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D&D 5E Rime of the Frostmaiden Post-Mortem (Spoilers)

Retreater

Legend
As is my new tradition, each time a campaign ends, I'm trying to learn from it. This will be about my Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign.

About the Group and Selection of the Campaign

The group contains a “seasoned” casual player who’ve I’ve been gaming with for over 20 years. I put seasoned in quotes because he regularly confuses 5e with rules from Pathfinder 1e and 2e (though he only played a handful of sessions with that system over a year ago), and he’s been playing 5e twice a week for over two years now.
The three other players include another casual player who is starting to DM for his family, and another two players who watch online power-build tutorials to come up with some brutal combos.
We had put on hold an OSR game that ended in a TPK, and at their request, went back to 5e after having completed Curse of Strahd around 4 months prior. They wanted to do an official WotC mega adventure (along the lines of Curse of Strahd) but avoiding ones that none of the players have previously read or played (even in part), which left the following choices: Descent into Avernus, Tyranny of Dragons, Tomb of Annihilation, and Rime of the Frost Maiden.
After a little debate RotFM won.

Preparation

I knew that this was a sandbox campaign, and I wanted to be well prepared. In addition to purchasing the module on Roll20 (since we play online), I also purchased the hardcover adventure for reading away from the computer, read numerous guides, watched videos on YouTube, and downloaded a DMs Guide on DriveThru. The DMs guide ended up being very helpful as it provided additional encounter maps that aren’t included in the hardcover (or on Roll20).
Using the various resources, I followed the advice for presenting the best starting quest and Ten Towns quests from the beginning.

A Rocky Start

The first session the party went after the goblins from Bryn Shander. Using ranged guerilla tactics, the goblins killed most of the party (effectively a TPK). This set a grim tone for the rest of the campaign. The players had invested those characters in the setting and as a party, only to be cut down in their first fight. (In hindsight, it was largely the blame of players’ forgetting their abilities and one of the players making some terrible tactical blunders.)

The Pointless Sandbox

The bulk of the adventure is a sandbox that isn’t connected to the main story. Going from town to town without any direction or purpose got very boring. On top of it, the players didn’t want to focus on travel or survival in our limited, short sessions (about 2 hours per week). So, it became “you find your way to town X and have to do Y.” It was repetitious, and often the challenges were well beyond what the party should’ve been able to defeat. One example I previously ranted about on these boards was being assigned to clear out a cave of an opponent who had to have a Dispel Magic cast to keep him from regenerating – when the party was too low of level to have access to the spell. Another insurmountable challenge was a 1st-2nd level adventure that required a Knock spell to get past a door.

Adding Content

Realizing that much of the content wasn’t linked, I decided to add an overarching plot to the locations to give the party a reason to explore other than “go here, kill everything there.” I added an NPC that directed the party to find a Macguffin that could be used to defeat the Frost Maiden. It would need to be assembled, scattered across the remaining Ice Wind Dale adventure sites. This added purpose and gave new life to the campaign. Unfortunately, after finding the four pieces, the party was dismayed that they inadvertently destroyed the Macguffin with a cursed magic item (essentially putting them in a bag of devouring).

Climax-Change

RotFM has no lead-up to any climax other than taking out the Frost Maiden and ending the curse, so along with the rest of the players, we decided that would be a good place to end the campaign after 6 months of play. So, the party decided to end the campaign (for better or worse) with a direct frontal assault on the Frost Maiden’s palace. Amazingly, the place is pretty much empty, so they walked right into her throne room to defeat the deity.

Lessons Learned

Many readers consider RotFM a top-tier campaign adventure. To me, it is far below “Curse of Strahd” or “Tomb of Annihilation” (two that I’ve run to completion). I have run nearly all the official WotC adventures [at least in part]: Strahd, Tomb of Annihilation, Phandelver, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Dragon Heist, Undermountain, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Tales of the Yawning Portal, and Storm King’s Thunder. Of the ones I’ve run, I consider only three of them to be “good” (Strahd, Tomb, and Phandelver).
I think it’s (finally) time to consider that the mega-adventures just aren’t for me.

What’s Next?

Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve been largely running modules since 3rd edition. When I started in 2e I wrote my own material mostly. Since that time, as life has gotten busier and the games more complex (and on top of it, I’m also running games for more groups than ever), it’s difficult to make the time to curate custom experiences for my players. When you run for a group that is comprised mostly of casual players, you often don’t get the feedback you need to tailor an adventure to their interests. They are there to go on quests, kill monsters, loot treasures, etc.
None of the official adventures seem appealing to me – and the players have shot down all of them last time they were presented. It seems like doing a few one-shots until we find something that sticks is the way to go.
 

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The Glen

Hero
My players had a very similar experience. We ported the setting to Mystara but found the adventure disjointed. Nothing has anything to do with anything else. It's like 4-5 different adventures welded together with no connecting plot. Salvaged it by turning it into a freestyle sandbox similar to Isle of Dread. Even style we agreed that it was one of 5E's worst modules.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Thanks for the debrief. I am not familiar with Rime, but I wonder what difference you see with Tomb, since that one basically has the same type of setting, with a very large disjointed sandbox in the middle. Admittedly, Tomb had Port Nyanzaru, that the players didn't leave before Lvl 4 when I ran it because I had buffed the intrigues so much, and the City and Tomb at the end which are really good especially if you play the Red Wizards vs. Yuan Ti conflict to the full, the tomb being fairly brilliant in its design.

For Tomb, what I did was develop ad hoc intrigues for the places that the PC visited or were going to visit, but I did not bother with the others (since they visited about 1/3 of the map anyway, it would have been a waste).
 

Enrico Poli1

Adventurer
After running RotF a second time, I think that it's a really good adventure (just not as excellent as CoS, ToA and DiA). The main theme, IMO, is the raw exploration of the secrets of Icewind Dale rather then defeating the Frostmaiden herself. Plus, having to deal with unexpected foes and unbalanced encounters with scarce resources (no magic weapons). It was an interesting challenge.
 

I won’t say anything for or against RotFM (I own it but haven’t run it), but to me this really highlights how not every campaign is for every group.

CoS gets extremely high praise, however, as a player, I definitely didn’t think it warranted the praise. I definitely second that Phandelver was great!
 

Rime has an "end game" path and the way I see it, you can definitely use the ancient Nethrel city of Ythryn as the "final dungeon" of that module. And that, what was it, the Sun Chamber or whatever it is, ends up being the key that the pcs use to end Auril's Everlasting Night. You have an final dungeon type key requirement needed to enter it, The Codicile of White book that contains the "Rime of The Frostmaiden" AND you have Auril herself appear and attack the party at the center of the city to stop them from achieving the activation goal. Plus, as a final dungeon perspective, you play up the entire "alien/unknown" aspect of the Ythryn. And then of course, the whole accidently zapping your party FAAAAAAAAAAR into the past is a possible bad end for the campaign.

All my humblest of opinions.
 

John R Davis

Adventurer
I'm running it for a second time. The first group completed the whole thing and really enjoyed it. Second time for a different group feels a bit more disjointed but had suffered lots attendance issues. The 2nd group by their own choices seem to be doing bits I didn't do first time which is cool. I think it's a very good module, and in my top five of the big campaigns of which I've run or played most
 

Retreater

Legend
Thanks for the debrief. I am not familiar with Rime, but I wonder what difference you see with Tomb, since that one basically has the same type of setting, with a very large disjointed sandbox in the middle.
Port Nyanzaru is a much more detailed and evocative setting than the Ten Towns, which are each given the bare minimum to present a quest and nothing more.
The mid point of Omu was better than Grimskalle. Just more to explore, more to do. More mystery. More Puzzles.
The final dungeon of ToA actually had maps and encounters, unlike the last part of RotFM.
You had a coherent story in ToA, an end goal. The "end goal" of RotFM is finished 2/3rds of the way through the book, with the last part added to pad a page count - I guess?
I admit that eventually, I handwaved the hexcrawl portion of ToA. But the rest of the adventure, from Omu to the Tomb itself was solid adventure design. There is no part of RotFM that stands out as anything more than a sidetrek, and little of it is tied together in a meaningful way.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Port Nyanzaru is a much more detailed and evocative setting than the Ten Towns, which are each given the bare minimum to present a quest and nothing more.
The mid point of Omu was better than Grimskalle. Just more to explore, more to do. More mystery. More Puzzles.
The final dungeon of ToA actually had maps and encounters, unlike the last part of RotFM.
You had a coherent story in ToA, an end goal. The "end goal" of RotFM is finished 2/3rds of the way through the book, with the last part added to pad a page count - I guess?
I admit that eventually, I handwaved the hexcrawl portion of ToA. But the rest of the adventure, from Omu to the Tomb itself was solid adventure design. There is no part of RotFM that stands out as anything more than a sidetrek, and little of it is tied together in a meaningful way.
Thanks for the detailed reply, I agree that if all the areas of the module feel pale compared to ToA, Rime is definitely a lesser adventure.

