D&D 5E Running Rime of the Frost Maiden

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Skyrim-style level-scaling can be narratively implausible/immersion breaking in some situations, but as a game mechanic it's not a terrible solution.
it can and d&d supported it prior t 5e, but then bounded accuracy came around. Take skeletons & zombies from 3.5 for example. In 5e you instead have loldeadly encounters and "here are some numbers that won't do that, go fix it yourself but the system is nothing but one off edge cases & is designed to fight your attempts"
 

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What I was sort of objecting to was the idea that every time you embark on a new storyline, you crate new characters, run them through a series of connected (often linear) adventures, then retire them to do the same thing all over again.
Players get bored with characters and want to try something different. When we finished Rime we had 3 PCs continue, 2 replace their PC with a new character, and 1 replace their PC with a PC returning from an earlier campaign.

With Rime, they also get bored of the scenery if you let it run on too long. There is only so much ice and snow you can describe before it gets dull.
 

Retreater

Legend
With Rime, they also get bored of the scenery if you let it run on too long. There is only so much ice and snow you can describe before it gets dull.
I'm feeling that. Maps, creature types are all of the icy variety. The ever-present darkness means most encounters start the same (you see a light source or they see you once you get within 60 ft - meaning it's hard to hide or avoid encounters.)
My best and longest lasting campaign had frequent teleportation to different locations in a globe-spanning adventure, with about 1-2 months in a single place.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I'm feeling that. Maps, creature types are all of the icy variety. The ever-present darkness means most encounters start the same (you see a light source or they see you once you get within 60 ft - meaning it's hard to hide or avoid encounters.)
My best and longest lasting campaign had frequent teleportation to different locations in a globe-spanning adventure, with about 1-2 months in a single place.
The monotony really points a spotlight at the way 5e's shallow simplistic combat is little more than charge>attack>repeat till success>rest too. From there it doesn't matter much if the players are fighting in the snow, in an ice cave, in a cold mine, in a cold set of ruins, etc. Sure there are ten different "towns", but the differences are so minor that they could just as well be one town with 2-3 more interesting districts.
Having the towns so far apart runs hard into the wall of problems created by the 6-8 combat encounter bennchmark too since 1-2 encounters will never put enough load on resources to even be noticeable.
 

In D&D when you complete a big story arc, that's usually it. I guess theoretically in the olden days some might've played T1-4/A1-4/GDQ1-7, but I'm sure that's the exception. IMO, once you go through the Saltmarsh trilogy, that's the end. Once you go through Desert Nomads, that's the end.

This was definitely our style back in the day. Everyone in my circles tended to get attached to their characters and the evolving campaign and wanted to keep the story going. We were constantly stringing adventures together.

A half-year campaign has always been standard for us - you play through the Fall or Spring semester at college, then have new players/DMs.

My current campaign has been running for 16 months thus far. Our longest game ran for more than a decade of regular play. Our main college campaign started on the first weekend of freshman year and ended after graduation.

Just tossing this out as another data point.
 

MarkB

Legend
Yes, I've run it. Didn't have any party separation, since it teleports everyone in the chamber leading up to the door. And once they had done the first one they knew how it worked and had everyone prepared. If you do have issues with party members wandering off it doesn't really matter if they are left behind - they can camp out with the giant walrus until they get back. The Giant Walrus being the reason for not teleporting everything in the central room. No reason they couldn't catch up by opening the door themselves though. It won't wreck the trial if someone arrives a few minutes late. Or they could attempt a different trial.

What I did change: I buffed Isarr Kronenstrom from the Trial of Preservation and made him a full blown werewolf. Like many of the bosses in RotFM he is a bit weak - this is a one-day-one-fight set up (the giant vultures don't really count), so he needs to be deadly - around CR 11 or 12.

What I would change if I ran it again: I would use the stress rules from Ravenloft, for the whole adventure, but particularly in the Trial of Isolation. I would also allow party members to take turns using the Performance skill to reduce stress - there is little enough opportunity for players to make use of this skill.
My party have still only completed the Tests of Cruelty and Endurance - this week they opted to rest off their exhaustion levels and spend some time exploring the shipwrecks, which netted them some nice treasure and one precarious moment where their transport strategy of "airlift via wildshaped druid" left the barbarian alone on a ship facing multiple waves of ghouls. So I've had time to think a little more about the other tests.

