Monday, September 12, 2016

Storm King's Thunder (Review)

Today we’re going to take a long look at Storm King’s Thunder, the latest adventure from Wizards of the Coast.  Giants have cast a long shadow over Dungeons and Dragons, and this is a fine addition to that legacy.  Set in the Forgotten Realms, Storm King’s Thunder continues the overall story from the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat.  Giants are on the move in the Forgotten Realms, and the Small Folk have to deal with the consequences.  Let’s dive in and see what sort of trouble we can get up to.

First of all, this is probably our favorite adventure that Wizards of the Coast has released for 5th edition.  It’s majestic in its scale, and is a world altering epic that has the potential to change the face of the Forgotten Realms.  It’s got cloud castles, and giants, an ancient dragon slaying war machine, did we mention giants?  From the start to the thrilling conclusion, Storm King’s Thunder is a thrill ride with mighty foes, epic locations, and a story that will pull you in and keep you enthralled.  

For a new DM looking to run this adventure, we recommend the following steps.  


Read the Adventure

Take Notes

Read the Adventure again

Make sure your notes follow

Decide what level you’re going to start the adventure at.

Pick your locations

Read the Adventure

Read through the Savage Frontier sections for the locations you’re using.

Figure out what magical items you’re handing out.  

Read the Adventure


Got it?  


The Introduction of this book covers all of the adventure background for Storm King’s Thunder.  It’s got a wealth of background information for the DM to get into the story and helps him prepare for running the adventure.  It introduces a wealth of NPCs to deal with and walks you through each and every step of the adventure’s potential antagonists.  Get to know these folks, you’ll see them again in the adventure and understanding their motivations is key to getting the most bang for your adventure buck.


The first Chapter of this book is either essential or optional; depending on what level you are starting the game.  Set in the town of Nightstone, it’s a full run introductory adventure to get the party from level 1 to level 5 and introduce them to the menace of angry giants.  It introduces them to an interesting group of NPCS, their first cloud castle, a friendly ish giant and a lot of adventure.  


If you’re starting with first level characters, you really should play this portion of the book.  It gets your players to a level where they can do battle with real giants (and not die).  If you’re coming to this adventure from something else (like lost mines, or some home crafted adventures) this is mostly optional for you and your players.  If you want to get in on the theme of the adventure, you can start on or near the middle of the section (we suggest starting with Morak’s Quest on page 32).


Chapter 2 is where you actually start the official start of the Storm King’s Thunder plot line and to do that, you as a DM will have to pick one of three starting locations.  You’ve got everyone’s cold favorite, Bryn Shander in the frozen north, Goldenfields (which has a nicer climate and some neat people) or Triboar (a major trade route that could be full of trouble).  Each one has things to recommend it as a starting location, and it’s really up to you as a Dungeon Master to pick your favorite.  


The starting location you select introduces the town location, some interesting NPCs and a fight of some sort.  Make sure you read through the combat sections so you can react accordingly to off the beaten path Player Character decisions.  The thing that we really like about these starting locations is the NPCs.  For the major combat section, each PC is given control of an NPC to help mitigate the minor advantage a swarm of giants has over a party of small folk.  Keep these folks alive if you can, because after the battle, each one has a special quest which will get you some loot, some xp, or some information that will help out.  


Chapter 3 has been a sourcebook of its own in prior editions, and this is probably our favorite section of the book.  The Savage Frontier is a complete rundown of the people and places that occupy the land north of Waterdeep and into the eastern portion of the Sword Coast region.  You get close up of towns, places of power, and the people that fill this frigid portion of Faerun.


From an adventurer’s standpoint, you could spend your entire career exploring the Savage Frontier and retire a very happy twentieth level character.  With 55 pages of story ideas, places to visit, and npcs to interact with, this is a reason to buy this book alone.  We are big fans.  It also reminds us of one of our favorite tropes about the Forgotten Realms.  Between this section, and the NPC quests from Chapter 2, this adventure reminds us that every third or so NPC you encounter will either be a retired adventurer with a magic item to give you, an archmage who doesn’t care about you, or a dragon in disguise.  It’s just woven into the character of the setting and we’re happy it’s back again.


Chapter 4 can really be considered the kickoff for Storm King’s Thunder (we’ve said it twice we know, but we mean it this time).  Travelling deep into the heart of frozen mountains in the north, the players encounter an ancient temple to the gods of giantkind.  Information is learned, but it comes with a tremendous price.  The characters have their first encounter with one of the story’s major problems, but also gain their first clue to how to help right the society of giants, and are off on the epic adventure.  There are a lot of fun story elements in this chapter that I would love to share with you, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.  

Chapter 5 starts off the battle of the giants in grandiose style.  After discovering the location of a marauding band of Hill Giants (from one of many sources) the player characters have to match wits and strength of arms against a hill Giant of monstrously large proportions.  This area feels and plays like a regular encounter area (but it’s built for giants!) but take in the fun of being in a Fortress built for giant folks.  You’ll see more than a few of these as you play through this adventure, but take in the fun.  