Possibly, since it has seen more action in the past and is sort of iconic because of Driz'zt, they thought it would be enough ?

As for the hexcrawl, we actually played through it and it was an interesting change of pace, but as I mentioned, it was just the right length to be fun without becoming a slog.
 

Retreater

Legend
Possibly, since it has seen more action in the past and is sort of iconic because of Driz'zt, they thought it would be enough ?
That might be true. I haven't read any of those books (and don't really care about D&D setting lore in general). So if I was supposed to be building off 20+ years of canonical novels to get the full effect of the campaign, I definitely failed in that regard.

As for the hexcrawl, we actually played through it and it was an interesting change of pace, but as I mentioned, it was just the right length to be fun without becoming a slog.
Right. With that particular group we had irregular game nights, sometimes with only 3 hours of play, sometimes only able to meet 1-2 times a month. I thought it best after being lost in the jungle for months of IRL time, it was time to move on to something more satisfactory for the players - at their request.

Which this is sort of the schedule all my games have nowadays. Biweekly, 2-3 hours of play. These long campaigns with dragging on, aimless wandering just feels like a waste of everyone's time.
 

ECMO3

Hero
As is my new tradition, each time a campaign ends, I'm trying to learn from it. This will be about my Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign.

About the Group and Selection of the Campaign

The group contains a “seasoned” casual player who’ve I’ve been gaming with for over 20 years. I put seasoned in quotes because he regularly confuses 5e with rules from Pathfinder 1e and 2e (though he only played a handful of sessions with that system over a year ago), and he’s been playing 5e twice a week for over two years now.
The three other players include another casual player who is starting to DM for his family, and another two players who watch online power-build tutorials to come up with some brutal combos.
We had put on hold an OSR game that ended in a TPK, and at their request, went back to 5e after having completed Curse of Strahd around 4 months prior. They wanted to do an official WotC mega adventure (along the lines of Curse of Strahd) but avoiding ones that none of the players have previously read or played (even in part), which left the following choices: Descent into Avernus, Tyranny of Dragons, Tomb of Annihilation, and Rime of the Frost Maiden.
After a little debate RotFM won.

Preparation

I knew that this was a sandbox campaign, and I wanted to be well prepared. In addition to purchasing the module on Roll20 (since we play online), I also purchased the hardcover adventure for reading away from the computer, read numerous guides, watched videos on YouTube, and downloaded a DMs Guide on DriveThru. The DMs guide ended up being very helpful as it provided additional encounter maps that aren’t included in the hardcover (or on Roll20).
Using the various resources, I followed the advice for presenting the best starting quest and Ten Towns quests from the beginning.

A Rocky Start

The first session the party went after the goblins from Bryn Shander. Using ranged guerilla tactics, the goblins killed most of the party (effectively a TPK). This set a grim tone for the rest of the campaign. The players had invested those characters in the setting and as a party, only to be cut down in their first fight. (In hindsight, it was largely the blame of players’ forgetting their abilities and one of the players making some terrible tactical blunders.)

