Wednesday, April 26, 2017

D&D 5e: Running Storm King's Thunder - Part 3

Source: Tumblr of Gabriel Cassata, freelance artist 
(used with permission)
This series of articles started out as "Running Nightstone" but is expanding as I delve deeper into the book and learn lessons from running my group through it. This first post is mostly generalized tips I’ve learned over the years and are applicable to almost any adventure you may be prepping.

First off, I have to say if you are DMing Storm King and not already watching Tom Lommel's (aka Dungeon Bastard) Disorganized Play on YouTube or Twitch, you need to start right now. There are about 50 hours of content, which is a lot to take in, but there is a plethora of fantastic ideas in there if you can spend the time listening to it in the background like a podcast.

Some spoilers ahead so be warned.

NPC Roster

There are just a crap load of NPCs in SKT, and they all have relationships to other NPCs all over the Sword Coast. As you are reading the book preparing for your PCs, you should take notes on the NPCs they will encounter in the upcoming town(s) they intend to visit. For the notes, make a very short (1 to 2 sentence) summary of the NPC, where they are in town, what quest they might have and some trait or affectation to help personalize the NPC. (If you are into mind mapping software, you could also map relationships between NPCs and the various locations, but that’s only if you have the time and are hard core about prep).

For instance you might have entries that look something like this:

Delvin “Duke” Faraway - Human sheriff of Notsolittle Ville, found at bailey gatehouse (#3) or Bob’s Tavern (#7). Talks with slow, deliberate drawl. Rewards PCs if they kill Snarl the Hobgoblin chief.

Bob Hammerthrow - Dwarf innkeep of Bob’s Tavern (#7). Friendly, gregarious with Russian accent. Knows rumor about Duke’s past, and Rouge Scarlett’s secret identity. May send PCs to talk to his brother, Jim Hammerthrow in Othertown.

Keep it to 2 or 3 lines. More detail is good, but only just enough to jog your memory. If you need the full description, the book is there. This is more a refresher for use at the table. If you can create an NPC list for each major town as you read through the book, even better, but you may only need to stay ahead of your players by a session or two in terms of your NPC notes. The more you are able to prep upfront, the better you may be able to improvise a scene with those NPCs.

One tip I picked up from Tom Lommel is to use Pathfinder NPC face cards. These poker cards include a picture of NPCs that can be used in any D&D-esque game. You can even download a bunch of other images and pictures from Google image search, put them in a Word template and print on Avery Business Card Labels. Giving the players a face to go with the NPC names helps immensely with the immersion and makes those NPCs much more memorable.

Location Roster

Much of the Storm King sandbox is a “travel hither and yon” to do some fetch and step tasks. The party has the opportunity to range all over Northern Faerun, so like the NPCs, you want to have a punch list of the towns as a quick reference. You could incorporate this as part of the NPC list, or keep them separate for easier reference. For Storm King’s Thunder, I wrote up the full list of 150+ locations mentioned in Chapter 3. I kept each entry to 1 to 2 sentences. Name the major NPCs and the events that may occur there.

Examples (minor spoilers):
Amphail - Great Sharlarn (horse statue). Festival set up. Stag Horned Flagon tavern run by Arleosa Starhenge. Tylandar Roaringhorn's fifty-seventh birthday interrupted by Hill Giants.
Ardeep Forest - Reclusive wood elves.
Arn Forest - Gnomish furs and pelt traders.
Ascore - Dwarven ruin on edge of desert. Adult blue dragons.
Beliard - Cattle market town. “Adventurers Wanted”. Hill Giants raiding farms. Near Old Tower.
Calling Horns - Village at edge of Evermoors run by Tamalin Zoar. Trolls trying to eat horses. Fire Giant in the swamp.

Notice that all I’ve done is highlight some small part of the description from the book that I might mention to the players to make the world feel alive. When they travel around, it’s not just about the geography. Make the world feel like a living entity by introducing non-combat encounters with traders along the road, outriders patrolling around towns, or other traveling NPCs.

For example. if the PCs are near the Arn Forest, I might mention that they see a small Gnomish hunting party, or a pelt trader in a mule cart headed into a nearby town. Little ideas like this may just be an off-hand comment by the DM as they travel, or could lead to a unplanned, improvised role-playing encounter. Perhaps they were looking for a vendor for the exotic pelts of Displacer Beasts they recently encountered.

Encounter Plans and Monster Rosters

Storm King’s Thunder has several large set piece encounters. One thing that is invaluable in the book are the giant stronghold rosters. The roster lists what creatures are in which areas of the map, how they react and how they reinforce one another when the PCs start a commotion. In 40 years of D&D gaming, it hard to believe we have never seen this in adventures prior to 5th Edition.

2 worgs
Eating a pig. Will attack PCs who enter square.
2 goblins
Chasing chickens. Will reinforce areas 3 or 7 if church bell quiet.
2 goblins
Ringing church bell. Will not hear anything in town
While there aren’t that many other large encounter areas aside from the strongholds, you might consider how other encounters in the book will play out. Create a roster table for Nightstone, or the Dripping Caves in Chapter 1 like the ones for the giant strongholds.

Also, think about a plan of action for the major encounters. You don’t have to plan out every encounter (and can’t anticipate the PCs actions), but you can outline a general idea of where the action is happening for larger set piece encounters.

Consider Triboar. Think about the direction from which the giants and their minions arrive. Plan the giants’ movement and consider how their minions will be trying to distract the PCs from the giants’ objective. Write out no more than a half dozen sentences to describe how the action might unfold during the encounter… but you don’t have to stick to the script once the encounter begins.  The excercise is more about getting you to consider the point of view of the monsters. What are their motivations? How does that affect their actions?

Side Quests and Variety

Owlbears are always an exciting addition to any adventure.
The players will be encountering lots of giants ogres and goblinkind over the course of the adventures. Look for opportunities to run something a little “off-book” from the usual encounters.  Find other unusual opponents to introduce. Tom Lommel recommended using variant giants from Volo’s Guide to Monsters or reskinning other monsters to create something new and unexpected. In his example, he took the stats and powers of a Catoblepas and introduced it as a troll-like cave dwelling creature.  Create or look for existing encounters with Lizardmen, Troglodytes, Sahuagin, undead, megafauna, aberrations, or Owlbears (you can’t go wrong with Owlbears). Basically, anything other than giantkind or goblinoids, because the players are going to get sick of those after a while.

Find other side quest adventures that can be dropped in. In a prior post, I note that I found a great adventure that occurs right in the Evermoors in Dungeon Magazine #144.  Check out DM’s Guild and DriveThru RPG for other short adventures that can be easily be inserted into the campaign. You don’t have to race through the giant plot line. You can milk parts of it over time, especially if you need to give other opportunities for loot and experience to the party.  You can always check out some of the related D&D Adventurers League adventures, but as I noted, you likely want to select some non-giant themed side quests.

Awkward Segue

This article has run a bit long, so I shall abruptly end it here. Future articles in this series will include ideas and tips on specific chapters within Storm King's Thunder, so stay tuned. If you have other tips you want to share with DM's, please post in the comments!
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