Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is out and I’ve had the time to look through it while making our first set of DM’s resources for the adventure.
In other words, it’s time to review Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
I’ll be honest – when I first got my hands on this adventure, I was a bit disappointed. I’ve run most of the published adventures for fifth edition, and I feel like they have – on average – become progressively better and easier to run as the years have gone by.
That wasn’t my takeaway after first flipping through Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. It seemed incoherent and haphazardly put together, and I felt like it would require a lot of work to run as a satisfying, single campaign.
However, while that may still be true – and I’ll get more into that in the detailed review below – I found that beneath the initial, glaring issues it presented, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden has a lot to offer. It is perhaps one of the most creative and inspiring works that WotC has put out so far – and sometimes creativity and inspiration doesn’t come in a neat package.
Anyway, foreword aside, let’s get into the review!
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden Review
- Inspiring locations that are well-developed and filled with interesting creatures, events, and encounters.
- Awesome maps & art that help the DM set the tone and tell the story.
- Useful resources & tools like character secrets, background hooks, & handouts help give the players an unique experience
- Fragmented story that isn’t very well-connected and can feel oddly paced and structured.
- Weak and underdeveloped hooks that expect the characters to do things ‘just because’…
In this review, I will go over what I think are the 5 key qualities of a published adventure: setting, story, structure & pacing, accessibility, and accessories.
A review is, by its very nature, subjective, but I will do my best to give my reasoning for a score, and for why I like or dislike something, so that it’s possible to use the review, even if your taste differs from mine.
It’s a good thing that I usually start these reviews with the setting, because it allows us to get things going on a high note. I really, really like the setting that’s presented in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
In fact, in many ways, the adventure feels more like a setting book than a campaign. Spread over more than 150 pages, we get a full description of each Icewind Dale’s Ten-Towns, as well as 13 adventure locations in the wilderness of Icewind Dale.
In previous adventures, such as Storm King’s Thunder and Tomb of Annihilation, we would often get dozens of locations listed, but most of them only had a sentence or two attached to them. As a DM, this can be very frustrating. The locations are likely to be on the players map or route, so they could very well end up there, but you – the DM – have to do most of the legwork yourself once they do.
Not so in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. In this book, nearly every location has a meaningful quest or event attached, and comes fully-equipped with flavorful descriptions, interesting NPCs, and just enough content to give the DM something to work with, without becoming overwhelming.
That’s one of the benefits of a frontier setting like Icewind Dale – there’s a manageable amount of locations. And personally, I’d much rather have two dozen well-described locations, than 200 locations with only a paragraph attached to them.
The other benefit is that a frontier setting is just cool (pun fully intended). There’s danger, horror, uncertainty, and a certain brutality to the setting – but there’s also room for lights in the dark, with quirky creatures and NPCs and a certain ‘gallows humor’ to some events.
In summary, I think Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden deserves a perfect 5/5 for its setting.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden has some great stories. The issue is just that, however: it has stories. Plural.
As a singular story – from A to Z, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 7 – the story in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is somewhat incoherent and lacks focus.
From the title of the book, as well as the introductory passages in the book, you would think that the story’s focus is Auril’s Everlasting Rime – the spell of darkness the evil ice goddess has cast over Icewind Dale. But when you actually read through the adventure, this isn’t really the case.
Sure, Auril’s Everlasting Rime serves as a backdrop for everything that goes on and can also be used to motivate the characters to take certain actions in the later chapters. But, actually ending the curse isn’t really the driving goal in the first four chapters of the book – and it can be ended as soon as Chapter 5, which means it doesn’t even factor into Chapter 6 and 7.
This weakens the overarching story a lot. Because while the consequences of Auril’s Everlasting Rime is clearly felt throughout the first chapters, the characters don’t have any way of doing anything about it before heading into Chapter 5 – and then it can be over just a session or two later. What should be ‘the main story’ just doesn’t have enough time to mature and feel epic – it becomes something of an afterthought or a footnote.
To use a storytelling term, the book is making a promise – this adventure is about ending Auril’s Everlasting Rime – but doesn’t deliver on it. Because in truth, this adventure is just as much about stopping mechanical dragons and digging up ancient artifacts for the fun of it, as it is about Auril and her spell of darkness.
While subverting expectations like this can be fun and enjoyable, it can also leave the readers – or, in this case, the DM and the players – somewhat confused and disappointed. Luckily, it is a problem that can be resolved without too much rewriting and is something we will be tackling in DM’s resources for the adventure and on blog posts here on eventyrgames.com – so stay tuned for that.
Incoherent plot aside, there is a lot of amazing storytelling in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. It’s just inside each of the individual chapters and locations. But what we get there is gold – most of the smaller quests and also the larger chapters are, on their own, really great stories, and present content that is both exciting, engaging, and memorable.
