This is part 1 of a series about running Rime of the Frostmaiden. Check out Running Rime of the Frostmaiden – Introduction & Overview for a more in-depth description of the series.
In this article, you will find suggestions about changes you can make to the background of the adventure Rime of the Frostmaiden to help improve the adventure’s overall story. For ease of reference, we call these combined changes the ‘Eventyr Edition’.
As discussed in the introduction to this series, I find that the otherwise excellent adventure Rime of the Frostmaiden has a problem with the cohesiveness of its story, which creates three issues for the DM and the players. In brief summary, these are:
- Structure. The adventure may be too open and unstructured in the beginning and can be too linear and railroady towards the end.
- Motivation. The characters lack proper and consistent motivation both at beginning and throughout the adventure.
- Exposition & Foreshadowing. Too much information is provided as exposition and there’s not enough foreshadowing for important events, locations, and characters.
To combat these issues, and to create a more cohesive story that is easier for the DM to run and for the players to follow, I’ll suggest various changes throughout the book’s seven chapters.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of the adventure, however, there’s some subtle changes we can make to the story’s background and central story that can make later parts work better. That’s what we’ll discuss in this article.
If you have already started the adventure, don’t worry. Depending on how far you have come and what you have told the players, it may not be too late to implement some or all of these changes. And, even if it is too late for you to make these adjustments, they are not a requirement to running a good Rime of the Frostmaiden-adventure or even necessary to implement most of the other changes the Eventyr Edition encompasses. They are simply suggestions for ways I think the adventure can be improved.
Alright – let’s get into it!
Changes to the Adventure’s Background
We are going to leave most of the adventure’s background as it is in the book, except for the following changes:
In the book, Auril is motivated to plunge Icewind Dale into darkness simply because she has “a need to preserve the beauty of things by freezing them”.
In the Eventyr Edition, we expand upon Auril’s motivation by making it two-fold. As before, she seeks to preserve beauty, but this refers more specifically to the city of Ythryn. After the wizard Vaelish Gant came to the region several years ago, Auril became aware of the Arcane Brotherhood’s growing interest in the Netherese Necropolis of Ythryn, which she counts as one of her most prized possessions. In an effort to deter them, she decided to plunge Icewind Dale even deeper into cold and darkness. This has the added benefit of driving the people of Ten-Towns toward worship of the Frostmaiden, as she is creating a frigid wasteland which only those who carry her blessing will be able to thrive in.
This change may never be communicated to the players, but that’s alright. It’s just important that we understand why Auril is doing what she’s doing – because if the adventure doesn’t make sense to the DM, it probably won’t to the players either. When we know clearly that Auril wants to 1) keep Ythryn hidden away in the Reghed Glacier and 2) drive the inhabitants of Icewind Dale to her worship, it’s easier for us to determine how she or her agents would act in any situation that may arise.
Auril’s Everlasting Rime is permanent – and getting worse
In the book, Auril must cast her spell of darkness each night to prevent the sun from rising, keeping Icewind Dale in perpetual winter.
In the Eventyr Edition, the weather in Icewind Dale has been getting gradually worse over the last two years. At first, the people of Ten-Towns believed the changes in weather – dropping temperatures, shorter days, more frequent blizzards – to be just an extended and very harsh winter. But, with each passing month, the temperature drops a little lower and the day – only a few hours of twilight at this point – becomes shorter. Now it has been more than a year since the sun has hung high in the sky and there is no longer any doubt: powerful magic is afoot!
This change makes it so that ending Auril’s Everlasting Rime can’t just be accomplished by stopping the spell from being cast each night, but also requires that the effects of the spell are reversed with powerful magic (the mythallar in Ythryn!). This change also helps explain why everyone hasn’t forsaken Icewind Dale yet and how the characters may have come to Icewind Dale recently, but perhaps find it harder to leave, as the weather has since gotten worse.
Auril’s involvement isn’t common knowledge
In the book, the people of Icewind Dale know that the darkness and cold is Auril’s doing, although we are never really told how they know, just that they recognize ‘Auril’s wrath when they feel it’.
In the Eventyr Edition, there’s no consensus about who or what is causing these changes in weather. Some people are tying it to the aurora that illuminates the sky each night, while some believe that Auril the Frostmaiden, a goddess of winter and darkness, is behind the changes in weather. All that seems to be agreement about is that powerful magic is at play!
This change makes it so that the characters have to discover for themselves what’s behind the darkness and cold that has gripped Icewind Dale – thus also giving them a bigger part in the story, instead of just unloading exposition upon them.
Auril isn’t casting the spell herself
In the book, Auril casts the spell herself, flying across Icewind Dale on the back of a giant roc each night.
In the Eventyr Edition, it isn’t Auril herself who has come to the material plane and is casting her spell each night. Instead it is a frost giant druid, Geluvicken, who acts as her agent. Each night, the giant flies across Icewind Dale on the back of the roc, channeling Auril’s divine power and strengthening Auril’s Everlasting Rime. It is also Geluvicken that coordinates the efforts of the lesser frost druids in Icewind Dale (see below).
This change makes it so that the characters have a ‘boss’ to defeat in Chapter 5: Auril’s Abode – the frost giant druid Geluvicken – but can’t (prematurely) face Auril there. In addition, we can use an encounter with Geluvicken to explain how and why Auril comes to the Material Plane to confront the characters!
Auril’s agents are more active and purposeful
In the book, we get a few mentions of Auril’s frost druids, but their efforts seem uncoordinated and random.
