Posts Tagged With: D&D

Tomb of Annihilation Session 24 & Wrap Up

I’m not going to do a room by room breakdown of the exploration, but there will still be spoilers for the Tomb of Nine Gods section of Tomb of Annihilation. I also don’t want to spoil some of the details of the final dungeon, so like Innigo Montoya, I will sum up.

The Sewn Sisters had little interest in negotiating with our heroes, particularly since their delicious souls would be a delectable meal for the infant god they served and the sisters had already watched the group destroy their constructs. Despite their efforts however, the hags were no match for the intrepid band of explorers. As soon as the last of the Sewn Sisters fell, they heard an unearthly wailing from the adjoining chamber.

With no time to waste, they charged into the next room, where a giant embryonic creature floating above a pit of lava, connected to eldritch machinery. They knew they faced the Atropal and the Soulmonger at last. The battle was challenging, but they were up to the task. The vorpal axe wielded by the Paladin didn’t hurt, either. Naturally, once they defeated the god-thing, its creator, Acererak showed up to obliterate his foes.

They destroyed him, as well, though they knew it was only his physical body they destroyed. Acererak endured, his spirit fleeing to a phylactery on another plane.

The Death Curse was ended.

The final battles would have been more challenging if I hadn’t had a brain fart and gotten Legendary Actions and Lair Actions confused (though Acererak couldn’t take Lair Actions, he could still use his Legendary Actions). Oh well, it was still pretty epic, and it would have been massively uncool for me to say “Oops, we have to do that last fight over again.” Besides, we were running late and I wanted to finished ToA in 2019.

Next up is our annual Doctor Who game, in which I play time-traveling scientician Dr. Cornelius Constance, along with his companion, Jenny, the Doctor’s Daughter (I’m sure she sees it the other way ’round). There are other character, too, of course, but I don’t remember their names from year-to-year (sorry). After that, we start Ghosts of Saltmarsh. And with that, this blog will have come full circle. The first RPG session I wrote about in this blog was the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh which I ran using BECMI D&D some 7+ years ago under my original DoctorStrangeRoll concept (in which I would run the same classic adventure under each edition for comparison). Well, that didn’t work out quite like I intended, but the game goes on nonetheless.

This is it for my Tomb of Annihilation write-up, but keep reading for a summary of my thoughts. Not really a review, not really a rant, but some unholy amalgamation of the two.

This has been the second longest campaign I’ve run in my modern era of gaming* (which I define since I started gaming with my wife and blogging about it, going back to 2012). Prior to this, the only 5E “mega-campaign” or event book (however you want to refer to these big adventures Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is publishing) I’d run was Hoard of the Dragon Queen (HotDQ).

I dismissed organizational and structural problems with HotDQ as the result of it being the first tent-pole adventure for a new edition written by a third party publisher who had to work with incomplete versions of the rules. I’d skimmed subsequent adventures, but didn’t do anything with them. I realized while running Tomb of Annihilation (ToA), my problem was, in fact, with the way the adventures are structured and organized. I’ve written about this in past blog posts.

The way adventures like ToA are structured, elements that don’t come into play until later in the adventure need to be foreshadowed at the beginning of the adventure. This isn’t always made clear to the DM in the sections where it’s relevant. Instead, they’re expected to remember that later in the book, there is a reference to something that needs to be foreshadowed earlier. It’s one thing to ask DMs to read and familiarize themselves with an entire 32 page adventure before running it. 260 pages is something else entirely. Asking people to reading, absorbing, and remember details of an adventure that complex is unreasonable without better organization and cross-referencing. When you have a job, family obligations, other hobbies, etc., it becomes a nigh-impossible task. Publishers on DM’s Guild have released supplements that alleviated some of these problems, even providing flow charts so a DM can see at a glance what the structure of the adventure is supposed to be. However, I resent having to rely on third parties to provide me with information that should have been in the main book to begin with. I hold up Monte Cook’s Ptolus as an example of how to make a huge book usable. Granted, it’s a city campaign setting more than an adventure, but many adventures would benefit from its structure. It’s much larger than ToA, but when an NPC or location is referenced in a section where it’s not obvious how they might fit it or it’s not immediately evident why they’re relevant, a side bar contains a cross-reference to other parts of the book with corresponding information. An opposite example occurs in HotDQ. There is an early encounter with one of the Big Bad’s minions. The stat block in the back of the book for that minion indicates they possess a particular artifact. The encounter at the beginning doesn’t mention it, but does point you to the stat block. Later in the book, they can find that particular NPC’s main lair (at a point after which they likely have defeated that NPC). It is in THAT description that you learn the the NPC does NOT carry the artifact with them so if they defeated the NPC early, you might think the PCs now have the opportunity to acquire that artifact (as I did) when, in fact, the NPC shouldn’t have had it in that encounter at all. This information isn’t presented in the same section or given any cross-referencing, but is spread throughout three different sections of the book and a group could go MONTHS between exploring the two locations.

