Torrential success or blast of hot air?
Storm King’s Thunder follows the maelstrom of giant clan infighting as it sweeps through the sword coast. While the titans fight for supremacy it is the “small” people who suffer most. This grand adventure may not have been 5e’s first, but it’s often the first one that’s recommended. Why is that? What about this giant storm is worth playing? Take a ride on this titan’s shoulder as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Storm King’s Thunder clocks in at 248 pages, which is about right for full-length adventures and further reinforced this as the standard size. A little over half of the book is devoted to the adventure itself, with a quarter devoted to extra goodies and another quarter devoted to the sword coast setting (more on that later). It includes:
- 17 new magic items.
- 27 new monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks.
- 37 detailed dungeon/area maps.
- The Storm King’s Thunder adventure path, running from 1st level to 10th level.
17 New Magic Items
Most of these are big legendary campaign ending items but some of them are useful as player rewards as well. I’m always happy to see new magic items and while most of these are too strong to use in a typical game, they are all a welcome sight, nonetheless. I particularly liked the “Gavel of the Venn Rune” which worked as a warhammer with some impressive sanctuary-like abilities.
27 New Monsters/NPCs
Surprisingly few giants on this list, as most of the needed giants, were covered in the first monster manual. Instead, this list is largely comprised of oddities adventurers might run into while exploring the sword coast, and a surprisingly large list of townsfolk NPCs for a particular story beat (more on that in a bit). Good stuff here and several entries are sure to be useful for your own adventures.
37 Detailed Dungeon/Area Maps
There’s a ton of lovely maps spread through this adventure. Not quite as detailed as in some of the other official adventure paths but very clearly marked and easy to work with. I also really appreciate that they put just as much effort into the optional path maps as they did with the mainline quests.
Storm King’s Thunder Adventure Path
Storm King’s Thunder takes place on the Sword Coast in the Forgotten Realms and centers around “The Ordining”. The Ordining is the cultural ranking by which the numerous giant clans arrange themselves and it has been shattered due to the titular Storm King’s disappearance. Now each giant clan is seeking their own glory and recognition, which largely takes the form of trampling the little folk in one way or another. It’s also a semi-sequel to the Tyranny of Dragons Arc and the Elemental Evil adventure, though the links are pretty loose, and you don’t need to read the previous books.
Storm King’s Thunder was the first premade 5e adventure path that I DM’d for a group from start to finish and we had a blast. It’s got quite a bit going for it, but quite a bit going against it as well:
The adventure hits the ground running with a very straightforward encounter saving a town from goblins. The situation progresses naturally as the town is embroiled in a series of increasingly dangerous situations. It’s after this first section that the adventure opens up in an extremely open-ended way. As a DM you’ll have your choice of 3 different towns to send them to with their own requisite plot hooks. These 3 choices are REAL options, which will eventually lead to another choice between which of 5 giant clans to go after. Entire acts of the adventure are interchangeable depending on what decisions you make as a DM and what choices the players make.
This is a bold move, which gives you a lot of freedom but simultaneously locks a lot of content behind paths not traveled. More than most pre-written adventure paths, Storm King’s Thunder feels freeform and open. This may be exactly what you’re looking for if that sort of sandbox open-ended style appeals to you.
More of the Sword Coast Than the Sword Coast Book
Chapter 3 of this adventure takes up about a quarter of the total book and why exactly that is takes a bit of explanation. At the end of chapter 2, players are left with very little direction and about a dozen potential minor plot hooks. Your party will be encouraged to go after whichever side quest they feel like, and that can take them literally from one end of the Sword Coast to the other. This section is massive because they tried to create some content for every nook and cranny of the Sword Coast that the players may decide to go.
To a very real extent, the adventure does a better job of fleshing out the Sword Coast than the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Sure, the guide has a lot more lore, but in terms of playable content Storm King’s Thunder is a wonderfully deep resource for any new adventures in this iconic location.
I appreciate the freedom here, but especially for new players or DMs, the main plot thread can easily be lost, assuming they had the thread, to begin with. This leads into the Storm King’s Thunder’s biggest problem, keeping the players on task.
