D&D Diary – Tomb of Annihilation – Session 2

Our wanna-be heroes visit the Realm’s strangest zoo, get a quest from the daffy zookeeper and gain passage on a slow boat to Chult.

Tomb of Annihilation thumb
Come closer my pretty, so that I can see you better.

When last we left our heroes, they had arrived at the city of Waterdeep from parts unknown. Just past the gates, they were beset upon by a half-blind Umber Hulk and a half-drunk Mimic (it had been disguised as an ale barrel), Miraculously, they had managed to defeat both monsters, and at the behest of a local wizard, they choose not to execute the beasts. The wizard, Riandon, was impressed by this act of mercy. Riandon invited the group to his “Dragon Tower” to discuss a possible job offer.

ToA Roster 1
The current roster. This can change at a moments notice.

At the start of today’s session, the group wakes up after the best night’s sleep they’ve had in a month. They don’t know it yet, but this is the last good night’s sleep they will have for a year. The name of the inn is Gondalim’s, but the name is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what the name is so long as it has one to give to your players. A big reason why I like playing published adventures in pre-existing settings is that I don’t have to come up with any names if I don’t want to. And there are tons of resources to find these tidbits of info. Such as here on my Dungeon Masters Resource Guide.

Since Miche’s player, Aidan, wrote that his backstory involves the Realm’s most famous traveler, Volo, I intended to have Miche find a review written by Volo about Gondalim’s, similar to the way restaurants post positive reviews in their window. But at the last second, I forgot this little moment. In cases like that, best just to move on. Maybe a similar opportunity will avail itself later. The players couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, so it’s off to the Dragon Tower. As before, I gifted my players with a wall of text.

ToA Dragon Tower Box Text 1
Modeled after the real-life Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. Check out the link if you don’t believe me. The place is great!

There are hundreds of guests lined up to go inside. Goblins dressed as carnival barkers are taking your tickets. Nobody seems shocked or afraid. Your ticket taker is a goblin dressed like a mad alchemist…

Several players stopped me here and asked if they even knew what a goblin was. “Can I make a roll to see if I even recognize this species?” etc. Sometimes I forget that, universally, players want to experience the wonder and mystique of this fantasy world over and over again. Even for something a mundane as a goblin. They want me to describe the goblin’s unique and ugly physiology and its pugnacious disposition. Even though these are experienced players who’ve killed thousands of goblins, they love to pretend that each time is the first time seeing one.

Goblins Half
 Dude, they’re just goblins. Don’t get too excited.

But for me, I like saving my descriptive energies for the creatures that are actually unique to the campaign and not dime a dozen goblins. As far as I’m concerned, these new “characters” have all “lived” in a rural fantasy world for twenty years before the start of this adventure; they know what a goblin is. So, I have a little girl calm their fears. “Don’t be afraid of them mister. Some goblins are nasty and mean, but these ones are nice. They don’t bite.” But this is a good reminder that I’m going to have to up my description game with this group of players.

Moving on, the “nice” goblin takes their tickets, and he says, “Ooh, you are the master’s special guests. Please wait over by the side.” This is Droop from the Lost Mine of Phandelver Campaign, but the players didn’t not react or roleplay with him. I also meant to put the wizard’s sigil on the back of each ticket, to denote it as special (in case the asked how the goblin singled out these tickets) and introduce the concept of wizard’s marks. But I forgot, and this trivial detail was dropped. Droop touched a small stone (yes, it’s a sending stone) on his ticket kiosk and says, “Can you please tell the master that his guests have arrived.”

Dragon Tower ticket 6pack
Six special tickets for our very special guests.

In hindsight, I probably should have skipped the entire next section and gone straight to the actual quest assignment. With my previous group of teenagers, I could have just read my prewritten box text without interruption and it would have taken about 10 minutes. But this new group wants to interact with everything. Again, this is awesome, but I was unprepared for it. Unaware of the impending time drain, I plowed ahead with my scripted encounter.

The enigmatic wizard, Riandon, from last session arrives. I play him like John Hammond (the grandfatherly park owner) from Jurassic Park; enthusiastic, forgetful, and oblivious to common sense concerns. “At last, you’ve arrived! Welcome to my little experiment. Before we talk business, would you like a little tour?” Without waiting for an answer, he heads off toward the lobby.

