Monthly Archives: May 2019

Tomb of Annihilation – Session 13

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.

Our intrepid explorers took a moment to regard the gaping devil mouth at the end of the overgrown, obviously trapped corridor before them. While they contemplated their actions, the first puzzle door behind them began to close. Sobek tossed the Immovable Rod to Herrick who sprinted to lock the door in place. The heavy stone door ground to a stop. The inner door began to close. Unwilling to abandon their exploration of the tomb, they quickly chose to grab the Immovable Rod and allow themselves to be trapped within.

Artist: Erol Otus

Once they were in, they took quick stock of their surroundings and Herrick examined the gaping devil’s mouth. No light or darkvision penetrated the darkness within the mouth, yet a simple stick entered with no resistance. They left the mystery behind, choose to NOT jump in or otherwise stick body parts in the hole. They took note of a floor grate that revealed a flowing river below, but chose to leave it undisturbed as well.

A crystal window at the end of the corridor revealed a tomb-like chamber to them, though they saw no immediate means of ingress. They continued to explore the tomb rather than try to break through the crystal window. They found a route that appeared to double back around and lead toward the tomb with the crystal window.

Along the way, they found a room with an oddly magnetic statue that drew all metal to it, destroying Herrick’s rapier before Sobek pinned a cloak over the offending part of the statue. While the magnetism still drew metal to it, with a barrier in between it and the objects, it could do no more damage.

One challenge followed another and a skeleton with a key-shaped head marched into the room. It moved to attack, but was quickly destroyed by Sobek, who wasted no time using teeth and claws to dismantle the bony thing. They kept its head, however, thinking anything key-shaped in a dungeon full of traps and puzzles must be useful. Soon after, they found the room with the crystal window, and though they were beset by multiple mask-wearing wights, they defeated the undead and found a ring within the sarcophagus. Herrick slipped it on to his finger and a spirit passed into him. The Trickster God, Obo’Laka, possessed the dwarf and began to make a nuisance of herself, though Herrick still maintained control of his faculties. Remember a clue they’d found before entering the tomb, they took the masks from the wights and continued their explorations.

South of the tomb, they found a path down, though explosive gas quickly dissauded them from following that route. They determined it probably only led to the underground river they saw through a floor grate in the first hallway and returned to the tomb, then the statue room.

North of the magnetic statue, they found a magic fountain. Despite Obo’Laka’s warnings, Rayla and Baersora drank from the fountain. Its magic altered both of their bodies into males. Drinking again, they reverted back to their original female bodies*. They decided to take a moment to rest before pressing onward…

Not a bad first night in the Tomb of Nine Gods. I though using the statue’s magnetism to pin a cloak over the destructive element was a pretty clever way of dealing with that particular challenge. Anyone who thought the Tomb of Nine Gods was going to be a simple re-tread of the Tomb of Horrors should know better now, since the original adventure didn’t have nearly as many combat encounters (and usually killed people in the first corridor… though having a Passive Perception upwards of 21+ makes most traps really obvious even if the characters aren’t actively searching for them).

* As unlikely as it seems, I rolled the exact same result on the random table FOUR time in a row. I’m really souring on the tetrahedron-shaped d4s…

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 12

A new player joins us (Sobek’s player’s wife), bringing a tabaxi warlock to the party. We’re very happy scheduling finally allowed her to join our game and hopefully things will continue to work out in that regard. Obviously, if you’re just joining us, you’re going to read spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation.

After defeating the froghemoth, our intrepid explorers entered the Shrine of Kubazan. Between Herrick’s slippers of spider climbing and Sobek’s lizard-like agility, they had no trouble navigating the retracting planks and avoiding the spiked pit that covered much of the interior. In the pit, they found a stiff, crusty humanoid shape, perhaps a former explorer now covered in some sort of resin. Curiosity overcame them and they began chipping away, revealing a the furred form of a tabaxi. Awakening from some sort of stasis, the tabaxi introduced herself as Rayla. Unsure of how long she’d been trapped in the shrine, a location which did not feature in her last memories, she joined up with the group.

(After the DM gently reminded them about the puzzle cube they’d gotten too distracted by the new player to retrieve), they performed an Indiana Jones- swaparoo on the cube and left the shrine to continue their explorations of Omu. Several weeks passed*, during which they cleverly avoided vegepygmy mischief and tracked down most of the remaining puzzle cubes in the ruins of the city, defeating their guardians and solving the puzzles keeping them safe. The final cube they learned to be in the possession of one of the city’s yuan-ti, a wizard named Ras Nsi. The explorers tracked him to an amphitheater in the northwest portion of the city.

He shoots swarms of wasps from his mouth!

The mid-day sun shone down on the ruined amphitheater looming over the surrounding buildings. Vines clung to its steps, and animal statues lined its stands. The muddy ground outside was stripped clean of vegetation. They arrived just in time to see a huge bipedal creature with stubby arms roar and swing its thick, muscular tail around, smashing through a dozen skeletons. A bandaged man with the lower half of a great snake, presumably their quarry, Ras Nsi, slashed at the beast with a flaming sword, narrowly missing before the feathered reptile snatched him up in his jaws. With the sickening crunch of bone the King of Feathers bitten the yuan-ti half. Ras Nsi’s bottom half flopped to the ground with a spray of blood as his upper half, including his pouches and gear, disappeared into the great beast’s toothy maw.

