Storm King’s Thunder: Episode 6

The characters’ next destination on their journey was for the side-quest I had set up for Auberon. They set their sights on a small town called Sumpter, in the Dessarin Hills.

The Party:

Auberon — Elf Druid
Cygnus — Half-elf Warlock
Xavian — Human Rogue
Zedrick — Human Cleric

After winding through Mirabar, they made their way south into the Dessarin Valley. After weeks of travelling, a random encounter popped up (at last). They could hear two hill giants loudly arguing with each other about finding more food.

If only feeding hill giants was this easy.

The characters listened carefully. They could hear that the giants were squabbling about which direction to go to find something to eat. It was up to the characters to decide what to do. Xavian was the most vocal about how there was nothing to be gained by confrontation. He said these were just two random giants that didn’t matter. Initially, Cygnus and Zedrick considered an attack. After all, this whole adventure centered around giants causing trouble. And Markham Southwell had recently tasked the characters with finding out what the giants were up to. But Xavian pointed out that these giants weren’t causing any trouble, because they could hear exactly what they were up to — looking for food. Ultimately, the team decided to continue down the road to the Dessarin Hills.

Even though there technically was no encounter, as a DM I enjoyed this a lot. It was a chance for the characters to roleplay with each other. They used the logic of the game world, their own character’s motivations, and some general game strategy (avoiding a battle) to truthfully play the scene. To me, it went perfectly, and I saw no reason to “force” the giants to suddenly notice them and attack, or something else equally contrived.

Stand By the Grey Stone When The Thrush Knocks

As they neared the Dessarrin Hills and got closer to the town of Sumpter, it was time for one of Storm King’s Thunder’s featured encounters of chapter 3. Off in the distance, they could hear a low wailing sound coming from an old, decrepit stone tower. They cautiously approached, as four blood ravens circled overhead. A large boulder was blocking the entrance to the crumbling, two-story tower. First, Cygnus tried to get his Tressym to fly above and look down at what was going on inside the tower. His flying cat got a quick look at a big, fat hill giant who was loudly sobbing. But then the pack of blood ravens mercilessly ripped the Tressym to shreds.

The acoustics of the tower really made those sobs carry.

Xavian started on the same track as before. He pointed out that they didn’t need to investigate every little thing, or solve every problem they came across. You might think this would make for an nitpicking player, but as a DM, having a player with an attitude like that keeps you honest.

Xavian’s had a point. If you’re going to set up an encounter, but give the characters no reason to interact with it, then why should they waste their time? Having players who ask questions like this and have genuine motivations is great.

As opposed to having characters blindly complete each quest, you instead have to earn their motivation. You have to make their characters want to complete the adventure, and your mutual reward is the great story that you all invest in. So I had no problem with the characters seeing this sobbing giant as an exercise in futility, if that’s what they honestly felt.

With that said, some characters are more curious than others. Auberon thought he would try climbing the side of the tower, and speaking with the giant. He scrambled up, and asked if he could help her with anything, while rolling a Charisma (Persuasion) check. I’d dropped some hints about hill giants and their enormous appetite, but the players didn’t make a connection here. If he’d offered her a little food he might have fared better, but instead the d20 he rolled gave him a score that was just one point short. I momentarily considered letting him pass anyway. Instead, the hill giant wailed, and swatted Auberon right out of the tower.

Zedrick took matters into his own hands, and climbed into the tower. He calmed the giant down with a luckier roll. She howled about her husband, Hruk, and how she wanted him back. Zedrick gathered that her name was Moog, and that a “Chief Guh” had taken her husband. Zedrick rolled the boulder out of the way and led her out. As she exited, Cygnus tried using his warlock powers to speak to her mind, but once she saw the fully-decked out group, she got spooked. She ran off, and Xavian easily convinced the group that she wasn’t worth the hassle.

Using Roll20 for non-combat encounters can be fun for visuals, and to keep players on their toes.

Auberon saw the blood ravens were still flying around, and smartly cast the spell Speak with Animals on one. He questioned the bird on what it knew. This was actually a really fun conversation, and the vibe was very Hobbit-esque (I’d recently listened to the radio play from the 60s, and was feeling inspired). I thought about how a bird would see things in the world, and in what way it would relay this information. It told Auberon that the winds had blown more and more wandering hill giants into the Dessarrin Valley— but only women. Auberon found this as strange as the raven did, but neither had more than guesses as to the cause.

Different Roads Sometimes Lead To The Same Castle

They continued on to the town of Sumpter, arriving without further delay. What greeted them was almost a ghost town. Not many people still lived in Sumpter since the mines had been closed up hundreds of years ago. Big empty buildings were a common sight. The town of mainly halflings was dwindling in population. But the characters weren’t here to play world police. They were looking for Thiadon, the lost Harper.

New to town was a cult that called themselves the Blackfire Disciples. The inhabitants were in a tough spot — these new people were clearly sinister, but the money they were spending had its appeal.

The characters arrived, and headed to the local tavern. Xavian hung back and scouted out the place on his own, while Auberon drank, and Zedrick and Cygnus talked to the locals. They discovered that Thiadon had stayed in town a few weeks ago with an apprentice, and he hired two mercenaries to help him explore the mines. They never came back.

They picked up on some of the small-town drama, but Xavian was again reticent to get too involved. As they heard more details about how the elderly halfling town leader was dying, and his nephew wanted to succeed him, and the new cult was making that difficult, he made sure to remind the group of why they were really here — to find Thiadon. He could hopefully help Auberon’s former tribe.

After spending the better part of the day in town, a young half-elf named Ghalvin Dragonmoor dropped in and spoke with Auberon. Ghalvin was from Goldenfields, and had heard of Auberon’s respect for balance and the natural order. He offered him membership into the Emerald Enclave, and encouraged him to visit Abbot Elardin Darovik, the ruler of Goldenfields, and a leader of the Emerald Enclave. With Cygnus and Xavian as Harpers, three of the four characters now had affiliations with factions.

I’d seen this map by WackyWocky on r/battlemaps three years ago and finally got to use it.

The characters decided to head right to the mines. There, they came upon a grisly scene. A human male was dead outside the mines. Xavian approached, and noted the blood looked quite fresh from piercing wounds all over his body. But there was also a poison needle in his leg. Searching close-by showed a broken tripwire indicating a trap. Why would the entrance to the mines be trapped in such a harmful way? It wasn’t difficult to see that the Blackfire Disciples were behind this.

They also found a journal, detailing the apprentice’s exploits with Thiadon. It showed how determined Thiadon was to do the very thing that Auberon was now doing — finding a lost relic of his elven tribe. That they seemingly had to enter the dungeon of Acererak made things more difficult.

After racing back to Sumpter, they confronted the Disciples in the town square. Cygnus dramatically accused them of tampering with the health of the town elder, and of murdering an innocent man. But the town elder himself came out, and said he was giving over his power to the leader of this cult. Cygnus tried to convince the people of how corrupt this was (going as far as stabbing himself and claiming the cult had done it), but it didn’t work. Xavian was getting sick of the politics, and hurried the group back to the mines to complete their quest.

Once inside, things began to get much more dangerous.