Running Rime of the Frostmaiden – Part 6: The Open Railroad

This is part 6 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, we take a look at the middle of Rime of the Frostmaiden, which I consider to be from when the characters visit Sunblight and to they head into the Reghed Glacier. This includes a discussion of Vellynne’s Quest – the main quest that sets the characters looking for the Necropolis of Ythryn – and how we can expand it into a more open “railroad” that includes more content from Chapter 2: Icewind Dale.

Note that most of the ideas in this article are also covered in the DM’s Resources for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, so if you have already picked up the resources, you shouldn’t be too surprised to find some familiar ideas, phrases, and even whole paragraphs. Even so, having the ideas laid out in a single article may help give a more concise overview of the suggested changes – that’s the intention, at least.

Alright, without further ado – let’s get into it.

Icewind Dale Rime of the Frostmaiden
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Rime of the Frostmaiden – The Open Railroad

Running Rime of the Frostmaiden

Before we get into the changes I’d suggest making to the adventure’s story and structure, let’s first take a quick look at where we’re at.

Following the previous articles, we started out in the northern part of Ten-Towns, before steering the party south to unravel the duergar conspiracy where they also had to visit various locations in Icewind Dale to uncover the location of Xardorok’s mountain fortress.

The characters are now ready to head across the tundra to foil Xardorok’s evil plans, which is also where the book would have them meet the wizard Vellynne, who gives them the quest to find Ythryn, thus leading the characters to Chapter 5: Auril’s Abode and all the way to the adventure’s final chapters.

In my opinion, there’s a few issues with the adventure’s story and structure during this middle part of the adventure:

  • Too Convenient. The release of the dragon as the characters arrive at Sunblight and Vellynne’s timely arrival shortly after both seem too convenient to be coincidences.
  • Too Much Exposition. As laid out in the book, Vellynne’s quest is perhaps the most egregious example of exposition yet, as she not only knows exactly what needs to be done, but also where and how it can be accomplished.
  •  Too Linear. As a result of the above, everything that happens the characters’ path after receiving Vellynne’s Quest is as straight as an arrow: get to the Island of Solstice, go through the Caves of Hunger, and then into Ythryn. There’s few meaningful choices involved.

In this article, I’ll go over changes we can implement to address these issues..

Running Rime of the Frostmaiden

The Dragon and the Wizard

The first thing we need to address is the timing of both the dragon’s release and Vellynne’s arrival.

The Dragon’s Release

In the book, the chardalyn dragon is released just as the characters arrive at the fortress. This is meant to force the characters to make a tough decision about whether or not to deal with Xardorok first or head back to Ten-Towns to stop the dragon.

This is a cool idea, but I’m not a fan of the execution. In addition to being terribly convenient, the timing also somewhat cheapens the difficult choice. Because the characters don’t yet know the dragon’s route, how fast it can travel, or perhaps even what it intends to do, they may not even realize that they have a choice – or what the potential consequences of that choice is.

We can fix this by instead having the dragon remain on the assembly platform in the forge (area X25) and not have it be released until it becomes apparent to Xardorok – or one of his underlings – that the fortress is under assault. Ideally, this happens during an epic showdown with Xardorok and his minions. It may be released by a command from Xardorok, by the duergar Thontara, or by a “dead man’s switch”: the dragon is magically attuned to Xardorok, and can sense when the duergar dies – which causes it to set out upon its path of destruction!

By delaying the dragon’s release, the characters’ choice now isn’t whether to head back or not, but whether or not they should take a long rest and spend time looting the fortress before setting off in pursuit of the dragon. 

Vellynne’s Arrival

As written in Chapter 4 (pg. 187), Vellynne shows up as the characters start back toward Ten-Towns, which, once again, is very convenient timing.

If you move the dragon’s release so it happens during a showdown with Xardorok in the fortress’ forge, you also get an opportunity to introduce Vellynne in a more natural way: Vellynne is a prisoner in the duergar’s dungeon, which is right next to the forge. Once the battle is over and the dragon has been released, she calls to the characters from her cell, asking them to set her free and offering her aid.

This works particularly well if you have tied the storylines closer together as described in Part 5: Duergar Conspiracy. Vellynne had been asking questions about Ythryn in Ten-Towns and beyond, which prompted the duergar to abduct her. They are now keeping her prisoner until one of the frost druids (likely Yselm, who’s described under ‘Yselm’s Way’ at the start of Chapter 2), comes by to pick her up and interrogate her.

To further tie the duergar to the frost druids, you can have Vellynne know as much. The duergar caught her on behalf of the frost druids, who want to prevent her from finding Ythryn (which is why she feels certain that Ythryn holds the key to ending the Everlasting Rime). You can also have Grandolpha/other interrogated duergar inform the characters that frost druids sometimes visit the fortress to meet with Xardorok. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail with the exact nature of the relationship, what’s most important is that the players get the sense that the duergar is part of the main plot, instead of being a completely separate storyline.

If the characters don’t take the time to find Vellynne in the fortress, you can always have them run into her as they leave the duergar fortress, as described in the book.

Conclusion

By moving the dragon’s release so it happens during an epic battle, and then having them find Vellynne in the dungeon shortly after, we accomplish the following:

  • The release of the chardalyn dragon doesn’t seem like a suspicious coincidence, but makes logical sense.
  • Vellynne no longer shows up out of the blue, but actually has a reason for being where she is.
  • The difficult decision isn’t whether or not they should handle the fortress or the dragon first, but whether or not they should rest before chasing after the dragon.

For more details about handling the characters’ assault on the fortress, the (quite tricky) chase of the chardalyn dragon, and some suggestions on how Vellynne can help out, check out the DM’s resources. As a quick tip, I’ll recommend that you either halve the dragon’s speed, double the characters’ speed, or have Vellynne supply some tireless, zombified sled dogs for the chase!

Rime of the Frostmaiden

Vellynne’s Quest

Once the characters have saved Ten-Towns – or stood idly by during its destruction – it’s time for Vellynne to give them the adventure’s final quest.

When Vellynne presents her quest at the end of Chapter 4 (ID: RotF, pg. 194), she basically tells the characters:

  • There’s an ancient netherese city buried underneath Icewind Dale, which may hold the means to end Auril’s Everlasting Rime.
  • The entrance to the city is through a waterfall in the Reghed Glacier.
  • The glacial entrance can only be opened with the Codicil of White.
  • The Codicil of White is on the Island of Solstice.
  • Nass Lantomir has stolen a professor orb from Vellynne and is also hunting for the Codicil of White. Retrieving the orb would be helpful.

You can expand this scene of – let’s be honest – bland exposition to a much more interesting premise by deciding that Vellynne doesn’t have all the answers ready, but instead relies on incomplete information. In this scenario, she knows:

  • There’s an ancient netherese city buried underneath Icewind Dale, which certainly holds the means to end Auril’s Everlasting Rime (this helps motivate the characters a bit more).
  • The entrance to Ythryn is supposedly somewhere in the Reghed Glacier, but the glacier is more than 50 miles long.
  • An object called the Codicil of White is needed to open the entrance, but she doesn’t know where to find it.
  • Both the entrance and the Codicil of White is guarded from most divination magic. What little information Vellynne has she has learned from a professor orb, but her colleague Nass Lantomir has stolen the orb.

Presenting the information this way both ensures that the characters are more motivated to follow along (because Vellynne is certain that Ythryn’s mythallar can end Auril’s Everlasting Rime) and gives them two immediate objectives:

  • Find the Codicil of White.
  • Find the Entrance to Ythryn.