It’s a huge problem. Even if I had absorbed the entirety of HotDQ prior to running it, the chances are slim of me remembering a one-sentence piece of trivia late in the book saying “So-and-so keeps [The Artifact] here for safe keeping. They do not carry it with them” at the point MUCH earlier in the adventure when the NPC is encountered. This is part of the reason why I found prepping games for Tomb of Annihilation (and HotDQ to some extent), was, in fact, MORE work than I did when I ran my 28-session long 5E Spelljammer game. If I buy something that’s being advertised as an adventure I can use in my game, but it makes more work for me, then I question whether or not it’s a good investment. Perhaps if I had run Princes of the Apocalypse or Out of the Abyss right after HotDQ, I would have realized this problem earlier.

Tales from the Yawning Portal, being a compilation of unrelated adventures, doesn’t have this problem. A DM can just run the adventure they want and not have to worry about forgetting about an important piece of trivia on page 120 when they’re only on page 20. I’m hoping Ghosts of Saltmarsh (GoS), which is a compilation of adventures, some of which are related to each other and others that have a more tenuous relationship, will be similarly useful. Of course, the open nature of the sea means that once the characters get a ship, they could go completely off the rails and never return to the material in the book.

If I had to start ToA over again, I’d change the premise. I’d ditch the benefactor in the beginning who tells the PCs of the Death Curse and the time limit and find a way to incorporate it organically, so they can explore the jungle at their leisure. As it was presented, my players took the time limit and ran with it in a “No time for love, Dr. Jones, we have to save the world!” attitude. They left the city in the first session and headed into the jungle, never to return. Since one of the characters (Sobek, the outlander lizardfolk Gloomwalker Ranger) was built to trivialize overland travel, keeping track of provisions and whether or not they got lost was pointless. Sobek would never fail to find food and could never get lost. At that point, keeping track of weather was about all I could do, and it quickly became tedious busywork that added nothing to the adventure.

ToA wants to be a sandbox of exploration, but also wants a sense of urgency for the main quest, and these are mutually exclusive. The major sites in the jungle are weeks of travel away from each other, so, doing anything other than making a straight bee-line for the place you think holds the solution (once you find it, which could take a while; I had to actually ask other DMs where it was in the book so I’d be sure to direct my players there), is pretty stupid. My players are never going to see some of the more interesting content because it lay in the opposite direct of where the quest led them.

As a DM, I found the last part, the big dungeon crawl in the Tomb of Nine Gods, to be pretty uninspiring. There are some clever puzzles and encounters (along with a bunch of really obtuse puzzles that frustrated my players and one that requires them to split the party) , but I spent the sessions since we started gaming again after the cancer hiatus just being a rule arbiter, rather than doing any role playing. They shot the one NPC (Withers, who was going to attack them eventually anyway) who would actually talk to them in the face mid-sentence. The cursed skull following them around was fun, but I lack the ability to inflict a constant stream of annoying insults at a player (and NO DM I know can keep it up constantly as that skull was supposed it). So, I spent nine months wishing I could play, then immediately picked up with a game where there were no real NPCs to speak of for me to use to interact with my players.

I think it would be more accurate for WotC to advertise big adventures like HotDQ and ToA as campaign supplements rather than adventure. They cannot be run out of the book as DECADES of adventures before them could be. It’s unreasonable to expect DMs to memorize 260-page books before running them. Hopefully, the more episodic nature of GoS will alleviate some of my issues with WotC’s adventures. I skimmed through the new one, Descent to Avernus the other day, and I noticed it had a flowchart in the beginning showing the expected adventure progression. Maybe they’re learning. It’s also possible that their products just aren’t for me. If that’s the case, it’s fine. I have plenty of materials I can use to create my own adventures. I could probably play 5E for the rest of my life using only what I have right now and never repeat myself.