For the Test of Preservation, I agree that Isarr is a cakewalk as written. The issue is that he's mostly just a threat to the PCs - if he tries to go around them to get to the kid, they'll slaughter him. Rather than boosting his stats, I'm thinking of giving him one or two dire wolf pets, and telegraphing that they are aiming to go straight for the kid.

For the Test of Isolation I like it as written, but I'm planning to bump up the atmosphere and emphasise the themes of isolation and madness with some different background effects each day:

  • Day 1 - DC 10: Eerie silence, darkness so complete that nothing can be made out beyond firelight / darkvision range.
  • Day 2 - DC 12: Howling winds, seeming to carry half-familiar voices.
  • Day 3 - DC 14: Dark clouds and a distant storm. Massive shapes seem to move in the darkness, though the intermittent flashes of lightning reveal only empty plains.
  • Day 4 - DC 16: Scuttling noises, always seeming to come from behind or to one side, ceasing the moment you turn around. Prickling sensations as though tiny legs were crawling up your back.
  • Day 5 - DC 18: Brief signs of movement in your peripheral vision. Small items around the camp seem to have moved from where you last left them.
  • Day 6 - DC 20: Deep darkness again, but this time it seems to creep ever closer. Darkvision is useless, and shadows cast by flickering firelight or even seem to waver and dance menacingly, while attempts at magical illumination gutter out within moments of casting. Eventually the shadows spread and merge, closing in until only the tiniest ring of firelight remains.
 

Curious thing about Isarr is he has a kind of anti-pack tactics, which makes him weaker if he has allies close by, but I guess if he splits from his pet wolves he won't suffer too much.

Anyway, I have found how I statted him:
2021-07-15.png

For a very strong party you could use the Loup-Garou statblock from VGR. In which case maybe give the kid a silver dagger to finish him off? The kid finished him when I played this encounter.
 
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MarkB

Legend
So, my players have finished the Trials and found the Codicil, and are perparing to depart Grimskalle - they basically don't see Auril as being a threat they can face, and based upon the information they have so far, it's hard to blame them.

I plan to change that by having the Codicil contain details about the Endless Rime ritual that Auril is currently casting each day, details that Velynne and Professor Skant (or the PCs with a decent Arcana check) can interpret, giving them an idea of just how much the ritual is weakening Auril so that they can start to consider her as something they can take on.

But I'm wondering about motivating them for the rest of the adventure. Velynne basically got them onboard for the Ythryn expedition with the lure of potential knowledge or items to help end the Endless Rime, and they see that as their main reason for going there, so once the threat of Auril is over it seems unlikely that they'll feel particularly inclined to do so. Certainly they haven't warmed to Velynne as a character and don't trust her an inch, so they won't do it on her account.

What I really need is a hook to tie in this last part of the adventure to the overall storyline. I've been considering making the Endless Rime more than just effectively a weather effect - making it more like a Domain of Dread, with Auril's spell gradually turning Icewind Dale into a separate reality, cut off from Faerun as a whole, one in which there is no sun. Even after defeating Auril, they can't actually reverse the effect without something from Ythryn.

But I'm struggling with really fleshing out that concept, and finding a way to introduce it to the players that doesn't feel forced.

Maybe I should just let them leave the island, and leave the confrontation with Auril until the next chapter, but it just feels like it'd be a bit of a footnote if she simply randomly shows up in the city.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
I plan to change that by having the Codicil contain details about the Endless Rime ritual that Auril is currently casting each day, details that Velynne and Professor Skant (or the PCs with a decent Arcana check) can interpret, giving them an idea of just how much the ritual is weakening Auril so that they can start to consider her as something they can take on.

