Chultan Diaspora

I felt the need to correct many things in ToA, one of it is the Chultan people being so ridiculously enclaved. Of course, Chult is a very dangerous place and there’s this whole bizarre thing with the spellplague and Mezro the city in Heaven (ugh!) but still, where are the Chultans? Apart from Port Nyanzaru, not a single village?

Anyway, this has all been said far better than I could by POC Gamer:

https://pocgamer.com/2017/10/13/tomb-of-annihilation-review-part-1-chult-in-5e/#more-573

My own solution is to introduce a diaspora. Chultans that left Chult generations ago when disaster struck and (lets keep it simple) the earth shook and spat fire… But now, with the disaster long behind and the recent successful ousting of the invaders, things are looking less grim. Maybe it’s time for the exiles to return?

As Port Nyanzaru doesn’t look like a city that can be expanded easily, another site have to be found.  That’s a mission for a Chultan PC!

 

The Merchant Princes of Port Nyanzaru (revamped)

In my version of Port Nyanzaru, here’s my take on the Merchant Princes:

Ekene-Afa

Already popular when she was a gladiator, she became the de facto leader of the rebels when Port Nyanzaru  shook off the Amnian yoke. She would have the support of the people if she made a bid to rule the city by herself but she doesn’t have that kind of ambition.

Influence:

  • City watch
  • Garrison of Fort Nyanzaru
  • Beloved by the people

Goals:

  • Prevent Tyranny.
  • Extend safety to all parts of Port Nyanzaru, not only Walled City

Ifan Talro’a

Talro’a betrayed his former masters, the Amnian, and profited greatly from it. He now has some kind of alliance with the Flaming Fist mercenaries. A man of great ambition, a populist too, he won’t stop at anything to amass more power.

Influence:

  • Flaming Fist bodyguards
  • The Redhooks (butchers turned enforcers)
  • Meat Market
  • Dinosaur Ranch
  • Grand Coliseum

Goals:

  • Become King of Chult.

Jessamine

The least avant-scène of the Princes, Jessamine’s influence is felt more in hushed tones than in clamorous displays. Her extensive spy network goes beyond Port Nyanzaru.

Influence:

  • Dye Works
  • The Purple Hand (assassins)
  • Local apothecary
  • Exports exotic plants

Goals:

  • Prevent strong rule from happening in Port Nyanzaru
  • Eliminate underworld rival Jobal

Jobal

Since he got out of the jungle with  considerable treasure, all by himself, Jobal proceeded to buy the allegiance of one of Old City’s gang of thugs. With his clever leadership, it soon ruled over almost all the other gangs of Old City and Malar’s Throat.

Influence:

  • The Gauntlet
  • Gangs: Sons of Malar, Bridgerunners, the True Heirs, the Dirty Talons

Goals:

  • Advance the agenda of his secret benefactors

Kwayoté

A beautiful and secretive woman, Kwayothé pledged her life in service to the cruel goddess Shar when she was a barely a teen. Her fierce hate of the colonialist Amnian and her control of dark powers led her to be part of the rebellion but now, many of her former allies feel uneasy about the priestess.

  • Mining
  • Temple of Shar

Goals:

  • Topple Chultean aristocracy
  • Drive away or kill the Flaming Fist mercenaries
  • Stop strangers from plundering Chult’s artefacts

Wakanga O’tamu

A moderate in all things, except maybe in his passion for women, Wakanga helped the rebellion only because the Amnians persecuted magic-users such as him. A powerful wizard, he comes from a long tradition that teaches that magic must be restricted to a few who pledged to use it with strict rules.

Influence:

  • Mage-hunter tradition
  • His magical might is well-known

Goals:

  • Prevent Tyranny.
  • Stop strangers from stirring dark forces in the jungle

Zhanti

A rich merchant with aristocratic blood, Zhanti is the consummate diplomat. Her strategic plans are thought as to envision decades of possibilities but she knows she’s not getting any younger.

Influence:

  • Harbor
  • Prestigious family
  • Commerce

Goals:

  • Civilize a large chunk of Chult
  • Put her son Shago as ruler of Port Nyanzaru
  • Bring back the Chultean diaspora
  • Transform the city into a regional power

Port Nyanzaru, a plutocracy?

Even in my Chult campaign, jungle-oriented as it is, I want politics and intrigue to play a part. At the very least, even if  my players decide not to care, it will provide some interesting side-quests.

