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  • Writer's pictureShannon Rampe

DMs Guide to Dragon of Icespire Peak

Part IV: Mid-Campaign Narrative


This blog series teaches new and returning Dungeon Masters how to run the Dragon of Icespire Peak (DoIP) Campaign from the D&D Essentials Kit and provides advice and guidance for being an effective DM. Check out Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.



Introduction

By now, you’ve completed the “first act” of Dragon of Icespire Peak, by which at least two of the initial starting quests from the job board have been completed by the party and its time to move to the follow-up quests. By now, the PCs should be third level, which means they have selected their subclasses. It’s a great time to pause and consider how the next part of the campaign is going to go.


In this part of the guide, we’ll look at how to find the connections established in the initial adventures and develop them, building towards a climactic conclusion. We’ll also look at some factions in the region and how the story can weave in those factions.


Recap From Act 1

Think back over the initial few sessions and review your notes. Consider what happened in each session and pay special attention to the following questions:

  • What plot threads did the PCs pick up on? What did they leave untouched?

  • What NPCs did they side with?

  • Did they make any enemies who are still alive?

  • Did they connect with any factions such as the Harpers, Zhentarim, clerics of any particular faith, or others?

  • Which townsfolk did they gravitate towards?

  • Did any relevant PC background info come up during the sessions?

The answers to these questions will provide the fodder for the narrative development in the middle of the campaign.


Check In with Your Players

This is a great time to check in with your players and get some feedback. What parts are they enjoying the most? What would they like to see more of? Are there things getting in the way of the fun parts? Ask yourself the same questions and don’t be afraid to experiment and try out new techniques or approaches.

Set your ego aside about what “good game mastering” looks like. Here’s the truth: if you are having fun and your players are having fun, you’re a good game master.


This can also be a good time to revisit your players’ expectations on character death and other hazards. At level three, PCs have more tools for survival, but the encounters become a lot more challenging, and a well-timed critical hit can end a PC’s career for good. The threat of character death can add tension and fun to the game, but it can also be a downer if it happens senselessly in a random encounter or if a player doesn’t see it coming.


Campaign Structure – The Middle Campaign

Per the campaign guide, after the party completes two of the first three starter quests, you should put three follow-up quests on the quest board:

  • Butterskull Ranch Quest

  • Loggers’ Camp Quest

  • Mountain’s Toe Quest

It’s also very possible that the PCs can stumble into a quest that isn’t listed on the quest board at this point – the most likely one being the Shrine of Savras quest, since it is connected to the Mountain’s Toe quest.


Much like you did for the initial quests, we’re going to personalize these quests and give the PCs some narrative reasons to make choices. These could be connections to the townsfolk, an element from one of the characters’ backgrounds, or a complication or development from one of the initial quests.


You made notes about which NPC they liked or disliked. Make sure that NPC has an opinion about which quest they should go on next. You could have that NPC offer an additional reward, or you could connect it to one of the PCs backstories.


Here are a few ideas you can borrow to narratively spice up the second round of quests:


Butterskull Ranch

  • The orcs that ransacked Butterskull Ranch are likely connected to the Anchorites of Talos that will become prominent later in the adventure. If the PCs encountered orcs during the Dwarven Excavation quest, this could be an opportunity to have one of the NPCs in town make that connection.

  • Connect Big Al to one of the PCs backstories. Maybe he’s an uncle or a mentor.

  • Have Barthen or Stonehill tell the PCs all about the delicious butter “skulls” from butter skull ranch and how he’s missing his shipment. This is just weird enough that it might grab the players’ interest.

  • Consider how the orcs react to the PCs. They may be hostile initially, but the PCs may try to calm them or bribe them. Pick a random name for one and make it the figurehead of the PCs try to talk.

  • According to the campaign guide, these orcs were driven out of Icespire Hold by Cryovain. This is a good place to showcase the impact the dragon is having on the region. What do these orcs want? A place to call home? Wealth? Power? Let the PCs get creative and solve this scene without violence if they can, but don’t be afraid to have the orcs let loose.


Loggers’ Camp

  • This adventure comes with a built-in hook – Harbin Wester needs the PCs help delivering supplies to his brother. If the PCs need another reason, Wester can tell the party he hasn’t heard from his brother in awhile and is concerned, especially with the dragon in the region.

  • This is a good adventure to force the party to deal with a travel encounter, since trying to manage Vincent the Ox presents a fun complication the party has to manage besides killing monsters.

  • Make sure the party spots the boar, an anchorite of Talos in disguise. If they hunt or pursue her and happen to capture her, she assumes they are associated with the loggers or with Falcon’s Hunting Lodge and is immediately hostile. Have her hit them with a lightning bolt and flee. If they don’t choose to pursue the boar, ask for a nature or survival check to indicate that the animal was behaving strangely.

