Author Archives: hccummings

About hccummings

Here you will find out about Hans's writing and other projects. Feel free to leave comments. As time goes by, this site will become more sophisticated and hopefully, be able to provide you with all the information you need about his novels, short stories, and fantasy & sci-fi worlds.

Founders & Legends

My friend, Luke Gygax (sorry if it seems like name-dropping, but I have known Luke for years), is teaming up with Wizards of the Coast, Iron Wind Metals, and Dwarven Forge to reflect on the foundation of Dungeons & Dragons and celebrate its resurgence. You can watch it live on Twitch on Saturday, July 28 starting at 10AM PDT.

Read more about it at the Wizards of the Coast website here.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 8

After defeating a corridor full of zombies, our heroes decided to find a relatively safe location and rest for a bit. They returned to the secret door and fortified their position well enough to enjoy a brief respite. After their rest, the returned to their search for an exit.

The winding, maze-like corridors eventually led them to a room with two perfectly preserved bodies. When disturbed, the man and woman sprang to life, challenging the explorers first in Olmec, then in an antiquated form of common. They demanded a tribute for having had their glorious sleep disturbed. Dissatisfied with the party’s meager offerings, the two attacked.

Herrick chose to not deliver a fatal blow to the woman after they defeated her companion, hoping to interrogate her. Having been asleep for several thousand years, due to the silver powder they found near the pair, she, one of the Nacehual, or Achieved Ones, provided little useful information. The party did learn the name of the location onto which they stumbled, however: the shrine of Zotzihaaha in Tamoachan.

Having established that they were under in a sunken city from a long-vanished civilization, they agreed to let the monk return to her sleep, following her instructions to do so. More exploration revealed what appeared to be a tomb with dozens of statues in various states of disarray. Brief searching of the tomb revealed a few trinkets, but nothing else. Then continued their delving, eventually finding a route to a higher level. Through cautious exploration and clever planning, the party avoided traps which might have led to their untimely deaths.

When they arrived at a chamber dominated by a life-sized statue of a cat-man, an unsettled feeling came over them. They carefully searched until they found a secret door leading to a small, sloped passageway. Leaving the statue and various other curiosities in the room untouched, they prepared to investigate the chute….

I didn’t expect the PCs to try to interrogate the formerly-sleeping monk, and as always, I was hideously poor at handling the situation. I could have used it as an opportunity to drop some decent history, but I wasn’t really ready for that since I literally dropped this whole location into their adventure as a way to get back into D&D after the hiatus caused by moving.

art by Erol Otus

“The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan” (the classic AD&D adventure updated & reprinted in Tales from the Yawning Portal) fits pretty seamlessly into Tomb of Annihilation, though. It feels like a location that COULD be buried underneath the jungles of Chult (or the Amedio Jungle, since my version of the Tomb is in Greyhawk. In fact, until I wrote this (if any of my players read this far), I’ll bet they thought it was actually part of the Tomb of Annihilation book. This whole side-trek does serve a useful purpose in the overall ToA adventure, though; my PCs are speeding through the content too fast and while ToA is “supposed” to be deadly, I don’t want to say “Hey, suddenly you gain 3 levels” nor do I want to just have a dinosaur eat them because they beelined for the end game before they were ready. My players gamely bought into the “There’s a time sensitive curse and you only have X days before WE ALL DIE HORRIBLY FOREVER AND EVER” hook, perhaps taking it a little more seriously than the adventure writers expected (and that’s on the writers, not my players; don’t design your adventure around such a time sensitive hook if you really want things to be a wide-open sandbox). It’s fine with me. I’m not going to force them to take their time if they want to speed to the Save the World part. I do plan on giving them the tools to have a fighting chance, though.

Due to a player absence, this will be our last Tomb of Annihilation session until after we all return from Gen Con. We’re going to revisit our Blades in the Dark characters at the next session. Uxorious Gethsemane-Prince, the Crimson Crow, will scheme again!

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 7

The death of our cat right after this game makes me really not want to write this synopsis, so you’re getting the short, short version.
We rejoin our heroes exploring the buried tomb where we left off: in a room with crystalline walls and a beach. The woman they saw dove under water, but before they had a chance to figure out what was going on, a massive water creature rose from the pool and attacked. While the massive water creature was just a spell effect, the nereid and her giant lightning eel were not.

