Overview of My Setup for Storm King’s Thunder – Spoilers!!

Hello all! Welcome back to Always Split the Party. I am, as before, Jim the DM.

I was preparing for the second session of my Storm King’s Thunder campaign, and I figured I would take a moment to post a quick overview of the setup I am using for the campaign. It’s a short overview of the various factions, major quests, plot points and characters that I have in the campaign. I run through a way the story could go (emphasis on could), just for my own benefit, so that I can get an idea of the timeline of events.

I don’t actually expect the characters to proceed in the way I set out. With the four subplots I lay out happening simultaneously, along with the usual side-treks that occur in campaigns, I would be really surprised if the final product looks anything like this overview. Still, laying it out this way has benefits for me. So, without further ado, here is my overview of the setup I am using for Storm King’s Thunder.

*disclaimer*: I am changing quite a bit from the standard Forgotten Realms setup, as well as much of what is written in the book. Just FYI.

Overview of Storm King’s Thunder

The Savage Frontier has always been a place of danger. Outside the walls of the castles, cities, and fortifications, hideous beasts roam through the wild, fierce barbarian tribes hunt through the frigid tundra, and enormous giants and dragons battle one another for dominance over the lands of their ancient, and forgotten empires. For thousands of years this frontier has seen many kingdoms and the greatest of these was the giant empire of Ostoria. The Colossal Kingdom was mighty, stretching from the Spine of the World to the edge of the Shining Sea, and from the Sword Coast (and beyond) to the the Sea of Fallen Stars.

However, not in three hundred millennia have the giants done ought in Faerun. Isolated in their various kingdoms, they keep to the Ordning, the last organization of giantkind established by the All-Father Annam, during the Dawn Age. With this organization of giantkind, Storm Giants rule unopposed, followed by Cloud Giants, Fire Giants, Frost Giants, Stone Giants, and finally, Hill Giants. Giant-Kin, such as ogres, ettins, and the like, fall under even Hill Giants in order of supremacy. The highest of one order is lower than the lowest of the next highest order. A king among Frost Giants would still be required to bend the knee to any Fire Giant he met…which doesn’t sit well with any but the dullest of giantkind. Due to the fear of the All-Father, and the reprisals of the Storm Giants, the Ordning has remained undisturbed since the Time of Dragons.

Now, however, peace has been shattered. With the near return of Tiamat, the Dragon Queen, to the material plane some ten years ago, a great upheaval has occurred. Annam has shattered the Ordning, as punishment for the giants and their complacency. They did nothing to aid the small folk in their battle against the Devil Dragon, and so must face trial. With no organization, all of giantkind now seeks mastery, each in their own way. The kings of the giants have put plans into motion to capture supremacy over the Ordning, and prove themselves worthy, both to other tribes and to Annam, to rule giantkind. This spells disaster for the small folk of the Savage Frontier, and perhaps beyond…

What is Happening in the Savage Frontier

A) The Ordning has been shattered and giantkind is running amok, trying to accomplish great deeds in order to prove themselves worthy of ruling the new Ordning that will be established.

B) The Various Tribes have different plans:

          1) The Hill Giant Chief Guh is trying to make herself as big, physically, as possible, by eating everything she can get her hands on.

          2) The Stone Giant Seer Kayalithica seeks to remove all traces of the small folk’s settlements in the Savage Frontier, one stone at a time.

          3) The Frost Giant Jarl Storvald seeks the Ring of Winter, a powerful artifact that is said to be able to bring about the Age of Everlasting Ice.

          4) Duke Zalto, the Fire Giant, seeks pieces to Vonindod, the Colossus of Wrath, a massive construct that, once assembled and repaired, could cause immeasurable destruction on the cities and peoples of Faerun.

          5) Countess Sansurri of the Cloud Giants believes that by finding a long-lost trove of dragon magic, she will become supremely powerful, and will be able to finally knock Storm Giants from their perch of dominance, and claim rulership herself.

          6) The Storm Giants are in chaos due to the disappearance of their King, Hekaton, the death of his wife Queen Neri, and the infighting of his three daughters, Mirran, Nym, and Serissa. The Storm Giants might be able to reestablish control over the other factions, if civil war wasn’t about to break out.

C) Other major factions are involved:

         1) The Dragons of Faerun want nothing more than to see giantkind shattered forever. However, they know that the Ordning will be reestablished one day, and they each seek to position the giants that they each think will be best for them in charge. Iymrith, a cunning blue dragon, has infiltrated the Storm Giant court in order to sow dissension and chaos, which she has succeeded in doing. Other dragons wish to see the ordning established as it once was, figuring the devil they know is better than the one they don’t. The Cult of the Dragon still exists as a shadow of its former self. Gone are its hopes of bringing back Tiamat. Now members serve various local dragons in the hopes of achieving some sort of “glorious purpose”.

         2) The Zhentarim, a ruthless criminal organization, has been looking for a way into the cities and towns of the Savage Frontier for years, but so far their efforts have been thwarted by the Lord’s Alliance, the Harpers, the Emerald Enclave, and the Order of the Gauntlet, four powerful organizations for good in the North. However, with the recent destruction wrought by the dragons, the war of the Silver Marches, and the current giant threat, the Zhentarim see an opening. Their agents have begun to flood the north, causing much conflict in an already war-torn region. Rumors even say that the Seven Swords have been sent north…

         3) Behind all of this, the dragon Iymrith, the Zhentarim, the disappearance of King Hekaton, and the death of Queen Neri, is an even darker, more powerful organization: The Deep Society, or the Society of the Kraken. Ruled by Slarkrethel, an aeons old leviathan, it seeks to undermine the entire power structure of the Sword Coast, setting everyone at each other’s throats. Seeing a vacuum created by the recent upheavals, and using the Zhentarim as an unknowing arm, it hopes to destroy the Lord’s Alliance, cripple the Harpers, and set giants and dragons once again at each other’s throats.

