Short Module Review: Journey to the Frozen Cave (Dungeon Rollers): 3 Stars
Encea lies motionless on the bed, her golden hair braided around a circlet on her brow, nestled amongst frozen beads of sweat. She exhales slowly, the only sign of life. As the breath leaves her blue-tinged lips, a cloud of frost forms above her – a sign that the Frigid Grasp has taken hold inside her.
Journey to the Frozen Cave is a desperate rescue mission set in an inhospitable environment. Adventurers race against time to save the victim of a poisoning, and to uncover the secrets of the town of Einharth and the forces competing to shape its destiny. This intriguing odyssey is likely to play out over 2-3 sessions, providing a rich variety of encounters for a low-level party. The heroes will face a bandit ambush, enjoy a carnival, pass judgment on a thief, and have the opportunity for plenty of investigation, exploration, and roleplaying before concluding with a couple of suitably epic fights. Unfortunately, the execution of the adventure is seriously hampered by unpolished writing. Nevertheless, at its heart this is an exciting, heroic romp with something to offer every player. Those who enjoy duking it out with the bad guys, wrestling with moral dilemmas, or coming out on top in challenges of skill will all find something to enjoy here.
They have their reasons. The history we’re given for Einharth nicely sets the stage for the unfolding drama and gives friendly and hostile NPCs alike excellent motives for their actions. There is evil afoot, but it is evil with a purpose and internal logic – clever adventurers who delve into the “whys” of the story will be rewarded with information that may prove crucial to their success.
High stakes. The adventurers are immediately presented with a relatable and dramatic human situation (a father is desperate to save his daughter) and a sense of urgency that will likely keep the story moving at a brisk clip (she’s been poisoned and an antidote needs to be found before she dies). This simple and effective engine should keep players focused and engaged.
Layout. Frozen Cave boasts a clean, elegant layout incorporating a well-curated selection of lovely stock art that maintains a consistent visual atmosphere and evokes a sense of adventure and discovery. Charming handouts, and maps reminiscent of 4th Edition (enemy starting positions are indicated), complete the package.
There’s a Fair. I’m a sucker for fairs in my D&D games, especially if there are carnival games (and there are good ones here). Some people don’t like fairs in their D&D games. Those people are wrong.
Adventure Hooks. Or rather, hook (we only get one). One secret to creating good adventures is that players enjoy stories about their own characters – stories that are personal to them. This can be hard to manage in a pre-written adventure, but one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is through the adventure hooks. This is a story that begins with a poisoned NPC. The sole hook we’re given is that her father hires the heroes to find the antidote, offering 250 gold pieces. That’s fine, but, with the addition of a few sentences, far deeper optional hooks could be deployed here. The poisoned NPC could be an adventurer’s cousin. The father could be an old mentor. The town of Einharth could be special to one or more of the heroes – maybe it sits on land the adventurers are sworn to protect. As written, our heroes are either generically altruistic or generically greedy; detail and specificity are often the difference between a good story and a great one.
Editing. This adventure could benefit from additional editorial review. The text is consistently hampered by structural awkwardness and redundancies that a sharp editor could help untangle. One example hits right off the bat: the adventure announces itself as being set in “Einharth in the Crystal Peaks” in a manner that suggests the reader will be familiar with this location. Not being intimately acquainted with every corner of Eberron and the Forgotten Realms, I immediately Googled this to see if it was a location in either setting (it isn’t – in fact, the location is original to the adventure). We are informed that Einharth (country? city? town?) could be “easily adapted to other settings, in the Forgotten Realms and beyond.” Six paragraphs later, we learn that Einharth is a small town between Mirabar and Luskan, explicitly placing it in the Forgotten Realms. We later encounter a sidebar wherein the idea that the adventure could be placed anywhere is needlessly reiterated. A page later, we’re again told that Einharth is a small town between Mirabar and Luskan. Information like this should be delivered once, in a coherent and concise manner, as early and as definitively in the text as possible: “Einharth is a small town located between Mirabar and Luskan on the Sword Coast of Faerun, but could easily be placed in the setting of your choice.” In addition, grammatical errors and awkwardly constructed sentences abound, and there are occasional elementary misspellings or misused words. In short, the text of this adventure is much harder to read than it should be.
Journey to the Frozen Cave delivers a satisfying adventure with plenty to offer in terms of 5th Edition’s three pillars (combat, role-playing, and exploration). There are social encounters, skill challenges, and exciting high-stakes fights to be had here, and a party that survives the assorted perils and returns to town to save the day will feel their reward is well-earned. Unfortunately, the adventure is inarguably let down by technical and stylistic problems with the writing that are too serious to ignore. These will largely be invisible to the players (as long as the DM is willing to perform the occasional syntax surgery on the read-aloud text) but will make the experience of reading through and prepping the adventure more challenging than it ought to be. Nevertheless, the adventure gets one really important job done: it will make the players feel like heroes! Journey to the Frozen Caves receives 3 stars and is recommended.
Tal Aviezer re-discovered D&D in 2017 after a 20+ year hiatus. He is the creator of several best-selling titles on DMsGuild. He serves as the Artistic Director of Red Monkey Theater Group (link to www.redmonkeytheater.org) in NYC, and in that role produces the annual Dungeons & Monkeys D&D/theater charity fundraising marathon. He is a writer for the Wildlife Conservation Society.