From my first flip through of this book, I was impressed. The book looks great and I think it’s an excellent adventure and setting resource. The additions of the Dramatis Personae and the adventure flowchart are superb and I hope we see them in future books. The illustrations throughout the book are great (just look at those I included on this review) and there are many maps too.
The adventure does a good job of mixing all three types of gameplay including court intrigue, interrogation, wilderness exploration, search and rescue, dungeons of various sizes, and plenty of combat – including running NPCs alongside their PCs. Some DMs might have an issue with so much of the book going unused as players make their choices and skip locations, but these locations can be explored later or used in your own adventures later.
This is one of my favorite 5th edition adventures, but it might not be for everyone, especially newer groups of players or groups that just want to hack and slash through dungeons. It’s a really solid purchase that will provide hours and hours of gameplay, as it is somewhat re-playable with the branching style of the adventure. This book gives you nearly everything you need to run SKT as a campaign or provides you with a valuable sourcebook when paired with the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide to run adventures in the Northwest of Faerûn.
I originally posted this as a 5 before the database issue. I now repost it as a 4. My rating is 9/10 or 4.5, but there is no way to post that score, and I prefer to go lower vs. perfect. For me personally, I think this is the best adventure book they have done - but I recognize that it is not for all groups, so 9/10.
It seemed like every new adventure improved on the last. Hoard of the Dragon Queen was a rocky start, but things started to improve with Princes of the Apocalypse. Then came Out of the Abyss -- an excellent adventure -- and Curse of Strahd, a solid 5 out of 5. Now, however, we have our first backward step. Storm King’s Thunder is a total mess.
To begin with, this adventure involves a great deal of exploration, but the provided map is tiny compared to the area it encompasses, and it doesn't have a grid. We really need something better than this. Curse of Strahd, for comparison, came with a big, fold-out map of Barovia (which didn't even need it -- Barovia is small enough that characters never need to spend a night outdoors). This adventure, however, has characters leaving well-traveled roads, traversing wilderness, and making week-long journeys. If any adventure needs a big, fold-out map, it’s this one -- something to spread across the table and get players excited about exploring. As it is, chapter 3 looks like a boring slog, and it'll take a first-rate DM to keep players interested as they spend yet another week traveling from one place to another.
As for the plot -- others have criticized it, and I have to agree: There's very little there. On looking through Storm King's Thunder, my first thought for a possible subtitle is "An Adventure without a Plot." The giants are little more than a back-drop for most the story, and the book does a very poor job of involving the players in any meaningful way. They spend a large chunk of the adventure running errands for random villagers and shopkeepers while everyone sits around, scratching their heads and wondering what's gotten into the giants.
Which is a big issue for me. For most of the adventure, the characters aren't heroes. They're just random people who wander around and happen to be nearby when disaster strikes. That's not how I envision my heroes, nor does it really comport with the game's own guidelines. Levels 5-10, for example, are supposed to represent characters as "Heroes of the Realm." But for most of Storm King's Thunder, the characters are about as heroic as deliverymen. They spend an awful lot of time pooping around and doing favors for random villagers.
For example: For defending the town of Triboar, the characters are "rewarded" with a quest to deliver horse harnesses to a nearby frontier town. According to the "Developments" section: "When the characters arrive at Noanar's Hold, they are told that they can find Amrath Mulnobar in the keep overlooking the village. Amrath takes the harnesses off their hands without so much as a thank you. Thus ends the quest."
We're also told in a further four paragraphs that if the characters are "inclined to spend the night in the White Hart Inn" (and why would they be?) they'll encounter some brothers who do some suspicious things, and if the characters investigate, they'll uncover some provincial intrigue. Also thrilling. And inconsequential. Unfortunately, the book is filled with "quests" and vignettes like this that have nothing to do with the larger story.
In the end, Storm King's Thunder is a mess. As a sandbox, it might work. But even then, the DM has a lot of work cut out for him if he wants to make it halfway compelling.
I leave you with a series of nitpicks:
- None of the dungeons have boxed text. DM's, you're on your own.
- The actual adventure begins at level 5. The first chapter is a rush-job to get players to level 5, and it’s not very good.
- The maps are disappointing. Many are 1 square = 50 feet or 1 square = 20 feet, which makes them useless as battle maps. Granted, most of the dungeons are 1 square = 10 feet, which converts fairly well to virtual tabletops, but the maps don't look detailed enough to withstand so much magnification. In the end, I have to wonder how Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds were able to convert this adventure into an online module.