Maybe I should just let them leave the island, and leave the confrontation with Auril until the next chapter, but it just feels like it'd be a bit of a footnote if she simply randomly shows up in the city.
The PCs stole the one-and-only book that describes Auril's current Big Project and how to mess it up? I think she will come after them for vengeance and to get it back for "safekeeping". Set the battle in some evocative Frozen Tundra terrain (3e supplement Frostburn has ideas) under the Northern Lights and let her be the BBEG of the campaign.

Later on, after doing something else (a different campaign, new characters, whatever), the word breaks across the Forgotten Realms that somebody found some NETHERESE MAGIC ... and the Yukon Gold Rush is on! Lucky you, your characters (or a patron that looks suspiciously like your RotFM characters) already know their way around Icewind Dale and the tundra roundabouts.
 

MarkB

Legend
I think I've found a good hook to bring the PCs through to the end of the campaign. When they defeat Auril's final form her voice will ring out in their heads. "Fools. You think I would not plan for this? My Rime is anchored where you cannot reach it. It will not be as gentle on these lands without my personal touch, but all will be preserved. Even you."

The next morning the dawn will not come. Instead, Auril's false aurora will bloom far to the east, about the Reghed Glaciar, presaging a series of terrible blizzards that sweep unrelentingly across the landscape. As a backup, Auril anchored the ritual of the Endless Rime to the Ythryn Mythallar, and if it is not somehow dealt with within a few weeks, it will continue pumping out devastating weather until the region is truly frozen.
 

MarkB

Legend
One quick note on the Roll20 version of this adventure: Both the token and art handout for Auril's first form are, accurately enough, labelled "Auril (First Form)". What a give-away! I'm glad I checked those assets in advance of the confrontation. I know it's not like they're really going to think she's dead when she goes down like a chump in the first round, but let's at least suspend the reveal for a little while.
 

One thing I wouldn't do is force a confrontation with Auril on Grimskalle if the players are trying to avoid it. Apart from railroading, such a fight is likely to be inconclusive, since she can use her lair action to teleport anywhere she likes if things start going badly for her. Also note that her pet roc can drop people off the side of the building from a great height.

As for motivation, my players had already decided that they needed the Ythyrn Mythallar to end the winter, due to clues found in the Black Cabin and Lost Spire, so had common cause with Vellynne, despite not trusting her. It's perfectly reasonable for the DM, role playing as (intelligent and manipulative) Vellynne, to use whatever means of persuasion might prove effective on your particular PCs, and taking into account that she knows the PCs don't trust her, to get them to take her to Ythyrn. If the PCs refuse, she is likely to make off with the codicil and team up with Avarice, who will use the power of Ythryn to free Levistus.

As for why Auril will show up in Ythryn - the clues are on Grimskalle. She is a collector. She likes to collect and preserve things unchanging. She has "collected" Ythryn and sealed it away with her magic, which is why the PCs need the eponymous rime in the first place. If the PCs made a good impression in the trials she might be willing to tolerate them, if they take a "look but don't touch" approach, but Avarice hasn't been through the trials.
 

MarkB

Legend
One thing I wouldn't do is force a confrontation with Auril on Grimskalle if the players are trying to avoid it. Apart from railroading, such a fight is likely to be inconclusive, since she can use her lair action to teleport anywhere she likes if things start going badly for her. Also note that her pet roc can drop people off the side of the building from a great height.

As for motivation, my players had already decided that they needed the Ythyrn Mythallar to end the winter, due to clues found in the Black Cabin and Lost Spire, so had common cause with Vellynne, despite not trusting her. It's perfectly reasonable for the DM, role playing as (intelligent and manipulative) Vellynne, to use whatever means of persuasion might prove effective on your particular PCs, and taking into account that she knows the PCs don't trust her, to get them to take her to Ythyrn. If the PCs refuse, she is likely to make off with the codicil and team up with Avarice, who will use the power of Ythryn to free Levistus.

As for why Auril will show up in Ythryn - the clues are on Grimskalle. She is a collector. She likes to collect and preserve things unchanging. She has "collected" Ythryn and sealed it away with her magic, which is why the PCs need the eponymous rime in the first place. If the PCs made a good impression in the trials she might be willing to tolerate them, if they take a "look but don't touch" approach, but Avarice hasn't been through the trials.
It's more that I want to introduce the players to the concept that Auril can be fought, before they leave the island. I don't think the battle will be inconclusive, because I don't see Auril as using her powers to retreat, or willingly involving her Roc as it's essential to her plans.

