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5E A brief rant about Rime of the Frost Maiden, farming, logistics, and ecology

tolcreator

Explorer
Just a preface to the following essay/screed/rant: I really like the adventure and I'm planning on running it and looking forward to a good time! But there is this one glaring thing...

Something that annoys me about the adventure is how blase people are about the situation. "Just another gruesome day in Icewind Dale" says the opening "read this to the players". No it's not! "The tavern is abuzz with talk of"... How can the taverns be abuzz? And how can it be on any topic other than "How are we going to survive the next week". The rest of the adventure reads like this is just a normal, if severe, winter, rather than the apocalypse ( and it IS the apocalypse, albeit a very local one). The locals seem to have an attitude of "Oho! Cold enough for you? Ah you weak southerner". But buddy, you're not surviving this either. I can see how the villages with pop of 100-200 might survive by hunting or ice fishing, but even then: After a year of winter, there should be no more fish: Not because the humans have eaten them all, but because the fish themselves have no food. Hunting and ice fishing is how they weather a normal winter.

I was listening to the Dragon Talk podcast and the question of how the bees of Goodmead have survived. This was answered by saying they live in the mead house which is kept heated. And I can see this is how the bees survive a normal winter, but what are they eating? There are no flowers and have not been for 2 years, and yet the bees are not only surviving, they are still producing enough honey to make enough mead to supply the entire region.

Even assuming the people of 10 towns are getting food shipped in ( And they're not, more of that later ) or have magical means of food production ( cauldrons of plenty, create food and water, goodberry, which requires a level of casual magic 10 town's doesn't have and I'm not willing to give it ), we're looking at total ecological collapse last year. No more reindeer, fish, moose, crag cats, yetis, gnolls, etc etc.

Ice fishing isn't supplying a big town like Bryn Shander. Bryn Shander suffers, like most D&D / Fantasy cities and towns, of being a town in the middle of wilderness, when it should be surrounded by farms ( A town of 1,200 will need an agricultural hinterland of 12,000 or so ). To supply it with food in exchange for the raw materials and goods it produces: Would require 1 cart load of food per person per year, but this food is also feeding the dwarves, and a good chunk of the larger towns like Easthaven. So that's about 4 thousand cart loads. Another problem is that you can't ship that food up until it's harvested, and it's harvested in September or thereabouts: So by the time you get that food up to the pass through the Spine of the World, the pass could well be closed by snow. I was entertaining the notion of using Hundlestone as a sort of depot, the carts from Luskan move the grain to there, and then teams of dog sleds from Bryn Shander move it in relays through the pass ( and what are the dogs eating? What are the axebeaks eating? etc etc ).This BTW is Icewind Dale AS NORMAL, not during the current crisis. I would probably have moved Bryn Shander to the coast, and had supplies come in by sea, which is so much less effort than by caravan over a mountain pass. Bryn Shander seems to be influenced by boom towns like in the Klondike gold rush ( but it's in a steady state, it's been here centuries, not here for 2-3 years and then gone again ). In the Klondike, almost everything was shipped by boat, and when it had to be done overland ( like over the white pass ) this was just a section separating river, lake, or sea routes.

My solution

OK so I'm going to base MY icewind dale on the Norse settlements in Greenland, including it's climate. These had agriculture, and that wasn't just because it might have been warmer then: Farming is done in greenland today. In particular sheep and goats will do a lot better than the cows the Norse used ( musk ox live there year round, even on the northern coast! I'm thinking if you can domesticate an axe beak, you can domesticate a musk ox) Food shipments can still be a thing, but they're shipping in supplemental material, trade goods not staples, like spices, wine, dried fruits etc. Some grain and spuds ( and rhubarb, from articles on Alaskan agriculture I'm reading ) can be grown locally, and in particular meadows mown for hay or silage to feed animals during the winter ( wild musk ox would roam in search of winter forage, domestic ones would be fed by hay / silage over the winter ).

The other change I will make for my own sanity is remove "It's been winter for 2 years" and slot in "All this started on the Winter Solstice, and it's now 2 or 3 or 4 months later and the days have not been getting any longer" and there is real worry about how folks are going to survive with no spring on the way. AFAICT there is still contact with the outside world, so someone is going to break the news that the days are getting longer around Luskan etc, so there will be talk and perhaps preparations made to leave, at least some people are. And maybe there is a lot of friction between "I'm staying the course" and "I'm heading south" folks, but that's all the more drama. The community is facing mass famine, that's the sort of thing that produces refugees. Having it be 2 years of winter means all the yetis, crag cats, polar bears, etc etc etc, all went extinct last year. This time line means that if the PCs are successful, they can save the community and ecology, rather than a pyrhic victory 2 years too late.

These are elements I'm going to add to my own game, again if nothing else for my own sanity and to have an answer to my players who WILL bring up these questions.
 

