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Tomb of Annihilation in 8 sessions – Part 1

*Caution: this post contains spoilers for the Tomb of Annihilation campaign – if you are a player in the campaign, especially MY game, stop reading now. 

I mean it.*

The Dilemma

My group decided they wanted me to run them through the Tomb of Annihilation. I had given them 3 campaign pitches and let them choose which one they wanted to play. But I now had a dilemma placed before me… There is a high likelihood that 2 of my 3 consistent players will be moving away in June. If that comes to pass, it is also likely that they will move far enough away that I will not be able to travel that far to run a D&D game. I didn’t want to start a campaign that never ends, just stops being played due to real life events. It sucks to have no closure like that, and it is something that happens quite a bit in D&D for a variety of reasons. I decided I didn’t want this campaign to have that fate. But Tomb of Annihilation is large. Really large. There is enough in this 256 page book for me to run a group for 2 years, at least. So I had to do some creative restructuring of the campaign.

And that is the dilemma, or, rather, the set of dilemmas. How do I change the set-up, NPCs, scenarios, exploratory portions, dungeons, and interesting locations in a way that still satisfies the grand tone of the book? I don’t want to lose the tropical feel of Chult or the history and archaeological-dig-site feel that is predominant in the first half. I also don’t want to lose the fantastical tone of the campaign – dinosaurs, dungeons, unknown gods, snake people, zombie dinosaurs, frog people, bird people, cat people, dinosaurs, ancient ruins, iconic liches… did I mention dinosaurs? I like dinosaurs, okay? Sue me. Did I mention zombie dinosaurs that barf more undead?

Anyway… I figured I would post this here in case anyone else is trying to wrestle this humongous amount of material and make it palatable, and enjoyable, in about 8 game sessions. I prepped an outline, which follows, assuming that I would be prepping the least amount possible between sessions.

The Outline of Sessions

Here is the brief outline I sketched in my campaign book while prepping:

Session 1: Creation and Introduction to Chult

* Create PCs as 5th level characters. We won’t spend much time in Port Nyanzaru, so need to be able to withstand dangerous wilderness by session 2. I gave my group some magic items as well, since they are a small group (3 PCs) and they will need to survive at least long enough to learn some cool stuff about Chult.

* Start in media res. Begin with the PCs in a combat in a distant environment. This can serve as a flashback or a flash-future, depending on how the players get through the encounter. This also allows them to see how their 5th level PC works, since they are starting at this higher level, that is a concern.

* Call the PCs to a meeting with their individual patrons. Each PC must be part of a different faction that has a presence in Chult. This is the hook that will get them to the tropical peninsula if the PC is not from that region.

* Get them to Port Nyanzaru. Since the PCs are 5th level, they are already well regarded and trusted by their faction. They are directed to make haste and meet with Syndra Silvane in Port Nyanzaru. Each of them is provided with a teleportation key to get them to the meeting swiftly.

* Meet with Syndra Silvane and be given the following info about what’s going on:

1) There is an affliction affecting many people in the world, including kings, queens, merchants, adventurers… Representatives of each important and powerful faction, government, and religion in every region of the world are feeling the effects of what they have dubbed “The Death Curse

2) It affects anyone who has ever been brought back from the dead

3) These people are starting to feel the manifestations of the injuries that led to their original deaths

4) They are wasting away and many have perished with no hope of returning

5) Resurrection, Raise Dead, and other divine interventions against mortal death no longer work anywhere in the world

6) Arcane and Divine methods have been used to triangulate the location the heart of The Death Curse to somewhere in the jungles of Chult.

7) The job of the group is to locate the source of the curse. The source is known as the Soulmonger because the Harpers have discovered that it sequesters souls at the point of mortal death. The group is to find the Soulmonger, destroy or contain it, and return to Port Nyanzaru as soon as possible.

* Explore Port Nyanzaru, possibly do the following

1) See dinosaur races

2) Meet merchant princes

3) Arrange to meet with local guides

* Decide on a direction to go based on info from guides and Syndra Silvane’s map; choices are:

1) Fort Beluarian

2) Camp Righteous or Camp Vengeance (if meet Undril Silvertusk)

3) Aldani Basin (will see Heart of Ubtao)

4) Kir Sabal (may fight Pterafolk when getting close)

5) Local Mine (may learn of Dwarf plight and Hrakhamar)

6) Batiri village (over-run with zombies or not?)

7) One of the Ataaz (stone bridges)

8) Frogman Town (Dungrunglung) (will see Firefinger)

9) Other location depending on roleplaying during session

* Special Tasks: I also gave each of my players a special task from their faction head. One of them is tasked with finding the Black Opal Crown, another with finding the Eye of Zaltec, and a third with the Navel of the Moon.

Session 2: Travel in Chult

* Level up the PCs to 6

* Set up 10 to 20 travel days with possible events morning, afternoon, and evening. Examples of possible encounters/interactions – make tables for morning, afternoon, and evening entries:

1) See herd of triceratops grazing (or other non-combative/non-aggressive dino)

2) Weather changes – tropical storm (may need to seek shelter), hail storm, etc

3) Pack of ghouls, batiri, or Chultan zombies moving in a large group (where are they going?)

4) Find glade surrounded by or filled with sinda berry bushes, Wukka Nut Trees, or Dancing Monkey Fruit Trees

5) Stumble upon a mound that houses a swarm of Yahcha

6) Find a cave serving as a Zabou nursery

7) Use cache and treasure drop tables once every 2 days

8) Whenever PCs enter a new hex (every 10 miles) roll d100; 50% chance of finding a dead explorer – use dead explorer table to set up the scene

9) May encounter a Flaming Fist patrol, or a patrol of other humanoids, depending on the location

* Write 3-6 encounter montages, no more than 3-4 sentences each to bring forth the idea of a time passing without having to run an encounter-based event for the players

* Create a special random monster encounter table specific to the party. Roll for random monsters once a day only (so as to not take up too much time with random fights). Every encounter should produce a clue to one of the following:

1) The location of the Soulmonger by name – that is, this should be a clue to get the PCs to understand they need to seek out Omu

2) The location of the Soulmonger – more specific here, maybe a reference to the nine gods and/or the nine shrines and where they can be found

3) The fact that snake people inhabit Omu and that Red Wizards and Tabaxi are also in the area

4) Also sprinkle in items that connect Acererak to the current events

5) Possible way to provide clues about the puzzles in the Tomb of the Nine Gods

Session 3: Time in one of the Local Settlements

* Level up the PCs to 7

* At this point the party will be finding their way to an important settlement. Which one depends on what they chose during session 1 (in terms of direction) and what they did in session 2 (in terms of not getting lost or changing their direction based on clues they find).

* Possible places that the party might experience this session…

1) If they go to Kir Sabal: They will also probably interact with Firefinger and Nangalore; they may get tasked with retrieving the Skull Chalice of Ch’Gakare by Princess Mwaxanare

2) If they go to to the Aldani Basin: They will see the Heart of Ubtao and may interact with Valindra Shadowmantle and a ton of her undead minions; or they may go to Mbala, Ataaz Kahakla, or find the wreck of the Star Goddess

3) If they chose to go to Camp Righteous or Camp Vengeance, they will discover the issues with Dungrunglung and possibly find their way to Mezro

4) If they went toward the mines they will probably find their way to Yellyark and Vorn

5) If they were interested in the mines they will probably find a way to learn about Hrakhamar and may seek more info about it

* Exploration: The group will get an entire session to explore and resolve some conflicts here, but then they will have to start moving toward Omu again – this session will need to give them clues about where they need to go.

* Travel: The end of the session can be a couple of travel montage scenes in which they make their way to their next destination

* Omu: The main goal here is to get to Omu, or as close to it as possible – this NEEDS to happen if the group is going to stay on schedule for finishing in 8-9 sessions

* Time: At this point, the ticking clock comes in handy – there needs to be incentive for the group to waste no time in finding their way to the lost city; rely on that and push them via NPC roleplaying – the death curse can affect grungs, aaracockra, and batiri just as easily as it affects humans – use that.

Session 4: Omu, part 1

* Level up the PCs to 8

* Reaching the Destination: The group may spend half of this session making their way to Omu, especially if they chose not to get help from the Aaracockra in Kir Sabal

* Omu: They party will then spend time in Omu discovering what lives there, what used to live there, and what ancient gods are still active

* Lore: Chultan Lore, Omu Lore, and the Lore of Acererak can be learned here – the Kobolds know of Acererak, the Grungs know about Ras Nsi, the Tabaxi hunters know where all of the shrines are located, and the Vegepygmys know about the entrance to the Tomb

