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5E Enhancing "Princes of the Apocalypse" (Practical stuff to try at your table!)

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Since my group is really enjoying Tyranny of Dragons, it seems likely that I'll be running Princes of the Apocalypse in the not-too-distant future. I'd really love to hear how other people are handling the adventure--what you're adding, what you're changing, where the most challenging sections are, and how you're approaching them. I'd also appreciate links to any other threads discussing the matter that you know of.

Thanks in advance for your help!

NOTE: This is now a wiki thread. Please post favorite ideas below (or summaries, with links to the posts that explain them in detail). Thanks!

NOTE: Not a wiki thread anymore, since they're no longer a thing with the new forum software.
 
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Rabbitbait

Adventurer
I'm finding the most challenging thing is that, because it is laid out in a sandboxy sort of way, it is easy for the characters to get in over their head very quickly. They need to learn when running away is the wise thing and that smashing in the door and attacking is often going to be ineffective.

Here is the thread I have been running: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...the-Apocalypse-Recap-Eberron-styles-but-later

And here is my campaign wiki and journey: https://deathgrind.obsidianportal.com/
 

GX.Sigma

First Post
After running it for a while, my biggest piece of advice is to ignore the hooks it gives you--especially the Mirabar delegation, which is the main hook at the beginning, and then the authors apparently forgot about it for most of the rest of the book. If I were starting again, I'd try to come up with something a bit better.

The dungeons are decent, but maybe too repetitive for an entire campaign ("what's causing trouble around here? i wonder if it's an elemental cult disguised as some benign organization..."). If I were starting again, I'd just take the dungeons, and put them into a larger sandbox where you can do other things. The side treks in Chapter 6 could theoretically help, but all of them I've run so far have fallen flat.

The four evil factions have basically identical objectives (summon an epic-level planar monster and mess stuff up), tactics (wait around for PCs to come kill them), and beliefs (destroy any who don't join them). Sound familiar? If I were starting again, I'd try to come up with something... well, less boring. I'd also try to make the cults have interesting relationships with each other (like, open war with opposed element, tenuous truce with adjacent elements).
 

Lancelot

Adventurer
Two things for me.

1) To assist the party, I removed the access points from the four above-ground strongholds to the below-ground four-part dungeon. I know the module allows for it but, knowing my party, they won't easily retreat from a fight. They would have pushed on from the Spire straight into the Air Temple, before progressing through the other above-ground fortresses. Instead, once they clear out the above-ground fortresses, they will receive a clue or guidance above how to access the old underground dwarven ruins, via a single access point to the least challenging section of the dungeon (Air Temple). Basically, I'm laying a few railroad tracks in this sandbox. They can still investigate all the above-ground fortresses in any order they want, and then the dungeon levels, but they can't skip directly from Level 3 areas to Level 9 areas.

2) I've spread the whole adventure out over a much longer period of time. The party started with low-level side-quests in the village. A month passes before the delegation fails to arrive. The PCs go hunting for trouble. Regardless of which above-ground fortress they find first (e.g. Spire, Riverside Keep, Monastery), that's the only one they can find at the time. The others simply don't exist, or can't be pinpointed. Once they clear it out, all goes quiet for a couple months. They enjoy village life, get some Downtime (start training new skills, which also helps spend some of their loot), maybe buy a small farm property. Then, the cultists attack! It's not a wandering encounter on the road, it's an assault on the party's home. In my case, I had water cultists drop a sleet storm, piling up snow on their home's roof and threatening to cave it in. When the party emerged to deal with the spellcaster, they ran into a prepared ambush of reavers and bandits. They track the attackers back to the next above-ground fortress and deal with it... and then another month or so passes before they complete research on the location of the third fortress. By spreading the whole campaign over a longer period of time, it gives it more of an epic feel, allows the party to build relationships in the villages, uses the Downtime rules, and provides a more naturalistic feeling for the cult's activities (rather than compressing this huge world-changing event into a small area and brief time).
 

Rabbitbait

Adventurer
After running it for a while, my biggest piece of advice is to ignore the hooks it gives you--especially the Mirabar delegation, which is the main hook at the beginning, and then the authors apparently forgot about it for most of the rest of the book. If I were starting again, I'd try to come up with something a bit better.

The dungeons are decent, but maybe too repetitive for an entire campaign ("what's causing trouble around here? i wonder if it's an elemental cult disguised as some benign organization..."). If I were starting again, I'd just take the dungeons, and put them into a larger sandbox where you can do other things. The side treks in Chapter 6 could theoretically help, but all of them I've run so far have fallen flat.

