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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Princes of the Apocalypse - Rivergard Keep

I was able to squeeze in an extra session of Princes of the Apocalypse at the game store today. It was Tabletop Day, a special event where people came in to play tabletop games (mostly board games and card games, from what I saw).

Last time we played, a player had started using the wild surge table. I read up on it and we weren't doing it right. It works like this:
  • The sorcerer gives himself advantage on any roll
  • When he casts a spell that is not a cantrip, the DM can decide to make him roll on the wild surge table.
  • Once that happens, he is free to give himself advantage on a roll again...
It's an endless cycle of him giving himself advantage and me making him roll on the wild surge table.

We are nearing the end of the pdf. I have been really reluctant to read through the actual book, as I just haven't found this adventure very compelling so far. It's not a bad module or anything, but it is not lighting my imagination on fire.

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. He has a scottish accent.
  • Tiefling Sorcerer: Middle Schooler. His character is apparently a jester. He uses wild magic.
  • Drow Rogue: Middle Schooler. Wants to be evil, but Adventurer's League rules restrict this. Has a dog.
  • Goliath Barbarian: Middle Schooler. Really nice guy.
  • 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: The new kid. Taking to the game very well.
This group of eight players is just too big. I am not sure what to do about it.

Feathergale Spire

Our heroes were exploring Feathergale Spire, which is home to the Air Cult. Last time, Lucky had fed a unicorn a ghost pepper. I started off this time with having the unicorn freak out, as now I knew what a ghost pepper was.

They made their way to the top, which is a flat area with grass. This is where the bad guys throw their sacrificial victims to their doom. It is a long drop to the valley below.

The leader of the Spire Cult, Thurl, was here with some feathergale knights. The bard cast phantasmal force and made Thurl believe he was trapped in a web spell. The sorcerer fired off a spell and caused a wild surge that turned the sorcerer's skin blue (he loved this).

Thurl shook off the illusion, but he and his men were no match for the heroes. I often roll low on initiative, which means 6 or 7 PCs get to hack at the bad guys before they get to go. Frequently this means that the fight is almost over in round one.

The bard found this spell
The heroes beat the bad guys and looted the tower. They found a note from the Air Cult leader Aerisi (the winged woman on the cover of the adventure). The note had some details on how this cult is watching the earth cult - an annoying detail that could disrupt the faint trail of crumbs that should lead the PCs to Rivergard Keep - the only other location in the .pdf.

6th Level Dungeon for 3rd Level PCs

In the book version of this scenario, there's a tunnel in The Sighing Valley that leads to the Air Temple, which is for level 6 PCs (the party is level 3). I don't get why the authors would put that there. If you have ever had a party of PCs stumble into a dungeon meant for higher level PCs, you know how incredibly unpleasant things can become at the table.

Some players can roll with it. Quite a few can not! I really dislike the organization of this module. There's a million land mines in here.

Red Larching It

Minsc & Boo
The heroes returned to Red Larch for some rest and leveling up. They are now level 4. During their days of rest, a few things happened:
  • Some local kids re-enacted a scene from Tyranny of Dragons, where Dark threw the gnome at the Tile Chimera. I want to emphasize that the heroes of the previous campaign are now famous, and that what the characters do matters.
  • The cleric and paladin prayed at the shrine, and received the same vision: The origin of Gar Shatterkeel, the leader of the water cult. I want to introduce the main villains now, to build them up in the players' minds so that the final confrontation is foreshadowed and feels important.
  • Agents of the Harpers have come to town to help the heroes: Minsc and Boo. I figured since they're in Neverwinter and Chris Perkins used them in the Acquisitions Inc. Elemental Evil session, I should use them in this adventure. I had Minsc yell in front of the whole town that he needed to have a "SECRET HARPER MEETING". I had read up on Minsc to make sure I ran him right. I also listened to his quotes to try to get the voice right.
  • I gave the rogue a chance to teach his dog a trick, but he couldn't think of anything.
  • Lucky's cat, "Bad Luck", sleeps on the driftglobe (a hovering, glowing ball that follows Lucky around) as it hovers. The cat also likes to hover past people and swipe at them. Lucky didn't want the cat sleeping on the driftglobe for some reason.
  • The bard was asked to perform at the Swinging Sword. The better he performed, the more free nights the PCs would have to stay at the inn. He rolled really high, and some of the other members of the party assisted by dancing. Lucky aided them by doing "circus tricks".
Minsc told the heroes about goings-on in Rivergard Keep. The heroes headed out there to investigate.

Rivergard Keep

My player map
Along the way, they spotted a campfire. Water cultists were camped. Two rogues and the blue-skinned sorcerer (who rolled a critical check on his stealth) crept up and eavesdropped. The cultists talked about stealing stuff and bringing it to Rivergard Keep, and speculated on what it was like in the Air Temple and the Elemental Node.

The bard dropped a shatter spell on the camp, which utterly decimated them. The heroes rushed the camp and slaughtered the bad guys.

The bad guys didn't have much loot, other than crab shields and shark teeth swords.

They continued on and came to Rivergard Keep. I drew a map for them. The younger players love the opportunity to use stealth, and I knew this. There is one guard on each wall.

We got bogged down as the players discussed how to approach the keep. The older players wanted to go in via the water. The younger players wanted to stealth in. One rogue wanted to go in alone, take out a wall guard, and open the gate.