Tomb of Annihilation can’t help me much on that front.

There is the seven so-called Merchant Princes that together act as the ruling body of Port Nyanzaru. So, what about them?

They all are filthy rich and apparently, in Port Nyanzaru, it’s all it takes. How they managed to obtain so much wealth, despite their city being under Amnian control only nine years ago is superfluous I guess. What we know is that they each have a monopoly on something that is supposed to bring them a really high income.

So let’s see how fares Port Nyanzaru’s economy:

  • Port Nyanzaru is a small city.
  • There’s a Dragon Turtle demanding a “tax” from passing boats
  • Pirates plagues the seas
  • There’s no other cities in Chult to trade with
  • And, you know, undeads and dinosaurs aplenty

As for the monopolies of the Merchant Princes:

  • Ex-gladiator Ekene-Afa got very rich, we’re to believe, selling spears, leather shields and travelling gears.
  • Ifan Talro’a deals in dinosaurs and dinosaur training. Okay, why not.
  • Jessamine deals in plants, poison and assassination. And she got rich how exactly?
  • Jobal deals in (lousy) guides and (deathwishing) sellswords. We do know he came out of the jungle alone with treasure, so there’s that.
  • Kwayothé sells fruits, wine, tej, ale, perfume and insect repellent. She’s also a fan of threesome (incubus and succubus consorts, huh?).
  • Wakanga deals in magic and lore. Yeah… A magic shop, how cute.
  • Zhanti deals in gems, jewelry, cloth and armor. That’s the only one that makes some kind of sense business-wise.

The whole concept of richest guys in town are ruling doesn’t hold water. Why would the people tolerate the monopolies of the Merchant Princes? It would have to be by strength of arms but we know they can’t even chase a few dozens unimpressive Flaming Fist mercenaries off Chultan territory.

Okay, let’s reframe this a little:

The seven Merchant Princes are the most powerful people of Port Nyanzaru. Here, simple n’est-ce pas?

Each have a sphere of influence and none, at the moment, can hope to rule without cooperating with some of the others. They exchange favors all the time in order to have the votes of their peers when it counts.

New NPC: There’s this middleman that keeps track of this informal system and, huh, gives side quests. He’s a Chultan that goes by the name of Nboka, he can be found easily at the Red Bazaar.

 

Tomb of Annihilation: recycling old stuff

I’m really not an expert on D&D lore but I just figured that ToA is, in fact, a mash-up poorly assembled from earlier stuff:

  • The Jungles of Chult, setting supplement (1993, James Lowder and Jean Rabe)
  • The ring of winter, novel (1992, James Lowder)
  • Dwellers of the Forbidden City, adventure (1981, David Cook)
  • The Tomb of Horrors, adventure (1975, Gary Gygax)

Here, above, I think you got about 85% of ToA’s content.  And frankly, Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors is NOT something that’s worth copying…

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That’s chapter 2 of ToA for you.

I paid 30-something bucks for ToA and now I just bought the Jungle of Chult’s pdf for 5$ and I prefer the latter! Indeed, IMO, the 68 pages-long 1993 supplement (I didn’t even like D&D in the 90s), provides more inspiration than ToA. That pisses me off.

So, while detail-oriented
research has gone into this product to make
the Tabaxi society historically sound and the
Chultan jungle ecologically logical, I spent
more time trying to capture the feel of the
Allan Quatermain tales of H. Rider Haggard
and the Professor Challenger stories by Arthur
Conan Doyle. After all, this is a fantasy campaign
guide.

The Jungles of Chult, James Lowder

You see, Lowder sought material in classics whilst in this modern module, the writers have chosen inbreeding all the way, copying their own D&D predecessors instead of, well, creating something new.

 

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A cool idea from DotFC that isn’t in ToA

I’ll be renaming my campaign: Ruins of Chult. I am using ToA, some of it at least, but it won’t be the main thing. Next session in 2 weeks.

Ruins of Chult: Session 1

Characters:

  • Shin, Tabaxi Fighter, Outlander; Big-game hunter
  • Lucky, Half-Elf Cleric of Tymora, Street Urchin; the lowly will be exalted
  • Procor, Human Druid, Outlander; comes from Africa a far away place
  • Pheleas, Half-Elf Bard, Archeologist; “it’s not tomb-robbing if you do it respectfully”
  • Corpos, Forest Gnome Wizard, Archeologist; antiquary, somewhat sinister for a gnome.