The four evil factions have basically identical objectives (summon an epic-level planar monster and mess stuff up), tactics (wait around for PCs to come kill them), and beliefs (destroy any who don't join them). Sound familiar? If I were starting again, I'd try to come up with something... well, less boring. I'd also try to make the cults have interesting relationships with each other (like, open war with opposed element, tenuous truce with adjacent elements).
I totally agree with all of this. I didn't include any of the hooks - they are just not necessary. However I did try and link character backgrounds or contacts into the ongoing story where I could.

I also have the cultists have believable motives at the top level, getting more murky as it goes down. For instance, the Feathergale Knights believe that the power of air will give them a better ability to protect the kingdom, and the increased flight abilities they believe they get will make them even cooler (the kngiths are all about ego).

However when some knights actually decide to become cultists, the first step of that process is the stripping of the ego through starvation and punishment. When they get through this process they have forgotten all about their original motives and mainly live in fear of upsetting their leader. They want to become one with the wind, and that is their overlying motive. The leader has more selfish motivations around growing her own powerbase.

I have all the upper levels of the elemental temples with an uneasy war going on between them, but this doesn't necessarily translate to the leadership.

At the same time I have other things going on in the region - particularly a group called the Swords of Liberty trying to overthrow the king. That's just to add some muckiness in there so that the campaign doesn't all focus on just one thing, and some other potential side issues to come in later.

At the moment I have only concentrated on the surface operations and the temples. I will worry about the deeper motivation lower down as I get further down, as I want to see where the players take this first.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Here's my comprehensive list of all the major and minor issues this adventure has: Problems with Princes of the Apocalypse. Despite repeated attempts, I haven't been able to get anyone from either WotC or Sasquatch to address even a single one of these issues. :(

The dungeons are decent, but maybe too repetitive for an entire campaign ... The four evil factions have basically identical objectives (summon an epic-level planar monster and mess stuff up), tactics (wait around for PCs to come kill them), and beliefs (destroy any who don't join them). Sound familiar?
This repetitiveness is basically what put me off running PotA. Having just read Tyranny of Dragons and PotA for the first time back-to-back, I decided I'd much rather run the former. My group agreed. So far, so good. I may end up just mining PotA for ideas and short encounters I can slot in to some other campaign.
 
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Creamsteak

First Post
I'm just working on my own game, but one "enhancement" I'm trying to get across with my in-person game is that I want all the elemental groups to come across as possible allies. I want the Feathergales to come across as pompous but possibly noble allies against villainy. I want the mercenaries out of Rivergard to be a mix of both bandits/pirates and general do-gooders. I want the fire cult's ritual to actually have the potential to remove "other" elemental corruption (like turn a series of storms and quakes into a drought). And the earth monks are stoic and generally neutral, except when they are not. I also put a twist on the paladins at Summit Hall and made it appear that they might be in cahoots with the lich, who is himself a neutral power.

I'm also stealing someone else's idea of a fifth cult. That really does strike me as the most obvious way to add something to the game. In my case, I'm thinking of more of a mythos horror cult... the "Elemental Eye" cult. The "Greater" cult. Where the lesser cults have spies and agents in the towns and villages, the Greater Cult of the Elemental Eye has agents and spies inside the lesser cults. I figure the Shoalar, Thermander, Vizann, and one of my player characters would be a good fit for agents of the greater cults. I'm also including the hidden "fifth" boss, the physical incarnation of the elder elemental eye.

Of course, part of this is inspired from my player's backgrounds.

Note, this is different from my PbP which I termed loosely as a "hack and slash." Different methodology for different groups and kinds of games.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
I decided to kick off my new homebrew campaign with the "Trouble in Red Larch" mini-adventures. We got through "Bears & Bows", "The Haunted Tomb", "The Last Laugh", and part of "The Necromancer's Cave" in the first session.

One thing I'd like to do is play up the Believers a little more so "The Tomb of Moving Stones" doesn't come out of nowhere. The Believers make me think of "Hot Fuzz". I'm thinking of spending a few in-game days seeding some clues that there's something funny going on it town before having the sinkhole appear in the middle of the road between the inn and tavern. That way, when some of the Believers step in and try to stop people from going down, the players will be like, "Aha!"

