Running Storm King’s Thunder Chapter Two: Goldenfields Route

I’m reviving my website for 2021, so let’s jump back in to Storm King’s Thunder, a Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons Adventure for level 1-10.  My group varied in size between 3 and 7 characters, finally settling on a core group of five players.  We played all the way to the grand finale, with all 31 sessions played virtually (before it was “cool”).  This session count included several home-brew scenarios that focused on character backstories.

Please note: this is information for Dungeon Masters: there will be spoilers for Storm King’s Thunder after this point!

Campaign binder: definitely on the list of things to grab in case of a fire!

Chapter 2:  Rumblings : Goldenfields Route

I was nervous to run this chapter.  All of the DM tips and streams I could locate online focused on the Bryn Shander or Triboar scenarios, but I had my heart sent on sending my adventurers to the temple-farm, Goldenfields.  I have never seen a setting like this in D&D and the NPC’s were bursting with personality, including a living tree, a yeti-man, and a secret agent.

I had the party meet each of the NPC’s as they explored Goldenfields; Zi at the front gate, Shalvus watching sheep, Lifferlas playing with kids, and Oren, Naxene and Miros at the inn.  With everyone already friendly, the party was ready to join forces with the citizens of Goldenfields when chaos broke out that night!

The multi-stage Battle of Goldenfields was daunting and took two sessions to resolve.  I also had a session in the middle where only three players could join – instead of reducing the scale of the battle, I had them relive some moments from their past to begin weaving their backstories into the campaign.

Most players in my group were excited to run an NPC, and since we play in Fantasy Grounds, it was not difficult to show them how to use the additional characters.  I encouraged everyone to play an NPC, but this isn’t necessary, and if I had it to do again, I would not push it so hard!  The battle can be won without the extra help, or of course, the DM could run the NPC’s just as easily if the party needs more muscle.  They could even be left out until things started looking dicey – and then come to the rescue as needed!

I made notes for myself to ease the transition from one group of monsters to the next: 

Wave 1:  3 Gangs of Enemies, the party will have the chance to clear two gangs while the third will flee when the alarm bell sounds.

Wave 2:  Players will (ideally) follow the warning bell to face Giants in the interior of the farm.

Wave 3:  The final encounter with a large army from the outer wall of the farm. They enjoyed trying different battle strategies on the riffraff below!

My players kept all of the NPC’s alive during the encounters, and I tweaked their reward quests to build our path through the sandbox portion of the game; Chapter Three.  After all of that combat, I made sure each player had the opportunity to chat with the grateful NPC’s for a festive roleplay finale to Goldenfields.

Thank you for reading! Please comment if you have any questions on running this massive battle!  Or chime in with any tips for DM’s who also want to take their players down to the farm!


Running Storm King’s Thunder: Part One

GoblinWebI’m running Storm King’s Thunder, a published Dungeons & Dragons adventure for characters of level 1 – 10, and it’s amazing.  I’ll go over our first few sessions playing Chapter One: A Great Upheaval, providing some Dungeon Master tips for those who are ready to run this GIANT adventure in the North.

The first chapter of this adventure is optional.  You can start your players at level five and begin on chapter two, but unless you are in a big hurry, or your players hate the idea of starting at first level, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning.  If you think you’ll be a player character in this game sometime in the future, skip this article and save the surprise!  And if you’ve already had the pleasure, read on to see how our group fared.

We played “A Great Upheaval” over four sessions that lasted 2-3 hours apiece, with four or five PC’s each session.  Players gained a level after each session, which everybody loved!

Session One: Nightstone

Adventurers enter the city of Nightstone to offer their services to clear a local goblin threat.  They find the city evacuated, peppered with boulders (which were apparently dropped on the city from above), and being looted by the aforementioned goblins.

Goblins are wreaking some very charming havoc on Nightstone, and let me tell you, they are a joy to run.  More than once, my players stated they felt guilty for spoiling their fun (Watch the Amazon Prime Acquisitions Inc special if you’d like to watch Patrick Rothfuss grapple with similar emotions).  The group took one looting goblin hostage, who became their temporary team mascot.

I played Kella at the inn as extremely evasive, and my players didn’t trust her as far as they could throw her.  They didn’t get farther than cleaning up the goblins during session one, and I did allow them a long rest, though the book’s advice is to have the Zhentarim threat show up before they get to sleep.

