D&D

Tomb of Annihilation – Session 14


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.

After a short rest, the explorers decided to finish searching the first level before taking one of the sets of stairs down. They found two more trap and puzzle-laden rooms containing artifacts bound to trickster spirits. Wongo pushed Obo’laka out of Herrick and Moa possessed Rayla by the time they’d completed their explorations. The possessing spirits were proving themselves to be more of a nuisance than a hindrance, however, and the group theorized that they may have to acquire the associated artifacts of all nine of them by the time they found the cause of the Death Curse.

They returned to the fountain room and experimented a bit more with the magic waters, discovering that not only could it alter the drinker’s gender, but it could both strengthen and weaken one, as well as render them unable to speak. Fortunately, Sobek’s ability to communicate effectively returned after a while and they resumed their delve.

They completed their exploration of the first level, leaving no nook unexplored, no cranny unpeaked in, before proceeding to the second level…

So, I left out a lot of room-by-room stuff. I can think of few things more boring than recapping each and every room of a 6-level dungeon, so I’m only going to do a greatest hits version. The only thing of significance I omitted was a magical mug Sobek acquired that featured a frowny face when empty and a happy face when full. This provided at least five solid minutes of amusement and he has now chosen to use it to aid in his emotiveness, since lizardfolk don’t have the most expressive faces. And yes, he got Inspiration for adopting the mug as part of his character’s expression because it was just that funny.

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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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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 11


After a long, long hiatus*, we’re back at it! The group voted to resume our D&D 5E Tomb of Annihilation game, picking up where we left off. However, since I want to get it done and over with, I came up with a plan to fast-forward through a bunch of stuff and get to the end game. Plus, the way I’ve done it lets us ease back into the game after 8 months of not playing (not so much a problem for half the group who were able to play in other games during the hiatus, but the other half needed a refresher and I have not run a game in all that time, either).

Our heroes arrived at Omu, at long last. After taking in the sight of the city below them and the billowing clouds of steam rising from the river into which a flow of lava poured, they made their way down to the streets. As they investigated the gatehouse, Baersora made note of graffiti on the walls, written in Common, unlike most of the rest of the writings they found in the jungle. Finding nothing else of note in the gatehouse, they proceeded into the city.

As dusk approached, they found themselves at a shrine. A sunken pool of water stood between them and the shrine, crossed by broken rope bridges. Shards of a toppled monolith formed stepping stones across the water, leading to a statue of a stone frog. Taking stock of the area, they saw they could walk around the pond and enter the shrine, but instead developed an alternate plan once Sobek saw what appeared to be an eye stalk protruding from the surface of the water.

Gale Force Nine’s mini I’ve been sitting on for 8 months waiting on this encounter. Mine isn’t quite as expertly painted.

Baersora cast Mage Hand and used it to flick the eyestalk**. With a roar and spray of muck, a froghemoth heaved it’s bulbous bulk from the water and attacked. While it did grapple and swallow Nali, she managed to cut her way out of its gullet and they defeated it. Sobek dug through the remains, certain that such a huge, swallowing beast had devoured something valuable at some point. His funktastic voyage proved fruitful when he found a solid metal rod featuring a single button. When he pressed the button, the rod became fixed in place and immovable. After healing Nali and cleaning up, they prepared to enter the shrine…

So, as I expected, this ended up being an abbreviated session. We had 8 months of catch-up B.S. to do since we had not all gathered together at the same time since our last game session. My wife’s stamina should improve over the next couple of weeks, but I expect we’ll have abbreviated sessions through May, possible June. We will also have a new player joining us next session, the wife of Sobek’s player. It works out well that they’re entering a section of the adventure that allows characters to drop in very easily.

* My post on January 9 summarized why this game went on hiatus. With my wife’s follow-up PET scan completed, it is confirmed that her cancer is in full remission. Sadly, less then a month after that post, we had to euthanize little Bendu (he was 9 months old) because he developed Feline Infectious Peritonitis (for which there is no treatment). It was, not to mince words, fucking heartbreaking.

