A “snow” box of role-play opportunities
Icewind Dale – Rime of the Frostmaiden is an excellent choice for DMs who love a sandbox module with lots of opportunities for role play. The setting is engaging (albeit frigid), the quests are varied and interesting and the NPCs are easy to step into.
I’m a role-play DM. But I do not homebrew. There is no way I could start with nothing and build an entire adventure out of my head alone. So I need to reach for a published module when it comes to running a campaign. However, I am also seriously into the “collaborative storying” style of DMing. I don’t like the idea of a module directing me (and, thus, my players) down one particular path. We will go where we will go. I like options – lots of options.
Lucky for me, Rime of the Frostmaiden (ROTFM) hits the “sweet spot” for me. It has everything I was want as a DM:
- Unique setting
- Not time constrained
- Varied quests
- Cool NPCs
It is really frikkin’ cold in Icewind Dale. You know what it’s like “north of the wall” in Games of Thrones? It is like that but 10 times worse. The module actually tells you the average temperature in -49 degrees Fahrenheit (-45 Celsius) and that wind chills can lower those temps by as much as 80 degrees. But I change that because that is just too crazy cold for players to even comprehend. I want them to be able to imagine the harsh temperatures and who can imagine being outside when it more than -100 degrees!
But the over-the-top temps is one of only a few flaws in the module. I can forgive the writers easily, as the entire module manages to convey the feeling of extreme winter quite well. I live in Michigan. I know winter.
“You are gonna need wool socks – two pairs that fit loose enough to let the air circulate. Wool underwear too! I’ll knit you some legwarmers …”– Carla Bumstead as she sends her players off into the Far North of Faerun.
Not time constrained
It is “chill” up in Icewind Dale. The problem (conflict) as the story begins is not an emergency. It’s been going on for the past two years. The characters are not expected to fix it right away, not by a long shot. There are actually several concerning things going on up there. But none of them give the impression “do it now or hundreds will die.” At least, not right away.
Things move slowly up in the Tens-Towns. It’s too cold to go fast. There is a lot of terrain to cover, and you have to go carefully. A blizzard, avalanche or another meteorological catastrophe could happen at any time. All this allows for a relaxed “feel” to most sessions. When characters come in from cold, after a quest etc., they are not in a rush to move on. They just want to sit by the fire, have a tall glass of mead and talk about what to do next.
Compared to video games, all D&D adventures are “sandboxes.” The term refers to a style of game that allows players to roam around and change the world at will. That often-asked DM question – “What do you want to do?” – carries serious weight in ROTFM. As long as it is something that does not require warm sunshine, PCs wishes can be relatively easily granted. They want to breed axe beaks and make a fortune renting them out to weary snow-trudgers? Sure, they can do that. Taking the time to play axe beak matchmakers is fine. There is no rush.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden‘s non-linear nature, coupled with a large area to explore and many quest lines to investigate, means your players can do some serious world-changing. The Far North needs settlers! There are far too few people up here. If your players are willing to risk frostbite and help some people out, they will quickly gain a reputation and have even more opportunities present themselves.
The first two chapters in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden are designed to be as varied as possible. Most of the population lives in one of the Ten-Towns. (There are 10 of them.) But in between these towns, and out on the fringes of the map, there are all kinds of interesting, yet isolated, spots.
If you’re starting your players at Level 1-4, start them off in one of the towns (Chapter 1). If they are at least Level 4, they should be hardy enough to venture into the wilderness (Chapter 2). Each town has a plot hook for an in-town quests and for an out-of-town adventure. No spot on the map is a must see. Let them explore!
Exactly what they will be running into as they wander? The list is seemingly endless. You have everything from caves to mountain peaks to pirate ships stuck in the ice. In addition, as your chilly PCs trek around Icewind Dale from locale to locale, there are plenty of opportunities for both “wilderness encounters” and weather events. Throw some weather into any quest, and you can make every adventure feel unique.
Well, obviously the NPCs written into the module are almost all used to living in the Far North. They are hardy, independent, self-reliant, snow-of-the-earth kind of people. Think of the wild west and then blanket it with ice and snow. It’s like that.
When I have been called upon to present an NPC to my players, their mannerisms and speech patterns have come to me quite easily. Maybe that is because I watch a lot of westerns, but I think there is more going on. Hardy frontiersmen (and women) do elicit a stereotype. But the module does an excellent job of giving you a few juicy details about most of the NPCs. This makes it easy to imagine who they are, what they sound like and how they might behave.
Snowtrain on the way?
I am fully aware that a google search of other reviews will reference the fact Rime of the Frostmaiden does move in a clearly linear direction once you get past Chapters 3 or 4. Sooner or later, there are several important things that will happen if the adventurers don’t do certain things. But you have so much for your players to enjoy before they get there, that’s ok. The last part of any story does need to narrow itself down. That is perfectly natural.
Not for everyone
Rime of the Frostmaiden‘s “snow”boxy nature is not for every DM. There are an awful lot of options in here, lots of quests to choose from, lots of weather- or wilderness-related stuff that can happen at any time. DMs (and players) that like a much more focused, strategic game will not like ROTFM. As with any module choice, it has to be the right fit for your DM style and your players’ preference. But if you are looking for a chilled out romp in the snow, Rime of the Frostmaiden would be an excellent choice.