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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation 6 - Zombie Island

The new episode is up right here:

We just taped this on Saturday. It was a good session. The next one was great, IMO.

The plan for this episode was to have the group meet Aremag, the dragon turtle in an encounter right out of the Tomb book. Then they were going to go to zombie Island and explore a shrine of Kubazan, one of the nine trickster gods.

I took some rooms from Cellar of Death - traps that I really liked. Then the actual shrine was a way for me to start secretly "helping" the group survive the actual Tomb of the Nine Gods.

Secret Rule: I have a rule of thumb that I applied to this session. "Until it is said out loud at the table, it doesn't exist." So, by the time the group got to the shrine, I was well aware that this was taking too long, so I took the trap rooms out.

I do this all the time. I chuck stuff for a variety of reasons, usually because of time issues, or if it feels like it doesn't fit the moment. I'm pretty sure we've all had that feeling sometimes where you observe the mood of the group, and you can tell that if you use a certain encounter/monster/NPC right now, they'll love it. On other occasions, you look at what's ahead and you realize that the game is dragging a bit so you chuck it.

That's a tough tightrope to walk, because sometimes you're wrong! Once in awhile, I defy those instincts and it turns out the group loves the thing I was about to cut.

I remember running a DCC RPG adventure. There was a part in it where everyone was supposed to wear a paper mask in real life and roleplay some weird situation. I thought it was stupid and might make people feel self-conscious - we were playing in a game store, a public space. I didn't use it. When we got to that part, I mentioned it. The group unanimously groaned and wished I had kept it in!

You won't always make the right call, but in situations like that, you can fix the mistake. You can include it in a subsequent session. So in the end, it's not that a big a deal, and I think you should go with your instincts most of the time.

The Party

(Ryan) Mistletoe - Human Druid
(Garrett) Ramrod - Goliath Barbarian
(Annalise) Val - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock

The group sailed to Zombie Island. Along the way, Aremag demanded the toll.


Last time we had played, a pirate had bet Ramrod that he couldn't beat Aremag in a fight. Ramrod is very impulsive. He charges into everything. Planning this, I knew there was a chance he'd actually attack Aremag, and I planned accordingly. To my surprise, he didn't attack. You never know what a player will do!

The heroes got to Zombie Island. Their pirate friends went one way, and the group went another. The adventurers had heard of a froghemoth shrine that was on this island, and seeing how they travel with an albino froghemoth, their interest was piqued.

Quick Encounters: I had them spot a lone zombie up ahead. I used this a a tool to familiarize them with a thing I do to speed up encounters that are nonessential. I just ask, "What do you do?" They do it. They roll. The end. It's sort of like a cutscene in a telltale game, where you make a choice and then there's a different result if you pass/fail. So if a hero ran up and hacked it and missed, the zombie would attack them. If the hero hit, the zombie would explode or whatever I had in mind.

During the 6 years that I think of as "the grind", when I ran 2-3 sessions of D&D per week, I started to sharpen my sense of what's really important. What is it that makes a session boring? In my opinion, what makes a session boring is wasted time at the table. One such timewaster is non-essential encounters. A random encounter on a road is a waste of time unless it's a very fun and unique situation, or there are interesting stakes involved.

If you're walking on a road and three zombies lurch out of the forest, that's pretty boring. But, if there's a little kid in a tree and the three zombies are underneath the tree reaching for the kid, that's better. If the tree branch is breaking, that's IMO a worthy encounter. That's adventure, to me.

I know everybody has a different style. I know lots of groups who thoroughly enjoy an evening full of combat encounters. There is a lot of fun to be had in taking on a series of combats and trying to gain XP, get loot, and survive!

It is fun when you know you can't get a rest and you only have so many spells and hit points. It gets very thrilling when you're low on everything and one more tough creature comes at the group. That's fun! That's scary!


Long Sessions: In my experience, that kind of session requires a large chunk of time. I am done with 6 hour sessions of D&D. You don't need it! People have a hard time opening up their schedule to fit 6 hours in, and those 6 hour sessions can be a real drag. Boring! Excruciating, even! You look at the clock and you still have 3 more hours? If you're not into the scenario, then D&D stops being fun and starts to feel like a chore.

As a player, I can handle a handle 6 hour session if it's something that I consider relevant. If a DM wants to run Tomb of Horrors for me and a group, hell yes I'll sit there for 6 hours! I know that it's not going to be boring. It's going to be a harrowing, scary, thrilling, hilarious experience! I'll be excited to see what the next room is, and I'll be frantically trying to scope out tricks and traps in advance.

But when it's a session that drags or the DM clearly hasn't prepared enough for... I just want to go home.

To get a lot done in 2 hours, you need to trim all the BS. Everything needs to be streamlined and the group needs to run like a well-oiled machine. The two hours will fly by.

OK. Tangent over!


The Shrine of Kubazan: I stuck 10 zombies in front of the shrine. In my head, I was ready to be open to any clever idea the group had to get the zombies out of the way. I was also aware that Ramrod might charge them.

I had become tuned in to a potential issue in this campaign. Ramrod charges at everything, and it is going to get him killed! This is a conscious choice by the player, so I'm trying to find a balance between not being too harsh while being fair and realistic. If you charge 10 zombies, they're going to swarm you, right?

I honestly feel like if the rest of the group doesn't become prepared for Ramrod's foolhardiness, he's going to die. So I'm starting to place encounters of varying degrees of deadliness and giving them room to adjust.

Ramrod did charge these 10 zombies. The group was able to use gusts of wind to send the zombies tumbling down a hill, basically saving Ramrod from death. That was one test, one "easy mode" test where I gave them a lot of leeway to save him.

Then the group went into the shrine. I deleted the trap rooms and they went right to the shrine of Kubazan.

Preparing for the Tomb: I am really worried about the group going through the Tomb of the Nine Gods. They're going to die! If I was a player, I would die if I went through it. It's really deadly and there are things that do a lot of damage. 

What I'm going to do is sort of "preview" some of the rooms when I can fit it in a way that makes sense. This shrine of Kubazan is an altered version of the actual shrine of Kubazan in the tomb (on page 97, I believe). It involves making offerings and using a frog mask.

In this case, I took the death-trap Kubazan shrine in the tomb, and created a non-deadly version of it. Now the group is familiar with what they'll have to do when they get to page 97 much later on in the campaign, and if they think back to this, they'll have a lot of clues that will help them survive.

I plan on doing this a lot. I think it's a fair way to help them without flat-out cheating or altering the rooms to make them safer.

So the group makes offerings to Kubazan, and a "spirit shard" of Kubazan posses Hoppy, the group's froghemoth. He tells them about the trickster gods, Acererak, the puzzle cubes and the Tomb of the Nine Gods.

He gave them the boon of Kubazan, which will last for a few days. The heroes each have a 23 strength! I like the boons and I just thought it would be fun to sprinkle them through the city and jungle sections of the adventure.


On the way back to the pirate ship, the group heard screams. 30 zombies had surrounded two pirate NPCs, one of which is the group's friend, Punchin' Pearl Smitty. The idea here was to drive home the idea of the death curse. If Pearl dies here, she's dead, period. If the group can't get rid of the death curse, their friend cannot be brought back!

The group was on a cliff 30 feet above the zombie horde. What did Ramrod do? He jumped down into the horde! Now I was thinking.. he might die here for good. What can you do? Let's just play it out and see what happens. One pirate NPC died. Pearl went down and was dying.

Mistletoe climbed down and used gust of wind to make space, pushing zombies back. Val teleported into the horde to try to save Pearl. She was immediately dropped to 0 hit points!

Now I was looking at a potential TPK! Yikes. Hoppy the froghemoth jumped down and squashed 4 zombies.

The Indiana Jones Rule: Zavagor swung down on a rope, letting out a wave of flame as he swung by the horde. For this one, I used another of my little rules. "If it is awesome, it happens." Rolls are merely to determine how awesome it is.

So, in one round, he tied a rope around his waist, the other end around a tree, swung down on the rope and cast a spell. Deciding how far to bend the rules is very tricky, but players love it so much and it tends to electrify the game when done in moderation.

