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I’m not going to do a room by room breakdown of the exploration, but there will still be spoilers for the Tomb of Nine Gods section of Tomb of Annihilation. I didn’t have a chance to write this before GameHole Con and now I’ve forgotten the details, so this will be a brief summary.
The explorers defeated the rest of the monsters summoned by the cabinets and raised the portcullis. It led them to a corridor that seemed to be cursed to destroy all non-magical clothing and items, so those least affected by that scouted ahead and found stairs leading down and, in another room, what looked like a giant chain vanishing into planar vortices: a Mechanus chain. They surmised it was helping operate the complex traps within the tomb, but they had to deal with a swarm of quadrones and a pentadrone before proceeding with their exploration. Beyond the chain, they found another room with an odd sphere contained within an orrery of sorts, as well as a crawl way that led back to the control room. A lever caused the console they’d so judiciously avoided manipulating to slide out of the way.
The group reconvened and went the long way ’round, using the crawl way to all gather in the room with the orrery. Baersora entered the sphere and manipulated the controls, adjusting the orrery’s depiction of the solar system and summoning a yugoloth. Despite wielding a vorpal greataxe, it proved little challenge for the heroes.
After the battle, they contemplated if they had thoroughly searched this level before descending to the next…
Yeah, it’s short. Like I said, I didn’t have a chance to write this up before I left for GameHole Con. I think I hit all the important bits. We’re in the home stretch now; I think we’ll be able to wrap up Tomb of Annihilation this year and start on Ghosts of Saltmarsh by January at the latest. Next session, there may be a few key absences, so I plan on play testing a D&D B/X adventure I’m writing for Gary Con. November 22nd’s game should see us return to ToA.
After recovery from their battles with the minotaurs, the explorers decided to continue delving and descended to the next level. After a brief discussion, they chose to climb down the shaft where Herrick died, rather than take the circular stairs they found near the room with the zombie t-rex and zombie artists.
They secured a rope to the base of one of the gargoyles and descended to the next level. They entered into a water-filled cavern and saw three giant gears beneath them. Upon each gear stood a pentagonal structure. They dangled above one overgrown with weeds and vines and dropped down into the room. Once down, they saw only two points of egress. They chose to investigate the southwest exit first.
This led them down a corridor with some viscous slime obstructing their path. They jumped over it and spotted a secret door, as well as writing on the ceiling that read “AWAKEN NAPAKA.” They recognized the name as the deceased queen in the small trap-filled crypt that almost killed them all and decided to investigate the secret door.
Behind the door, they found another slime-choked corridors, but managed to avoid it as they followed it to a set of spiral stairs that led up and a door that led out into the cavern. They confirmed the stairs were the ones they didn’t use on the prior level and went into the cavern. Stairs led to a pier to which two rowboats and a steel cage were tied. The door closed behind them. The door closed behind them and sprouted a pair of lips which shouted at them “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” (it actually said “I’m so hungry I could eat you alive, but I’ll settle for somethin’ else. Somethin’ livin’. Somethin’ light!”) Sobek tossed one of his ever-present hunks of meat at the door, but it spat it out and attempted to snare the lizardfolk with its tongue*.
Having avoided being devoured by a door, Sobek and Kalvok entered the water to do some scouting. They chose to avoid the rowboat, having assumed they were trapped or cursed in some way. They saw some phosphorescent crabs scuttling about below the pier and Sobek gathered some up. They continued to swim around the cavern, finding the bottom of a waterfall (which they assumed was the one they encountered in an upper level) and spotting a slothful aboleth lounging at the bottom of the underground lake. It took no notice of them and they returned to the pier. Sobek fed the door a crab and they were allowed to reenter the stairwell.
They returned to the foliage-filled room and took the northwest path. Draconic frescos covered the walls, and more slime pooled on the floor, but they didn’t see anything of immediate import or danger. An exit led to the northwest led to a short corridor that took them to a control room of sorts. Reluctant to touch the controls for fear of flood the level with slime or unleashing some other form of hell upon themselves, they backtracked to the corridor with the secret door and explored the corridor beyond the words carved into the ceiling.
More slime pooled in the floor and they saw a curtain obscuring the eastern end of the hallway. They disposed of that and found a four-armed gargoyle statue. One of its arms was broken off and lay on the floor. After a few moments of investigation, they decided they didn’t have enough information about it to do anything productive, so they explored the western end of the hallway. Various relief carvings adorned the location and they found a jackal-headed carving holding a box that had a keyhole. They worked out the jade key they’d acquired earlier fit and found a secret crawlspace that led them behind the western wall. Some sort of large, stone, wheeled construct abutted the wall, but behind it, they found a shelf containing a lustrous, spiked ruby the size of a human fist. They absconded with the treasure and returned through the crawlspace to the hallway and then back to the control room.
A second examination of the controls gave them no further information, so they squeezed through the gaps between the pentagonal chambers on the gears and the connecting corridors and climbed along the gears on the outside**. Taking care, they climbed along the outside to the third, as-yet unexplored cog. Inside, they found an exit to the north barred with adamantine portcullis and an exit to the southeast. The pentagonal chamber itself had a couple puddles of slime and five wardrobes, each adorned with different art. Embedded in the wall above the portcullis were five red crystals shaped like drops of blood.
After a brief discussion, they decided to open the wardrobe with a carving of an ornate clock on the door. Beyond the door, they saw giant gears and cogs stretching as far as the could see and a spherical creature with splindly legs and small wings tumbled out. It flailed in confusion and tried to reenter the wardrobe to no avail. Thinking quickly, Sobek attacked it, destroying it and causing one of the red crystals to illuminate.
They knew then the would have to defeat something from each wardrobe to illuminate all the crystal and presumably lift the indestructible portcullis. Next, they chose the wardrobe carved with an army of orcs fighting hobgoblins. Many orcs spilled forth, but were quickly dealt with, illuminating a second crystal.
Third, they chose the wardrobe depicting ghouls gnawing on bones. Bright glowing balls of light appeared behind them. They dealt with the will-o’-wisps and contemplated which challenge to face next: whatever came forth from the wardrobe showing a night hag or the one showing twisted, screaming humanoid faces wrapped in chains…
So, I was convinced this level would cause my group no end of frustration. Their out-of-the box exploration made things much easier on me (and them). I think by the end of the next session, they’ll be ready to descend to the final level of the dungeon and I’m confident Tomb of Annihilation will be completed, one way or another, by the end of the year. After they’ve finished, I play to have a bit of a breather by play testing a couple of adventures I’m preparing for Gary Con: “Into the Wasteland” (a Fallout adventure using FFG’s Genesys system) and “The Eldritch Thing” (a D&D B/X adventure). Depending on how long wrapping up ToA takes, it’s possible we’ll be ready for the next campaign by the first session of January 2020.
* If I played this exactly the way it was written, Sobek would have been automatically eaten by the door, no to-hit roll needed, no saving throw granted. I do not like auto-hit, auto-effect traps like that. It’s an F-you to players that discourages experimentation. Plus, none of the boxed text actually mention that there are discarded crab shells strewn on the landing and stairs, which is an important clue to go along with the words the door says. It IS mentioned elsewhere in the text, but it’s a failure of editing that it’s not information included in the boxed text since it does mention everything else about the location, including the phosphorescent crabs IN the water, which they wouldn’t necessarily see from the top of the stairs… ugh.
** There is nothing I read that indicates this is not possible. The top of the rooms on the gears ARE open to the cavern and the included maps show a gap that characters should be able to squeeze through, assuming that detail is the same scale as the rest of the map. Whether or not the designers intended for this bit of outside-the-box thinking or not is irrelevant; I have no problem with it. Besides, with slippers of spider climbing, an immovable rod, and rope, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from simply climbing out of a room through the roof, so it doesn’t really matter.
As the mirror shattered, all the creatures trapped within spilled out into the room. Each exploded in a shower of gore as one followed, then another, and another, until all that remained was a blood and guts covered man, standing trembling amidst the carnage. As the explorers took stock of what had just happened, they determined the man’s name was A’tan, but it seemed that centuries of being trapped in the mirror robbed him of his faculties; he spoke only gibberish.*
They took some time to rest before continuing their explorations. They returned to the room with the giant four-armed gargoyles and followed the main corridor exiting that room to another green devil mouth. This one contained only a lizard, an ordinary lizard that a druid awakened. The lizard explained that some human explorers intended to use it to check areas for traps, but it ran away and hid and just wants to escape the tomb. Kalvok allowed the lizard to ride on his shell as they continued their explorations.