ToA Dragon Tower Box Text 2
 I promise there won’t be as much box text once we get to Chult.

Here was my next unexpected detour. The dragon is just there for flare, but several players were really intrigued by the it. Especially Wes, who asked me how his character felt about this dragon. This baffled me for a moment. Don’t ask me, it’s your character, how do you want to feel about it? I got enough NPCs I need to run, please run your own character. But then, I feared this was a precursor to a even greater issue and I was immediately concerned.

I was worried that Wes could be one of a small subset of players who never make any decisions for their character. Instead, they play the game like Two-Face, constantly rolling random dice (without any DM approval) to dictate the character’s reactions. Inevitably, the dice will fail, allowing the player to do something stupid and blow up the game. Of course, it’s all a lie. By letting “fate” decide their actions, they are guaranteeing a moment when they get to ruin the game, which is what they wanted the whole time. Oh, please, please, please, don’t be a Two-Face player.

Two Face Nolan
Great comic book villain. Lousy RPG character.

Fortunately, my fears appear unfounded. Perhaps Wes is not as experienced as I thought. He simply had questions about the relationship between chromatic and metallic dragons. I couldn’t tell if he was joking with me or not. Like, this is like the first thing you learn about in D&D lore and playing a dragonborn character, he should know this.

Does Wes, the player, not know this? Or is he just acting that his character doesn’t know? Is the dragonborn mad that a fellow dragon-kin was killed? I have no idea. Regardless, I explained that color dragons are mostly evil, the metal ones are good and they are often at war with each other. Wes said, “Oh, okay, thanks,” and then the silver dragonborn artificer gave a middle finger to the dead, stuffed, black dragon. Moving On.

Forge Fury 5e Black Dragon full
Oh ,sure. You wouldn’t be so brave if were still alive!

Okay, we’re not moving on. The rest of the group wanted to know how this dragon got here. Seriously? C’mon guys, this is just a bit of room description flare. Read it and move on. It doesn’t matter how the dragon got there. But they really wanted to know this dragon’s story. In D&D, you never know what your players are going to latch onto. I should be grateful, and I am. I have a batch of players who really want to explore the legends and lore of the adventure I want to tell. But this dragon isn’t part of it. However, the players don’t know that and they are just being curious. Always expect to take the story in unexpected directions.

Fortunately, this dragon does have a story. With great pride, Riandon recounted the epic saga of the death of Nightscale in the caverns beneath the dwarven ruins of Khondrukar. I got some details wrong, and made up a few new ones, but the players never knew the difference. For the mostly true account, you can read it here, in Forge of Fury, Session 6. Of course, this led to even more questions. How did you get it back here? “Very slowly.” Wouldn’t you have rather kept it alive? “Yes, but dragons make lousy pets. Trust me I know. But come, come. Let’s move on to the real exhibits.” Oh my god, this is going to take all day.

ToA Dragon Tower Box Text 3
Last one! I swear. (fingers crossed behind my back)

Of course, every playes was very hesitant about entering any strange swirling smoke portals. I don’t blame them. Portals similar to this will kill the players in the final dungeon, but this one is safe. Trust me. I added a steady stream of paying customers going into and coming out of the portal. The ones exiting were all excited, speaking snippets of conversation. “That was great!”, “You should have seen your face when that thing jumped at you.”, “I didn’t like that one, Mommy. It was scary.” And so on. C’mon, brave adventurers. If these common peasants can survive this swirling portal of doom, you will too.

Finally, everyone entered the portal. They found themselves in an enormous cavern bigger that the entire tower. Purple luminescent lichen provides an eerie yet beautiful glow to the entire cave. Several cave entrances run along the perimeter. I want to run the players through a few quick monster exhibits, but we stop for another RPG detour instead.

I should have anticipated this. The players had a ton of questions about the tower, what kind of magic powers it, and how Riandon came to acquire it. Again, I was not prepared for this level of interaction with what is just background exposition. Luckily, this tower is also based upon a previous adventure.

Waterdeep Dragon Heist thumbThis all played out during our Waterdeep campaign.

