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5E [SPOILERS] Enhancing Tomb of Annihilation

Eltab

Villager
Do you think the adventures could be scaled up to challenge 16th level PCs?
You will have to pick and choose which of the NPCs you meet.
- There is a lich to be battled.
- Maybe you could have your PCs destroy the undead hordes wandering in the jungle. "You want us to carry a LURE for the T-Rex zombies ?!"
- The Tomb itself can grind through even a character with 16d12 HP (barbarian).
- There is a red dragon that may be older than rumors say.
- The dragon turtle messing with merchant shipping may be a valid opponent.
 
I will most likely have PCs ready to head south to tackle the undead menace following rise of tiamat.
Do you think the adventures could be scaled up to challenge 16th level PCs?

Sometimes you cant just make monsters tougher - especially when it is about bypassing traps etc..
I think the only part of Tomb of Annihilation that would be challenging to 16th level PCs is the Tomb of the Nine Gods. You'd want to enforce the PCs getting sealed within the Tomb and eliminate any easy methods for leaving (e.g. gaseous form through cracks in ceiling to surface on Level One). You'll want to be very clear about & strictly enforce the magical conditions in the Tomb. I'd also personally make long resting a terrible idea: have the night hags dream haunt PCs attempting to long rest in a Leomund's tiny hut, have all traps be reset, and have Withers send a tomb guardian after them (maybe use a medium-sized Iron Golem or monster from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes like an eidolon or medium-sized Nightwalker). These combine to make the dungeon about attrition and managing their resources. Make it a one-day dungeon assault, essentially, rather than a drawn out multi-month adventure with hexcrawling.

And you may want to consider giving most traps the False Appearance trait shared by gargoyles, mimics, and other monsters. Players who've run their PCs to high level tend to be very genre savvy and develop a trap sixth sense, making it tricky for a DM to find that sweet spot of being sporting/fair with descriptions & maintaining the sense of mystery. My rule of thumb is "Perception checks detect triggers, not traps. Describe what they sense."

While you can enjoy role-playing Port Nyanzaru, some of the zanier situations in the jungle, Omu, and the Fane – but none of them will challenge a 16th-level party (at least as written). Get them to the Tomb ASAP. Maybe a session where they do research to learn about the magical conditions in the Tomb (ToA p.128), are plagued by a night hag haunting one of their dreams (remember that reduction in maximum HP can't be cured while the Death Curse persists!), and then teleporting right into Omu and quickly gathering puzzle cubes. I'd implement some reason why they only have 1 day to gather the puzzle cubes...maybe the cubes teleport back to their respective shrines in the light of dawn? That makes it a little more challenging and serves as a quick warm-up for the Tomb.

I'd also encourage reading up on Acererak and deciding if/how you want to modify his stats or strategies. While many advocate changing his spell selection, personally I like it a lot and the spells lend themselves to creative use. That said if you want him dropping delayed blast fireball during time stop, go for it. What I'd change up is his strategy. Instead of appearing only after the atropal is destroyed, have him appear when the atropal is reduced to half hit points or less. I'd also give the lich phylacteries a role to play – letting him drain them to use as "bennies" allowing him to tweak his spellcasting a bit, such as using mage hand at longer than normal range to seal the Skeleton Gate behind the PCs. And remember that he can cast animate dead as a legendary action (and upcast it at that!), so skeletons should be pouring from the north wall ossuary alcoves...you might make these minotaur skeletons for your 16th-level party. Also consider that one of Acererak's strongest defensive capabilities (wall of force) may be easily handled by a 16th-level party with access to disintegrate.
 
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Scott Nagel

Villager
Warning: If your party is headed for Nangalore, be warned that the player map includes the locations of the Mantraps. You will have to edit the map, but luckily it's pretty easy to copy and past something else over top.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
I think the only part of Tomb of Annihilation that would be challenging to 16th level PCs is the Tomb of the Nine Gods.

My honest advice: find something else for a 16th level party to do. A different module entirely.

I'm currently running the module with characters that just reached level 13, half way through the Tomb of Nine Gods*.

I have to upgrade or replace everything. Nothing is threatening as written.

The module is written with a weak party that ends up at level 10. Maybe. And that's a weak party, with no multiclassing, feats and the very few magic items the adventure itself hands out.

