Hello students and AcadeManiacs. This week, faculty member Ryan Porta writes a review of a new published adventure. We did receive a review copy of this module and it will be part of the raffle pool at AcadeCon this year. If you just can’t wait and want to but it now, visit Amazon through our show portal here. Have fun storming the castle!
The newest adventure released by Dungeons & Dragons®, Storm King’s Thunder, takes an ad
venturing party on a trip that covers a large portion of the Sword Coast, and tasks them with putting an end to the havoc being caused by all varieties of giants. If you have ever readany of the books chronicling the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and wondered about the area that he calls home, this book is for you. It will put you in some of the same towns, have you walk the same roads, and let you face off against the same threats he came across. Perhaps you are big on classic fantasy literature, like 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or The Iliad, or The Odyssey. You will notice some of your favorite elements from these stories as well. Add encounters and challenges that aim to take players from levels 1-10 (suggested), and you have a great adventure book that can be easily run as Dungeon Master’s first published adventure or simply added into any homebrew setting. Here are some highlights.
ORGANIZATION MAKES IT VERY SIMPLE
At the very start, there is an Adventure Flowchart that lays out the intended progression of the story. What sets this chart and the forthcoming story apart is the ability jump right into content if you aren’t starting at level 0. If the players or adventuring party is brand new, the book provides early direction and story to catch them up to speed.
A chapter by chapter flow makes the story easy to follow and easy to present. Scenery details, maps, and roleplaying suggestions all seem to fall into the right place to cut down on flipping through pages or tracking needed information down elsewhere. The one exception is the “Items in a Giant’s Bag” random table that comes in very handy due to all the treasure the players will collect.
DELICATE BALANCE OF STORYTELLING STYLES
If the first page you open in Storm King’s Thunder was to the Adventure Flowchart that I mentioned above, you might be led to believe that the adventure is entirely linear. The chart does have a top to bottom series of arrows outlining the story. An experienced DM might look at the potential “railroading” and put the book back on the shelf. I had my doubts seeing this as well.
However, as you dig into the story and read through the chapters, there are several places carved out that provide the players with the ability to explore the greater world, travel to a new location, or even get lost in the vastness of the Sword Coast. An entire chapter is dedicated to letting the players explore the “sandbox” world the writers have created! Beyond that, there is no time restriction with the story events. Players have the opportunity to finish more than one side quest or branch of the story before moving on to the next chapter.
This adventure has its fair share of NPCs to bring to life. But one unique feature Storm King’s Thunder offers is the ability to have players role-play as NPCs. It even rewards the players for finding way to keep the NPCs alive and fulfill their side quests.
One thing that this published adventure does not suffer from is exposure to legendary monsters. I find that even experienced DMs utilize creatures like giants, kraken, or dragons sparingly, wanting to save them for a big reveal or arch-villain. If you want to use or fight them more, play through this story and you won’t be disappointed. Obviously, giants are a big part of the adventure, but who doesn’t want to fight a dragon or a creature just as big every step of the way? The fights are very deadly, as an adventurer might expect when dealing with huge monsters, but there is ample time to heal and strategize so the party is capable of finishing the story.
If the party is in a hurry and wants to rush headlong into every battle, there are several places where a helping hand is provided, and likely needed. A wide variety of creatures, both big and small, are available to help the adventurers along. But like all good stories, some might not be what they seem.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
I have mentioned epic tales that provide some of the inspiration for story elements. I have told you of the dangerous monsters that inhabit and stalk the lands. There is plenty of evil beasts to fight in Faerun. But maybe a player or two doesn’t enjoy that as much as others. There is more than one chance to dig into some of the politics of war, meeting kings and queens while completing the journey. Every dungeon the party encounters has areas to inspect and thoroughly explore if that is a favorite play style. Finally, a sneaky rogue or charismatic sorcerer might find the chance to do a bit of gambling while looking for information.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS
I have tried to give broad bits of information up to this point, giving away very little. But I want to point out a few things that made me get super excited about running this campaign or laugh at the thought of coming across such a thing during an adventure.
The artwork in this book is superb, continuing the wonderfully high standard since the release of the Dungeons & Dragons® Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manuel. Maps are detailed and unique. Two page spreads depict giants squaring off with sword and ax, leading the imagination to devastation along every turn in the road. I want to highlight one specific page of artwork that references the ability to use miniatures during combat. The drawings of the individual giant lords are extremely detailed, and they are to scale. The book even includes templates that represent the size of the bases of minis for these giants to use on a gridded map. As someone who still uses miniatures for combat, I am overjoyed to see this included.
Very few of the encounters in the story seem the same. They each have their own traits and are designed to use the terrain and features surrounding them. One battle introduces the “goblin hucker”, as it is named. Think of a mobile catapult with live goblins as the ammunition. The best part is that the goblin has to load itself into the bucket, volunteering to be launched hundreds of feet over a siege wall. I simply love this.
A topic that has been gaining popularity recently is underwater adventures and combat. Toward the end of the story, the players are introduced to the possibility of such a thing. Personally, I have not tried to run an aquatic adventure yet. I appreciate that Storm King’s Thunder gives direction and suggestions for doing so. It takes the trepidation out of trying to come up with rules and reasoning by myself.
I tend to believe that fantasy role-playing might as well have plenty of magic in it. Otherwise, why call it fantasy? Storm King’s Thunder has plenty of unique magic items. Some are meant to only be used in this adventure. Some are so big that player characters likely won’t be able to use them. All of them make the story fun, and give those collectors something to search for.
I have been gushing about all the great things in Storm King’s Thunder to this point. I have to admit that there are a few low points. Typos are there, which is not surprising from a first printing. The high amount of magic could also be considered a negative, as some DMs just prefer magic to be a sacred thing. I described the possibility to “railroad” players above, which is also a commonly-discussed and under-appreciated tool. There is little to explain the reasoning behind the main story, focusing instead on the journey itself. That might put off some players that like deep story and thorough investigation.
But the flaws in Storm King’s Thunder seem insignificant compared to the design and fun of the journey. I think that the Dungeons & Dragons® team did a wonderful job of creating a new adventure. New players will have fun with the story and the monsters. Experienced players can appreciate the lore and deadly encounters. Any player that loves fantasy will recognize the inspirations behind it. Whether as a DM or a player, there is plenty of enjoyment and excitement packed into these pages. I am sure that no-one at the gaming table will be disappointed.