Borderlands: Session Twenty-Two

It’s been a while since my 5th Edition game went on break.

Since then I ran two games of the Fantasy Flight Games Edge of the Empire Star Wars game, and one of my players has been running a mini-campaign for seven sessions (five of which were done at 20th level, ending with us getting our asses kicked by the tarrasque). Now, finally, I return to the BorderLands, albeit using a pre-published adventure.

Tomb Raider

Rather than continuing the sandbox play of earlier sessions of the campaign, I’m working the Tomb of Annihilation storyline adventure into my campaign. Spoilers ahead for anyone looking to play that campaign.

When I left off, the players had found both the Lost City of Omu and the entrance of the Tomb of Nine Gods, and were just about to start the part where they had to find the nine puzzle cubes needed to gain entrance. Not that they knew the latter.

This makes my prep fairly easy: I just need to reread the module, maybe draw out some maps, and get the handouts printed.

I reread the entire dungeon ahead of play over the course of many nights, getting an overview of the puzzles and layout. I also plan on rereading sections prior to each game, so I’ll have read each chamber at least twice, and thus the details should stick. With some extra time, I also drew out key rooms where combat can take place, to save time during play—my players like minis, so having ready maps is useful. And there’s not so many chambers with combat that I have to draw the entire dungeon.

I considered making notes of changes for my campaign setting, such as replacing the Red Wizards or the names of gods and similar details. But, honestly, one of the advantages of using a fairly detailed homebrew world is those elements are already written, and I can just pull from past ideas on the fly. I know my world well enough that I can improvise those elements should they arise.

I’m also using two digital tools that will require some set-up. I have RealmWorks ready to display the map on a handy TV on the wall behind me, taking advantage of the opportunity to buy player friendly maps of the Tomb from Mike Schley Making liberal use of the “reveal” function to hide chambers and hidden areas. The advantage of this is I can throw down map tags in the program with read aloud text and the page reference. I also splurged and grabbed the Tomb of Annihilation book on D&D Beyond I’m going to test pairing that with the physical book. (Which will also enable me to do a more informed review of D&D Beyond.)

All this makes it slightly easier to find exactly what I need, having that information available in multiple places, and I can look at two different places at the same time. Theoretically anyway.

Key Master

I considered jumping right into the Tomb of Nine Gods and skipping over the filler-ific hunt for the keys throughout Omu. I decided against this for a couple reasons.

The first is hunting for the keys provides some familiarity with the Trickster Gods and the puzzle heavy nature of the adventure. It’s a warm up for the Tomb itself, with less chance for horrific death and more opportunity to rest, retreat, and recover. The second reason is that it’s a refresher for the characters, with the players getting the opportunity to re-familiarize themselves with their PCs after several months away. They have a chance to get comfortable with their class features, remember the dynamics of the party, and various personalities at play. I might also take the opportunity to bring in NPCs who might be useful helpers (and trap springers) in the tomb, who could even serve as temporary replacement characters following the death of a PC but before an alternate can be found in the tomb. Someone to RP or contribute with, so the player isn’t sitting out the various puzzles.

However, I’m picking one of the cubes to give them right at the start. This places the party right into the hunt, rather than having them flounder or debate for half a session prior to deciding on a course of action or direction to explore. It provides an immediate objective, almost starting them in media res.

Post-Game Report

Jumping right into the hunt for keys worked fairly well, but there was still some occasional debate at the table over various choices. With four to five people at a table, gaming groups will almost always find something to debate and argue about.

You can really tell the difference between Tomb of Annihilation and the old school modules that inspired it. Both have the same largely illogical puzzles that exist for no realistic reason (apart for fun) but ToA tends to anticipate player’s actions better, explaining what happens if someone teleports or tries to smash the puzzle. There are a few puzzles that don’t work if the party can teleport or spider climb, but the module tends to call out those solutions as workable. And it doesn’t arbitrarily shut down player’s tricks (like walking on walls) just to make the group jump through the adventure’s hooks.

My players spend through the shrines fairly quickly. I kept exploration of the city brisk and swiftly moving, eschewing much of the side encounters. Because they just delayed entrance to the tomb, and I wasn’t using either the Red Wizards or the Yuan-Ti. Most of the shrines were solved with few issues, either through experimentation or actually solving the puzzle via the clues. The elbis shrine was the hardest by a wide margin, with several hints required.

As my wife plays a grippli rogue, the inclusion of the grung in the adventure proved interesting. I had to describe a difference between the two neutral tribes of Neutral frog people. I described the grippli as more “civilized” and grung as more wild, calling them the grippli’s “hillbilly cousins”. So when it can time to roleplay a grung in Omu, I adopted a (bad) southern accent. Which certainly cast the grung in an amusing light.

With all the puzzle keys found, the next session can immediately begin with the entrance to the tomb. Sadly, due to summer vacations and the like, it will be another month before we can meet again. This is extra unfortunate as the time away will just make it harder to remember the order to place the puzzle cubes into the lock on the door.

D&D Beyond ended up seeing very little use. The book worked well enough and it was easier to skim through that rather than scroll through the larger sections of D&D Beyond. Having run Pathfinder in part using PDFs, I find those faster to navigate through multiple tiers of bookmarks. Additional hyperlinking might help. But I am still getting used the app.



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