I want my game to be like Indiana Jones movies. If somebody does something Indiana Jones-y, I'm going to bend over backwards for them. Not all the time, but when it feels right.

A zombie clamped down on Mistletoe's ear. Zavagor's momentum swung him back. Mistletoe grabbed on and swung with Zavagor up to the safety of the cliff. The zombie bit off part of Mistletoe's ear. Later, the pirates made him a wooden peg-ear.

I allowed the group to plow through zombie squares. It happens in zombie movies, and the group has a 23 strength, so what the heck. Ramrod picked up Val and Pearl. He ran through the horde, taking quite a few attacks of opportunity. He was able to outrun the horde. Val rolled a natural 20 on her death save! She reached across and stabilized Pearl.

That's when the group realized that Hoppy was alone in the middle of the horde, getting swarmed! That's where we stopped.

Good session! The next one is another dinosaur race, where I tested my new rules. It went great!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DrivethruRPG Planescape - Planes of Chaos


You can buy this right here.

DrivethruRPG has been slowly rolling out new print versions of old D&D products. I always keep my eyes peeled for Planescape stuff. It's been painfully slow going, so far.

I saw that they actually took one of the old Planescape boxed sets and put it all in one giant book! I was very intrigued. Those old sets come with 5-6 booklets and around 6 poster maps.Would they include the maps? Would the page numbering be all weird?

I ordered it on Thursday, and it got here today (Tuesday). Very fast!

The boxed set is called Planes of Chaos. It details the chaotic-aligned planes like the Abyss, Limbo, Pandemonium, stuff like that. Way back when, I was a kid with very little money. I went to the store one day with enough cash to buy either Planes of Chaos, Planes of Conflict, or Planes of Law. I didn't even blink. I bought Planes of Law. I've always loved the idea of using lawful good entities as the antagonists. Traditional evil villains are boring to me.

I did eventually get Planes of Chaos, and it is very good.

So, how is it in book form? It's awesome. If you have any interest in this at all, buy it! It's $20! The original price of the boxed set was $30, if I remember correctly.

This book is huge! Bigger than the 5e PH!
  
 
One of my favorite things about these old Planescape books is that they're loaded with art. Tons and tons of DiTerlizzi stuff. It's mind-boggling.

A few months ago, I bought another DriveThruRPG Planescape book - Faces of Sigil. I didn't like the spine on that one. It just didn't look right. The spine on this one looks perfectly fine. It's got the Planescape font and everything.

I love this thing, but there are nits to pick. Again, this is the easiest thumbs up ever, but this book is not perfect. There's a few things to point out.

Border: These are made from scans of books. The original books had no border. For some reason, there's a white margin/border around most of the pages. Why? It looks crappy.

Contrast: The page scans are inconsistent. Some pages have very dark text, while others have very light text. I think this would have had to been fixed in the initial scanning phase. You can fix this in photoshop, but going page by page would be very tedious.

It's very noticeable, though. Some of the art is too faint. You can fix it in about 20 seconds in photoshop, so it's a bit of a bummer. As an example, here's one of the ones that are too dark/black:

Page Spreads: They put the poster maps on two-page spreads, which I found to be a pleasant surprise. But.. Because of the binding, the middle of the map is hard to see without tearing your book in half.

I don't really know what else they could have done, though. It must be expensive to print poster maps..? I would have been happy if they made poster maps of just the useful game stuff and stuck the black and white city art in the book, but I assume printing poster maps would make this much more expensive.

It is weird seeing a booklet back cover in the book.

Those poster maps came folded up in the original boxed set, so a scan will have creases. They did a pretty good job removing the crease lines, but some are still quite visible. This is another thing you can clear up in photoshop with the clone tool in about 5 minutes.

Surprise: For some reason, there's a Mystara hex map in the back of the book.


Mistake? It looks like they had a few pages to fill. Too bad they couldn't have put some cool obscure Planescape thing in there to fill up the space. Concept art, notes from the authors, old Planescape articles from Dragon Magazine, that kind of thing. They could have put that Monte Cook "Infernal Fortresses" article in here, as that directly expands on the Abyss material.

Overall


Aside from some ultimately minor presentation issues, this thing is awesome. The 5e DMG doesn't have a lot of info on the planes! This gives you a TON of material to use, complete with a big pile of adventure scenarios. There's a lot of new monsters, too. Really great book! Definitely check it out.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Argol's Comprehensive Guide to Infrastructure

 
You can buy Argol's Comprehensive Guide to Infrastructure right here.

Today we'll take a look at a DMs Guild product that focuses on building settlements and fortresses in a D&D campaign.

This is something I've been interested in from my firt campaign. One day, the group sat down and mapped out their sections of the keep they had decided to have built. This became Moonstone Keep, which still stands in my setting today.

In my current Planescape campaign, the heroes own three businesses, a mansion in Sigil and two mansions in the Elemental Plane of Earth. I came up with a vague system to track their income and expenses, but it' pretty shabby.

This book goes into great detail, outlining a very deep system that allows your group to grow a settlement or structure all the way through their adventuring careers. Many times, groups end up with lots of gold and nothing to do with it. This book gives them something very cool to put their wealth into.

The first question I had is: "Who's Argol?" The author told me that Argol is one of his D&D characters. I like when people present their own iconic D&D creations, that's one of the fun things about the DM's Guild.

There's a list of different types of settlements. As an example, a hamlet is 2 farms, 10 homes, 2-4 market stalls, 2 mines, and adequate defenses. This will house 40-80 citizens.

If you want to start building a place, you buy a plot of land. You pay for it using build points", an abstract way to select types of places you want to build.

There are level requirements mixed in. You must be 4th level to own a settlement, 8th level to run a hamlet (which costs 10,000 gp, aka 10 build points), and 18th level to run a large city (which would cost 55,000 gp).

It costs 1,000 gp for a build point. My character, Endarian Nimbus, has over 20,000 gp, so I could buy a big pile of these. He's 11th level, so he could get himself a village, which is 12,500 gp and requires 10th level.

The village has 350-1500 citizens, 85 homes, and each home has an average of 2 adults and 1 child.

You'll need to pick rulers. I imagine the group would have some NPC friends they could put in charge, or they themselves could do it. Your settlement could have barons, mayors, a senate, whatever they want.

Then we enter the construction phase, where you'll determine what you're making and how long it takes to get all of this built.

There's an optional rule for "town satisfaction". If the group hasn't paid for maintenance on the town, there's a chance it' a ghost town or overrun by bandits.

There are tons of details on how to handle merchants, guilds, and farms. It's got lists of types and the benefits of having them.

You can buy an "immense" plot of land. Building a megadungeon costs 450,000 gp! You're probably better off clearing out a dungeon and just taking it for yourself, right? This book seems to define a mega-dungeon as an underground dwarven fortress, not Undermountain.

The construction time on a mega-dungeon is 8 years! Building a mansion takes 1.5 years.

There's a page of things to add to your mansion, like a library, a greenhouse, or a wine cellar.

Hey... what's this?! "Adultery Based Entertainment"?? In my Planescape campaign, the characters own and operate three such establishments. The description goes over the benefits and elements involved with having these sorts of places in your settlement. Unfortunately, there's no amusing list of adult boutiques and services.

Towards the end of the book, there's a chart of influential events. Part of this system involves tracking your group's influence. This can go into the negatives. If the group hits -100 influence, you roll on the "banes" chart.

Banes include the murder of a visiting political figure, an outbreak of disease, a riot, or a natural disaster.

When the group hits +100 influence, they roll on the "boons" chart. Boons include baby boom, peace, gold rush, arcane wellspring (magic becomes abundant!), or you gain a wonder of the world.

It says that you roll on this chart whenever there is some kind of change, like an invasion or a political shift.

Overall

This book is very well-made. It looks very much like the Player's Handbook, right down to the charts and sidebars.

The system is very deep. It's not something you'd do in 5 minutes per session, its a system that is going to be a big part of the campaign. It's definitely not just an expansion of the downtime business rules.

I think this guide should have a one page summary or outline as to how the whole thing works, as I got a little confused about when to do things and how exactly I determine an influence score.

