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The Giants Are Coming! The Giants Are Coming! (a review of ‘Storm King’s Thunder’)

3che6dhThe ground has been shaking over at Wizards of the Coast lately, and why not?

The giants are coming!

This month, Wizards of the Coast released their latest D&D campaign sourcebook, Storm King’s Thunder, and it’s been the talk of every tavern from Waterdeep to The Shining Lands. After the Weird of the Underdark campaign and the gothic horror of Curse of Strahd, it’s good to see D&D get back to a more classic flavored adventure with a straight up storyline featuring giants of all stripes and some dragons.

Some readers may be old enough to remember the giant adventure models of the late 70s (Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King) and its Drow and Demonweb sequels. Storm King’s Thunder is not a retelling or sequel to these adventures, but an all new story in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

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After years of a semblance of order in the giantish communities, things have suddenly run amok. Hill giants are raiding farms and villages, fire giants are driving “small folk” into the desert, frost giants are pillaging the coasts. What is going on?

The strict pecking order of giants have kept order has been dissolved and now it’s every giant clan for themselves, and it’s wreaking havoc in the rest of the world.

If the small folk are to survive, they must investigate, explore, and fight to restore order… and perhaps discover a mysterious force behind these goings on.

That’s a pretty hefty adventure hook.

Technically, this is an adventure for player characters from levels one to ten, but in reality it’s more for starting at fifth level. The first chapter of the book contains a number of missions and tasks players can fulfill to move them up to fifth level before the real meat of the adventure starts. This isn’t some bait and switch move, though. Doing it this way means you can have players who just finished a more low-level adventure module such as Lost Mine of Phandelver to jump right into the Storm King’s Thunder storyline.

Because Storm King’s Thunder offers a system of award leveling via milestones rather than pure experience point counting, it makes for a more streamlined advancement.

(Reviewer’s unsolicited opinion: I’m not sure how I feel about this whole “milestone” business, although I must say that grinding wandering monsters in a musty dungeon for XP can be a little exhausting when working at higher levels. Personally, I would try to adopt a mixture of the two which, fortunately, would not be difficult to do with Storm King’s Thunder).

airship

The book itself runs 256 pages with many glorious full color maps and illustrations including at least three double page spreads. Gorgeous work as always from WotC. With the introductory missions for levels 1-5, there are a total of twelve chapters, plus four appendices.

One very neat feature is a flowchart for the adventure which is of immeasurable help to a DM trying to keep track of the story.

Wizards of the Coast has made some of the material available for free at the Dungeon Masters Guild website. Check here for one of the starting missions, and note the list of other materials available from that site. This mission is also available in the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop format.

The official price is $49.95 which seems steep, but can be had for significantly less from Amazon. As always, I urge you to support your local gaming store. It may cost a bit more there, but your local game store gives back to its customers more in community and game space.

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As for the story, it’s a fully fleshed out story with many opportunities for players. Expect to do battle with every stripe of true giant, explore castles, storm-lashed coasts, frost-covered mountains, and more. There are over a dozen new magic items to discover, and at least one true artifact.

And, not to give away too much, players will not only interact with giants, but may become giants as part of the adventure.

It’s a meaty campaign.

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So, any criticisms?

A few, maybe.

For one, it’s another Forgotten Realms setting. Maybe I resent this because I’m an old Greyhawk hand, but it would be nice if Wizards of the Coast remembered there were other campaign settings with broad fan bases. I’ve heard more than one person wistfully wish for some more Dragonlance settings.

Another criticism comes down to this trend of publishing pricey campaign sourcebooks rather than more affordable, albeit shorter and less glamorous, module booklets. For a lot of us, $50 is a lot to plop down all at once for any kind of game (and not all reviewers get free advance copies, *cough, cough*).

That said, in thinking back to the days when I bought the individual modules for the Giants, Drow, and Demonweb series, they all added up to around $50–which was worth a lot more in 1980. And those pamphlet-like modules didn’t have as beautiful artwork as the hardcover books being produced today.

Take note–a lot of these sourcebooks eventually become officially available in PDF format at a cheaper price.

The material is dense. There is a lot of ground to cover–which may seem daunting to some DMs, but Wizards of the Coast tries to make things as organized as possible in an effort to keep DMs from getting lost. It helps that the campaign is a bit linear in its construction (with some side trips available). This keeps the unpredictability of an open sandbox campaign from driving the DM nuts.

Oh, hey, speaking of driving DMs nuts… you know what is also nice about this campaign? No new player prestige classes, spells, or abilities. Sure, they’ve included some rune magic, but other than that there will be none of that creeping feature-itis that has plagued past editions of D&D. Old school sensibilities are nice to see.

If you’re a virtual tabletop player, there is an excellent edition of Storm King’s Thunder available for the Roll20 system. It looks like they pulled out all the stops with meticulously rendered maps, dynamic lighting, medallions and more. All of the NPCs and monsters are at your fingertips, as well as the entire text of the book, and all of the artwork. Like the hardcover version, it’s a $49.95 price, but it seems worth it given all the work that went into it.

yakfolkFinally, if you’re not a campaign player or campaign DM, it’s still a good book to have on your shelf eventually. There are loads of unique traps and NPCs you can lift and use in your own adventures, and a wide variety of scenarios you can tailor to your individual needs.

It’s a recommended buy. As someone who has been disappointed in the past by some of D&D’s campaign offerings, I heartily approve of this one and think you’ll be in for a pleasant and hugely epic experience.
Cheers!

Unrelated additional news: Three weeks ago my wife gave birth to our son John “Jack” Eric Reilly Teehan. He’s a big boy, and smart. He shows a lot of promise. I’ve started a “dad blog” at DearJackrabbit.com. Please drop by and take a look when you can. You don’t have to tell me how awesome our child is, but I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t help yourself.

He is pretty awesome

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