Parrots, raptors and tortles at PAX Australia

This will contain spoilers about some of the short Adventurers League adventures from the Tomb of Annihilation storyline.


Last weekend I was at PAX Australia, helping run games with the Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League. Merric has written about it here. I thought I’d also write a bit about how I found the experience.

Firstly, it was great being part of something that was attracting so much interest. Over the three days we were running eight tables, and they were booked out pretty much the whole time. It was actually hard to get into games as a dungeon master when I wasn’t busy, so I just ended up running more games!

PAX was one of only a few times I’ve had the opportunity to play through adventures before running them. Playing before running is very helpful. The first adventure I was running was A Day at the Races at 2pm on Friday, so I booked in for the 11am session of the same adventure. I was able to see that the race map included as part of the adventure was kind of hard to understand. So I chose not to use it when I ran the same adventure. As I’ve mentioned before dinosaur races are a lot of fun. However, I think that the dinosaur race from part 2 of City on the Edge are a bit more fun than the one in A Day at the Races, particularly due to the obstacles included in City on the Edge.

There’s a difference between parrots and raptors. When I played through A Day at the Races I didn’t answer the jumbled letters puzzle since I’d already read the adventure in preparation. The group initially thought the answer was ‘parrot’ and not ‘raptor’ – and it could have been the correct answer as they are made up of the same letters. However, the dungeon master just said that it wasn’t the right answer, and then they guessed that it was ‘raptor’. When I ran the adventure myself, the group also answered ‘parrot’ first, so I let them go with that. But when they tried to open the combination lock by turning the dials to spell ‘parrot’ it didn’t work. They realised they must have the answer wrong, but couldn’t figure it out, so I said, ‘Imagine a giant parrot that’s about to rip out your guys with it’s hooked claws.’

A couple of times I jumped in to run adventures at short notice. There was one session where the dungeon master (who was meant to be running the same adventure twice, back to back) couldn’t be found. I hadn’t prepared to run the particular adventure at PAX, but the dungeon master who had been running it in the previous session agreed to run it, and I was able to join in so that I could run it myself afterwards. In some ways, not being over-prepared made it pretty easy to run the adventure.

I also put my hand up to run some tier two (level 5 to 10) adventures, when we had only planned to run tier adventures (level 1 to 4). A guy who I’ve previously run a one shot adventure for was asking about tier 2 adventures, so I said I could run one outside the official program on Sunday when I wasn’t rostered on. Then when we had another group who all wanted to play tier 2, and since I’d been preparing tier 2 adventures I was able to offer to run them for this group as well. They were also able to give me advice afterwards about how to make the most of the monsters in the adventures. This meant I was able to provide a better challenge the second time I ran the adventure.

When running these adventures there was some stuff I ignored or changed because it felt awkward. I don’t feel comfortable using accents as a DM ordinarily, and some of the dialogue for Chultan characters felt pretty stereotyped and and cringeworthy. So I just ignored it and had them speaking normally. If you want to get a sense of how some black players have responded to Tomb of Annihilation, read this or this. I’m confident that Wizards of the Coast are wanting to improve in this area, and I hope they can take on these critiques in order to publish better content.

I found out that tortles are cool. Before PAX I made a player character that I hoped to play with. I haven’t played as a fighter before, even though it’s the most popular class, so I made a fighter. But I made him a tortle fighter called Yog. I found out that tortles can actually be a pretty viable player character option. In part 1 of City on the Edge, Yog was quite effective at dragging adversaries underwater in order to drown them, bringing a bit of a horror element to the game. The dungeon master of that game suggested that he should have been called ‘Yog the Baptist’.

Here’s the Chant: problems with Chult, Eberron aasimar and trial by ordeal

Each week I put together a roundup of content related to roleplyaing games (mostly 5th edition D&D). I’ve just recently started publishing these on Thursdays instead of Wednesdays. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Dungeons & Dragons Stumbles With Its Revision Of The Game’s Major Black Culture’ Kotaku – this article looks at the problems with how black characters and cultures have been portrayed in D&D in the past. Cecilia D’Anastasio says that in Tomb of Annihilation there are some improvements but many of the same mistakes.
  • ‘Knife Theory’ reddit/DND – this thread shares a way of writing a player character’s backstory, which offers the dungeon master lots of options for raising the stakes of the story for each player character
  • ‘Dragonmarks: Aasimar’ Keith Baker – in this post Keith Baker looks at how the aasimar player race could fit into his Eberron setting

For players:

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on the themes:

My recent content:

  • ‘Thoughts After Running In Volo’s Wake’ – last week I finished running In Volo’s Wake with my regular D&D group. Here are my thoughts on how I think this simple adventure can be deepened, and also some observations on how I could improve my DMing if I was to run it again.
  • ‘Zygmunt Bauman, Social Division and Flesh Golems’
  • I’ve just started running Out of the Abyss with my weekly group. These are some character illustrations I made for the non-player characters who the party found themselves imprisoned with: 

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: adventures in Chult


Illustration: Robh Ruppel

Over the weekend, during the Stream of Annihilation event, WOTC announced the next hardcover D&D adventure: Tomb of Annihilation. TOA will we set in the jungle continent of Chult. While there are the usual complaints (eg. ‘How long do we have to wait for Eberron?’) it seems like a lot of people are excited about exploring a new area of the Forgotten Realms in 5th Edition. If you can’t wait until September 19, there’s a lot of content already available which you could use to run an adventure in Chult. 

