The jungle buzzes with bees and stirges. The thick, leafy canopy obscures the blistering sun, but only serves to act as a greenhouse, heating the surface below. Fortune, glory, and the chance to save the world await you here in Chult. If you survive.
Tomb of Annihilation is the newest adventure from Wizards of the Coast, which they were kind enough to send me for review.
The ancient lich, Acerack, last seen by players in the Tomb of Horrors (updated in Tales from the Yawning Portal), and the cover of the DMG, has come to Faerun, and has created a device which disrupts the flow of death, causing those who have been brought back from death in the past to wither and die. Those who have been brought back to life with the Resurrection spell rapidly lose hit points as their max hit points drop. Those who make death saving throws will find it that much harder to pass, as they need a 15 or higher to do so.
This adventure is a meat grinder. After visiting and adventuring around the port city of Nyanzaru, the heroes will venture into the jungle, dealing with Acerack’s hordes and all sorts of monsters including massive dinosaurs, froghemoths, flail snails, and terrifying Almirajes.
Port Nyanzaru is a fantastic new location to use, whether or not you are playing the campaign. There’s a lot to do, a lot of clues to pick up, and people to meet. It features some comprehensive dinosaur racing rules, which I appreciate. I’ve incorporated the podracing rules from the Secrets of Tattooine for lots of different games, so I expect I’ll be using these rules for all kinds of races and chases. Definitely have your players spend a lot of time here, and don’t rush them to leave the city. You could probably run your entire campaign out of here if you wanted, having the players gather up all the map pieces and clues they need to figure out exactly where to go, but then you’d miss a whole chunk of the book.
Also, the campaign has a powerful patron teleporting the characters in, but I much prefer the idea of having the players arrive by ship. It’s much more epic, and gives a Jurassic Park-like feel as the players see the island for the first time. It’s strange that suggesting non-magical means of transport over magical means would somehow feel more fantastic, but there you are.
Back on topic!
The jungle, as I said, is very brutal. Random encounters, lots of ruins, and a great hex-crawl means the heroes definitely need a ranger, or at least a guide from Port Nyanzaru to help them find their way. NewbieDM over on Twitter has been collecting images from around the internet to use for further encounter ideas to keep things interesting and fresh. This is the perfect place to insert your own dungeons as well, forgotten tombs full of ancient lore. Have the players round a bend in a river and see White Plume Mountain in the distance. Have them discover the Hidden Shrine of Temoachan. Hell, place the Tomb of Horrors there, but play a “the princess is in another castle” game and have the story that Acerack vacated it before moving onto his more impressive tomb.
Once they find their way to Acerack’s tomb, you’ll find a fantastic dungeon, and forgotten gods. I don’t want to spoil it too heavily, but the Lost City of Omu is a fantastic location, with some really evocative images. Before delving into the tomb, you can do some fantastic exploration and description here. It’s worth spending your time there.
Like I said, I don’t want to get into further spoilers, so I’ll avoid talking about the end, but it’s really good, on par with the fantastic final battle with Tiamat in the Rise of Tiamat adventure.
We’ll move onto talking about the dice before I give my overall view on the adventure as a whole.
The Tomb of Annihilation Dice were also provided to me by WotC, and are… Hm. I think I like them better than most reviewers. They come in a fantastic tin with the Green Face associated with Acerack embossed on it. The inside packaging has nice foam inserts for all your dice. But the dice are fairly mundane. They’re a plain, pea-green-soup color, with the D20 a lighter shade. They do have a nice weight to them, and the texture on them is nice, but they’re just very, very plain. In addition, 5e uses 2d20 instead of just one when you’ve got advantage and disadvantage, so I wish they would have replaced one of the 4d6’s with a second D20. Most dice sets only come with 3d6, so having one less in favor of a second D20 could have gone a long way. I’d say, if you’ve got a spare 15 bucks, pick up the set for the tin, and replace with your own, more-evocative dice. You can easily shift the dice around in the foam to fit 2d20 in there and only 3d6.
The Tomb of Annihilation is a fantastic adventure, and well worth your time and attention. I’m planning on running this soon, and also considering running it using 4e, but we’ll see.
One final note: I’ve seen the Kotaku article, and absolutely agree with it. The writers could have done a better job with representation and not turning the whole island into a stereotype of other cultures. I was encouraged to see one of the WotC staff on Twitter (can’t remember who) say that they’ve taken the article seriously and are talking internally about it. I was also very excited to see that Quinn Murphy has been talking about how he would re-envision Tomb of Annihilation, and so I’ll be following his writings with great interest as he begins his remix of it on Twitter. Definitely worth checking out.
We’ll be reviewing Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate next week.
Until next time, keep rolling 20’s!