It has been a very long time since I posted an update on what I have received as rewards from the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. In the past several weeks, I have received multiple long-awaited and eagerly anticipated rewards. Given the breadth and scope of the three biggest campaigns I have received rewards for - Fateforge, Iron Kingdoms, and The One Ring - I will write up separate posts for each of those. For today, I will write about four smaller campaigns.
First up is the Northern Animal Tarot 2nd Edition set from Wilder Hearts. I am not a tarot user, but I thought this deck would work really well as a prop for an RPG set in a boreal forest. The cards are big, glossy, colorful, and substantial. The packaging was great as well, with lots of extra touches that really added. In addition, the artist is from the Edmonton area, so it was nice to support her. This was her second edition and I will gladly pick up the third edition if it is of similar quality.
The second package was from Eventyr Games for their Wanderer's Guide to Merchants & Magic (5E) supplement. I was a fan of Eventyr before I saw this on Kickstarter as I had purchased their "Tomb of Annihilation Complete DM's Bundle" from DM's Guild. I purchased the digital version and was really happy to receive several maps, printable cards for the merchants, and 40 really nice tokens for the characters outlined in the book.
If that was not good enough, they posted on Kickstarter they are working on a Foundry VTT module for the material from Wanderer's. Based on my interest in a post on Kickstarter, I am now playtesting the module for them. The layout and depth of their digital stand-alone product translates really well to Foundry.
The third reward was the PDF version of The Lazy DM's Companion from Mike Shea. I picked this up automatically due to how much value I received from Shea's "Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master". Where "Return" radically changed how I thought about running and creating games, "Companion" is more of a summary of ideas from Shea's website and YouTube channel.
It's not that "Companion" is bad by any means, but it just did not have the same impact on me as "Return". Flipping through it was a "yeah, yeah, read that already" experience instead of a "OMG that's a great idea" experience. That said, I will automatically back Shea's next campaign since he puts out great content on a regular basis.
Last up is a reward that has nothing to do with gaming. Dave Kellett is one of my favorite creators online. I have purchased prints, books, and films from him, largely from his online comics Sheldon and Drive. I also back Kellett on Patreon.
This campaign was for a magnet and pin set as part of Kellett's campaign to curate comic creators. (I purposely did the alliteration in that because of Kellett's and co-creator Brad Guigar's 4 C's for comics.) I am happy to send Dave money on a regular basis and this had the added benefit of being a way to encourage my younger daughter to continue with her drawing and comics.
Session 7 - Dinner with the Fist - Mirtul 20 -24
Del decided to leave Rokah on his own and walked away instead of helping or providing a lookout. Before parting company, Rokah said he would stay with the enlisted men overnight and hook up with the party in the morning. Del came downstairs and faked a head wound from a "speedy dwarf". Later, Burgell hit Del with his quarterstaff to make sure the headwound was realistic. Commander Portyr was aghast that a guest was attacked in the Fort and offered Isa a Charter of Exploration for free as recompense.
The party had a team meeting before the feast. In the meeting, it became clear that the party was deeply split over whether they should work with the Flaming Fist. Isa was opposed; Del was for; Arco did not trust them; Burgell proposed they take work from the Fist but also sell their maps to other parties. In the end, they went to the feast and ate and drank.
After retiring to bed, Del had a dream about a kindly, ancient woman welcoming Del into her home. As he woke in the early morning, he heard footsteps hurriedly scuffling to Isa's room. Gruta woke Isa, apologizing and offering her resignation. Over night, Rokah was murdered, and his body was found by the garden by an early morning patrol.
Upon examining Rokah's remains, all Burgell found was a note from some group who thought the party was working with Zhentarim spies. The note called out the "so-called noble" in the party, which was clearly directed at Isa. Prior to departing, Isa took the free Charter from Portyr, and informed her that if they found Rokah's killer alive, they were to keep them alive until Isa returned.
They party left the fort, electing to travel along the beach for the trip back to Port Nyanzaru. Isa spotted a Reef Shark in shallow water and attacked it with a bite attack. Three reef sharks were killed, which Burgell used to create a gourmet meal for the party on the beach with the cook's utensils he had bartered for in the Fort.
There was one uneventful day of travel along the beach back to Port Nyanzaru, and the subsequent day was filled with rain, increasing from a light mist in the early morning to a heavy downpour by night. Before finding a camping spot, the party came across a section of the beach covered with Giant Crabs. Arco surfed a couple for a few minutes, and they killed two for supper that night.
The heavy rain and humidity took a toll on Anemin and Burgell. Both nearly succumbed to Exhaustion through the day, and the entire party needed to take off their armor at night. Luckily, there were no attacks on their camp as they slept. As they camped, they were able to use the raincatchers to replenish their fresh water supplies.
Most of the following day was spent in uneventful travel. A quick ferry ride across the Tiryki river got the party back to the outskirts of Port Nyanzaru. Crossing through the gates, the discussion turned to next steps and the need to catch up with Strider. Intrigued by the shouts of a broadsheet crier saying "Zhanthi steps in after tepid results", Anemin paid 1 GP for ten copies of today's edition of "The Port".
This was another fun session to run as it gave me the opportunity to add some good intrigue to the story. Why was Rokah murdered, and by whom? How is it possible that someone had infiltrated the fort and got away with murder? And why were they focusing on Isa, as the only "so-called" noble in the party?
