First Impressions: 4 Stars, 42/50 Points
I’m really excited about this adventure and I really like how this product has been arranged in Fantasy Grounds. Simply put, there is a massive amount of content that has been expertly put together into what promises to be an exciting adventure and a great resource for expansion and/or homebrew creation.
The DM and Player versions of the Chult maps are key to using this adventure because there is simply so much content, so many images, maps and story entries that having these location-based links are key to navigating the content. It is very important that you read the entry (Story or Reference Manual) titled “Using This Module in Fantasy Grounds”, it is well written and has a lot of important information.
There are a few things though that are either inconsistent or lacking that bother me. These mainly are around not having unidentified values for the images and not all NPC’s being included in encounters when it is expected they will need to be added to the Combat Tracker.
Quality: 11/15 Points
Though I expect some minor issues to become apparent when DM’s start to use this in running campaigns, a detailed review reveals next to no errors, mistakes or omissions.
The most significant quality issues are with many of the maps. At least a dozen battlemaps (Acid…, Blood…, Rot…) are rotated so that the embedded squares are not horizontal/vertical. Which means an FG grid can not be applied and therefor token auto-scaling etc. is not possible. This is one of the key capabilities of FG and these images really should have been rotated and had an FG grid applied to them. Also, it would have been nice if the battlemaps had been provided to SmiteWorks without grids already in the images so that FG grids could have been cleanly overlaid, but the images have been scaled cleanly and an appropriate FG grid overlaid so this is not much of an issue.
Lastly, not all traps and hazards are handled consistently within the story entries. In some cases, they are included in encounters, and others they are not even though in these cases it is likely that the DM will want to add them to the Combat Tracker in order to apply their effects or actions.
Completeness: 7/10 Points
Unfortunately, there are a couple of serious issues that should be addressed; No images have unidentified names. In my view, all images should always have a set value for the unidentified name, even if it is a duplicate of the identified name or something simple like “Vista”, “Ship”, or “Scary Statue”. Something else that should be noted is that the DM battlemap versions do not have FG grids on them, so they are not encounter ready. Though since both Player versions of the battlemaps with FG grids have been provided, this is not much of a detractor, only something to be aware of.
And, even though there a relatively large number of maps (and both DM and Player versions), there are still many encounters and locations that do not have maps. Fortunately for FG users, Zacchaeus has provided a free map module with more maps for these encounters (just search the FG forums for the thread).
Creativity: 10/10 Points
As I said earlier, I really look forward to running this adventure, it promises to be unusual and fun and has a bunch of cool artwork that will help inspire everyone in the group.
As for the Fantasy Grounds module, the conversion has been well done except for what I mention elsewhere. Plus, there have been several useful additions to the FG module including the creation of NPC’s for the traps and hazards, and the first time I’ve seen this, the addition of the “You Are Here” and “The Party is Really Here” story entries and map pins. These two story entries and pins are so useful that they should be considered mandatory for all future location based adventures.
Value: 10/10 Points
I’ll say that if the FG module was being sold at the suggested retail price, the value would be questionable, but at $25 USD, this is a great deal that not only did I not hesitate to buy, I can recommend buying this module just for all of the new NPC, maps, items, and story elements.
Versatility: 4/5 Points
There is a great deal of re-usable content in this module and it also serves as a location reference for Chult (a jungle island). The number of locations, characters and related resources promise that this module can be used multiple times with vastly different play experiences with only minor adjustments or additional material being added.
[FONT="]For details on the review system and interpretations of the ratings, see [/FONT]Virtual Scribe Reviews[FONT="].[/FONT]
The Tomb of Annihilation adventure is not for everyone. It’s an update of the very old school killer dungeon crawl, applying modern design standards to the deathtrap dungeon while retaining much of the lethality. If you’re a player who *likes* your character it’s not an adventure to play in, and if you’re a DM that hates killing characters it’s not the best adventure to run. Similarly, if you hate the idea of a big sandbox or exploring an unmapped wilderness hex by hex, it’s also not a good adventure.
Except… if you hate deathtrap dungeons, there’s still a lot of pulpy lost world goodness in the first half. And if you hate hexploration, there’s a lot of standard dungeon crawling in the second half. While the product aimed at fans of both styles of play, you’re not required to use the entire adventure. If you skip half the adventure, there’s still a decent amount of content to be found. That is, if you’re okay with buying content that might not see use at the game table.
