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D&D: Storm King’s Thunder

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Right after finishing our 2.5 year-long campaign Tyranny of Dragons, my group started the next big D&D 5th edition campaign: Storm King’s Thunder! Also based on a published adventure module, it heavily features all types of Giants of the D&D lore and an epic story from levels 1 to 11.

So in summer 2017, we started with Storm King’s Thunder. We skipped Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd while playing Tyranny of dragons and Storm King’s Thunder was the latest adventure at this time.

The adventure is centered around Giants that threaten civilization at the Sword Coast of Faerûn in the Forgotten Realms. Here’s the book’s description of the adventure:

WotC Storm King’s Thunder Cover

Giants have emerged from their strongholds to threaten civilization as never before. Hill giants are stealing all the grain and livestock they can, while stone giants have been scouring settlements that have been around forever. Fire giants are press-ganging the small folk into the desert, while frost giant longships have been pillaging along the Sword Coast. Even the elusive cloud giants have been witnessed, their wondrous floating cities appearing above Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate. Where is the storm giant King Hekaton, who is tasked with keeping order among the giants?

I’ve read the story twice before starting the campaign and watched some streamers playing it, and read some guides on Reddit and on the ENworld Forums. Apparently, there were also some issues with the logic of the story and the NPCs’ motivations like on other WotC adventures. I decided to take the advice of clever DMs in the “Enhancing Storm King’s Thunder” Thread on ENworld, included multiple smaller additions from DMsguild, and switched up the motivation of the mastermind behind the story, to better fit the tone of my group. It shall be glorious!

The player characters

Our group was only 6 players plus me as the DM for this campaign. We did a session zero and created characters with backstories that I could use in the campaign. We also used character classes from Wizard of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana. That’s their playtest material and not always balanced perfectly. But we made it work just fine.

For this campaign, I created lots of visuals and collages of artworks to convey the scenes and characters. You can read more about the PCs in the respective blog posts, and also see their artworks there.

Meet the group of adventurers!

Storm King’s Thunder Adventurers!

Applying lessons learned

We played from level 1 to 20 in the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. Even though D&D 5th edition really feels better and plays faster than previous editions, it still has some problems. Many people voice their concerns now after countless new splat books have been released since 2014, and 5th edition is starting to feel a little clunky again. In 2017, these voices were very few, but as a group, we knew we wanted to include some house rules in the next campaign to avoid some of the problems we had during our first 5th edition campaign:

  • Challenge Ratings and calculating them is nearly impossible for a group of 7 people. As a DM, I tossed them out of the window and used the monsters that made sense in the narrative
  • The action economy heavily favors a larger group of players. Single opponents need to have minions, legendary actions, triple the hitpoints and do more damage to be a challenge at all. Even for smaller groups of enemies, I gave my monsters more hitpoints to be meaningful on the battlefield.
  • Character levels 1 and 2 are really very deadly and as a PC, you can do very little cool stuff. We started all characters at level 3
  • The short and long rest mechanic didn’t feel right for adventuring days with only one or two roadside encounters. Well-rested PCs are deadly and often trivialize single encounters, especially if they plan on not having more fights this day. I embraced this logic and only used road encounters if they add to the narrative (no truly random encounters). Furthermore, I grouped encounters together to a more stressful adventuring day: If there was something interesting happening on the adventuring day, it involved either multiple combat encounters (or several phases, like the enemies getting reinforcements) or used traps/environmental hazards to also cost resources that day.
  • Falling damage is often trivial for tier 2/tier 3 heroes, as it maxes out at 20d6 (190 ft and above) with an average of 80 damage. I house ruled that falling damaged increased exponentially: 1d6 for 20ft, 1d6+2d6 for 30ft, 1d6+2d6+3d6 for 40ft and so on. This quickly gets very deadly and felt more right to me. Players were afraid of falling to their death once again.
  • Critical hits should feel more powerful! Simply doubling the damage rolled is nice (standard rule), but I felt it should be more. We added maximum damage on all rolled dice to the rolled dice results for really high damage numbers. So a critical hit with a greatsword (e.g. 2d6+2 Str) would be 2d6+2+12 damage. This of course also goes for the monsters.
  • We used the system shock table for high amounts of damage and possible injuries and a fumble table for rolling natural 1s when attacking.

The miniatures

The new campaign brought many needs for cool miniatures! I would need a lot of Giants and folk helping them. There were the new miniatures from Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, a new line of unpainted figures from WizKids. The line has incredible D&D licensed miniatures that were superior to regular Reaper Bones miniatures. Also, Gale Force Nine had collections editions again and the Icons of the Realms from WizKids also had great miniatures for the adventure! I tried my best to get all the cool miniatures for the adventure that I could afford. I will post them over the next couple of weeks!