This is a callback to several adventures from the long history of Dungeons and Dragons (starting with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and continuing into Against the Giants, a 25th anniversary module written about Giantkin).  It shows the enduring legacy that giants have in Dungeons and Dragons and the sheer fun you can have with the world’s biggest monstrous humanoids.  


Chapter 6 is a location based adventure detailing an enclave of stone giants.  Unlike most of the other lower to mid-tier giants, Stone Giants aren’t necessarily evil.  Their position in the Ordning is due more to their lack of desire towards social niceties than their relative power.  The Stone Giant canyon is an excursion to get to in and of itself, and it feels like an adventure of its own.  Once you’ve reached the site, you get to encounter stone giants of a different sort, and possibly help them deal with a more serious crisis.  


There are several different directions the players can choose to take when dealing with this location.  We like this as a feature of adventure design, and any time we can take different ways through adventures, we look for them.  You’ve got plenty of choices for how and where to go.  Depending on the allies you’ve made along the way, you have many different choices and options.  


Chapter 7 continues the exotic locations that make this adventure feel larger than life.  In the ruined hulk of an iceberg, a frost giant has set his eyes on a specific artifact, and has dispatched raiding parties up and down the coast in search of this item and its owner.  Chasing down frost giants with Viking overtones sounds like a lot of fun, and when you factor in white dragons, ice monsters and a battle on top of an iceberg, this adventure locale is just aching to be explored.  


This encounter area can be astonishingly lethal for a party that isn’t prepared, or isn’t taking things seriously.  The difficulty of getting to the iceberg in the sea of moving ice, coupled with the inherent lethality of the frost giants who live here make this a particularly tough nut to crack.  You’ve been warned.


Chapter 8 is the home of the fire giants.  Their particular approach to managing the potential change in giant society is to rebuild an ancient war machine in the hopes of crushing their ancient enemies Dragons into the dust.  They’ve got a plan, and it might work.  They’re going to need some help to finish it, but there is time for the PCs to get involved and recover the thing they need.  Like the encounter site above, this area is astonishingly lethal for the unprepared.  


Chapter 9 brings the adventure up to the clouds.  Pursuing rumors of ancient dragon magic, a cloud giant has been up to no good.  Chasing down an item they need, the players have the option to encounter their second cloud castle, but this one’s a lot more hostile than the previous one.   It’s possible (unlikely, but possible) that the characters may come into possession of a cloud castle of their own.  I mentioned that these are escalating in terms of lethality, didn’t I?  This place is no joke, and if you take it lightly, it will kill you and all of your friends.  


Important note 1:  In order to move to the next section of this adventure, you only technically need to complete one of these chapters. Each one has a copy of the item the players need to pursue the quest to its next locale.  I would highly recommend that you take the time to clear out more than one of these, and that you take them in escalating numeric order.  Attempting to jump to the next story section is likely to get you killed or backtracking.  


Chapter 10 brings the party to a new locale, this one deep beneath the waves.  So we’ve been to a distant canyon, a freaking iceberg, a grand volcanic smithy, a damn cloud castle, and now we’re going under the sea?  Sign us the hell up.  This adventure locale brings the story forward and brings the party one step closer to bringing this potential giant cataclysm to an early end.  


Now if you decide to assault this place like a traditional adventure area, you’re probably going to be dead.  Singular storm giants are hard enough to manage for a party of 9th ish level characters, and when you start adding extra giants, minions, and class abilities, you start stacking lethalities on top of lethalities.  You may have to fight your way into some areas, but think with your heads and not your wallets.  


Chapter 11 is a mystery.  Characters who’ve taken a bold step to help the giants out are given a clue, and sent out to hopefully find a lost giant.  This brings them into conflict with a new enemy and puts them on a hunt to find a ship that can’t be found.  If the players succeed, they will potentially have gained a powerful ally and are close to putting things right for the world of small folk and giant folk alike.  


Chapter 12 is the last act of this adventure.  With potential allies at their side, the Players must confront the villain of this story in their lair.  It’s going to be the nastiest fight they’ve been in today, so pack your lunches.  Treasure, glory, and the fate of giant kind may rest in the balance, and it’s up to the players to make tough choices and risk everything to save the world.  


This is a serious adventure full of interesting locales, clever foes, and mighty deeds for great heroes.  Enjoy the hell out of it.  


The Appendices that follow the main adventure add some details and depth. Appendix A has some excellent advice on linking Storm King’s Thunder to the other adventures they’ve released.  Appendix B is full of awesome new magic items that will make your players happy as clams.  Appendix C adds some new monsters and new encounterable critters to increase the trouble your players can get into.  Appendix D covers the special npcs that you can encounter in setting up the adventure and includes statistics for running an npc storm giant, should the situation emerge.  


Overall, we like this adventure a lot.  It’s got a lot of things going for it, and includes an entire location guide for the Savage Frontier.  That alone would be worth the effort of picking it up, but we love the story, and the interactions that can occur between giants and small folk.  We give this five legendary giants out of five.  


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