Next D&D session prep – tropical waters

Next session won’t be sooner than next month. Summer is Garden Time and my already sparse gaming schedule always take a big hit. Anyway, I’m still doing some prep in advance.

Next session: The PCs are going south on the Olung river. They’ll have a few river encounters en route, one that is set with the events of last session (can’t talk more about this for the moment!). They are on board of the Inexorable Barge, a magical boat that can cross the steepest of riverfall without a sweat, so they’ll advance at a steady pace without having to do perilous portage.

One major site that can be found along the way is the Gardens of Nangalore. It’s a location that comes from Tomb of Annihilation, one of the good ones, that I’ve modified/expanded a lot (still working on this). The PCs know that explorer Castigliar lost his life while exploring the site. They also know that there’s some kind of powerful demoness or sorceress at the heart of this place. They don’t need to go there. They do have a few incentives to explore it though, we’ll see if they will be tempted…

They’ll eventually reach Lake Luo and from there, they’ll have to find the Star Princess airship or its crew kept captive by pterafolks, or both.

Does the river look like this?

It’s not very clear from the ToA book what the Olung (or any other rivers) look like.

Or like that?

A tendancy that I’ve seen often in rpgs is to downsize things just so they’ll fit a hex map or a decor prop. There’s moments when Theatre of the Mind is the way to go, but you have to first visualize what you’re gonna describe to the players!

Here’s a link that I thought was very useful:

(saw this on reddit, posted from user RaRaAcererak)

I’ve learned that a section of the Congo river is called the « Gates of Hell », a « 75 miles long canyon of impassable rapids ». That’s pretty impressive. Another case of Nature being more awe-inspiring than fantasy.

Which is one reason why I garden instead of gaming. See ya!

A good plan for running Tomb of Annihilation

I agree 100% with Peter’s commentary left on Merric’s Musings’ blog. Merric’s article is interesting in itself, but this commentary IMO is just spot on.

For some reason comments are closed on the article, can’t ask your permission – hope you don’t mind Peter.

  1. Peter

  1. I ran both campaigns… and yes, SKT was easier to setup. But I still liked ToA more.The main problem is the unstructured textwalls of Wizard’s campaigns, where they hide important pieces in cluttered texts full of irrelevant background information and fluff. It took my quite a while to make sense of ToA, but it worked very well:

  1. 1. Let the players travel to or return to Chult for their own reasons
    2. Let them to some work in Port Nyanzaru for the merchant princes, play their rivalries, and go on some jungle expeditions
    3. Disperse rumors and relicts about Omu, the Trickster Gods, the Yuan-Ti and Ras Nsi
    4. Show the Red Wizards arriving in the Port, preparing a big expedition, maybe rumors of a lost city
    5. Start the main Death Curse plot via one of the merchant princes as the quest giver, himself being afflicted, promising half his wealth and magic items for salvation (I used the mage Wakanga)
    6. Looking for the source of the Death Curse, some people will hint at going to the oracle of Orolunga, where they find out that something evil hides in Omu.
    7. Finding Omu, using the Aarokocras from Kir Sabal or the guides or seers from Port Nyanzaru or the Lich in the Heart of Ubtao
    8. Enter Omu and Stage 2 of the adventure, I would recommend level 5-6 for competent parties and the actual Tomb from level 7

Adventure Hooks: Tomb of Annihilation vs Isle of the Ape

The 2017 Tomb of Annihilation module shares a few things with Gary Gygax’s 1985 Isle of the Ape. The two adventures are both set in monster-infested jungles, Lost World-type settings. They’re both centered towards finding a powerful artefact. They both use an hexcrawl map with random encounters and sparse set locations. And finally, they both feature an archmage as the adventurers’ employer.

