Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.
- A real sense of urgency is built into the concept of the adventure
- Lots more full colour art (as we have come to expect of this edition)
- A poster sized map is included (if you remember Curse of Strahd, you know roughly what to expect)
- 256 pages long not including the tear away map
- Glad to see the dramatis personae back
- Player handouts! (These also include some drawings of the guides your players may end up spending a lot of time with)
- A variety of jungle themed enemies to throw at your players
- Quite an assortment of fun role-play situations for both Dungeon Masters and players a like
- A good assortment of combat situations and situations that can be solved without combat
- Layout of adventure is extremely easy to follow thanks to an adventure outline and an alphabetically ordered list of characters
- Many of the characters in the adventure have ideals, flaws and bonds presented
- It is very different from the Tomb of Horrors in application, which it seems to have been inspired by, though it seems to share much of the same spirit
Could Go Either Way:
- Only new player options are 2 backgrounds and some magic items. If you don't care much for new class options or even dread them because of how they mess with balance, you'll be happy. If you wanted more new stuff ... sorry.
- In and out of dungeons there is a general focus on exploration. The way one of my players described it is “like D&D meets Indiana Jones”. The jungle setting probably contributed to this.
- Did I mention there is lots of jungle?
- There's quite a bit of Dungeon Master preparation here. Some potential plot threads, such as the one involving Artus Cimber are largely left for you to fill out. It's probably more accurate to describe these elements as plot ideas than plot threads, but some of them are mentioned a few times throughout the adventure.
- Milestone leveling is gone! Welcome back tracking XP and all that entails. Of course you can add your own milestones, but you'll need to do some planning for that.
- Quite a few puzzle and riddle components. They are also quite deadly, inspired by the Tomb of Horrors no doubt.
- It looks damn deadly. As written there is no raising characters from the dead. This obviously makes things more deadly. How you feel about that will contribute to your enjoyment. It also means you'll probably need a couple of clever ways to get a new player character or few into the game.
- There are some out there/humorous elements such as goblin battle stacks and dinosaurs. They form part of the aesthetic and character of the area so if you don't like the sound of that, it'll probably be a minus for you.
- Quite a bit of dungeon delving at the end. If that sounds great, it'll obviously be a plus. This is a marked difference from the first part, which so far feels more open to me. You probably won't like this as much if you prefer it when things switch up every so often to keep things from getting stale. The second part is very focused on the dungeon delving part but if you like that, it'll be a plus.
- Due to the focus on exploration the flow can quite different from the layout of the book. I'd really recommend making a small cheat sheet for this adventure in particular.
- Some of the riddles and puzzles aren't the clearest, though there are ways to provide hints/avoid some of them provided in the adventure. I get the feeling this will be compounded if your players don't like riddles or puzzles like this and instead prefer combat or social situations.
- The book is a bit shorter than it appears because some monsters from Volo's Guide to Monsters are included in the appendix. It's not that much of the page count but it still eats into it.
- You'll need the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide to run the adventure (no more supplement PDFs)*
- No PDF version*
- No included battle maps*
* Denotes nitpicking. I say this every time. In the case of needing other books to run the adventure, I've come to expect this now but mourn the loss of the good old days when the basic rules were enough.
|The image used for the cover, sans text.|
On September 19th, 2017, Wizards of the Coast released a new adventure called Tomb of Annihilation. Inspired by the infamous Tomb of Horrors, as the name suggests, the adventure promises to give more killer dungeon goodness and I would say delivers on that aim. It also has a strong exploration emphasis both in dungeons and out of them, complete with the hex overlaid map such a situation would often suggest. If the size of the “Could Go Either Way” section was any hint at all, this is one of those adventures where I feel your tastes will have a large effect on your enjoyment. However, I think there is still much to enjoy here. With all that said, let's jump into the details.
|One of the images that missed the book. Still looks great and I'd definitely use it as a handout to establish the look of a city.|
New Player Options
There's not very much here. We have 2 new backgrounds and some new items. The magic items probably don't really count, being that it's heavily in the Dungeon Master's court to decide what the party gets and therefore players often don't have much choice, but I'm always happy to see no magic items. I've made it clear earlier that I prefer to come up with my own player options along with my players, so this doesn't bother me. Of course, if you did want more player options, this detail won't make you happy.
