by Mike Shea on 15 June 2015
Princes of the Apocalypse is Wizard of the Coast's second major campaign adventure after the two Tyranny of Dragons adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. It's also the first adventure written after the full release of the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons sourcebooks making it more solid and consistent than the material we saw in the Tyranny of Dragons adventures.
The overlords at Sly Flourish don't do product reviews but if they did, they'd give Princes of the Apocalypse a big thumbs-up. It's a solid well designed product with a lot of material, some great villains, and an interesting story. There's always things to quibble about, of course. The hooks that move PCs from place to place go from weak to non-existent and it isn't clear why PCs would ignore the connections between the lower-level haunted keeps and the much higher level dungeon nodes below. These are all fixable, however, and do little to harm an otherwise great adventure. Princes is a fantastic companion to the rest of the 5e sourcebooks and a great way to dive deep into a long D&D 5e campaign.
Today we're going to focus on some tips to help you make the most of this adventure as you run it. Since this adventure doubles as both a big home campaign adventure and the D&D Adventurer's League spring 2015 Encounters adventure, it's likely to see a lot of use. The following tips can help you and your group make the most out of this adventure.
We're going to start by focusing on Chapter 6 of the book. This chapter includes a number of small adventures intended to get level 1 PCs to level 3 so they can begin the main part of the campaign. It's a good way to introduce players to the Dessarin Valley or D&D 5e in general.
Please note, this article is going to be packed full of spoilers. If you are playing in Princes of the Apocalypse you probably want to stop right here.
As written, there isn't very much interesting about Red Larch until the sink hole appears in the street. If you're jumping ahead to the beginning of the adventure, that is still a fun thing to see in the center of your otherwise happy hommlet.
The best way to add some flavor to Red Larch without significantly modifying the adventure is to add in a significant event that's going on as the PCs arrive. Did a load of animals get loose? Is there a big festival going on? The "Framing Events" chart on page 79 of the Dungeon Master's Guide is a great way to add an interesting event as the PCs arrive and return to the town to give the place more flavor that it has as written.
While you're filling out the flavor of Red Larch, you may also want to simplify the town a bit. Do you really need to describe two different poultry establishments?
Choose three interesting locations and focus on threads and leads that draw your PCs there. The Swinging Sword Inn, the Allfaith's Shrine, and Jalessa Ornra's Butcher Shop make three good locations for the PCs to get to know. Each of them are loaded with hooks that can push PCs out and can give them familiar haunts as they explore the region.
Speaking of the region, for about $20 you can make a game aid that adds a lot to the campaign by buying Mike Schley's high-resolution poster map of the Dessarin Valley and having it printed on a 18x24 poster map. The map can be folded into quarters to sore in your D&D Go Bag or rolled up. Print out the player version of the map so you don't have to worry about spoilers. It's a beautiful map that will be useful throughout the entire adventure.
Using the divine art of reskinning, we can take a standard bandit from the Monster Manual and turn them into elemental cultists with nothing but a bit of flavor. Here are some ideas:
Of course, the Princes campaign book includes loads of new and interesting NPC stat blocks for the cultists but should you need any others to fill out the ranks, you can give them some elemental flavor to make them interesting.
When running the adventures in Princes chapter 6, be careful with level 1 PCs. A hard wind can knock them on their ass and a single critical hit might kill them. Players who aren't used to this can be quickly disappointed if they find their brand new PC dead to a shitty roll on the random encounter chart. Consider leveling the PCs up to 2 after their first adventure rather than waiting until before they go to the necromancer's cave.
You can also just skip this stuff, go straight to level 3, and head right into the adventure.
When running Princes, you may want to offer up the character hooks on page 12, 13, and 14. These hooks work better if you're starting them off on the main adventure instead of chapter 6 but if the players are patient, they will see these hooks come to life later on. Unfortunately these hooks aren't written so you can just hand them out to your players but have little fear, the engineers at Sly Flourish built this printable Princes of the Apocalypse hooks sheet just for you.
When running chapter 6, it's important to remember where the PCs are headed in the rest of the adventure. Princes of the Apocalypse is written as an open sandbox adventure but if you want to make it more linear, consider how the hooks of the adventure will take the PCs from one place to another.
Take the time to understand where the PCs are headed next and what hooks and clues you need to place now to get them there. For example, spend more time talking about those strange rich people flying around on vultures at Feathergale Spire and less time worrying about clues leading to the pirates at Rivergard Keep or the masked monks at the monestary.
We'll talk more about these hooks in a future article.
In the mean time, polish off your evil altars and start memorizing the strange elemental symbols as your PCs face off against the Elemental Evil!