Anyway, I am hoping to discuss my sessions with you here, both from a "what happened" point of view, and as a GM discussing the game, and my thoughts about how things went.
ICE TRULLS AND SLIPPERY SURFACES
Okay, let me start with a bit of info from my campaign world. "Trull" is a Dundorin (Mountain Dwarf) word, for the monstrous Nargorim. It's a word used in its corrupted form (Troll) by many other races - a fact that really annoys the Dundorin and occasionally starts fist fights. So, you get that by "Trull" I mean "Troll" yeah?
Okay, so in my last regular game, the "heroes"* - a human artificer (using the play test class), a Warforged fighter, a Vyrleen (Halfling) rogue, a human Warlord (NPC), a Dundorin fighter (NPC), and a half-ghost controller type guy (NPC controlled by players) - had just...well, there's a whole load of stuff they had done, but for now, all you need to know is they had returned to a way station they had previously wrested control of from a cult of Dracanai (Dragon) worshippers and their Kydraxi (Kobold - you sick of this yet?) allies**. They were planning on getting a Sky Ship back to Lorehaven; their home city, ready to return to their adventures in space (seriously; full on Spelljamming - without spelljammer helms - in my games baby), however, whilst above a great mountain range halfway home their Sky Ship was sabotaged by a Kydraxi, and they crash landed on a remote snow field, high up the side of a mountain.
And that is where the last game session began; with a dazed group (one of whom - the warlord - is seriously pissed at the rest, as her NPC employer had been...well...killed...by the group the week before after a misunderstanding over a binding tattoo, a heart with a stake through it in a chest, and an ill advised command by said NPC employer for his bodyguards to kill the group - admittedly following some pretty major provocation), trying to work out how the hell they were going to get off a high snowfield surrounded by cliffs, whilst being exposed to intense cold and altitude sickness....nice eh?
Well, after searching the ship (I put some level 10 Healing Potions in, which are the same as the normal ones, but heal 15 hit points instead of 10, as well as a Ritual Scroll - Detect Secret Doors - which could be useful later), building some passable shelter from the killing cold for the other survivors, and arguing with the warlord, they decided to set off down one of the cliff faces in search of a way off the mountain, and hopefully, to find help.
So, a nice skill challenge, with some fairly hard D.C.s. Now I'll be honest; I use the method given in the DMG for creating D.C's, as it usually comes up with a good D.C. when bonuses for race, items and other things are taken into account. I deliberately made the challenge level 8 and gave it a complexity of 4 (10 successes before 3 failures) - which meant it was a tough, but not impossible challenge for my level 7 group. It also meant that I was willing to allow my players to fish for bonuses through good ideas (a thing I am more willing to do in 4e than previous editions for some reason).
Alas, despite some good ideas, and great roleplaying (I am bemused by anyone that claims 4e somehow retards roleplaying), the challenge quickly ended, and the group fell...ah...
So, I wanted a fall from the mountain face to be really bad, but not an instant TPK (I am not a GM adverse to TPK's by the way, as long as the characters stood at least some chance, and the circumstances are cool enough that they feel like they had fun in spite of their character's deaths) and so had to come up with something that could potentially knock one or more players out, inflict some kind of longer term penalty, and would make it a moment the players would remember in years to come...
As well as damage (the group took 25 a piece when the dice I assigned were rolled), I had each player loose 2 healing surges (to represent serious sprains, dislocations, morale loss and general agony), and triggered a nasty level 8 encounter with a number of Frost Trulls that they would have otherwise been able to prepare for in advance.
Oh, and I included a level 7 version of the "Treacherous Ice Sheet" obstacle from the DMG, which in the end, made for one of the most amusing battles for quite some time.
So, the group are really hurt (a few characters were bloodied), and now they are being attacked by some big, nasty beasties...A level 8 elite Brute, three level 7 Soldiers and a level 8 Artillery with some strong Control elements...oh, and they can't stand up on the ice sheet...
What ensued was a fight that I must admit, I thought by round 2 was going to be a TPK - and not a good TPK as defined above.
I was seriously starting to wonder if I had gone too far to make the fall horrible, and was starting to think about how I could rescue the situation without blatantly helping or skewing the fight unnecessarily in the groups' favour.
In the end I dropped a hint about fire being good, and my players got the hint. These monsters have Vulnerability 10 to Fire, though they also had the following (Muwahahahahaha)
[Close] Steam Burst (Immediate Reaction when Ravenous Frost Nargor takes fire damage)◆ Fire;
A burst of scalding steam erupts from the monster, burning and blinding all in its area; Close Burst 2; +X Vs Reflex; 1D10 Fire and Untyped damage and target is Blind until the end of their next turn
It was a long fight, and one that saw the group pulling every trick they could out of the bag to survive. They ended up deciding to take the -2 penalty for fighting from prone, and the speed drop for crawling, rather than risk the painful (1D8+2 damage) falls from trying to stay standing on the ice, and in the end, they beat the monsters (well, one threw itself off the cliffs that surrounded the battlefield, trusting its ability to regenerate and fearing the crawling, fire wielding metal man).
I think I pushed things about as far as I could without straying into "blatantly stupidly unfair" territory. The risk of death was very, very, real, but the group managed to stay alive by using their brains and working well together. In the end, the group felt as if they had achieved something major, and were just glad that the monster's cave had enough fur and chewed bones in it, that they could start a fire, and avoid making Endurance checks against the cold for a bit (they were now too low to suffer from altitude sickness, damn them).
Oh, and they found a secret passage into the mountain inside the cave...marked by a Dundorin rune...what are the odds?
* My games are very much in the dark fantasy / horror fantasy vein with a HEAVY dose of Steampunk thrown in - what can I say, I loved Warhammer, H.P. Lovecraft and Spelljammer. I don't like the black and white outlook on good and evil, and did away with alignment in 3.5 and entirely in 4e. I like characters with flaws and complicated villains with proper motivations other than "yeah, let's break stuff and you know, wear black, and yeah, be dead evil an' shit. Woo", and it's VERY rare that my players are really god's honest heroes...mainly because such characters inevitably go mad and end up suckling at some blasphemous abominations vinegary teat...
** That was one of the longest and possibly worst sentences ever committed to the net. I am truly sorry.