* I had a break in my gaming after my first wife died in 2008, almost four years without a group to speak of. I’ve been gaming since 1982, though, so don’t think I’m some neophyte who’s only been playing since D&D 5E came out.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 23

I’m not going to do a room by room breakdown of the exploration, but there will still be spoilers for the Tomb of Nine Gods section of Tomb of Annihilation. I also don’t want to spoil some of the details of the final dungeon, so like Innigo Montoya, I will sum up.

After taking a rest to recover from recent challenges, our heroes descended to yet another level of the Tomb of Nine Gods (the 6th level, if you’re keeping track). They entered a large room with a bubble cauldron filling the room with a thick green smoke. Stairs on either side lead up to an elevated walkway along the sides of the room. They saw several doors on either side, along with a giant carved stone door blocking further progress. Three animated dolls approached the group after the placed the lid on the cauldron and warned the group that the Sewn Sisters wouldn’t like it if they caught them there.

At first, they ignored the dolls and explored the room. They found a misshapen twin of Baersora in a cage. Thinking her  to be a doppelgänger at first, they interrogated the naked dwarf only to discover she knew everything “their” Baersora knew. The dolls repeated their warning and our heroes took a moment to talk to them. They were created by the Sewn Sisters, but weren’t allowed to leave this room, so they didn’t know anything about what lay beyond, except that the surrounding rooms contained tests.

They also noticed the giant door had covered keyholes that matched the skeleton keys they had collected as they explored the tomb. Having had enough of the dolls pestering, they destroyed them, then decided to take the tests.

One by one the group defeated the challenges of the tests, each one uncovering a skeleton key lock. They prepared to unlock the giant door when the Sewn Sisters appeared around their cauldron, having watched the whole time from the Ethereal Plane….

I didn’t have a lot of time to foreshadow the Sewn Sisters, since they sped through the jungle exploration (and since the book does a piss-poor job of mentioning them much before you get deep into the Tomb of Nine Gods). This is an excellent example of something that could have been mentioned in myriad sidebars at appropriate times throughout the text saying something like “This is a good place to foreshadow the Sewn Sisters (then give examples), but that would make this adventure more DM-friendly and Tomb of Annihilation is from the era of assuming the DM has studied this very lengthy, sandboxy adventure extensively before running it and remembers everything that is supposed to happen months ahead of time.

I went ahead and drew out the rest of the dungeon on Gaming Paper. It’s too hard to create in Dwarven Forge and I didn’t want to draw it on the fly; that bogs things down and I hope to finish ToA next session. We’ll see.

There’s only two more scheduled games this year. Our last game of the year will be another Doctor Who Christmas Special (or maybe New Year’s, depending on what the GM comes up with). It’ll be nice to play Doctor Who again.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 22

I’m not going to do a room by room breakdown of the exploration, but there will still be spoilers for the Tomb of Nine Gods section of Tomb of Annihilation. I didn’t have a chance to write this before GameHole Con and now I’ve forgotten the details, so this will be a brief summary.

The explorers defeated the rest of the monsters summoned by the cabinets and raised the portcullis. It led them to a corridor that seemed to be cursed to destroy all non-magical clothing and items, so those least affected by that scouted ahead and found stairs leading down and, in another room, what looked like a giant chain vanishing into planar vortices: a Mechanus chain. They surmised it was helping operate the complex traps within the tomb, but they had to deal with a swarm of quadrones and a pentadrone before proceeding with their exploration. Beyond the chain, they found another room with an odd sphere contained within an orrery of sorts, as well as a crawl way that led back to the control room. A lever caused the console they’d so judiciously avoided manipulating to slide out of the way.

The group reconvened and went the long way ’round, using the crawl way to all gather in the room with the orrery. Baersora entered the sphere and manipulated the controls, adjusting the orrery’s depiction of the solar system and summoning a yugoloth. Despite wielding a vorpal greataxe, it proved little challenge for the heroes.

After the battle, they contemplated if they had thoroughly searched this level before descending to the next…

Yeah, it’s short. Like I said, I didn’t have a chance to write this up before I left for GameHole Con. I think I hit all the important bits. We’re in the home stretch now; I think we’ll be able to wrap up Tomb of Annihilation this year and start on Ghosts of Saltmarsh by January at the latest. Next session, there may be a few key absences, so I plan on play testing a D&D B/X adventure I’m writing for Gary Con. November 22nd’s game should see us return to ToA.


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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 21

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 recovery from their battles with the minotaurs, the explorers decided to continue delving and descended to the next level. After a brief discussion, they chose to climb down the shaft where Herrick died, rather than take the circular stairs they found near the room with the zombie t-rex and zombie artists.