And it’s about that latter part I want to talk about now: the treatment in the introduction of how the employer convince the adventurers to accept the job, which couldn’t be further apart and IMO is very revealing of a certain design mentality nowadays…

Tenser the (Verbose) Archmage wants to hire the adventurers:

Adventurers: high-level, 12-15 (depending on classes) or higher, fully equipped with magic items

Premise: Back in the days when Tenser was himself an adventurer, he and his group got inadvertently stuck in a terrible jungle-world. In desperation they used a magical device to teleport themselves away. It worked but it had the unfortunate effect of leaving all of their stuff behind! Now, years later, Tenser wants the adventurers to go over there and retrieve one particular item, the Crook of Rao, a powerful artefact that will be necessary in the upcoming battle of good vs evil.

Reward: Everything else that Tenser and his co-adventurers have left behind, they can keep, it has been « written off » anyway. And believe me it’s a very long list of magic items, everything that a high level party could get their hands on over a whole career of adventuring.

Getting started: After meeting the archmage and agreeing on the mission, the adventurers accompanies Tenser and get aboard a magic ship all the way to the « demi-plane » of the Isle of the Ape. At sea, in shore’s view, they are left with their own smaller magical boat and have to continue from there. Tenser then leaves, telling them « glory is yours to be had ».

Syndra Sylvane (the Penny-Pinching) Archmage wants to hire the adventurers:

Adventurers: level 1, starting equipement + 50 gp from Syndra if they insist (!)

Premise: A terrible curse has been unleashed three weeks ago. The victims are slowly and painfully withering away and no amount of healing, magic or otherwise, can prevent their eventual demise. It’s been happening all over the world and all of the victims share one thing in common: they all have had the misfortune to be resurected at least one time in their lives. Syndra Sylvane is among them. The Harpers told her that the origins of this « Death Curse » is a powerful artefact that is somewhere in the vast jungles of Chult. She wants you find it, wherever it is, and end the curse

Reward: one uncommon or rare item of their choice per adventurer

Getting started: After meeting the archmage and agreeing on the mission, Syndra Sylvane teleport herself and the party into Port Nyanzaru, the only city on Chult. She then goes wait at her friend’s house.


So let me say first that Isle of the Ape is not really a good adventure, D&D + King Kong + evil black-skinned natives have not aged that well we might say. But old Gygax knew his trade for sure. Tenser is not just some random NPC, in his diatribe pitch to the characters he feels like a potent actor in this imaginary world, one that makes sure to explain what’s at stake and what the characters have to gain from it.

In contrast, Syndra Sylvane is pretty much the opposite. We know she’s direly afflicted by this curse and not much else. The reward part is one lazy bit of design. You will have a magic item of your choice… You’ll go to the magic shop with the archmage in tow after you have saved the world, she’ll open her purse and buy you a candy, is that it?

But then, there’s also the major disconnect that she asks to be saved (and every one else afflicted in the world) by level 1 rookies. Their frikkin curriculum vitae are empty, what do you expect of them!? The ToA designers are somewhat aware of the problem and say to the dungeon master that if asked why she doesn’t send more experienced adventurers to do the job she replies: « I already have ». And that’s it. That’s what they came up it. So… Does that mean that the veteran adventurers died? Or went missing? There’s no more experienced adventurers to be found anywhere? What the hell does that mean? But that’s the crux of the matter: the laziness of game designing of WotC. Sure, sure, they’ve got top notch art but why should we care about a good hook, or a story that make some kind of sense? The players want to play, no? Let them swallow any lazy ass hook and be happy with it.

Playing an archeologist in D&D?

In the Tomb of Annihilation adventure you have to find an ancient ruined city somewhere in the middle of the jungle, enter its dungeon, destroy an evil artifact and defeat the evil lich. All very principled. And you can play as an archeologist (or an anthopologist).

Kind of.

You’re still gonna play a fighter, a wizard, a bard or whatnot, but you can choose the aforementionned disciplines as « backgrounds ».

Apart from the fluff, an archeologist has the following ability:

Historical Knowledge

When you enter a ruin or dungeon, you can correctly ascertain its original purpose and determine its builders, whether those were dwarves, elves, humans, yuan-ti, or some other known race. In addition, you can determine the monetary value of art objects more than a century old.

That’s nice, I guess.

