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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse - Alarums & Excursions

This week, we begin a brand new Dungeons & Dragons storyline in the game store. We finished The Rise of Tiamat last week, and now we begin Princes of the Apocalypse as part of the Elemental Evil storyline.

The book isn't actually out yet. A .pdf of the Encounters version of this adventure was released just a day or two ago. I promptly prepared about 25 pages of it with hand-written notes. Honestly, I wasn't overly-impressed with this adventure, but I still have a lot more reading to do.

I wanted to complete part one tonight, which contained three scenarios:
  • A single bandit encounter
  • A very short tomb scenario
  • A small dungeon of a necromancer
The adventure kicks off in a town called Red Larch. The PCs are just kind of plopped there, with no real event or story. The idea is to let the PCs roam and explore and come upon the hooks naturally, but my players don't do well with that (they're young, so that stuff ends up a bit chaotic).

What I didn't expect was that my group of 7 players ended up at a total of 9, which is way too many and not even legal for Adventurer's League play. One new player was a friend from school of another player. How could I turn the poor kid away? The other player is in a group that took a break this week. He is around 50 years old and.. well.. you'll see.

The Party

  • Elf Rogue: Played by a 4th grader, her character's name is Lucky and she has a black cat named "Bad Luck".   
  • Dwarf Cleric: In real life, played by Lucky's dad.
  • Tiefling Sorcerer: Middle Schooler.Likes to make puns.
  • Drow Rogue: Middle Schooler.Seems to be interested in playing evil characters.
  • Goliath Barbarian: Middle Schooler. He rolled poorly tonight.
  • Human Bard: The player is about 25 years old, knows the rules pretty well. 
  • Human Paladin: Played by the bard's dad, who played old D&D and is new to 5e.
  • Human Rogue: A new kid. He was a very nice guy.
  • Human Wizard: A middle-aged man who usually plays in another group in the store.
"Bad Luck" Has Bad Luck

We began in Red Larch. I dropped the hook on them almost immediately - Constable Harburk wants the PCs to check out some bandit activity. Our heroes head to the south.
The adventure encourages you to use random encounters. I cooked up some of my own, mostly because the random encounters in the book that I liked involved cultists, and I wasn't sure if it would be wise to introduce the cultists this early. This adventure slowly reveals the cultists. They are lurking beneath the surface of things.

Bursa Steel

So, since these early stories end up with a link to the earth cult, I created a number of flavor-encounters involving weird earth happenings. For example, there was a tremor that knocked the heroes prone if they failed an easy DEX save. They also ran into a dwarf who was looking for ancient mines, allowing me to drop some lore about these Ironstar dwarves that are relevant to a later scenario.

I named this dwarf Bursa Steel. A few weeks ago, I had the NPC name "Bursa Sac" pop into my head. I could slowly introduce his relatives - Aunt Nap (Sac), and build up to the debut of his crazy cousin "Crap" Sac. Stupid? Yes. But it makes me laugh. I realized that this was not appropriate for young kids, so I just kept the name Bursa.

The Bear

When preparing, I was worried we'd get through all of this too fast. But with nine players, we got through much less than I'd hoped. Nine is way too many, although they were remarkably well-behaved.

The bandits have a bear in a cage. The heroes jumped the bandits. The bear burst out of its cage and attacked the nearest creature - Lucky and her cat!

The nine-year old who played Dark the Dragon Sorceress last season now has a rogue named Lucky. She owns a black cat named "Bad Luck". Poor Bad Luck got murdered by the bear. Lucky got revenge by "putting a dagger in its' eye", killing it.

Raise Dead on a Cat

The heroes returned to Red Larch, victorious. Lucky really wanted the harpers (she's a harper) to raise her dead cat. I immediately got a vision of a D&D version of the Pet Avengers but I haven't figured it all out yet. She also suggested that the cat has nine lives, which is a really fun idea.

