Structure in Storm King’s Thunder 2

This post is the second of two posts dedicated to running the Wizards of the Coast official campaign Storm King’s Thunder. The first post covered the structure as the campaign book outlines it, and gave suggestions to how you can run the campaign in a short and concise manner. This post aims to do the opposite, and instead showing you how to make Storm King’s Thunder a sprawling campaign that utilizes more of the source material.

Let’s Do Everything

The Storm King’s Thunder has just over 200 pages detailing the campaign story, and also presenting various Sword Coast locations and possible sidequests. However, a majority of these pages won’t ever be used, if you follow the intended structure of the adventure.

The campaign book suggests that your party visits one of the towns in Chapter 2 (Bryn Shander, Goldenfields or Triboar) and only one of the giant strongholds in Chapter 5-9 (Grudd Haug, Deadstone Cleft, Svardborg, Ironslag or Lyn Armaal). Granted, the campaign book does allow for the fact that your party might stumble upon any of these locations on their travels, or play through the giants’ strongholds after defeating Iymrith.

But, if you would like to ensure that your players try out more of the content in the campaign book – and there’s some really great content in there – you can very easily achieve that with only a little work. Below I’ll attempt to give you a strategy for including as much as possible of Storm King’s Thunder’s cool content, while still adhering to the campaign books overall premise.

Chapter 1

First off, if you want your party to experience more of the giant attacks, you must give them reasons to go to more than one of the three towns, all the way back in Chapter 1. The easy way to do it, is to have Morak Ur’gray give the party all of his quests (see STK page 32). But, if we’re being honest, these quests are kinda lame, and your party would be prone to forget all about the other two quests, as soon as they find more interesting storylines in whichever town they choose to travel to.

Another plan could be to mix up the quests a little, and perhaps make them more rumors, than actual quests. This way you can also sprinkle these in later in the campaign, if you’ve already passed Chapter 1, and still send your party towards more giant attacks. An example of how you can do this in in Chapter 1:

  • While interrogating or speaking to a goblin, one of them let it slips that its brother Birbok is working for some hill giants up north by Goldenfields, and that ‘hehee, dey attak de Goldy-town not long ago, dem real strong’.
  • After being rescued, Morak Ur’gray tells the party that his cousin, Ghelryn Foehammer (see STK page 255), always talk about a giant-hunting adventurer up by Triboar named Urgala Meltimer (see STK page 254), who might know how to ‘give these here giants a proper talkin’ to, if ye follow what I’m saying?’.
  • If Daphne Featherstone (Lady Velrosa Nandar’s lady-in-waiting) survives, she tells the party that Lady Velrosa’s childhood friend from Waterdeep, Duvessa Shane (see STK page 248), recently wrote about frost giants rampaging up by Bryn Shander in the north.

You can make these hooks more questlike, if you want, or put these rumors forth later in the campaign. The specifics of when and how aren’t really that important, as long as providing these hooks a) give your players a greater feeling of self-determination, b) plant the seed for the party being involved in several of the giant attacks. Be aware that not all parties respond well to having multiple ‘vague’ choices, and that this might cause your party to simply go about it linearly – going to Goldenfields first and then to Triboar, before finishing of in Bryn Shander – which is a shame, if you like Bryn Shander a lot more than Goldenfields.

Chapter 2

By the end of Chapter 2, the party should be 6th-level, and have up to six different quests delivered to them from the NPCs of the town they helped defending. For the purpose of visiting as many giant strongholds as possible before the campaign ends, you can choose to highlight a few of these quests:

  • Bryn Shander – Duvessa Shane’s quest (see STK page 43) could lead to the frost giant stronghold Svardborg, if you want it to. It seems like a fun quest, provided you put some effort into fleshing it out.
  • Goldenfields – Miros Xelbrins rather mundane quest (see STK page 52) will give the characters possession of a ring, that can in turn lead them to the Old Tower (see STK page 116), which in turn leads them to the hill giant stronghold Grudd Haug.
  • Triboar – Ghelryn Foehammer’s suggestion (see STK page 62) to go to Citadel Felbarr (see STK page 79), can lead the characters’ straight to Ironslag, the fire giant stronghold.

