***SPOILER WARNING FOR RIME OF THE FROSTMAIDEN ***
Read only if you’re willing to get spoiled for parts of Rime of the Frostmaiden. Rime is an open adventure and your start might not be the same as the one in this post. Just because you have started this adventure doesn’t mean that you can read this for sure without being spoiled.
You have been warned! Now, on with the show.
Welcome to the first campaign diary for my home Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign. I’ll be doing these semi-regularly, once I have enough that I feel that I can fill up a decent blog post on it. My group plays weekly (baring exceptions) in pretty short sessions (generally about 2 to 3 hours of play time) so there might be a few weeks without a campaign diary depending on how quickly my players advance. In this diary we’ll be covering sessions 0 and 1 of the campaign. I’m going to be blending “meta” descriptions and GM information with a more narrative description of the games themselves which I hope proves to be more enjoyable to read than a purely dry description of out of character turns.
Before we start, here are a few things you should probably know about my table. Firstly, I am a relatively new DM, and my players are even newer. Of the 4 players in this campaign there is one that has played in other campaigns (DM’d by myself or by others), whereas the three other players have only ever participated in a couple of one-shots ran by me. Secondly, even though I’m British, I live in France and my players are French, so you might find some names that I use here weird or obscure. Thirdly, and finally, we don’t take any of this very seriously. I don’t expect my players to know their character sheets by heart, or to roleplay their characters to the up most. They have not read the players handbook, and are highly unlikely to do so. We goof around, we roll pointlessly to see if they get drunk in pretty much every tavern they visit (and believe me, they visit pretty much any tavern they can) and generally we’re all around the (virtual) table just to have a good time with friends. As a DM, I make rulings that put what is fun and cool ahead of what might actually be the official rules, and even beyond what might be logical or plausible. If this style bothers you, then you probably want to turn away now.
I have mixed feelings about session zeros. I prefer to have at least some actual gameplay during the session if there is time, even if it’s just for an in-world introduction and then for me it becomes the first session of the game and therefore no longer the pre-game session. In this case however, our game is on a work night so we tend to only play for a couple of hours and spend a fair amount of time just catching up as well, so we didn’t have time to do much more than character creation and a few bits of information about the setting and expectations. I use Sly Flourish’s Lazy DM guide for doing my game prep most of the time so following his advice I worked out six truths to provide my players to set the tone of the campaign:
- The climate is harsh and difficult: extreme cold, blizzards, dangerous fauna.
- Auril has plunged the entire Icewind Dale into an endless winter for the past two years.
- There is a cult of druids that make up Auril’s priesthood. The residents of the Dale are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to try and earn Auril’s favour.
- The people of Ten-Towns are worn down by two years of winter, they are in desperate need of help for even what might seem like mundane tasks.
- The Icewind Dale used to be visited by adventurers looking for an ancient Netherese Necropole but have been driven off by the weather.
- The valley is the only place to find Chardalyn: a strange crystal of magical origin as hard as steel but much easier to work and can hold magic well.
These provide the basic building blocks to get my players into the mindset of the campaign before jumping into character creation. I also read out the introductory text of the campaign to add some flavour, before we jumped into Roll20’s character builder. For 3 of my 4 players this was the first time on Roll20 so it wasn’t particularly easy going but we finally managed to get 4 completed character sheets with only minor errors in them that I could fix easily afterwards.
With that, I think it’s time to introduce the characters that we’re going to be following for the next few weeks (there are some treats for French speakers in some of the names chosen, which very much set the tone for what my players expect):
- Ciryl Lignac: Dwarf noble paladin from the mountains of the Spine of the World, out seeking fame and fortune to make a name for himself before inheriting a title. He is equipped for both cooking and brewing.
- Jean Lassalle: Goliath barbarian of the Thuunlakalaga tribe. A towering outspoken outlander rather unaccustomed to living in Ten-Towns.
- Maeis: Drow ranger who is travelling in Icewind Dale to make up for his past criminal life. Somewhat of a coward and a loner, he likes the safety that his bow provides him in combat.