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Undrave

Hero
My solution

OK so I'm going to base MY icewind dale on the Norse settlements in Greenland, including it's climate. These had agriculture, and that wasn't just because it might have been warmer then: Farming is done in greenland today. In particular sheep and goats will do a lot better than the cows the Norse used ( musk ox live there year round, even on the northern coast! I'm thinking if you can domesticate an axe beak, you can domesticate a musk ox) Food shipments can still be a thing, but they're shipping in supplemental material, trade goods not staples, like spices, wine, dried fruits etc. Some grain and spuds ( and rhubarb, from articles on Alaskan agriculture I'm reading ) can be grown locally, and in particular meadows mown for hay or silage to feed animals during the winter ( wild musk ox would roam in search of winter forage, domestic ones would be fed by hay / silage over the winter ).

The other change I will make for my own sanity is remove "It's been winter for 2 years" and slot in "All this started on the Winter Solstice, and it's now 2 or 3 or 4 months later and the days have not been getting any longer" and there is real worry about how folks are going to survive with no spring on the way. AFAICT there is still contact with the outside world, so someone is going to break the news that the days are getting longer around Luskan etc, so there will be talk and perhaps preparations made to leave, at least some people are. And maybe there is a lot of friction between "I'm staying the course" and "I'm heading south" folks, but that's all the more drama. The community is facing mass famine, that's the sort of thing that produces refugees. Having it be 2 years of winter means all the yetis, crag cats, polar bears, etc etc etc, all went extinct last year. This time line means that if the PCs are successful, they can save the community and ecology, rather than a pyrhic victory 2 years too late.

These are elements I'm going to add to my own game, again if nothing else for my own sanity and to have an answer to my players who WILL bring up these questions.

That makes sense. I think it's a good plan.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
... Who cares, it’s a story. Have the two years be the result of unreliable narrators, have the villagers dig up winter stores, maybe there was a mass shipment of food by magic but that method was distrupted by one of the power groups in the region. Have people in one of the larger towns eat the flesh of the dead.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
bravo bravo bravo. Nice Rant. You win an Icewind Dale Snow Cookie. Don't mind the dark stuff or ask.
***
HOW COLD IS IT?
Temperatures. During Auril’s everlasting winter, the average temperature in Icewind Dale is −49 degrees Fahrenheit (−45 degrees Celsius). Wind chill can lower these temperatures by as much as 80 degrees. So call it -50 Fahrenheit. Looking at my Wind Chill Chart US Army Mountain Warfare and Cold weather A 5 mile breeze drops to -57. This in the increasing danger from Freezing Exposed flesh. Any thing about that is Great Danger. Which means Postpone non-essential training; Essential tasks only with <15 minute exposure; Work groups of no less than 2; Cover all exposed skin, Provide warming facilities. Read the rest here. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/atp3_90x97.pdf
This means trench foot is lightly.
BUT a Winter Coat capable of hiding 3 Kobolds is good enough to protect yourself. And you just wear your Hawaiian shirt and swim trunks you only need a DC 10 THAT ONE ZERO Con Save each hour.
You can freaking SWIM Bare NEKKID for ONE MINUTE PER CON SCORE. That is SCORE not Modifier before needing a DC 10 CON save.
I think they pulled the temperature out their neither regions.
 




jasper

Rotten DM
And another thing. Blizzards just make you lose your way. It is send by Auril herself. It is magically cold but $10 at the local Walmart and you don't have to save against the cold.
edit since @Charlaquin asks. I would suggest changing it. Be nice. Even with cold weather gear or cold resistance you MUST make the save. So a 6 hour blizzard could kill you.
 

tolcreator

Explorer
I totally get it's not for everyone, and in fact thinking about this runs contrary to "Emulating the media", as fantasy cities in film and tv are just as bad, not to mention "Winter themed" zones in CRPGs. The wilderness survival elements I'll probably tweak as well, but I've seen this brought up in other threads, people have already had good suggestions there. I hadn't seen anyone else mention the "what is everyone eating? What is the wildlife eating?" issue.

One thing I was toying with was having the magical nature of the winter be a thing, with the land caught in stasis... so it's only the "Humans" / civilized areas that are really being effected. Or maybe spirits like the chwingas are going around ensuring the natural world is still trucking along. But if you then just add things like "Magical food source", then the question becomes... so what? Who cares? OK it's eternal winter, but it doesn't seem to be hindering anything... the only problem to be solved, is annoyance that there's still snow and I can't do fun summer things this year.

Again for my group, the immediate question would be "OMG how will we survive?" and assume this is the main plot hook, and ignore all the ones dangled by the text.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
... Who cares, it’s a story. Have the two years be the result of unreliable narrators, have the villagers did up winter stores, maybe there was a mass shipment of food by magic but that method was distrusted by one of the power groups in the region. Have people in one of the larger towns eat the flesh of the dead.

Who cares? Well if forever winter isn't a problem, when it's not a problem is it?

