Sunday, 25 September 2016

Storm King's Thunder Top 3 Reuse

With the release of Storm King's Thunder, we got a new adventure but also a new resource to shamelessly steal from for our homebrew. I did it before with Curse of Strahd but I think that going forward I'll continue to do this with every new adventure. With that in mind, here are 3 things that can be easily and effectively repurposed.

Chapter 1

The free first chapter of the adventure, found here, provides an introduction to the storyline. It also gives a series of encounters inside a city. As it is, it can be run as a goblin attack on a city followed by an orc attack (completely removing giants from the equation). The one part that's left hard to explain in this case is the rocks (you can change the description of character deaths from being crushed by rocks to being shot with arrows). You can also easily change the goblins to guards of an opposing army.

The Morkoth

The encounter in general is quite nice in my opinion. Part of the reason is that it occurs on a ship. As it is you can very easily replace King Hekaton with another similar creature (dragon comes to mind) and still keep the encounter largely intact. The betrayal of the crew is a nice touch and easily kept when reusing. You can also choose to replace King Hekaton with a special chest containing a magic item needed for your quest. This chest should have magic properties similar to the chains that bind King Hekaton.

The Savage Frontier

The adventure contains a nice long description of the area, what creatures and characters live within it, as well as some interesting plot hooks. The Wight Brothers are a personal favourite. It's a short little description and location but there is enough there to give me inspiration for a nice wight themed adventure. The area itself, up in the cold north, can be easily used as the backdrop for your own themed adventure. Want to do an evil undead army attacking? It still works. Want to do a Tyranny of Dragons style storyline based in the north? Between the location and the dragons, you got it. It's a bit harder to point to one thing that can be reused in this case since we are talking about a large area and quite a few different characters. However, that vastness and potential is what makes it valuable when plotting a campaign. The adventure also adds some details to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, adding to the Forgotten Realms and can be used to add to previously published adventures.


Storm King's Thunder is heavily based around giants. Removing giants from encounters and sections of the adventure becomes quite difficult as a result. However, it will be much easier to adapt and require far less work if giants feature prominently in your campaign.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Dungeons & Dragons: Storm King's Thunder Review

Review copy and images courtesy of Wizards of the Coast. 

  • Lots of full colour art (as we have come to expect of this edition)
  • Variety in locations and types of encounters
  • Chapter 1 is released for free on the Dungeon Masters Guild at
  • Plenty of characters to role-play as a Dungeon Master
  • Some very nice and interesting encounters
  • Layout of adventure is extremely easy to follow thanks to an adventure outline and an alphabetically ordered list of characters
  • 256 pages long
  • Many of the characters in the adventure have ideals, flaws and bonds presented

Could Go Either Way:
  • No new player options (since I run a lot of homebrew games, I prefer to make new player options myself)
  • It's not as atmospheric as Rage of Demons or Curse of Strahd.
  • Adventure is open-ended and requires serious Dungeon Master preparation (for those who like the control, it's a massive pro)
  • By design it appears that roughly 1/5th of the adventure by page count (50-60 pages) can be bypassed as a result of the branching structure of the adventure (this is offset by having no player options, meaning there is simply more adventure than Princes of the Apocalypse). The book, removing the introduction and appendices, is 212 pages long (removing the 50-60 pages leaves us with roughly 150 pages of adventure). 55 more pages are taken up by describing the setting location.
  • Milestone leveling is heavily emphasized (I don't think the XP values will work well)
  • Giants (if you think giants are meh enemies, you won't like it)
  • The story ending seems ... odd ... possibly (look in the adventure itself section for details)
  • You'll need the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide to run the adventure (no more supplement PDFs)
  • The bindings might be off (my copy is pretty good but it isn't as good as my copy of Curse of Strahd)
  • No PDF version*
  • No included grids*

* Denotes nitpicking. I say this every time.

Storm King's Thunder cover
The cover of Storm King's Thunder.


On September 6th, 2016, a brand new adventure called Storm King's Thunder was released by Wizards of the Coast. This time the focus is on giants, with a splash of dragons and politics. I'm a bit late with my review again, but hopefully someone finds it useful. As of writing this, I've read the book cover to cover, run the first chapter (available for free here) and started on chapter 2.