I can't imagine this module being even remotely relevant at level 16. I would suggest saving loads of work by playing something else and saving Annihilation for a brand new group of characters that start in Port Nyanzaru at level 3 or lower, and then levels up slowly, never reaching level 10 before the final confrontation.
 
Thanks,
I am struggling to find any published, reasonable length high/epic level material.
TBH looking at the module as written I cant see how any level 9s would defeat Accererak. He looks fairly impervious if you play him to his level if intelligence.
 
Thanks,
I am struggling to find any published, reasonable length high/epic level material.
TBH looking at the module as written I cant see how any level 9s would defeat Accererak. He looks fairly impervious if you play him to his level if intelligence.
Look at page 186 under Area 77 of the Tomb, specifically Wrath of the Trickster Gods. Your answer is there – PCs possessed by trickster gods get major buffs.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Yep. My players were convinced there was no way they could beat Acererak until I told them about the Trickster God boons. Even then, it was a tough fight (from their side of the screen at least) but one that is absolutely winnable (and possibly too easy, from the DM's side of the screen).
 

Scott Nagel

Villager
I have decided to add a fun, (not very) random encounter the next time the party is crawling a jungle hex. They will happen upon a Giant Ape, who is agitated, roaring and thumping its chest. While the party is deciding how to handle this, a T-Rex will approach from the other side of the PCs. Classic monster fight! The PCs are only third level, so it will be dangerous, but the monsters will be focused on each other--and everyone has seen enough movies to know that you absolutely side with the giant gorilla in this situation! If anyone is stupid enough to attack the gorilla they are getting thrown at the T-Rex. The T-Rex will be forced to bite the ape (4d12+7!), so at most someone will catch a tail swipe (3d8+7)--enough to put them down in one shot, but not kill them outright.

I was tickled enough with this idea, that I picked up a Schleich gorilla that is the perfect size to match the Fiendish Tyrannosaurus mini. (I also have the Nolzur's mini, but it likely won't be painted in time.)

Oh, and the fight is definitely ending with somebody pulling off somebody else's jaw.
 

Scott Nagel

Villager
Ha. Nice. I like that idea in principle, but it would completely eliminate the bite attack. Two tail attacks might work, though. We'll have to see how the first combat plays out first.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
As written, the Sewn Sisters are presented as an encounter against three Night Hags. That is not nearly enough for my needs, and weak even against a party of the prescribed level. I want a truly epic fight after they reach the sixth and final level of the dungeon, and besides, my party is severely over-leveled anyway. So here I present an alternate encounter suggestion for anyone interested :)

Two issues need solving: making the Hags "CR appropriate", and solving the action economy. To be truly challenging/memorable, a good BBEG fight needs to give the bad guy or guys action economy equality at the very least.

Problem 1 suggestion: base the Hags on the Crone stats of Book of Beautiful Horrors (fan work, freely available); they're CR 15 instead of CR 5.

Problem 2 suggestion: have the Hags perfect a clone (or clones) of the adventurers as an evil ally. There should be an equal number of enemies as heroes - so with five players you need two Clones to supplement three Sisters.

Here's my take on those ideas, given my party of six characters, powerful for their level (14).

-----------------------------------

When the three hags appear, they do so besides/behind one Champion each. These three Champions are called Stupid, Foolish and Ugly, and they are identical clones to the respective adventurer they're cloned from, with one major exception:

A clone cannot use any active ability unless first exhibited by its original. Passive abilities and values are available right from the start.

For example: If the hero is a Paladin and uses Blinding Smite, that spell becomes available to the clone too. If a Monk uses Ki for Flurry of Blows, from that point on its clone can do that too. If a Wizard doesn't use the Shield spell, however, during the encounter, its clone won't either.

In contrast, the clone can already from the get-go make two attacks if the original has Extra Attack - that is not an active ability you consciously choose to "turn on". Same with Rogue sneak damage, even though you decide when to use it you never turn it "on" and "off".

The clone starts with the same number of hp the original has currently, the same saving throw bonuses, damage expressions, the lot - including bonuses from equipment. (In short, use the original's current scores right off the bat, no complicated recalculations as in 3E).

