Setting Up Phandalin For Your First Session – Dragon of Icespire Peak

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 the whole thing, that would be better. You can then flick back through the pages as a reference.

The story of Dragon of Icespire Peak starts in Phandalin, a small town in Neverwinter. On page 7 of the adventure, you are bombarded with facts about this town which all come down to nothing. It’s essentially history to a story from centuries ago, and if you aren’t aware of Neverwinter’s past, then it’s all pointless.

Today, we plan on helping you navigate through some of the wasted text, and help you create a real beginning to your first session.

Know Your Players’ Characters

As a Dungeon Master (DM), you have to know the world you have created, your Non Player Characters (NPCs), and your Players’ Characters (PCs). 

Knowing the PCs doesn’t mean understanding their thought process inside and out, but instead understanding what might drive them and why they are in Phandalin. These questions will help you create a beginning for the players to get their teeth into.

For example, one of your players could be a bard who simply wants to earn money and travel the lands. Maybe you also have a wizard who uses their magic to create fun tricks.

It would make sense for these two characters to start their journey in the local tavern of Stonehill Inn. There you could describe the empty pub with a happy owner who is joyous to finally have guests. Maybe the bard is playing the lute, and the wizard is creating dancing lights to cast a humanoid image to sway with.  The bard and the wizard then role performance checks to see who the owner likes the most. 

This would then be the first roll of the game. By knowing your PCs you will have written an introduction that takes them into a likely place that feels comfortable for the characters, and let them have a friendly interaction to set off their role playing.

If you have multiple PCs or maybe some that don’t mesh well on paper, then you can plan a mini confrontation. For example, a rogue could be scouting Barthens Provisions for some wine, you describe the low stocked store, and ask the rogue PC if they would like to steal from the poor NPC.

After the decision is made, the PC then either rolls sleight of hand or walks away. Regardless, the Paladin PC notices the interaction from afar. You can then ask the Paladin how they want to react to the scene they just witnessed.

With each decision, you are giving the PCs unexpected agency and allowing each person to enter the story as it best fits their character. Think about the PCS your players’ have created and what would make the best introductory encounter for them. Not only does this allow the players to see the town without starting a 10-minute speech, it also puts the PCs at the center of the session.

If you need help building a character for Dragon of Icespire Peak, then click here for our Player Character suggestions!

Making Notes and Structuring your Sessions

As we said in our article “Starting your Preparations,” you need to have a skeleton structure for the session.

Unlike the other pages in the module, there is no guide to tell you how to begin. So using your knowledge of the players, figure out why the character might have wandered into this sleepy town and where they might have headed.

As this beginning section will be very loose, you may need to make notes about every building in the town. We don’t mean every house and NPC living in it, but instead, you should make a note about what the Shrine looks like, what items you could find in the Armory, and so forth. 

Before coming to this stage, you should already have ruled out some of the NPCs and buildings you don’t care about. For example, we suggest ignoring the Miners Exchange and instead have a shifty-looking NPC in their place. This person will find a buyer for any strange items the PCs want to sell and will find any information they want, for a price.

Whatever you decide to do, make a description for every important building in the town and give these buildings a way for the players to interact with them. The module suggests rolling a D6 to determine a conversion, but we will discuss why a pre-made topic might be better next.

Plan Your Non-Player Characters

So you know how your Players’ Characters will enter into this campaign, and you know what buildings are made available to them. Next, you need to create your Non-Player Characters.

Looking at the module, pick out information that seems interesting to you, and chuck out all the rest. Add the NPC to the information on their connected buildings, so they become easy to find. Then flesh out the NPC until you feel as though you know them. Lastly, summarize the NPC into a couple of bullet points, so their stand-out features are easy to spot for quick reference.

On page 8 of the module, we learn that the owner of the Stonehill Inn is Toblen Stonehill. He tried to be a miner but did better as an innkeeper. You can use this information to envision a large human man with a sensitive heart. 

In my previous example, I said that the owner was joyful to finally receive guests in his inn. When the players finally find this NPC, he could bond with them instantly because of their patronage. It won’t take long for Toblen to express his worry about his friends in the Dwarven Excavation site. 

“A dragon is rumored to fly around this side of Neverwinter Wood. Since the rumors began, fewer people have come to stay in the town. This doesn’t mean it’s true, of course, but I doubt any have told Dazlyn and Norbus, my old friends at the mine. If I pay you 50gp, will you spread a word of danger to them?” 

If pressed, Toblen can explain that he left them for a quiet life and worries his old friends hate him because of the abandonment, and that’s why he won’t go himself.

Again this is just an example, but if you can create your own backstory for the NPCs, one that fits into your story and doesn’t stray away from the main plot, then you can make their plea more realistic and engaging for the PCs. The players are more likely to bond with your NPCs once they have had a connection to them.

The Paladin and Rogue from before would not care about this quest I have just set up, but the Bard and Wizard might feel a warmth towards Toblen after he cheered on their show.

You can always adlib a conversation to create a bond between the NPCs and the PCs, but to do that well, you need to know what makes the NPCs special.

Set Up The First Three Quests

We have kind of already touched on this with my example of Toblen’s conversation about his miner friends.

In the module, on page 10, you’ll notice that Phandalin has a quest board where the spooked mayor puts jobs up for budding adventurers.

This can be a great way to structure your game as the PCs will know that they can find the quests in one simple place. However, quest boards can sometimes feel like a checklist. If you want your players to feel like part of the world, they need to interact with it. 

The method I set up before connects the problems to the town. The Dwarfs in the mines being friends with Toblen gives them a sense of immediacy and allows the players to have a real reason to help. 

With the Umbrage Hill quest (which asks the PCs to return the healer to the town of Phandalin), you could have her be an ex-partner of an NPC in Phandalin. Maybe Linene the Smith is worried about Ababra’s safety, as she is living all alone. But Linene cannot ask her to come back home due to their quarrel. Again we have a human connection to link the healer to Phandalin and a dash of a love story to give the town some history. 