- There are no player options.
- There are few new magic items and monsters.
- “Rune magic” adds nothing new to the game. Runes work just like any other magic item. Find one, attune to it, enjoy some magical benefits. They never tie into the plot.
- The characters are given an airship, but they do nothing to deserve it. A group of strangers literally flies up to them and asks if they want it. Really.
- At one point, the characters are tasked with looting burial mounds before they can advance the plot. But they only need to loot one, and most of the burial mounds are dull as dishwater. For example, one mound has a pair of elk nearby. That’s it. The characters can fly in, take the relic, wave goodbye to the elk, and leave. Mission accomplished.
- Even if you wanted to salvage the adventure for parts, there’s very little worth taking. The dungeons are unimaginative and don’t offer much in the way of traps or puzzles. Most dungeons are just a matter of going from one room to the next, killing the giants inside.
- A lot of the adventure’s word-count is wasted on insignificant details about places that the characters will probably never visit. A trading post in Triboar is allotted three paragraphs, detailing the proprietors, their relationship with the local lords, their hidden treasure stash, the Perception check needed to spot it, and the stash’s contents. None of this is germane to the plot, nor is it likely to ever come into play. Unfortunately, each of the three starting towns get a similarly verbose write-up, recording every insignificant detail.
- The characters start in 1 of 3 towns. They need to loot 1 of 9 burial mounds. They need to defeat 1 of 5 giant lords. In the end, probably 80% of the book’s content will never see play, either because it’s unnecessary to the plot, or because it’s irrelevant fluff. This means that, of all the published story-lines, SKT is the shortest.
- Advancing the plot requires some unfortunate rail-roading. For example, in order for the story to move from the aimlessly-wandering-the-wilderness phase to the looting-the-burial-mounds phase, the party has to be convinced to trust a random frost giant they meet and follow him to a temple. Until this encounter takes place, the story can’t advance, and the book doesn’t take into account the possibility that the characters might attack and kill the giant, or that they might simply distrust him or not see the value of visiting the temple. Considering the whole plot revolves around fighting and killing giants, this seems like a grave oversight.
- So many other things. The only reason I’m not giving SKT a 1/5 is because Tyranny of Dragons is probably worse.
The Giant King is dead, and his subjects are wreaking havoc across the land! What will puny adventurers do to defend the people of Faerun?
IN A NUTSHELL: If you've read Forgotten Realms Gazeteers, thought about all the adventures Ed Greenwood's group seemed and always wondered how you might possibly use all that yourself in a way that made sense, then this is the module for you. The book provides a huge and detailed sandbox of the Sword Coast with entries that tend to point toward the metaplot of giants unleashed across the North. There are set piece dungeons, encounters, and key plot events, but this module could easily be used as a longer, drawn out campaign, with the players poking around the nooks and crannies of the map, protecting folk from giants and getting in trouble with various factions.
Storm King's Thunder is a little different than previous WotC 5e modules. I would compare it's structure to Princes of the Apocalypse, but where that book offered a small valley setting with LOT of dungeons and not much happening, STK is a huge sandbox with lot's of things happening. The wilderness encounter tables become important. There are interesting and unique encounters: Underwater intrigue in the court of the Storm King, ship battles, town invasions, dragon fights, airships, wizards protecting teleport circles, goblin catapults. There is a lot of content that won't be used. There are three towns that will be attacked. You are only told to play through one attack. There are five giant lairs of which only one needs to be explored. There are nearly a dozen barbarian burial mound mini-dungeons. This might bug some people, but it is much better than being expected to slog through all of them. On the contrary, I foresee DM's using bits from products like PotA as a change of pace during this campaign.
The story could use a bit of help. The plot hooks are pretty weak. The DM will have a to do some work to make it work best for him or her, like any module. There are some big reveals that won't be terribly interesting unless there is a bit of foreshadowing.
Over all, get this if you are a fan of the Forgotten Realms, or you want a big detailed map to in which set your group loose, then this could be the module for you.
If WotC had described this book as a "North Faerun" setting book with associated adventure material, it would probably have rated a 4-star review. The centre-piece of this book is a large chapter giving a very brief but surprisingly good overview of a significant region. Good stuff. Of course, if WotC had described this as a setting book, I also wouldn't have bought it, it being "not for me". As it was, they described it as an adventure... and as an adventure it is poor.