DM tips: This session bogged down because I didn’t have my mechanics down.  I’m DM-ing this on a virtual tabletop for the first time (we’re using Fantasy Grounds) and I was lucky to have another DM in the party who was familiar with the software and could direct me.  For anyone like myself starting an adventure with new technology, my main advice for session one prep would be to run yourself through a few combats before you bring your group to the table to familiarize yourself with the tools.

Besides my learning curve, I could tell one player was disappointed there was no map of the interior of the windmill.  Next time I have a city map like this, I’ll try to prepare a quick random map of locations that look fun but weren’t included.

Other than that, just have fun with these goblins!  I ran them like evil children, and my players “adopted” one of them, to my delight.

Session 2: Battle for the Soul of Nightstone

The Zhentarim, an underground organized crime network, arrive with the intent to take over the town.  The guards in the castle are rudderless and mourning their lost Lady.  And unbeknownst to all of them, an Orc horde is about to descend upon the village.

My players were not surprised when Kella turned out to be in the mafia.  They played it cool with the Zhents and were offered cash to get the remaining guards out of the castle, one way or the other.  They joined forces with the guards at the castle, ran the Zhentarim out of town, and closed the gate when the orc horde began crashing through the forest toward the wall.

DM Notes: This is another straightforward session that allows for more conversation, roleplay, and strategy than the goblin encounters.  But the orc attack wasn’t as action packed as I would have liked.   Running more than twenty tokens in Fantasy Grounds made my initiative drag.  If I had it to do again, I might break the orcs up into separate groups of initiative order just to shorten the time between player actions and make the battle feel more immediate and exciting.  Or perhaps have some of the orcs “fade into the trees” until the scouts found the entrance at the south of town, leaving enough to be targets from the wall to continue the fight, but not so many as to bog down combat.

Session 3: The Dripping Caves

Gum-Gum the goblin, now with a full-blown case of Stockholm Syndrome, leads the party to the cave complex to the north of the city.  She explains to them that her best friend Snigbat would rather be boss, and that there are three entrances, one of which has a “scary blob” nearby.

The party opted to enter the caves through the chimney and meet up with Snigbat, who was overjoyed to see Gum-Gum back safe and sound.  She bartered with the group; in exchange for destroying Hark and the ogres, she’d release all the prisoners once she was boss of the Dripping Caves.  She even added that they’d stop harrying the village (pretty clearly crossing her fingers behind her back) under her superior leadership.

This is the campaign’s first dungeon-crawl, and it was pure classic D&D fun.  The goblins continue to be colorful, particularly Hark and his beloved “fur babies”, to which I applied some purse chihuahua flair with bows and fancy collars.  The party cleared the black pudding in addition to the ogres and the hostile goblins, and I implied that this would reduce the need for the remaining colony to roam toward the village.

I tried to have the party feel the gratitude of the villagers, throwing a party at the Inn that night where people brought presents and a couple of magic items (a bag of holding, one healing potion, and a folding boat), in addition to some treats (cigars from the halfling family and bread from the baker), but these weren’t as memorable as the little animal skull necklaces that I had Gum-Gum give the party as they parted.

DM Tips: This map plays out like poetry… just enjoy it!  And if your party has made any friends among the NPC’s, maybe bestow a few keepsakes or souvenirs… but only from their favorites.

Session 4: The Tower of Zephyros

The brave adventurers are on the move again, this time heading north to deliver bad news and a beloved pet tressym to one Miros Xelbrin of Goldenfields.  It’s just a short journey north… but before they leave town, a cloud giant’s tower appears in the sky over Nightstone.

I hooked my adventurers to Goldenfields by also mentioning that Miros had done some amateur research on the Nightstone, which I plan to incorporate into the later story (if possible).  I also had forgotten to read the winged cat’s name, which I thought was kind of true to life- the innkeep probably wouldn’t know the name of the Xelbrin’s cat!- and the party dubbed her “Luna”.

I was sweating as I prepped this session.  There are two encounters to run and I was ready to do both.  Still, I worried this session would fall short and flat.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken!  This was the most hysterical night of D&D I’ve played in a long time. My players loved Zephyros.  I voiced him as Derek Zoolander, gave him a penchant for pipe weed, and had him gently scold them for littering his tower with dead cultists.  They ran rampant in his tower, trying to set the navigation orb for low earth orbit, asking to be picked up like action figures during battles, and setting up the ultimate blanket fort under his table.

DM tip: I did try to help my players understand that the Shield Dwarves in the second encounter were honorable by having Zephyros’ only action be to cast mass suggestion to try to have the dwarves explain themselves.  Yes, this encounter is not supposed to happen on the way to Goldenfields… and yet it did!  Definitely include it.

