First time Dungeon Masters picking up the Dragon of Icespire Peak module can have a hard time navigating the information. For one, it has a lot to work with, and secondly it can go in so many directions.
This is why many DMs love the campaign, but if you haven’t Dungeon Mastered before, the data can be overwhelming.
We are making an ultimate guide to DoIP (Dragon of Icespire Peak), to help anyone struggling to sift through the information and find the meat of the story! Today, we are starting at the very beginning – preparation.
We aren’t going to go through every single quest in the book right now; instead we are going to show you how to visualise the settling. If you want a more detailed guide for each part of the story you can search through our website by clicking here.
Warning – Spoilers Ahead
Reading Through The Module
It may seem obvious to read through the module you have picked up, but on page 10 the book explains that only 3 of the quests are listed on the quest board. This might lead you to thinking that only reading the first 3 is fine, however you may end up confusing yourself later on.
The first 3 quests don’t really connect to the overall storyline of the campaign. Instead they are more of a “get to know your character” and “have fun role playing” kind of session. This isn’t bad of course, but the players may start wondering why their characters are even following these quests.
If you read through the module, you will know what two things are happening in the world at the moment. Storyline one is that a dragon named Cryovain has moved into the area, forcing dangerous monsters into the humanoid lands. This displacement is actively causing chaos and harm. To solve the problem, you need to remove the dragon. That way the orcs, ogres and manticores can return to their homes, and leave the humanoids in peace.
The second storyline is that a group of orc cultists are attempting to bring their God Gorthok the Thunder Boar into this world. Their reasons are unclear, but there are a couple of instances where boars can be seen in the area.
I personally found the boar storyline more interesting than the dragon one, but (as a new Dungeon Master), I found the story too disconnected from the main plot to piece it all together. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of only looking at the first three quests before reading on. If I had known that these random boars were important, I would have added more detail to their story.
The reason why the boar storyline is so flat is because the creators of the campaign expect you to add to it. As a Dungeon Master, you will have your own creative ideas about how this jigsaw fits together, and your players will end up influencing the story too. This gap is deliberate to allow everyone to have some control in the game.
To ensure you don’t miss out on any juicy details that can help you create the world, you should read the whole campaign even if you are nowhere near that quest yet. Your Warlock Player’s patron could be Abbathor, your Cleric’s God could be Savras. These are Gods already in the book that can help your characters connect to the story. Reading through can help you pick out these details and develop the story from an open concept to a touching story.
Prepare A Skeleton
Just like the creators have left ideas and concepts for you, you shouldn’t overload your story either. Your players can and will have a massive effect on the continued world they interact with. Not everything will have a “butterfly effect” moment, but if your players persuade the villages of Phandalin to move to Butterskull Ranch for their safety, then you should have enough room in the story to let this happen. This idea is called a “skeleton”; the structure or “bones” of the story is written, but the “meat” is created as you play.
To give yourself some guidance but still allow your players to influence the world, you should only make a skeleton guide of the campaign. You could argue that the module already has a skeleton ready for you to pick up and run on the day, but most of us cannot read a piece of paper once and fully comprehend it. Instead, you should use this premade skeleton as a guide.
The best skeletons have fixed facts that will not change, readily prepared along with beginning speeches. The start of a session, no matter if it’s session 1 or session 20, will not be controlled by the Player. They cannot influence anything they haven’t had a chance to touch yet. This means you can set the scene, bring the drama and tell the characters what they see.
Apart from this beginning scene, there won’t be a lot of chances for you to give massive description speeches. You might think that the players will go through the front door of the Logger Camp, but instead, they jump through the window. If you already made a speech for this entry, then this sudden unexpected entrance means your speech doesn’t make sense. To some, that would be enough to make you lose focus and become confused. You might even seem angry that the players didn’t play the way you expected. That isn’t the issue, of course; it just means you’re suddenly unprepared, and that can be stressful. To avoid this issue, don’t make massive speeches. Instead, write a couple of notes about what you imagine your players will see. Then when they reach this location, through the window or the door, you can use your notes to paint the picture.
Going back to the adventure’s premade skeleton piece, re-write the contents in a way that makes sense to you. For example, the detail in Gnomengarde was beautiful but crowded. On game day, I needed to pick up a piece of paper that had quick details and sharp notes so I could move as fast as my players. To prepare, I wrote bullet points for each room. The ability checks, devices, and monsters were reduced to a shorthand that I could understand at a glance. Then I wrote down all the gnomes’ names (and there are many) and put them on a separate sheet. I knew my players would care about what each NPC (non-player character) was called, so I wanted an accessible location to pick up the information.
