Aurora Borealis? Localized Entirely Within Your Dale?
The latest official D&D adventure takes us to the frozen north and revisits Icewind Dale, a barely survivable land of tundra stuck between the Sea of Moving Ice and the nigh-impassable mountains of The Spine of the World. The goddess of winter’s cruelty Auril the Frostmaiden has made Icewind dale her home amongst mortals and place of refuge. Each day she casts powerful and beautiful magics across the night’s sky that stop the sun from rising here and keeps her hidden from a vengeful pantheon. Our heroes will have to battle the elements and fight for survival as they explore Icewind Dale and search for a way to bring back the sun. Is it worth the frostbite? Should you just let it go? Grab your snowshoes and try not to go snow-blind as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden clocks in at 319 pages, which is a little over par compared to other recent official settings. It’s a full release, which generally means that some places will be listing it at $49.99, but you should also be able to find much cheaper PDF copies or even just discounted print copies down to $29.99. This is an adventure/setting book, and the vast majority of the book is occupied with locations, quests, dungeons, and everything else you’ll need to run your party through the adventure. It also includes a solid block of beasties, a handful of new spells and magic items, and an interesting “secrets” section that we’ll get into in just a minute. Tallied up all together it includes:
- The “Secrets” integrated character creation tool.
- Unique “Icewind Dale” starting trinkets.
- 51 new monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks.
- 12 new magic items.
- 3 new spells.
- Reprint of the Goliath Race.
- The Rime of the Frostmaiden Adventure Path from 1st to 11th levels.
In what seems like an evolution of the group secrets from Out of the Abyss, here we get a selection of 18 secret cards to print out and (secretly) hand out to each of your players. They have an option of “discarding and drawing again” if they hate their card or it doesn’t work with their character, but each player gets a secret added into their backstory. These secrets each relate to side quests and plot points throughout the map and range from simple and inoffensive to escaped alien prisoner, secret doppelganger, or infected with a chest bursting monster that will kill you if you don’t get it out! Basically, where the secrets of Out of the Abyss were to connect the party together, these secrets are to link individual players to different specific adventures.
Icewind Dale Trinkets
It’s not a huge part of the book but I really appreciate the little injections of flavor they can provide. It helps to get into the lore and the mindset of Icewind Dale when you’ve got a snowy owlbear feathered dream catcher or a scrimshaw walrus in your rucksack.
51 New Monsters / NPCs
I’d come in expecting nothing but “cold weather reskins” but was pleasantly surprised to see a really wide spread of cool and interesting monsters. It’s padded out with a couple cold weather “animal” stat blocks that we were missing, but we’ve also got a mechanical laser breathing dragon, snow golems, brains in jars, and little elemental spirits ala Princess Mononoke. Even the humanoid NPCs have some excellent theming, and everything is likely to find a home in your homebrew campaigns as well.
12 New Magic Items
Most of these are artifact tier items or are very specific to the Frostmaiden plot, but we do have a couple of standout goodies including some magic fishing hooks, lanterns that tell you what creatures are about, and the Abracadabrus which can magically make things you need appear inside it like stage magic. There’s also an item that is jaw-droppingly insane and you’ll know why it’s insane just from the name, but it’s a major spoiler so I won’t say what it is. Just know there’s some crazy campaign shattering items in here.
3 New Spells
I was really surprised to see these here but they’re very welcome. They’re added in largely for flavor and also as rewards for your wizards as there’s a few opportunities to nab spell books that include them and chances to copy them down. 2 of them are absolutely epic but are extremely high level and while cool are unlikely to see much use. The 3rd though is basically a cold damage answer to the burning hands spell and I foresee it being an arcane staple from here on out. It has a shorter cone but has a higher damage output, making it an attractive option if you’ve got fewer targets or they’re resistant to fire.
Goliath Race Reprint
I’ve got major hang-ups about copying existing features like this, but it’s an understandable inclusion. Icewind Dale contains goliath tribes and it’s really the ideal adventure path to run a goliath character. It’d feel a bit cheap if you “had to” purchase Volo’s Guide just to access the stats for a race common in your adventure setting.
Rime of the Frostmaiden Adventure Path / Icewind Dale Setting
Rime of the Frostmaiden throws our adventurers out into the cold as they work to stop Auril’s endless winter… Sort of. What we actually get is a lot less of a singular campaign and more of a setting soup harkening back to the Curse of Strahd adventure path but done here infinitely better. Icewind Dale is a sandbox (err, icebox) devoted to freeform adventuring with a full and satisfying quest at every location. And you’ll be playing in this sandbox until 7th level when the actual mainline plot kicks in. That’s not a bad thing exactly, but it’s something you’ll want to be aware of going in. It feels very intentional that so much of this adventure is disconnected from the final half. Icewind dale is written as a fully functional setting, ready for use in your homebrewed campaigns.