I did have the harpers raise Bad Luck, I'll have to mull it over and figure out how I want to handle this. The factions are supposed to only raise PCs, not their useless pets.

The Lost Tomb

The heroes then dove into hook #2, a scenario involving a lost tomb. There's bandits near the tomb, a fun duo - a goblin and a half-ogre. I had the goblin ride the half-ogre, and decided they were the best of friends. I used the new elemental evil ogre mini, which impressed everyone.

The heroes made their way into the tomb, triggering the noisy trap the duo had set to alert them. As the PCs battled a specter, the duo burst in from behind and did some serious damage. Lucky was dropped by the specter and the bard was dropped by the half-ogre.

New Guy Doesn't Play Well With Others

It was during this battle that the new guy pulled a classic jerk move. He decided to cast thunderwave, a spell that hits everyone within 15 feet of him. The players were taken aback as this guy set it up and they realized it would hit two PCs. He was semi-apologetic but I detected no small amount of glee in his explanation as well.

I let it happen for a few reasons. I'm not sure what the league rules are about this kind of thing, so I didn't want to tell him no if there isn't a specific rule in place (I think there is, but I didn't have the guide handy). Second, I wanted my young players to experience this kind of player, both as a deterrent and as a springboard for me to talk about it with them next week.

The worst part here is that this guy could have risked an attack of opportunity and moved to a position on the map where he'd only hit the half-ogre and not his own allies. That would have been daring and heroic. But instead he acted like his only recourse was to, "regrettably", hit everybody. Risking an attack of opportunity would mean he might take damage! Better to damage other people's characters, I guess.

He was quite dejected when everyone made their saves and he rolled minimum damage: 2 points. This is a grown man.

The heroes survived and healed their fallen allies. They then proceeded to leave the coffin alone and failed to find the treasure hidden in the tomb (I hate missed treasure but we had to keep things moving).

Lance Rock

The next day, the adventurers checked out the weird happenings at Lance Rock - a really tall, mysterious stone. There's signs warning people to stay out of a cave, signed "The Lord of Lance Rock".

Inside the nearby cave tunnel/complex, the heroes battled a zombie. It's funny, one 22 hit point zombie is not too shabby.

Then in the next room, there's two zombies poised to drop stones on the PCs from above, but the heroes were cautious and avoided the trap. They killed the zombies, and then we were completely out of time.

We just had too many players this week. Next time, we'll finish the necromancer's dungeon and start a pretty cool excursion into caves beneath Red Larch.


Michael Velez said...

Don't hate, but I run my encounters group a week behind specifically so I can "copy off you" since I'm new to 5E (I'm an old DM from the 80's). I just wanted to thank you for your assistance, albeit unknown to you.

Benji said...

Sean I've heard this adventure is levels 3-15 and that the book provides ideas for running the first few levels.In theory then the pdf only really starts the story in part 4 as it's supposed to address the first 4 levels. Is that assumption correct?

Sean said...

Michael: Ha! Awesome, I am glad it is of use. So you are starting Elemental Evil?

Benji: I read something weird that this pdf contains content from chapters 3 & 6 from the book. The book isn't out yet,so I'm not sure what the deal is. But the stuff in the pdf is scaled for level 1 PCs.

Benji said...

That makes sense with some of the stuff I'm reading then. apparently the actual campaign is levels 3-15 but chapter 6 or 7 of the book (probably 6 then) contains lots of not too plot heavy ideas and adventures you can play before if you like to start at first level. Could explain why you found the plot a little 'off'

Jake Mitchell said...

It is a bit hard to tell before we get the full book but I would wager that the reason the plot is a little thin is to try and catch as much of the sandbox feel as possible.

Sean said...

Benji: How weird... why the heck didn't they just start the adventure from level one?

Jake: The book should be out soon so I guess we'll find out., There is a mention of a "new" temple of Elemental Evil in the pdf which sounds really awesome. I would love to see a modern version of the temple with all of the boring areas removed.