Thumbnail pic

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!

Previously on “Princes of the Apocalypse” 

A standard monster-filled dungeon can be fun, but I really enjoy when an area has some unique twist about it aside from room-to-room monster-bashing. The Feathergale Spire is a neat four-story tower filled with seemingly innocuous knights and aerial enthusiasts.

The encounter can transpire in numerous ways depending upon how the PCs react. Nothing is more fun to me as a DM than listening to my players hastily deliberate on a course of action, each crazier than the last.

First the party had to make it to the spire. When we left off they’d just killed a bunch of griffons in the Sighing Valley and found an alcove to rest in. When they awoke I had a group of aarokocra find them. The aarokocra were wary but curious. It was a fun opportunity for some unique role-playing, as neither party could understand each other.

Talus rolled really well on a History check and I gave him some information on these bird-like humanoids – mainly that they’re not evil and often fight forces of elemental evil. Numerous drawing, pointing, and miming ensued which was delightfully funny.

Talus would eventually cast Comprehend Languages (gotta love when seemingly mundane spells become very useful), and I would give them a bit more direct information – drawing a symbol over the tower, skull and crossbones nearby, question mark over the gully, and a hidden trail that lead up to the tower.

One of my players had a supremely clever moment. When the aarakocra demanded the return of the griffon eggs, Kethra stealthily grabbed two rocks, cast Disguise Self, and turned the rocks into the eggs. Then she carefully went back toward the nests and returned them to a safe spot, without letting the bird-men inspect them. It felt very sneaky and rogue-like, and earned her a point of inspiration.

feathergale spire

I didn’t want my players scratching their heads over how to gain entrance to the tower. I also wanted them to approach the normal entrance as I had a surprise up my sleeve. For that reason I pointed out an easy trail they could take up the canyon wall that lead right to it – and they eagerly took it.

Journeying near the river did come with a combat encounter with a pack of gnolls. I let the PCs all have a surprise round since they were prepared for danger (the aarakocra had pointed out as much). I only slightly scaled this encounter up since it’s designed for level 3-ish and the PCs are all level 5.

Well, they absolutely slaughtered the gnolls. Talus unleashed a fireball right in their surprised faces, dropping half of them (I actually rolled crazy well for the saves) and critically wounding the rest. Out of six gnolls and a pack lord I think I got exactly two attacks off! We made fun of the fact that the party had just come across a peaceful gnoll family out having a river-side picnic, and had murdered them all.

At the entrance to the spire the party rang the bell before the drawbridge. Savra, a new Feathergale Knight, greeted them with a rehearsed introduction to the Feathergale Society of Aerial Enthusiasts. She stopped short when she saw her childhood friend Miri.

One thing I really want to improve over our last campaign is to incorporate my players’ backgrounds into the story. My players all did really great jobs crafting their characters and I really want to take advantage of their past relationships, deeds, and place in the world.

Miri is a runaway from Waterdeep Nobility and the Feathergale Knights are mostly made up of Waterdeep Nobles. Savra was delighted to see her old friend, and immediately invited them inside to show them around. Miri perked up and ran with it very well, while the others followed suit.

Princes of the Apocalypse feathergale spire

Getting a guided tour through a potential dungeon is a unique twist. When they made it to the pinnacle they met Lord Commander Thurl Merosska. Thurl invited them to the 10th anniversary feast that evening. The party were a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. I’m not sure if Miri hadn’t failed the Persuasion check for Savra to leave them alone at the top if they hadn’t just attempted to push Thurl off the edge and start a giant combat sequence right then and there.

Instead they were escorted down to a room, and I was treated to a fantastic sequence of player deliberation. I love it when my players are given an open-handed task or intriguing bit of information, and have to discuss it among themselves. I let it go on for quite awhile as I just loved every bit of it – even Kethra’s increasingly zany ideas to get around (climbing up the tower walls, Sleeping the guards in the Great Hall and taking their uniforms, etc).

They settled on trying to knock out the guards in the Great Hall, but they also Short Rested while in there. When they emerged the Great Hall was filled with knights ready for the feast, so for now the PCs went along with it.

They cut right to the chase when Thurl asked of their problems, showing them the wingwear they looted off the knights that attacked them. Thurl was troubled, but before they could discuss it further, a knight burst through the doors. They’d found a manticore, and the hunt was on!

manticore-huntI teased the beast a bit earlier in their first meeting with Thurl. The PCs jumped at the chance to dogfight a manticore in the air. I had them roll Animal Handling checks with a 10+ giving them control of their own hippogriff. Talus had to hang on to Kalinaar as they took off.

Meanwhile Kethra decided she had her own plan. In typical Kethra fashion, she neglected to inform the rest of the party, which definitely brought us back to her zany actions in our Shadowrun days.

Kethra pretended to be sick and didn’t go on the manticore hunt, which lead to a bit of multitasking on my part. While the others went with the knights to hunt the beast, Kethra lured Savra into a room and tried to cast Sleep on her. She shrugged it off. “I quickly punch her in the face,” was his reply, and we erupted in shocked laughter. Really wanting to see where this was going, I let him us his point of inspiration to deliver a knock-out sucker punch.

She then stripped her armor off and cast Disguise Self to look like Savra – replacement complete! She went outside and cleverly played dumb to get to Thurl’s room. There it was a simple task of picking the lock and to get inside. Kethra found a chest with some hefty coinage, and an incriminating letter to Thurl that clearly stated they were involved in a pitched battle and had a captive. Not just any captive – one of the diplomats from the missing delegation and Miri’s own mother!

I was still a bit unsure of how to run the manticore battle in a satisfactory way. The book abstracts it quite a bit and I think is there in case the PCs refuse to go. I only had the PCs and manticore roll initiative. The vultures and hippogriffs were on autopilot flying closer to the manticore, while the knights could occasionally hurl a spear. When the manticore attacked I had each PC there roll a d20, with the lowest receiving one of its three tail attacks.

Thankfully this odd battle was over nearly as soon as it started. Remember how the party is super good at knocking flying units out of the sky? Manticore, meet Hypnotic Pattern. It failed its save, dropping it out of the sky. They were hundreds of feet up in the air at this point so the beast took the full 20d6 falling damage. Manticore, meet ground.

Hilariously it still survived the fall (manticores are quite beefy). Miri did the fancy superhero fall using her innate monk featherfall ability, and ran up and crunched its face with Lightbringer. Dead manticore in nearly a single round! The knights cheered and everyone returned to the tower.

Kethra met them in the stables where she shooed the guards off while still disguised as Savra. We ended our session right before Kethra drops the bomb on the critical information she found. How the party (and Miri) reacts should be supremely interesting. I have a feeling we’ll spend most of our next session in Feathergale Spire – with completely different pretenses!

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!