        4) The Harpers are stretched thin. Already weak from the violent upheavals of the past ten years, the arrival of the Zhentarim and their agents has pushed the Harpers over the brink. Now fighting nearly for survival, they have no power left to combat the Giant threat overwhelming the north. They need help, and are looking everywhere they can for it.

        5) The Emerald Enclave was seriously harmed by the War of the Silver Marches, which they joined in wholeheartedly. With few surviving members left in the Savage Frontier, they seek now to protect what they can from all who would seek to destroy it, including, often, the other civilized factions and races in this time of strife.

        6) The Order of the Gauntlet, never an especially strong presence in the North, have been wracked by schism. A heretical sect has all but overwhelmed Neverwinter, turning it from the Jewel of the North, into a place where non-humans, mages, and priests are burned for “Heresy”. This chaos has divided their once proud order. Unbeknownst to most, the leader of this sect, Andren the Judge, is a member of the Seven Swords and a willing agent of the Zhentarim. He has succeeded in turning brother against brother. Worse still, he has come to believe his own drivel, and seeks to purge the North of all that are “unclean”.

        7) The Lord’s Alliance is in tatters. With the departure of both Everlund and Neverwinter from the Alliance, and the destruction of Sundabar during the War of the Silver Marches, the remaining four lords of Waterdeep, Mirabar, Silverymoon, and Citadel Adbar, have begun fighting among themselves as to what they ought to do. Mirabar and Silverymoon seek to add Luskan and Yartar to the Alliance, something Waterdeep is dead-set against. For the time being, Adbar sides with Waterdeep, (they despise the Silverans for their cowardice during the war), and the divisions run deep. The spies of the Alliance, the Gold Cloak are now turned on one another, rather than on the the real enemies outside the cities.

How the Story Can Go:

Chapter 1) The heroes arrive at Nightstone to find it in tatters after a giant attack, the Nightstone itself ripped out of the ground and shattered, fire scorching everything, many homes burned and desiccated. Left behind are goblins and hell-hounds. The rest of the goblin tribe, and the orcs, along with a few ogres, are back in the goblin cave, with the villagers. The orcs are headed back from the caves to the town when the heroes arrive at Nightstone. Meanwhile the Zhentarim, realizing that they are too late to claim the artifact, seek to establish the town as a base of operations for their endeavors in the area. They threaten the heroes to leave, before attacking. After dealing with the Zhents, the heroes must face off with the orcs, who are looking to loot whatever else they can from the town. With their fire giant masters gone, the orcs now see this as their property.

Chapter 2) The Heroes, having saved Nightstone, or left it in ruins, are told to seek out the town of Triboar, and warn them, for they have a similar stone in their town, although it has not activated. They set out for Triboar, and find evidence that the Hill Giants have been ravaging the countryside. As they pass by Goldenfields, they hear that the Giants have set themselves up in the Dessarin Hills, and that they are growing bolder and bolder. The Abbot of Goldenfields will pay them good money to destroy the threat. He will also provide them with a place to stay and food should they require it at any time. They can then engage the Hill Giants, if they wish.

Chapter 3) Arriving in Triboar they are attacked by the Fire Giant Tribe, just as the chapter describes. They fight them off, and are given the various quests toward Everlund, and the Harper’s Organization. The Harper’s then tell them that they should seek out Harshnag, a Frost Giant Giant Slayer. He was last seen in the Delimbyr Vale, seeking out the Stone Giant Enclave there. The Harpers offer to teleport the heroes there, if they agree to help, also promising to set up a teleportation circle in one location of the heroes’ choosing (preferably their castle/keep/stronghold/base of operations).

Chapter 4) Arriving in the Delimbyr, they find refugees fleeing and tales of Harshnag heading east. Rumors of his history swirl, and the heroes hear of his past. Finally, they arrive in the last place to be attacked and resist and they say that Harshnag assisted in the defence of the city, but was turned to stone and captured. He was taken by the Stone Giants back to their home, Deadstone Cleft. In order to proceed, the characters must free Harshnag. A “Stone-to-flesh” oil applied to him will heal him, and he will lead the heroes to the Eye of the All-Father.

Chapter 5) After traveling to the eye of the All-Father, they are told by the spirit of the ghost (read the area description) what is “sort of” happening, and that in order to proceed they must claim a conch of the Storm King. At least one exists, and it is held by Countess Sansurri. The heroes must claim her conch in order to find the Storm King and set things right.

Chapter 6) The heroes head to the Evermoors and fight Countess Sansurri, claiming the conch for their own. They must then return to the Eye of the All Father, where they will be told that they must use it on the shore of the Isle of (something) and that they will be shown the way.

Chapter 7) The heroes must travel to Neverwinter to find the ship that will take them to their destination, a mysterious island, known to only a few. The seas are too dangerous, and the island is too far to fly. They must “hire” an airship from Neverwinter. Standing on the shore of the island, the heroes can then use the conch to reveal the underwater citadel of the Storm Giants. Neverwinter itself is a challenge, as the heretical sect of the Order of the Gauntlet has overthrown the city, and set up itself as ruler.

Chapter 8) This chapter plays out as written. They must choose a daughter to support, and fight off the other two, and her supporters. Iymrith is revealed as a dragon, and flees. It becomes clear that the Kraken society is involved.

Chapter 9) The heroes must find and try to rescue Hekaton. They must fight Zhentarim and Kraken agents. They can either rescue him or not. Either way, they are asked to slay Iymrith for what she has done.

Chapter 10) With the support of the Storm Giants, the heroes set out to slay the dragon. If they succeed, then they will have dealt with the main giant threat, ended the upstart lords, and freed the Storm Giants to be rulers once again. There is still division, and many problems, but the small folk will not be killed by outsiders, at least. They still might kill each other.

