Review: Dungeons & Dragons' New Adventure Provides Epic Chills and Thrills

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(Photo: Wizards of the Coast)

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a thematic masterpiece filled with horror, chills, and dangers, while also providing the DM with maneuverability to craft the adventure based on their on tastes and the needs of their party. Each year, Dungeons & Dragons releases a single full-length campaign that sets the tone for a full year of adventures in Organized Play, streaming games, and home games. This year's adventure is Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, an adventure set in the iconic locale of Icewind Dale made famous by R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt novels. Rime of the Frostmaiden builds off of the missteps of previous adventures, giving DMs plenty of material to work with while not forcing players to go down the road of a single storyline to its finish.

The biggest innovation in Rime of the Frostmaiden is how the adventure itself flows. Through one of two opening quests, players learn about the minor goddess Auril the Frostmaiden and her role in placing Icewind Dale under an eternal winter. At first, this perpetual state of snow is merely a backdrop as players explore the icy north, confronting killer moose, exploring abandoned pirate ships, and finding a research station pulled straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing. However, the adventure eventually shifts to the perpetual winter playing a more active role in events- duergar invade the surface as the winter negates their natural sensitivity to sunlight, unleashing a massive and epic attack on the settlements of Ten-Towns. From there, players can be recruited to stop the eternal winter, a quest that leads players into Auril's wintry retreat and to an ancient city filled with forgotten magic.

The key to Rime of the Frostmaiden is that many of the storylines can either be used as the focus of the whole campaign, played individually, or removed without much consequence to the overall story. For instance, the duergar invasion acts as a catalyst for the players taking up the quest to stop Auril's eternal winter, but DMs can choose to ignore that storyline (as the threat of eternal winter alone should be enough an impetus to fight Auril without prompting) or end the campaign with the players standing victorious over the duergar. Save for the final two parts of the campaign, each chapter mostly stands alone, providing the DM a little bit of extra room to remove the elements they don't like without destroying the integrity of the overall adventure. Each chapter explains how it flows into the overall story, and a DM should be able to use those elements to make changes as necessary.

Another part I enjoyed about Rime of the Frostmaiden is its emphasis on isolated adventure hooks and encounters. The first two chapters serve as both a campaign setting guide for Ten-Towns and Icewind Dale and as a compendium of short encounters, many of which can be pulled out of the book and used in any adventure. There's also more than a few nods to various horror movies and other pop culture cameos. In addition to a fantasy recreation of The Thing, there are homages to Alien, The Shining, and At the Mountains of Madness that players might pick up on. There's even a reference to the frozen corpses that dot Mount Everest that serves as grim landmarks to those making the climb.

As noted in the initial announcement, Rime of the Frostmaiden has dozens of new creature statblocks, although 12 of them are humanoid NPCs. Notably, the magen (magical constructs created by wizards) make their return in the book, as do the monstrous Tomb Tappers that guard ancient Netherese ruins. My favorite new monsters are likely the strange new mind flayers that come armed with laser pistols and the Coldlight Walker that serves as a direct homage to The Thing. The new monster statblocks aren't exactly mindblowing, but they do add a dash of new variety to the still relatively small pool of monsters made for 5E. The adventure also contains a few new magic items and spells, the latter of which is a first for a D&D adventure in at least a few years.

While it's hardly the focus of the adventure, there is one very intriguing plot point that appears in Rime of the Frostmaiden that potentially opens the D&D franchise up to a world of possibilities. The mysterious obelisks that have appeared in past adventures are finally explained in Rime of the Frostmaiden, and they potentially lead to a new campaign setting of sorts that hasn't been elaborated on in Fifth Edition. It'll be interesting to see if Dungeons & Dragons follows up on this thread at all, or if it just exists as a nod to both the past of the franchise and as a way for DMs to build a new world that has only the scantest links to the Sword Coast.

Reactions to previous D&D adventures were decidedly mixed, but I feel like Rime of the Frostmaiden will be well-received by both players and DMs. There are no glaring flaws or confusing gimmicks that crippled the adventure, and the adventure allows for players to progress as slowly or quickly as they'd like. The book also continues the good practices started in other adventures, such as providing multiple endings based on the decisions made over the course of the campaign.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is the strongest campaign book released by Wizards of the Coast since Curse of Strahd. It has the potential to be an instant classic and will likely be fondly remembered by adventurers for years to come.

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Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden goes on sale on September 15th. Pre-orders are live on Amazon now.

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