The adventure isn’t perfect, but it has a lot going for it: it’s taking three classic modules and reimagining and integrating them seamlessly while also telling an original tale with a unique hook that is very tied to the tropes of D&D and almost perfectly involving a classic villain. It’s a really great adventure that should easily become a modern classic. It’s challenging and deadly without being unfair or taking cheap shots, while encouraging clever solutions and careful play without requiring checking every square in a dungeon. It even manages to have a deadly grinder that still includes a few interesting NPCs while also providing an opportunity to learn much of the backstory without an NPC descending into a prolonged monologue.
I’m not usually one for reviews of adventures but thought in this case I would right a rather short one of the latest WoTC adventure for 5E, the Tomb of Annihilation.
To date with most of the WoTC adventures for 5E I’ve found parts I like and parts and I don’t really care for. I'm not actually a fan of the big “adventure path” style format but found parts of each I can drop into our games so I tend to mine the adventures for locations and use bits and pieces of each and weave them into our stories based on player action in a fairly freeform sandbox style game.
With that being said I am planning to now run a large part of this one. Before I go any further I just have to say that my first ever game of D&D back in 1982 was the adventure Dwellers of the Forbidden City and it is still one of my favourite site based adventures. I recall the first time I got to DM during the summer school holidays for 1982/83 I DMed "Dwellers" for my brother and best friend and we had many, many hours of fun back in the day exploring the forbidden city and have used the adventure numerous times over the years since then. Like most early adventures it was a bit bare bones but makes for a great site based adventure that a DM can really put a stamp on and make their own.
Tomb of Horrors is another classic module but one I never ran back in the day, only ran it in the early 2000s as a one off and we never finished it. Tomb of Annihilation kind of joins the two together and adds a whole heap more to boot. The forbidden city map in this one seems to similar to the original city but has been reimagined and improved and chock full of interesting places to adventure. My only issue with ToA is transporting an iconic Greyhawk NPC in Acerarak to the Forgotten Realms, but that is only a minor quibble and in my game I’m placing it firmly back in the Amedio jungle area of Greyhawk.
The adventure from what I’ve read so far in the D&D Beyond version, is one hell of a sandbox, it is just dripping with flavour and has a lost worlds/Indiana Jones/ undead apocalypse, hell even an Apocalypse Now vibe can be got out of it with very little effort! There are some truly great adventure locations and the whole thing seems to be really, really well put together.
I’m not a fan of reading a module and critiquing it. Several of the Prince of Apocalypse adventure locations seemed a bit lame to me but when I dropped them into the game then they came alive and really created some memorable nights and weeks of gaming for my group in some truly unexpected ways and played far better than I thought they would have done on first read, but that is D&D. It’ usually what happens around the table that makes or breaks an adventure.
Still, I can’t wait to run this one, in fact have already started! Our regular adventure came to an end last week so put together a little one week filler adventure for last night based on what the players had suggested they were planning to do next but instead kicked off ToA. I can see the "hook" of raised characters losing hps as being an issue fort some people/groups but it got my guys attention far more than any start I've seen in quite a while. I was itching to run this one and I started this week. I started the adventure I’d planned but intended to have the pcs who'd previously been raised from the dead start losing hps to foreshadow the start a bit. However, this worked far better than I expected. The two players whose characters were affected decided to stop their current adventure and high tail it back to town to speak to the local clergy and so took the bait, hook line and sinker. They learned that people that had been raised from the dead seemed to be afflicted with the same malady and it appeared to be afflicting people throughout the Flanaess. Next, they went and spoke to a local sage (Syndra) and learned more. So not too long after they found themselves teleported to the city of Nyanzaru. The rest of the session was really about setting the scene and introducing them to the tropics and city. The city of Nyanzaru itself is a great starting point for the adventure with lots of colourful characters and events, including dinosaur races! This certainly isn't your standard medievelesque D&D setting, from the very first glimpse of the city the adventure really starts to set the scene and they definitely knew they were in a jungle setting.
I am really looking forward to running this and seeing the stories that develop out of it. My party range from 4th- 9th level (2 replacement characters joined this week so they started at 4th level) so we will probably skip over some of the adventures in Nyranzaru and head straight into the jungle after locating some guides (and who the party choose to guide them will have an impact on how the adventure plays out- one of the many cool things about this adventure).
