Tomb of Annihilation (2017): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 9

Tomb of Annihilation (2017) is a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Chris Perkins, Will Doyle, and Steve Winter for levels 1-11.

Chris Perkins approach to adventure design seems to start with a collision of classic influences. Out of the Abyss mixes the Underdark with Alice In Wonderland. Storm King’s Thunder crosses Gary Gygax’s classic giant modules with King Lear. And Tomb of Annihilation mixes the dinosaurs and lost world of Isle of Dread, with the overgrown jungle ruins of Dwellers of the Forbidden City, with a deathtrap dungeon inspired by Tomb of Horrors. Every one of those influences appears on the Dungeon magazine list of 30 greatest adventures, and the mix plays better than any of them.

The story lands characters in tropical jungle land of Chult, a place with dinosaurs, volcanoes, pirates, and, well, frost giants. The players work to stop a world-spanning curse that blocks resurrection magic and wastes away anyone who returned from the dead.

“By far and away the ‘best bit’ of Tomb of Annihilation is the inclusion of some of the most fantastic and exotic locations seen in fifth edition so far,” writes Simon Yule for Geek Dad. “Most of these are stumbled upon as the party explores the thick jungles of Chult. They include the giant mud shrine at Dungrunglung, home of the frog-like grungs; the epic 300-foot-tall spire of Firefinger, patrolled by ferocious Pterafolk; the floating cave the Heart of Ubtao, complete with lich and zombie gorilla monsters; and the carnivorous garden of Nangalore.”

J.R. Zambrano from Bell of Lost Souls writes, “There’s a sense of adventure that pervades each of the book’s 5 Chapters. Everywhere you turn, there’s a cool location or a unique NPC or some sequence of events that makes you excited to get out there and play.”

Part of that flavor stems from the best, most evocative art of any D&D book. Pictures depicting the Port Nyanzaru street scene, the flametongue-wielding, snake-tailed villain Ras Nsi, and especially the overgrown first level of the tomb all make unforgettable calls to adventure.

The players’ quest leads to lost city, and then a multi-level deathtrap created by Acererak, the architect of the Tomb of Horrors. “Careful thinking, genuine puzzle-solving skills, and thorough trial-and-error exploration is something players will need to get through it all,” Jonbolds explains for Critical-Hits. “The dungeon beneath the city is a living environment with awesome links between areas requiring strategy and tactics from the players to overcome.”

Shawn Ellsworth reviewed the adventure for Tribality. “This is my favorite adventure to come out for this edition of D&D. Many of my favorite adventures have my players exploring deadly wilderness, searching ancient ruins full of puzzles and traps, and battling some mysterious lost people. If you are a fan of Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and Tomb Raider, this adventure brings a real pulp adventure feel to Dungeons & Dragons.”

“From beginning to end, this is a masterclass in adventure building,” writes J.R. Zambrano. “Tomb of Annihilation takes players into the forgotten lands of Chult and really brings it to life. If I had to pick the one thing this book does best: it captures the character of the setting.”

Next: Number 8.

Start at 10

This entry was posted in Role-playing game history and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Tomb of Annihilation (2017): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 9

  1. Dave Dalrymple says:

    I had a lot of fun running Tomb of Annihilation, and would happily run it again with a different group. It really is an adventure where two given groups are likely to have very different experiences, especially at the beginning.

    The adventure is very deadly, both with traps and fierce battles. Only one member of our original party was still alive by the end. But the morbidity of it all is tempered with a lot of humor.

  2. Pingback: The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 10 | DMDavid

  3. Steven says:

    I liked this to start off, and agree with comments about variety of encounters and critters.

    Much has been said about the weak death curse hook, but it’s not that big of a deal.

    After a while it turned into a slog, and just seemed to go on and on with endless jungle wandering.

    The Fane of the Night Serpent section seemed tacked on, and it didn’t really fit with overall adventure. My group was ready to get right into it, and the fane seemed like filler.

    Tomb of the Nine Gods is awesome, and the finale is epic. I regret not making it into a full session, and if I could do it again I wouldn’t rush it. There can be a lot of moving parts to it, and it deserved better.

