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.