Tales from the Yamning Portal

‘Lost Shrine of Tamoachan’ and ‘Tomb of Horrors’ are both set in Chult and included in Tales from the Yawning Portal. Because Chult is a big area, you could start your adventure in Chult at one of these locations, and begin your exploration before Tomb of Annihilation is released.

2E Jungles of Chult

If you download the PDF version of Jungles of Chult from the DM’s Guild, you’ll find that there are a lot of creatures that are already in published for 5th Edition. There’s also a fair bit of homebrew content that folks have made. I’ve made a list of everything and where you can find it further down the page.

DM’s Guild adventures

There are already a few adventures set in Chult on the DM’s Guild:

Official material

I’ve made a list of creatures and monsters that are mentioned in Jungles of Chult that are already represented in 5E, with info about where you can find the content. (I’ve also included the froghemoth and grung, because it was revealed over the weekend that they’ll be in Tomb of Annihilation.)

Title abbreviations: MM is Monster Manual, VGTM is Volo’s Guide to Monsters, HOTDQ is Horde of the Dragon Queen, OOTA is Out of the Abyss, EEPC is Elemental Evil Player’s Guide, COS is Curse of Strahd, PSZ is Plane Shift: Zendikar, PSI is Plane Shift: Innistrad

  • aarakocra – MM 12, player race EEPC 3-4
  • aboleth – MM 13
  • ape – MM 317
  • baboon – MM 318
  • basilisk – MM 24
  • bullywug – MM 35; Castle Naerytar, a bullywug lair – HOTDQ 43-61; Pharblex Spattergoo, a bullywug chief – HOTDQ 91
  • chuul – MM 40
  • crocodile – MM 320
  • deer – MM 321
  • dinosaur – MM 79-80 and VGTM 139-140
  • dragon – black dragon MM 86-89, green dragon MM 93-96, blue dragon MM 90-92
  • dragon turtle – MM 119
  • elephant – MM 322
  • froghemoth – VGTM 145
  • ghoul – MM 148
  • giant centipede – MM 323
  • giant eagle – MM 324
  • giant fire beetle – MM 325
  • giant frog – use giant toad, MM 329
  • giant wasp – 329
  • goblin – MM 165-166, VGTM 40-52; player race VGTM 119
  • grung – VGTM 156-157
  • hunter-gatherer human: druid – MM 343, archdruid – VGTM 210, tribal warrior – MM 350
  • hyena – MM 331
  • hydra – MM 190
  • lion – MM 331
  • leopard – use panther, MM 333
  • lizard – MM 332, giant lizard MM 326
  • lizardfolk – MM 204-205; player race VGTM 111-113
  • mongrelfolk – COS 234
  • myconid – MM 230-232; Neverlight Grove, a myconid community: OOTA 83-94
  • naga – MM 233-234
  • piranha – use quipper MM 335, swarm of quippers MM 338
  • psuedodragon – MM 254
  • sahaugin – MM 263-264
  • salamander – MM 265-266
  • skeleton – MM 272-273
  • snake – constrictor snake MM 320, giant constrictor snake MM 324; poisonous snake MM 334, giant poisonous snake MM 327, swarm of poisonous snakes MM 338
  • troglodyte – MM 290; trogolodyte lair – OOTA 168-171; champion of Lazogzed OOT 229
  • troll – MM 291
  • vampire – MM 295-298, PSI 16-17; player race PSZ 14-15
  • wild boar – MM 319
  • wyvern – MM 303
  • yuan-ti – MM 207-310, VGTM 92-102 & 202 206; player race VGTM 120
  • zombie – MM 315-316

There are also a few monsters that aren’t mentioned in Jungles of Chult, but which I think would fit well:

  • blight – MM 31
  • drake – ambush drake: HOTDQ 88; guard drake: HOTDQ 91, VGTM 158 
  • flying snake – MM 322
  • spawn of Kyuss – VGTM 192
  • vegepygmy – VGTM 196

Homebrew material
While there are a lot of creatures from Chult that aren’t featured in official 5e publications yet, there are a number that are represented in homebrew content:

Is there anything you think I should add? I’m particularly interested to know if there is any homebrew material around for pterafolk or zorbo. If you think there’s some content I’ve missed, feel free to mention it in the comments or let me know over Twitter.