We did a double length session of Tomb in an effort to put the book down before the new AL rules kick in. More on that later. We ended session about a month ago fighting over the Black Opal Crown. When we resumed, we found that there were two Bodaks in the room. Bodaks are nasty undead that can insta-kill you. We managed to dispatch without much trouble, oddly. We made our way to some small rooms that had some kind of potentially fatal effect, fire, drowning, suffocation, but we got through them, again, we quickly got the correct solutions, I’m not sure how we were supposed to find them but it got them fast.
This teleported us into the last Trickster God Room, Shagambi’s chamber. There were a fuckton of statues ready to pounce if we made noise. Not sure how many chances we got but we took one. The DM was feeling generous and allowed the wizard a chance to ape the sorcerer and try to cast Silence silently, he did. Bailed. Out. With that we had enough time to disable the noise trap on the sarcophagus and open it. We found some gemstones and a fucking mandolin. An Instrustment of the Bards. This is Shagambi’s item. Shagambi, who in the story of the Nine Gods, is extremely literal minded and actually makes a Lance to literally lance off the the negative qualities of the Omuans like a boil, has a mandolin in its tomb. Did the Omuans even have mandolins? This is Africa-inspired territory, I can see there are bowed instruments on wikipedia, but it’s not the Culturally Appropriate Bowed Lute of the Bard, it’s the Mandolin. On the other hand, A Wizard Did It.
So that kind of pissed me off.
We went past the four armed gargoyles, these things have a ton of damage and HP and we weren’t interested in fighting them. As a DM, you learn to read when your players are communicating they do not want a combat and you really need to ask yourself, “is this combat necessary?” I tend to lean a bit more heavily on skipping what I feel are storyless combats, possibly too often, but these gargoyles were definitely in that category.
We entered the next level, what I would later find out are “The Gears of Hate.” We found a room with a big intelligent rolling boulder construct and after a strong hint from the DM, used the adamantine mace we found in Napaka’s tomb. Apparently because we found it in Napaka’s tomb, the expectation was you will think, hey, this mace will insta-kill this monster two sessions later. I remember there was a thing like this in the Mines of Madness gag adventure, where a diamond war pick is in a case that says, “In Case of Berserk Golem, Break Glass.” The pick is needed to defeat the golem later in the dungeon. I think this is something inspired by the original Tomb of Horrors but I’m just not crazy about trial and error puzzles, especially when I can’t figure out the solution. The Crocodile Key goes to the Crocodile Chest? Great. Maybe put a design on the mace or make the head the same shape as the juggernaut?
We stopped there and picked up again three days later for our extra session. As paranoid PCs on Level 5 of the Tomb of Annihilation, we did a lot of fucking around checking every thing every five feet to surprisingly little findings. The first room, filled with plants, hey you’re going to fight them and trigger this gas really no matter what.
We played around with the controls a good long while. Apparently the Acid Room does nothing. I think we took the appropriate amount of time playing with it to ensure we did not accidentally kill ourselves. Apparently I was the only one who thought plugging the ominous leaking tubes was a good idea because they started leaking ominous poison shit when someone decided to play with the gold lever.
There was a ton of combat in this session. After the Shambling Mounds in the middle gear, we found five wardrobes with five different combat encounters. We reluctantly butchered a lone modron monodrone and found some other stuff. It felt good cutting our way through a hoard of orcs, small as it was. After this, we found a Golden Elephant and it triggered a massive wave of Devils. This included an Erinyes, a Horned Devil, and a host of lesser devils. For those keeping track, an Erinyes and a Horned Devil are CRs 12 and 11, meaning that technically, one of them will pose an appropriate challenge to a level 12 and 11 party, and the adventure is geared towards parties of level 8-10. So this combat seemed completely unwinnable and we retreated behind a wall of force, animated objects and eventually The DM and us just called it off. Our reward was a golden chalice. More on this later.
At this point time was running short so we powered through the last few rooms over the next thirty minutes. We didn’t have any more combat, a large demon monster did not oppose us, and we found a skeleton key in the last room we checked, as per normal. We ended walking down the stairs into the chamber of the hags that we’ve heard tell of, I can’t remember if we know they’re the Sewn Sisters or if I learned that from Dice Camera Action. Another really good session and at the same time I’m kind of glad to be putting this book down in another 2 sessions.
I had never really set out to start playing D&D Adventurer’s League. I saw online there was at least one group taking on new D&D players and when I went there it turned out some great people I knew were doing Tomb under the auspices of the adventurer’s league. I had what they call a DCI number from years earlier, and as I read online it turned out that DMing organized play entitles one to XP like a D&D player would collect for their own character. So I calculated how much XP I was entitled to and then started playing D&D AL with these great people I already knew.