I took Rokah pretty much as-is from the official adventure. I never revealed his background as a Zhentarim spy, but the party never dug in so it was not necessary to explain his background in any detail. Once he was dead and they had a free Charter, they were keen to leave the Fort an return to Port Nyanzaru. The exception was that Del was enamored with Gruta and hoped to talk to her more in the future.
The Rokah plot line is an important side story for the adventure. The entire Death Curse could be resolved without ever going to Fort Beluarian or engaging with the Flaming Fist. If I run Tomb again, I may elect to downplay this whole side story since it does not advance the main story. However, I do recognize that the intrigue created by the Fist helps flesh out Chult as a living world.
I did change Rokah's story in that I decided to have him murdered. My assumption was that the party would be shocked by this and they would search his belongings. With a thorough search, they would have found the Sending Stone that Rokah stole from Portyr's belongings. This would have set up some great intrigue when the pirates of Jahaka Anchorage messaged Portry with some incriminating morsel that the party received instead of Portyr.
Alas, things never go as planned, and the party examined Rokah surrounded by Portry, Gruta, and other members of the Fist. In a closed room by themselves, they would have had the time to find the Sending Stone, but in the open I had to make them roll. The roll was poor and as a result, the Sending Stone was not found. I was at first disappointed that this plot line would not be able to materialize, but I did find a way to make it work later on in the campaign. Stay tuned for that!
The trip back to Port Nyanzaru allowed for some fun and inconsequential combat. The reef sharks were interesting because only Isa decided to wade into the water, and the giant crabs were interesting because the beach was littered with them. I also had a couple vibrant maps which was a nice contrast to the dark jungle scenes I presented for the trip to the Fort.
Arriving at the city gates and hearing the news crier speak about Zhanthi was a nice way to end the session as it provided a minor cliffhanger to what was said in the daily broadsheet.
Session 6 - Heading to Fort Beluarian - Mirtul 16 - 20
The tall male that approached the party was named Rokah. He had intelligence suggesting that the Flaming Fist were working with the pirates that are attacking merchant ships coming into Port Nyanzaru. He offered to reimburse the party for the cost of the Charter of Exploration and to pay for the services of the guide pair, River of Mist and Flask of Wine. In return, he asked the party to create a distraction so that he could infiltrate the Flaming Fist Commander's personal belongings to find proof of his suspicions.
The party debated at length about the merits of working with Rokah and the potential implications. Helping an unknown spy to stop piracy, versus making enemies with a powerful faction weighed heavily in the decision. In the end, the party agreed to assist, and Rokah told them to meet with him a half-day west of Fort Beluarian as soon as they could.
Before departing, the party did a bit of shopping. The primary purchases were insect repellant for everyone except Burgell, and Anemin's deposit on a new Chultan set of scale armor. He put 5 GP down towards the purchase with the female Chultan smith, Nanika Kloopers.
Setting out, the party took a ferry across the River Tiryki and into the jungle. Over the next four days and three nights, the party trekked through the jungle, making exceptionally good time and avoiding delays and unwanted entanglements with the local fauna.
On the first day, the party found a camp with three dead halfling explorers. The explorers had all fallen to their deaths after being shot with poisonous blowgun darts. There was not much to loot from the camp other than two raincatchers and one waterskin filled with 8 gallons of fresh water.
The only other memorable discovery on their journey to Fort Beluarian was a destroyed stone monument covered with etchings of a bipedal creature with large birdfeet and wings. Upon accidentally touching the monument, Isa felt an uncomfortable energy surge into his arm, but he was able to disengage before any damage was done.
On the fourth day of travel, the party met up with Rokah and they moved towards the western gate of Fort Beluarian. As they approached, the party realized that the guards were being attacked by a horde of undead. Anemin rushed in and used his holy powers to force the undead to turn and flee. This provided the Flaming Fist guards with time to regroup and focus, and squads were dispatched to dispose of the turned undead.
The party was then greeted by Gruta Halsdottir, the second in command at Fort Beluarian. Upon hearing Isa's name, Halsdottir was completely taken aback and apologized for not greeting a Baldur's Gate noble with a more appropriate reception. The party used Isa's noble status to secure a tour of the fort and a private reception with Commander Liara Portyr, Blaze of the Flaming Fist.
Recognizing that the party needed to create a distraction for Rokah, Isa asked for tea outside. Portyr took the party to the jousting area, and once outside, Anemin silently messaged Rokah. After learning that Rokah was in the market posing as a handler and grunt for Sire Wolfram, Anemin and Del agreed that Del would help escort Rokah to their quarters. Del subtly tried to signal his displeasure with Rokah to Halsdottir, but she was too distracted by the presence of a noble to pay attention to Del's warnings.
While outside, Isa persuaded Portyr to demonstrate her skill in martial arts and unarmed melee combat. Isa used his new knowledge on Anemin, who went along with the act and allowed himself to be thrown roughly into the jousting arena bleachers. Arco chuckled from the sidelines.
After seeing Anemin thrown, Portyr needed to excuse herself and promised a feast for Isa and his men. Burgell offered some mead that he had conjured into a magical jug which Portyr graciously accepted as they were short on mead and could use the honey. Burgell went to the kitchens to provide the staff with the honey, and successfully bartered for a set of cooking utensils in trade.