But… It’s a bit weird really. Well, first, obviously there’s a major difference with using archeology knowledge for a dungeon master to help with verisimilitude and a player who plays an archeologist…

If there is an archeologist character, it implies the discipline of archeology in-world. Tomb-robbing is often a central thing in D&D (as it is in my campaign), but that’s pretty much the antithesis of archeology, which can be described, I think, as a systematic method centered around a scientific basis for the purpose of finding and studying ancient artefacts.


It is true that the players can be somewhat methodic – in killing and looting everything!

It’s the scientific part that’s a hard pill to swallow for me. You see, archeology did not exist before the 18th century. Indeed, to see the emergence of archeology first you had to have a couple of things in place: scientific theory, a surging interest for things of the past of course, and, let’s not forget, an era of colonialism

Of course, you can do what you want with your elfgame, but for an obsessive-compulsive like me, who wants things to make some kind of sense (as much as a silly game as D&D allows), something that is so steeped in a very modern background that implies modern knowledge and modern infrastructure (universities and museums and so on) is off-putting.

With all of that in mind you could have an archeologist character, but I think you would need either just simply disregard all of the above (the de facto solution) or you could craft a campaign that fits this kind of premise and in that case, it would be very far from the usual vanilla fantasy… But maybe not uninteresting.

Archeologist Treasure Hunter

Or you could just dump the whole thing (with its anachronism and ethical problems) and just refluff the archeologist background as a Treasure Hunter… I mean, it’s a fantasy trope for a reason.

More locations for Jungle/Chult hexcrawl

Dinosaur Boneyard

Miles upon miles of massive bones with no vegetation whatsoever. Somewhere in the middle is the ancient mansion of a necromancer. But first you’d have to get past the carrion critters and various undead dinosaurs.

Pit of the Broken Idols

A cave where a long-lost civilization have thrown offensive statues down the 60′ deep shaft. Their residual power has taken shape as a powerful Eidolon.


Treant Permaculture

A spectacular array of flowers and rare medicinal plants amongst the tallest trees of the jungle. This is the works of a cigar-smoking treant that doesn’t take kindly to trespassers. Sometimes, he does need help to get a rare plant he wants to add to his domain or to eradicate something particularly bothersome.


Plateau of the Aarakocra

A rocky promontory that serves as a place of commerce for Aarakocra traders of the Mistcliffs and their partners. Huge quetzacoatlus are used to bring goods from afar.


Ubtao’s Tooth

Rogue, evil Aarakocra, have made their lair atop this lonely peak. They’re given to banditry. They have tongueless harpies as their wretched slaves.


Sacred Cenote

A very ancient site of worship, originally to some obscure amphibian deity. Glittering precious stones can be seen in the pristine water of the pool. Evil winds are always present as well as more tangible threats.


Tunnel Cave (Mistcliffs)

A several miles long cave makes the link from dense, batiri-infested jungles to the coast, through the mistcliffs mountains. There’s many divergent paths and a lot of dangerous critters along the way.


Jagged Summit (Mistcliffs)

The greatest aarakocra « nest » of the mistcliffs, the numerous sentinels patrolling the air don’t miss much. Only rare visitors are considered trustworthy enough to be allowed further.


Sunken Firefinger

One of several rock tower that served to guard the border of the now defunct mezroan empire. This one has sunken below ground, only the uppermost tip remains. The lower part is now in the middle of a cave system inhabited by strange creatures.

Seashore House

Along the eastern coast, this lonely house is inhabited by a friendly hermit. Friendly unless you’re a pirate, if so you better give a wide berth to his house.


Session 15b – Serpent-Skinned Monks

The PCs could not afford to take another long rest if they wished to be away from Tamaochan before the arrival of the Pick & Axe co. 


  • Shin (level 4>>5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5>>6), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5>>6), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Stay Still Forever

In a part of the dungeon yet unexplored – the PCs successfully avoided a sand-filling trap – a few turns later they got almost in the middle of two rows of skeletons, a sort of honor guard by the look of it, standing on a ledge each side of a passage. The 15 skeletons jumped down and attacked (1)…

The adventurers kept their calm, even after seeing a skeleton still fighting after receiving a killing blow, what should have been a killing blow anyway. It helped that they could  now count on the powerful Vorn to back them up. An exploding magic arrow from Shin did a lot to soften the undead warriors. It took some time but they managed to prevail with only a few light wounds in return (2).

