River of Frozen Souls, D&D adventure review

By Allen Farr
WinterBlight's Challenge
Level ?

The River Of Frozen Souls has shattered. As the remnants of this once mighty frozen fortress drifts south on the Sea Of Broken Blades, it carries with it the Anvil of Ice, a powerful artefact capable of bringing eternal winter to the world. Will this winter be your last?

This 49 page adventure tries to describe a northern town in the middle of winter, along with a series of dungeons in iceberg fragments. It’s very creative and has all of the elements required for a good adventure, it’s just that the designer has absolutely no idea at all how to put them together in to a coherent package for use. And I mean that more than I usually mean that. 

You get hired on as town guards. You get sent to a northern town for a few months. Your first day you get assigned to a murder that is causing a gang war. That leads to a series of dungeon fragments contained in icebergs off the coast. 

There is a pattern to these. After mountains of text laid out in a near-incoherent paragraph form, with embedded encounters, there will be a period of more free form player action. These are supported by terrific little vignettes for the party to interact with. There is a surrounding world here, or at the feel of one, that is terrific. It’s alive and full of potential energy. This is augmented by “themes” for the various sections, which are usually just environments conditions or some such. This adds to moods trying to be created, like the hostility of the weather or the strangeness of the north. Evocative writing can be almost good in places, like “At the far end of the room is an ancient throne entwined by the dragon’s tail and bedecked by large luxurious furs.” 

As guardsmen some of the “one liner” encounter range from a group of children challenging the party to a snowball fight to a distraught woman begging the party for help, because a ship sailing out has her son on it as a stowaway. There’s nothing else, that’s it. And it’s clear that you mind can run away with these little things. They are full of energy. Likewise things like your sword freezing to its scabbard, or an increasing number of villagers found froze to death in their homes, to bring home the severity of the winter. A great job.

Of course, the formatting is atrocious and makes the entire thing almost incomprehensible.

Columns of information, combining backstory, justifications, multiple plot events, and the like are the normal course of business. It almost makes you think that you are reading a summary of whats to come, but, you soon find out, no, this is the actual adventure. Arriving in town, hired on, ambushed by thugs, trained by the guard sergeant, these get just a couple of words each, almost as much as I just typed about them, embedded in longer paragraphs. This is no way to run a railroad, or format an adventure for use. 

Bold italics for read-aloud sections making it hard to read. An appendix compsigin almost half the page count, subtracting from actual value. A generic adventure, with no stats, written in an almost abstracted way, making it hard to pick out traps and creatures and certainly no detail on what they could be. Just stat the fucking thing for D&D man! Any decent DM can convert it and the non-decent ones are not going to use it anyway, in its generic form.

“The entrance to this room is constructed from the open maw of Blizzard, an ancient dragon that pledged its services in death to the master of the fortress.” You can see, from this section, how we both get a nice little feature, an entrance from a dragon maw, and how its ruined by all the backstory. And this is one of the more terse backstory elements. They go on and on, adding depth that will never be encountered during play. “… his hand outstretched as if holding something defensively. That something was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval. It was the Rod of Thunderous Upheaval used in the heat of combat that shattered the River of Frozen Souls and Fortress Frostfang, see Arcanum.” There we go, a load of backstory for a corpse that adds nothing to the adventure. The adventure does this time and time again. 

It’s a shame because there’s some interesting things going on in this. It needs a TOTAL rework, with a complete focus on running it at the table and the expansion of the section where the party investigates the murder and the factions in the town compete. Then this would be an adventure to write home about!

This is $3 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and gives you a look at some of the seventeen “iceburg dungeon fragment” locations. These tend to tbe the shorter elements, with some decently evocative writing in places. It’s good for getting a eel for the generic nature of the adventure, as in system neutral, and how that detracts from the adventure overall.


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7 Responses to River of Frozen Souls, D&D adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    That front cover is astonishing. Did they have to write “River of Frozen Souls” three times?

  2. Stripe says:

    “’The entrance to this room is constructed from the open maw of Blizzard, an ancient dragon that pledged its services in death to the master of the fortress.’” You can see, from this section, how we both get a nice little feature, an entrance from a dragon maw, and how its ruined by all the backstory.”

    Half a sentence of flavor for a dungeon entrance like that—especially coming at the end—does not in any way detract from its usability at the table.

    It is not “backstory” or “trivia,” either. If I’m playing this adventure, one of the first questions I’m going to ask is going to be, “Is it a real dragon’s skeleton, or is carved from stone/ice? Is it going to close on me? Is it dead or is it a dracolich? Did he slay it and then make it into a dungeon? Was it here long before?” This half-sentence at the end assists the GM to answer all those natural curiosities.

    It’s evocative as Hell, too. It gets the GM’s mind going in the right direction: “How mighty this ‘master of the fortress’ must be for a dragon to humble itself in such a way! Are there any more servitors-in-death?”

    That’s a Hellova dungeon entrance description. I think it’s best single-sentence dungeon entrance I’ve ever read, in fact.

    I’m confident this thing is overwritten to the nth degree, and that the review’s overall conclusion is correct, but, wow, was that ever a terrible example. Just saying. Critiquing the critic.

    • Dark_Tigger says:

      “The entrance is constructed from the skull of an acient dragon.”
      – tfify

      I mean yeah, that’s a hell of an imagery, but who cares that the owner of the skull was called Blizzard, and that he pledged alliegance to the master of the fortress. And if I should care because it is important for the adventure, put it somewhere else than a room description.

  3. Reason says:

    I’ll also often get a question, “How old is it?” then usually something about use/any fresh marks etc. So if you’ve read the backstory I guess you’d infer some of that from the “history”

    However it’s still in the way- put that in a sentence AFTER the players description. As it is I’d still have to highlight the bit I want to read so I know where to stop, otherwise I’m using my working memory (limited) to juggle what gets read when/to who. When I need to be using my working memory to juggle light/sound/what players are up to/NPC’s/wanderers/nearby rooms & sound/light etc.

    Working memory is really only 5-9 things (depending on which research/method you trust) and given how much else a DM has to do… a module NEEDS to be well designed/layed out to support & assist that, not forcing extra work on me while I run it.

    So to me (given how often I forget things while running an adventure) that makes it a highlighter job. Which is prep work the creator should have done.

    *It IS totally a great dungeon entrance though*

    • I would of described the dragon a bit, perhaps with a distinguishing feature (like a scar over the right eye, etc.)…some sort of description that would trigger interaction by the players IF they wanted to learn more. The Blizzard part of the sentence could then be in a bullet point, either used or ignored depending if the players ask about it. I have players that like to play bards…and they like to know everything!! But getting the backstory info into a bullet point as an option instead of the main paragraph would be better in my opinion–as well as trying to describe something that makes the players interact with the description. Make the players work for the knowledge–reward them for their interaction with backstory tidbits, instead of force feeding them.

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