This is part 3 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 on how to start Rime of the Frostmaiden, including a sample starting scenario you can use to introduce the player characters to the campaign.
Note that part of starting an adventure often begins even before you sit down for the first session – as you give the players information about the campaign, so they can create characters, potentially hold a session 0, and – in Rime of the Frostmaiden’s case – hand out character secrets and background hooks.
As this series is focused on making it easier to run Rime of the Frostmaiden by fixing the adventure’s overall story and structure, we won’t cover these things in this article. But, if you are interested, you can read more about having a session 0, handling character secrets, and much more in the DM’s resources for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Alright, let’s start with a quick look at the potential issues that may arise when starting Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Starting Rime of the Frostmaiden
In the book, the adventure doesn’t really have a beginning. We’re simply told that the players should figure out how their characters know each other and what circumstances brought them together – and then it is left up to the DM to pick a town to put them in and/or present them with a starting quest.
There are two potential issues with starting an adventure this way:
First, it leaves a lot of difficult choices up to the DM. Where to start the adventure? Which starting quest to choose? What happens next? Now, for some DMs, this is a chance to flex their creative muscles and/or do some off-the-cuff improv, but for other DMs, figuring out the answers to these questions all on their own can be unnecessary and unwanted stress.
Second, when the adventure starts in a very open way, the players may not have a clear sense of purpose from the beginning – no clear understanding of what goal the characters are ultimately supposed to accomplish – which can make it difficult for them to know where to go and why their characters should be motivated to remain in Icewind Dale.
Below, we will give advice on where and how to start the adventure to help mitigate these issues. In addition, we’ll also provide you with a complete example starting scenario, ‘A Call for Aid’, which provides the characters with a clear purpose and a reason for being in Icewind Dale to begin with.
Where to Start Rime of the Frostmaiden
Which town should I start Rime of the Frostmaiden in?
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions about Rime of the Frostmaiden – and for good reason. The book provides us with at least 10 different, but apparently equally viable, places to start the campaign. So which one to choose?
While I won’t go as far as to say that there’s a right town to start the campaign in, I certainly feel that some towns work better than others.
First, there’s the difficulty. In the DM’s resources for Rime of the Frostmaiden, we do a complete rundown of the difficulty of each town’s quests, but to quickly summarize, the quests in the southwestern towns (Dougan’s Hole, Good Mead, and Easthaven) are clearly the most difficult, while the northwestern towns (Bryn Shander, Bremen, Targos, and Termalaine) provide easier challenges more appropriate to 1st and 2nd level characters.
Second, as explained in Part 2: Structure, we don’t want the characters to begin searching for Xardorok and Sunblight Fortress before they’re the right level and have had a chance to explore Ten-Towns and some of Icewind Dale. This means that we should probably avoid the quests in Caer-Konig, Caer-Dineval, and Easthaven as they are likely to steer the characters directly toward Xardorok and his duergar.
For these reasons, it seems most convenient to start the adventure in Bryn Shander, Targos, Bremen, or Termalaine, or at least steer them towards those towns initially. These towns all have level-appropriate quests, don’t lead directly into later chapters too soon, and provide us with ample opportunities for foreshadowing later events. Of course, it’s possible to start the adventure in other towns, but if you do, you may want to hold back on the towns’ quest if they lead directly toward the duergar and/or are too difficult.
How to Start Rime of the Frostmaiden
There’s really no wrong way to start most adventures (okay, you could probably come up with a few, if you really tried) and Rime of the Frostmaiden is no exception. That said, I feel that when an adventure starts in a sandbox-environment, it’s important to start the adventure off by providing one or more short-term goals and at least begin hinting at the long-term goal of the campaign.
Providing Short-Term Goals
Freedom in D&D is awesome, but having no idea about what to do with it, much less so. In a sandbox-environment, quickly providing 1–3 quest hooks or short-term goals is the best way to ensure that the players don’t get bewildered, bored, or restless.
By the end of the very first session, we want the players to either have a firm idea about what they’re doing next and why, or be discussing whether they want to “check out that lake monster up in Bremen” or “head to Termalaine and see what’s happened to the mine”, and so on.
Rime of the Frostmaiden provides us with a bunch of minor quests and even two Starting Quests, but doesn’t provide much direction about how and when to present these short-term goals to the players. It’s my recommendation that you try to strike a balance where the characters always have at least two, but no more than three, viable leads to follow.
We start the adventure in Bryn Shander, where the characters quickly receive the ‘Foaming Mugs’-quest as they sit contentedly drinking at the Northlook. After they come back from the dwarven valley laden with iron ingots, they enjoy an evening of revelry at the comfortable inn. As they do so, they hear rumors about a lake monster in Bremen from a drunken fisherman, while the dwarves are eagerly discussing the troubles with Termalaine’s gem mine. They may even run into Hlin or Dannika Graysteel, who can give them the ‘Cold-Hearted Killer’ or ‘Nature Spirits’-starting quests, both of them recommending to begin the search up by Targos.
