I’m taking a small break from our Curse of Strahd content to bring you an update for Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden! We’ll be covering some changes to the Cauldron Caves that will add some extra challenge for your players and tie the caves into the world at large.
As usual, you can get all of the information from the video below, continue on down below that, or get the full color PDF from our Patreon!
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The Cauldron Caves provide a rich combat experience for low-level characters during Chapter 1. Both inside and out, the caves boast an array of different enemy types from magical to martial, and from flying to terrestial.
While the Cauldron Caves are not lacking in action, they are lacking in narrative richness. There are few ties between the caves and their contents, and the overarching narrative of the game. This chapter aims to add more meaningful interactions to the cave, and provide methods by which you can establish stronger ties between your party’s experience in the cave, and other parts of the adventure.
Bunch o’ Knuckleheads
The first change to make to the Cauldron Caves is the fact that the missing fishing crew are all dead. As written, the search-and-rescue mission your party goes in does not result in a rescue. While this can be narratively satisfying in some instances, this is not one of them. In order to provide a more satisfying conclusion to this quest, we will be adding a survivor to the caves.
First, let’s expand the fishing crew’s numbers from three to four crew members.
Next, let’s alter the sequence of events that led the crew to be in the cave, and to most of their members’ demises.
Instead of entering the cave to investigate a “spicy scent”, the crew were driven into the cave by a freak blizzard. Only as they took shelter did they discover the scent of Maud’s cauldron, and go to investigate further inside the cave.
The crew made it to area U9 unharmed, where they discovered the frost giant skeleton. Being that it is trapped in ice, the skeleton could only use its freezing stare attack to kill one of the crew members. The rest retreated back the way they had come.
Upon arriving in area U7, the crew were attacked by the water weird, which managed to kill another crew member. This attack drove the two remaining survivors back toward U8. Quickly discovering that no escape lay down that route, they backtracked to U5 and climbed up to the ice bridge.
Once on the ice bridge, the two survivors attempted to leave the cave, but found their way blocked by the flying harpies outside. They retreated to area U6, where they used the remnants of the old camp to their advantage.
After a time, one of the crew members decided to find a way out and go for help. They never returned, and a single surviving crew member, Kressida, was left alone in the old camp.
The sound of the howling wind in the cave is enough to drive a person insane. For every ten minutes that your party spends exploring the caves, have them roll a DC10 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, have the affected party member roll on the short term madness table, found in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide.
Areas of the Caves
This section describes changes that we have made to each area. Work these into your game, interweaving the changes with the module’s text as you see fit.
Area U1. Cave Mouths
Update the boxed text for this area to read:
A rowboat sits nearby, its lower half encased in the ice that has overtaken it. The boat’s surface, once brown, is now white with crystals of rime. Inside are several boxes of tackle and empty bottles.
Beyond the boat stands a tall cliff face. Four jagged holes within the cliff face reveal the darkness of the caves within. Out from these holes the frigid wind keens like a dying animal, the sound clawing at your mind and sending shivers down your spine.
Area U3. Cave Drawings
Update the boxed text for this area to read:
The northern wall of this chamber is covered in ancient drawings. Their lines and colors are only just visible through the rime and frost that covers everything.
If the party makes an effort to uncover the drawings, read the following:
A mural, which takes up nearly the entirety of the wall, depicts the journey of many large figures as they travel from a tall hill to what appears to be the very cave complex in which you stand, in order to complete some form of ritual suicide.
The hill they journey from is topped with several thrones, and the mural seems to indicate a complex inside the hill itself.
The figures in the mural, inside the current caves, are depicted as willingly putting themselves into a pool of some sort in order to drown.
A DC15 Intelligence (History) check reveals that the frost giants of Icewind Dale took place in a drowning ritual. To what end, no characters are sure—perhaps it was a means by which injured and elderly frost giants avoided burdening their tribe with their presence.
