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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Further Thoughts on Running the Actual Tomb of Annihilation

I've been running tomb of annihilation on my twitch channel. It's been going great! The Tomb of the Nine Gods is awesome.

I am making a lot of little mistakes in almost every room. I want to write this down so you can avoid the pitfalls that I waddled into.

The Elemental Cells

We played through the area I was most worried about in the entire dungeons - the elemental cells on page 158.

The group opened the secret door and took a gander at the fire cell. There' a lit candle in there. When you enter the cell, lave start pouring out of the ceiling, dealing out 22 fire damage.

The group was super-cautious. Two things came up:

A character tried to snuff out the flame with a ranged weapon. Does that work? It probably should. But if nobody is in the cell when it is snuffed out, nobody teleports to the next cell.

The group would have to light the candle and blow it out to move on, right?

I declared that the ranged attack didn't work.

A character ran in and blew out the candle. Should the lava have hit her? Probably. I decided it didn't. Lava's a bit slow, isn't it?

And then... does the lava keep flowing? Does it stop? I should have had it flow, but I didn't.

Two characters appeared in the air cell. They immediately started suffocating. I think I got that right. You suffocate your Con mod in rounds (minimum 1 round), and then you are dying.

I think I did a good job describing this cell. I gave subtle clues that astute players would pick up on. And they did.

Shagambi's Tomb

The group ended up being teleported to room 48. This is the one with the 48 terracotta warriors.

I immediately made a mistake. If you appear on the north rune - it malfunctions and does 18 damage. I forgot about that, but was able to work it in once I recognized the error.

The group made noise and got their one warning. The heroes crept up to the coffin. The music box set the warriors off.

The heroes had a good idea. If they smash the music box, maybe the warriors will stop attacking? In the "Coffin" section it says that the music box rouses "...the terracotta warriors if they can hear its haunting melody." So do they stop if the melody stops? I ruled no. It was a tough call to make in the heat of the moment.

The ceiling in most tomb rooms is 12 feet high. Can the heroes use fly to avoid the reach of the warriors? Can they squish against the ceiling so that they occupy the 2 feet, thus keeping a 5 foot space between them?

Characters used jump spells to maneuver about. I liked this idea, so I gave it a thumbs up, although - jumping over 4 terracotta warriors in a room with a 12-foot high ceiling seems like a bit of a stretch. The arc of the jump wouldn't work - you' either hit the ceiling and drop, or you'd soar low enough that you'd provoke attacks of opportunity.

I declared that jumping provoked one opportunity attack on the way up, and one on the way down. I just thought the jumping was cool. It's magic, so maybe the magic lets you jump in weird arcs and angles.

Maybe it's like Super Mario, where he's jumping through the air, and  you hit a button that causes him to shoot straight down, possibly squashing an enemy.

Or maybe you can double jump in mid air!

Maze of Death

The group went to the maze of death, area 49 (page 161). This room is simple, but I had a hard time understanding it. Anything with stone blocks that go up and down confuses me, for some reason.

It boils down to this:
  • You raise your left hand, palm out to get in.
  • You raise your severed right arm to get out.
When you take the crown, the bodaks come out and the blocks seal you in.

Modified Spells: The group tried to use dimension door to escape. If you look at the "modified spells" section on page 128, it says that dimension door deposits you in room 57... if you use it to enter or exit the tomb. Over in the side column, it says that spells that would normally allow you to enter or exit the tomb either fail or deposit their characters in area 57.

So, does dimension door work when you're traveling within the tomb?

In my game, if someone uses dimension door or a similar spell to try to go anywhere, they go to area 57. It feels too easy to allow teleportation within the tomb, though misty step is OK. Dimension door would let you bypass a number of obstacles in here - the cells, the water hallway, the terracotta room, the flooded room, etc.

Mirror of Life Trapping

Then there's the mirror. Something to remember... constructs don't trigger the mirror.

A few sessions back, I had let the group use the scrying pool in level 2 to see a tomb guardian walk into the mirror room. I described it in a way as to depict the tomb guardian purposely not looking at the mirror. By doing so, I was warning the group about the mirror.

But the tomb guardian probably should have looked into it. I guess I can say that the tomb guardian avoided looking at it out of habit, or because  it does give the tomb guardian a weird feeling even though the magical effect doesn't go off.

Two things I need to add to my guide:

1. A cheat sheet for handling the purple mold on level 4 that shoots rays. I want to list the rays and all the weird little rules. The mold is really cool and I think it's very easy to forget about it.

2. A cheat sheet that has stats of all the NPCs in the mirror. If they all come out a once, that's wayyy too much page-flipping for any singular DM.


Room 57. Two characters ended up in here. The otyugh attacked them, and they decided to pull some levers. They pulled the lever that causes the gullet to pull everything in the room into its maw.

There's a note that "everything in the room" is affected. That includes the otyugh and THE CORPSES, right?

Wouldn't these corpses be flying through the air, hitting the heroes? Probably, right?

Describing how the heroes resist the suction is difficult. There's nothing to grab onto except for the lip of the maw, but if you're holding the lip of the maw, corpse are crashing into you.. and the otyugh is flying into you, too!

I kept it simple. If they made their saves, the heroes held their ground somehow. The otyugh failed its save and got sucked in, which was nice for the group.

As this suction thing is happening, they wanted to pull the other lever. Can you pull the second lever while the first one is going? Do you have to wait for the full one minute to pass until the suction lever goes back to its position?

Does the character have to make a special check to pull the other lever? I mean, it's right by the mouth that's sucking everything in!

Again, I kept it simple.

The two heroes both rolled exactly the number they needed to succeed on their saves. It was very intense. They pulled the other level and survived.

I am thoroughly enjoying the tomb. It's classic stuff and honestly, it's not THAT deadly. I do think that the final battle is ridiculous, though. I see many a TPK coming up.

These are all the weird little things that I struggle with during the game. Hopefully this can help you run the tomb more smoothly!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. My players are on course to enter the tomb soon, so I appreciate the advance warning.
I’ve noticed several similarly vague trap/puzzle descriptions elsewhere in the adventure such as the House of the Man & Crocodile, in Camp Righteous, and had to do some of the same house-ruling/fleshing-out of traps & puzzles that you have here.
I and my players are enjoying the adventure but, as the DM, it doesn’t feel well playtested.

Anonymous said...

Whoops OP here I totally forgot about this thread!

Finally felt like I needed to put a stop to endless jungle wandering. My group hit what I thought to be the coolest parts of exploring Chult, but even then I felt like it went on too long.

I really didn't like Fane so skipped over it altogether, gang is exploring Tomb right now. Group is having fun, although not as much from my side of the screen. Plenty of locations in tomb are really fiddly and have tricky explanations that need to be read & understood with care otherwise important details are missed. Some areas seem really strange and I've commented elsewhere extra video-gamey.

The sheen is wearing off this adventure for me real fast, and I can't wait until it's over. Turned into kind of a slog...

Sean said...

Jeremy: I think they try to be brief and concise in the descriptions, and that sometimes leads to vagueness. I think it's a really good adventure, but it definitely needs to be handled with finesse.

Anonymous: That is a bummer! I think that the jungle section can make or break the entire campaign. That sucks that things didn't kick into gear when the group got into the dungeon. I assumed that the deadliness would make it exciting for the players.