A nearby secret door led to a room with a red candle that, when they removed it from its sconce, caused lava to start pouring into the room. They hastily shut the door and abandoned thoughts of examining that space, turning their attention toward nearby stair that led to a stone slab similar to one they encountered earlier. Sobek high-fived the painting of the man on the mural causing the slab to retract into the ground. As a precaution, they placed their immovable rod on top of the slab as they stepped over it and explored a simple maze and another green devil face from which they heard ominous whispering. In the center of the maze, they found a black opal crown. As soon as they took it, they heard the slabs start to rise. Beating a hasty retreat, they exited the maze through the doorway they held open with the immovable rod, removing it just in time to trap two bodaks in the maze preventing them from reaching the group.
They decided to retrace their steps and try the other stairs. At the bottom, they found a treasure chest and a large vaulted chamber beyond. They put the immovable rod to use once again to block a boulder that fell from the ceiling and rolled down the stairs towards them after opening the chest. That threat dealt with, they found an invisible key within the cest. They discovered an acid-filling pit the hard way, but avoided falling in and continued to explore the room. The color-changing sarcophagus in the center of the room proved boggling, as it was not a fit for the key they found. A mural of a maze on the wall managed to ensnare Sobek, and while he navigated the maze, the others had to deal with ten minotaur skeletons entering the room from concealed niches all around. Large though they may have been, they proved no match for the power of Satina’s god and the efforts of the companions. Eventually, Sobek returned from the maze with a green crystal key that fit the lock on the sarcophagus. They waited until it matched the key’s color before trying it, and were rewarded with Unkh’s robe of scintillating colors, along with the spirit itself (who possessed Kalvok).
In one of the niches formerly occupied by a minotaur skeleton, the group found a hidden passageway leading to a grandfather clock with a jewel in its pendulum. The invisible key fit the invisible lock and they found themselves one gemstone, the fabled Navel of the Moon, richer. They decided to rest again, before continuing their explorations…
* After setting up this encounter, I said “Nope. This is stupid.” For one, the room I built in Dwarven Forge is TWICE as large as what is in the adventure. It’s a 15′ x 15′ room. Three large creatures, five medium creatures, and a small creature came of the mirror all at once. Realistically, they probably could fit, though it’d kind of be like a bunch of frat boys cramming themselves into a phone booth. Had I actually been able to build a 15′ x 15′ room (which I did not have the right Dwarven Forge pieces to do), I wouldn’t have been able to fit them all in. So, after mulling it over for a few days, I speculated that whoever wrote the encounter and whoever drew the map were NOT in communication at all and decided to just have all the creatures telefrag each other until only the commoner remained, covered in all the viscera exploding all over the room. It was more entertaining than a fight with such a huge bottleneck in an adventure I think everyone is getting a little tired of.
On another note, the immovable rod has to be one of the move versatile and useful magic items in the game.
The group debated the meaning of the slots in the bases of the platforms upon which the four-armed statues stood and decided they were intended for coins. Since they had not returned to town in quite some time, they didn’t have a variety, so they put gold coins in all the slots. As this caused no change in the statues, Herrick utilized his slippers of spider climbing to descend the central shaft between the statues. The statue with the platinum base came to life and leapt upon Herrick, slashing with with all four arms and biting at him. The surprise attack mutilated Herrick’s body.
Herrick was dead.
The rest of the group avenged their deceased friend and once the gargoyle lay defeated in rubble, they retrieved their friends body. They noticed cocoon-like pods hanging underneath a nearby ledge, two of which trip. Taking no chances, Baersora summoned a lightning bolt, frying the pods and spilling their contents to the floor*. Several of them contained shapeless masses of flesh, but two seemed to contain people. The first was an armored warrior, the other a tortle. After a brief standoff with both sides accusing the other of being doppelgängers, they determined that no one was a identity-stealing shapechanger. The warrior introduced herself as Satina Kari and the tortle introduced himself as Kalvok.
