This post is the first of two posts dedicated to the structure of the Wizards of the Coast official campaign Storm King’s Thunder. In the post below I’ll go over some of the structural challenges that one might meet while running the adventure, and outline an approach for keeping a strict narrative structure.
Before we put on our big boy pants and start off on our own, let’s take a look at how the campaign is meant to go.
On page 17 of the Storm King’s Thunder campaign book is a beautifully crafted Adventure Flowchart. However, while it is handy to get the quick gist of the adventure, a lot of the structure in the middle of the campaign isn’t so linear in reality. From the end of Chapter 2 and through to Chapter 4 what the adventurers do, and where they go, is entirely up to you and them. You must choose from a multitude of paths and put some in front of them, and then they choose which road to travel and how they go about it. This guide seeks to help you get a firm grasp on how to handle and steer the plot in these vital middle stages of the campaign.
First, let us quickly recap the campaign as it seems it is intended to be structured:
Chapter 1. The adventurers rescue the citizens of Nightstone and are sent to Bryn Shander, Goldenfields or Triboar.
Chapter 2. The adventurers defend a city from giant invaders and are presented with an array of quests.
Chapter 3. The adventurers travel to a multitude of different locations on the Sword Coast until they meet a giant named Harshnag.
Chapter 4. The adventurers and Harshnag visit a giant temple where they are tasked with finding ancient relics, so they can learn the location of a giant stronghold.
Chapter 5-9. The party attacks a giant stronghold and obtain a magical conch of teleportation.
Chapter 10. The party uses the conch of teleportation to go to the Maelstrom, where they get involved in court intrigue.
Chapter 11. The party attempts to rescue King Hekaton.
Chapter 12. The party attacks the dragon Iymrith in her desert lair.
Contrary to what the Adventure Flowchart might indicate, the campaign can wildly differ from this structure, depending on you and your players’ choices. So, if you want to make sure that your campaign follows this streamlined structure, you’ll have to make some changes along the way. On the other hand, if you’re slightly disappointed with only getting to use one of three cities in Chapter 2 and only one of the giants’ strongholds in Chapter 5-9, you’ll instead need to take steps to ensure that your party doesn’t just breeze through the campaign.
First, let’s take a look at how we can keep the campaign ‘on track’, with the purpose of making your job simpler, ensuring that the campaign motivations and goals are clearly apparent, and that futile sidequesting is kept to a minimum.
The Straight and Narrow
If the idea of your party travelling around the ‘Savage Frontier’ while finishing random quests and visiting obscure places isn’t particularly appealing to you, and you prefer to keep the campaign concise and to the point, this blueprint might be for you. Remember, just because you take control of the campaign, it doesn’t mean that your players can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to improvise or go off on tangents – it just provides them with a clearly visible path towards the campaign’s overarching goal.
The first major decision you will have to make, is which quest Morak Ur’gray gives the party near the end of Chapter 1 (see STK page 32). This quest will, to some extent, decide how the rest of the campaign unfolds.
For the straightest path to the campaign objective – restoring the Ordning and defeating Iymrith – I suggest that you have Morak send your party to Goldenfields. Goldenfields is both the closest quest objective to Nightstone, the quest (informing Miros of the death of his parents and delivering their tressym to him) is reasonable, and you can add in a reward (a 100 gp from the Xelbrin estate) to get the party motivated.
But why will Goldenfields keep the structure neat? Because Goldenfields is where Naxene Drathkala is (see STK page 47). She is a Lords’ Alliance operative who’ve studied the ancient history of giants and dragons. Speaking with her, the party can find important plot exposition that will expand upon what Zephyros might’ve already explained to them about the giants running amoc, further cementing the party’s involvement with the main plot.
More importantly, Naxene’s quest (given out after Goldenfields has been succesfully defended) is to seek out a dragon expert in Waterdeep, who will in turn send the party to visit ‘Old Gnawbone’ in Kryptgarden Forest (see STK page 52 and 95). Old Gnawbone is an ancient green dragon, who uses crystal balls to spy on everything and everyone. She can tell the party two important pieces of information: 1) The location of the Temple of the All-Father, where the party must go to learn how to stop the giant threat and 2) that they should look out for a frost giant named Harshnag (see STk page 118).
Going from there, you can put Harshnag anywhere between Kryptgarden and the Temple of the All-Father. Basically anywhere on the Long Road will work fine. You can even place him in a settlement such as Triboar, Longsaddle, Xanthar’s Keep or Mirabar – or have these places abound with rumors of where the fabled ‘lone giant with a dragonskull helmet’ is. If you like the whole story about the ‘Weevil’, you can also have Harshnag be somehow involved in the hunt for the Weevil at Xantharl’s Keep (see STK page 114), if you just make sure that your party recognizes him, and that he doesn’t villify himself too much trying to catch the criminal. This puts an interesting spin on Harshnag, instead of him just showing up at random.
However you go about introducing Harshnag, your party will quickly afterwards find themselves at the Temple of the All-Father, ready to embark on the Oracle’s relic-quests. This means you’ve gone from Chapter 1 to 4 following a structure that looks something like this:
- The party saves Nightstone and is sent to Goldenfields by Morak Ur’gray, to inform Miros Xelbrin of his parents’ demise, for a reward of 100 gold pieces. The party is level 4.
- Zephyros picks up the party on the road, tells them that something called ‘the Ordning’ has been broken, and that he thinks they can put it back together. On the way to Goldenfields, the Howling Hatred cultists board the tower. The party is level 5.
- The party arrives in Goldenfields, where they get to speak with Miros and Naxene, before the settlement is attacked during the night by goblinoids and giants. After the attackers have been defeated, Naxene tells them of her idea of gaining assistance from a dragon, and asks them to visit Chazlauth in Waterdeep. Zi Liang also gives her quest (which, incidentally, also takes the party to Waterdeep) and maybe Oren does too. See STK page 51-53 for Goldenfields’ quests. The party is level 6.
- The party goes to Waterdeep. Here they might encounter a cloud giant castle above the city (see STK page 112). They speak to Chazlauth and are send to Kryptgarden Forest.
- In Kryptgarden Forest the party speaks to Old Gnawbone, who tells them about Harshnag and the Oracle (see page 95). The party sets off towards the Valley of Khedrun and the temple.
- Following the Long Road, the party arrives in Triboar to find that the town was attacked by fire giants. The townspeople tell the party that a frost giant with a dragonskull helmet helped defend the city, and saved numerous of the city’s inhabitants. He went north, but can’t have gotten far.
- The party finds Harshnag further north on the Long Road (maybe in an encounter with some wild beasts, bandits or even a dragon) and he helps them get to the Temple of the All-Father. The party is level 7.
By using this blueprint, or something close to it, you ensure that your party are very clearly aware of the goal of the campaign, and that they have a path to follow at all times, to accomplish that goal, even if they sometimes veer from it to finish sidequests.
Next time I’ll go over how to do the opposite of what we’ve done here, when I detail how to go about including as much of the interesting content in Storm King’s Thunder before moving on to the later stages of the campaign.
If you’re interested, I’ve created some content for Storm King’s Thunder over at the DM’s Guild, such as in-depth tips, resources and maps helpful in running A Great Upheaval, Goldenfields and Triboar, or even a full adventure for Chapter 3.