Hinting at the Long-Term Goal
This one is important, but often overlooked – and especially so in Rime of the Frostmaiden. Some players are fine just handling smaller quests and not worrying about the big stuff. But, in my experience, a good portion of D&D-players prefer to know early on that there’s something big and important in their future – something bigger than killing goblins or finding chwingas.
In Rime of the Frostmaiden, this means hinting at ending Auril’s Everlasting Rime. Now, the fact that Icewind Dale is wrapped in eternal winter will be a strong clue to most players that this is what the campaign is truly about, but that isn’t always enough. They also need to realize that they should and can do something about it.
We establish that ending the spell is important by showing the characters the damage caused by Auril’s Everlasting Rime and by making it clear that the situation is untenable. This is also why I suggest that Auril’s Everlasting Rime is getting gradually worse (see Part 1: Background). If the situation is static, but the characters can see that people are still alive and somewhat thriving, they won’t feel that ending the eternal winter is a pressing concern. By making it clear that things are not only bad, but also getting worse, we can really hammer home that the characters should do something.
The next thing we need to do is let them know that there’s also something they can do to help. The book doesn’t really provide a real way for the characters to act toward the long-term goal before they run into Vellynne in Chapter 4: Light’s Destruction – which is quite late, all things considered.
This is also why I suggest that we make Auril’s involvement in Icewind Dale’s troubles more of a mystery initially (see Part 1: Background), as it gives the characters a way to advance toward the long-term goal, as they try to learn more what is causing the eternal winter during Chapter 1 and 2, before finally discovering how they can end it as they head into the later chapters.
While the characters speak with them, the Foaming Mugs-dwarves grumble that “with the way this durned snow keeps comin’ down, us stout folk will soon have to make our way south to Gauntlgrym”, or as they hear the rumor about the lake monster in Bremen, a drunken fisherman insists that “it’s them frost druids’ work – same ones that causing this damnable cold, I’m certain of it!”.
We can also have the NPC that gives the starting quest hint at it, such as by having Danikka Graysteel underscoring that “we have to figure out what’s causing this unnatural winter and how we can reverse it – the spirits may be the key to that”, when she gives them the ‘Nature Spirits’-quest.
It can also be done more explicitly, such as by having various factions the characters are tied to (like the Harpers or the Lord’s Alliance, see the snippet of examples below) or the Council of Speakers directly tasking the characters with figuring out what’s happening in Icewind Dale – and discovering a way to end the eternal winter!
Combining everything so far, let’s say that we have picked a starting town (Bryn Shander), started the adventure off with a quick quest (Foaming Mugs), supplied the characters with a few short-term goals (Lake Monster in Bremen, A Beautiful Mine in Termalaine, and/or one of the two Starting Quests), and hinted at the campaign’s long-term goal (ending Auril’s Everlasting Rime).
This should mean that the players and their characters have a good sense of purpose and are ready to strike out. But there’s more we can do – foreshadowing!
Foreshadowing – providing minor clues and hints about later events – is one of the best ways to really enhance a campaign. We can further enhance the start of Rime of the Frostmaiden by including a bit of early foreshadowing, as described below.
Mountain Climb Adventurers
The quest ‘Mountain Climb’ in Targos revolves around a group of adventurers that get killed by yetis on Kelvin’s Cairn. It’s a cool quest which we’re likely to run later – and it can become even cooler with some foreshadowing.
While the characters are still in Bryn Shander, preferably the day before they head out towards Targos themselves, they overhear a group of adventurers discussing among themselves. These adventurers are Mokingo Growling Bear Akkanathi (male goliath warrior), Perilou Fishfinger (female lightfoot halfling cleric of Yondalla), and Astrix (female tiefling wizard), and their conversation goes something like this:
- Mokingo: “I say we look for Oyaminartok. She will know what curse has befallen Icewind Dale. I am certain of it!”.
- Astrix: “You just want to test yourself against her – which is a bad idea on its own. Besides, how is hunting down a werebear going to get us paid? I knew we should have said yes to that wizard who wanted us to look for Netherese ruins…”
- Perilou: “If we can end this damnable winter, surely there’ll be some gold in it for us. I’m with Mokingo. I know a guide up in Targos who can help us search…”
If the characters stop to speak with the trio, they are tight-lipped about their plans (not happy to have competition), but will admit to their intentions of searching for the goliath werebear Oyaminartok (pg. 293). The characters can encounter these three adventurers again as they complete the ‘Mountain Climb’-quest in Targos (pg. 87).