    Overall I was glad to be done with it, but that may change over time. There are some fantastic sections exploring Chult.

    My group has had a lot of turn over, so I’m running Curse of Strahd again – top notch! I assume it is going to make the list…

  4. niznocspeaks says:

    I’ve been less than impressed by WotC’s adventures for 5E, but ToA is a true gem. It’s one of my favorite adventures of any edition. It’s basically a death-trap dungeon in the middle of a hex-crawl, so it’s right up my alley.

  5. alphastream says:

    ToA is one of the finest adventures I’ve ever run, if not the best. I am biased. As a fan of Indiana Jones type adventures, this is practically fan fiction personally made for me. I am loving this.

    I am amazed by how much the adventure covers. There is a true wealth of experiences offered across all kinds of play. A lot is done efficiently, with just a few words that can allow a DM and the players to take what is there and run with it. The challenge is a key to the adventure and often encourages parties to compromise and work with NPCs. The Fane is an example of that, with factions providing many opportunities for how things can play our.

    I also found it very east to expand. I added an entire pirate arc on top of the pirate storyline, with the party eventually owning a pirate ship and hiring a crew to explore and profit while the party continued their explorations (and this in turn inspired and served as a playtest for ideas found in the Acquisitions Inc book). I also added the Dungeon of Doom to the Fane, with DoD’s final foe serving as the aspect of Dendar – besting the DoD meant preventing Dendar from emerging. If I had endless time I would have certainly expanded on Mezro (using the excellent Adept materials) or other locations.

    As Mike Shea and others mentioned, there is a stark shift once the party hits the Tomb. All that jungle exploration and the freedom of random encounters and bits of lost civilization all disappear, replaced by a super dangerous crawl. I love the Tomb, but it is really deadly. Several spots have been near-TPKs. We’ve had streaks of three sessions in a row that were nailbiters. That’s more tense than some players like (while others love it) and it also causes the play to suddenly become divorced from the larger plot and any previous NPCs met and dealt with. In our campaign they hired the aforementioned pirate ship and also set up a base in Port Nyanzaru. I used that to create a “B Team” that could continue to explore the dungeon in between Tomb sessions. Sometimes it was done a bit abstractly (see the Acquisitions Inc book) and sometimes we spent half or a full session with these other characters to see parts of the jungle we had missed. For example, finding the certain important young person in that certain place high up meant we reinforced why it matters that the party succeed and drove home how much change the party can make in Chult.

    Overall, this is one of my top adventures ever. I find it competes for any spot in my top 5. I think I will always be extremely thankful for this adventure.

  6. L Castellucci says:

    The love for this module baffles me. There are so many great bits but the whole is so much less than the sum of its parts. The tomb itself is a boring level grind that tries to go halfway between the anti-player cruelty of the original and the more genteel 5e sensibilities and ends up not doing either well. The hex crawl is directly at odds with the ticking tomb bomb plot. As a source book it is great, but as an actual adventure it is a mess. (That it takes some of the classics like Dwellers in the Forbidden City which should be entire adventures of their own and makes them background you have to rush through doesn’t help.)

    I would raid this for pieces with glee and use it for all kinds of fun Chult adventures. I’d even run the main plot after modifying it to work properly. But as is ToA is not a good adventure.

  7. stripeshulka says:

    It made me really happy to see this on your list. Personally, I would rank it even higher but I know rankings are subjective. But holy cow, The Tomb of the 9 Gods is the best-designed dungeon I have ever run or played. The encounters aren’t just incredibly creative and challenging, but also perfectly designed and believe it or not balanced for the rules of 5th edition. I’ve been somewhat surprised it hasn’t received more love, and speaking with other players I believe the reason is that it’s simply too challenging…especially with Death Curse preventing resurrection. It’s definitely not the adventure for you if you prefer role-playing and bending the rules in support of story. But if you’re the kind of player who enjoys rules mastery (especially the utility of lesser-used spells), you enjoy exploration and puzzles, and you like a challenge, this is absolutely the dungeon for you.

  8. Pingback: The 10 Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Since 1985 | DMDavid

Leave a Reply