To Fight Giants, You Must Be Giant
From the back cover of Storm King’s Thunder: “Ages ago, giants and dragons waged war across the Savage Frontier. These battles are long forgotten by the human civilizations of today, but ancient relics remain. And now, the land shudders once more with the thunder of giant footsteps.”
Back in 2014 at Gamehole Con, Chris Perkins teased us with a hint about a future D&D story line that was “a giants based story influenced by a Shakespearean play”. Hey, why not right? Out of the Abyss is in some ways Cloverfield meets Alice in Wonderland and it works great.
Much rabid speculation about this hint unfolded in our nerdish, rpg fandom way (dear goodness, I love that rabid speculation so) in the intervening months but now we know it’s Storm King’s Thunder, the new adventure set in the Savage Frontier of the Forgotten Realms and according to Greg Tito the Shakespearean “gravitas” comes from King Lear (think a royal family and scheming siblings).
I’ve had my hands on a copy for a few days now, and here’s my giant thoughts on the whole deal!
Check out this video review, or read on below. Either way don’t forget the photo gallery at the end of this post!
- Cover Price: $49.95 (Amazon lists it much cheaper but make sure to support your FLGS!)
- 256 pages
- 12 chapters
- 4 appendices
- 17 magic items
- 9 creatures (plus new giant options)
- 18 special NPCs
- 4 storm giant NPCs (playable)
Note: There are no new player options, classes, spells, feats, etc. Yes, I know, this will disappoint many.
Thrice is Nice
There are three things included in Storm King’s Thunder I really feel are helpful and I would like to see these be standard moving forward for D&D adventures:
Dramatis Personae: An alphabetized list of major NPCs with a short description and the reference for where their main description can be found in the book. Very helpful for DMs. I’m not sure if it was included as a wink to the Shakespeare influence, but I like it.
Adventure Flowchart: Literally, a flowchart showing how the adventure can progress based on character levels. Some of it is on rails, some of it not. Out of the Abyss could have definitely benefited from a chart like this.
Linked Adventures: This appendix gives notes and tips on connecting previous adventures (Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Princes of the Apocalypse and Out of the Abyss). This is a great jumping off point immediately following Lost Mine of Phandelver.
Level With Me
Storm King’s Thunder is marketed as being for levels 1-10, in actuality the bulk of the adventure is for levels 5+, with the first chapter (that’s right, just the first chapter) having short adventures that will get the party to fifth level via milestones so they can begin the main story.
UPDATE: Wizards of the Coast has made Chapter 1 “A Great Upheaval” available for free on the DMs Guild.
Milestones, you ask? Why, yes, I answer. In fact Storm King’s Thunder has notes on milestone levels for each chapter so the savvy, modern DM can either use the standard, tried and true XP-based method of leveling the PCs up as they tromp along or just rely on milestones. It should be noted that parties starting at first level pretty much have to be milestoned to fifth level if you want to get into the main adventure.
What’s It All About, Though?
Story wise Storm King’s Thunder promises to be lot of fun, presenting a more traditional adventure than Out of the Abyss or Curse of Strahd yet giving it that certain something, let’s call it 5th Edition sensibilities. The story is in multiple layers and has the newer, more progressive storytelling style and maturity in characters, motivations and plots that WotC’s 5th Edition adventures have brought to the table.
The ordning (the giant “caste system” established by their gods with storm giants on top and hill giants on the bottom) has been shattered, and all of the giant species undertake various (and usually destructive to the “small folk” of the Realms) strategies to impress their gods and claim the top spot in the emerging new order. Factions vie and intrigues lie and it spells trouble for the giants and small folk alike.
In addition, dragons are looking to take advantage of this situation to use it against their old foes the giants and… is there yet another older, more powerful force lurking in the shadows and shaping events as well? Perhaps, perhaps.
It’s also worth noting that although this adventure is set in the Forgotten Realms, players will be in the North / Savage Frontier region. They’ll even spend time in the famous Bryn Shander and Ten Towns area.
Note: Storm King’s Thunder is not an update or retelling of the classic Against the Giants adventure from 1981.
I like what I see in Storm King’s Thunder very much, so much so there is a high likelihood this will be the next adventure I take my party through. It just feels so classic D&D, and I’ll want a return to “normalcy” (whatever that means in D&D) after we finish dealing with madness and demon lords in the Underdark.
Other Stuff I Wanna Mention
- Not only is the breaking of the ordning a major problem in and of itself, but players must also try to prevent war between the giants and “small folk” due to intrigues among scheming and greedy factions.
- During the course of the adventure the party will interact with and/or battle every species of D&D true giant, each with their own motives and goals.
- There are many giant lords outlined in the book, and notes and tips one creating your own to expand on the adventure.
- Venues for encounters run a wide gamut, from snowy mountains to the raging seas to castles in the sky and more. Don’t let the Savage Frontier concept lock you into a certain vision of what this adventure looks like.
- Several of the magic items are rune magic items that are cool on their own and also allow you to transfer the rune to a place or another object. There aren’t any rune magic characters options, however (as noted above, Storm King’s Thunder offers no new character options).
- The Wyrmskull Throne artifact is sweet. like. a. mug.
- Players will be able to fight both with and against giants, play giant NPCs and become giants themselves.
- There are Yakfolk. I repeat, there are Yakfolk. This is not a drill.
- Storm King’s Thunder continues the 5th Edition trend of excellent design and artwork, and in fact there are some nice two-page art spreads that are just fantastic.
Where’s The Beef?
If I have to find a beef to have with Storm King’s Thunder, it’s not with the product itself but with what appears to be WotC’s content strategy for 5th Edition: keep it all pretty much Forgotten Realms. Even Curse of Strahd basically had the party coming in to the demiplane from Faerûn and not being native Barovians, and was an adventure not a source book.
There are a lot of players asking for 5th Edition content for popular and storied settings such as Planescape, Dark Sun, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Eberron. I think it’s time WotC stepped up to the plate on that. The Realms are cool, but they are not the only playground D&D‘s rich history has to offer. 5th Edition has been with us long enough now to expand on the official settings available.
But I digress…
Storm King’s Thunder: Worth The Time And Money?
As usual with reviews of this type, I won’t offer a one size fits all answer that sells the product short as well as the wide spectrum of gamer types and interests that exist in our hobby. For me personally it’s a win and I want to play it.
So here is a spectrum of recommendations:
If you like more traditional D&D type adventures in the Forgotten Realms and want to return to that after the enjoyable but less standard adventures of Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd, pick this bad boy up.
If you are a fan of giants in fantasy and D&D, then pick this bad boy up. Even if you never play it you will like all the background info and artwork, etc.
If you like a more linear adventure with a few side options, Storm King’s Thunder is for you. If you love the more sandboxy approach of Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd you are going to be somewhat disappointed.
If you are tired of the Forgotten Realms and fantasy adventures involving classic monsters like giants and dragons, or you are just gasping for a different setting like Dark Sun or Planescape, then Storm King’s Thunder probably isn’t for you.
Last, if you are looking for a great jumping off point after The Lost Mine of Phandelver in the 5th Edition D&D Starter Set, this is a perfect adventure to pick up.
Thanks for your time, and enjoy the photo gallery below.