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Dungeons & Dragons’ next campaign mashes The Thing with a hellish take on Frozen

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a horror adventure set against an endless winter

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A giant monster with the head of an owl attacks a stricken traveler in Icewind Dale. A pack of wolves look on, their red eyes piercing the blue wind. Image: Wizards of the Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The hook for Dungeons & Dragons’ next published adventure is clear and concise: A dark and ominous season has come to the far northern region of the Forgotten Realms, and it’s sticking around much longer than anticipated. In Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, it’s up to players to uncover the mystery of this endless winter and, ultimately, confront the woman herself.

“The Frostmaiden is a powerful, powerful entity,” said Chris Perkins, D&D’s principal narrative designer, during a preview event on Monday. “Some would call her a god who basically embodies winter’s wrath and cruelty. And she has long been associated with Icewind Dale and people of the North both fear and revere her. The ‘rime’ part of it, it’s a play on words, but it also hints at the frigid cold and frost that covers everything in this part of the world. Her touch — her ice-cold touch — can be felt everywhere in this adventure.”

Frostmaiden, announced Thursday during the annual D&D Live livestream event, includes an epic adventure for new characters, taking them from level one all the way to level 12. But it also also doubles as a campaign setting, introducing a new generation of tabletop role-players to the region popularized by author R.A. Salvatore’s The Icewind Dale Trilogy.

A ship trapped in the ice flows. A blizzard rages. Image: Olly Lawson/Wizards of the Coast
An icy bridge, leading to a dim light in a shadowy forest. Again, lotsa snow. Image: Olly Lawson/Wizards of the Coast
Three kobolds in a trenchcoat stand on a streetcorner. Image: Scott Murphy/Wizards of the Coast

That description might make it sound like Wizards has drafted Frozen’s Queen Elsa to be it’s next villain, but Perkins assures fans that this is a modern horror story through and through. It will deal with issues of isolation, paranoia, and secrecy. In fact, each new character created for this adventure will be given a random secret known only to them. They are free to reveal it to the rest of the party — and the Dungeon Master — at the time of their choosing.

“One of [Perkins’] big inspirations for this adventure was John Carpenter’s The Thing,” said principal rules designer Jeremy Crawford, “We can’t say much more than that [...] but I think it would be good prep work for our DMs to go watch that film to really get into the mood for the wintry horror of this story.”

As for the structure of the book itself, Perkins and Crawford said they were inspired by the two other best-selling 5th edition products.

In Frostmaiden, Icewind Dale will be laid out very much like the valley of Barovia was designed for the Curse of Strahd. The updated version of the classic Ravenloft setting, first created by Tracy and Laura Hickman in the 1970s, stars the iconic vampire Strahd von Zarovich. The 5th edition remake was published in 2016 and remains one of the most popular D&D modules. But, in practice, the storyline can meander and become a bit drawn out.

Cover art, including text, for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. Image: Wizards of the Coast
An alernate cover with graphic art. Image: hydro74/Wizards of the Coast
A custom set of dice featuring a map of Icewind Dale and several handouts with monster lore. Image: Wizards of the Coast

To curtail that narrative sprawl, Crawford says they looked to the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit for inspiration. That boxed set includes a hefty adventure titled Dragon of Icespire Peak.

“We give you a number of quests [in Icespire Peak] that the adventuring group can choose,” Crawford said. “Each one of those quests then can stand, basically, as a mini-adventure. That same structure that we had in the Essentials Kit is present here in Rime of the Frostmaiden. So, unlike some of our other large epic stories, if you’d like to kind of break it up into smaller bites it is super easy to do.”

Each section will also include a new sidebar called Running The Chapter designed to give harried DMs guideposts to link the overall narrative arc together.

Crawford also said that Frostmaiden includes more new monsters than have ever been published in a 5th edition sourcebook before, as well as lots of in-fiction games and contests for players to enjoy against non-player characters. That means there should be plenty of action outside of combat, but also lots of inspiration for DMs looking to lift content out for their own homebrew campaigns.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden will be available on Sept. 15 alongside a custom dice set. Pre-orders will open soon. An alternative cover will be available only at friendly local game stores.

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