Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden -- A Comprehensive Review

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Rostmaiden is the latest official Dungeons & Dragons adventure, and it's one that will challenge both DMs and players. For the right group, it's a good story with fresh ideas and intriguing consequences. Determining if it’s a good fit for you and your players is, perhaps, its biggest challenge.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is the latest official Dungeons & Dragons adventure, and it's one that will challenge both DMs and players. For the right group, it's a good story with fresh ideas and intriguing consequences. Determining if it’s a good fit for you and your players is, perhaps, its biggest challenge.

Icewind Dale full cover art regular.png

Player Overview (No Spoilers)
For those new to Forgotten Realms, Icewind Dale was created by Ed Greenwood and featured in Greenwood's Volo's Guide to the North. The frigid locale is best known for the Drizzt novels by R.L. Salvatore and a video game. During the public play test period between 4th and 5th editions, the adventure Legacy of the Crystal Shard was released, following up on elements of the Drizzt novels, like The Crystal Shard. Other than that, the Ten Towns and Icewind Dale region has received little focus in official adventures in comparison to more storied locations like Neverwinter, Baldur's Gate, Waterdeep, etc. So news that this fall's adventure would focus on the region sparked a great deal of interest.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a big book (320 pages) packed with a lot of info from new rules, 79 new monsters/opponents (plus some stat blocks reprinted from other books for DM ease), magic items, and three new spells, to a challenging adventure and setting guide showcasing more than 26 locations. So let's start with the information that's safe for general and player knowledge.

Icewind Dale Hydro47 front and back covers.jpg

Gorgeous Art
The book is excellent, with credit due to Kate Irwin, senior art director for Dungeons & Dragons. Irwin has handled the creation of all of the 5th Edition D&D books and done an excellent job with everyone one of them, but ID:RotF stands out.

Available in two editions, the special edition cover by Hydro47 is gorgeous. The soft touch-textured black background sets off the metallic inks beautifully. I try to be objective, but Hydro47's covers are so consistently outstanding that it's difficult. The cover of the mainstream book is moody, beautiful, and evocative, setting the tone for the adventure before you even read a summary or back cover blurb. A good cover should always do that, but there's a cohesiveness when combined with ID:RotF's interior art that conveys a sense of the adventure.

The Horror!
ID:RotF’s art has an almost cinematic scope that invokes the mood designer and lead writer Chris Perkins created. Perkins himself wrote an afterword for ID:RotF that gives Irwin special praise for the book's design and acknowledges how much the world has changed since the project started. Perkins hopes that ID:RotF brings a diversion and some fun during these challenging times.

ID:RotF is a horror adventure. Gloom, fear, and existential dread infest every part of it. While plot-wise, ID:RotF doesn't resemble John Carpenter's The Thing, that icy survival horror film kept popping up in my mind as I was reading. It turns out that film was one of Perkins' inspirations for ID:RotF along with H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Stephen King's The Shining, and the movie Alien. DMs who can set that sort of creepy tone and sense of dread will get the best reaction at their game table.

New Mechanics
On the mechanical side, the book contains rules for avalanches and dealing with blizzards and veering off-course in bad weather. The mechanics are logical. For example, Perception rolls based on sound have disadvantage while the player is in a blizzard. Still, codifying these wintry conditions is perfectly appropriate and save DMs time and headaches. For simplicity's sake, rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide on frigid water and dealing with extreme cold are reprinted here with the other weather and travel rules. New equipment like sled dogs as transportation is also listed. A fun idea involves domesticated axe-beaks for transportation. I love out-of-the-box ideas like that.

Both to feed the horror of the scenario and because the Ten Towns tend to be populated by people with agendas or on the run from something, characters can pick a secret from a list. DMs have their matching list of information and hooks for each of those secrets, one of which ties into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. The backgrounds also list options to tie player characters to the Ten Towns. I wish all the books had this level of customization—especially the secrets.

In addition to races from the Player's Handbook, ID:RotF suggests Goliaths are well suited for this adventure and includes the Goliath information in the back. Icewind Dale also gets its own trinket table, which in my experience, players love.

