This is part 5 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, I’ll go into depth with the duergar conspiracy that is likely to guide the action of Rime of the Frostmaiden from around 3rd to 6th level. This is done following the loose structure outlined in Part 2: Structure and building upon the start laid out in Part 3: Starting Strong and Part 4: Northern Ten-Towns. If you haven’t read those articles, you may want to do that first – but even if you don’t, I’ll try to make sure you can follow along regardless.
As this series focuses primarily on the adventure’s overall story and structure, whatever we go into detail with below has to do with guiding the action, adding more foreshadowing, and tying various storylines (Auril, Xardorok Sunblight, and the Arcane Brotherhood) more closely together. For more details on how to run individual encounters, locations, and quests, check out the DM’s Resources for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Alright, without further ado – let’s get into it.
Levels 3-5: The Duergar Conspiracy
If you’re following a structure somewhat similar to what was laid out in Part 4: Northern Ten-Towns, the characters have been rummaging around the northern part of Ten-Towns for the first few levels. When they – and you – are good and ready, it’s time to steer them toward the southern towns, where they can begin to unravel the duergar conspiracy, which is what this article is about.
The duergar conspiracy is the pivotal plot of the first half of Rime of the Frostmaiden, where the characters must try to stop the duergar Xardorok’s crazed plan to unleash a chardalyn dragon on Ten-Towns. As laid out in the book, there’s essentially three places in Ten-Towns the characters can learn more about this plot:
- In Caer-Dineval, where a small group of duergar are squatting in a decrepit inn and the Cult of Levistus can inform the characters about the duergar’s plans.
- In Caer-Konig, where Xardorok’s son Nildar inhabits an outpost from which he sends duergar to steal chardalyn from nearby towns. Nildar has a letter from Durth that mentions his hiding place in Easthaven.
- In Easthaven, where Xardorok’s son Durth inhabits the Easthaven Ferry from which he sends duergar to steal chardalyn from nearby towns. Durth has a map that shows the location of Sunblight Fortress.
The way it’s laid out, it’s clearly the intention that the characters first visit Caer-Konig, learn about Durth’s hideout in Easthaven, and then go there to pick up the map showing the location of Sunblight Fortress.
It makes sense for the characters to visit the towns in this order (Caer-Konig first, then Easthaven), as it’s the way the investigation will feel most earned. That being said, you don’t lose much if the characters (whether by accident or design) don’t do things in this exact order and instead first run into the duergar in Easthaven or Caer-Dineval, so don’t worry too much about it.
All told, these locations can run pretty much as they are described in the book, except that we’ll add some extras:
- Extra Foreshadowing. We’ll insert some extra foreshadowing about the duergar’s ties to Auril’s frost druids, as well as the Arcane Brotherhood’s search for Ythryn.
- Extra Steps. The characters don’t learn the location of Sunblight Fortress from the duergar in Ten-Towns, but must visit locations in Icewind Dale to find the fortress.
- Extra Incentive. If needed, we can insert some extra incentive to push the characters toward dealing with the duergar.
Below, I’ll go over how to accomplish each of these things.
As I’ve stated a few times by now, one of my issues with Rime of the Frostmaiden is that the adventure’s three stories (Auril’s Everlasting Rime, Xardorok and his duergar, and the Arcane Brotherhood’s search for Ythryn) aren’t very closely tied together. One way to improve these ties is by having Auril’s Frost druids work more closely with the duergar.
In this scenario, it was Auril herself who approached the Lord of the Nine, Asmodeus, and suggested that he manipulate the duergar Xardorok to conquer Icewind Dale, after she had learned that a tiefling guided by Levistus (Avarice, pg. 269) was among the wizards looking to find Ythryn.
In doing so, she hopes to use Xardorok and his minions to both devastate the already troubled Ten-Towns, pushing them further into desperation and toward worshipping her, and to put an end to the Arcane Brotherhood’s search for Ythryn. For his part, Asmodeus risks little by following along while potentially foiling the plans of the ambitious Levistus.