The other problem I have with the description of this adventure is that it is advertised as a storyline for PCs of levels 1-10. However, the real adventure is actually for characters of levels 5-10, with the first full chapter providing some material to advance characters from 1st to 5th. But that section then manages to fall flat - not only does it not contain anywhere near enough adventure to justify all those levels, but it also doesn't give enough space to let that material breathe. Bluntly, WotC should have dropped that first section, started the storyline at 5th level, and used the freed up space to bulk up the rest of the material.
As for the 'real' adventure itself...
I should start by noting some positives: the concept of this adventure is very solid, with lots of characters, factions, and intrigues throughout. And there's a lot of material that's worth salvaging - the three villages, the five quests "against the giants", some of the Storm King's court, and of course the gazeteer in chapter three. Indeed, this book provides a huge array of ingredients that a good DM should be able to assemble into a truly great campaign.
But there are two big problems with that:
That "good DM" should equally be able to come up with his own 'ingredients' pretty trivially. There's very little here that is particularly new or exciting, or put together in a particularly innovative way.
Even that "good DM" would probably be better served by starting with a better adventure to disassemble and rebuild.
But probably my biggest disappointment in the campaign is this: throughout, there are large numbers of factions and characters described with their own secrets and agendas. There's plenty of scope for the PCs to work with various NPCs, or reveal various secrets, and thus to talk their way through the campaign rather than just kill everything. Indeed, the whole "King Lear + Giants" premise practically promises that. Except that it never really delivers - with only a few exceptions, there isn't really any way for the PCs to find out those secrets and agendas, and thus reveal the intrigues and betrayals.
Nowhere is this most obvious than in the chapter detailing the Storm King's court, where there's a lot to discover, and where the PCs are ideally placed to find things out - being "puny folk", they could easily go unnoticed and so hear conversations between the various plotters that would allow them to discover the evil plots that are afoot. But, as written, there is no opportunity to do that, because that chapter spends most of its pages on a detailed room-by-room description of the area (which is simultaneously too small to host a real court and also too sparsely populated - where are the servants?), with the various NPCs in fixed locations waiting for the PCs to bring them on-stage. The whole thing really needed more pages, and it also needed to be a much more dynamic environment - describe scenes rather than rooms.
I'm also rather dismayed about the end of the adventure, where once again WotC have pitted the PCs against a foe who is way too powerful for their level, meaning they have to be backed up by powerful NPCs who both serve to detract from the PCs' spotlight and also make the final encounter harder to run. If WotC want to use these top-tier BBEGs (and I applaud that) then they should also pitch the adventures to higher levels so the bad guys fit.
(Also, in a campaign strongly themed on giants, shouldn't the climactic encounter have been against a giant or giants?)
Ultimately, I found this book very disappointing. As I said, there's a lot here that's salvagable, and as a setting guide to the region it's pretty decent. But as an adventure, I'm afraid I can't recommend this storyline - it's the weakest of the 5e campaigns except "Tyranny of Dragons" (but without the excuse that that was developed in parallel with 5e itself), and it's weaker than Paizo's comparable "Giantslayer" path. A shame - I had such high hopes.
I was worried at the thought of an Against the Giants: Take Four, as we’ve seen this adventure before and there was not much substance. Storm King’s Thunder really goes all out in giving the adventure a different story, just using the original for inspiration rather than simply updating the stat blocks.
The dungeons are excellent, and you can use this product to update the classics or embrace the wholly new experience. Each of the dungeons is radically different, and there’s a lot of unique flavour. A heck of a lot of work went into making cool giant clanholds, complete with some amazing maps. The book is also incredibly useful to Realms fans as a guide to the Northlands. And there are a number of fairly detailed settlements, completely with NPCs. For DMs planning on stripping this adventure for inspiration, it’s a fabulous product.
The adventure was hyped as being inspired by Shakespeare – which I won’t dispute – but the play in question is actually Much Ado About Nothing. The ordning breaks and just kinda sorta gets fixed off camera. The evil daughters don’t do anything and may or may not receive their comeuppance. The kraken is very likely unseen. And the main plot of the adventure – the kidnapping of the king – could easily be missed if players too distracted by the very real threat of evil giants that need to be put down. While there are all serious problems with the plot of the adventure, you can still run it just fine pretty much as-is. You just need to seed and foreshadow the Storm King. Play around in the royal court a little more. Perhaps have the sisters doing some scheming or trying to betray the adventurers in the final moments. A good DM can easily work around these problems.