I love the events, they seem like they could drive a whole campaign.

Basically, if your group is into number crunching, they'll like this a lot. It seems like this type of campaign really isn't done nearly as much as it should be, so it's definitely worth checking out!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation 5 - The Bath House

Lots of stuff going on in Youtubeland!

You can watch this episode here:


I taped an episode of Ruins of Mezro with a new group of players. They were great! We're taping episode 2 tomorrow. I need to get one or two more pieces of art and then episode one will go up.

I also taped episode one of Return of the Lizard King with another group of new players. They also were tremendous - an entire group of spellcasters! It was terrifying. They were 1st level! Return of the Lizard King is broken up into four parts.

We played through the first one, and it is really, really good.It is formatted more like a Pathfinder adventure, which I love. It has couple of really cool NPCs in it, including the Queen of Creeping Vines.

This episode of Tomb was taped a couple of weeks ago. We're about to tape episodes 6-7 on Saturday, which hopefully will wrap up the Port Nyanzaru stuff and we can get into the Jungle of Chult. I love Port Nyanzaru and I have so many ideas for stuff to do that I hate to throw in the garbage. Plus, who knows when we'll even get to do dinosaur racing again, so I feel like we should do it as much as possible now before moving on.

I was excited about running this one, because I got to use the Bath House from Encounters in Port Nyanzaru. The bath house was my favorite scenario in that book. I changed it quite a bit to suit my goofy story, so it's a bit spoiler-y, but fairly different from what's in the book.

The heroes had won passes to the bath house. They'd have the place all to themselves.

The Party

(Ryan) Mistletoe - Human Druid
(Garrett) Ramrod - Goliath Barbarian
(Annalise) Val - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock

When they got there, they were informed that they'd need to leave their weapons in the locker room. They were issued bathing attire: old-timey bathing suits.

I did the bathing suits that way just to be on the safe side, as some people might not like detailed descriptions of banana hammocks or whatever. I'm trying to take the Larry David approach to these youtube games - tackle adult topics in a polite way. Like the episode of Seinfeld where they had the masturbation contest. The word "masturbation" was never uttered, but they still told the story. It's a fun creative challenge.

There are 4 baths in the bath house. Each grants a special effect, such as 10 temporary hit points and things like that. There's also magic juices that dole out the effect of potions! Potion of haste, potion of giant strength, all sorts of stuff.

There's a water elemental guarding this place. There's no running! If you move more than half your speed in a round, the water elemental comes after you.

My water elemental was a crabby water-dude who was in charge of making the juices. He was extremely intense about the "no running" thing. The group immediately began to troll him, moving 14.9 feet in a round, taking 5 rounds to walk 15 feet, all sorts of stuff. The water elemental was furious but was contractually obligated to do nothing until they broke the rules.

Zavagor drank a juice that gave him a 21 strength for an hour. Boom, he bulked up instantly, look at that striation! Pecs, chest, give it to us!

That's when the bad guys entered. While the adventurers were bathing, the Green Vipers broke in, went into the locker room and stole the group's two pieces of the dreamer's amulet. The vipers had obtained one piece on their own, so now there's only one piece left to be found.

Jim Crank hates Ramrod, so he jumped into Ramrod's pool and started stabbing away with his two poisoned daggers. Ramrod flipped out and started drowning him.

Deidre the Slinker popped out of the shadows. A session or two ago, Val had devastated her in a battle of wits with: "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?"

Deidre had brought a list of witty rejoinders, so she started rattling them off. Val was in a salt bath. Val... right off the top of her head, responds to a jab with: "Don't be so salty."

The players began waving their arms in the air, which seems to be our group's way to declare verbal devastation.

Ledarius slid into the pool and got angry when the group wouldn't feed into his catchphrase. They are supposed to ask him: "What are you doing here?" so he can answer with a shrug, "Just vipin'".

Nara got in Mistletoe's hot tub and he successfully hit on her. They pretty much came to an agreement that they'd work together on this whole death curse thing.

Nara mentioned that agents of Cheliax are coming. Cheliax is from Pathfinder - it's a kingdom of devil worshipers. I plan on running a 5e version of Hell's Rebels at some point in in the future, so I'm starting to work that stuff in now.

In my campaign, the hell knights of Cheliax will take the place of the Red Wizards in Tomb of Annihilation. I have been working out their leader's voice and quirks. Right now, his name is Heinrich Von Pummel, but that might change.

As Zavagor tried to stop Ramrod from killing Jim Crank, who of course was rolling really low, Ladarius asked Val out on a date and she said yes! I'll have to work that in to one of the next two sessions.

That's where we stopped. The group had more or less trounced the Vipers and had their froghemoth, Hoppy blocking the exit. The group will likely get their pieces of the dreamer's amulet back next time.

Great session!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 64 - Tomb of Annihilation

Episode 64: In Guide We Trust
Today we have a special guest. It is Geoff Robinson, Anna's husband. This episode starts slow but gets really fun once they hit the jungle of Chult.

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Geoff) Chumba - Batiri Goblin

Last time, the hags visited the group at night again, pushing black sacks down their throat. We pick up during that creepy visit. Evelyn sees the hags. They think she's an inanimate object. She tells them not to touch the pies. She wakes up the group and the hags disappear.

The next day, Umbril, the half-orc woman they met last time, introduces the heroes to a goblin. That's Geoff's character, Chumba. He is Umbril's steward.

Umbril is a cleric of Torm and a member of the Order of the Gauntlet.

Chumba is afraid of dolls, so Evelyn and Simon freak him out. Simon tries to hug him and he flees. Simon chases him outside. Chumba collides with Dragonbait, the mute dino-man who communicates through odor.

Umbril says the group will be heading toward a river, and she buys some canoes.

During the last long rest, Strix lost a max hit point due to the death curse.

The group goes to Old City (a section of Port Nyanzaru with ziggurats and bamboo huts) and sees some hanging corpses attracting flies.

Evelyn busts out her D&D My Little Pony dice.

The group comes to executioner's run, where criminals are punished. A man is about to be thrown into a 20-foot-wide, 200-foot-long trench with dinosaurs. A man in the crowd cries out that the victim is innocent. In he goes. Raptors close in on him.

Diath throws some rocks at the raptors. He's drunk.

Strix dimension doors into the pit. Evelyn, Strix, Paultin and Chumba end up in the pit as the raptors chase the prisoner.

Strix casts silent image in front of Paultin. The image is of a big, scarier velociraptor. Evelyn uses magic to chat up the dinosaurs. She tries to make friends and distract them.

Suddenly, a horn and gong sounds all throughout the city. People begin to panic and run for the gates. Umbril says that undead must be attacking the other side of the city.

Dragonbait exudes a bunch of odors, and then indicates that the group should run into the jungle.

Paultin shocks the group when he casts fly and soars out of the pit. Nobody had any idea he could do that! This is another one of those shows where Nate is at 105%. He's becoming really fun to watch.

Everyone can fly except Diath. Strix wants to polymorph Diath into a vulture so he can fly, but Diath doesn't want that.

The group heads into the jungle. Things become more dense and Dragonbait has to use his sword to carve a path big enough for the canoes, which are being carried, to fit through.

They come to cliffs overlooking a great misty bay. Diath realizes that they are being followed... they smell death.

Suddenly, gray-skinned ghouls pile out of the forest and come at them in a wave of claws and teeth.
Anna's pony annihilation dice deliver with a natural 20 on initiative.

Chumba attacks and rolls a critical. Evelyn pummels the undead and then Diath draws Gutter and backstabs a ghoul, destroying it.

Paultin draws the sunsword! Nate points out that the chat had absolutely nothing to do with him using it. He destroys a ghoul with it.

A ghoul slashes Diath. Is he paralyzed from the claws? Yes!

Fight over. Diath shakes off the paralyzation and decides he hates Chult.

The ghouls had blue triangles on their foreheads. Strix knows that the triangle is the symbol of Ras Nsi, the evil warlord who waged war on Chult centuries ago. In his day, he used an army of undead to attack the city of Mezro.

It's getting dark out. Paultin summons the waffle hut for the group to cuddle in for the night. When the hut appears, a red silk robe also appears on Paultin.

