D&D 5E Tomb of Annihilation: Tying up loose ends in town

pukunui

Legend
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR TOMB OF ANNIHILATION AHEAD

Hi all,

I am currently running Tomb of Annihilation for the second time. With this campaign, I decided not to introduce the death curse straight away so that the players could have a chance to freely explore the various locations in Chult without the time pressure element. Instead, I had them start off in Waterdeep wanting to join Acquisitions Incorporated. I ran the initial chapter of the Orrery of the Wanderer adventure, but then I had Omin Dran send them to Chult to investigate what had happened to the previous franchise, the Company of the Yellow Banner.

I put the Yellow Banner's manor on the hill overlooking Port Nyanzaru and then transposed the manor dungeon from Orrery chapter two. I made it so agents of Ras Nsi were the ones who'd attacked the Company's headquarters, although I never firmly established why they'd done it, and the players didn't follow up on that. They just reported back to Head Office that the franchisees seemed to be all dead and then proceeded to take over.

We then spent the next few levels exploring Chult at our leisure. I had various guides, like Azaka, the dwarves, and even the dandies, hire them to do their personal quests. I also had Zhanthi hire them to explore the Snout of Omgar (from the Tortle Package). They've just returned from doing that. They're now level 7, and I am wanting to introduce the death curse and get them headed towards Omu. However, there are a few loose ends that I feel I should tie up first. I'm just not sure how best to go about doing so.

One thread has to do with the Flaming Fists. Previously, the PCs went along to Fort Beluarian, got a charter, and then did some jobs for Liara Portyr. But their relationship with the Fists soured when a patrol confiscated half the treasure they'd pulled up from Needle's hidden trove. (I'd doubled the amount of treasure so they weren't actually being cheated of anything but the players didn't know that.)

More recently, they captured one of the pirate captains, and he traded his life for the information that the Fists are in league with the pirates. Back in town, they hired an intern to track Flaming Fist movements in the city to see if they could get any evidence to that effect. We used the scrutineering downtime activity for that, and they were successful, but the players don't seem to want to do anything with that information. I'm wondering, though, if I should make it so the intern was found out, and now Liara is worried that the party will expose her ... so she sends some assassins to silence them. But would she do that in town, where things might come back to haunt her, or would she wait until they were out in the jungle and do it anonymously?

The other has to do with Ras Nsi and the yuan-ti. As often as I could, I dropped Ras Nsi's name and history into events as they explored Chult, building him up as this mythical bogeyman. When they went to the Snout of Omgar, they visited the Shrine of Fangs, where the talking snakes told them that Ras Nsi was not only still alive but had also joined the yuan-ti of lost Omu in their quest to free Dendar the Night Serpent. That was quite the bombshell, but I feel like I still need to make things a bit more personal for my players. Ras Nsi needs to strike at them and make them want to go after him personally. But how do I do that? Just have some random assassins attack the PCs in their manor like what happened to their predecessors?

The PCs did bring along a wyrmling bronze dragon named Dabshabah (see chapter one of the Orrery of the Wanderer). Perhaps Ras Nsi's agents could kidnap her and take her back to Omu? If I did that, I'd have to leave some kind of clue as to who had taken her and where.

As an aside, I'm intending to point the players in the direction of Orolunga to visit the naga there. I am going to have Xandala ask to accompany them, and if they haven't hired Salida themselves, she will be working for Xandala as a porter so she can spy on the party.

I'm just not feeling confident about how to explore these threads in a way that will be satisfying for both my players and me. I kind of want to ignore them and just get on with the death curse plot, but I feel I ought to try and resolve them first.

Any suggestions you might have will be most appreciated! Thank you for taking the time to read through this.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
I think it really depends on the expectation of your players, in particular in terms of loving completion, the amount of time that you expect to spend on the campaign and levelling. With our groups, I never made the date of the death curse clear, because they like to complete things, they don't care about levelling, and we had all our time, and it was a great experience. But if you have a group that does not care about completing all side stories, cares about levelling and XPs or if you are under time pressure to run the campaign, you will have to make compromises. I suggest discussing it with them so that they are not surprised about what is happening, as a part of a new "session 0" for the introduction of the death curse.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I started the death curse at campaign start, but changed the rate of the max HP loss to 1-hp / 5-days. That delivered the feeling of doom and horror, but with enough narrative space to enjoy our city-adventures and hexploration.

I tracked the max-hp of significant NPCs. Syndra, Jessamine, Ray N'si. That informed their actions. For fun I had Syndra open about looking for a stronger party to hire, to take over the quest once the PCs established the soulmonger's location. Of course, her higher level parties always ran into a horrible fate off-screen on their way to Chult.

I created a second clock by having Valindra persuade Thay to send significant reinforcements. These were scheduled to arrive in five or so ten-days. Their aim, to secure, suppress and study the artifact for Thayan use as a weapon against those they would conquer.
 

pukunui

Legend
I think it really depends on the expectation of your players, in particular in terms of loving completion, the amount of time that you expect to spend on the campaign and levelling. With our groups, I never made the date of the death curse clear, because they like to complete things, they don't care about levelling, and we had all our time, and it was a great experience. But if you have a group that does not care about completing all side stories, cares about levelling and XPs or if you are under time pressure to run the campaign, you will have to make compromises. I suggest discussing it with them so that they are not surprised about what is happening, as a part of a new "session 0" for the introduction of the death curse.
They're pretty easy-going, casual, and rather passive players. They're always pretty happy to just go along with whatever. I've struggled to get them to engage with the Acq Inc running a franchise stuff. I don't think they would mind at all if I didn't tie up these loose ends. I just feel like I ought to for my sake, if not theirs. I wanted to do so much more with / in Port Nyanzaru than I did, and now it kind of feels like this is my last chance, because who knows if the party will return from Omu and the Tomb of the Nine Gods or not. (If they do, and we're not over this campaign, I may run the DMs Guild stuff centered on Artus' quest to bring Mezro back.)