There are suggestions for how to run the adventure for beginning level pcs, 5th level and 9th level pcs to help guide things.
It really has an old school vibe to me and the writers really seemed to have made the effort to reimagine the style of adventuring that I grew up with in the early 80 but at the same time update it. It is a really sandboxy adventure, an old school hex crawl in the model of Island of Dread. I really like sandbox style games but if a hex crawl isn't your thing simply make a flow chart and allow the party to make it to the city of Omu via however many of the sites that you want to run. That is how I intend to run it. We have limited time so will probably use the guides to direct the game and ensure we hit 3-4 encounter areas I really, really want to run and lead the party pretty quickly to the Forbidden City. I am envisioning a canoe trip up one of the rivers into the interior and an Apocalypse Now style journey through enemy territory. There are a couple of forts in the jungle and intend one of them to change the leader to be inspired by Marlon Brando’s crazed Colonel Kurtz.
It seems to me that WoTC have taken on board feedback from the various adventures they’ve written for 5E and then stepped it up two gears. This one just leaps out to me as something that has been very well put together, paying homage to what has gone before but also taking 5E into a new and exciting direction. I know my players are going to love the adventure though when they get to the tomb well then I can see this one really ramping up a gear or two and can't wait till they realise they may be in a bit over their heads but have no choice but to continue.
So what do I love about this one?
Pulpy/lost worlds vibe... check
sandboxy adventure.... check
awesome forbidden city...check
Nasty trap filled dungeons...check
Interesting npcs.... check
Interesting and unique adventure sites/locations...check
So, I really recommend this one, go out and get it...now! I don't think you'll regret it. In fact I think it is the best adventure produced by Wizard's for 5e so far and will make for a really memorable campaign.
Tomb of Annihilation is a new campaign designed for parties level 1-11. It takes heroes to Chult, a new region south of the Forgotten Realms.
This storyline was designed by Christopher Perkins, Will Doyle, Steve Winter and Adam Lee. When designing this storyline, the team thought that a deadly adventure where characters try to stop a death curse might be a bit too grim and bleak. To offset this, the team thought it was very important to provide humor. They brought in Pendlelton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time and long time D&D player, as a consultant. Any fans of D&D who have watched Adventure Time know that Ward’s love of playing D&D in middle school is prevalent in the show’s quirky take on typical tabletop RPG tropes. You and your players will find unexpected, humorous, and quirky moments to balance out the deadliness.
After reading the book, I think this is my favorite adventure to come out for this edition of D&D. Many of my favorite adventures have my players exploring deadly wilderness, searching ancient ruins full of puzzles and traps, and battling some mysterious lost people. If you are a fan of Indiana Jones or Clive Cussler’ Dirk Pitt, this adventure brings a real pulp adventure feel to Dungeons & Dragons. This book provides interesting NPCs and locations, many of them deadly, some of them even silly. If you are looking for an adventure where the journey is as important as the destination, you’ve found a match.
Who Might Want to Avoid It?
Groups that aren’t interested in a high level of lethality and time pressure. There are notes for starting the adventure at 5th or even 9th level, which would make the early levels much easier… but that doesn’t sound fun to me.
Groups looking for a more traditional D&D medieval-inspired high fantasy adventure. Stick to Tyranny of Dragons and Storm King’s Thunder.
Anyone hoping to get detailed notes on running this in another setting, the notes provided in this book are very minimal. The adventure can be easily adapted to places such as Mystara‘s Savage Coast, Oerth‘s Amedio jungles, or the jungles of Eberron‘s Xen’drik
Groups who really don’t like wilderness exploration and puzzles
Players looking for new options for their characters – the two new backgrounds (Anthropologist and Archeologist) while awesome, are not worth the cover price alone
Who Should Buy It?
DMs looking for a legitimate reason to have their players fight dinosaurs.
DMs looking for ideas and materials for running their own jungle adventures. There are plenty of monsters, random encounter tables, temples and puzzles here to keep your players busy for countless adventurers.
Groups looking for a deadly adventure that really tests them. The death curse makes character death permanent. If a group wants to go extra deadly, there is a meat grinder mode where death saves require a roll of 15 or higher.