However, since the clone's equipment is illusory, it can't drink a Potion of Healing just because its hero does - that liquid is separate from the character. Some judgement calls may be needed from the DM. If the original starts the fight with temporary hp from whatever source (such as a Potion already quaffed), these apply to the clone as well. If the original has +3 to AC for a +1 Shield, the clone's AC matches that, even though it has no lootable equipment. Yes, this is one fancy cloning technique!

(But very easy on the DM :) )

--

Here's how to create the Champions:

Step 1) “Stupid”: randomly choose one character with negative Int modifier (if nobody, choose among those with a 0–1 Int modifier; then 2–3 modifier)
Step 2) “Foolish”: randomly choose one character (not Stupid) with negative Wis modifier (or 0–1 modifier, or 2–3 modifier)
Step 3) “Ugly”: randomly choose one character (not Stupid or Foolish) with negative Cha modifier (or 0–1 modifier, or 2–3 modifier)

They have the exact same stats as their original, as explained above; no calculations whatsoever.

They don't use any active abilities at all, unless first used by their original* - thus vastly cutting down on administration and DM brain overload! (*Simply put: If the original uses a spell or magic item power, the clone can too)

--

Sewn Sisters. Use “Crone” stats (Beautiful8)
Action:
if her Hex not active → random (roll d6 on table below) Mistress of Hexes plus (if in melee) two melee attacks
if her Eyebite (Conc) not active → Eyebite plus (if in melee) two melee attacks
or → Dissonant Whisper (Wisdom DC 16, not on Incapacitated or deafened targets): 3d6 psychic plus spend reaction to move away.

Mistress of Hexes (tweaked version)
1-2. Boiling Blood. DC 18 Constitution Saving Throw. Incapacitated until end of Sister's next round. Take 10 (3d6) fire and 10 (3d6) necrotic damage.
3-4. Doomed. DC 18 Wisdom Saving Throw. Disadvantage on attack rolls. Vulnerability to one damage type, chosen by the Hag. Save at end of your turns to get rid of it.
5. Leech. DC 18 Wisdom Saving Throw. Take 10 (3d6) necrotic damage at start of your turns, lowering your maximum hp, and healing the leeching Hag. Save at end of your turns to get rid of it.
6. Twisted. DC 18 Strength Saving Throw. Blinded, deafened, Charisma 1. Negated by taking 1 point of damage per point of Charisma lost.

--

When the party has completed all Trials and say they move out into the main room to use the keys on the Skeleton Gate and/or start to buff up, roll initiative (in my case, six heroes, six enemies) and phase in the Sisters and their Champion(s) in a not easily fireballed configuration.

Suggestion:

Entrance to #72: Peggy Deadbells. Bloated legs, mace, veiled face, bloody apron. “Ugly”.
AC 16. Hp 141. Immune to 3rd level spell slots. Mace: +10 to hit, 13 (2d8 + 4) damage
Spell: Eyebite, Asleep (Charisma DC 16)

Skeleton Gate: Baggy Nanna. Fat, Cleaver, Cage sewn over her head. “Stupid”.
AC 15. Hp 201. Immune to 4th level spell slots. Cleaver: +8 to hit, 23 (4d8 + 6) damage
Spell: Eyebite, Sickened (Intelligence DC 16)

Entrance to #73: Widow Groat. Wears noose around neck, scimitar. “Foolish”.
AC 17. Hp 171. Immune to 5th level spell slots. Scimitar: +12 to hit, 18 (3d8 + 5) damage
Spell: Eyebite, Panicked (Wisdom DC 16)

With only four players, maybe use only Foolish. With only five players, maybe use only Ugly and Foolish.
 
Something I've put together for Sunday's game – it's meant to be a "tithing obelisk" once used during Ras Nsi's governance of the region (he used to send out zombie tax collectors among the tribes of Chult), but it probably can double as the obelisk in front of the Tomb as well.

Trying to design a puzzle to go with it too!

