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Spoiler warning: this question contains a spoiler for Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign, a relatively minor one in relation to the main plot but quite an impactful one from player's perspective.

I'm running Rime of the Frostmaiden campaign and the players just arrive at the Black Cabin, next session we will be exploring it. One of them has a Ring of Mind Shielding (DMG, page 191) and one of its properties is this:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul.

For those unfamiliar with the Frostmaiden, this is what is supposed to happen in Black Cabin:

Players trigger a huge explosion that is deliberately designed to kill at least most, if not all of them and they get stuck there as spirits until they solve the quest. This is the exact wording that the campaign book uses: "If a creature (…) dies inside the Black Cabin, its spirit (if it has one) leaves the body and assume a spectral form on the Border Ethereal (…)." My players are low level, with not too much HP so I'm expecting them all to (temporarily) die there.

Therefore I am wondering what RAW should happen to the player with the Ring here. I'm inclined to rule that the property of the Cabin overrides the ring and the same thing happens to this player as to the rest of the party since it's not going to be very fun for her otherwise to be separated from everyone else with nothing to do most of the session but I'm wondering if the rules support this, I don't want the player to feel like I'm using the DM fiat to force an outcome.

I am familiar with the specific beats general thing, I'm not quite sure whether it applies here though or whether it can be established which one is more specific, the Cabin or the Ring.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If it does not bother you, can you tell us how you ruled it and how it worked out? It could be a very interesting precedent based on experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 9:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Sure, I ended up having the PC's spirit go to the ring but before that made a point of describing how in the moment before being pulled in she saw a magical barrier all around the cabin and all spirits that were already trapped in. In my game one of the PCs ended up surviving as he was in another room when the rest triggered the explosion so he put the ring on, from there they all had to work together to solve the encounter, about halfway in she decided to leave the ring and join the PCs in Border Ethereal, the players all loved it and had great fun. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 9:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds really good: excellent idea to depict the magical barrier trapping the others' spirit. The teamwork between your players (the one who survived and the one trapped in the ring) is really the cherry on top: indeed, it didn't come to mind that some party members could survive the explosion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 13:53

8 Answers 8

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The description of the past events and objects in the cabin suggest that the Ring is overwhelmed by Cabin's power.

The description of the events happened in the cabin says

Six months ago, Macreadus, a sage and devout follower of Lathander (god of the dawn and rebirth), formed a plan to end Auril’s everlasting winter. He holed up in the Black Cabin, where he spent all his time assembling a weather-controlling magical device called the Summer Star, using knowledge he gleaned from a book about Netherese artifacts. Macreadus’s device was similar in design to a mythallar (see appendix D), but much smaller.

Considering that

the information for creating such artifact come from a book about Netherese artifacts (remember that Netheril was a magocratic empire) and the magic item that Macreadus tried to create was a smaller version of a legendary item

and that the Ring of Mind Shielding is an uncommon magic item, hence second to last regarding "power level" of magic items:

Rarity provides a rough measure of an item's power relative to other magic items. (DMG, page 135)

we can conclude that the description strongly suggests that the soul/spirit\$^1\$ of PCs are trapped by the cabin.

As a DM, you can obviously rule otherwise.

Since the above reasoning is based on a free interpretation of the description of the events happened in the cabin and on "power level ordering" of magic items, as DM one can decide that the ring's power overcomes the cabin curse, above all if you are worried about superseding player agency by just saying "your ring does not work".

In this case, I provide a couple of possible rulings.

Suppose that all the PCs die in the cabin, but the Ring bearer\$^2\$ does not suffer from the cabin's curse and their soul is trapped in the ring. After sometimes (hours or days, up to DM) a NPC enters in the cabin, finds all the PC's bodies and wear the Ring of Mind Shielding: the PC soul trapped in the Ring can communicate with the NPC and maybe they can involve this person in solving the cabin quest:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul. You can remain in the ring or depart for the afterlife. As long as your soul is in the ring, you can telepathically communicate with any creature wearing it. A wearer can't prevent this telepathic communication.

If you do not want to involve any NPC, since the PC soul can leave the ring at any time, they can decide to leave because they can not do nothing: you could hence rule that once the soul has left the ring, instead of reaching the realms of afterlife, it is trapped in the cabin, together with the rest of the party.

Finally, as suggested in Molot's answer you still may give the player a choice.


\$^1\$ Let's assume that spirit and soul have the same game meaning.

\$^2\$ Frodo, is it you?