If you are worried that your players will never find the quest if left to their own devices, you can make the quest come to them. Maybe Linene is drinking in the tavern, and Toblen tells the PCs that she only does this when she’s anxious. Here the players have a story-like beginning to a new quest without feeling railroaded.

In my opinion, the Gnomengard quest should come after the first two. Maybe a letter arrived at the Inn where the adventurers are staying, asking them to visit the Mayor in his home. At this point, Harbin Wester (the mayor) has seen how the party is taking on scary jobs and so wants to hire them. He lets them into his manor house, locks the doors up, and keeps the room in dim light. Those with darkvision can see that his home is a tip, and his hair is out of control. This is a man in despair. 

Harbin then asks the players to go to Gnomenguard to find an item to help fight against the dragon. 

At this point, the dragon will have been mentioned to the players twice, and they are aware that everyone is mildly scared. This allows them to slowly take in the short history of the town, and at the same time, the players will begin to develop a growing worry about the dragon.

Of course, these are all suggestions, and you might have found your own ideas in the module. Either way, writing up these interactions to introduce the quests will make them more realistic and exciting to the players. As Cryovain, the dragon, will not be around for a while, we need to show the NPCs growing worried.

Set Up Cryovain’s Terror

All of these quests only touch on the problems that Cryovain gives. In “Starting your Preparations,” I discuss making a mini-story for every place Cryovain visits, under “Utilize The Dragon, Cryovain.” That way, when the Players reach this location, they can see how Cryovain has affected the area. 

When you are just starting up the campaign, you don’t need to add too much emphasis on the dragon. A mild worry is all they need to progress the story at this point. However, as the game goes on, Cryovain’s power needs to be increasingly realized. 

If it has been a couple of sessions between the mention of the dragon, you could add in an NPC who comes from one of the attacked locations and have them flee to Phandalin. They might not ask for help, like a quest, but instead, you can describe their wounds and worries.

The only problem with this idea is that the PCs might see it as a plot hook and will try to visit the area too early for their level (and your preparations). If that sounds like your party, you could instead describe the dragon flying in the distance and a ray of white pulsing from its mouth. The closer Cryovain is, the more obvious this ray is ice.

Either way, you should always keep the looming threat of Cryovain in the back of your mind. For the first session, however, these mild worries are enough to push forward a quest. 

Plug The Later Quests

Lastly, your sessions should contain plugs for later quests. Don’t set them up like we did with Toblen or Linene, but instead, you could have a carriage set up near the back of Barthen’s Provisions as foreshadowing for the Loggers Camp quest, or maybe the shopkeep could sell Butterskull butter from Butterskull Ranch.

Little things like this dotted around will create a “Eureka” moment when the players make the connections, making the quests seem like a real part of an ever-moving world.

Summary

Woah, take a breath. All of this might sound overwhelming. I have just given you a lot of information, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you reached the summary portion a little dazed. So let’s wrap it all up in an easy bow to help you navigate the module as well as your own thoughts.

When you are creating Phandalin and beginning to write up your first session, you should think about these 7 points:

  1. Read the Module. You want to read pages 8 – 11 in Dragon of Icespire Peak. They tell you the buildings in Phandalin, the NPCs, as well as the quests.
  2. Ask The Players About Their PCs. You need to figure out how to place the PCs into this world. What are they interested in? This information can help you build the NPCs, as you will know what will get the best reaction from the players.
  3. Build the Town. Using the module as a guide, remove information that seems pointless to you, and write a new script that makes sense to your visualization of the world. Include descriptions you can read out loud.
  4. Build the NPCs. You know what the players will be interested in and what parts of the town you want to keep. You have created a description for all the buildings, so now add the NPCs. It doesn’t need to be deep, but their thoughts should reflect the world they are living in. Think about the threat of Cryovain and quest plots that could be on their mind.
  5. Get the First Three Quests Prepared. Using the quest board or a storybook approach, find a way to give the players a quest. If you only want to have one prepared at a time, then limit them to one at a time. You’re the DM, after all.
  6. Remember Cryovain. Add in drops of evidence that Cryovain exists. The players might not be facing him yet, but they need to know his power.
  7. Lay Breadcrumbs for Later Quests. You don’t have to do this for every quest or even in every session. But if you can see a clear connection between one NPC and a later quest, then sprinkle in some information for the players to connect to later.

Once you’ve done all of this hard work, you won’t need to mess with Phandalin’s structure again, as it won’t change too much after that. This initial setup will take the longest, but once it is done, you can refer back to the buildings and people at any time. They will be premade, ready for whatever the players throw at you.

Next, you need to set up the Dwarven Excavation Quest, Umbrage Hill Quest, and Gnomengarde Quest. We have guidance to help you with these preparations too. I suggest you have at least the Dwarven Excavation Quest written and ready before you begin the campaign. 

Now pat yourself on the back! You have completed the first session of Dragon of Icespire Peak. Here everyone can introduce their character, start to navigate Phandalin, and learn about the adventure they are about to embark on. 

image of mine

How to Prepare Dwarven Excavation Quest – Dragon of Icespire Peak

Like everything in Dragon of Icespire Peak, there is a lot of lore, history, and backstory to each area on the map.  Most of the time, these added details would be great information for Dungeons Masters (DMs) who are used to making massive worlds or even those who have played a campaign near Phandalin before. … Continue Reading →

How to Prepare Umbrage Hill Quest – Dragon of Icespire Peak

Umbrage Hill is a simple quest, which allows your players to choose between combat and conversation. 

If you or your players are new to Dungeons and Dragons, you might expect to fight your way out of every situation. That’s because the typical answer to most fantasy games is to kill your enemy; D&D is different. Umbrage Hill is the perfect example of how combat could be halted if the players use their knowledge or skills wisely.  