You don’t see any traps

At the end of another passage they could see a golden bat statuette. Rufb took it from its pedestal and got shot in the back by several crossbow bolts. Wounded and angry, Rufb smashed the statuette under his foot. This released a creature made of light, a will o’ wisp (they knew from previous experience), that quickly got away along another passage.


Shed Skin

Now, for some reason, having a will o’ wisp on the loose didn’t sit well with the PCs (3) so they tried to find it, backtracking a little doing so. Flyzus ordered his pseudodragon pet to follow the evil light but the poor creature got zapped and… died (4). Next, the PCs got into a room they had opened but had chose not to enter before. A room with two slabs of stone with shed serpent skins… waitaminute… weren’t there bodies the first time around? Darn! More things roaming free…

Stuck in the Middle with You

To go further in this area, the PCs had to move a heavy block of stone on some rail mechanism up a ramp, the Shield Guardian was put to the task. They were halfway when things got complicated… First, there was sudden resistance against the block, something was pushing back… Second, bats. Lots of bats. Third, the will o’ wisp chose this moment (of course it did) to come back…

Vorn proved more than strong enough to keep the block from crushing them. The Ranger got rid of the bats around him quickly and then attacked the will o’ wisp. He was joined soon after by Rufb (Shin was still swarmed by bats) and the two successfully avenged the pseudodragon.

No Escape

Finally out of this passage, the PCs saw two nimble figures sprinting away from them. The Barbarian, the fastest runner of the PCs, caught up with them in the central room of the ziggurat’s lower tier. Attempting to communicate  proved fruitless, as Rufb could not understand a word they said. Resigned, the two mysterious sleepers-no-longer assumed fighting stances (5).


Rufb wasn’t in full combat shape at all, so facing these two adversaries with unknown abilities was daunting. He chose to use one charge of his gem of mud elemental summoning, a reward he had received from the Three Cascades’ frogmen. This proved a wise move as the mud elemental pummeled and mired in mud one serpent-skinned monk. Rufb then finished her with one massive blow of his greataxe. The surviving monk shrieked in anguish and attacked Rufb, sweeping his legs from under him.

Flyzus and Shin now got at the scene too. The outnumbered monk turned his back and fled once more. Shin shot an arrow at him but amazingly, he catched it middair without even looking!

Try to dodge that

He then started to cross the passage to the north, the one with spikes at the bottom, swinging from bar to bar. Rufb got back to his feet and jumped right beside his foe and started grappling him. He easily outmuscled the monk and sent him crashing through the spikes. Flyzus put an end to his life with precise sword thrusts (6).

The PCs finally felt comfortable enough to get down below, to the Hidden Shrine.

DM’s notes

  1. I had described them as skeletons but they were statted as zombies, with the undead fortitude that do a lot for their durability. But this fight was meh.
  2. Too easy! Would have been better if they had to be smart about it…
  3. Players paranoia!
  4. Félix kept forgetting that it existed, so… no big deal, I guess?
  5. The monks tried their best  to escape, the PCs, the barbarian in particular, just wouldn’t let them.
  6. This proved to be a really good fight, with a lot of cool, cinematic manoeuvers.

Session 15a – No Stone Unturned

We start inside the Hidden Shrine of Tamaochan with a scene of my own design and then a few things happen while they get out of the Ziggurat temporarily with the intention of resting and all.


  • Shin (level 4), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Psychic Cyclops. Psyclops?


