What Do I Know About Reviews? Storm King’s Barrows (Dungeon Masters Guild Product)
Despite having some issues with the order of the events and the endgame, Storm King’s Thunder is one of my favorite 5th edition D&D adventures and the one that I’ve managed to run from beginning to end. Because I have a certain fondness for the adventure, Storm King’s Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North caught my attention.
This is an anthology collection of short adventures, generally set in the North, that can be dropped into a Storm King’s Thunder campaign, or, more broadly, any campaign where the adventures happen to fit. You can find it on the Dungeon Masters Guild.
The product is 135-page PDF, including a one-page index, a four-page introduction for all of the authors, and several pages of maps detailing the various locations. Stat blocks all are all laid out in a similar format to the official 5e books, and headers for various sections are similar as well.
Breve Heeros Onli!
The first adventure isn’t deeply tied too deeply to the plot of Storm King’s Thunder, it just requires a mountain and some adventurers willing to travel off the beaten path. The adventure takes place inside Mount Black and is essentially a hustle being run by a kobold who is scamming adventurers, guiding them through monster lairs so they can gather treasure, but actually working with a dragon to gather victims.
There is an example lair that Heep can guide the PCs through, and depending on the monsters encountered and the interactions with them, the PCs may get a clue of what’s going on. What I like about this is that the lair serves as an example, but Mount Black is set up as a dungeon ecosystem that might have several such lairs, so it can be reused and a DM could plug in lairs from other products into the tunnels. To some extent, the degree to which this adventure works is going to depend on how much your PCs will trust a kobold pitching a low risk, high reward dungeon, but if it works, it feels like it could be a lot of fun.
Proper names area always something you can swap out, and anyone’s preference for how much recognizable D&D-isms are important versus individual settings can vary. I say this because, much like a lot of elements in 5e adventures, this adventure throws in elements like the Raven Queen and Vecna into the Forgotten Realms with Uthgardt barbarians, so if you don’t like your streams to cross, it’s a head’s up.
The overall plot is of an undead uprising starting in the North, with the undead beholden to an old Uthgardt hero who has risen again. In a nice twist, that hero isn’t back because of vengeance, but because a friend set in motion a series of events that brought him back. I like the twist, but I think the three main characters involved in the plot may get a little confusing, and there were a few aspects were a bit more fleshed out (like the undead chieftain’s pet, which feels like it should have more to do for the emphasis placed on it).
Grotto of the Death Giants
In this adventure, the PCs run into a cult that has been developing in the North, with its various adherents bearing a mark on their faces. Eventually, the PCs may determine where the cult’s base is located, and they can attempt to end the problem before it spreads.
I’m actually pretty fond of this one, especially as a tie into Storm King’s Thunder, because it involves a giant deity first introduced in the old 2e supplement Monster Mythology, and it revolves around giant kin/lesser giants getting involved in the overall plot of SKT. I’ll be honest, I don’t think enough of SKT had side quests that dealt with the giants and the threat they posed to the North, so having a side quest adventure that does so is definitely a plus for me. I also like the potential red herring that is quickly resolved regarding the trappers (red herrings that take you too far off the course of the adventure are bad, very, very bad).
Saving Barbadoo’s Mine
The backstory to this adventure takes advantage of the breaking of the Ordening to create conflict between a fire giant and a cloud giant over the ownership of a mine. The dungeon crawl elements take PCs into a mine that is worked using some very high fantasy elements, rather than relying expressly on more mundane mining practices.
I liked some of the higher fantasy elements of the mining operations and that this is, again, a side-quest that actually takes some inspiration from the theme of the adventure itself. I’m not sure that I’m sold that there needs to be a new magical metal introduced to make the mine more worthwhile, and DMs will need to think about how they want to move forward if the PCs end up in possession of the mine at the end of the adventure, which is a possibility, but not the only potential outcome.
Stone Giant’s Lost Rock
This adventure puts the PCs in a position where they can stop a growing conflict between stone giants and dwarves, instigated by a xorn working with one of the dwarf clan’s heirs to cause mischief and position the heir as the head of her clan.
As I mentioned above, I’m very happy when there are more side-quests that could potentially bring in more of the giant themes from Storm King’s Thunder. I’m still trying to decide if I like the idea that the duplicitous daughter is undermining her clan’s wellbeing in order to usurp control, as that echoes the broader events of SKT. I’m not sure if it would be clever foreshadowing or just a repeated note that felt a little too obvious in retrospect. Obviously, used outside of SKT, this is less of an issue, and I like the idea of working to bring about peace between two factions.
The Barovian Book of the Dead
The PCs run into a halfling interested in rare books, and eventually, follow him into a ruined chapel to claim a cursed book, and they must decide if they want to recover the book and what to do with it once they have it.
I’m not sure I’m as enthusiastic of this side-quest as I am with some of the others. The main call out to SKT is that giant skeletons show up to guard the book. Even the idea that Strahd wanted to make a book that went out into the multiverse to cause havoc feels . . . less focused than Strahd usually is portrayed. I know it’s a side-quest, but it doesn’t quite feel like it lines up with either Curse of Strahd or Storm King’s Thunder as well as it could.
The Great Worm Caverns
The Great Worm Caverns provides a slight twist on the side-quest formula of the rest of this book. While most of these serve as additional encounters and short adventures that could slot into SKT or other campaigns, this is an expanded version of the Great Worm Caverns that already appear in the adventure. Some of this is based on creating tangible adventure elements from briefly touched on NPC traits in the adventure. The PCs will be cleansing the taint of evil in this Uthgardt sacred site, gaining the gratitude of the couatl tied to the location.
I like this one, not only because it fleshes out details the story of the Great Worm Uthgardt tribe that was touched on in a more disjointed manner in the main adventure, but it also gives the PCs a way to cleanse the mound, get a relic as a reward, and do way less “let’s trash a culture’s holy site” adventuring, which felt unheroic in the main adventure. The only thing I wish is there was more of a suggestion on how to let the PCs know they can do this to gain one of the giant’s relics, so they explicitly know they have an option beyond random despoiling of holy sites.
The Tomb of Mild Discomfort
Acererak shows up in the Realms, gets into a fight with a wizard native to the place, and as a tribute to her fighting spirit, creates a tomb to protect her remains, filled with traps and puzzles, but not ones that are likely to kill PCs, because he’s capricious like that.
Some of the humor of this dungeon is generated from knowing about the Tomb of Horrors, so the degree to which the meta-humor works may vary. Mild discomfort may be underselling some of the dangers in this dungeon–it’s not a gotcha dungeon like the Tomb of Annihilation, but there are certainly a few places where PCs can lose some hit points. My favorite part of the adventure is the book eating cursed skull.
The Vault of the Undying
In this adventure, PCs enter a tomb of an undead spellcaster that has been trapped for a long time, and upon breaking the seal on his tomb, have to deal with a creature that was never meant to walk free among the living, and with his pet doomsday weapon.
My favorite part of this adventure is the keys, both false and real, which lead to some interesting interplay with the dungeon. I always feel a little bad when PCs are saddled with an adventure that has them unwittingly unleashing great evil on the world, because that pretty much means the world would have been fine if your PCs never started adventuring. It always feels less heroic to me to have the PCs fix their own mess than to actually be a net positive in the world. There is an alternate hook at the beginning that one of the giant relics normally found in the Uthgardt sacred sites might be located in the tomb, and I wish that assumption had been the default, both to alleviate the PCs causing more harm than good, and to give them other options that despoiling the sites. Also, while I hate for PCs to unwittingly unleash a greater evil, I love giving them the option of doing so if they can weigh the risk versus reward of such an action.
The PCs arrive at a place called the Warlock’s Crypt, which is kind of a tourist trap that commemorates the tomb of a warlock that turned on his patron, Demogorgon, to heroically save the world from his patron. The PCs end up traveling into the tomb and finding out the real truth behind the legend.
I like the hook of “the truth behind the legend” in this adventure. It does feel odd that it’s not a regular occurrence for adventurers to explore this location, and that it’s more of tourist trap until the PCs get enticed into it. Also, I know names get reused, but Yancazi’s Crypt should by no means be confused with the more famous Warlock’s Crypt near Baldur’s Gate–your PCs aren’t butting heads with Larloch in this one.
Top of the Ordening
Several of these adventures do a better job of creating side-quests in the North during the SKT storyline than the actual adventure managed to provide. The adventures almost all clear and straightforward, and can be easily inserted into either SKT or any campaign where PCs happen to be in the right place to insert them. I particularly like the utility of Breve Heeros Onli!, the story building aspects of Grotto of the Death Giants and The Great Worm Caverns, and the thematic elements in Saving Barbadoo’s Mine and Stone Giant’s Lost Rock.
While I don’t think every side-quest needs to be about giants or even the overall plot set in motion in Storm King’s Thunder, I think being disconnected and thematically out of synch makes me a little less likely to use some of the adventures in this collection. I will fully admit, some of that just falls to my personal tastes. That said, even though some of those adventures may be usable outside of SKT, I’m not sure I’m excited enough about them to do so.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
If you like collections of short adventures, this is a solid one. It should probably be evident from the title, but it does lean heavily on crypts and burial mounds, so if you are likely to get tired of that theme, you may get less utility from this. Additionally, what I saw as a strength of this product, using it with SKT, may not be what you are looking for, although even those that tie into the overall theme of SKT hold up as separate adventures as well. A few of the adventures could have used a bit more spice, or some stronger internal logic, but as a collection, it’s a solid grouping.