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Tomb of Annihilation Post-Mortem

I ran Tomb of Annihilation for four players. It’s a great though uneven module. I’m now hyped about running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist now because it’s the opposite in all the best ways.

Tomb of AnnihilationWaterdeep: Dragon Heist
StakesThe end of the worldLocal corruption
ScaleContinent-spanningOne city
PaceRace against the clockAs long as it takes

The campaign took us a little over a year of weekly 2 hour sessions. For Tomb, my group consisted of:

  • Goblin Warlock
  • Kenku Rogue
  • Tabaxi Bard
  • Tiefling Sorcerer

Ultimately there was one player character death, which to some may mean I ran the Tomb wrong. For my party, emphasizing the story over the meatgrinder was the right choice.

What worked

Chult is a great, evocative setting. A place inspired by post-colonial equatorial Africa provides a breath of fresh air from traditional western fantasy tropes.

Dinosaurs are great.

Port Nyanzaru is a fun city.

Omu is a great abandoned city.

What didn’t work

The plot starts too quickly. Level 1 players shouldn’t be saving the whole world. If I ran it again, I would start with minor quests in Port Nyanzaru and ramp the death curse up slowly, in stages.

The hexcrawl wasn’t fun for me as a mechanic. There is a lot of are-we-there-yet impatience. You don’t need ten sessions of plot-irrelevant jungle between significant encounters. If I ran it again, I would throw out the map entirely and do it as a sequence of set-pieces spaced out by a random encounter or two. Alternately, you could have the hexcrawl instead of the race against time end-of-the-world plot, but the two do not go together.

I made the mistake of skipping session 0. I did it because I dislike prologues in fiction, but session 0 is not a prologue. It is a chance for the players to figure out why their characters are on the adventure and to collaborate in the storytelling.

The aren’t enough towns and villages. There need to be places for the characters to catch their breath and spend their loot. Trekking back to Port Nyanzaru as a hexcrawl is non-workable.

The Tomb is too deadly, but I modified it while I ran it the first time. The basic modification for that is to replace the save-or-die rolls with more forgiving ones. My goal was to run story mode, not meat-grinder mode.

Speaking as someone who has not read the classic 1992 Ring of Winter novel, Arthur Cimber is irrelevant and overpowered. I would avoid introducing him. The accompanying ice giants could be relevant if you are looking to transition to the Storm King’s Thunder adventure, but I wasn’t.

The player characters would benefit from plot hooks connecting them to Chult, like the ones that were provided in the Lost Mines of Phandelver and Out of the Abyss.

Third Party Modules that Worked

Official 5e campaigns rely on third-party work on Dungeons Masters’ Guild to flesh them out. It’s like DLC or perhaps paid mods for a video game.

Tomb of Annihilation Companion is priceless. It fixes the dinosaur race in Chapter 1, it pre-rolls the hex crawl for you in Chapter 2, it adds great locations to Omu in Chapter 3, and it fleshes out the Sewn Sisters as villains.

I have not read it, but many DMs vouch for the Cellar of Death adventure as an introduction for the campaign. I also haven’t tried Chultan Death Curse Revised but it sounds exactly like what the main plot needs.

Beasts of Jungle Rot gives stats for bigger, badder, and more varied dinosaurs.

Tortle Package gives good Tortle art and additional NPCs even if your characters never make it to Snout of Omgar.

Jungle Politics adds a useful conflict to the Grung city, Dungrunglung.

Izzy’s Slightly Used Airships is a good way to add extra content around the wreck of the airship.

Companion System gives a good way to deal with the plethora of NPCs by turning them into static effects.

Mines of Chult adds some fantastic mine-type dungeons for a full range of levels. I ran two of the mines to good effect.

Lost City of Mezro seems like it would work well if incorporated from the start, but I found it hard to start after my players finished the Tomb.

I ran the Level 11 adventure from Uncaged after the Tomb and it fit in thematically.

Tome of Beasts is a print book of monsters from Kobold Press. I used the Bone Swarm in Mbala, upgraded the aboleth to a Nihileth, and used Baba Yaga’s Horsemen as henchmen for the Sewn Sisters. You can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG.

Third Party Modules That Did Not Work

Jungles of Chult Factbook gives useless trivia. Chult: Adversaries and Allies has good art, but neglected to notice important details such as that in 5e Chultans aren’t called Tabaxi. A Guide To Tomb of Annihilation is redundant with the Companion. Hidden Pathways of Chult has two cool ideas but does not flesh them out in a usable way.

Encounters in Port Nyanzaru seems great but my players rushed to leave the city. I didn’t end up using Encounters in the Jungle of Chult — some of the them didn’t feel like they fit the setting.

Other Resources

I heavily rely on Donjon’s Encounter Size Calculator to balance combat encounters.

House of Bob podcast ran Tomb of Annihilation.

Sly Flourish wrote a DM guide in The Deadly Shift of the Tomb of Annihilation.

All Freely Available Tomb of Annihilation Maps.

Power Score RPG wrote the aforementioned Companion and has a great blog post on Running Tomb of Annihilation.

Tomb of Annihilation Review by Person of Colour Gamer is something I read early on that shaped my thinking about running Chult.

Press Assets for Tomb of Annihilation, including high resolution art.

Mike Schley’s official high resolution maps for Tomb of Annihilation cost money but are very, very good.

As a DM, you’ll want to participate in the Tomb of Annihilation subreddit and the Tomb of Annihilation DMs group.

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