by Mike Shea on 18 November 2019
This is an evolving article offering tips for running the D&D Essentials Kit adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak. I'll be updating this article as I run the adventures in the book and gain first-hand knowledge on how to run each of the quests within them.
Please also note that this article includes spoilers for the adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak.
The D&D Essentials Kit is the first new entry point for Dungeons & Dragons since the original and excellent D&D Starter Set released by Wizards of the Coast in 2014. The D&D Essentials box includes everything a group needs to play D&D including the adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak. In this article we'll talk about how to get the most fun out of this adventure.
In addition to this article you can watch this Dragon of Icespire Peak video discussion including tips for the first quests in the adventure and thoughts about one-on-one play.
Click the links below to jump to a particular section in this article.
Here's a quick list of tips, further described in this article, for getting the most fun out of Dragon of Icespire Peak.
1st level characters in D&D are delicate. A 1st level D&D game is almost a different game. In another article, Building 1st Level Combat Encounters, I recommend the following for 1st level adventures:
Given the low hit points of 1st level characters, the above guidelines ensure they won't get wiped out in their first combat.
Unfortunately, Dragon of Icespire Peak does not follow these guidelines. In the first three adventures, intended for 1st level, the characters face a ochre jelly (CR 2 with immunity to slashing), a CR 2 grappling mimic, and a CR 3 manticore that can inflict up to 21 damage on a turn. Any of these monsters can easily kill a 1st level character. Some groups can get lucky when facing these foes but many may not.
One way to help the characters survive their initial quests at 1st level is to give the characters a relic that casts aid. This relic may only be usable once or you might give it three charges. Aid increasese the hit points of characters by 5 for 8 hours; a big boost for 1st level characters. This relic can be a family heirloom of one of the characters or something given to them before they begin their adventures.
Dungeons and dragons; that's what people want to see and Dragon of Icespire Peak has both. While our characters can hear about the dragon from their first visit to Phandalin, it's something else to see it. When rolling on the "dragon location" table in the "Running the Adventure" section of the adventure book, it's unlikely the dragon will show up at the very location the characters visit. It may, however, be somewhere nearby. When you roll on the dragon's location and its close to a location the characters are traveling to, give them a chance to see the dragon from afar. Nothing beats seeing a dragon in Dungeons & Dragons. Help make it happen.
The rest of this article contains advice for each of the quests in Dragon of Icespire Peak. I'll add more quest tips and summaries as I run through the adventure.
The Dwarven Excavation quest is a fun exploration of a mysterious temple to the evil dwarven god Abbathor. The text is light on details but adding in interesting information about Abbathor can make the whole temple come to life. You can learn more about Abbathor from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes or read about him at the Forgotten Realms Wiki. Characters can make Intelligence (History) or Intelligence (Religion) checks to learn details about Abbathor and his devious followers as they explore his lost temple.
You might add some lightweight traps to some of the doors in the temple ruins to tie in with the theme of Abbathor. Don't include any traps that will wipe out 1st level characters but small dagger, dart, and poison traps fit the theme. The trap generator or the random trap generator from the Lazy DM's Workbook can give you some interesting and devious traps. In general, traps should have +4 to hit, DC 12 saving throws, and inflict about 3 (1d6) damage. The ancient nature of the temple can explain why these traps aren't as deadly as they once were.
The ochre jellies in this quest can be very deadly for 1st level characters. One easy solution is to replace them with either CR 1/2 gray oozes or CR 1/4 dwarven skeletons wearing tattered cloaks and hoods. If the characters are 2nd or 3rd level and have more than two characters (not including sidekicks), you can stick to the jellies but their immunity to slashing and splitting on a slash can still be very deadly.
For all of the mysteries and secret doors in this dungeon, it is light on treasure. The final chamber, according to the text, takes 40 hours to dig through and includes no useful treasure; only a deadly trap. We can reduce the time it takes to dig to this chamber to 40 minutes instead of 40 hours and include a magic item or a relic to reward their exploration of the dungeon.
For more tips, see this Dwarven Excavation tips video by Bob World Builder or watch this one-on-one Dwarven Excavation liveplay video with NewbieDM and myself.
Umbrage Hill is one of the shorter quests in Dragon of Icespire Peak and makes for a great 1st level challenge. The characters arrive at the hill and find a manticore harassing Adabra Gwynn the apothecary. This adventure needs only a little modification. If played to the fullest the manticore can be a deadly opponent, firing three tail spikes from the air per round for an average of 7 damage each. We might describe how the windmill is riddled with tail spikes and that the manticore only has a few left. Should combat begin, the manticore might fire only one tail spike per round instead of three. The manticore might also start off wounded by the dragon, coming to Gwynn for her potions of healing. This offers another line of negotiation other than paying 25 gold pieces to the manticore. Perhaps it needs that 25 gold pieces for a discounted potion of healing from Adabra.
We can also add some flavor to the dwarven graves here, providing some history of the Besilmer dwarves, a potential lead-in to Princes of the Apocalypse or other dwarven nations. We can also drop in a relic to offer a reward to the characters for their exploration. Such a relic might cast the spell magic weapon thrice, helping characters deal with the wererats in Mountain's Toe Gold Mine.
For other tips for this quest, see Bob World Builder's tips for running Umbrage Hill. You can also see me run this adventure for Enrique Bertran, the NewbieDM in this one-on-one Umbrage Hill playthrough video.
