Far north of the likes of Neverwinter or Waterdeep, past the spine of the world, adventurers find themselves in the land of Icewind Dale. As is often the case trouble has been brewing, but not from basic bandits or invaders. Auril the Frostmaiden, for unknown reasons, has been casting a powerful spell each day before midnight. The magic creates a wonderful aurora that illuminates the night sky, though dawn never quite arrives – leaving Icewind Dale in a perpetual state of twilight and darkness. Combine this with the unrelenting winter and you’ll discover what the locals call the Everlasting Rime. This is just the start of the adventure awaiting players in Dungeons & Dragons: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
(Editor’s Note: This review doesn’t reveal massive spoilers but does discuss many elements of the Dungeons & Dragons: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden Book that are for Dungeon Masters’ [DMs] eyes only.)
With over 320 pages of content to dive into, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is focused towards Dungeon Masters out there that want to run a Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (5e) campaign, in this arctic setting. The story spans 7 chapters (8 including the epilogue), there is information to help character creation, nearly 60 pages of monsters and their stat blocks, and to top it all off there is a large double sided removable paper map. One minor discrepancy between the back of the book and the book itself relates to the level suggestion of characters being level 1 – 11 in the blurb. The final chapter of the book suggests that players could actually make it out the otherside as a level 12 character, though reaching a specific level isn’t guaranteed.
Adventurers beware by only page 6 you’ll already be discovering information about characters, locations and magical items that should be a mystery, until found during the story. From then on from the plot, the many explorable interior locations and more is all for DMs only. Even though the double sided poster map can be viewed by players – some may not want their players to instantly know the layout of all of Icewind Dale and Ten-Towns.
The story is on the looser side, not to say it has no structure (far from it). An adventure flow chart is included before the plot begins to help DMs know the overarching structure. Still, alongside the linear progression of the plot there are various ways to go about things. Some DMs may not like this looser style, as it would be possible for adventurers to attempt to wander too far from the main plot. On top of this, as plots go there isn’t a single path through to the end, with other plot angles coming into play. A duergar warlock aims to collect dark chardalyn crystals and the Arcane brotherhood have sent members to uncover a lost Netheril city, all while Auril is impacting every living thing in Icewind Dale. Thankfully, there are ways to get adventurers back on track via rumours, perhaps brought for a tankard of ale or a silver piece.
This does make it harder for new DMs, as they’ll have to learn on the job how to keep players on track, especially in the first two chapters. Chapter 3 is more where the rails appear and the story has a more definitive plot to follow. While still branching it’s more obvious that doing quests will progress the story rather than just level characters up. There is a rough guide to what level characters should be at when attempting chapters, there is little guidance for specific quests or encounters. For example, chapter 2 is for level 4 onwards but some quests will be extremely hard for a party that isn’t careful. This is where flexibility to drop a monster from an encounter can help out, again lending the adventure more to experienced DMs.
Ten-Towns is where players will spend the most of their time towards the start of the adventure, with the Frostmaiden not truly entering play until part way through. Ten-Towns is a fantastic collection of towns, that each have their own character, and characters. Players could easily lose plenty of time to exploring these towns. There is an encounter listed for players to gain in each of them, each giving a glimpse into life in that specific town. On top of this, there is enough information for DMs to get creative and expand the narrative within each town, to add a side quest or event that would work well with their players. Even the smallest of the bunch has unique aspects to it that DMs could get their teeth into. A range of solid non-player characters are thrown into the mix, just be careful to note down who the party has met as some may allow extra details to be added to future quests, as players progress.
A few of the early adventures, for adventurers level 1 – 4 aren’t exactly going to be easy, if a violent approach is taken. Note though that not everything or one that the adventurers come across will need to be killed on sight, and that is one of the main ways that minor story branches can occur. A plesiosaurus that players may encounter for instance can put up a good fight, perhaps too much of a good fight. Some of these are there to test players and offer different ways to do things. It makes them memorable moments, presenting bits of storyline that players will discuss well after the dice have been packed away.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden isn’t adverse to throwing one of these quirky events at players long before they reach the upper end of the levels expected. This is somewhat a price players will have to pay to get cool events early on though, and if a party is struggling whos not to say one of the many NPCs cannot rush in to save the party – only asking for a small quest as a favour. As they make such great talking points, many of these quests would be great to copy into your own campaign if you didn’t want to run the full adventure. Especially the first 2 chapters are full of quests that DMs will want an excuse to use. This is only increased by the somewhat annoying way of balancing the adventure. After reaching level 4 adventurers no longer gain experience from chapter 1 quests, though other rewards are still forthcoming. So there is nothing stopping unused quests from popping up later in other adventures!
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden includes a range of player character secrets that can be utilised to further tie the world building and character creation together. Some of these, unknown to the player, might allow for unique events to occur – nothing huge but often deepening the content or the connection a character has to the story. Not every secret is minutely intertwined with the story, others add interesting and unusual details to a character. A non-spoiler example is the “How I Died” table for reincarnation, where options range from the ominous sounding mauled by a Yeti to freezing in a lake after being dragged in by a knucklehead trout! DMs may want to subtly nudge players into choosing at least a couple of adventure linked secrets – giving some unique event opportunities during the storyline.
Setting the scene even more are a range of chilling rules, from avalanches to falling into frigid water. These extra rules give the environments flavour and meaning, and add some of the fear into situations that otherwise could be comical, such as falling out of a boat. There are ways to dial them down a bit but this does mean they lose their impact. There’s even rules for fishing for knucklehead trout – the type of local fish which players can see as a singing Billy Bass just inside the front cover of the book. These special rules only take up a few pages in the book, so this isn’t an extensive list. Still, they will make players doublethink decisions when traversing the lands outside of Ten-Towns.
The Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden book is full of stunning illustrations that can help the DM and players alike to visualise the key locations and some of the new monsters they can come across. Be this the to just see the architecture of the wooden homes of Easthaven or an icey lodge, these help give more context to the environments. The artwork even manages to capture the chills of the scenes and not always just from the snowy weather that’s depicted. Rarely will you go more than a couple of pages without artwork or a sketch of a map – with illustrations commonly filling at least a third of a page. Alongside the plethora of illustrations of the monsters that adventurers may come across, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden includes over 50 stat blocks. This isn’t just a load of high challenge rating monsters that players may eventually come across. A range of low level monsters, such as snow golems, that DMs can throw at adventurers are also included.
Yes there’s the rime, or poem, that will make an appearance. I would have liked to have this as an actual tearout scroll, which could be boldly read aloud from or at least handed out to players like the poster map. It’s easy to scan a copy to print but there’s already a huge map included so why not something that makes the title of the adventure book! As amazing as the huge poster map is, it is at times too big to comfortably be used during play. Plus, there is no pouch at the back of the book to store it into, so expect the corners to get a little crumpled over time.
Being bigger in size than some recent campaign books, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden packs in a lot of content. Adventure books are there to help DMs move players through a storyline without them feeling like they are on rails. Some of the earlier missions will help the players make decisions about their characters and what style the party wants to use. This is doubled down by some branching paths, both big and small. With plenty of quests in each chapter for DMs to get their teeth into, they can easily be used in separate one shot adventures, or the adventurers can slowly walk against the chilled winds of Icewind Dale. Dungeon Masters will need to be flexible, so it may not be best for first timers – not that I’d recommend most campaign books past the starter sets to new DMs. Icewind Dale is an incredible setting to experience though, featuring environments that shouldn’t be underestimated. It is an exciting campaign full of memorable moments from the very beginning, to fill hours upon hours of dice rolling goodness.
(Editor’s Note: The Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden adventure book was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. It is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)