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From my experience, and I play and DM since 3.0 came out:

Players don't like when you nerf their characters for the plot

I'd expect that if I would tell my player "sure, this ring works that way but now I need it not to.", they would be disappointed, confused, angry, or any combination of these. And they would probably lose trust in me being fair, something I found out to be important when DMing.

I don't have one good solution for you, but these are what I would consider, depending on the group I DM for. All of these I have tried, in some form:

  1. Talk to players. TPK by design is not what people usually sign up for when playing D&D so it might be worth a spoiler to avoid disappointment and resentment. When you do so, you can also talk about the ring and let the player decide.

  2. Narrate it in a way that gives player a choice. For example "When your body dies, you feel your ring pull on your soul, offering you a safe haven. The Cabin pulls you, and your friends, in the opposite way, to new adventures as a ghosts. Where do you go?" This gives player clear indication that he should rather stay with the party, but at the same time you didn't nerf their item. Player can choose, and that's what players usually want to be able to do.

So, by the rules, which one of these effects should work? I say it's irrelevant. You are there to create fun and engaging experience, and in this case "because rules said so" does not contribute to that at all.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's exactly what I'm worried about, the player went out of her way to get the ring and primarily for this feature of it so they might get upset if they don't get to use it when they die but then if the soul does get pulled into it they end up literally with nothing to do until everyone else solves the quest, at least an hour of real time \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do not really understand this answer. First it's not "sure, this ring works that way but now I need it not to." Because the DM does not need it not to work, it's actually the player who does otherwise they will have nothing to do for the rest of the session. Second, why are we talking of TPK? Surely when adventure continues and you have a quest to solve as a ghost this cannot be qualified as TPK? A choice of signing out for the rest of the session does not sounds to me as a choice either... I'm confused. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 2:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like your idea on giving the player a choice. +1. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's a choice the player gets to make even by RAW, and there's no time pressure on it. The ring says "you can remain in the ring or depart for the afterlife". Sounds to me like on death her soul goes into the ring, and then she can decide at any time to leave it. Let her go into the ring, then see that her companions are stuck as ghosts and she can't go anywhere unless a mortal finds the ring, so if she wants to join her buddies she can just leave the ring and become a ghost too (as the cabin overrides the 'to the afterlife' bit). The player gets to decide what to do. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 16:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym the problem with this is that at no point does the ring's description say that it allows you to see out of it, all you get is telepathy if someone puts it on so this would be pure metagaming \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 8:48
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Frame challenge: Don't TPK

Note: I do not own Frostmaiden so there may be details outside of this question, of which I am unaware. I'm willing to delete this post if there are unknown circumstances that would make this answer invalid.

Reading the scenario, I was immediate struck by two things:

  1. The sound of an oncoming train since the PCs are being railroaded
  2. This sets a precedence on how death works

Both of which can be hand-waved and the show goes on. The first can be explained as a "likely" outcome, but not guaranteed as PC's might roll well on saves, use magic in an unexpected way, and so forth so it is not a complete railroading. The second can be just the nature of the cabin (which it likely is) so death outside the cabin is normal.

And while not much can be done about the explosion (seems pivotal to the story), death can be changed.

Instead of "killing" the PCs and making ghosts/spirits/spooks/specters (who ya gonna call?), have them "displaced" like an astral projection spell. Not the spell itself, but the same concept. This will help in a few ways:

  1. The PCs didn't "die" so there is no conflict with the Ring
  2. Plays better with being "a spectral form on the Border Ethereal"
  3. Creatures without a spirit (like constructs) can still participate
  4. Death is (presumably) still on the table

The PCs are now projections with whatever properties the adventure describes.

Since it's not death, hit points and damage doesn't apply and so the DM can make it a high DC saving throw, or just say it happened to everyone. It's still a little railroad-y, but can't get around that.


"Despite your best efforts, you are engulfed in the explosion. A wave of energy shoots out in all directions causing furniture to splinter and be cast about. You watch as your body is flung against the wall like a rag doll. It take a few seconds for it to sink in that you are still standing and watching your body crumpled in heap, unmoving..."

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not really a TPK and it's not railroaded, it happens by players' actions but this is an interesting idea anyway, i'll definitely consider \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 8:27
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RAW the soul likely ends up in the ring, but you should ignore that

The game has no mechanism to resolve effects that happen at the same time, so the way this is resolved is by ordering them. In this case however, the order does not matter:

Ring first: If the ring gets processed first, the the soul transfers to the ring. The effect of the hut only triggers when the creature dies and the spirit "leaves the body", so it will not pull the spirit out of the ring, as it is not leaving the body any more at that point. The soul would remain in the ring.

