Thursday, February 7, 2019

Storm King's Thunder Postmortem

Iron Seer Presents: Storm King's Thunder
It's good, overall.  It's not very intense, just long. 
Would not run again without serious modification.
So, about a month ago or so we finished up our first full D&D 5e module, Storm King's Thunder (hereafter referred to as SKT), published by Wizards of the Coast.

Storm King's Thunder: Prepare to Die Edition

This was the longest campaign I've ever taken part in, running (roughly) weekly games for about 15-16 months.  PC's finished at 11th level, but during the course of the game some things became apparent.  So, I've got some points to go over regarding the adventure and how it played out.

The Pros of the New 5e Modules

First of all, I loved SKT.  Let me just get that out there right quick.  Overall, it was a fun experience for everyone, though in reality I don't believe it's designed for five characters - we'll get to that one.

You can't deny that the book itself is gorgeous - but that's standard for WotC.  Overall, the format of the adventure is well laid out and it's easy to find things when you need to refer to them.  I like all the callouts to the standard books, and honestly as a format for writing adventures it's one of the best modules I've ever encountered, much less had the pleasure to run.

Length was commendable.  SKT was one of the largest modules I've ever ran, with a great scope to match it.  There's lots of material in there, but it IS a rather large book.  SKT was no single dungeon module with over one hundred pages fleshing out rooms in a single locale - the adventure literally spans the entirety of the Sword Coast.

Villains and NPC's are nicely fleshed out, with lots of information on most of them.  A little too much on some, but that's another issue.  You won't have a problem where you're unsure of someone's motivation, but are left to wonder if you were supposed to put more into presentation of what turns out to be a minor NPC.

Probably the coolest feature of the module is how the storyline can diverge.  Lots of different paths and options are open to the players, and I daresay a lot could be replayed.  This was probably the idea behind the Adventurer's League style modules of late.  Ultimately though, all paths lead to the same place but how the players go about the modules can really affect the late-stage encounters.

    The Cons of the New 5e Design Philosophy

    First of all, I've already jotted my thoughts on Roll20 in general down.  In short, it would have been a lot better to do this module entirely on the table, rather than the hybrid game we had with various softwares.  The notion is solid, but unless your game is MOSTLY online don't bother with it.  My experience with the paid-for content has only motivated me to not use it anymore.

    A major issue for us was the balance on 5e modules.  There's more to say about this specifically, but I'll save that for another time.  For now, suffice it to say that 5e modules seem to be designed for less than five players.  This caused the encounters as written to be very, very easy in most cases.

    Yes, I could have changed the encounters.  However, if I was going to write my own adventure I would have done that.  We had five players, the recommended amount, and took on the adventure as written - like we always do.

    The difficulty curve has changed.  It's a simple fact that my players had little to no trouble in any combat encounter (save but one).  There was very little suspense on this, and even Death Saves did little to make things more tense.  Very early on, they became convinced of their superiority and were never corrected.

    Vaal in Storm King's Thunder on Roll20
    Almost.  Almost...
    Of course, in this module you can expect lots and lots of help from NPC's.  Some of the encounters wouldn't be hard with the party itself, yet in some cases you can have what amounts to an entire adventure party fighting alongside the main party.  In at least one case, it can be a squadron of Storm Giants.  This really robbed the players of agency and drove home the notion we weren't really playing a game, but a story.

    It's because of those things that the end of the adventure was as anticlimatic as I thought it would be.  There was no chance for Imryth, unless she flees.  There was no suspense, just what amounted to the serving of a warrant and beatdown of everything in her lair.  WEAKEST.  ENDING.  EVER.

    In the end, I was happy the game was over.

    Though I liked SKT, as long as this design philosophy rules over D&D you can bet I won't be running any more 5e WotC modules.  I wanted to run Princes of the Apocalypse, but if this is the state of the game I think I can do better on my own, and my players will definitely appreciate it.

      1 comment:

      What do you think about that?