Dungeons & Dragons fans braved an icy virtual world to experience an adventure best served cold.
When our world spun in a new direction early in 2020, it sent out ripples that affected even the Forgotten Realms and the multiverse beyond. As with so many elements of our current lives, D&D Live 2020: Roll w/Advantage pivoted in response and shifted its exclusive reveals and A-list streams online.
Following a slight pause that saw the event move from May, the latest campaign storyline for Dungeons & Dragons has officially been announced as Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. While players had a slightly longer wait to get their first official peek at a snowy owlbear outside of a must-have T-shirt, that’s nothing compared to the interval the creative team experienced.
“We began writing Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden back in late 2017 and we finished in the summer of 2018,” reveals D&D Principal Narrative Designer Chris Perkins. “It’s normal to work so far ahead on our projects because these things take time. There are so many little moving pieces that you have to get a good start. Still, I can’t believe it’s been two years since we put our metaphorical pens down.”
Set in the frigid far north of the Forgotten Realms, but easily transportable to other settings, Perkins describes the adventure as a modern horror story rather than a gothic chiller. Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a tale of dark terror that revisits the forlorn, flickering candlelights of civilization known as Ten-Towns and the many bone-chilling locations that surround these frontier settlements.
“This storyline has got ice in its veins,” he continues. “Secrecy is one of its themes. The idea is that everyone you meet in Icewind Dale came here for a reason, and a lot of those reasons are not necessarily good. Every character gets a secret and the only person who knows your character’s secret is you.
“Players can play that in one of two ways. They can keep the secret close to their chest and not reveal it to the other players, fostering party paranoia. Or they can divulge their secret anytime they want to, and then wrestle with its consequences. Some of the secrets are benign and don’t have any real consequence for the party. Others are terrifying.”
“I think it’s worth pointing out that one of the big inspirations for this adventure was John Carpenter’s The Thing,” adds Jeremy Crawford. “We can’t say much more than that because we don’t want to spoil the adventure but I think it would be good prep work for our DMs to go and watch that film to really get in the mood for the wintery horror of this story.”
Paranoia aside, the Dragon+ Team was pining for the opportunity to step out of the sizzling Californian sun into a stage setting recreating Icewind Dale. Senior Communications Manager Greg Tito and his team did such a great job of bringing the Avernus hellscape to life in 2019 that we’re sure we’d have been able to see our breaths amid the frozen tundra of this year’s immersive entertainment experience. With a book “jam-packed with monsters”, to quote Crawford, that’s probably not all we’d have seen.
“Chris Perkins and I were chatting and we think this adventure has more monsters in it than any adventure we’ve done thus far for fifth edition. Even if you may not run this wonderfully chilly, horror adventure, you can be sure you’re going to get a truckload of frosty monsters. My favorite is the snow golem, which is terrifying,” Crawford says.
“This book also has rules for things like blizzards and avalanches. And we introduce that goliaths have resistance to cold damage in this book. We realized that we’ve always said that the goliaths have adapted to living in higher elevations. If they grew up at the top of mountains, they’d need some way to not perish.”
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden wasn’t the only new Dungeons & Dragons release having the sheets pulled off it. As in previous years at D&D Live, fans got to see a whole bunch of upcoming products for the first time.
For starters, those planning an expedition to Icewind Dale should arm themselves with dice that bring the heat. Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden—Dice and Miscellany includes eleven dice (two d20s for rolling with advantage and disadvantage, one d12, two d10s for percentile results, one d8, four d6s for rolling character stats, and one d4). Its box also functions as two felt-lined dice trays and includes a player-friendly foldout map of Icewind Dale and Ten-Towns, as well as twenty double-sided cards with descriptions and illustrations of characters and creatures the players might encounter in the region.
The opening day showcase by hosts Anna Prosser and Mica Burton also featured WizKids’ D&D Icons of the Realms: Sapphire Dragon, based on the art that was created for the 45th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. A complement to WizKids’ Icewind Dale set of figures, this premium figure, over 160mm tall, will be released in August with an MSRP of $69.99. It perfectly captures the sapphire dragon’s psionic nature, as its levitating horns and spines float in place, held aloft by its psychic force.