They secured a rope to the base of one of the gargoyles and descended to the next level. They entered into a water-filled cavern and saw three giant gears beneath them. Upon each gear stood a pentagonal structure. They dangled above one overgrown with weeds and vines and dropped down into the room. Once down, they saw only two points of egress. They chose to investigate the southwest exit first.

This led them down a corridor with some viscous slime obstructing their path. They jumped over it and spotted a secret door, as well as writing on the ceiling that read “AWAKEN NAPAKA.” They recognized the name as the deceased queen in the small trap-filled crypt that almost killed them all and decided to investigate the secret door.

Behind the door, they found another slime-choked corridors, but managed to avoid it as they followed it to a set of spiral stairs that led up and a door that led out into the cavern. They confirmed the stairs were the ones they didn’t use on the prior level and went into the cavern. Stairs led to a pier to which two rowboats and a steel cage were tied. The door closed behind them. The door closed behind them and sprouted a pair of lips which shouted at them “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” (it actually said “I’m so hungry I could eat you alive, but I’ll settle for somethin’ else. Somethin’ livin’. Somethin’ light!”) Sobek tossed one of his ever-present hunks of meat at the door, but it spat it out and attempted to snare the lizardfolk with its tongue*.

Having avoided being devoured by a door, Sobek and Kalvok entered the water to do some scouting. They chose to avoid the rowboat, having assumed they were trapped or cursed in some way. They saw some phosphorescent crabs scuttling about below the pier and Sobek gathered some up. They continued to swim around the cavern, finding the bottom of a waterfall (which they assumed was the one they encountered in an upper level) and spotting a slothful aboleth lounging at the bottom of the underground lake. It took no notice of them and they returned to the pier. Sobek fed the door a crab and they were allowed to reenter the stairwell.

They returned to the foliage-filled room and took the northwest path. Draconic frescos covered the walls, and more slime pooled on the floor, but they didn’t see anything of immediate import or danger. An exit led to the northwest led to a short corridor that took them to a control room of sorts. Reluctant to touch the controls for fear of flood the level with slime or unleashing some other form of hell upon themselves, they backtracked to the corridor with the secret door and explored the corridor beyond the words carved into the ceiling.

More slime pooled in the floor and they saw a curtain obscuring the eastern end of the hallway. They disposed of that and found a four-armed gargoyle statue. One of its arms was broken off and lay on the floor. After a few moments of investigation, they decided they didn’t have enough information about it to do anything productive, so they explored the western end of the hallway. Various relief carvings adorned the location and they found a jackal-headed carving holding a box that had a keyhole. They worked out the jade key they’d acquired earlier fit and found a secret crawlspace that led them behind the western wall. Some sort of large, stone, wheeled construct abutted the wall, but behind it, they found a shelf containing a lustrous, spiked ruby the size of a human fist. They absconded with the treasure and returned through the crawlspace to the hallway and then back to the control room.

A second examination of the controls gave them no further information, so they squeezed through the gaps between the pentagonal chambers on the gears and the connecting corridors and climbed along the gears on the outside**. Taking care, they climbed along the outside to the third, as-yet unexplored cog. Inside, they found an exit to the north barred with adamantine portcullis and an exit to the southeast. The pentagonal chamber itself had a couple puddles of slime and five wardrobes, each adorned with different art. Embedded in the wall above the portcullis were five red crystals shaped like drops of blood.

After a brief discussion, they decided to open the wardrobe with a carving of an ornate clock on the door. Beyond the door, they saw giant gears and cogs stretching as far as the could see and a spherical creature with splindly legs and small wings tumbled out. It flailed in confusion and tried to reenter the wardrobe to no avail. Thinking quickly, Sobek attacked it, destroying it and causing one of the red crystals to illuminate.

They knew then the would have to defeat something from each wardrobe to illuminate all the crystal and presumably lift the indestructible portcullis. Next, they chose the wardrobe carved with an army of orcs fighting hobgoblins. Many orcs spilled forth, but were quickly dealt with, illuminating a second crystal.

Third, they chose the wardrobe depicting ghouls gnawing on bones. Bright glowing balls of light appeared behind them. They dealt with the will-o’-wisps and contemplated which challenge to face next: whatever came forth from the wardrobe showing a night hag or the one showing twisted, screaming humanoid faces wrapped in chains…

So, I was convinced this level would cause my group no end of frustration. Their out-of-the box exploration made things much easier on me (and them). I think by the end of the next session, they’ll be ready to descend to the final level of the dungeon and I’m confident Tomb of Annihilation will be completed, one way or another, by the end of the year. After they’ve finished, I play to have a bit of a breather by play testing a couple of adventures I’m preparing for Gary Con: “Into the Wasteland” (a Fallout adventure using FFG’s Genesys system) and “The Eldritch Thing” (a D&D B/X adventure). Depending on how long wrapping up ToA takes, it’s possible we’ll be ready for the next campaign by the first session of January 2020.

* If I played this exactly the way it was written, Sobek would have been automatically eaten by the door, no to-hit roll needed, no saving throw granted. I do not like auto-hit, auto-effect traps like that. It’s an F-you to players that discourages experimentation. Plus, none of the boxed text actually mention that there are discarded crab shells strewn on the landing and stairs, which is an important clue to go along with the words the door says. It IS mentioned elsewhere in the text, but it’s a failure of editing that it’s not information included in the boxed text since it does mention everything else about the location, including the phosphorescent crabs IN the water, which they wouldn’t necessarily see from the top of the stairs… ugh.

** There is nothing I read that indicates this is not possible. The top of the rooms on the gears ARE open to the cavern and the included maps show a gap that characters should be able to squeeze through, assuming that detail is the same scale as the rest of the map. Whether or not the designers intended for this bit of outside-the-box thinking or not is irrelevant; I have no problem with it. Besides, with slippers of spider climbing, an immovable rod, and rope, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from simply climbing out of a room through the roof, so it doesn’t really matter.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 20

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.

This set up has the right monsters at the correct scale, but the room is TWICE as large as the adventure says it is.

As the mirror shattered, all the creatures trapped within spilled out into the room. Each exploded in a shower of gore as one followed, then another, and another, until all that remained was a blood and guts covered man, standing trembling amidst the carnage. As the explorers took stock of what had just happened, they determined the man’s name was A’tan, but it seemed that centuries of being trapped in the mirror robbed him of his faculties; he spoke only gibberish.*

They took some time to rest before continuing their explorations. They returned to the room with the giant four-armed gargoyles and followed the main corridor exiting that room to another green devil mouth. This one contained only a lizard, an ordinary lizard that a druid awakened. The lizard explained that some human explorers intended to use it to check areas for traps, but it ran away and hid and just wants to escape the tomb. Kalvok allowed the lizard to ride on his shell as they continued their explorations.

A nearby secret door led to a room with a red candle that, when they removed it from its sconce, caused lava to start pouring into the room. They hastily shut the door and abandoned thoughts of examining that space, turning their attention toward nearby stair that led to a stone slab similar to one they encountered earlier. Sobek high-fived the painting of the man on the mural causing the slab to retract into the ground. As a precaution, they placed their immovable rod on top of the slab as they stepped over it and explored a simple maze and another green devil face from which they heard ominous whispering. In the center of the maze, they found a black opal crown. As soon as they took it, they heard the slabs start to rise. Beating a hasty retreat, they exited the maze through the doorway they held open with the immovable rod, removing it just in time to trap two bodaks in the maze preventing them from reaching the group.

They decided to retrace their steps and try the other stairs. At the bottom, they found a treasure chest and a large vaulted chamber beyond. They put the immovable rod to use once again to block a boulder that fell from the ceiling and rolled down the stairs towards them after opening the chest. That threat dealt with, they found an invisible key within the cest. They discovered an acid-filling pit the hard way, but avoided falling in and continued to explore the room. The color-changing sarcophagus in the center of the room proved boggling, as it was not a fit for the key they found. A mural of a maze on the wall managed to ensnare Sobek, and while he navigated the maze, the others had to deal with ten minotaur skeletons entering the room from concealed niches all around. Large though they may have been, they proved no match for the power of Satina’s god and the efforts of the companions. Eventually, Sobek returned from the maze with a green crystal key that fit the lock on the sarcophagus. They waited until it matched the key’s color before trying it, and were rewarded with Unkh’s robe of scintillating colors, along with the spirit itself (who possessed Kalvok).