Groups looking for an adventure that emphasizes jungle exploration and puzzles
Groups looking for an adventure that is something different from saving the Sword Coast from dragons, giants, etc.
If you think that a deadly jungle adventure would interest you or your players, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Tomb of Annihilation (just make sure to check it for traps first).
"A death curse has befallen everyone who's been raised from the dead. Its victims are rotting away, and all efforts to reverse the decay have failed."
The first paragraph on the back of the physical version of this book I purchased says more than a wall of words possibly could at this point. Imagine then, when my group who never really gets into the high-fantasy aspects of Dungeons and Dragons (raising the dead, summoning extra-planar beings in the service of Gods, etc), saw the capability of playing our grittier style of Dungeons and Dragons in the core setting. The idea was explosive to everyone, and immediately, before the book even arrived, everyone had character concepts rushing at them. Taking what we love the most (intense realism and real consequences for bad choices) and combining it with a world that, wasn't entirely accustomed to the notion of death being so inescapable, and you have a real, solid excitement.
Longevity: While we haven't completed the adventure yet, I've noticed how much reusable content this adventure book is going to have. Due to the fact one of the players in my group has decided to play a benevolent, elderly man who has the entire cast loving him, they are playing through quite linearly. While exploration is a mandatory part of this adventure, they have a true sense of urgency and want to save the man's dear soul, even though he likely doesn't have much time left anyway, regardless of the death curse affecting all of the world. While I'd love them to see more of the content in one go, this immediately tells me the adventure has a ton of reusable material, with little to no effort.
With most of the campaigns released so far, the material wasn't quite as optional, and left little to be replayed and still maintain that sense of wonder (without some serious alteration). This one is pleasantly surprising in this regard.
Theme: Because of the darker themes of this campaign, WoTC felt it necessary to add comical elements, just like their "Out of the Abyss" storyline. And, just like Out of the Abyss, we've decided to entirely ignore those elements. We're grittier players, that's just what we like. However, I feel they would likely be very useful portions of the adventure for many groups, and you will find them in abundance if you wish to use them. It's nice that Wizards considered all different types of players in this.
Art: Great maps, great images of NPCs and new monsters, but what else is new with a 5E book? Another great collection of fantastic artists who deserve seriously high praise.
Final Note: Like all the campaign books Wizards has released, there are many, many walls of text that are filled with information. It is not like smaller adventures where you can run them as you read them. With the Dragon campaign books, in example, we played as I read, and I got a few surprises just the same as my players. Here, you'll not really find that as much of an option. I'm sure you could if you really tried, but I'd suggest reading far ahead of time, taking a few notes and references, and being sure to have as much information for a given section memorized as possible.
Technically I'd give this a 4.5 but that's not an option here. It's not perfect; but it is damn near close.
While other reviewers have focused on who might like it and who might not, I'm focusing on the quality of the product: the writing, the creativity, originality, layout, etc. In that respect, whether it's the "right" adventure for you or your group or not, is irrelevant. This is a high quality product that you can tell has had a lot of thought put into it. You can immediately realise this after just the first chapter. Consideration has obviously been given to how things interact, how things might play out, NPC reactions, and how to tie things together so that you have a coherent whole with lots of setup and payoff. It is everything that SKT was not.
Then there's the feel of it. This is brimming with flavour and thematic elements that really bring the adventure alive and inspires the DM, and through the DM the players, to really engage with the content. From the very first moment of stepping into Port Nyanzaru, the scene is set for something special. The players will immediately realise that this is not going to be your average adventure through your standard fantasy faire. And that theme is well represented throughout the entirety of the book where the strange and wonderful comes alive in every trap, trick, NPC, monster, and encounter location. Even the random encounters are fantastically imaginative and creative.
And most importantly, it just seems like it will be so much fun to both run and to play in. Sure, it's incredibly deadly to PC's, and OK, there are tons of "gotchas" that can insta-kill a PC, and yes, some characters will find the going tough due to various exploration requirements, but this is a feature of this campaign and not a bug. Players will have the fear of character death put into them and will be forced to either get creative, or keep rolling up a new character to join the party.
