by Mike Shea on 6 February 2017
The roleplaying game Dungeon World gave us many wonderful things, not the least of which is one of the best lists of DM advice ever put on paper:
Dungeon World also gave us the idea of "fronts". Fronts are the main threats of our campaigns, whether they be big villains or large uncaring forces (like a looming apocalypse or something).
Fronts are a powerful and effective way to shift our thinking when we're planning our campaigns. Instead of worrying about what the characters will do at any given moment, we can shift our perspective to the plans, actions, and motivations of the rest of the world.
Storm King's Thunder is a huge wide-spread adventure with a lot of potential fronts. When we each choose to run this adventure, we can choose the fronts that best fit our interests, the story we watch unfold, and the interests of our players. More than previous adventures, Storm King's Thunder requires that we tailor it for our own game. If we don't, it's going to get stale fast with thin quests and meaningless excursions.
In this article, we're going to look at a few major potential fronts for Storm King's Thunder. Your own game likely won't, and shouldn't use these same fronts. Instead, you can use these sample fronts as a guide and as inspiration for coming up with your own fronts for your own execution of Storm King's Thunder.
For this exercise, we're going to use a simplified version of Dungeon World's fronts. Here's the outline for each front:
Here are the five fronts we're going to focus on in this article. Again, your own fronts will likely be different and that's great. Think of this as an example you can use directly or indirectly to support your own fronts.
Here's a list of other potential fronts in Storm King's Thunder but we're going to either ignore or put on hold while we focus on the five above.
Impulse: Seeks to rebuild the Vonnindod war machine and use it to take over the surface of the Sword Coast.
Grim Portent #1: Warhammer Kirusk brings orc troops to the Dam of Beselmir Kings and begins to smash through the dam to get to the chamber of artifacts to recover a pauldron of the Vonnindod.
Grim Portent #2: Zalto has sent a warband of three fire giants and their minions to hunt down pieces of the Vonnindod buried at burial mounds of the Uthgardt barbarian tribes.
Grim Portent #3: Zalto has allied with the drow of house Xorlarrin to steal the primordial Maegera from the forges of Gauntlgrym. Xorlarrin spies infiltrate Gauntlgrym and steal the primordial.
Impending Doom: If he succeeds, the Vonnindod will storm over the Sword Coast, destroying towns and cities all along the coast to show Zalto's might to the All-Father.
Impulse: Seeks to recover the magic of the Ostorian age and use it to propel herself to the head of the Ordening. She has already begun this by stealing the night stone from it's namesake village at the beginning of the adventure.
Grim Portent #1: The cloud giants attack Deadsnows (SKT page 80), breaking into an old Beselmir vault beneath the abbey to recover an ioun stone of insight used by the giant sages of the Ostorian Empire.
Grim Portent #2: Sansuri attacks Everlund (SKT pg 82), seeking the ancient draconic staff of fire wielded by Krowen Valharrow. The harpers manage to hold off the cloud giants for a short while but will fall if the characters don't intervene.
Grim Portent #3: Sansuri and her cloud giants capture Klauth, the ancient red dragon who knows much of the draconic artifacts of old and has a secret stash of them himeslf. Klauth replaces the bronze dragon listed in the adventure as Sansuri's captive.
Impending Doom: Armed with powerful magic, Sansuri will take the war to Waterdeep, pelting the city and destroying its defenses with her new found magic. Sansuri and her cloud giant wizards kill thousands as they seek to rule the giant city that lays underneath it.
Goal: Seeks to power a terrible machine beneath the mountains of sacrifice to bring undeath to the surface of Faerun.
Grim Portent #1: The stone giant wights of Cairnheim go to battle against the giants of Deadstone Cleft. They murder the Blue Bear tribe and those stone giants who will not serve the Dodkong in death.
Grim Portent #2: The Dodkong's surface commander, a stone giant death knight named Greth, animates the slain Blue Bear tribe and sends them as wights into Orlbar and Llorkh to gather humans at Deadstone Cleft before journeying into the Underdark on their way to Cairnheim.
Grim Portent #3: The Death King brings hundreds of captured humanoids to Cairnheim and begins to fuel his soul engine by sacrificing them dozens at a time.
Impending Doom: The Death King's soul engine tears open a hole into the negative energy plane and starts a storm of death that begins rolling out from the east through the high forest. Every death fuels the engine even more.
Goal: Seeks to shatter the Ordening and bring chaos to the giants and to the Sword Coast alike.
Grim Portent #1: Iymrith sends out her human champion to find the draconic blade, Hazirawn, lost in the Well of Dragons after the fall of Tiamat's temple.
Grim Portent #2: Iymrith uses her magic to scry upon ancient draconic magic items forged and used by her ancestors, the dragon sorcerers who battled the giants of the Ostorian age. This includes items possessed or recovered by the characters. She sends Kraken society murder squads to recover and disrupt any plots that might disrupt the chaos of the giants.
Grim Portent #3: Iymrith sends out a coordinated group of Kraken society assassins to kill the prominent leaders of the five factions to add further chaos to the Sword Coast.
Impending Doom: Iymrith sends the kingdoms into chaos, murdering leaders of Waterdeep, Neverwinter, Baldur's Gate, and other major institutions. She calls Slarkrethel to the shores, destroying hundreds of ships and the minds of every being aboard them.
Impulse: Yeenoghu and the cult of the devourer seek to build an army of his children to devour the humanoids of the surface of the Sword Coast.
Grim Portent #1: A sect of cultists of Yeenoghu conduct a large sacrifice of captured villagers and townsfolk and successfully resurrect them as undead gnolls.
Grim Portent #2: A large force of hyenas, gnolls, and these new "ghnolls", attack a reasonably large town. Gnolls slain in the battle are quickly restored as undead gnolls.
Grim Portent #3: Yeenoghu rises to the surface. The sky turns blood red. The city of Luskin is under siege by these gnoll forces and cult assassins within the town have cut down any meaningful organized defense.
Impending Doom: Yeenoghu wipes out the town of Luskin, building a throne of bone from his victims, and sends forth his children to the neighboring cities, spreading a bloom of blood across the map of the Sword Coast.
From the looks of it, you'd think the whole world was going to end if all, or even some, of these impending dooms come to pass. Storm King's Thunder, however, is intended to be a more relaxed adventure, without a big doomsday clock taking place like it was in previous adventures.
We can keep this relaxed pace and still have these fronts moving forward. They just move slow. Characters who learn of the movement of these fronts have opportunities to stop them, even all of them, before they come to pass. These multiple fronts don't force the characters to stop one threat only to have four others move foward. They're slowly burning.
This set of fronts represents only one possible future. It certainly won't work for every Storm King's Thunder campaign. Hell, it might not even work for the one I wrote it for. Each of these fronts and each step in those fronts are fluid. They shift and weave and twist and turn as the world moves on. This list of fronts does give us a model we might use as the winds of chaos blow and it helps us fire up our imaginations to watch the world live and breathe. What do your fronts look like?