New to Sly Flourish? Start Here!
by Mike on 7 November 2022
Wizards of the Coast released a new D&D Starter Set with a brand new adventure — Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. This article intends to help DMs, both new and veterans, make the most of this excellent starting adventure.
These days, more DMs than ever run their games online. Dragons of Stormwreck Isle is available on the three most popular online platforms for running D&D games:
The digital version on D&D Beyond gives you everything you need to run in other virtual tabletops such as Foundry, Owlbear Rodeo (my personal favorite), Above VTT, or even directly over Discord.
Of course, you can play Dragons of Stormwreck Isle in person using the D&D Starter Set box. To do so, you'll want some other tools and accessories to make the most of the game. Zipperon Disney has a fantastic YouTube video showing how to fill out the Starter Set with some fantastic crafted accessories for under $20.
Here are my top tips for running Dragons of Stormwreck Isle. These are detailed further in this article.
The beginning of the Stormwreck Isle adventure book includes a short section of tips for new DMs. Whether new or experienced, it's worth reading over these tips to refresh yourself. If you're looking for more tips for new DMs, see my Getting Started Playing D&D article.
The first scene in the game has the characters witness a handful of zombies coming up the beach. This is a great encounter to get the characters into the action but gives them the option to leave well-enough alone if they choose. I expect most players fight the zombies. This isn't a difficult fight, and perfect for a Starter Set adventure. All too often published adventures throw 1st level characters against extremely difficult battles. This is a fresh change.
Note that the zombies start far enough away from the characters that the characters have a round or two to fire arrows or prepare for the attack. The zombies begin 30 feet away which means on their turn they must dash to reach the characters if the characters don't charge up first.
You have options for how you want to run combat in this and every D&D encounter. This battle is simple enough that you can simply describe what's going on without any tokens, maps, or visuals — a style known as the "Theater of the Mind". You can, instead use tokens or miniatures to represent monsters and characters. See my Lazy Monster Tokens guide for building nice tokens to represent monsters and characters or, again, check out Zipperon Disney's video to see how to make tokens out of glass beads. If you want a more tactical 5-foot-per-square grid, check out the Pathfinder Flip Mat.
If you're playing online you too have the choice of running the battle in the theater of the mind or using an online virtual tabletop for gridded play.
Pay attention to the sidebar in chapter 1 called "Runara Saves the Day!". Should the characters fail in this adventure, they don't simply all die. Instead they awaken back at the temple under the care of Elder Runara. You can use this feature everywhere in the adventure, ensuring that a "total party kill" never ends in full defeat. Runara likely wouldn't describe exactly how she saved them, only that she was in the right place at the right time. This can further allude to her true origin as a bronze dragon.
Chapter 1 is packed with NPCs to introduce to the characters. Instead of introducing every single one, choose the most important ones for the adventure so you and your players can keep them in mind. This includes:
Dragon of Stormwreck Isle is a largely traditional and straight forward D&D adventure. It's simple in its structure but heavily enriched by the lore presented in the text. Expose the characters to this lore as they talk to NPCs and explore the island. The histories of Bahamut and Tiamat, even the epic poem in the beginning of Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, can tell the characters more about the lore of dragons.
The lost effigy in the Cursed Shipwreck can likewise reveal information about Orcus, demon prince of undeath.
Lean in on the lore. Let the players discover this lore as they explore the island and its inhabitants. Such lore binds the actions of the characters to the world around them.
There isn't a sense of urgency going on at Dragon's Rest. Give the characters time to explore the place, enjoy a dinner, and talk to NPCs. Then be ready to move things forward if the characters don't start exploring. The kobolds, for example, can push the characters to ask Tarak and Varnoth about their quests. Too much sitting around the temple can get boring fast so be ready to move things forward.
Dragons of Stormwreck Isle includes three additional encounters you can run as the characters explore the island. Consider combining the "Kobold Renegade" and "There There Owlbear" encounter into one single situation. The characters might be tracked by two of the kobolds early on who decide they're not enough to take on the characters. Later, the kobolds run past the characters as the owlbear crashes in. You can combine these two encounters however you like to build a fun crazy situation the characters can get involved in. Mixing and matching encounters like this is a great way to keep situations unique and interesting.