Hut first: If the hut gets processed first, then the spirit assumes a spectral form in the border ethereal. Then the ring is processed. The condition of the ring does not care about where your soul is entering the ring from, it just states that if you die, your soul will enter it. So your spirit/soul will enter the ring end cease to be a spectral form. The end result is the same, your soul ends up in the ring.

This is not a very strong case. In particular, it relies on the exact rules text of the hut saying "leaves its body". If the effect was just tied to dying like the ring's, you could order it so that the ring comes first, then the hut. The ring does not stop the soul from leaving it due to other effects (like raise dead), so the hut then would pull the soul back out and turn it into an incorporeal spirit. So absent the "leaves its body" part, it would be entirely RAW to have the spirit/soul end up as a discorporated spectral from.

Normally the order of resolving events that happen at the same time is decided by the DM, unless you are using an optional rule from Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 77), then it is decided by the person at the table whose turn it is. As the players are not neccesarily in initative order when they are wiped out by the surprise nova, even if you use the rule, it could be your call.

Focus on the play experience

The more important point is the one you make: what will the play experience be for the player who gets his character stuck in the ring, while to others adventure on? This is much more important than narrow RAW compliance to an edge case situation. You have the power to ignore the rules as the DM, and in particular in a case such as this, where the rules are not really that clear, and where you do it for the benefit of the player's fun, you should.

If you are concerned that the player will feel unfairly treated, you can even give them the choice: let their soul decide if it wants to enter the ring, or if the soul wants to become a spectral form.

Depending on your group's and your play style this also might be a situation where you can step out of in-game, and lay out the options to the player on a meta-level: sit out or play some other character (if available) for the next part of play until they are eventually risen from the dead, or become a spectral form like the others and continue adventuring with them.


PS. The game is vague when it comes to the definition of what a soul is, or what a spirit is, if they are the same, or if they are different things. They mostly seem to be interchangable, but it is not entirely clear and never spelled out explicitly. Conceivably you could even rule that the ring will house your soul, but it is your spirit that becomes a spectral form.

This however might lead to problematic or weird situations that call for lots of more ad-hoc ruling later on, when you end up with the spirit being re-united with the body, and the soul still being stuck in the ring, so I would avoid this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's odd that "if you feel it would be an unfair experience" in a situation that is entirely unfair and should never have been printed. The whole death by cut scene thing is the single worst thing I have seen officially published. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 11:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri In 2E, there was an adventure in Ravenloft with Azalin the Lich that had all PCs start out as heads in a jar. From my experience, yes, players hate the "you all awake stripped and gagged" trope and related motifs, on the other hand in my experienence as player, "leaning in" on these instead of just fighting them can make for a fun and interesting game, a change of pace -- as long as these things are the exception, not the norm. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 13:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri it's not a permanent death and doesn't happen in a cutscene, it's triggered by the players and it's possible for them to complete the quest without it although much harder. I've played through it as a player and it was fine, nobody considered it unfair and it was one of the most memorable moments in the campaign. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 15:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage it's always ok in retrospect, and when you read a book or watch a film you usually know it will turn out ok. Having the party die unfairly (and this is unfair) is awful in the moment. Maybe after it becomes a great story, but we can make a great story without needing to ruin the moment. So they work, but only when the outcome is somewhat certain (ie knowing in advance that this isn't death), at least in my experience. But everyone plays DND differently, so good for those who do like it I guess. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri how are players dying to a trap they triggered “unfair”? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 22:34
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Do what's best for the fun, but inform the players.

I'm inclined to rule that the property of the Cabin overrides the ring and the same thing happens to this player as to the rest of the party since it's not going to be very fun for her otherwise to be separated from everyone else with nothing to do most of the session...

When it happens, go with the Cabin but take a moment to mention out of character that you considered whether the ring should override the Cabin's effect but that you quickly realized this would leave the ring's owner out of action for most of the session which wouldn't be fun and so rather than get to deep into HOW the interaction should work you're ruling in favor of what will be more fun for the players.

On the other hand if ANY of the other players survive (maybe they split the party?) I'd have the ring override Cabin's magic if it provides for more equal groups.

This way there is less likely to be complaints of "that's not what should happen" and they'll know you're on their side here.