Connecting The Quest To The Players And Phandalin

The campaign suggests using a quest board to hand out adventures. In our article “Setting Up Phandalin,” we said that although this process is an easy method, it can feel a little boring. Instead, we suggested making the campaign feel more personal to the players; that way, they have a genuine reason to help out the town and not leave them to their own devices.

The original quest asked the players to find Adabra Gwynn and bring her back to Phandalin, where she would be safe (page 10 of the adventure book).

However, I felt that this type of request should come from a lover, “Come back and be safe.” But then why wouldn’t the lover find their partner themselves? Ah, maybe an ex-lover.

In “Setting Up Phandalin,” I suggested that maybe Linene the Smith is worried about Ababra’s safety, as she lives alone. But Linene cannot ask her to come back home due to their quarrel. This gives the players a human connection to link the healer to Phandalin. It also drops with a dash of a love story to provide the town with some history. 

If the players don’t naturally arrive at the Lionshield Coster (page 9), you can make the quest come to them. Maybe Linene is drinking in the tavern, and Toblen tells the PCs (player characters) that she only does this when she’s anxious. Here the players have a story-like beginning to a new quest without feeling railroaded.

Developing this story-like entrance just means adding a “cut screen” moment before the players enter the Lionshielf Coster or as they enter the Tavern.

For example:

You walk into the Tavern and see Toblin cleaning down some tables. Sitting in the shadows is a stocky-looking woman. With one hand cradling her head and the other hugging her ale, you can sense a sadness surrounding her.

If the players go over, you can add in some dialogue for the PCs to bounce off of.

“Toblin said you helped him, so I hoped you could help me too” Linene tries to focus on you, but you notice her eyes are dropping a little. “Ababra doesn’t know about that Dragon flying around. She’s all alone and too stubborn to listen to me. I need her to come back. To be safe, I mean….” A slight redness colors her cheeks. “Look, if I give you 25gp, will you bring her back here, so she’s safe? Just don’t tell her I sent you.”

The players could then dive deeper into this star-crossed lover storyline, or they could accept this drunkard’s money and run. Either way, the quest is theirs now, and the history of this village is developing.

What To Expect At Umbrage Hill

The map to Umbrage Hill is small. The makers have tried to add history to the land, but as I said with my “Dwarven Excavation” guide, these historical additions are fun but unnecessary. And to new DMs (Dungeon Masters), it will just add confusion.

The unnecessary history in Umbrage Hill is the lost feud of dwarven clans. At the top of the hill, you’ll notice rocks that are acting as tombstones from this long-forgotten battle. And under U.2, you’ll see a stone house fallen to ruins. These shapes will make excellent hiding spots and cover advantages if a battle commences, but other than that, you don’t need to add a ton of history or story to them.

If any players ask, you can say that Cryovain knocked down the stone walls, putting the dragon straight into the story, or that Ababra built around an old and forgotten building.

Arriving at Umbrage Hill

When you arrive at the quest destination, you’re meant to find a Manticore clawing at the windmill’s front door as a woman leans out the window, asking for your help.

The quest tells the DM that if the players try to talk to the Manticore, give him 25 gp in treasure, or offer him meat, the monster will fly away. But the entrance doesn’t suggest to the players that this is an option. 

So I suggest changing it up a bit. 

After a couple hours of walking, you notice a small windmill in the distance. Its blades slowly move in the wind as it sits atop a grassy hill. A wooden fence hugs the landscape around the building.

As the blades move, you notice something large between the wooden material and the wall.

You get closer still and start to see the figure’s shape. A large body of a lion, but with the wings of a dragon. Its main has spikes as long as your arm, and they trail down to the beast’s tail.

You are close enough, now, to hear the faint scratch of claw on wood.

“Don’t be scared, human. I’m only hungry.” The deep voice of the creature travels through the wind, and its steady tone holds a hint of sadistic intent.

The window on the second door flies open. “You there! Help me!” You see a young human woman waving a cloth in your direction. 

The beast hears her too and moves away from the door. In the light, you see its skinny frame with its bones visible through its skin.

It doesn’t speak, but you notice its expression holds a hint of apprehension. 

What do you do?

This intro is much longer than the suggested piece, but here the players can see the creature is hungry, ready to kill, but obviously malnourished. They also learn that the Manticore can speak. This opens up the encounter to the players, allowing them to think about the possible ways that they could help Ababra and maybe even the Manticore.

Just adding a little bit of detail will give your players ideas of how to go forward. I suggest playing the Manticore as scared but willing to fight. At this point, it is outnumbered and will want to live another day, use that to create this monster’s story.

The stats for the Manticore can be found on page 60 of the adventure book or page 213 of the Monster Manual.

Ababra’s Choice To Stay

The adventure book suggests that Ababra would rather stay at her windmill and brace the troubles that Cryovain will bring. She will even offer a written note as proof of the conversation. 

This is another fantastic way for the players to get involved with roleplay and social interaction. Will they try to trick her into coming back, persuade her by breaking their promise to Linene and explaining she is worried about her, or would they respect her decision?

There are so many things that the players could do, all of which could have a butterfly effect throughout the game.

For example, if they persuade Ababra to go back to Phandalin, maybe she will set up a herbal shop in town, allowing the players to receive potions more easily. Or if she stays, perhaps Cryovain could visit the windmill too, while the players are elsewhere, causing a new “damsel in distress” quest to appear.

Make a note of how your players deal with this situation and adapt the campaign to fit the changes.

Letting The Manticore Live

If the PCs decide to let the Manticore live, the adventure book suggests that he comes back every now and then to get more food or treasure from Ababra. 

We can be a little more creative than that. Maybe the Manticore comes back and settles near Ababra, creating an unlikely alliance between humans and monsters. Or perhaps the players notice their new friend dead on the road in the lead up to Cryovain’s big fight. This character could have been popping up every now and then for fun moments in the story, and just when everything is going too well, the players see a frostbite wound on their friend’s leg. Cryovain was clearly the culprit.