- Kaldall: Drow storm sorcerer whose mere presence has the knack of putting everyone around him on edge. As harsh as the cold midwinter day that he was born on.
Now two of those names are puns on some relatively well known (in France at least) French people, and the main motivation of the group is fame and wealth. As stated before my group aren’t serious roleplayers. I know that they’re not going to be digging deep into the world’s lore, or taking scrupulous notes about the campaign. When we discussed difficulty they wanted something pretty simple, focusing on having fun and learning the system so we decided against making overland travel harder than it is in the module, and are going to pretty much ignore rations and ammunition and the like. This obviously lightens the impact of the “survival” part of Rime of the Frostmaiden, but is probably pretty close to running it “by the book”, as the adventure mostly ignores these aspects as long as characters are wearing appropriate clothing. I do intend to use weather conditions during combat however for a bit more depth, adding some interesting aspects such as reduced vision range and providing partial cover.
We didn’t get time to do any playing during Session 0, as by that time it was getting late, so we called it a night and I was pretty satisfied by how everyone had managed to grasp Roll20’s interface and that my players were all enthusiastic about starting the game the following week. I liked the party composition, providing a nice mix of damage, tanks and support as well as having each of the characters tied into the area in someway (either born in or around Icewind Dale, or having been motivated to go there) which should help to get the players slightly more invested and I’m pretty sure that after a few sessions a few of my players will start to get pretty invested about some aspect of the Dale, the only question for now is what that’s going to be (and as I know my players pretty well, I’m damn sure that it’s not going to be the main quest line).
Grynsk stamped his feet to try and keep warm. He could feel the icicles forming in his beard, the humidity from his nose had frozen his moustache to his skin which now stung every time his lip moved, which it did constantly as he chewed tobacco. At last he saw the sorry band of wannabee adventurers that he’d managed to recruit at the bar the previous evening. What a band of misfits, he thought, but beggars can’t be choosers in these hard times. “Finally! We said just before sun-up! You’re going to have to get a move on if you don’t want to be on the lake in the dark. You’re boat is over there, the second one, you don’t want the one with the hole in it. Come on, get a move on.” He waved his arms at the group, trying to hurry them along, but without much enthusiasm. The Goliath was more than twice his size and the dark elves just gave him the creeps. The dwarf seemed the only decent one among them. The hulking brute had started to pull the rowboat over the ice with little trouble when Grynsk heard shouting behind him. Damn, he thought, it’s that elf again. He waved at group, trying to get them to move on before she could get to them.
“Have you warned them about the monster Grynsk? Or are you sending more poor souls out to the deaths just so you have a chance at a few more coppers in your pocket?” Too late, thought Grynsk, as the party all straightened their backs and turned to stare back at him, suspicion on their faces. He gulped as the weirder of the two elves stopped in front of him, his thin robes no where near adapted to the weather but that didn’t seem to bother him, the Goliath loomed at his shoulder. “Monster?” asked the elf darkly.
“It’s nothing. Rumours made up by fishermen to explain that their too incompetent to avoid ice on the lake”.
“Rubbish” interrupted Tali, the half-elf researcher, clutching their notebook to their chest, “I have plenty of corroborating accounts that there is something in that lake. I just don’t know what exactly it is yet”.
Kaldall, the dark elf sorcerer ignored the researcher for the moment, still starting intently at his dwarven paymaster. “So you intended to send us out blind, with no notion of what to expect? This job seems to merit much more in the way of payment that what you initially implied.”
Grynsk deflated. “I ain’t got anymore I can pay.” He glowered at Tali, their damned conscience would spell the death of his business, and probably himself. He turned back to the group, “my offer still stands. If you don’t want it that’s you’re choice, but I ain’t got anymore for you,” he turned and stomped back off towards the inn, cursing his luck as he went.
Tali presented themselves to the group, “If you’re still willing to go out I’d be delighted if you could provide me any information on the monster if you see it. The details I have are… confused. The fishermen were rather more concerned with getting out of there than examining the thing.”
