5 DM Questions to Help Decide If Tomb of Annihilation Should Be Your Next Adventure
If you’re trying to work out which Dungeons & Dragons story to pick up next then you can’t have missed the release of Tomb of Annihilation. Following much hype, including a whole 24-hour stream dedicated to its launch, it’s finally here and players across the world are trying to work out if this is the book for them.
So how do you choose your next story? And which setting will best suit your players? After all, beginning a new campaign can be a mammoth undertaking, so it’s important to make sure you choose the right one.
I recently explored the previous five stories to try to assist in the decision-making process. I used a framework of 5 simple questions a DM might ask. I’ll do the same here, but I go into a bit more detail.
- Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
- How easy is it to DM with the material given?
- What’s the best bit?
- What’s the worst bit?
- What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?
Naturally, this article will contain spoilers.
Note: Fellow Geekdad Rory Bristol provided an initial primer review of Tomb of Annihilation which can be found here.
If you’re interested in WotC’s latest offering Waterdeep: Dragon Heist the review is available here.
Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?
The Wizards team has really gone all out on making Tomb of Annihilation a fun, funny, and exciting adventure. The story drops the player characters (PCs) in the mysterious land of Chult. It’s a tropical island complete with jungles, volcanoes, pirates, ancient monuments and strange native inhabitants. Their mission is to find the source of a deadly Death Curse that is preventing adventures from being brought back from the dead. The main villain of the piece is the infamous Arch-Lich Acererak (Seasoned D&D players will recognize the name and cower in fear). But there is a whole lot more to Tomb of Annihilation that just him.
The narrative is split into five main sections. First the players arrive in the port city of Port Nyanzaru and must investigate the town. Then they head off into the jungles of Chult and explore the fantastic, often deadly environment. This is followed by checking out the Forbidden City of Omu. Finally, the adventurers undertake two pretty decent dungeon crawls, culminating in the murderous Tomb of the Nine Gods. Each section requires a different approach from your players and each has its own stand out moments.
How easy is it to DM with the material given?
It’s not easy. New DMs are likely to be a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content here – at 200 plus pages, this is a hefty tome. This is not an insurmountable issue, however, and the book is very well put together. Therefore, with the right preparation, and when tackled in small chunks, Tomb of Annihilation shouldn’t be impossibly hard.
There is one additional challenge that this campaign presents DMs which will need to be managed very carefully: the Death Curse. If your players are prone to getting very attached to their PCs, they will need to be warned that character death in Tomb of Annihilation is final. The Death Curse that is the focus of the story means revivification or resurrection spells will fail. Some players will not like this, but it adds a feeling of desperation to the narrative and really helps to heighten the tension.
What’s the best bit?
Highlights of this book include encounters with a zombie-spewing undead tyrannosaurus rex, goblin “Batiri battle stack” warriors that ride into fights on each other’s shoulders, dinosaur racing in Port Nyanzaru, bargaining with Ras Nsi in the Yuan-ti temple, and interactions with the nine trickster gods of Omu. Players will also have the chance to meet some well-known names and faces from the Forgotten Realms, including Volo (of Volo’s Guide to Monsters), Artus Cimber with his Ring of Winter, and, of course, Acererak the infamous Arch-lich himself.
But by far and away the ‘best bit’ of Tomb of Annihilation is the inclusion of some of the most fantastic and exotic locations seen in fifth edition so far. Most of these are stumbled upon as the party explores the thick jungles of Chult. They include the giant mud shrine at Dungrunglung, home of the frog-like grungs; the epic 300-foot-tall spire of Firefinger, patrolled by ferocious Pterafolk; the floating cave the Heart of Ubtao, complete with lich and zombie gorilla monsters; and the carnivorous garden of Nangalore.
What’s the worst bit?
The beginning of the story is the weakest part and seems a little forced. DMs will have to come up with imaginative ways to get their players’ buy-in into the story. For a book that is brim full of interesting ideas and innovative encounters, this seems a little short-sighted. The main problem is that players have very little reason to help the wizened old lady asking them to go to Chult in the first place. What’s more, the campaign takes quite a bit of time to really get going. While there is a lot to do in Port Nyanzaru, it can be difficult to know how to set your party on the right track without railroading them.
What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?
This book is so full of content that it could fill two or three campaigns with ease. There is no way your players will be able to explore every jungle location or meet every interesting NPC in one playthrough, so anything that doesn’t fit into one story can be transposed into another. With that in mind, this book seems more like a campaign setting than just a linear story, and it comes with a large pull-out hex map of the entire island of Chult.
There are also 59 monster stat blocks that are not found in the Monster Manual (although some are repeats from Volo’s Guide to Monsters). Particular favorites are the seven different varieties of carnivorous or sentient plants, lots of dinosaurs, the Pterafolk (Terror-folk), and the Kamadan (a jaguar with six snakes sprouting from its shoulders). As well as the additional monsters, there are a number of special and magical items for your players to get hold of, including Acererak’s Staff of the Forgotten One and Artus Cimber’s Ring of Winter.
Finally, this book also comes with additional, optional “Meat-Grinder mode,” where the Death Curse makes the difficulty class (DC) for rolling a death save a 15 on a D20 rather than a 10. This means way more characters deaths than players might be used to. While there is no reason why you couldn’t use this feature in other campaigns, there are lots why you shouldn’t.