Leaving the gargoyle room behind, the explorers decided to check out the corridors, rather than the central shaft. They made their way to a hallway that split off to a set of stairs leading down, but passed that to examine a large stone door blocking the end of the hall. After failing to open the door via brute force, Kalvok transmuted the entire slab into mud, revealing the room beyond.
A ledge surrounded a large sunken area in which three blinded zombie wandered around, painting crude images, one of which the group recognized as their wayward friend Rayla being sucked into a sort of dark hole. They assumed this meant she was, in fact, dead and not run away. They attacked one of the zombies and a rotting t-rex burst up from the floor. They smacked it down and it burst open, spewing more zombies into the room, which they dealt with in short order.
Through all the commotion, the painter zombies continued their art, ignoring the explorers, so the group took the opportunity to examine the statues around the room and found a secret door leading to a hidden crypt. In their eagerness to examine the sarcophagus and its treasures, they set off a successful of traps. Baersora nearly joined her brother when she put on a beaded necklace which immediately exploded, engulfing the room in flames.
Since Baersora joined her brother as a hairless dwarf (though she’s still alive), the group took a while to treat their wounds. They moved on, backtracking a bit until they found another stone slab at the end of a long hallway. They decided to try the other direction first and found themselves in a chamber dominated by a huge mirror. Careful to avoid looking into it, Baersora through a piece of rubble at it, shattering the glass and causing a multitude of scared, angry, and hostile creatures into the room…
* A truly cruel DM would have had the brand new characters take damage from that lightning bolt, but they didn’t know I was using those cocoons as a mechanism to introduce new characters into the Tomb of the Nine Gods, so I just had the lightning bolt split open the cocoons.
This night’s adventure was just trap after trap after trap, it felt like. I even forgot one in the hidden crypt (Sobek would’ve been hit with three in a row). I was sort of disappointed in the zombie t-rex fight; they beat it down in one round. Part of that is Sobek’s ranger abilities; he’s built to do massive damage in a first round attack against undead.
The new characters are a paladin (Satina) and a druid (Kalvok). Next session, I’ll build the mirror room in Dwarven Forge and fill it with everything that spilled out of the mirror of life trapping. I suspect they’ll barely fit in the room, especially with the characters crammed in there. That should be a fun fight. 😀
After a short respite, the explorers proceeded down the corridor, stopping when they noticed a length of spiked chain connecting two golems stretched across the hall. Attempting to pass under the chain aggravated the golems, but the group put them down in short order. They found a window of sorts, into which they could view the room with the barge and the locust-spewing statues in which Herrick almost died, but after seeing what could only be a scene from the past, determine there was another way in.
They headed into an unexplored section of the level and wandered into a flooded corridor. A sheet of falling water separated the corridor into two halves and crossing it caused a deluge to blast them down the hall. They did discovered small alcoves behind illusory walls, however, and found a couple of crystal eyes that appeared to be non-magical curiosities. After forcing their way past the water curtain, they found the way into the ravenous scarab room and Nali was possessed by the spirit of I’jin. They then explored nearby crawlspaces.
Sobek found himself trapped in the center of a weight-activated rotating crawlspace intersection, but was freed when Rayla entered an adjoining crawlspace. She tried to dimension door out, and found herself in a chamber filled with corpses and an otyugh instead of her intended destination. Finding two levers inside the nostrils of a giant green devil face, she pulled the leftmost lever as the otyugh waded through the corpses, eager to dine on fresh meat. Everything in the room was sucked into the devil’s mouth, including the otyugh and her*.
After waiting for Rayla, they determined the tabaxi warlock either fled the tomb or died, so the group proceeded onward. They elected to avoid the other crawlspaces and proceeded downward to the next level. They paused to consider the four gargoyle statues in the chamber at the bottom of the stairs, each with what looked like a different colored coin slot in its base.
*And so, the tomb claims its first victim. RIP Rayla, we knew you too short a time… and I always feel bad when the newest player loses a character first (though the player is NOT the least experience player, just the newest to join our group).
