We’ve started running Tomb of Annihilation! Well, sort of! The first session of the campaign was what is occasionally referred to as a “Session 0”. It’s a session where the players create their characters, and everyone works out how they know each other, why they’re on the adventure, and the DM gets to discover what plot hooks will work best with the party.
With Tomb of Annihilation, that information will be very valuable. The beginning of Tomb is wide open. “Here’s a blank map! Try and fill it in”. Knowing the personalities, factions and goals of the player characters before the adventure gets underway will allow me to tailor the adventure hooks to them.
We can also avoid those little mistakes like “every character is a rogue”. Yes, it sounds fun, but lacking front-line fighters is a bit of a problem when you’re facing a dinosaur. One of my pet peeves about 5E is how you end up with groups which are all Dex-based. I want to put a rock in a dungeon for those groups – where no-one can move it and they can’t get the vorpal sword on the other side.
That isn’t the case with this group! I was delighted to discover that the final Strength scores read 16, 16, 16, 14, 8, 8. Yes, the wizard and the bard have poor Strength scores, but that’s fine. This group will be able to overcome any rocks they come up against!
The first part of the session involved deciding what classes everyone would play. You want a balanced group. A couple of healers are great. A couple of front-line warriors. At least one person who can cast Area of Effect spells. And someone who can open locks and disable traps. We almost got that. The selections were fighter, paladin, cleric, ranger, bard and wizard. Did you know the original printing of White Plume Mountain called for a party that was 40% Fighters, 30% Wizards, 20% Clerics and 10% Rogues? This was also back in the day when parties of 9 characters weren’t unusual. These days, it’s unlikely I’ll have to run parties that big, unless NPCs fill out a group (like they did in the old days, to be fair).
We then started discussing character backgrounds, bonds and flaws. While creating personality traits and ideals are important for your character, bonds and flaws indicate more about how you’ll work with the rest of the group, and need to be looked at with some care. Factions were also decided upon now; in DDAL play, Factions are often the way you get hooked into individual adventures, and provide a lot of guidance as to how to play your character.
Stephen’s character went through a number of changes in this conception process. He decided on playing a Half-Elf Paladin with the Oath of the Ancients path, and went for the default “Order of the Gauntlet” faction. After we started reviewing the characters, we realised that making him belong to the Emerald Enclave, which another PC also belonged to, would be much better.
Nathan’s character – the dwarf cleric – took the Archaeologist background, but I think it’s likely we’ll end up changing it to the Soldier background. As we worked on a backstory for the character, we linked him to Ulder Ravensgard and the Flaming Fist (as the introduction to ToA begins in Baldur’s Gate). Matt mentioned that Ulder had likely been raised and was suffering the Death Curse, so that brought another link in.
Matt is playing a half-orc fighter, whose human noble father had an affair with a half-orc servant. We’re still pinning down details of the character. Our original bond was the character having father issues. The second version, which Matt sent me afterwards, is that he hates being called human. We’ll see where that goes. One of the points to bonds and flaws is that they’ve got to come up in play.
So, the characters we’ve created are as follows:
Baldric Adrianson (Matt) – half-orc fighter (noble). Lawful Good follower of Tyr. Lords Alliance. Str 16, Dex 8, Con 16, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 14. Baldric is helping Uther Ravensgard.
Ardon Cleaverhand (Nathan) – dwarf cleric (archaeologist -> soldier?). Neutral follower of Gorm Gauthyl. Lords Alliance. Str 16, Dex 12, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 14, Cha 8. His family has a long association with the Flaming Fist; he believes that Family and Clan come before everything else and that violence is the best solution. (That last may give us problems).
Pieron Agosto (Jesse) – human bard (acolyte). Chaotic Good follower of Sune. Harpers. Str 8, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 16. Pieron has been keeping an eye on things in Baldur’s Gate as an agent of the Harpers.
August Fuego (Josh) – fire genasi wizard (sage). Chaotic Neutral follower of Kossuth. Harpers. Str 8, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10. August is from Calimport, where he got into trouble because he’s an alcoholic – when he got drunk, he burnt down a tavern. His mentor was a member of the Harpers, and helped him escape. He’s been paying off his debt to them and has been aiding Pieron.
Jonathan Amakiir (Stephen) – half-elf paladin (acolyte). Chaotic Good follower of Labelas Enorath. Emerald Enclave. Str 16, Dex 10, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 16. He has a mission to investigate Chult and discover what is corrupting the natural order.
Argian Sinodel (Rich) – wood elf ranger (outlander). Chaotic Good. Emerald Enclave. Str 14, Dex 16, Con 10, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 8. Argian is Jonathan’s partner. He feels strongly that his mission is to restore and maintain the natural order, but he’s slow to trust others. I’ll need to look up a place Argian can come from – there are some wild elves mentioned in Silver Shadows, so I’ll use those.
We’ll continue to change and modify these characters as the game progresses. The basic choices are good, but as we discover how to make them work better together, we’ll change stuff.
With all of that done, we were ready to begin running Tomb of Annihilation. I started looking through the book to find the best guides and side-quests to begin the characters with… and then came the announcement that the Guild Adept adventures could be used in the D&D Adventurers League.
Right. Off to prep Return of the Lizard King!