Storm King’s Thunder: Episode 2
The players in this campaign developed interesting backstories for each of their characters, and to not use them would be a waste. Storm King’s Thunder is nice because while there is a general urgency going on in the world of “giants are causing havoc” there is still time for characters to go off and do their own thing, explore new areas, and meet new people. It’s less “we need to deal with this — now!” and more “we’re going to have to deal with this as it develops.”
I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with the Tomb of Horrors. The legendary dungeon was made way before my time, but its infamous status couldn’t help but pique my interest. When it was featured in Ready Player One, my intrigue for it went sky-high and I knew I had to feature it in a campaign. In my previous one, a character had a vision of a group of adventures who journeyed to the Tomb. That way we could play it, and I wouldn’t have to feel bad about killing off their characters indiscriminately. It was great.
I also came across the 4th Edition rebooted Tomb of Horrors. I thought they had some interesting puzzles, and figured I’d introduce some of those dungeons into this campaign.
Fight and Flight
The characters had just learned that Felgolos had been poisoned. He knew of a healer at a nearby town who could help. They hopped on, and headed there as quick as they could. Zhentarim were on the lookout for Felgolos, since he was disrupting their devious plans. I changed the encounter from Zephyros’s flying tower to instead be some Zhents on giant vultures looking to kill Felgolos — who has tired and slow from the poison.
This forced the characters to use ranged attacks, and take a different approach to combat tactics. But when I eventually had a giant vulture get close enough to Felgolos to get some melee attacks in, Zedrick and Xavian took it upon themselves to jump from the bronze dragon onto the vulture. I let them know the consequences of missing a jump like that from this high up in the air, but they were not deterred. They rolled their athletics checks, and both failed miserably. They began plummeting to the ground.
Story-wise, I liked this. I had softly set up multiple ways this encounter could go. It depended on whether they won or lost the combat, if they tried some healing on Felgolos, or if they thought it was more important to hide or head straight for the town. I was pretty certain I would want Felgolos to crash land, and create some urgency in their decision-making. Enemies were on the way, and they could either hide, run, or fight once they arrived. So having two characters begin falling meant Felgolos could divert his course. He’d daringly save the two, then collapse from exhaustion in a field next to a mysterious ruin. As he changed into his more tenable and charming halfling form, the party could explore and see some stairs headed down below.
Perhaps I should have had some Zhentarim already there to complicate matters. The players didn’t actually think for very long, and instantly decided to head down into the ruins. So much for tense decisions.
Into the Tomb
I dropped them into the Tomb of Shadows. I liked the emphasis on non-combat encounters, and wanted to see how my players would react to it. The first room was surrounded by strange portals, with one giant devourer head placed in the middle. Cygnus sent his new Tressym (a cat with wings) familiar into a few portals, as it gained a donkey’s head, changed sex, and was eventually torn to shreds. They investigated the devourer head more closely. They determined that its closed eyes were inconsistent with classic representations of the head. They smashed the eyes, bypassed the trap, and safely carried on.
There were some more interesting encounters along the way. Some tapestries depicted a lost saviour of Auberon’s former elf tribe. He cut it out and kept it, perhaps to show to his elves if he were to return. This was fortunate timing, as the tapestries then came to life and began trying to suffocate the adventurers. They fended off the twisted cloth with some clever use of a stone fire pit that burned the tapestries to ash.
Continuing on, they eventually came to a great chamber with necrotic sludge spilling down a chasm onto four differently coloured devourer heads. These types of puzzles always seem fun as a DM, but they can move very slowly when actually in play. After testing out the different faces, and exploring what little of the area they could, they found a way out. A tunnel was on the other side of the acrid sludge that was seeping down the sides of the chasm.
They continued up a bridge made of bone, haunted by lost souls, and eventually found their way to an eldritch engine that was powering this strange dungeon. A flying skull defended it, but the characters were able to overcome the challenge, and disposed of their enemy and the engine in one fell swoop. I transported them back to the field, sickly Felgolos in tow, and no Zhentarim in sight.
Hastily adapting this 4th edition adventure for 5th edition was fun, but it’s apparent how different the design philosophies are. The 4th edition Tomb of Horrors had a focus on needing to pass skill checks to continue the quest. Instead of solving fun puzzles, player’s basically just had to roll their way out of trouble. I also felt like it was getting bogged down by precisely constructed combat encounters. The 4th edition fights seemed highly tactical.
Storm King’s Thunder is squarely rooted in 5th edition’s ethos. It’s much more invested in atmosphere and plot, with combat sprinkled in. I like incorporating other material to add more depth to character’s stories, but this was a bit too heavy. The Tomb of Shadows could have been fun, but I had to scale down the combat, and it wasn’t the right time for a dungeon delve. Live and learn.
Out of the Shadows
They brought Felgolos to a nearby town, found his healer, Maramros, who was also exiled from Auberon’s elven tribe (what are the chances?). He gave some lengthy exposition about how the tribe lost their way. Perhaps their old elven hero, Silnaramnur and his famed magic sword could spark a return to old peaceful ways. They were told that another elf named Thiadon was searching for these clues as well. He was part of the Harpers, the clandestine organization of agents who deal in information and aim to bring down the powerful and corrupt. Maybe finding him could help.
Also, Zedrick’s player used to play Thiadon. Thiadon’s storyline had never been wrapped up, so it seemed like an interesting hook for his player as well.
Felgolos was now rested up and recuperated, and they flew off together to Bryn Shander.