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Summer may be heating up, but in Dungeons & Dragons, it's a chillingly cold winter up on the dark tundra of Icewind Dale. And, as players and DMs will discover when the next D&D adventure, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is published later this year, winter doesn't seem to be ending — and that's terrifying.
"It is a horror story set in Icewind Dale, the frigid far north of the Forgotten Realms," D&D's Senior Story Designer Chris Perkins teased during a virtual press briefing viewed by SYFY WIRE, ahead of Rime of the Frostmaiden's official reveal at this week's D&D Live 2020 event. While D&D has published horror adventures before, like the vampire-centric Curse of Strahd, this tale is a little different.
"Unlike gothic horror, this story focuses more on modern horror," Perkins says. "It's got ice in the veins. It's an adventure best served cold."
Jeremy Crawford, D&D's lead rules designer, compares the adventure to John Carpenter's horror classic The Thing, which follows a group of isolated researchers and a terrible creature that can impersonate its victims. "It would be good pre-work for our DMs to go watch that film to really get in the mood for the wintery horror of this story," Crawford says, adding that the X-Files episode "Ice," H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, James Cameron's Aliens, and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining were also influences. (In fact, at one point in the adventure, parties might encounter a character known as Prisoner 237, which should get anyone's Shine tingling.)
Of course, longtime D&D fans will notice other easter eggs. Icewind Dale is famously the setting of R.A. Salvatore's first Forgotten Realms novels, which introduced the world to the iconic Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden. The events of Salvatore's Icewind Dale Trilogy, which saw Drizzt and his companions travel around the 10 isolated wintery towns of the region while combating the evil of a powerful artifact known as the Crystal Shard, took place a century before the events of the upcoming adventure book.
"He's a figure of legend," Perkins says of Drizzt.
Perkins and Crawford wouldn't delve too much into the book's plot, other than to say that the hook is that winter appears to be endless, and the Frostmaiden, a god-like entity who embodies winter's wrath and cruelty, may be lurking in the snow. There are secrets for DMs and players to discover, and not just the secrets of Icewind Dale. The new adventure introduces the option for players to have secrets that they can keep from one another. During character creation, the players can get cards with secrets from their backstory on them, and the DM is the only other person who knows what the secret is — initially, at least. Some are benign, some are terrifying, and it's up to players to decide when (or whether) they'll share their character's truth with the rest of the party. Perkins calls it "party paranoia," which certainly plays into The Thing comparisons.
Rime of the Frostmaiden builds on everything the D&D team has learned from previously published adventures. "DMs, while they do sometimes want big epic stories, also sometimes want things that they can play with their groups in more bite-sized chunks," Crawford says, explaining that the book is designed to be easily broken up into smaller quests that can, should a party choose, build on one another. The whole adventure should take players from levels 1 to 12.
By Perkins' estimate, there are more new monsters introduced in Rime of the Frostmaiden than any other published 5e adventure (he says the Snow Golem is his favorite). The book also includes rules for blizzards, avalanches, and mini-games that will make exploration easier for a DM and more dangerous for a party.
There are some quality-of-life improvements, too. For the first time, one-off monsters or NPCs with stat blocks will appear within the main text of the adventure, so DMs won't have to flip back to the appendix to play a foe who only appears this one time. And players who chose the hulking, mountain-dwelling Goliath race will be pleased to learn that they've gotten a tweak. As a result of their origin on snowy peaks, all Goliaths are now resistant to cold damage.
As is increasingly the trend with Dungeons & Dragons, Rime of the Icemaiden will "reflect the wonderful diversity of people in our world," according to Crawford, who notes that one of the standalone quests has the party help a scrimshander (an ivory crafter) and his husband. It's just one of the ways D&D attempts to foster diverse worlds, as with the wide variety of skin tones and non-fantasy races seen in the book's art.
"We now consider this to be a core, non-optional part of our work," Crawford continues. "I love that if you come to one of our adventures, you're going to see a wonderful spectrum of humanity represented there."
And Rime of the Icemaiden is relevant to the other big topic that's on peoples' minds as they stay on lockdown due to the coronavirus. "We are isolated. How do we get by? How do we keep our sanity?" Perkins asks, noting that, in some ways, we're just like the people who live in the far-off north of Icewind Dale.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden will be released on Sept. 15.