I rarely enjoy reading through campaign books. Out of the Abyss was probably the only one where I somewhat liked a fair bit of the content. But this one, I have read cover to cover and laughed out loud many times as I've imagined players experiencing the scenarios at the table. It's got fun and it's got adventure and it's got it all in spades of flavour and it's all been put together with a lot of care and precision.
If I have one complaint, it would be that the Death Curse is too epic in scale from the very beginning. I would've liked that it had some spreading component so that it wouldn't alert the entire world to the problem all at once. That's probably something I'll change as it somewhat breaks the suspension of disbelief that a 1st level party is responsible for saving the world. There are some very minor other issues with it that really aren't even worth mentioning but, combined, bring it down from a proper 5 out of 5 to a 4.5. Then again, that's possibly me just being picky.
All in all, this is a very solid purchase for anyone who wants something fun, exciting and different to run for their table.
P.S. OMG! There are SO many maps! Like, wow. And they're all done by Mike Schley who has done a really excellent job. And did I mention that there's a whole ton of them?
From the original content mixed in with familiar names and the exotic location, this is by far the freshest story line yet for 5e and WotC. This is brief w/o spoilers, but from the official podcasts and a deep reading of the book, it is clear that the foreshadowing for the next story line confirms WotC's long term planning efforts are bearing significant fruit.
WotC have really hit their stride with adventures now. While Tomb of Annihilation isn't perfect (nor is it everyone's cup of tea), it does a lot of things right. I won't list them all here, but suffice it to say that this book is fun to read and fun to run/play.
If I could change one thing about it to improve it, it would be to have the PCs come to Chult just to explore, doing some of the side quests to level up, *before* introducing the death curse. As it stands, the players might be inclined to skip many of the side quests because there simply isn't time (or an obvious benefit to undertaking them).
I like the concept, a crawl through the jungle coming upon ancient cities and encountering strange and new foes.
The execution I do not find as appealing. The module states you should start at 1st level. This is a huge mistake. One peruse through the random encounters shows multitudes of foes that can be encountered and will one shot 1st level characters and not all of them can be avoided. One encounter is a giant crocodile that ambushes the party. Its bite attack average damage will kill any character except a raging barbarian (he will take two hits) and the croc has enough hitpoints to easily stick around until he kills something worth eating. This is just one example. This means either the DM chews up and spits out characters left and right in a very boring manner or he ignored the random encounters chart and modifies them quite a bit.
Any module can be deadly by requiring careful thought and planning and still be enjoyable. Being a killer module because so many foes can trounce you in one round is boring and quickly results in players saying adios or the DM reworking quite a bit.
Best 5e adventure. Good balance of exploration, combat and RPG. True sandbox, with a time limit and a really great Dungeon at the end. One of the most lethal adventures I ever played. Still, very amusing and interesting as written. Rich with nostalgic elements from old editions. An instant classic.
OK, first off I’ll admit I suffer from ‘shiny new book syndrome’. I’m seeking treatment, and this book was a giant step towards curing me of that horrid condition.
I check Enworld frequently, and like many was very excited when WoTC announced this book. I was planning to use a combination of DMsguild material, homebrew etc for my next campaign, but got caught up in the buzz. I simply couldn’t help myself.
It may be helpful early on to mention although I’ve played off and on for 30 years, Curse of Strahd & Lost Mines of Phandelver are the only other official 5E adventures I’ve run. More on that later…
First off, this is an amazing looking book, usual fantastic art, and it's absolutely jam packed with stuff. That’s my #1 issue with the book, and I had similar issue with CoS (along with many, many other gamers). What the heck are you supposed to do with this thing?
Buoyed up by my experience with CoS, I jumped right in and started to get to work. Learning from the past, I visited http://thecampaign20xx.blogspot.com/ and sure enough Sean had done a lot of the grunt work in whipping this encyclopedic mess into some kind of shape. Although Sean does great work, I think it’s fair to expect these mega adventure books should be ready for the DM to pick up, read, and start using right away. Is that too much to ask?
Much virtual ink has been spilled over the lameness of the death curse macguffin, and I couldn’t agree more. As always, there were many great ideas on the forums, but isn’t that what the book was meant to provide?
Chapter 1: Port Nyanzaru is well done, and there is lots to do if your group is so inclined. That being said, as presented there is an urgency for the party to get crackin’ and dithering around in town didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time.