Drawbacks & Trivia
In terms of drawbacks, I still wish all D&D books had an index—especially one this big. The table of contents isn't always helpful when you need to find something in a hurry. Toss a bone to your DMs, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC)! Like many prior books, an adventure flowchart highlights the major story beats. I appreciate that, but the summaries felt a little thin this time. A pronunciation guide is also included, thank goodness.

Locations in the Ten Towns are ranked with snowflake symbols to rate their friendliness, services, and comfort. This is a wink and a nod to the tankard scale used in the original Volo's Guides, like Volo's Guides to the North. I love touches like that. Speaking of the Ten Towns, players gain Reputation in the early stages of the adventure as they fulfill (or fail) quests. As their reputation improves, residents start telling them tall tales that seed plot points. While I like that, the Reputation system misses an opportunity by not also affecting the friendliness rating of each town. Why not improve the rating if the players have a good reputation and decrease it if they don't? Also, while Ten Towns residents might be stoic and taciturn, I wouldn't necessarily make the tall tales entirely dependent on player reputation. Surely someone would be talkative.

One trivia note—John Francis Daley is listed among the world building credits. If that name rings a bell, he's often best known for playing Dr. Lance Sweets for many years on the TV series, Bones. He also co-wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming, co-directed Game Night, and is co-writing and co-directing the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie. Perhaps Icewind Dale is featured in the film? We'll see.

The rest of this review is devoted to what DMs need to know and necessary spoilers to explain the pros and cons of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. If you plan on playing the adventure, stop here.

Icewind Dale Interior 1 v2.png

Because this is a horror adventure, Perkins reminds DMs in a sidebar titled “Horror in the Far North” that while the characters should be tense and stressed at times, players should be relaxed and having fun. As such, Perkins recommends talking to your players before the game since they might not realize their players have phobias related to game scenarios. While Perkins never uses the words “session zero” or “safety tools” he's basically recommending the use of both in the sidebar.

The Plot
As Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden begins, the frigid region has been under the spell of Auril, cruel goddess of winter. For about two years Auril has been riding her roc every day to cast a spell that prevents the sun from fully rising over Icewind Dale, keeping it veiled in gloom and bitterly cold. The spell weakens her, which means that the characters might eventually defeat her to break the spell, though they'll have to beat her in each of her three forms. The lack of sun and extreme cold is making the already difficult life in the Ten Town brutal, with food scarcity and more.

Why is Auril doing this? Because three other allied winter gods turned on her. When they retreated from Toril after the Sundering, Auril stayed behind in the north and is using her magic to create pitiless cold to preserve the north's frozen beauty, regardless of its impact on the residents. That feels a bit thin to me, but gods are supposed to be inscrutable and ineffable. The main point is that the characters will not be able to sway, cajole, or negotiate with her.

In the meantime, a duergar chieftain named Xardorok Sunblight has moved his clan to the surface, encouraged by his god, Deep Duerra, to conquer the surface. Except Sunblight is actually under the sway of Asmodeus, impersonating Deep Duerra. Sunblight has his people collecting chandalyn, a crystalline material that can be worked like metal and easily enchanted. It's also prone to corrupt those who have extended contact with it. Sunblight is using the gathered chandalyn to make a dragon automaton.

One of the options for breaking Auril's spell could also lead the players to seek out the remnants of a lost Netherese city. Members of the Arcane Brotherhood are also interested in the lost city and want the players' help to get to its legendary magic.

The early parts of the adventure give players an opportunity to explore the Ten Towns and surrounding areas. First, they're on quests and later following clues and rumors that will gradually draw them into the duergar and Netherese plots as well as trying to find a way to break Auril's spell over the dale.

The Story
In terms of the story, I like the ideas in the adventure. The story builds until it's cinematic in scope. I find the end options intriguing—more on that later. Lost civilization? Great. I'm a big fan of adventures set in areas of the Realms that have received less attention in prior adventures, so Icewind Dale checks a few boxes for me. Also, just like how Ghosts of Saltmarsh gave WOTC an opportunity to expand rules for seafaring adventures, ID:RotF does the same for adventures in the frozen tundra and blizzard conditions. I approve.