Aside: Others have mentioned that this is railroady but remember, almost every module is basically a railroad with only a few real choices open to the players and that's okay. Rollercoasters are fun and they're on rails too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "almost every module is basically a railroad with only a few real choices open to the players and that's okay. Rollercoasters are fun and they're on rails too.": this is the key observation! \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think saying "almost every module" is overstating the case. There are quite a number of Sandbox-style ones published. ToA is one, Wild Beyond the Witchlight is, CoS is, DoTMM is a classic megadungeon, even this one is pretty open world and flexible in order of exploration ... of course there is a rough schedule of key events that likely will happen eventually, but that is far from being a railroad. Just because you have to kill Strahd, or get into the inner sanctum of the Tomb does not a railroad make. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin My point wasn't that railroads are bad, in fact quite the opposite. Sure some modern modules may be better about giving the party choices (there were the occasional old ones too!), but ultimately if you are playing a module there is going to be some amount of railroadiness involved. Again that is fine, ideally everyone chose it together. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 20:10
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The ring isn't meant as a trap, it's meant as a protection, and one of it's options is for the character's soul to voluntarily leave it. So just let the cabin and ring both work exactly as stated, per RAW. The ring works as designed, the character's soul enters the ring and has the option of continuing on the material in the ring for whatever plans the character may have had (is the character evil and planning on possessing an unwary future wearer?). Or the soul can leave for the afterlife. But

the choice of afterlife is being determined by the cabin's effect, not the character's faith or alignment, so if the soul leaves the ring, at least while in the confines of the cabin, it enters the Border Ethereal with the other players.

Doing it this way allows the player to keep whatever options they had planned for the ring without feeling that the ring's power is being overridden on a whim (if they had any plans) while still allowing them to voluntarily continue the adventure with the rest of the party if they wish.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
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    Commented Oct 28, 2022 at 3:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
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  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with that is the PC will have nothing to do while in the ring and no way of knowing what's happening apart from through meta, otherwise i'd do it exactly like this \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 8:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess that depends on how much awareness you give them; whether you treat them as "material" or not. I would say that as a soul, even in the ring, they are ethereal. IDK how 5e does it's various etherealness/astral/etc stuff. The ring desc doesn't say they aren't aware of their surroundings, so would a soul NOT in the ring, eg a ghost, still in the cabin, be aware of the "Border Ethereal" where the other PCs end up. If so, I would say the one in the ring is still aware of the other characters. In 3e, ethereal creatures perceive both ethereal and material. \$\endgroup\$
    – user34314
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:18
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Why Not Both?

There is no reason to not say both effects resolve, they aren't too directly opposites. Players can all assume a spectral form in the Cabin, but that doesn't really say anything too particular about the state of their soul, which the ring is supposed to effect.

That gives you a few options and a lot of room to have fun depending on the length of your campaign:


In Game Changes

You can make his spectral form operate in some forms as a familiar to the ring soul, and since he has an item so compatible with the theme of the campaign for the rest of the spectral portion he has a free mundane familiar he's bound to he can manifest.

You could even make it a twist that the spectral body is the familiar but operates as a full PC while his character now operates as a familiar. How that factors into the story idk, but that can mean for example that the spectre has no death saving throws and dissipates on zero HP, but he can regenerate it on a long rest maybe leveled down 1 level (maybe temporarily).

If that's too powerful then you can make it just behave "extra spectral" (no force damage for staying in an occupied square, advantage on certain types of rolls, etc)


Story Driven

Or if you want to be pedantic about souls/spectral being 100% equivalent you can do nothing to explain the conflict, and it turns out his soul enters both the ring and the cabin, and it can be a later plot point that there is now a soul in his ring if he dies.

You can make that a plot point by making that a seperate NPC character, a companion when he returns, or like a new antagonist who claims he's the real PC who a villian later extracts and gives a body to serve as a direct rival to the character.

Player Reactions

If the PC dislikes part of this and is being a poor sport since the ring has a mind of it's own it's invisibility effect can just be a bonus action or prevent disadvantage when rolling initative or some other little well flavored bribe.

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There is no real problem.

You don't need to override the ring's effect for the good of your game; you just need to let the player make the decision.

The Ring of Mind Shielding says:

If you die while wearing the ring, your soul enters it, unless it already houses a soul. You can remain in the ring or depart for the afterlife.

There's no need to either override the item or remove the player from the fun; both effects can happen. The player with the ring goes into the ring, the rest become trapped spirits. The player in the ring can see or otherwise sense the nearby spirits and can tell that if she chooses to depart from the ring, she'll be pulled into the trap with them; but if she stays in the ring, she's powerless and just as trapped until some creature comes along and puts on the ring.

Let the player decide whether they want to join in the game or sit on the sidelines. Most players will choose to engage with what is clearly the adventure they're meant to be on at the moment. And even if she decides not to join in at first, she can at any time choose to leave the ring and join in. It's a win-win!

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