  • If the PCs don’t find the totem in area L2, make sure that Tibor Wester mentions this is very unusual behavior for creatures of this sort, almost like they were drawn by something. If they do find the totem, call for a Religion or Investigation check. On a success, share with the players that this totem appears to be associated with the cult of Talos, a chaotic evil god of storms and destruction.


Mountain’s Toe Gold Mine

  • This quest offers a fun opportunity to roleplay Don-Jon Raskin. Let him approach the party, having heard about their exploits, and try to recruit them directly.

  • The wererats are very dangerous unless the party has silver or magical weapons. To avoid a party wipe, make sure Barthen has stocked some new provisions when the party is in town – a couple of silvered daggers, silver-tipped arrows, and/or maybe a scroll of magic weapon.

  • I recommend adding some traps to the entrances to the caves. Unwanted visitors might step on some hidden spikes (DC 12 perception to spot and avoid) if they invade without caution.

  • The wererat encounter is a good opportunity for roleplaying presuming the party doesn’t go in with a mind to attack first and ask questions later. The wererats are willing to relocate to their old home, the Shrine of Savras, if the party will clear out the orcs and ogres that have taken root there.


Shrine of Savras

  • This makes for a challenging combat encounter and can give the PCs an opportunity to plan and execute a strategy.

  • It’s a lot of orcs with a lot of hit points. Consider using minion rules – give the orcs effectively 1 hit point each – or treat them like a horde using this Lazy GM technique.

  • Consider adding some details to make the shrine more mysterious – the ghost of a priest of Savras who is seeking aid to restore the temple seeks the PCs out, or the PCs stumble across the remains of a holy symbol of Savras.

  • If the PCs try to negotiate with the orcs and ogres, consider with the creatures might want in exchange for relocating. As an added complication, even if the PCs make a deal with them, there’s no guarantee the orcs and ogres will uphold their share of the bargain.

  • The divination vision granted by the shrine is an opportunity for more foreshadowing beyond the dragon. Think about what story beats you want to have happen later in the campaign – resolution of PC background stories, a battle against the anchorites of Talos, defending the town against invaders, or whatever – this is the time to foreshadow that with a strange and mysterious vision!

  • The divination shrine is also an interesting opportunity to incorporate a puzzle into the game. I had the shrine protected by Savras’ magic – anytime someone approached within 5’, the bell above the shrine would ring out, causing 1d6 sonic damage. The PCs could cast Silence over the area, cast any divination spell on the shrine to deactivate it, or remove the bell from the temple to solve the puzzle.


With each quest, try to create narrative hooks and connection points like this. Doing so will help to create a broader sense of purpose for the PCs and will reinforce their connection to the town and the region.


Travel and Unplanned Encounters

With the second-tier quests, the PCs are venturing further out from the relative safety of Phandalin, with multiple days of travel in some cases. They may want to start exploring locations you hadn’t defined. If that happens, consider adding a few random situations for them to stumble into.


Some quests suggest random encounters that might occur along the way, but others do not. You can use the tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to determine the chance of a random encounter occurring. Introducing some giant spiders, dire wolves, or bugbear hunters can liven things up when travel gets stale.

You can also use these travel events to introduce encounters that tie into…


Backstory Encounters, Personal Quests, and Side Quests

Now is a good time to start enriching the game’s narrative not just by connecting the job board quests as suggested above, but by expanding on them or adding new quests of your own devising. Ideas for these quests can come from the characters’ backstories, from agendas the PCs want to pursue, or as complications from prior quests.


In my campaign, for example, one of the PCs had in his backstory that he’d come to Phandalin because he was wanted in connection with the theft of a magic gem and he was on the lam. This presented a great opportunity to introduce a “random” encounter of assassins who came looking for him.


Another character might have a personal quest goal they want to achieve. You can add mini-adventures or encounters in to help enrich the story. Just be cautious about letting one character’s story take over the overarching narrative. The best way to do this, if it’s a long or complex quest, is to break it into multiple parts and seed smaller bits throughout the ongoing adventures.


Bringing back a monster or NPC from a prior adventure is a great way to enrich the story. It makes the world feel like a living, breathing place, and also shows the impact that the PCs decisions have on the story and the world. For example, suppose the PCs tried to kill Dazzlyn and Norbus or chose to negotiate with the manticore. The middle of the campaign is a great place to bring one of those characters back to make the PCs lives more difficult or to help them out of a tight spot.


That Pesky Dragon

It’s easy to forget about the dragon in the middle part of the campaign. It’s a distant threat. And while some of the adventures reference it, it’s possible the players might not choose those adventures. The campaign guide suggests having the dragon appear at random locations. I would suggest taking it one step further and ensure the dragon, or evidence of the dragon’s wrath, appears at least every other session. Show the dragon’s ferocity when the player’s stumble across the carcass of an owlbear, or the dragon’s cruelty when they stumble across the frost-covered ruins of a wagon train, or have the dragon fly overhead while they are resting at camp.