After a well-earned rest outside the PCs got right back to exploring the ancient ziggurat. They first went  to a room they had passed the first time, in the second tier (1). Its bronze door had a strange engraving on it, a couatl and a cyclops locked together in a fierce struggle. Rufb pushed the heavy door and to his surprise, found himself in the middle of the jungle in front of the very same cyclop warrior, now coming wildly at him with a greataxe! That was all in his head, of course, but the imaginary combat was taking a very real toll on him. Shin ignored his companion’s plight and went straight into the room and got into troubles of his own as a set of giant antique armor assaulted him. Meanwhile, Flyzus was at a loss as to what he could do to save Rufb, as smacking the Half-Orc behind the head did not look like it helped that much… Finally, with scrambled brain and bleeding nose, Rufb managed to overcome the psychic invasion by himself and the three defeated the helmed horror together. This activated some kind of magic from the (avenged) crystal couatl statue that was in the middle of the dais, as they were rewarded a Tray of the Ages (2).

Terror from Above

The PCs then got out to rest outside. Nrak, the Firefinger’s ertswhile pterafolk leader, had apparently found a way to track down Flyzus in a vain attempt to avenge himself for the attack on his lair. One of his underling let drop something in the middle of the ruined temple where the PCs were  resting. The package, wrapped in leaves, exploded as it touched the floor, releasing some kind of poisonous pollen. Other pterafolks then dived and hurled javelins at the PCs, some blocked by the Shield Guardian. Mostly unfazed by the surprise attack,  the adventurers responded with projectiles of their own. The Tabaxi Arcane Archer, as always, was utterly deadly with his bow, but the decisive blow was delivered by Flyzus as he hurled back a javelin, powered with an ensnaring strike, that sent Nrak crashing to the ground to his death (3). The few surviving pterafolks had had enough and flew away.

A Sticky Situation (4)

A few hours after the doomed pterafolk attack, still outside, the Ranger could see a giant spider coming their way. Using his hat of the spider the Tabaxi had a quick conversation with it, he learned that the giant spider was upset about being followed and, uh, aggressively courted… Said courter arrived a moment later, it was Mister Sticky the ettercap, who had lost his precious Darling at the hand of the party a while ago. Mister Sticky pleaded to give crucial information if only the PCs stopped besmirching him in front of this « magnificient specimen » of a spider. And so the party learned from the ettercap that members of the Pick & Axe co were on their way towards Tamaochan. The PCs accepted to pay the greedy man-spider to learn more:

  • P&A group is made up of  seasoned, armored and very sweaty dwarves
  • they have an ankylosaurus
  • the leader have a flying imp-monkey (the PCs had spotted it flying around their camp earlier)
  • they are armed to the teeth, all have crossbows
  • they are half a day’s walk from Tamaochan

Another Way In

As the previous foray in the shrine had proved almost fatal for Rufb, the PCs sought a way to get the mighty (and large) Vorn in the lower tiers with them. They resolved the matter using a scroll of shape stone on a part of the cliff that connected to a room below the ziggurat. The magic scroll enlarged a small hole already there, but getting inside, the party disturbed a family of stone-skinned zorbos. The PCs dispatched the cute but ferocious beasts and had another go at exploring the ancient ruins.

DM’s notes:

  1. I’ve kept the couatl, phantasmal force and helmed horror but changed about everything else in this room
  2. The original treasure is a Balance of Harmony but an item to detect good and evil is rather useless in my game. The Tray of Ages (homebrewed) is me being generous, as the PCs can cast identify as a ritual with it, so they don’t have to wait to be in town (like in 3 sessions) to know what their items do.
  3. Being a large creature, Nrak had advantage on his str save to resist the ensnaring strike and still failed!
  4. That part was, hmm, maybe a little too much on the silly side…

Session 14a – The Hidden Shrine

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan in Chult

Disclaimer: This play report is my own take on The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (the 5e version from TofYP). Lots of spoilers below but it’s not  a « standard » playthrough of this classic module by any margin. First of all, I didn’t make them fall into the dungeon as is supposed to happen if you play as intended. And at the end, they meet Zotzilaha, which also isn’t included in the module… That’s the two big things, the remainder of my changes are more esthetic in nature.

Characters (1):

  • Shin (level 4), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Phileas (level 4), Half-Elf Bard (College of Swords), Archeologist; “it’s not tomb-robbing if you do it respectfully”
  • Flyzus (level 5), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground


Shin, Kalohan, Corpos and Phileas had been at the site for many days, collecting clues while evading Batiri patrols when Flyzus and Rufb unexpectedly joined them for the venture. As for Lucky, he had left, having received a disquieting omen from his goddess Tymora.