This adventure will push heavy on the roleplaying skills of you and your players. The mystery of the mimic's killings can be stretched out into an Alien / The Thing style hunt throughout the caves with lots of paranoia among the gnomes and a lot of mystery about the foe they face. Be careful not to project the actual nature of the mimic, hinting at some sort of shapeshifter and throwing in red herrings such as ghosts, doppelgangers, or even that there is nothing at all wrong in Gnomengarde and that the missing gnomes simply took a vacation.
In the text, King Korboz has lost his mind when he witnessed an attack. When the characters talk to him, it's better if he didn't see the whole attack and instead just saw a tentacled horror devour one of the gnomes. Maybe it was his nightmare, maybe it was some Far Realm horror, maybe it was a black tentacles spell. Hint at a lot of different possibilities so when the mimic reveals itself its a surprise even to the players who know what a mimic is.
Replace Facktore's motivation in area G7 with paranoia that someone may be killing gnomes and only she can stay safe in her crazy crossbow contraption. That works better than a crazy gnome who wants to test out the crossbow by shooting random people.
When the characters actually face the mimic, the variant option to have the mimic speak common can make for a more interesting interaction instead of a simple slugfest. In combat the mimic can be quite dangerous for smaller numbers of 1st level characters. Tune its hit points and damage output to fit the number of characters you have. If you have a lot of characters facing the mimic, consider giving it a multi-attack that hits multiple creatures.
For other tips for this quest, see Bob World Builder's tips for running Gnomengarde.
Mountain's Toe Gold Mine is one of the three second-tier adventures in Dragon of Icespire Peak. The warning at the front of the adventure is one to heed. If things turn to combat in this adventure and the characters don't have any magic weapons, there's a good chance they'll get killed. In this case, failing forward is an option. The wererats beat up the characters but then offer them a deal instead of killing them. In return for their freedom, they must go to the Shrine of Savras and clear it out so the wererats can return there.
The scaling of monsters for smaller groups can be tricky in this quest as well. If the two door guards from area 1 follow the characters to the main hall in area 4, that could end up being a lot of monsters per character. Instead, reduce the number of wererats to a maximum of about one per character (not including sidekicks) if possible.
If the characters are headed here without magic weapons, it might be worth dropping a magic weapon casting relic into their hands before they come here.
For a liveplay example, take a look at my one-on-one Mountain's Toe Gold Mine playthrough video with the NewbieDM.
The Shrine of Savras isn't an actual quest but can become one if the characters talk to the wererats in Mountain's Toe Gold Mine instead of fighting them (which is probably a good idea if they don't have magic weapons).
The Shrine has scaling options for the levels of the characters but these might still scale too hard. For example, a 3rd level character with a sidekick can end up facing three orcs and two ogres according to the rules. Instead, consider removing one of the ogres and spreading out the orcs so your single character and sidekick don't get pummeled to death under the orcs' powerful battleaxes.
The situation at the shrine also makes it impossible to sneak up during the day and very difficult to sneak up at night. Instead, include some large natural rocks sticking out of the hill that can give characters a chance to sneak up on the tower undetected by the orc sentry. If the orc does see them, it might not alert its friends right away thinking it might take care of these foes itself.
For a liveplay example of this quest, watch my one-on-one Shrine of Savras liveplay with NewbieDM.
In Butterskull Ranch the characters go to the ranch of Alfonse "Big Al" Kalazorn who has been attacked by Orcs. Big Al himself is still alive, captured by the orcs, but his ranch hands have all been killed.
This quest can feel a lot like the Shrine of Savras if we're not careful. It's important to project why the orcs are here; that they've been routed by Cryovain and have taken to raiding homesteads like this one.
The initial encounter with the horses is a good one run before the characters arrive at the ranch, although the encounter with Petunia the cow can be run after the characters learn of it from Big Al.
You'll want to choose the number of orcs at the ranch carefully. Spread them out across the ranch so the characters aren't overwhelmed all at once and the story of each encounter can be interesting. The text recommends three orcs per character not including sidekicks. This might end up being a lot or a little depending on how things go so feel free to change up the number of orcs as you run the adventure to best fit the pacing of the game.
The hills north of Butterskull Ranch might be an interesting place to put a fantastic monument to spice up the area a bit. Perhaps the find a cairn to an orc veteran of Uruth Ukrypt who sacked Phandalin back in 951 DR. Perhaps it is a monument or crypt of the Delzoun dwarves or the Netherese. Monuments like these are great ways to show some of the history of the location and drop a nice relic into the hands of the characters. You can learn more about these historical nations in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Choose these monuments to fit the backgrounds and interests of the characters.
For more on Butterskull Ranch check out my liveplay Butterskull Ranch one-on-one video with NewbieDM, Bob World Builder's Butterskull Ranch tips video, and Bob World Builder's Butterskull Ranch gameplay video. Bob's recommendation for an orc in the outhouse is one not to miss.
This article will be updated with further tips for running each of the quests in Dragon of Icespire Peak. Keep an eye on this page for future updates.
The D&D Essentials Kit and Dragon of Icespire Peak will likely bring new players and new DMs to the wonderful hobby of Dungeons & Dragons. These quests are just a taste of the fantastic adventures to come. For further adventures and recommendations, see our Guide to Published Adventures. May you find endless fantastic adventures with your friends and families in your future.