These are the ways in which I personalized the skeleton. You might care about other details, and long detailed paragraphs might not be hard for you to read quickly. However you like to play, edit the sessions to make them easier for you.
Utilize The Dragon: Cryovain
Cryovain is the main villain of the story. He is happy to cause destruction and eats humanoids, orcs, and livestock in what he considers his territory. In the beginning, the players will be too weak to battle a dragon. Instead, they need to level up with quests to gain the experience they need to be strong.
However, if you ignore the dragon too much, the players won’t realize how much of a threat he is meant to be to the story.
On page 11, the campaign suggests that you should roll a d20 to see where the dragon lands each day to feed.
If the dragon lands in the same area as the players, they can attempt to hurt him, but he will run away after losing 10hp.
The concept is good, as it allows the players to see Cryovain’s destruction and how powerful he is, but there is only a 5% chance of this happening. Without this interaction, your players won’t understand just how much he can destroy the land.
Instead, I recommend noting every place he visits each day and creating a mini-story about what happened there. For example, the dragon could land at the Logger’s Camp. The players could find pools of freshwater near the river which an intelligence check can confirm shouldn’t be there. They might even find dead Ankhegs (the monster of the area) lying on the sand with wounds from a weapon no longer in the body. Again, an intelligence check could find evidence of a frozen exoskeleton.
This way, although the players haven’t seen the dragon, they have seen its effect. This could even happen in locations the players have been to before. Maybe a letter comes from Butterskull Ranch, asking for further assistance after the dragon stole his pigs?
Making the dragon more destructive and visible will allow your players to create a strong dislike for the beast, and they will have a greater connection to the story.
Don’t Be Afraid To Add To The Content
From everything we have said so far, it should be clear that these modules are meant to be used in collaboration with you and your party. Don’t stick to them religiously, instead explore what they could mean and how they can evolve as the story goes on.
Maybe the cultists are calling upon their God because they want the boar to take down Cryovain. They might think the party is on the dragon’s side unless your players try to talk them into a truce?
These storylines cropping into your mind could turn this template into a world you can see and predict. Follow your ideas and your players’ ideas to create something you can all connect to.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take Away From The Content
In the same thought process as adding to the module, you can take away from it too. The Wizards of the Coast (the creators of these games) often use The Forgotten Realms in their campaigns. These games have been around for years, and so it’s only natural that lore and easter eggs have developed. But as a new DM, these unnecessary add ons meant nothing to me.
Easter eggs are fun but useless content that nods towards other content, like when one Marvel movie has an item from another Marvel movie in the background.
Halia, the human who works at the exchange shop, is one of these easter eggs. She is part of a secret organization called Zhentarim. With so much detail added to this NPC, you would expect her character to play a significant role, or at least the secret organization should be meaningful. Instead, she was just an insert to allow more experienced Dungeon Masters to connect their stories together.
Unless you can see potential in these one-off details, I would recommend taking them out of the story. Otherwise, your players might follow this red herring towards content that isn’t part of the campaign, and (as a new DM) you don’t know how to manifest.
My advice is to avoid confusion. When you go through the module, pick up on these little extras and cross them out.
You may find that other parts of the story seem pointless, unnecessary, or too complicated. If that’s the case, cross those parts out too. You want the game to be easy to follow so you don’t get tripped up on too many storylines. Follow your instincts and edit the campaign to make it more enjoyable for you.
Some of the information I have said in this article can be used on all or most other modules too. Always make personalized skeleton modules of the campaigns you are using, and always edit and adjust them to suit your table.
If you are reading this, then you are probably still a little new or nervous about being a Dungeon Master. Most people who pick up this campaign are just starting out. Don’t think of this advice as a cheat or a “dumb it down” method. Experienced Dungeon Masters will already be doing this level of preparation, and the module itself says to “modify the adventure to suit your tastes.”
Dungeons and Dragons is all about collaborative role-playing, so remember that Dragons of Icespire Peak is an adventure suggestion, and you can collaborate with the creators to make it fit your fantasy.
If you have any worries or questions, add them to our comments and I will do my best to help you. If you have any additional advice to help your fellow newbies, throw those into the comment section too! We can’t wait to see how you’ve been playing this game.
The advice we are about to give you is mostly aimed at new Dungeon Masters, but anyone can gain some inspiration and guidance from our suggestions for preparing phandalin. Before you do anything, you need to have read pages 8 to 11 of the Dragon of Icespire Peak module, at least. If you have read…