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After several lackluster main campaign adventures exacerbated by bare map quality, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, a supposedly horror-themed adventure that takes place in the frozen north of the Forgotten Realms, involving the goddess of winter herself.
The result is a surprisingly effective open-world campaign with a modular approach to campaign-building, combining three separate storylines that takes players from the Ten Towns region, across the Sea of Moving Ice, beneath vast glaciers, and into an ancient buried Netherese city.
MAJOR SPOILERS – DM’s only!
The following content is included in the Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden Roll20 set:
- Compendium Expansion, Character Art Pack, and adventure module.
- 11 non-gridded region maps (Icewind Dale and each town)
- 1 200-ft map
- 13 10-ft battle maps (with 5-ft subdivisions)
- 14 5-ft battle maps
- Over 50 magic items
- Over 100 player art handouts.
- Alphabetized token page.
- Over 180 monsters with drag-and-drop tokens and statblocks
- Over 40 named NPCs with drag-and-drop tokens and statblocks
- Applicable supplemental rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, such as Madness, Alien Technology, Sentient Magic Items, and Injuries.
The wintery region of Icewind Dale is caught in a perpetual state of night, thanks to Auril. The lesser goddess rides on a Roc every day to cast her spell, leaving the residents in greater peril as food dwindles and even the most cold-resistant life begins to die out.
If you were expecting the overarching adventure to culminate with defeating Auril and saving the world from darkness – think again. The entire perpetual-winter plot is only about 1/4 of the total campaign, and defeating her is practically incidental.
The adventure is actually divided into three main plot threads, which have little to do with one another:
- Thwarting a duergar warlord who’s building a dragon construct to destroy Ten Towns and rule Icewind Dale;
- Defeating Auril and bringing daylight and summer back to the region;
- Helping the Arcane Brotherhood discover a buried Netherese City beneath a glacier, and plundering its secrets.
The main stories are meant to be tackled sequentially, though the duergar warlord plot doesn’t technically start until Chapter Three. The first two chapters are designed like an open world video game.
It’s not exactly Skyrim, but each of the Ten Towns has its own associated quest, most of which lead to interesting dungeons and stories, such as a hag with a cauldron that could feed a whole town, a wizard being burned at the stake, a group of demon cultists that could prove enemies or unlikely allies, or a loch ness monster hiding out in a nearby lake.
Chapter One covers the towns, while Chapter Two expands the open world to include all of Icewind Dale. More fantastic, self-contained dungeons with interesting ideas, such as a cabin haunted by a wizard and his failed experiment, a beached ship that serves as the lair of a senile yet powerful ancient white dragon, and a pair of Goliath encampments stewing amidst a cold war (pun very much intended).
Thankfully Rime of the Frostmaiden is a triumphant return to detailed, full color battle maps. Huzzah! Don’t expect a lot of color or variety in a winter-locked region – it’s mostly caves and forts, but the maps are a huge step up from recent D&D 5e campaign books, and look great in Roll20. The one flaw: half the dungeons are drawn in 10-ft scale, leading to 5-ft subdivisions and the need to zoom in on tiny tokens.
As usual with Roll20 modules, all the tokens and dynamic lighting are set up on each map. A token page is provided to copy/paste tokens, or you can simply drag them from the Journal onto the map. All tokens have character sheets built in, as well as player handouts to easily show players the art. The adventure also includes over 100 pieces of art to share with players as handouts.
The open world approach in the first two chapters makes Icewind Dale much more modular, allowing DMs to pick and choose which dungeons or towns they prefer to run, as well as dropping them into their own campaigns.
The duergar warlord’s two sons, can be found, fought, and interrogated in two of the towns, leading into the first main plot of the campaign as the party learns of the insidious warlord.
The assault on the duergar fortress of Sunblight is covered in Chapter Three. The forge is an excellent dungeon with lots of opportunity for interesting role-paying shenanigans and social situations, including a rival duergar faction who’s not too keen on the current leader.
As the party enters the dungeon, the duergar leader’s powerful and custom-built dragon construct is released to terrorize Ten Towns.
