The latest Dungeons & Dragons adventure shakes up the game

By in Culture

If you like exploring ancient jungle civilizations, fighting off undead dinosaurs and attempting to outwit and outlast one of the most cruel and powerful characters in Dungeons & Dragons history, then Tomb of Annihilation is the story for you.

Released on Sept. 19, Tomb of Annihilation is Wizards of the Coast’s eighth adventure for fifth-edition D&D. It is an exploration-based campaign that starts in the only city in the never-before-explored land of Chult.

The thrust of the story is to solve a worldwide death curse that makes it impossible to raise the dead and makes anyone who has been raised from the dead slowly deteriorate.

Much of Chult is an uncharted jungle inhabited by all manner of creatures, ranging from cannibals and dinosaurs to giants and rabbit-unicorn hybrids. No two playthroughs will be the same, as player exploration creates a new adventure on every playthrough.

Though it is certainly not the first D&D module to take adventurers on a great journey, Tomb of Annihilation has an explicit emphasis on exploration. When the characters land in Port Nyanzaru, they know almost nothing and must use their wits and problem-solving abilities to progress in the story. For this reason, experienced D&D players will love this adventure. However, it may be heavy for inexperienced roleplayers or those looking for a more casual gameplay experience.

One major issue with this exploration-focused adventure is that characters may easily run into enemies that they aren’t ready for. So, it falls on the dungeon master and the players combined intellects to recognize an insurmountable threat and escape — which occasionally does not work in the players’ favours.

In this adventure, players will need to think on their feet, as the jungle and its inhabitants can go from cordial to hostile in the blink of an eye — and not everyone will make it out of these encounters alive.

While many of the previously published adventures have had a black-and-white version of good and evil, Tomb of Annihilation does an excellent job of leaving it up to the roleplaying of the characters to determine how the varied NPC’s will react.

Once again, this feature tends to work better with a more experienced party, while an inexperienced group may antagonize a possible ally or trust a nefarious foe simply based on appearances or snap judgments. In the harsh land of Chult, either of these mistakes will likely spell doom for a character if not the entire party.

Tomb of Annihilation’s greatest success is its variety. Whether it’s experiencing the brand-new mechanic for dinosaur races, weaving through the traps laid in the Tomb of Annihilation, bargaining with goblins or finding lost dungeons in the heart of the jungle, Tomb of Annihilation feels like no adventure before it.

Every area has its own enemies and distinct feel while still holding to the ideals of the island of Chult. No one creature or location feels out of place, and every element serves to show the nature of the unforgiving, diseased lands that the characters explore.

People new to D&D, and roleplaying games in general, may find certain aspects of the adventure quite difficult, but most people who open this book will appreciate the world that is created and the near-unending variety of creatures to interact with.

Tomb of Annihilation might be the most well-rounded of the published fifth-edition modules so far and leaves the success of the adventure — or its failure — in the hands and minds of the players.

Colin Stumborg

Graphic: Tom Simpson / Flickr