If Ras Nsi indeed had the last puzzle cube, as they suspected, it was literally in the belly of the beast now. Heeding one of the bits of graffiti they saw when they first arrived in Omu (“All hail the King of Feathers”), Baersora prostrated herself and gave praise to the still-hungry dinosaur. The King of Feathers saw more morsels of food presenting themselves to him and charged.

Weeks of challenge in the ruins hardened the explorers, and despite being bloodied, they made short work of the King of Feathers**. Once he fell, Sobek dove right into to carving him up to find Ras Nsi’s remains and they recovered the final puzzle cube, as well as his gear. Rightfully, they distributed the yuan-ti’s possessions amongst themselves, cleaned themselves up, and sought out the location they believed contained the entrance to the Tomb of Nine Gods.

Two obvious entrances presented themselves. Without going into the minutia of exploring, experimenting, and such, they found the third, true entrance, solved the puzzle door for which they’d collected the nine puzzle cubes and entered the Tomb of Nine Gods***…

Starting next session, the fast-forwarding will cease and the group will begin exploring the final dungeon of Tomb of Annihilation in earnest. How far will they get before the Tomb of Nine Gods claims its first victim? Will any of them survive to see the lower levels? Time will tell. It’ll be interesting if they TPK because then the only real TPKs I’ve GMed since those early days of D&D 3.0 will have occurred in official WotC pre-written campaigns. Unlike some GMs (and apparently many GMs who came up through the editions having played since AD&D or earlier), I don’t see any particular appeal in TPKs or think it’s a thing to necessarily brag about.  Granted, the title of the adventure is Tomb of ANNIHILATION; maybe WotC writes their adventures for a different demographic of player (and perhaps they’re really written for larger than 4-5 player groups, though that is indicated no where in the material). Obviously, the most important thing is to have fun, but sometimes I feel like WotC’s D&D 5E hardback adventures have trouble getting out of their own way to allow groups to easily have fun. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve found a lot of the prep work for running these to actually be MORE work than writing my own material, and that was NOT the case with AD&D adventures.

I’m just sorry it took so long for me to realize that the style of prep and GMing that WotC writes these epic adventures for does not fit with my style particularly well. I found Tales from the Yawning Portal to be pretty good because you don’t have to absorb a 256-page book in order to properly set everything up and really know WTF you’re doing (that’s a HUGE amount of content for someone with a job who’s trying to write novels on top of that with all the other responsibilities of modern life). I’m going to give Ghosts of Saltmarsh a chance because I’ve heard it’s structured more like Yawning Portal, but with the adventures a little more interconnected. Hopefully, when running the first adventure, GMs won’t have to remember some esoteric bit of trivia in the final adventure in order to properly set things up (I’m not saying that there is a specific instance of this in ToA, but there are certainly things late in the adventure it’s useful to be familiar with (and remember) when you’re in the earlier parts).

I also found a really egregious editing error that not only stuck out to me, but to everyone in my group because the wrong word was used–“extruded” instead of “protruded”–when describing carvings on a wall. I know editing is challenging and no product is perfect, but you’d think someone would read the boxed text aloud during play testing to catch things like this. I cannot be the only one who noticed it. I normally don’t nitpick like this but dang, sometimes, you just get frustrated when people assume independent publishers churn out unedited crap (despite having receipts to the contrary in my case) and you get things like this from “professional” companies with on-staff editors. Damn, Wizard of the Coast frustrates me sometimes (don’t get me started on their PDF policies).

* I fast-forwarded past most of Omu and all of the Fane of the Night Serpent not because I didn’t like the content, but because after nearly 9 months of hiatus, I really want to move on to a new game, but the group generally wants to see their quest to the end. Understanding our typical pace, I know that exploring Omu and getting involved with the Fane of the Night Serpent would likely take the rest of the calendar year at least, to say nothing of the Tomb of the Nine Gods. Fast forwarding to the final dungeon, as it were, is a good compromise we agreed upon.

** This group hits HARD in round 1 of combat if they have initiative. 95 points of damage before the King of Feathers got to attack (it doesn’t help that I’m notoriously unlucky with initiative rolls for adversaries). The monstrosity fell in round 2, making me VERY glad I didn’t spend a lot of time and money to find/paint a miniature to look as awesome as the King of Feathers is described; I used the t-rex from Reaper Bones IV, assembled, but unpainted. For a mere two rounds of combat, that’s good enough, IMO. They were suitably awed/horrified by its special attack of summon swarms of wasps, presented as a sort of breath weapon. Logic be damned, how awesome is a feathered t-rex that shoots wasps (the assholes of bee-like insects) from its mouth?

*** I could spend paragraphs upon paragraphs on the tomb entrance, which is a clear homage to the triple entrance of the AD&D classic Tomb of Horrors. This way, I don’t spoil the solution to the puzzle cube door puzzle, but I will say that they found the solution to be not as impossibly interpretive as the one WAY back with the dude carrying the crocodile, but still required a little stretch of logic that wasn’t as clear as the designers might have thought. I mean, when you have to choose something to oppose “Truthful and Kind” do you automatically go to “Violent and Deranged” or “Selfish and Cruel?” When the clue reads “The enemies oppose,” well, like I said, it requires some stretching of logic. Who knows, maybe if we’d played through Omu and Fane of the Night Serpent the slow way, some of these things would have been more obvious, but based on what I now about puzzles in pre-written adventures, I doubt it. In my experience, puzzles in RPGs are great if a GM writes them for their group, but can be mind-bendingly frustrating if they’re written by someone thousands of miles away with zero connection to the group playing the adventure.

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