At this point in the story, the players know that the Soulmonger is in Omu, but not exactly where.
During the initial exploration of the city, I was aiming for a real sense of wonder. Basically, in any D&D adventure where the players spend an extended time in one place, everything eventually becomes familiar, with only odd encounters bringing back the sense of the fantastic. So, I needed to give the players a real sense of the place early on.
It helps that to begin with, Omu is a brilliant place. The city sits in a basin, a waterfall flooding half of it, with gargoyles overlooking everything and the ruins only just poking through the jungle growth. In one corner, a great rift in the earth reveals lava, with water creating great clouds of steam as it falls into the void. How can’t that be evocative and excite your players?
I used this amazing scenery to contrast with the reality of what the city once was: a living, breathing place inhabited by humans. The first few buildings the players explored I described in more detail. This was a bakery, with stone ovens and counters, with a few old coins scattered amongst the dirt. This was a home; a small toy reminding the players that children once lived here.
With this exploration, also comes the first glances of the inhabitants of the city. Vegepygmies hiding in the ruins, fleeing when approached. Yuan-Ti, guarding the approach, but then being strangely absent for long stretches as the exploration continues. The glimpses of kobolds in the distance. The humans might be gone, but the city isn’t entirely deserted!
From there, it was up to the players in which direction they explored. I’ve got the adventure on D&D Beyond, so I pulled up the player map on that, expanded it so they could only see their immediate surrounds, and let them choose where to go. Not surprisingly, they headed north (rather than try and cross the lava) and soon came to the first shrine.
I’ll speak more about the shrines in the next article, but they’re a large part of what’s important in the city. The other part is dealing with the reaction of the various factions to the adventurers as the factions become alerted to the adventurers’ presence. This is one of the areas where the good sense of the Dungeon Master should override the random encounter dice to give a better sense of structure to the adventure.
I use dice here to surprise me and give me ideas for encounters, but I’m very happy just to choose encounters. Perhaps to provide combat if the adventurers have been mostly exploring, or to provide a strange thing to explore or experience if there’s been a lot of combat recently.
“Random” encounters can also lead characters to keyed areas; just have an enemy flee into the middle of a shrine or encampment.
Those are my thoughts on the initial exploration of Omu; soon I’ll post up notes on how I handled the shrines.