Friday, 25 July 2014

Starter Set Sandbox 1 - Icespire Peak

Winter is Coming!

As someone who knows nothing about A Game of Thrones beyond the fact that it is popular, lots of people die, and part of its popularity is due to nudity, I am unaware of how heretical it is considered to use the phrase Winter is Coming in the context of the Forgotten Realms. Heresy aside, this phrase neatly encapsulates what this location can offer to a campaign set in the area demarcated by the regional map that comes with the 5E Starter Set.

I had intended to make my first post in this series about a location more suitable for lower-level adventures but this site offers some metaplot possibilities that I think could prove to be interesting in the context of a longer-term campaign set in this location.


This location, Icespear Peak, exists in only one source: the Neverwinter MMORPG and thus that game is the only source for any Realmslore. Not being an online gamer - and not wanting to become one - I can only rely on YouTube videos, such as the one at the beginning of this post, and online walkthroughs.

As far as I can tell, it all boils down to a few salient points:

  1. Icehammer dwarves of Torindar were mining in the Sword Mountains at the site of Icespire Peak.
  2. They discovered a portal to the Elemental Chaos called the Winterforge and, by activating it, unleashed ice golems that began to menace the Icehammer dwarves.
  3. The opening of the Winterforge portal attracted the attention of some frost giants in the Sword Mountains led by Hrimnir.
  4. These giants came to the Winterforge and are now using its power to unleash an unnatural winter across the region.
And that seems to be it. My gaming bucket list includes a desire to run a game involving a Fimbulwinter - in Norse mythology, the unnatural winter that heralded Ragnarok - and this is close enough.

I should also add, although the location appears on the map in Lost Mine of Phandelver, I can see no mention of it in the adventure.

Making This Work
The easiest way to use this basic idea is to adapt G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (the hyperlink is to a couple of maps on the WotC site) to your preferred ruleset (and for 4E DMs like me, the obvious choice is the 4E update by Chris Perkins) and make destroying the Winterforge the goal of the adventure.

(I should note that I have significantly reduced the levels of a lot of monsters that I use in my 4E games. My frost giants, for example, are level 10 brutes because they had 10 hit dice in 1E. As I prefer sticking to levels 1 to 12 or so, it made sense to reduce the levels of my 4E monsters to match their AD&D hit dice.)

What I really like about the basic idea revealed in the YouTube video is that the threat posed by Icespear Peak can build up over time. As you're running through lower level adventures, the PCs can start experiencing random winter-like days or sudden frosts even when it may be summer. Eventually they will realise that something is awry... and that will hopefully happen at just the right level for them to go seeking out Icespear Peak. 

I've posted a picture here of frozen villagers being menaced by Cryonax, the elder elemental evil and primordial prince of cold. (There's a rather excellent DDi article covering Cryonax in Dragon 421 that I would recommend.) That has inspired at least two additional ideas for an adventure involving Icespire Peak:
  1. If the players have grown very attached to Phandalin and think of it as their PCs' home, think of the looks on their faces when you show them this picture and explain that Phandalin is now something like a frozen Pompeii. Appropriate magic or skill use will reveal that the villagers are still alive, but the PCs must find the source of this icy curse otherwise their friends in Phandalin will die.
  2. One of the things I really love about 4E's new backstories is about how the primordials have been sealed away by the deities and/or primal powers. And while preventing the summoning of some great evil is, of course, a cliché of D&D adventures, it's an effective one. What if the portal is being used to summon Cryonax (or, at the very least, an aspect of Cryonax) and the unnatural winter is just a side-effect of this summoning? This also reminds me of 4E's Orcs of Stonefang Pass adventure: what if the frost giants replace the orcs and an aspect of Cryonax replaces the earth titan from that adventure? It could add an urgency to an adaptaion of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl that the original does not have.
Personally, I can imagine using Icespire Peak as the capstone of the Heroic Tier in a 4E game and subject to, of course, reducing the level of the frost giants as I have already noted. It might also be interesting to run something like this AND also have the frost giants at war with fire giants or other fire creatures in Mount Hotenow, but more on that idea when I actually start covering that volcano....

As for 5E, I have no idea how powerful frost giants will be in that edition so I am not sure if this will work level-wise for a campaign that began with Lost Mine of Phandelver. However, even though Lost Mine only covers levels 1 to 5, I am sure that by the time I have punched out a few more of these posts, there will be enough ideas to take a party from levels 6 to 10/early teens so that the PCs are ready to discover Icespire Peak for themselves.


  1. On a rough comparison of Frost Giants: AD&D vs. 5e:
    HD 10d8+1-4 (avg HPs = 43)
    Attack: +11 (dmg 4d6; avg 13 dmg)

    HD 12d12+60 (avg HP's = 138)
    Attacks: +9/+9 (dmg: 3d12+6 each; avg 25 dmg)

    Of course it is difficult to compare the 'power levels' of different editions without comparing the power of PCs themselves, but as a rough estimate, I would say 5e Giants are about twice (x2) as difficult compared to AD&D versions. At a minimum, I would "halve" the amount of giants in the old "G-series" adventures...

  2. I've only just received the 5E Monster Manual and am too ill to give it a good read so I wasn't aware of how potent frost giants were in 5E.

    BTW, with two attacks the average damage in 5E is 50. In both cases it takes three rounds of damage for one frost giant to slay another.

    1. Also, as an interesting comparison:
      The 5e Ogre (59 HPs, dmg 13/rnd) is about equivalent to AD&D's Frost Giant (43 HPs, dmg 13/rnd).

      So it looks like a DM could convert the "G-series" to 5e in one of two ways:
      Stay true to the original adventure, and keep the amount of monsters the same. In this case, you would almost need to double the amount of party members (from a required 9 in the adventure to 18...very unlikely).
      Or reduce the amount of monsters in half (or 1/4 if you have an average sized group of 4 PCs...).

    2. Interesting. It takes five rounds for an ogre doing average damage to slay another ogre. (Obviously I am not taking into account the chance of missing.)

      What you descrive is also the problem I face with 4E. Even if I drop the level of the frost giants to level 10, I cannot really run G2 with the numbers in the adventure. There needs to be a fair bit of tweaking.

    3. Yes, many of the G-series areas are crazy encounters (if using a frontal assault).
      For example, in G-2, lower area, Caverns of the Carls (area 18-19) there are 12 Frost Giant males, 15 females (3/4 HPs), and 12 young (1/2 HPs). Yup, for those doing the math at home, that is 39 Frost Giants (and the sound of battle more than likely to draw the Jarl, who is less than 100-ft away...)

      I don't envy ANY version of D&D that has to run a combat with over 20+ monsters in a single cutting back is probably ok. I just wonder if the original flavor/tone would be lost with the sheer amount of cut-backs needed to reel this adventure into today's rpg standards?

  3. It might work in 3.5E with a party consisting of a cleric, druid, sorcerer, and wizard. By level 10-12, they can pretty much take care of everything themselves... even if everything is an encounter of 30-odd frost giants. :)