If the PCs encounter the dragon because of random luck, cause the PCs to make a DC 15 Wisdom save or suffer the Frightened condition. This should make them think twice about charging into battle. If they still proceed, you should warn them that their characters are aware this beast is dangerous and will likely kill them. If they STILL insist on fighting it, let them go at it. Have the dragon flee if it’s reduced to half its hit points. If it reduces one of them to zero hit points, let the dragon fly off with the PC’s unconscious body.


You did warn them, after all!


Factions at Work

One of the easiest ways to enrich and complicate the story is by introducing factions that the players can enlist or oppose. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Halia Thornton of the Miner’s Exchange is an agent of the Zhentarim. She could enlist the PCs to work for her, or, if they distrust her imperialistic intentions, they might become her enemy, prompting her to call in armed Zhentarim soldiers from nearby Yartar.

  • Sister Garaele of the Shrine of Luck is a member of the Harpers. The campaign book says she’s absent from town, but you get to decide whether that changes or not. If she is missing, perhaps someone else in town is looking for her and perhaps her disappearance has something to do with the Zhentarim.

  • The anchorites of Talos are a cult of orcs who serve the evil god of storms and destruction. They have made a base at the Tower of Storms and seek to exert their influence over the region. The PCs are likely to encounter anchorites or their influences in the middle tier of adventures and will certainly encounter them later in the campaign. Making them an ongoing and direct threat to the region and to Phandalin will make those adventures more personal and meaningful.

  • If you plan to run any of the follow-on adventures that take place after the events of the campaign (Storm Lord’s Wrath, Sleeping Dragon’s Wake, or Divine Contention), consider introducing the Cult of Myrkul and factions of undead in this or later parts of the campaign as a way to foreshadow the events of those adventures. You don’t need to know too much about those events, but knowing what factions are involved is useful.

  • The adventure at Icespire Hold has the party facing down a rival band of mercenaries, the Stone Cold Reavers. You can make that encounter a lot more meaningful if the PCs encounter the Stone Cold Reavers earlier in the campaign. Maybe they start a bar brawl in Phandalin and the PCs drive them out. Or maybe they take care of the contracts the PCs miss, serving as a rival adventuring party.


In each case, treat each faction like a NPC - consider what the faction seeks in the region, and what their opinion/attitude is about the party. Their goals and their attitude can change over time and in response to the PCs decisions and actions.


Introducing factions for the PCs to serve or to act against will give a sense of a larger narrative momentum and consequences beyond those of the immediate task on the job board.


Nothing is Static

As referenced above, make sure the actions and decision of the players reflect in the characters and events they encounter, especially in Phandalin. Likewise, make sure the town changes over time. Townsfolk come and go, especially in a frontier town like Phandalin. New people arrive. Regulars travel out of town. The regular residents will come to recognize the PCs and know of their exploits.

Let the world live and breathe, changing over time, especially in response to the PCs actions and decisions.


Final Tips

There’s a lot here that you can add to the adventures. Be careful not to go overboard. Let the campaign develop and grow in the ways that seem interesting to you and your players. You don’t have to shoehorn in every element of every character’s backstory or every potential enemy. Use what serves you and your players and dump the rest. Try adding one or two elements per session and see how it goes.


Don’t be too coy with your players. Sometimes as GMs, we want to showcase our brilliant ideas by having our players gradually figure out the secret plots and hidden agendas of the factions at play. Here’s the truth.


Players miss stuff. Lots of stuff.


Don’t be afraid to just explain what’s going on. Give them the clues, and then suggest to them what the clues mean. If you’re afraid this takes away agency from the players, explain that their characters are the ones who have pieced things together.


For example, when offering a clue that suggests Halia Thornton might have plans to turn Phandalin into a Zhentarim fort, tell the players that one of their characters notices a Zhentarim coin on Halia’s desk and tell them who the Zhentarim are and what kinds of wicked stuff they get up to. Spell it out for them, because the characters are likely to know stuff that the players would not. And with everything else they’re paying attention to in the game, it’s easy for players to miss narrative details that seem obvious to you.


Finally, remember that you don’t need to, and shouldn’t try to plan for every outcome. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy if you remain open to the ideas the players want to pursue at the table. It might seem stressful not knowing what’s going to happen, but it gives you an opportunity to be creative and it lets the players feel like they really can try anything!

Good luck and have fun!


 

 

So, how is your campaign developing? What unique stories are arising in your game that aren’t in the campaign guide? What parts are your players finding the most fun? What about you? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


If you want more D&D and role-playing game tips, articles on sci-fi and fantasy, and a free short story, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at https://www.shannonrampe.com/signup.

 

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