If you favor a more linear, structured and ready-to-play adventure, then perhaps Tomb of Annihilation isn’t quite what you’re looking for. If you like dinosaurs, zombies, and even the prospect of zombie dinosaurs, then this is definitely the right campaign for you.
Tomb of Annihilation is a great addition to the fifth edition cannon, with both dungeons and (a) dragon present in Chult. Here, however, D&D stands more for “Dungeons & Dinosaurs” than Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s OK with me. After all, it’s just swapping one terrible lizard for another.
8 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why ‘Tomb of Annihilation’ Should Be Your Next ‘D&D’ Adventure”
I think free book works best as a setting book, not a campaign book.
As a campaign it feels very disjointed. PCs whos main motivation is solving the Death Curse have few resons to explore Chulth. And if the DM doesn’t put a lot of work into plotting out the campaign a focused group will soon feel that now they have to hit the breaks and grind levels before resuming the main plot.
Also I really don’t like how aperently hardly anyone in the realms can be bothered to give a dam about the curse.
I like my games to be set in a living breathing world that does not solely exist as the PCs playground. And this certainly did not come across in Tomb of Annihilation.
After playing (or should I say suffering) through, Tomb is a Hard Pass for me. Flawed to the point of utter frustration.
Say what you will about the difficulty and thrill for the hardtards, Tomb is rife with /inconvenience/ instead of challenge. The Survival check to traverse the jungle is overtuned (with a Ranger, guide, AND bard, we still frequently failed the DC15, which should be 12-13 at most) and the constant threat of disease is designed to sap what little reward is available. There are few places that aren’t utterly or simmeringly hostile, and the ONLY valid trade point for supplies is the Port, all the way at the start of the zone. It takes WEEKS to get anywhere of importance, and by then, the patron is pretty much going to be dead.
Which brings me to the story impetus. “OMG she’s going to die RIGHT NOW” pushes players to go into the jungle far earlier than they should, which means scraping up to take a guide or doing one of their sidequests that are too high for low-level characters. The level banding on the jungle is both obnoxiously high for low-level characters but depressingly unrewarding past level 5.
But sure, slip that CR10 golem into the mix for funsies, right?
I did mention unrewarding, right? There’s hardly any loot to be had, including some basic magic weapons for early-mid game. Which are needed because, haha, golems again! And of course, there isn’t enough money to go around to buy them, and even if there were, you’d be traveling back to Port for another two weeks to get it.
The cross-section of story and unrewarding is equally as depressing. Following plot threads leads almost nowhere, with seemingly important sections getting barely a quarter-page worth of text, no loot, no action, and unclimatic reveals. Chult has so, so much dead space in its days of random traveling, so there is no thrill of exploration, only incense, dinosaurs, and zombies. Traps and puzzle sections are poorly conveyed, so don’t expect to be satisfied there, either.
In fact, don’t expect to be satisfied at all.
Well said! I know a few folks who tried this Adventure on AL night agreed!
For our next podcast season we’re thinking of “Dungeons and Dinosaurs”,Tomb of Annihilation blended with Plane Shift: Ixalan and some Zandalar from wow tossed in with no silly death curse.
It is a great overview of the Adv, Thank you!
Great Review, but the grammar is terrible 🙁
stop trying to railroad your players into your campaign book. Get your adventures piled up and leave them for your players to pick. Can’t get them to help her? Seems THEY failed to jump into this campaign.
soon, your players will learn to spot the good paths like a bolder in a video game. Now you own their @$$ and can guide them wherever you wish and make it their own idea whenever you want. Every DM has power, but true power is pushing them without their knknowledge.
My group is now into its fourth session with this adventure and it’s awful. To be fair, however, I honestly can’t tell if the fault is with the adventure module itself or our GM who’s obviously totally out of his depth and sinking fast.
The reviewer’s comments about the rationale behind the quest being weak are spot on, but it seems to extend well beyond that. Not one of the main NPCs we’re run into so far seems to have a plausible motive for what they’re doing. Everything comes across as artificial, forced, and highly contrived. My most of my previous experiences with RPGs have always required an occasional sprinkle of fairy dust for players to suspend disbelief and get “into” the story, this one seems to require dump-truck loads at nearly every plot turning.
In the hands of an experienced GM (one willing to put in the time and effort towards preparing ahead and being willing to think a bit outside the box — or book in this case) this might be an okay adventure. But with our current relative novice GM this fluctuates between tedious and downright painful. Suffice to say that if this were my first experience with role-playing, I’d leave and never even consider looking back.
Reading these reviews makes me appreciate how great a GM I have. I thought the campaign was a lot of fun, as did the other 4 players in our group. We never had reservations about the initial quest because the GM had each player generate a backstory (as he always does) and then used those hooks to pull us in to the quest. The main disappointments for me were the puzzles and traps. I love brain teasers and situations that require lots of thought and teamwork. In ToA, the puzzles were either comically easy to solve or impossible. The “Wongo’s friend” riddle was utterly broken. After we figured it out by trial and error, I Googled it and found many people shared our confusion. But in reading the comments, like here, I also felt that a very good GM is essential to make this campaign work. Fortunately, we have that in my group.
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