“If you’re so interested, why not join us? Get some first hand experience” sneered the dark elf with a bow at the back, Maeis, a faint smile playing on his lips.
Tali was about to make an excuse, when their knees buckled under the weight of a Goliath’s hand on their shoulder.
“Yes! Come! You will be able to tell the others of our great victory!” bellowed Jean jovially as he headed back to the row boat, guiding Tali by the shoulder.
Our story starts in the quiet village of Bremen. I chose Bremen rather than rolling randomly as it’s out of the way and I felt that the quest was probably the easiest for me to adapt the difficulty on the fly as needed. As stated before, my players are new and I wanted to give them a relatively simple encounter so that they could focus on learning the basic mechanics rather than a more in depth and tactical fight. Plus it allowed me to focus on a relatively small town to begin with, limiting the number of options that the party received at the start. I presented my players with a “fait accompli” at the beginning of the adventure: they had agreed the night before when in the tavern to go fishing for Grynsk, a local dwarven fishmonger. This meant that they were dropped right into the action, as I’m not keen on the idea of getting players who have never been in a TTRPG before and presenting them with a “what do you want to do?” question right at the start. As it was my players took the hook (pun intended) and set off quite happily on the quest to find the mysterious lake monster, plus it allowed them to flex their fledgling roleplaying muscles as they used their rather imposing presence to intimidate a local that they guessed was trying to get the one up on them.
Tali sat cramped into the back of the boat, their notebook stashed inside their coat to protect it from the weather. Only Ciryl, the dwarf, seemed to be enjoying himself as he tried to fish while his companions grumbled and watched the water for any signs of some leviathan that had plagued the fishers boats for the past week. It was Maeis that saw the shadow first but it was already too late. The great dark shape appeared from under the boat hitting it’s side just as Maeis rose from his seat to call out a warning. The elf was thrown over the side into the freezing cold of the lake as a plesiosaurus burst from the water on the other side of the boat. The others leapt to action, Jean unsheathed his great-axe and managed to swing at the beast as it tried to lunge at him, slamming it across the side of it’s head. Ciryl managed to help Maeis back into the rowboat and quickly started wrapping a rope around his companions as a bolt of chaotic energy unleashed by Kaldall scythed over their heads barley missing the monster as it whipped it’s long neck around to try and reach them.
Tali gabbled excitedly as they hurriedly took notes, having seemingly become oblivious to the obvious danger they were in now that there was an opportunity for study. Ciryl managed to fasten a rope to their belt when the plesiosaurus struck again, hitting the side of the boat which emitted a worrying groan, though it took another two blows for it’s trouble from both Jean’s axe and Ciryl’s hammer. Despite his cold hands and the rocking of the boat Maeis managed to loose his bow and strike the beast. A blast of fire from Kaldall was enough to send the beast back bellow the water of the lake, but not before hissing out a warning at them not to return least they wish to find themselves within the cold grasp of the waves.
Maeis set about changing into some spare clothes that Jean had in his pack while Kaldall tried to dry out his clothes with magic, his long nimble fingers working carefully as steam rose from them. They rowed back as swift as they could manage, not wishing to risk damaging the boat, though thanks to Kaldall’s experience as a sailor they had little trouble navigating between the ice flows on the way and were even able to return to fishing as Tali continued talking about the beast, regaling them with accounts of talking beasts and of their knowledge of “awakening” a druidic magic that was capable of bestowing sentience on fauna and flora. It wasn’t until they were nearing the frozen ice that marked the current edge of the lake that they saw the shadow move under the boat again, this time however they managed to swing the boat around meaning the beast didn’t hit it as it came up, simply rocking it dangerously as the water it displaced flowed past them. Again it was Maeis who lost his footing but thanks to Ciryl’s rope he was saved from falling back into the water this time. The adventurers were ready this time and set to work as swiftly as possible. Kaldrall’s bolt of chaotic energy once again flew wide but the others all managed to strike true, with Ciryl striking the final blow, his hammer managing to pierce the skull of the beast as it came in low to bite him.