When my wife’s mid-treatment PET scan came back clear and she first got word that she was in remission in March, she wanted another cat. So, we adopted a beautiful grey girl we called Ilia (after the Star Trek: The Motion Picture character played by Persis Khambatta). Ilia was one of several shorn woman (including Furiosa and Ellen Ripley in Alien 3… and I’m sure she’ll chime in with others I’ve forgotten) my wife used to convince herself losing all her hair was not the worst thing in the world (and certainly better than being dead).

** Poking the bear, as it were, was NOT the strategy I was expecting.

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The Isle of Dread

X1: The Isle of Dread… not quite as iconic as B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, but most players who started playing with B/X or BECMI are familiar with it. Like The Keep on the Borderlands, it was included in the Expert set boxes and was intended to show DMs how to run wilderness adventures.

As a sandbox, it doesn’t have much of a plot, per se. It’s an environment. Oh, there are hooks to get the PCs there, and most PCs, especially back in the days when treasure gave you XP, didn’t need much of a reason beyond “There’s treasure over there!” to go adventuring. Rory Barbarosa’s letter speaking of a great black pearl was all most groups needed to explore the Isle of Dread.

Goodman Games has re-printed this classic wilderness adventure in a hardbound tome containing three versions of the adventure: the first printing, the fourth printing, and a 5E update.

The differences between the 1st and 4th printings are less subtle than those in The Keep on the Borderlands. Mostly, some encounters have been replaced to make them more sensible. When I read that, the first thing I did was flip to the most infamous encounter to my home group: the flooded temple on Taboo Island. In it, several members fell prey to albino mako sharks. Saltwater fish, in a flooded temple on top of a mile-high plateau several hundred miles from the coast. That encounter has been changed (I had no idea there were multiple versions I ran it; I don’t think I have a first printing, but my copy is from the first three printings before the encounters were updated). Losing two characters to WTF sharks?? so demoralized the party, they retreated back to a village where one of the surviving PCs retired completely and it more-or-less rang the death knell for that campaign.

The meat of the module is unchanged between the three copies. There are still several unique tribes of creatures on the isle, from the arachnid Aranea, to the monkey-raccoon Phanatons, to the Lovecraftian Kopru, and more. Whether or not these tribes are friendly, hostile, or indifferent is up to the PCs’ approach and the DM (except the Kopru, those dudes are evil… but don’t let that stop you from joining the cult of an Elder God and taking over the world). There are dinosaurs, random encounters of the “OH CRAP, RUN!” variety (which kills many PCs because running is anathema to many players), environmental hazards, and mysteries.

Goodman’s 5E update preserves all of these, and provides more guidelines for use of the random encounters. For many groups back in the day (especially us young, self-taught groups), a random encounter was synonymous with random combat. So, if that die roll indicated a Wild Black Dragon appeared, then you were fighting a black dragon, even if you were woefully under leveled. If the DM was nice, they might let you run away. A lot of DMs weren’t nice (hence the reputation of Old School play for being adversarial Player vs. DM).

One thing I should point out, and this holds true for Into the Borderlands, too, is that while the original versions of these adventures printed in these books are cleaned up scans of the original (nicely cleaned up, in fact–that’s a lot of work), the 5E updates have good-sized print and are easy to read. My aging eyes really appreciate that.

Next month, at Gary Con, it’s expected Goodman Games will announce the next volume in their Original Adventures Reincarnated line. I’m having trouble thinking of any more BECMI adventures that are as iconic as B1, B2, and X1, but I look forward to the announcement (even though I won’t be there myself to hear it). Personally, I would LOVE to see an update of the AD&D adventures EX1: Dungeonland and EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (actually, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to work on that, because adore the Alice in Wonderland stories and wrote several papers on them in school, and I LOVE those adventures; I’ve worked one or both of them into campaigns I’ve run for just about every group of my adult life; and yes, that’s a hint if anyone from Goodman Games reads this :p).

I have one more Goodman Game’s reprint to showcase here: Metamorphosis Alpha. I’ll be reading that next, then… who knows? Something fun, something classic, something cool.

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Into the Borderlands

Recently, Goodman Games released a hard bound reprint/update of B1: In Search of the Unknown & B2: The Keep on the Borderlands called Into the Borderlands. It includes 2 different versions of the original publications, plus 5E updates of these adventures.