The Pointless Sandbox

The bulk of the adventure is a sandbox that isn’t connected to the main story. Going from town to town without any direction or purpose got very boring. On top of it, the players didn’t want to focus on travel or survival in our limited, short sessions (about 2 hours per week). So, it became “you find your way to town X and have to do Y.” It was repetitious, and often the challenges were well beyond what the party should’ve been able to defeat. One example I previously ranted about on these boards was being assigned to clear out a cave of an opponent who had to have a Dispel Magic cast to keep him from regenerating – when the party was too low of level to have access to the spell. Another insurmountable challenge was a 1st-2nd level adventure that required a Knock spell to get past a door.

Adding Content

Realizing that much of the content wasn’t linked, I decided to add an overarching plot to the locations to give the party a reason to explore other than “go here, kill everything there.” I added an NPC that directed the party to find a Macguffin that could be used to defeat the Frost Maiden. It would need to be assembled, scattered across the remaining Ice Wind Dale adventure sites. This added purpose and gave new life to the campaign. Unfortunately, after finding the four pieces, the party was dismayed that they inadvertently destroyed the Macguffin with a cursed magic item (essentially putting them in a bag of devouring).

Climax-Change

RotFM has no lead-up to any climax other than taking out the Frost Maiden and ending the curse, so along with the rest of the players, we decided that would be a good place to end the campaign after 6 months of play. So, the party decided to end the campaign (for better or worse) with a direct frontal assault on the Frost Maiden’s palace. Amazingly, the place is pretty much empty, so they walked right into her throne room to defeat the deity.

Lessons Learned

Many readers consider RotFM a top-tier campaign adventure. To me, it is far below “Curse of Strahd” or “Tomb of Annihilation” (two that I’ve run to completion). I have run nearly all the official WotC adventures [at least in part]: Strahd, Tomb of Annihilation, Phandelver, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Dragon Heist, Undermountain, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, Tales of the Yawning Portal, and Storm King’s Thunder. Of the ones I’ve run, I consider only three of them to be “good” (Strahd, Tomb, and Phandelver).
I think it’s (finally) time to consider that the mega-adventures just aren’t for me.

What’s Next?

Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve been largely running modules since 3rd edition. When I started in 2e I wrote my own material mostly. Since that time, as life has gotten busier and the games more complex (and on top of it, I’m also running games for more groups than ever), it’s difficult to make the time to curate custom experiences for my players. When you run for a group that is comprised mostly of casual players, you often don’t get the feedback you need to tailor an adventure to their interests. They are there to go on quests, kill monsters, loot treasures, etc.
None of the official adventures seem appealing to me – and the players have shot down all of them last time they were presented. It seems like doing a few one-shots until we find something that sticks is the way to go.
I am playing it right now and I am finding it rather engaging.

I am a player and our DM has really tied in backstories. There was some go here and do this, like you said but usually it was either tied to a specific backstory or it was something we needed to do because of something else happened and that is where we needed to be. Almost everything we have done and everywhere we have gone has had a point.

Quite frankly, what we are having problems with right now is there are things we want to do that we don't have time for, because some big pressing story problem reared its head. When I say "problems" I don't mean game problems, I mean character problems and delimas that make for good storytelling.
 


Bolares

Hero
This book is really weird. I don't get a lot of the decisions. But I LOVE the character secrets, and how out of the box some of them are.
 

Retreater

Legend
RotFM is my favourite WotC adventure. Really not keen on Carry on up the Castle or Tomb of Hexcrawl.

But it's just down to personal taste.
That's great. I don't consider my preferences the sole taste of D&D. With the way most of the adventure content from Wizards of the Coast has failed to connect with me, I'm finally realizing that my preferences don't line up with the majority of D&D players.

It's a sort of bad spot to be in, honestly. When I'm not interested in the bulk of the official content, it feels like the hobby has moved on from me. Like if most D&D customers are getting excited about an adventure that can be won by hugging unicorns and befriending cuddly baby displacers (the newest Feywild adventure), I have to just enjoy what is there from the past and make my own fun.
 

There are more people playing, so there are more different tastes. But whimsical stuff has always been part of D&D as well as serious stuff. Gygax wrote Dungeonland/Land Beyond the Magic Mirror. Not everyone wants to do whimsy (and not everyone wants to do game of Thrones), and WotC are trying to mix it up. RotFM wasn't very whimsical.
 

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