Main Subplots

Sidelogue 1) The Seven Swords are seeking out the heroes to kill them. With the exception of the Judge, Andren, and the 7th, the rest of them attack the heroes at whatever time seems right. Preferably when they are in the middle of something else. Finally, once they have defeated the first 6, the 7th approaches them and asks them to aid him in the overthrow of the Deep Ones in his own ranks. This should happen sometime before the heroes set out to claim the conch.

Sidelogue 2) The Lord’s Alliance is fracturing, and conflict is brewing. The heroes should see armies marshalling in Waterdeep, Mirabar, Silverymoon, Everlund, Neverwinter, and Citadel Adbar (Felbar has its own problems, as does Gauntlgrym) at the beginning of the campaign. By the time they reach the Stone Giant problems, a skirmish has broken out between Silverymoon and Citadel Adbar. By the time the heroes are making their way into Neverwinter, a major battle has occurred on the roads leading south, with Waterdeep losing. Neverwinter is fortified for war, and soldiers are wandering about. By the time the heroes make their way to Iymrith’s lair, there is an all out war in the North, with Waterdeep under siege and Silverymoon completely cut off from the rest of the world, refusing to lower its magical barriers, while Everlund and Adbar spar with each other. Mirabar is caught helplessly by political indecision, and the north begins to burn.

Sidelogue 3) The city of Gauntlgrym is overwhelmed by the loss of their Fire Titan, and they swiftly dissolve into civil war. The drow begin to take advantage of it, and soon the city will be lost, if they do not receive back their titan. Further, as the fire giant Colossus grows in power, earthquakes begin to fracture the north. An eruption in the High Forest causes massive fires, and thick clouds cover the heavens for days. As the earthquakes grow worse, the fate of the north looks even more dire. The dwarves of Citadel Felbar are the only ones looking to avert doom, and they are in direct conflict with the Fire Giants. They send for the aid of the Giant Slayers.

Sidelogue 4) As the Frost Giants raid the coast, and further inland looking for the Ring of Winter, their own magic begins to spread. Icy winter blasts down from the north, threatening to overwhelm the cities of Luskan and Mirabar. The Ring of Winter must be found first, and the Frost Giants must be slain before they find it and bring about the Age of Everlasting Ice.

Character Story Subplots

Asher the Ranger: Born to the Sky Pony Uthgardt Tribe, Asher was sent away when quite young due to the infighting of the tribe. His father, a shaman of the tribe, preferred to see his son live, and so sent him into the wild on his own. Asher made his way south, and spent his life as a tracker, scout, and guide, never preferring the company of the “civilized folk” and yearning for the day when fate would cross his path again with that of his tribe. He hopes to acquire a Sky Pony of his own, return to his tribe, and make himself chief by his own hand.

– In order to find the Eye of the All Father, Harshnag says that they must travel to the ruins of One Stone, for a Frost Giant artifact lies beneath the Barrow there, and it must be used in order to enter the Temple. The party therefore travels into the ancestral forest of Asher’s tribe, and must either desecrate the holy place, something at least problematic to Asher, or convince the tribe to perform its holy rituals to allow the heroes to enter the Barrow unmolested by the Spirits of the place. To convince the tribe of this, they must complete a task. All the while, Asher will be judged, and it will be made clear to him that his father was killed by a Fire Giant.

– When they enter the Fire Giant’s Forge, they face against the Fire Giant that killed his father. His face is scarred in a unique way, caused by Asher’s father.

– Later on, when the heroes land on the Strange Isle to use the Conch, they shall find a flight of Pegasi, being overwhelmed by the native creatures of the isle. If they slay the creatures, the lone surviving pegasus will bond with Asher, it being only a pony at the time.

Rheima of the 3rd House of Velarium: Born to the elves of the Moonshae Isles, Rheima grew up in a noble family who favored scholarly pursuits. She was exposed, at a very young age, to the writings of an uncredited scholar who was convinced that there was once a powerful halfling empire, in the Dawn Age, which lived at least side by side with the Empire of Ostoria. Intrigued by this idea, she presented it to her family, who laughed it off as ridiculous. Unconvinced by their laughter, she persisted, and was warned not to pursue something so absurd, for fear of the family’s reputation. Still she insisted, and over the course of many years, alienated herself from her family and friends. After spending some time at the library of Candlekeep, in the south, and finding nothing, she has come north, on hopes that the truth might be found at the source. Her driving goal is to find some evidence of her theory, and to convince others of that truth.

Bursley the Scholar – Rheima’s uncredited source for information on Yondallheim.

Adequan of the 2nd house of Valarium – Childhood friend

Rival – Ranneth of the 5th house of Velarium

Friend – Mort Dumshire – Halfling Sea Captain of the Good Ship Trelawny and Merchant

– In the town of Nightstone, she will discover that on the inside of the cracked monolith, several “clearly” halfling characters can be found among the runes. Taking these pieces to Silverymoon will surely get her a hearing with the head of the Academy there, and time in the Great Library of Avessa. Upon studying in the library, she will find evidence that shows that the Fire Giants of Ostoria overthrew and enslaved a great halfling kingdom, and that they used their knowledge of constructs and golems in their construction of Vonindod.

– Her childhood enemy, Ranneth, is a member of the Order of the Gauntlet now, and went missing trying to find the seat of the Hill Giants threatening Goldenfields. He is currently captured at Gruud Haug.

– Upon investigating the Fire Giant Forge, they find a tablet, with details on the construction of lesser golems that the Halflings of Yondallaheim used in the defence of their cities. While not enough to prove anything, it is more evidence for the Bard’s theory.