However, ID:RotF has some issues in regard to the execution of the early part of the adventure. Add in the fact that this adventure has a lot going on, and ID:RotF requires genuine prep time. If you tend to wing it or are the type of DM who just skims an adventure and then reads only the section you're running that night, you're not going to be happy.

As much as I like ID:RotF, a lot of the flaws are disappointing because they could have been easily avoided with a little more editing and listening to playtest feedback. Having worked in publishing, I know that some mistake is always going to slip through, and typos like “they no long gain levels” (instead of “longer”) can be especially hard to catch, but the adventure contradicts itself too many times and the problems at the beginning of ID:RotF repeat mistakes from prior adventures.

The first two sections are designed to let the players explore Icewind Dale and the Ten Towns, gain experience, and gather clues to the deeper adventure. That's great. Exploration is one of the pillars of 5th Edition. However, the exploration section of ID:RotF, especially in at the very beginning, would have greatly benefited from more guidance for the DM. Rather than railroading, better DM directives or suggestions would improve game experience for everyone.

Introductory Scenarios
Two scenarios are designated for first-level players. One, Nature Spirits, is designed to be resolved without combat, which I like. It also features arctic versions of chwingas, tiny, mischievous (and sometimes dangerous) elemental spirits from Tomb of Annihilation. Cross ties between adventures like that are good. It makes the world feel more real because actual species can vary by geography and climate.

The other, Cold-Hearted Killer, is problematic for several reasons. First, it's described as a quest that can be presented anywhere, and it's listed before the Nature Spirits quest option, making it one DMs might present reflexively, especially if the DM likes to start with a combat challenge or knows their players love a fight.

Hlil Trollbane, a dwarven bounty hunter, tells the players that she suspects Sepbek Kaltro of being a serial killer—and possibly undead. It's strangely clunky, from Trollbane having no real evidence to Trollbane having followed Kaltro for 10 days but now having no idea where he is just to make players track him. A minor rewrite could have fixed this, such as a storm causing Trollbane to lose Kaltro and actual evidence.

Kaltro is secretly serving Auril, the titular Frostmaiden, by murdering people who are cheating a lottery so they aren't sacrificed to the goddess. Even that is weird because only three towns are sacrificing people to Auril. While Auril is a pitiless goddess who could feel cheated, why not also have Kaltro murder residents from the towns making other forms of sacrifice? Worse, Sephek Kaltro is a CR3 opponent, has 75 HP, two attacks per round for an average of 24 damage, and has Cold Regeneration. That's a bit overpowered for first-level characters. If the intention is to show players that they can't fight everything and sometimes retreat is necessary, then that should be telegraphed better. Trollbane could have told them, “find him and apprehend him if you can,” which would have more naturally led to something like a fight, retreat, getting backup from Trollbane and then taking on Kaltro, now with just enough experience to be level two. WOTC's repeatedly overpowered first-level challenges are baffling.

After that the players can do other quests in any order, and then move onto more challenging experiences as they explore Icewind Dale and become invested in saving the area from Auril's magic. They vary in tone. I found the white dragon sighting/possible encounter rather sad, though it could also be a standard fight if that fits your group's preferences.

If your players are anything like mine, they'll try to befriend an awakened creature or learn the awakening spell themselves so they can have intelligent animal companions. One frost druid even has an awakened shrub.

Future Storylines
It looks like WOTC might be building up to a larger story directly involving Asmodeus. Considering the events of Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, the one plot thread in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and the duergar plot here, I'd be disappointed if there wasn't an eventual giant confrontation.

That said, one plot point in the duegar story seems weird. Klondorn, Sunblight's duergar priest, is actually a barbed devil in magical disguise. He's there to keep an eye on Sunblight and further ensure he follows Asmodeus' will. That makes sense. But Klondorn has been carving stone tablets in infernal script with the story of how Asmodeus is manipulating Sunblight. That just feels like a lazy way to expose him as a barbed devil instead of a priest of Deep Duerra.