B2 was my first D&D experience back in 1982. The GM used it as the basis for the first 3E campaign I ever played in in 2001. I ran it for my first 4E campaign in 2008. I was really unfamiliar with B1, though. I’d heard about In Search of the Unknown, of course. I’d heard it was just an empty dungeon that DMs needed stock themselves and to pre-teen and teenage me, I didn’t see the point.

So, Into the Borderlands contains a reproduction of the original publication of B1, an updated reprint version, and a stocked 5E update of it. Naturally, you can strip out the 5E encounters to use your own (more in a minute on that). The original B1, indeed, is an unstocked dungeon, but don’t mistake that for just a map with empty rooms. Each room has a description rich with the history of what WAS. Why it’s there, what it was for when built. It gives you a good background to use when deciding how to stock the location. Are bandits looting it now? A team of historians? A tribe of bugbears? Are they just random looters, or related to the original builders?

So, B1 is much more robust than I ever thought it was. It includes suggestions on how to stock the rooms, as well. Goodman also includes 3 stocked versions by their designers before the 5E update. It also mentions that the designers intend the word “dungeon” to refer to ANY of the myriad unground complexes ripe for exploration and not just trap/monster-filled lairs of illogical coincidences or literal dungeons used as jails under castles. It makes me wonder if Monte Cook had this in mind when he expressly called the complex of lairs, caves, and ruins under Ptolus “The Dungeon?”

I’m sure almost everyone who’s been playing since the ’70s/early ’80s has their own memories of Keep on the Borderlands. Either the mad hermit in the wilderness, or the ogres that served as a serious wake-up call for unsuspecting adventurers. The Keep on the Borderlands is a beloved classic adventure. For many people (myself included), it is an integral part of our earliest D&D experiences.

One interesting thing I noticed in B1 is that the original 1979 map & text uses Roman numerals for the rooms, in excess of 40 described locations. The 1981 update keeps the Roman numerals on the map, but uses standard Arabic numbers in the text. That’s not confusing at all. Fortunately, the 5E update uses Arabic numbers on both the map AND the text. The 5E update also fleshes out a few locations mentioned on the map that were not covered in the 1979 or 1981 versions.

Included in this hefty tome are also three version of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Two of the earliest printings (including the one I have several copies of from my Basic sets), and a 5E update. B2 doesn’t seem to have changed all that much between printings, except for that minotaur illustration. The print run of B2 determined which minotaur you saw. If B2 was your first adventure, your first minotaur was either the Erol Otus minotaur chowing down on a chicken/turkey/??? leg or the Willingham armored minotaur. The armored minotaur was my first. Every copy of B2 I have features this guy, except now, for the first version of B2 included in Into the Borderlands.

Back when I first started playing D&D, B2 was the 1st adventure I ever played. We didn’t know what we were doing, so my fighter went through it cave by cave wiping out everything single-handedly. I had several notebook pages of loot. I don’t have any specific memories of running B2 from back in the day. I used it as the basis of my first D&D 4E campaign. It taught me that rooms FULL of monsters are A) hard to use on battlemaps and B) make for REALLY long 4E combats.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have just swapped out the monsters with their 4E counterparts, but 4E was such a shift in playstyle from what I was used to, I had no idea. The adventure itself, though, the Keep, the Caves of Chaos, the sandbox nature of it, but not TOO sandboxy, it holds up.

Into the Borderlands includes two old versions of B2 and a 5E update. Without scouring the text line by line, the only change that stands out to me between the old versions is the aforementioned Minotaur art (and the color of the cover). The 5E update of B2 has much the same content, though the encounters have been adjusted to account for close to a 1/2 dozen edition changes (depending on how you count). The ogre is still there, & the Minotaur, both of whom could be a nasty surprise. Back in the day, the monsters in the Caves of Chaos were there to be killed (and have their stuff taken). I’m sure there were group who weren’t unabashed murderhobos, but I didn’t know those groups. More RP is encouraged these days between the PCs and the “monsters.” There’s no reason everyone in the Caves of Chaos have to be devotees of the cult, no matter which edition you play.