Honestly, there’s probably room for a great Dungeon Master’s Guild product that replaces the final two or three chapters of this adventure with something related to the ordning. Perhaps heading to the “Hold of the Storm Giants” to find an altar to the High Father, where you can plead with the giant god to change their mind, followed by a quest to prove their worthiness. But the fact you could just entirely swap out the climax to this adventure and your players would never know is incredibly problematic.
SKT embeds a simple linear plot in a wide sandbox. Taking advantage of that brings it to life! Following the linear plot on rails most likely does not.
For example, for a sandbox campaign a simple hook like Harshnag is perfect for rejoining the main thread in the time and fashion of your choosing. He can inspire all kinds of encounter ideas that will fit into and elevate whatever it is your PCs are doing. Run as a linear adventure path however, he wouldn't work nearly as well.
Another way to put it is that as a sandbox DM I want rooms, characters and motivations, but emphatically not scenes. Scenes happen and are over. Whereas a room may contain many scenes, played out by characters according to their motivations.
I am digging it. Read through for the gist of it.
So far the players are enjoying it, and I am enjoying it.
Some hooks or motivations are not terribly good or clear, but I am not certain that they are bad, just seeing they would be bad for my players.
There is some additional prep work that i have to do to work around these issues and I have added a few side-quests and areas as well to emphasis the crisis and provide some meat to less meaty parts of the story.
Storm King’s Thunder is a good module with a lot of information about the Sword Coast in it. The flow is a sandbox type campaign and you could even replay it. You could even use some encounters from Chapter 3 and piece together a larger campaign from this book.
I've never used giants much in my campaign and I was pleasantly surprised by some story themes I could pull from the book. The flowchart was an excellent addition for continuity purposes and to keep the sandbox feel inside an overall theme for the DM.
If this were a sourcebook for the Savage Frontier, I would rate it probably at a 4/5. But it's advertised as an adventure, and as an adventure it is simply terrible. I honestly think anyone who rates it at a 2 is being generous, and anyone who rates it higher than that hasn't run it or doesn't run games very often and therefore doesn't understand adventure design very well.
The campaign elements in this book are so obviously rushed and have quite obviously had very little internal review and rewriting. It reads very much like an early draft where the writer hasn't come back to plot elements, or had them pointed out by a third-party, and realised the issues with them and then corrected them in a rewrite. And there are so, so, so many issues. I actually wonder if this was done almost entirely by Chris without much input from anyone else. To be clear, I don't think it's possible to write a book like this (well) without the input from other people that helps the writer get perspective and solve issues and conflicts. So I don't fault Chris for these issues as much as I fault what I suspect to have been the process behind this book lacking the necessary design and development structure that I believe the other books to have had.
I might be wrong about this and it might've gone through those procedures, but if it has, then that's an even bigger mark against it because the issues this book has, as a campaign, are quite obvious (as a third party) on reading through it that they really should've been caught before the book ever went to print.
To touch on some of the issues, I'll deliver them in point form below:
Disconnected: there is almost no connection between any of the events that occur and how they relate to any of the story. The first chapter has an attack on the town by a giant that then never comes up later in the adventure. If the players follow this McGuffin, they have no end point for it, making it not even a McGuffin but rather a completely random event with almost no relation to the story. As the starting point this is bad enough, but this trend continues throughout the entire book with so many elements being introduced that don't connect, or lead the players to a story conclusion, that your entire campaign could end up being a very frustrating chain of the players following clues and finding nothing for their efforts.
If this was merely a small entry in a sourcebook that was added as a plot hook and inspiration for DM's, that would've been fine. But this is meant to be a campaign book, not a bunch of random, disconnected plot hooks that lead nowhere.
Illogical: Almost the entire plot is illogical. A god is annoyed that his followers didn't do something that he put a stricture in place to prevent them from doing and so punishes them by removing the stricture and then they all go and do the things they're not meant to do. And that interpretation is being generous to the logic behind it. What's more, nothing the players do makes any sense. Nothing the NPC's are doing makes any sense. The few railroaded "decisions" that the players get to make have no impact whatsoever on the actual plot. The Storm King isn't even the central character or integral to the plot of anything. And the primary antagonist has nothing to do with either, short of being shoehorned in as an afterthought. It's such a complete mess of illogical conclusions and reasonings that after reading through it I was genuinely left thinking that I'd have to tell the group that I didn't want to run it and would just make up my own campaign. If it weren't for the fact that they all bought the book for me, that's exactly what I would've done.
