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Previously on “Princes of the Apocalypse”

When we were running our Shadowrun campaign, I was able to do entire recap sessions to separate the individual missions or runs. This gave me a chance to elicit feedback from my players and breakdown what worked and what didn’t from both role-playing and technical points of view. Each run took 3-6 weeks, so we had these discussions at a nice pace.

While D&D Fifth Edition works much better for us overall, the campaigns are way longer. Our first, “The Lost Mine of Phandelver,” took four months. It’s looking like “Princes of the Apocalypse” will easily last us the rest of the year.

To compensate I’ve done little informal talks and breakdowns after our sessions and throughout the week. Since we’re all close friends I’m fortunate that I can pull back the curtain and discuss things a bit, while trying to avoid spoilers as best I can.

I’ve previously discussed my main problem with “Princes of the Apocalypse.” Its open world set-up and interconnected dungeons means player characters can (and likely will) stumble into higher level dungeons than they’re prepared for.

As my players pointed out after this session – continuing down that underground stream beneath Rivergard Keep seems like the bottom layer of that dungeon, and the natural next course of action. In reality it’s an entirely new dungeon – one that’s far bigger and several levels stronger than the Keep.

We began this week poised in a good position overlooking the main boss of Rivergard Keep. While my players mostly choose the shock and awe route in every situation, they also try to curry each scenario in their favor through disguises, stealth, and manipulation.

In this case Kethra used her Disguise Self spell to look like one of the Crushing Wave Reavers they had just taken out. The rest took up stealthy positions in the upstairs rooms while she called out to Grimjaw and his guards. Intruders! This way!

wereboarIt was pretty much the same plan they ran against Qarbo in the Sacred Stone Monastery, and it worked equally well here. Grimjaw and his cohorts walked right into slaughter. I was supremely disappointed I didn’t get much of a chance to use my unique wereboar NPC. By the time he unleashed his transformation, he had about 10% HP remaining, and missed with the one attack I got off.

I hindered myself somewhat by having Grimjaw order the nearby fathomer to grab reinforcements, so he wasn’t involved in that fight. After a round or two (after only a single Reaver remained), the fathomer arrived with the bugbears from the Northeast tower. One of the more exciting things I can do as DM is create a dynamic dungeon where additional troops can make a fight suddenly more challenging.

It didn’t really work here. The bugbears also walked into the corpse-filled hallway. They got some powerful strikes off, and a Fog Cloud moved everyone into the smaller room. The fathomer cast a frost shield on himself which freaked everyone out.

Kalinaar opted to use his fire breath, despite having Talus’ rat familiar latched on. Poor Finneous. “Your rat died a hero,” Kalinaar said as he tossed Talus a few gold pieces. Not all heroes wear capes. And some murder your pet rat with nary a concern!


Afterwards they found the kidnapped people from Womford that had been forced into servitude. They also found two named NPCs that were part of a quest they got way back in week one or two. My quest system for creating handouts in Roll20 works really well. My players can simply pull it up at any time to review who these people are – and hell, it’s useful for me too!

They told the party about the secret stairs that lead to the underground stream. In hindsight I could’ve simply not told them, as they’d have no reason to search for a hidden staircase in the Great Hall. They might have had a notion that the locked gate by the river would lead somewhere, but by having a secret staircase, they just couldn’t resist.

The stairs lead to a boat landing with two rowboats ready to go. Despite making it all the way through Rivergard Keep without so much as a Short Rest, they opted to take off down the darkened tunnel that lead deeper beneath the Keep.

A half dozen ghouls lay in waiting, ready to turn the little boats over. They were hilariously ineffective, and the PCs murdered them left and right. Ghouls always struck me as odd as they’re not particularly strong yet a worth a decent chunk of XP. Thus I’m sure my players love ’em.

I tried to hint at the trouble they were getting into by letting them peek at the forces that lay ahead as the stream opened up into a large underground lake. My players were undaunted however, and tried to pull off the Chewbacca gamble. Kethra still looked like a Reaver, and attempted to bring in the others.

We were all giggling over the ridiculousness of the ruse, which may have worked if not for a keen-eyed Knight lurking below the waters. I absolutely loved unleashing the crazy cool shark-riding water knight as my players scrambled onto shore. Kudos to Kethra for launching herself at the shark, grappling it and striking blow after blow before nearly dying to the Knight’s equally vicious attacks.

Meanwhile Miri was the first to get to shore after the shark destroyed their boat. Unfortunately the next turn was the four reavers. I had only two attack her while the others threw javelins, but I rolled crazy high for both attack and damage, and Miri went down.


My players are used to some close calls but very rarely does anyone ever go down in a fight. In fact it’s only the third time ever. Talus stabilized her in the next turn, and I let him use a potion of healing so she could get back in the fight. Nothing sucks more than not being able to do anything on your turn.

After that scare the rest of the forces went down relatively quickly. I swear between the three fathomers I’ve used not a single one has successfully attacked anyone.

The party on land took pot shots at the shark and then later the knight. Highlight of the night came when Kalinaar did a flying leap into the water. His plan was to land on the shark like a badass, but he forgot he didn’t have a light source, so he sailed into darkness. Talus’ sneering slow cap was so perfect I awarded them both Inspiration.

The guards lay dead but the party was hurting, and everyone was drained of spells slots and ki points. We’d gone way over our allotted time so had to end it right there. I’m still surprised they pushed it this far, but I suspect the general easiness of the Keep propelled them to take a bigger risk in a new dungeon.

Now I believe they will retreat, gather the prisoners, and make it back to safety. They’d received enough experience to level up to six last session, so they’re definitely in need of a Long Rest! At this point there are about four different major areas they could go to, all of which are around their level range. Hopefully they’ve learned a lesson in digging too deep too quickly…

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