The group worries that the hags will come back, but have no choice but to go to sleep. Evelyn does not sleep, because since she is a construct, she doesn't need sleep except to recharge spells.

The hags show up in spectral form  and ride the group... guh...Chris goes with a very explicit description. The hags slice open Diath, Paultin and Strix from chest to groin. They pull out the sack sand retrieve a maggot-like worms that are 5 feet long. Soul larvae!?

Soul larvae from the Savage Tide adventure path
The larvae are placed in each hero's chest cavity and sewn back up.

We learn that Diath, Paultin and Strix now each have a second soul - an evil soul locked in their bodies. If they were to die, the Soulmonger could take that soul instead. So... if Evelyn dies...? Makes me nervous.


That's where we stop!

No game next week - they're getting ready for TwitchCon. TwitchCon on Sunday, there will be a live Dice Camera Action game. Geoff will be there playing Chumba, and a second special guest.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Adventures in Eberron - The Rogue Card

We played some more Eberron yesterday. My sorcerer is now 11th level. I can cast disintegrate!

In this one, we threw caution to the wind and drew a bunch of cards from the deck of many things. Then, I came very, very close to dying and we ended up in a really bad spot at the end.

Last time, we were about to be killed when our fighter used one of his deck of many things effects to wish it away.

We woke up.. the elder brain was gone. We survived! We made our way of the place, and appeared back in the far realm-touched house. We got a couple of keys and opened a treasure vault.

My character now has over 20,000 gold! Maybe I should gamble it on something. That would be fun. Is there a casino in Sharn?

The whole point of this was to get a harp for an NPC ally. It turns out that she wanted to use it to kill our party fighter! The first time we drew from the deck, the fighter and I both drew the "rogue" card, which means an NPC out there has magically been compelled to try to destroy us.


So we're in our bar (which hasn't opened yet, but will soon) and she uses the harp to summon the ghost of her dad. The ghost tries to kill the fighter. Our wizard tackled the NPC and beat her with a quarterstaff until she was unconscious. The fighter began battling the ghost-thing.

I grabbed the harp, ran outside and flung into the air. Then I cast fireball on it. This damaged the harp and the ghost. I couldn't believe the harp was still intact!

I looked around. There's this warforged who has a hot dog cart that we've made friends with a while back. I stuck the harp in the boiling hot dog water and yelled for every that it was going to blow. Then I fireballed the cart and boom, the harp was destroyed. The ghost vanished.

From there, we had no idea what to do with this NPC. The magic of the card was continually going to compel her to try to kill the fighter. Only a wish spell or divine intervention could end the effect. We actually still had a wish from our previous draws, but I thought it was a waste of a wish.

We threw around a bunch of ideas and somehow we settled on using the deck of many things to try to get another wish. Our wizard, who is very level-headed, really hated the idea but we out-voted her.

So... I started out with wanting to draw just one card. I declared that I was "due" for a good one. I drew... the Fool. I lost XP and had to draw another card.

Guess what that card was? Rogue! I now had another NPC enemy out there in Eberron. It was hilarious and horrible.

The fighter decided to try. ROGUE! I swear! The deck was shuffled immensely! How is this possible?! Now the fighter has another secret enemy.

I can't remember who drew the next two, as it was utter chaos. But wither the fighter or I drew another card: ROGUE. ANOTHER ROGUE.

I think I drew again, desperate to dig us out of this hole as the wizard pointed out that she thought this was a terrible idea from the start.

I drew.... The Fool. Again! Lost XP, had to draw one more card. I drew: Fates.

The fates allows you to ask a question from an otherworldy entity and get an answer. I asked about removing the effect on our NPC friend and didn't learn too much except that one of my 'rogue' enemies is Corellon, god of the elves! Correllon wants to kill me!

Once we calmed down from all that stuff, we decided to finally bite on an adventure hook that had been dangled in front of us for a year. We had dinner with some government officials. This turned into the sidekick of the evil of Sharn crashing the party and having a meeting with us.

This is apparently one of the leaders of Daask
Here's the deal:
  • Our senator friend has contracted a rare illness.
  • The bad guys can cure her if we do something for them.
  • The back guys want to abduct an alchemist who is hiding out with Daask (I didn't read this link because I don't want spoilers, but I thought you might be interested).
  • Our job is to create a distraction so that the bad guys can abduct the alchemist.
We left and told them we'd need a few hours to decide. After much debate, we agreed that this was a set-up but that we should just go and see what happens. We also agreed that we were going to make ridiculous demands for compensation.

We went back. I demanded an airship. I had settle for repairing a crashed one. My character was an airship pilot in the Last War, so my character has a thing for airships. The wizard was granted access to the secret archives of Sharn. I don't remember what the fighter got.

There are a bunch of ways to get to the underground lair of House Daask. We used a door that ended up being guarded by a roper. That roper grabbed me and bit me, dropping me to about half my hit points in a few rounds. We killed it and went inside.

There was 8 teleporting hobgoblin monks in here. We nearly had a TPK. I actually went down and was given a potion of healing, so I currently have 7 hit points. We haven't even gotten to the place we're going yet! I still have spells, but one hit and I'm down! We don't have a healer and potions of healing are illegal in the city.

That's where we stopped! Was awesome. The deck adds so much to D&D, it's really fun. I love random effects. I know it's not for everybody, but if I'm a player, I always want those as a part of the game.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - Ruins of Mezro

 
You can buy Ruins of Mezro right here.

We just finished playing part of Ruins of Mezro, a DMs Guild adventure by Will Doyle. This adventure was released as part of the Guild Adept program, where certain creators were allowed to make books linked to the Tomb of Annihilation.

In the Tomb of Annihilation book, Mezro is mentioned, but not detailed. This book describes Mezro, the creatures that inhabit it, and the secrets it contains.

The book is broken up into 4 main sections:
  1. A description of locations in Mezro.
  2. A big list of encounters that could occur in the city.
  3. Three adventures, each two pages long.
  4. A pile of monster stats, including the living trap, which I love.
Player Stuff: There's a few things for players in here:
  • Background: Heretic. There are a bunch of options as to what your heretical belief is. I like the one about the divine sphere of annihilation made by gods to kill mortal wizards. I also like the one about Waukeen and Graz'zt, a callback to For Duty and Deity.
  • Cleric Domain: Entropy. You draw power from a divine sphere of annihilation. You gain advantage on death saves, have an aura that disrupts spellcasting and force exhaustion on spellcasters. Seems fun!

The Premise: The ruins of Mezro isn't the "real" Mezro. The real Mezro is safe in a pocket dimension, and it won't come back until Chult is a safe place.

The adventurers can go through these ruins and piece together what happened to Mezro, and they can also get clues that direct them to Omu.

Artus Cimber is looking to find a way to get to the real Mezro or to bring it back, but he hasn't been able to figure out how. His home is detailed in this book.

Factions: There are a bunch of groups exploring or inhabiting the city:
  • Flaming Fist: 98 soldiers! They have a base and a tavern and everything.
  • Cult of the Crocodile: This cult worships a mudmaw - a crocodile that can see the future.
  • Cult of Entropy: Their leader has a sphere of annihilation!
Easy to Read: I usually have a hard time reading and preparing adventures, but I blew through this one in a few hours. It's very breezy and concise.

The Map: This adventure comes with a really awesome map of Mezro. There's a version to give to the players and it is a big help.

Layout: This looks very good, very similar to the official books. It even has those weird green text boxes for certain sidebars.

The Monsters: I love the living trap! Love it. It's a really fun idea, and it definitely fits the whole theme of the Tomb of Annihilation.

The City: The locations are all very cool, but too sparse for my liking. You really can't run some of them out of the book. For example, there's a wizard college with shifting corridors, doors that lead to different rooms each time they're opened, and weird gravity that might have you walking on upside down stairs.

That sounds really cool, but there's no map, no room descriptions, nothing. The entropy cult is lurking in the college, in a room where "a large sphere of water hovers over a stony pit." Again, awesome idea, but what does that mean? What do I do with that?

When I buy an adventure, I want those details. For this wizard college, I would have liked a description of 4 rooms and more of an idea of where the cult is and how that encounter might go.

Treasure: One of the main draws of Mezro is supposed to be that there's tons of great treasure, but many times when the group comes to a spot with treasure, you're asked to roll on the DMG or the Tomb treasure charts. Again, I want that done for me. That's why I buy adventures!


Encounters: There are some good encounters on the big list. There are also a number of encounters that I think could have used a bit more pizzazz - some are more or less a list of monsters. The ones I pulled out to use in my game:
  • A hippo is stuck in mud, dinosaurs ambush those who try to help it.
  • The living trap.
  • The mazewalker looking to get into a holy place so that he can die.
  • The triceratops babies.
Traits of Mezro: One of the coolest things about Mezro is the weird magical effects. I think that if you run this, you might want to sit down and make a cheat sheet to refer to so you don't forget them. You should list:
  • The cursed gold effect.
  • The insects.
  • What happens when you drink water.
  • A reminder that the obelisks are outside most buildings (described on pg 26).
  • What triggers wild magic.
  • Notes on the special district effects (residential maze requires a group check, etc).
My Version: When I ran this, I chucked all of the factions. I love the idea of the city being a wild, overgrown, rarely-explored locale. I made up a demented pterafolk guy who thinks he is the ruler of Mezro and reveres the mudmaw.

One of the main stories here is that there's a statue of a king holding a tablet that contains vital clues on how to get to the real Mezro. This tablet was broken off and is missing. In the book, one of the cults took the tablet.


For my version, the crazy pterafolk guy did it. He used his sword Shatterspike (from Tales of the Yawning Portal) to slice off the arm holding the tablet. He knew people would want it, so he hid it. If they want to use it, they have to swear fealty to him and do things for him, first.

There's a really awesome location in the city - a ruined marketplace full of hundreds of zombies. My crazy pterafolk guy lodged the tablet into the torso of one of the zombies.

When I ran it, the group had to figure out how to get that tablet out of the marketplace without getting devoured by zombies. It involved a weasel and it was hilarious. You can never guess what players will do!

Overall: I like this book and I think most people will, too. You just have to keep in mind that this book is more of a sourcebook/toolkit. You will have to fill in some of the fine details. It is not hard to do.

So, if you're OK with that, you'll love this. If you're looking to run this right out of the book, definitely check out the preview first and make sure it's got enough for you to go with.

It took me about an hour to create my own version of Mezro, which really isn't long at all. Once I get the completed artwork, I'll post episode one of Ruins of Mezro on Youtube. Was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation 4 - The Boon of Nangnag

The response to this show and my recent tomb articles has been really tremendous. Shawn Merwin actually spent a few minutes talking about my stuff on his podcast right here!

I've gotten a lot of words of encouragement, and I have a hard time responding in a way that doesn't sound trite. I just want you to know that I read every one and it really means a lot to me. Thank you!

Episode 4 is out! It's right here:


Running online games is weird. I get to watch myself DM?! I really cringed at the idea of it, but once I actually saw the results, it wasn't so bad.

I noticed a million little things I needed to fix up, and still am. On this episode, I saw myself repeatedly cutting off the players as they were about to say something. I get so intense about getting stuff done that sometimes I almost don't let them play D&D, which, obviously, is not good.

Solo Scenes: One reason I got antsy is because in my Planescape game, my players are more of the "sit back and enjoy the ride" types. These players aren't like that. They do more interacting and roleplaying.

On top of that, I tried to do a stylistic thing that I use often: I give each of character a lightning-fast solo scene. I wanted to have Zavagor do a thing with Kwayothe, Val have a flashback, and Mistletoe and Ramrod learn things about their stories.

But what happened was that when I rolled out the Zavagor solo thing, the whole group wanted to go and spy on him.

They had obtained the boon of Nangnang, which lets them walk on walls and ceilings, and rightly thought that the boon would help them in this scenario immensely.

What I envisioned as a 3-minute vignette turned into a 25-minute excursion.

Going forward, I have adjusted my planning. Instead of breaking up their stories into separate scenes, I'm going to try to do one scene that develops multiple stories at once.

Forgetting Stuff: Another thing that I'm noticing is that I need to be sharper. In my home games, if I forget something, who cares? But now if I make a mistake, I might confuse the people watching.

I forgot that the group gave Pock-Marked Po the oracle's eye. In this session, I ran it where the group still had it. I can just ret-con it and say that Po gave it back to the group after one of his daughters convinced him to do so, but that makes for a less than ideal show.

I need to make sure that I have the main story points lodged in my head. I'm always going to make mistakes, but I want to try and make sure I get the most important things right.

The Party

(Ryan) Mistletoe - Human Druid
(Garrett) Ramrod - Goliath Barbarian
(Annalise) Val - Tiefling Sorcerer
(Joe) Zavagor - Half-orc Warlock

The group was in the shrine of Nangnang. They figured out the altars and made their way into the central room.

My map guy was on fire for this dungeon.


He is in Puerto Rico and he says it is utter chaos there due to the hurricane. I haven't heard from him in a while and I hope he is OK.

Gem-Encrusted Undead: In the central room, gems animated adventurer corpses and they attacked. Zavagor targeted a gem embedded in the forehead of one of the creatures.

Disarming: Targeting a body part or thing in D&D has always been impossible to run in a consistent manner. In 2e, it was a -8 to hit. In 3e, I think disarming was a feat. In 4e, you pretty much just couldn't do it and if you did, it didn't really matter.

5e has some disarming stuff. I think a character in my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign had it and used it often.

It's something to account for when making your encounters. If you have a bad guy using a powerful item, the group will probably try to snatch it away. You don't want to block them on this every time, but you also don't want to let it ruin encounters, so it's a real delicate thing.

Generally I think that if you have a character who disarms, make some encounters where they can disarm like crazy, so that way on the rare times where the disarming will be blocked somehow (examples: item is chained to their wrist, item flies back to their hand, item is evil and damages anyone who touches it, etc) it won't feel so bad.

When the character almost never gets to disarm, and then has a major encounter when their disarm makes a huge difference, it really comes off bad when they can't do it.

If possible, work the disarming into the encounter. As in... this bad guy better be disarmed or the group is screwed. The bad guy is already a threat, but the item makes the encounter impossible!

So in my head, I thought "Well... let's see what he rolls. A critical or a power score means it definitely happens."

What is a Power Score? What's a power score? It's the name of my blog, but it's also a long-running joke in my old campaigns. It was a 2nd edition psionics rule. If you rolled exactly the number you needed, that's a power score, and it has special effects like a critical hit.

So in 4e, whenever somebody rolled exactly what they needed, I'd dramatically announce that they just got a power score, which meant absolutely nothing.

I named this blog "Power Score" as a joke, as in, "This blog is EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED." Nobody knows that outside of about 12 people on the planet, though, so it's either a supreme in-joke or just a bad idea.

Anyway. Zavagor rolled a power score and BOOM, the gem shattered.

I'm trying to think of an actual effect for a power score in 5e. I'm going to try saying that when a hero rolls a power score, they get to do their "signature move." What is that? Whatever they want, but once they pick it, that's it.

Nangnang: Then I did this thing where the skulls in the walls "read" the souls of each character and transmitted it to Nangnang, whose spirit is trapped in the Tomb of the Nine Gods.

Basically I'm foreshadowing the fact that each hero is tied to a powerful, god-like entity and that those entities might block the trickster gods from inhabiting their bodies.

To tempt them, Nangnang granted them her boon (which is listed on the last page of the ToA book). The characters all gained the power to walk on walls and ceilings! They also felt a bit more selfish than normal. This will wear off in a day or two.

Ramrod loved it and started parkouring through the trees, rolling a natural 20 to do so.

The heroes returned to Port Nyanzaru and met with Pock-marked Po. They learned that he was the "beggar king", basically the head of a thieves guild/hobo support group. Things got a little tense. His daughters drew some poison daggers, but cooler heads prevailed.

Zavagor and Kwayothe

Zavagor's Girlfriend: Then the group went on the excursion to Kwayothe. Val snuck around on the ceiling. Ramrod and Mistletoe harassed a guard outside, and Zavagor met with Kwayothe. The group is now teasing Zavagor, telling him he has a girlfriend.