My point in this little speech is that, as you probably already know, D&D AL is changing its rules for how its players gain XP and other rewards. As someone who is not an AL player with anyone except close friends, and DMs AL adventurers only for close friends or at special events, I really don’t have a lot of skin in the game here. More digital ink has been spilled by wiser people, you can check out Sly Flourish on twitter he’s got some great insights. I also found this article very persuasive.
Having said that, there are a couple things I find hard to understand. Our group is moving through Tomb of Annihilation at breakneck speed to finish, “before the rules change.” Guys, we can just finish the book under the old rules. I can’t imagine any home group on earth that feels conflicted about this. Who is doing the accounting here? I’ll confess our group is a bit different, but we all know each other, who cares? If we want to finish quick because we’re getting near the end and it is really exciting I agree completely. Anyone asks, we finished a week before the rules changed. Also, who is going to ask?
I’m not advocating cheating or anything, but people, a group playing D&D at home under AL rules so they can take their characters to conventions can just keep playing under the old rules and then check that their characters are compliant before heading out to PAX or Gencon and they’re doing no harm. People who change the level of their favorite characters so they can play with their friends are doing no harm. I have a hard time viewing these people as part of the problem. At the same time, I’m obviously not expecting some kind official sanction for people who are, “cheating for the right reasons with the best intentions.” It’s still cheating. But I think for a wide swath of AL gamers this is still predominantly D&D is still a game played primarily with known acquaintances and then occasionally with strangers. No one is going to be kicking down the doors of your FLGS to make sure you’re complying with the new rules. But at same time, as one might put on a clean shirt and not curse at a job interview, no one will care if you fix up your sheets when you take them out in public for a convention. As long as you, and read this part carefully, as long as you are not a problem player it does not matter. But part of not being a problem player is going along with the AL rules, aka The Social Contract when you go out in public.
I do wonder what these changes mean for D&D playstyles. By that I mean, the New Rules completely abstract and gamify Getting Gold. Previously, D&D adventurers went into dungeons and found treasure which they exchanged for items so they could get into different dungeons to find treasure to exchange for items and you get where I’m going. This is not always the case. Sometimes you spend your money on airships, castles, titles, anything. But 5E has developed a reputation, at least in the AL section of play, that players are getting tons of gold and have nothing meaningful to spend it on.
I don’t think this treasure rule is going to work for players doing hardcover adventures who jump back to one shot adventures. I thought about this tonight when we were fighting devils to get this golden chalice. “If this were real” is a sentence prefix that, in the context of posing a hypothetical about a D&D story, is always the herald of snobbery, bullshit, and more likely both. But if this were real, my character Tando would want that chalice. It’s a historical artifact, people want it, people who Tando wants favors from want it. If Tando can get his Wizard friends to help him get it, that’s a worthy price. But in the new system, is there an incentive to go for that item? I seriously want to know this. And I say that with the opinion “I don’t want hardcover adventures to be shaped to meet this new rule.” It may be true that there’s nothing to spend the gold from that item on if we’re in an AL campaign, but does it mean anything in the context of the new rules?
If gold is valueless in 5E AL, it does have an alternate currency that seems far too valuable, Downtime Days. In a home game, sometimes the players have downtime. It refers to time when the characters, as real people in a persistent world, are doing stuff other than going on adventures. Are they making items, do they have jobs, families, responsibilities other than getting gold and looting dungeons? Downtime is great for character development. It’s a question a DM should pose to their PCs, what does your character do on their day off? Do they sit in a tavern and drink themselves blind? Do they go swimming? Read a book? But in AL, this is a currency and it has more value than gold. You spend it to learn languages, get items, and apparently we will need to spend them to sell our treasures from this adventure for that apparently useless gold.
And again I say this as someone without much skin in the game. I stare at the AL discord channel wondering what it would take to make me care this much. I like having a five figure gold account on Tando, but does it really bother me if that’s going away? Not really. I’m definitely excited about the XP change because I could give a fuck about combat driven XP. For as long as I’ve been playing 5E, hardcover adventures are milestone/checkpoint driven, AL adventures are combat driven. Was I doing anything with my Harpers membership? Hell no.
So anyways, that’s where I am right now. Eagerly looking forward to completing this great adventure, The Tomb of Annihilation. I’m eager to see where these AL changes go, I think they’re going to be fine for Con Games/AL seasons, but the relationship with hardcovers is going to be antagonistic. I also have a new Dragon Age campaign which I’m very optimistic about, I have a great group of people and I think that will be a lot of fun.