– When they battle the Kraken’s agents, one of them, a psychic, turns to her and says, “My master has lived for aeons, and knows all the kingdoms of the dry land and the sea. You seek one…join us, and the knowledge of that kingdom is yours.” The kraken does indeed know of the ancient halfling empire, and will give information to the bard…at a dear price.

– Otherwise, knowledge of the halfing empire comes in bits and pieces, whenever the heroes deal with ancient lore, they can come across runes and hieroglyphs.

– Imryths’ lair is in one of the ancient halfling temples, with proof and hieroglyphs throughout. It is enough to prove to anyone beyond doubt that the empire existed.

Verth Suthrasson: Born in the Time of Peace between orcs and the civilized races, the half-orc’s father was a barbarian from the Uthgardt tribe, while his mother was the chief of a small off-shoot of the Many-Arrows tribe. When King Obould was murdered, Verth was driven out, due to his half-orc nature. His own mother, Suthra, thought him too weak, and did nothing to save him. He wandered south, into the Silver Marches, and found himself begging on the streets of Silverymoon. His quick wit and clever nature was soon discovered by a promising young wizard of some repute, Garen the Young Oak. He took in the half-orc as an apprentice and spent many years training him in the arcane arts. Then one day, the half-elf vanished. Verth spent weeks waiting for him to return, but he never did. So, taking leave of his tower, he set out to find his master, which has been the driving force behind all of his actions.

– In the town of Nightstone, the wizard will talk with survivors who mention that a half-elf named Garen did pass through several weeks before, looking for clues on the nature of these obsidian monoliths. He went away after finding nothing, however. Those who knew him say that he was worried about something called Vonindod, and kept saying “It will be the end if it is finished…” He wandered off on the road to Waterdeep, and it was the last time anyone had seen him.

– When arriving in the town of Triboar, the wizard can speak with the townmaster, and learn that Garen also came here, after Nightstone, maybe two tendays ago. He met with some seedy looking people, and then vanished. The townmaster thinks that they were agents of the Zhentarim. She has no idea where he went, however. Searching the rooms of the  half-elf in the tavern reveals an old wooden coin, which shows a golden goose on both sides. The Casino ship is in Neverwinter, although no one in Triboar knows of that.

– Eventually, when the heroes gain the chip again from the Storm King’s Hold, they can begin in earnest to find the owner of the coin. The wizard’s master is being held prisoner by the Zhents, (more precisely, he is being held by agents of the Deep Society) due to his knowledge of giant lore. He is a valuable commodity.

– When he is rescued, he begs the heroes to find Vonindod and destroy it before it is completed. This task he grants especially to Verth, and begs him to swear on his life.

Skalfe “Grizzled Gauntlet” Dorrsson: Coming to Gauntlgrym as a babe-in-arms, the paladin assisted in the rebuilding of the city, and became a brewer, a dull one at that, and never had a second thought that he was special. Coming of age in the new dwarven empire, he found himself experiencing visions and sights. A wonder these sights were, visions of an old, benevolent god, all but forgotten. Then one day, a clear voice told him to travel south and find the ruined temple of the god. He traveled there, and found himself face to face with the last angel of his god, a solar, who placed his hand upon his head and blessed him, proclaiming him chosen of his god, and a messenger to the world, to bring his worship back to the people’s of the North, doing good that they might know Him. With his newfound sense of purpose, he made his way back north and, hearing of trouble in the town of Nightstone, he shouldered his hammer, and set out to do good.

– Finding the town of Nightstone destroyed, the temple of Lathander desecrated, and the people in need of hope and help, he sees a vision of his god’s face appear above the town, for a moment, calling him to aid them, and to reconsecrate the temple in His honor.

– At some point, he comes in contact with inquisitors from Neverwinter, who declare him a heretic and a founder of false religions. He is attacked, and is brought to the attention of Andren the Judge, who puts a bounty out on his head.

– At some point in the journey, he finds a ruined temple to his god, and a handful of worshippers being threatened by some force. He must aid them in their hour of need.

– At some point, his god appears to him in a dream and tells him to cut the head off of the snake, to kill Andren the Judge.

Sparrow Thornheads: Sparrow was born far from the lands he now travels. When he was a child, a plague swept through his lands, striking down his entire tribe. As his folk died one by one, a cleric of Kelemvor, a Doomguide, arrived and tended to the dying. As each halfling passed, the Doomguide would bury them according to their own customs. Finally, all the rest passed on, leaving only the child, who, miraculously, recovered. Seeing it a sign from Kelemvor, the Doomguide took the young boy under his wing. Having the appearance of a gaunt little bird, the cleric named him Sparrow, and trained him in the ways of Kelemvor. Years passed, and the cleric died, leaving Sparrow to follow the path alone, and do for the dead the sacred office.

– When the heroes arrive in Waterdeep, they will hear rumors of the Huntsmen, the undead lords that roam the lands of the north, slaying the living and bringing them back in hideous mockery of life. Two Doomguides set out to slay them and were not heard from again.

– Upon completing the defense of Triboar, someone approaches Sparrow and, seeing the same insignia on him as his contract, asks him to deliver a saddle to the Manor of so-and-so. His buyer made the deal long ago, and just a ten-day ago asked for it to be delivered.

– Vonindod does not just kill the living. It entraps their souls in the plane of Fire, as fuel for its dread purpose. This will come out in study at Silverymoon. This should be enough to drive him to destroy it.

– He comes upon a ruined temple to Kelemvor, overrun by undead in their journey. He must put it right.

