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Mannix, level 1 Human Rogue
Khaless, level 1 Half-Drow Rogue
Gillian, level 1 Triton Bard
George, level 1 Tortle Fighter
Therin, level 1 Hill Dwarf Druid
With our new characters ready to go from last week’s Session 0, we officially kicked off our Tomb of Annihilation campaign this week. We learn about our PCs’ backstories and the hows and whys they’re connected to Chult, while they learn about the death curse. They secure passage on a ship, meet with the crew (and each other), and explore a dangerous shipwreck.
While I generally love the campaign, one of my biggest complaints was the opening hook. As I mentioned back in my Roll20 Review of Tomb of Annihilation, I strongly disliked simply teleporting the PCs to Port Nyanzaru. At level 1 I didn’t want to turn a trip to Chult into a huge Odyssey-style undertaking, but I still wanted to make it a fun introduction to a remote and dangerous location.
Thus in these first two-or-so sessions I’m going almost completely off the book!
My original plan was to have the PCs simply get the main quest immediately as their motivation for going to Chult. The book mentions the Harpers learning about the Soulmonger from a lich. That flipped a light bulb to using our old lich friend from Prince of the Apocalypse, Renwick Caradoon. And of course I had to use Chris’ fan favorite zealous paladin Kalinaar as a fun guest star.
But forcing the PCs to basically sign up for the Order of the Gauntlet and get the quest felt lame, and I wanted everyone to instead have their own reasons to go to Chult. I developed a personal quest for each PC, like an RPG where each party member has their own specific side quest.
I won’t dictate all the quests here but I found a way to integrate everyone into Chult (or Chult-adjacent) via the material already in the book, such as weaving Xanadla and Artus Cimber with Mannix, and Hew Hackinstone and Wyrmheart Mine with Therin. Both Gillian and George will end up using material from the Tortle package.
With that in place, I used the Brazen Pegasus, also in the book, as the ship the PCs can get on, including the NPCs Captain Ortimay and Grig. Ortimay is easy-going and friendly, Grig not so much, and the War of Frowns between he and Therin was hilarious.
The Order had pre-paid passage for reinforcements to Camp Righteous but only one had shown up: Undril Silvertusk. She’s originally a side quest the PCs can find in Port Nyanzaru but I bumped her up here. She also provided a bit of background lore for Chult, including the legend of Ras Nsi and the plague of undead.
She tries to recruit the PCs into helping her travel to Camp Righteous, especially since the PCs didn’t pay their own way onto the ship (as intended, no way level 1’s are affording that journey, though they never actually inquired about the cost).
I was a bit unprepared for how reticent the PCs were with Undril. She was sweet and kind and helpful and the PCs were mostly rolling their eyes at her, which isn’t entirely unexpected. But when offered the quest the result was almost a collective shrug from the party; they seemed keen to ditch her right away! Maybe I need remind them that two of them are Lawful Good…
We had a lot of fun role-playing and socializing around the ship, including an epic concert involving Gillian’s bagpipes and George’s pan flute.
I sprung the main quest on them on the first night, via Undril and a Sending Stone. I flavored it like a holographic projection, temporarily super-charging the Sending Stone, and ran a cutscene involving Renwick and Kalinaar.
Earlier I had teased a cutscene of Acererak attacking Renwick and stealing his phlylactery, and the result was Renwick learning about the Soulmonger. Kalinaar then contacted the Harpers and learned about the Company of the Yellow Banner, a previous adventuring party in Chult from the book that I ran with and expanded into much more depth. The Company’s last report had mentioned Acererak in the ruins of a lost city deep in Chult, and it’s the only lead anyone has toward stopping the Death Curse.
The PCs were given a single name: Wakanga O’tomu, one of the Merchant Princes of Port Nyanzaru. He’s the Harper contact for the Company of the Yellow Banner and may know more information. Considering the Death Curse is affecting everyone the world over, I’m hoping that’s motivation enough to pursue the main quest.
Knowing them I’ll probably need to sweeten the deal with promises of wealth and fame. Chult is dangerous but lost cities are full of riches!
I have a few scripted events planned for the PCs during their oceanic journey. The first was a storm that I hand-waved my way through because we were running behind. The RP parts of the ship, and all the intros/prologues took up a good chunk of time – though they were a lot of fun!
