Thursday, January 2, 2020

Checking in with Chult

It's been a few months since I mentioned my weekly home game, playing through Tomb of Annihilation with the old guard.  The players are just finishing their exploration of the Forbidden City, Omu, so it's a good time to check in.  By way of reminder, Tomb of Annihilation is loosely divided into 4 exploration arcs.  The first arc is a hex crawl across the continent of Chult, trying to find the Forbidden City.  The second arc is exploring the sprawling, ruined jungle city itself.  The third arc is infiltrating a Yuan-Ti dungeon beneath the city, the Fane of the Night Serpent.  The final arc is the assault on the Tomb of Annihilation, one of Acererak's death trap dungeons.

As the game has shifted to Omu, the danger curve has gotten more intense, and we've lost several player characters and NPC's.  The ruined city sits at the bottom of a rift valley, overgrown with jungle vegetation and partially flooded.  The characters are not the first explorers to find the city; the Red Wizards of Thay have a force there, and the players can discover the remains of an earlier adventuring camp.  Between Red Wizard stragglers, ruined camps, and city graffiti, they learn the "game" of the ruined city is to explore various shrines, survive the gauntlets within, and emerge with puzzle cubes which will ultimately grant access to Acererak's hidden tomb.  There are nine cubes, and it becomes a race between the players and the Red Wizards to collect all of them.  A showdown is inevitable.  Meanwhile, the ruined jungle city is home turf for the Yuan-Ti.  The blend of lush jungle, exotic diseases and giant insects, dinosaurs, murderous Yuan-Ti, and scheming evil wizards has made the Omu chapter great fun.  Plus each shrine contains a small trap or puzzle that's offered different challenges than a wilderness hexcrawl, forcing the players to flex new mental muscles.  Great stuff all around.

One of the party's magic users died during a Yuan-Ti ambush.  A fighter (Josh) was killed in one of the shrines by a clay gladiator in a brutal pit fight.  Their guide was swallowed whole by a Froghemoth and eaten, muhahaha.  Their two NPC sailors, Flotsam and Jetsom, who traveled inland with the party from the coast (acting as porters and camp keepers) were frozen alive by a Cone of Cold when the surviving Red Wizards scryed the party's encampment and attacked. Orvex, a survivor they found in the city, was impaled in a shrine.  With this kind of death toll it's like we're not even playing 5E!

Here are the surviving characters:  Stompy, a forge priest dwarf cleric (level 7); Prism, an evoker wizard (level 6); Osric, a hexblade warlock and their "tank" (level 7); Woodson, an Aasimar sorceror (level 8); Reed, halfling rogue (level 8); Emporo the Mighty, fighter sidekick (level 7).

We've stopped worrying as much about supplies and book-keeping.  The characters and their henchmen hauled enough rations and supplies to the ruined city to last several weeks, and the cleric can generate enough fresh water each day with remaining spell slots to keep everyone hydrated.  Once you get past levels 5-6 the available magic off-sets many logistical issues.  I've had to remind them of time pressure to resist the "five minute workday" syndrome.  The guys have played well, though; they used a Commune with Nature scroll early on to map out several places of interest in the ruins, so they didn't need to slog building by building.  They tried aerial reconaissance but flocks of gargoyles overlooking the rift valley made that a bad idea.  The step increase in difficulty in Omu has forced them to develop cohesive tactics and better planning.

We try to play every Sunday night, 7-10pm, and I keep a notebook for experience totals and a session log - we just finished session 25.  The jungle hex crawl portion of Chult lasted sessions 1 - 17, with several trips back to the port city, tussles with pirates, and a long ocean jaunt to the south of the continent.  Omu has covered sessions 18 to 25.  At this point, the players have vanquished the Red Wizards and hold 8 of the 9 puzzle cubes; they know the Yuan-Ti are holding the last puzzle cube in the Fane of the Night Serpent, so I expect them to plan their assault on the Yuan-Ti next session.  I expect the Yuan-Ti dungeon will only be a few sessions, and then it will be on to the large dungeon that concludes the campaign.

Overall this one's been really good.  Tomb of Annihilation starts a little bumpy in chapter 1; I can see newer players feeling a bit overwhelmed by choice when starting a hex crawl.  For an exotic locale with storied cultures, I would've also liked to see more Chultans involved in the adventure; they're mostly limited to Port Nyanzaru.  There are some "colonization themes" in the setting a referee can emphasize if they want that dynamic in the game; the Flaming Fist make good continental villains and bullies.  But those are quibbles; Tomb of Annihilation has been great fun, and joins Curse of Strahd as an excellent 5E adventure that supports a classic D&D experience.  I'm hoping to start the 5E Undermountain (Dungeon of the Mad Mage) this winter with Adventurer's League to round out the old school homages.  In the meantime, Happy New Year everyone, and feel free to ask me anything.


  1. Thanks for the update on the campaign! And Happy New Year,too!

  2. The variety of challenges sounds well designed. What hex scales are you working at?

    1. The hex crawl portion of Chult is 10 miles per hex (basically a hex per day in the jungle, 2 using a canoe). I discussed that arc of the campaign back in September:

      The ruined city is drawn using a free-form map, 250' to the inch (no hexes).

  3. Thanks for the update. After reading your prior post, I got the book from the local library, and after reading it through, it does seem like Chult makes for a good sandbox, but it also seems like the actual tomb is arbitrarily murdery. Maybe all of the old deathtraps are like that? I just have trouble imagining any players figuring out some of the more obscure trap solutions without the DM leading there by the nose... so I really look forward to hearing how your lot get on with it!