Unique Town Assaults
During chapter 2, the players will be called upon to defend one of 3 towns from a variety of rampaging giants, and it does something unique that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Each of these towns has a selection of NPCs with handouts meant to be given to the players to control during these attacks. Each NPC has their own motivations and stats, and the players will have to control them and try to keep them alive while they also control their actual character. Each NPC has a reward or side-quest that the players only receive if they survive.
I adore this idea, NPCs can feel nameless and unimportant in town raids, but giving each player their own NPC to control makes them feel real.
Easily Lost Plot Threads
Chapters one and two are largely self-contained, plot point “A” leads cleanly into plot point “B”. Once you hit chapter 3 and beyond, the plot is largely dependent on where the players decide to go. This type of sandbox environment is great, but Storm King’s Thunder suffers quite a bit from lack of direction. Players are dumped into this open world with little to no actual information regarding the main plot. Other than “giants are wrecking stuff up”, there are no real hints regarding the main plot for an extremely long time. I’ve heard of numerous playgroups going completely off the rails with this adventure or even dissolving the game due to lack of motivation.
This is a bad case of giving DMs the information they need, without giving players enough information to get them involved. Thankfully this isn’t an insurmountable problem.
“A Guide to Storm King’s Thunder”
In my personal playthrough of the adventure path, I used “A Guide to Storm King’s Thunder” that you can download for free on DM’s Guild and I believe it’s still one of their most popular downloads. It goes through all the “fixes” for the adventure on each chapter, which mostly comprises of revealing bits of plot crucial information at key scenes along the adventure. Our game went much smoother due to these fixes. I have to judge the book as written, but if you do run the adventure path, I highly recommend looking up this fee guide as it smooths over a ton of the book’s most egregious issues.
Dependent on Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
You can technically run Storm King’s Thunder without knowing anything about the Sword Coast, and it tries to fill in a lot of information, but really you should also get the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide to run it properly. Storm King’s Thunder tries very hard to get the players involved with one or more of the many organizations of the Sword Coast like the Harpers or the Zhentarim, and if you aren’t familiar with them, you’ll likely trip yourself up as a DM. You can tell they tried to make it a standalone, but I expect a lot of new DMs to run into a lot of issues when players ask questions they don’t have the answers to.
What’s Good About the Book?
Balancing a sandbox with a full narrative adventure is difficult but with a diligent DM players can experience real freedom of choice while the DM can enjoy premade content wherever they decide to roam. The Sword Coast has adventure around every corner by design, and it’s a beautiful experience to simply choose a direction and find a new quest.
Storm King’s Thunder hits the ground running and genuinely feels like an old-school adventure without succumbing to the grindy nature of the earlier editions. Its wonderful approach to the town raids is utterly unique, and it has memorable NPCs that the players will likely adore.
What’s Bad About the Book?
This adventure more than any other 5e adventure is prone to losing the player motivation. It takes WAY too long to feed plot critical information to the players and many games will end with no direction or disillusioned boredom. Players shouldn’t have to play through half of the campaign without any idea what the adventure is about. It also relies a bit too heavily on other books for my taste, and I worry about new DMs missing crucial information.
I’m torn on Storm King’s Thunder, because I know that its worst problems are easily fixed but I also need to evaluate it purely as it was written. Storm King’s Thunder marks out a clear turning point for 5e adventures and it’s the start of a major change for the better. That being said I know several people who attempted Storm King’s Thunder and got lost, and eventually got soured on 5e because of it.
Storm King’s Thunder attempts to be simultaneously a full Sword Coast sandbox adventure and a huge overarching narrative following the giant’s Ordining. It comes so incredibly close to accomplishing both that its major problems were neatly fixed by an amateur writer.
As written, I expect most playgroups to run through chapters 1 and 2, then play for 4-5 sessions of chapter 3 before completely losing focus and either totally derailing the adventure or ending the campaign early.
With “A Guide to Storm King’s Thunder”, I expect most playgroups to run through the full adventure and to go through multiple entertaining side quests along the way.
Final Score as Written: 5 out of 10
Final Score With “A Guide to Storm King’s Thunder”: 7 out of 10
Check out the book HERE
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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