Using the Caves as a competing non-human settlement with the Keep could make a pretty rich campaign. Another change I noticed was the Mad Hermit is now a Druid instead of a Thief, which makes more sense (the druids were an unknown class when B2 was initially published). Together with B1, B2 as republished by Goodman Games is more a mini-campaign setting than merely two classic adventures. Of course, they were all along, but it’s nice to be reminded of it. Maybe in the future, I’ll run a game set there.

Next, I’ll look at Goodman Games’s reprint/update of X1: The Isle of Dread. After that, I’ll have a look at their reprint of the original Metamorphosis Alpha.

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I’m still here

My Tomb of Annihilation game didn’t fade away; we missed a couple of sessions due to illness running around the group. Then, my wife’s sinus infection didn’t get better (my wife plays Baersora). The fevers didn’t subside.

They drew blood. They did MRIs, more blood, CAT scans, more blood, a bone survey, more blood (over 50 vials in all). For four months, a fever of 102°F+ every day. Just before Christmas, we got the dreaded diagnosis: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (non-Hodgkins). It was confirmed by a biopsy and a PET scan  that lit up her lymph nodes like a Christmas tree.

She got her infusion port implanted (she’s a cyborg now!) and on Dec. 21st my wife endured her first chemotherapy. Merry Christmas. They were still waiting on the results of a FISH test to determine whether or not she had a double-hit or triple-hit lymphoma which would change her one-day every three weeks chemotherapy (using the R-CHOP regimen) to a five-day in-patient every three weeks (EPOCH). Yesterday, the result of that test came back: NEGATIVE.

So, with a MASSIVE load off our shoulders, we prepare for her second out-patient chemotherapy in two days. Due to a variety of factors, the game is on hiatus until she’s past this (or she tells me she feels well enough to continue, which, I suspect, won’t happen until after her chemotherapy is finished.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Goodman Games’s Into the Borderlands and posting my thoughts about it on Twitter. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll compile them into a blog post for this site and then move on to The Isle of Dread.

Look for my Into the Borderlands post this weekend or early next week.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 10


After a week of travel or so, the group finally made their way across the marshy basin, finally arrived at the Heart of Ubtao. At first glance, there did not appear to be a way to ascend and explore the floating earthmote. A elf woman called down to them from above, inquiring as to their identities and purpose, then invited them up with an arcane doorway. She introduced herself as Valindra Shadowmantle. Sobek’s superior sense immediately identified her as undead and he was able to detect several others behind a closed door, as well. Valindra was interested only in talking, however, and told the group she, at the behest of her master, sought a relic in the jungle called the Soulmonger. Even now, she had minions searching for it, though she suspected it might be someone in the vicinity of Omu. Our heroes confirmed that they were headed for Omu and she seemed pleased as her minions had not yet investigated the lost city.

Sobek relayed to Baersora in Draconic that the woman was, in fact, undead disguised to appear living, and Baersora shared the information with her brother and Nali in Dwarven. At this, Valindra revealed that she spoke both Draconic and Dwarven and suggested they take this opportunity to part way peacefully, unless they intended to attack her. Despite Sobek’s misgivings about leaving undead undestroyed, they decided she was likely very powerful, perhaps a lich, and took advantage of her offer to part ways peacefully. She opened another arcane doorway for them to reach the jungle floor and bid them good fortune in their travels.

A few days after leaving the Heart of Ubtao, they veered of course from Omu to investigate something else they spotted while on top of M’bala. Lodged in the trees, about halfway between the Heart of Ubtao and Omu was a ship. A voice called down to them, asking for help, then shouted a warning as a corrupting ooze, a purple slime, and a mold zombie emerged from the surrounded muck. They fought off the oozes and undead to the gratitude of the marooned crew in the branches above. Their ship had crashed in the tree tops and they were injured, unable to descend and now, without food for four days. Sobek and Herrick worked to get everyone up into the ship where the captain, a cat-man (perhaps a Tabaxi) introduced himself as Captain Ra-Jareez*.

Their ship was a Spelljammer. He explained, in brief, how it flew and that their helmsman caught a tree branch through his face. Sobek shared some of his food with the remaining crew and they discussed how best to get down and back to civilization. Ra-Jareez was not keen on hiking through the jungle for weeks to reach Sasserine and eventually came up with an idea to build a raft out of the wreckage and attach the spelljamming helm to that. Unfortunately, they had no one to pilot the vessel. Ri-Tikki Stargazer perked up and suggested perhaps HE could learn to fly it. Ra-Jareez thought this was an excellent idea and gladly accepted the Kenku’s offer of aid.