Further cementing this alliance, Auril or Geluvicken (see Part 1: Background) has tasked the frost druids in Ten-Town with aiding the duergar’s search for chardalyn, while Xardorok has ordered the duergar to report any information about wizards or anyone else looking for ruins to the frost druids (these messages are carried back and forth by messenger birds).
If the characters discovered the cache of chardalyn in the elven tomb near Lonelywood (see Part 4: Northern Ten-Towns), they may already have learned of the connection between Auril’s druids and the duergar. Below are some additional ways you can highlight this relationship.
Any duergar magically interrogated at the outpost near Caer-Konig knows that Nildar was expecting a shipment of chardalyn from a druid near Lonelywood in the next couple of days. The chardalyn usually comes on a sled dragged by awakened wolves.
Also, in addition to the crumpled-up letter from Durth on his desk, Nildar also has a note to himself on his desk, written in crude Dwarvish runes: “Tiefling wizard in Caer-Dineval. Arcane Brotherhood? Tell druid’s beasts.” Nildar received this information from the duergar holed up in Caer-Dineval, who has taken notice of Avarice’s presence in the town.
If the characters investigate the Caer and end up speaking with Hethyl Arkorran, the old soothsayer also tells them that Auril’s frost druids and the duergar are working together against Ten-Towns, although she may not know specifically how or why.
The characters can find one or two letters (at your discretion) in the cabin aboard the Easthaven Ferry:
- An old letter in Common dated a month back that reads: “Thanks to your timely information, the wizard’s ship was destroyed before reaching Icewind Dale. Consider this chardalyn a token of the Frostmaiden’s gratitude. PS: Do not harm the bird delivering this letter, it is dear to me. Y.” This letter is from Yselm (briefly described under the ‘Yselm’s Way’ quest in chapter 2), who acted on information from Nildar about Nass Lantomir coming to Icewind Dale on a ship from Luskan.
- An unfinished letter in Common from Durth (we’ll have the clever mind master be fluent in Common) to Yselm that reads: “The wizard looking for Netherese ruins is no longer an issue. He was burned on the stake b–.” The duergar began penning this letter shortly after Dzaan was burned in Easthaven, but was interrupted by the characters’ arrival on the Easthaven Ferry (if this fits the timing of events in your game).
To make it more likely that the characters can actually handle Chapter 3 & 4, and to include more content from Chapter 2: Icewind Dale, we can add in some extra steps between the characters learning about the duergar’s plans and their arrival at Sunblight Fortress.
To do this, we must first make it harder to find the fortress. Here’s some ways to do that:
- Remove the Map. Removing the map that the characters would find on the Easthaven Ferry.
- Bad Navigators. Any interrogated duergar have only a vague idea of where Sunblight Fortress is (in the mountains to the south) and no idea of how to get there (they suck at navigating on the surface).
- No Time to Wait. The duergar are waiting for other duergar to come fetch the chardalyn in Ten-Towns. The character may think to set up an ambush for any such duergar coming in, but that won’t work either, as ”Xardorok’s work is nearly done, fools – Ten-Towns will burn before then!”
Next, we need some ways for them figure out where Sunblight Fortress is, so they can go stop Xardorok. How exactly we do this depends on the characters and their circumstances, but could involve:
- Local Knowledge. If the characters are local to Icewind Dale, they may simply know about one or more options as soon as they think about it or by succeeding on an easy Intelligence (History) check.
- Asking Around. The characters may also learn about one or more options by asking around with locals or other people they have already spoken with. Just keep in mind that they are likely to go with the first option they hear about, so you may want to present them with two options simultaneously.
- City Officials. If the characters tell a city official (such as a Speaker) about the duergar and their evil plans, it may prompt the city official to convene a meeting of the Council of Speakers, which both gives us time to have the characters complete a minor quest or two while the meeting is being set up, as well as give us a convenient setting (the council meeting) where we can supply the characters with multiple leads simultaneously.