I care. It's jarring when things don't make any sense, it breaks immersion, and it challenges the PC's capacity to affect the world and react to events. The players can't make plans and are instead at the mercy of events determined by the GM based on dramatic need or whim.

In the real world, a drop of a few degree Celsius (due to volcanic eruptions) can lead to mass famine. Imagine an actual "no summer" situation... Thankfully the OP found a reasonable solution.
 


Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Who cares? Well if forever winter isn't a problem, when it's not a problem is it?

I care. It's jarring when things don't make any sense, it breaks immersion, and it challenges the PC's capacity to affect the world and react to events. The players can't make plans and are instead at the mercy of events determined by the GM based on dramatic need or whim.

In the real world, a drop of a few degree Celsius (due to volcanic eruptions) can lead to mass famine. Imagine an actual "no summer" situation... Thankfully the OP found a reasonable solution.

Yes. 2 years of winter would mean the PCs sitting all alone in the ruins of a tavern because everyone would have been gone or dead a long time ago.
 

tolcreator

Explorer
Oh! I forgot to add the other change i was going to make: The setting mentions geothermal vents that keep the lakes from completely freezing. I'm also going to add that Bryn Shander is where it is, because there are major geothermal vents under it. These not only keep the houses warm, they provide hot water for bath houses and saunas, and maybe even keep the surrounding land a bit warmer and help with farming a bit.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
And another thing. Blizzards just make you lose your way. It is send by Auril herself. It is magically cold but $10 at the local Walmart and you don't have to save against the cold.
edit since @Charlaquin asks. I would suggest changing it. Be nice. Even with cold weather gear or cold resistance you MUST make the save. So a 6 hour blizzard could kill you.
I don’t recall asking anything...

On the subject of cold weather effects though, I rule that creatures with resistance to cold damage or cold weather clothing get advantage on their save but still have to make it. Creatures with immunity to cold damage or that are naturally adapted to cold climates succeed automatically. Same for extreme heat and fire damage resistance/immunity and weather-appropriate clothing or adaptation.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
The survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 survived for 72 days in sub zero temperatures with next to no rations. I’m not saying it would be easy but that desperation can cause people to cling to life.

Hunger should be ever present in this campaign in my opinion.

What I’m saying is that calculating how many annual wagon loads of food is needed doesnt add much to the story. Or in fact the campaign, which is a snapshot of time.

In game of thrones winter can last 7 years... they save food 🤷🏻‍♂️ What more do you need to know for it to be a good story.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Oh! I forgot to add the other change i was going to make: The setting mentions geothermal vents that keep the lakes from completely freezing. I'm also going to add that Bryn Shander is where it is, because there are major geothermal vents under it. These not only keep the houses warm, they provide hot water for bath houses and saunas, and maybe even keep the surrounding land a bit warmer and help with farming a bit.
Good call. Since this is a fantasy setting, you could consider going a step further and have the settlement grow some sort of Underdarkish mushrooms in nearby caverns heated by geothermal vents,
 

ninjayeti

Adventurer
Yeah the whole "winters can last for years" bit is what turned me off to the Game of Thrones novels when they originally came out. Sure, civilized humans with highly developed agriculture could grow enough crops during long summers to survive a years long winter, but when all the plants die the herbivores are going to die off pretty quickly which means the carnivores are going to die off not long after that. Not to mention the problem of how agricultural civilizations ever arise when famine is going to wipe out humans long before they master farming. If a climate like that actually exited you would need to have an ecology adapted to survive those conditions not what is essentially medieval Europe just with wonky seasons.

So yeah, its lazy worldbuilding when a creator says "Here's a really cool idea. Now lets ignore all of the obvious ramifications of that idea and pretend everything else stays exactly the same."
 


Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Yeah the whole "winters can last for years" bit is what turned me off to the Game of Thrones novels when they originally came out. Sure, civilized humans with highly developed agriculture could grow enough crops during long summers to survive a years long winter, but when all the plants die the herbivores are going to die off pretty quickly which means the carnivores are going to die off not long after that. Not to mention the problem of how agricultural civilizations ever arise when famine is going to wipe out humans long before they master farming. If a climate like that actually exited you would need to have an ecology adapted to survive those conditions not what is essentially medieval Europe just with wonky seasons.

So yeah, its lazy worldbuilding when a creator says "Here's a really cool idea. Now lets ignore all of the obvious ramifications of that idea and pretend everything else stays exactly the same."
Yes. It's not that I have a problem with "winters that last for YEARS!" as part of a setting.

But if that very extreme scenario is going to be a part of the setting, it's going to have a massive impact on the world.

You can't portray a setting is more or less "generic Medievaland" and then throw in a huge twist like "winter for years" without addressing this major factor. I don't expect a PhD level treatise on farming and economics, but some level of effort needs to be taken to provide a rationale for how civilization keeps going.
 

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