All told, I can only give Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden a 3/5 for its overarching story, which is really more a collection of smaller, great stories.
Structure & pacing
Story and structure go hand in hand, so when the story is messy, the structure and pacing often is as well. This is also the case for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
The adventure starts out as a semi-sandbox in Chapters 1 & 2, becomes a heroic quest with tough choices in Chapters 3 & 4, and ends up extremely linear in Chapters 5–7. That isn’t necessarily an issue, but the way the adventure transitions between these modes of play is somewhat jarring.
The adventurers start out just meandering about Icewind Dale, helping out where they can, putting some fame on their names and some gold in their pockets by solving minor quests. They are then suddenly asked to be the heroes of Icewind Dale without any promise of reward – and then later to go dig up some Netherese artifacts (perhaps just) for the fun of it.
You get the sense – and as far as I’ve read, this seems true – that this book was written by a lot of different authors and pieced together after-the-fact. And, just like the newest Star Wars-trilogy (I know, I’m going into dangerous territory with this comparison…) seems to have suffered from not having a singular vision from the start, so does Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden end up feeling a bit messy.
On the bright side, however, the pacing and structure within individual chapters is (for the most part) excellent. Most of the towns and adventure locations are well structured with defined beginnings, middles, and ends, and enough challenges to fill out an adventuring day.
To sum it up, the structure and pacing of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden gets a 3/5 for being messy as a whole, but individually good.
So, how easy or hard is Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden to run?
Well, it’s a bit complicated. Not just the answer to that question – but the adventure itself.
First, while Chapter 1: Ten-Towns is excellent as a whole, it has some issues with execution that can make it difficult to run.
There’s very little guidance provided for difficulty, and some of the challenges and quests are really not appropriate for 1st-level adventurers, so if you’re not careful, you may end up sending the characters to the slaughterhouse by starting them in, or steering them toward, the wrong town at the wrong time. This is something we tackle directly in our DM’s resources for Chapter 1: Ten-Towns, by providing advice for adjusting encounter difficulty.
Second, because the story and structure isn’t that well put together, you may also run into issues with motivation.
If a player created a character that is motivated by doing good and ending evil curses, they may have a hard time coming up with a reason why they would want to dig up ancient artifacts for a quasi-evil organization of arcanists. Or the other way around.
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t do a very good job of giving the DM compelling arguments to motivate characters in these cases. Often the ‘hook’ is nothing more than ‘please do this, it would help us a lot’, or ‘I can’t promise you a reward, but maybe you will find something awesome’. Of course, if you have agreeable players, they will go along – but in an ideal world, their characters would be genuinely motivated to do so.
Last, the writing isn’t always the most helpful. Again, it seems like a lot of different authors were involved, so while some of the quests and locations are described concisely and in an easy-to-read manner, other parts of the adventure have long, meandering, and poorly-structured paragraphs of text that are very hard to use directly at the table.
On a more positive note, the book has a lot of material – location descriptions, encounters, quests, etc. – completely ready-to-use, so you don’t have to make up too much stuff on your own. And, as long as you regard each chapter individually, they do make sense, and have tools that will help you guide the action.
In summary, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden get a 3/5 for accessibility – it’s not the easiest adventure to run – in fact, it’s probably one of the harder ones.
Coming to our last point – the accessories that come with the adventure – we get to end on another high note.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a huge adventure book, and it is filled with a lot of great accessories for the DM.
First and foremost, the art is just excellent. I can’t say anything bad about it. It’s awesome, and there’s a lot of it. Wizards of the Coast are consistently knocking it out of the park when it comes to art.
Second, there’s full-color maps! This is something many DMs had been missing with the last few releases, so if you’re someone who prefers to run your game on a digital tabletop with color maps, you’ll be happy about this change. There’s also a lot of maps, covering nearly every encounter location described – and we will be putting out DM’s resources with maps for those map-less encounters.
Lastly, there’s also a lot of additional accessories, such as Icewind Dale Trinkets, Character Secrets – nifty little secrets each character can start with – a poster map of Icewind Dale, and even a few handouts.
All told, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden gets a 4.5/5 for its accessories.
Summary and final score
- Setting: 5/5
- Story: 3/5
- Structure & pacing: 3/5
- Accessibility: 3/5
- Accessories: 4.5/5
If we put the numbers together, we end up giving Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden a cool rating of 3.7/5.
I would have loved to score this one higher, because I think there’s a lot of amazing content inside this book. The issues with the overarching story and structure are just too glaring and really take away from the product as a whole.
That being said, I’d still strongly recommend that you pick Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden up, if you can afford it. It’s worth well the money for the setting content alone.
Anyway, that’s my take on Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Do you agree, or do you think I’m being unfair? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter. Also, don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list for more D&D and Icewind Dale content!
Until next time – keep it cool!
J. A. Valeur