After saying farewell to Ri-Tiki Stargazer, they proceeded uneventfully for another week or so, losing track of time as the days ran into one another until at long last, they approached the Lost City of Omu.

* The Wreck of the Star Goddess was originally a Halruaan sky ship. However, since I set Tomb of Annihilation in the World of Greyhawk instead of the Forgotten Realms, that really didn’t work for me. Personally, I think it should’ve been a crashed Spelljammer all along, so I just changed it. How did Ra-Jareez get another ship of his own and part ways with Captain Straxius and Sea of Stars, and how did he crash it in the Amedio Jungle? Well, that’s a story for another time. If you didn’t keep up with my Spelljammer game here, Ra-Jareez is not a Tabaxi, but is, in fact, a Nkosi from Midgard. He’s still an unlucky scoundrel, however.

Switching jungle travel to narrative mode was something I should have done several sessions ago, particularly when it became clear that the Gloomwalker Ranger Sobek’s class/racial abilities made overland travel in the jungle trivial (they cannot become lost and he automatically finds food and clean water). Moving, cat death, Gen Con, and new cat** provided enough of a distraction that I didn’t think of it until just last week. Things should progress much more meaningfully now. Plus, next session, they’ll be in Omu. Won’t that be exciting? (No spoilers if you’ve played/read it!)

** Yes, new cat. We adopted a kitten three weeks ago. He was born on May 4th (Star Wars Day!) so we renamed him Bendu. Our little Bendu bears little resemblance to the Tom Baker-voiced character in Star Wars Rebels, however. He spends our game nights going from person to person, wanting snuggles.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 9

The hiatus lasted longer than we intended due to player absences, but at long last, we have returned to the Tomb of Annihilation! When we last left our heroes, they had just discovered a secret passage leading out of a large chamber full of cat imagery (cat statues, cat murals, etc. etc.). Down they go…

The cramped passageway lead into a hallway containing multiple doors, after find a false door hiding a trap, they tried the double doors at the center. Beyond those lay a city in miniature, with rivers of molten silver. Despite the liquid metal flowing through the room, the air was chilled. Herrick stepped in and was immediately engulfed in flame, the victim of a trap. After tending to Herrick’s wounds, the group figured out the best way to explore the room and took the opportunity to claim some loot and recover from their trials so far.

After that, they tried the last door in the hallway and stumbled into a trap that teleported them back into the deep passages they already explored, they spent an hour or so retracing their steps to the cat room, where they chose a different door. This led them to a collapsing room with a great number of agitated baboons and a hole in the ceiling leading outside. Sobek calmed the primates and with the aid of Herrick’s slippers of spider climbing, they escaped the hidden shrine, choosing the jungle above over further exploration of the buried temple.

Unfortunately, the partially devoured carcass of their triceratops rotted as evidence of an undead hoard having passed over them while they were in the shrine. They gathered what supplies they could and proceeded into the jungle on foot.

So, I skipped an encounter with a doppelganger that would have totally killed Herrick (he was down to 1 HP after the fire trap). Mostly, because I did not want to adjudicate a combat by notes or by having everyone else leave the room (the layout of the upstairs where the game room is makes that impractical). Plus, I didn’t want to introduce an element of one of the PCs being replaced by a shapeshifter at this point.

They were specifically supposed to be unable to exit the underground complex via that room with the collapsed ceiling and baboons, but when they have the tools to make it work and there’s no non-arbitrary reason to allow it, then you have to go with it. Frankly, I don’t even mind, despite all the really interested stuff being skipped, because they earned the gear that they used to get out and it was a good use of their abilities (abilities most PCs did NOT have when that particular adventure was written).

It’s pretty clear at this point that no one (even me) is interested in sandbox jungle exploration, particular with the time limit imposed by the adventure (I’ve spoken about this problem at length in previous posts), so I think I’m going to switch the weeks of jungle hiking to narrative mode.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track now and be able to have many consecutive sessions of adventures.

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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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