The new Dungeons & Dragons adventure hardcover, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, is — simply put — a monster. It’s an epic campaign in the frozen north that D&D Beyond’s Todd Kenreck described recently almost like the “TV show bible for a supernatural show like X-Files.” Similar in structure and scale to Tomb of Annihilation, the book — announced back in June, released Sept. 15 and retailing for $49.95 — revisits locations made famous by the early Forgotten Realms novels of years past.
Not having played it at the gaming table yet, what has jumped out at me the most about this new adventure module so far — aside from the novel structure, beautiful art and accessories (the now-standard poster map and additional dice and miscellany set) and theme of oppressive isolation (noted in story creator and lead writer Chris Perkins’ afterward is the fact that Rime was not produced with a pandemic frame of mind in mind), has been the creatures of Icewind Dale.
Who doesn’t love Monster Manuals, right? While this 319-page sourcebook is so much more than a creature catalog (which is, in fact, just an appendix here), the “monster” entries are a definite draw. From undead like the brain in a jar, coldlight walkers and gnoll and kobold vampires to aberrations like gnome ceremorphs and squidlings — more on them in a bit — the icy horrors presented help to emphasize the obvious and cited inspirations from horror literature and cinema.
But not everything is trying to devour the player characters’ body and soul. There’s an “awakened” sperm whale with a boat on its back that just might take you somewhere important. Then there are the chwingas, playful elemental spirits that would not be out of place in a Studio Ghibli movie that are sure to spark some creative roleplaying, as well as “yeti tykes” that may be just a flavorful reskin of MM-variety yeti but serve to open up the world a bit more with sharp-clawed cuteness. “A cowed yeti tyke can be controlled, at least for a while, but raising one to be anything other than a savage, flesh-eating predator is incredibly difficult (though not impossible),” states the description. While this beast may not be quite intelligent (6) enough to be as problematic as the more “savage” and “evil” depictions of humanoid orcs and drow elves, it still stands out — and not in a pleasant way — when so much of the dialog in tabletop RPGs right now is shifting away from that kind of language. Maybe it was typeset before that conversation developed to the point it has, though.
D&D mainstays like duergar dwarves, kobolds, gnolls and goliaths get some decent development and variations themselves (the “three kobolds in a trenchcoat” concept allowing cold-blooded dragon men to make it in the human streets of the Ten Towns is destined to be a classic, and they knew it).
Mind flayers, always disturbing in the best of conditions, manage to get even more so in a claustrophobic environment like Icewind Dale, and the twist here is that the tentacle-joweled aberrations have spawned from little gnomes implanted with illithid tadpoles in their brains. Gnomes who are host to such a horrific process become gnome ceremorphs — essentially inventive little illithids armed with freaking laser pistols in addition to the traditional mind flayer arsenal of tentacular brain extraction and mind blasts. When the process doesn’t go so well, however, you get a gnome squidling — “a deformed mind flayer with weak, spindly limbs and oversized tentacles. It relies on levitation to keep its body aloft and uses its tentacles like legs, to propel it along whatever surface it’s floating above.
“Most mind flayers destroy squidlings on sight, so it’s rare to see one or more of these creatures.”
Be warned: If you play this at my table, you’re going to see so many of them.
If you’re expecting more traditional “arctic” D&D monsters like white dragons, you’re in for a treat (as well as a surprise) if you play this as written. This adventure does a good job of including the frozen kitchen sink while also weaving in the unexpected, with a surprisingly deep and ambitious plot that could get truly out of hand …
But, would it really even be D&D if it didn’t?
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