Lumi Gelgovich: When Lumi was young, in the peaceful lands to the south, he fell in love with a girl. Quite a normal girl, but a bit above his station. He wooed her unsuccessfully, lived in despondency for a time. Finally…he had a dream. A vision of fire, and smoke, the dream came to him again and again. Finally, in one dream, he saw a face in the flame, it reached out to him, and in that instant he knew that it wanted something…but that it was willing to give him something in return. Without thinking, he reached out himself and touched the face. When he awoke, he found himself branded, inside and out, with a symbol of ancient power, a Rune of Fire. He had been granted power…and he at once applied himself again to his love, this time with something to offer. She was not impressed. Or rather, was too impressed, and rejected him from fear. Now, with a new gift, and unable to find work in the peaceful south, Lumi has decided to come North, in the hopes that coin and comforts might be found for someone with his gifts.

– After the heroes rescue the townsfolk, Lumi has a strange dream. A shadow passes along an ancient hall, carven stone. Out of the shadow, several figures step, dark skinned, white haired, and carrying wicked curved swords. One holds a strange Iron Flask, carved with Runes of Holding, Fire, and Abjuration. The figures, make their way down passage after passage, killing several dwarven guards, until they arrive in a huge hall. Molten rock flows down canals and falls from great heights into cauldrons below. Sparks fly in all directions, chains grate as they haul platforms up and down. A constant and deafening hammering sound comes from all around. Suddenly, there is a flash, and the hammering sounds stops. The vision fades as sounds of battle begin. Suddenly, the flows of lava blacken, as they harden  and crack. The Iron Flask in the hands of the figure flashes and the runes begin to glow. Suddenly, the vision fades. A voice booms in his head – “Do not allow this to go unpunished. Those who would use me should all be destroyed. Do  this and your powers shall be increased…your desires shall be granted.”

– When the heroes get to Triboar, and find the second monolith, Lumi has another visit from his patron. When he sees the monolith, everything grows dark for him except the obsidian column, which burns white hot. He hears a voice coming from it “The Dwarves of Gauntlegrym thought to imprison me. They have paid a dear price for that hubris. Now another of the lesser races seeks to use my power for their own gain. Do not allow me to be trapped in that machine.”

– At Silverymoon, Kind, Lumi’s twin brother, is in trouble, for breaking and entering in one of the Grand Libraries. He was researching something that connects to another player. He is going to go to trial, unless the heroes do something…

– At some point, someone in their travels will mistake him for kind and some trouble will ensue.


 

There we go! These are pretty rough notes. As I said before, they are just an outline more or less, to help me get in the right head-space for running each session as I go. I have a further section with session notes, but I figure that’s not very interesting for you guys, so I took it out.

Alright! I hope you all enjoy reading through this, or at least get an idea or two from it.

Happy gaming all! And remember:

Always Split the Party!

storm-king-2

What’s in a Name? Actually, Quite a Bit!

Hello all! This is DM Jim, back after an unfortunate encounter with a rabid owlbear.

Orthnog the Destroyer.

Elrianaralam Tornothianasik of the Fifth House of Elishrandor.

Thinkywimple the Gnomish Freaking Bard that Just Had to Make “That Joke” in the Presence of the Evil Overlord and Now We Are All Stuck in the Deepest Dungeon Beneath Castle Skullrock.

Fantasy RPG names have a bad rap. And often it is deserved. When DMs come up with names, they often just run a bunch of syllables together until they get something that sounds more or less like a name. While this approach can work in a pinch, and is sometimes necessary on the fly, it is not ideal. It often leads to ridiculousness, and many a bad name has resulted from quickly throwing together as many “Ae”s and “Kor”s as possible.

This might not seem like a big deal, but I would say it is. A bad name is immediately noticeable. In fact, a bad name can quickly remove any sense of realism and immersion players might have, and take them back to the perception that this is just a game, after all. Which it is, of course. (But we don’t want them to know that!)

Now, not every DM cares to develop the deep sense of immersion in their players that I’m talking about here, and that’s totally fine. D&D is a great game that can be enjoyed as such. However, I prefer to think of D&D as collaborative storytelling, rather than a simple game, and so I try to make the experience as immersive as I can, so that the players feel comfortable adding their own contributions to the process. And one of the best ways a GM can make their game immersive is to develop a decent system of naming.

I’m not here to tell you what names sound good and which ones don’t. Much of that comes down to personal preference. However, there are some simple tricks that you can use when coming up with names for your NPCs or locations in your world.

First: Think about where the name came from. Is the city of dwarvish origin? Is the blacksmith from the Stelythian Isles? Was the sword forged by the High Elves of Silverymoon? This question allows you to get a context for the name. This one is easy to do, even on the fly, and shouldn’t be a problem for most DMs.

Second: Think about the “social status” of the name, high or low. Is this the name of a Slum or the Highlord’s Manor? Is this soldier a common grunt from Cheapside, or is he a knight of noble birth? Is the sword a symbol of royal power, or was it the favorite tool of a city thug? Orcbane might be a fine name for an axe, but would a dagger really ever get such a grandiose name?

Third: Be consistent. Jethro, Gideon, Hezekiah, Bob, and Azariah. Alternately, Abe, Toms, Ned, Jon, and Alanthreonus. If all of the townsfolk have simple names, and the blacksmith sounds like a nobleman from the French Court, you are doing something wrong. Consistency is hugely important. If all dwarves use patronymics, then make sure ALL dwarves use the same patronymic form. Allfson and Borgovich shouldn’t come from the same place.

Fourth: Finally, look at real world names and cultures, and borrow, pilfer, and loot. Ancient languages are excellent for fantasy names; Greek, Sumerian, Egyptian, Aztec, Persian, etc, etc. are all perfect sources. I would suggest that you avoid Latin, except as a root to build off of. Most people recognize Latin, at least in form, and so it tends to stand out as borrowed. If you have one, crack open a Bible and use the sections on the descendants to stimulate ideas. Alongside pretty dumb names like Nimrod (seriously? Nimrod?) you’ll find names like Asher, Phineas, Abner, Atara, Keturah, Gideon, and Mordecai. Just make sure that you use the same source for the same real world location or culture.

