Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation Mini-Review

I picked up Temple of Annihilation last Saturday and have so far read the first few chapters and skimmed the rest.

My VERY brief non-spoiler review so far: I really like it.

It's set on the tropical jungle land of Chult. So no traditional European fantasy tropes - no elves or halflings or dwarves (at least not traditional ones). The human inhabitants are people of color and the non-humans are interesting and non-traditional.

The land is populated with dinosaurs, undead, and interesting non-traditional monsters from the original Fiend Folio (firenewts, jaculi, kamandas, flail-snails, and other favorites).

The story is somewhat smaller in scope. You don't have to save the world this time. You are hired by a wealthy person to find the artifact that's slowly killing her. She doesn't know how long she has to live but the experts with whom she's consulted say its only a few months. I like that the stakes are smaller.

The campaign is basically an unmapped sand-box setting with a number of interesting locations to explore in your search for clues that will lead you to the macguffin. The PCs explore ancient ruins, lost cities, crypts, etc. filled with Indiana Jones-style traps and puzzles in their search for the macguffin.

Also, it's only levels 1-10/11 so, unlike the other 5E D&D hardcover books, you don't have to plan an entire campaign around this one story. Only half a campaign.

The macguffin makes things a little more difficult for the players. You can't regain maximum hit point loss (from all the undead roaming Chult), death saves are 15+, and Raise Dead is off the table.

My only complaint so far is that the players aren't given a lot of leads at the beginning. They're told, "The Soulmonger is located somewhere in a land the size of Indonesia. Go there and find it and destroy it. BTW- in case you want to be paid, I have only a few months left to live."

That's not a lot to go on. You start off in the region's only city. There's not a lot of clues that point you in the right direction. The campaign assumes you just blindly start exploring cities/ruins looking for it until you come across clues that lead you to the right place. But the players don't know that at the start, so the lack of direction can seem daunting.

There are a LOT of interesting little side-adventures that have nothing to do with the main macguffin. My challenge is to point players towards as many side-adventures as I can without the players feeling like they're wasting time. I might remove the ticking clock aspect and replace it with "somewhere in the ruins of Chult is an ancient artifact that will give me eternal life - even after I die. Bring it back to me and I'll pay you a king's ransom!" That will keep them searching every nook and cranny.

My second complaint is more personal and has spoilers.

The campaign takes characters to an updated version of Dwellers of the Forgotten City (an old AD&D module) and an updated version of Tomb of Horrors (also and old AD&D module). This isn't problematic per se, except that I just ran my OWN version of an updated Dwellers of the Forgotten City in my own dinosaur- jungle campaign setting in 2015! So my players might say, "Hey.... waitaminute!"

My third complaint is the map design, which has a white hexgrid overlaid on top of a map with a lot of tiny detail in it, makes it difficult to read.
The big poster map of Chult
I would have preferred a plain flat color map without the unnecessary detail.

Favorite bits so far:


Dinosaur beasts of burden

Betting on dinosaur races

The blank Player's map of Chult - meant to be filled in as explored.

The default start is in Baldur's Gate with traditional D&D PCs or even existing characters. Syndra Silvane hires them to find the missing relic somewhere in Chult and teleports them to Port Nyanzaru.

I rather prefer starting in Port Nyanzaru with non-traditional PC races from Volo's Guide.

  • Human
  • Tabaxi
  • Aaracockra
  • Warforged
  • Goliath
  • Merfolk
  • Genasi
  • Kenku
  • Dragonborn
  • Lizardfolk
  • Firbolg
  • Shifter

They're not NATIVE to Chult, but they all find themselves in this exotic port of call for various reasons. Has a very Tales of the Golden Monkey vibe.

I'm going to have the characters start in Port Nyanzaru at level 1 and have them do some random exploration adventures PRIOR to hearing from Syndra Sylvane at all. We'll just play D&D in Chult for levels 1-5, having fun with Chapter 1 and 2. Then, once at level 5, the Death Curse kicks in. Twenty days into the Death Curse, only THEN will I have Syndra Sylvane hire the PCs to find the Soulmonger.