So last night the stars aligned and I managed to make it a D&D table. I was told there might be games to be had at a store nearby and I actually met up with two of the players from Curse of Strahd/Mark of Mercy. So that was cool. They were playing Tomb of Annihilation, the adventure released a few months ago. I actually never got around to writing up a review of that one, not that my review of Tales from the Yawning Portal was that good or comprehensive. I did read through parts of it. It is difficult to review a dungeon. To speak in anything more than generalities you really have to dig in to the nitty gritty and that can make the writing a bit technical, at least a more technical style than I want to write in. I find them difficult to write about. However the book itself is really excellent, possibly the best adventure they’ve put out yet. I am planning to loot liberally from this book for when my Eberron campaign reaches Xen’Drik.
There was one bad thing that I need to call out. In this instance I’m calling out myself. When we reached a pool full of crocodiles I said to another player, whose name is a joke based on a conservative American Politician, “you should talk to them and they’ll kill themselves.” I think that’s what I said. That was so fucking stupid and out of line to say, especially to people I didn’t know in a public setting. I don’t know if anyone at the table or in the room who might’ve overheard has a problem with mental illness or suicide. Anyone at that table could have asked me to leave that table and never come back and they would’ve been within their rights to do so. Rather than apologize immediately I tried to walk it back by implying that, as this other player was the only one capable of speaking with animals, that the crocodiles could be persuaded to fight among themselves and save us the trouble. That’s not how it fucking came out. It was wrong to say it at all and I should not have let my contempt for a politician carry over to a well done parody of them at a gaming table. I fucked up.
Now that I’ve made confession, onto happier topics. I had played Tando the Mastermind Rogue for Death House a couple years ago but this felt like his first real voyage. I had fun when I wasn’t kicking myself, it was a good session. I thought Tando played fine, I know long term erryone says Masterminds suck. That maybe the case but I’m fine sucking. In AL, in my experience DMing, people tend to play multiclassed combat beasts and I feel it okay, if not my duty, to play a suboptimal character to balance the cosmic scales. Hell even Tando is multiclassed, and I NEVER multiclass. I took a level of Knowledge Cleric to reflect his belief in adventuring as sacrament.
I mentioned this in my longer Tando backstory post. I had always envisioned Tando as a courtier in whatever setting he was in, like a less psychopathic Littlefinger The Forgotten Realms version of Tando I came up with was working in Neverwinter (because I like the 4E Neverwinter book) hiring adventurers to deal with all the craziness that kept plaguing the Sword Coast every time Wizards released a new adventure. I‘ve never played an MMORPG and if I did I would really rather play like, an NPC who is bewildered by this world that is perfectly geared to accommodate adventurers. If you haven’t read it, the novel Mogworld nails this situation perfectly. I want to own a tavern in the World of Warcraft and complain that nothing ever seems to get better around here. That would probably only be fun for about three weeks but I like thinking about this kind of meta stuff. Residents of the Sword Coast have got to be fucking worn down at this point. So Tando received Divine Intervention that every six months the world would almost end. And then it wouldn’t. Every six months the world will face the Apocalypse and then it will end PRAISE THE GODS. In the real world, we get a new book and move on to the next calamity. In the Sword Coast, the Cult of the Dragon took 75% of the wealth on the Sword Coast and yet when the Giants start rampaging through two years later everything is fine.
I do wonder how people are doing keeping all the Trickster Gods in Tomb of Annihilation straight. It seems like their mythology and backstory is important to the adventure but coming into this cold it felt incomprehensible. It wasn’t essential to what we were trying to accomplish last night so maybe I’m wrong. Then again, if I can memorize the entire lineage of Targaryen kings of Westeros I can bloody well remember nine non-European names eventually. The actual adventure we explored the lost city of Omu. The Necromancer provoked a fight with a Shambling Mound. I know I hate on random encounters but this really worked to get me in D&D mode. Our DM described it very well. We then found a temple to the God Papazotl, which I spelled right on the first try. It was guarded by crocodiles. The Tortle gave me a lift across the water which was great because I did not need to sully my Gloves of Swimming and Climbing. We then worked on a puzzle to get one of the Puzzle Cubes required to enter the Tomb of Horrors. Tando, who came to Chult and Omu to prospect and is the last survivor of his company thought, “Tomb of What Now?” There was a really good interlude where one PC had a vision of Acererak. It was very Curse of Strahd. The puzzle was a good puzzle in that it wasn’t terribly long or complicated, well suited to a D&D adventure. At the same time it was the sort of thing that calls for one person to work on, more than one person would be a too many cooks situation. Then we fought some crocodiles. We kind of steamrolled the combat, it’s that damned if you do damned if you don’t that if you make the combat tougher it takes so much longer. Also Tomb of Annihilation has a ticking clock mechanic that encourages PCs to not have 5 minute work days which favors more, easier encounters rather than fewer deadly ones. The party also has two pretty baller NPCs to assist them. We ended on the precipice of a Grung attack.
As a #foreverDM I am wondering if I should try and put together another table at the store I went to last night. There were two very large tables of 7+. One of them recently began Curse of Strahd and it would not be the most difficult thing in the world for me to run that book again. But maybe the thing that would make me the happiest is to be a PC for a little while. I’ll reach out to the organizer for the non-AL tables and see if they want to start another Curse of Strahd table, I’m not sure I’m up to homebrewing something right now but I could run a non-published adventure in the improvised Dungeon World style. Or better yet, run Dungeon World. The reality is that if they’re all comfortable being at a 7-8 person table then more power to them. I know I wouldn’t be, I actually prefer 3-4 people especially if I didn’t know them.
Tabletop gaming right now feels like a great source of stability for me right now. I got some really supportive tweets after I wrote my boo hoo essay from PAX Unplugged. And this is kind of the arc that my gaming usually goes. Being a DM leads to burnout which leads to trying to be a PC which leads to either inspiration or dissatisfaction which leads to DMing and so on.
We’ll see how this new store game goes. The Mark of Mercy is still going, I think I’m going to try to move it to an online sphere as that might be easier to accomplish. I am also brainstorming a new homebrew campaign that I’ll post my notes on at some point. I’d like to do something that is like Deadwood + Pathfinder’s Kingmaker minus the Birthright elements of realm management.
So except for my idiocy that I’ve been beating myself for the last 12 hours about, I had a great time.