I told them the tale of the haunted Dragon Tower, the evil mage, Maaril, who created it, and how Riandon and his fellow heroes cleared the tower of all manner of ghouls, werewolves, golems, and even a mummy to claim ownership of it. The tower has a dozen portals, each leading to a demi-plane of a different biome. Riandon has spent a lifetime of adventure stocking the tower with all manner of creatures to study. A few years ago, Riandon decided to open up his home for the betterment and enjoyment of his fellow Wardhavians.

Finally, we got to the individual exhibits. This was supposed to be a goof. Just a fun way of saying, “See all these cool monsters? They’re not even in the adventure, I got better stuff waiting for you!” But after my player’s inquisition of the petty goblin, I knew that we would be stopping at each individual display. Fortunately, I brought visual aids in the form of several minis.

Underdark monster 6pk
See all these cool guys? They’re not even in the adventure! Well, technically, two of them were.

We passed enclosures filled with several dungeon monsters, including a Hook Horror, a Xorn, several Gricks, a couple of Carrion Crawlers and even a Roper. Most monsters seemed pretty content, but the last one tried to attack the party, and was repelled by the enclosures glass. “That one is a nasty bugger. It’s always attempting to break the glass.” The last cave had a sign that read “Recent Acquisitions”. There was a common dungeon room, filled with common dungeon furniture, until a chair came to life to grab a mouse scurrying by. Lastly, they came upon the one-armed Umber Hulk romping around in his own cave filled with troughs of meat and over-sized dog toys. He seemed pretty happy as umber hulks go.

At long last, we got to the whole point of this encounter; The quest assignment. It should have taken 15 minutes to get to this point, but it took almost an hour. But the group seemed to be having fun, so who am I to complain? In Riandon’s private office, he gives the players their mission. “What do you think of my little experiment? You may have noticed the dark hall labeled, Jungles of Chult. Well, it’s not coming fast enough. I want to hire you to lead an expedition to the Land of Chult. I will pay you top coin for any animals, artefacts, and treasures that you bring back. What do you say?”

ToA Ras Nsi
And if you bump into this guy, Run!

At least here I was prepared to answer most of their questions. This was my favorite character in terms of roleplaying. I played Riandon as completely absent-mindedly, as if he kept forgetting crucial details. If the players asked a valid question, I would respond with, “Oh, yes, yes. I meant to tell you about that.” If I had info they needed but had no way of asking about, I would say, “Ooh, I almost forgot. You need to know about this. Now where did I put that thing?”

In this way we worked out that the players would get paid per creature based on how difficult it is to capture. Out of game, this works out to 100 gold per challenge rating, thus a 2CR monster would earn 200 gold, but a ½CR beast would only be worth 50. They can keep any gold and gems found, but Riandon would like first offer at buying any artwork. In addition, Riandon has sent his “best man” ahead to Chult to arrange the purchase of a warehouse to store everything and care for any animals until the journey home. They asked for his name (Meepo), but they didn’t ask what he looked like, and I forgot to tell them. I also gave them a map.

Chult map PC modified large
You may have noticed that I removed several areas that I didn’t want my players to know about yet.

Riandon has an incomplete map of Chult (that he obtained from unknown sources) and he is willing to pay up to 20 gold for each hex filled in. Raven read way more into this map than necessary. She wanted an in-game about how any of these characters would be qualified to create a map. No one had the cartography skill, and this really bothered her. I didn’t have an answer that satisfied her. “Characters” have been creating maps since 1975, all you need is a pen and paper, and I’ve given you the paper. Sometimes the players just need to come up with their own reasons, Not everything is the DM’s responsibility.

“Ooh, I almost forgot. There are very few written accounts of previous expeditions, but I did obtain one such journal. Now where did I put that thing.” From under a stack of papers, Riandon pulls some ragged sheets of parchment. It is the personal diary of Sir Ambrose Alphonse and is my largest homebrewed handout to date. A total of fourteen pages recounting the tragic tale of one man’s doomed expedition to Chult.

ToA Journal pages
And yes, this handout is double-sided and practically falling apart. Handle with care.

The journal drops dozens of tantalizing clues to things they might find in the jungle, some directly from the books, some created by myself. From hidden shrines and ancient tribes, to lost temples and legendary cities, the diary given the players numerous directions in which to look for adventure. It also has several references to various legends, lore, and history of the land. There are references to the god Ubtao, the Batiri goblin tribe, the hordes of undead, the nation of Omu, and the mystical city of Mezro. There is a chance encounter with Artus Cimber, who has an important sub-plot in our adventure, even though this diary was written over 120 years in the past. There’s even a treasure map to buried treasure within these pages.

Of course, the journal is incomplete. Several pages are missing, and it poses numerous questions while providing no answers. What happened to the missing pages? Who knows, they might still be lost in the jungle. Riandon claims that the pages we do have were found in a bottle that washed up on the shores of Neverwinter about 10 years ago, after 100 years adrift at sea.

Here is a link to a clean PDF of the discovered journal: ToA Journal Alucius Alphonse

ToA Journal drawings
The PDF does not have copies of the two drawings within the journal. One drawn during a bout of madness, the other part of a treasure hurt.

To drop a 14-page handout on your players is a dangerous proposition. But my group loved it. Everyone of them read it and several wanted to take it home to study. Hooray, I turned D&D into homework. You have to decide, if your players would like something like this or rebel against it. But to hold someone’s (even a fictious NPC) lost journal in your hands is a powerful tool that you can’t replicate with a verbal encounter. Here is the link to a clean copy of this diary. Feel free to distress the paper to make it more weathered, just make sure they can still read it.

We discussed a few more details about the expedition. Riandon tells them that Chult is dangerous and he provides for them 3 potions of Lesser Restoration and 2 scrolls of Revivify. Of course, I have plans to get these back pretty quickly. When the party is ready, Riandon has arranged passage to Chult aboard a ship called the Narwhal II. The name taken from The Ring of Winter novel where Artus Cimber arrived in Chult aboard the original Narwhal. The players asked about the original ship, and Riandon suggested that they should ask the captain about it. I do have back stories for both ships, but the group completely failed to ask the captain about it.

Ring of Winter cover
Pretty much every bit of extra lore I include in our adventure is stolen from this book.

Lastly, Riandon tells them that funding and expedition into Chult is expensive. It’s not like buying some rope and heading to the local dungeon. To that end, Riandon will give them 2500 in gold, enough to mount at least two excursions into the jungle. Of course, it is foolish to carry that much gold. Riandon presents them with 50 harbor moons, the coin of Waterdeep’s trade unions. He explains that these are worth 50 gold each, more than enough to meet their needs. But this sparked a very fine line meta-game moment.

You see harbor moons are worth 50 gold only within the city of Waterdeep. Outside the city, they are worth practically nothing. A fact that Riandon has forgotten. None of these characters have been to Waterdeep and would not know this. But several players did, and they could not contain this insider knowledge. They blurted out that these coins aren’t worth anything outside the city. Now all the players want to spend all the money, before they leave the city, so they can get full value.

Oh sure, you don’t know what a goblin looks like, but you know the global exchange rate of the unique coinage from a city you’ve never been too? I call shenanigans!

Why am I doing all this subterfuge with money? It so the players will have reason to explore Port Nyanzaru. In the book, the party arrives with a patron in tow, Syndra Silvane. She pays for the expeditions and the party runs off to the jungle, ignoring one of the best written home bases in any of the published adventures. I use a different patron, but he is still expected to pay the up-front costs. By “accidentally” paying them with worthless gold, the party will arrive in a strange land without enough money to pay for anything. This will compel them to explore the town, meeting contacts, and doing small jobs to earn the money needed to enter the jungle. Of course, I have content created to facilitate all this.

I got the group to accept that they would not know about the exchange rate. But they argued that they would purchase items here that they would not expect to get down south, specifically specialist kits and metal items. This sparked a 45-minute shopping spree that had nothing to do with the adventure but had everything to do with the enjoyment of 5 out of 6 players.

Equipment List
This is exactly why I print out an equipment list for all my players. And if they had just waited, I have new one that is unique to Chult.

In short order, I had to play three separate shopkeepers, plus an armorer, a potions vendor with a stash of illegal potables in a back room, an acolyte of Kelemvor, and the guildmaster of the local pewter craftsmens guild. In the end, they bought several kits for cartography, painting, tinkering, and such; plus breastplate armor, three bear traps, three poisons of carrion crawler mucus (paralysis), two vials of holy water, and a pouch of pewter bits and raw materials for some unspecified artificer project. They spent 1000 in gold and altered nothing in the story, so whatever. Now they will have even less money when they arrive in Chult.

Like me, James hates equipment shopping. Because you can just tell me what you want and mark the gold off your sheet. Aidan inclusively asked James if he wanted to get anything. Half roleplay and half real life, James deadpanned, “I wanna get out of here and get to the boat.” Without missing a beat, Aidan said, “I love this kid! Screw this boring shit, let’s get to the adventure.” Finally.

ToA Realms travel map
The map is misleading, this is actually a distance of over 1500 miles.

We head to the docks and board the Narwhal II. There are some perfunctory introductions but nothing terribly interesting. Someone asked about the journey, which was the perfect time to break out my second biggest map, the entire western seaboard of the Forgotten Realms. Captain Balthasar explains that we will travel down the coast to Baldur’s Gate to pick up more cargo and any passengers. Then it’s the long journey to Chult. If we can catch the Southern Winds it should take about 70 days to arrive in Port Nyanzaru. But if we hit the doldrums, it could take much longer. Hopefully, the food stores can hold out.

The captain adds that the ship used to stop at the port of Athkatla in the country Amn as part of this journey. Amn used to control Chult as a colony but ever since the coup, seven years ago, Chult has claimed themselves as in independent colony. For there part, Amn pretends that Chult doesn’t exist. They would not be friendly to any ship travelling there, so we will avoid them. Just a little lore to throw out there about the recent history of Chult. More can be found in this exhaustive Explorer’s Guide to Chult written by yours truly.

Explorers Guide to Chult ToAMuch of what I stole from The Ring of Winter can be found in this Guide. But not everything. I gotta hold back on some things to keep you reading this posts.

Always looking to gain any sort of information, the players ask what Chult is like. The captain is unimpressed with the fledgling nation. “I hate it! It’s too hot, too muggy, too many ways to die. No sir, give me the open sea and a cool breeze to fill my sails. If you’re thinking of going into the jungle, it’s a one-way trip. The jungle will claim you one way or another. The only good thing in port is the dinosaur racing, and even that ends in calamity before the races are done.

I wish that I had not mentioned dinosaurs. This was not the time to introduce them. You don’t want your players to hear about dinosaurs, you want them to see dinosaurs! But I already opened my mouth, so now I gotta talk about them. Raven was very interested , since she is from Chult and has vague recollections of her homeland. I played that the captain is not very smart, nor very knowledgeable about them, so he spent most of the time deflecting. Thankfully, the conversation shortly fizzled out.

There was one other important NPC to meet. After a few days at sea, the group realizes that there is a little girl on board. She is shy and doesn’t approach the group. One day, they see her on deck playing with a small deck of cards. I was shocked that the players did not jump at the chance to roleplay with this girl, especially after I produced an actual deck of unique cards to play with as a prop. Only James was willing to interact with the girl.

Here’s a tip. If I bother to produce an actual prop, it’s probably important.

Martic introduced himself to the girl. “Well met. I am Jeanette, the captain’s daughter.” Martic asked what she was playing with.  “These are my friends. We have adventures together. The mermaid is my favorite, because she is so pretty. Nessie is her pet. But then the scary ones show up. They capture the mermaid. But then one of them turns good, rescues the mermaid and they all live happily ever after. Do you want to play?” Martic and Jeanette play for a little bit, earning James the group’s first reward that will reveal itself later.

After an uneventful two weeks, The Narwhal II arrives at Baldur’s Gate. While the crew loads new cargo, a new passenger comes aboard also travelling to Chult. This is Undril Silvertusk, a cleric from the Order of the Gauntlet. She has a random side quest for the players when they arrive at Port. I want them to have a good rapport with her, so that they are more likely to accept her quest later. By introducing her here, instead of with the throng of forgettable NPCs they will meet later, this will place Undril above the rest of them. Introductions are made but no significant conversations occurred.

Undril Silvertusk
Undril Silvertusk. This is actually Yagra from Dragon Heist and is my favorite painted mini.

Following an uneventful month at sea, the winds suddenly die down and the ship drifts to a full stop. This is the doldrums, a real-life ocean phenomenon where there is no current and no available winds to drive a sailing vessel. Ships can be stranded for weeks waiting for the weather to change and the winds to blow once more. Naturally, things go from bad to worse, when a tribe of sahuagin attacks the ship and crew.

Before I bring out the battle mat and attack, I ask where everyone is located on the ship. Scath, Thames, and Roland are below deck and it will take them two rounds to arrive to the impending battle. Roland’s player informs me that he is not wearing his armor, which is more proof that this group cares more about story and realism than creating invincible characters. Love it! Martic is on the quarter deck with the captain, Gwen is on the main deck, and Miche is on the forecastle, vomiting over the side, having decided that his character’s flaw is constant seasickness.

ToA Narwhal battle start
Arm topside! Prepare to repel boarders!

No one’s Passive Perception is high enough, so no one has forewarning of the attack. While the ship is listlessly drifting, suddenly six grotesques abominations of man and fish leap over the railings of the ship onto the deck and attack. The fishmen are armed with nasty looking tridents, glistening with salt water and draped with seaweed. Roll initiative.

The only one who rolled well is Scath, and she’s stuck below decks. The sahuagin attack before everyone else and this was catastrophic for the party. This fight took much longer than expected, because the players just couldn’t get any traction, even with several sailors fighting alongside. Gwen kept getting hit and then wasting an action casting cure light wounds on herself. Miche staggered to one of the gilled-devils and missed. He’d have been better off puking on it. Martic ran to defend Jeanette who was trapped in the center of the melee and had miraculously dodged one attack already. It took several rounds to clear a path that would allow her to escape down a hatchway near the front of the boat. Jeanette ran toward her impending doom.

ToA Narwhal battle middle
Yeah, my sahuagin champion is Gill Grunt from Skylanders. What of it?

Then just as the rest of the group joined the party, three more fish joined the fray. One was a truly monstrous leviathan, a Piscean gladiator that wielded harpoons as a melee weapon. The three clambered aboard the bow of the ship and went on the attack. One went after the unarmored Roland from behind. The big one hurled a harpoon at a sailor, skewering him to the central mast… “What about the other one?” Gwen asked with trepidation. Her line of sight was blocked. I told her that she’d lost sight of that one, but it did attack the nearest target. “Oh,no.”

As the battle thinned, you see a pile of green cloth and auburn hair crumpled, unmoving, on the deck just a few inches from the doorway to the lower decks. Several players began keeping close track of the number of rounds from this point forward. Before they could process what occurred, another sailor ran up from below. “They’re trying to break through the hull! I can hear them hammering just below the waterline.” Escalating encounters are awesome. And evil, but mostly awesome.

Sahuagin attack
Fish heads, fish heads, rolly-polly fish heads. Eat ’em up, yum!

Deliberately, the players were pulled in several directions all at once. There was chaos everywhere. Fishmen were still crawling all over the deck. Jeanette lay dead. The Boss Fish was chucking harpoons with impunity, and now several brutes were over the side of the ship trying to tear it apart at the seams.

But the group fought valiantly. Scath and Undril grabbed loose tridents and dove into the water to spear the scaly saboteurs. Thames launched a blistering catapult at the Chrysichthys champion then jumped off the starboard side to freeze those fish with his frosty breath weapon, twice. Thanks, Fizban for that update. Gwen, finally went a round without getting hit and went on the offensive. With the help of Roland and Miche, they cleared out most of the sahuagin on the main deck. The final battle would occur back on the bow of the boat

ToA Narwhal battle clean
The clean map of the Narwhal II. For those who care about such things.

Poor Martic was mid-deck, but would fall just five feet short of joining the forecastle fracas. He asked if he could swing with his grappling hook from the mast to clear the extra distance. Of course you can, that’s frickin’ cool! Give me an athletics check. Nat 20! Like the dread pirate Robert, you swing out over the side of the ship. At the height of its arc, you release the rope, sail through the air, and land perfectly on your feet with both swords already drawn. “To the death, you fish-faced mongrel!”

The Stalwart Adventurers make short work of the few remaining fishmen and their champion. “We’re eating tuna tonight!” All that remained was the moral dilemma that was the heart of this encounter from the beginning. Would the group save the destined-to-die Jeanette, or would they selfishly horde their valuable resources? I had no doubts about this group; they were counting the seconds to make sure they could still cast Revivify from one of the scrolls that I had conveniently given them an hour ago. Without hesitation, Gwen the cleric read the life-saving incantation on that precious piece of parchment.

Last Rites
Oh, this better work!

