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Master, Dungeon Master #13

#13: Princes of the Apocalypse, part 4

This week I will be covering Twenty Sided Store D&D Encounters sessions 6 & 7. If you are reading for the first time, you might want to read the articles in consecutive order starting with #10 Princes of the Apocalypse, part 1.


This article will focus on how to incorporate an overarching story that is in flux, planting seeds, and how to use foreshadowing when the immediate outcome is dependent on the players interaction with the game. I will also be covering some of my own personal obstacles working with Team DM this season.

Twenty Sided Store events are innovative and trend setting. Every season of D&D Encounters we try something new and different. We challenge the status quo and give the players an experience unique to Twenty Sided Store.

Team DM this season is widely varied in style. When it comes to game preparation, they hit every mark on the spectrum. This can be equally great and equally challenging. On one hand, I want every DM to let their individual play style shine at the table. I want players to be able to experience many different ways to play D&D by having a chance to play with a different DM each week.

This season, my goal is to play up to the strengths of 5th Edition. I want my players to have a real chance to affect the story through their participation each week, and through the decisions made at the table when both DMs and players are sharing in a truly collaborative storytelling process. I have intentionally NOT scripted out the entire season session by session, like I have in the past, and this is proving to be very challenging.

In order to find inspiration for communicating my thoughts, I decided to reference the Dungeon Master’s Guide (pg. 125) for the following examples:

Overarching Story – Example 2 : Agents of X

In this case, all the players are agents of their Factions, anyone not affiliated with one of the five Factions, is considered to be part of the Adventurer’s Union, a faction we created to replace Nonfaction (pg.41).

Each Faction has a unique goal, this goal is the reason the players are in the Desserin Valley. The Princes of the Apocalypse adventure opens up a slew of possibilities from there.

Planting Adventure Seeds

There are many things going on in a dynamic world that need the attention of the Adventurers, some more urgent than others, and some that will become urgent if left ignored for too long.

We want to keep players focused on the present task at hand. In order to plant a good seed, the DMG suggests that, “the lure should be compelling, but not so irresistible that the players stop caring about what their characters are doing right now.” In order for players and DMs to work together to tell a story, we want to allow room for situations to play out and see where they lead.

Many things are going on in the background of the story at all times. At any point something in the background can cross paths to gain the attention of the Adventurers and move a situation to the foreground. When a story thread is in the background it is not frozen in time waiting for the Adventurers to trigger it where they left off. Time passes and the DM must think about how the circumstances have evolved.


“The goal is to hint at upcoming events and new threats in the campaign without making it obvious to the players that you are telling them what the future holds.” – DMG.

In this case, Team DM does not know what the future holds, so making things too obvious is not an issue. Every thought and idea a player or DM adds to the game can become a foreshadowed detail later on. The key to this is to have all of the DMs pool the information of what happened at the table, share what was learned, and what decisions were made, then fold those details into the quests that lie ahead. The kind of payoff the players are going to remember, is the kind they participated in creating.



Adventure Recap

Going into Session 6, we gathered all of the players together for Group RP to make a decision about what they wanted to do next. It had only been a few weeks since they had left Red Larch. They learned that goods were not getting to the Bargeright Inn and they went to Womford to see if they could get to the bottom of the situation. The locals, known as the Womford Rats, were not into the players meddling in their affairs. The Womford Rats lead the Adventurers into a trap, hoping to teach the out-of-owners a lesson. When the adventurers murdered Shoalar and Pike, they found they had a bounty on their head and needed to get out of town quick.

One of our players has been using her downtime to procure a ship for her character. Her character had been making connections and saving his gold to buy a ship for himself. During the group RP, Team DM presented the option to purchase a ship from a farmer just north of Womford. This gave them an option to take the Dessarin River north, instead of the Dessarin Road, should they choose to go in that direction. There was a unanimous vote on this idea. So we had 30 players pitch in 15gp, plus the character’s savings, to purchase a boat they had not yet laid eyes on. The plan was to head north via the Dessarin River in pursuit of Larrakh and the Dwarven Books stolen from the missing Delegation.

Session #6 – Heading North

The players started off the session in a campsite just 10 miles north east of Womford. They had camped out on a large piece of farm land. The farmer had a boat that crashed into his land where the river took a sharp bend about 40 miles north of Womford. He said the boat was a fixer upper.

Larrakh already had a 3 day head start, and it would only be a matter of time before the Womford Rats were on the Adventurer’s tails, so they headed out first thing in the morning.

The goal of the session was to pay the Farmer for the boat, travel north by land in search of their boat, fix up the boat, and and sail after Larrakh. This session gave the DMs and players a lot of room to play around and work together. We decided that the ship’s crew had been plagued with the West Dessarin Virus and had turned to zombies.

The West Dessarin Virus was a detail that was foreshadowed out of the Bloody Treasure encounter from session 0 (pg.150), when one of the players ate a dead stirge. That detail was now used to explain why this keel barge had crashed into the farmers land, and why the ship was fully stocked with stolen supplies and treasure.

Session #6 Beat
  • Players wake up 10 miles north east of Womford camped out on a grain farm. The boat they secured washed it’s way down river and crashed on the Farmer’s land about 20 miles north of the farm house.
  • The players pay the Farmer and get detailed directions as to where to find the ship.
  • When players get to the ship they find clues that the ship was abandoned and made it’s way down river until it crashed into shore where the river makes a sharp bend.
  • The keel barge looks like it once was occupied by many different crews (signs that all four cults occupied it and abandoned it due to the virus that plagued it).
  • Random Encounters – on the way to the ship / on the ship
  • Skill Challenge – Players must get the ship sailing, find the cure to the virus, and figure out who is taking what crew positions on the ship.

