Storm King’s Thunder

Storm King’s Thunder is our latest hardcover 5th Edition D&D adventure from Wizards of the Coast.  Like Curse of Strahd it was written by Chris Perkins and the in-house D&D team rather than being contracted out to a third party.  Like Tyranny of Dragons, Princes of the Apocalypse, and Out of the Abyss it is also set in the Sword Coast area of the Forgotten Realms.  This place is more or less Manhattan from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It just can’t catch a break.

This is also the first adventure that I’ve elected not to purchase right away, instead borrowing a friend’s copy to peruse and write about.  Part of that is I don’t really care about the subject matter which I define as: There Are Giants Menacing the Sword Coast.  I don’t get too excited over a particular type of monster being the theme for an adventure.  Tyranny, Princes, and Abyss all had the same concept of something needs to be stopped in this specific geographical region but there were better reasons to buy those adventures.  Tyranny I bought because it was the first 5E adventure and I was curious how the pros built and structured a 5E game.  Princes of the Apocalypse had a bunch of dungeons I could loot.  Out of the Abyss was the one I got into for its own sake.  The Underdark survival/horror focus and mindbending weirdness appealed to me.  But Storm King’s Thunder I can’t think of a reason why I need to own this book other than “it’s by Chris Perkins so it’s probably pretty good.”  I guess.  But I can wait until Christmas or some kind of financial windfall before I go get my own copy of this one.

It also needs to be said that at some point I need to vote with my wallet and tell Wizards of the Coast, I’m good on Forgotten Realms content for now.  I’d like to read about someplace else.  And the reply to that goes, “But you can set this content anywhere!”  This is true.  The Forgotten Realms setting is so devoid of unique character that these adventurers could be literally anywhere else.  Great.  Write about one of those places and I’ll be happy to fork over money on day one.

I try to write these reviews in a stream of consciousness.  I take notes as I read the book, those notes turn into paragraphs and at the end it’s a review.  Again that is the format I’m going with.

Storm King’s Thunder is intended to be an adventure for characters starting at 5th level and the content will take them to 11th level.  But it also includes a chapter with an entire adventure meant to take the players from 1st to 5th level.  Now that is a pretty big leap.  Lost Mine of Phandelver took you from 1st to 5th level and it was about 51 pages.  This adventure does it in 17 pages.  This mini-adventure revolves around two dungeons, the first being a village that was attacked by giants.  The villagers, not knowing what the fuck was going on or when the giants would come back, ran off into the woods.  But then they all got captured by goblins who decided to go sack the town.  Recall Mike Shea’s advice (From the Sly Flourish blog) that getting to 2nd level in D&D 5E should require “Two Rat Swarms and a Stern Conversation.”  It’s good advice and it is the case here.

The goblins are spread out across town allowing the players in have easy encounters with them and slay the whole lot after which the PCs will probably need a long rest.  But, there are two special events that CAN happen in the night.  It says very specifically that these special events can occur while the PCs are in the village.  But the end of the chapter assumes you used both of them in order to get the PCs to 3rd level so I guess you should probably use them.  In the first event, the Zhentarim show up planning to secure the town as a base.  This is a cool little open ended encounter.  Sure they’re evil and you can just fight them but the text gives you plenty of excuses to work something out.  And if you don’t you might wish you did because in the next event, 22 orcs attack the village looking for shelter.  This isn’t really a well described encounter in terms of where the orcs should start on the map or what their tactics might be.  After this the PCs advance to 3rd level.

The villagers are being held in a cave a short way from town but the adventure doesn’t actually say how the PCs are supposed to figure this out.  It does say that the PCs can follow the villagers’ tracks into the forest but you might want to make it a bit more obvious than that.  Any Goblin the PCs capture should freely volunteer this information.  This is one of those “points of failure” you sometimes hear about in adventures.  The PCs need to get the location of these goddamn caves or there’s have no adventure and the villagers are all eaten by the goblins.  I like how the adventure points this out, saying that if the PCs don’t go through with a rescue the goblins will eat all the captured villagers and their kids.  How an adventure handles failure is, to me at least, a key part in establishing if it’s a good adventure.  If the answer to that is “the PCs all die” then it isn’t well thought out enough.

So you have this Goblin Dungeon and it has a couple ways to go through it that don’t require you to murder everybody.  Again, I like that.  I like adventures with non-violent solutions that are more than just “make a persuasion check and we all go home.”  In this, the goblin chief is perfectly willing to deal.  The price might not be especially high but it’s more than one persuasion check.  Completing this cave part allows the PCs advance to 4th Level.

