D&D Encounters: Princes of the Apocalypse (Episode 1.4)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 22, 2015

princes-of-the-apocalypse-coverA group of well-intentioned adventurers travelled to a forgotten graveyard searching for evidence of a young girl’s imaginary friend whom they believe was actually a Ghost. When they found the spirit it merely asked them not to descend into his master’s crypt. When they did not comply the Ghost forced them to retreat. It was then they were set upon by grave robbers. In the end the PCs defeated the opportunistic thieves and decided to rest before facing the Ghost a second time.

At Face to Face Games in Toronto we ran two tables this week. Our numbers were down and we only had 11 players this week. The other DM had six while my group was down to only five. The perfect number in my opinion.

The party consisted of the following characters: Human Sorcerer (Wild Magic), Elf Bard, Goliath Bard, Half-Orc Barbarian/Druid, Dwarf Fighter. This was the week when the Wild Mage finally rolled a 1 and suffered the consequences of the mishap table. Read on to find out how that altered the encounter in unexpected and awesome ways.

The Haunted Tomb

Before the party stormed the tomb last week, the Elf Bard began casting a Comprehend Languages ritual so that she could decipher the worn out archaic writings on the grave markers and the crypt. All of the fighting happened around her and she finally managed to complete the spell.

When she wandered the graveyard she learned that the bodies buried there were over two centuries old. Most names were unfamiliar or illegible due to exposure and time. What she could make out on the crypt itself was that the person buried within was a nobleman who accomplished great deeds in life and was beloved by his fellow man.

This revelation gave the party pause. They wanted to kill the Ghost but began to realize he was just doing his job to protect his master for all eternity. The PCs rested before re-entering the crypt. When they did they spoke with the Ghost and confirmed their suspicions. The spirit wasn’t evil, just dutiful. They decided not to plunder the possible riches and instead sealed up the tomb to ensure no other robbers would be able to enter easily.

The return trip to Red Larch was somber and slow. When they finally reached the town they delivered the berries they’d picked for the baker and told him what they’d found. He suggested they not repeat their tale to the little girl’s grandmother, less she become frightened that the girl spoke to a Ghost.

To Lance Rock

The heroes didn’t want to be around people so they left town and headed to Lance Rock. The trip was uneventful. As they neared the landmark the terrain became rockier. Plant life gave way to rocky outcroppings. By the time they reached Lance Rock the terrain was rock and clay. I told the players to picture the area the Jawas attacked R2D2 in the first Star Wars film. That worked.

Lance Rock itself was in a large canyon. The PCs entered from East and the natural passage, likely a riverbed at one time, continued though the canyon to the West. In one of the rocks on the North side they saw a small opening into a dark cave.

Before the PCs could decide what to do next the Dwarf Fighter’s keen affinity to the rocks allowed him to feel faint vibrations. As he realized a burrowing creature was beneath the PCs a giant land shark burst out of the rocky ground. The Fighter managed to hit the Bulette’s soft underbelly with his mighty hammer as the creature flew over him and slammed down on the ground between the Goliath Bard, the Barbarian/Druid, and the Elf Bard.

Those unfortunate enough to be near the Bulette when it landed were thrust backwards as they slammed hard to the ground. The Fighter charged the monster and again scored a huge hit. The Barbarian/Druid stood up, flew into a murderous rage, and attacked the Bulette. The Goliath Bard grabbed it by the tail and dragged it away from the helpless spellcasters. This gave them time to run back the way they came.

The Bulette chomped down on Fighter and slammed the Goliath Bard with its tail. Then it was all team heroes. The Elf Bard and Wild Mage blasted the monster with magic. The Barbarian/Druid scored a hit. The Goliath Bard, still holding the Bulette’s tail spun him around and around and then threw it into a nearby wall. The Fighter ran at the prone monster and scored a crit. The Dwarf’s might hammer caved in the Bulette’s skull.

Before the party could savour their victory, the Dwarf believed he felt the approach of another land shark. The party headed full sprint towards the cave hoping to find safe refuge from another massive creature. On the way inside a few of the PCs noticed a sign outside that warned of a plague contained in these caverns.

The Necromancer’s Cave

necromancers-caveEntry Cave (L1)

The cave smelled of death. The faint breeze emanating from deeper within the cavern system carried the stench of death with it. On the floor in front of the PCs was a corpse. The body was dressed in leathers similar to those worn by the bandits the PCs encountered a few sessions back. The body had a strange black oil seeping out of its moth, nose, eyes, ears and any open wounds. The party was very cautious and very nervous.

