Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
Lots of full colour art (as we have come to expect of this edition). I really like the cover on this one. Probably my second favourite of the edition. The art inside is also better than usual for my tastes. Perhaps it’s all the snow.
The separate map that can be torn away is still included. I really like this. Keep this going for as long as you can.
It's got great atmosphere and the storming north is a great place for danger to dwell.
Aids such as the adventure flowchart and character guides make a return, and I’m happy to see it. These sorts of aids go a long way to making an adventure easier to run.
Many non-creature hazards like cold weather, cold water, and avalanches.
Could Go Either Way
Adventure is open ended and requires serious Dungeon Master preparation (for those who like the control, it's a massive pro). This should be fairly normal by now to those who read my reviews of these modules.
Some examples for certain features would be handy and reduce confusion. A good example would be a turn by turn for avalanches. While it’s not necessary to have it in the book, I believe it should at least be available through the website. I know I did one myself before trying to run the first part of the adventure to help me get my head around it.
Some of the encounters will take serious time to prepare, and won’t make sense as written.
* Denotes nitpicking.
|Cover of Rime of the Frost Maiden.|
The last adventure for Dungeons & Dragons in 2020 was Rime of the Frost Maiden. It’s an adventure set in the cold region of Icewind Dale in the Forgotten Realms, but can be transplanted to the icy region of your home brew world with some work. A fitting adventure for winter I think.
In generally, I like many aspects of this one. The setting itself is probably a big reason for this, with cold weather playing an important role. I also like that the central conflict that the region is stuck in perpetual night and cold is there from the very beginning. It leans a bit into horror. That said, there are some encounters that will take serious preparation and care if you don’t want a total party kill. Or to be able to run them at all reasonably. I’m left scratching my head about multiple of them. How should I tie these together? One pretty big one doesn’t seem to work as written. I’d say this is as hard or harder than Curse of Strahd. But without further ado, let’s jump into the meat of it.
|An example of the art in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden|
New Player Options
There is basically nothing here. There are some player secrets that are used to spice the group’s motivations (I quite like this mechanic), there are some ties to the location based on background, there are some trinkets, and there are some magic items. They take up 1-2 pages per point, meaning that
There are a few monsters provided for this adventure, as we've come to expect. They take up about 45 pages, and they cover a pretty wide range. From vampire and zombie kobolds, new types of illithids and yetis. Most aren’t very easily transplanted, or like reindeer don’t really make for a good combat encounter.
What You Need to Play
The Monster Manual, Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are referenced at the start of the adventure. This is normal now, though I do miss the old days when adventures could be run with the basic rules only.
The Adventure Itself
Rime of the Frostmaiden is an adventure that takes players from levels 1 to level 10. It starts with introducing the players to the location and certain non-player characters. These mini-adventures are easily can be easily repurposed for your own home brew campaign. I particularly like the murder case. It can easily be adapted to being related to devils or demons instead too. In fact, I’d say these early chapters with the party moving from town to town, learning about the situation, and encountering the danger of the cold are the strongest part of the book.
A big part of this is the setting. Settlements and towns are small, the weather is cold, and even deadly. This deadliness comes from just dying from the cold, dying from the cold while in water, suffocating after being buried alive in an avalanche and many more. This smaller setting and the brutal environment between settlements is something that helps make the adventure feel different. 2500 people is considered large, and many people are out so far because they are running away from something.
There are many horror like moments that occur. Sacrifices, discovering bodies, that sort of thing. It may also be why the adventure appeals to me, as my opinion of Curse of Strahd may have shown. This also translates to our cover villain, the Frostmaiden herself. There’s an air of mystery around them, and why they are doing what they are doing. This makes them different than many other villains/antagonists that feature in such adventures. And being a force of nature, this reflection in the setting is an element I greatly appreciate.
The later parts of the adventure take more time to prepare, or even to understand. These start to have many different moving parts, and often have a time element to them as well. However, as written, it’s a bit confusing and will take a Dungeon Master some preparation. In some cases you may opt to partially rewrite it for your campaign, but I’ll go into specifics in the spoiler section below.
Like many other adventures in this edition, I do recommend reading through the book and taking serious time to prepare. In this regard, it may one of the hardest adventures to prepare in this edition. I think the setting and feel of the adventure makes it worth it, but it needs to hit you right for that. First there’s the multiple towns that have their own casts and adventures. This is done in the early part of the adventure to help get players used to the setting. However, some will force the party to travel to other settlements which are often chosen by the Dungeon Master. Since players can choose the order they travel around, and this portion being more open is part of what contributes to its appeal, you’ll need to have them ready to drop in based on the player’s choices. Eventually the big things start occurring, but that’s also where those confusing things I mentioned earlier need to be handled. It’ll also help to know where things are going in order to help make all the parts fit together thematically.