Still, our intrepid explorers prevailed. Sobek explored the pool and found some treasure and they found the exit across the water. After avoiding some, and not avoiding other, traps, they found a secret door in a long hallway, looted a bracelet from a sculpted eagle’s head and discovered a hallway lined with dozens of preserved corpses.

Naturally, no unnatural conglomeration of dead folks can just stay in one place and they fought a hoard of zombies in the tight confines of the corridor, emerging victorious and ready to continue their exploration of the underground complex in search of an exit.

Sorry for the brevity, but I was really off my mojo during the prime time to remember all of the details of the session and my motivation to do more than I just did still hasn’t returned. Hopefully, things will be better after the next game.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 6

Tomb of Annihilation banner

We return from our moved-induced hiatus and jump right back into the action.

Following the defeat of Nanny Pu’pu, the intrepid jungle explorers sequestered themselves in one of the remaining intact huts to rest. Once recovered from the fight with the pterafolk and the hag, they set off to descend the plateau and join up with their triceratops pack animal.

Much to their relief, Stampy survived being left to her own devices at the bottom of the plateau. After a brief discussion, they decided to head to Omu by way of the Heart of Ubtao. They set off across the Aldani Basin, making a beeline for the Heart of Ubtao. After humid first day, their second day was plagued by constant rain.

Late in the afternoon of the second day, they noticed flat, cut stones poking out through the vegetation upon which they traveled. It as as thought the wilderness swallowed an old road. Just then, then ground gave way beneath them. As Stampy scrambled to keep from falling in, the others failed, falling into the darkness. Only Sobek remained above ground. Once Stampy was secured, he lowered a rope to his companions.

The room in which they found themselves featured multiple diorama-filled niches as well as a central display also containing a diorama. Assuming this was a lost temple of sorts, the group decided to explore a bit before resuming their trek toward the Heart of Ubtao. After admiring the craftsmanship of the dioramas, they turned their attention to the lone door leading out of the room. They chose a brute force method of opening it and proceeded.

Unfortunately, they tripped a trap in the corridor which blocked the way back to the diorama room, forcing their decisions; the only way out now was through.

They avoided a fight with a giant crayfish and it’s giant hermit crab master, Kalka-Kylla, both of whom could speak, much to their surprise, looted a statues, and negotiated with a giant slug calling itself Tecuziztecatl, deftly avoiding fights with these giants invertebrates.

After nearly drowning when a flooded room disgorged its water into their corridor, they came across a room that seemed to contain a beach, completed with a scantily-clad singing woman, who dove out of sight upon their entrance. They pondered what this could mean compared to their previous encounters….

We stayed pretty focused on the game, much to my surprise. Normally, after a month off, we can expect to get very little done due to all of the catching up we have to do. Of course, most of the game group was able to help pack/move/set-up at various points over the previous 3-4 weeks, so it’s not like we didn’t see or talk to each other that whole time. The new game room isn’t completely set-up, but most of it is. This is half of the bonus room above the garage; the rest is climate-controlled attic. At some point, I’ll have storage along the walls for my Dwarven Forge and miniatures. Currently, all my board/tabletop games are being stored under the table. They may stay there; I may need the space behind the GM station for minis and terrain, plus, behind and to the left of where I’m standing in this picture, I have a painting table, which may or may not remain in this room.

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View from the DM’s station

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What the players see; there’ll be more storage at the rear of the room… eventually

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The Game Room Library Nook

Holy cannolis, can you believe there’s only three more game sessions before Gen Con?

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RPGs – The Final Sessions

Final in the sense that they’re the last games I will play in my current home. When next I play, I’ll be in my new house in my new game room.

2018-05-06 10.09.31For the last three sessions I’ve been a player, rather than GM. My GeekChic table is a sad remnant of it’s former self. Disassembly proved surprisingly easy; about 10 minutes of work with a helper (technically, I was the helper while someone more proficient than I figured out which screws to remove). I’ll be able to reassemble most of it by myself, needing help only to put the top back on the table (it’s there hiding under the blanket).