Depending on how the interaction went, make a note of how the Manticore will feel about these adventures, then create an extra storyline that could pop up later in the campaign. These moments can create amazing connections for the players later on, so have fun with the domino effect taking place.

Treasure

The only official treasure mentioned in this quest is a handful of Potions of Healing. These are super valuable items, but it doesn’t make sense to only have three in the whole campaign.

Depending on how the story goes, it would make sense for Ababra to make friends with the PCs after this quest. It also makes sense for her to make these potions for a living. I suggest that every time a quest has been completed, Ababra will have finished brewing one potion. She can then sell the positions for 25gp (a discounted price for saving her). This keeps the game from becoming too easy while also helping your players through tough spots. 

Learning The NPCs

As there are only two Non-Player Characters in this quest, it shouldn’t be hard to understand their motives. 

Ababra Gwynn

Depending on why the players have come to Umbrage Hill, you should develop Ababra’s backstory based on the information you have already given out.

With my suggestion, Ababra and Linene were ex-lovers who fell out, causing Ababra to start a new life in Umbrage Hill. So the question is, why did they fall out, and is the relationship mendable? 

For my players, I gave them all a love triangle and said that Halia from the Miner Exchange successfully seduced Ababra as a ruse to get her herbal shop and take over the small town’s real estate. Linene found out and dumped her true love, while Ababra ran away in shame.

The players persuaded Ababra to return to Phandalin, where Linene and Ababra mended their trust. 

Whatever stories you have already started, try to build a backstory for them, so you can answer any questions your players throw at you. Then try to reply as the NPC would. 

The adventuring book suggests that Ababra has commoner stats, but we can play around with the flavor of her weapon. If for some reason, Ababra joins in the battle, you could turn her “club” into a chair. If the Manticore makes it into the windmill, she could pick up the chair and try to smash it over his head.

Just replace the storytelling aspect while keeping the club’s stats.

Manticore

The Manticore has moved from his lands in the rocky mountains to a landscape filled with trees. His wings are not as useful in such an area, which should tell any intelligent character that something is wrong.

The adventure book suggests that the Manticore is trying to find food and a new home since Cryovain the dragon displaced him. In all honesty, his backstory doesn’t need to be much bigger than that.

It reminds the players about Cryovain and shows how the dragon needs to be stopped, as the ecosystem cannot handle the new threat.

Remember the Manicore’s stats too. He is at his most powerful when using the multi-attack, but because the creature can fly and has a ranged tail spike attack, it makes sense for the beast to fly up to the top of the windmill and fire his missiles when no one can catch him.

If you do use the tail spike, however, you need to count how many spikes get used up, as the Manticore can only grow so many in a day.

Remembering Cryovain

Although Cryovain is only the catalyst to this quest, we cannot forget that without him, the Manticore would not have attacked our lovely herbalist. Dripping the details of the dragon into the storyline will remind the players who the real enemy is. You only need to mention him once or twice for the players to pick up on this worry.

Summary

Umbrage Hill is a wonderful quest for first-time players and first-time DMs. You only have two NPCs to worry about, both of which can have detailed storylines that you can easily follow without getting confused.

The quest itself can be completed by the player’s choices. If they are a group that loves to battle, then the fight will be epic. If they are a group that wants to be diplomatic, then they can talk to this magical beast. Most importantly, the players will have complete control over how this quest plays out, and it will give the DM a lot of options for the future of the campaign.

My advice is to make notes throughout the session, so you can pick up on anything the NPCs might do in the session or in the future.

And remember, have fun!

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How to Prepare Dwarven Excavation Quest – Dragon of Icespire Peak

Like everything in Dragon of Icespire Peak, there is a lot of lore, history, and backstory to each area on the map. 

Most of the time, these added details would be great information for Dungeons Masters (DMs) who are used to making massive worlds or even those who have played a campaign near Phandalin before. 

But the majority of people picking up Dragon of Icespire Peak are new Dungeon Masters, so all of the extra detail just overcomplicates their game.

I aim to strip back the Dwarven Excavation content and leave you with a realistic guide to make this session epic for you and your friends!

What to Expect in the Dwarven Excavation

Here is a brief overview of the Dwarven Excavation quest. The parties’ one aim is to warn the dwarfs mining in this area that a white dragon has been spotted. After doing this, the players can go back to Phandalin and collect their 50gp.

You can find this information on page 10 of the adventure book.

Grateful for the warning, the dwarf offers the party a quest of their own. If the players can clear the mine of monsters, then the miners will give them some sending stones. This is what we call a “plot hook,” although it is a weak one as there isn’t a lot of plot involved. 

Still, the players don’t have any magical items yet, so this small addition to their bag will feel like a gold mine (pun intended).

The Sending Stones can be found on page 199 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide or in the packet of magic items handouts. 

If the players accept this quest, they will enter a dark cave searching for beasts. It’s only when they reach the middle that they find one or two Ochre Jellies. They are lost souls of the priests that used to live here, turned into unfeeling and hungry monsters. They can be found on page 61 of your adventure book or page 243 of the Monster Manual.

Once the monsters are defeated, there are no other threats in the cave. However, there is a hidden room with a glowing gem being held by a sketchy statue. If a player gets greedy and reaches for the gem, they risk receiving 22 piercing damage as the booby trap is set off. 

Lastly, as the players leave the mine feeling triumphant, they see Orcs stampeding into the clearing, and another battle begins.

Stripping away all of the empty rooms and (interesting, but never mentioned again) backstory, this is the essence of the quest. 

If you have a warlock player or a dwarven player, it might be interesting to weave Abbathor  (the dwarven god of greed) into the story, as this was the god prayed to by previous civilizations in the mine. 

