With the prisoners freed from the dungeon below the Sacred Stone Monastery, the PCs were free to continue their exploration of the complex. However, the Monks and other Earth Elemental cultists were aware that intruders were in the Monastery’s lower level causing trouble. The PCs eventually found an escape route that lead them deeper into the bowls of the Sumber Hills.
My table at Face to Face Games in Toronto had a swelling of three new players this week brining us to six. Two were players who’d tried D&D recently during a casual play session at our FLGS, and the other was a squatter from another table that didn’t have enough people to play this week. This certainly changed the dynamics of my table in a hurry. The party consisted of a Half-Orc Ranger, Dragonborn Rogue, Tiefling Paladin, Halfling Rogue and two Human Fighters. Only one players (the squatter) had a lot of experience with D&D. I’d guess the other five players had only played about 20 sessions between them.
The Legend of Orcsplitter
For the next two days in game the PCs wandered aimless underground. They had no map, no provisions, no equipment for spelunking, and no sense of direction. It was blind luck that eventually put the PCs in the path of another group of adventurers. A gruff Dwarf and his three female traveling companions found themselves face to face with the party. After a brief but tense exchange of introductions the Dwarf, Gargosh Blusterhelm, took pity on the PCs and offered to help them find their way back to the surface.
The journey took many hours and during that time the groups shared their stories with each other. Gargosh was on a quest to find Orcsplitter, a very powerful magical axe crafted to exterminate Orcs. It was wielded by the Dwarven King Thorhild Flametongue and was buried with him. However, no one know where King Thorhild was buried. For over a decade Gargosh had searched for the tomb and the axe. During that time his brothers, sisters and cousins who had originally accompanied him on his quest abandoned him.
Despite being written off as crazy by his family and brethren, he’s confident that he’ll find Orcsplitter and has a few promising leads. His plan was to send the three female adventures currently in his employ on the next leg of the quest alone, but decided to hire the PCs and send them along. While the six of them followed one lead, he’d follow another that was something only Dwarves could do.
That night the heroes returned to the surface and over dinner and a campfire Gargosh told them what he expected of them. A little over a day’s travel up the nearby Dessarin River is a ruined fortress called Riverguard Keep. Rumour has it a band of adventurers claimed it as their own and have begun fixing it up. These adventurers made a name for themselves by stopping pirates and other ne’er-do-wellers who were operating on the waterway running through the Summer Hills. Because of their efforts ships now travel safely and commerce is booming.
Gargosh believes that there are references to King Thorhild in a rare Dwarven tome and it may have a clue about where his tomb is located. A merchant in Womford said he’d recently sold some Dwarven tomes that could be the ones Gargosh is looking for to a merchant headed for Riverguard Keep. The party’s goal is to travel to Riverguard Keep and offer to purchase the books. Gargosh even provided the party with ample coins to do so. Once there the PCs should ask for Oliver, or maybe it was Jolliver? Once they have the books they’re to meet Gargosh in Beliard. The party accepted the assignment and got a good night’s rest under the stars.
The next morning Gargosh parted company with the heroes. They headed to the Dessarin River where they hoped to flag down a boat. Seeing no vessels on the river they began to walk north towards the Keep.
The day was uneventful, but as the evening approached and the party started talking about finding a suitable campsite, the PCs heard the sounds of voices coming from upriver. The Ranger and Halfling Rogue scouted ahead. Around the next bend they saw a campsite. They counted six Humans setting up the camp, some cooking, some setting up tents, and some tending to the party’s gear.
The Rogue backed off quietly and returned to the party to report. The Ranger waited until the Rogue was out of sight and then fired an arrow at one of the campers. Three returned fire but didn’t really know where the wild shot originated. When the Ranger returned he said nothing of his actions.
A few minutes later two Bandits appeared from around the bend and immediately fired at the PCs. The heroes saw this as an unprovoked attack so they returned fire and killed their attackers. The Ranger said nothing.
Fearing additional attacks, the party fled the area and found a secluded, defensible position to set up camp for the night.
The next day the PCs reached Riverguard Keep. They approached the two-story gatehouse and called out. When a guard emerged they said they were travellers hoping to spend some money in the Keep and possibly find a place to rest for a night or two. The guard opened the gate and let them in.
The party was provided with an escort who gave them a brief tour. All around, the PCs could see and hear the sounds of repairs as many hands worked feverishly to repair the rundown Keep. Eventually they were brought to the Great Hall to meet with Jolliver.