So, what did we play?
bladesinthedark

We had a crew of Bravos. I played a Tycherosi hound, Uxorious Gethsemane-Prince, aka Crimson Crow. His particular vice was pleasure, so I decided not only did he frequent brothels, he was also an employee of his favored one. I don’t remember all of the rest of the crew, because my notes are packed, but we had a Whisper (I think) whose vice was being possessed by ghosts.

Basically, we planned a heist of a jewelry store, summoning a few ghosts in the processes (which I gunned down in the guise of being a Good Citizen™ while the rest of my crew escaped with the goods). It got one of my prostitute friends and myself arrested and beaten (how else are they going to get answers from a demon-looking guy, right?), but no charges were pressed and we scored some coin, increased our rep, and made a rival gang look bad. The Barbican Bastards were on their way to becoming real players.

After that, we played:starfinder_1000x200

Ysoki_envoy_scoundrelThe adventure was Live Exploration Extreme!, kind of a “Naked & Afraid”-style reality show hosted by a ghoul that reminded one of our players of Xcrawl. I played an ace pilot Ysoki I named Zitch Twitchwhisker. Since it’s a published adventure, I won’t give away any plot (plus I was EXHAUSTED, so there are some elements, I realized last night when my wife was talking about it, that I don’t remember at all).

While, I have reservations about the system (low-level play is fine, but I suspect high-level play will still bog down like Pathfinder does), the adventure was a lot of fun. I resisted the urge to play an android because I know a lot of Benderisms would come out (I’ve been binging Futurama lately), and I didn’t want to disrupt the game with a hearty “Bite my shiny, metal ass!” I may have thrown in a “We’re boned!” or two, though.

Zitch was fun to play. He had ALL the skills: computers, engineering, piloting… everything I needed to be awesome. I may have been a little racist towards the ghouls, though and I definitely remember bullshitting a few of the NPCs at one point.

In summary, Blades in the Dark is awesome: would play again. Starfinder has a great setting, but I’ll bet once you get into the mid-high levels, problems I had with Pathfinder will rear their heads again, though since there aren’t as many supplements (yet), I’m sure rules bloat isn’t as big of a problem. I’d play low-level Starfinder again. I’d play or run D&D 5E in Starfinder’s setting in a heartbeat, though.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 5

Having reached the summit of the M’bala plateau, our heroes searched the village in which they found themselves. Two huts remained fairly intact; the rest lay in ruins. From the nearest intact hut, they heard a voice calling to them. A fair-haired, bedraggled young woman welcomed them to the village, such as it was, and wondered why they would climb to the top of M’bala. They explained they were looking for Nanny Pu’pu.

The young woman claimed to be her granddaughter and that Nanny Pu’pu was ill; stricken with the same plague that ravaged the rest of the village. She was on the mend, but it was safest for all that she remain isolated in the other hut at the far end of the village. She told our heroes that if they wanted to help, they could deal with the tribe of pterafolk nesting in a cliff on the other side of the plateau. The pterafolk killed the weakened villagers and were the primary reason she was alone with her grandmother now.

Our heroes weren’t entirely convinced the young woman was telling the truth, and in fact, suspected that she was Nanny Pu’pu. Despite their misgivings, they decided to investigate the pterafolk, asking the young woman to show them exactly where the cliffside nest was located. She led them to it, though it was not visible from on top of the plateau. She left them to their task and returned to the ruins of the village.

Herrick used his shoes of spider climbing and his natural charm to lure the pterafolk out of their cave nests and chase him to the top of the plateau where the rest of the group waited. While the pterafolk proved tougher than they expected, after a short battle, they eliminated their foes. Herrick returned to the cave to search for valuables and found a few trickets, as well as a kenku calling himself Ri-tikki Stargazer. The kenku was bound, waiting to become a meal for the pterafolk.

Ri-tikki told Herrick he was captured while trying to talk to the pterafolk. He showed the dwarf the rock chimney in the back of the cave that led back to the surface; an easier route than scaling the cliff. The kenku knew little of Nanny Pu’pu, so they returned to the village while keeping an eye on the former captive. When they returned to the village, they found a gnarled, bent old woman stirring a cauldron. She greeted them and it was evident to our heroes that this was the true form of Nanny Pu’pu. She was disappointed that they only killed the pterafolk in the lair; the ones out hunting would continue to be a problem for her.

She was all too happy to tell them she had nothing to do with the increase in undead activity, but she knew a place more likely to hold clues: Omu. She strongly suggested one or more of them stay for dinner. In reply, Herrick stabbed her in the face and in a brutal smackdown, they killed the hag*.

After scouring her hut for a few valuable baubles, they contemplated their next move: an expedition to Omu.

And that’s it for Tomb of Annihilation until after I move and get settled into my new home. There are still two game sessions left, but I can’t GM for a game I can no longer prep for (I had to pack up the game room and all my RPGs), so someone else is taking over the GMing with Blades in the Dark. I expect we’ll get at least two to three sessions of that before I’m settled into the new house well enough that I can resume Tomb of Annihilation.

The new gaming area will be more spacious. In the first photo, you can see the 20′ long room, looking into it from the doorway to the attic storage (also I’ll be GMing from this end of the room). At the far end of the room will be the drink/snack station (plumbing is roughed-in, but I don’t expect to be able to put in a bar sink just yet; that’s for future expansion). The table will sit centered under the two ceiling fans (you can see the boxes they’ll be mounted to). To the left is the library nook, pictured in the second photo. I’m currently designing a wrap-around book case to fit in that space which will hopefully fit all my RPG books. The right side of the room will have Ikea Trofast** storage units in which I can keep all my Dwarven Forge and small shelves on top for my miniatures (pre-painted cheap plastic minis will go in bins, and stuff I’ve painted will be on the shelves). The left side of the room will be board game storage, hopefully with BoxThrone units, once they become available.

I had thought about hanging art on the slanted walls, and while I know that’s possible, it looks complicated for someone who is not particularly handy. I may just leave them bare until I can do something else with them, like maybe murals. How cool would it be to attach molding to those slanted walls to look like windows looking out over a sylvan glade? I don’t want the room to be too dark (I like to game in the light), but I dream of it evoking a sense of fantasy wonder (without it looking like a dungeon, thought that was my very first idea).

* Took me by surprise, lemme tell ya. Thus far, she’d been a little creepy and talked of eating people, but had not actually done anything aggressive or even threatened them. They beat her down in two rounds; too little time for her to activate the flesh golem buried in a shallow ditch right next to them (good thing for them).

** My wife should be proud that I remembered the name on the first try this time; I’ve been calling them Trocar, Tropan, Trostar, etc…. everything except Trofast.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 4

After a too-long hiatus intended to prepare me for Gary Con culminating in my NOT going, we resumed our adventures in Greyhawk, playing WotC’s Tomb of Annihilation.

After spending a night in Camp Vengeance, our heroes embarked on a short trip (relatively) to Mbala, where Nanny Pu’pu was reported to live. They suspected she was behind the increase in undead roaming the jungles, and to aid in that investigation, the commander of Camp Vengeance sent two of his soldiers with them.

The jungle’s oppressive heat beat down on them, and with not even a cool breeze to provide scant relief, the journey proved exhausting. Mid-day, they came across a hut along the trail. Poking around, they determined it was not abandoned per se, but merely unoccupied at the moment. They found evidence that a druid lived in the hut and leafed through her journal. She spoke of a friendship with an aarakocra who gifted her with a feather, and that she left to rescue friends from yuan-ti, but nothing leaving a clue to her whereabouts or that of the snake-people she sought.

They left the hut behind and continued for the rest of the day, making camp near a river they would have to cross in the morning. Shortly after dark, they heard noises from the jungle. A baboon approached the camp, then another. Then another and another and another until they were surrounded by dozens of the primates. A rock flew and the baboons attacked!

During the fight, a towering four-armed ape emerged and joined the fray. Though its attacks were brutal, Nali began to wear the gorillon down. Herrick noticed the beast wore and earring, and in a spectacular feat of agility, he climbed up its back and yanked it from its’ ear in the hopes that it would sever its control over the baboons.

That didn’t work, but within a few more rounds, it fell and the rest of the baboons fled into the jungle. Upon examination, they saw the token resembled that described in the druid’s journal, yet they still had no clue as to her whereabouts.

