Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘princes of the apocalypse’

I have been running Princes of the Apocalypse for what seems like an eternity. We only play every 3 to 4 weeks which I am sure contributes to what seems like a glacial pace. For those not in the know, Princes of the Apocalypse is one of the official hardback campaign adventures put out by Wizards of the Coast on a somewhat annual basis. It can take characters from level 1 to 15, as they attempt to thwart the 4 elemental cults from opening a portal for one of the elemental prices to stroll through—sorry spoilers. My players started the adventure at 3rd level (thank god) after sacking the Sunless Citadel.  I think what has made it a bit of a grind is that under a sandbox premise; the main action is a series of dungeon crawls. My player’s tactics have mostly been variations of a frontal assault on the various fortresses or temples. The sandbox element of the successive dungeon crawls has been the freedom to tackle any of the cult strongholds both above and below ground in any order they choose after uncovering their location through exploration. Each outpost/dungeon has a suggested party level.  I choose not to gate access to any of the areas and just tried to telegraph how dangerous the area they were entering was. Each surface cult outpost has access to the deeper underground cult outposts which are typically meant for much higher and powerful characters. This freedom of exploration has led to one TPK and 3 other deaths (not wholly unsatisfying if I am being honest).

The first TPK of Princes of the Apocalypse (there was also one in Sunless Citadel) happened after they cleared out River Guard Keep and continued down into the Water Cults main underground temple. This created some story “issues” since they unfortunately wanted to continue with the adventure. We were suddenly faced with an absence of hooks or ties to the adventure. Now I can hand waive things with the best of them out there, but we decided to buckle down to try and create something that would narratively work for our needs. They came up with the concept of their characters running an organization for wayward children. Essentially it’s an orphanage that takes in kids and grows them up. Each player character would have grown up through the organization to become the leaders. This had the benefit of giving them a stake in the area and a desire to prevent its destruction. It also, narratively, allows for a pool of back-up characters that can be drawn on when I invariably kill one or all of them again.

That was a fairly long preamble to get to the point of this post, which is how I dropped L2 Assassin’s Knot into my game to break up the monotony of successive dungeon crawls. Assassin’s Knot was a 1st Edition AD&D module that consistently gets ranked on the list for top adventures of all time. I won’t go into detail about the module as there are some good synopses out there, but it’s essentially an investigation style adventure trying to uncover who killed a known NPC and why.  -Spoilers in advance this time- An assassin’s guild is behind the murder with the aim of destabilizing regional politics so their benefactor can take over territory. There is a time pressure in terms of more assassinations and failure to prevent the destabilization. I paired the adventure down quite a bit and used it as a loose structure. I had the assassin’s guild begin targeting members of the player’s organization. The guild was hired by Thurl Merosska, a Lieutenant in the air cult. This was my way of tying it to Princes of the Apocalypse with the benefit of steering the players to a more level appropriate challenge.  Thurl also talks in a Southern aristocrat accent which I really enjoy, so a win all around. Princes of the Apocalypse does have some side quests in the module, but I found them problematic on a couple of levels. What I have found is that once the cult activity was discovered exploration, in terms of other towns, of the many locales in the adventure setting (the Desserin Valley) essentially stopped, leaving most areas never visited as the players laser focused in on destroying the cults. Additionally, side treks that don’t involve the cult in some way seem frivolous to the party, as they feel they have identified the real threat to the area and themselves, particularly after a few of the “cult reprisal” encounters were run.

Overall, the module went very well, the players were engaged and really enjoyed themselves. I seemed to evade some of the cliché pitfalls of mystery/investigation adventures that I have made in the past such as cagey NPC’s that shut down or stymie interaction or having only one solution or specific clues that needed to be uncovered that would lead to dead ends or stalled play. I aimed at providing amble evidence or clues while also incorporating player theories to push the investigation forward and leading to the uncovering of the guild. If things seemed to stall I would have the guild make a hard move against the players to generate more clues/suspects and drive the action forward. There were some decent surprises in terms of who or who wasn’t in the guild, with reveals mostly occurring during a combat encounter. I felt it was a really great adventure that you can drop into most campaigns. It also really highlighted the ease with which you can convert material to 5th Edition D&D. the adventure also has a wide array of interesting NPC’s that the players can interact with. My favorite is the High Priest of Osprem (I changed it to Umberlee) who is suffering from dementia. I had the priest meet with the players in the nude and cast geas on the party wizard, commanding him to go to the local bar and get him some pickled eggs.

I always forget and am reminded just how omnipresent magic items were in the earlier editions of the game. In Assassin’s Knot, literally everyone has some kind of magic item and usually multiple items. When I say everyone I mean literally everyone, like the gardener is sporting magic weapons and armor. It’s a stark comparison with my Scrooge McDuck mentality in handing out magic items in 5th edition.  I feel my encounter building skills appear to need to some work as the combats were fairly easy, but that was okay because my players needed a win after being repeatedly curb stomped by me.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: