5E Starting ToA at 5th Level
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  1. #1
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    Starting ToA at 5th Level

    Hi all,

    My group is going to be finishing up The Forge of Fury soon. The PCs should be at 5th level by then. My players are all keen to go explore the jungles of Chult next. Unfortunately, ToA doesn't have much advice for starting at 5th level, other than to make encounters harder if need be and to not let the PCs level up until they reach Omu.

    I had considered sending them to Chult and letting them do a bit of exploring before the Death Curse hits, but I think that makes more sense if we were starting at 1st level. I think I may just dive right in with Syndra and all that. But should I give them something of a guided path towards Omu (say via Firefinger -> Kir Sabal -> Nangalore), or should I still just let them wander around Chult and find their own way, perhaps letting them level up once along the way (we've been using milestones, and I'd rather not switch back to XP, so maybe they can level up once they figure out that they're supposed to be going to Omu).

    Anyone got any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance,
    Jonathan

  2. #2
    In my honest, humble, deeply personal opinion, I think that not starting at 1st level and not using XP misses a big part of the fun and danger of ToA. I don't know if ToA was designed specifically to take advantage of the best aspects of gaining XP, or if it was solely meant to be exploration-centric, however that's how it reads to me. There's a build-up of succeeding against the odds and getting that level-up hit in the middle of some dungeon or esoteric and exotic encounter.

    I've also found that, increasing difficulty is very challenging in and of itself. Throwing more monsters at something isn't a very satisfying way to do it, nor is all the work involved to either make or find more powerful alternatives. And with ToA seemingly designed around the idea of being a sandbox with only one overarching goal, it becomes next to impossible to plan for unless you do away with that element and railroad it like you suggest. That in turn further waters down the "into the wild unknown" feel of the campaign and location.

    But again, that's just my opinion. If there was ever an adventure that should be played from 1st-level up (and using XP), I would say it's this one.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dropbear8mybaby View Post
    But again, that's just my opinion. If there was ever an adventure that should be played from 1st-level up (and using XP), I would say it's this one.
    If there was ever an adventure that practically screamed out for high-level adventurers, I would say it's this one. That was one of the main bits of feedback I gave about the draft version of this adventure: presenting this big, world-threatening event and then sending in complete noobs to deal with it makes absolutely no sense. They paid lip service to that by having Syndra pick 1st-level PCs after the higher-level ones failed to return but still ... Acererak's plot is so dire, the gods of Faern themselves ought to be banding together to put a stop to it.

    But that is neither here nor there. I actually polled my group about playing ToA as a continuation of our current campaign* or starting it as a new campaign at 1st level. Only one player voted for the latter. The other four all voted to continue.

    I'm not too fussed about challenging them in the earlier parts of the adventure. I feel confident enough as a DM to be able to do that with little trouble. What I'm not sure about is whether I should bother trying to get them to Omu faster or just let them faff about in the jungle until they figure it out. Either way has pros and cons. I'm not leaning towards either method really.



    *I was going to run them through all the adventures in Tales from the Yawning Portal, but we're only partway through the second one, and we're all chomping at the bit to play ToA, so I'm thinking I'll replace Hidden Shrine, White Plume Mountain, and Dead in Thay with ToA, and then run Against the Giants afterwards, followed by the original Tomb of Horrors as a sort of sequel to ToA, in which Acererak, now reduced to a demilich again, attempts to get revenge on the pesky adventurers who thwarted his plans in Chult.

    I've thought about putting Hidden Shrine and White Plume Mountain in Chult, but I'm not sure. The former makes more sense in Maztica, although I did have the idea of making it so it somehow ended up in Chult during the Spellplague or something. The latter could be one of the Peaks of Flame (or one of the other volcanoes in Chult).

    Hidden Shrine has almost enough XP in it to get a party of five 5th-level PCs to 6th level. If I sent them to Chult to explore the shrine, then start the Death Curse plot when the survivors return to Port Nyanzaru, that could potentially work. White Plume Mountain would have to be an optional side quest, since it's aimed at 8th level PCs.

    I could also potentially run Dead in Thay if the PCs somehow ended up prisoners of the Red Wizards.
    Last edited by pukunui; Friday, 13th October, 2017 at 04:13 AM.