The groups first combat encounter was against the awakened plesiosaurus hidden in the lake. Since I knew that they’d be on this quest I had time to prepare a quick map of a rowboat on the lake before the game started. It’s a relatively simple fight for the heroes, who can generally concentrate their fire against this single opponent. I used the options provided in the book about how the plesiosaurus attacks, but I didn’t roll, instead choosing them turn by turn depending on what seemed the most cinematic and fitting. The combat started with the players being surprised, allowing the plesiosaurus to attack the boat from bellow as it surfaced, knocking Maeis into the water. After that I had it try to turn the boat over before plunging back into the water again, as the heroes had damaged it considerably by then, its retreat yet again rocking the boat, in a sort of inverse opportunity attack, a special disengage action that also caused a relatively easy skill check not to be knocked into the water again. On the players side of things they reacted well, and were willing to mix both roleplaying elements and combat actions into the encounter better than I imagined possible. Ciryl’s use of the rope to tie them all together once Maeis was back in the boat, and Jean (since he is a Goliath and doesn’t need cold weather clothing) gave his spare clothes to Maeis to avoid them having to make checks from sitting in freezing clothes. The combat went well for the heroes, even if Kaldall was slightly frustrated by some terrible attack roles that made them waste spell slots which made for a rather disappointing first impression of a sorcerer’s capacities. Since they were tied together I transformed the skill checks that they had to make into group checks, which helped them, and I also gave Kaldall advantage on their throws since they had the sailor background.
After the initial fight they made their way back to the village, as they had what they needed, and as they neared the end I had the plesiosaurus attack again, using the same procedure as last time except that this time they weren’t surprised and were able to manoeuvre so as not to take any damage from its reappearance. It went down quickly after that, and by the end of the combat the heroes had taken no damage, though the boat was at half health. All together it made for what I felt was an interesting fight, simple enough for new players to grasp easily and being far less lethal than most of the other quests proposed in the book. The ability to have the plesiosaurus appear and disappear adds a nice dynamic feeling that isn’t often possible in classic encounters where you can chase an enemy without diving into a freezing cold lake.
Jean managed to grab the beasts neck before it sank beneath the water and together they hauled in onto the ice, muscles straining as they slowly pulled it back to Bremen. There was quite a crowd on the docks by the time they got there, as the villagers came to see what the large form on the horizon was as they dragged it slowly over the ice.
As the party approached the crowd parted slightly to allow Speaker Dorbulgruf to make his way though and after a quick exchange the carcase, minus the head that Jean wanted to keep, was handed over for 50 gold pieces to provide the village with food. It was a good night at the tavern after that, as the fledgling heroes drank to their success and the townsfolk partitioned out the meat between them. Slowly talk turned to things other than the monster in the lake and it wasn’t long before the group found themselves in conversation with a grizzled elderly dwarf, but that, is a story for next time.
After the fight things went a little bit off script. The team decided to try and bring the plesiosaurus back to the village to show off their victory. I’m not personally aware of the weight of a plesiosaurus, either in or out of water, but both Jean and Ciryl are strong, plus Jean has the Goliath’s capacity for carrying more than they would normally be able to, so I let them have some fun and drag it back to the village for a nice 50 gold piece reward. They tried to intimidate the speaker to get a bit more out of him but I played that he instead took fright, and pulled out of the offer not wishing to “insult them with such small sums of money” and that “he was sorry that they could not offer more. They could of course do much better in a larger town” before they relented and took the 50 gold pieces, with some quick persuade checks to make it all seem like a mistake and that of course they would help the village, retuning them to their hero status. I think I’m going to have a bit of fun in the coming weeks, as the players learn who they can and can’t intimidate into what, and maybe try and make some more educated guesses before following through on a course of action. By this time the night was getting late so we called it a day, with me ready to provide the adventure hooks for the two starting quests to get us off on a good start for the next session, which will be for a future post.
Until then, be more kind. TTFN. Sam.
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