However, Abbathor is never mentioned again in the campaign, so it would be easy to cut him out if you cannot find a connection. Remember that you are under no obligation to create a connection either. All you need to do is mold the story to match your vision.

Connecting Stories and Knowing Your Players 

In our previous article, “Setting Up Phandalin For Your First Session,” we suggested giving the quest to your players through the retired-miner-turned-tavern-owner Toblen.

If you used this suggestion or created your own mini-history to connect Phandalin and the dwarven mines, be sure to carry on this story. There are two Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in this quest, and they are called Dazlyn and Norbus. 

Dazlyn is meant to be forthright and honest, but Norbus is gruff and cautious. You can edit these descriptions depending on the backstory you have created to get the players here. They are only there to help you create believable and playable characters. 

When the players reach E3, “Courtyard and Temple Facade,” they are meant to meet these NPCs. The dwarves thank the player characters (PCs) and offer their quest, however, depending on your party, this might seem a little boring.

Hopefully, by this point, you will already know what your players will enjoy. If they like to roleplay, then you can use this entrance to make Norbus suspicious.

“White Dragon! What lies! These clean folk are after that legendary gem. I can smells it!”

The players could then roll persuasion to convince the dwarfs, and at the same time, learn about the tempting treasures within. If you use this method, you may want to create a more interesting item than a 100gp gem. Maybe it is cursed, and the PC who holds it becomes obsessed with getting more money even if it ends in pain. Who knows, have fun with it!

If your players are still new and not confident enough to roleplay, you might prefer more of a damsel in distress attitude. Maybe they hear a call for help and rush to the dwarf’s rescue. As they arrive, one dwarf is whacking their pickaxe against the Jelly, while the other is slowly being digested. 

Thrown straight into battle, the players have to kill their enemy before the dwarf dies. This makes the combat dynamic, includes a scary time element, and lets you play around with roleplay without it being core to the game.

If you have no idea what your players will find fun, create the scene to be fun for you. You are a player in this game too, so use your own entertainment as a guide and see how your friends react. 

Next time, it will be easier to see what they enjoyed.

Learn the NPCs and the Monsters

In this quest, there are only two NPCs and two monster types. This means you don’t have to focus on a whole village and what they all want, instead you can put some time and love into the characters in front of you.

Monsters

When it comes to the Orcs and the Ochre Jellys, you don’t need to give them backstories or names (unless you want to!). Instead, all you need to do is know their aim and know their attacks.

We will go into more detail about the Orcs later, but their main goal is to settle somewhere, and they are willing to die for their course.

The Ochre Jellies were once living dwarfs, but they were attacked by their god and turned into these hungry and ugly beasts. It’s unlikely that your players will have a way to communicate with the jellies, so you don’t need to understand their motives other than “attack.” The fun thing about Ochre Jellies comes from their movement. They cannot move fast, but they can climb walls without issue and squeeze through gaps as small as 1-inch without worry. 

When it comes to battle, remember the quirky and unique moves that each of your monsters have, and be sure to bring them to the table. Even if spider climbing up a wall gives a player an opportunity attack, the move will still be memorable!

Non Player Characters

The dwarves are given commoner stats, which you can find on page 55 of the adventure book or page 345 of the Monster Manual.

This stat sheet says that commoners only have a club for attacking, but let’s consider a real miner. They would likely have a pickaxe, at least! Just because the stat sheet says, one thing doesn’t mean you cannot add some flare to it.

I suggested earlier that a damsel in distress could consist of a dwarf being swallowed by a Jelly while another attacks with their pickaxe. In that scenario, I recommend keeping the mechanics of a club but adding some imagination to their weapon description. This way, you haven’t changed the details to become complicated, and you haven’t overpowered the NPCs.

Of course, there is more to an encounter than battling, and the NPCs will have their history. You don’t need to write a whole plot about these characters, but make them memorable in your head, so when the players talk to them, you can create a response consistent with their character.

I suggest making a character sheet for any NPC, with their attitude, goals, dislikes, and likes. This way, you have a quick reference for improvised conversation.  

Loot

If anyone dies, it’s always fun for the players to loot the bodies and try to find treasure. For the Dwarven Miners, they could find alcohol, small gems worth 10gp, and some pickaxes. For Ochre Jelly, they could find poison that could be filtered into empty bottles.

The Orcs, however, could be more interesting as the player can find armor and weapons. Orcs wear hide armor and carry Greatclubs along with Javelins. These could be added to your player’s inventory and increase their fighting power. These items can be found on pages 41 and 42 of your Essentials Kit Rulebook or pages 145 and 149 of the Player’s Handbook.

Break Down Each Area Of The Map

In the official guide to the Dwarven Excavation quest, there are 13 sections, including the arrival and the Orc attack. 

Temple Features

There is a helpful little guide on page 22 about the temple’s features, including its doors, ceilings, difficult terrain, and light. I suggest printing this part out and having it in view, as there will be many times when light and terrain becomes a problem during the game. These are easy features to forget but are an intricate part of the atmosphere building and difficulty challenge. 

Remember that difficult terrain takes twice as long for a character to go through (30 ft of movement turns into 15 ft, etc.), and having no light will make your characters effectively blind. This means that they will automatically fail any check which uses sight and will be disadvantaged when attacking, while their enemies will have advantage to attack them (if they can see).

Even if your players have darkvision, they will be disadvantaged on checks that rely on sight. 

Because of this, you should make a pre-worded description for every room the PCs enter, so both you and them are reminded of their limitations. If a character is blinded from the darkness, consider giving them the condition card found in the pack as an additional reminder.

Going Through The Rooms

I’m not normally a fan of maps with useless rooms, as the DM is forced to make it important somehow, or the players become bored by constantly seeing useless information. However, this map doesn’t have too many dead spaces, and because the Ochre Jellies can wiggle through 1-inch spaces, they can use these dead rooms as escape ways to run away from the party. 

