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.

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, founded by the party aside a gaping hole in the ground

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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)

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The Tabaxi had climbed down through the large hole in the ground, next to the Shield Guardian. The automaton’s master, a non-chultan wizard, had fallen to his death, 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.

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 the Zotzilaha statue. 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 closed on the construct’s arm but to no great effect (3). This revealed another entry, one apparently without threat of cursing…

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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 tomb guardian on the central dais: a Crocodile Mummy (5).

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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 a chained platinum key.

Approaching the water-filled fountain incited the resident Water Weird to attack. It pummeled Rufb and tried to pull him in 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 as they bashed 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 (a hole in the shaft). It would have attacked Rufb – he would have had a hard time defending in such a place – 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.

A note on 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 absent. 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’s 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 wander too much outside its walls ’cause my beloved children will eat your guts…”

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(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.)

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.

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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

Characters:

  • 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

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…

Reinforcement

Corpos and Lucky were recuperating from their previous ordeals inside the ruined Camp Righteous when 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 Pick & Axe Company and had a few intel bits to share.

Also, Corpos, anticipating the difficulties ahead, managed to hire a fearsome-looking Chultan 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, with trained velociraptors.

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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 while Goro-T’so went the other way to attack 4 Batiri archers, with Lucky firing his crossbow at them too.

The Chultan 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.

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

The Hanged Man

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The PCs walked at a brisk pace, wishing to put distance from themselves and a tree platform batiri 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 by the feet, 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 non-chultan 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 ghoul, going with the name of Scavo, revealed many things:

  • an old creature, sporting a blue triangle on its forehead, was responsible for his present state
  • he was a Flaming Fist mercenary prior to his demise
  • those had been asked by powerful people from Baldur’s Gate to eliminate “prince” Jobal but had not (yet) complied
  • 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 could make himself useful and eat some goblins nearby…

DM’s notes

  1. An evil devotee of Malar, that could be troublesome at some point…
  2. including some unsavory methods of intimidation

A note on Batiri Goblins

Most intelligent creatures in Chult fear the
Batiri. They are relentless trackers, skilled in
jungle lore and the use of the bow and spear.

That comes from the Jungles of Chult (1998). That makes sense, I mean, the Batiri have been in Chult for a long time, in the middle of friggin‘ DINOTOPIA! They have to be some tough goblin mofos, don’t they?

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Art: Raph Lomotan

But guess what, in Tomb of annihilation, the Batiri are comic relief… Relief from WHAT? In order to need relief you must first build TENSION. With one encounter every 2 days, as written, I don’t see any need of comic relief before reaching Omu, where things finally start to get serious.

Anyway, I rarely see eye to eye with the writers of 5E on a storytelling perspective, that’s just one more thing that bothers me.

The point is, battlestacks and catapulting villages aren’t for me. In my campaign the Batiri goblins are clever little killers…

They’ll have some annoying tricks too!

  • poisoned arrows
  • snares, nets, exploding spores, etc.
  • steeds & pets: giant wasps, troodons, giant mantis, spiders, bats, etc.
  • shoot & hide tactics (hide as a bonus action)

Session 10c – Ossuary of the Eyeless Ones

The rogue would have been useful in the first true trap-filled dungeon of the campaign but he’s dead now…

Characters

  • Flyzus, Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb, Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • NPC: Leioppe, Grung, Martial Artist (Volo’s: template); level-headed frogman, member of the Order of the Infinite Leap

Twisted Tricks of Blind Racists

Into the crypts of a long-dead culture of eyeless humanoids (1), the main gimmick was that the traps were all clearly visible to the PCs. How to evade them though, that was way less clear. A room where they had to step on the pressure plates on the floor. A room where their own shadows attacked them until they closed their eyes. Stuff like that.

Hall of Bones and Statues

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A long hall bordered with rows of ominous, eyeless statues at either side. The floor is littered with countless bones. When the PCs step in, skeletons get up and attack. More and more of them. They had to get past the dark-energy filled statues with their eyes closed while fending off the waves of living bones. Not an easy feat but they managed to do it with only a few light wounds.

Exit

After some enthusiastic grave-robbing and mummy-killing the PCs arrived at the end of the dungeon. A door, with a sliver of light coming through, was barely visible amidst a wall made of bones. The central piece of the wall, a girallon skeleton, detached itself and attacked them but they didn’t have much trouble dispatching the monster.

Forbidden Valley

While the PCs had a well-earned rest, Flyzus’ new pseudodragon pet (2) was put to good use as it surveyed the enclosed valley from the air (3). With a good idea of where to go, the refreshed adventurers were happy to leave the crypts and explore the lush valley. The signs that an ancient civilization once flourished in the valley were almost erased, with the most visible being the central pyramid now little more than a big mound covered in vegetation. They found a few dead grungs, presumably those that were sent to collect the cure before them. And they were found too, by a creature that seeked to accomplish its purpose even now that it was masterless: a chuul.

The cheap-d&d-version-of-some-well-known-lovecraftian-entity grabbed Leioppe but succumbed before the repeated assaults of Flyzus and Rufb.

Time to Collect

Collecting the medicinal plant after that could be done without further hassle (4).  The PCs had saved the frogmen and the pottery deal could now be respected. The Mud Shaman was chastised for his ill-fated bid for power and had to compensate the PCs for their troubles with some of his magic (5).

