Content of the article: "Icewind Dale Wilderness Survival Guide!"
This post is part of the Icewind Dale DM guide series, and it's based on this video if you prefer to watch/listen 🙂
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden takes wilderness survival to the next level– but a little OVER the top in several ways like the mountain travel rules which make it statistically likely that your party will be caught in deadly avalanches EVERY SINGLE DAY. So this guide has everything you need to know to challenge your players but keep them alive.
Icewind Dale is freaking COLD: the average temperature is -49 fahrenheit! That’s between the average and minimum winter temperatures for REAL arctic winter, and since we’re below zero, your characters are always going to be exposed to extreme cold while outside:
They must make a DC 10 constitution saving throw every hour or gain a level of exhaustion (disadvantage on ability checks, speed halved, disadvantage on attacks and saves– including their con saves to resist the effects of extreme cold, hit points halved, no movement, death). But 10 is a pretty easy target number, and creatures with resistance or immunity to cold damage, like our updated goliaths, as well as anyone wearing cold weather clothing automatically succeeds.
This cold weather clothing apparently doesn’t get in the way of armor, so 10 gp is definitely worth your survival. And you’ll probably want to pick up a pair of crampons: removable metal cleats that prevent you from falling prone on slippery ice.
Ice & Frigid Water
Not all ice has to be slippery, but slippery ice is difficult terrain (so it costs twice as much movement speed to cross), and characters without crampons must make a DC 10 acrobatics check every turn or fall prone– but let’s think about this for a second: normal D&D movement speed is 30 feet in six seconds. That’s 5 fps or about 3.4 mph: a quick walking pace, and ice isn’t that difficult to walk on! So I think slippery ice should be treated as normal terrain, and if a creature chooses to move at half their speed, then they don’t have to make the Dex check to stay on their feet!
Thin ice is a different matter: you roll 3d10*10 to determine the ice’s weight tolerance for a 10 foot square, and if the weight is exceeded, it breaks, and any creatures in that area fall through into frigid water, where a creature can be immersed in this ice water for a number of minutes equal to their con score before suffering any ill effects– but idk about this either! That means an average person with a con score of 10 can be in frigid water for 10 minutes no problem? No way, I swear I almost got hypothermia once when I had to swim around a chilly lake for five minutes for a boy scout badge. So for a little more realism, I would go with a number of minutes equal to their constitution modifier, or to really simplify things, just go with the second half of this rule: each minute in frigid water requires a DC 10 con save or results in one level of exhaustion. That’s easier to remember because it’s almost exactly like the extreme cold rules, except your cold weather clothing definitely does not help! But snowshoes could help because they distribute your weight, mainly to keep you from getting stuck in deep snow, but we can expand on this one. I would say for the purposes of thin ice which goes by weight, not pressure, snowshoes can effectively cut your weight in half. Which will definitely help your party’s icefishing endeavors in Icewind Dale!
Fishing & Foraging
For this, characters need fishing tackle and boat or saw to cut the ice. Every hour, characters make a DC 15 survival check to hook a fish. For normal fishing, I say end it right here, but when for fishing for knucklehead trout, they have to make a strength check contested by the fish! Knucklehead trout have +2 to strength AND they get advantage on this roll– that’s basically +7 for the fish! And if the character fails by 5 or more, they must succeed a DC 10 Dex save or be pulled into the frigid water. What I like here is that characters in wet clothes are noted to suffer the effects of frigid water until the clothes are taken off and replaced with dry ones! This makes knucklehead trout fishing incredibly dangerous! And this is ridiculous! No one who knows how strong these fish are would try to hook a knucklehead trout alone, so maybe let your characters learn the hard way, then encourage them to work together when fishing, or keep their holes in the ice kinda small.
But fishing isn’t the only way to get food! You can use the foraging rules from the DMG for hunting as well: so with limited game available, and very few if any plants, I would go with a DC 15 survival check for characters with appropriate weapons. You may want to go higher, but the DC for tracking creatures in snow is only 10, so it kind of balances out. Then characters who succeed roll 1d6 plus their wisdom modifier for pounds of food recovered, and assuming your characters are all medium or small, they only need 1 pound of food per day to survive.
As written in the Player’s Handbook (by now you can really see how spread out all of these rules are!) a character can go without food for a number of days equal to 3+ their constitution modifier before taking a level of exhaustion, but when you’re body is working so hard to keep warm, I would just use a number of days equal to their con modifier before that first level of exhaustion. And water on the other hand, is literally available everywhere as long as you can melt it. Now, you can maybe get around these food rules if you have a character in your party with the outlander background— we’ll talk about that more in the character creation episode next week, but it is the ranger class that truly shines here in the arctic!