Zero impetus: The PC's are given absolutely no motivation whatsoever to become involved in any of the adventure, at any point during the adventure, other than, "Random stuff is happening, go do something about it." The very first part of the adventure where a town is attacked, the villain has run off never to be heard from again throughout the campaign and no clues are even given as to where it went or why it wanted the thing it came for in the first place. So even if the player's investigate, there are no clues for them to follow, no investment for them to gain their own drive to search anything out. And then the reason given to go to the next location is merely to tell someone one of their relatives died. Several thousand miles of travelling for no other reason than to pass on a message. DM's are left with telling their players that they're going to this other location simply "Because."
Material: A lot of the material in this is reused or is calling back to the DMG. In previous books that was content that was added to the actual book, but in this one it seems to be a constant referral to other books. At first I thought this was in order to encourage people to buy the DMG, but as I read through the rest of the book, I started getting the clear impression that Chris didn't have the time or energy to create this material and simply reverted to calling on the DMG as a fallback measure. The distinct lack of maps for locations where those maps are sorely needed, the lack of dedicated material unique to the campaign, and reused content are all signs that Chris didn't have the resources or time to develop this book properly. Again, I may be way off base with this, but again if that's not the case, then this is a further mark against the book because these things really should've been addressed before the book went to print.
Pointless: Ultimately my biggest issue with this book is that it's pointless. There is literally no point to any of it. If you strictly adhere to the very core elements of the plot and disregard all the other parts of it that go nowhere, like a city of dead-ends, even this core plot has no point to it whatsoever. The PC's "solve" the issues with the Storm King and... nothing. So what? It's only tangentially related to the inciting incident of the campaign, that being the god's "wrath", and after it you're left with going and killing a dragon. Because. And killing the dragon has no impact on the story either. Every "plot" in this campaign has no point to it other than to go kill stuff "because".
In conclusion, if you want to run a campaign in the Savage Frontier and need a consolidated, updated source of information with a lot of random plot hooks for you to develop into a cohesive, coherent campaign, then this isn't a bad book. Chris has obviously put a huge amount of effort into researching the lore and tying things into the history of the north. There are lot of cool and interesting bits of information that can be developed further. But that effort has come at the cost of the actual campaign elements. Do not buy this book to run as a campaign unless you're willing to put in a lot of effort to rewrite and reorganise and customise the campaign to your group. It is not a book that stands on its own two feet like the previous campaign books do.
Is Storm King’s Thunder the best 5th edition adventure Wizards has ever done? Well, I can tell you that from an organizational and technical standpoint, it certainly is. It successfully improves upon the mistakes of its predecessors and delivers the best version of the Sword Coast yet. I think it’s safe to say that it’s better than Tyranny of Dragons and Princes of the Apocalypse. Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd are harder to compare, because they attempt to achieve very different things and offer different styles of play. That aside, I do think you could easily make a compelling argument for Storm King’s Thunder taking the top spot, solely on its organizational merits, its level of ease for the DM, and its truly sandbox type gameplay. Rest assured that if you choose to dive into this world, you’ll get to experience one of the finest adventures on the market for 5th edition today. Full review at Nerdsourced.
Beset by a thin plot, forced transitions, and a lot of dead pages, Storm King’s Thunder does not live up to the standards of most of the prior D&D 5E adventures, especially Curse of Strahd and Out of the Abyss. I love to see an effort that, like Storm King’s Thunder, takes the page count of one of these gorgeous hardcovers and only tries to deliver 5-6 levels of content, instead of 15 (my time is limited at this stage in my life, so from a GM point of view I always appreciate adventures that detail as much as possible to minimize the time I have to spend filling in the blanks). But I want that effort to focus on richly developing a story, characters, and place, and not just teleporting (or air traveling) the party around from deadly battle to deadly battle. Full review at Strange Assembly.
As a series of adventures, I think Storm King’s Thunder is good. It updates and modernizes some classic D&D giant’s lair tropes, adds a few new ones, and clarifies the boundaries of what a 5th Edition D&D campaign looks like. As a campaign, though, as a story, I can’t particularly recommend it. Storm King’s Thunder lives in an awkward space where as a game artifact it’s useful and fun, but as a map for structured gameplay it’s just not very compelling. For some that will be enough, but to the others looking for a D&D campaign to buy I’d recommend Curse of Strahd for its more compelling narrative, even if its individual components aren’t quite as good. Full review at Critical Hits.
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.
Before we jump in, I just want to point out that I think this adventure is probably the second-best one so far. I have a lot of issues with things in this book, but in general I'd say that if you have a little time to sort through this and pull out the stuff you like, it is worth buying. Full review at Power Score.