Okay, that’s it. I know many people will think this is overkill, and simply use an online generator, and you know what, that’s fine. These are just suggestions. I like to use them in my games, but I understand that some people will just not be interested in doing something like this.

Happy gaming all! And, as before:

Always Split the Party!

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Life and Death…and the Stuff in Between

Hello! And welcome back! I’m not even going to bother coming up with a reason for why it has been months since I posted. Instead, I’m just going to say, “Hope you’ve been well!” and then move on. It is I, Jim the DM, as before, here to talk to you about running Fantasy RPGs.

In this post, I want to talk about Resurrection, and the impact it can have on a game. I’ll be clear going into it: I believe it is a negative impact. I don’t think it is a good idea to allow resurrection in your game. I certainly don’t use it in mine.

“But why, Jim?”, you ask, “Won’t it super suck if a character dies in a stupid random encounter or after a year or two of sessions but before the climax of the story?” Well, yes, it will suck. It will be anticlimactic and disappointing and irritating, and it will be even worse for the player. Even so, games are 100% better without it. Don’t use resurrection.

The reasons I don’t use resurrection in my games are fairly straightforward. Resurrection, as a game mechanic, completely and utterly removes any tension and drama from the story. If any character, player or non-player, can be brought back to life at any time, you, as a story-teller have lost the primary tool that you can use to tell that story.

Take any of your favorite novels, movies, or stories of any kind. Where would they be if any character could be brought back after paying a few thousand gold pieces on a resurrection spell? Where would the drama of Boromir’s death be if after he breaths his last words (My Brother…My Captain…My King…), Aragorn was like, “LoL. Rez.”

The Lord of the Rings has a kind of resurrection (Gandalf the Grey -> Gandalf the White), but it isn’t a thing he can repeat, and it certainly isn’t possible for anyone else. Harry Potter comes back from the dead, but only because he had one of the Deathly Hallows, and even it couldn’t bring back his family. Why would Kylo Ren’s murder matter, if his victim (no spoilers!) could just be rezzed a few minutes later?

The risk of death is THE primary tension in 99.99999% of action, fantasy, sci-fi, etc, and common resurrection removes that. The stakes immediately become nothing. What that leaves you with is either the video game, or the comedy. If either of those two things is your goal, then by all means, leave resurrection in. A video game with no save points or re-trys is mostly not fun, and a comedy where the main characters die is usually only enjoyed by a few kinds of people. But if you want to play a dramatic game, with real stakes, tension, and a serious plot, you have got to take the rez spell out.

“But maybe,” you rejoin, “a rez spell can be done, but it is a huge quest to complete it, and takes a whole campaign in its own right.” Sure. That is an option. It certainly makes it more dramatically satisfying. But what if another party member dies while on the quest to complete the first rez? Will the party go do another campaign to rez the second character? And what about a third? And a fourth? You might get lucky, and no one else will die while resurrecting the first character, but you might not, and now you have a comedy on your hands, with a line of characters stretched out all waiting for the others to complete the epic quest to bring them back to life. Once again, the dramatic tension of the story is lost.

From a player’s point of view, resurrection also kind of sucks. If I can bring a character back at any time, why do I bother putting any thought into my plans? If we attack the castle head first, and all die horribly, well, we can have the nice cleric that we befriended in town cast resurrection on all of us and we can try again. If I choose to stay behind in this hallway and sacrifice myself so that you can all escape…wait, why would I do that? If you all die, I can just have you brought back! So, sorry guys. I’ll see you later.

As I said before, this is just my point of view. Let me know if you use resurrection in your games and how you manage to keep the tension and stakes high throughout.

As always, happy gaming.

And Always Split the Party!the_death_of_boromir_by_cg_warrior-d2wcunn

3 Adventure Hooks for Your D&D Game

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Always Split the Party! Jim the GM here, as always.

The biggest problem I have, as a GM, is finding enough time and players to go through all of the adventures I plan out in my head (and occasionally write down). I get through a story arc every few months, and in each I can put together maybe two or three distinct adventures. That means that in a year, I can go through about a dozen adventures. Not that many, right?

Rather than let some of these ideas go to waste, I thought I might as well put them out there in case any one else has the ol’ DM’s Block. Maybe you can use these, maybe you can’t. Maybe you just want some ideas to compare your own against, maybe you just want a good laugh. For whatever reason, and with whatever result, here are 3 adventure hooks to use in your D&D game.

1) Battle Royale

The heroes are invited to a mysterious island castle, and are greeted by their host, a well-known and wealthy eccentric. After introducing them to various other guests, all adventurers of some sort or another, the host reveals his purpose – he is hosting a grand tournament, a bloody free-for-all. The winner is allowed to leave the island, and is rewarded handsomely. The losers…are not so lucky. With that, the host vanishes, leaving the guests to one another. With limited supplies, and increasing desperation, can the heroes stave off bloodshed long enough to find a way off the island? Or will they give in to their panic and slay the other “guests” before they decide to finish off the heroes?

2) The Lost Talisman

Ages ago, the fabled Talisman of the Artificer was lost at sea,  during a storm off the Cape of White Fire. The ship carrying it, the Grey Gull, was thought lost with all hands. However, rumors of a journal, purporting to belong to a survivor of the Grey Gull have begun surfacing in a port city of the province. All at once, every ruler within a thousand leagues has agents in the city hunting for the journal. If the Grey Gull wasn’t lost with all hands, but instead merely shipwrecked on an island, then perhaps the Talisman is not lost forever. Said to be able to form soldiers out of the very stone itself, the Talisman would be an invaluable tool in the hands of any lord. The heroes are hired by one such lord to find the journal, and track down the Talisman before anyone else can.