In addition to reducing the amount of exposition to a more manageable chunk, this also provides us with a way to make the latter part of the adventure much more linear. We do this by having the characters explore locations described in Chapter 2: Icewind Dale to find out where the Codicil of White is and exactly where the entrance to Ythryn is. This is where we return to the example structure for the middle of the adventure laid out in Part 2: Structure:

Running Rime of the Frostmaiden

Below, I’ll go over how we can accomplish this in more detail. Bear in mind, however, that there’s a multitude of different ways we can do this, so the examples I’ll describe below are only that – examples!

Where to Look?

If you don’t want Vellynne to travel around with the characters yet, you can have the wizard suggest that they split their efforts to begin with. While the characters work on figuring out where the Codicil is, she’ll work on figuring out the location of the entrance (which is what she was doing when the duergar captured her). 

This makes it so that the characters are likely to visit a few locations in Icewind Dale before heading into Chapter 5: Auril’s Abode, after which they must head back into Icewind Dale to figure out where the entrance to Ythryn is before they can begin Chapter 6: Caves of Hunger. If you don’t mind, you can of course just let the characters decide how to proceed and have Vellynne tag along from the beginning. 

In any event, we need to figure out where the characters can learn more. I find that there’s a handful of locations in Chapter 2: Icewind Dale that fit particularly well:

  • Dark Duchess. We move Nass Lantomir’s corpse and Professor Skant from the Island of Solstice to this shipwreck. If the characters recover the orb, it can tell them where the Codicil of White and/or the entrance to Ythryn is.
  • Jarlmoot. The ancient frost giant spirits know much of what goes on in Icewind Dale – including where the Codicil of White and/or the entrance to Ythryn is
  • Lost Spire of Netheril. The wizard Dzaan discovered a Lost Spire of Netheril before he was burned in Easthaven. The lost spire holds a magic item that will help locate the entrance to Ythryn.
  • Revel’s End. The wizard Vaelish Gant – also a member of the Arcane Brotherhood – sits imprisoned here. Having once looked for Ythryn himself, the wizard does indeed know where the Codicil of White and/or the entrance to Ythryn is.
  • Skytower Shelter & Wyrmdoom Crag. The goliaths of the tundra know much about Icewind Dale – including where the Codicil of White and/or the entrance to Ythryn is.

Of course, you can come up with other locations – and should, if you prefer other locations – but the main point here is just to show how we can refit the content already provided to us in Chapter 2: Icewind Dale to open up the latter part of the adventure. As described in the book, the characters may also need to visit Angajuk’s Bell, Revel’s End, or the goliath tribes to secure passage to the Island of Solstice, further expanding the locations in Chapter 2: Icewind Dale they get to visit.

I’d advice you to give the characters 1-3 options for figuring out the answer to each question (where is the Codicil of White and where is the entrance to Ythryn). Simply choose the options (or option, if your players don’t mind a linear story) you prefer and let them decide. 

However, that begs the question: How do we let the characters know what their options are? Where and how can they learn more?

Now, some groups are full of initiative and will head straight to town and ask questions of anyone they meet, making it easy for the DM to let them know about “that ancient circle of frost giant statues, which may have answers” or “the ship from Luskan that wrecked up by the Sea of Floating Ice”.

Most groups, however, are likely to need a little nudging. If that’s the case, you can simply have Vellynne immediately tell them about 1-3 possible locations or have her show up with some ideas after a while, if the characters become restless or don’t know how to proceed. If this all seems a bit overwhelming, I’ve laid out an example scenario at the bottom of the article, which may help you get an idea of how you can string everything together.

Below, I’ll go over each of these five locations, providing a hook (in Vellynne’s voice) for each, as well as a brief description of how to refit them to our purposes.

Jarlmoot

“Rumor has it that there’s a circle of giant thrones in the tundra, where the frost giants of Icewind Dale go when they need answers – an oracle of sorts. I don’t know exactly where it is, but there’s a wilderness guide in Dougan’s Hole who claims to know where it is.”