Lastly, we also have to include some new, alternate ways to find the fortress. Here are some options:
- Karkolohk. Goblins living in the mountains have recently sued for peace with Ten-Towns. They may know the location of Sunblight Fortress.
- Reghed Tribe Camp. The Reghed tribes know every nook and cranny of Icewind Dale –hopefully also where to find the duergar’s fortress.
- Id Ascendant. Local psychics have the ability to locate anyone and anything – they’ll be able to help, as soon as the weird psychic signal disrupting their abilities have been dealt with.
You can, of course, come up with additional options, as there’s plenty of ways the characters may be able to learn the location of the duergar’s fortress. In the end, it’s up to you which and how many options you want to present them with – although I’d recommend giving them at least two options and probably no more than three.
Below, I’ll go over the three examples given here (Karkolohk, Reghed Tribe Camp, and Id Ascendant) in more detail.
The goblin camp provides a good place to start the search for Sunblight Fortress, as its chieftain, Yarb-Gnock, has recently sued for peace, so he’s likely to be willing to help.
The DMs resources have a lot more information about running Karkolohk, but below is the quick rundown of how you can set it up:
- However the characters learn about Karkolohk, make sure they are NOT tasked by Sheriff Markham Southwell to bring back Chieftain Yarb-Gnock’s head, as described under ‘Peace Out’ at the start of chapter 2, as such an order makes it unlikely they will negotiate peacefully with the goblins.
- When they arrive in Karkolohk, they can gain an audience with Yarb-Gnock, who wants the characters to escort him out of Karkolohk and get him to Ten-Towns. In return, he promises to tell them the location of the duergar’s fortress, whom the goblins have been fetching chardalyn for.
- On the way out of the fortress, the party is accosted by the goblin shaman Manafek, who blows Yarb-Gnock’s disguise and orders the goblins to attack the traitors and his escort. Should Yarb-Gnock die in the ensuing chaos, the characters can interrogate any other goblin to learn the location of Sunblight Fortress.
Reghed Tribe/Cave of the Berserkers
The characters may also opt to seek out one of the Reghed tribes, to see if the barbarians know the location of Sunblight Fortress. There’s a few different ways you can have this work out.
One way to do it is by repurposing the ‘Wolf Tribe Cannibals’-quest from chapter 2. As the characters realize the Reghed Tribe may know more, they also learn about Aluka, who can be found in the next town over. When they approach her to ask her help in finding Sunblight Fortress or a Reghed Tribe Camp, she can give them her ‘Wolf Tribe Cannibals’-quest, which they must complete to get the information (either from her or from one of the tribe’s barbarians). As with the goblins in Karkolohk, the Reghed barbarians know the location of Sunblight Fortress because they have been selling chardalyn to the gray dwarves.
Another way is to have the characters strike out and find a Reghed Tribe Camp on their own (perhaps using a local guide). As they do, the tribe in question does not immediately know where Sunblight Fortress is, but they have seen both chardalyn and gray dwarves near a cave not too far away. Recently, however, several members of the tribe have been attacked by crazed berserkers seemingly inhabiting these caves.
At the ‘Cave of the Berserkers’, the characters run into chardalyn berserkers as written, but also find the dismembered bodies of a few duergar, who had come to the cave looking for chardalyn, only to wind up slain by the berserkers. Luckily for the characters, one of these duergar were carrying a map showing the location of Sunblight Fortress.
Note that as written, both the ‘Reghed Tribe Camp’ and the ‘Cave of the Berserkers’ can be pretty tough for 4th-level characters, so you may want to dial them down a bit. For more in-depth information on how to run these locations, check out the DM’s resources.
Lastly, we can rework the ‘Distress Signal’-mission from chapter 2, so that it provides a way to find Sunblight Fortress. Whether they know about the psychics already or are told about them by someone, the characters can meet up with a group of four Ten-Towners with psychic abilities that can help them locate Sunblight Fortress. Setting this up is described in more detail in the DM’s resources, but basically the four Ten-Towners each have different psychic abilities and especially Nars Beldrun, who can cast divination, and Telvaster Hangingbell, who can cast locate object/creature with an extended radius, should be helpful.