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    I think this depends entirely on your group. Do you think they would like exploring Chult and uncovering adventure as they go? Or do they want a strong central narrative? If it's the later, drop them in Omu. If it's not, don't.
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    Quote Originally Posted by THEMNGMNT View Post
    I think this depends entirely on your group. Do you think they would like exploring Chult and uncovering adventure as they go? Or do they want a strong central narrative? If it's the later, drop them in Omu. If it's not, don't.
    To be honest, I think they'd probably enjoy just exploring. I don't think they need a strong central narrative at all. Which just makes me wonder: should I hold off on introducing the Death Curse so they *can* explore freely for a while, even though they're already 5th level, or should I bring it in from the start to give them a goal while they explore?

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    I started a group at 5th this past weekend. They spent a ton of time RPing in Port N. so we didn't get much done, but eventually they decided to explore down the river to Camps Righteous and Vengeance. Everything was way too easy.

    In retrospect I wish I had dropped more hints on them in Port N., rather than waiting for them to find the hints all on their own.

    But really I wish I had just started at level 1. In fact I'm thinking of rebooting at level 1 and just finding ways to tweak what they already know. (Which isn't much.) I'll probably start them in Cellar of Death, then at some point before level 4 detour them down to Snout of Omgar.

    One thing to consider is that if they are going to go jungle exploring they might want different characters. You could always pick up Tales sometime in the future.

    Or, better yet, keep going with Tales, and when Xanathar's comes out suspend the current campaign and switch to ToA.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pukunui View Post
    To be honest, I think they'd probably enjoy just exploring. I don't think they need a strong central narrative at all. Which just makes me wonder: should I hold off on introducing the Death Curse so they *can* explore freely for a while, even though they're already 5th level, or should I bring it in from the start to give them a goal while they explore?
    Given that it's talked about how Acerak has been using the tomb to feed his phylacerty for years, do you even need to bring it in at all? Just like in the original, the PCs could just be the most recent explorers to "find" this tomb.
    So let them wander about abit & then eventually locate Omu.

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    In that case, I think I will have the Death Curse going from the start. It'll put a little more pressure on them and make encounters that might otherwise be too easy a little more dangerous (either because they don't take as many rests or because they get a bit sloppy or whatever). Encounters with undead, especially ones with Life Drain, will be more dangerous as well. Oh, and I am going to be using Meat Grinder mode as well.

    Oh, and previously, one of the PCs went carousing and wound up with an ongoing romance. We have yet to iron out the details. I think I might make Syndra the love interest ...

    And yes, some of the players are going to make new PCs. (I'd already told them they could swap out characters between each adventure anyway.) One of my players is mad about dinosaurs, so he's swapping out his dwarf monk for a tortle moon druid who likes to transform into dinos ...
    Last edited by pukunui; Friday, 13th October, 2017 at 06:13 AM.

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    I have a LARGE group of lvl 6 chars (just out of Forge of Fury too coincidentally) and just started ToA. Since they are high level they breezed through the early stuff. Only spent 2 days in town talking to merchant princes, participating in a dinosaur race (got them some of their audiences with that), and recruiting guides. They chose Azaka and Eku because they are cheap bastards and their personal quests are nearby. So because of that they went Firefinger (Azaka) -> Mbala (Eku)-> Orolunga (naga info)-> Camp Vengeance (to get boats back to...) -> Nyanzaru. Now they have to decide whether to head to Kyr Sabal and fly to Omu, or having found the location of Omu take a ship to Shilku Bay and hoof it over land.
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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
    What I'm doing is:
    - no long rests in jungle hexes (or badland or swamp hexes for that matter either). Rivers are your friend. (Coastal hexes too, mainly because otherwise the party would just sleep in a ship). This automagically makes the game work like intended - that is, the party will MUCH more often have to face those 6-8 random jungle encounters between long rests that the DMG expect. Explain this as part of the magical curse rather than mundane environmental factors - you don't want them to circumvent the challenge, you want them to overcome the challenge!
    - all those niggling environmental rolls and checks reduced to simply "if you have heavy armor, you have at least one level of exhaustion, end of discussion". Don't encourage the meta-game of "how will we use skills and magic to dismiss the penalties so we can adventure just like back at the Sword Coast". Instead, make the players embrace the fact the jungle is different - just like the previous point, its penalties are something to be endured rather than dodged, or why even have them in the first place!?
    - don't start the clock just yet - if players know they're on a timer, every encounter will be judged by a "can we skip it" mentality. And that's just anathema to a good old-fashioned hex-crawl, where the joy is in the exploration itself! So hold off Syndra and her quest. Ideally a player character will die half-way across the continent, and then you have yourself a much more personal and engaging timer!
    - this means everybody gets to die.. once! You WANT raise dead to work on the player characters, since this means the wasting disease gets up close and personal. A better adventure hook can't be found! Saying "you need to roll up a new character" is a HUGE WASTE in my opinion.
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