One thing I’ll say is to keep an eye on the difficulty. Players can get themselves into situations they can’t really win. I do wish they’d note what combat encounters they actually expect players to get through, and which ones are just covering bases. There’s a demilich in one part of the adventure, but do the designers expect the combat encounter to happen? I’d recommend establishing this early with your players so they know what they’re getting into.
That said, if you can figure those sections out, it has the potential to be an amazing experience. Time is often a factor, and lasting consequences occur. Though combat can be difficult and it’s possible to make unwinnable situations if you’re not careful as the Dungeon Master, with care it can make really engaging situations. It can also be some of the most memorable in this edition.
Here I’ll talk about specific things from the adventure. If you’re a player or think you will be a player, jump down to the art section below. You have been warned.
There is an encounter where a giant constructed dragon is unleashed upon the towns of Icewind Dale. The problem is that the times used don’t give players much of a chance to stop it. If they do too much damage, it’s supposed to fly away. You may want to consider making it take longer to destroy a town to give players more time to head it off at a different town. Or if you do enough damage maybe break a wing to keep it around. To make it worse, a table of travel times is provider, and in text the times to destroy a settlement are given. Meaning you have to do the math yourself. Remember what I said about preparation being needed?
There is the lich I mentioned earlier. Yeah, read this part carefully and try to figure it out. By Challenge Rating, this fight shouldn’t happen. So be careful when running this part or risk the wrath of a lich.
And of course, there’s the Frostmaiden herself. There’s a section of the adventure where she could be fought, and stats are given to fight her. One of the places where this fight can happen would be very difficult for players. My conclusion is that the operation is designed so the players avoid her until later. However, reading it, you might not get that fact. Keep this in mind when running this chapter of the adventure.
|The sort of map found in Rime of the Frostmaiden. |
The Art and Book Build Quality
To begin, the
standard cover is my favourite in a good long while. I love how the
eyes of the creatures glow, the detail, and the slight dimness. The
alternate limited edition cover is also good, but I’ve come to
expect at this point. They’re more stylized and higher contrast in
appearance, but also solid. These books also perfectly fit the style
we’re used to seeing, and look perfectly at home lined up in a
bookshelf with other books from this edition. The maps are also often in colour this time, and I like the style they're done in.
I’m also happy to report that my copies were solid in terms of physical condition. One corner was slightly bent, but you can look for that when you pick it out at your local bookstore. Even if you don’t, it’s not a major thing. What I would recommend is flipping through the pages to make sure they’ve all been cut properly, and that none are stuck together. This isn’t a problem for me this time, but I have run into that before.
For the suggested retail price of this product, you can check here. The cost is the same we are used to for adventures of this size at $49.95 in the States and $64.95 in Canada. However, as usual, most places have the book at a lower price.
What I felt was Missing
A PDF of the adventure would be nice (like always I mention this). Having the supplement containing all of the creatures to run the adventure would also be nice. It was much nicer from a buyer perspective when all that was needed was the adventure. The rest would be provided by the supplement online and the basic rules (now we have the SRD but it doesn't cover everything), and I’ll keep saying so.
You once again need to find grids on your own. I’d have also liked some examples for things like dealing with an avalanche. Just having a turn by turn log for free on the website would help a lot of people understand what it’s meant to look like at the table.
There is a part of the adventure that includes a race against time. You will need to do some calculations beforehand to know how long players have. It would be nice if the adventure did that math for you though.
Nothing here this time. Move along.
|An example of the art found within and how it's formatted. Not bad, right?|
Overall, I’m enjoying Rime of the Frostmaiden. It certainly is one of my favourites setting wise, and the early part of the adventure that introduces the party to Icewind Dale is particularly well done. It’s a bleak, cold place that plays a bit into horror themes. This coldness is also prominently features in much of the art, which I enjoyed more than usual. After that, though the elements can be executed extremely well, it’ll take preparation time to get it to that point. I think that's partly because it’s not very easy to understand, and will take some time to do so. However, it also is because some aspects are left vague to allow the Dungeon Master to leave their own mark and handle the specifics. Or just because something was missed. If done correctly, it has amazing highs that make players make tough choices. However, I also think it’s not as focused or comes together as tightly as Curse of Strahd. If what I wrote sounds interesting to you, I think you’ll enjoy this one, but be ready to do your homework.