DM’s notes

  1. morlock/grimlock style
  2. homework: Félix will have to come up with a name for next session
  3. I rushed this part of this day-long session a lot so we could finish in time…
  4. return to the grung village was conveniently fast-forwarded
  5. 3 gems of mud elemental summoning

Session 10b – Into the Pit

Characters

  • Flyzus, Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb, Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • NPC: Leioppe, Grung, Martial Artist (Volo’s: template); level-headed frogman, member of the Order of the Infinite Leap
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art: Conor Nolan

The Pit

The PCs waited for night-time, as the ritual chants of the Grungs would provide the opportunity to get to the pit whilst most of Bufo’s gang would be otherwise occupied. They cautiously approached, two burly (1) frogmen patrolled the area. Their newfound ally made a diversion so Flyzus and Rufb could get closer. Rufb then charged one guard and sent him tumbling down the pit.

The PCs then attacked the other guard (2), losing precious time. This led to Bufo the Mud Shaman intervening, summoning 4 mud mephits. Those were easily dispatched but then a more imposing mud elemental took shape before them. Flyzus and Rufb finally decided to go on with their mission and jumped in the pit, Leioppe following.

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Grung Zombies

Below, the guard that was pushed was being overwhelmed by grung zombies (3) but his pleas for help met indifference.  Rufb jumped over the dying frog and shoved multiple zombies, his companions close behind.

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The mud elemental messily got down too. Flyzus and Rufb sucessfully destroyed it while Leioppe did his best to lure the zombies away to give them space.

Killing about fifteen of these zombies was hard word once they turned their attention to it. They had to burn them (with oil and torches) or else they just kept coming.

Nearby, in a hard to get cave, the PCs found a group of survivors, infected grungs that had not been transformed yet. There was hope for them, but time was of the essence.

Mold  Monster

Further through the caves, Rufb entered headlong into a tunnel infested with brown mold. That was painful… Aware of the danger now, the adventurers jumped from safe spot to another until they got pass the dangerous patch (4).

A few oozes later and less a short sword for the elf, they got before a massive, disgusting pile of mold and half dissolved grung corpses, a shambling mound.

The poor Leioppe got grabbed and engulfed before he could do much. Fortunately, Flyzus and Rufb hacked the mold monster most efficiently and could get him out before he was asphyxiated or crushed to death.

Through the Wall

After a short rest, the PCs pressed on but were soon faced with a conundrum. A precipice some 12 feet across and a brick wall the other side. They remembered something that Nesu the Skinless had said just before they left: “you will have to make the blind man’s leap”.

-What the heck is that supposed to mean? asked Rufb.

The Glass-skinned frog had shrugged, palms up, in the universal “I’ve no idea”.

Well, here was a leap for sure but would they be so foolhardy to try it?

Nah… A lot better to throw a rock at the wall… Sure enough it seemed to become transparent, unreal.

So, reassured, they jumped across and through the illusory wall.  No problem, except (!) that Rufb let drop his gigormous axe in the chasm (5). Uh oh.

DM’s notes

  1. the fascinating morphic diversity of the frogs ought to be exploited more than just colors
  2. they should have simply ignored him
  3. Flyzus could recognize from past experience that those were in fact akin to vegepygmies
  4. for once they managed to not screw up their acrobatic checks
  5. another 1! I mean, isn’t that amazing? It seemed a bit too cruel that Chris would lose 2 characters falling to their deaths in the same session…

 

Session 10a – Endangered Frogs

Onward Heroic Flyzus with your new brutish buddy (who conveniently replace your dead, half-eaten companion) onward and don’t worry too much about your missing cannibal Halfling friend (who may eat you too one day), onward I say,  your world-shaking quest (of getting a shipment of pottery ) awaits!

Characters

  • Flyzus, Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb, Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory

 

Of Preys and Predators

Flyzus and Rufb have a few days of travel across the jungle before arriving at the grung village. En route, Flyzus’ ranger senses told him many things:

  • they were being followed by 5 deinonychus
  • the raptors were first attracted by the scent of dead meat
  • a stegosaurus corpse laid nearby
  •  a giant (large) centipede was already feasting on the carcass

Thus began a complex ballet of circling around the monstrous centipede, the PCs and raptors trying to outmaneuver each other.

At one point, one raptor got too near the centipede and fled after being bitten and poisoned.

The 4 remaining raptors finally rushed the duo and a brutal fight ensued. Flyzus got severely wounded by a pouncing raptor but his new companion proved quite unabashed of the many wounds he himself sported.

A few hours later, the PCs were content to lay low when a herd of juvenile diplodocus was being pursued by 3 allosaurus.

Next, they finally arrived at the grung village which was accessible only by an arduous climb. (1)

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Endangered Frogs

The PCs were clearly unwelcome. They soon discovered that many of the frogmen suffered from some kind of severe skin disease. Furthermore, the plague and its consequences had split the tribe into two groups, almost at war with each other.

The disease was not only fatal and highly contagious, the victims were ultimately transformed into horrible fungi-monsters. A quarantine of sort was in operation, those with advanced symptoms were sent to “The Pit”.

One group, led by Nesu the Skinless, had sent its best warriors in the hope of finding a rare medicinal plant, to cure the disease. It had been many days, things did not bode well.

The other group, led by Bufo the Mud Shaman, had benefited from having the last reserve of the cure and hoped to seize power even if it meant the death of more than half the tribe.

Needless to say, the merchant’s pottery deal was now far in the list of priority of the Grungs.

Communication between the Grungs and the PCs was problematic, until Nesu the Skinless, whom was some sort of magic-user, procured them “Speech-Fens”. They looked kinda funny with the fens on their head but at least, they could understand each other.

Flyzus and Rufb decided to help the Grungs, they would go see if they could fetch the medicinal plant. Nezu gave them a clay tablet that portrayed it. A grung named Leioppe would go with them. The only way for non-jumping folks was beneath the mountain and the only entrance, through the Pit, to reach the Forbidden City where the remedy was to be found…

DM’s notes

  1. I ditched the silly Dungrunglung location with it’s incredibly stupid scenario (ToA)