Then Mannix’s prologue rears up in the form of a psuedodragon practically dive bombing into their ship. Mannix recognized Summerwise, the dragon belonging to the half-elven woman who had hired him to find Artus Cimber. She had disappeared after Mannix told her the clues lead to Chult.
The Brazen Pegasus turned and traveled in the direction Summerwise came from. Ortimay didn’t take much convincing when a ship might be in trouble (whether because of a code of honor or lootable salvage is questionable however).
The ship anchored outside a stormy sea of rocks and ominous towers jutting out of the sea, surrounding a central area. The PCs took rowboats out for a closer look, at the constant urging of Summerwise. They saw a shipwreck in the middle, completely torn apart, with a pair of winged humanoids picking at the remains.
The PCs were understandably cautious here, voting to row to the nearest outcropping and maybe try to climb a tower. When they got close I unleashed a harpy’s song.
I wanted to invoke the classic Greek tale of sirens luring ships into the rocks, and harpy songs fit the D&D mechanics for that perfectly.
The idea was each of the four towers is home to a harpy, but two of them were pre-occupied with their latest victim. The water was bloody with the bodies of slain crew members, and filled with reef sharks.
This is a very dangerous situation for level 1 PCs. I was cautious about how many enemies to actually use. I decided to simply fire off a single harpy song as a surprise round. Out of five PCs, three of them failed the DC 11 WIS saving throw! Roll for Initiative for our first combat of the campaign!
Therin and Khaless were charmed, and had to use their turns to leap off into the water and start swimming to the southern tower (the tower near them was unoccupied, its harpy on the shipwreck). They both made the save at the end of their turns, however.
Summerwise used its turn to bite Mannix, freeing him from the charm effect, but hilariously doing half his HP in damage! Poor pitiful level 1 PCs.
George scrambled up on land and started taking potshots with his longbow at the nearest harpy on the ship, drawing its attention. Hilariously we realized that tortles can’t actually swim, which both he and I had just assumed. Oops! Good thing we caught that very early on.
Tritons can swim, however, and Gillian jumped off the boat to swim toward the shipwreck. I had hidden the sharks on the GM layer, and now Gillian could see them. She used her Emissary of the Sea ability to attempt to ‘talk’ them down. I had her roll Animal Handling and she was able to essentially take one shark out of the fight.
The other attacked her, biting her for half her HP in a single hit! Khaless and Therin had to spend a turn getting back in the boat and rowing toward the shipwreck, while Mannix, hilariously bitching at the pseudodragon for nearly ripping his arm off, joined George on land to fire with his crossbow from a safe distance.
Summerwise asked for guidance from the others, and Mannix directed him to help Gillian. The tiny dragon did, hitting the shark with its stinger. The shark failed the CON save so badly it was rendered unconscious! Adding NPC allies is a great way to tip things in the PCs favor.
At some point Chris wondered why they didn’t take Undril with them and I smugly replied: you didn’t ask!
The harpy that the archers were shooting at was taking some damage, and she decided to charge at them, while Therin and Khaless did the same with their boat.
At this point I had a choice to make. There were four total harpies on this map, and however many sharks I wanted, but two of my PCs had sustained some serious injuries. I decided not to add any more sharks at the moment (Gillian scrambled out of the water to heal herself), and had only the one harpy fly toward the PCs.
Harpies aren’t strong but they have a mess of HP for CR 1. The rowboat intercepted her midflight and she swooped down, missing George but dealing a serious blow to Khaless.
I only attacked the PCs four total times in this entire fight (if you include Summerwise biting Mannix) and three of the hits connected for solid damage! There was a nice bit of tension even with only using a fraction of the enemies I had originally put here.
Thankfully for them, once the harpy attacked she was on her last legs, and Khaless brutally finished her off. I had the other harpy visible harpy retreat, and no more harpy songs were activated. Provided the PCs stayed out of the water, they wouldn’t incur the wrath of the sharks anymore either.
We ended the session with a figure emerging from the sinking shipwreck. Xandala! What’s she doing here and what does she have to say to Mannix? We’ll have to wait until next week.
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