3) The Temple of Ishix’iss

In the heart of a massive jungle lies the fabled Drowned City, a ruin half-sunk in the jungle bogs. Watched over by a tribe of Yuan-Ti, the city has been undisturbed for hundreds of years. However, an archaeologist from the Capital has recently discovered an ancient scroll which describes the location of a treasure hidden in the Drowned City, and has set off with several of his assistants, some guards, a pathfinder, and his patron’s son to recover the treasure. Of course, he does not return when expected, and so his patron hires the heroes to investigate, and return with at least the patron’s son safely in tow…

There you go. Every so often I might post a few more ideas from my book on here, but three is good enough for now. Let me know what you think of these ideas, and if you have any others that you might want to add, just put them in the comments. I’m sure someone will stumble across them and use them at some point!

Talk to you all later! Happy gaming, and remember:

Always Split the Party!

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The Battles to Come…

Hello everyone! And welcome back to Always Split the Party. I am your host and GM, Jim!

So it’s been about a year since I posted last, and since then I have played a ton of D&D, both as a DM and as a player. I’m running three groups currently (I know, right?!) and am playing in a Tyranny of Dragons campaign run by one of my players. Its a lot of RPG to handle, but I think I’m able to do so. Whenever I think I’m getting burned out, I put off a session for a week or two and by the time it comes around again, I’m rearing to go.

Moving forward,  I think I will keep these posts pretty short, as I will be more inclined to write. I hope. That’s the plan anyway.

I wanted to talk today about foreshadowing and leaving the threads of future adventures in your current ones. As players move through the adventure, there will be loose ends that are not solved. It is inevitable: the players never followed up on the lead they had at the Broken Bottle tavern, the henchman of the villain escaped during the chaos of the final battle, or the secret identity of the wealthy patron funding the cult was never revealed. These things would never occur in a book or movie, but in an RPG, loose ends are a fairly common occurrence.

Further, sometimes things happen that might seem significant to the players, but that really have no bearing on the adventure at hand, and so never come to fruition by the time the story has been ended. During the heroes’ prison break, they also set free a mysterious elf-maiden, who seems to control magic, and who disappears  as soon as they leave the anti-magic zone of the prison behind. The mad wizard in the tower south of the town is not there the last time the heroes go to see him, and they take that to mean he has gone missing. The sickness plaguing the poor of the city in the slums has not disappeared with the destruction of the cult, the way the heroes thought it would.

When these sorts of things happen, the heroes have questions in their minds, questions that they want answered. Now, if you don’t plan on running future adventures with these characters, or in the world again, or if this is simply the end of the campaign, then you can answer these questions by addressing them either in an epilogue, or just after the game. However, if you are planning on revisiting this world, then I would recommend not answering any of these questions, or tying up any of these loose ends.

The reason is that these loose ends and unanswered questions are the best adventure prompts that a DM could ask for. Think about it this way: when you are starting a new adventure, how do you get your players interested? By connecting the quest to the backstory each character has, of course.

These loose ends are generated by the adventures the characters have just gone through, and so they are going to be instantly hooked by the promise of tying off one of those loose ends. And if that leads to a bigger adventure than the first one was, then that’s great! The point is to hook your players, and using a loose end from the first adventure as that hook is perfect.

That is why I recommend leaving a few of these loose ends around in any campaign. Add something to your adventure that seems significant, but that the players can’t follow up on right away, for whatever reason. The players will puzzle over it and then get back to the task at hand. But when the time comes for the new adventure, the mystery will come back to the players’ minds and they will be hooked right away.

I hope this makes sense to you! Let me know if you have done this in the past, either intentionally or unintentionally, and how it worked out for your group! As always I have been your GM Jim! Happy gaming.

And remember to Always Split the Party!dd-splash-art

A New Beginning

Wow…it has been a long time. Welcome back to Always Split the Party! I am, back from the dead, your GM Jim. Since my last post, I have finished a campaign, taken a break, and started a new one in a new world, with (some) new players! Crazy, right? I know!

The last campaign ended with a bang. One character dead (by his choice: he decided to sacrifice his life for his teammates’), and an ancient god awakened and let loose upon the world. We had to break for summer, since my players all attend a nearby college, and with summer break, two have gone home. One of them, the player for Andariel (see my first post), graduated, and so will not be returning in the fall. We might continue when the other player returns for fall classes, we might not.

I have since started a new group, with two of my old players (Matt, who played Ahkmet, and Tim, who played Chiron), and two new ones: Ed and Aaron. The new group has already finished their first adventure (which took about five sessions) and are level three. We ran through The Sunless Citadel (or, rather, an updated version for 5E). I have had that module since it was first released, but had never made it all the way through with a group until now. It’s a strange feeling!

I’ll give you a summary of the adventure soon. But in the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to my new campaign world. I’m calling it Nyrondie (The Ny rhymes with tie, so Nie-Ron-Dee). I have a Wiki: http://the-world-of-nyrondie.wikia.com/wiki/The_World_of_Nyrondie_Wikia. It’s all very official (not at all), and completely finished (nope). Look through it if you have some time and want to see a world plundered from nearly everywhere else.

I’ll be going into the details of both my adventures, and the world later. For now, I just recommend to all of you that, if you are running a game, and have a bit a free time (haha), then you should consider making a wiki. Don’t write three thousand words a page for it, but just give it some detail and time, and your players will really enjoy it. It allows them to feel like they are part of a living world, one of the advantages of running an established setting, like Greyhawk, Eberron, or the Forgotten Realms.

Also, I have opened up the wiki to my own players, letting them add certain elements (with my supervision) so that they can help contribute to the structure of the world. Only one of my players has taken me up on that so far, but he really enjoyed being a part of the creation process. Plus, it’s great having another person’s input.

