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My players have been in an awkward situation for the last few sessions. They’ve reached enough experience to level up to 10. But one of our house rules states that the PCs can only level up after a Long Rest. Right now they’re knee-deep in the depths of an elemental dungeon, about three dungeons below the surface.
Due to “Princes of the Apocalypse’s” interconnected labyrinthine mega-dungeons, finding a safe place to rest has proven difficult.
In this week’s session, Talus used his Arcane Eye to scout out the rest of the Black Geode – finding the indentured Rhundorth. The party rescued the dwarf before retreating back up to the Fane of the Eye to find a safe place to rest, level up, and decide where to go next.
After last week’s big battle with the horde of hook horrors, my PCs were in bad shape. They discussed trying to rest within the elemental earth dungeon, but I gently reminded that the insane distractions would prevent it – including earthquakes, cave collapses, and patrolling tunneling umber hulks!
I ended up letting them Short Rest in a hidden cave they found that leads from G10 to G7 in the North. I secretly rolled a d20 for the random encounter table, getting the Umber Hulk on the first roll.
Technically the beast should have crashed through mid-way through their Short Rest (thus negating its effects) but I decided to not only give them the rest, but give them a chance to get the hell out as they heard the beast approaching. It might have seemed nice, but I knew the beast would prove a more challenging opponent to unleash when the PCs were fighting others.
Talus had cast Arcane Eye before the rest to scout out the Black Geode, which proved incredibly useful. He was able to check out G11 (mud elemental pool), G15 (mud forge), G13 (bulette pens), G16, and G17 (elemental earth node). Wow!
Armed with that information, they could use the secret passage to make it to the mud forge and attempt to rescue the dwarf, which I all but shouted at them was one of the missing delegation. Thankfully they picked it up instantly, and agreed to press on to rescue him before retreating.
The party raced North away from the Umber Hulk into the Arcane Foundry, startling the nothics and stonemelders. I rolled abysmally on initiative for the stonemelders, losing one before he could do anything. The nothics proved a small nuisance, but the PCs fought one as early as level 2. They’re small potatoes.
Rhundorth proved a fun NPC, and one I did literally zero prep for (oops). I played him like an ornery old man, super stoked to get rescued and have the chance to pick up a hammer and strike back against his captors. Unfortunately I used my other stonemelder to cast Shatter on him, Kalinaar, and Miri, knocking poor Rhundorth out. A level 9 PC he is not.
Despite their drained state the fight was looking pretty easy – until the Umber Hulk crashed through the wall right next to Talus and Kethra. Miri was forced to drop back and help them, while Talus used his Shield spell to help stave off some deadly blows, and Kethra got super lucky with some near misses. Kalinaar was forced to handle the stonemelder and nothic by himself, but he did so thanks to those very useful superiority dice.
The umber hulk’s confusing gaze proved irksome for my heroes, but a blinded, hasted Miri still struck blow after blow. Combined with a crossbow bolt from a defensive Kethra, the beast finally went down, and they moved quickly to revive Rhundorth (“uh guys, the dwarf is still bleeding out…”).
Rhundorth didn’t know much more than what the PCs already knew. The elemental nodes needed to be shut down using the prophet’s weapons. The earth node lie just up ahead, but the cults that still had their prophets would prove more difficult. In our campaign, both the Earth and Fire prophets remained at large.
Annoyingly each elemental cult is not comparable; there’s a specific order to their strength. Players would have zero clue about this, however. It’s even worse since each cult and dungeon is connected to each other. To combat this I’ve been much more forthcoming with information, such as Rhundorth suggesting they tackle the prophet-less nodes first.
Given their weakened state and accumulated XP, the party agreed to retreat for a much-need Long Rest. They debated on how to escape this area when Kalinaar remembered about his Bead of Wind Walk. They could turn into wisps of cloud and make it pretty much anywhere. That’s pretty god damn useful when you’re stuck down in a dangerous dungeon!
Given the real-time it has taken to complete this adventure, I went over the various areas within the Fane and temples that could work for the adventurers to rest in. They opted for the lizard den in the Fane of the Eye (F7). They’d previously allied with the lizardfolk there, eventually attacking Gar, the water prophet together before the lizards turned on them.
When the party remateralized they found two lizardfolk still there – the ones that had bent the knee to Miri as the new prophet of water. They updated the party on the post-Gar water cult – the sea hag the party left behind has begun to take control, but hadn’t delved further into the water node area yet. The lizardfolk decided to retreat back here rather than join her forces, and they were eager to join the PCs.
The party Long Rested and made it to level 10, finally. I am shocked and impressed that they’ve been this successful in several higher level dungeons. I even had to remind them that they’ve already been about halfway through the air elemental node dungeon.
From here they had to make a choice. They had four dungeons to tackle and four nodes to seal. There were still two cults with active prophets remaining, while the other two were flailing. Rhundorth told them straight-up that the fire cult was strongest and the most dangerous, and the PCs agreed to save them for last.
Both the earth and air dungeons had been about halfway cleared out, but the party decided to tackle the water dungeon next (this is really sounding like a Zelda game now). The water node dungeon was the closest to their current location, so down to the Plunging Torrents we go!
As a DM these interconnected dungeons are a nightmare of prep work. I was not fully prepared for the party to make it relatively far into the water dungeon after starting this session in the middle of the earth dungeon (we also started early with a 3hr+ session).
The Plunging Torrents provides a much different, but spiffy layout for a dungeon. As it happens, since the party went to the Black Geode first and found the Ring of Swimming, Kalinaar has a huge advantage with his swimming speed. The recruited lizardfolk helped steer the boat for the others while Kalinaar went up and poked the floating water orb in P1. Into the orb he goes!
Kalinaar began to float away while the boat followed, and things started getting a bit tricky to juggle. Kalinaar gently went over the waterfall in P12 while the others saw the cage to the Northeast and wanted to investigate.
Interestingly without Kalinaar there Miri took charge, commanding the lizardfolk to release the cage. Several cultists clawed out and proved hostile, prompting Miri and Kethra to take them out. Miri then used her Storm Boomerang to sever the rope from the ceiling, drowning the rest. Nice.
Meanwhile Kalinaar was gently floating through P12 and past P14, where he noted a one-eyed figure in an ice cave. Before he reached P16 he finally jumped out, feeling he was getting far too separated. With his swimming speed he was able to dive underwater to avoid a sudden attack from P14, and he found the underwater tunnel into P15, Gar’s hidden sanctuary.
The boat-bound heroes decided to follow Kalinaar over the waterfall, and I used a couple skill checks to let them make it over. They saved the boat and with the lizardfolk’s help, saved Kethra from drowning.
Kalinaar found Gar’s narwhal horn, and when he jumped into the water, he accidentally activated the Scrying magic. This is a neat bit of loot: giving the heroes a random glimpse into one of the rooms of the dungeon (Kalinaar rolled a 9, revealing the cult outpost at P9). I described the room and its inhabitants, though they don’t know where it’s located.
Kalinaar discovered the secret door in P15 (which is annoyingly telegraphed right on the map). We ended the session as Kalinaar took the secret tunnel toward P11, while the rest of the party spotted the underground tunnel in P12 that seems to lead in the same direction.
Splitting the party is usually a terribly dangerous idea, but here it actually provided some really useful recon of the Eastern side of the dungeon. Next week – the water node!
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