A chill wind has blown in a new D&D campaign into stores; a new romp set in the frigid glacial region of Icewind Dale. I’ve gotten a chance to go over the book in great detail. Here’s my thoughts on it.
A Cold Opening
Icewind Dale, the frigid land north of the Spine of the World mountains in Faerun, has long been a place of dangerous adventure...but now it faces its most difficult encounter yet.
Auril the Frost Maiden, one of the three storm goddesses, has chosen to live amongst mortals in Icewind Dale. Her icy magic has plunged the region into an eternal twilight that keeps the entire region locked in winter’s grasp. Snow and ice won’t melt, and the sun never rises past the horizon, keeping all of Icewind Dale trapped in perpetual deep freeze. No one knows why she’s doing this, and all prayers and sacrifices made to her have gone unanswered.
A clan of duergar use this magical twilight to their advantage, invading the region and preparing to take it over with a magical dragon construct forged from chardalyn; black metal crystals that are a byproduct of the Crystal Shard’s evil magic. Meanwhile, a quartet of evil wizards from the Arcane Brotherhood have come to Icewind Dale to uncover the long buried ruins of a flying city of the long dead Netherese Empire. The city is lost somewhere in the ice, and the magical secrets it contains could change the fate of the world.
All this happens while the good people of Ten Towns and the rest of Icewind Dale slowly freeze to death. If Auril’s everlasting rime isn’t stopped, Icewind Dale will become a frozen wasteland and its people will die. It falls to local and visiting adventurers to brave the cold and put a stop to the rime of the frostmaiden.
As adventure setups go, it’s perfect! I love the open ended quality of the adventure, and the sense of mystery that pervades the whole thing. All players know from the start is that Icewind Dale is in trouble and Auril’s magic is the cause. Beyond that, the rest is theirs to discover.
Secrets in the Ice
Rime of the Frostmaiden is all about dread and paranoia when it comes to how characters interact with one another. To help this along and to put players in the right mindset, RotFM introduces a new backstory element for PC’s: Secrets.
Each character has a random secret they roll for or choose at character creation. This is secret can be as benign as being a secret Drizzt fanboy, to as dire as being the doomed host for a slaad tadpole or being a secret doppelganger. Each secret urges characters to achieve specific goals they’ll want to keep hidden from others in the party. The longer a PC can go without their secret being revealed, the better their chances of survival.
It’s a really fun and engaging bit of drama that makes player character interactions more dynamic. Each PC having a secret also gives the game an extra layer of meta-horror, where PC’s might work against one another to work out what each other’s secrets are. It’s the kind of character building mechanic that really reinforces the horror of the setting.
Snowbound and Down in Ten Towns
It’s a rare thing when an adventure’s setting details don’t leave a DM out in the cold. Most books either exhaust DM’s with lore or provide too little that’s actionable or applicable in play. RotFM strikes a wonderful balance between being detailed but also useful. It reads as the most detailed, lived in setting since 2015’s Curse of Strahd, and like CoS its strength is in its brevity. DM’s get just enough info to create evocative scenes for their players, while concrete things like a snowflake-based town rating system and handy character portraits make referring back to setting details a breeze.
As big of a region as Icewind Dale is, RotFM manages to make Ten Towns and its surrounding adventure sites easy to keep track of and really fun to dig down into. Compared to 5e’s last major trip there (D&D Next’s Legacy of the Crystal Shard), the setting info of RotFM is downright easy for beginners and experienced DM’s alike.
Tone and theme-wise, RotFM is a winter wonderland of awe and horror in equal measure. It plays like a D&D mash up of Disney’s Frozen and John Carpenter’s The Thing. As tonally disparate as that sounds, it totally works! Moments of beauty, levity, and outright humour break up the pace of RotFM’s bleak tone and atmosphere.
For NPC’s, RotFM has a murderer’s row of morally grey wizards, frigid locals with secrets galore, and a variety of magical creatures that delight and terrify in equal measure. I’m of the belief that a good adventure has villains or antagonists that you love to hate, or are just relatable and understandable enough to earn the players’ sympathies. RotFM has an abundance of both.
I won’t get into what motivates Auril, the titular Frostmaiden, in this review but it’s incredibly inspired. As a villain and antagonistic force she’s up there with Strahd and the four Elemental cultists from Princes of the Apocalypse as my favourite ‘bad guys’ of fifth edition.
D&D 5e books have been on a hot streak lately when it comes to art and cartography. Rime of the Frostmaiden is a lavishly illustrated tome with dozens of pieces of all new character and monster art. It brings to mind the same level of care and detail present in books like Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation. They went hard on this one, and it’s all the better for it!
Region maps are provided by Mike Schley. They look to be touched up and improved versions of the maps found in D&D Next’s Legacy of the Crystal Shard. The rest of the maps are by Will Doyle and Stacey Allan. All of them are full colour and incredibly detailed. It does my heart so good to see full colour maps in D&D 5e books again. They are greatly appreciated.
One map in particular is the isometric map of the crashed Netherese necropolis (see above). It takes up a two page spread and is incredibly detailed. It immediately brings to mind the gigantic flying saucer from the beginning of The Thing.
Cool Extras that Kick Ice
I was also provided with a copy of the Rime of the Frostmaiden Dice and Miscellany set! Within this ice blue felt-lined dice box is a set of chardalyn inspired black and blue ice dice. The size of the dice is perfect and the colours and swirls of the dice are perfect for the setting.The set I received is gorgeous.
In addition, it comes with a series of handout cards that describe monsters, characters, and regional features of Icewind Dale. Previous Dice and Miscellany sets had in-world characters as their voice (Volothamp Geddarn and Larael Silverhand), and this one is no exception. This time, famous dark elf Drizzt Do’urden provides the insight into Icewind Dale and its denizens. Drizzt’s take on the region’s monsters and baddies is a sympathetic one, sprinkled with recollections from his time adventuring across the tundra in one of the R.A. Salvatore novels.
The set also comes with a player friendly fold out map of the Icewind Dale region. As dice sets go it’s a winner. The dice look great and the extras are really well made.
If you’re at all curious about Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, it’s an easy recommendation from me. This adventure has a ton of charm and personality, and it’s easily one of the better open ended offerings available.
If your players have just wrapped up the Starter Set or Essential’s Kit tie-in adventures, or are just returning from the mists of Barovia in Curse of Strahd, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden makes for an easy to use follow up adventure. It’s perfect for those looking for some challenging content, as well as an escape from typical fantasy adventuring.
Just be sure to dress warmly, pack your snowshoes, and keep a ring of warmth close...because Auril the Frostmaiden isn’t easily challenged.