In addition to this, its also a possibility that the characters capture one of the attacking monsters, and simply get it to show them the way to the appropriate giant stronghold. However you go about it, its quite possible for your party to go straight for a giant stronghold, after finishing the defense of a town. If you also have the party visit more than one of these three towns, you can have the party follow a pattern of defending/visiting a town, and then infiltrating a giant stronghold.

Chapter 3

If you’re already in Chapter 3, or your players don’t bite during Chapter 2, don’t fret. There’s plenty of locations in the Savage Frontier, where the party can find their way to a giant stronghold:

  • Beliard (suggested encounter leads to Old Tower – Old tower leads to Grudd Haug)
  • Citadel Adbar (suggested encounter leads to Ironslag)
  • Citadel Felbarr (suggested encounter leads to Ironslag)
  • Daggerford (the party can follow giants back to Deadstone Cleft)
  • Evermoors (the party can spot Lyn Armaal)
  • Grayvale (suggested encounter leads to Deadstone Cleft)
  • Orlbar (suggested encounter leads to Deadstone Cleft)
  • Uluvin (the party can follow giants back to Grudd Haug)

You can steer your characters towards any of these locations, with the many means at your disposal. It could be rumors in any random inn about ‘fire giants disrupting trade up by the dwarven citadels in the north’ or ‘people’s seen some giant castle floating above the Evermoors!’. Additionally, many of the suggested encounters attached to these locations can very easily be moved to other locations, so if you’ve set your eyes on a giant stronghold that you want your characters to visit, it shouldn’t be too hard to move around some encounters so that your party will at least have the chance to find the stronghold.

Chapter 4

In Chapter 4 your party is supposed to ransack a bunch of Uthgardht burial mounds, so that they can obtain learn the knowledge of a giant stronghold, where they can in turn find a conch of teleportation, that will take them to the Maelstrom (Chapter 10).

An alternative way to do this, if you still would like your party to visit more giant strongholds, is have the conch be broken and divided between 2-5 of the giant lords – or be an entirely different device, that is naturally split into pieces. This way, you get to choose which giant strongholds you want your party to visit and simply tell they need to go to three of them (or whichever number you choose).

Or, maybe the oracle already have the power to teleport the party to the Maelstrom, but won’t do it before the party has proven themselves. It simply tells them they where all the giants strongholds are, and lets them choose which ones to visit, and then it decides when the party have succesfully proven themselves.

Troubleshooting

Expanding the campaign to include more giant attacks and giant strongholds isn’t entirely without issues.

First problem arises if your players are only level 6 when they head into the first giant stronghold, and therefore might not be the appropriate level for the challenge. I can’t tell you what exactly you need to do to mitigate this, but as long as you’re aware of the issue, you should be fine. Hopefully you’ve had a lot of sessions to gauge the strength of your players, and can take measures to ensure it doesn’t end in a TPK, such as reducing the number of monsters (giants in particular), and allowing for more short or long rests.

Another issue arises if your characters sack so many strongholds that they actually get ahead in level. Obviously you can stifle this by sticking to milestone experience, and simply not award them extra experience for clearing strongholds. You can also just have them level ahead, since most of the challenges in the later portion of the campaign are actually quite hard, and often factor in that your party has NPC help (which you can then just not give them).

Thirdly, as the campaign is written, each giant lord or lady is in possession of a conch of teleportation. Luckily, this one is easily fixed: only one of the giants actually have the conch.

Lastly, as you might notice above, its most likely that your players will find Grudd Haug, Ironslag or Deadstone Cleft. That’s okay, since you can have the oracle point them towards one or both of Lyn Armaal and Svardborg, when the party gets to Chapter 4.

