Like the famous drow Drizzt Do’Urden, many people who come to Ten-Towns are outcasts, fugitives, or pariahs in search of a place where they can be tolerated, if not accepted. Some came here determined to make their fortunes. Others come for the solitude, or to escape notice and stay out of the reach of the law of the southern cities. Today, four hundred years after the formation of Ten-Towns, most folk are here because they were born here, grew up here, and expect to die here. They’re fishers, loggers, miners, hunters, trappers, furriers, and traders accustomed to the harsh climate, the slow pace, and the isolation. Like the hardy lichens and determined reindeer of the tundra, residents endure and do what’s needed to survive.
Icewind Dale has few trees, so lumber is cut from the slopes of the Spine of the World or the depths of the Lonelywood Forest. Stone from the hills and valleys surrounding Kelvin’s Cairn supplements wood as a building material in Ten-Towns. Homes have sharply pitched roofs to prevent snow from accumulating on them.
The people of Ten-Towns wear layers of woolen clothing often topped off with fur cloaks. Under these heavy clothes and cloaks, one resident looks very much the same as another. Outdoors, it’s hard to tell the people of Ten-Towns apart—and easy for clever monsters to hide in their midst.
Ten-Towns didn’t spring up overnight. It started from humble beginnings four centuries ago. Immigrants from all over Faerûn came here in search of escape or adventure and built a modest trade post atop the hill where Bryn Shander now stands. One by one, settlements sprung up on the shores of Maer Dualdon, Lac Dinneshere, and Redwaters. The ever-present threat of orcs and other monsters compelled the poorly defended lakeside towns to turn Bryn Shander from a modest hilltop trading post into a walled town capable of defending all Ten-Towners if and when the worst comes.
Most of the towns contain trace evidence of the immigrant cultures that birthed them. This evidence is carved into houses, statues, and other fixtures. For example, the dinosaur carvings on the older buildings of Good Mead remind folk that many of its original settlers were Chultan.
Residents of Ten-Towns tend to remain indoors when they’re not working, since it’s so frightfully cold outside, which gives each settlement a deathly quiet aspect. Most people who venture outdoors are bundled up in so much cold weather clothing as to be barely recognizable, and they don’t stand around long enough for the cold wind to get the better of them.
Auril’s winter spell has caused the population of Ten-Towns to dwindle and has heightened rivalries that have simmered for years, turning neighboring towns against one another as competition for resources becomes increasingly intense. The alliance of Ten-Towns won’t hold if the mounting tribalism continues to threaten the common good.
Most of the ten towns except Bryn Shander are built on the shores of three big lakes. The largest population of knucklehead trout is in Maer Dualdon, the deepest of the lakes. Redwaters, the shallowest lake, almost completely freezes in winter, making the fishing there difficult. Lac Dinneshere catches the worst of the winds blowing off the Reghed Glacier to the east and thus has the roughest waters. Small thermal vents at the bottom of these lakes keep them from freezing completely, even in the coldest winters.
Ten-Towns fishing boats are simple affairs. The smallest are rowboats and single-masted skiffs that require careful handling to avoid capsizing. Larger, twin-masted cogs and keelboats with single decks handle the wind and waves better. These ships fly the flags of their towns and provide fish for the whole community, not for any individual fisher.
When thick ice covers the lakes, many fishers stay to the shelters of their homes and hearths, but the most dedicated or desperate cut holes in the ice and dangle their lines down in hopes of tempting hungry trout.
Characters who have spent some time in Ten-Towns know the names of important residents, such as the speaker of each town, as well as the information in each town’s nutshell description (as presented later in this chapter). They also know the names of the four tribes of Reghed nomads described in appendix C.
Any characters raised among the Reghed nomads recognize members of their own tribe, as well as the names and reputations of prominent members of other tribes (see appendix C).
Goliaths who hail from the Spine of the World know of two rival goliath settlements in the mountains, Skytower Shelter and Wyrmdoom Crag (both described in chapter 2). A goliath character who hails from one of these settlements would be familiar with its inhabitants, as well as their longstanding feud with goliaths from the rival settlement.