Jolliver was working on some kind of paperwork when the PCs arrived and seemed to welcome the distraction. He was very direct with them, and somewhat suspicious of their motives. They explained they were here to spend money, specifically to purchase some books he may have recently acquired. That answer satisfied Jolliver so he allowed the PCs to spend the night while he had his people look for the books the PCs were asking about. With business done he quickly dismissed them.
In the courtyard some PCs spoke with guards doing battle drills while others listened to Reash, the local priest, conduct a sermon about the importance and greatness of water. During the time spent exploring the main areas the PCs noticed a merchant ship docked at the Keep. The boat seemed heavily packed with goods based on how deep it sat in the water. Sure enough, they spotted signs of the ship’s crew getting ready to unload cargo just as the dinner bell sounded.
The party was invited to dine with the masses in the Great Hall. During dinner one of the Human Fighters (a Folk Hero) found a slip of paper under his cup. It said “Help Me.” He realized it must have come from the kitchen so he got up and went to investigate.
Once in the kitchen he flat out asked which of the five serving girls slipped him a note. One immediately berated him for being in the kitchen while another scoured at the other girls. Finally one soft-spoken maid came forth. She told the other girls she thought she knew this man and wanted to meet him, but now that she saw him up close she was mistaken. This seemed to placate the servants, but as she came up to the Fighter to apologize she whispered “help me.” He nodded, turned and left the kitchen so as not to arouse more suspicion.
At the same time a fat Genasi and his Halfling companion entered the Hall. The PCs recognized these two from the ship. The Genasi was greeted by many of the soldiers, clearly he was well known and well liked. As he looked around the room he spotted the PCs. The Ranger caught a glimpse of recognition on the Genasi’s face even though he was sure they’d never met before.
Once the new arrivals were seated the Ranger got up and walked over to them. He challenged the Genasi asking why he was staring at him? The Genasi said he was just surprised to see a Half-Orc. He hadn’t seen many in this part of the Realms and didn’t mean any offence. He was just surprised to see one of the unusual ilk here. The Ranger believed him and the two drank together for a time.
The Paladin and the Halfling Rogue decided to get up and stroll the grounds while most of the people were here in the Hall eating dinner. While outside they passed by a servant carrying a basket of laundry. She stopped briefly as they approached and whispered to them “You and your friends are in great danger. Leave now or you won’t see the morning.” Before she could answer any questions she quickly went on her way so as to not arouse any unwanted suspicion. The PCs quickly returned tot he Great Hall to stick close to their companions.
From the kitchen one of the servants, the one who’d yelled at the Fighter, left the Hall and went upstairs. A few minutes later she returned with two guards and they all entered the kitchen. Seconds later the guards came out with the woman who asked for help walking beside them. She looked at the floor the whole time as they led her up the stairs and into a room. When the Fighter tried to go upstairs another guard told him that’s where the Jolliver and the senior guards stay. It was off limits.
The PCs sat down together but were beginning to get a really uneasy feeling that something bad was about.
To be continued.
I find that as the composition of my party continues to change week to week it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep a cohesive story going. The beauty of a long-term campaign like Princes of the Apocalypse is that you can build on what the party’s done before. You can introduce NPCs that appear and reappear during the storyline. You can also allude to other things going on in the larger campaign without beating anyone over the head with it. But if the players at the table only participated in the past few weeks of the story it’s difficult to do that.
At this point I find that I’m running Princes of the Apocalypse more for me that the players. I want to know what’s going to happen next so I’m dragging these unsuspecting players and their characters through the story even though none of them were there at the beginning. It’s not really fair to them and it’s starting to dull my passion for the campaign. So I’ve decided that once the party finishes their business at Riverguard Keep my table will stop trying to play a poor version of D&D Encounters and call it a season.
I think the players will get a better experience week to week if we switch to D&D Expeditions. Most of the Expedition adventures require four hours to complete, but I don’t see any issue stretching the games out over two weeks. This will allow new players to drop in and drop out more easily and it won’t require a long and involved back-story that no one at the table participated in.
The other reason I’m going to stop running Princes of the Apocalypse is that we’ve done everything that’s provided in the D&D Encounters PDF. I happen to have the hardcover and have run some sections that aren’t in the public play PDF, but by next week I’ll have covered all the required parts. Once the Riverguard Keep encounter is done so is the official D&D Encounters season. After that it’s casual play anyway. So next week will be our final session for D&D Encounters season 20.
What happened at you FLGS when you completed the free PDF? Did you buy the hardcover and keep playing? Did you switch to D&D Expeditions? Did you give the players the summer off and cancel your games?
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.
- Recounting Encounters – Season 20, week 10
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.