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Tomb of Annihilation» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Good Enough that I want to run it rss

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john Whyte
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I liked the concept of this adventure when it was announced - dinosaurs, jungles, and searching for a hidden tomb. But whilst I play 5e (and run 5e) it's not my most favorite system, so I waited until it came on special, then I picked it up. I'm sorry I didn't pick it up earlier, and I definitely want to run it, but I'm not sure when that opportunity will present itself.

Linking it with the System
I make no bones that 5e is not my favorite system to run. It is, in the technical and commercial sense, a very good system. It is easy to pick up, and it enables play to encompass both combat and social situations. It is hackable enough to be able to be used in a number of 'non standard' situations, without the hack feeling forced.
However I have felt that game designers have (in general) missed out of the strengths of the system, and focused too much on making 'set combat pieces' which is something that I would say isn't a strength of 5e. This book is one of the first that I have read and gone 'I need to run this in 5e'. It's not a 3.5 or 4 or 1st level adventure in 5e garb. It's 5e. One of the ways this stands out is the exploration rules, which is a simple subsystem, Survival check each day or get lost. The DC depends on the type of terrain with some modifiers. It is simple, usable, and impactful.
The listed encounters in the wilderness cover a wide variety of challenge levels, and a number have a 'roleplaying side'. This gives players options. It also means a DM can let them loose in the jungle, being pretty positive they aren't going to get ROFL stomped by a random encounter. This is a big feature of 5e's bonded accuracy and it's nice to see it incorporated into a hexcrawl.

Overview
The book is split up into several parts, the base city, the hex crawl, the hidden city, and the deathtrap dungeon of doom.

The hook is that there is a death curse, people who get resurrected loose hitpoints every day. Then when they die they gone. This (mostly) works. The issue is that the players are hired (as level 1 players) to solve this death curse for an afflicted NPC. The timeframe of the death curse is such the players really only have 79 days (as written) to stop it. Which isn't (probably) enough time to have an enjoyable adventure. It's not a minor issue but if a player catches the death curse they are going to have issues with how long the NPC has survived.

The base city has two great things:
1) Dinosaur racing! With betting and racing rules!
2) The ability to hire guides. 9 guides, each with handout (and picture on the handout). The handouts are sharp, amusing, and will get your players amped for their preferred guide.

The hexcrawl is big. I think too big for the page (it should trek over two pages as the hexes are pretty small. Certain features are marked, but the players get to explore the rest. It features random encounters, and set areas. There are lots of interlinked plots going on. And the best part is the book references them itself with page numbers. (See page XYZ for further details). This is fantastic, and I wish more books would do it. My only complaint is when referencing monsters from the appendix they don't give a page number there are well. We are packing good, sold encounters, that mix roleplaying and murder hoboing. And there are enough themes of the lost city the players will eventually find it.

The lost city is the shortest (and weakest) part. The idea is good, lost city, need to find the nine keys, and deal with the two other factions that are here. And it does this part rather well. But it feels like the authors ran out of space, there isn't much space devoted to the lost city itself. Given how long the players have been looking for it, they'll want to explore it.

After conquering (or talking) past the inhabitants the players will enter the deathtrap dungeon. 65 pages of dungeon crawling. Save or die. Complex traps. Riddles left by the creator. All the hits really. Reading it I think good players who are quick thinkers (but not reckless) will probably be able to do this with no character deaths.

The hand of the GM

One aspect I want to talk about is that the book doesn't shy away from using the GM to railroad, or something close to railroading. For example when collecting the keys the GM is instructed that various factions will obtain the keys the player's don't go for. I get why, it is the easy solution for a printed adventure. Otherwise you have to force the players to get the keys in order, knowing that key #s 7-9 will be missing. Or you run the risk of the players getting all the keys and avoiding the faction play. Or you just tell the DM how the factions have to 'play their cards'.

Thoughts
So what here is good? There are dinosaurs, a great number of cool jungle encounters, factions that are distinct with goals that could align with players, and the dungeon. The dungeon especially has traps done right. They sit at this intersection of player knowledge, and character sheet abilities. Players who just want to roll perception and sleight of hand will get hit by the traps. Players who think first will have an easier time of it. It has a strong hook, and is built around the idea that you can kill stuff, or you can interact with it. (Or do one and then the other!)

What is less good? There should be more jungle encounters, and more stuff in the hidden city. Also the style of play will change mid campaign, from open ended exploration to absolute dungeon crawl. Also less good is the fact that the exploration seems too easy if the party know about it ahead of time. I think the campaign would run better if you said you were playing 'storm king's thunder' and bait & switched on them. Actually having a bunch of outside adventurers trying to survive the jungle is probably more fun than a bunch of players figuring out how they need to beat the subsystem in character creation.

Conclusion
I want to run this. At current rate I might get to start in 2021.
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Clark Timmins
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So stop your cheap comment, 'cause we know what we feel...
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Great review, thanks. Now I think I'm gonna have to pick it up
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Dan Conley
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Thanks for the review! I have this in my collection. I’m certain I won’t be running it anytime soon, but someday...
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Mark Wilson
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That game wasn't half bad...
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...no, it was ALL bad! Dohohoho!!
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Nice review, thanks. I like how you framed it as a uniquely 5e creation; it made sense once you described why you thought that.

I'm a little surprised this hasn't come up in discussion more in my groups. We're more likely to run Tiamat than this, which seems odd to me. But it seems to be the most consistently highly-regarded adventure for 5e outside Strahd (and Phandelver, I suppose, but that's specifically for newer players).

No matter. I'm stealing the dinosaur race at some point. And some elements from the crawl.
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john Whyte
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mawilson4 wrote:
Nice review, thanks. I like how you framed it as a uniquely 5e creation; it made sense once you described why you thought that.

I'm a little surprised this hasn't come up in discussion more in my groups. We're more likely to run Tiamat than this, which seems odd to me. But it seems to be the most consistently highly-regarded adventure for 5e outside Strahd (and Phandelver, I suppose, but that's specifically for newer players).

No matter. I'm stealing the dinosaur race at some point. And some elements from the crawl.


I unfortunately don't own Strahd. Mostly because it's the 5e adventure I'd most like to play. (and also an adventure none of my groups would particularly like to play so I'm eternally optimistic!)

As an adventure for 5E I think this is better than the other hardcovers. I think Storm King's Thunder is probably a more fulfilling adventure, it has a solid story that will be discovered by the players, and some pretty cool set pieces, but I honestly think it would work better in a 4e game.
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john Whyte
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ctimmins wrote:
Great review, thanks. Now I think I'm gonna have to pick it up


Thanks! Definitely pick it up!
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Mark Wilson
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jodokast wrote:
...but I honestly think it would work better in a 4e game.


Interesting. Maybe that's my disconnect with it. I could never quite place why, but outside perhaps Hoard, SKT is the one I'm least interested in playing or running.

As a DM, though, my criteria are likely different than some. I like adventures that are more easily hackable, so I don't mind adventures that lack overall cohesion but have numerous individual great ideas. The closest I'll run an adventure to "as written" is still much further from actually as-written than most. It's why I've used Abyss a ton...it's a mess overall imo, but has immensely hackable ideas. Strahd's the opposite: it kind of only works as a whole. I think ToA is probably somewhere in the middle: more cohesive and satisfying on its own than something like Abyss, but still with tons of nifty stuff to steal and adapt.

Shame about your Strahd situation. Just find a way to nudge them toward any of the reviews calling it the best 5e adventure. Something will give way eventually. Good luck!
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