Kwayothe hates the Omuan royal line. She wants to run Port Nyanzaru and a rebuilt Omu, and because Zavagor is also connected to Eman, she thinks he's the only one she can trust.

Zavagor hates Eman and desperately wants to break the bond to her.

We stopped right when the group was about to go to the bath house, which I LOVE. That happens on episode 5, and it was utterly ridiculous.

One other thing I noticed. We're taking too long to get to the jungle. I want to be in the actual tomb by December. We won't get into the jungle until November, as the next 3 episodes will wrap up Port Nyanzaru (I want to do another dinosaur race).

I think I'm going to try to schedule a few bonus sessions, as I don't want to skip cool material just to make sure we're done by March.

Hopefully we can get that done. I'm cutting Omu down big time, because I don't like much of it, so basically we'll do the jungle and then jump into the tomb, which will be absolutely terrifying!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dice, Camera, Action: Tomb of Annihilation - Episode 63

Episode 63: Bad Dates

Last week I was a bit confused when the person stumbled up to the group and gave them a mysterious warning. This is actually right out of the book. That was a priest of Savras, unless Chris switches it up for the show.

The Waffle Crew

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer

Last time, the group used a ritual to summon three hags. The hags would show up over the course of three nights. On the first night, a hag rode them, spit in their mouths, and gave them horrible nightmares.

The next  morning, they awake. They are in an inn. Strix wants to use the kitchen to bake some stuff. She is allowed to do so, and she bakes three sinda berry pies. She takes hair from herself, Paultin and Diath, hoping the hags will just take the pies and leave.

The group buys supplies, including wine and insect repellent. Paultin wants a collar that lets him talk to dinosaurs, but he is informed that those do not exist.

In the streets of Port Nyanzaru, Simon is playing with a monkey. It seems to be leading him somewhere.

It leads Paultin and Simon into an alley. Ambush! Someone on the roof aims a crossbow at him. Paultin summons a waffle hut, creating a safe space for himself. Diath runs over the hut, vaults onto the roof and attacks the would-be assassin.

There's 2 assassins, each on a separate building. The female attacker shoots a poisoned bolt into him, but he makes his save vs. poison.

Diath is poisoned a moment later and he gains one level of exhaustion.. then another. That's bad.

Evelyn shows up and declares that there's nothing to see here, like Robocop. She proceeds to roll a 1 on the check to do this convincingly. The street erupts into chaos. A cart of snakes tips over. A guy explodes spontaneously. People panic and flee.

Paultin shuts off the hut and dimension doors to the roof. I tell you what, Nate is in the zone today. He tries to convince an attacker to stand down, but he is ignored.

Diath is now at level 4 exhaustion. Wait.. now it's level 5!! He has disadvantage on everything and his speed is zero! One more fail and he is dead, and I mean DEAD. The death curse prevents him from being raised!

Evelyn sees that Waffles has a basket stuck on her head. More assassins are climbing the walls up to the roof.

Seeing that Diath is in peril, Strix teleports in front of Diath to protect him. She tries to polymorph an assassin but they make their save.

Evelyn flies over and gives him Diath a lay on hands. She describes it like she's using a defibrillator: a "clear!", which is absolutely tremendous and how it should always be described. This cures the poison and gives him 20 hit points. The exhaustion is gone. Whew...


Diath stabs an assassin with Gutter. The assassin is bloodied. She sends a flying snake into the air and then she hits Strix twice, giving her 2 levels of exhaustion.

Diath has a bolt stuck in his back. He flexes and pops it out, which cracks me up.

Strix drops a level 5 fireball. A bunch of assassins are doing fancy scimitar moves and they die. There's 2 assassins left. One on this roof, the other on another roof fighting Strix's broom.

Paultin again tells the female assassin to stand down. He has advantage. 18! He's successful.

Wait.. a giant ice hand strikes her. Artus Cimber!

On the other roof, an assassin has been fighting Strix's broom. The assassin flees and the broom angrily shakes its non-existent fist. You get the feeling that this isn't over, not by a long shot.

The group spots an assassin on the ground holding Simon hostage. He has a hand over Simon's mouth.

This villain is a halfling wearing a black turban and a black veil, and he is riding a blue-painted velociraptor. He has a monkey on his shoulder. It's wearing a fez.


The halfling wants to make an exchange. Simon for the ring of winter. He asks to talk to somebody else and Jared dies laughing. "Are your parents home?"

Diath spots Artus up on a minaret 120 feet away. He signals for Artus to meet him halfway. Artus flies on his ice vulture and meets Diath on a roof.

Artus says they are the Zhentarim.

I had some technical difficulties and missed a bit of this.

The bad guys are gone

Artus says the Zhentarim will be back. He doesn't want to put them in danger. Artus is going to go into hiding, and he will introduce them to a friend of his who can guide them. Dragonbait?

Diath tells the group they did a good job.

That night, they meet a dinosaur man. Dragonbait! He smells like cooked ham. Now he smells like lemon.

That night, the hags return and it's gross. Fiath's hag has a bag on her head. The bag has a little hole in it. A chicken head pokes its head out for a moment and then retreats into the bag. Then a snake does the same.

The hags stuff sacks into the mouths of the heroes. The way Chris describes the bags, they sound like soul bags, which hags use to carry around evil souls.

They have so far ignored the pie.That's where we stop.

Overall

Very, very good show. It was mostly one big combat, but everyone was in such a good mood today that it was a ton of fun to watch. Nate in particular was great in every way. I have no idea what's going on with the hags and the bags. I guess we will find out next week!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - How to Run Tomb of Annihilation

You can buy Tomb of Annihilation right here.

In this article, I am going to try to help DMs figure out how to take all of the things in Tomb of Annihilation and actually line it up and turn it into a fun campaign.

You can get this and the guide in pdf form right here:

http://www.dmsguild.com/product/223510/A-Guide-to-Tomb-of-Annihilation?affiliate_id=301495

If You are a New DM

This book might feel a little bewildering when you first look at it. Some sections are a sort of "toolkit" for you to use or not use. You decide what happens when, and there is no "wrong" way to do it. The authors of this book expect you to change things and make it your own.

Please remember that you will make mistakes. We all do! Don't be too hard on yourself if things go wonky, just make little adjustments and roll with whatever is happening. No matter how long you've been running games, you'll make mistakes every single session, so it's no big deal. There's simply too many things you have to do at once to be a "perfect" DM. There is no such thing as a perfect DM! All you can do is perfect your style.

The most important thing is to make it fun. Fun for you, and for the players. You're not the enemy of the players. You're a referee. Don't fall into the trap of getting revenge on the group for ruining or circumventing one of your encounters. 

The bottom line is that you can kill the characters any time you want. You can just say, "You have a heart attack and die." That's not your role, though.

Think of yourself as the director and the audience. The characters are the stars of your movie. You and the players write the script.

The Plot


Here's the basic story:
  1. The heroes want to end the death curse.
  2. They learn that the source of the curse is in the lost city of Omu.
  3. They search the jungle for the lost city.
  4. They find the lost city.
  5. They go through the Tomb of the Nine Gods. The source of the death curse, the Soulmonger, is at the bottom.
How to Start

One of the trickiest things in the whole book is figuring out how to involve the characters. The default option in the book is to use Syndra Silvane, a friend of the heroes. She's got the death curse and wants the adventurers to find the cure before it is too late.

The problem with this is that the players don't know this NPC at all. It's a little weird to hinge everything on some random person. You could tie her into the group's backstory, but she might not fit what the player had in mind.

