Content of the article: "Analyzing Rime of the Frostmaiden’s Cold-Hearted Killer Starter Quest"
Rime of the Frostmaiden is the adventure book Wizards of the Coast (WotC) released this past week. It has two starter quests, Cold-Hearted Killer and Nature Spirits, and I thought it would be informative to delve into what the former does and why for those looking to homebrew their own. I'm also a nerd. (I'll let you decide which is my primary motivation.)
Cold-Hearted Killer is designed for 1st level adventurers and requires the PCs to defeat a CR 3 opponent (Sephek Kaltro). For those unfamiliar, the Dungeon Master's Guide grants a 400 XP budget for a deadly encounter, Sephek is worth 700 XP. And this undersells Sephek in a straight fight. He also regenerates 5 HP each turn and can drop most PCs with one of his two attacks' average damage per round. (Raging barbarians and certain races of fighters can take two hits at average damage.) So, does WotC hate level one characters?
Maybe – Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus pulled fewer punches. But I don't believe that's the point here. Cold-Hearted Killer is designed for experienced players (the book suggests Nature Spirits for a non-dangerous encounter) and emphasizes narrative advanatages.
I'm going to begin with the narrative lead up. When the party is hired, they are informed that (1) Sephek, a serial killer, is the target and (2) he kills with a daggar made of ice. The adventure then goes on to describe Sephek as wearing light clothing and prefers to sleep in a barn than a warm inn. All of which suggests to the players that Sephek is weak to fire damage without being blunt. (It turns off his regeneration.) Enterprising characters may even realize his regeneration doesn't work in areas above 0.
I really love the narrative aspect of the adventure. It also does an impressive job of molding player behavior and discouraging mindless slaughter. For this it uses narrative and mechanical rewards. Mechanically, Sephek has five companions that total 550 XP by them sevles before the number modifier (grand to total of 2500 XP). However, he easily separates from them at night when he goes carousing or to stalk his next victim.
What makes this so good is that it provides a positive reward for the players interacting with NPCs, encouraging them to do so again. This is also a good chance to endear one or two PCs to the players, making later events in the book hit home. The opposite end is that NPCs will be less helpful if they think the PCs are a bunch of mauraders (a negative reward). However, the effects are limited as the PCs only have to weight for Sephek to move onto the next town.
Switching gears, combat with Sephek isn't all that difficult if the players use a little bit of cunning. If they've been paying attention, they'll think to use fire in some sort or another – worst case scenario using a torch as an improvised weapon. This prevents Sephek's regeneration. They are also able to choose the location. Tempting options are places that work with ranged spells and bottle necks, like doorways, where the fighter, barbarian, cleric, etc are either able to dodge hits or take them. (Sephek only has a 40% chance of hitting a character with an AC of 18 before other shenanagans like the Protection Fighting Style are factored in.) It's no wonder WotC gave Sephek a single use misty step.
In summary, Cold-Hearted Killer is a challenging adventure designed for experienced players. In particular, it use of narrative to discourage murder hobos and as a source of advantage is worth studying. Hope this has given you something to think about.
- HERO IDEA Michael The Archangel
- Free adventure/guide specifically designed for brand new GMs
- Starting Rime with my two Pre-teen sons.
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