In the Eventyr Edition, Auril has ordered her frost druids to work towards 1) demoralizing the inhabitants of Ten-Towns (by turning awakened animals against people, encouraging human sacrifice, and so on) and 2) to hinder anyone who tries to uncover Ythryn or undo Auril’s Everlasting Rime. It is also one of Auril’s agents that have brought Xardorok and his duergar to the surface, in the hopes that an existential threat will drive the citizens of Ten-Towns into the Frostmaiden’s cold embrace.
This change gives us tools to foreshadow both Geluvicken and Auril, as the characters run into frost druids in the first chapters of the book. In addition, having the duergars’ presence in Icewind Dale be a more direct result of Auril’s efforts ties Chapter 3 & 4 closer to the main story.
Only a few towns make sacrifices to Auril
In the book, all Ten-Towns make sacrifices to Auril, with the three biggest towns – Bryn Shander, Easthaven, and Targos – making human sacrifices.
In the Eventyr Edition, sacrifices to Auril are much more individual – with some zealous citizens of Icewind Dale trying to appease Auril by making sacrifices of warmth and food. There’s still three towns making human sacrifices, but these towns are Dougan’s Hole, Good Mead, and Targos instead of the three listed in the book. These towns each have evil or missing leaders and have been influenced by Auril’s frost druids to start performing fruitless human sacrifices.
This change follows the thought that Auril’s involvement isn’t common knowledge. It also makes more sense that outlier towns and/or towns led by evil people are more likely to perform human sacrifices, than the more civilized and fairly well-led towns of Bryn Shander and Easthaven. In the end, this isn’t an important change, just one that I feel makes more logical sense.
In summary, I suggest making the following changes to the adventure’s background:
- Auril’s motivation is to preserve Ythryn and drive Icewind Dale’s people into desperate worship.
- Auril’s Everlasting Rime is permanent – and getting worse.
- Auril is acting through an agent, the frost giant druid Geluvicken
- Auril’s agents are more active and purposeful.
- Auril’s involvement isn’t common knowledge
- Only three towns – Dougan’s Hole, Good Mead, and Targos – make sacrifices to Auril.
None of these changes are too drastic – in fact, they’re mostly nuances – but will help accomplish the following:
- More Cohesiveness. Because Auril’s spell is tied directly to Ythryn – as she seeks to keep it hidden away – and her agents are directly responsible for the duergar coming to the surface, the three storylines in Rime of the Frostmaiden are tied more closely together.
- More Agency. Because the characters don’t know exactly what’s happening and why, they must become more personally involved to figure it out.
- More Urgency. Because things are getting gradually worse (albeit too slowly to really make them rush things), there is an added sense of urgency to the adventure.
- More Motivation. Because the characters can’t ‘finish’ the adventure early in Chapter 5 by killing Auril there – she is replaced with Geluvicken – and because the characters must still find the mythallar to revert the weather effects, we can maintain their motivation to end the spell of darkness all the way through the book.
Implementing the Changes
Some of these changes – such as the winter getting gradually worse and the townsfolk not knowing for certain that Auril is behind it – are subtle nuances that you just need to keep in mind as the characters explore Ten-Towns and Icewind Dale. Others – such as the human sacrifices in Ten-Towns, Xardorok’s contact with Auril’s agents, and the introduction of Geluvicken – will be explained in more detail when we cover those chapters.
Thus, when starting out, you only really need to change the information you give the players during a session 0 or as you start the adventure (which the next part of this series will have more advice on!). If you read the boxed text under Cold Open (pg. 22), you can change it to this (changes underlined):
Icewind Dale has become trapped in a perpetual winter that is getting worse by the day. Ferocious blizzards make the mountain pass through the Spine of the World exceedingly treacherous, and this land has not felt the warmth of the sun in more than a year. In fact, the sun no longer appears above the mountains, not even in what should be the height of summer. In this frozen tundra, darkness and bitter cold reign as King and Queen.
It has become clear that this eternal winter is not a natural phenomenon and most believe that foul magic is at play! An observation strengthened by the fact that a shimmering curtain of light illuminates the sky each night, as if a spell is being cast over the land.
Some believe the everlasting winter to be the work of dark wizards and long-forgotten magic, while others blame mysterious creatures bubbling up from the Underdark. Still others believe that the everlasting winter is a punishment decreed by Auril the Frostmaiden, the god of winter’s wrath. Most don’t know what to believe – but nearly all agree that something has to be done about it, before Icewind Dale becomes naught more than a frozen tomb.
Dalefolk live in a scattering of settlements known as Ten-Towns. The drop-off in caravans coming from the south and travel between settlements in this never-ending winter has left everyone feeling isolated. Some townspeople and even whole towns have even begun to try and appease the Frostmaiden with sacrifices of one kind or another. For adventurers such as yourselves, Ten-Towns is a place to test one’s mettle and, in the spirit of heroes who have come before, leave one’s mark on this frigid, blighted land.
That’s it for the first part of this series. In the next article, I’ll go over the adventure’s structure, presenting an outline for some structural changes you can make to improve the adventure’s flow.
In the meanwhile, if you’re looking for more in-depth advice on running and balancing various scenarios, encounters, and locations in Rime of the Frostmaiden, as well as DM’s resources such as DM’s notes, cheatsheets, item handouts, and full-color encounter maps for Icewind Dale, check out the Complete DM’s Bundle for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden here.
Have fun and stay frosty,