Welcome to the cold, cold north of the Forgotten Realms! You’ll be needing some friends and a few warm inns to make it through, but it’s OK. The worst that can happen is the endless winter finally consumes one and all.
The latest D&D campaign book, Rime of the Frostmaiden, is all about the ruthlessly cold, constant foreboding of Icewind Dale in the midst of a greater crisis than usual. It’s always cold, it’s always difficult. But now there’s something a little extra behind why the Dale is oh so hard on warm bodied life.
I won’t delve into the details of the campaign as, like when we did our Descent Into Avernus review, I think it’s best left to DMs to reveal what awaits us. But this campaign sourcebook feels like the best design yet as the D&D team learns lessons on giving us not just a story but also space for adventurers to explore the world.
[You can listen to the podcast version of the review on The Game Table podcast, right here or subscribe through your favourite podcast app.]
Avernus was a fun heavy metal romp from Baldur’s Gate into the first layer of hell, and it had an unceasing pace that drove the party forward through the experience toward a singular goal that was set in place from the earliest moments of the game. Here in Icewind Dale, players get a lot more latitude to spend time in the region before the ice really hits the fan.
I’m still in the midst of running an Avernus campaign, and at times I’ve felt like things can be too ‘on rails’, as the saying goes. So it’s exciting to see the creative team open this one up more. Icewind Dale and the Ten Towns area is geographically small, but with travel and survival difficult at every turn there’s plenty to keep the party busy here while also feeling like they can make their own choices on what they’d like to do next.
So Rime of the Frostmaiden gives us more room to really use the setting materials, especially through the first few phases of the campaign. Or if all you’re looking for is a launchpad for a broader campaign this could also serve as a unique and testing place to do that. The design feels more modular, more easily adapted toward whatever kind of game you’re looking to run.
If you are aiming to run this as the full campaign you’ve been offered, it still works really well in that regard. The open questing style of the first parts of the book get their epic turning point where things suddenly coalesce around a defining mission and players will get their heroic call to arms to save the fate of the Dale.
The literal Ten Towns of the region are nicely detailed here and give you plenty of hooks to enjoy, and while there is a clear ‘horror’ theme attached to a lot of the quests and adventures here you don’t have to over emphasise that vibe if your group isn’t looking to scare themselves silly. The world itself is against you at times, and that sense of survival against all odds holds an optimism in the Ten Towns as well as a different way for your group to feel triumph even in the absence of just slaughtering enemies from dawn ’til dusk.
And locations like the Revel’s End prison or Sunblight Fortress will make for fantastic additions to any broader campaign set in the wider Realms.
Some of the best horror elements here are many of the new creatures the book has offered up, which deliver some provoking mental images to contend with during the adventures. There’s 45 pages of creatures in all, with 33 core types and some sub-types within each. This includes new living spells and lots of frosty frosty enemies to deal with.
Plus, if you’ve skipped messing around the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, you will find the Goliath race detailed here in the appendix, and they’re very well suited to the tough environment you’re going to be dealing with here.
I feel like the team has found a great format here that I hope continues into future campaign books. After some very ‘go here next’ books over recent years (and I thoroughly enjoy those too), Rime of the Frostmaiden strikes a balance to allow for more party-driven decision making in that crucial early phase of a campaign where the players are inventing their characters as they play.
That extra room helps the players explore their own ambitions – and when the story then shifts to put them on a path to deal with a greater menace that gives a group an important roleplaying moment to deal with conflict that may exist between what they want and what they’re being called to do.
Wondering what ‘Rime’ even means? It’s a frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapour. The things we learn!
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Seamus runs Byteside. You may also have spotted his words at the Australian Financial Review, the ABC, Junkee, Gamespot, The Esports Observer, CNET, Gizmodo and a few other spots over the years. He's very happy that he gets to nerd out for a living.