 

Eltab

Villager
Trying to design a puzzle to go with it too!
Could you make that obelisk a "layer cake" with a post in the middle, spin all the sections randomly, and present it to the players? If they match up the vines to restore the configuration in the photo, something good happens (or something bad - such as the first few hallway traps - is disabled).
Or, because Acererak wants you dead, if you get it wrong the vines transform into snakes and try to bite the PCs - injecting a poison that will mess them up inside the Tomb, such as inflicting enough levels of Exhaustion to cripple their Saving Throws? OTOH if you get the puzzle right, there are fewer snakes to deal with because the vines grow together over matching section boundaries.
 
Could you make that obelisk a "layer cake" with a post in the middle, spin all the sections randomly, and present it to the players? If they match up the vines to restore the configuration in the photo, something good happens (or something bad - such as the first few hallway traps - is disabled).
Or, because Acererak wants you dead, if you get it wrong the vines transform into snakes and try to bite the PCs - injecting a poison that will mess them up inside the Tomb, such as inflicting enough levels of Exhaustion to cripple their Saving Throws? OTOH if you get the puzzle right, there are fewer snakes to deal with because the vines grow together over matching section boundaries.
Thanks, Eltab! I also was thinking along the lines of animating vines...however as I'm leaning on that in other parts of the adventure...I adapted it for a "stone wyrm." Here's the puzzle I ended up with for Sunday's game...




The Nsi Nkondi & Tithing Obelisk
[SECTION]An overgrown 60-foot-tall stone obelisk rises from where the hilly jungles meet swampy mire of the Nsi Wastes. The western side of the three-sided obelisk is weathered as if by acid rain, and at the base is a blocky carving of a door; the green face of a bald, bearded, horned man is carved into the false door. The other two sides boast macabre bas reliefs of tormented men and lizardfolk worked into the stone, along with an elaborate carving of a 20-foot long multi-legged horned serpent coiling around the obelisk. At the peak, the obelisk ends in a stupa with a horrid little statue of a gaping impish pterodactyl/dilophosaurus hybrid atop.[/SECTION]
After gathering the “Nsi tithe” from river tribes, Ras Nsi’s zombie taxmen would deposit it here. Tribes delinquent in paying taxes would send a representative to engage in silent barter, leaving a surplus of goods/gold as a tax.

GUARDIAN GARGOYLES
Three unique gargoyles (CR 5) known as Nsi nkondi (Chultan for “Nsi’s spirit-inhabited-object-hunters”) are built into the stonework. If a creature makes a mistake in the puzzle, attempts forced entry, or attempts to destroy/damage the obelisk, the Nsi nkondi will become activated to carry out their mission of destruction. The 3 gargoyles (none of which can move more than 5 feet away from the obelisk) include:
  • Grandfather Plaque – built into the false door, this gargoyle resembles a yawning bearded devil face.
  • The Spouter – perched at the obelisk’s peak, looking over the eastern false door, this small gargoyle resembles an impish pterodactyl/dilophosaurus hybrid with vestigial wings.
  • Stone Wyrm – coiled around the obelisk, this gargoyle resembles a wingless multi-legged serpentine drake.
Grandfather Plaque. AC 15, HP 77, gargoyle resistances/immunities, 0 speed, Intelligence 9 (Chultan, Common). Innate spells: (at-will) arcane lock (DC 30 break/pick), magic missile (120’, 3d4+3 force damage). Shout “You Shall Not Pass”: 30-ft-cone, 17 (5d6) thunder damage and deafened for one minute, DC 15 Con half damage, fragile crystalline objects take damage. Anyone who touches the plaque or its guarded door without permission is weakened – dealing half damage with unarmed/weapon attacks – for one minute.

The Spouter. Small; AC 15, HP 63, gargoyle resistances/immunities + immune to acid, can’t fly but has Climb (30’) & Slow Fall (-30 damage). Acid Spew: 5-ft range, one creature, DC 15 Dex save or take 21(2d20) acid damage and the creature suffers 5 (1d10) acid damage at the start of each of its turns until immersed in water or succeeding the Dex save at the end of its turn; on a successful save only take half damage, and no ongoing damage; a creature reduced to 0 hit points by this acid is killed as its body is dissolved.

