Storm King’s Thunder is the new Dungeons & Dragons adventure from Wizards of the Coast that chronicles the sundering of the Ordening that used to dictate the hierarchy among giants, and the consequences for the smaller races as a result. The player characters must find out what has happened and how to fix it. It is a grand, sweeping epic that has reportedly been inspired by Shakespeare. As great as it is, however, there are a few places where you might want to take the story deeper.
Recently I listened to an episode of the Gamemaster’s Journey podcast by +LexStarwalker wherein he discussed some issues with chapter one of SKT. It got me thinking, and this is my take on some fixes for it. If you want to hear the podcast episode in question, visit his site here: Gamemaster’s Journey
The first chapter of SKT is meant to take the PCs from level 1 to 5 before they get into the real meat of the adventure, but some GMs and players might find it a bit “thin”. In fact, SKT as written may have originally been intended for the PCs to start at level 5, and even includes recommendations in the back for using other published adventures as a springboard for getting the PCs to level 5 before SKT instead of using the events in chapter one. (One of these suggestions is to use the adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver from the official D&D 5th edition Starter Set. This is a great adventure, and I am running it right now for my own group, hopefully as an introduction to SKT. Watch this blog for posts about our adventure!).
If you want to use chapter one of SKT to get the PCs to 5th level, you might be a bit underwhelmed by the events as written. In my humble opinion, the hooks given as reasons for the PCs to go to Nightstone in the first place don’t seem as compelling as they could, and (SPOILERS!) the events that take place in Nightsone, like the goblin raiders, could be revised a bit to make for some more interesting encounters.
In general with all story hooks I have always struggled with getting the PCs to the hook. It’s the old “tavern” dilemma. You’ve got a hook, but how do you get that hook to the PCs. Telling them they are looking for work, or just assuming they’re already on the mission seems ham-fisted to me.
Consider having one of the PCs linked to the hook deliverer in some way. That PC is the one who is responsible for enlisting the other party members, not you! For example, the secretary of a noble is friends with one of the PCs and asks him or her for a favour; or one of the factions approaches one of the PCs they have been watching for some time as a potential member, and asks them to put together a team of their choosing to complete a mission. This link to one member is far more plausible than a link to all members of the group, and certainly makes more sense than a stranger asking the whole party to buy into the mission. With that one personal link to one party member there will (hopefully) be more ownership of the mission by all the party members. You could even roleplay that PC going around the town enlisting the help of other adventurers, who are, obviously, the other PCs.
Here is another audacious idea… just read all the hooks to the players and ask them which one they want! If they don’t like any of the hooks, ask them why their character is going to Nightstone, you might be surprised by something even better that you hadn’t even considered. Just don’t tell them about the giants. 😉
Now, without further adieu, my suggestions for new hooks, and other changes…
Get Your “Hooks” Into Them!
The Runaway Bride/Groom – The son or daughter of a Waterdhavian noble ran away before his/her wedding, leaving behind a note that they are heading for Nightstone to seek guidance from an old family friend (Destiny Agganor, the Tiefling Midwife). The PCs are hired to go and bring him/her back for the wedding at all costs, and will be paid 10 gp each to do this. The runaway bride/groom is in the goblin caves with Destiny.
Rub the Nightstone – A sage or wizard in Waterdeep or Daggerford tells the PCs of an ancient prophecy regarding giants, and a great “sundering” that will rock the world. She has heard of the ancient object in the center of Nighstone for which the village is named, and hires the PCs to go there to take rubbings of the symbols that are reportedly chissled into the face of the stone and return to her so she can divine their meaning. She cannot go herself as she must head to Candlekeep to seek more information there, but will pay the PCs 10 gp each upon their return.
Arrest Kella – One of the factions other than the Zhentarim sends the PCs to arrest Kella Darkhope and bring her to Waterdeep for questioning. This hook works best if one or more of the PCs have chosen to join one of those factions, or they could be offered membership if they succeed. Obviously this hook won’t work well if one or more PCs are members of the Zhentarim.
