Poverty or subsistence?

I’ve been reading through Tomb of Annihilation since it became available last week. Last night I got to use some of the content for the fist time, when I ran City on the Edge, which is based in and around the city of Port Nyanzaru. Surrounding the city, but outside its protective walls, there are three districts where the poorer people live. The Old City is home to workers who can’t afford to live within the walls. Tiryki Anchorage is home to fishers (and possibly also smugglers). Malar’s Throat is described as the slum of the city, the place where the poorest people live. But I wonder what that means? Could it just mean that they don’t participate much in the cash economy? What if they’re hunter/gatherer people who subsist on resources from the jungle? Maybe they’re people who once lived in the jungle? Maybe they’ve relocated to the gorge outside the city for protection from the thunder lizards, zombies and other monsters that roam the jungle? Maybe they’ve moved to the outskirts of the city because their food sources in the jungle have been depleated by the death curse?

A few years ago my friend Jonothan Cornford spent time on the Mekong River, learning about the lives of people in the subsistance economy, and the impact new industries in the area were having on the subsistance economy. You can read his report, Hidden Costs, here.

Total party kill

This week two members of my regular Dungeons & Dragons group weren’t available, so tonight I ran a short one-shot adventure, City on the Edge. City on the Edge is the first short adventure in the Adventurers League’s Tomb of Annihilation series. You can buy it on DM’s Guild here.

Initially I thought we’d have three players, which I think is close to the optimum number. (Four players is just as good if not a little better, but beyond four I think it can get hard to manage as a dungeon master.) In the end we had one player have to cancel, so we ended up just having two players, a dwarf barbarian and a gnome wizard. I wondered if I should adjust the difficulty of the adventure. But I decided not to, because the current series of adventures, set in the jungles of Chult, are supposed to be brutal. During these adventures players are impacted by a death curse. This means that characters who die can’t be resurrected and characters who have previously been resurrected are gradually withering away. I really like this aspect of the adventures, because it means death is significant again. (Earlier in the year I wrote a bit about death in D&D as an opportunity to consider our own mortality.) So I didn’t really mind that the challenges might be a bit overpowered for the party of two first-level characters.

Like the Adventurers League’s previous introductory adventures, City on the Edge is actually made up of five related mini-adventures that should go for about an hour each. I prepared the first three mini-adventures, so that the players would have a few options when they arrived in the tropical city of Port Nyanzaru. Since I’d used a drawing of a dinosaur street race to promote the adventure, one of the players were pretty sure that was what he wanted to do, so we started off with the second mini-adventure, which involves participating in a race and then fighting in the arena. The party won the race (which was a lot of fun) and then they were defeated in the arena. I thought it worked well the way this happened. The adventure says that, because of the death curse, contestants in the arena aren’t allowed to do lethal damage. So the defeat in the arena didn’t mean the death of their characters. But I think it did forshadow their death…

After the tournament, the party decided to head into the jungle to see what was warping the plant life. They managed to avoid being bitten by disease-ridden insects, but then the wizard was poisoned by some thorny bushes that seemed to be semi-sentient. When they tried to rescue some fellow adventurers from as mass of vines, they were attacked by a group of blights. The adventurers put up a good fight, taking out the two twig blights and taking the two needle blights down to three hit points each, but were ultimately defeated by the needle blights.

Here’s the Chant: Tomb of Annihilation, feathered serpents and Hogwarts

I’m trying to get back into the habit of drawing toegther a weekly digest of content related to roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Tomb of Annihilation is already available some places, so I’ve included a couple of links to related articles.

For players:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

  • ‘A Guide to Tomb of Annihilation’ Power Score – extensive notes (with page numbers) for running Tomb of Annihilation
  • Dragons Conquer America: The Coatli Stone Quickstart – Dragons Conquer America appears to be a tabletop roleplaying game about the European invasion of the Americas, featuring dragons and feathered serpents. This free introductory adventure is a promo for their upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I’m interested to see how they navigate colonial history and indigenous cultural knowledge. I’m be interested in having a go at running this, so I’ve done a drawing of a feathered serpent that I could use: 
  • ‘Couatl Tactics’ The Monsters Know What They’re Doing – this article suggests how a couatl (feathered serpent) might behave in combat
  • ‘What’s the Goblin Doing’ Raging Swan Press – here are some suggestions about what activities goblins might be doing when your party finds them
  • ‘Mystic College’ Tribality – this article looks at how to run a game with a feel similar to the Harry Potter series
  • ‘Mission to Sewertopia’ Elf Maids and Octopi – this post contains one hundred missions that players could pursue in the sewers beneath a fantasy city
  • ‘Village Backdrop: Farrav’n’ Raging Swan Press – this post features a village that could be included in a desert setting, including a couple of maps
  • ‘I’m Not Going to Let You Do That’ Medium – this article presents some reasons why a dungeon master might stop a player from doing particular things in the game