Fun fact: Both players with archeologists characters were, some years ago, real-life archeologists themselves! 

En route

Lured by the promises of riches the PCs are leaving the city of Baldur’s Gate aboard the Amnian Fop, a fast schooner headed for the Chultan Peninsula.. The dark-skinned Procor looks likes he’s already an experimented seaman and have some successful fishing along the way. Pheleas didn’t fare so well in this aquatic journey and will be a few pounds lighter at arrival.

The Pink Reef

The ship’s captain had planned a quick stop about halfway to their destination. He had some business to conduct at the Pink Reef, a place where merfolks traders gather. Young Lucky accepts an offer to invest his meager funds, buying a pearl and making some profit later on. Captain Shago left on a rowboat with two  sailors to meet the merfolks. Meanwhile First Mate Blimponia scanned the horizon with her spyglass looking for pirates, vulnerable as they were, anchored at the atoll.

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Unexpectedly, the attack came from below. A sudden, unnatural wave brought creatures on board! Five sea spawns crashed clamsily (get it? GET IT? err) on the ship’ s deck. The sailors and PCs immediately proceeded to fend off the invaders.  Two sailors were grievously wounded in the ensuing battle and Procor was grabbed by a tentacle at some point, but the superior number of the defenders proved to be more than enough. Procor and Pheleas used magic to heal the dying sailors (Bayiz and Kid Shago) earning even more gratitude. Searching the dead creatures, Shin found a wristband made of seashells and shark teeth.

Unwanted escort

Leaving the Pink Reef behind, the crew observed with some unease that they were pursued by sharks. Lots of sharks. A day later, the swarm did not relent. The following night, with the wind down, the sharks circled the ship hungrily and something else could be seen swimming amongst them: a sahuagin! The sahuagin talked to the crew in aquaan (the captain translated), said it wanted an object: the sea spawn’s wristband. The sahuagin was in fact hunting the sea spawns before they got killed… The crew decided, after a quick discussion, to give the wristband rather than risk a fight and the satisfied sahuagin simply left.

Target practice

A few uneventful days later, not so far from chultan coast, they spotted something in the sky. A look with the spyglass revealed an unusual sight: a harpy harassed by some pteranodons, desperately fleeing. Wounded by many cruel bites, the harpy was flying toward the boat. And… was shot dead. An arrow from Shin’s longbow and a seashell shot from Lucky’ sling put a brutal end to her flight.

The curious pteranodons approached the ship but where met with a volley of projectiles, killing three in no time. The dead-eye Tabaxi shot the last fleeing pteranodon more than 200′ away.

Land ho!

Before the landing, the Captain, aware of his passengers’ foolish desire to explore Chult, gave them a high quality (if partial) map, as a reward for their help in defending his ship.

DM’s notes: Well, to be honest, I can’t say that this prelude to ToA was such a good idea. Maybe sea travel isn’t that exciting. Next session the PCs will be in Port Nyanzaru. 

Ruins of Chult: the Amnian Fop

 

Another advantage of throwing away the dumb main plot of ToA is letting go of the time constraint (with the death curse and all).  This allows me a proper introduction to the campaign, which was totally lacking.

Also, NPC Shago has another role entirely. He’s no longer a Flaming Fist flunky.

Getting to Chult

Teleporting? Nope.

The PCs are going to Chult the long way: by boat.

Welcome aboard The Amnian Fop

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It’s a popular saying among  the Chultans now (after their uprising) that nothing runs faster, no deinonychus, no antelope, than a rich Amnian fleeing for his life. This boat is fast, hence the name.

The crew of the Amnian Fop will be the first characters the PCs will be able to interact with. Here they are:

Shago

Captain Shago, Human (Chultan): the adventurous son of prince-merchant Zhanti is the proud captain of this schooner. His mother would like him to act as ambassador of Port Nyangaru but politics doesn’t interest him much. He does share one goal with her though: get rid of all these pesky pirates that plagues chultan waters.

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First Mate “Blimp” Blimponia Stargazer, rock gnome: she’s got a badass harpoon-launcher. She made it. With luv. She calls her captain “Prince Shago”  sometimes. It annoys the shit out of him.

Sailor “Mute” Walix, sun elf: He’s not mute but few could say.  He’s got a useful little trick that mends the ship’s wear and tear.