Del and Rokah were shown to Isa's quarters in the second level of the keep, which were beside Portyr's chambers. Halsdottir excused herself, leaving the two unfettered access to the entire second level.
I was looking forward to this session because it gave me the opportunity for so many plot hooks. Who is Rokah? Why does he want to infiltrate the Flaming Fist? What is he going to find? It was also our first opportunity to travel through the jungles of Chult, albeit on a fairly well-travelled stretch of land.
Giving them the encounter with the abandoned camp allowed me to introduce grung, and the fact that there are mortal perils in the jungle. The monument allowed me to signal the aarakocra of Kir Sabal, and the knowledge that tampering with sacred monuments could be dangerous.
The real beauty of this session though was the role play of the players. They deliberated at length about the merits and risks of assisting Rokah. Del was concerned about finding a patron and influential mentors, and the Flaming Fist hails from his home city so subverting them was not going to be an easy choice. In advance of the session, I sent messages in our Discord server to Del and Isa who is also from Baldur's Gate. I asked them to roll to determine how much they knew about the Flaming Fist. Del rolled high which meant he knew how the influence the Fist had throughout the Sword Coast. It took the rest of the party to convince Del to go along with the plan, but even so you could see the reluctance in his roleplaying.
When the party finally arrived at Fort Beluarian, the second-in-command Gruta Halsdottir came out to greet them. As Isa gave his patented opening line, "Yes, it's me, Isa Wolfram. Nice to meet you too.", it was the perfect opportunity for that to be rewarded. Gruta was instantly aware of House Wolfram and welcomed him as a noble of Baldur's Gate. The expression on Isa's player's face made all the work in the campaign to that point worth it! In addition, the young and charismatic Del was agog with Gruta, which set up many plot points for future sessions. Stay tuned for that.
After that, the party's role play continued to be fantastic. Finding a way to distract Portyr and Gruta with the tour and combat training was brilliant. This allowed Del and Rokah to get upstairs and into Portyr's chambers. As mentioned, Del was not keen on sabotaging the Fist, so he was physically distant and therefore could not see what Rokah was doing. This is key for the campaign - if he would have known that Rokah found and stole a Sending Stone from Portyr's possessions, it might have meant drastic changes to the campaign. However, that is the beauty of roleplaying games.
(I am not happy with the game session recaps I have done to date. I want to tell the story, and I want to explain my design process, but combining the two goals has just made for long and hard to read posts. For this post, I am going to try posting the text I wrote for the in-game calendar in Foundry, which I will then supplement with my design notes. Hopefully this is a better solution.)
Session 5 - Making a Name - Mirtul 16-17:
The rest of Mirtul 16 was spent cleaning up after the battle with the undead. After a quick examination, Arco informed the party that the supposed human female was in fact a yuan-ti pureblood. This was evidenced by the scales on her arms and the slender, forked tongue. After setting up a tinker's display with a repeating message near the pile of undead corpses, the party returned to Malar's Throat. They talked briefly with Screaming Wind and the Tymoran priest, Lateef Heyns, and then Screaming Wind escorted the party and their journalist charges back to the city gates.
Once in the city, the young scribe Kara gave Strider a quick kiss on the cheek and ran off to Popnes to make sure the story would be included in tomorrow's edition of "The Port". They decided to spend the night at the Thundering Lizard, where Isa was greeted with great fanfare and appreciation. The crowded tavern was filled with locals, but the party was able to secure rooms. Before retiring for the night, the party looked for a suitable mark to extract a few coins from. Isa decided to challenge the reigning arm-wrestling champion to a match for 5 GP. After getting egged on by Arco and softened up by Burgell, the burly blacksmith heartily accepted the challenge. As they locked arms, Isa flew into his Barbarian rage and easily bested his opponent. Overall, the party was up 4 GP, with Isa up 5 and Burgell down the 1 GP to the loss that encouraged the blacksmith to accept Isa's challenge.
The rest of the evening in the tavern was spent on a hero's feast, complete with steak, river eel, and greens. After the meal, Isa elected to spend extra money to have a room by himself; Del, Anemin, and Burgell shared a room; Arco elected to sleep outside where he could breathe the fresh air and see the stars.
In the morning, Burgell was disappointed to see the news in "The Port". While it was clear that Zhanthi paid for the party to assist with the undead in Malar's Throat, the article still raised questions about why foreigners were paid instead of native Chultans. In addition, the story about saving the girl highlighted the damage that was done as much as the heroic feat that was performed.
After breakfast, the party headed back to Zhanthi's. They were greeted by Kores, who was very happy with the news. Apparently the comment in The Port about not using Chultans was not troubling to him. He gladly paid the full 100 GP. The party elected to give 10 GP to Strider, keeping 18 GP for each of them.
The next stop was Wakanga's. Wakanga's villa was similar in layout to Zhanthi's, but was filled with books on shelves and tapestries on the walls. Wakanga was happy to meet with them, evidently due to the recommendation from Zhanthi. As he enquired about their reason to be in Chult and to call on him, the party mentioned that their friend Nelison had contracted the Death Curse and that Remallia asked them to investigate.
At the mention of Nelison, a round-faced bearded individual walked into the room. Questioning the party about Nelison, it was clear this individual knew him, even if he did not know that Nelison was ill. After a few minutes of discussion, the new participant in the conversation introduced himself as the famed author and explorer, Volothamp Geddarm. Anemin quickly becomes ecstatic and giddy with the knowledge he is in the presence of someone so knowledgeable.