Vorn, the Shield Guardian (2)


The Tabaxi had climbed down through the large hole in the ground, next to the Shield Guardian. The automaton’s master, a wizard northerner, had fallen to his death and his body laid broken at the bottom. Fortunately, Shin found  the amulet that controlled the construct and it was still intact. He also found the wizard’s spellbook, a decent amount of gold and some exploration gears. A quick inspection of the room below revealed a locked door and many statuettes that evoked meaningful scenes from this lost civilization. The PCs looked for another entry.

Beware Defilers! Your Genitals Will Shrivel and Fall Off

Atop the impressive ziggurat stood a temple dedicated to the cult of a scary demon-bat thing/god/mighty Jungle Spirit: Zotzilaha. Inside the half-collapsed temple, a trapdoor was visible, but glyphs on it indicated that a powerful curse would befall any would-be defilers that entered that way. The PCs also found out a hole inside the mouth of a statue of Zotzilaha. It certainly looked like a trap. They resolved the matter with their first use of the Shield Guardian as Shin ordered it to grab whatever was inside the hole (a lever). The statue’s jaws did close on the construct’s arm but to no great effect (3). This revealed another entry, one apparently safe of curse…


Ziggurat’s Upper Tier (4)

Mummy Rot

After going down the stairway and taking a few turns and removing a block of basalt (put in a way so it fell on invaders), the PCs, accompanied by Vorn, entered a large room with a fearsome tomb guardian on the central dais: a Crocodile Mummy (5).


The creature proved hard to slay (6) but they eventually prevailed, with the opportune help of the powerful Shield Guardian (7). Flyzus was bitten in the course of the fight and he could feel that something was very wrong with his wound… The PCs looted some urns in the back and found some trinkets.

Hostile Fountain

In the next room, three fountains could be seen, one still had water, one was filled with grime and the other cracked and empty. Rufb took the mummy’s pike to search through the grime and managed to fish out a chain with a platinum key.

Approaching the water-filled fountain incited the resident Water Weird to attack. It pummeled Rufb and tried to pull him under the water but the strong Barbarian resisted the attempt easily. Yet again, the Ranger was inefficient with his (non-magic slashing) attacks but the combined might of the party still proved more than enough, splashing the walls with the Water Weird (8).

The empty fountain could be slid, revealing a vertical shaft going deeper into the ziggurat.

And down they went.

Spider Sympathy

Rufb, descending first (9), put a foot on something sticky: spider webbing. A mere second later, a Giant Spider got out of its lair. It would have attacked Rufb – he would have had a hard time defending in such a narrow space – but for the timely intervention of Shin. Using his Hat of the Spider, the latter convinced the Giant Spider to let them pass and so, they all got on the next tier without further complications.

DM’s notes:

  1. I had hoped that most of my players and the archeologists in particular, would be there for the first « true » ruin of my Ruins of Chult Campaign but life got in the way and it was not to be…
  2. The PCs stumbled into those ruins while searching for the Shield Guardian in the jungle.
  3. Phileas insisted that they put (animal) blood inside the statue’s mouth as demanded by the proper ritual. Interesting
  4. The party, with all the missing players, would have been too weak for this dungeon without some help.  They also badly lacked utility spells/abilities…
  5. Instead of the Centaur mummy, because I had this cool looking mini.
  6. Félix/Flyzus learned the hard way that he should have spent some of his gold to have at least one magic weapon!
  7. My 6 y-o son, Isaac, happily rolled the dice for Vorn!
  8. If I remember correctly, Shin shot an explosive arrow at it too
  9. Vorn is too large to follow down the hole.

Dual Ubtao?

Chult is a special land (dinosaurs!) and so, apparently, it also deserves its own unique religion in the margin of the faerunian’s pantheon. Ubtao is the god of Chult. Or was. And, in fact, he’s not a god but a primordial, but whatever, it’s all very confusing. In Tomb of Annihilation, the module designers took the easy way out and Ubtao is simply not there. To be fair, the FR’s lore concerning him is a mess, as it often happens when the primary source is a (bad) novel (and several editions of retconning doesn’t help either).