But then something occurred that bothered me deeply and I have no one to blame but myself. The spell failed and poor, Jeanette, the lonely ocean urchin with only a deck of cards as her friends would never live to see another day. The problem is Jeanette was meant to live. And her death and resurrection would be an important plot element when the death curse goes into effect. I was prepared in case the players refused to save her, but I was not prepared for the manner in which she did not survive. And I was upset about it for several days.

In my story, when Gwen reads the scroll, the scroll works. Automatically. The girl survives. Everyone is happy. But just as I’m about to describe the miraculous resurrection, Aidan, a fellow DM, points out that Gwen needs to make a roll to see if she can cast the spell which is higher than her normal ability. I am unfamiliar with this rule and I don’t care about it; Jeanette survives. But Gwen’s player, Ian, agrees with Aidan, and wants to make a roll.

DMs Wrath
Do not incur the wrath of a frustrated novelist. I mean, fair and merciful DM!

I let the roll proceed. Gwen rolled a 12 when she needed a 13. In that moment, I was mad. I was mad at Aidan for being a rules lawyer at the worst possible moment. I am mad at Wizards of the Coast for putting that stupid rule in the book. I am mad at Ian’s sucky dice. I am mad at myself for not over-ruling the player, or at least giving Gwen advantage on the roll. But mostly I am mad that my brilliant story is coming undone.

That is the biggest sin of all. I am not the storyteller. I am the creator of conflicts and the supporting cast of our little drama, but it is the players that tell the story. Succeed or fail, it is their tale to tell. Not mine. Sometimes I forget that. Thankfully, the session ended here, At the time, I honestly didn’t know how to proceed. It took me several days to process this event. The true irony, is that by failing that roll, the story is actually improved. Now death is real. And if it can happen to that little girl then it can happen to anyone, even a player’s character. Plus, I was forcibly inspired to invent a new conclusion to our little prologue. But of course, I can’t predict how it’s going to end.

ToA Bay of Chult
But I can tell you how it’s going to begin. Maybe.

Next week, I promise, we will arrive at Chult, and maybe run afoul of a disgruntled customs agent, and then probably can’t rid of a local urchin known only as “BucketBoy”. *Update* – Actually, we only get to do one of these things, and just barely.

Check out my Tomb of Annihilation Resources Page, filled with all the stuff I use to make this epic campaign even more epicier: My full Campaign Diary, plus Handouts, Maps, Charts, PDFs, Images, and more to use, abuse, or ignore at your peril.

And written specifically for this adventure, read my Explorer’s Guide to Chult to delve into all the legands, lore, history, religion, and culture that I used to bring even more life to this adventure.

Explorers Guide to Chult ToA
No need to get your feet wet or your hands dirty, I’ve done all the research for you.

As always, never let the rules or your own ego get in the way of a good story, and Game On!

“Clearly, Kelemvor has decreed that the child shall remain in the world of the dead.” – Gwen, after failing to properly cast a Revivify scroll.

“Or maybe you just suck at magic!” – A distraught father at his wit’s end.


8 thoughts on “D&D Diary – Tomb of Annihilation – Session 2

  1. Wait, a Xorn? Those are Int 11. This guy is definitely sketchy, as if the condition of his poor Umber Hulk wasn’t suspicious enough. Ropers used to be intelligent, but like the Umber Hulks got a downgrade for 5e, so I can’t be too upset about that (even if I miss the version that used to spare you if you could entertainingly debate philosophy with them… at least for as long as you could be entertaining, leading to Scheherazade moments).

    You know, I’d forgotten about the ‘roll to cast spells over your level’ rule, too, which is weird, because I think a version of it also existed way back in 3e.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The xorn is actually friends with Riandon. They met during the Sunless Citadel adventure. Although I didn’t describe it properly, the Demi-plane habitats are huge and the intelligent non-hostile ones have free reign of their biomes.
      The over your level spell roll make perfect sense, but that rule still pissed me off.


      1. Ah, well if they just made a bargain where he gives it free room and board for the occasional show for visitors and the Xorn likes that, it’s entirely different from simply conking it on the head and locking it up.

        Ideally the intelligent non-hostile ones would also have the option to leave, rather than simply run of their biomes, but I’ll just assume that’s on the table.

        Liked by 1 person

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