Content I’ve published recently:

  • ‘Repeating D&D Adventures’ – I’ve recently run a few different versions of the same scenarios from In Volo’s Wake, and I’ve found that’s been a good opportunity to improve my adventures.

Repeating D&D Adventures

Before you read any further, I just want to warn that this post contains spoilers about the Dungeons & Dragons adventure In Volo’s Wake.

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Recently I’ve run the same Dungeons & Dragons adventure three times. At the Indigenous Hospitality House’s trivia night we auctioned a D&D game, so I prepared the first few adventures from In Volo’s Wake. Before I ran it with the group who won the auction, I ended up having a night free unexpectedly, so I ran it for one friend on his own. (I wrote about that here.) Then I ran it for the group who won the auction (and we’ll probably continue with more sessions). Now I’ve also started running In Volo’s Wake with a weekly group, and we’ll probably continue with more adventures when we’ve finished the series of six.

The first time I was really just running the first two adventures as written, and it was evident that they needed some work to make them more flexible. In these kind of adventures there is often really only one thing going on that the party is supposed to go and investigate which doesn’t make it feel like they’re exploring a real and living world.

However, I think that it’s pretty simple to add more possibilities using some of the techniques in Sly Flourish’s The Lazy Dungeon Master. When I started running In Volo’s Wake for the group who won the silent auction I prepared three directions I thought the players might go in, three major non-player characters they might encounter and three villains who they might come up against. We ended up sticking pretty closely to what was pre-written in the adventure that session, but it was good to know that I was prepared to go off on tangents. As I haven’t yet explored a lot of these tangents with the groups I’m running In Volo’s Wake for, I’ll probably come back to them in another post… I’ll just say that I think there’s plenty of seeds for further adventuring in In Volo’s Wake, and that if the group hasn’t played Lost Mine of Phandelver (which is set around the same frontier mining town) there are plenty of side plots in that adventure that could be transplanted into In Volo’s Wake. There’s also some stuff in Tales from the Yawning Portal that could be easily connected to what’s happening in In Volo’s Wake.

One thing I found interesting was that each time I ran the first adventure, ‘The Green Skin of Treachery’, the same non-player character came to the fore. Eric Merryweather is a spoiled and incompetent lordling who’s read Volo’s Guide to Monsters and set out to find all the monsters described in the book. (Each group made a connection between Eric Merryweather and Pokémon.) I think Eric has a lot of potential for comic relief, and he’ll probably become a recurring character. But I do think there is a risk of overusing him.


Some of the really basic advantages to running the same adventure with different groups is that it means I don’t need to prepare so much each time because the details are familiar. There are also opportunities to improve my running of the game. If I make a mistake it’s easy to remember the mistake and not repeat it the second time.

Coming up at the end of October I’ll be running some games each day at PAX Australia, which will probably mean running some repeat adventures in short succession. I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes and how each session goes.

Construction accidents and sexual ethics

I just want to warn that this post talks (briefly) about clergy sexual abuse.

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Maybe one way you can tell Jesus was really a construction worker is that he apparently made a joke about an industrial accident: You’re worried because you think your neighbour has a splinter in their eye, but you’ve got a construction beam coming out of your head! Who’s got the real problem?


We were talking about this confronting parable on Saturday at a meeting about how people of faith can promote the ‘yes’ vote in Australia’s upcoming survey on marriage equality. The parable is a darkly humorous way of talking about the hypocrisy of deeply immoral people attempting to ‘correct’ others.

I think what is really tragic is that many Christians don’t realise that in our wider society we have lost all credibility on morality – particularly with regards to sexual ethics. Christian clergy in Australia have sexually abused children and the church institution has tried to cover up the abuse. This leaves us with no credibility in the wider community if we try to say that two adults in an equal and loving relationship shouldn’t be able to get married.