Stone Wyrm. Large; AC 15, HP 91, gargoyle resistances/immunities, can’t fly but has Climb (50’). Multiattack (bite + constrict). Bite: +4 to hit, 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage. Constrict: +4 to hit, 6 (1d8+2) bludgeoning damage and target is grappled (escape DC 14), until this grapple ends, the creature is restrained and the stone wyrm can’t constrict another target, failing an Escape action causes a creature to become restrained and begin petrifying, if not freed from the stone wyrm by the end of its next turn, the creature is petrified.

THE PUZZLE
The false door is a trap. The actual "door" is a stone block on the 5th tier which is constructed with a downward slanting “sill” and is impossible to move unless a creature chips out grips in the stone and is as strong as a frost giant (Str 23) OR the “sill” beneath is lubricated with water or oil. Five feet from the false door are 4 skulls of different colors representing Ras Nsi’s four major battles; they are arranged in a triangular pattern with the gold skull at the center:

White Skull. The skull of the Eshowe chieftain, Showma, is covered in gum arabic and wood ash. Ras Nsi annihilated the entire tribe in retaliation for their attack on Mezro.
Green Skull. The skull of Manawabe, the Great Druid of Chult, is adorned with plant arabesques and animal skins hang beneath it. Manawabe traveled the land awakening beasts and creating sanctuaries; viewing Ras Nsi's logging operations as an affront, he prepared an attack but was ambushed by Ras Nsi.
Black Skull. The skull of Kaverin Ebonhand is covered in tar and adorned with Batiri goblin fetishes, with a pair of ebony hands dangling beneath. It is cold to the touch. Kaverin orchestrated a goblin attack on Mezro in his quest for the Ring of Winter but was killed by Artus Cimber; during this battle Ras Nsi offered unsanctioned assistance.
Gold Skull. The gilded skull of Mezro's champion, Ufuoma, is adorned with a tattered feather headdress. When Ras Nsi attacked Mezro with the intent of overthrowing the insipid King Osaw, it was Ufuoma who led the warriors of Mezro against Ras Nsi’s undead army, ultimately falling in battle before Ras Nsi's army was defeated.

The skulls are activated by being touched by an undead creature, by a creature with the Death Curse, by a creature marked by the Devourer, or by a character using Channel Divinity to Turn Undead or Control Undead. A skull’s eyes glow when it is active. If they're activated in the correct sequence historically (1-4), at each step of the sequence, the obelisk lowers one tier; for example, after activating the white skull, the 1st tier sinks below ground. However, each time a skull is improperly activated in the improper order, the Nsi nkondi attack as the DM sees fit.

The foundation of the obelisk has four holes stoppered with stone plugs. Similarly, each tier’s floor has holes in it. Activating a skull causes a stone shape spell to shrink the corresponding stone plug, allowing swamp water to fill that tier, causing the obelisk to sink. This in turn causes the pumice stone holding the gargoyle heart to rise like an “island.”

THE GARGOYLE'S HEART
Within the 5th tier of the obelisk, the walls are lined with Chultan inscriptions recording tithes collected from various tribes. Upon a pumice dais at the center is a fist-sized black meteorite flecked with adamantine and pulsing with veins of fire – this is the gargoyle's heart the PCs seek. As the water rises, it lifts the pumice dais (and the gargoyle's heart along with it) up to the 5th tier.

Untouched, the heart only weighs 6.2 lbs. Similary, an aarakocra, a creature with the blessing of Aerdrie Faenya or the Wind Dukes (or possibly a chwinga’s charm), or a good character of such purity their “heart weighs less than a feather” can lift the meteorite as if it weighs just 6.2 lbs. However, all others lift it as if it weighs 620 lbs. (requiring Strength 21).

CAMPAIGN IMPLICATIONS
  • The gargoyle's heart might be used by an alchemist (proficiency in alchemist's supplies) to create an elixir that will slow the Death Curse in an afflicted creature. The procedure requires knowledge of how to utilize gargoyle horn to create a potion of invulnerability and 1,000 gp of various components.
  • The presence of Acererak's screaming devil face on a monument of Ras Nsi that's well over 100 years old suggests that their relationship dates back farther and is more complex than ToA suggests in the line: Acererak promised to help the yuan-ti if they would guard the Tomb of the Nine Gods. How did Acererak meet the yuan-ti? What drove Ras Nsi to travel to Omu? Help them with what? What if Acererak contacted Ras Nsi after the bara was striped of his powers and guided him to Omu where "destiny awaited the future king of Mezro"? I like that alot...
 
