I finished running through the acclaimed D&D 5e adventure Tomb of Annihilation the other day. We bought it on Roll20 at the start of lockdown when we realised how much spare time we were about to have. We also thought that a complete package with full VTT implementation would help with our transition to playing online. 62 sessions later I think it’s fair to say we got our money’s worth out of it.
The adventure isn’t perfect, but it does have some great moments. As with most of the official 5e adventures it is inspired by classic TSR D&D modules. The jungle hexcrawl is clearly inspired by the classic B/X adventure X1 Isle of Dread. The ruined city and dungeon below that are based on the AD&D adventure I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City and, of course, the titular Tomb is a homage to Gygax’s Infamous and mostly terrible adventure S1 Tomb of Horrors. This is fine, they hang together well and provide for an epic adventure.
The starting city Port Nyanzaru is nicely realised and I could happily run a game set just there. The jungle is pretty good with a full and varied encounter table (lots of dinos and zombos). The ruined city of Omu is good with different factions, a large dungeon, and puzzle shrines to find and solve. The Tomb itself is OK, very dangerous but cautious players will mostly get through it.
All of this was slightly undermined by the adventure’s set-up, which tells the player’s that they have to hurry to save the world, meaning my players didn’t spend any time in Port Nyanzaru and they skipped some of the more interesting parts of the jungle. Also 20 sessions of jungle, followed by 20 sessions of ruins, then 20 sessions of dungeon was a bit much. It might have been more fun if the six levels of the Tomb were scattered around the jungle, giving a reason to travel around and more variety to play.
High points for our game included an excellent beholder fight (one thing at least which 5e seems to do very well), a desperate running battle though a dwarven forge, multiple kobold ambushes, the King of Feathers and that time the PC Monk Luchador powerbombed the Archlich into his own pool of lava.
If I was to run it again I would do things slightly differently. I think it would make more sense to have your PCs operating out of Port Nyanzaru and just run it as a sandbox for a bit and then pick up the actual main plot at around level 5 when the party meets one of the more knowledgeable NPCs. Also, giving the group some dinosaurs to ride to explore the jungle faster would be a very good idea.
As for 5e though, I have less good to say about that. In the early levels it’s fine, everyone has something to do, HPs and healing magic are low enough that there is still threat. After about level 5 though it all starts to fall apart. Damage output is really the only thing that matters and Paladins deal twice the damage of anything else. Healing and death saves remove all threat. Barbarians suck all the fun out of combat. Rogues hide and jump out every round like a Punch&Judy villain, and then probably miss their sneak attack anyway. Mages have been nerfed to the point that they are basically useless with overly prescribed utility spells and low damage combat spells. Legendary Saves ensure that Mages’ useful contributions to boss fights have to fail at least three times (likely closer to six times) before any of their spells stick. I could go on, but you get the point.
So I think it’s fair to say I won’t be running any more 5e any time soon. I might reconsider if WotC fires Mike Mearls, to show support for a good deed done.
Anyway, now that that game is done, it’s freed up a little time in my gaming schedule for running some of the other games I mentioned in my last post. Onward!