An additional DC12 Wisdom (Survival) check allows characters to get the bearing of Jarlmoot, as it is depicted in the drawing.
Area U6. Old Camp
Add the following boxed text to the area:
At the far end of this chamber is a pile of refuse, or perhaps a nest of sorts. The remains of an old tent, charred wood, and piles of dirt and ash are topped with furs. After a moment, however, you spot a face underneath the firs.
A gaunt woman stares back at you, unseeing. Her nose is black with frostbite and her lips are cracked from the cold. All the world would take her for dead, if she hadn’t just blinked.
The woman amid the refuse is Kressida (NG human), the sole survivor of the Bunch o’ Knuckleheads fishing crew. For all intents and purposes, she is a non-combatant and has a single hit point left.
Kressida has been here alone for a tenday, sustaining herself by any means possible, and going mad from the cave’s howling. She will not acknowledge the presence of any creature farther away than 5 feet. When a character draws close enough, she will look at them for a moment before screaming incessantly. With what little strength she has left, she will attempt to crawl away.
Characters may calm Kressida down with a DC13 Charisma (Persuasion) check or by providing her food, water, and plenty of space.
If she calms down, Kressida will stop screaming but will begin to babble on nonsensically about the howling. Only by removing her from the caves can she achieve lucidity and tell the characters what happened to the other crew members.
Area U7. Waterfall
Add the following boxed text to the area:
Lying face down and surrounded by shards of ice is the body of a man. His skin and wide, sightless eyes are crystalline with the ice that has overtaken him. An acicular rime has formed, joining both man and ice as one.
Beyond the corpse is what was perhaps, once, a gently flowing ten foot waterfall. Now all that remains are frozen stalactites cascading from the upper level, and a gash in the middle, within which still flows a trickle of liquid water.
The water weird in this area is hiding in the waterfall, where there is still a small amount of running liquid water. When the fishing crew attempted to leave the caves through this area, it broke through the waterfall and ambushed them.
It will attempt to do the same to your party as they leave the area, attacking the character that is last in the marching order, or who is straggling behind.
Area U8. Sacred Spring
Contrary to the module, the ice in this pool is not frozen solid. While it is several feet thick, there is liquid water below, where the skeletons of the frost giants lay.
When Maud Chiselbone moved into the caves, there were five frost giant skeletons at the bottom of the (liquid at the time) pool. She practiced her necromancy on them, animating each one. Only a single skeleton was whole enough to suit her needs as a sentry, and so she left the four others at the bottom of the pool. They remain there to this day, and will bang and scrape at this ice in a futile attempt to get at any creatures who stand on the ice long enough.
If any character remains in this area for more than a minute, read the following:
Amid the howling of the cave wind, you hear another noise. It’s low and rhythmic, like a menacing drum beat. Thump, thump… Thump, thump…
You look around the area and find only icy blackness. Something flashes in the lower region of your vision, and you look down. Distorted through several feet of ice, you see four pairs of large eyes, glowing blue, and surrounded by skeletal features. Undead frost giants beat a cadence of death on the ice below you as they attempt to break out of their watery grave.
Area U9. Ossuary
If the frost giant skeleton in this area is reduced to 50 hit points or fewer before it can break free of the ice, it will stop trying to break free and instead use its freezing stare action on the nearest character.
Area U10. Cauldron of Plenty
This area is filled with the “spicy scent” that originally drew the ill-fated crew members of Bunch o’ Knuckleheads to their doom.
Any character who moves within 60 feet of the cauldron of plenty must make a DC10 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by the scent of the cauldron’s contents. Characters charmed in this manner must use their movement speed to approach the cauldron and eat the soup, irrespective of its ingredients. Charmed characters are also unaffected by Maud’s Horrific Appearance trait, seeing her instead as an ugly old woman, no matter how close they are. The saving throw can be repeated at the end of each character’s turn. On a successful save, characters may not be charmed by the cauldron’s scent again.