I think there is fun to be had in Storm King's Thunder and that there is some good art (as we've come to expect), though as always there is some I don't care for much. The adventure has some very interesting encounters in my opinion. However, the adventure doesn't have the same urgency as some of the others already released. It also isn't as atmospheric as the last couple of adventures that were released. The adventure also has a lot of material that may not be used at all due to the flow of the adventures and the choices presented. The overall flow, however, is very well presented. I'd like to see similar flow diagrams and alphabetically ordered lists of characters in adventures going forward (if you can't fit it into the book, shove it on the website).

The Adventure

New Player Options

There is not much here. There are some new magic items. That's it. There are no new backgrounds, no new spells, and there are no class options. It may be the smallest amount in an adventure to date. I prefer it this way so it didn't bother me. I prefer to make my own player options. That way, I vet it all and clearly approve of the options. It also lets me make sure it works well with what I'm trying to bring to life. If you want more options like some of the other adventures had, you'll be disappointed.

New Monsters

We Dungeon Masters get a few more monsters. We also get some new options for giants to make them a little more interesting to fight and a little more varied. In many places, existing stat blocks are modified instead of creating new creatures. I like this generally, but I think we'll need a collection for this kind of thing eventually (otherwise you'll need to consult a lot of adventure books for monsters or just remaking existing monsters which results in inconsistency).

What You Need to Play

The Monster Manual, Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are referenced at the start of the adventure. If you wanted to use the basic rules and/or the SRD, you are out of luck. Tables from the Dungeon Master's Guide are often used in order to make magic items random in the adventure. These tables aren't present in the adventure or in the SRD, so you'd need to make things up yourself. Without having seen the tables and generally knowing what's on them, you run the risk of giving items too powerful or too weak. There are multiple monsters that are not in either source as well (the number is reduced if you use the Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Princes of the Apocalypse supplements). I counted as I went through. There are 16 creatures missing if you don't use the supplements and 8 if you do. You might be able to get away with house ruling if you are a D&D veteran (not knowing what the creature is suppose to be puts you at a disadvantage) but otherwise you'll run into a few problematic encounters.

Storm King's Thunder Northlander longship art
Art example of a Northlander longship from Storm King's Thunder. It's one of my favourites.

The Adventure Itself

The first chapter of the adventure is available for free on the DMs Guild. However, it's the kind of chapter that was previously put into the appendix section (like Death House in Curse of Strahd) of the adventure and is meant to get players to the proper level for the real meat of the adventure. In this case, the level they are trying to get the players to is level 5 (so that they can stand a chance against the giants). The real cool parts of the adventure are how all the different groups in Nightsone (globins, orcs, Zhentarim and elves) interact with the players and the possibility of forming uneasy temporary alliances. The presence of the settlement walls also allow for gameplay reminiscent of a siege. The settlement map is also nice and very reusable. If you want to run your own campaign and don't have many maps, it makes for a very nice generic settlement. It really is heavily based around milestone leveling though. The jump to 4th and 5th level in particular don't work if XP is used because there just isn't enough there from combat alone. You can add story reward XP to make up the difference but in that case you are just doing milestone leveling in a more roundabout way.

The organization of the adventure is extremely clear thanks to the alphabetically ordered list of characters called the “Dramatis Personae” and the high level diagram that shows how the chapters fit together in the scope of the adventure. Details on when the characters should gain levels is also in one easy to reference place at the end of the adventure. It continues the use of bold to make creatures stand out on the page (to make stats easy to look up) and provides references to the appendix when it's a new creature. The wandering monster tables are also nicely done and often cover more than one area at once by using multiple columns. As a result, all of the wandering monsters are in one place. Locations also have a roster of all the monsters in an area as well as their actions if some conditions take place (usually it has to do with the creatures being put on alert). All of this together makes it easy to reference particular characters, know the general flow of the story, and know which monsters are needed for an encounter.