You can even use the strange shapes in the Ruined Settlement (E2) as cover when the Orcs attack.

My only suggestion is to add more detail to the rooms. The priest’s room in E8, for example, could have jeweled silver daggers or blood-red leather armor for the players to find. If the players don’t go rummaging, then they won’t lose out on important items, but if they snoop around, they could find some worthy treasure. 

No matter what you do, be familiar with the rooms and understand how they could be used by your players or by the monsters. Read each section one at a time, and then go over them with a pen and paper to create your own descriptions and changes.

Change Abbathor to Talos

Earlier I said to ignore the history of this place, as it never comes up again in the campaign. If you really want a god in this temple, as you know your players will get interested in the history, then I suggest using Talos, the evil god of storms. 

If anyone investigates the rocks, you can suggest high levels of sea salt, despite being far away from the sea; almost as though previous landscapes would put this temple closer to the sea edge.

Talos shows up in at least four other quests as the Half-Orc anchorites constantly try to summon him or work on his behalf. This temple could be an abandoned worshipping site, which was left behind as the sea levels changed.

Swapping Abbathor to Talos will give you a recurring evil god that feels connected to the story. 

Getting Battle Ready

Unfortunately, the beginners kit doesn’t come with a battle map for every quest, so I suggest buying a reusable battle map that can be wiped away and recreated as the players destroy the temple within.

If someone uses a spell that knocks down a pillar, for example, then you’ll need to re-make this map as the ceiling collapses. 

The only problem with this method is allowing your players to run all around the mine while only having a limited battle map size. Although I would normally suggest using one massive and wipeable surface, for a map like this, you may prefer to use reusable battle blocks. Click this link to understand what I mean. You can add in more corridors as your players discover secret doors. These battle blocks create a more versatile and moveable map.

Avoid Player Disappointment

The one thing that every Dungeon Master hates is disappointing their players. If the Ochre Jelly encounter proved deadly, you need to give your players a break before letting them face the Orcs.

Encourage them to take a short rest at least, or even allow them a long rest in the creepy, moldy priest chambers. If they don’t take a rest (because they didn’t know they could), your players will feel ambushed as the Orcs come to attack. 

The tiny paragraph about the attack on page 23 suggests you go into a fight without explanation. This will feel like an unnecessary attack to your players, so instead, I recommend adding in a little bit of dialogue to show why the Orcs are fighting. 

If a player knows the language “Giant,” you could have the leading Orc give a speech while a timid one mumbles something only that player can understand.

“A cave!” The Orc says with a gaping smile that shows off his long, deep tusks. “Humanoid vermin, be off with you. This is our new home!” He raises his great club and charges before anyone gets the chance to run.

Point out your giant-speaking player, and tell them they notice this interaction too:

A smaller Orc raises his ax, but his enthusiasm is lesser than his friends. “Another fight? I’m too exhausted. Why won’t you let us be!” He mumbles in Giant, but with a huff, joins his comrades. 

If you don’t have a player character who can speak giant, you can still have this interaction through common.

When you add this level of information to your players before the attack begins, give them enough space to attempt to speak before the Orcs reach them. If the charge happens when they are over 40ft away, the monsters have to use the dash action to get into melee range. This gives the players one turn each to interact without attacking and get more information. 

Although Orcs have javelins, their low intelligence makes it easy to imagine them running into melee combat and not staying in ranged distance.

However you manage this element of attack, remember that the Orcs are searching for a new home after the white dragon displaced them. This can be a great way to weave Cryovain and his negative effects into the story. 

It will be easy to let this quest fall into a “dungeon grind,” especially at a low level. A “dungeon grind” is when the players experience battle after battle without any change. Even those who love battles still need a balance with puzzles, social interaction, and downright silliness.

You should decide whether this additional attack will be enjoyable and informative or if your players need a break from fighting. If you figure it’s the latter, you should abandon this extra fight.

Summary

There isn’t a lot going on in this quest, which is perfect for a new DM and new Players. There is a little bit of social interaction, a little bit of battle, and a little bit of investigation. I really like this quest and only felt the need to edit a bit of it.

When I played it through with my party, we had a Dwarf Wizard, so when they stole the gem, I made Abbathor talk to her in her sleep. Our campaign had two plots from then, stop the dragon and release the evil god. 

I highly recommend cutting out all the Abbathor stuff, unless you think your players will be interested in this back story. He doesn’t come up again in the campaign, so you won’t be missing out on information. If you want to add in an important god, add in Talos instead.

Whatever you do, make reminders about the light and difficult terrain either through pre-written entrances for each room or with a sticky note on your DM screen.

And remember to have fun!


Feature Image CC: David Calabrese

Dragon of Icespire Peak: Starting Your Preparations

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.

Summary

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.


Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit – Overall Review

When I first dived into the world of dungeons and dragons, I weighed up the difference between the starter kit and the essentials kit. In the end, I chose the essentials kit because it had extra dice, ready-to-use player sheets, a dungeon master screen, and a rule book.

If you want to see our comparison review between the D&D Starter Kit and the D&D Essentials Kit, click here.

There is obviously way more in the kit than those four items, but I was new, and I wanted all the help I could get. Those items stood out as the most helpful, so I went with my gut.

Quick Overview

As a new dungeon master guiding new players, the essentials kit was meant to be perfect for me, but I came across several problems on my journey. I didn’t know how to create a long multi-choice story, I had no idea what the rules were, and I assumed the kit would baby-walk me through the process – it did not.

Looking back, there are a couple of things I wish I had thought of to stop the game from being confusing and stressful, instead of the fun interaction I knew it could be.

That doesn’t mean the kit is useless or a waste of money; there are some amazing quests, fantastic NPC dynamics, and helpful starting suggestions.

This review will give you a real insight into a new dungeon master’s feelings about the essentials kit, give you an idea of the premade campaign’s quality, and suggest some tips to make the game easier for a newbie.

