Our group played through the Tomb of Annihilation and I didn’t really keep notes. I feel kind of bad about that, so I’m doing this thing where I read through the adventure to comment on what I find and what we did. To ease my… conscience? I dunno.

This adventure’s setup is either really well-suited or really poorly suited to our campaign world.

I’m not sure how to summarize it, so I might have to walk through all of the issues.

Umm, spoilers?

Like, two hundred-something years ago, this jungle city-state got all decadent and was abandoned by its god. Nine primal spirits showed up and stabilized things for a while, but they weren’t really powerful enough to keep things running smoothly.

Acererak showed up after a hundred years of -THAT- mischief, “slaughtered” the aforementioned spirits, enslaved the surviving populace, and forced them to construct his tomb which he then abandoned to feed his phylactery with souls for the next hundred years.

Then like, fifty years ago this angry dude tried and failed to conquer this other jungle city-state arrived in the main jungle city-state, became leader of the snake-men and now he’s… ruler of the snake-men. Who are like, the first “main villains” you encounter.

As presented by the book, you’re supposed to uncover these historical footnotes in REVERSE order like Russian nested dolls.

We uh, didn’t.

As presented by the book, you’re supposed to spend time exploring this port-city (entire first chapter of the book), then spend time exploring the jungle (entire second chapter of the book), then explore the overgrown jungle city-state full of snake-men (third chapter), raid the dungeon of the snake-men (fourth chapter), then finally attempt Acererak’s tomb (fifth chapter).

We uh, didn’t.

From the beginning, the Dungeon Master impressed upon us the time limit. We actually traveled away from our “homeland” which was in a distant northern country, to like this, tropical jungle island-peninsula-island-we-never-settled-on-what.

We tried to take the time limit seriously, which meant a very no-nonsense approach to out interactions in the port-city, the jungle, the overgrown jungle city-state, and the dungeon of the snake-men. We resolved I think one side-quest in the city (and there’s a whole page of side-quests), and left as soon as we had a bead on where we needed to go.

From the port-city we traveled up the river by canoe until we reached a “thin” bit of jungle, cut across (carrying our canoes) to another river, and continued to a bird-man monastery that gave us directions to the jungle city-state.

Heading back to the river, we used our canoes to travel to the foothills of this mountain range, conveniently skirting “undead territory” that might have made travel difficult, and arrived at the overgrown jungle city-state in under two weeks, I think.

The trek cost me four characters–who were ultimately the only PC deaths in the adventure. I’ll write about them in another post, since their deaths more or less chronicle our journey from initial plot hook to the destination jungle city-state.

Up to the point we began Tomb of Annihilation, we had been running different death rules than 5e: death occurred at zero hit points with an optional death & dismemberment roll, hit dice couldn’t be used for healing, and “natural healing” occurred at a rate of 1 hit point per level per day.

These were the consequences of previous adventures and reflected my desire to change the game’s paradigms to something more “old school.”

If there was just one thing I would criticize our DM for, it would be reversing the rules with a spot-ruling the moment a character death was threatened. It felt like a slap in the face because they were my rules, and the ruling was in response to my character’s imminent death. There was no consultation, no invitation for discussion, it was simply a matter of, “oh, that’s too hardcore, let’s change it.”

Acererak has already been slain in our campaign. Coincidentally, so has his (former) master Vecna. Both villains died by player hands in stand-up fights that concluded their presence in the adventure/campaign. In order to maintain “fairness,” I treat the death of an NPC or villain as I would a player: if they die on-screen, they’re dead unless they’re subsequently raised from the dead on-screen.

Such was true of Lolth, whom we had established had died in the conclusion of Queen of the Spiders prior to our campaign (and thus her influence and the influence of drow had been non-existent throughout more than five years of gaming) until she was resurrected for the purpose of our campaign in the conclusion of Loose Threads.

Inexplicably, Acererak was alive and the master of the Tomb of Annihilation. We never addressed this, despite my several times raising the point that “Acererak is dead in our campaign.” But we put him down at the end of the adventure so, who knows? Maybe this was a clone. Or a Doom-bot. I still don’t know if or how I want to reconcile it. I’m the only player it affected.

The soulmonger presents a strange point of conflict. I mentioned that our death rules were a consequence of a previous adventure. In that adventure, a powerful cosmic entity had begun the arduous task or rearranging the planes to continue a “great plan” set forth by the Gods of the Dawn War–the Lattice of Heaven. It was kind of a big deal. The Underdark was wracked by cataclysm and the souls of the dead trapped by Torog were freed.

Additionally, a few entities were slain, elevated, or relocated to other planes. Torog died. Lolth returned. Moradin died and bequeathed civilization to Erathis. Nerull slew Kord and raised him as Seth. Zehir became Apophis and devoured Pelor before Erathis bound the two of them within the firmament of heaven–they gods of light and darkness their struggle, and the sun is dimming as Pelor loses the battle.

Heady stuff.

So maybe there was room enough for a powerful lich to step in and usurp the natural order of souls. Except that there are powerful entities checking the planes and traffic of souls “at the border,” so to speak: Orcus controls souls bound for the Abyss, Morrigan controls souls bound for the Feywild, Nerull controls souls bound for the Heavens, and Silhouette controls souls bound for the Shadowfell.

Who was this “Acererak” kidding? At this point there are so many eyes on the flow of souls, I have a hard time picturing how an (otherwise mortal) entity could interdict souls at the moment of their death–unless somehow that was exactly what made it possible. “Too many cooks in the kitchen.”

The above (as I described it) is actually more believable than the same scheme being pulled off in the Forgotten Realms, where the gods walks the earth and can just, you know, put a stop to exactly this kind of shenanigans. And they totally would because worship and those souls feed the gods of FR. ToA is more plausible in our campaign than the Forgotten Realms.

Our campaign assumes the “Primal Ban” from 4e, which prevents the manifestation of gods in the world under anything less than exceptional conditions. (Like the summoning of a god, or the birth/creation of an avatar.)

There is so much to cover, this is going to take another post.