A looong time ago, I wrote about problems I was having with one of the encounters in the first part of Storm Kings’s Thunder. Well, I’m happy to announce that nearly 2 years since I first ran the bit, I came up with the *right* way to do it.Encounter as Written
Encounter as Written
One of the early encounters in SKT is called “The Earseekers.” I found out recently that it was a reference, one of those nods to old-school players. Haven’t delved too deep, but I do have a random Dragon magazine somewhere detailing the Earseeker Tribe.
So the party is around level 2, maybe level 4 if you’re nice and running it after the dripping caves, but still low level, when from the east comes a band of around twenty orcs, with a wounded leader and war priest. They’re running from some elves who may or may not save the party’s lives if necessary. The orcs want the safety of the wall before the elves catch up.
The Problem with running it that way
The biggest problem is that 20-odd orcs is a SLOG. A slog that the party cannot win in fair combat. There’s a fun trick I would love doing of having the warpriest use suggestion on two people in the towers to lower the drawbridge, intentionally failing the NPCs if needed. But the fight was long and drawn out, every time I ran it. I’ve tried it a few different ways, and each time it was better, but it was still an hour and a half of mostly boring combat.
At the table last week, I made a decision that worked really well. I had thought about making it a solo creature, but until I was at the table, I didn’t know exactly what the plan was. But the moment came up and out from the east came…
A single, wounded, Hill Giant. Brilliant, right?
What, don’t you just agree with my self praise? Fine. 3 reasons, then.
First, it’s a lot simple to manage a combat. The giant has the exact same motivations as a squad of orcs, but with 5% the combat complexity. I nixed his Multiattack and cut his HP in half. That’d probably mess his CR up, but I’m running AL so that doesn’t matter. He’s greatly out numbered by the party, especially, if you have enough time to telegraph the approach so the party can raise the draw bridge. Pound the door once or twice, before getting to the PCs. (Mine came out to fight) A Hill Giant deals enough default damage that it’ll kill a 1st level player with a -1 Con, but everyone else should be okay. Er.. unconscious with one hit.
That brings us to the second cool thing: Cool moments and memories. A slog of a combat sucks because its mostly just rolling dice and adding (or subtracting) from a large group. A solo let’s me do cool things like catch the paladin as he jumps through the air, let people make bold stands, cool tricks, etc. Combat moves fast enough you can be flexible and describe things better.
Third: This ties the giants to the story. SKT is supposed to be all about the giants, but after the Nightstone was stolen off camera, the giants don’t show up except as rumor and Random Encounters for a while. I mean, sure, Zyphos the hat guy, and whatever city you pick, but if you can make the story actually focus on the giants instead of Grand Tour Sword Coast, it’ll be a much tighter story.
I’m sure I don’t have it perfect yet, but I’m really liking this giant-centric SKT. I’d run it very different outside of AL, but we have to run the tables we’re dealt. And I’m excited to re-run this adventure, which I didn’t think was going to be a possible emotion. So that’s cool as well.
I have a lot of book left, but I’m not going to be able to improve my story as much as I mnormally do. Which is probably good for me. More SKT bits and bobs in the future, I guarantee.