The adventure has many difficult encounters. In the introduction, the adventure goes out of its way to say that many of the encounters are designed to be deadly. One of them in chapter 2 could have the characters, with some backup from the locals of the town they are in, face off against 3 frost giants and 2 winter wolves at level 5. There is a gate that makes things more even, but considering that a frost giant is a challenge rating 8 creature, it's a tough fight. There are many similar encounters in other parts of the adventure (this is one of the more extreme examples) which help test the players but also give them a way to win. Running is a valid option and planning is important to make sure too many giants aren't encountered at the same time.

The encounters are usually described well and give multiple avenues for players. However, we continue the stealth confusion where in some cases a group stealth check is used and in others an individual stealth check is used. There are some encounters where I felt a few more details could have been helpful in order to have a better idea of what the authors had in mind (the frost giant encounter I mentioned above) but overall they are done well. There is enough to quite easily fill in the gaps of what's missing. However, gaps will need to be filled and preparation time will be important. Even excluding that, many of the dungeons and encounters have many moving parts that the Dungeon Master should be aware of. There will also be quite a lot of overland travel and possible random encounters. These need special planning and handling from the Dungeon Master to be compelling.

The adventure provides a great variety of locations (castles in the sky, underwater partially flooded castles, regular castles, dwarven cities, frozen terrain, open sea exploration, etc.), characters and opportunities to role-play. The different types of giants make it easy to have all kinds of different situations, environments and enemies. It's a small detail, but I liked that there were many cases where names for the creatures were provided when it would have been easy to just say “a goblin”. It doesn't happen every time but I did appreciate when it was done. The airship was also a nice addition that gives the situation a very different feel and allows for different situations.

There is a section in this adventure giving suggestions on how to combine it with other published adventures (except Curse of Strahd). Doing so replaces the free chapter 1 section. To me it seems that the Lost Mine of Phandelver would work best because it ends at the correct level. It doesn't really introduce the players to the conflict and symptoms of what's going on the same as chapter 1 does. Instead, it ends up acting more like a sequel to Lost Mine of Phandelver. The other adventures have very serious problems that won't go away (such as demon lords) that just seem like bigger problems in comparison. Still, having some suggestions for how tie the adventures together is appreciated.

Up until now, it was common to have the adventure also function as a mini-supplement. In Out of the Abyss we got the underdark. In Curse of Strahd we got Barovia. This time around, we get the Savage Frontier in the north. A good 55 pages are used to describe the different places and characters within them. Some of them could be used to run their own one-shot adventures with ease (the 4 wight brothers are a personal favourite). Since the Sword Coast Advenurer's Guide was released earlier, there are some mentions to that book. Some of the locations overlap so extra details are provided in that book. I don't think you need that book and that you can do without it, but it is referenced.

The Story and Issues (SPOILERS)

The big picture story is that the caste system of the giants, the ordening, has been broken for some reason. Now, giants are vying to have their type of giant elevated to the top. At the same time King Hekaton, arguably most powerful of storm giants (the most powerful giant type as confirmed by the SRD), has gone missing.

The story has some issues, though it can still be run as it is quite easily. Some of the characters, in particular the daughters of the Storm Giant King, would have benefited by being expanded upon (luckily we Dungeon Masters can do that ourselves pretty well).

When we get King Hekaton back and wrap things up, the ordening isn't necessarily restored (though the adventure does suggest that is a potential ending). If it's not, can Hekaton rein in the badly behaving giants? If he can, then we don't need to come back to finish off all of the misbehaving giant lords. All he needs to do is say “here I am” and it's done. It also would seem odd to go and finish off the giant lords before going on to the conclusion from a story perspective. From a level perspective, it makes sense (the players would gain levels and have a better chance of surviving the climax of the adventure). I'd imagine that Hekaton would love some revenge right about then and wouldn't love the idea of waiting. As a result, a good portion portion of the book will probably be bypassed. This is offset by having no player options contributing to the length of the adventure. Naturally, unused sequences can be recycled in future campaigns and sessions.

Storm King's Thunder Morkoth
A piece of art of the Morkoth, a ship featured in Storm King's Thunder.