The guide Vellynne has heard of is Yselm (see ‘Yselm’s Way, ID:RotF pg. 103). If the characters seek out Yselm in Dougan’s Hole, she can lead the characters to Jarlmoot, just like described in the book. You can then run Jarlmoot mostly as written, except that the frost giant king Reggaryarva allows the characters to ask one question after they pass his test of combat.

If the characters ask about the Codicil of White:

“The Frostmaiden’s faithful has hidden her most holy texts in the fortress of Grimskalle on the mist-shrouded Island of Solstice in the Sea of Moving Ice. Most sailors and creatures of the sea know how to find it – and to avoid it, if they can.”

If the characters ask about the entrance to Ythryn:

“The entrance to the ancient city lies behind a frozen waterfall in the northern part of the Reghed Glacier. Follow the brightest star on the northern sky and you shall find it.”

Once the characters get their answer, you can have the frost giant king’s throne rise into the air and reveal the hidden staircase – prompting Yselm’s treachery, if she has led the party to Jarlmoot. The frost giant ghost will only answer one question each month, so the characters won’t be able to learn more here for a while.

Dark Duchess

“Most of the information I have about Ythryn and the Codicil of White comes from a family heirloom: a professor orb named Professor Skant. Before he could give me all the details, he was stolen from me by a rival before I even got to Icewind Dale. She travelled here by ship more than a month ago, but never arrived, as far as I can tell. Recently, I heard a whale oil merchant from Bryn Shander talk about a ship wreck by the coast in the Sea of Moving Ice – likely the Dark Duchess, the ship the thieving Nass Lantomir travelled on.”

The characters can either travel directly to the Sea of Moving Ice and look for the Dark Duchess or they can inquire with the whale oil merchant Helka Jaggerath in Bryn Shander (the NPC from the ‘Whale Oil Acquisition’-quest on pg. 103). You can run the Dark Duchess as it is written, except that the party finds Nass’ frozen corpse near the shipwreck. You can run the scenario with her ghost as detailed in the book (pg. 200), except that the professor orb was picked up by kobolds, who took it to the Dark Duchess on behalf of Arveiaturace, where it now lies encased in the second layer of icy treasure (pg. 129). Once retrieved, Professor Skant does indeed know where the Codicil of White or the entrance to Ythryn is (or both, if you prefer).

If the party don’t end up going to the Dark Duchess, but you still want them to have the professor orb, you can always have them find Nass’ corpse and the orb on the Island of Solstice, just as it is described in the book.

The Lost Spire of Netheril

“One of my colleagues, a Red Wizard of Thay named Dzaan, was burned at the stake in Easthaven not long ago. His death is inconsequential, of course, but the reason is not: the townsfolk executed Dzaan because he had killed a band of adventurers who helped him find a spire that had broken off from Ythryn itself when it fell. If we can find this spire, it may possess knowledge or magic that can help us figure out where to find its entrance in the glacier!”

At your discretion, you can either have Vellynne already possess information about where the spire is or decide that the characters must travel to Easthaven to learn more. In any event, once they reach the Lost Spire of Netheril, you can run the location as written (though you may want to adjust the difficulty to fit the party’s level, which is described in more detail in the DM’s Resources).

The only change you need to make is that the skeletal apprentice in ‘P9. Collapsed Staircase’ (pg. 148) isn’t missing a finger, but instead wears a ring of partnership, which allows its wearer to always sense the location of its counterpart. It is often worn by lovers – in this case, the skeletal apprentice in the ‘Lost Spire of Netheril’ had a passionate relationship with another Netherese apprentice, who is now floating (dead) in ‘Y25. Hall of Weightless Wonder’ in Ythryn (pg. 256).

A character that puts on the ring will immediately sense it pulling them toward the east, leading them faultlessly to the entrance to the Caves of Hunger in the Reghed Glacier.