Levels 1-4 of the campaign are spent exploring the “ten towns” which form the inner core and bastions of civilization out in the tundra. Each town has a quest attached, and while they need to do 4-5 of them to advance, which ones and in what order is completely freeform. They’re high quality quests for the most part as well, even the most generic (fight some goblins) includes a double-decker 20-foot high sled pulled by polar bears!
Levels 5-7 see the players expand further out to the more dangerous locales of Icewind Dale, lured by the numerous plot hooks loaded and ready to be dangled in front of the players at a moment’s notice. In this section especially the player “secrets” often come into play, with the holder of each “secret” tugging the party towards different quests.
What impressed me about these sections was how many links and hooks there were intertwined into each other. Completing one quest will invariably link you into 2 more, and while each one could be played independently, I never felt like the players would be left without new objectives to follow.
These two sections combined have very few hard links to the second half and while they will flow into each other you could easily you could also play them independently. You could easily play a 1-7 sandbox, have a satisfying conclusion fighting a villain (mid-boss turned full boss) and stop there, or you could start right up at level 8 and go to 11 with a more rigid plotline. The final half can be a bit of a meat grinder (what adventure ending isn’t) but it’ll keep surprising you right up until the very end. In fact, the adventure has a few potential endings, and I genuinely think it’s worth keeping you spoiler free. Suffice to say that there’ll be more to the ending than “the bad guy was vanquished”.
Each of the smaller quests seem unique, fun, memorable, and modular enough to slot into different campaigns. I really think this is a book DMs will be pulling from for a long time. You’re not going to get bogged down in boring random encounters, sure you’ll have to fight the elements, but you’ll get to fight the elements while riding on the back of an awakened sperm whale!
My biggest critique of the book is that the very beginning, starting the adventure off is very weak. You’re given a few options of starting quests around the Dale and there’s really nothing to unify the party. The players just happen to be there when the old bounty hunter makes an offer, or they just happen to be around when a researcher asks for help. In a sandbox setting players need extra unifying forces and motivation, not less. I strongly advise working up a session 0 for this campaign, build strong links between your characters right from the start, because the adventure is not going to do it for you.
What’s Good About the Book?
Icewind Dale is incredibly strong as both a setting and a campaign. Sandbox adventuring is difficult to set up, and this book provides fully fleshed out adventures no matter which way the party wanders. It’s filled to the brim with hooks and plot threads that lead to unique and entertaining quests and encounters. Pick and choose your favorite quests to present to your players or let them run free in this winter wonderland. The “secrets” mechanic is an extremely smart and engaging way to motivate the players to go all over the map and explore everything it has to offer. It concludes with a satisfyingly epic leadup and final encounter and is open-ended enough to lead to more adventures in completely unexpected ways.
What’s Bad About the Book?
With the main plot threads so late in the adventure, I foresee some problems keeping the party on task. A series of largely unrelated quests can provide variety, but it’s very easy for players to lose sight of the “goals” without reinforcement now and again. There’ll also likely be party dissolution problems without a unifying force that bonds the players together. The players just happened to be around when the 1st quest started. This can be fixed in all sorts of ways, guilds, previous ties, good old-fashioned roleplay, but it’s still a break that needs mending in an otherwise pristine machine. Compared to say Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, the world of Icewind Dale is a small locale and quite frankly I wanted more. It’s a good complaint to have, but I found myself wishing for more explorable locations and prebuilt quests for later levels all the same.
This is a setting / adventure path done right. I feel like this accomplishes everything they set out to do but failed to achieve in Curse of Strahd. The session-to-session gameplay will be filled with unique encounters and fantastic quests, there’s some random encounter tables if you want them but you’ll never need to if you don’t want to. Players are free to explore the world, follow the leads that interest them the most, and you as the DM can be confident that they’ll have fun pursuing it. It only misses perfection from a bit of a stumble out of the gate starting the adventure off, the relatively small size of the explorable area, and a potential for party dissolution and disillusionment with such a distant main quest and lack of player bonds. These are comparatively small and easy to fix nitpicks though. I absolutely loved Icewind Dale and I highly recommend it to anybody looking for some 5e sandbox goodness in their next adventure.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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