In one of the niches formerly occupied by a minotaur skeleton, the group found a hidden passageway leading to a grandfather clock with a jewel in its pendulum. The invisible key fit the invisible lock and they found themselves one gemstone, the fabled Navel of the Moon, richer. They decided to rest again, before continuing their explorations…

* After setting up this encounter, I said “Nope. This is stupid.” For one, the room I built in Dwarven Forge is TWICE as large as what is in the adventure. It’s a 15′ x 15′ room. Three large creatures, five medium creatures, and a small creature came of the mirror all at once. Realistically, they probably could fit, though it’d kind of be like a bunch of frat boys cramming themselves into a phone booth. Had I actually been able to build a 15′ x 15′ room (which I did not have the right Dwarven Forge pieces to do), I wouldn’t have been able to fit them all in. So, after mulling it over for a few days, I speculated that whoever wrote the encounter and whoever drew the map were NOT in communication at all and decided to just have all the creatures telefrag each other until only the commoner remained, covered in all the viscera exploding all over the room. It was more entertaining than a fight with such a huge bottleneck in an adventure I think everyone is getting a little tired of.

On another note, the immovable rod has to be one of the move versatile and useful magic items in the game.


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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 19

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.

The group debated the meaning of the slots in the bases of the platforms upon which the four-armed statues stood and decided they were intended for coins. Since they had not returned to town in quite some time, they didn’t have a variety, so they put gold coins in all the slots. As this caused no change in the statues, Herrick utilized his slippers of spider climbing to descend the central shaft between the statues. The statue with the platinum base came to life and leapt upon Herrick, slashing with with all four arms and biting at him. The surprise attack mutilated Herrick’s body.

Herrick was dead.

The rest of the group avenged their deceased friend and once the gargoyle lay defeated in rubble, they retrieved their friends body. They noticed cocoon-like pods hanging underneath a nearby ledge, two of which trip. Taking no chances, Baersora summoned a lightning bolt, frying the pods and spilling their contents to the floor*. Several of them contained shapeless masses of flesh, but two seemed to contain people. The first was an armored warrior, the other a tortle. After a brief standoff with both sides accusing the other of being doppelgängers, they determined that no one was a identity-stealing shapechanger. The warrior introduced herself as Satina Kari and the tortle introduced himself as Kalvok.

Leaving the gargoyle room behind, the explorers decided to check out the corridors, rather than the central shaft. They made their way to a hallway that split off to a set of stairs leading down, but passed that to examine a large stone door blocking the end of the hall. After failing to open the door via brute force, Kalvok transmuted the entire slab into mud, revealing the room beyond.

A ledge surrounded a large sunken area in which three blinded zombie wandered around, painting crude images, one of which the group recognized as their wayward friend Rayla being sucked into a sort of dark hole. They assumed this meant she was, in fact, dead and not run away. They attacked one of the zombies and a rotting t-rex burst up from the floor. They smacked it down and it burst open, spewing more zombies into the room, which they dealt with in short order.

Through all the commotion, the painter zombies continued their art, ignoring the explorers, so the group took the opportunity to examine the statues around the room and found a secret door leading to a hidden crypt. In their eagerness to examine the sarcophagus and its treasures, they set off a successful of traps. Baersora nearly joined her brother when she put on a beaded necklace which immediately exploded, engulfing the room in flames.

Since Baersora joined her brother as a hairless dwarf (though she’s still alive), the group took a while to treat their wounds. They moved on, backtracking a bit until they found another stone slab at the end of a long hallway. They decided to try the other direction first and found themselves in a chamber dominated by a huge mirror. Careful to avoid looking into it, Baersora through a piece of rubble at it, shattering the glass and causing a multitude of scared, angry, and hostile creatures into the room…

* A truly cruel DM would have had the brand new characters take damage from that lightning bolt, but they didn’t know I was using those cocoons as a mechanism to introduce new characters into the Tomb of the Nine Gods, so I just had the lightning bolt split open the cocoons.

This night’s adventure was just trap after trap after trap, it felt like. I even forgot one in the hidden crypt (Sobek would’ve been hit with three in a row). I was sort of disappointed in the zombie t-rex fight; they beat it down in one round. Part of that is Sobek’s ranger abilities; he’s built to do massive damage in a first round attack against undead.

The new characters are a paladin (Satina) and a druid (Kalvok). Next session, I’ll build the mirror room in Dwarven Forge and fill it with everything that spilled out of the mirror of life trapping. I suspect they’ll barely fit in the room, especially with the characters crammed in there. That should be a fun fight. 😀

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 18

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 respite, the explorers proceeded down the corridor, stopping when they noticed a length of spiked chain connecting two golems stretched across the hall. Attempting to pass under the chain aggravated the golems, but the group put them down in short order. They found a window of sorts, into which they could view the room with the barge and the locust-spewing statues in which Herrick almost died, but after seeing what could only be a scene from the past, determine there was another way in.

