Sunday, July 3, 2022

#JULYGANTIC: Stealing Storm King's Thunder (Part One)

 There are plenty of reviews and walk-throughs of WotC's Storm King's Thunder (hereafter SKT) out there, so I'm going to try to focus on looking at the adventure sequence as something to possibly steal from, especially if you aren't a Forgotten Realms fan, or are looking for stuff to adapt more generically.    What chapters, encounters, and concepts are worth looting for your home campaign?  Is there solid "giant stuff" in SKT that doesn't rely on the metaplot?

Let's find out.

Absolutely smurfy!



The overarching plot of SKT is twofold.  First, the ancient Ordnung that structures giant society has been broken, so certain giant lords are attempting to assert their prominence in the eyes of the Giant Gods and take over leadership.  In practical terms that means we have a bunch of giants hatching plots and desperate gambles to reclaim land and glory (good, we can work with that).  The parallel/related plot involves intrigue at the court of the most powerful storm giant king as all this is going on - and while there's some interesting drama and NPCs here, this is the part of SKT that links to Tyranny of Dragons and uses the Kraken Society.  This plot thread isn't as easy to extract for conversion.

The adventure presents first a low-level scenario to introduce the idea that giants are on the move.  The PCs arrive at the village after a cloud giant attack from above and witness the devastation, deal with some lingering monster issues, and get one of several Exposition Quests to get to the next location.  This bit is meant to get you to fifth level so you can handle the rest of the adventure; WotC cleverly notes that you can transition directly from Lost Mine of Phandelver to the bulk of SKT.  The adventure provides a cloud giant with a flying tower who will helpfully take the PCs to the next quest hub of their choice.  But nowhere else!  CHOO CHOO

SKT offers three quest-hub towns and an overview of some wilderness with encounters.  I'm not going to dig into these sections as they are less giant-focused (there are giants around, and on the encounter tables, but the bulk of the material here is about the smallfolk).

One note about the maps in this adventure: like in many WotC hardbacks, the maps are pretty but SMALL and often colored in a dark and muddy fashion.  They want you to buy the maps digitally or something.  It's a shame, and further evidence (to the eye of a grump like me, anyway), that WotC doesn't think about people actually trying to run their game.

Chapter Four's giant temple is lootable as a location.  SKT assumes you'll take a railroad here alongside a powerful important NPC, learn some metaplot stuff, and then leave as your friend NPC engages in mortal combat with the BBEG dragon.  Yes, really.  The exposition in this chapter sends the PCs out to prove themselves in a quest, then back here, before they can move on to the next chunk of plot.

You are so lucky to be here to watch the plot move forward!

You could absolutely use the giant temple in other ways in your game, just replace the Metaplot Download at the end of it with something else - spell knowledge or whatever.  Obviously the setup and set dressing here assume Forgotten Realms-style giants (in 3.x and 5e we call those "all giants everywhere" I guess) - if your campaign world's giants diverge from this, you'll need to adjust a bit.


Then the book covers, in separate chapters, the efforts of some of the giant lords.  Much of this is lootable!  And SKT seems to assume that your party will only do one of these quest-lines in the first place, because once you've done one, you've levelled out of the others.  In-story, you're just sacking one giant location in order to get a magic conch so you can teleport to The End Bit involving the storm giants.

Steading Of This Other Hill Giant Chief.  Chief Guh (Hill Giant) believes she can gain glory by eating everything in sight and becoming the largest - ie fattest - giant possible.  She makes her home in Grudd Haug, a giant steading in the form of a massive beaver-dam-like structure across a river.  As you might expect, the steading features hill giants, ogres, and hobgoblins, and orcs.  It's not huge, but at least the adventure allows for the likelihood that the PCs will try to sneak in and/or parley with Chief Guh herself.  The ettin who tends the pigs is nicely named Oinker-Boinker; I don't know if there's like one person in the bullpen at WotC who considers every sliver of humor that makes it in a book a major victory or what, but I'll take Oinker-Boinker over just about any Faerunian NPC name all day every day.