While this isn’t very important foreshadowing, it adds some verisimilitude to the environment and will have a good resolution as the characters find these adventurers again on Kelvin’s Cairn. It also clues the characters into Oyaminartok (which may come into play later), the red wizard Dzaan (who will be executed in Easthaven) and further underscores the importance of ending Auril’s Everlasting RIme.
The necromancer Vellynne (pg. 273) plays a very important role later in the adventure, but isn’t given much mention before she shows up out of the blue in Chapter 3 and/or 4. By introducing her early, we can both get the party acquainted with her, as well as foreshadow the Arcane Brotherhood and their search for the lost necropolis of Ythryn.
As the characters are packing up to head out of town, they are approached by Vellynne (pg. 273) in the street. She has a white snow owl on her shoulder and a weird-looking, gangly humanoid in thick winter clothing (three kobolds in a trenchcoat) next to her, and speaks matter-of-factly:
“Adventurers, I presume? Pleased to meet you. My name’s Vellynn, Wizard of the Arcane Brotherhood in Luskan. I have a minor task – not a task, really, just a request. A colleague of mine, a younger woman named Nass Lantomir, was supposed to meet me here in Ten-Towns, but I have had a hard time finding her. I’d be very grateful if you could keep an eye out for her. She has dark hair, glasses, and may be carrying an orb of quartz – about this big – with her. If you hear or see anything, let me know – I’ll give you 25 gp for any clue that leads me to her.”
If the characters acquiesce, Vellynne gives them a scroll of sending so they can contact her. If they ask any additional questions, Vellynne is stingy with the truth, but will say only that she’s in Icewind Dale looking for ‘something very old and very important’ and that Nass has something she needs (Professor Skant).
This brief encounter does two things. It lets the characters meet Vellynne before they get the quest from her to go to Ythryn later in the campaign. Second, it also keeps the characters on the lookout for Nass, whom they will get a chance to find later. Now, the characters probably won’t find Nass before they meet Vellynne again a few levels down the road, but they don’t know that and it’s not really important – the foreshadowing is!
Alternatively, you can have Vellynne replace Dannika Graysteel as the questgiver in the ‘Nature Spirits’ Starting Quest. If you do so, Vellynne still claims that she wishes to find a way to end the Everlasting Rime. This is half-true – she hopes the spirits can tell her the way to Ythryn and believes that the mythallar there can help reverse the endless winter. So even though ending Auril’s Everlasting Rime isn’t her primary goal, speaking with the nature spirits could be helpful.
Sample Start: A Call for Aid
The advice above is kept purposefully broad and vague, so that it can be generally useful and easily tailored to fit the content that is already in the book. Sometimes, however, you just want a clear way to start the adventure that accomplished everything discussed above, which is what I’ll show an example of below.
In this example scenario, the characters are adventurers – local or otherwise – who have answered a call from Ten-Towns’ Council of Speakers (or, at least, most of the council) to help out Ten-Towns in any way they can. The characters – who may or may not know each other, that’s up to them to figure out – have all heard this call for aid from Ten-Towns (posted on a notice board, shouted by town heralds, from a travelling merchant, etc.):
Ten-Towns is in dire need of aid. Darkness and cold grips Icewind Dale. Ten-Towns need adventurers strong of arm and keen of mind, who are willing to help out as best they can. If that sounds like you, you are invited to meet with Speaker Duvessa Shane in Bryn Shander’s Town Hall on the 1st of the month. Minimum payment of 10 gp per tenday.
In this example, the call has come from Speaker Duvessa Shane in Bryn Shander, but it could also have come from another town, if you have a preference. In any event, you can start the adventure as the characters arrive in town, while they’re at a tavern waiting to go to the town hall, or as they meet with the Speaker in the Town Hall.
Meeting the Speaker
When they meet with the speaker, she greets them and asks who they are (allowing the characters to introduce themselves), before explaining the situation:
“As you probably know, this damned weather we’re having isn’t getting any better. In fact, it’s getting worse by the day, it seems. Roads are becoming difficult to travel. Towns are getting desperate – people are getting desperate. And desperation breeds trouble. Some new calamity befalls one of the towns everyday it seems – heck, I got cries for aid from half of Ten-Towns’ speakers on my desk!”
“A few tendays past the council of speakers agreed – a majority of the council, anyway – that these extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Aid from people with special talents who can look out for all of Ten-Towns and not just the town they’re from. Someone who can help put out fires as they crop up – bad analogy, I guess, as we could use some warm fires these days – and maybe even figure out what’s going on with the terrible weather we have been having. Now, Ten-Towns ain’t exactly overflowing with gold, but we’re willing to offer each of you 10 gold pieces per tenday you stick around here and help out in any way you can, plus anything else you get paid along the way. Sounds good?”
To get their payments, all the characters need to do is come by Duvessa Shane once every ten days and tell her what they have accomplished – and if they have been just marginally useful, they can claim their gold. In all likelihood, they will only get to claim this reward once or twice – but the important thing is that they have a clear purpose now and a firm contact with the Council of Speakers, which we can use to guide the action later, if they ever run out of ideas about what to do.