Anyone got any ideas?
 


jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Gnome Stew has an interesting article with four "campaign frames" for this adventure:

http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/troys-crock-pot-campaign-frames-for-princes-of-the-apocalypse/

Each frame slants the adventure toward a particular genre. The downloadable PDF (link in the article above) offers the following ideas:

  • Airship Defenders of the Realm
  • Towering Watertown Inferno
  • Quest of the Gauntleted Knights
  • Blackened Staff Boarding School for Aspiring Wizards and the Chalice of Fire

***

[Mention=54629]Pukunui,[/mention] I wish I could help you, but I don't have PotA yet.
 

Daern

Explorer
Regarding the weak "delegation" hook, what if the campaign starts with the Chars traveling to Red Larch to meet a seneschal who bears the Seal of Nobility that bequeaths Riverguard Keep to one of the characters. That way they have a claim on the Keep, they need to find the seneschal to prove their claim, they might even have a reason to try to get help from Featherfale Spire and then they find all this other stuff while they are at it... so the end game isn't saving the world, but actually taking over the Valley.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
[MENTION=6702445]jayoungr[/MENTION]: That's all right. When the PCs returned from their initial foray to Lance Rock, I had a tremor shake the town while everyone was in the Helm having dinner. The town elders insisted everyone remain calm and then dashed outside and headed for Waelvur's (with the intention of going to the tomb to ask Larrakh what was going on). The PCs were immediately suspicious and followed, so the elders didn't make it any further than the wagonworks. Elak Dornen told the PCs in no uncertain terms that they weren't wanted and that, for the greater good, the PCs let the elders do their jobs undisturbed.

The PCs backed out when Waelvur's wainwrights brandished their tools menacingly and decided to go have a snoop around Dornen's quarry and office. They found nothing out of the ordinary, of course. Then they remembered about the other quarry and went and knocked on Mellikho's door. I had Albaeri growl at them for disturbing her after hours and asked them to come back in the morning ... but instead, she found them and told them about the rumored treasure in Tricklerock Cave. Despite the players smelling a trap, they sent their PCs off to the cave anyway ... and, of course, there was nothing there but some stirges (and a hungry ghoul that was all that remained of the previous adventuring party to have gone into the cave).

I think that's set things up enough. So I'm going to make it so there's another tremor followed by the sinkhole opening up just as the PCs are returning to town.


By the way, speaking of the sinkhole ... I superimposed the Tomb of Moving Stones and Red Larch maps in Photoshop. Putting them at the same scale, I found that by rotating the tomb map nearly 180 degrees, I could get the secret passage from the tomb to lead to the quarry, while the secret passage from the cave led to Waelvur's ... and that put the sinkhole in the middle of the intersection in the upper right corner of the town where the Larch Path starts.

If you try to use the two maps as drawn up, you end up with the passage from the cave leading to the quarry and the secret passage from the tomb leading to Waelvur's (the opposite of what the adventure says), and the sinkhole ends up being in the open land to the west of town.
 
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jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Welp, it's official: I'll be running Princes of the Apocalypse when our group finishes Tyranny of Dragons. Please, post your advice here about how to make this adventure maximum exciting!

The main thing I hear about this adventure is that it's one gigantic dungeon crawl, which is either a strength or a weakness depending on the group. Now, my group is pretty good at making up inter-party story to tide them along in the roleplaying department, but anything I can do to add to that will be appreciated (by all of us).
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Just had a thought that this might be a fun one to reset in Ravnica substituting 4 guilds for the 4 groups of cultists, perhaps an unholy alliance of The Gruul Clans (Earth), The Cult of Rakdos (Fire), The Izzet League (Air), and The Simic Combine (Water)?

Given that civilization has taken over the entire planet, perhaps there's some crazy people who want to do a reset in an apocalyptic manner?
 

PierceF

First Post
This is excellent! I'm using these ideas, too. Making the surface cults actually not necessarily bad adds a lot of depth. I may even let the players try to turn or even take over the surface organizations.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
I’m about 1/2 through but we’ve paused for a while. Since a lot of the adventure is dungeon, be sure to get into npc development. Before each session, I would review npcs that the party might meet and I’d list their motivation and personality trait so I could interact more fully with pcs. There are a lot of cultists and associates that can have more personality than wat the adventure offers.

Here are the narratives from our adventures: http://http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?469708-Rhenny-s-Princes-of-the-Apocalypse-Campaign-Logs
 

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