Of course, that depends upon whether the players explore Sunblight's fortress. They head there after finding out about the dragon automaton Sunblight is creating of chandalyn so they can stop him—only the adventure is designed so that the automaton has already been built and sent to attack Ten Towns just as the players arrive at the fortress. They have to make a choice—rush back to save the towns or stay and to stop the rest of Sunblight's plans. Both options have consequences. Technically, the players could return to the fight the automaton and then try to infiltrate the fortress later. If they don't stop the automaton in the Destructon's Light chapter, the dragon returns to its master. Sunblight will repair any damage and send it out again until Sunblight has conquered all of Icewind Dale.

Asmodeus' minions aren't the only infernal operatives in ID:RotF. During the quest phase early in the adventure, the players can end up at the keep at Caer Dineval, which is being run by the Knights of the Black Sword, who are cultists worshiping an archdevil. Levistus rules the Sixth Layer of Hell and is trapped in an ice prison there. The proper speaker (speakers in Ten Towns are like mayors) is being held prisoner by the cultist knights. No matter what the players do about Caer Dineval, Levistus could be a future problem, depending upon how the players' actions end the adventure.


Wrapping up the Adventure
Eventually the players need to go to Auril's Island of Solstice (shaped like a snowflake, of course), both to confront her and, once the member of the Arcane Brotherhood talks them into helping her find the formerly floating Netherese city that crash into the ice. The magical machines in the city could change the weather for the Ten Towns while also unveiling other secrets.

As I said before, ID:RotF is firmly a horror adventure so exploring Auril's island and its skull-shaped keep (giants made it, but still) isn't the typical dungeon crawls. To access one part they have to endure Auril's tests. Because this is a goddess of cruelty, the tests aren't typical. For each test, the players are teleported to one of the dale's nomad tribes.

In the test of cruelty they arrive just as one tribe has decided to resort to cannibalism to survive. Passing the test involves killing the four designated sacrifices. It should be appalling and the players can pass or fail individually. ID:RotF does provide an alternate way to get through the area if all of the tests are failed. The point is what will the players do and, if they pass certain tests, what the consequences are.

On Solstice Island, the players could have potentially broken Auril's spell over the dale by either defeating all three of her forms or killing her roc. She both needs the roc to fly while casting the spell every day, plus it's her only companion. Killing it makes her retreat, and it will take a century or such to train another one, effectively saving Icewind Dale for a time.

If defeated in all three forms, Auril isn't gone forever. She is a goddess after all. She'll be reborn at the winter's solstice, but will then retreat and not bother Icewind Dale for the rest of the characters' lifetimes. I'm not sure I find that plausible from a cruel goddess, but a DM could always make their own long-term consequences if they wish.

If they haven't defeated Auril or killed her roc, the characters will have more incentive to explore the fallen Netherese city. On Auril's island they should have found the Rime of the Frostmaiden, a spell written as a poem that will crack the glacier, enabling access to the city buried under ice and snow. If they have defeated her, the lure of ancient, powerful magic and the cajoling of members of the Arcane Brotherhood should lead them there.

More wilderness encounters start the race to Ythryn. Getting to the Netherese city involves not just cracking the glacier with the spell but traveling through “the caves of hunger” and fighting or evading a variety of challenges from frozen skeletons to a rehmoraz mother waiting for her young to emerge.

Once at the Netherese city of Ythryn, the challenges continue, of course, including a demilich. In addition to dangerous living spells, players who spend time in the necropolis can contract arcane blight. If they do, they turn into a nothic. Yes, that's horrific, but players have to fail their saving throw three times to actually turn. Each success improves their chance of succeeding next time so it is survivable.

As expected, Ythryn has rare magic that's as dangerous as it is rare. The living blade of disaster is bad, but that just kills you (4d12 force damage unless it scores a critical hit, in which case it does 12d12 force damage—and a crit for this is 18 or higher). The living demiplane can pull you into its extradimensional space.

ID:RotF contains a lot of weird, creepy, dangerous challenges like a brain in a jar with psionic ability (what else?), undead coldblight walkers, gnoll vampires, goliath werebears, kobold zombies, snow golems, and more. The gnome ceremorph is downright cute in a chibi sort of way. It's also a CR5 creature that can mind blast and extract brains.

