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by Mike on 29 November 2021
This is one of a series of articles covering the Wizards of the Coast hardcover D&D adventure Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. The other articles include:
You can also watch my YouTube playlist of Frostmaiden Lazy DM Prep videos.
Here's a quick checklist of the changes I recommend for chapters 3 and 4 of Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Chapter 3 and 4 of Rime of the Frostmaiden narrows the focus of the adventure from the wide range of areas and quests in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 3 focuses on one location, Sunblight Citadel, while chapter 4 focuses on the attack of the chardalyn dragon on Ten Towns. Because the two chapters are so intertwined, I'm covering both of them in this single article.
Much of the Sunblight chapter can be run as-is. The whole complications of Grandolpha's attempt to usurp the power from Xardorok can be great fun and go in lots of different ways. In my own game, Grandolpha was convinced to marry one of Xardorok's sons to restart the dynasty without Xardorok himself involved.
In my other game, the characters never made it to Sunblight themselves, instead returning from Solstice island to find the dragon already attacking Ten Towns.
The single access point to Sunblight Fortress is a narrow switchback path easily guarded and protected by a single dwarf with a snowball if they wanted to. Even though the guards are on Grandopha's side and let the characters in without trouble, the characters and players don't know this. Any reasonable adventurer would never walk up a switchback path at the base of a huge defended tower. Instead, they'd take a different path.
There is an alternate path to get into the citadel but it isn't included in the book: the underdark access. With a little help from other adventures or your own bit of homebrew, you can set up a pointcrawl journey through the underdark to reach this less-well-defended back door. You might even start the journey from the big shaft in the mines of Termalaine.
Instead of having the chardalyn dragon fly off as soon as the characters arrive at the fortress, consider having it launch while the characters are still in the fortress. Maybe they hear the sounds of something huge moving as the duergar lift the dragon to the roof and let it free. Maybe not. Either way, when the characters face Xardorok atop the roof of Sunblight Fortress, he lets them know they are too late. The dragon has been unleashed and there's nothing they can do about it.
This gives the players a chance to crawl Sunblight without feeling like they have to turn right around again as soon as they just got to the front doors which feels like a lame bit of back-and-forth travel.
Also, instead of Xardorok being duped by Asmodeus, have him be duped by Auril, the cult of Auril, or some other powerful villain or entity you already have in your Frostmaiden campaign. This way you're not introducing an entirely disconnected entity into the story. In my own game, because I dropped an elder evil named Thruun in a huge sarcophagus in the lowest reaches of Ythryn, I connected Xardorok to this elder evil through a twisted priest of Thruun feeding Xardorok bad information.
The book has a big complicated timeline for how long it takes the chardalyn dragon to reach Ten Towns and how fast the characters can arrive. Ignore this. Choose which towns can be saved and which are destroyed by the time the characters arrive. Give the characters the agency to come up with creative ways to get back to the city. Maybe their ghostly friends are the ones to call on Velynne Harpell's aid and maybe her undead-direwolf-led sleds can make tremendous time across the frozen plains.
Likewise, if the characters travel off in other directions after a fair number of warnings that the duergar are building some kind of war machine, let the characters return to Ten Towns with it under attack by the chardalyn dragon. The world doesn't wait for their arrival. If, for example, you put all three main paths in front of the characters; exploring Grimskalle, exploring the Caves of Hunger, and exploring Sunblight Fortress; and they choose one of the other two, that's enough time for the duergar to launch their war machine. It makes the world feel more alive — maybe except for the people of Dougan's Hole.
Depending on your intent, you may want to tune the statistics for the chardalyn dragon. In my case, I turned it into a legendary monster by giving it legendary resistance and letting it make claw attacks as a legendary action. For two legendary actions it could bat its wings and attempt to push characters away before taking flight and landing nearby. Customize your chardalyn dragon to suit your game.
These changes are relatively easy to implement and, overall, the chapter isn't too difficult to wrangle into shape. With a few changes to how the characters arrive, when the dragon departs, and a few other bits of fine tuning, chapters 3 and 4 can be a lot of fun for you and your players.
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