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MockingBird

Explorer
Been writing up an outline for ToA. Hopefully I will get to start Tuesday. As of now this is how I've "stream lined" it. For the record I will have at most 3 players but more than likely I have 2. I plan to continue their characters from Lost Mines. They will be roughly 5th level at the start. Here's what I have so far.

They will be propositioned by a well to do NPC who wants them to investigate rumors of a curse in Chult.

Travel will be via ship to Port N. There they will seek out Zitembe for further information. Meanwhile Sabila is aware of their arrival and offers to guide them into the jungle.

I have a couple locations picked out. Camp righteous and Nangalore. I will fill this section out as we play and might add more. The naga will further clue them in on the curse and the soul monger.

Once in Omu they will meet Orvex and rescue him. As he is being healed he will drop even more info about he curse, the soul monger and Acerack (sp?).

As the players search for puzzle cubes Sabila will signal the Yaun-ti and at some point they will be ambushed and captured.

I plan on running the game as written from then.

I know it looks as if I'm railroading the players. I am definitely steering them but they will have choice on exploration of they feel inclined to do so. I also plan on filling out the players party with a cleric they meet and adventures with in Lost mines.
 

sim-h

Explorer
Does anyone have any experience expanding out the Royal Palace in Omu to house more Yuan-Ti? I was reading a blog from someone who completed the campaign and had found it difficult to justify to his players how the only living quarters for Yuan-Ti were a couple of rooms in the Fane. I agree - it seems to me there should be far more buildings given over for Yuan-Ti residential purposes.

I'm thinking of having a pureblood barracks above ground, perhaps a few malisons too. The palace, to me, should definitely not be deserted, the players should run into patrols and Yuan-Ti going about their business, perhaps using the temple reinforcements or random encounter charts as a guide.

What do you think? Oh, and do Yuan-Ti malisons sleep in snake form??
 
be careful of doing this uch around a puzzle. As a player once we were so fatigued that when presented with a puzzle that the DM expected us to solve in real life we just went "my pc will sit down and spend as long it it takes to figure it out. What is the DC for my intelligence check? How many successes do I need to get before I solve it?"
 
be careful of doing this much around a puzzle. As a player once we were so fatigued that when presented with a puzzle that the DM expected us to solve in real life we just went "my pc will sit down and spend as long it it takes to figure it out. What is the DC for my intelligence check? How many successes do I need to get before I solve it?"

Thanks, Eltab! I also was thinking along the lines of animating vines...however as I'm leaning on that in other parts of the adventure...I adapted it for a "stone wyrm." Here's the puzzle I ended up with for Sunday's game...




The Nsi Nkondi & Tithing Obelisk
[SECTION]An overgrown 60-foot-tall stone obelisk rises from where the hilly jungles meet swampy mire of the Nsi Wastes. The western side of the three-sided obelisk is weathered as if by acid rain, and at the base is a blocky carving of a door; the green face of a bald, bearded, horned man is carved into the false door. The other two sides boast macabre bas reliefs of tormented men and lizardfolk worked into the stone, along with an elaborate carving of a 20-foot long multi-legged horned serpent coiling around the obelisk. At the peak, the obelisk ends in a stupa with a horrid little statue of a gaping impish pterodactyl/dilophosaurus hybrid atop.[/SECTION]
After gathering the “Nsi tithe” from river...
 
be careful of doing this much around a puzzle. As a player once we were so fatigued that when presented with a puzzle that the DM expected us to solve in real life we just went "my pc will sit down and spend as long it it takes to figure it out. What is the DC for my intelligence check? How many successes do I need to get before I solve it?"
The puzzle ran great at my table. Players were very engaged. They ended up destroying the door gargoyle, creatively nullifying the serpent gargoyle with mold earth, using the oathbreaker paladin PC's Control Undead to communicate with the skulls, and collectively solving the puzzle. It was definitely a challenge, but they rose to the challenge.

Sounds like if I was DMing for your group, I'd have the sensitivity to realize such a puzzle wouldn't be fun for you guy. My group is obviously different. YMMV.
 

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