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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” 

Sometimes your open world campaign may be a bit too open, or you sprinkled in a personal quest that was a bit too dire. Magical locked gates to the rescue!

I don’t feel great about it but it ultimately helped funnel my players into a much more agreeable path, especially after hinting how “Princes of the Apocalypse” is set up. Plus, I got to send them tumbling down a flight of stairs into a room with an enraged Umber Hulk. Fun stuff!

We picked up this week after the non-stop action at the Feathergale Spire that left most of its residents dead. The party swept through the rest of the now empty tower, seeing a few rooms on the ground floor for the first time.

Kalinaar made a dramatic show of releasing the last few hippogriffs in the stables, dumping oil all around and then lighting it all on fire with his dragon breath. A major structure like the spire won’t go down quickly but it did transform into a giant smoke stack as the flames did their work.

princes of the apocalypse sacred stone monk

A much needed Long Rest later and the party continued to the Eastern part of the Sighing Valley. I realize that I made a slight tactical error in making one of the missing delegations a personal connection to Miri (her mother). Since Kethra found the note and talked to Thurl, they know the air cult holds her prisoner. Logically they want to go investigate immediately.

The problem is “Princes of the Apocalypse” is an open-world campaign without the built-in level scaling of a giant Bethesda RPG. It’s just me making the adjustments when needed. The surface keeps are all supposed to be handled first before the PCs get any deeper and start finding and exploring the respective temples. The keeps, of which Feathergale Spire is the lowest-level one, range from 3rd to 6th level, while the lowest-level temple is designed for 6th, creating a natural progression.

But there’s nothing in the book keeping players from just diving down from a cult’s keep into their temple and even beyond, other than running into much stronger foes and tougher dungeons. And frankly I don’t think those dungeons do a great job of telegraphing their dangers at the beginning.

Thus I was not wanting my players to dive into the air temple just yet, so I simply threw up a magical gate. Yeah, lame. The other reason is that each of these dungeons and locations takes a ton of time to build and implement into Roll20, even after purchasing the official grid maps. Having the players able to pick and choose creates a ton of work for me that is frankly exhausting. By throwing up a blockade I can eliminate at least one of those routes for now.

ankheg (1)Of course I still let the players explore the entrance and fight off the air monk guards. I teased the air symbol and a magical key after Talus cast Detect Magic. They were stymied that they couldn’t progress but I think they ultimately understood my reasoning.

Thankfully they choose to go to the Sacred Stone Monastery next, which was the area I had most prepared for. It was the next closest location, having learned about it from capturing Larrakh in Red Larch. On the way I launched a Cult Reprisal called Tremors, which seemed thematically appropriate as they approached the Earth Cult. The Ankhegs were a fun surprise foe where the party had zero positioning and I rolled great on initiative, immediately bathing most of them with acid spray. Miri nearly went down if not for Talus’ divination dice.

It’s odd that the campaign introduces the Earth Cult so early through Larrakh, and again with the hostile dealings with Feathergale, considering it’s the 2nd toughest of the four. Luckily the PCs are all level 5 so they’re in line for it. By now they had deduced what the symbols meant and could identify the cultist markings. Lead by Kalinaar they entered the monastery after boasting about their defeat of the air cultists, and were lead to Qarbo. Qarbo sneered but recognized their prowess. He feigned respect and motioned for them to seek an audience with their leader, the Abbess of Stone (a fantastic title).

The party was pleasantly surprised that Kalinaar’s rare clemency paid off. I delighted in springing the trap – Qarbo pulled a lever and the stairs turned into a ramp, dumping the party into the basement below and releasing a half-blinded, very pissed off Umber Hulk into the room!

This was a fantastic moment that everyone was completely shocked by. Half the party fell prone but I rolled pretty badly for initiative (as did half the party). Kethra causes fits of further shock and laughter as she immediately ran away, crashing into the Eastern door and trying to flee!

The Umber Hulk was custom-modified by the Earth Cult – it lacked Confusing Gaze but had increased damage thanks to artificial claws. It also attacks three times per round and has about 100 HP, making it easily the single most challenging thing the party has every faced (other than Venomfang in the previous campaign, but that wasn’t a real fight).

Princes of the Apocalypse sacred stone monastery umber hulk

One attack nearly killed Miri, while Talus tried to use Hypnotic Gaze. The beast barely made the save, and now the party was truly panicking. They were leaning on the Flight side of Fight or Flight, and ultimately decided to follow Kethra through the Eastern passage, hoping the Umber Hulk’s girth wouldn’t allow it to follow. Miri made it out thanks to Step on the Wind, but Kalinaar took a reaction hit trying to run – a brutal critical hit that killed him.

Except Talus used his second divination die to save his life. When it comes to PCs being taken out, the rules become much more flexible. Normally he has to declare to use the dice before I roll, but in this case (and in Miri’s fight with the Ankheg’s earlier) I let him use it afterwards, and he role-played his distracted wizard quite nicely.

Everyone made it into the Eastern passage, and Kethra saw that a crypt lie beyond. She was still wanting to flee – possibly deeper into the dungeon. But the others saw an opportunity to attack the trapped Umber Hulk from relative safety.

Umber Hulk’s can normally burrow with their claws, but this one had its natural claws removed, allowing the Earth Cult to keep it prisoner. Thus it was indeed trapped. However, it was also pissed off and had an opening (the crashed door thanks to Kethra’s crit on opening it) to work with.

Sacred Stone Monastery

I let it roll STR checks every round to try and break through, after it’s initial failure at burrowing. On the second attempt it made the DC 20 check and broke through, but by then it had taken a ton of damage, even with its damage resistance. Right when it crashed into the hallway it fell to the onslaught of attacks. I don’t feel bad as the fight was tense as hell already, and I enjoyed the PC’s tactical approach to handling the beast.

Now they find themselves in the dark bowels of the Sacred Stone Monastery, and I can plan much easier knowing where the party is. Probably with less deadly Umber Hulk traps. Probably.

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