Session 5: Omu, part 2

* No Fane of the Night Serpent: Since I am not running the PCs through the Fane they will have to play out the interaction with Ras Nsi in the city of Omu; I chose not to run them through Fane because they will be spending the last 3 sessions of the campaign in a dungeon crawl – I didn’t want to do that having come off of the Fane dungeon crawl

* Ras Nsi: They need to get the last puzzle cube, so must seek out Ras Nsi in the city

* Factions in Omu: This showdown will possibly rely on their relationships with the other factions in town – there is some time at the beginning of this session to solidify those relationships as the group is trying to find the rest of the puzzle cubes

* Level up the PCs to level 9 before the showdown

Session 6: Tomb of the Nine Gods, part 1

* Start into the Tomb, running through level 1

* Level up to 10 when possible

* Dungeon Crawl Speed: Possibly make it through level 2 and 3 of the Tomb – I’m not sure how long my party will take to crawl through all of the cool stuff in the Tomb, so I am leaving ample time

Sessions 7, 8, and maybe 9: Tomb of the Nine Gods, parts 2-4

* Finish up the Tomb – There are 6 levels to the Tomb and I have no idea how long the party will take to run through this, so it may take the rest of sessions 7, 8, and possibly a 9th session to clear up loose ends

* Special McGuffins: Also remember that I had the faction heads of each PC’s faction give them a McGuffin to retrieve. They will, no doubt, try their hardest to find and retrieve those items, and if they were asked to get the Skull Chalice back for the Princess (in Kir Sabal) they will be looking for that in earnest as well

* Last Dungeon Level: By the time they are in the 6th level of the Tomb of the Nine Gods, I expect the PCs to be around level 12 – that is some fast leveling, but with only 3 PCs, they need all the help they can get before they take on all the nasty creatures and traps in the Tomb

* If they survive, the party must make their way back to Port Nyanzaru and make sure The Death Curse has ended. If they promised they would return the Skull to Princess Mwaxanare, they must return to Kir Sabal. They will also want to tie up any loose ends with any promises they have made or payments they owe. Much of this can be done in montage fashion.

Final Words

Well, there you have it – my outline for how to run the Tomb of Annihilation campaign in less than 2 or 3 years! Running it in only 8 or 9 sessions, but wanting to be as low-prep as possible means prepping only what is necessary, which means I had to specifically leave some choices out and therefore decide what doesn’t get to play a part in my Tomb of Annihilation Campaign.

Here is what I left out: Anything having to do with the Giants and Artus Cimber, anything on the water (so not pirates or sea turtles), much of the hex crawl aspect of chapter 2, the Fane of the Night Serpent, most of the Red Wizards interactions that could be infused throughout the adventure, and (most of) the albino Dwarves and Hrakhamar. Also, because I am not leaving it totally open, when the party decides to go to a particular place next session they really can’t change their minds because I only will prep where I expect them to go – meaning they will not experience the Aldani Basin or Yellyark if they go straight to Kir Sabal, for example. There is no going back. I usually don’t run my games like that, but if this is to get done in 8-9 sessions, that’s how it has to be.

What did I add? Lots of relationships that are not explicitly in the book, lots of clues to Acererak’s past, the nine gods, and a bunch of stuff about Ubtao. I also added several safe locations for the group to camp and/or rest where they could see an event and not have to be involved in it (therefore experiencing an event without having to spend a ton of time in game playing it out). I added several encounters with the Yahcha in which the beetles would be tracing a pattern in the dirt due to some arcane influence nearby – this will (I hope) lead the group to discover clues and to pay attention whenever they see the Yahcha – it’s a good pointer mechanism that still feels organic in the game.

I gave my players individual McGuffin goals and let them pick some magic items. They were able to pick 5 minor common, 2 minor uncommon, 1 major uncommon, and 1 major rare magic item, subject to my approval. They also had lots of influence because of their high starting level, and were able to immediately gain an audience with the 7 Merchant Princes and schedule interviews with all possible guides. This led to them being really ready to go when the first session got underway.

My next post will be about sessions 1 and 2 specifically. It will contain my homemade tables and my notes about what worked and what didn’t.

Until next time, I wish you good gaming.

~DMSamuel

 

*all art displayed on this page is the property of Wizards of the Coast and freely available on their website.

About

DM Samuel is the Editor-in-Chief here at RPG Musings as well as the podcast editor for The Tome Show. He is also a host of the gaming podcast Play on Target. He plays all manner of role-playing games and boardgames and continues to learn new games all the time (and new things about old games, too). Sam lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their game collection. You can follow him on twitter @DMSamuel.

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