The party shared with Volo the gifts from Nelison, including the stone etched with the maze that was gifted to Arco. Volo and Wakanga briefly conferred, and then escorted the party to a basement room with a large version of Arco's stone. They explain it as portal of some sort, and teleportation circle that can be activated by recreating a specific pattern in the stone's maze. The only problem is that they only know of the pattern for this particular stone.
After reviewing the stone, Wakanga asked the party to deliver a rug to Zhanthi. The party is completely suspicious of what was enclosed in the rug but had the professional courtesy to not examine it.
Walking through the early morning streets of Port Nyanzaru, the party decided their next course of action is to head to Fort Beluarian. While planning their next steps at the Thundering Lizard, they were approached by a tall human male looking to discuss some assistance the party can provide him.
This was a fun session to run, but I was concerned how the players would react as it was completely role-play. Feedback was positive, which was a relief.
The party's decision to not go back to Zhanthi to continue working for her presented me with some challenges. I was thinking of Zhanthi as a quest hub for Port Nyanzaru to help them gain experience and money, and to drop a few plot elements for them. However, even as deserting Zhanthi closes some avenues, others open including fostering some resentment with and towards Zhanthi.
Another fun aspect was the ability to really introduce the broadsheet. I decided on the fly to call it "The Port". The copy the party bought during breakfast on Mirtul 17 had the following stories:
The dinosaur races in Port Nyanzaru have a good reputation with player and GMs for being a fun experience, however my party was never interested. I even tried to tie in a bit of mystery with the missing jockey, but they were not interested in that either. The storyline about Jobal was suggested to give them a reason to visit another Merchant Prince and to force a decision regarding a guide. With Arco being a ranger with a Favored Terrain of Jungle, they decided a guide was not needed.
The last two stories were about their actions, and it was great to see their reaction. "Hey, why aren't we seen as heroes?" My intent was to show that actions have consequences, and that the characters would not be universally loved and lauded. Mission accomplished.
I really liked planting the element of the stone in Wakanga's villa. This idea of the "Webway of Ubtao" was taken from reddit just as I was preparing the campaign. This is perfect because the party can essentially teleport around Chult at low levels, and the slog of a jungle hex crawl is lessened if the party can quickly travel back to Port Nyanzaru. In addition, as a GM I can drop a webway maze into any location in Chult that make sense to the story, and it provides an avenue to explore the culture of Chult in greater detail. This will be something I will compare and contrast between Camp Righteous and Camp Vengeance later on.
The last point is about Volo. If you recall from the write-up for Session 0, 1, and 2, I had the common NPC Nelison provide Del with an autographed picture of Volo. Here is the specific wording of the gift Del received.
Del is drawn to people of power and influence, but it was Anemin that jumped all over the opportunity to interact with Volo. In a classic "I'm your biggest fan!" moment, Anemin was completely focused on doing whatever Volo suggested. This was completely unexpected but completely wonderful because now Volo is not just a purveyor of knowledge before fading out of sight, but a major draw for one of the characters. We will hear more from Volo in future sessions.
The session recap posts so far have been quite long, longer than I think is useful for an ongoing series. I did want to provide rationale for the design choices and my thought processes, and this lengthened the posts significantly. As we go through the next few session recaps, I anticipate they will be much shorter as the major and minor premises of the story are now established. I will still provide links to useful sites and supplements in case there is interest in pursuing some avenue I used.
This session started immediately after the conclusion of the chase scene. Girl rescued, hero status to be confirmed, everything is good, or so they thought. However, as I summarized at the end of the session 3 recap, there were numerous annoyed individuals to deal with. Luckily for the party, a man in blue and yellow robes approached with two bare-chested men with leather bands tied around their biceps. The robed man introduced himself as Kores, one of the senior aides to Merchant Prince Zhanthi. Kores had observed the heroics of the party and offered an audience with Zhanthi at their earliest convenience, implying that a group so adept at helping the young girl would be able to provide assistance to initiatives important to Zhanthi. Kores then proceeded to address the locals, pressing coins into palms both to help offset the damages but also to impress upon them that Zhanthi was on their side.
Departing from Kores and the locals, the party headed to the Thundering Lizard for a meal and to find lodging. The hardcover adventure mentions the Lizard, as it quickly became called, but without a great deal of detail. Luckily, there is a fantastic supplement at DM's Guild to flesh it out. For less than two bucks, the supplement provides some interesting proprietors, a nice map, an intriguing plot hook, and a great menu. I highly suggest picking this up if you think your party will visit the Lizard.
During dinner, they recognize that two of the official guides are dining in the Lizard. Isa approaches Musharib because his intriguing posting on the Message Board. Musharib's promise of adventure with a subtext of glory at Hrakhamar was the first hint of what is really important to Isa. In the discussion with Musharib, the possibility of fighting fire newts was a huge draw for Isa.
Sold on Musharib's quest, Isa attempted to convince the rest of the party to proceed. The desire to meet with Zhanthi and the reluctance to move on the first opportunity that was presented to them won out, and the party stayed in Port Nyanzaru.
They decided to visit Zhanthi the following morning. Strider was unclear of his role, but Del offered up another 1 GP for his services for another day. As a result, Strider joined them for the reception with Zhanthi, something that was completely foreign to Strider.