End – Players successfully get the ship to sail and continue north in pursuit of Larrakh and the books. This is the first time the players could associate a (cult) symbol with it’s element.

What Was Covered
  • Random Encounters (pg. 30-31) – for use as needed:
  • Homestead (The farmer and his family)
  • Keelboat (Crew infected with West Dessarin Virus, turned to Zombies)
  • Mephits – steam (ship’s engine), dust (treasure chests),  mud (river bed)
  • Water Elemental (in river or in steam engine)
  • Water Weird (in a puddle on the deck of the ship)
  • Homesteads (pg. 34-35)

Session #7 – Reaver Ambush

By the time the players get the ship sailing they have lost a day. Larrakh is now 4 days ahead of them. The Womford Rats seeking revenge have planned an ambush to stop the Adventurers.

We decided to use the Reaver Ambush as a way to let the players know that there are repercussions for their actions and to give them information about Riverguard Keep and Jolly Grimjaw.

Since we put the ambush on the river, we decided to have the players come across another shipwrecked keelboat full of cargo. The players could explore the ship and find that it looked like it was attacked, but the cargo was not taken. A campfire a little ways off shore introduced the only survivor of the ship, a female sellsword (skilled in deception, hired by Grimjaw).

Meanwhile in the barrels on the crashed ship are the reavers waiting to ambush the Adventurers. Players learn that the Womford Rats are Crushing Wave Cultists. They are using Riverguard Keep as a base of operations to steal trade goods and collect protection fees from shipments along the Dessarin River. They also learn that Larrakh had recently arrived at Riverguard Keep to do business with Grimjaw.

End – After the players defeat the Womford Rats, and continue to sail up river, they can see Riverguard Keep in the distance.

Session #7 Beat
  • Skill Challenge – Players sail the boat up river – skill challenge, success determines how long the trip takes
  • They come across a shipwrecked keelboat
  • Adventurers are deceived by a sellsword from Yartar. (option for Zhentarim to sway her to their side)
  • She was hired by Grimjaw who was after revenge for the murders of Shoalar and Pike.
  • Grimjaw received a message from Womford that the meddling adventurers that had killed Shoalar were headed up river.
  • Reaver Ambush – Cultists hid in wine barrels and waited for the signal to ambush the Adventurers
What Was Covered
  • Reaver Ambush (p.45)
  • The Hand of Yartar (pg. 16)
  • Riverguard Keep (pg. 34)

Stay Tuned for what happens in Session #8 & #9 when we visit Riverguard Keep.

Dear Master Dungeon Master,

The Twenty Sided Store community shares their most memorable D&D moments in 30 words or less.

  1. It was us or them. An entire lizardmen tribe against the five of us. It was up to me. When negotiations failed, my fireball didn’t. Sometimes it’s good to be bad.
  2. One time I threw a football at a guy and knocked him out by hitting him in the nuts. Critical hits are good.
  3. The rebirth of love in the clouds! My fellow teammates and I witnessed that love of two sky giants not hindered after ones death. Counseling saved their marriage, and the first step into their honeymoon, was slaying a dragon on the way out.
  4. “You are hereby promoted to a full party member. Your first job is to swim into that underwater corridor and collect any treasure the former party members may have found.”
  5. Sneaking into a room with Misty Step, I Wild Surged, generating a blinding ball of light.  I cast Fly and flew out, shouting to trust all adventurers in Corellon’s name.
  6. Was proficient in Water Vehicles, and Animal Handling. Proceeded to ride a shark.
  7. I was surrounded by guards and barrels of volatile components. Reached into a barrel, tossed its contents, dove out the window. Blew up the room and the guards.
  8. Cloud giant couples therapy session where hard to access emotions were explored through the use hand puppets.
  9. Party traversed Stirgent infested swamps. Found ruin we were seeking, along with what seemed like a horde of treasure. Turned out to be a black dragon egg, hatching, that thinks I’m papa?!
  10. Any game run by Lisa. Sock puppets and pictonary! Marriage counseling, Cloud Giant and his wife, and getting a Sky Castle as a fee.
  11. Few things are better than dropping a castle on a dragon god.
  12. We were surrounded by dragons! Villagers to one side. Forest to the other. Charged under the dragon on my stag, misty stepped above it and proceeded to sneak smite the rider.
  13. On a ship on frigid water, an ally was pulled in. Dove right in, nailed the con check, punched the giant squid to death, climbed back onto the boat and grappled the other squid where the party proceeded to stab it to death.
  14. Going Beyond the Crystal Cave, and stepping into the Feywild, we had to parlay, parlay, parlay, because everyone wanted everyone else’s head!
  15. Stealing Unicorns from pixies. No fighting, but plenty of charisma checks. We were always one bad roll from a bloodbath. No weapons drawn and so much scarier than actual combat.
  16. Fighting a Rakshasa and if Sir Istaval doesn’t go to Hell, Hell comes to earth. Sir Swords rolls a crit with a Blessed crossbow. That is a insta-kill. World saved.
  17. My Cloud Giant minion threw me into Tiamat’s mouth to save a friend, by casting Wall of Force, when the flying castle crashed and sent all of us to hell. (Not enough words left to say how I managed to fly the castle back out of hell.)
  18. “What does this button do?”  Pushes button.  Everyone rolls up new characters.
  19. Epic rap battle in a crowded arena with a barbarian that kept screaming and trying to stab me. In retrospect maybe it wasn’t a sing-off.

Need advice? Want to share something cool you are doing for your store? Have any comments? Don’t be shy… Ask Master Dungeon Master!

Lauren Bilanko
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