But what is, maybe, the most mind-boggling thing about Ubtao is that he’s both the Father of the Dinosaurs AND the one who invited humans to settle in Chult. I mean, how did that go? « Come to my land, I built a great city just for you. But, uh, don’t you wander too much outside its walls ’cause my beloved children will eat your guts… »


(Also, I’m putting aside the Shadow Giant, Dendar the Night Serpent, all the Maze stuff and, most of all, Mezro the City in Heaven. Less confusion this way.)

If I were to use Ubtao (still not sure its a good idea), here’s how I’d describe him:

Let’s just say that he’s a dual entity (like Janus or Hoar in Faerun), with a cycle where he’s active towards helping civilization, followed by a cycle where he’s more dissipated and all about claws and teeth and no pity for the weak.

Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur

What’s interesting with this take is: what if his devoted followers can nudge him, just a little maybe – with appropriate behavior, ritual, quest and whatnot – towards his next phase, whichever it is?

Session 11 – The Hanged Man

Short session. Sadly, both my brother and sister couldn’t make it. That changed my plans. That, and we started awfully late. It is what it is…


  • Lucky, Half-Elf Cleric of Tymora (Trickery Domain), Street Urchin; the lowly will be exalted
  • Phileas, Half-Elf Bard (College of Swords), Archeologist; “it’s not tomb-robbing if you do it respectfully”
  • Corpos, High Elf Wizard (School of Necromancy) , Archeologist; antiquary, strange fixation with the undead


Corpos and Lucky were recuperating from their previous ordeals inside the ruined Camp Righteous at he same time that a supply convoy heading to Camp Vengeance made a quick stop. They were happy to see Phileas disembark to join them. The half-elf was spying on the dwarven Pick & Axe Company and had a few intel bits to share.

Also, Corpos, anticipating the difficulties ahead, managed to hire a fearsome-looking warrior named Goro-T’so (1) with promises of gold and tej.

The Canopy Drummers

As to be expected in Batiri territory, the PCs saw that they were tailed by goblin hunters.

And they had trained velociraptors…


With Tymora’s opportune help, Lucky managed to spot more batiri ambushers further ahead. Acting on this knowledge the PCs started the hostilities before the trap could be fully sprung on them.  A well-placed Sleep  from the Elf wizard put the small but ferocious velociraptors out of combat early on. The bard charged one of the raptors’ handlers and Goro-T’so went the other way to attack 4 Batiri archers while Lucky fired his crossbow at them too.

The hireling got severely wounded but he also skewered 2 Batiri, with Lucky finishing a third. The fourth managed to flee. Phileas dodged several poisoned arrows and killed 2 more Batiris with the help of Corpos flinging spells from behind.

After the fight, Corpos decided to keep one of the sleeping velociraptor (tied up) with the idea to try to befriend the diminutive dinosaur in time.

The Hanged Man


The PCs walked at a brisk pace, wishing to put distance from themselves and a Batiri tree-village they had spotted after their skirmish. A few hours later they saw an unusual sight: a man (or what looked like a man anyway) was hanged with a rope by the ankles some 10′ in the air. Closing in, with a horrible stench now assailing them, they could see that the man was in fact a ghoul!

The undead creature, a northerner male, immediately started to plead with them to let it go, offering information in exchange of its freedom.

After some back-and-forth (2), the PCs accpeted the deal and the ghoul, going by the name of Scavo, revealed many things:

  • an old and creepy creature, sporting a blue triangle on its forehead, was responsible for his present state
  • he was a Flaming Fist mercenary prior to his demise
  • he had overheard a meeting between Pick & Axe members and Batiri goblins to cement a deal against a rival tribe

The PCs finally cut the rope and let him go, suggesting that he should make himself useful and go eat some goblins nearby…

DM’s notes

  1. promises doesn’t make for loyal henchmen when they’re not kept
  2. including some unsavory methods of intimidation