Ring of Partnership
A ring of partnership created using Nybor's Item Card Generator

Revel’s End

“There’s a prison here in the north called Revel’s End, where a former colleague of mine is imprisoned. He betrayed the brotherhood and the laws of Icewind Dale, and has been excommunicated by the brotherhood. I have reason to believe, however, that before his imprisonment, Vaelish Gant acquired valuable information about how to enter Ythryn.”

Vellynne suggests that they visit Vaelish Gant at Revel’s End, which you can run much as it is described in the book, the only exception being that Vaelish Gant does indeed know where the entrance to Ythryn and/or the Codicil of White can be found (or both, at your discretion). It is up to you to decide what it takes to get Vaelish Gant to share that information. The characters may be able to trick him into telling it – offering false promises of a reduced sentence – or they may have to break him out to get the information.

For more information about running an encounter at Revel’s End, I can recommend Dan Kahn’s Revel’s End: Prison Break, which also comes with the DM’s resources.

Skytower Shelter & Wyrmdoom Crag

“I’ve heard that two tribes of goliaths live in the mountains south of the glacier. They are hardy folk, with a vast knowledge of the tundra and the Reghed Glacier. The people in Ten-Towns seem to believe that if anyone knows where to find something in Icewind Dale, it would be them.”

Finding the goliath tribes is easy enough, as many Ten-Towners can point it out on a map. When the characters reach either of the two tribes, you can run them much as written in the book, with the exception that both chieftains know the location of the entrance to Ythryn and/or the location of the Codicil of White – but won’t immediately share it with the characters. Chieftain Arn is hostile, while Chieftain Ogolai is wary of outsiders who seek to meddle in Icewind Dale’s affairs. The characters can get the chieftains to share their information by solving the conflict between the tribes – or through combat, bribes, or magic, at your discretion.

Dan Kahn also has a great supplement for handling the goliath tribes with a lot of extra content, which you can pick up here.

Example – The Open Railroad

To summarize and lay out one way the events described above can unfold, here’s an example of how it could look:
  • The characters arrive at Sunblight Fortress, where they fight Xardorok and his minions and cause the release of the chardalyn dragon.
  • Vellynne, who’s captured in the fortress, calls for their aid, and offers to help the characters catch the dragon via the aid of zombified sled dogs.
  • After the dragon is dealt with, Vellynne gives the characters her quest, suggesting that they ask a whale oil merchant in Bryn Shander about the Dark Duchess, where they may find the professor orb.
  • On the way, the characters are approached by Yselm, who (appearing as a simple wilderness guide) has learned of the characters efforts. She lies and says Sylvanus’ has told her of their quest and asked her to guide them to Jarlmoot, where they can learn more.
  • Whichever of the two locations the characters end up visiting, they eventually discover that the Codicil of White is on the Island of Solstice. Vellynne and/or Professor Skant lets them know that they can reach the island from Angajuk’s Bell or Revel’s End.
  • While they retrieve the Codicil of White, Vellynne has come up with two ideas about where to locate Ythryn’s entrance, suggesting that the characters either look for Dzaan’s Lost Spire of Netheril or visit the goliath tribes near the glacier.
  • After either finding the ring of partnership or dealing with the goliath’s feud, the characters learn where they can enter the glacier and embark upon the final chapters of the adventure.
If you open up Vellynne’s Quest like this, you can involve more of the locations in Chapter 2: Icewind Dale, while still maintaining a semi-sandbox-structure, where the players get to decide how to proceed and where to go. Exactly how you combine locations, pieces of information, and line things up is entirely up to you, but I hope that the above ideas and examples have at least provided some inspiration!

Coming up

In the next – and probably last – article of this series, we’ll cover the role of Auril in the adventure, providing some advice on replacing the goddess (at least partly) with a frost giant druid agent, as well as more details about how to run encounters with Auril and her agents in the latter part of the adventure.

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,

J.A. Valeur

Eventyr Games

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