After the Goblin Caves the PCs are given a quest hook and sent on their way.  I’ll discuss what that hook is in a minute, but on the way to that quest the PCs are given a lift by a Cloud Giant with a flying tower.   He gives the PCs a ride to their destination I guess so he can provide exposition on why the giants are acting up, but it doesn’t say that in the book.  The adventure says that he keeps using divination magic and that The Gods/Writers told him to give the PCs a ride.  The PCs then have two encounters and advance to 5th Level because they need to be 5th Level when they arrive at their destination.  Those PCs who got to 5th Level by playing through Wave Echo Cave in Lost Mine of Phandelver are suckers.  This is about 30 minutes of combat against low CR foes.

I have a couple problems with this as you might guess.  For one thing, I think this cloud giant NPC is stupid.  He’s flying around in a tower that literally has a wizard’s hat on it.  Like the tower itself has a pointy wizard’s hat on it.  It looks so dumb.  And this Giant is just meant to be portrayed as wildly eccentric, driven insane by overuse of divination spells.  It feels so looney tunes out of left field.  And then for no achievement at all the PCs are promoted to 5th level.  This is really stretching the credibility of the “milestone” system of gaining levels.  This amount of content isn’t enough to constitute a milestone, in my opinion.  There’s no dungeon, there’s no treasure, it’s just the writers didn’t have space to put another dungeon in this chapter so BAM you’re 5th level now because that’s how they wrote the adventure.

Now, let me take a step back before the Cloud Giant shows up to explain the plot hook after you leave the Goblin Caves.  One of the villagers you rescue, the de facto town leader now, gives you this quest.  There are Three NPCs in distant lands that should be informed their relatives died in the attack on the village.  This is not a situation where the PCs should choose which one they go to because one of these NPCs is like 3 days away, the other one is a month away.  If you tell the PCs to do them all they’re obviously going to start with the closest one and work their way further away.  So the DM should pick one and only give the PCs one hook, go find this NPC’s relative.

You might see the problem here and its one I’ve seen hinted at in the few reviews I read for this adventure.  Unlike the previous adventures, the PCs are only expected to do one of these things for Chapter 2 of the adventure then move on to Chapter 3.  They are not expected to encounter all the content in the book.  That is a big big change from the previous published hardcovers.

So what happens when the PCs travel 3-26 days to bring some unsuspecting NPC word that their loved one was killed?  Strangely, nothing.  There are three possible NPCs to inform in three different communities and unless I missed something, not one of the descriptions of these places mentions how anything changes by the PCs journeying to this person with sad news.  This tells me that maybe these quest hooks and the towns were written by different people because I have to believe that if they were written by the same person the text would read, “If you tell NPC X how NPC Y died they offer you free lodging and a quest hook.”  It doesn’t say anything like that though.

So you have to choose one of three places.  And if you’re starting this book at level 5, you’re choosing one of these locations to begin the adventure.  What are the choices?  Why are your PCs here?  And what happens to begin the earnest kickoff to Storm King’s Thunder?  The answers to these questions are all different but they’re in the same format.

Your choices are a trading village in the harsh, cold northlands named Bryn Shander, a walled in 10 mile area of farmland called Goldenfields, and a temperate climate trading village named Triboar.  Personally I’m most excited about Bryn Shander because I remember it from the 5E playtest adventure, Legacy of the Crystal Shard.  Some of the same NPCs are included although bizarrely there no mention of Vaelish Gant.

This is a nerd shit tangent, please feel free to skip this paragraph.  Legacy of the Crystal Shard was the second of the “Sundering” adventures, which refers to several Forgotten Realms adventures released during the 5E playtest where the gods were thrown into upheaval and chose their champions to do their works upon earth.  These adventures had several different endings and it was decreed by WotC that the most common ending to these adventures as voted by those playing in them would be New Forgotten Realms Canon.  This was seen in Tyranny of Dragons where as a result of the adventure, “Murder in Baldur’s Gate” a Duke of Baldur’s Gate, Torlin Silvershield, was determined to be the Chosen of the God of Murder and the final boss of the adventure.  “Murder” revolved around three NPCs, any one of whom could turn out to be the Big Bad of the adventure depending on the PCs actions.  By the will of the voters, it was Silvershield.  This was realized as FR Canon in the adventure “Rise of Tiamat” where one of those three NPCs,  Ulder Ravengard, appears as a Duke of Baldur’s Gate, a position he sought but did not attain during Murder in Baldur’s Gate.  This was again confirmed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide where the ending of Murder is detailed again.  Legacy of the Crystal Shard also had a canon ending voted the same way involving which of the three NPCs there would “win” or rather, not be dealt with.  In that ending, the leader of Bryn Shander, Duvessa Shane, was voted out of office by a slick mage named Vaelish Gant who proceeded to bring his thugs into the village and seize power.  I wrote about this in my blog post on the adventure but this jabroni was clearly the lesser evil compared to two other villains in the adventure, “Evil Ice Witch Elsa” and “Lich With Mind Control Ice.”  Vaelish Gant is nowhere to be seen in this book so I guess a wizard overthrew him or maybe WotC just forgot about that ending.

Regardless of which village the PCs go to, those are your three choices.  Ice Trade Village, Warm Farm Village, Warm Trade Village.  Why are your PCs here?  Other than “Because we’re playing Storm King’s Thunder” that question never gets answered.  Each village is rich in descriptive text and chock-goddamn-FULL of proper nouns.  Honestly, halfway through the description of Goldenfields my eyes started to glaze over.  There is so much detail here it’s almost like these places were going to be featured in some kind of Guide Book on the Sword Coast and they decided to put them in an adventure instead.  But there really isn’t anything suggested to do in these places except proceed directly to the Giant Attack on the village.

All of them get attacked by a different type of giant with a different objective.  These encounters are not balanced for triumph by a group of 4-6 5th Level PCs.  If the PCs roll up they will get smoked.  To mitigate this, the adventure directs the DM to hand out NPCs for the players to run during this encounter.  The Adventure also directs the DM to tell the players that each NPC who survives will have a quest for the PCs.  The Adventure also directs the DM to go after any NPC who tries to hide in a basement or something.  And after these encounters, sure enough, every one of these 6-8 NPCs has a quest hook to give the PCs.

There are a couple problems I have with these encounters in general.  These are not really specific to the individual encounters, these are problems they all share.  I don’t like the idea of handing these NPCs out to the PCs and telling them “if these people live they’ll give you a quest.”  This is too much “lifting the screen” for my taste of tabletop RPGs.  I don’t like explaining what the intent of a scene is in such gamey terms.  I don’t like placing the PCs’ ability to experience the content of an adventure as a stake for a combat encounter.  This sure looks like a point of failure in the adventure.  If these NPCs get wiped out, can the adventure continue?  You need the help of these NPCs because the encounters are meant to be realistic (code for unbalanced) giant attacks on the village.  If the writers want it to be too hard for the PCs to do on their own just make it too hard and still plan to give the quest hooks afterwards.  Don’t tell the players, “If you fuck this up I’m going to take away potential quests from you.”

The other big problem I have with these encounters is that they’re not particularly well done.  By that I mean the adventure tells you which monsters to use and gives you a wide map of the area but that’s all the guidance you get for a very complicated encounter with a lot of moving parts.  In a rules lighter system like 5E giving you a precise map with enemy starting positions would be a mistake.  Then the players would treat it like a standard combat encounter with standard combat encounter roleplaying.  But as written, I don’t feel like I have enough information to run these encounters.  In Bryn Shander, some giants begin hurling rocks over the city wall while a couple storm the gate.  The encounter is over when the PCs kill the giant leader.  Do the players need to make skill checks to avoid the rocks being hurled over the wall?  Are the giants throwing making attack rolls with disadvantage?  In the Goldenfields encounter the text says the ogres are using back-mounted catapaults to throw goblins at the wall at 120 feet and 300 feet.  Which is it?  Do they leave after they throw all their goblins?  Can they damage the walls if the PCs hide behind the walls?  Lastly, in Triboar, the Orcs are mounted on Axe-Beaks.  Orcs on Giant Chickens.  Also in Triboar, if driven off, the giants return with reinforcements.  Who might die if the PCs leave and does it matter?

These encounters are generalized enough that you could put them in any other campaign but there still isn’t enough detail to run them effectively.  Compare this with Princes of the Apocalypse.  I love Princes because it gives you 15+ dungeons ready to be lifted to another campaign.  Princes is presenting complete encounters and the information to run them.  Those dungeons are stacked with their various monsters and maps and what happens if the PCs do X.  The giant’s attacking whichever of the three villages the PCs go to is the set piece encounter of the chapter and there isn’t enough information about which rules come into effect to actually run it.

If I want to re-use one of the three villages, say Goldenfields in a game, I’ll want this book to provide lore and NPCs.  But for use in the adventure “Storm King’s Thunder” for this one encounter, I would appreciate more text on tactics and less on the pumpkin and barley fields six miles north of where the encounter is taking place.  Like the quest to inform the Next of Kin NPCs earlier in the book, it seems like there is a discrepancy between the information we’re being given in the adventure as flavor and background text and how relevant that information is to the adventure itself.

There isn’t a reward for defending these places other than the quest hooks which are another problem.  When I read “save these NPCs to gain quests” I figured the quests would reveal things about the world and lore which will be important towards completing Storm King’s Thunder.  But that isn’t the case.

  • A guard in Bryn Shander asks you to ask his dwarf clan to send warriors to the town.
  • A priest says he might know where to find the person the giants were looking for in Bryn Shander but the lead is a dead end.
  • The leader of Bryn Shander sends you to find her sea captain aunt but she’s actually missing but her buddy will let you aboard his boat if you pay him.
  • The Guard Captain of Bryn Shander deputizes you to patrol the countryside.
  • Several NPCs are looking for a fugitive either to bring him in or help him stay free.
  • One guy wants you to stop a cult.
  • One person gives you a pendant which can be exchanged with another NPC for a magic item.
  • Several places in Chapter 2 reference someplace called the Bargewright Inn as though the PCs should be familiar with it. It actually appears in Chapter 3 although it also appears in Princes of the Apocalypse.

I don’t see what these quests have to do with the Storm King or his Thunder.  These seem like jumbled World of Warcraft style fetch quests intended to pad out a runtime rather than tell one story.  Is it fun to play D&D?  You bet it is.  Do I want to bring back twenty bear asses for a roll on Magic Item Table B?  Not really and definitely not in a book called STORM KING’S THUNDER.  Do they eventually plan to have giants in their giant adventure?

Chapter 3 is indeed chock full of giants.  The quests given to you in Chapter 2 don’t include giants but Chapter 3 chronicles what the PCs might randomly encounter as they wander across the sword coast accomplishing those quests and most of these are Giant related.  I get a little hostile at the points in Storm King’s Thunder that refer me to Encounter Tables in the 5E DMG.  If you wanted to roll random encounters from the DMG why pick up this adventure?  Chapter 3 is an odd duck though.  In Storm King’s Thunder we have Plot A) Giants Are Up To Some Shit, Stop Them and Plot B) The Storm Giant King named Hekaton Is Missing and He Could Probably Keep The Giants In Line.  Chapter 3 has random encounters where you work on the A-Plot of the Giants getting up to shit but the chapter is more than that.  Chapter 3 is a gazetteer of many many locations on the Sword Coast and most have some kind of encounter with them.  The number of locations is so large that this feels like a Sword Coast Dungeon Master’s Guide.  If you swapped out some of these giant encounters with orcs or something you wouldn’t know they belong to an adventure about Giants.  It goes past the point of being of any use to an adventure.  Why are there four pages on the Barbarians of Icewind Dale?  Why is Anauroch in this book?   There are no encounters there except the end battle which is close to the edge, barely into Anauroch which otherwise just takes up hundreds and hundreds of empty miles.

Much like parts of Out of the Abyss, the plot of this chapter is go through random encounters and side quests and then scatter three planned encounters throughout the players’ journey.  The final one of these introduces Harshnag, a Frost Giant NPC who aids the PCs.  Harshnag’s depiction in this adventure screams “Mary Sue DMPC.”  Repeatedly the adventure says “here is how Harshnag solves this problem/gives the PCs lore.”  It also says, “If Harshnag is being too awesome, do this so the players aren’t just watching an NPC do things.”  Again, I’m hostile towards this.  Later in the adventure the PCs return to the Temple for some reason I can’t remember.  Wisely, the adventure gets rid of Harshnag by having him remain at the temple after the PCs explore it the first time and then he sacrifices himself to save the PCs after the temple is attacked when the PCs return.

After the camping trip of Chapter 3 the PCs go to a Giant Temple where they can commune with the Giant Gods to get the plot explained to them.  It’s a short if giant-sized temple, I’m sure I would understand it better if I had time to do some read-throughs.  The point to the temple is that the Giant Gods send them on a fetch quest to recover one of the Giant’s Magic Conch Shells which allows the bearer to teleport to the Storm King’s Undersea Palace.  This is the “Against the Giants” portion of the adventure where the PCs need to go choose one of the five giant lords to confront.  Again this is a portion of the adventure where content is being skipped.

The Adventure says you only need to do one giant steading at this time, however after the adventure it recommends “if your players want to finish the other four locations they level up after every two.”  Despite the unique nature of this book that there are parts you are expected to skip it would not feel wrong to include those skipped sections if you were playing through the adventure.  Giants can attack Bryn Shander and Goldenfields in the same adventure.  Where this would cause a problem is, the book uses milestone XP.  What do you do if your PCs really want to lollygag and wander for weeks on end in Chapter 3 where the content is balanced for 6th level pcs?  Honestly there isn’t a perfect answer for that.  The hardass thing to do is the PCs just don’t level up until they accomplish the thing the adventure says they need to.

I ran into issues with milestone XP in Curse of Strahd.  Maybe I could’ve done something different and slowed things down.  I can’t remember when I promoted them to 9th level but it was at the Amber Temple because they needed the boost because the Amber Temple is a goddamn death trap.  But, Castle Ravenloft is also balanced for 9th level characters.  Yet after 3-4 weeks at level 9 in the Amber Temple everyone starts asking at the end of encounters, “did we level up?”  The expectation of the players is that clearly they’ve done enough to earn it.  Have they?  The adventure and the players expectations say different things.  I decided they would go up to level 10 when they hit the basement of Castle Ravenloft or defeated Rahadin, the Chamberlain, not expecting they would make a beeline for those two things.  But whatever, it’s the end of the adventure and I have no problem putting them up to level 11 if they survive Strahd and want to continue with these characters.  My point is that the Milestone system can create a situation where the PCs are really playing with their food but feeling that there’s some stagnation when they don’t level up.  I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that question that works for everyone.

As an aside, “Did we level?” and “Loot?” are my least favorite fucking questions in D&D.  I prefer to deal with experience at the end of a session and treasure in a narrative way.  This drove me nuts in my 4th Edition Dark Sun game when the players seemed puzzled when they weren’t stumbling across hoards of gemstones and magic items when they were fucking around in the desert killing wild animals.  THE MONEY IS WITH THE RICH PEOPLE GUYS AND THE SAND RATS DON’T HAVE +5 WEAPONS.  I still have fond memories of that game though, my more method/storytelling style was well balanced against the power gaming players who expect every kill to explode in gold Diablo Style.

From this point forward the book feels rushed but I can’t be sure if it just reads that way or if it plays that way too.  The reason it feels this way is because the first 5 chapters of this adventure are aimless wandering.  Go to places, do things, there isn’t a ticking clock.  You’re not in the Underdark running away from Drow or out of food.  You’re not on the road trying to keep a cult from reaching their destination.  Some Elemental Demon isn’t coming through a portal.  Strahd isn’t trying to kill you.  No, this adventure is much more lackadaisical.  There’s some shit going down.  Find out why.  Or don’t.  But after all this wandering the return to the Giant Temple puts the PCs on a much more structured path headed for the last act of the adventure.  Another reason is that this last act doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with the previous chapters.  Here the focus is clearly on King Hekaton, the Storm King.  The previous chapters were much more general “there be giants.”  Everything is fucked, you don’t know how to fix it but here are some consequences and you can travel wherever.  It’s the difference between Disc 3 and Disc 4 of a Playstation Final Fantasy game.  Disc 3 is where you have your aimless wandering but once you commit to Disc 4 its time to strap in until the adventure is over.

The structure of these last four or so chapters first sends you to the Storm Giant Castle Under The Sea with the Magic Teleport Conch.  There, you navigate the court of the Storm Giant and have some roleplaying challenges.  I can’t recall if there is much in the way of dungeon style delving through this castle but the Court Intrigue is much more consequential.  The goal here is to get the Storm Giants on your side (your side meaning non-Giants) in order to get the rest of the giants back in line.

The Storm Giant princess currently running the show also has in her possession a wooden coin that is a critical clue for where her father King Hekaton is being held captive and also to who murdered her mother, the good queen Storm Giant.  She was murdered and this coin is the only clue but no one knows what it means until the PCs show up.  This is weak sauce.  The Assassin Who Drops An Obvious Clue is an old DM’s trick you pull out when the game is running over its allotted time.  It gets things moving but it’s a crutch/patch/non-organic massive hint that feels cheap at the table.  Done poorly, it’s the DM telling the players, “I couldn’t figure out how to get you to the next scene so let’s just go there.”  Sometimes necessary to jumpstart a game, but you only need a jump when the battery is dead.

After the Storm Giant Castle you go to a floating riverboat casino and the captain tells you where Hekaton is.  Then you go to where King Hekaton is and free him.  Then he and his Storm Giant bodyguards bring you to the big bad’s lair where you kill them.  BAM!  Adventure Complete!  My hope is that by summarizing the last three parts in three sentences I can convey to you again that the ending feels rushed and linear compared to the aimless wandering that made up the beginning of the book.

This isn’t to say there is nothing I like here.  I like that this adventure more than any other is oddly indifferent to failure by the PCs.  It is entirely possible that King Hekaton and any of his three daughters will not survive this adventure.  For these outcomes the adventure just gives you a shruggie.  I like when adventures give the DM an ending or a plan if the PCs fuck up other than “TPK, Reroll.”  If you fail in Rise of Tiamat or Princes of the Apocalypse it’s just GAME OVER.  In Curse of Strahd, the adventure is completely honest that your players stand a good chance of burning Vallaki to the ground.  More than one group has.  In Storm King’s Thunder, the Storm King might die.  It is to the adventure’s credit that this is not a point of failure with the adventure.  You can still go fight the end boss.

But why?  Why does the death of the Storm King have little impact on Storm King’s Thunder?  Why isn’t this a catastrophic point of failure?  The reason is that this adventure doesn’t really have an ending.  If Hekaton or his good-aligned daughter lives, great!  You get a gold star and a great NPC to keep going with future adventures.  But the book literally says “in any case the death of [the end boss] has no effect on the machinations of the evil giant lords of the north.”  The Plot in the first half of the book isn’t affected by The Plot in the second half of the book except by DM fiat.  Okay…uhh…then it is bad writing.  And I think this is the crux of the adventure’s weakness.  It doesn’t really have a story in the end except for the one you impose on it.  But is it a weakness if you had fun playing D&D?

I’m wrapping up Curse of Strahd soon.  I felt that this adventure tells many stories about this land called Barovia all revolving around this one terrible person named Strahd von Zarovich.  A cynical player might say you play Curse of Strahd so you can get to a high enough level to fight Strahd.  I disagree.  We’re playing D&D because it’s fun to play D&D.  We’re playing Curse of Strahd because we want to play D&D in the structure of the story the adventure sold us on.  We want The Curse of Strahd Experience.  I’m not disappointed by Curse of Strahd.  There are things I would change in a future playthrough but I feel I got what I paid for because I ran the adventure.  I’m not sure I could say that even if I ran Storm King’s Thunder.  What is Storm King’s Thunder?  It’s not really a published adventure like we’ve seen before.  The moment of victory, Tiamat going back into the Nine Hells, Demogorgon going back into the Abyss, this crowning moment of victory doesn’t exist in Storm King’s Thunder.  As a published adventure it feels almost incomplete compared to the other more story driven adventures we’ve seen so far.

My final thought is that I appreciate Storm King’s Thunder for its wealth of lootable material and as a Sword Coast DMG.  But this is a sandbox, not a story.  You can make something out of it but it seems to learn more heavily on you the DM or you the Player to make it work.  You bring your own stories to this pre-existing universe.  Some groups will flourish under that limited guidance, others will fold.  Curse of Strahd was a fun adventure to play.  Storm King’s Thunder is a nice tool to have.  That’s the difference.

But in the end I think completeness is overrated.  You can get further in a tabletop RPG I’ve found with a few good prompts or a little push rather than a completely defined path.  Curse of Strahd is a better adventure.  If you want to run a great adventure, play Curse of Strahd.  If you want to play D&D, have Storm King’s Thunder and Princes of the Apocalypse handy.

Odds and Ends

  • Wasn’t there supposed to be rune magic or something in this adventure? This is a blink and you’ll miss it aspect of this book.  The Rune Magic aspect of this adventure is a handful of wondrous items with a list of properties you can transfer to a non-magical item.  It is a minor thing and feels ancillary.
  • With giants you can barely fight at the start of the adventure and an ancient dragon you can barely fight at the end of the adventure I have to ask, why not make this a higher level adventure? Would it sell less if it was geared for high level play?

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