They headed into an unexplored section of the level and wandered into a flooded corridor. A sheet of falling water separated the corridor into two halves and crossing it caused a deluge to blast them down the hall. They did discovered small alcoves behind illusory walls, however, and found a couple of crystal eyes that appeared to be non-magical curiosities. After forcing their way past the water curtain, they found the way into the ravenous scarab room and Nali was possessed by the spirit of I’jin. They then explored nearby crawlspaces.

Sobek found himself trapped in the center of a weight-activated rotating crawlspace intersection, but was freed when Rayla entered an adjoining crawlspace. She tried to dimension door out, and found herself in a chamber filled with corpses and an otyugh instead of her intended destination. Finding two levers inside the nostrils of a giant green devil face, she pulled the leftmost lever as the otyugh waded through the corpses, eager to dine on fresh meat. Everything in the room was sucked into the devil’s mouth, including the otyugh and her*.

After waiting for Rayla, they determined the tabaxi warlock either fled the tomb or died, so the group proceeded onward. They elected to avoid the other crawlspaces and proceeded downward to the next level. They paused to consider the four gargoyle statues in the chamber at the bottom of the stairs, each with what looked like a different colored coin slot in its base.

*And so, the tomb claims its first victim. RIP Rayla, we knew you too short a time… and I always feel bad when the newest player loses a character first (though the player is NOT the least experience player, just the newest to join our group).

We actually skipped one of the rooms they spent half a session in a few games ago (the Herrick-eating locusts–I just narrated them solving it). I was having trouble figuring out how to accurately describe a puzzle that was spread over three room descriptions and I think they were getting a little frustrated with the byzantine and arbitrary nature of some of the puzzles and it seems like several of them just want to be done with Tomb of Annihilation. I can sympathize. If I had written the campaign, I’d throw in maybe one puzzle every once in a while if I found something really good. This adventure has puzzle after puzzle written by someone who isn’t running for my group. I’ve written at-length how puzzles suck if the group isn’t on the same wavelength as the author, and while I think some of these haven’t been that bad, I do have access to information they don’t, so I can see how it can be frustrating.

The group must be sensing that the traps are getting deadlier, as they started out the session asking what we were going to play in the event that there was a TPK or otherwise reaching the end of the adventure. I’ve been contemplating that a bit, but since I figured we’d be playing Tomb of Annihilation until the end of the year, I don’t have anything ready, per se. I kind of want to play test all the adventures I’m going to run at cons in the spring, or maybe run a Numenera game for a bit… or something sci-fi. I have Ghosts of Saltmarsh and they’re mostly on board with that, but I would like some variety. Maybe a rotation of one-three session games using less-played systems? My idea for a Genesys-based Fallout game was met with mixed enthusiasm… maybe just the two adventures I’m prepping for Gary Con will scratch that itch (or might sell them on the idea). We’ll see.

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 17

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 resting, they returned to a spiral staircase intersection and proceeded to take the unexplored corridor. They found an office of sort, where a desiccated-looking humanoid was attended by several crawling hands. He rose and greeted them. He apologized for the disrepair of his office and admonished them for causing so much trouble in the Tomb–Herrick shot him in the face mid-sentence. Sobek, adapting to the sudden change in conversation, leapt onto Withers’s desk and struck his head from his body. They made short work of the crawling hands and tossed the office, finding Withers’s journal and a couple of arcane tomes. From the journal, they learned of the Sewn Sisters and a cast-off creation of the gods Acererak intended to revive using the Soulmonger.

After a brief discussion, they descended deeper into the tomb using the nearby spiral stairs. A small adjacent chamber on the next level contained a lever and an armored golem tending it. They determined the lever controlled a trap in a room into which they could look, but not enter from their current location. The golem ignored their non-aggressive investigations. Herrick jammed the lever so the golem could go through its motions without activating the trap and the group followed a narrow corridor to another cramped room.

A golden skull upon a pedestal caught Herrick’s eye. After ensuring the pedestal contained no traps, he grabbed the skull. It immediately began to berate him. Despite their best efforts nothing they did could get the skull to shut up and it followed Herrick everywhere, even teleporting to his side when he stuffed it in a bag or closed it in a chamber. Resigned to having a chattering skull following their rogue around, they proceeded with their explorations. A secret door led into a larger hallway, across which they found another tomb of a trickster god.

A brief misinterpretation of the frescoes caused three wraiths to attack the explorers, but after dispatching them, the group tried again and freed the spirit of Kubazan, who then possessed Sobek. They further explored a room of tapestries and destroyed a hungry disembodied head of a boar before taking a moment to rest….

