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Previously on “Princes of the Apocalypse”

Sometimes you have to scrap ideas even before they really start. If you’re DMing a game of your own creation you have to play the role of both designer and editor. You create the content, then constantly modify and tweak as your players mess with it.

By utilizing a pre-published adventure, the bulk of the design is already done for me. I primarily do the editing work, which leads to a lot of customization and changes based on what I and my players like to do in a tabletop game.

In this week the party made it to Bargewright Inn, which includes a low-level “Side Trek.” I like that “Princes of the Apocalypse” uses extra content that’s completely extraneous to the plot and fills out the Dessarin Valley area quite nicely. 

In this case, however, I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work effectively, and ultimately scrapped it the day of our session. For those you that have played, or are looking through “Princes of the Apocalypse,” I’m referring to the New Management Side Trek.

It has a neat beginning but just kind of peters out at the end. I had some changes to more directly involve my players, but in the end it just didn’t feel like it would play out well. Instead I descried the area then let the PCs basically do what they wanted around the tavern.

Bargewright Inn

I was pleasantly surprised that they all jumped at the opportunity for a bit of light role-playing. Talus cast Invisibility and awkwardly spied on people. Kethra sneaked around and looted some unguarded purses. Miri strode to the bar and ordered a fancy drink. Kalinaar jumped up on a table and ordered drinks for the entire bar, regaling them of the time they survived an attack by a green dragon in some infested woods. That definitely earned him a point of inspiration!

From a bit of fun I brought in Larry, the Sacred Stone Monk that Talus had charmed to be an unwilling but useful ally. Larry had even dealt the killing blow on Hellenrae back in the Sacred Stone Monastery. When the charm wore off, Kalinaar rolled 20+ on his Persuasion check to get him to leave and reconsider his life choices.

One of the nice things about tabletop gaming versus video gaming is I can make the world truly reactive to my players. In this case I had Larry quietly contemplating in the tavern, thinking about where to go next while laying low from any vengeful Earth cultists. The party had a nice little chat with him, and suggested he travel to Red Larch to help with the rebuilding efforts.

After a Long Rest at the Bargewright Inn they hopped over to the nearby town of Womford. I played up the area as a hive of scum and villainy, filled with low-lives and pirates. Thankfully I was able to find a reasonable battlemap to use in Roll20 as the heroes came up to the docks. Miri took control of the situation by ordering around the vagabonds, and soon they were talking to Shoalar Quanderil, captain of the nearby keelboat, River Maid.

Shoalar QuanderilShoalar is a classic pirate and I played up his jovial yet violent nature. Miri tried to buy passage up the river. But once she offered a hefty sum (100gp!) Shoalar decided they were worth attacking and robbing. Half the dockworkers shouldered crossbows and attacked.

Bandits and thugs are little match for a fully rested party of level five PCs, and they went down embarrassingly fast. Shoalar was completely, and I mean COMPLETELY locked down by Talus’s Levitation and Counterspells. He could only watch helplessly as his crew was slaughtered, even when I had a few more bandits stumble out from the nearby tavern.

Interestingly the fight became a bit boring at the end, as Talus refused to let Shoalar down, and the rest of the party seemed unsure how to deal with him. I had him Misty Step so if Talus dropped him he would fall in the water. However, if Levitation ends the target floats slowly to the ground, giving the party some time to deal with him. A few awkward rounds passed until Kalinaar finally spoke up and offered him a chance to surrender, which Shoalar grudgingly accepted.

Usually the villains are fairly one-dimensional and pure evil, so I had a bit of fun making Shoalar more amicable. He acknowledged the PCs’ strengths and kind of adopted them as his new crew, even when they forcibly shackled him to the steering wheel (do keelboats even have rudders? Whatever).

I had two major encounters planned for the Dessarin River. My players had the interesting idea to stagger their Long Rest times, however, and keep traveling throughout the night. This actually made my night encounter way easier to spring. Shoalar warned them about traveling on the river after dark.

Before they had left, Kethra had entered the tavern and asked for any hired help in working the boat. I had her roll a Persuasion check, as well as a 1d4 and some haggling to see just how much help they would get, and for how much. She ended up hiring two workers for 5gp a piece.

Thus it was super fun for me to spring me trap by having a harpoon hurtle out of some bubbling water and drag a screaming hireling under. Roll for initiative!


Merrow are monstrous fish-folk armed with harpoons that can drag people into the water. It seemed like a really fun and different kind of encounter, as they would try to harpoon the PCs and drag them off the boat.

Too bad for me, it all went sideways! Miri used Water Whip to grab the nearest merrow and pull it onto the boat (crashing next to the sleeping, naked Kalinaar). Another merrow successfully harpooned Miri, but critically failed the STR check while Miri had a critical success. My players suggested that the opposite should happen and I agreed – Miri wrapped the harpoon rope around her arm and pulled the merrow up onto the boat!

I had the third one target his closest figure, which was the second hireling. I totally wasted a critical hit with max damage on the poor bastard, as he exploded from the hit. On subsequent rounds Talus’ Shield spell and my own terrible rolling prevented anyone else from being dragged off the boat.

d&dThe merrow were dealt with but the hirelings were dead. It was actually a funny way of making that situation fairly dire, and Miri ended up taking some heavy damage. She took the next Long Rest shift, and the following day another keelboat was spotted heading South.

This was meant to be another full combat encounter, but the PCs played it pretty smart. They hung low and kept Shoalar at the helm, with nothing amiss. I had him wave to the other crew, and they never ended up coming over to investigate. They didn’t really have a reason to.

Keeping Shoalar alive should also prove beneficial next week as they approach Rivergard Keep. I definitely want to reward my players for playing things smart rather than full-on assaults. They’ve talked to Shoalar and have a plan for entering through the river gate. How things play out from there will be anyone’s guess. We’ll find out next week!

Recorded every Sunday night, uploaded on Mondays. Subscribe for our weekly adventures!