In the meeting, Zhanthi offered 10 GP to each member of the party for their efforts to rescue the girl. This included Strider which clearly was a serious windfall for the guide. Zhanthi offered the party additional work, including a request to have the party cast Zhanthi as a leader that cared about the commoners in Port Nyanzaru.
This was an opportunity to tie back to the notice on the Message Board that requested help in Malar's Throat. "Clear the undead out of Malar's Throat. Inquire at Temple of Tymora." was posted on a note on the Message Board, and Zhanthi suggested that they provide assistance to Screaming Wind, an advocate for the poor in Malar's Throat. Zhanthi agreed to pay the party 50 GP for their assistance, and an additional 100 GP if they were to get Zhanthi's assisstance mentioned in the broadsheet news daily.
The broadsheet was something I created to provide hooks to local news stories that would be of interest to the party. As they walked up the pier, I described two rail thin boys shouting something. The lesson learned with this was that there was no reason for the party to approach the boys. Two screaming boys is not something one typically seeks out. In the future, this plot element needs to directly interact with the party. They should be able to catch phrases from the boys, which would then draw them over to buy a copy of the broadsheet.
Back to the party, they quickly jumped on the opportunity to make Zhanthi looked good and brainstormed ideas on how to do that. They settled on asking Strider to find a scribe and an artist to come with them as they battled the undead in Malar's Throat. In other words, the fantasy RPG equivalent to embedded journalists. The resourceful Strider quickly found two individuals to assist, a writer named Kara and an artist named Philo. Bolstered with the additional people, the party headed to Malar's Throat.
At the Temple of Tymora, the head priest Lateef Heyns introduced them to Screaming Wind. I borrowed the name and inspiration for Screaming Wind from the Adventurers League supplement, "A City on the Edge". This is another supplement available on DM's Guild. There are some good hooks in this supplement and in an Adventurers League with a requirement to play a specific story with specific objectives, I can see this to be useful. However, I did not use anything from it beyond borrowing the name for Screaming Wind. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Conveniently for the party, Screaming Wind was about to head out to search for undead so she suggested they would head out southeast if the party wanted to go southwest. After a short walk, the noise of the jungle silenced and the party was beset by a few zombies. In addition, a yuan-ti pureblood joined the attack. The undead and abomination were no match for the party, and the battle was soon over.
The end of combat signaled the end of the session.
As I said on the Show Notes page this week, I think the story and acting in Critical Role is amazing, but I never finished Campaign 2, or at least have not finished it yet, because I started 30+ weeks late and getting through the backlog was too daunting.
However, with Campaign 3 of Critical Role launching this week, I have a chance to stay current with the story this time. Episode 1 was streamed on Twitch and the video-on-demand will be available to the general public on YouTube starting on Monday.
My initial reaction is that the characters are great, and the world Matthew Mercer has created is even more evocative than what we saw in Campaign 2. Detailed notes of each player-character combination are below.
In the previous post, I covered my thought process and design choices to kick off the Tomb of Annihilation campaign I am running for a group of friends. Given the breadth of material that was used to kick off the campaign, that post was super long. I doubt any future posts will compare in length because the majority of the design choices have been discussed.
Session 0 and 1 were focused on logistics and building the rationale to have them come together as a party. Session 1 and 2 through them into combat, and therefore at the start of Session 3 I asked the party to spend some time describing their character. Here is what came out of that:
The end of Session 2 had the party disembarking their ship on the pier in Port Nyanzaru. Immediately after leaving the ship, the party meets Zindar, the dragonborn harbor master. This is the only railroading I forced on the party in this session. After talking to Zindar, what they did was completely up to them.
Zindar commiserated with the party about being attacked by Aremag and was interested in their news of pirate activity. Zindar delivered the first quest hook in the form of information on the pirate bounty. He also suggested that he would like to talk to the party and that he could often be found at Kayla's House of Repose. For those of you who are familiar with the official hardcover adventure, it should have been Kaya's but by the time I noticed my error, I had too many hooks to change the typo.
With Zindar behind them, I provided the party with the following description of what they saw and experienced walking up the pier.
You walk down the long pier with sun blazing overhead. Much of what you experience is familiar but there is also much that is exotic and unknown to you:
The party focused on the Message Board which was fine of course, but I was hoping they would interact with the food vendor or the boys who were selling a broadsheet called "The Port". The job of a gamemaster is to present the party with options and roll with their choices, so the Message Board definitely fit that description.
The Message Board mainly consists of items directly from the hardcover adventure. I had to create the images for Kayla's and the Thundering Lizard. The note for Fantastic Foragers was my own creation as I want to play up the importance of the jungle as a resource. I enjoyed creating the crumpled-up note for River and Flask, since they are operating outside of the official market created by Jobal. I created Journal Entries for each of the official guides and in the Text section of the Journal Entry I provided information on where the guides would likely be. I wanted to give the party reasons to see various locations in the city. One example is Qawasha, who I put in the Old City and not Fort Beluarian because Shago will be there.
While contemplating the Message Board, the party was approached by a self-styled tour guide and font of information, the third person speaking Strider Phon. Strider quickly impresses himself on Del, who hires him for the rest of the day for 1 GP. Strider shows them around a portion of the city and takes them shopping.