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If you’re going to Gen Con, I’ve written some things you should be aware of over at my VFF Publishing Blog. Once again, I’ll be on Author’s Avenue again, at table Q. I won’t have any new books this year, though. My wife’s cancer put everything on the back burner, so even though I had a finished first-draft, there just wasn’t enough time after her treatment to get Summer of Crows edited, revised, proofread, and produced prior to the convention. I will DEFINITELY have it for GameHole Con in November, though, and I’m hoping to have another Zack Jackson novel finished in time for Gen Con 2020 (that would be number five: Zack Jackson & The Ruins of Athos for those of you keeping track).

Since Gen Con falls on our regularly scheduled game day, the next game is on August 16th. See you then!

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 16

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. This one is going to be really truncated because I got busy and couldn’t write this right after the game and now I’ve forgotten a lot of details. Plus, I’m not really sure how valuable all this is, so I may not do these anymore after we finish Tomb of Annihilation.

More explorations were done. A room with a sarcophagus, statues, and cauldrons that endless spewed out skeletons. They retrieved the treasure (causing Baersora to become host to the spirit of Papazotl) and were able to seal the room behind them, trapping the skeletons and their cauldron spawn generators inside.

The explorers then returned to the room they spied (several sessions ago) with the dwarves working machinery. Of course, this being the Tomb of Annihilation, they weren’t dwarves, but wights, and battle ensued, with the Tomb Guardian they were working on (an armored flesh golem) joining in the fun. Finally, after 35+ years DMing, I got a group to fire off a lightning bolt at a Flesh Golem and healed him up from nearly dead to nearly full-strength. They emerged victorious and took a short rest to regroup before continuing their explorations.

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Only one more game before Gen Con! I’ll be on Author’s Avenue again, at table Q. I won’t have any new books this year, though. My wife’s cancer put everything on the back burner, so even though I had a finished first-draft, there just wasn’t enough time after her treatment to get Summer of Crows edited, revised, proofread, and produced prior to the convention. I will DEFINITELY have it for GameHole Con in November, though, and I’m hoping to have another Zack Jackson novel finished in time for Gen Con 2020 (that would be number five: Zack Jackson & The Ruins of Athos for those of you keeping track).

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Tomb of Annihilation – Session 15

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 resting and recovering, our heroes decided to descend into the second level. They chose to take the obvious, open route, rather than the secret stairway. One of the first rooms they encountered featured another gaping green devil maw, this time set into the floor. An area of magical darkness obscured what lay beyond, but Rayla’s imp saw past it into what appeared to be a tomb filled with hieroglyphs. After a brief discussion, they decided to let Herrick take advantage of his slippers of spider climb and have him investigate the tomb.

It did not go well.

The hieroglyphs were each inscribed on a floor tile. The floor tiles were pressure plates. Obviously, they were part of an elaborate puzzle to unlock the sarcophogus they suspected belonged to I’jin. After sealing one of the tombs exits and being nearly devoured by swarms of ravenous locusts, Herrick was saved only by Rayla fireballing the tomb. They retrieved their masticated, now-hairless, singed friend and took time to heal his wound before deciding to explore more of the second level before trying to solve the puzzle of I’jin’s tomb.

Later, they discovered an odd-circular section of hallway, that allowed them to walk up, as though they were on the inside of a vertical torus. About midway, the hallway contained an invisible portal that led to copies of the Tomb of Nine Gods that appeared to exist in different points in time. They explored a bit and returned to the tomb entrance only to find a desert or frozen snowscape outside, instead of the jungle they expected. Deciding that solving this mystery distracted from their ultimate goal, our heroes resume their explorations of the tomb, setting off a trap remotely which sealed a nearby room and flooded it with wine. After draining the room, they were not able to determine any purpose to the trap and paused to discuss where to go next….

Click to Embiggen

Only two more games before Gen Con! I’ll be on Author’s Avenue again, at table Q. I won’t have any new books this year, though. My wife’s cancer put everything on the back burner, so even though I had a finished first-draft, there just wasn’t enough time after her treatment to get Summer of Crows edited, revised, proofread, and produced prior to the convention. I will DEFINITELY have it for GameHole Con in November, though, and I’m hoping to have another Zack Jackson novel finished in time for Gen Con 2020 (that would be number five: Zack Jackson & The Ruins of Athos for those of you keeping track).

Categories: D&D | Tags: , , , , ,

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