The next morning, the continued to Mbala, reaching the plateau around mid-day, then spent the rest of the day following the winding trail to the top. When they reached the summit, they were greeted with a wooden gate, surrounded by piles of human skulls….

I spoke of this on Twitter and Facebook, but this is the first edition in which I’ve found it more work to run pre-published material than to just make it up on my own. The difficult lies in the lack of guidance in the adventure books themselves. It would be helpful if Wizards of the Coast would include an outline of the plot points character should hit, or an adventure flowchart of some sort. Blogs and Third Party Publishers (3PP) have stepped in to fill gaps, but still, I shouldn’t have to pay a third party for something that the adventure ought to include.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the expectation that if I buy a $50 adventure book (or however much you spend on it), I should be able to spend less time prepping a session, but it seems like they expect me to study a 256-page tome thoroughly before even starting the first session. I think it would be more reasonable to have a section at the beginning outlining (i.e. NOT pages of dense paragraphs will superfluous information) how the adventure is intended to go, followed by information on getting started on session one. Time is at a premium for many GMs and if they think buying an official hardcover adventure is going to save them time (as I have foolishly done on more than one occasion), they’re sorely mistaken.

It’s one thing to say “Read through this adventure before running” when you’re selling a 16, 24, or 32 page adventure. But, when it’s 256 pages, that’s like insisting someone read the novel before going to see the movie; you’re going to lose a lot of people. Still, I’m going to keep at it once I get moved. Maybe I’ll switch tactics and use the book as more of a guide rather than even pretending it’s an adventure module I can run straight out of, because clearly, most of these hardcovers WotC are producing are unsuited for that purpose, despite what they claim.*

*This is all my opinion. If you disagree, great, but you’re not going to change my experience by telling me I’m wrong.

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Gary Con X

Since I mentioned prepping for Gary Con X in my last blog post, I thought I should at least do my customary post-con write-up.

I didn’t go.

A water main broke under our driveway and we discovered the leak two days before we were due to depart. 3 days without water and nearly $4,000 later, it was fixed. As a result, we made the decision to cancel our trip to Gary Con. Since we’re currently building a new house, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Instead, I worked from home for three days while workers came and went. I also got a lot of packing done for our upcoming move. Significant progress has been made on that front which wouldn’t have been done until after I returned from Gary Con, so I guess that’s good.

This Friday, we’ll return to our D&D game for session 4 of Tomb of Annihilation. After session 5, I may have to take another hiatus to finish packing and actually move. If that is the case, games will resume around Memorial Day from my new home and new game room.

 

 

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 3


We join our heroes in Camp Righteous. There will be spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation, if that isn’t clear by the post title and subject.

Batari goblins awaited our heroes as they fled the collapsing shrine. While the battlestacks intimidated them at first, they soon cut the gobbos down to size and defeated the snarling, smelly humanoids. After determining the goblins hadn’t injured their triceratops, now named Stampy, they searched the camp again. Sobek surmised the goblins were not the perpetrators of the attack on the camp, nor were they guardians of the shrine; they were simply a wandering band seeing an opportunity for looting.

The group found survivors’ tracks leading further along the river, and followed them. After another day of rainy travel, they encountered a group of adventurers from Sasserine clustered around a tortle showing off his shell. After their anti-social counterparts departed, the tortle greeted the heroes. He introduced himself as Baka, a jungle guide. A map of the jungle was carved in his shell, and he traded information with the heroes. He told them of a location nearby he called The Stairs to Nowhere, and told them about the hag at the Mbala ruins, Nanny Pu’pu. They decided to stay the course and continue following the trail. Baka thought it was possible the tracks lead to Camp Vengeance, a few more hours up the river, and they surmised that the hag was a possible candidate for the cause of the undead troubles.

They arrived at Camp Vengeance and were permitted entry. The Commander, a human native of the area and staunch worshiper of St. Cuthbert immediately attempted to conscript them into his service. As far as he was concerned, nothing they were doing was as important as going on patrol in the jungle to combat the undead. He knew nothing of the curse they’d been told about in Sasserine and didn’t care; people who died should stay dead and he was going to make sure as many as possible would do so. Fortunately, he was not entirely unreasonable, and Baer was able to convince him that their next destination, Mbala, might prove to put a stop to the undead scourge once and for all. He agreed to send two soldiers with them, and they settled in for the evening.