When the Goliath Bard gently tapped the body with his boot it reached out for him. It wasn’t dead. The Barbarian/Druid freaked out (his PC has a phobic fear of undead) so he ran up and hacked at it with his Greataxe. The Zombie stood up and grabbed at the Half-Orc but couldn’t grasp him. From a safe distance the Wizard burned the monster with fire magic. When the body fell the Half-Orc used oil to ensure the corpse burned to ashes.

Guard Cave (L2)

The Goliath Bard and Dwarf Fighter took point and advanced down the passage heading deeper into the cavern. As the Dwarf reached the next room two giant boulders nearly fell on his head and two Zombies dropped down from an upper ledge, ambushing the party. These Zombies also expelled the strange black oil. The party took great care to attack them using magic, or ranged or reach weapons. During the fight the Goliath and Dwarf were both smeared with the oil. Fortunately they both made successful Con saves.

Once the Zombies were killed and burned to ash the party had to decide which passage to take next. The Dwarf felt a breeze coming from one passage but none from the other. He believed the one without the breeze likely reached a dead end or a door. So he scouted around the next bend.

Corpse Cave (L3)

The Dwarf was right, there was a small room around the corner with no other exits. In the room were 12 corpses leaning against the walls. Some were dressed in leathers like the first corpse the party encounters, some were only skeletal remains. All had the black oil on them. The Dwarf froze in place and waved for help. The Goliath Bard came running.

When the Goliath brought a light source around he corner he noticed something shiny on the floor. Three old swords were half buried in the dirt in front of the bodies. A gemstone in the pommel of one reflected the light beautifully. Since the Zombies and Skeletons hadn’t advanced or even moved yet, the party got greedy. The lead two PCs called for the Wizard.

When the Wizard spotted the glinting gemstone, he knew his job. He could easily use Mage Hand to grab the weapon. However, that might awaken the Zombies and Skeletons. The rest of the PCs stepped back. The Goliath Bard readied a spell that would collapse the passage. Once the Wizard had the sword he’d run back. If monsters pursued he’d complete the casting and trap them under rock.

The plan worked perfectly. The Mage Hand easily grabbed the sword. The Wizard ran, but nothing followed. The party decided to wait a few minutes and then if nothing emerged from the passage they’d go the other way. After five minutes passed without further incident they left.

Dancing Dead (L4)

In the next room the PCs found three Zombies dressed in theater costumes. One a jester (think Heath Ledger’s Jokes), one a lady of the night with too much makeup (think ugly, fat man dressed in drag with way too much makeup), and one dressed as a bear (think a costume for a 4-year-old worn by his older 6-year-old brother). The Bards in the party were curious so they stopped the party from attacking the monsters on sight. Then the Zombies began to perform.

For the next three rounds the Zombie actors put on a little show. It was creepy, funny, and bizarre all at once. Finally the Barbarian/Druid with a phobic fear of undead ran in and attacked the Bear. Once that happened the Zombies attacked. The PCs all had to make Charisma saves to shrug off the enthralling effect of the performance. Those who failed gave the Zombies advantage on the first round of combat.

Once the Zombies were destroyed the heroes headed up a narrow passage. The Goliath and Fighter were the first to enter the small room at the end of the passage. On the floor were two iron chests. Both were locked. The Fighter wasn’t able to open the first. The Goliath showed him how it was done.

As the chest opened (revealing nothing inside), a voice from somewhere above spoke. “You dare to pit yourselves against the Lord of Lance Rock? Death is your Reward.” When the voice stopped speaking rocks rained down on the PCs in the small room. The PCs managed to escape entombment, but suffered a lot of damage for their greed.

Workshop (L5)

Upon rounding the next bend in the passage, the party arrived in a very long room. In front of them were three stone slabs. On each was a Human corpse. The bellies of each corpse was cut open and from within black oil oozed out.

Just past the slabs was a humanoid in dark robes. Blood and black oil dripped from his hands. Clearly he was operating on these unfortunate victims. The party rushed in to attack him. As soon as they managed to see his face they realized the doctor was another Zombie.

While they fought the Zombie doctor, the three corpses stood up and attacked the party. However, these Zombies attacked with disadvantage, almost as if they didn’t want to fight. One whispered to the Fighter “Kill me.” That got the party’s attention. They felt compelled to perform three mercy killings and put these poor souls to rest.

During the ensuing fight the Wild Mage rolled a 1. The result was a bit of a let down as his skin turned a deep shade of green.

With the first four Zombies defeated the party continued on towards four Skeletons they saw at the far end of the room. The Wild Mage again rolled a 1 and this time something awesome happened. He cast Fly on a random create. The lucky recipient was the Goliath Bard. He was unsure what was happening but took full advantage of it. Using his fly speed of 60 he grabbed a Skeleton, flew straight up, and released it from 40 ft up. The 4d6 bludgeoning damage shattered the Skeleton.