 Overall I think "beaver dam hill giant steading" plus "hill giant chief trying to get Super Fat" are cool ideas, and you could drop Grudd Haug in a hex on your map without difficulty.  Chief Guh could be an up-and-coming rival to Nosnra from Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain.  Faction play, folks.

Canyon of the Stone Giants. Thane Kayalithica (Stone Giant) wants to eliminate smallfolk settlements on traditional giant land.  The stone giants at this location can meditate to gain extra powers and tremorsense, and the adventure notes which ones as thusly buffed.  Also, they have evil human barbarians as allies.  Since this location is a canyon, there's lots of potential for climbing shenanigans; and since it's been home to stone giants for millenia, there are petrified stone giant cadavers half-melded into the stone throughout.  You could potentially get some memorable battles going on here, with verticality.  Don't forget the petrifying quicksand...  The stone giants of Deadstone Cleft are meditative types; I can't help but wonder if a 3.x version of this location would've given some of them monk levels.

One of the schticks for Kayalithica is that she thinks she's using a sacred stalactite to talk to her god, but she's actually talking to an earth primordial (oh look, they survived from 4e, I had no idea!).  It's this primordial who's put the idea in her head to destroy the surface dwellers.  There are a number of encounters in the cleft, and a couple of traps.  Could be repurposed as any stone giant lair of considerable size.  I could definitely see PCs wanting to obtain an audience with The Voice In The Stalactite since it knows everything.

Berg of the Frost Giants. Jarl Storvald (Frost Giant) has a fleet and some dragons and is seeking a Forgotten Realms macguffin artifact called the Ring of Winter.  Svardborg is a massive floating iceberg that serves as home to these frost giants, their enslaved white dragons, and the barbarians they've also enslaved.  Oh, and some Zhentarim, because they're also after the Ring.

Don't forget, the NPCs and WotC metaplot are more important than whatever your PCs are doing.

The toroidal iceberg of Svardborg is big, with multiple buildings on top, some tunnels beneath, and a donut-hole in the middle where ships are moored.  You could do some pretty cool raiding against a setup like this.  And what group of self-respecting PCs wouldn't want to steal this thing as headquarters, if only for a while?  This location is the most challenging yet, combat-wise, due not only to the dragons but the sheer number of frost giants.  You could ignore all the Ring of Winter nonsense and just use this lair.  

Forge of the Fire Giants. Duke Zalto (Fire Giant) looks to get revenge against giants' old enemies, the dragons, and he thinks the way to do it is to recover and reactivate an ancient fire giant dragonslaying mecha.  You read that right.  Zalto is searching for the pieces of this adamantine 'bot, and simultaneously teaming up with some drow in order to steal the fire primordial which can power the whole thing.  Note the drow presence as homage to Against the Giants, of course.  There are also yak-men, which makes me happy.  You will be unsurprised/pleased to hear that this fire giant lair also has hell hounds and salamanders, because of course it does.

Ironslag is a decent enough fire giant complex - and large - but it's at this point in reading the adventure that I'm becoming really aware of how wordy all these location descriptions are.  It also occurs to me that the DDAL Season 5 epic The Iron Baron is tightly tied to this Duke Zalto stuff, so maybe I'll need to go read that and see if that adventure is a better fire giant forge-garrison to use out of the box.  

Castle of the Cloud Giants.  Countess Sansuri (Cloud Giant) is torturing a bronze dragon looking for information about a lost dragon-trove of magic.  She is surrounded by her faux-aarakocra servitors. Other than the dragon to free, this location doesn't have a lot of stuff going on - nothing weird, just the cloud giants and their servants.  Oh, and the cloud giant children, who are all Neutral (I guess when a cloud giant hits 18 they choose to be good or evil?).  This is another location your PCs will try to commandeer if they're worth their salt.

Although this cloud giant castle is aimed at 8th-level PCs and has a commensurate number of foes, I think I might actually like the cloud castle in Cloud Giant's Bargain better.  I'm not sure why - it might be that because it's aimed at a lower level party, it makes choices that are a little lighter or more fairy-tale instead of "just" being a fortified flying castle.

We'll come back for a Part Two and look at the final sequence of SKT - storm giants, a dragon in disguise, and more.

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