If you’re looking to run a holiday session (or a holiday campaign) in the Forgotten Realms, there are few locales so perfectly suited as Icewind Dale. The frozen north is a place of near-constant winter, with snow and ice burying the remains of ancient civilizations and powerful organizations alike.
While most of Icewind Dale is a frozen wasteland, there are small pockets of civilization where your characters can gather, rest, and generally find quests to adventure on. The most famous of these, at least for the humans in the party, is Ten Towns.
What is Ten Towns?
Ten Towns is a loose coalition of ten small cities and villages that make up the majority of humanoid civilization in Icewind Dale. A rough road connects them, and they in turn connect great swathes of land from the Sword coast’s ocean all the way to the Spine of the World, although they cluster about the largest lakes and river in the area.
The towns themselves are roughshod, filled with adventurous people looking to either make a new life or run from an old one. They subsist mainly on fishing, exporting the hearty knucklehead trout abundant in the area’s waters, as well as logging, mining, and treasure-hunting. The latter profession is a frequent occupation for adventurers and mages in the area, who seek the remains of lost civilizations and secrets which are hidden by Icewind Dale’s remote nature. Other adventurers find plenty of work fighting off regular raids and invasions by frost giants, barbarians, and drow.
As the name implies, there are 10 towns making up the coalition.
Built along both the lake Maer Dualdon and the Shaengame River, Bremen is the westernmost settlement of Ten Towns. It thrives not only on fishing, but also on mining, prospecting, and treasure-hunting, since the river regularly floods and sometimes leaves gold and treasures behind. Along with Caer-Konig, it was once represented by a king of the barbarian Elk Tribe.
The largest and most populated of the Ten Towns, Bryn Shander is something of a trading hub, as well as a link between the rest of the towns and more populated southern areas. It is also the only settlement in Ten Towns to not be located on a lake, since its position as a trading hub means it doesn’t need to rely on fishing to survive. Bryn Shander is the most comfortable of the Ten Towns, as well as the friendliest and most accessible. You are most likely to be able to find luxuries, magical items, and adventuring gear here.
Being a caer, the town of Caer Dinveal is of course settled around a castle, which as originally built by the Dinev clan on the shore of Lac Dinneshere. The original population of the town was wiped out in an orc siege, but it was eventually retaken by other explorers and settlers. The town, like most in Icewind Dale, relies mostly on fishing to survive. This puts it at odds with Caer-Konig, with whom it shares its fishing waters. The two towns are often at odds with each other.
Despite the name, Caer-Konig is no longer has a castle, as it was destroyed by orcs long ago. Now it is merely a small semicircular town surrounding a small harbor on the shore of Lac Dinneshere. It is most notable for its squabbles with the nearby Caer-Dineval, and the fact that it was briefly headed by a leader of the barbarian Elk Tribe.
The smallest of the Ten Towns, Dougan’s Hole is no more than a mere handful of houses and 2 small piers into Lake Redwaters. It is most notable for its proximity to a group of standing stones known as The Twenty Stones of Thruun, the summoning place of a strange magical monster.
Thruun is an immortal beast the size of a horse and resembling a white-furred ape with no eyes, wearing a necklace of hands. When summoned (usually by a worshiper of Malar, the god of hunting), it attacks and kills whoever it can find, until it is defeated. Even then, it does not die, it is merely returned to the Twenty Stones until it is summoned again for another hunt.
Easthaven is one of the largest settlements in Icewind Dale, having grown out of a small shanty town on the shores of Lac Dinneshere. Eventually, the paving of the Eastway trade road connected it to Bryn Shander, and allowed it to prosper as a trade city as well as a typical Dale fishing village.
It has also had a long and colorful history. Over the years, it has been attacked by devils (looking to open up a portal to the 9 Hells beneath a local chapel), fought back orcish invasions, and created a powerful magical flail called the Defender of Easthaven.
Located on the shores of Lake Redwaters, Good Mead was originally founded on the fishing trade from the lake. However, being too small to compete with other towns, it now focuses heavily on the production and export of, as their name implies, mead. They sell it to Bryn Shander, which has a much higher merchant population.
This isolated little town is the furthest north of the Ten Towns, built into the Lonelywood Forest on the edge of lake Maer Dualdon. It has no walls, and is regularly raided, but it is nevertheless a thriving town. Its regular danger gives its people a strong sense of community and cooperation, aided by the fact that it is the location of choice for those looking to escape from past lives (being the northernmost settlement). It also has a thriving lumber industry since it has the easiest access to wood of the Ten Towns.
Even after losing its once-held position as the most prominent and easily accessed settlement in Ten Town to Bryn Shander, Targos remains the second largest among the villages, settled on the shores of Maer Dualdon the end of the old ‘Ten Trail’ which connects to the city of Luskan. It survives almost wholly on fishing (having deep waters, a massive fleet, and the most skilled sailors in Icewind Dale), with a no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude permeating its society. Other than fishing, Targos is particularly known for its sturdy wooden walls, which provide excellent defense against the dangers of the Dale.
Like Easthaven, Targos has had a colorful history. It has survived airship crashes, goblin and barbarian invasions, evil wizards’ schemes, and more.
The most beautiful of the Ten Towns, Termalaine is named for its mining of tourmaline gems, which can be found in nearby caves. Its surrounding scenery is just as beautiful, however, as any gem, and its people are known to be fine shipwrights and craftsmen. It’s one of the most peaceful of the Ten Towns, although its rivalry with Targos does sometimes get heated.
Have you ever played a campaign set in Icewind Dale? Did you use Ten Towns? Which is your favorite of the settlements? Let us know in the comments below!