Dungeons & Dragons is also no stranger to taking over kitchen tables but it’s usually more accustomed to doing that with maps, miniatures, and DM screens. Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Michael Witwer’s cookbook, Heroes’ Feast: The Official Dungeons & Dragons Cookbook, collects eighty recipes inspired by the magical world of D&D that have been developed by a professional chef. How will you satisfy your craving for adventure: hogs in bedrolls, iron rations, Hommlet golden-roasted turkey, drow mushroom steaks, or Moonshae seafood risotto? The cookbook releases October 27, 2020 with an MSRP of $35.
The stream of announcements also confirmed that we’re getting not one but two new D&D comics! Dark Horse comics’ Stranger Things and Dungeons & Dragons launches October 21, 2020, and tells the story of the first time the gang meets Dustin, before Eleven and Max play D&D with them later in the series.
Meanwhile, IDW’s At the Spine of the World introduces colorful new characters when it launches November 4, 2020 and drops them into a realm blighted by feral beasts, continual blizzards, and… a strange madness? As comic writer Aimee Garcia revealed, one of those characters was plucked directly from history.
“A.J. [Mendez] found this really cool article about a Viking woman who was a warrior and didn’t die even though she received a blunt axe wound to the face! Everyone thought only Viking males battled but she was given a hero’s burial. Once we found that out we created Runa, who we’re really excited to introduce to the world!” she says.
The marketplace is also a key part of any real-world D&D Live event, showing off items for the first time once they have been announced. Premium boxset creators Beadle & Grimm’s wanted to maintain that tradition of convention storefronts (and scoop an incredible amount of pre-orders for the Platinum Edition of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden at the same time) by setting up a virtual booth on Twitch.com.
“We wanted people to be able to stop by and ask some questions,” says co-founder Paul Shapiro. “They could go into the chat and have us show them what’s in the Eberron box or ask questions about what’s going to be in Rime of the Frostmaiden.”
With the big announcements out of the way there was the chance to watch live gaming sessions featuring D&D luminaries and special guests—including the Red Nose Day and Cast of Thrones games (for more on those, swipe right to our Streaming Highlights). But with social distancing still impacting people’s ability to get together in person, the D&D Team also offered opportunities for remote participation via its Live Event Portal.
As part of that, fans were given the chance to shape the event itself by participating in an expansive online puzzle. Running across Instagram and the main D&D channels, this mashup of fantasy storytelling, community engagement, and reality television saw ten well-known members of the D&D community playing characters in a series of challenges, to find which of them was best equipped to be the champion of Faerûn.
“There was an overarching storyline as to why these characters were pitted against each other in these reality TV-style challenges and fans voted on who should be kept at the end of each session. That continued until one character reigned supreme,” Tito tells Dragon+.
“It was a popularity contest, but viewers were also trying to work out who was the true champion. The whole event was about deductive reasoning as players discovered and solved this puzzle. It was a wonderful way for fans to interact with this story in an active way.”
Congrats to Imdra Arlaggath (Satine Phoenix), the new Champion of Ten Towns, and well done to the D&D community for rooting out the doppelganger cultist, Olivessa Untapoor (Krystina Arielle).
RED NOSE DAY
A small donation to Red Nose Day allowed players to take part in the Reality RP event, as well as opening up online gaming sessions. D&D Live 2020: Roll w/ Advantage not only helped raise money for Red Nose Day Fund/Comic Relief US with donations from players (with four Adventurers League gameplay options available), it also sold event apparel and created a special adventure (both still available!) to boost that charity haul. Apparel commemorating the partnership with a snowy owlbear so cute it’d break a cute-o-meter can still be purchased here for a limited time, while the adventure Return to the Glory (which sees a group of orc characters try to reclaim the most advanced underground stronghold ever known to orc-kind) is also available to buy.
D&D Vice President Nathan Stewart also joined event hosts Prosser and Burton to announce that the amount of Red Nose Day donations that would be matched by D&D was being increased to $250,000. You can still make your donation here.
Until next year, when we hope to board the bus to D&D Summer Camp and meet you all in person once more, stay safe.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is a 320-page hardcover adventure with a double-sided poster map of Icewind Dale and Ten-Towns. It releases on September 15, 2020 with an MSRP of $49.95 and is available to preorder now.