I started the death curse at campaign start, but changed the rate of the max HP loss to 1-hp / 5-days. That delivered the feeling of doom and horror, but with enough narrative space to enjoy our city-adventures and hexploration.

I tracked the max-hp of significant NPCs. Syndra, Jessamine, Ray N'si. That informed their actions. For fun I had Syndra open about looking for a stronger party to hire, to take over the quest once the PCs established the soulmonger's location. Of course, her higher level parties always ran into a horrible fate off-screen on their way to Chult.

I created a second clock by having Valindra persuade Thay to send significant reinforcements. These were scheduled to arrive in five or so ten-days. Their aim, to secure, suppress and study the artifact for Thayan use as a weapon against those they would conquer.
I did some of that the first time I ran ToA. One thing I noted afterward was that all the ticking clocks meant the players were disinclined to do any exploring that wasn't directly related to the main quest, and they had chosen Eku as their guide, so there wasn't any duplicity and "accidental" guidance to wrong sites, as such. So when preparing to run this campaign for the second time, I chose not to introduce the death curse straight away so the players could enjoy exploring all the little nooks and crannies in Chult before going to Omu.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I did some of that the first time I ran ToA. One thing I noted afterward was that all the ticking clocks meant the players were disinclined to do any exploring that wasn't directly related to the main quest, and they had chosen Eku as their guide, so there wasn't any duplicity and "accidental" guidance to wrong sites, as such. So when preparing to run this campaign for the second time, I chose not to introduce the death curse straight away so the players could enjoy exploring all the little nooks and crannies in Chult before going to Omu.
I felt that the unique thing about ToA is the cloud of doom hanging over the campaign. Numerous powerful folk are slowly dying. Revival magic no longer works. Hence to my taste, it is better to slow down the clock. What I would suggest for other DMs is that they are under no obligation to make the rate invariant.

The clock can start at 1 HP / month, say, and then speed up at some point (perhaps connected to PC actions.) Having the curse in play for me contributed strongly to delivering the distinctive feel of the campaign, and it's consequences go beyond the slow loss of HP-max.
 

pukunui

Legend
@clearstream That’s fine, although it’s not helpful in my situation, as we have already spent 7 levels exploring the jungle without the death curse.

I am going to introduce it soon. I just want to give the players a chance to spend a little more time in Port Nyanzaru first, as they won’t be going back there for a long time (if at all) once they head out to find Omu.
 

amethal

Adventurer
For fun I had Syndra open about looking for a stronger party to hire, to take over the quest once the PCs established the soulmonger's location. Of course, her higher level parties always ran into a horrible fate off-screen on their way to Chult.
I like that idea, it's an elegant way of dealing with the issue of why all these powerful NPCs would entrust their lives to a bunch of neophyte adventurers.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I am going to introduce it soon. I just want to give the players a chance to spend a little more time in Port Nyanzaru first, as they won’t be going back there for a long time (if at all) once they head out to find Omu.
That makes me wonder if there wouldn't be some way to make it somehow a PC choice that triggers the thing?!

A seal, behind which is some coveted magic or loot... a rumour planted by Acererak for his amusement. There'd need to be some tweaks to later encounters, but nothing too onerous.
 

Both the Flaming Fists and Ras Nsi are threads that you can pull through the next phase of the campaign, as the PCs explore the jungle to find Omu.

It's safer and smarter for Liara to send a Flaming Fist team to track and attack the PCs in the jungle than in a city where there might be witnesses to their crime. So let this thread continue to play out. There's no rush.

Ditto with Ras Nsi. Come up with a list of grim portents and tidings that show how the plot to summon Dendar is advancing. Weave those portents throughout the jungle exploration and have them culminate in the yuan-ti temple in Omu. I'm not sure if you're going to tie this into the Death Curse or not, but you could. This thread is about showing the rise of Ras Nsi's power.

Similarly, you can weave in the Red Wizards as rival adventurers exploring the jungle ruins (in the style of Belloq vs Indy).

However, there are two missing elements here...

First, the adventures in Nyanzaru need a climax. There needs to be a clear indication that something has changed -- the PCs have defeated their foes OR the villains are ascendent and the city is under their power. One way or another, there must be change. So how can you do this? I don't know the campaign well enough to say.

Second, how do you signal the appearance of the Death Curse? Does a PC patron drop dead? Do the rulers of Nyanzaru die en masse, throwing the city into anarchy? If you don't have a climax ready for Nyanzaru, this could do the trick. It is a clear signal that something has changed.

Alternately, the Death Curse could begin at Ras Nsi's temple in Omu. That way the countdown clock starts after the PCs have explored the jungle, but just before they enter the Tomb of Annihilation. This is probably what I would do if I ran the adventure.

Hope this helps.
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
Alternately, the Death Curse could begin at Ras Nsi's temple in Omu. That way the countdown clock starts after the PCs have explored the jungle, but just before they enter the Tomb of Annihilation. This is probably what I would do if I ran the adventure.
Another location could be the ziggurat in Orolunga. The climb is whimsical and would foreshadow some of the whimsy in Omu and the Tomb quite well. Of course, one would need to think what Acererak had to do with the ziggurat... perhaps subverted it.
 

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