My Sample Campaign

Okay, so that’s a lot of words, but how would all this look in actual play. I’ll give an example based on the Storm King’s Thunder campaign that I’m running myself:

  • In Nightstone the party are given clues about hill giant problems by Goldenfields, a giant-expert in Triboar (Urgala Meltimer) and frost giants by Bryn Shander.
  • The party heads immediately for Goldenfields, where they follow the hill giants track back to Grudd Haug after repelling their attack.
  • After clearing Grudd Haug, they finish Zi Liang’s quest in Waterdeep, and then head for Triboar.
  • Too late to defend Triboar from the fire giant raid, they follow the fire giants’ tracks towards Ironslag, passing by Zymorven Hall and Yartar on the way to finish Urgala Meltimer’s quest.
  • They succesfully defeat the fire giants at Ironslag, and obtain the dark elves’ Iron Flask (see STK page 186). Intent on returning the flask to Gauntlgrym (for a hefty reward) they travel westward. They meet Harshnag on the road, and he shows them to the Temple of the All-Father.
  • When they arrive at the temple, the oracle pushes them towards Lyn Armaal, because Countess Sansuri is the only one who has a conch of teleportation.

This way, my party will have gone through two of the towns in Chapter 2 (although only defending one of them), and visiting three of the giant strongholds. It also makes the walking around part of Chapter 3 feel more goal-oriented, than just randomly walking around.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, and given you a better idea on how to run Storm King’s Thunder. I’ll be posting more about the campaign in later posts, so don’t go too far. Remember, you can read the first post here.

Also, I’ve created some content for Storm King’s Thunder over at the DM’s Guild, such as in-depth tips, resources and maps helpful in running A Great Upheaval, Goldenfields and Triboar, or even a full adventure to run during Chapter 3.

5 thoughts on “Structure in Storm King’s Thunder 2

  1. Hello,

    I bought your Chapter 1 guide and reading that, plus what you wrote here, I am wondering why you gloss over the Zephyros meeting / encounters?

    I found them to be a bit out of place and would love advice on how to “fix” the encounter(s) to be more in-line with moving the quest forward; instead of using what was written in the module.

    Like

    1. My reason for glossing over Zephyros and the related encounters is, as you describe, that they feel ‘a bit ouf ot place’. I’m not really a fan of running Zephyros as a glorified taxicab that simply shows up to get the story moving. That said, I get why he’s included – he adds some background to the adventure, and gets the story quickly moving to Chapter 2, which is arguably the intended starting point for Storm King’s Thunder. The cloud castle also makes the overland travel a lot easier to run for a less experienced DM, since the encounters are pre-planned and there’s no settlements to visit on the way.

      As for how to use him, I’ve found that making him voluntary works better for me. The party can run into any number of NPC’s, even early in the campaign, that could give them a ‘hook’ about an old cloud giant in a flying castle. Here’s some examples of how I have, or would, do that in my campaign:

      – While clearing the Dripping Caves, the party finds a wounded Harshnag in a crevasse. Harshnag got stuck while trying to rid the cave of goblins a month ago, and the goblins have made sure he stayed stuck ever since. If the party helps him get free, he gives them a magical pipe. The pipe can cast a spell (Skywrite) that summons ‘an old looney giant named Zephyros’, who might be able to help the party figure out who’s behind the attack on Nightstone. Harshnag’s axe has been ruined by ‘the blob’ so he wants to go to the dwarven citadels in the north, to get it repaired. If the party choose to use the pipe immediately, Harshnag might tag along for a while, but if they don’t, he’ll start on his trek own.
      – One of Nightstone’s inhabitants – let’s say the tiefling woman with the infernal rune on her door – has often seen a castle in the skies, when she’s gathering herbs on a hill a few miles north of town. She thinks that whoever inhabits that castle might be behind the attack, or at least have an idea who did it. If the party goes to the hill, they’ll quickly find Zephyros castle, and the encounter feels less ‘random’.
      – The Lord’s Alliance operative Naxene in Goldenfields tells the party of an old cloud giant Zephyros, that has been known to help the Lord’s Alliance from time to time. He’s a bit looney, though, and not entirely reliable. If the party declares their interest in figuring out what’s going on, she’ll give them some sort of gimmick – maybe a pipe, like earlier – that can summon the old giant.

      Regardless of when you introduce Zephyros, and who has the information about him, I feel that he works much better as a ‘choice’ than as a ‘random, but not-so-random-encounter’. As for the two encounters the party might face when travelling with him, I’m not a big fan of the second encounter, but I feel that the first works fine, especially if you have a group of players that have played Prince of the Apocalypse.