Shield dwarves and other characters who hail from the Dwarven Valley at the foot of Kelvin’s Cairn would know that this valley contains sprawling iron mines and cave complexes inhabited by shield dwarves of the Battlehammer clan and their allies.
The folk of Ten-Towns don’t have a lot of options when it comes to keeping warm. People from Good Mead, Lonelywood, and Termalaine burn wood salvaged from nearby forests to heat their houses. In the other towns of Icewind Dale, wood is too precious a commodity to burn, so whale oil is used in lamps and small stoves around which townsfolk huddle for warmth.
Ten-Towners buy their whale oil from whalers who live on the shores of the Sea of Moving Ice. Whaling is thus a lucrative (if inherently dangerous) business in Icewind Dale.
Each town is an independent settlement that elects a leader, or speaker, to represent its interests at meetings of the Council of Speakers, which are infrequent and take place at the Council Hall in Bryn Shander. These meetings are called to discuss matters of shared interest and to settle disputes between towns.
The desperate people of Ten-Towns, hoping to appease Auril so that summer can return to Icewind Dale, make sacrifices to the Frostmaiden on nights of the new moon. This is a new practice that started a little over a year ago, when it became clear that Auril was angry and summer would not be returning anytime soon. The town speakers (see the “Council of Speakers” sidebar) have unanimously agreed to honor these practices, which they consider necessary evils, but would end them in a heartbeat if Auril were to be appeased or dealt with in some other way.
The nature of the sacrifices varies from town to town, but usually takes one of three forms:
Dougan’s Hole, Good Mead, and Targos hold lotteries the afternoon before the new moon. The unlucky person whose name is drawn is sacrificed at nightfall. The ill-fated soul is stripped bare and either tied to a post or sent into the tundra to die. Accusations of rigged lotteries are common but usually not acted upon.
Caer-Dineval, Caer-Konig, Good Mead, and Lonelywood: Smaller towns that can’t afford to give up people give up their food instead. A day’s catch of knucklehead trout is strung up on wooden racks a mile outside town, to be claimed by yeti and other creatures that embody Auril’s wrath.
Bremen, Bryn Shander, Easthaven, and Termalaine: Towns that can’t bring themselves to give up their people or their food forsake warmth for a night. No fires are lit between dusk and dawn, forcing locals to share body heat for warmth. Anyone who dares to light a fire is savagely beaten.
Icewind Dale has become trapped in a perpetual winter. Ferocious blizzards make the mountain pass through the Spine of the World exceedingly treacherous, and this land has not felt the warmth of the sun in over two years. In fact, the sun no longer appears above the mountains, not even in what should be the height of summer. In this frozen tundra, darkness and bitter cold reign as king and queen. Most dale residents blame Auril the Frostmaiden, the god of winter’s wrath. The shimmering aurora that weaves across the sky each night is said to be her doing—a potent spell that keeps the sun at bay.
Dalefolk live in a scattering of settlements known as Ten-Towns. The drop-off in caravans coming from the south and travel between settlements in this never-ending winter has left everyone feeling isolated. Although each town has resolved to appease the Frostmaiden with sacrifices of one kind or another, no respite from winter’s fury seems forthcoming. For adventurers such as yourselves, Ten-Towns is a place to test one’s mettle and, in the spirit of heroes who have come before, leave one’s mark on this frigid, blighted land.
Just another gruesome day in Ten-Towns: howling wind, bitter cold, foul tempers, and snowdrifts big enough to bury a herd of moose. But today the local tavern is abuzz with news about a series of recent killings. Before the murders, the only question on everyone’s mind was, “Will summer ever return to Icewind Dale?” Now the question is, “Will I be the killer’s next victim?” Nothing breeds fear and paranoia like a murderer with no face.
Three cold-blooded murders have been committed in the past month: a halfling trapper in Easthaven, a human shipbuilder in Targos, and, three days ago, a dwarf glassblower in Bryn Shander. Each victim was found with a dagger of ice through the heart.