Dungeons & Dragons’ next campaign module hits the street on Sept. 15. Titled Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, it brings the franchise back to the setting of some of its most famous novelizations. But don’t expect to see much of Drizzt Do’Urden in its 320 pages (he’s got his own video game on the way, after all). Instead, you’ll find one of the most challenging series of adventures in franchise history. This book throws virtually everything in the D&D arsenal at its players. Even experienced Dungeon Masters will have a tough time keeping up.
What do I mean by challenging? Often, when I’m paging through a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign from publisher Wizards of the Coast, the storyline can give itself away in a very intentional way. Designers want to be able to guide Dungeon Masters (DMs) as much as possible, lowering the cognitive load required to deliver a complex story to a party of four to six players. Rime of the Frostmaiden, however, takes so many bizarre twists and turns that I had a hard time keeping up from page to page. It’s a wonderful read, even if you’re not planning on running the adventure at all.
But Rime of the Frostmaiden is well worth the trouble. If it were a piece of loot, it would resemble a massive, opaque gem with dozens of other semi-precious stones embedded within its crystalline structure. Simply put, this book is a treasure.
[Warning: The following review includes minor spoilers for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. If you’re not planning on being a DM for your group, you might want to skip to the last two paragraphs.]
The campaign itself has two viable points of entry. Players can start at level one, visiting the Ten Towns region and introducing themselves to Icewind Dale’s icy climate and its frontier villages. Alternately, parties could easily transition into the campaign from elsewhere in the Forgotten Realms around levels four, five, or six. Advancement is milestone-based throughout, so don’t expect to be paying much attention to experience points as you go.
What DMs should expect is lots of overland travel. The region is trapped in an endless winter, and players will need to plan accordingly to get from place to place. Options include traveling by snowshoe, dogsled, or even atop chocobo-like Axe Beaks — giant, semi-feral ostriches.
The opening chapters play out quickly. Expect your first dozen gameplay sessions to last only a few hours each. It’s a hodgepodge of loosely linked quests that focus on the people and the places in the Ten Towns, perfectly designed to onboard new players into the role-playing hobby. The narrative goal is to get everyone at the table invested in these off-the-grid communities and the characters who live there. Then, in the game’s final few acts, everything they love will be put at risk.
Once players hit level three, the pace begins to pick up considerably. Rime of the Frostmaiden includes encounters with dragons, doppelgängers, illithids, and more. There’s even a sentient sperm whale thrown in for good measure. Perhaps more so than any other 5th edition module to date, encounters include much more than just combat. Players will have to be quick-witted and clever about using their skills in unusual ways to come out on top. There’s even a few minigame-like competitions thrown in for good measure. It’s a fantastic assortment of experiences, perfect for inspiring good role-playing at the table.
The adventure also contains multiple branching decision points. Do the players chase a magical construct across the tundra, or do they press on to defeat its creator? Do they kill a weakened god, or do they find another way around the problems at hand? There are even a few ways for players to break the adventure entirely. A good DM will need to be ready with other options to get things back on track without railroading the party, or willing to toss the book out entirely and take things in an entirely different direction.
Best of all, Rime of the Frostmaiden includes multiple endings. There is a “good” ending to be sure, one where (mostly) everyone rides off into the chilly sunset and lives a life of peace. But there’s a “bad” ending as well. All it takes is one split-second decision late in the campaign for the party to fling itself off a narrative cliff, and onto the pages of an epic, high-level adventure that everyone at the table will need to write together.
The campaign book itself also comes with a sturdy, double-sided map with plenty of white space for players to explore. Groups shouldn’t be afraid to mark it up as soon as possible.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is supported by a few additional accessories hitting stores around the same time. There’s an elegant set of “dice and miscellany,” similar to other sets that were published alongside Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage and Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. I would caution players against reading much of the included material, however, as they tend to spoil some of the module’s encounters.
There’s also a series of upgraded, deluxe editions on the way from Beadle and Grimm’s. While the Platinum Edition is sold out, the Silver Edition comes highly recommended. Shipping in November, it’s $175. That’s a lot, but it will include the entire adventure module shredded into easily managed booklets, as well as some as yet unannounced handouts and props.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden begins shipping on Sept. 15. The book was reviewed using a physical copy provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.