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Previously on “Princes of the Apocalypse”

I have zero experience with high level Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, I’ve played games like Baldur’s Gate 2 and Neverwinter Nights. But in terms of the tabletop, we’ve never had a campaign reach the upper echelons, or even mid-tier for that matter.

Playing with stronger monsters with multiple abilities is a nice challenge as a DM. But what’s really interesting is when rooms or battlefields offer additional challenges. In this week’s session, the party travels down to an entirely new dungeon that offers some challenging new hazards.

By now my party had cleared out most of the Temple of Howling Hatred – save for the giant freaking pyramid right in the middle.

I’d read other D&D session recaps where their PCs went inside as soon as they could. Meanwhile mine have done the opposite. Instead they circled around, hitting every single encounter before reaching the cool skeletal worm tunnel that leads to an entirely different dungeon.

Since my players read these recaps I’ll have to keep some of my thoughts to myself for now. Suffice to say that I was prepared for them to take this path, and injected a bit of tension with some howling winds and Strength checks.

d&dThe party used their new zombie friend Tim the Kenku Zombie (animated by Talus). They tied Tim to a rope and lowered him down the sloping skeletal throat of the beast, then tied the other end to the jaws. I gave them advantage on their Strength checks for this clever play, but eventually broke their rope in half.

At the bottom the PCs discovered they were in an entirely new area. With Roll20 it’s impossible to hide the size, so they know it’s a completely new dungeon, directly below the previous one. What they don’t know…well, I can’t get into that yet!

The caves a far more older than the dwarf city above, and Talus rolled a successful History check to recognize some Drow architecture. What could it mean?

The party headed East and Kethra was quickly enthralled by a glassy sphere in the middle of a pedestal. Debris lay everywhere – except within 10 feet of the sphere. This should obviously set off warning bells to any adventurer worth their salt.

Everyone was cautious and began treating it like a grand science experiment, throwing items, picking up weapons, and using Mage Hand (god I hate that spell, my PCs use it all the time to get around so many things).

I decided to make up my own specific rules regarding how the sphere reacts, since my players were so specific. It only reacted when in direct contact with organic matter, so when Talus sent faithful Tim to retrieve the orb, it released its swirling smoke within, causing a small tornado. Deliciously, 3/4 of the party were within 10 feet of the orb at the time.

Miri made her Strength save while the others failed, getting caught in the maelstrom. To make things exciting, four flying swords were animated by the magic and attacked, creating a really fun scenario as half the party whirled around in a windstorm.

“I’m coming for you, Tim!”

As a DM it’s important to both enforce the rules, but also to make things as fun as possible. Fun always trumps rules, assuming my players are otherwise not breaking them all the time. Kethra wanted to use Acrobatics to springboard off an ally to escape the tornado. I allowed it, even though the specific rules of the effect sounded like everyone was frozen in place (Restrained).

I thought it was much more fun to have them all whipping around – like a damn tornado! Kethra made the roll and escaped. Kalinaar used Misty Step to teleport out. That left poor Tim the Kenku Zombie having the time of his un-life flapping use useless feathers while he soared around.

Talus’ concern for his zombie friend was adorable – he cast Levitate on himself and used his action every round to try and save Tim. The zombie took several rounds worth of damage from being battered, then finally saved himself with his Strength check.

The flying swords were more a distraction than anything else. Once the party was free of the tornado they were easily dispatched, though I did get a few solid scratches in.

The rules of the orb came into play as half the party did not want to leave such an artifact behind. I really love when my players think outside the box and come up with clever solutions to problems.

Miri and Kalinaar used their extra set of clothes (one of those D&D adventuring items that I don’t think ever comes up) to create a makeshift sack and cover, then gingerly draped and tied it around the orb.

Ta-da! I rewarded them with the volatile tornado orb, and can’t wait to see it used again. I’m sure I’ll come to regret giving it to them.

Talus had cast Invisiblity to escape one of the swords toward the end of the fight. With the spell still on, he explored to the North. The description of the Harpy room had several bodies in the ground, though the map didn’t have any. Roll20 assets to the rescue! D&D is technically “theatre of the mind” but having a few specific visual aids in Roll20 is a huge help, and my party was suitably nervous.

d&dFor once they were super cautious, using Mage Hand to grab the Continual Flame’d torch in the middle and raising it up high. With a good Perception check they could just make out some nests along the edges, and Kethra fired a crossbow bolt, because Kethra.

I was initially going to hold the harpies back until the PCs came in better view, but disturbing them caused them to launch into their Luring Song ability. Despite such a low DC, half the party failed their WIS saves and were charmed!

This is another interesting room hazard, as the charmed PCs must use their movement to get closer to the harpies – who lie in their nests nearly 100 feet in the air!

Lucky for Talus he failed his Athletics check to climb and fell, taking some damage. The damage let him roll his save again and he snapped out of it. Kethra used the Immovable Rod to…insert it down Miri’s shirt, holding her in place and prevent her from climbing, which I thought was pretty clever.

Kalinaar was less clever and slapped her, hoping to wake her up, which Miri was not a fan of! She failed the save again, but on her turn used her Stillness of Mind to auto-succeed, and promptly glare at Kalinaar.

At this point everyone was immune to the song and the harpies didn’t seem keen on leaving their nests. I suggested to my players that I would end combat if they ceased hostilities – essentially telling them that the harpies weren’t going to attack.


Everyone seemed on board with that – except Kalinaar. He bellowed a challenge at the harpies from the middle of the room. Then he drank a potion of Featherfall and climbed up the cliff using his massive STR bonus until he reached a nest.

Kethra and Miri readied range attacks. Talus was having none of it and actually explored to the West, noting the giant wind-filled chasm.

Kalinaar fought the harpies for a round, drawing them to his position. One of them flew over and was tagged by Kethra and Miri. Miri hit it with her Storm Boomerang, stunning it and dropping it about 90 feet onto the ground. SPLAT!

Kalinaar used Misty Step and Featherfall to retreat, but not before lighting the bird-women and a nest on fire with his Dragonbreath. Enraged they followed him down, though their flying speed couldn’t match his rate of descent, making them easy marks for the rest of the party. A risky maneuver ended up being a solid tactical choice.

I hate leaving my players without loot, so I teased some coins dropping out of the burnt nest. This lead Kalinaar to immediately scale another cliff to loot a second nest, and their I gave them the bulk of the harpies’ treasure.

The PCs didn’t make it very far in this new area, but perhaps they are learning that these old caves hold far greater dangers. Their resources (and HP) are dwindling, and they’re far from home. Don’t get scared now.

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