Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden (IDRoM) is the signature adventure from Wizards of the Coast for 2020. The adventure is set about 100 years after the events portrayed in the novel The Crystal Shard which introduced both the Icewind Dale region and the drow elf Drizzt Do’Urden into collective focus of Dungeons and Dragons fans.
Wizards of the Coast describes this adventure as: “a tale of dark terror that revisits the forlorn, flickering candlelights of civilization known as Ten-Towns and sheds light on the many bone-chilling locations that surround these frontier settlements.“
The notable word of this description is the word “adventure”. This book feels more like a series of adventures rather than a campaign styled adventure like Storm King’s Thunder, Curse of Strahd, or Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. It’s a slight differentiation and this doesn’t add or subtract from the quality of the book and play experience – just that the central plot doesn’t drive the adventure from the first to the last page. For many this is a good thing as the path feels more open and allowed Wizards of the Coast to have an end path which is different to that typical of a campaign, or for the creative Dungeon Master an ending of their own choosing or custom design.
IDRoM delivers in providing an environment which is not hospitable. The region is living in an everlasting winter with eternal darkness perpetuated by 4 hours of twilight each day. Mechanically creating the feeling of darkness and cold is highly reliant upon the Dungeon Master as the mechanics provided within the book aren’t that threatening and many possible risks are mitigated by simply wearing weather appropriate clothing. Then again 5e Dungeons and Dragons is largely about heroic action and there are other game options if you wish to play a purely survival game.
The book starts as a sandbox in the locality of Ten Towns a collective of villages and one town which is the bastion of civilisation in this cold desolate land. Running this in the intended style requires both the Dungeon Master and Players to think of the location as having a a series of orbiting adventure opportunities from which the Player Characters will choose some and not others.
From this central location the adventure spirals outwards leading with a series of small adventures each of which are well crafted and diverse. The diversity reflects IDRoM having many contributing authors most drawn from authors who have established themselves on DMsGuild. Overall this diversity steered by Wizards of the Coast works well and I expect that this will occur in more official products in future.
The adventure falters and falls flat at the mid-point when it presents a series of dream-sequence equivalent scenarios with topics that run counter to the heroic nature of most adventuring parties, and likely motivations and role-playing personalities the players characters will have established for themselves. Like Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus the 2019 signature adventure from Wizards of the Coast this is the moment when the authors focused on providing what they perceived as a cool moment rather than focusing on ensuring story relevance to the characters. It is a notable and surprising stumble, and in the same way community authors created an adventure to give Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus a beginning that actually provided players with both incentive and meaningful adventure I expect the community to develop an replacement for this misstep or skip the dream-like component element entirely.
The mid-point of the book can also be the end point of the IDRoM adventure. This is a handy option as not all groups can commit to a very long campaign.
The adventure concludes with a new location which can be run stand alone as an adventure apart but its not disjointed from the rest of the book either. The adventure location fits tightly with the lore of the Forgotten Realms and will be highly appealing to fans of Dungeons and Dragons lore.
At 320 pages IDRoM is a large adventure book and the space is well used with the front part of the book used to help onboard new DM’s and refresh experienced DMs on those elements important to running a cold and horror themed adventure. Some 70 pages of appendices accompany the adventure which are filled with monster statistics, and tools to run the game.
Despite the page count and attempts to provide everything the book fails to provide distance scales on key maps, travel times between locations are poorly explained and are essential to understanding how a key climactic sequence of the adventure operates. Fear not as the Dungeons and Dragons community has come to the rescue for DM’s desperate for this information.
Finally Wizards of the Coast have returned to providing colour maps which will make virtual role players much happier. The artwork in the book is of the highest quality.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden is an adventure that will be well regarded, it provides Dungeon Masters and players with a well defined imaginary playground for adventure into which a creative Dungeon Master can add a lot. It has a couple of jump-off points and its entirely possible for components to be used stand alone with the main story line abandoned. It is a very good adventure.
IDRoM teeters on the edge of being one of the classic all time Dungeons and Dragons adventures but its let down by a couple of flaws in the story. The template and structure of the book is masterful and I expect more adventures to follow on build upon this. If you would like to see how to create an adventure locale as an author or creator of your own worlds the book should be on your purchase list.