By the time the party was dropped off at Goldenfields, Zephyros was as much a friend as Gum-Gum had been.  I provided another “campaign souvenir” in the form of various containers stuffed with Zephyros’ special blend of “tobacco”.

So far, Storm King’s Thunder has been a memorable adventure, full of character and charm.  Wizards of the Coast did a fantastic job on this one, and if you’re looking for your next adventure, I highly recommend it!  Next time I’ll offer my perspective on running Chapter 2: Rumblings.

Have you played any SKT or are you planning to in the future?  I’d love to hear how things went for you or all about your plans in the comments!



Spectator Dungeons and Dragons: In the Eye of the Beholder

GoldDragonI’m sad to say that a few years ago, I’d stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Late nights filled with drinks, snacks, character sheets and kobolds were gem-like memories from younger days.  Life and time had seen the party scattered to the four winds, but we always looked back fondly on our adventures.

Then one lazy night cruising YouTube, I saw Dungeons and Dragons pop up as a suggested video.  Soon my husband and I were watching Chris Perkins, Dungeon Master to the stars, run an Acquisitions Incorporated live game at one PAX or another.  Come to find out, a group of friends bullshitting, laughing and fighting monsters makes for some fun entertainment, even if you’re not at the table yourself.

Dungeons and Dragons has exploded since then.  Thanks to the purity of 5th Edition, the game is more accessible than ever.  Pop culture references to the game abound, and YouTube and Twitch campaigns flourish and multiply.

If you love D&D, you’re might already be watching a game or two.  But if you’re wondering what the game is like, watching online is a no-risk, free way to familiarize yourself with game and see if it’s something you’d like to try.

Some things I’ve picked up along the way:

Learn from the Master

My favorite online Dungeons and Dragons would be Chris Perkins’ Acquisitions Inc. campaign, whether it be a podcast, a YouTube short series, a Christmas Special on Amazon Prime, and especially the spectacles created for the PAX live games.  Featuring a variety of players, amazing costumes (or jeans and t-shirts), audience participation, and grand set pieces, these games are exuberant celebrations of Wizard of the Coast’s  adventures.  Why not start with the PAX West 2016 game, the inspiration for my drawing above, which was actually broadcast in movie theaters across the country in 2016?

Chris also has a game on Twitch/YouTube called Dice Camera Action, in which he plays with a group of fun players that seem to be actively trying to annihilate themselves.   It’s very informative as a DM to watch Mr. Perkins balance the spotlight between players and weave the Waffle Crew’s questionable decisions into the story without requiring new characters to be rolled up each week.

D&D; the New Soundtrack of your Life

The nature of D&D games is to play for a decent stretch of time.  I can’t honestly encourage anyone to take up watching D&D like television, but D&D is great to listen to while you work on creative projects, do home improvement, exercise, etc.   I listen to Critical Role when I work out, clean house, draw, or have insomnia.  Critical Role is a different kind of game that is played by a group of professional (nerdy-ass) voice actors for equal parts drama and laughs.  This has also been very helpful learning the 5th Edition mechanics for many different kinds of characters.  Both Matt Mercer and Sam Riegel had great advice on learning improv to improve your mental dexterity, which led me to pick up a book on the subject.   Also, listening to Sam Riegel hype the sponsor of the week is truly a joy.

The Only Winning Move is to Play

This story has a happy ending; we got our old group back together and play online using Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop and Mumble voice chat.  We use official adventures for minimal prep time in our busy grown up lives, but still get into just as much trouble.  I DM my own campaign thanks to all I’ve learned watching these great adventures online.  There’s a plethora of tools to choose from, so check into what would work best for you and your beloved party and get back to the dungeon soon.  Watching is great and all, but nothing compares to creating your own insanity with your nearest and dearest!

Is a Partial Solar Eclipse Worth Watching?

eclipseI wanted to get to the totality during the Great American Eclipse of 2017.  I mapped my closest route, we ordered non-counterfeit glasses, and did a quick hotel search.  Three weeks before the big day, I found one room available… for $1,000.00.

Even with free continental breakfast, I’m a little too Midwestern to drop a grand on a night at a Holiday Inn.  I weighed the pros and cons of driving in, but when our glasses didn’t arrive before we left town for Gen Con, we drove back home to the 85% zone.

I asked Google, “Is an 85% solar eclipse even worth watching?”  The eclipse chasers said not to bother; the barely dimmed sunlight won’t change your life like seeing that beautiful corona with your own eyes.