We actually skipped one of the rooms they spent half a session in a few games ago (the Herrick-eating locusts–I just narrated them solving it). I was having trouble figuring out how to accurately describe a puzzle that was spread over three room descriptions and I think they were getting a little frustrated with the byzantine and arbitrary nature of some of the puzzles and it seems like several of them just want to be done with Tomb of Annihilation. I can sympathize. If I had written the campaign, I’d throw in maybe one puzzle every once in a while if I found something really good. This adventure has puzzle after puzzle written by someone who isn’t running for my group. I’ve written at-length how puzzles suck if the group isn’t on the same wavelength as the author, and while I think some of these haven’t been that bad, I do have access to information they don’t, so I can see how it can be frustrating.
The group must be sensing that the traps are getting deadlier, as they started out the session asking what we were going to play in the event that there was a TPK or otherwise reaching the end of the adventure. I’ve been contemplating that a bit, but since I figured we’d be playing Tomb of Annihilation until the end of the year, I don’t have anything ready, per se. I kind of want to play test all the adventures I’m going to run at cons in the spring, or maybe run a Numenera game for a bit… or something sci-fi. I have Ghosts of Saltmarsh and they’re mostly on board with that, but I would like some variety. Maybe a rotation of one-three session games using less-played systems? My idea for a Genesys-based Fallout game was met with mixed enthusiasm… maybe just the two adventures I’m prepping for Gary Con will scratch that itch (or might sell them on the idea). We’ll see.
Finally, the last one. This was a tough month to do this RPG-a-Day thing. Not only am I busy trying to learn a new job, but I’m trying to finish revisions to my chronically-delayed next novel, Summer of Crows. I’ve found these single word prompts to be extremely difficult to deal with compared to previous years’ questions. Of course, I’ve always been bad at single word writing prompts, or writing prompts in general.
But, we are at the end of this year’s RPG-a-Day and no doubt, my blog will return to a post every-other-week. I always tell myself I’ll post more regularly. Maybe this will be the year that finally happens. Of course, most of this kind of content has moved to Twitter, though it is easily lost in the ever-moving content streams. We’ll see what the future holds as the year winds down. I do plan on making some changes, though I can’t say for certain what, exactly, that will look like.
I’ve already written about, perhaps even this month, how almost every social connection I have came about through gaming. Certainly, almost every person in my life who I consider a friend I met through gaming. Despite what bullies say, tabletop gaming is a social activity. Gamers make connections every day. Every convention, every public game is an opportunity to forge new friendships. While technology has made it possible to engage with the hobby in solitary ways (watching livestreams), it is almost impossible to actually play the games alone. Sure, you can spend hours creating characters, writing adventures, going through the motions of solo play, but the vast majority of gamers find that unsatisfying if they don’t also get to play the game with other people. Technology has made that easier, too. If you can’t find a group locally, there are several online tools to either help you find local gamers or game with people over the internet using virtual tabletops. Technophiles like to complain that technology is driving us apart, making people spend their time with their heads down, staring at their phones. They speak from a place of fear and ignorance, for many of those people are actually more engaged with their friends and family than they could have ever been 30 years ago.
Over the vast number of years I’ve been gaming (35+), my games have evolved from simplistic read-the-adventures-aloud-to-each-other-and-kill-everything-there to more character-driven narratives with actual plots. I used to play only D&D (and its derivatives)… of course, when I started, there wasn’t much else available. I’ve seen the industry grow and change. I’ve seen Gen Con triple in size over the last ten years alone (from 22,000ish attendees to nearly 70,000). Change is constant. We have to evolve with the change or we risk being left behind, grumbling that people who play different games aren’t REALLY playing games and aren’t really gamers. I hope I live to see that manure-laden point-of-view confined to the compost heap of history.
Love and romance is not something I’ve ever approached in my games. There have been some jokey interactions in that vein, but never a serious attempt at role-playing anything romantic, sexual, or otherwise. I understand some group incorporate these themes quite successfully in their games, and more power to them. It just doesn’t appeal to me to do so.
I do love me some RPGs, though. I have so many, I can’t even list them all from memory, though I did make an attempt to list them all here. I probably need to update that list, though.
Suspense is not something I’m good at deliberately generating in my games. I’m sure there are instances where suspense has occurred in one of my games, but we keep things light-hearted enough that being deliberately suspenseful in a sustained way would be really jarring.
Of course, there’s always the suspense when success or failure comes down to one critical die roll. The kind of roll where everyone cheers when the player is successful or they collectively groan (or swear) when the player’s dice fail. Those moments make gaming memories.
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