Anyway, I hope you have all been having an excellent summer! Let me know if you like the idea of a wiki, or you think they are just a waste of time. Just do it nicely. 🙂

Have fun! And, as remember:

Always Split the Party!

delving into the great sunken city

Tales From Arkos: Gaiden

Hello my Friend the Reader! It is I, GM Jim, glad to be back after a few weeks hiatus. Hope you missed me! If not, fine. I didn’t miss you. Not a bit. Well maybe a little. Fine I missed you a lot. Are you happy now?! Gosh…

Anyway. Today I’d like talk about the “gaiden” (Japanese for “side story”). Specifically, the one I ran for my group last weekend. One of my players couldn’t make it, and so I seized the opportunity to present a little expositional adventure to my players. After a brief description of the session, I’ll talk about some of the takeaways I… well… took away from it.

The players, all new heroes, were traveling from the Far East to the city of Mizrah, a once great city in the east of the Steppes. This city had been built on the Boraz River, and occupied both banks, but over time, the west bank had been abandoned. By the time the players arrived, the city was mostly abandoned, save for the citadel, a walled portion in the center of the city.

Making their way into the citadel, the players found the place under siege by a barbarian tribe, the warriors of which were frenzied berserkers. The heroes fought their way to a small gate and were granted access to the citadel after guards on the wall witnessed them slay a large group of barbarians. They were then brought before the leadership, who asked for their help (naturally).

They agreed, and were given the task of reclaiming the bridge connecting the two banks. The barbarians had seized it a few days before and were using it to stage a strike into the citadel. The heroes led an assault on the bridge and managed to reclaim it for the Mizrans. They were then tasked with finding and slaying the leader of the tribe, who seemed to be using dark magic to drive his warriors into a frenzy. They took stock and prepared for the adventure the next day.

This is where we stopped. Overall, the session went remarkably well. The players had a lot of fun, and I had a good time too, since most of it was improvised.

There were two things in particular that this session brought to mind. One was large combats. I mean full-scale battles, not just lots of enemies, but lots of allies too. Like hundreds. The other thing this session made me consider was the merits of the “gaiden”, or “side-story”.

First: battles. Battles in D&D are often a daunting prospect for DMs. How exactly should a DM handle such a large combat? Should players have direct control of their forces? Should they only have one attack a turn? Is the turn mechanic even worth using in such a situation? These and many other questions often keep DMs from engaging in the large battle scenario.

Well I’m here to tell you that that is a mistake. Large battles are not only important from a story perspective (where would The Two Towers be without the Battle of Helm’s Deep?), but they are also a lot of fun! Players get to take a break from the traditional battle mechanics, and instead get to indulge in tactical planning and strategy. They get to feel the rush (yes, the rush) of commanding an army! You would be hard pressed to find a more satisfying feeling for a player than standing on a field of battle after a hard fought victory, and hearing the cheers of the soldiers resounding about them!

There are quite a few mechanics that need to be worked out ahead of time, but I think you will be surprised at how little you actually have to do to run a good battle. All I did for mine was to roll for the wings of the battlefield, on either side. Then I allowed the players to either “lead”, move about the battlefield, or engage in direct combat. Leading their soldiers allowed their “wing” to advance further, engaging in direct combat created spikes in the line, and moving about obviously moved them about. Easy peasy!

One thing you will want to consider is the kind of players you have. In my case I had one knight, and two stealthy characters. Rather than forcing them all to lead soldiers in the front line, I came up with special objectives for the other two. Ballistae had to be captured and turned on the enemy. The end of the bridge had to be secured, cutting off enemy reinforcements, and enemy commanders had to be cut down. Thus, all my players had something important to do, and each felt that they deserved to share in the victory.

As long as you are even half decent at improvising (and what GM isn’t?) you should be able to run a fun and exciting battle for your players. I guarantee that they will appreciate a break from the traditional style of combat and your story will get a shot in the arm. If you pull it off, they will be talking about it years down the road. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I’d like to turn now to the idea of the side-story. If you are pressed for time, and only get to play every so often, then I understand not trying this out. But if you do have an extra session here or there, or if a player can’t make a scheduled meeting, give the gaiden a try! Seriously! It will do great things for your group!

One of the things it does for your group is allow each player to try new character concepts without committing to a long term character build. One of my players (Matt) always plays clerics, Paladins, fighters, basically anything that can wear armor and wield maces. This time, however, he tried an arcane trickster. He loved playing it, but realized he really did prefer the armored approach. The gaiden provided him with the opportunity to try this out while still adding to the overall content of your world.

And this is where the side-story really brings something great to the group: lore. A side-story helps flesh out the world by highlighting to your players that there is a lot going on in the world, not all of which directly involves the main characters. It gives you opportunities to experience locations and events which the main characters maybe only hear of in passing, or see from a distance.

Further, the side-story, much like the prologue, can help flesh out the main story to your players. Maybe their characters will never know why the main villain betrayed his people and poisoned his King, leaving the city in ruins. Maybe they only know that he is mad, and needs to die. The side story can flesh out the “why” as well as the “that” by providing context. Maybe the side-story happens before the main story, and involves the players finding the Ring of Wee Jas, and bringing it back to the villain, which drives him mad. Maybe they cause (indirectly or directly) the main problem their characters are trying to fix!

Finally, and this is always important, the side-story allows players to hear about themselves and their own exploits. Players always love this! It gives them the sense that they have really interacted with the world and left a lasting mark. Which should be true, anyway!

Anyway, I hope this has been entertaining at least. Let me know how you deal with battles! Do you allow your players to fight in them? If so, how do you work out the details? And also let me know what you think of side-stories. Does it sound like something you might try? Have you ever done it in the past? How did it go for you?

That’s it for now! As always, happy gaming and remember:

Always Split the Party!

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