This module takes the PCs to the Sea of Frozen Ice to harvest a Sperm Whale. The titular Whale’s long-dead and has been preserved in the ice until now. (Simultaneously keeping in line with the Breaking Ice-olation seed and avoiding any weird ethical questions about whaling. Two birds with one stone!)
Icewind Whale’s unconventional scenario is likely to be a breath of fresh air for your players. It’s a fairly casual adventure with low-stakes, but it engages players via the highly visceral image of gutting a whale.
This module has an stated run-time of 2 hours but I would recommend scheduling for 3 if you want to flesh out the module with your own descriptions of events. Although it provides a map, I recommend running it theatre-of-the-mind or on a simple grid. (More on that under the Exploration heading.)
My run was conducted in the real world at Grex and I only had three players for the run. We had fun, but is the module good? Here’s my breakdown.
Most of the combats in the module are entertaining. I won’t tell you what they are exactly, but I can assure you that the module has managed to pick fun statblocks that still feel appropriate to the situation- a challenge with the Dungeoncraft restrictions.
However, I must deduct points for poor combat encounter balance. Enemy creatures have enough damage to instantly kill lower-level characters with one of them doing a whopping 32 average damage in a single hit. This alone is not a problem, except that the module’s encounter scaling advice isn’t really any good either.
The main adjustment for overwhelming combats described in the module is to have some of the friendly NPCs join the fight. This does little to solve the problem when a single hit can still kill a PC.
I personally recommend nerfing the quantity and fudging the damage of monsters to scale the encounter as most of them don’t have thematically appropriate lower CR substitutes available. Keep the allied NPCs back for emergencies only.
There’s not much literal exploration in this module but rather a series of highly evocative scenarios. The module takes the characters through the various stages of the whale harvest and involves them in every step.
Although the module does a good job of giving the DM the details needed to describe the harvest, I still recommend reading up on your own if you want to really sell it.
This module’s exploration goes hand-in-hand with its vibes and I struggle to separate the two. In this module, the exploration is there in service of the vibes and not the other way around- and I suspect that some of the more boring mechanics (like the repetitive skill checks in part 2) are there in service of selling the vibe. This comes at the expense of gameplay, but if you focus instead on your descriptions and improvisation and slow down instead of glossing through, your players will probably be too enthralled to notice. I think that having only three players saved me here, any more and I would have run out of ways to describe carting around blubber.
One pain point is that there’s a whole mechanic of weak ice that the characters can fall through and the weak spots are placed on the DM-version of the provided map. It’s weird that what seems like an ideal TOTM module even has a map in the first place, let alone one that has preset environmental traps that will push the players even further into thinking with the grid rather than working in TOTM. I recommend skipping or glossing over the weak ice.
Social interactions in this module, assuming you don’t have a druid or similar, consists mostly of talking to your whale harvesting crew. Three NPCs are fleshed out for this purpose- the Karter family.
I found myself gravitating towards roleplaying Heldi Karter. They serve as the Safety Officer and I found this an endless font of jokes. Workplace Health and Safety is no laughing matter in the real world, but in a game where your PCs are prone to trying to jumping over pits of spikes?
Most of the social interactions in this module are kept interesting not by the stakes of a social challenge, but by the evolving situation. The lack of big stakes allows the interactions to feel casual. The one social interaction that actually has stakes is probably the weakest.
Plot & Vibes (4/5)
There’s barely a plot to speak of here, but boy are there vibes.
This rating is probably subjective, and its mileage with you hinges on the question of “does an adventure need a plot?”. It’s a two-hour module that doesn’t have pretensions about being anything more than a side-quest. I feel that there was some attempt at a climatic boss encounter at the end, but it just feels like something tacked on to me, rather than feeling organic. The encounter is pretty cute in a vacuum though, so it’s not the worst thing.
The vibes though, are awesome.
There’s two aspects that I really enjoyed. First, the visceral Biology of the whole affair. Cutting through whale blubber, getting messy, and salvaging the curiosities in the whale’s stomach and letting the player’s imagine the whale’s life story.
Then there’s the whole Logistics of the harvesting process. You’re on a worksite with a foreman and a safety officer, you’re with workers that need to be fed, and you’re the mercs with all the odd-jobs to do.
I found it easy to engage my players (and myself!) just by describing all of these details. That’s the mark of strong vibes.
The first thing you’ll notice is the black and white illustrations of the module. There’s been a solid effort to create a unified theme here while working only with public domain images.
I appreciate the effort, and it makes the module look really unique and charming.
However, some image choices are a tad questionable. and the module unfortunately breaks from its black and white aesthetic in several places, somewhat ruining the effect.
I find the organisation of information in the module adequate but with some issues: Subheadings are not visually distinguished well from the surrounding text, hampering readability. Furthermore, key events sometimes seem to be mentioned without the appropriate fanfare, making it easy to gloss over them.
Rating and Breakdown
Plot & Vibes: 4/5
While the module has its flaws, its charm makes up for it, and it offers a unique experience that you’ll be hard pressed to find in other modules.
Icewind Whale is not for everyone, but if your table is up for something chill and relaxing without compromising the harsh tone of the main Icewind Dale campaign, this is for you.