Contents:

What’s In The Box?

Inside the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit, you will find:

  • 64 pages rule book
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure
  • Double-Sided Poster Map
  • Dungeon Master Screen
  • 6 Blank Character Sheets
  • 11 Dice
  • 81 Useable Cards (Magic Items, Sidekicks, Conditions and Initiative Numbers)

Let’s go into a bit of detail about these items.

64 Pages Rule Book

The Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide are the main rule books in D&D for 5th Edition games.

5th Edition is the current edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You do not need to know the other editions to play.

In total, they are around 640 pages long. The 64-page rule book in the Essentials Kit has picked out the essential rules from these books, so you can learn the basics of the game without being confused by the flare of lore.

Because a lot of the lore and history of the game have been removed, the types of characters your players can create are reduced too.

The reduced rule book only has 4 races (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human) and 5 classes (Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard). Because you’re just starting out, this is the perfect balance between choice and limitation. You can create the character you want without having a library of options to look through. 

Dragon of Icespire Peak Campaign – Preset Adventure

Most of this article will be about the campaign, so I won’t go into detail here. If you want to jump ahead, click here.

Double-Sided Poster Map

The poster map shows the adventure location and the zoomed-in drawing of Phandalin, the main town. The quality is excellent, but the map and the books don’t explain how long it will take your characters to get from one side of the map to the next.

The math isn’t hard, but the kit doesn’t explicitly tell you how far your characters can move in a day. Instead, I will explain it here.

On page 242 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and page 32 of the Essential’s Rule Book, it is explained that “Characters can walk about 24 miles a day”. The map’s key says that 1 hexagon equals 5 miles. 

This means that each character can move between 4 and 5 hexagons a day.

You can be creative here. Maybe it takes 4 hexagons to travel the roads, 4.5 to travel the grassland, and 5 to travel through the rivers, forests, and mountains.

Dungeon Master Screen

The DM Screen is a Dungeon Master’s best friend! It has all the basic and quick answers you might need while playing the game, including a size chart, a difficulty chart, condition descriptions, and much more. You can put the screen up, so your players cannot see your dice to allow the tension to grow, or you can stick helpful notes to the screen to remind you of those rules to just keep forgetting.

Blank Character Sheets

I personally prefer to use DnD Beyond’s online character sheets. They do the math for you, level up your characters, and keep all your special features and spell descriptions in easy-to-find locations. 

I have friends who prefer to play on paper; for them, the character sheets are easy to fill in once you know how proficiency bonus works. 

Your bonus gets higher as you gain levels, and if your character is good at something (like using a bow), they can add these bonuses to their attacks. When your characters level up, you will need to create a whole new character sheet to adjust these numbers.

11 Dice

The dice include one 4-sided, four 6-sided, one 8-sided, two 10-sided, one 12-sides, and two 20-sided.

81 Useable Cards

Because most of my players use DnD Beyond, we didn’t find a need for physical handouts. We started playing in lockdown too, so my one paper-based player couldn’t receive her Potion of Healing card when she found it.

If you are playing in person and would like a physical handout, then these cards will be super helpful. They explain everything the item does, and they can fit into typical card holder pockets, thereby making searching for your items in physical form super easy.

New Dungeon Master Thoughts 

This section is dedicated to new Dungeon Masters or even new players who want to know where to start. If you’re a veteran DM, this might not be useful to you, but there is no harm in getting the lay of the land!

Is The “Essentials Kit” Easy To Understand?

The Essential Kit’s Rule Book doesn’t give you all the rules you might want to know, but they tell you what you need to know. Character Creation, Combat, Ability Checks, Spells, and Equipment are all explained in minimalist detail so that you can grasp the core rules.

The number of spells you can use and the types of equipment you can use are just as limited as the races and classes available to you. This isn’t a problem for paper players, but DnD Beyond players might try and buy a rifle or dragon scale armor from the little armory run by Linene. 

Because everything has been reduced, your help book won’t have information on all these items. You can try and improvise the cost of these items or create a mini-quest to find the items, but these choices can be overwhelming if you are a new DM. 

Need a guide on pricing an item quickly. Click here.

I recommend telling your players exactly what they can see in the shop and explaining how much damage they can do through imagery. For example:

As you walk into the blacksmith’s shop, the first thing you notice is a shining battleaxe. The light reflects off the blade as if it could cut through sunlight itself.

A curtain twitches at the back of the shop, and you see a muscular human woman covered in soot, lowering her smith hammer.

“Pick it up and give it a swing,” she says, pointing at the straw-stuffed potato sack tied to a pole. It has 3 red target rings, which get smaller as they reach the center.

“Try them all. I’ll just clean up.”

Here you get to invite your players to pick up the equipment and make attack roles. When they do damage, you tell them to roll the appropriate dice, making this shopping experience a fun role play experience.

Having a limited equipment list compared to DnD Beyond was the only problem I faced when it came to understanding the rules. And as someone who now owns 5 rule books, it was easier to expand my knowledge after creating this foundation from the Essentials Kit.

Is The Campaign “Dragons of Icespire Peak” Easy To Control?

As a new dungeon master, you ideally want a campaign that you can easily master and control without railroading your players.

Railroading is when you force players down a one-way path without letting them have control or influence in the world, like a train following its tracks without any choice.

Balancing control from the dungeon master and freedom for the players can be a tricky juggling act, but new DMs need to learn how to structure a game before learning how to improvise one.

Non-Player Characters

This is where Dragons of Icespire Peak has its drawbacks. There are a lot of plot hooks ready to pick up. Halia Thornton, for example, is an agent of Zhentarim, a shadowy organization that seeks to exert secret control over the North through wealth and influence. This bit of detail is expanded through the whole Forgotten Realms story, but by itself, it’s irrelevant information. 