Here are some ways to tie in the death curse:
  • Relative is Dying: A hero's father/mother has the death curse.
  • Kingdom in Peril: The king has the death curse, and the next in line to the throne is a real scoundrel/idiot.
  • Hags: A character has a link to one of the sewn sisters (the hags on page 180). Maybe one of the hags has done something terrible and the hero wants revenge.
  • The Atropal: You could do something with the atropal, just be careful - you don't want to spoil it! It's such a weird, shocking creature that I think you should keep it mysterious until the heroes get to area 77 in the dungeon. Maybe the character was part of an organization dedicated to keeping the atropal locked away. Then Acererak showed up and freed it/stole it, killing the guardians. The hero survived, and is determined to make things right.
  • The Evil Patron: What might be really cool is for a warlock who is unaware that the atropal is their patron! It is calling the warlock to it so that when it rises as a god, the warlock can serve it and explain the mortal world to it.
  • Item Quest: A hero might want to go to the tomb just to retrieve an item, either a story item (pg 189) or a magic item (pg 206).
  • Other Heroes: Also, you might want to tie a character to the Company of the Yellow Banner. They are heroes who went to Omu a while back and haven't been heard from. They died in the tomb. I wrote up the group in my guide.
What is the deal with Artus Cimber?

You might notice that Artus Cimber and his ring of winter are here, but he has no real relevance to the plot. Artus is in the jungle waiting for the city of Mezro to return from another plane - his girlfriend is there.

You can do whatever you want with Artus, just keep in mind that the ring is really, really powerful (pg 207) and might unbalance things.

Port Nyanzaru


So now, how do you start this thing? The group gets to Port Nyanzaru, and then what?

I would say you'll want to do a couple things, here:
  • Adventure: A combat/encounter, to spice up the exposition.
  • Dinosaur Race: In my opinion, this is one of the best things in the book.
  • NPC: Meeting a guide and preparing for the exposition.
Here's an example of how you could do this.

1. We're on a Boat: Does the group know each other? If not and they're arriving by boat, you could say that they all happen to be on the same boat. You could use the Brazen Pegasus, described in the "harbor ward" section on page 21.

2. Pirates! Their boat is attacked by pirates (pick from the three ships on pg 67). The pirates board and while the other passengers flee, the adventurers can do their thing, beat up the bad guys and show off their abilities.

You can have Aremag the dragon turtle (pg 42) pop up and demolish the pirates. That's his job, to defend Port Nyanzaru from pirates.

3. Arrival: The ship arrives at Port Nyanzaru, and Zindar (pg 238) lands on the ship. He learns of what happened and is impressed with the group. Maybe he gives them a document and tells them to go meet a merchant prince (whichever one you think is cool).

It might be a good idea to use Jessamine (pg 26). She has the death curse and by using her, you will reinforce that this curse is a big deal and that there isn't a lot of time.

4. Merchant Prince: When they meet the merchant prince, the prince rewards them for fending off the pirates and sees potential in them. The prince asks them to ride the prince's dinosaurs in the next dinosaur race. Winning will give them a nice sum of gold to fund their expedition.

5. Meet and Pick a Guide: The group can stay at the Thundering Lizard or Kaya's House of Repose (both described in "red bazaar" on page 23). You could have them be approached by a few of the guides that you think would be fun to use. They can hire whoever they want (or none at all).

6. Dinosaur Race: The next day, they have the race.

After the race, one dinosaur goes on a rampage. The group saves Grandfather Zitembe (pg 21) from the angry beast, and he is very grateful. When he learns of what the heroes want to do, he'll use his magic to tell them the stuff on page 21. That gives them a pretty solid idea of where to go.

7. Equip and Prepare: The group can stock up on equipment ("special items" on pg 31 and 32). The guide can help them, and make sure they get insect repellent and rain catchers.

The Jungle


OK! This is the most wide open part of the adventure. The heroes wander the jungle in search of Omu. The book says you should roll random encounters, but I think you will find that doing so slows the game to a crawl and leads to you running encounters you either don't like or aren't familiar with.

I suggest that you plan out travel days, generic ones that are not tied to a certain location that can be used in any part of the jungle. You should go through these 4 sections and pick out all of the things you want to use:
  • Discoveries: pg 205
  • Diseases: pg 40
  • Encounters: pg 194
  • Creatures: pg 209 Don't forget to work in the plants, like the tri-flower frond, the assassin vine, etc.
Planning The Journey

Let's make a bunch of travel days. These can be used when the group travels to a hex that doesn't have anything special on it.

All I'm doing is taking my favorite creatures, encounters and spreading them out. I made up a bunch of details to give it variety. Some groups are fine with having straight combats with monsters every day on an open field, but most people like it when there are all sorts of situations that can lead to cool moments. 

Make sure not to make all of the encounters negative! Have good things happen, too. It's more fun that way, and the group won't feel like everything and everyone is out to get them.

Day 1

The Guide: The guide will tell the group a few things:
  • Entering a goblin village is very dangerous, because legend has it that the villages can actually soar through the air like a meteor.
  • The dinosaurs aren't good or evil. They are the children of Ubtao and should be respected.
  • The guide has heard of ryath roots and can identify them on sight. These roots make you strong! The more you eat, the better! They're quite rare and very useful (the guide is a bit misinformed. See pg 205)
Deez Wukka Nuts: Later in the day, the group comes upon some wukka trees (pg 205). A wukka nut falls from the tree and begins emitting hazy light. The group could climb a tree to get more. A jaculi is lurking up on the branches.

Night: The group sets up camp. Establish that you will assume this is how they set up every night unless you hear differently.

Day 2

Brontosaurii: The heroes come upon a herd of brontosauruses drinking from a lake. They are harmless. A baby brontosaurus plays with the group. The heroes notice that the brontosauruses are devouring wildroot (pg 205) until there's none left.

They group continues on, passing a lot more wildroot. They come upon a huge horde of zombies with blue triangles on their heads blocking their path. The zombies are eating a brontosaurus corpse. If the group thinks of it, they could lure the brontosaurus herd here by enticing them with the wildroot. The brontosauruses would trample all of the zombies.

Camp: Towards the end of the day, the adventurers find a hidden waterfall and lake, a perfect place to camp. There could be a cave behind the waterfall if you want. Colorful, friendly parrots are in the trees and are quite amused by the heroes. The point of this is to show the group that not everything in the jungle is out to kill them, and that Chult is a special place worth saving. 

Day 3

Magic Fruit: While foraging, the group finds some fruit that has juice in it (dancing monkey fruit, pg 205). If you want, after someone begins dancing, a pterafolk or two swoop down and attack.

Empty Camp: The group finds an abandoned camp with supplies (treasure cache, pg 196). Place evidence that they were abducted/slain by pterafolk or goblins, depending how near the group is to Yellyark or Firefinger.

Night: That night, zombies wander into the camp and try to eat sleeping heroes.

Day 4

Food: Foraging isn't going so well. The only edible stuff they can find is bananas that taste like black licorice. They spot a few Al Miraj (pg 211) nearby, who are oblivious to the forager's presence. Will the group kill and eat these defenseless unicorn bunnies?

Ring of Winter: The heroes notice melting icicles on a number of trees, which is obviously very strange. They are attacked by goblins or pterafolk, and Artus Cimber and Dragonbait show up to help the group. Those icicles are from the ring of winter.

Ubtao Ruins: The group comes upon the ruins of a shrine to Ubtao. quite a few Yahcha (harmless beetles, pg 205) are here. Tracing the maze-rune on a wall reveals a secret underground chamber, a wondrous and safe place to rest!

Day 5

Treasure in a Dinosaur: The adventurers spot a few zombies lingering around a dead and decaying t. rex. Through a hole in its stomach, the group can see the inert corpse of an adventurer with gleaming armor and perhaps a magic item (a treasure drop, pg 197). If the group decides to go get the stuff, they'll need to climb into the t.rex to get it. If a hero climbs inside it, the t.rex gets up! It's a tyrannosaurus zombie (pg 241)!

Have an Ice Day: Frost giants are searching for Artus Cimber ("frost giants" pg 200). Their winter wolf sniffs the group out. The giants ask the group if they've seen Artus Cimber. They warn the group that the ring of winter is evil and will corrupt anyone who wears it. The giants say that they want it because they alone can handle it. This is meant to make the heroes wary of Artus. Can he be trusted? Should they take the ring from him?

Day 6

Let's Bee Friends: The heroes come upon a person, who is alive, tied to a post and covered in honey. Goblins did this to him! The group must decide whether or not to free this person. The person can explain that the goblins are having trouble with zombie attacks, and that he thought it was a good time to partake in a little thievery.