The shopping trip is the first occasion for the party's personalities to be displayed. Burgell is quite focused on his gear, so he buys a shield. Arco spends times in the shadier areas of the market looking for lockpicks. Anemin shows his desire to learn anything and everything and goes to a woman selling books. He picked up a copy of "Friar Albert's Guide to Surviving Traps: Chalk, rope, torches and a sturdy pole are your best friends. And a brain." Thanks to DND Speak for the great random book generator.
Isa's personality also really started to show in this session. He leads off every introduction with "Yes, it is me, Isa Wolfram. It's a pleasure to meet you as well." even before the other party can say anything. This is quickly becoming a memorable part of the game. The socially awkward and unaware Isa has made several facepalm events already. In a moment somewhat out of character for Isa, he was really interested in the information about the Chultan plants from vendor at Fantastic Foragers.
After that, the party left the market. The session to this point was completely roleplay so I through a chase scene at them.
Ahead of you, a young girl carrying a burlap satchel weaves in between adults and pack dinosaurs. Suddenly a three-horned dinosaur turns sharply, its thick tail whipping suddenly toward the girl. With a sickening thud, the girl is hurtled into the flank of passing dinosaur towing a heavily-laden cart. Startled, the dinosaur bolts, tangling the young girl's arm in the ropes. The girl screams for help as she dangles precariously. If she falls, she will certainly be trampled by the large rear feet of the dinosaur or run over by the wheels of the cart.
The party of course reacts quickly to rescue the girl. I told them that we would use a modified version of the standard chase rules. This is what I provided them in a Journal Entry.
In situations like this, the difference between a long-legged barbarian and a short-of-stature gnome artificer becomes readily apparent. Trying to chase after someone with Isa's 35' of movement is significantly more useful than Burgell's 25'. Burgell immediately realized that he would not be able to keep up, so he commandeered both Strider and a nearby bipedal dinosaur and looked for a shortcut to intercept the dinosaur and girl. Isa quickly caught up, and Del and Arco both shot at the harness in attempts to decouple the dinosaur from the cart. Anemin vaulted off nearby carts and awnings and closed the distance with the dinosaur as the result of a good rule and judicious use of Inspiration.
Rewarding characters for ingenious solutions is part of a good chase scene, but this should be offset with complications to make things interesting and potentially harder. The Tomb supplement "Encounters in Port Nyanzaru", available on DM's Guild, has a nice complications table that adds some good spice to the chase. The chase did get a little crazy though, with most turns in each of the four rounds of the chase resulting in rolls of 10 or lower, meaning that complications were added at an alarming rate. Examples of the complications were people that were knocked over, and damaged vendor carts were damaged and slowed down progress. "Encounters" was a decent supplement, and the complications table and inspiration for this chase scene was worth the five bucks spent on the supplement.
In the end, the party rescued the girl but with the annoyed individuals, the damage to the harness and cart, and the "borrowed" dinosaur, Session 3 with the party as both heroes and scapegoats.
Greetings and welcome to what I hope is the first of many updates on a game I am running for some friends. These are friends I met online a year ago in a Curse of Strahd game another friend ran for us, plus another new friend that came from another game with the majority of the players. While COVID clearly sucks, it did introduce me to some great people from across Canada and the US.
If you know much about the official adventures published to support the 5e roleplaying system, you will likely recognize the word Chult in the title and assume that "Adventures In Chult" is a campaign based on Tomb of Annihilation.
While that assumption is mostly true, Adventures in Chult is not completely true to the hardcover adventure. The basis of the story and main characters from Tomb are absolutely in Adventures in Chult, but the Chult I created extends and expands on the hardcover. To do this, I heavily utilized the wonderful online community that exists to help gamemasters enhance and customize Tomb to a campaign that works for the GM and the players. I hope to add to the community with these updates by providing my customizations and ideas in the hope that someone can take some nugget of wisdom or inspiration and apply it to their own games.
If you are any of the players in my group, that should be the last spoiler you get from these updates. My intent with these updates is to highlight what happened in the last session and give some insight into the game design process. There will be no "boy, my players will sure be surprised when they find out next session that Darth and Luke are related" moments.
That said, if you are not one of the players in my game and you want to play Tomb later, YOU NEED TO STOP READING NOW. While every Tomb game, and any role-playing game for that matter, should be unique, the major characters, faction, locations, and plot elements of the story will be revealed on these pages.
Our Session 0 started online in a Discord server I created for our game. That gave us the ability to discuss which characters everyone wanted to play and with the Avrae Discord bot, we even rolled them in Discord. It also gave us a chance to discuss any optional rules that might be of interest to the group. I created a channel for house rules, general chat, session notes, player-only chat, and of course a video chat channel for our actual game sessions. We were quite prepared going into the in-person Session 0 as a result. I highly recommend setting up a Discord server for your group.
Since we knew each other already, it was pretty easy to come together but there were still a few questions to review. After some quick introductions since two people had not previously met, we covered topics like party composition, out-of-character player roles, character death, and "nope card" or "X card" areas. I wanted to ensure we were clear on areas that we do not want to have in our game. Nothing came up in this area until one player mentioned he was opposed to sexual violence, and then everyone chimed in with complete agreement and one player mentioned that seemed obvious but was glad it specifically mentioned. As our roleplaying hobby matures and becomes more inclusive, discussing RPG Safety Tools in a Session 0 can really help make the table a safer place for everyone.
