DMs Guild Review – The Great Trial: Frostbite

Level 10 hex-crawl dungeon, and a stand-alone sequel to the original Great Trial.

A review copy of The Great Trial: Frostbite” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Christian Zeuch,

The Great Trial: Frostbite is a stand-alone sequel to The Great Trial, a challenging gauntlet for 10th level parties. It can be run as a follow-up adventure, or on its own, providing a more interesting hex crawl dungeon design thanks to its icy theme, warring demons, big boss battles, and roaming threats.

Like the original, the deadly gauntlet of Frostbite is the design of Aenor Gleenwith, a ridiculously powerful wizard inspired by classic dungeon builders such as Halastar and Acererak, who have apparently nothing better to do but construct elaborate arenas to test player characters. You won’t find much in the way of puzzles or role-playing opportunities, but you will encounter plenty of exciting fights.

Adventure hooks can bring characters in from The Great Trial, as well as one of the encounters from Zeuch’s Encounters in Icewind Dale. Either way, the party is attacked by Aenor, who’s supposed to defeat them and drop them into the gauntlet.

I’m not opposed to capturing PCs as an interesting twist in a story, or start to an adventure, but randomly kicking their ass with a high level wizard is risky, and feels like a cruel and unsatisfying way to kick off the gauntlet. Why not offer them money and magic items for taking part in the challenge and just dropping them in that way?

The Frostbite Gauntlet is a hex crawl with over half a dozen notable locations, most of which are boss battle arenas. The goal is to make it to the top of the Frozen Peak mountain the dominates the middle, but it’s guarded by a CR 16 custom death knight with a huge amount of abilities, spells, and attacks, and an undead wyvern mount.

Each area on the map contains a link to this boss, and severing these links removes one of his abilities, attacks, or even his entire spellcasting trait. It’s a neat idea that’s obviously borrowed in part from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I respect that going to each location to weaken the boss becomes entirely optional.

great trial frostbite gauntlet

However, that death knight, named Death, isn’t nearly powerful enough to warrant all these excursions. Sure he has lots of traits and abilities, but he’s still limited to using one of these attacks a round, and they’re all restricted by Recharge anyway. He lacks Legendary Actions and even Legendary Resistance, making him painfully vulnerable to crowd control spells like Hypnotic Pattern, and on the wrong side of the action economy battle between players and bosses.

Level 10 PCs are formidable, and this boss isn’t nearly hard enough. I like the concept of weakening a boss as a way to encouraging exploring each area, but he needed to be much more powerful as a means of properly rewarding the players, such as giving him complete immunity to damage until they start removing the links.

Thankfully, each location the party offers something neat to encounter or something powerful to fight. Challenges include defeating a super ice golem at a portal to the Plane of Ice, quickly destroying a crystal before a devil army arrives, completing a skill challenge inside of a tornado, and bargaining with an ice beholder who hates playing second fiddle to Aenor and Death.

Each of these locations features a full color grid battle map. If you’ve seen Zeuch’s other work you know to expect high quality battle maps, including different versions for DMs and players. I’m particularly fond of the great-looking hex crawl map.

Defeating the death night and reaching the top isn’t quite the end of this gauntlet, however. After teleporting through the portal, the party appears in an icy cave next to the bones of a dragon, which, naturally, rise up as an ancient dracolich — Icingdeath!

This CR 20 foe is a proper end boss fight, yet our party isn’t meant to fight it. Instead they’re meant to flee into the tunnels as the dracolich pursues them.

Crafting a high-powered chase sequence is a tricky balance in D&D, but the designer does an admirable job, providing a cave complex of winding tunnels, ice blocks that need to be destroyed, and shortcuts that Icingdeath can’t reach. It’s difficult to tell how effective it would work on the table, but the designer provides plenty of flavor text, hazards, and events to make it an exciting and memorable ending.

Despite some caveats, Frostbite is a compelling upgrade to the original Great Trial, and worth checking out for a higher level, combat-heavy adventure.

 Pros:

  • Completing locations weakens the boss of the first area by removing its abilities.
  • Climactic chase sequence in an ice dungeon with a powerful undead dragon.
  • Several custom boss monster statblocks, including an ancient dracolich, huge ice elemental, gargantuan demon slime, and a CR 16 death knight.
  • Full color battle maps for each location, along with a gorgeous hex map of the gauntlet.

Cons:

  • Death knight needs Legendary Actions and Resistances to make it a more compelling threat.
  • Lacks multiple paths to reaching the mountain summit, and the only choice of taking the boss’ undead flying mount isn’t intuitive.

The Verdict: The Great Trial: Frostbite does everything right in a direct sequel, presenting another hex crawl dungeon with more interesting locations, bigger boss battles, and an epic climax.

A review copy of “The Great Trial: Frostbite” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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