Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is the perfect D&D Adventure for Halloween
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and add some horror to your next Dungeons & Dragons session since Halloween is coming up, but you’ve grown tired of the same ol’ sexy Dracula or Cthulhu-style horror. Well Wizards of the Coast decided this year to see if sometimes the best type of horror is served frozen.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden was released last month to general acclaim. Set amongst the Ten-Towns of Icewind Dale — a region of the Forgotten Realms best known as the abode of a hero of a series of books by R.A Salvatore, Bruenor Battlehammer — this adventure for levels 1 through 12 is heavy on atmosphere. Auril the Frostmaiden has trapped Icewind Dale in a perpetual deep winter complete with blizzards, frozen undead, and various denizens looking to take advantage of this unnatural cold for their own gains.
Rime is extremely detailed — each of the Ten-Towns get their own plot for low level characters (you are not expected to run through all of them), and the wandering encounter table has two descriptions for each entry, depending on whether or not there is a blizzard. Even these encounters aren’t straightforward, as sometimes they depend on the players’ secrets (see below) or are not intended to result in a fight — one particularly memorable encounter is with an ancient white dragon that you are heavily advised to run away from.
Even though it’s set in the Forgotten Realms and there’s the occasional reference to Bruenor’s less-important drow friend, Rime is easily transplantable into any homebrew or official campaign setting, be it Eiselcross in Wildemount or the colder regions of Xen’drik in the Eberron setting. Don’t feel limited by the arctic setting, though. The source of the everlasting winter is magical in nature, there’s nothing stopping it from hitting a normally temperate valley instead.
Someone in this camp ain’t what he appears to be
Drawing inspiration from sources like John Carpenter’s The Thing, Rime is fundamentally about survival, and the horror comes not only from the fear of having your hit points reduced to zero by a dragon construct laying waste to Ten-Towns, but also from the treacherous icy paths you cross, scattered with the corpses of previous travelers. There is a melancholy that suffuses the personality of every NPC you encounter, and a real palpable sense of loss.
I doubt anyone who survives an encounter with the dreaded white moose of Lonelywood will sleep peacefully that night.
There’s still heroism, of course, but even the heroes aren’t all they seem to be. Because a Jack London novel dialed up to 11 isn’t enough, the game provides secrets for the player characters. Some are relatively innocuous, but others can have a dramatic impact on the story, either changing an encounter from hostile to friendly, or perhaps a slaad will burst out of your bard’s chest at a most inopportune time. The secrets are also a fun roleplaying element because the players are under no obligation to share them with the rest of the party, so each chooses how to handle them.
That’s what it wants! To pit us against each other!
While horror as a role-playing game element has existed since the time my cleric was sacrificed by cultists in the Temple of Elemental Evil, not every player or group appreciates it and as a Dungeonmaster part of your job is knowing how to work off your players’ reactions. If the constant dread starts to wear on them, throw in some Yeti Tykes to lighten the mood. If you roll five hostile encounters in a row off the wandering encounters table, maybe substitute one of the neutral-to-friendly ones instead. Conversely, if the players are loving it, lay it on thick. Perhaps an NPC — or maybe even a PC! — that died earlier returns as a Coldlight Walker to harass the heroes. Or maybe the next time a blizzard hits is the perfect time for a spying doppleganger to arrive and pull a little switcheroo with the warlock.
The one thing you should not do is continue if one of your players is becoming visibly uncomfortable. I encourage you to discuss with each player individually before the session what horror elements may bother them, and minimize or eliminate the objects of their concerns from your plans. Rime is strong enough of an adventure that it can be played without any explicit horror references, so don’t let player hesitation prevent you from running it at all.
While I have a weakness for arctic RPG campaigns, Rime delivers a complete experience that I recommend every DM consider running for their players. Besides, with Halloween once more upon us, the time is ripe to put a little chill in your players’ spines.
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