The pacing here is a big mistake, however. Rather than make the party choose between exploring a fun dungeon and defeating the first villain or rescuing the towns, I would delay the dragon take-off until right before the climactic fight with the warlord in the depths of the fortress.
Chapter Four covers the dragon construct attack, which systematically destroys all ten towns without the party’s interference. It’s an excellent opportunity for the party to act as actual heroes, and rescue NPCs they’d previously been dealing with (and/or witness the horror wrought by the dragon).
The dragon’s destruction could easily be the climax of a satisfying tier one adventure – but what about Auril and the whole perma-night thing?
A friendly necromancer and member of the Arcane Brotherhood randomly shows up during the dragon attack, and afterwards tells the party of the buried Netherese city. They’ll need an artifact to reach it, which is located in Auril’s lair across the Sea of Moving Ice.
The plot threads aren’t woven together very well. One simple fix could be placing the important necromancer NPC, Vellyne, in the duergar dungeon, or learning about Auril’s location and the artifact there, and meeting Vellyne on the way.
Sadly the open world gameplay is left behind by the time we reach Chapter Five and journey to Auril’s island. By then the players are around level 7, and far out leveled the content in Chapters One and Two. The adventure becomes much more linear, though Auril’s island of Solstice can be explored a bit before venturing into her lair of Grimskalle.
Defeating Auril is entirely possible here in her lair, and I imagine most parties would want to! The real task is completing her trials and acquiring the poem, the titular Rime of the Frostmaiden, which unlocks an opening under the Reghed Glacier and the path to the endgame.
It’s disappointing that Auril is on the cover of the book, yet plays such a minor role – see also Acererak and Tomb of Annihilation.
Despite its linearity in the latter half, the dungeon designs in Chapters Six and Seven are nothing short of incredible.
To reach the Netherese City, the party must first venture through the Caves of Hunter in Chapter 6. Here we finally get the horror themes the book has been teasing, with psychic manifestations haunting the players, and a bestial, creepy gnoll vampire hunting them throughout the twisting caverns, which include broken pieces of the once-floating Netherese city, steaming pools with nesting Remorhaz, drow soldiers, vampire spawn kobolds, and several ice slides and tunnels.
The buried Netherese city of Ythryn serves as the final climax. It plays similarly to Omu from Tomb of Annihilation as a dangerous ancient city the players can freely explore. Like Omu, the party needs to find certain things to unlock the way forward; in this case learning the eight steps to enter the middle spire and confront the demilich in charge.
The ancient city is a fun final set piece, reminding me of an Uncharted game, but it’s disappointing that the story lacks a strong central villain or faction. There’s no evil cult, no scheming blue dragon, no all-powerful vampire lord. If the players didn’t defeat Auril at her lair (which would be weird), she shows up again here, but she’s a non-character with very little roleplaying.
The Arcane Brotherhood are a step in the right direction, with a rival of Vellyne’s showing up at Ythryn as an interesting complication, but it still lacks the punch of an adventure with a more centralized, consistent narrative.
Those design flaws are most noticeable during the beginning and end of the adventure. Thankfully the bulk of the journey across the frozen tundra is filled with interesting NPCs, killer moments, and fantastic dungeon designs, well-worth weathering a bit of frostbite.
- Open world, modular adventure design for Chapters 1 and 2.
- Over 25 full color, detailed battle maps with tokens and dynamic lighting.
- Over 30 macros and rollable tables, organized by chapter.
- Detailed wilderness encounters in Icewind Dale include difficulty ratings.
- 17 Interesting character secrets for new characters, and DM notes on how to capitalize on them.
- Excellent dungeon designs, from beached ships and yeti mountain caves to sprawling glacier tunnels and a buried ancient city.
- Lacks a strong opening narrative hook with weak starting quests.
- The campaign is divided into three main plot threads that have little to do with one another.
- Half the maps use sub-divided 10-ft map scale, resulting in tiny tokens.
The Verdict: Despite a fractured main plot and the absence of a central villain, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is one of the best DnD 5e campaigns, with an intriguing open world, memorable events, and well-designed dungeons.
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