I liked that idea. What eventually happened was that all three rogues approached the keep under the cover of night. The wall guard spotted movement (a rogue rolled really bad on his stealth). The other two rogues quickly scaled the wall. They tried to chuck the guard off the wall to his doom, but rolled poorly. The guard drew his weapon and let out a shout of alarm which echoed across the keep.

Lucky pulled herself onto the wall and roundhouse kicked the dude off the wall.

Bad guys in the keep had heard the shout, and the rogues saw movement on the keep grounds. One rogue is an arcane trickster. He cast disguise self to appear like the dead guard.

Another guard raced over to find out what had happened. The disguised rogue pretended he had defeated the other two rogues and captured them. Then, all three heroes jumped the guard and slaughtered him.

They ran to the gate. They didn't know that opening it was a bit more tricky than expected. There were guards peering down in murder holes and bluffing involved. It all ended up with the rogues getting the gates open and the rest of the party racing through.

The keep was on alert and there was likely to be a lot of fighting ahead...

We stopped there. It was a lot of fun! I generally don't like to split the party, but in this instance I think it was entertaining to watch and it didn't take up too much time.


Benji said...

I tend to agree with you about the organisation. Having now read the book, it's a nice sandbox, but their are some problems that you might want to prepare for.

The first is that all of the dungeons are linked but not in an order that makes sense. So it's possible a group choose to go to the level 6 dungeon and then find an entrance to a level 10 or 11 dungeon....straight away. You have to kind of be prepared to stagger the dungeon in some way (having to escorrt prisoners to the surface, running out of supplies, a way is blocked) becuase if not, they could spend the whole adventure in a mega-dungeon.

The second is that if you do keep them coming up for air, there's achance it'll just feel like 'Oh, so we go back into that dungeon again and explore a little more.' without much story.

But having said that, there are some cool moments in thd later dungeons and the way the enemies adapt and change plan is pretty good too.

Some guy said...

I personally like the Megadungeon feeling. Bonded Accuracy should mean that the players can handle themselves in a higher level area for tiny bit. But they should realize that that the area is too dangerous and head back to town at some point.

Jake Mitchell said...

I like the full book a hell of a lot more than I like the pdf.
HOWEVER it really requires a cover to cover read and copious note taking before and after with post session referencing.

Which makes me wonder why it is Adventure league sanctioned.

Seriously, I don't think they have released a single new DM friendly book this edition. The starter set adventure while workable was lacking a decent narrative and motive for the main villain entirely (I ended up having the red wizard harmon koss collude the players into servitude and even become mayor of the town after fending off a raid from the remaining cragmaw tribes)

The tyrany of dragons line was horribly proof read and organised (while being servicable except for the very last fight) and Princes of the Apocalypse while well written and lacking nearly all of the issues I had with Tyranny it is far too complex for new DMs or people who want an easy prep.

In the end I think WotC should release 1-2 smaller adventures a year, this sort of format but with more narrative upfront would work well.

Sean said...

Benji: Thanks for the warning. I spent a bit of time and looked through the book. It's so weird how the hooks and flavor for some scenarios are in one chapter and the actual adventure is in another.

Some Guy: I love megadungeons. As a player, I'd love to go in and explore and maybe stumble onto higher level areas - and then choose to either avoid it or brave the extreme danger. But a lot of players I have run games for do not like this at all. They get extremely angry if an encounter is unbalanced or "unfair". It honestly boggles my mind that Wizards seems to have overlooked this. I assume it is because whoever playtested this has the mindset of a game designer who has played RPGs for decades rather than a newbie high school kid off the street.

Jake Mitchell: I agree! I don't understand why they don't just organize the adventures in a linear fashion, like a pathfinder adventure path. The DMs who want to change it up can still pluck whatever they want from it, while the rest of us are free to run it without all of the page-flipping and running the risk of missing out on entire sections of the adventure.

Jake Mitchell said...

They sort of did order the adventures. I would wager that at some point during the editing phase they decided that chapter 6's level 1-3 adventures detracted from the story and would be better as optional material.

And honestly I agree to some extent (I love the mini treks, but I know that without a direct hook a lot of newer players that I have been introducing to the game would have to be dragged a long by DM work rather than the story as written)

I read through the adventure again today and I think I have come to the conclusion that it is one of my favourite megadungeon adventures (especially when compared to the last one I ran, the emerald spire, ugh)

I am glad this adventure exists, and I am sure I will have fun running it with my regular in person group once I have an entire notebook filled with notes and have read it cover to cover a couple more times to really plan out inter cult relations. There is enough detail here that I can do that without it being horrible.

BUT as you said, Pathfinder style adventure paths would be FAR better suited to the game at this early stage imo. I would even argue an adventure path with inline cutdown statblocks (mm page number included)
Still want to slap the person who decided monsters needed to be in the phandelver pamphlet rather than the starter set rulebook.
And whomever decided the books didn't deserve a real cover... Run Phandelver for five groups now, half a year old and tape is already holding it together and I am mighty delicate with my books.

Rather interested to see what they put out next though, a bit worried due to the roulette of outsourcing.

It would be great if they picked up on MonteCooke's system of notations in the margin. Seriously the strange and to a lesser extent numenera are some of the nicest RPG books I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Alastair Scarlett said...

I love the idea of the vision for the cleric and paladin giving them some back story on the cult leader.

Did you have the players choose one of the adventure hooks? Where they present in the PDF version that you started with?

kiarashardust said...

So ummm do not attempt a fight in this keep. my party did. And now we are in a dungon with our archer the only one able to rescue us.This fucker has a golum attack. our dm rolled a 100. a fucking 100