I’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!