I recently finished playing in an eight month campaign of Tomb of Annihilation. This is not my first foray into 5e, as I have played through Curse of Strahd and Into the Abyss over the past few years. I’ve played all of these with the same group of friends, most I have been playing D&D with for the past 30 years. As we went through the campaign I noted several interesting factors about this particular campaign, that make it great and also some areas where it fell flat. I thought I would share some of those today. I believe that I have a unique perspective in that I generally run older versions of (A)D&D and have a tendency to play in 5e campaigns. I believe that the creators were trying to get back to an older style of play, in the classic dungeon delve with this module. Did they succeed? We’ll see.
|The demon heads, you have to admire his attention to branding.
My biggest issue with the module is also its greatest asset which is delightfully paradoxical. Chult is a spectacular character. The environment itself is an actual character in the story. This is like other works of fiction, the movie Event Horizon springs to mind or the comic Sin City. Chult is a place that is begging you to explore it and find all the interesting details that come out of it. They drop plentiful amounts of plot threads in the port that will take you all over the country completing all sorts of interesting things…..or so I would be brought to believe. I never got to see 95% of Chult because I played the plotline and did what was called for in the game.
|I want to explore all of it.
The premise of the adventure is a ticking clock. Your characters figure out that people around the world are dying do to a mysterious plague and it is your job to stop it as fast as possible because lives are on the line. In our case we were hired by a lovely woman in Waterdeep to rescue her, before the illness overtakes her. We took this call to action very seriously. We focused in on that plot thread with laser precision, and did not let up off that trail. We knew that she did not have much time, and we tracked the number of days it took us in game to complete the quest, it was 43. We plowed through the jungle on a quest to save the world. This means we missed out on the rich tapestry that was Chult. I’m still curious about the pirates, I still want to know about the great Naga, I want to spend more time at the Heart of Ubtao, and most likely countless others we did not hear about or forgot.
|Ubtao building Mezro
The biggest dip in excitement for our group was actually getting into the Tomb itself. We were able to navigate it with relative ease (except that damn tile room). The final fight was challenging, but I believe that was because our GM did not allow any form of rest for the final 6+ encounters, but we rationed our abilities well and were about tapped out when the module was tapped out. We managed with a party of three, and some NPCs, to navigate the entire adventure death free. It was certainly the most deadly adventure so far, but far from the meat grinders of yore.
My advice if you are planning to run this adventure is to slow the ticking clock, or get rid of it entirely. This way your characters have the ability to explore the lands of Chult and see all the cool things that are in this book. Do not let it happen like it did to our party and the only thing the Tomb actually annihilated was Chult itself.