The party defeated the rest of the Skeletons before the Goliath could try that trick a second time. After the combat ended the Dwarf stared in awe at the Goliath. He asked is he could climb on the Bard’s back and see what flying was like. The big man agreed and the two flew around the large chamber for a few minutes before pressing onward.

Study (L6)

The flying Goliath led the charge down the passage to the final room. This large chamber was adorned with purple tapestries along every wall. In the centre of the room severed arms were bound together to form a pedestal. Atop the open hands was a glowing sphere. Floating above the sphere was the symbol of Elemental Evil.

The Wizard wasted no time casting Mage Hand to reach out and grab the globe. But before he could do so, a man emerged from behind one of the curtains. The Lord of Lance Rock spoke to the Wild Mage directly. “Can you see it? It’s the Eye! It sees your every move! Do you fear it?” The Wizard’s answer was no and the party attacked.

The Flying Goliath and his Dwarven rider flew up and then dive-bombed the Lord. The Dwarf jumped off the Goliath and slammed his hammer down on the Lord, but the hammer missed its target. The Goliath grabbed the Lord and then flew straight up. His intent was to drop the Lord just as he had the Skeletons.

The Lord was not as helpless as a Skeleton. In his hands he held a Wand of Magic Missiles which he fired at the Goliath until he was unconscious. The remaining missiles hit the Wizard who also dropped unconscious. The Goliath and Lord both plummeted to the ground, but the Lord cast Feather Fall to avoid taking damage. The Goliath was out cold.

The Elf Bard and Barbarian/Druid both used magic to attack the Lord. The Dwarven Fighter tried to hit the Lord with his hammer again and this time connected. The Lord of Lance Rock was dead. The party revivied their unconscious allies and then searched the room. They found some coins and claimed the Wand and the magic Driftglobe. They burned the Lord’s remains before the left the caverns.

With all Zombies and Skeletons destroyed, and the Lord of Lance Rock deceased, the PCs headed back to Red Larch. They dragged the Bulette’s remains all the way back to town with them. They wanted to have the creature’s thick hide turned into armor before they face their next challenge.

To be continued.

Thoughts

We finally ended up with a reasonable number of players – five down from the daunting seven. It certainly let us get a lot more accomplished and everyone really had a great time, me included. My worry is that we lost a few players because they were getting frustrated playing at a table with so many people. Although seven is the new 5e legal limit for players at a table, it really doesn’t make it easy for everyone to have a great play experience.

When preparing for the encounter at Lance Rock I knew I needed to have the party face something on the way to soften them up a bit. If they simply proceeded into the Necromancer’s Lair at full strength the dangers within wouldn’t pose them much threat. I’ve really wanted to run a lower level party up against a Bulette for a while now. I acquired a Bulette mini last summer and haven’t been able to use it as an actual Bulette until this week. Since most of the party was tougher than level 1 I knew they could handle it. The results were actually way better than I thought.

I added the aspect of the black oil to the Zombies to add additional flavour and mess with the players. It totally worked. Had they thought these were run of the mill undead there would have been minimal precaution and no fear. By adding something as simple as black oil they were genuinely scared and weary of the monsters. I have to thank fellow DM Craig for inspiration. He’s been telling me about old X-files episodes which got me thinking of the black oil.

Now that Episode 1 over for my party they’ll get to level up. A few players have decided to tweak their characters and rebuild them. We’ll see what the party makeup looks like at our next session. We’ll also se if we have any more of our regular players return.

Have you finished Episode 1? What was your favourite part? Did anyone in your party do anything as cool or crazy as the shenanigans my group got into this week? For those people playing Wild Mage Sorcerers or in a party with one, what’s the best thing you’ve seen happen when they’ve rolled a 1 so far?

Recounting Encounters Podcast

Listen to Derek Myers, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (from 20ft Radius) recount our weekly experience at D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective tables and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.

Actual Play Podcasts

Each week we record our D&D Encounters session and make it available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.


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1 Aaron T May 21, 2015 at 1:28 pm

This episode was a huge help for my group. I also DM a large party, 7 members, and they usually blow through the structured encounters. I’ve resolved to buffing the baddies they face, but the tip about the black ooze was a great addition for the night.

I tweaked the ooze to be apart of the Abyssal Plague, from Tharizun the “Elder Elemental Eye” which worked out great. This foreshadowed the things to come (kinda) and gave some of the veteran players aquainted with the other elemental evils something to moan about.

Thanks!

2 Aaron T May 21, 2015 at 1:30 pm

P.S. The idea for the Abyssal Plague came from your previous session write ups.

Namely this: http://dungeonsmaster.com/2012/05/dd-encounters-the-elder-elemental-eye-report-card/

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