Sailor Olgata, Human (Chultan): Mute’s girlfriend. She speaks to the Sea. Or more precisely, to the Seas’ moody mistress, the Goddess Umberlee. It seems to help, a bit.

Sailor Bayiz , fire genasi (Calimshite): Who said that a fire genasi could not become a sailor? Yeah… There’s something fishy about that.

Sailor “Handsome” Hasan, Human (Chultan): Half his face is just scar tissue. A dinosaur did this. Don’t mess with dinosaurs.

Sailor Kid Shago, Human (Chultan): A street urchin a year back, he would have turned bad if not of a chance encounter with Older Shago. Joyfully mops the deck of the ship.

Sailor Nondescript, not at all a replacement for a possible PC casualty.

 

 

 

Tomb of annihilation: not a review

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I’ll soon DM this adventure module and as such, would like to comment on a few issues prior to actual play.

One hex a day

The PCs’ party will move one hex in jungle/swamp/ any difficult terrains and two hexes on rivers and coasts. Easy. I like this. The map of Chult is freakin’ huge and there’s a lot of options on how to explore and quite a few surprises (for a crafty DM) to spiced up things along the way. It’s my first hexcrawl ever and I’m quite excited to try this formula.

“Death Curse” Hook

The first time I read the story overview from the ToA I was intrigued. A death curse that prevents the raise from death spell AND slowly kills all these powerful dudes and dudettes that ever used that death-cheat? I mean, this should have profound & far-reaching repercussions isn’t that right?

Well, it doesn’t.

A dudette archmage scrambles to send adventurers, to solve this world-shattering matter. What she finds, it seems, is lvl 1 No0bs. She then proceeds to teleport (!) them at the adventure’s homebase in Chult.

CONVENIENT?

AND FUCKING LAME.

After that she sits on her death-cursed ass and patiently waits for the aforementioned noobs to save her…

Meanwhile, the evil Red Wizards of Thay, those evil meddlers, sends an evil team to retrieve the evil artifact, for their own evil ends. They’re led by an elf-lich, far too powerful a threat for the PCs at any moment of the adventure but that’s okay, she also prefers to sit on her (bony) ass, and I dunno, be part of the decor? Also: waste of a cool location (the levitating earth-mote).

There’s no other hints that indicate that what’s happening IS A BIG DEAL.

Whatever. I’m gonna flush the main plot down the drain.

An Alternative, Quite Intricate (Not) Plot Hook

Okay, here’s what I offer:

Hmmm. What about treasure? You like treasure? Well, I mean, there’s a jungle full of ruins… Go do your thing, you know, murder people/things and get rich? Yeah, of course you like it.

No seriously, I will put some fluff over it, but that’s all we really need.

Port Nyanzaru: Home Base

The map of the City is very nice. It will make a cool home base. The one thing it sorely misses is: inhabitants. NPCs. WHERE. ARE. THEY. Well, there’s seven merchant princes that barely have more personality than potted plants. And as rulers, they don’t make any sense at all. There’s also a high priest that can offer a lame-ass divination. Okay… The guides characters. The guides’s backtsory isn’t bad. But the guides are useless. The PCs will get lost as easily with or without them.

Am I being difficult? I need more.

Factions

The Forgotten Realms being such a fucking mess of a setting, I think the D&D designers didn’t have much choice to limit the number of esoteric factions found in the adventures. Did they have to put the same stupid, boring factions in each adventures though? Zhents, Harpers, Emerald Enclave, Order of the Gauntlets, Lords’ alliance… Isn’t the land of Chult exotic or far enough?

Oh they got one new faction: the Ytepka Society, here’s what we can read about them:

In many respects, the society’s goals are similar to those of the Harpers.

A local clone. That’s just great… How about inventing something new, huh?

The next sentence offers a lot more:

The Ytepka Society was instrumental in liberating Port Nyanzaru from foreign powers and facilitating the rise of the seven merchant princes.

That’S better. Wish there was more. There’s still a few invaders, hmm? I’ll take it from here. Even if it was YOUR FUCKING JOB WotC.

What’s missing the most?

  • Rivals! Surely there is other murderhobos around?
  • Side Quests that actually matters
  • NPCs
  • Motivations/Goals for NPCs
  • Weirdness
  • A few other locations, so that exploring don’t become a chore