The last step in our Session 0 was for me to hand out the Player Config Incentive Coins. These are a coin that I homebrewed in D&D Beyond to provide the players with Inspiration for completing some tasks to make sure they were ready for Session 1. The tasks included creating their character, filling out a backstory, logging into Foundry, and selecting their token color in Foundry. I found this to be a helpful way to get everyone to get a base level of familiarity with Foundry since we had only ever used Roll20 before.
The players all had wonderful ideas for their characters, with backstories and motivations that made them unique and interesting. There was Anemin, the insular and bookish scholar Elf Cleric from the library in Candlekeep; Burgell, the gnome tinker and artificer with a mother with a background in archaeology; Del, the half-elf cartography prodigy with no knowledge of his father; Isa, the dhampir barbarian noble with the exaggerated sense of self-importance; and Arco, the wood elf who has fended for himself since his village was destroyed. These are all great characters, but there is no obvious reason for them to be together. What is going to pull Anemin out of the library, and why would Isa stoop so low to trek through a tropical jungle?
In the three-and-a-half years I have been playing 5e, one thing I have learned is the importance of teamwork. That team is the collection of the players and the GM, and the teamwork is focused on collectively creating a memorable story. An essential element in building the team is an effective Session 0. Mike Shea lists critical success factors in a Session 0 on his Sly Flourish site. One of his points that I wanted to focus on the campaign was having what Shea calls Character Integration. Why is this party a party? What pulled them together? What makes them want to work together on a common goal?
For help with that, I turned to the great Tomb supplement available on DM's Guild, the "Cellar of Death" adventure by James Introcaso.
The character integration hook in Cellar is that the team (but primarily the players) create a common NPC that they all have a connection to. And then you kill him.
Well, in my game we did not kill the common friend off, but we did make him gravely ill. Laying on his death bed in Athkatla, the NPC we named Nelison greeted the party and with his next-to-last breaths, he gave the party gifts from his past adventures.
Here are the gifts each character received and the narrative text I used to describe some of the items. If there is no text, the item came from a rollable table:
With that done, Nelison fell asleep, and the party left his room. They were greeted shortly after by Remallia Haventree, a major character in Faerun lore and the Cellar adventure. Remallia implored the party to come to her aid as her forces would be preoccupied by the frontal assault on a lich and needed a party to scour the lich's dungeon for her phylactery. Remallia had intelligence that this lich would provide valuable information on the source of the disease that was killing Nelison and many others across Faerun. With the imperative of helping their common friend to bind them, they struck out and headed for the dungeon.
Cellar is a great supplement to help provide the party with a sense of Character Integration and a suspenseful and realistic dungeon for first level characters. Unfortunately, Cellar as sold on DM's Guild does not provide a map of the dungeon suitable for playing online. For that, I turned to the great community I mentioned in the opening paragraphs and found this link on Reddit. While I did not use most of the ideas the author suggested, I did find the map to be particularly nice. One issue is that some of the passages are quite narrow, making it was difficult for the players to navigate their characters through. That could be solved by more careful placement of the walls and adjusting the Grid Size for the Scene.
Here is a picture of the map in use in Foundry showing the walls, terrain walls, Journal Entries, party, and a couple of skeleton corpses. Session 1 finished near the start of the dungeon crawl, and this picture is of them leaving with the phylactery.
As they proceeded through the dungeon, the party was extremely cautious, befitting their Level 1 status. At one point there are a couple doors along a hall that sounds of chewing could be heard through. Del had the idea to tie the doors shut together so that they could not be opened and whatever was making the chewing noises could not come out. This worked well because now the ghoul in the one room was out of commission for any future combat.
At the next room, the party tried to sneak by two other ghouls but made too much noise. The ghouls were quickly dispatched, leaving the party to investigate some barrels along a wall. I had not paid them any attention, so of course the players would want to know what is in them. I said they were filled with wine and was pressed for details on how good the wine was. Based on the quality of the oak barrels, I said it was a fine wine. At this point, Anemin says that he wants to take a cask of the lich's wine. The things players come up with!
The player interaction with the wine barrels is important for two reasons. First, as a gamemaster it is important to be flexible so that they players know they can make decisions about how their characters interact with the world. Second, the wine barrel became a key story point for how the players got the phylactery.
After the combat with the ghouls and getting the wine barrel, the treasure room with the phylactery was quickly found. The party quick assessed the room and recognized that the pillars and chest were trapped. So like any sane party, they emptied the wine barrel, put Burgell into it and positioned him in front of the chest. The idea of putting Burgell into the barrel is that he would be protected from the magic embedded in the pillars. While this might not have been completely consistent with the level of magic a lich would use to protect her phylactery, it was a great story element and we all had a lot of fun with it.
Once in position, Burgell then guided Anemin's Mage Hand in opening the chest. Once the chest was opened, Burgell again guided Anemin to get the phylactery and a bag of 20 platinum coins. Next up, run like hell out of the dungeon and signal for Remallia.
On the beach, Remallia yells to the lich telling her to negotiate for the return of the phylactery. The lich is seriously injured but is still powerful. She wants her phylactery back and therefore does provide information about a Death Curse emanating from somewhere in Chult. She also tells the party that the only apparatus that could consume that many souls is a Soulmonger, but she had no idea what would require a Soulmonger. Clearly there is a great evil somewhere in Chult.