Like all of the chapters in this adventure, Seagrow Caves runs well without much modification. The one major tip I'll offer is to choose which battles you want to run and which you want to skip. As written the characters could face one battle after another between the plant octopus, the violet fungi, an the stirges. Feel free to skip or move around these encounters to pace the game so you're not throwing battle after battle at the characters which can get stale fast. Move both the violet fungi and the stirges around to suit the pacing of the game.
One fun detail I added to the two Stormwreck adventures I ran is to give the guardian plant octopus one of Tarak's boots. Not only can it whack someone with a tentacle but bonk them with a boot as well. Don't be afraid to give the octopus another melee attack as long as it's against a separate target. This makes it a more dangerous threat when facing four or five characters. Tarak will be happy to get his boot back when the characters defeat the octopus.
Lean in on the idea that the myconids, as afraid as they are, aren't hostile. Stage things carefully so it doesn't end up a mushroom bloodbath.
In the final battle against the fume drakes, let them share information about Sharuuth's tomb or prison beneath the island. Let the players ponder whether Sharuuth is alive or dead and what power she may possess but make it clear that answering such questions is better for another day far away.
The Cursed Shipwreck is an excellent derelict ship dungeon crawl. Like Seagrow Caves, be ready to move combatants around to suit the pacing of the game you want to run. Add or remove zombies and ghouls to increase or decrease the threat the characters face based on what feels right for the fun of the game.
Let the characters learn more about Orcus and his terrible realm of Thanatos based on the characters' religion checks when they discover the effigy and its accompanying note.
Depending on how the characters approach it, there may not be a lot of combat in the observatory. If this fits the pacing of the game you want, that's fine. Otherwise, you can use the kobolds and flying kobolds as your combat dial — making them more aggressive and clearly villainous if you want an extra fight or more goofy and easily intimidated if you want to focus on the final battle with Sparkrender.
The puzzles in the observatory can be a little tricky so freely offer up clues to the more perceptive characters in the group if it helps keep things moving. Pacing such situations is always key. Don't be afraid to tell the players what their characters would notice.
When it comes time to run Sparkrender, a variety of circumstances can make the battle either easy or hard. Thus, you'll want to have your hands on the dials, changing up Sparkrender's hit points, number of attacks, and any allies who help him. If you have more than four characters you may want to add one or more flying kobolds into the battle to harass back-line characters. You can also give Sparkrender an additional claw attack if he doesn't seem very effective. Use his bite attack but change the piercing to slashing and don't include the lighting damage. Increase his hit points if you think he's going to go down too fast.
The fight against Sparkrender should feel epic but not completely deadly. Be ready to change things up to keep that danger high without completely wiping out the characters.
Should you wish to continue your journeys, you can have the characters return to the Sword Coast by boat. I've written a bridge adventure in partnership with Scott Fitzgerald Gray and Jeff Stevens called Stars Over Stormwreck. This adventure connects Dragons of Stormwreck Isle with Light of Xaryxis, the adventure in the D&D Spelljammer boxed set but you can use this same adventure to tie to any adventure going on in Neverwinter, Waterdeep, Luskan, or elsewhere on the shores of the Sword Coast.
If you want to set Stormwreck Isle in the lands of Exandria, the world of Critical Role, you can connect Dragons of Stormwreck Isle with Call from the Netherdeep by placing Stormwreck Isle in the Emerald Gulch Sea and having the characters catch a boat that takes them to Jigow and the beginning of the adventures in Call from the Netherdeep which begin at 3rd level.
Stormwreck Isle is a fantastic adventure for both new and veteran DM's alike. Hopefully these tips help you run this adventure for your family and friends.
This week on YouTube I posted my Scarlet Citadel preparation of session 4 and a tip video on How Surprise Works in D&D.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer some of the questions I get on the monthly Sly Flourish Patreon questions and answer thread. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last D&D game and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's D&D tips:
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