We've got 32 pages worth of monsters here, though that includes art, and some of them are repeats from Volo's Guide to Monsters. By my count 25 out of the 59 creatures found in the Stat Block section of the book are repeats. If you never bought Volo's Guide then you won't notice. For those of us who already have the other book though, it's pages we already have. It's also not quite fair to call all of them monsters either since they also include named NPCs that come up in the adventure, though such things are also welcome since they can trivially be made into more generic monsters.
What You Need to Play
The Monster Manual, Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are referenced at the start of the adventure. If you wanted to use the basic rules and/or the SRD, you are mostly out of luck again. If you know what you are doing you can of course make your own stuff to fill in the blanks. A lot of the monsters are covered in the SRD and basic rules, but enough aren't that it wouldn't be a trivial matter. The thing that throws the biggest wrench into the situation is that the book references traps and magic items from the Dungeon Master's Guide. However, you'd need at least the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide if you didn't want to remake magic items and creatures in order to play the adventure.
We have a tear away map include just like we had in Curse of Strahd. The map itself is different of course, but the style is very much the same. It's quite a nice thing to be able to show players, though it takes up a lot of space so you might find that players prefer to use their own printout. Still, options are never a bad thing especially when they don't take away from the page count.
|Another image that didn't make it into the book but looks good in my mind.|
The Adventure Itself
The adventure is very exploration heavy. Of course, other adventures had exploration as well. However, this adventure has a heavy dose of dungeon delving exploration, and overland exploration using the hex overlaid map of Chult. It's probably this emphasis combined with the jungle setting that triggered the “like D&D meets Indiana Jones” reaction from one my players. This also means it's far more open for players to choose their own path than some other adventures, such as Out of the Abyss. This means I'd make it a recommendation to read through the whole book before trying to run this adventure.
There are some things in the adventures that are definitely more out there than previous adventures. Dinosaur jungle island is very much the thing you'd expect from old pulp books and some of the other elements are also quite out there (goblin battle stacks!). If you like a more serious and less out there game, this obviously won't hit your sensibilities. If you feel up for a change though, this setup lends itself to some good laughs and moments of "wow".
The breakdown of the adventure means that there are quite distinct parts. The first is very exploration heavy and allows a lot of freedom as players search for the Tomb of Annihilation. With an adventure name like that, I don't think I'm giving anything away. As you'd expect from something inspired by the Tomb of Horrors, there is a lot of dungeon delving after finding the tomb. If you like smaller, more varied and diverse chunks you won't be happy. If that sounds fine, I find the focus works well for what it sets out to do: build up, establish and throw players into a killer dungeon.
This adventure is deadly as written. The ability to explore in this way means players can find themselves in situations that they are not ready for. Beyond that, it takes place in the kind of location where even without the animal and plant life wanting to eat you, disease and supplies are a concern. Add in a story point that makes reviving fallen players impossible, and you have a recipe for dead player characters. Now, you'd expect some danger when having a jungle adventure, but be aware that you may spend some time carefully looking at and/or tweaking the difficulty for your players if you don't like the idea of a high death toll. Of course, that's if you don't want to run the adventure as is and let the dice fall how they will. The adventure gives you and players tools to manage this, including suggesting starting player characters at higher levels. Doing so can make the earlier levels less drastic but even at those higher levels, things can be very deadly eventually. However, I think that's part of the point of this adventure.
Clarity is a bit of an interesting topic when it comes to this adventure. Especially in the first part, players have a large amount of control over where they go and how they go about going after their objective. This is because of the heavy focus on exploration, and the exploration rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide are put front and centre here. The inclusion of the hex overlaid map makes this possible.
The environment areas are not as varied as some other adventures. The overland areas are very much based around cityscapes or jungle terrain, though on the map there are some rare instances of other kinds of terrain. They thematically fit, it's just that some might prefer more variety over the course of a campaign. The dungeons can be quite varied as well, with different kinds of challenges and different aesthetics. I know from experience though that changes in dungeon scenery isn't enough for some people. In Storm King's Thunder, for example, the different element and aesthetic per type of giant meant that there was quite a bit of variety in locations. This is more focused on the jungle aesthetic.
As you'd expect with an exploration heavy adventure, there are wandering monster tables. Even if you don't like using them and instead plan the encounters from the tables, I'm happy to have them. I consider them an extremely effective way to represent what the creator intended the population of enemies is like in an area to be.