Camp Vengeance is encounter about which I have mixed feelings. As it is written, it seems like the writers think the PCs will have no problem whatsoever being conscripted by a commander who has piles of smoldering corpses just outside his compound. Yeah, you can assume the bodies are of undead, but once they’re in a burning pile, how can you really tell if they were undead or if they’re just the bodies of people who pissed him off. Plus, the fact that he just assumes the PCs are his to command, regardless of the circumstances and it’s written so that he will just outright arrest anyone who says “Screw you, man, we don’t work for you!”, well, that has the makings of a very ugly situation. The camp could easily turn into a TPK for an independent-minded group. I’ve never gamed with a group of players who, when confronted with an belligerant NPC who insists they now work for him, go along with it right away. “Yeah, OK! Cool, we’re now conscripts. Awesome!”

On the other hand, it could have been really interesting to see what happened if they set Stampy on a rampage inside the compound; Camp Vengeance’s stockade is strong enough to stop a rampaging triceratops from the outside, but is full of tents and squishy people inside.

So, that’s two major locations in two consecutive sessions in this adventure so far that I’ve come away thinking “How the F— is this supposed to be fun for the players?”

Also, I want batari battlestack minis. I had ZERO luck stacking my existing goblin minis, and if I had, that would have been AWESOME.

We will now be on a multi-week hiatus as I prepare for Gary Con X. Next session will be a playtest of one of my D&D adventures, “Fairy, Faerie, Quite Contrary” and the session after that will be a Cyborg Commando playtest so I’m familiar with the rules for the game I’ll be helping run a tournament of.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 2


We join our heroes in the Amedio Jungle (or the Jungles of Chult if you think this should be in the Forgotten Realms), after having a dinner and breakfast of roasted (or raw, in Sobek’s case) allosaur. There will be spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation, if that isn’t clear by the post title and subject.

The next day, they pushed south, following the river deeper into the jungle. Camp Righteous, their ultimate destination lay several days away through difficult terrain. Fortunately, Sobek’s expert guidance allowed them to make better time than perhaps they would have.

While most of the journey proved uneventful, they did have a brief, though harrowing encounter with a swarm of stirges before being approached by some druids who warned them away from the jungle interior. The druids explained the increasing numbers of undead taking over the deepest parts of the jungle, though they knew nothing of the curse Syndra described. They parted ways amicable and the next day, arrived at Camp Righteous.

Rather than a camp full of pious knights, as they expected, they instead found the remains of an abandoned camp. Some force or creature clearly attacked the occupants of Camp Righteous, though it appeared as though some of the defenders escaped into the jungle. After searching the camp for clues, they turned their attention to the large statue of a man carrying a crocodile. A tunnel extended into the hillside upon which the statue was built.

They proceeded into the hill. Herrick fell into a large pit just over the threshold. After helping him out, they proceeded with more cautions and successfully crossed a puzzle-tile floor section only to be stopped at a near-duplicate tile puzzle upon a huge stone door. After much trial-and-error and a few missteps which almost resulted in Herrick’s death by thunderwave and fire trap, they opened the door to the inner chamber. Spiral stairs surrounded a pillar atop which perched an ornate jug. Deducing that there was yet another puzzle in this room, Baer and Nali retrieved the jug with no mishaps until they slipped on the stairs on the way down, triggering the trap and causing the entire chamber to collapse.

The heroes fled the crumbling ruins, avoiding the falling stone blocks and rocks only to be stopped short by a 9′ tall stack of goblins barking at them in their guttural language…

And we come to the first puzzle in Tomb of Annihilation where the PCs can waste MASSIVE amounts of time if they’re not on the same wavelength as the adventure writer. Technically, all the clues are in the story of Man and Crocodile, but what is required is for two characters to team up in a way that really most groups don’t think of, in my experience. Needless to say, my group was not a fan of this puzzle (“It sucked!” is an exact quote). In retrospect, once it because clear to me they were spinning their wheels, I should have just had them roll Intelligence checks to see the solution to keep the game moving.

Live and learn.

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