In Chult, Village Invade You: Later in the day, what looks to be a huge green meteor appears in the sky. It's heading right for the group! The goblins had to catapult their village and as fate would have it, it's about to land right on top of the group.

Chwinga: Late in the day, the group comes upon a gleaming section of forest with weird shimmering rocks. A chwinga lives in a central rock (pg 216). It will spy on the group and listen to their conversation. That night, a band of zombies are on their way. The chwinga will warn the group. Once the zombie situation is dealt with, the chwinga will reward the bravest of the heroes with a supernatural charm (DMG pg 228). Maybe the charm of animal summoning or the charm of restoration (which would be really handy for a group without a healer-type).

Day 7

The Chase: It's quite rainy and windy. It is loud enough that it is hard to hear at certain times. A band of zombies pop up out of the ground (or whatever) and attack. 1 round later, Artus Cimber and Dragonbait come running. To help? No! They keep running and tell the group to forget the zombies. He's being chased by the tyrannosaurus zombie (if they killed it on day 5, then this could be a living t. rex).

That's Just Grape: It stops raining. Toward the end of the day, the group comes upon a hot spring. Nature's jacuzzi! And look, there;s a plant the is full of wild grapes! It's an assassin vine (pg 213).

Day 8

Dead Guy: The group spots a dead explorer up on a precarious spot, perhaps up in a tree where a zorbo lurks? The explorer has some good loot (pg 197) and a useful journal.

Berry Good For You: The heroes spot some sinda berry bushes (pg 205). A stegosaurus shows up. It likes to eat these. If the group plays it cool, the stegosaurus will share the sinda berries with them.

Night: One of the sewn sisters (pg 180) tries to steal a lock of hair.

Day 9

Tri, Tri Again: The group comes upon a triceratops trying to fend off a bunch of zombies. If the group helps it, it will travel with the group for a day or two, and can be used as a beast of burden.

Water You Waiting For: It is incredibly dry all day. No rain at all! They do come upon clear water at the end of the day (they risk getting throat leeches! pg 40)

Night: Zombies attack. A sewn sister is in the ethereal plane, watching. If blood is spilled, she materializes and carefully collects blood from the ground.

Day 10

It's Your Time to Shrine: The heroes come upon a shrine of Ubtao guarded by a wereboar.

Night: The group is probably really wary of the hags, now. A sewn sister will actually try to attack and subdue (not kill) whoever is on watch, and then steal more hair or blood.

Running the Journey


Now that we have created a bunch of cool things to happen on the journey, we need to figure out how to handle all of the weird little rules on page 38. You have to try and make sure that it doesn't slow the game down and bore everybody to death. To avoid that, you just need to be a little organized.

At the start of each day:

1. Players Pick a Hex: Use the map on page 243.

2. Navigate: One character is the navigator. They must make a survival check. The DC is either a 10 (Coast/Lake) or a 15 (jungle/mountain/river/swamp/wasteland). Fail: The party is lost. They end up in one of the 6 hexes around them.

You might want to roll their navigation checks for them in secret. If a player rolls a 5, they know that they failed. Their character don't know that! By keeping the rolls a secret, you don't have to worry about metagaming.

3. Forage:  As the heroes travel, they can forage for food. They roll a survival check, DC 10 (the jungle is abundant with food). Success: The forager finds d6 + their Wisdom modifier in pounds of food. Repeat the roll for gallons of water.

4. Encounters: Run any encounters that happen throughout the day. If there aren't any, just say to them: "You make your way through the jungle without incident." Give them a chance to do anything they want on that day. Players come up with the weirdest things.

5. Travel Time: Generally, the group will travel 1 hex per day.
  • Travel via Canoe: 2 hexes per day.
  • Walk at a Regular Pace: 1 hex per day.
  • Hustle: Roll a d4. Result of 3 or 4 means they travel 2 hexes per day. -5 to perception checks. 
  • Flying: Check out "tracking miles" on pg 38. A character with a fly speed of 30 can travel 4 miles per hour.
6. Camp: Each night, the group makes camp. They should set up their raincatchers. The first night they make camp, you should have them describe the set-up and if/how they keep watch. Tell them you will assume  that this is how they set up camp every night unless they tell you differently. That way, there won't be any retroactive "I was sleeping in a tree" kind of stuff if the group gets ambushed at night.

7. Water: The water situation is a bit complicated. A waterskin holds 4 pints (aka half a gallon). Each character needs 2 gallons a day! So each character might want 4 waterskins, or maybe barrels full of water (which then requires a beast of burden). They can rely on the raincatchers and drink from them, but if it doesn't rain, they are in trouble.

Stuff to Know:
  • Dehydration rules are on page 38.
  • River water is not fit for drinking unless boiled.
  • If a character doesn't drink 2 gallons of water in a day, they must make a DC 15 con save or suffer 1 lvl of exhaustion (PH pg 291). Those in medium or heavy armor make this check at disadvantage.
  • Check out DMG page 111 for food and water rules. Each beast of burden is going to require probably 4 pounds of food and 4 gallons of water!
Using the Locations


The group will probably end up at a number of locations listed in chapter 2 (pg 37). You can have them wander freely or you can direct them to places you want to run.

Bottom line, they can do whatever they want, but if you point them towards the coolest places, that makes your life easier and makes the game more fun because you're not scrambling for material.

I picked the places I liked best and linked them to each other. Here's a way for the group to get from Port Nyanzaru to Omu:

1.The group is in Port Nyzanzaru. An NPC tells them about the home of the "bird people", and how they are friendly and can help the group. They might even be able to fly the group to Omu! The group is given directions to their home of Kir Sabal.

2. If the group decides to try to find Kir Sabal, they travel south, possibly crossing river Tiryki, or canoeing down it.

3. Some pterafolk attack the group. An aarakocra swoops down from the sky to aid the group. He is friendly and his name is Nephyr. He'll chat for a bit then fly off, and (unbeknownst to the heroes) he is captured by the pterafolk.

4. The pterafolk from firefinger attack the group again. Later, the heroes meet a sickly person who claims that he and his friend had been abducted by the pterafolk. He mentions that an aarakocra (Nephyr) flew down to help them, but was subdued by the pterafolk and taken away.

5. The group goes to Firefinger and frees Nephyr. Nephyr can give them exact directions to Kir Sabal.

6. Following his directions, the heroes cross Ataaz Muhahaha.

7. They might spot the wreck of the Narwhal if you want to use that. They might come upon Needle's bones if you want to use that.

8. They arrive at Kir Sabal. They meet Princess Mwaxanare, and learn that the aarakocra can cast a ritual to give the heroes the power to fly! A special component is needed for the flight ritual to work. It is the black orchid (pg 79) found in the ruins of Nangalore.

9. The adventurers go to Nangalore and get the orchid.

10. The group returns to Kir Sabal and are granted the power of flight. They have a fly speed of 30, and the flight power lasts for 3 days. See "Tracking Miles" on page 38. A character with a flying speed of 30 feet can travel 4 miles per hour.

If the heroes want to push on past 8 hours, use the "forced march" rules on PH pg 181. They'll need to make a Con save or gain a level of exhaustion (PH pg 291)

The group can fly closer to Omu, but the magic will likely run out long before they get there and they'll have a number of days of wandering the jungle, which is thick with undead.

According to the book (pg 91), "The city is notoriously hard to find" and it "lies in a basin hidden in the depths of the rainforest."

11. In Omu, I don't like the yuan-ti dungeon and the grung and etc. I am going to simplify it so that the yuan-ti are in the city, as is the dinosaur and the tabaxi hunters. The hunters could tell the group about the shrines.

12. Then the group must get the 9 puzzle cubes while dealing with yuan-ti ambushes and sudden rampages.

13. Ras Nsi has the last puzzle cube.

14. The group uses the puzzle cubes to enter the Tomb of the Nine Gods, and boom that's the rest of the adventure.

That's it! Not so bad, right? You are a rare breed. Most people don't want to be a DM! A lot of the joy of DMing is in reading an encounter and wondering what the group will do. It's so hard to guess! Frequently, what they do is really clever and hilarious.

I hope your game goes well. Good luck!