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If I had a lot more time and video editing skills I would start each session with a nice Game of Thrones style recap montage.
With our sessions lasting 2-3 hours once a week, it’s easy for plot details or side characters to get lost and forgotten in the shuffle. Particularly as “Princes of the Apocalypse” is a lengthy campaign.
We’ve already passed the total length of our previous campaign, “The Lost Mine of Phandelver,” a few weeks ago. Here, we’re just beginning to plumb the depths of Elemental Evil.
Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying “Princes of the Apocalypse.” The dungeon-focused format and multiple villainous factions has worked quite well for my group thus far. Thankfully I also keep track of important quests and notes in the form of game-like Journal Updates in Roll20, which I was able to point to in this week’s session.
“Princes of the Apocalypse” does have a bit of an awkward pacing where the heroes are generally expected to tackle each elemental cult in stages. But the dungeons aren’t set up that way at all, with the surface keeps leading down to the more difficult temples.
I had to bar their path at one point with a cheesy magical lock so they didn’t stumble into the Air Temple too quickly. Now that they’ve finished all the surface keeps and met all the elemental factions, the time was right to use the key they’d acquired from the Sacred Stone Monastery and journey into the Temple of Howling Hatred. Plus they had to save Miri’s mom, one of the captured delegates.
First though, a bar fight.
I’m becoming less inclined to roll with random encounters, preferring instead to stage scripted events. “Princes of the Apocalypse” includes a lot of really neat encounters, particularly at certain milestones throughout the story.
While sometimes I run a Side Trek or encounter mostly as-is (like the Nettlebee Ranch) I decided to make the Spy’s Letter a bit more fun. Which basically means more combat-oriented.
My group enjoys a bit of light role-playing, especially if it’s light-hearted and fun. In this case I invited them to a private dinner at the Helm in Red Larch, as returning heroes. I joked about the Tex-Mex food and everyone laughed and enjoyed the scenario.
I had a sharp intake of breath when many of the players remembered a scene where they all drank poison from a tavern back when we played Pathfinder. Most still downed their drinks here….and I had them roll CON saves, heh. They all saved, though still took some poison damage from the initial drink.
They emerged from the private room to find half a dozen bandits trained with crossbows, and Justran, the water cult spy who ran the bar. He loudly offered 100gp to whomever killed these pesky heroes. It was more villain monologuing that I’m oh so enamored with.
Miri took it as a challenge and her noble upbringing lead her to a counter-offer – double the money to kill Justran. She rolled a Critical Success on her Persuasion.
I had half the bandits turn on the other half, with another simply running out the door. Justran went down swiftly. Miri used his money to pay off the other bandits. It was here I had to awkwardly remind my players about the spy’s letter they found in Rivergard Keep, and revealed that Justran was a spy and informant for the water cult. It was a nice, short encounter, though I fear may be overusing the “oh you thought you were safe in town” encounters a bit.
After a Long Rest the party set out once again to the Sumber Hills. This time they returned to the first area they explored, the Sighing Valley. The magically locked gate at Knifepoint Gully know held the remains of a battle between the Aarakocra and some air cultists. It was a fun little staging for a brief role-playing scene, and Kalinaar promised to avenge the last dying aarakocra.
They inserted the key they had recovered from Hellenrae at the Sacred Stone Monastery, and the path downward lay open. The descriptive text for the ancient Dwarven city of Tyar-Besil is just fantastic. This section has a large chasm, waterfalls, and a giant underground pyramid. Just awesome.
The entrance is all kinds of spooky and moody, with Kenku able to mimic any voice or sound. The murder holes at the entrance are more intimidating than deadly, and the heroes decided they’d rather just push past once the Kenku’s arrows started firing.
They untied the initiates on the obelisks and moved them away, though they gained no new information from the emaciated husks. Further North the hallway spilled open into a gigantic chamber housing a pyramid surrounded by a moat. Atop the pyrmaid was a Skyweaver (an air cult mage) mounted on a wyvern.
Curiously my heroes have been very hot and cold with stealth and subterfuge. In the Sacred Stone Monastery their penchant for sneaking, charm, and disguises worked very well. But other times they decide it’s not worth the effort, and simply barge into rooms. They had briefly discussed wearing the feathered robes of the bound initiates, but simply decided against it. Curious.
Here their “tactic” was for Talus to send out his brave rat familiar, who was glowing with a Light spell. The wyvern immediately pounced on it, skewering the poor creature with his tail. Then it looked over and noticed the heroes standing their, mouths agape. It was a funny bit of botched tactics (still not sure what their plan was) that quickly lead to a deadly battle.
The skyweaver, Kaz Hanar, is the patrolling guard of the area (similar to the shark-mounted knight the heroes fought at the entrance to the water temple). He’s a mid-level mage, which means I get about 1 round before the PCs cut him down. Argh!
The PCs used the pillars as a defensive cover, trying to stay out of range of the wyvern and take shots at the mage. Talus cast Haste on Kalinaar, which has become their go-to combination. Kalinaar rushed out and stabbed at Kaz with his lance. Four total attacks, which after some ranged attacks from Kethra and Miri, impaled and killed the poor mage.
I did manage to get a Lightning Bolt spell off first. My go-to with any mage is to unleash their single most powerful spell, knowing full well it could be their only move. Everyone made the save, but it still did some decent damage.
Kaz was dead, but the wyvern was still kicking. Kalinaar attempt to retreat in the same move. I used its incredibly powerful tail attack as a reaction, and did over 30 points of damage to a shocked Kalinaar. Half his health! Nobody wanted to get near the wyvern after that, and the wyvern couldn’t fit into the hallway, so it screeched, grabbed the body of its fallen master, and flew off.
I liked the way that scenario played out, even though my mage died quickly. Now the heroes see the large chamber in the middle of the map, but now know there’s a powerful foe circling around it.
Speaking of villains dying quickly, the PCs explored one of the side rooms. There they found a group of macabre bards playing on flutes of human bone. Their leader Windharrow was a cheerful fellow that invited them all to play with them. The PCs were curious and willing to see where this all lead. I had them all roll Medicine checks and Talus realized the flutes were made of human bone.
He made a funny snide comment about it, which appropriately upset Kalinaar and caused him to immediately attack the group. I had my best Initiative roll ever, with the five Initiates going first, then Kethra, then Windharrow.
Out of those five, only one initiate hit, and Kethra Uncanny Dodged the 3 damage into 1 damage. Really. Then Kethra ran up to Windharrow and stabbed him. Hard. A critical hit for over 30 damage. That was Massive Damage (we use the DMG’s rules for Massive Damage). He failed his CON save and I had to roll a d10 to see what the trauma caused. I rolled a 1, instant death.
I didn’t even get a single turn with Windharrow.
I think my players were actually just as upset as I was that this had happened. Especially Talus since he noted that Kalinaar had actually started this fight, not the bards. In the following round the weak Initiates were swiftly slain, and soon there was just a room of dead bodies. Kalinaar dipped Windharrow’s flute in his own blood, and pocketed it.
Kethra smartly asked if Windharrow had a journal on him. The Elven bard has a full backstory and relationship with the Air Prophet Aerisi, so he’s kind of a big deal in the air cult storyline. To have it cut short like this definitely sucks, but part of being a good DM is to improvise in these situations.
My players were empathetic to the situation. I created a journal on the fly and simply read some paraphrased chunks of text out of the campaign book. I described his and Aerisi’s background and relationship, her acquisition of the magical artifact Windvane, and her goal of opening a portal to the Elemental Plane of Air for the Prince of Air, Yan-C-Bin. My players call him Beyoncé-Man. Put yo hands up.
We left off here after carving a nice little path into the Temple of Howling Hatred. This is when the dungeons start getting really cool in design and scope – though it’s crazy it has taken us about 20 weeks to get here! Even with Windharrow’s untimely demise I still have plenty of NPCs to work with – both returning ones that got away and new ones still to be introduced.
Recorded every Sunday night, uploaded on Mondays. Subscribe for our weekly adventures!