She's immortal and thinks on larger scales - she fears being confronted by divine enemies who could end her entirely or banish her from the mortal realm, not ordinary people who can set her back for a season at worst.

My players don't know any details of the mythallar yet. They didn't visit the Lost Spire, and Velynne has been non-specific about what can be found in Ythryn.
 

Vellynne will be as cagy as she needs to be. If she needs to give out more info to persuade the PCs she will. She also has a better idea about the power level of Auril. She was quite dismissive about her in my game.

Although it's more fun if the PCs don't think Auril can be fought until she actually is coming at them!

Negotiating with Auril could also be an option if the PCs make a good impression in the trials.

Personally, I don't see Auril's arrogance to be so overwhelming that she won't run away if reduced to her 3rd form, and use her minions, including the roc, in a fight. She can always grow another, it's not like she is sentimental.

In my game Auril sent an army of minions in to engage the party, who where in control of the Mythlar, then attacked herself, making extensive use of flying and ranged attacks.
 
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MarkB

Legend
My players are currently in the Caves of Hunger, having defeated Auril in her lair.

The Flameskulls lived up to their reputation of being extremely under-CR'd, dropping almost the entire party. This was, ironically, aided by the fact that two of them had become werepolarbears, as this otherwise-useful boon comes with a side order of vulnerability to fire.

Tekeli-li, on the other hand, did not work out at all. The adventure describes him as a recurring threat, attacking periodically and then turning to mist and retreating if he takes more than 20 hit points. This fails to take into account that a 9th-level party can easily get through all his hit points in a couple of turns - in this instance, the paladin and barbarian, going first, laid down over 100 hit points of damage, and that wasn't even using all the barbarian's attacks.

Since gnoll vampires apparently don't have a resting place they can retreat to, he was basically toast before he even got a turn, and the party sealed the deal with a stake through the heart and a sprinkling of holy water.

The relic that casts arcane eye on a person was also a bit of an oddity - it essentially allowed them to scout ahead a great deal, which meant the place lost a lot of its mystery. I ruled that they couldn't just scout the entire place dues to its size, so I gave them a choice of scouting either south or east, with the far south-east region being unrevealed whichever they chose. They chose east, and spent the rest of the session setting up ambushes and flanking attacks upon the undead in this area. The cleric was especially pleased, his Turn Undead obliterating all but two of the Shadows while they were still surprised.
 

Yeah, Tekeli-li is horribly underpowered. I buffed is significantly, and my PCs still took it out in a one and a half rounds.

My PCs' arcane eye stumbled into the room with the Lovecraftian monster frozen in the ice and received a brain-freeze. A party of that level technically has access to the spell anyway.

There is a big jump in difficulty in the Necropolis, although the big bad demi-lich is still a pushover. Spitting Mimics and squads of Magen gave them a hard time.
 

MarkB

Legend
Yeah, Tekeli-li is horribly underpowered. I buffed is significantly, and my PCs still took it out in a one and a half rounds.

My PCs' arcane eye stumbled into the room with the Lovecraftian monster frozen in the ice and received a brain-freeze. A party of that level technically has access to the spell anyway.

There is a big jump in difficulty in the Necropolis, although the big bad demi-lich is still a pushover. Spitting Mimics and squads of Magen gave them a hard time.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to the actual city. That looks like it'll be a lot more interesting. The Caves mostly feel like just an XP booster for parties that haven't yet hit 9th level.
 

Yeah, I'm looking forward to the actual city. That looks like it'll be a lot more interesting. The Caves mostly feel like just an XP booster for parties that haven't yet hit 9th level.
Narratively, there needs to be connective tissue between the Necropolis and the outside world. The remorhaz fight was probably the best bit in the caves. The gnoll vampire falls flat.

There is a very similar section in Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter: GameBanshee
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Parking a link to a useful thread here for future reference:

 

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