For me, the most interesting part ID:RotF is the ending. Even if the players succeed, there can be consequences depending upon which method they used to succeed, and failure has consequences, of course. Plus there's one really interesting possible wrinkle, whether they succeed or fail. Some of these options also require a lot of work from the DM, but the potential work at the end is only necessary if you run ongoing campaigns and want to continue the more complicated options.

Defeating Auril on Solstice Island by killing her roc or vanquishing all three of her forms presents the best outcome. That most directly leads to Summer Is Coming, which features an Icewind Dale freed of Auril's icy grip. If, however, they leave Solstice Island without fully conquering Auril she will follow them to Ythryn because how dare mere mortals attack her. She doesn't come alone, though. She brings snow golems, winter wolves, etc. to fight with her.

Icewind Dale interior 2 v2.png

A Tarrasque?!
One of the potential wrinkles is that the characters can find a scroll of tarrasque summoning during the adventure. Yes, a tarrasque.

That can be used to defeat Auril—or used for any reasons because you know some players will be tempted. If summoned on Solstice Island, Auril will be forced to flee if she isn't defeated by it. The tarrasque will wreak havoc on the island before the cold makes it hibernate. If summoned in Ythryn the tarrasque will fight it's way to Icewind Dale proper where it will be trapped for a while but eventually it will find its way through the Spine of the World and down the Sword Coast. That's a heck of a long-term consequence and understandably beyond the scope of the adventure. It could also be interesting for an ongoing campaign.

If the characters fail to stop Auril by any of the means proposed in the adventure or alternates, then Icewind Dale is caught in Winter Everlasting. Not only does that mean that life in the dale will eventually be forced to migrate south or die, it will have other consequences.

After a year of this intense cold, Levistus is able to open an icy portal between Icewwind Dale and his layer of hell, sending devils under his control through. If, however, Sunblight and his clan survived the adventure, eventually Asmodeus will take control of them, and through them control a foothold in Toril for the infernal lord.

The last plot option, Year of Chilled Marrow, is the most fascinating but continuing beyond the adventure means creating an entire new campaign. If you've run or read previous official Dungeons & Dragons hardcover adventures like Tomb of Annihilation or Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage you've run across mysterious obelisks. ID:RotF finally explains the secrets of the obelisks, which winds through a group called Weavers to Vecna to the Netherese.

Not only do the characters run into an obelisk, they can, if they choose, get one to work, unlike the prior adventures. This particular obelisk, if activated, will send the characters back in time to spring 343 DR, six months before the floating Netherese city of Ythryn fell and plunged into the ice. This is before Neverwinter or Waterdeep have been settled so essentially, if you continue this plot thread once invoked, you're creating an entire new world for the players. That's certainly beyond the scope of the adventure, but imagine what you can do with it!

Summing Up
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden has a lot of interesting ideas and plot threads. It's a genuine horror adventure and if presented correctly, it could be a bit brutal in creating that tone. By comparison, I loved Curse of Strahd but its Gothic horror was, to me, more moody and evocative than disturbing.

ID:RotF isn't a hack-and-slay adventure, though it could be forced in that direction if you choose. Combat is featured but plenty of opportunities to solve situations through negotiation, cleverness or roleplay exist.

If you like adventures where every detail is spelled out for you so you can quickly skim the adventure while waiting for players to arrive, ID:RotF may not work for you. It's a good adventure, but the issues mentioned at the beginning and keeping all of the threads straight will take a bit more time and preparation—especially if the tarrasque or time travel finales are invoked.

I like Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, despite the early adventure hiccups. Ten Towns has gotten far less attention than other areas, which makes it fresh. I'm less fond of the dungeon crawl portions, but that's because I've played enough dungeon-type adventures I prefer different options.