Rangers & Travel
The ranger’s natural explorer feature has a ton of benefits like getting twice as much food when foraging, and difficult terrain not slowing their party’s travel. Which will save a ton of time, reduce the number of encounters they’ll face, and honestly just get to bypass a lot of these complicated rules! Overland travel is 1 mile per hour on a dog sled, ½ on foot with snowshoes, and ¼ mile without snowshoes. But that arctic ranger in your party can double these travel times, and remember that this is for the wilderness only– the roads of Icewind Dale apparently allow you to move at a normal travel pace of about 3 miles per hour.
Now, dogsleds seem like a cool idea but you’ll need at least two dogs to pull a sled with one normal sized character, which will cost 120 gp, AND you’ll have to rest 1 hour for each hour you travel! So they’re kind of more trouble than they’re worth, considering the alternative, axe beaks, cost as much as one dog, and can carry 420 lbs opposed to the dog’s 360. These large birds will need 4 times more food than a sled dog, but I still think they’re a more simple, and honestly just a way cooler option for overland travel!
And here’s our unexpectedly deadly section about mountain travel! First, the travel times are just half the rates in the overland travel section, but the daily avalanches are a huge problem!! Check this out: each HOUR a designated navigator rolls a DC 15 survival check. If they fail, the party loses an hour (not so bad), but if they fail by 5 or more, they get caught in an avalanche! So before we get into how deadly the avalanches are, let’s crunch these numbers. A level 1-4 character with proficiency in survival and a good wisdom modifier of 3 has a +5 bonus to their survival checks. So if they roll 5 or lower, which statistically will happen 25% of the time, their party gets caught in an avalanche! And they have to make this check every hour! So if they travel for just 4 hours each day, they can be caught in an avalanche every single day, and your tier 1 party will not survive the trip! To keep your party alive and the rules simple, I would only bring in the avalanche on a natural 1: 5% chance is still risky, but much like explosions, having fewer avalanches will keep them exciting!
The reason I used a 4 hour travel day in the example is that Icewind Dale only gets 4 hours of twilight, per “day” so at most even on a road, you’re moving only 12 miles per day unless you continue traveling at night. And this 4 hours of dim light means Icewind Dale is always at least lightly obscured, equivalent to patchy fog, so according to the DMG, the fog-like visibility on a normal day here is only 300 feet, as opposed to 2 miles on a clear day in a typical arctic environment. So characters with darkvision will be great here, and having sunlight sensitivity doesn’t matter, but we’ll save that for the character creation guide too!
Back to avalanches! 300’ wide, 150’ long, 30’ tall, and fast! Start with initiative, and have the avalanche move 300’ on counts 10 and 0. Creatures in the way are also moved 300’, they fall prone, make a DC 15 strength save or take 1d10 bludgeoning damage, which really isn’t so bad, and remember mountain travel says that avalanches start 2d6*100’ away from the party. When it stops, creatures inside are blinded, restrained, and gain 1 level of exhaustion for every 5 minutes inside (30 minutes and they die). They can make up to three DC 15 athletics checks to free themselves, but remember the first level of exhaustion gives them disadvantage on these checks. Another creature can spend 1 minute to free them, but how they heck are they able to find their friend who’s buried in the snow potentially several hundred feet down a mountain? There’s no guidance for this, so I would say make a DC 15 perception check to locate them, or DC 10 if the buried creature is calling for help, though I kinda feel like that buried creature would also be suffocating, but let’s not make this any more difficult.
Now the awesome table of wilderness encounters in chapter 2 of the Frostmaiden book will have its own guide later in the series, and it has some variant outcomes based on blizzards! Very simply, blizzards last 2d4 hours, they limit hearing to 100 feet, vision to 30 feet, they extinguish flames and take down any creatures flying via nonmagical means, they trigger spell concentration checks every single round, and they impose disadvantage on ranged weapon attacks, and perception checks for hearing and sight without eye protection. The other danger is veering off course and becoming separated in the storm, but this issue is solved with some DC 15 survival checks (which should be pretty familiar by now), and it can easily be avoided by staying put and waiting out the storm– hopefully without being buried in the process!
Thank you for reading, and keep building!
- Icewind Dale SURVIVAL Guide – Wilderness Rules
- Plot hooks for Rime of the Frostmaiden
- So you’re running Rime of the Frostmaiden…
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