The lich gets her phylactery, the party leaves the beach and regroups on a ship. Remallia asks the party to investigate Chult for clues to the location of the Soulmonger while she attends to related business on the Sword Coast. The party agrees, and Remallia lends them the ship for the trip to Port Nyanzaru.
Deviations and Similarities to Tomb of Annihilation:
Up to this point, there has been little connection with the actual Tomb hardcover adventure. But now, the party is en route to Port Nyanzaru and the official material can start to be applied to our game. Remember that we are in Session 2 with about five hours of game time so far. The party knows nothing about the Soulmonger other than it is somewhere on Chult, but they have bonded in combat and have a common friend that needs to be saved.
It should be noted that another deviation from the hardcover adventure is the mechanic used for the Death Curse. As written, characters inflicted with the Death Curse lose 1 HP per day, meaning that low level characters will die within days of being cursed. This time element adds immense urgency to the game, but then takes away from any story development or exploration opportunities. To remedy this, I picked up the great alternative Death Curse rules, "Chultan Death Curse: Revised!" by Teos Abadia.
This is another supplement available on DM's Guild and it provides a solution to the ticking timebomb Death Curse as presented in the official hardcover adventure. By progressing the Death Curse to match the player progression, I can give the party a chance to explore and learn about Chult, with distinct timing points to ratchet up the urgency. They can have fun in Port Nyanzaru, figure out where they want to search, and which quests they want to take, without having to be concerned with everyone around them immediately dying.
The way I played the common NPC friend the party created was to put him at Stage 3 of the curse. He is very weak and cannot move without pain. The effects of healing are limited, and it is clear the individual will soon die if the curse cannot be lifted. This also gives the party some ability to save their common friend, rather than just having to avenge his pointless death.
If you are looking to run a Tomb game that allows the players to interact and explore Chult in detail, I highly recommend picking up this supplement.
With that deviation noted, the game started to focus on the similarities to the official hardcover adventure. Before parting ways, the party asked how they would contact her. This was another unexpected point from the party. I quickly came up with the idea that the Merchant Prince Wakanga had means of communicating with Remallia, which gave the party a reason to interact with Wakanga. I also provided a hook to the pirates in the adventure, but instead of having an interaction with them, the ship's crew noticed a pirate ship sailing away from them. Plot hook provided without a need for ship-to-ship combat.
The trip to Port Nyanzaru would take a few days, so the party had time to heal, and it gave me time to encourage some roleplay between the characters.
As the ship approached the Bay of Chult, the party encountered Aremag, a massive, cantankerous dragon turtle. Many sources helping gamemasters prepare for Tomb suggest that the party come in by ship to make this encounter possible, and I am glad for the advice. The party was unimpressed with the encounter until I showed them the above image directly in Foundry. The size and ferocity of Aremag definitely got their attention.
I also used Foundry to advantage in this encounter. The Polyglot module for Foundry allows for chats to be made in specific languages and to be readable only if the character knows that language. I worked with the players to ensure they all had one language that only they knew to provide for opportunities that only their characters could participate on. In this case, Isa knows Draconic so when Aremag demanded tribute, only he knew what was being said.
Aurix ui rigluin ekess dolruth. majak ve usv loreat. (Draconic)
I used an online Draconic Translator to great the words Aremag said. I tried to voice Aremag with a very rough and gruff bassy voice. Once Isa realized that only he could read the words in chat, he quickly relayed the information to the party. This was also a good learning moment for the party that they had languages that were unique to their characters, and how the Polyglot module worked.
The party quickly responded to Aremag's demand for tribute and threw the 20 PP they pilfered from the lich's dungeon overboard. Burgell also wonder if a flesh sacrifice was required and threw his mule into the water. Aremag did not care, but the circling sharks were appreciative. I cannot help think of this scene and not laugh! Poor mule!
Arriving in Port Nyanzaru:
Quickly after the mule-death scene, the party approached Port Nyanzaru, and Session 2 ended. I read the following text to the party as the session ended, readying us for Session 3. The text is meant to describe what the players see as they travel east to west from Tirikyi Anchorage to the royal harbor.
We have the best virtual reality equipment in the world right in our heads. We were born with it. It has evolved over half a million years to let us imagine worlds that aren't in front of us. We used to love it as a child before we stuck it in a drawer just about the time we started to worry about our SAT scores. It's time to open that drawer, put it back on, and step through the door.
The reason people play role-playing games varies, I suppose. Some people probably still like RPGs for the same reason we played in the early 80s - to roll up a character and then open a book, pick a monster, and kill it. The was no role play in those days, at least for us. Our characters did not have back stories and ambitions. The party did not need a reason to come together. We just rolled some dice and hung out together.
Add 35 years and I have almost zero interest in pure hack-and-slash escapism. (Note that I did not say zero.) Now when we play, our characters are important. We work on their backstories and find ways to bring the party together. As individuals, we commit a lot of time to each other. Two campaigns just wrapped up for me, one as a player and one as a game master. One was every second week for 30 sessions, and the other was every week for 39 sessions.
If you cannot imagine why a group of people would commit that much time each week or two to a "game", take a look at this picture.
That is a screen shot for one of the scenes I am preparing for with some friends using the Foundry Virtual Table Top. Looking at that fantasy city and I cannot help but be inspired with countless stories and ideas. That is the power of imagination, and that is why I play. There are countless worlds to be explored, and I want to explore them.