The adventures had found a number of prisoners, one whom they recognised as the dwarf Bruldenthar. He was the delegate that the monks had demonstrated as being there of his own free will – he’d insisted that he was seeking enlightenment in the mines. This was certainly no longer the case, as he pleaded with the group for release. Using keys they’d previously found on the bodies of some of the cultists, the prisoners were soon freed, and a more badly-treated lot of people it would be harder to imagine. Food had been rare over the last tenday; the efforts of the adventurers in attacking the cultists had unfortunately also meant the prisoners had been neglected. The adventurers tended to them, and soon they were restored enough to converse.
Bruldenthar informed the group that the delegation had been ambushed south of Beliard by Earth cultists (those of the monastery), and had been ferried over the water by pirates. However, their captors had then been attacked themselves by raiders on giant vultures (almost certainly Feathergale Knights, based on their descriptions), who had flown off with the delegate Deseyna Norvael while the remainder had been retained by the earth cultists. Bruldenthar’s companion Rhundorth and Teresiel had been taken below – he’d not seen them again. He also spoke of the brainwashing he’d received that had led to the strange interview of a few days past, which had deflected the attention of the party. Although some of the adventurers were eager to progress below the temple, escorting the prisoners safely home took priority, and so, after using the remaining stores in the monastery to give everyone a good meal, the adventurers returned to Red Larch, where the good folk of the town tended to those rescued.
However, before the party could deal with the Feathergale Knights, another issue needed to be dealt with: orcs had begun to enter the valley in great numbers and had been raiding settlements on the eastern side of the valley. Kaylessa, the innkeeper and mayor of Red Larch, let the adventurers know about the news. She’d been contacted by the Waterbaron of Yartar, and been asked to send the adventurers that way. Thumbalina was likewise contacted by a member of the Emerald Enclave and told about the orc movements. And so the journey to the other side of the vale began.
It was fairly uneventful, except for a short tussle with ogres which went badly for the ogres. They also met some pilgrims going to the dwarven shrine in the Vale, whom they warned of the local bandit activity, while assuring them that the priests were still in residence.
Finding the orc raiders didn’t prove to be that difficult – all they had to do was follow the smoke! They soon came across a burning farm with one survivor, the farm’s owner, and he told a tale of the orcs taking a number of his workers – and his wife – as slaves! Obviously, they needed to be rescued.
Thankfully, the orcs weren’t that far away and were still preparing to rejoin the main force. Their captives were still alive and looking somewhat fraught (as you would after being captured by orcs!) The orcs didn’t have a good watch out, so the adventurers were able to surprise them, and the battle was short and sweet. The farmer was reunited with his family, but they weren’t safe yet: there were still a lot of orcs about. The adventurers chose to escort the farmers to where they’d been planning to go previously before being surprised by the orcs: a nearby steading where all the local farmers were gathering for defence. There, they’d face the attack together.
Players & Characters
- Michael is playing Krovis Thorn, LN human Paladin. (Soldier, Lord’s Alliance)
- Jesse is playing Jandar, CN human Fighter. (Criminal, Zhentarim)
- Josh is playing Ivan, CN water genasi Bard. (Pirate, Lord’s Alliance)
- Danielle is playing Thumbalina, CN dwarf Barbarian. (Outlander, Emerald Enclave)
- Mikey is playing Diablo, CN dragonborn Warlock. (Sage, Lord’s Alliance)
- Noah is playing Gimble, CN gnome Rogue. (Criminal, Zhentarim)
(Not entirely sure of the levels of the PCs for this session, my notes are a bit scanty for this session and the next couple – apologies for that!)
This session was pretty significant: it represented the first real success of the party (freeing the first prisoner of the cult) and also the first side-quest I’ve sent them on to break up the regular storyline. Which gets them out of the dungeon-crawling that forms a very large part of this adventure.
It also represents the point at which the structure of Princes of the Apocalypse wanders into some real problems.
The fact is that Princes has a very strong central goal for the players: Find the prisoners. Any side-quest I then introduce then just delays the party accomplishing that goal. At this point, the group is well aware of where they have to go next (Feathergale Spire), and so the request for the group to deal with the orcs (essentially “save the farmers”) need to be balanced against their existing goal (“save the delegates”). Surely there should be others who can save the farmers while the group continue on their hunt for the delegates? Well, not in D&D-land, it seems. Let me make clear that I have no problem with the actual side-quest. It’s a great little adventure and was a lot of fun to run and play. It’s just that, structurally, it doesn’t fit in the ongoing story.
This probably worries me more than my players. Ultimately, it was my decision to side-line the main quest for this one. I can sort of justify it – “the delegates may already be dead; it’s been weeks, while the threat to the farmers is known and immediate” – but the justification may be hollow.
Coming up, there’s also the problem of the players wandering into sections of the adventure that may be just too difficult for them. I’m not really a fan of players needing to gain XP in a holding pattern until they’re good enough to continue on with the story.
How will I deal with this in future sessions? Your guess is as good as mine!