      That’s my 2 cents – thanks for reading and commenting, and happy DM’ing! 🙂

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  2. Valeur,

    Thank you for your suggestions in running SKT. I just started my campaign, and I intend to run at least Goldenfields and Triboar, possibly having Harshnag show up to help defend Triboar as you mentioned in one of your posts. I did introductions for each of my 3 PCs to tie them into the story, and the druid visited Goldenfields in his intro, witnessing the first hill giant attack mentioned in the book, so he already knows the giants have gone after it once.

    Another PC is a drow, and I tied her escape from the underdark to the Xorlarrin plot to help the fire giants. I want the drow to be at Gauntlgrym when the drow steal the primordial and run into an old enemy. Then of course King Bruenor sends them to recover the primordial. I’m still figuring out how to get them to Gauntlgrym in the first place. Maybe I could also run Triboar after Goldenfields, and have the NPCs there help the players discover that the fire giants are trying to build the colossus, and the dwarf knows it will take a huge power source to run it, like Gauntlgrym’s primordial, so now the party has to rush to warn king Bruenor.

    Somewhere along the way, the players might clear out the Hill Giant stronghold to prevent further attacks on Goldenfields, as well as clear out Ironslag to get back the primordial. I also really want to run the Cloud Giant castle, because… well it’s a giant floating castle! So I might make it so that only the cloud giants have the Conch, since they were right below the Storm Giants in the Ordning. I also plan to introduce Felgolos early in the adventure so they care about saving him.

    Let me know if you have any other ideas to tie this all together, and thanks again for your work in helping newer DMs run this grand adventure.

    Like

    1. I’d be happy to lend whatever assistance I can.

      Regarding the drow party member and the Xorlarrin, I had a similar situation in my campaign (one of the characters is a half-drow) and I tied his backstory to the theft of the Primordial. He found out about the dark elves’ plans to ‘do something’ in Gauntlgrym, but the party chose to head for other areas instead – which was fine. In the end the drow arch didn’t come to fruition before they met them at Ironslag, which was a fun battle. So, what I’m trying to say is, don’t worry too much about getting your party to Gauntlgrym. Sure, present them with the information about ‘a power source’ after the battle in Triboar, or have some of the drow accost the party briefly – perhaps in an attempt to recapture the escaped drow. If the party bites the hook, that’s great, if they don’t, there’s a good chance they’ll wind up at Ironslag either way.

      Regarding the hill giant stronghold of Grudd Haug, I wouldn’t push too hard for it, since it’s – in my honest opinion – probably the least interesting of the giants’ strongholds. I love the cloud giant castle as well, and I think your idea of having the conch be only there is fine, although, when the party arrives at the Maelstrom, there’ll be four giant lords with conches there, so that punctures the whole only-cloud-giants-have-them-idea. Of course, you can remove those four giants from the campaign without too much trouble, or simply have them all be different cloud giants. If you want to, you can also tie the Nightstone to the cloud giant castle, and thus provide an incentive to go to that stronghold in particular. This can be done in chapter 4 with the oracle, or already in chapter 1, if you’re using Zephyros (who might know something about a cloud giant countess, who he thinks might be responsible).

      I hope any of this helps, let me know if there’s something I missed or if you have any other questions! 🙂

      Valeur

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      1. Thank you for your reply. It does help a lot! I had forgotten about the other giants at Maelstrom having a conch, but I think as long as the party has other incentive, such as rescuing Felgolos and retrieving the primordial, then they would probably do both strongholds any way. My drow character has a missing brother, from whom she was separated during their escape, so he could end up being at Ironslag too, as a slave.

        I like the idea of a drow hunting party finally catching up with our party’s drow ranger, perhaps led by the same guy who attacked during their escape from the underdark. The party could then try to capture him or one of the other drow to learn of the plot. I definitely want to bring Bruenor into the story, as well as Drizzt as somewhat of a mentor for the PC, understanding her situation. I’m just a big fan of Salvatore’s work. 😀

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