However, the distress signal from the ‘Id Ascendant’ is preventing them from using their psychic powers. Which means the characters must first visit ‘Id Ascendant’. You can run this location more-or-less as it is described in the book, which also makes it appropriate for a party of 4th-level adventurers (as long as they don’t attempt to kill everything on sight).
Once they have cleared out the fortress, the psychics – happy to have their powers back – can quickly determine the location of the fortress and the characters can be on their way to stop Xardorok!
In the book, it’s simply assumed that the characters will discover the duergar’s plot and set out to stop Xardorok and his dragon. If that doesn’t happen on its own, the book does provide an alternate hook, which more or less boils down to a Speaker seeking out the party, unloading a bunch of exposition about the duergar and their plans, and asking the characters – without any reward! – to go stop Xardorok and save all of Ten-Towns!
Both scenarios only appeal to decidedly selfless and altruistic characters, offering little incentive to more pragmatic and greedy characters. For a more tangible reward, you can have the Speaker (or other city official) offer all the provisions and equipment they need for the journey, as well as a potential reward of up to 1,800 gp for saving Ten-Towns: 100 gp from each of the six smaller towns, and 300 gp each from Bryn Shander, Easthaven, Targos, and Termalaine. They only receive a town’s reward if they successfully prevent that town from being destroyed by the dragon, which adds additional incentive to move fast and save as much of Ten-Towns as possible!
Example – The Duergar Conspiracy
Let’s wrap everything up with an example. As always, this isn’t a blueprint or a step-by-step guide, but just one way events could unfold:
- After arriving in Caer-Konig, the characters undertake ‘The Unseen’-quest, during which they capture Nildar, learn about Xardorok’s evil plans, discover that Durth is on the Easthaven Ferry, and that the duergar are spying on a wizard in Caer-Dineval for Auril’s frost druids.
- Heading on to Caer-Dineval, the characters briefly look for a tiefling wizard, but decide to investigate no further, instead focusing on catching Durth.
- In Easthaven, they manage to catch Durth on the Easthaven Ferry, where they also find a letter from the frost druids to Durth detailing that a ship carrying a wizard was sunk a month back and the full extent of Xardorok’s plot.
- They take the information to Easthaven’s Speaker, Danneth Waylen, who calls for an emergency meeting of the Council of Speakers. While they wait for the speakers to convene, he asks the characters to look for the missing fishermen (the ‘Toil and Trouble’-quest).
- Two days later, the characters go with Danneth Waylen to Bryn Shander, where the Council of Speakers meet to discuss the characters’ findings. After the Speakers (those who have showed up, anyway) have discussed among themselves, the characters are called in and offered up to 1,800 gp to stop the duergar invasion. Speaker Duvessa Shane suggests speaking with the goblins in Karkolohk, Danneth Waylen suggests talking with the psychic Telvaster Haningbell, and Speaker Edgra Durmoot from Dougan’s Hole suggests seeking out the Reghed barbarians.
- The characters decide to seek out the psychic and end up going to the crashed nautiloid Id Ascendant, where they successfully stop the distress signal, and return to Ten-Towns and get Telvaster to divine the location of Sunblight Fortress for them. They’re now 5th level and ready to head to Sunblight Fortress to stop the duergar’s invasion!
In the next article, it’s time to tackle the middle part of Rime of the Frostmaiden, which means going over the way Chapter 3: Sunblight and Chapter 4: Light’s Destruction fits together, as well as how we can alter Vellynne’s introduction and repurpose her quest to make the latter part of Rime of the Frostmaiden less linear and include more of Chapter 2: Icewind Dale.
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. If you just want some cool maps for your game, you can also just pick up the maps right here on eventyrgames.com.
Have fun and keep it cool,