The adventurers were now deep in the depth of the Temple of Elemental Evil, in that mysterious area known as the Fane of the Eye, although not, admittedly, to them. In the previous sessions they’d explored those areas accessible from the Air Temple and the Water Temple, now they headed north to that area under the Earth Temple.
They didn’t actually stay that long there – passing through the Tomb of Foebreaker before finding the great Earth Obelisk and the stairs that wound their way around it to the top. Ignoring the doors that would take them further into the Fane, they climbed up the long stair and thus discovered another entrance to the Earth Temple – the first they’d discovered some time ago under the Sacred Stone Monastery.
The way was guarded, with the nearby guards alerted by an alarm spell that triggered as the adventurers reached the top of the stair. Unfortunately, only four guards and a priest were set to guard this way into the Temple, and they weren’t a great threat to the party. However, one escaped and soon after the adventurers began to hear a great drum-beat echoing down the subterranean corridors. BOOM! BOOM! DOOM! DOOM!
These adventurers have many flaws, but being cowardly isn’t one of them. They pressed onwards, chasing the escaped guards deeper into the temple. They came to a room with a great statue of Ogrémoch, the Prince of Evil Earth Elementals, and there found another wave of guards and priests coming towards them. Fireball spells were followed by the charges of Thumbalina and Krovis; the guards stood little chance against such an assault.
The drums continued, and the adventurers had a choice of pathways. They chose to go away from the drumbeats, heading north along the corridor. The passageway looped away back towards where they’d entered the Temple, and they continued to follow it, ignoring the side corridors. A pair of double-doors attracted their attention, and they entered it to find a priest and four cultists attempting to sacrifice a gnome. Of course, they charged in to save her.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t counted on the instrument of sacrifice – a great Black Pudding which seeped out of the altar and devoured the poor gnome before moving on towards the adventurers. Their charge was hampered (briefly) by the cultists and a little more substantially by the slow spells cast by the priest, but facing the black pudding was something that the warriors really didn’t want to do. It was fortunate that the warlocks were able to burn it into oblivion before it split and destroyed everyone.
However, the battle wasn’t that simple, because even as they fought the priest and the ooze, they were being attacked from behind by the guards the drums had summoned: cultists, more priests and great ogres. Thumbalina was holding off the ogres from getting to the warlocks as the battle raged on and more and more reinforcements flooded in. Eventually, the adventurers were successful, but it had been a hard fight, and they all needed rest and healing. So they retraced their steps – down to the Fane, through the Fane, and up to the Air Temple and then the surface!
The group were now needing to resupply – especially their stock of healing potions – and so they made their way to Red Larch. There they discovered troubling reports of missing caravans and traders: no-one had approached from the North Road for some time.
The adventures headed out to discover the reason. And it was a terrifying one: Westbridge was devastated, the centre of the town gone, and only a few of the townsfolk trying to survive in the rubble or in a nearby camp. The adventurers learnt that earth cultists had brought a great chest into the centre of town, which had then detonated and laid waste the surrounding area in a massive explosion.
The group conferred, and began to organise the survivors; seeing that they had food and healing, and that they could make their way to Red Larch for shelter. That night, as the adventurers worked, a pack of hellhounds from the fire cult attacked. They were driven off, but it wasn’t an easy fight. The adventurers pledged to follow the retreating cultists while the refugees made for Red Larch.
Their journey took them towards the Stone Bridge, where more minions of the stone cult – Ogres – attacked, in an ambush that almost slew several of the party, with the adventurers caught between fighting the ogres and controlling their panicked mounts. Eventually the ogres and the priest commanding them were slain, and the adventurers had a new goal: to wreak revenge of the Earth Elemental Cult. Their destination: the Sacred Stone Monastery.
I’m still terribly behind on these reports (about 2 months, I think), but these were a couple of terribly significant sessions. The first – the attack on the “west” of the Earth Temple – displays one of the things that DMs need to do that aren’t always explained in the adventure: organising a reactive defense.
The great alarm drums aren’t in the published adventure, but they provide a sense of urgency and tension to the game. They are – as you might guess – drawn from the orc drums in The Fellowship of the Ring, which accompany the fellowship’s journey through Moria, and especially their flight from the Balrog out of the mines. It’s my second-favourite passage in The Lord of the Rings, with only the charge of the Rohirrim and the slaying of the Witch King by Éowyn being superior in my opinion. They allow the party to know that yes, they have been noticed, and that there will be consequences. All of which my party basically ignored – which led to a fantastic fight with them engaged with one foe while more foes came from behind!
That’s the sort of thing you need to do in Princes of the Apocalypse to keep it entertaining. There are a lot of dungeons, but if the inhabitants are clever and react to the players, then the adventure remains interesting.
The second session, with the destruction of Westbridge, brings the threat posed by the cult into sharp relief. One of the problems with the cults is that they can be entirely too passive: lurking in their temples without having a big effect on the outside world. It’s utterly imperative that you use these sorts of events to really drive home the point that the cults of Elemental Evil mean business, and that leaving them along will be very, very bad for the world.
The ogre fight actually almost ended in a TPK (Total Party Kill). I think we were missing a couple of players and the ogres did a lot of damage to those remaining, with the priest likewise making things very difficult for the players. The group actually had gone the wrong way, with Thumbalina not properly tracking the cultists to their origin, but the group was going to end up at the right location, the Sacred Stone Monastery, in after all.
And what happened there was hilarious. But that story will have to wait for another time…