The memory cheats. It had been a week since our Session 0 where we created the characters for this session, and I’d ended the creation session with the description of the characters arriving in Chult.
Except, now they weren’t. I described a new teleportation ritual started by their patron, and it went wrong, not sending them to Chult! Did anyone notice? No, not really.
Instead, the group ended up in the Feywild, where they arrived just in time to save a lamb from being killed by a Krenshar. Yes, we’d started playing the alternative beginning to Tomb of Annihilation found in Shawn Merwin’s Return of the Lizard King adventure on the DMs Guild, one of the initial Guild Adept products. And, thanks to a decision made during the last week, it was now DDAL-legal. So, a quick little change to what happened when their patron used the ritual… and they found themselves in the Feywild. The poor Krenshar didn’t stand a chance against the party, and soon they were rewarded for their kindness by being given a potion of revivify by Mother Doe, the fey creature whose wards they had saved.
The Feywild, it appeared, was not immune to the effect of the death curse; Mother Doe explained that something done in the world of men had made it darker. Perhaps more twisted (a dangerous thing to say about the Feywild!) Certainly, it was no place for living men (and elves, and dwarves, and whatever other strange races the players had chosen). She advised the party follow the stream until they found a way out. This, the party agreed to, and they set out to see what they could find.
What they discovered was a wooden bridge over the river, with a large bundle of twigs and branches lying on it. This was suspicious. Suspicious enough that August and Jonathan approached ahead of the party to investigate the pile; unfortunately, what they failed to spot were the three darkling fey hidden under the bridge. I made my attack rolls, and both August and Jonathan were the recipients of critical hits. Jonathan, being a paladin, survived, though he was unconscious and dying. August was not so lucky, and was killed outright. In the ensuing battle, one of the darklings was killed, a second was captured, and the third fled. The tears of Mother Doe were applied to August, and he was revived –
The “bundle of twigs and branches” turned out to be a fey creature; a pine wilden named Byre, who had been captured by the darklings by the behest of the Queen of Creeping Vines, a great power of the Fey. His people had detected a darkening of the Feywild, and the pine wilden were seeking to escape it – back to a great forest in Faerûn. He invited the group to travel with him, which they readily agreed to. After destroying the wooden bridge – made of the kin of Byre, it seemed – they headed off through the forest, in search of the portal.
The portal was located on an island in the middle of a stunning lake, but no lake in the Feywild is without its dangers. Great giant toads attacked the party as they attempted to cross by raft, leaping out of the water and causing the adventurers to mind their footing. August, the pyromancer, started setting fire to the toads – and the raft! – causing the toads to abandon it, where Argian the Archer was able to pick them off in the water with his longbow. Meanwhile, Ardon Cleaverhand called down the wrath of his god through the spell sacred flame, which had the advantage of not setting the raft on fire! Byre was none to impressed by the flames, and the remainder of the party quickly extinguished them.
It became apparent upon setting foot on the vine-covered isle that the Queen of Creeping Vines was definitely out to get them. The vines came alive, causing the group to lead a merry dance trying to stay free, while fish-people servants of the Queen attacked from the water. Pieron the Bard realised the vines were hurt badly by fire, and screamed at August to burn them. The bonfire he created with his magic took a while to get going, but eventually the vines fell dormant and released them, as the fish-people were defeated in battle.
It was then that the Queen of Creeping Vines decided to attend these irritating mortals in person, rising from the centre of the island, a ten-foot-tall woman resembling a elf. Pieron stepped forward to bargain with her, and yes, he was able to secure the party’s release and access to the portal, but the price was heavy: his soul! That the Queen took. Pieron would live, for now, but upon his death his soul would belong to the Queen of Creeping Vines, for whatever purpose she saw fit.
The adventurers made their way through the portal; its magic refreshing them as they travelled. However, upon stepping through they discovered themselves not in the High Forest, as described, but in a jungle land, with lizardfolk running past them. And, without a further word, August fell dead to the ground, his body rotting before them – a victim of the Death Curse.
Welcome to Chult, adventurers!
The first section of Return of the Lizard King, by Shawn Merwin, was used in place of the beginning of Tomb of Annihilation. It made for a memorable start for the campaign. Most memorable of all, for me, was the fate of August. This was a really good character created by Josh, and one that I was really looking forward to running in the campaign ahead, but his death in the second combat made me have to make a decision: would the potion of revivify that Mother Doe gave him work, or would it fail due to the Death Curse? My initial ruling was that it would work, and that he’d remain alive once he returned to Chult; the Feywild somewhat protecting him from the Curse, but the more I thought about it as the session went on and afterwards, it would cause a lot of problems. His life would be draining away every day, and I might be breaking the way the Death Curse worked. It occurred to me that it’d be much stronger if he did die, and properly show the effects of the Death Curse of the party. So, he died.
I have a great affinity for the fey, which made the early section of this adventure sing for me. I’ve used great powers of the fey in my home Greyhawk campaign – I may have mentioned the Queen of Winter before – but this was the first time I got to use them as part of a legal DDAL campaign! Sadly, further exploration of the fey’s influence will have to wait. I don’t know at present if Shawn’s potential sequel will involve the fey, and their involvement with the adventure ends here. Mostly. Jesse’s character, Pieron, now has an additional flaw of “fear of vines”. Just as well none of them exist in Chult… oh, wait!
This session ran in two hours. It could have easily gone for more, as neither my group nor me spend overlong on role-playing interactions. The negotiation with the Queen, the discussion with Byre, the interrogation of the darkling? They could have gone for a long time, with a lot of interesting interactions and world-building thereby enabled. Instead, we kept the pace up, moving quickly from one encounter to the next. Without the opportunity for much rest, the party were challenged greatly – they were very close to dead when they finally made their way through the portal.
The reaction of the players to this? Very favourable. They enjoyed the storyline and the challenge of the encounters. We’ll continue running through Return for the moment, as it gives a more structured introduction to Tomb of Annihilation than the “let’s explore Chult” beginning. The meat of Tomb will definitely be used; it’ll just be a few weeks.