Help Kella – If members of the party are part of the Zhentarim, and the rest are neutral where the factions are concerned, the PCs can be sent by a Zhentarim agent in Waterdeep or Daggerford to help Kella with her task of taking Nightstone. The agent does not know what has happened, only that Kella has expressed a desire for reinforcements to help infiltrate the village and be ready for her companions (led by Xolkin Allasander) to arrive.
An Overdue Message – This one is very simple; someone in Waterdeep or Daggerford offers to pay the PCs 10 gp each to head to Nightstone to learn what has become of one of the NPCs there. This patron is very concerned because the NPC in question has cut off their usual communication (possibly of a secret nature?) and may be in trouble.
Escort the Emissary – This one is based on the existing hook of negotiating with the elves of the Ardeep Forest. Lady Nandar sends a request to Waterdeep for an ambassador to negotiate with the elves, and the PCs are hired to escort the ambassador to Nightstone to meet with Lady Nandar. This is certainly more plausible than the inexperienced first-level PCs negotiating with the elves as in the existing hook!
Dwarven Diplomacy – This hook depends on one or more members of the party being dwarves. Something has happened in the Dwarfholds and an urgent, sealed letter must be delivered to Morak Ur’gray in Nightstone. The fate of one of his family members, and possibly their entire clan, depends on Morak receiving the letter and returning home as soon as possible.
Family Matters – Sometimes (often?) the best approach to getting players invested in the story is to make it personal, and to involve your players in creating the hooks for an adventure. Explain to the players that you would like their input, and ask them to consider having a family member, or important friend, living in Nightstone. There are ten main families from which to choose (the eight cottages/farms, plus the priest Hiral Mystrum, and Lady Nandar herself), or possibly one of the common guards that lives and works in Nightstone. This has the added advantages of allowing you to give the players a bit more information up front about the village and its inhabitants, as well as giving them a very personal reason for embarking on the larger quest of battling the giants (not to mention rescuing their friend/family member from the goblins!).
Faction Mission – Similar to the Arresting/Helping Kella hook, the PCs could simply be approached by one of the factions and asked to go to Nightstone to speak with Lady Nandar about setting up a permament faction presence.
In addition to the hooks above to add depth to the adventure consider some of the changes below to make the story more interesting.
The Temple – As written, the village priest, Hiral Mystrum, is a coward, and a prisoner in the goblin caves. As the PCs appoach the village they hear the incessant ringing of the temple bell, which is being rung by goblins who are “playing”. Frankly, this is silly, and makes the goblins seem not very threatening. Instead, consider having Hiral barricaded in his room in the temple with the goblins on the other side of the door trying to kill him. The bell is in a tower above the temple and is accessed from his room (as written). Hiral spied the PCs coming in the distance from the bell tower and has been ringing the bell ever since to get their attention in a desperate bid for help. Two of the goblins in the village were sent by their leader to find out why the bell is ringing, and stop it. The goblins are hacking away at the door with their swords, and the PCs have only a little time to rescue Hiral.
Nandar Keep – Lady Nandar is alive! Unfortunately she is also critically wounded from the giant attack, and is lying on the table as described in the text, attended by her remaining guards. They have barred the front door to the keep as well as the gates outside. The goblins have built a crude “bridge” over the hole in the actual bridge using bits of wood and detritus from the village. They are attempting to get in to the keep, but are still outside the gates. The PCs can see them from the Bailey side, and can attempt to cross the bridge to get them, however the goblins’ makeshift repair will only hold so much weight, so the PCs will need to be careful getting across, and some dexterity saves may be necessary. If the PCs defeat the goblins, rescue the village, and heal Lady Nandar, she will beg them to head for the caves to find the other villagers, offering them a large reward for their help, not to mention her undying gratitude, and a place in Nightstone whenever they wish.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Tell me in the comments what you think, or how you have handled chapter one of STK differently than how it is written. You can also find me on Twitter as @mjsoctober or on Google+ as +MichaelSchmidt.
Thanks for reading. Go roll those dice!