Puzzles and traps. It really wouldn't be exploring a dungeon without running into these guys, now would it? They also make for good elements that can be shamelessly “reused”. This adventure has quite a few of them and in general they work quite well. There are a couple though that I'm not so sure about. Luckily in these cases I think there are enough ways built in to avoid the issue or to provide hints that it's not a major issue. However, I would recommend going through them and knowing them. They are also some of the elements that can easily be lifted.
Beyond the puzzles and traps, there are other portions of the adventure that can find new life when re-purposed. There are quite a few maps for dungeons and discoveries on the surface world that can easily be lifted in whole or in part. Anyone who stole a single level of a multiple level dungeon will know what I mean. Conceptually I think it's clear why that kind of recycling would be easy.
|Another image that didn't make it into the book but do I ever like the style. There are a few more in the book in this same style.|
The Art and Book Build Quality
I'm not sure what it is, but I liked quite a lot of the art in this book. I like sketch style maps that look like something that was ripped right out of the world. I also like having detailed and fairly realistic in style scenes of areas populated by their inhabitants. I found both here. There are of course some I don't care for as much, but they aren't bad by any means. I tried to include my favourites from the press images they released but there are others in the adventure as well. You can see them on the website here. The issue with them is that some of them aren't in the book (images 3, 5 and 6 in particular)! But hey, even if you don't have the book you have access to those images. Truthfully, I'd have preferred more like those. They are some of my favourite artwork related to this release. From those actually present in the book, the images on pages 9, 43 and 179 in particular caught my attention.
The cover isn't bad at all either. It isn't my favourite D&D 5th edition cover, but it's definitely solid and looks good. Thankfully, you don't need to rely on my opinion and can judge that for yourself. I always love it when pictures are provided. The binding this time was perfect in my book. With my previous experience I'd still recommend checking the binding if you pick one out at the store. You'll obviously be at the mercy of chance if you buy online.
My one major complaint art wise is that the hexagonal grids on the small handout map can be hard to pick out. Just look at the free player handouts to see what I mean. It's on the first page. The large map makes it far easier to see these features but it's far more awkward for the Dungeon Master to try to hide it from their players. It also makes things far easier when your players can see clearly, especially if they'll be going to Shilku at one point or another.That portion of mountains makes it particularly tough to see the hexagons.
|A more typical example of the art from the book.|
The suggested price on the book is $49.95 in the USA and $63.95 in Canada, as we have come to expect. Online prices are lower as usual but won't support your game store. There's nothing new here.
What I felt was Missing
I feel like I may be saying this until the day I die. There are again no PDF versions of the files. Being able to search through such a book quickly would be amazing. Of course I'm not surprised, but it would have been really nice.
There's no grid map, sheets, or anything like that. If you like using battle maps, you'll need to find your own tiles for the dungeons. If you've run D&D games before you probably have something already. However, it's still something that needs to be mentioned.
Some side threads are suggested and mentioned a few times but not really fully fleshed out. If you are the kind of person who likes control over this and would've changed it anyway, you won't mind. If you were expecting something more complete, you might be slightly disappointed. They aren't major parts of the story as written, but they can add a lot to the adventure. Isn't that often the case with side quests and story lines?
There isn't much free stuff this time outside of the free images and player handouts on the website. Having read the adventure, it doesn't have a chunk that breaks off as easily as some of the adventures before it. Still, I may have been a little spoiled by Death House from Curse of Strahd.
At this point in the run of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, I've come to expect that the adventures will be solid. They may require some work to get to a place where they run the way I want them to at the table, and there may be parts I don't love but they will have something about them. If you like an emphasis on exploration, killer dungeons, counting experience as opposed to milestones, riddles/puzzles, and a bit more out there concepts (dinosaurs, goblin battle stacks, etc.), I think you'll have fun with this adventure. If those worry you, you probably won't be as kind. So far I've been having a good time with this adventure and look forward to more.If you were critical of the previously published adventures, I'd also be skeptical about this adventure being the one to win you over. If you enjoyed the previous ones, I think there's a good chance you will enjoy this one.
- Reading through I noticed a handful of typos. I don't think they ever changed the meaning.
- I recall two times that I had to reread a section multiple times to get the meaning. Am I allowed to complain about this with my command of the English language?
- This adventure is deadly due a combination of traps, puzzles, enemies and lack of reviving the dead
- Even as a Dungeon Master I found my life far easier when I was able to use the player map there to recall where the party left off last time. You can even mark off what they've discovered as they go, which greatly helps me jog my memory.