There are many non-player characters (NPCs) that are easter eggs to other campaigns. They might be fun additions for veteran players, but a new dungeon master will find these details overwhelming and unnecessary filler.

My advice is to read through the whole campaign and circle the NPCs that matter to this adventure, crossing out any which seem irrelevant. Halia can be a greedy merchant for now, and if the players press on her character, you can develop her story as you go. Make it your own. 

In my campaign, she is simply trying to buy the whole town. As the story developed, the town’s mayor, Harbin Wester, attempted to evacuate the villagers to Axeholm to escape the dragon. Halia voiced her concerns and tried to persuade the villagers to stay. My players rolled well and figured out she just wanted their rent.

When you have simplified your NPC, you can control the story better and help your players stick to relevant information that will lead to quests.

Quest Board

One great detail that Dragons of Icespire Peak has is a quest board. Quest boards aren’t revolutionary, but in this campaign, three quests are pinned to the board at a time, and when all three are completed, a new three will arrive. This allows your players to choose their path, while the dungeon master can control the overarching story without railroading their players.

Boars

If, like me, you didn’t read through the campaign before playing, you’ll think that the whole adventure is about fighting dragons. However, one of the main baddies is a group of half-orcs called the “anchorite of Talos.” These half-orcs can turn into boars. In three of the adventures, boars show up and terrorize the people around them. 

If you want to make the story more your own, I recommend playing around with boars. Instead of having a shrine of luck, you could have a ward against boars. It can be a strange addition to the main village of Phandalin, which seems quirky to your player at first, but turns into a historical artifact that protects the town. 

This is one way to review the unnecessary NPCs and add your own connection to the story.

Overall thoughts

Dragons of Icespire is not the best campaign for a new dungeon master to start with. There are too many NPCs that are massively detailed but utterly irrelevant to the story. The adventures can often feel disconnected. The story only begins to weave together naturally when the game is nearing the end.

To get past this hiccup, I suggest reading through the story in detail beforehand, eliminating all the faff that’s clogging up the storyline, and adding connecting elements to help the adventure seem more cohesive; like adding boars as a central theme.

General Dungeon Master Thoughts

This section is for dungeon masters who have headed a game a couple of times before and so understand what to expect.

I will go over many of the same topics from “New Dungeon Master Thoughts,” but this time aimed at DMs who don’t need extra guidance. 

I expect you know how to handle player improvisation, how to add to the campaign without steering it off course, and you might be excited to see easter eggs from other parts of the Wizards of the Coast landscape.

To you, Dragon of Icespire Peak will be a treasure trove of story, expandability, and NPC development.

Dragon of Icespire Peak’s Story Quality

Dragon of Icespire Peak is a slow-building story that focuses more on world expansion rather than plot expansion. The players will start the quest following the quest board, which produces adventures that are utterly irrelevant to the storyline.

The story only really comes together in the second batch of three quests which show how the dragon has displaced other creatures from the mountains and forced them into interacting with the humanoid landscape. If your players move quickly through a typical pre-made campaign, this story development will come at a decent pace. If your players like to role play a lot, or take weeks or months off between sessions, you may find the pacing too slow.

Compare with your previous games to see if you should cut out some quests or adapt them to make the half-orcs and dragon more prominent. 

Premade Non-Player Character Quality

The NPCs come with very good backstories with enough detail for you to use them instantly, but also enough details missing for you to develop them into something for yourself.

I stand by my previous statement that some of the NPCs are completely irrelevant to the storyline, but if your characters are moving through the Forgotten Realms adventures, then you may find these NPCs interesting or useful.

Campaign Flexibility

Most players hate a railroading campaign, so flexibility is key to keep the story fresh. Premade campaigns are never super flexible, as they assume your characters will act in a certain way, complete certain quests, or move around the map in a predictable pattern. Dragon of Icespire Peak is no exception.

However, if you are used to playing with premade campaigns, then you will find that the disconnected quests allow your players to move around the map however they please. There are very few long-term consequences for their actions, so you don’t need to modify the campaign to fit their choices.

Dragon of Icespire Peak does try to allow for flexibility; for example, going into Axholme, the game tells you where the ghouls will be if the players enter from specific locations. New DMs might find it difficult to set up enemy locations if the players choose an unexpected route, but veteran DMs should be able to roll with the punches.

One-Shot Potential

I’ve said it a couple of times now, but many of the quests are completely unrelated to the Dragon of Icespire Peak storyline. This is fantastic for DMs who want to add random quests to their current adventures or for DMs who run entirely one-shot adventures. You can use every quest as a one-shot adventure with just a couple of tweaks, and with the same simple adjustments, you can use the quests in your already active campaigns.

This is because the storyline is so disconnected and without consequence that you will not have to remove Cryovain’s backstory from any of the content.

Conclusion

Overall, the Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Kit had a fantastic shortened rule book with enough details for a new dungeon master to wrap their head around the game and give enough information for players to choose their character creation.

The campaign, Dragon of Icespire Peak, will not hold your hand as you learn the game, which is super unfortunate as, without a proper explanation on how to use the game, you will likely get frustrated with yourself.

The NPCs are great for veteran players as they give enough information to be used instantly but leave enough room to make them your own. However, the NPCs are too irrelevant for novice DMs, adding an unnecessary amount of clutter to their first campaign.

The quests were disconnected from each other, which might be perfect for quick players, but will feel untethered to players who move through campaigns slowly.

In general, it feels like the kit was designed for DMs who already knew how to play the game and not for completely new dungeon masters getting to grips with dungeons and dragons as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that the kit is bad, but you will need to take your time to learn the game and learn the campaign. Write all over the pages until it feels like it was written by you all along. I suggest asking other DMs online for help when you get stuck. The D&D community loves to share thoughts, so don’t be shy!

You can always use our guidance by checking out our Ultimate Guide to Dragon of Icespire Peak, or you can use online forms to get instant feedback.

Good luck, and may the dice be in your favor. 

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