS for the barbarian tribes of ICEWIND DALE in the up coming month. We’re going to look at some classes that most wouldn’t touch. But I think we can make them work for the Barbarians.