The secrets can play out very well during the adventure, especially if arcane blight becomes an issue because of its paranoia side effect. Sadly, as Perkins pointed out in his afterward, the real world is echoing elements of the adventure, like isolation. One group many find that cathartic right now while another group might want to wait until another time. That's one of the reasons why Perkins suggested talking to your players first, and he's right.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden won't be to everyone's taste. If this type of horror appeals to you and your group, you'll find a lot of good material to challenge them. Just make sure you start preparing potential post-game threads if your players reach for the tarrasque or obelisk options.

log in or register to remove this ad

Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


Elder Thing
To be fair, I too had Axe Beak mounts and pack animals in my setting a few years back, but I totally ripped that idea from the Final Fantasy series. While interesting as an unusual D&D mount, the idea itself is pretty old.
Wait. Are you suggesting that a Hasbro subsidiary took influence from a popular video game and/or other aspects of general pop culture and not a random person they've never heard of playing in a game store they've never heard of?

The nerve.

log in or register to remove this ad

In my experience throwing overlevelled monsters at players engenders an air of frustration, not horror. The horror should come from the situation, not from "oh dear, you ran out of hit points, better luck next time."
Nah, the real reason there are ten starter towns is they expect the players to be (re)starting a lot!


Community Supporter
To be fair, I too had Axe Beak mounts and pack animals in my setting a few years back, but I totally ripped that idea from the Final Fantasy series. While interesting as an unusual D&D mount, the idea itself is pretty old.
How did I not make the connection that these were chocobos!

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
I'd like to start by commending @brimmels for her reviews, and that this is another great one! Always happy to read these as they give great overviews and point out criticisms while being fair, while pointing out her own preferences.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I'll be picking up this book, as I don't own all of the adventures and I don't need another one right now. I'll probably pick up a new one around XMas, but I'll ask;

Between Rime of the Frostwind, Out of the Abyss, and Storm King's Thunder, which do you think (and this is an open question) is the best adventure, for a "typical" group of players?

curious on what others are choosing as the intro adventures? im find many of them to be lacking and its going to take a few to get into the middle of the book


Between Rime of the Frostwind, Out of the Abyss, and Storm King's Thunder, which do you think (and this is an open question) is the best adventure, for a "typical" group of players?
I don't know Storm King's Thunder, but what I like about this adventure compared to Out of the Abyss is that it puts the players in the position of becoming part of the community, gaining reputations, becoming embroiled in the affairs of the towns, even becoming property owners or local politicians, whereas in Out of the Abyss (at least the first half) the ultimate goal is to get as far away from everything as you can.


curious on what others are choosing as the intro adventures? im find many of them to be lacking and its going to take a few to get into the middle of the book
So far, I like Lake Monster, Foaming Mugs or A Beautiful Mine as starting adventures. After that, chaining The Unseen and Black Swords, culminating in the Easthaven ferry subquest, would do well at leading into the subsequent main plot. Alternatively, following up Lake Monster with Holed Up and The White Moose becomes its own "awakened animals" questline, culminating in confronting Ravisin.

As much as enjoy the book, I feel like the proper way of doing the final encounter against Auril(Or the True Ending game route) would actually require the players to go to the Hungering Caves, find the Netherese city, and use the thingie bobber in there to break the Everlasting Winter, prompting the Frostmaiden to show up to prevent that. Fighting Auril there, (her posse and her three forms)feels like it would be the final boss fight of the module.

I kinda find it weird that simply slaying the Roc she rides on, would pretty much dampen her plans or even take that long to get a new one. Like okay, she rides around on it casting her Everlasting Winter, but is completely unable to cast it from her Island? Like, I know she's that weak currently, but daaaamn. (Although I get they are monstrosities, which isn't something you just find wondering out in nature as easily.)

That is an option, detailed on page 260. Granted, it just says that Auril visits Ythryn if the party is there for over a day, but I'm sure a visit would be warranted as well if they disrupt the weather.

The party is supposed to visit Auril's island at level 7, at which point defeating both the roc and Auril more or less at once (they inhabit locations immediately adjacent to each other) would be a hugely difficult task. I'd imagine most parties would plan to visit the location when she's out casting her nightly spell instead of taking on a goddess (even a weakened one) head on in her home. But if they want to charge in head on at that point, more power to them!

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads