Storm King's Thunder - DM View 1
Hello! This is my DM voice. Hopefully this blog post will serve as an idea for new DMs to get started with Storm King's Thunder, cause I know it's pretty daunting. I am by no means an experience dungeon master, I only started late last year, so hopefully I can outline my mistakes so others don't make them too! Anything I think is of worth I'll comment in italics below the paragraph.
PLAYERS BE WARNED. There are spoilers for Storm King's Thunder, and a few minor spoilers for Lost Mines of Phandalin. This could also ruin the magic of DnD for specifically my players. You have been warned.
Sunya (Human) rips his hand out of the Dragon's head and shakes the blood and gore off his hand wraps. Guts (Human) looks around, dazed and raging after falling off the ledge; brushing himself off, he looks up at the cause of his pain, the sphere of darkness floating 10 feet in the air that Sunya cast moments ago. This left Garrick (Dwarf) to inspect the dead green beast while Sunya heads over to peruse the pile of treasure.
Guts recently failed an intelligence check so see if he could work out the way to the stairs after Sunya cast darkness where he was. This was an effort to make my players think about what they're doing and how it can affect others. Also everyone loves rolling dice, be it digitally or real life.
Outside the castle, Raanul (Dragonborn) and Jappa (Tortle) are tending to their wounded comrade Birdperson (Aarakocra) - before the Dragon was lured away to Guts, it had sunk it's claws and teeth deep into Birdperson, causing him to drop to the floor unconscious.
Birdperson was the only person who was able to fly and do any real damage to the dragon in the fight. After I read about SKT being deadly in some encounters, I decided to put the fear of god (or the DM) into the guys by showing that bad things can happen. Also with 7 players I am still concerned about how the pre-determined encounters were gunna go, so it's all part of working out their limits.
By the time Cheddar (Tabaxi) had reached the tower, both Guts and Sunya had finished with the treasure pile, taking the gold, silver and anything else of worth to them. Cheddar spent a while carving into the dragon to get a claw loose, and Sunya pried a scale and tooth loose.
I love bits of DnD like this. I think it's super important to indulge the players in little things that adds to RP. It also helps with the "video game" mentality, and adds in items and thoughts that are just for RP.
Heading out to the others, they all began their long journey back to Phandalin, hoping Reidoth the Druid might have something to help with Birdperson's wounds, and to let him know they slayed the Dragon, as promised.
The familiar town of Phandalin arises over the hill after a long two days travel. Birdperson's state has deteriorated further, so the party head straight to Reidoth. Knocking at the door, they are greeted by their old adventuring partner Harkul, who ushers them in after seeing the state of Birdperon.
"Glad to see you're back and safe, did you manage to kill the Dragon?" Reidoth greets the party with his usual emotionless tone. As Raanul enters the house, Birdperson in arms, the druid gestures to Harkul, "Clear off the table, lay him down there". He spends a moment thinking. "There is nothing I can do for him right now, I'll need to take him to the Enclave, the healers there will be able to assist". He turns to Raanul, "Have you thought about the offer? The Emerald Enclave would be glad to have you, and you could certainly hone your natural skills". She turns her head to the rest of the group.
"This is where I leave you, I'll take care of Birdperson for you Jappa, I'll let him know you're headed to Triboar".
The guy playing Birdperson had to duck out the next few sessionss, so I decided to make the injuries a little more deadly. I think having lots of different NPCs that the players know is so so helpful in adding in little bits of plot and fixing errors etc. I used Reidoth to exit Raanul from the campaign, as a lot of the players wanted to swap out characters before another long campaign.
With that, the party depart and head off to Sildar, to let him know they relieved the village of the dragon problem. On arrival, they find the stand-in-townmaster in a fit of paper and letters.
"Oh, I wasn't expecting you today, what can I help with? You can see that I'm a little busy, I need to sort out reinforcements to clear out that dragon you mentioned, so make it quick if you could" he remarks.
"You don't need to worry about that" Sunya announces, "We've taken care of it".
"Taken care of it?"
"Yeah, we killed the dragon" and Sunya places the scale and tooth on the table.
"Oh my, you have already done so much for this village, and now this! I wish I had something to repay you with, but everything I have here I need to keep, to ensure Phandalin is restored back to it's former glory. I hope these can suffice". Sildar hands Sunya, Guts and Garrick their contract regarding their share of the mine.
"I don't need this, I did it for honour and because I made a promise" and places the contract on the desk. As Sildar gets up to thank Sunya with a handshake, Cheddar uses the moment of distraction to take the contract and pocket it, unnoticed.
This whole conversation was basically me drilling certain things into their heads. I want them to think more about their actions and how the players would act. In LMOP, they would just leave town without telling people, and even buried a dead villager after they were discovered she was murdered, then left without telling anyone. So this was just mainly to make them think "oh we are people in this town, if we do things that will affect people, we need to tell them".
"I wish I could offer you more. All I can offer you is another task. Come back with me to Waterdeep, I need to explain all these events and it would certainly help with my case if I had one of the esteemed adventurers with me!"
"I can, however I promised to deliver this letter for someone, so unless one of these want's to deliver it..." Sunya replies, removing the letter from his bag and holding it in out.
"I can deliver it, you can trust me to get it done." Guts responds. "Erm, where do we need to deliver it?" The monk pulls the letter away from Guts' grasp, and looks at the others.
"You can trust me, I'll deliver it" assures Cheddar. Sunya looks at him, unconvinced.
"If you do not deliver this, I will find out, and I will hunt you down, got it?" and hands the letter over.
"Perfect! We will leave at sunrise tomorrow Sunya. This is a great help to me, and I'm sure you'll find your place in Waterdeep", and with that Sildar returns to his chair. The party file out the office and into the street, heading over to the Stonehill tavern, where they have stayed multiple nights over the past few weeks. Offering free lodgings, Toblen the innkeeper heads to the bar to pour some ale for Cheddar, Sunya and Garrick, whilst Jappa the Tortle gets into his shell and falls asleep on the floor of the bar, much to the annoyance of the locals. Guts heads straight off to bed, and the others spend most the night drinking, before settling in for the night.
The whole Sunya/Sildar conversation was like getting blood out of a stone. I knew that Sunya needed to leave the game to make way for the new character, but in RP terms Sunya made a promise and is not one to back down from that. Trying to get the other guys to realise what is happeningm without metagaming was really hard.
They awake in the morning, Sunya now far away with Sildar and Jappa in the center of the now busy dining area. Garrick asks Toblen for directions to Triboar after breakfast, and they wander into the street.
"I guess we need to deliver this letter then" yawns Guts.
"No need" as Cheddar begins to rip it up. Guts grabs it out of Cheddar's paws after one full tear down the center.
I was laughing so much when this happened. It's the sort of CG/CN thing that always gets blown out of proportion, so it was fun to see a more harmless bit of fun coming out. That was you can still RP, just not campaign ruining.
"What are you doing?! We might as well keep it in case we pass the place we need to deliver it". Cheddar shrugs, keeping a close eye on where Guts put the letter, and they head off down the Triboar trail, on the way to the town of Triboar.
This confused me to no end. I gave the letter quest to the party so they had somewhere to go after they had saved Phandalin. Then, when they decided they weren't going to deliver the letter (and ripped it up), they decided to head there anyway. It was a saving grace as I hadn't planned for them to go anywhere else,so I'm not complaining.
In the late afternoon of the first day's travels, Cheddar, Jappa and Garrick hear a the sound of rubble and dirt being kicked up behind them. They all swirl around to find a smiling halfling, carrying a bag. Their gaze is drawn to his eyes, which instead of a solid colour, are a swirling, shifting spectrum of colours. He greets himself as Jeff, and asks if he can join the group as he has been lost in the woods and detests travelling alone. They reluctantly agree and he joins onto the tail of the party, whips out his ocarina and starts to play some music for the group as they walk. The rest of the day passes uneventfully, with music to accompany the trail when conversation dips. Early on the second day, before the Sun has reached it's peak, the crew spot a horse and cart coming towards them. Conscious that they are low on rations (and vodka), they decide to try and trade with the man.
Jeff was super easy to introduce as he was a travelling bard who loves making friends and hates travelling alone. Perfect. This is where I decided to start adding in random encounters during overland travel and nights spent outside. I didn't want to get into any combat stuff because that would have sapped the session for not a lot of point, but it will definitely help as this is a big part of Chapter 3 in SKT. It also gives that extra tension and immersion.
"Yeah, I can trade with ya's. Can't say I have a lot, Triboar was lacking in much variety, probably 'cause of the trouble further up North. What do ya need?"
Jeff begin's to talk to the merchant, telling his tale and oversharing before Garrick and Guts step in. Cheddar uses the distraction to his advantage, and swaps out the letter in Guts' bag with a picture of a Cat defecating in the barbarian's mouth.
"Have you got any spirits, vodka and that?" He looks at Cheddar "Since that last place only had ale". The traveller dives into the cart, and emerges with a suspicious, cloudy looking liquid in an unmarked bottle. "This is the best stuff from the North, 2 gold!". Jeff whispers to Cheddar this, whilst probably not being the 'best' from the North, does look like the sort of thing that the northerners brew. Cheddar, eager to get his hands on some drink, but not keen on being ripped off, cast a spell on the merchant to make him more receptive to the idea of a barter. Sealing the deal for 7 silver, Cheddar leans over to Garrick.
"We need to make a move pretty sharpish" and starts to carry on down the track. The merchant shouts over, waving in a large arc.
"See you soon friend!". Jeff begins to try purchase some fresh meat for the group to eat, when the trader shakes his head a little, realising he's been had. He jumps off the cart and starts to shout.
"OI! TABAXI, GET BACK HERE!" As soon as Cheddar hears this, he falls to four legs and begins to race off down the trail. The traveller swears under his breath, turns to the cart, spits at the floor by Garrick's feet and jumps on the cart. He pushes on in the direction he was travelling, no more words spoken.
This is another example of the Chaotic alignment coming into play. Just messing around with people, without breaking the game or doing things with serious consequences (like burning down an inn).
The rest of the party stand there in stunned silence, before continuing down the trail. As the Sun starts to set behind the backdrop of hills and mountains, the forest and hill terrain starts to give way. Fields and huts begin to become more frequent as the road continues, until the fields in turn give way to houses and bigger buildings. They have arrived in Triboar. The houses and building of Triboar are much more than the decrepit ruins and patched-together houses of Phandalin. The reddish brick buildings outline a market square, in the center of which stands a 3 story tower of large grey brick, moss and ivy growing up along the sides. The market stalls are being packed down by their respective owners, and as the party nears the center they gain few sideways glances from the working merchants, who are looking tired and ready to head off to their homes.
"Excuse me!" Jeff exclaims, walking over to the nearest merchant. "Do you know this town well?"
"Of course, I live here, I work here. Can I help? The stall is closed for the day now unfortunately." The burly looking stall owner looks at the halfling with a frown, a little taken aback with his eagerness.
"Well, we were looking for the best night's rest in the town, could you tell me where that would be?"
The trader frowns more intently. "The best inn in Triboar. Not sure that's the place you should be looking for", as he squints over at the party.
"Why not?!" Jeff questions, starting to draw attention from the surrounding merchants and travellers.
"Well, I'm not sure the clientele of the best inn will be happy with a human cat and a massive turtle walking into their bar."
"That's a good point" Jeff turns to point at Cheddar "It's okay though, he is a good kitty. I think that we might as well try, don't you?"
The merchant sighs "It's up to you little man, the place you want is the North Shield House, just North East of here".
"Thank you Sir!" and Jeff heads back to the group, relaying the conversation, and starts to head off in a random direction, a direction which is certainly not North East. As Cheddar passes the merchant, he whispers and casts a spell. The man starts chuckling, then bursts into laughter and start rolling on the floor in fits of manic giggles.
In LMOP, the players barely spoke to any NPCs at all, unless it was forced upon them. It's safe to say that accents and NPCs are probably one of my weakest points, so I was glad to get some practise in before introducing the big characters. In an effort to try make the world seem more real, I didn't want everything to just happen and be easy for the party, especially in social encounters. I added in the xenophobia and unease at the strange races of the party to make the guys think in terms of characters rather than players. If a Cat and a Turtle wander into town, they're gunna be greeted with some strange looks.
After a short walk the rest of the group realise that they are currently walking out of town and not to the inn, spin round and head back to the square, find another merchant to ask for directions. Following the directions of the second merchant, they walk across the square. They see some kerfuffle of two farmers shouting about their long lost brother, being bundled out of the Tower in the centre of the square. This is where a blonde haired man in dirty, ragged robes and a backpack walks up and introduces himself to Guts as Guthra. While he is explaining he has heard of the deeds of him and his party in Phandalin, he asks if they would head north with him if he helps out with combat. They agree and head to the inn. After a little bit of bartering and tense negotiating, the party manage to secure rooms for the night. Jeff managing to score free lodging in return for his music, Cheddar paying for the clients that walked out as soon as he entered, and Jappa sleeping outside in his shell as not to offend anyone.
I thought it would be fun for Guthra to introduce himself randomly as the party were walking around, for extra immersion. It worked out well, and the RP between Guts and Guthra was seemless. We spent a little more time working out characters and their quirks beforehand, and this definitely showed here.