When the DM for my D&D 5th game, Mark Middleton, asked if we had read any official WOTC books, I told him I had gotten a review copy of Storm King’s Thunder that I hadn’t yet dove into, but was planning to review. He asked me not to, since this was the next arc of our campaign. Seeing an opportunity to get a DM’s perspective of the book in play, I asked for 3 extra levels and a review for the site in return for not reading the product. I still haven’t gotten those 3 free levels… but here’s the review Mark wrote of Storm King’s Thunder, with a bit of player commentary on what the game has been like so far. – John
Storm King’s Thunder is the latest D&D 5e hardbound book from WOTC. This mega-adventure has an interesting plot, a great wealth of material, and lots of villains as well as potential allies. Storm King’s Thunder works as a Dungeon Masters reference, similar to the other hardbound mega adventures WOTC has published thus far. It is definitely their best effort to date. As with the other adventures, it is set in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms and this one delivers many epic battles against Giants of all types. The chapters are structured to take a party from 1st to 10th level. An introductory chapter advances a party from 1st to 5th level while the rest of the book takes them from 5th to 10th level. The first half of this article will be a traditional review; the second focuses on how I am implementing it as Dungeon Master in a campaign.
Storm King’s Thunder is organized much better than previous material. As the PCs gain levels, you’ll be progressing straight through the book, not jumping around. I like Curse of Strahd, except that the scattered adventure organization required jumping between chapters in the front of the book to the back and all around. Many useful structures established in previous D&D 5e books, such as encounter charts, are used in Storm King’s Thunder as well, while gaining levels is often pushed by milestones – more about this later. Storm King’s Thunder is the same size as Curse of Strahd, while lacking the nice pullout maps found in the Strahd book. There is also a lack of character-building material in Storm King’s Thunder , such as new spells or classes.
Overall Structure By Chapter (Mild Spoilers Possible)
- Chapter 1 Introduction for 1st level PCs, PCs advance to 5th
- Chapter 2 Serious Giant Threats, PCs advance to 6th
- Chapter 3 Savage Frontier mini-quests, PCs may advance depending on how much they do.
- Chapter 4 Adventure paths revealed, PCs advance to 8th
- Chapter 5 Hill Giant Lord, PCs advance to 9th
- Chapter 6 Stone Giant Lord, PCs advance to 9th
- Chapter 7 Frost Giant Lord, PCs advance to 9th
- Chapter 8 Fire Giants Lord, PCs advance to 9th
- Chapter 9 Cloud Giants, PCs advance to 9th
- Chapter 10 Storm Giants, PCs don’t gain a level
- Chapter 11 Recover the Giant King, PCs advance to 10th
- Chapter 12 The real power behind the plot.
- Appendices A-D
- Good plot. I liked the overall themes and characters introduced.
- Lots of subplots and quests. The many little subplots and quests introduced early in the book are excellent. This provides plenty of material to let the players branch from what could be a linear module and also contributes a campaign feel to the adventure.
- The introductory adventure was pretty good. I liked the differing parts, such as the city crawl and the dungeon crawl. A very interesting NPC is introduced.
- The Adventure flowchart is useful when you initially read the book but isn’t required once you’ve familiarized yourself with the book.
- The introduction of enemy giants in chapter 2 brings them into the adventure immediately.
- Exciting epic Giant battles. I like the use of different Giant types and their different lairs.
- I also like the Giant Lord motivations which aren’t the simple “I’m evil, I kill people”.
- There is a wealth of material, both directly related and in the form of updated information, for any Forgotten Realms Campaign.
- Good integration with existing Forgotten Realms Lore. It feels very easy to drop this adventure into the FR world.
- Princes of The Apocalypse is recommended as intertwining with Storm King’s Thunder, and this is an excellent idea and lets the players move around the world in a more self guided fashion.
- A plethora of maps for cities, barbarian tribe locations, and enemy lairs.
- Poor overview of the adventures.
“Fire giants are press-ganging the small folk into the desert” Huh? This isn’t in the adventure at all.
