I’ve fallen in love with the new WotC adventure.
There’s just something about it. I know I express appreciation for most new WotC books, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt, but I think there’s a lot of cool things they’re doing. I do truly think each book gets better, and Frost Maiden has that in spades. I think FM takes some parts from some of the previous 5e adventures and tries them again with a bit more success.
It’s not a perfect book, by any means, but I feel that it’s a better book in a lot of ways. So let’s poke at some of those
Let me count the ways…
First, Frost maiden does something rare amoung the Adventures: It provides guidance for people who want to be from the Icewind Dale and if your whole party wants to be from there, why not? Most adventures start with the assumption that the party is travelling to the start of the adventure for whatever reason. Tomb of Annihilation’s clock is VASTLY different if the party is starting from Port Nyanzaru. (They might not have the clock, for instance!) Waterdeep: Dragon Heist may have similar incentive for a character to be from Waterdeep, but it has it’s own problem that we’ll talk about as the next point.
Allowing characters to be from Icewind Dale changes their involvement in the story. They’ll be motivated to deal with the premise of the story as its own reward, as what’s good for the Dale is good for their friends and family. Adventurer’s who need to see some carrot are going to be disappointed. There’s not a legendary treasure haul for freeing the Dale, so greed isn’t a great motivator here.
A character from the Dale can be a good source of skill and lore. There will be things that they’ll know and know how to do that shouldn’t require a roll and priming those characters can lead to some cool stuff..
The second improvement is the size of the start. Waterdeep and ToA had issues with this, as right away as the adventure starts, there is a massive city the DM has to wrangle. The Ten Towns is a much more manageable area, and, while there is still plenty to do, the party has to decide “We’re going to go to Good Mead” or whatever, and there’s travel time and adventures and danger that can happen along the way that a GM can use to stall for prep time. Unlike Port Nyanzaru, where the players can suddenly set up meetings with the Merchant Princes 10 minutes after arriving, before the GM has a handle on where the players are at!
The 3rd thing I like about FM is the lack of dire peril. According to the lore, the premise of the adventure, a goddess of winter doing some Elsa shenanigans to blot out the sun, has been going on for 2 years. That’s a long time for someone to be doing something in the Forgotten Realms. Normally, things happen for a few months before the powers that be throw heroes at things. But it’s been 2 years. That means that the Blackstaff, Elminster, the Lords Alliance, all the people who should care, don’t. This has been determined to be “Not out problem” or “Isn’t the Icewind Dale cold anyway?”
This sounds like it should be depressing, but it’s a great change for a sandbox adventure! I cobbled a list of the other adventures together and they fall into 3 categories. First there’s the “We need to get out” from CoS and Avernus, the “Deal with the problems before it gets dire” of DQ, RoD, PotA, SKT, ToA and WDDH, and then there’s the “Piecemeal” style of TYP and GoSM. (I have NO idea of the story structure of Mad Mage.)
For most of the adventures except maybe the Piecemeals, there are CONSEQUENCES for the party failing. But in Frost Maiden, if the party fails then the Icewind dale is precisely where it was at the beginning. Instead of failure having bad consequences success has good consequences, and AFAIK, that’s not been seen in the 5e adventures so far.
4th, I really like this form of wilderness survival/Hex crawl. It’s not really designed as a Hexcrawl, but it can be written as such. When I ran ToA, I was excited by the wilderness survival, except 2 things messed it up. First, my party had a paladin which meant there were NO consequences. Disease was the only lever I had to make eating certain food or water bad, and as he leveled, he had a larger and larger pool to deal with complications. Second, Chult is HUGE. I think it’s possible to make ToA an engaging experience, but that’s after 3 years or whatever thinking about how I would run it again.
FM, on the other hand, has somewhat addressed these 2 things. First, disease isn’t the stick this time, it’s cold and exhaustion. And Paladin’s can’t to jack to that. Being a higher level doesn’t let you deal with exposure easier. It rarely helps with travel. (FM also mentions once the party reaches level 8 that the random encounter table can basically be ignored.)
Icewind dale is also a LOT smaller than Chult. The map of the Dale is about 100 by 60 1-mile hexes. Meanwhile, I think Chult was about 100 x 180 10-mile hexes? It’s been a while since I needed to know the exact number. A party can travel about 4 snow covered 1-mile hexes a day without effort, a fast travelling party in Chult could cover 1, maybe 2 hexes a day. Very different feel.
I’m probably still going to have this be a open hex crawl, as I have a method of doing those that I still haven’t tested yet. I also have a lot more time to prepare for a game than I usually do.
5th Frost Maiden has a good reason to start at low level. Because the challenge of winter survival never goes away, players and characters need the low levels to teach them how to go through the motions of survival. Jumping in overconfident with high tier characters will just get them killed.
6th, there are some monsters used in this book that we’ve not seen used like this. It’s a bit young in this series to spoil things like that, but there are some really cool ideas getting used in this that were introduced in previous works, but really being used here. It’s exciting.
At the End of the Honeymoon
Look, as much as I like Frostmaiden, it’s not a perfect adventure. There are things I’m going to have to patch or at least think about before I begin.
- Travel Times. The fact that they took some thought to how travelling on foot or by sled is great, but there are a LOT of unanswered questions. In a game with Druids and Summon animals, we really need to have the tools to determine how fast any beast can go, and how pulling a wagon or sleigh changes that. (Speaking of sleighs, there is an AMAZING wagon on page 36 that players are going to want. The fact that the story says to ignite it isn’t going to stop everyone)
- Cessation of Sandbox. While Ten Towns looks like a solid pure sandbox, the second half is a more linear adventure. I don’t mind having a pole in the sand box, but more poles are better and figuring out more paths would just sweeten the pot.
- I don’t like chapter 4. I have a good idea of what travel time is like in D&D and looking at the timing, well, I’m working on running the numbers, but it sure looks like the players can make 1 super easy to justify bad call and have a lot of bad things happen. There might be ways to lessen the emotional blow, but idk.
- Also: It looks like there should be some rewards for previous town interactions in it, but there’s nothing written taking party interaction into account, afaict
- No clear direction. I get that its a thing for sandboxes to be player motivated, but West Marches says “Go west and adventure,” Minecraft has a short list of things to get done as you tech, and a third sandbox game would have it’s own basic idea. Why would people come to Icewind Dale? Once players are here they’re running around an meeting people as they deal with problems, but the initial oomph? Where’s that come in?
- The Dismount is also a bit shaky. Without spoilers, there seems to be a place where the adventure could end, then it continues for a few chapters, then the end is confirmed. idk, maybe in actual play it will work better
I’m sure there’s more things that will need to be patched as we play through the adventure and see how the events rise and fall. I’m excited to see what will come of it, and I’m ready to throw my hat in the ring and run Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden to the best of my ability.