I disagree, and I’ll tell you why.  But first, what will you need to enjoy an 85% (or more… or less) solar eclipse?

You’ll need:

  • eclipseglasses
    Your eyeballs will thank you!

    Eclipse glasses from a legit source, and ordered nice and early! Get extras for unorganized friends and for yourself, since the paper ones are only good for a few minutes before you lose your staring contest with the sun in a big way.

  • Vacation day from work/school/etc.
  • The luck of a clear day. Check the weather and drive out from under clouds if you can.
  • A team to share the adventure. This may be the most important element, but more on that later.

What you’ll see:

It gets a little dark, like any cloudy day.  As the eclipse progresses, everything goes a bit green.  When you pop your glasses on and look at the sun, a black disc has begun to impose itself over dull orange fire.  It’s straight out of a sci-fi film, but this isn’t CG.  This is real life, Skippy!

I didn’t see the camera obscura effect from the shadows of leaves on trees I saw described online.  We watched the sun grow dim and brighten back up on the back deck, laughing at the news coverage (Carhenge was a highlight) and planning for 2024.

Why it’s great to watch every solar eclipse you can, even if it’s not 100%:

The last solar eclipse I saw was an Annular eclipse in 1994.  I was off school for a dentist appointment and watched it through four plates of my father’s welding glass (don’t do this, by the way… oh 90’s, we just didn’t have enough internet to save us back then).  When the sun went dim, I was reminded of the darkened over-world map at the end of Lunar, a favorite video game at the time.

Watching this partial eclipse more than two decades later, I shared these memories with my mother on the back deck, who also remembered the odd light and the welding glass.  My husband talked about viewing the same eclipse through a pinhole camera with his classmates.  We’d seen the same astronomical event eleven years before we met.

That’s why you should watch, even though it won’t “change your life” like a total eclipse apparently does (we’ll see in 2024, fingers crossed).  More rare and special than any holiday, I think it’s worth it to watch any solar eclipse that crosses your home sky.  You can string these rare memories together, compare them with friends, and wonder where you’ll be when the next one comes around.

Gen Con 50: Nerdvana Achieved

Enjoying a game in Lucas Oil Stadium, no football involved

Gen Con: a blur of aching feet, bleeding cash, and unforgettable experiences that make the whole thing worthwhile.  Whether you’re having an up close and personal brush with nerd celebrities, trying new games, chatting with strangers that “get” you, or exploring a True Dungeon (we survived this year!), Gen Con never fails to delight and overwhelm.  Here are some of my favorites from Gen Con 50!

Favorite New Game:  Custom Heroes

Custom Heroes: Uno on Steroids

We got down and dirty playing Custom Heroes at AEG Big Game Night.  This is a “trick collecting game” where the only thing that matters is who goes out fastest each round.  Think Uno on steroids.  This is the first “Card Crafting” game I’ve played, which means every card is a transparent plastic sleeve that can be altered by slotting more and more transparent mod cards to the original sleeve.  This game has a sense of humor, great art, and simple rules, so it’s a winner in my book.  We got pretty rowdy in our four player game; plenty of opportunities for underhanded deeds and bloody vengeance.


Exhibition Hall Swag: Polyhedral Dice

Polyhedral Dice: Prehistoric Friend

The exhibition hall was as amazing as ever, and this year I laser-focused my spending on Polyhedral Dice.  Some may say spending hard earned money on tiny pieces of molded plastic is an unwise investment… but I have found ordering interesting dice online is a dicey (sorry) undertaking at best.  Where else besides Gen Con could you find such an unparalleled selection?  I made sure to get my Vitamin Dice allotment every day at the Hall and ended up doubling my addiction collection!  These came in handy playing D&D with Greyhawk Reborn, which was probably my true highlight of the weekend.

The Good, the Best and the Random

I can’t believe we still Streetpass in 2017

The Good:  True Dungeon was incredible this year!  Our “NPC’s” injected tons of humor and the difficulty seemed a little kinder as well.

The Best: People are the best part of Gen Con.  We went out on a limb and played D&D with a group of strangers, and were rewarded with a DM who peppered our adventure with Hunter S Thompson quotes.  We had brushes with greatness (Scott Kurtz, Margaret Weiss, Tracy Hickman, and the cast of Critical Role).  Even interacting with people who’d join us at a table or chat us up while waiting in line, the camaraderie of being nerds enjoying nerdy stuff was heartwarming and legendary.

The Random:  Thank God I actually brought my Nintendo DS.  There are new Streetpass games and we were passing left and right.  Never change, Gen Con.