Storm King’s Thunder: Episode 9
Store-bought adventures are just guides for telling your own story. When inspiration hits, I enjoy the opportunity to add a little flavour to something that the book only hints at. The players never know when your deviating from the path laid out in the adventure, and that just adds more credibility to the choices you end up making.
(Adam) Auberon — Elf Druid
(Terry) Cygnus — Half-elf Warlock
(Matt) Xavian — Human Rogue
(Stacy) Zedrick — Human Cleric
I never dreamed that keeping an inn could be so deadly dangerous.
Xavian did some digging and found that Harshnag had been seen speaking with someone at the Grand Dame, an ornately decorated riverboat with a gambling den that was moored at the docks.
They arrived and looked around. The room was filled with drunken thieves and scoundrels. For this type of clientele, it was surprisingly not rowdy or disorderly — quite the opposite. The room was being carefully scrutinized by Pow Ming, the Grand Dame’s dutiful security officer.
Auberon once again transformed into a mouse, so he could wander around inconspicuously. Xavian began to gamble, while Cygnus and Zedrick watched the room carefully. They saw a familiar face — Felgolos, in his halfling form, was gambling loudly, and winning. He said he was playing against some Zhentarim and was cleaning them out of everything they had.
Using reoccurring characters in D&D is always tough. If they pop up too often, then it feels forced and players might artificially think they are more important. If they don’t appear enough, that has problems too. A character the team meets once at the start, and then again as bait to be saved from the villain is just lame. Felgolos isn’t integral to the story, but he had opportunities to be peppered into the adventure to provide some continuity. This easy-going moment would work.
Xavian’s started to gamble, so I had Matt roll some dice. He had to buy special Golden Goose coins, the ship’s proprietary gambling chips. As the night went on, he resorted to cheating. Knowing Matt, this was inevitable, so I was prepared. I let him try some Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) checks, and he even scored high. So I let him fool his compatriots. But Pow Ming instantly caught him, and said that his thoughts were easily detected. Without being able to cheat, how could Xavian have fun? He just stopped playing all together.
Cygnus eventually approached the thieves’ guild to find information on Harshnag, who made a proposition — win 30 Golden Goose coins, and they’d reveal where Harshnag headed off to. They joined into Felgolos’s game against the Zhentarim.
I had looked up how to play Liar’s Dice, and we played for real — Cygnus, Zedrick, Felgolos and two Zhentarim (Xavian and Auberon’s players filled in for Felgolos and one Zhent). It was a lot of fun to play it for real and added a layer of authenticity. I like having these kind of drastic gameplay diversions. The players could really feel like they were gambling — because they were. I added some rules for attempting to cheat, but the players didn’t even need them. I, as the Zhent, was legitimately trying to win, and thought I had a solid strategy down, but in the end the players won.
The party learned that Harshnag was looking for some lost relics of Ostoria in the Lurkwood.
In the songs, all knights are gallant.
They teleported to Mirabar and continued on foot toward the Lurkwood. Since they were engaging in overland travel again, I rolled on the random encounter table. After a day of travel, they came across a knight, Lady Harriana Hawkwinter and her squire (I pictured a Brienne and Pod type). They had recently rescued some children from a demolished barn, and were heading off to confront the stone giants who had perpetrated it. She asked that the characters escort the children back to Mirabar so she and her squire could make haste and bring justice to the giants.
You never know when something you throw at your players will stick. The players started complaining (in character… I think) about how they didn’t want to have to go all the way back to Mirabar to play babysitter for this knight. Zedrick’s player, Stacy, seemed fine with it, but as the group talked more and more, Terry got more and more fed up. I hardly had to say anything — I just let the players talk it out.
It’s interesting seeing the line between player and character here. How much does Cygnus want to say no, versus how much does Terry want to say no. I wasn’t sure, but it was a funny and excited discussion.
Eventually, Cygnus discovered that since they were both followers of Helm (the god of watchfullness) it would do him some good to help out his fellow champion. I liked that reason, since it made sense in the moment and was tied to his character’s history. This could plant the seeds for some consequences (good or bad) in the future.
Eventually, they made it to the Lurkwood. Auberon rolled highly on some Wisdom (Survival) checks, and began tracking the frost giant’s path. I didn’t want to bog down the momentum, as they were coming close to the final “featured encounter” of Chapter 3, but I wanted it to be clear that having Auberon in the party was making this exploration a lot easier. The best I could think of at the time was to intricately describe how Auberon was brushing dirt, and touching trees that showed them the correct path.
Soon they caught sight of Harshnag. They could see that he was wrapped up in battle with a fire giant, and some Uthgardt barbarians who were trying to attack everyone. Some giants and barbarians already lay dead on the battlefield. The characters quickly determined how best to help.
Auberon cast his ever-popular Spike Growth to hinder the barbarians from getting too close to Harshnag. Cygnus used a Hypnotic Pattern to distract as many as he could. Zedrick took out some of the more powerful barbarians, and Xavian snuck his way up to the fire giant who was fighting Harshnag and attacked from behind.
They planned tactics and ended up clobbering the enemies so bad that it made me realize I am going to have to increase the challenge later on. The way they took apart so many enemies was still a lot of fun though. Rather than throw more enemies at them, I’m going to have to out-strategize them.
Harshnag was grateful for the help and remembered Auberon from long ago. Auberon relayed Lady Silverhand’s message (where were you Matt?!) of needing good giants in the fight to come. Harshnag’s said he’d been confronting giants one-on-one, but now they would need a higher authority.
He said he knew the location of a temple built by his ancient ancestors, hidden away under the Spine of the World which contained a divine oracle. He would take them to the Eye of the All-Father. What lay ahead for them was the part of the adventure I had been most excited about since first reading it.