“Small folk work together”? There’s no community rallying involved.
“Use their own power against them”? It’s really vague, and could apply to the runes and potions for the final combat, but neither are significant to the module.
“Even the elusive cloud giants have been witnessed, their wondrous floating cities appearing above Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate.” These locations also have nothing to do with the adventure. This review could be for an entirely different product.
- Poor use of the rune concept. There was so much potential here for a rune-based magical system. I was very bummed out the giants didn’t stumble upon old lore that was beginning to restore their magical abilities. Its hinted at in one section, but that’s all.
- One major villain gets a fair amount of screen time, but several others don’t, which is a waste of some great villains like the evil Giant daughters of the King.
- As written, the module doesn’t use all of the material. If the DM follows the adventure as designed, your PCs will only get to one of chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 due to the way the plot is laid out. This is the biggest flaw in the book, but easily fixed. Since I don’t personally like the use of milestones AND I have so much extra material, I’m using the extra parts to flesh out the campaign feel. I explain how below in the “How I’m using the book” section.
- The rune magic items seem more powerful as portable magic than as stationary permanent magic.
- No separate large maps included like in Curse of Strahd. Chapter 3 contains updated information and adventure locations all over the Savage North. The section on Barbarians is good but begs for a map showing the territory of each tribe.
- 2 page epic artwork. I enjoy sprawling illustrated scenes, such as depicting an attack on a village, however the giants battling on pages 14-15 and 238-239 seem unrelated to the actual adventure. The page space would have been better suited to artwork depicting adventure events or, even better, additional maps or content.
- The giants’ cloud castle is okay but really uninspired. Another cloud giant castle referenced in Horde of the Dragon Queen is better; other fantasy modules and adventures have done better cloud castles too.
- Integration with other products such as the Dragon Queen books are suggested, but no in depth advice is given for how to do so. It requires additional reading and dedicated preparation for when the PCs encounter those referenced locations, such as the cloud castle of Blagothkus.
- The book Princes of the Apocalypse is referenced as a transition possibility, but what’s not mentioned is all the descriptions given of locations and NPCs that are useful in fleshing out the Dessarin Valley when the PCs are adventuring there.
- You have the opportunity for the players to find the initial cloud castle from Chapter 1 in a later chapter of the book. However, in that later chapter, little guidance is given to the DM (and thus the players) about the initial encounter’s impact on the bad guys – namely whether they care about that first event or not.
- A map bundle on DMs Guild. It would be nice to have a bundle with all the maps for those of us that like to print them out separately, especially full size (5 foot square to 1 inch).
- No online add-on material for the book. There is plenty of material that could have been provided online. Player content as well as the NPCs from Appendix D.
- An Index would have been very useful to find write ups on all the named people, businesses and locations mentioned.
- Reduce the encouragement of the Murder Hobo’s style of attacking and killing everybody for XP and loot, and a variation of Murder Hobo, which is sneak in everywhere, and steal everything in sight.
Comments on the Appendices
There are great ideas here. However, it seems odd to use some of them as written, such as the Cloud Giant that is transporting a white dragon and cult of the dragon allies.
Appendix B: Magic Items
The magic items and their abilities are fine. I expected, and I suspect many readers will as well, “rune” magic to be a rules expansion. Use of the term rune to describe some magic items was a big disappointment. The extra ability to make a permanent magic item or area is nice, but still underwhelming.
Appendix C: Creatures
I liked the monsters described. Bringing in old favorites such as Tressym and Yak folk was a good idea. The extra giant combat options offer nice flair and improve the combat abilities of each kind of giant.
Appendix D: Special NPCs
The NPCs are fleshed out well and the concept to use them is fine. However, it would have been much better to have additionally published the group of temporary party member NPCs as a downloadable PDF to make using them easier for the players to run, rather than requiring the use of a copier or manually rewriting.
Use in a campaign
- I have always looked at any adventure as a suggestion so, while I may not like something, I’m always willing to modify it for my own purposes. It’s been very easy to tweak this adventure.
