D&D

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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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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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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