The characters won’t be city officials, so they don’t hold authority or special privileges, but most of the towns recognize their usefulness and will look through fingers with minor transgressions. The only towns that didn’t agree to call for adventurers are Dougan’s Hole, Good Mead, and Targos, incidentally also the towns that are performing human sacrifices to Auril (see Part 1: Background).
Setting the Course
If the characters ask how they can get started helping out, Speaker Duvessa Shane can provide the following options, shuffling through a stack of letters from other Speakers on her desk:
“Where to begin, indeed! Mmmh… Well, here’s one from Termalaine, arrived a few days ago – apparently some kobolds got into the gem mine there and the town militia aren’t doing much about it. Seems about as good a place as any to start, if you’re up for it.“
As the characters leave the Town Hall, they walk past a trio of adventurers (see ‘Mountain Climb Adventurers’ above) who’s also answered the Council’s call. The adventurers are discussing an expedition to look for the werebear Oyaminartok, but are soon interrupted, as a trio of flustered dwarves come stumbling toward the characters and plead for help in retrieving their lost iron (the ‘Foaming Mugs’-quest). The other adventurers, eager to start their search for Oyaminartok, decline and head out toward Targos, leaving the characters to save the day.
Once the characters have retrieved the iron and return to the Northlook to retrieve their reward, they can get the ‘Cold-Hearted Killer’-quest from Hlin Trollbane, who believes the killer was headed north to Targos. And, when the characters begin their journey north the next day, they are approached by Vellynne (see ‘Meeting Vellynne’ above), who asks them to keep an eye out for her missing ‘friend’.
This gives the characters three immediate leads: ‘Lake Monster’ (Bremen), ‘A Beautiful Mine’ (Termalaine), and ‘Cold-Hearted Killer’-quest. All these quests point northward, which (as discussed previously) is where we want the adventurers to remain for the first couple of levels.
Now, all that’s left is to lean back and let the player characters take the reigns from here, deciding for themselves what they’d like to do next.
In the next article, we will pick up from here and discuss how to steer the players through next levels of the loose structure we have laid out for the beginning of Rime of the Frostmaiden (see Part 2: Structure) as well as how to enhance the story with more foreshadowing.
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 keep it cool,
9 thoughts on “Running Rime of the Frostmaiden – Part 3: Starting Strong”
Thank you so much for this series. I am finishing up Descent into Avernus where I heavily relied on your advice and ideas. The sandbox you laid out was amazing. My players loved it.
Next up for our group is Rime of the Frost Maiden. Your analysis resonates so well for me and my group. I love the way you rework the great material in these books not rewrite them. It is very practical. I look forward to the rest of your thoughts and ideas.
Thank you so much, Lisa, I really appreciate that. I’m sure your group will have a great time in Icewind Dale! 🙂
Fantastic ideas on how to foreshadow and tie all the quests together. My party is in Bryn Shander now. They’ve done Nature Spirits (quest-giver Danika) and Lake Monster (frost druid) after starting in Targos. Hlin has given them CHK in Targos following the shipbuilder’s murder, but has no suspects yet (I’m running it as a murder mystery) only a few clues. They’ve come to Bryn Shander (the only town where human sacrifice occurs but not yet had a murder) where they will meet Dzaan, Vellyne, and Avarice in Northlook… Nass will be there (with Danika whom Nass enlisted to find chwingas) trying to convince Arcane Brotherhood wizards that using chwingas to find Auril is the right course. I’m adding that Dzaan will hire Mokingo, Perilous, and Astrix to search for ruins on Kelvins Cairn. Dwarves will interrupt and ask party for aid (Foaming Mugs). I like adding Speaker Shane also hiring them to keep them near
Can’t wait for the next article. I’ve got the DM Complete Bundle to help me run things.
That’s some great ideas you have there. And that’s the beauty of it, I think – there’s so much different content in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden to draw from and use in different ways. I love what you’ve done with your campaign, sounds like great fun!
Your DM guide and advice here on this blog will make it more so. This new DM appreciates the help
I’ve loved the work you have put into this. I use your complete bundle for RotFM, the additional adventures and this blog series to help create a more coherent story than the book offers as is. I ignore the chwingas, as my group prefer a darker course of events, and play around with the locations of the foreshadowing as my group go about their crazy way. So far they love it.
What you have done here is very inspiring.
That’s awesome, I’m happy to hear it’s been worth the while – and that your players are having fun! 🙂
This is incredible. I have ran ToA and while playing (as a player) CoS, I am now prepping RotF since I’ll.be running it within a month, and this guide is so, so awesome. Thank you so very much
Thank you for saying that, it means a lot! 🙂