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Blogging the Apocalypse - Part 1

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I recently ran a group of 5 players through the D&D 5e adventure Princes of the Apocalypse on Fantasy Grounds, and due to the non-linear nature of the module, I thought a recap would be useful to DMs thinking of running this.

We played once a week for 3 hours and finished the adventure in about 11 months. I chose to start at level 3 because I was worried that my players would lose interest in the series of introductory quests (Adventure in Red Larch), which strike me as random and superficial. You could certainly run a group through Lost Mine of Phandelver or even Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and start at level 5. The adventure begins in Red Larch, roughly 5 days travel from Waterdeep, and the elements of mystery and paranoia present in Red Larch reminded me of the village of Orlane from the classic AD&D module Against the Cult of the Reptile God.

The rest of this post contains spoilers, so stop reading now if you want to avoid them.

So, the first challenge is where (and why) to start. The main plot centers around a delegation from Mirabar that goes missing on its way to Waterdeep. The disappearance is significant because it coincides with rumors of strange events in the Sumber Hills. The delegation's purpose is not important, but I came up with a backstory from Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage involving the Eye of the Spider, which was stolen recently from the Mirabar embassy in Waterdeep and has created a rift between the two cities. This also gave me the option of continuing the adventure in Undermountain once the cultists have been defeated. I spent some extra time studying the list of rumors to convey during the initial investigation because this information is distributed somewhat haphazardly through the first 2 or 3 chapters of the adventure text.

The adventure suggests several hooks, but they require some personalization to make them worthwhile. The characters might not know anything about the Mirabar delegation when they arrive in Red Larch, although that will become a central motivation for the early investigations. In my group, one of the characters was a half-orc barbarian tracking his sister who was taken by orcs during a raid on his village in the North. The Mud Sorcerer buys her from the orcs and "employs" her to fetch books from the library in Waterdeep. There, she meets one of the other characters who senses something is amiss and attempts to bargain for her freedom, but the Mud Sorcerer double-crosses him and escapes with the girl. The trail leads to Red Larch but then goes cold. This is of course a slightly distorted version of The Mud Sorcerer adventure hook. Another player was a junior paladin of Mystra and is sent simply to investigate the strange rumors in Red Larch.

The innkeeper Kaylessa at the Swinging Sword will likely be the party's initial contact with the Red Larch locals since they have been on the road for a few days. In my game, upon entering the inn, the characters find Endrith Vallivoe poring over a strange book with Kaylessa and Brother Eardon. Inquiring about the book would have led to the Womford Rats quest, but my group ignored this detail once Kaylessa shared a few of the local rumors. She was mostly amused by these fanciful tales, but not completely dismissive, and she relates that the shepherd Larmon Greenboot is particularly disturbed by something he encountered on a hilltop a few miles from town. Through Larmon, I tried to convey a much greater sense of paranoia, and I couldn't help picturing him as Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He is convinced that robed figures have been watching him from distant hillsides while his flock grazes, and with some encouragement, Larmon can lead them to the Shallow Graves quest. Finally, Brother Eardon has become something of a local celebrity, having been one of the last people to see the delegation alive while he was staying in Beliard recently. He can provide information about the delegation and direct the party to Beliard. Assuming you can steer your group towards the inn, which shouldn't be too difficult, this setup allows you to present 3 starting points for further investigation and hopefully lay down an atmosphere of mystery and paranoia as well.

In the next post, I will discuss the haunted keeps and how my group completely flipped the recommended order upside-down and backwards.

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Updated August 3rd, 2019 at 14:20 by leozelig



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