The Art and Book Build Quality

The art is what we are used to in this edition. There is still a variety in the art and art styles. As usual some are worse than others but in general it was well done and measures up to what we are used to. There are also 3 two page spreads in the book, one of which is a map. Most of the maps are drawn to look like a real aged and worn parchment map. They have a nice sketch style to them where they look accurate but not all of the details are presented. You also clearly get the impression that you are looking at a drawing, though a very good one. A few of them break this style, however, and I typically found these to be some of the weakest (about 3 of the maps I found to have far less of a wow factor because of this change in style). Unfortunately, this includes the final combat encounter. Within the real aged style there are 2 different aesthetics which tended to focus on two different locations in the adventure. Both worked for me but there is a clear aesthetic break on elements such as the text on the map. What they do have this time is a gallery of some of the art from the book on the website. You can find it here ( I'd say it's a good representation of what you would see in the book itself.

On the first page of my book I can see that the binding isn't as good as my copy of Curse of Strahd (my copy had a perfect binding). It's still almost perfect and nothing like my copy of Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, but it's still worth keeping an eye on this when you are picking up your copy. It makes me think that there could be ones with much worse binding than my copy and some of the previous books did have problems. It's disappointing that this has happened in this edition and something to keep an eye out when buying D&D books going forward. The pages were very straight this time though. Again, I'd recommend looking for this when picking out your book.


The suggested price on the book is $49.95 in the USA and $63.95 in Canada, as we have come to expect. Online prices tend to be lower but you won't be able to look for the possible issues mentioned in the quality section.

What I felt was Missing

Again there is no supplementary PDF. I miss having every monster and magic item needed for the adventure in a quickly searchable format. Some of the newly added elements, such as the alphabetically ordered list of characters, would have been very convenient in PDF format.

Again, there are also no grids provided like what we had during the 4th edition time period. Some maps are sold by the artists who made them but it didn't look like there was an easy way to buy a single pack of all the maps featured in the adventure. For that reason, you are probably better off just using the maps in the book as reference and using tiles. It won't look nearly as good if you don't have enough environment pieces or miniatures, but it'll at least be consistent and cheaper.

Free Stuff

The first chapter ( is provided for free on the Dungeon Masters Guild. There isn't really anything else that I've seen so far.


I don't think I liked this adventure as much as Curse of Strahd or Out of the Abyss. This comes mainly from tonal, aesthetic and story choices in the adventure. I also greatly prefer horror themed enemies, undead and demons to giants. However, there are some really interesting encounters that I'd like to see in play. It's also not that Storm King's Thunder is a bad adventure (in fact, I think I'll have a fun time with it), but I can't say that it is my favourite. If I could buy just one of the published adventures, it wouldn't be this one. However, it isn't my least favourite either. The layout, however, is by far one of the clearest if not the clearest of the published adventures of this edition. I hope to see similar layouts going forward. There are also plenty of role-play opportunities. It will require some serious Dungeon Master preparation to flesh out characters (the three Storm Giant princesses in particular could be easily expanded on) and to tighten up the story, but there is a lot here that can be used for a fun campaign. It's definitely worth running. Take a look at the free chapter as well, which is similar to Death House from Curse of Strahd (it's meant to level characters up so they can face the main adventure), in the “Other Stuff” section below.

Other Stuff
  • Reading over this book, I noticed 11 typos and minor mistakes. None of them influenced the meaning but they were a little jarring to notice (on pages 13, 13, 23, 65, 88, 95, 125, 138, 202, 208, 241).
  • Creatures not included in the SRD are (PoA stands for Princes of the Apocalypse and HoDQ stands for Hoard of the Dragon Queen): yuan-ti (HoDQ), goblin boss, orc Eye of Gruumsh (PoA), orc war chief, orog (PoA), cambion, drow mage (PoA), drow elite warrior, shadow demon (PoA), young remorhaz, yeti, ankylosaurus, aarakocra (PoA), hobgoblin warlord, piercer (PoA), helmed horror (PoA).
  • This adventure is deadly, especially if players don't employ stealth. The adventure even notes that early
  • The adventure is open-ended and allows players to explore.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Rules Corner: Movement Outside Turn

The turn order can cause some weird peculiarities that do not relate very well to real life. In real life, you can choose to move back if you see someone moving towards you. In a turn order though, you can only do this by reading an action (and as a result using an action). For this purpose, I'll go over an alternate system that can be used. Fair warning: this changes combat encounters quite substantially and can make things more complicated depending on the version you use.

The Rule

If you have leftover movement after your turn ends, you can use it before the start of your turn (this does not cost a reaction). If you want to use this movement before someone else, the person who waited longest acts first. The person who is currently acting always can react before the movement completes.

This resolution for who acts first is important. Take the situation that a player just killed a goblin and wants to use their remaining 15 feet to get into the face of another goblin. Does the goblin move back after the player moved (potentially being hit by an opportunity attack) or can it move back first? If the player kills a goblin and a different one had 15 left, can it move up to the player or can the player move back?

Alt: Doing this costs a reaction.

Alt 2: Resolve who goes first by rolling a D20 (no modifiers). Highest roll goes first and reroll ties.

Alt 3: Only players have access to this kind of movement (makes it easier for DM to run combat but gives players an advantage).


2 fighters are in a dungeon. The first fighter kills a goblin in front of him using his action. A goblin who acted earlier and had 10 feet remaining decides to fill the gap and move towards the fighter who just killed a goblin. It's the fighter's turn, so he moves back 5 feet when he sees the goblin move forward 5 feet. The goblin moves forward 5 more and the fighter stays where he was. Now they are 5 feet away.

The second fighter kills a goblin as well. The first fighter, seeing an opening, decides to move up using his leftover distance. The goblin, who acted earlier and has waited longer, moves back first.

Why Bother?

It makes fighting quite a bit more dynamic. It also lets you reasonably use movement as a reaction to an enemy without using a ready action. If you prefer the use of a ready action for this instead (making this kind of movement more expensive in terms of action economy), you don't need this rule. However, it does mean that combat becomes more complicated, particularly for the Dungeon Master. 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dungeon Master: Ranger Weapons

Similarly to Eldritch Knights, rangers don't get much love in the magic item department. For this reason, I hope to provide similar advice for magic items specifically for rangers. I went over a lot of stuff that carries over and for that reason I would recommend reading that first.

How to Limit Items

You can easily make the item only attune to a ranger. If you do this, the attunement should add features that only makes sense to the ranger class (such as improved hunter's mark or other features). This is because, just like with the Eldritch Knight, I don't like cutting out other classes completely. If the bow acts as a +1 bow in the hands of normal people but provides double damage from hunter's mark when attuned, it remains useful for others but still remains a uniquely ranger weapon.

The ranger has a spell list that is different from other classes. As a result, having the magic item enhance a particular spell or allow extra casting of a spell will cut out the other classes by its nature. In these cases, I'd probably add these kinds of benefits into the attunement section and only allow it be attuned by a ranger to make it explicit. Since it enhances ranger spells, other classes wouldn't benefit anyway. It's just so I don't make a mistake when reading later and neither do the players. There are some cases, particularly with very powerful items, where you'll want to make sure a powerful effect is only able to be used if attuned. The effect may not be uniquely for rangers, and in this case I'd lift the attunement requirement. The spells, which are only available to a ranger, still makes it better in the hands of a ranger, but it still functions as a good item in the hands of others.

What to Target

Certain spells such as hunter's mark and swift quiver are the meat and potatoes of ranger builds for damage dealing. Enhancing these in some way greatly helps out the ranger and also helps target some of what makes the ranger unique. It also helps to make the item best employed by a ranger. Some examples are:
  • Hunter's mark no longer requires the ranger to maintain concentration
  • Swift quiver no longer requires the ranger to maintain concentration
  • Certain amount of hunter's mark casts per a day
  • Certain amount of swift quiver casts per a day
  • When certain spells are cast while attuned to the item (possibly also within certain range of item), a spell slot is not expended (note that the ability to cast the spell is still needed)
  • Damage or number of free attacks is doubled when using a certain ranger feature (hunter's mark, colossus slayer, giant killer)
  • Choose an option from “superior hunter's defense”