- Caution. Read the book thoroughly. There are elements called “featured encounters” that can show up at the DM’s discretion; you want to know when to invoke them.
- There are parts of the books that feature very loose direction to allow for discovery. Have plans for this discovery. See Chapter 3. This is where the heaviest sandbox elements can be found.
- I’m not a big fan of the use of milestones, which I think is an admission that the authors want the PCs to zoom up in levels faster than D&D 5e is designed for. Chapter 1 gives specific guidance for gaining levels for achieving goals. As a DM I prefer to simply provide an extra encounter or two as appropriate to ensure the PCs reach the indicated levels.
- I’m using more of the chapters focused on each Giant Lord. Chapters 5 – 9 are each focused on one type of giant; I believe that the PCs will want to encounter several of the types of giants during their Storm King’s Thunder campaign, not just one group. In my own campaign, I don’t intend to let the plot be too straightforward and skip those “extra” chapters. This will be an advantage that offers extra XP, which compensates for my choice not to use milestones.
- Chapter 2 Rumblings has three separate settlements that are attacked by giants, of which only one will be used. I’m using two of the three settlements since they are fairly close in the Dessarin Valley. The PCs have found information regarding plans for a second attack.
- By using many if not all of the Giant Lords before or after chapters 10 & 11, you will set up the party better for the Epic battle in Chapter 12, which has a really tough villain.
- The two evil storm giant sisters to the current heir apparent Queen get little to do, yet they’re at the core of the plot. I’m working on developing more content involving them. This could be a major addition to the adventure.
- I’m using lots of material from Princes of The Apocalypse. It’s set in the Dessarin Valley, which is featured in two of the encounters in Chapter 3. I’m also planning to integrate the cultists’ activities as more secretive rather than so blatant as in the original presentation.
- I’m pairing it up with the Sword Coast Adventures book because Storm King’s Thunder is set in the Sword Coast. Additional locations are described better, the same with deities and NPCs. All of that is valuable.
- This book is a major expansion on Forgotten Realms lore and content. That means it’s useful even for FR campaigns on the other side of the world; the Giants can feasibly show up anywhere to accomplish the goals in the book.
- In any campaign where the Giants attack nearby settlements, these attacks can be used to prod the heroes into a new area. The various attacks can also serve as news about bad things happening all across the Realms.
- Likewise, if the heroes wonder why they alone are investigating the Giant attacks, you can create extra attacks to show how the entire Sword Coast is up in arms from giant attacks. Adventurers are needed from all over the Sword Coast to attack and defend against giant attacks.
A Player’s Perspective
From John: Being a player in this campaign, and a long time Game Master, creates an interesting perspective on how the module runs. From a player’s perspective, the adventure provides an incredible opportunity to face off against incredible challenges and fearsome enemies. Though the challenges are huge, the rewards are as big and the adventures are fun. The structure of the adventure (from what I can see of it as we play) has many built in elements and it is somewhat necessary to follow along with the plot, though there are more than enough reasons to pursue what is going on within the world. The theme and story is interesting to uncover, and it isn’t a hard sell as a player when you hear you are going to be fighting giants. Storm King’s Thunder provides what feels like a quintessential D&D experience, full of epic battles and great rewards. As a player, there is plenty of opportunity to pursue your own goals and options within the framework, and the backdrop of the story keeps you engaged with interesting elements.
Have you played or run Storm King’s Thunder? What are your impressions of it? What questions do you have about the product and how it works?
We provided the review copy of Storm King’s Thunder to our reviewer, but the battle we had against fire giants was so epic, we wanted to help you recreate it. So, instead of giving away a copy of the book, we are giving away two unpainted Bones fire giant miniatures from Reaper Miniatures. We purchased these to give to you, and no compensation from Reaper was provided. WOTC provided us the review copy of the book which went to the reviewer. The two miniatures we are giving away are Skorg Ironskull, Fire Giant and Vanja Fire Giant Queen. Whoever wins these, go make an awesome and epic battle for your players! To be entered, all you have to do is leave a comment here before November 3rd. We’ll reach out then and get shipping details.