Chapter 2: The Land of Chult is where the rubber meets the road, and is chock full of locations so a DM should have no problem finding tons for their group to do. I was concerned about endless jungle wandering early on, and had done a rough outline of the locations I personally liked and thought were a good fit for my group. Some of it seems like filler to me, although different strokes and all that. Some locations are top notch, and have plenty of gaming potential: Camp Righteous (an ill-considered first outpost the Order of the Gauntlet), Firefinger (an ancient Chultan signalling tower teeming with nasty Pterafolk – my group had an epic encounter here with Artus Cimber and some Giant friends), Heart of Ubtao (a massive earthmote home to a nasty occupant), Kir Sabal (an Aarakocra monastery – how cool of an idea is that?), Nangalore (an ancient garden built for a cursed queen), Orolunga (a crumbling ziggurat and pivotal point in the adventure), Wreck of the Star Goddess (haha just read it, cracks me up can’t say why!) and of course Yellyark (again – just read it what will those whacky Goblins think of next?!).
Even with all these great locations it gets to the point where the adventure needs to move along to the next phase. Again, much has already been said, groups can get stuck in the jungle waaay too long.
Chapter 3: Dwellers of the Forbidden City. All this jungle wandering finally leads to Omu. Again, there are pages and pages of stuff here for a DM to whip into shape. There are some splendid locations and encounters here (Bag of Nails, Ras Nsi, and of course all hail the King of Feathers!) but it borders on overwhelming. In my case, we were all itching to get to the tomb already!
Chapter 4: Fane of the Night Serpent. Huh? IMO, this doesn’t even need to be in the adventure and we skipped the whole thing. If you’re into yuan-ti you’ll dig it, and might lift the whole thing out into another adventure one day. It seemed like filler to me, and has a huge section of tables for random encounters (Slave Labor / Temple Roster / Temple Reinforcements) which are dubious in their utility and simply pad the page count. Did I mention I wanted to get to the Tomb of the Nine Gods..?
Chapter 5: Tomb of the Nine Gods! Here we go! Finally! It’s rock & roll time! To avoid making this review painfully long, it's 6 levels filled with screaming hot death. There are several areas that require careful reading and have fiddly bits and get boggy with details, pointless rooms with senseless multiple unavoidable fights, several ‘aha gotcha’ traps to make players infuriated (Class 3 deaths shout out to AngryGM lol!). There are also pages of material for EPIC encounters and memorable critters and locations. The less said about the finale the better, although I wish I could do it again. It was lower case epic, and it deserved so much more. Should have taken a whole session for it!
The book wraps up with the usual stuff – NPCS and monsters, discoveries, player handouts, and random encounter tables. I did mention this book was bursting, right? A rather unusual T-Rex deserves special mention!
Wow this went long. Here’s my wrap up.
ToA is a sourcebook for Chult wrapped around an adventure. It’s tricky and challenging to run. I sometimes read on the forums that new DM’s and groups are going to play it and I cringe. Just don’t. Get Phandelver!!
As with other WoTC books, it’s not DM friendly and takes a lot of extra work on the DM’s part to prep and run. I understand these have gotten better with each release, although they still have a long road ahead. I sigh & roll my eyes when I read things like ‘see “Suffocating” in chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook, rather thanPHB pg XXX! How hard would this be??? Perhaps some more info for the DM on how to run certain critters / scenes (like the finale, Sewn Sisters) and less space used on pointless tables? Room / area descriptions that are tight and provide immediate info? I read a thread on paizo forums ages ago about better ways of doing this, wish I could find it again, but I digress. Anyone who buys this book is never going to know it as well as the fine folks who put it together, but they need to write and organize the book with the end user in mind. Please?!
Ask your players if they want to play an adventure where there will very likely be some PC deaths. The finale in particular is a grind and things get ugly, and there are several moments where agency has left the building.
In comparison, I like CoS quite a bit more, and would be more likely to run that again for a new group than tomb. In retrospect ToA was fun, and we had pretty solid weekly gameplay from Sept-Jun and I didn’t use ½ the stuff in the book, and by the end I just wanted it to be over. It easily could have been a 128 page booklet like they used to do in the old days… ahh the old days.
Now's what's this I hear about Waterdeep: Dragon Heist? OOhhhhh shiny...