At the time of this writing, I'm preparing to run Tomb of Annihilation for the first time. It's been out for a good 5 years, and I've played scenarios from it, but I've yet to run it. As I read through the book to prepare for the game, I've decided to post about my impressions. This review contains lots of spoilers.
The first section is the introduction, which is all about why the adventure needs to happen. The main hook is that there's a global death curse in effect. Anyone who's ever been resurrected is now slowly wasting away by some strange necrotic power. An adventurer, Syndra Silvane, is particularly concerned because in her former life (both literally and figuratively) as an adventurer, she had been resurrected and now she's suddenly growing weaker every day. Nobody knows why, nobody knows how. Syndra hires the player characters to find out what's going on, and to put a stop to it.
This adventure hook is really strong. It's a worthy cause for player characters of Good alignment, and Syndra pays well enough to sway Neutral player characters, too. As countdowns go, this feels pretty urgent. In a way, I feel like if anything it feels too urgent, as if it might make players hesitant to explore, which is what a long-form D&D adventure is all about. However, this adventure has a way to handle that problem, which becomes apparent in Chapter 1.
In fact, if anything, the adventure is designed to work against the players as they try their best to take immediate action to resolve the death curse. There's an advancement table in the introduction, and it defines the level requirements (OK, they're guidelines) for each chapter, with each chapter representing a region of Chult. At 1st level, players are likely to survive Port Nyanzaru. At 1st to 6th level, players are expected to be traveling around the land of Chult, searching for the solution. They know only that the source of the curse is something called a Soulmonger, and that it's somewhere in Chult.
Interestingly, this adventure enforces permanent death. This might seem scary, except that characters can't die in 5e. I do appreciate this, though, because as long as players are up for the challenge, this adds some real gravity to the campaign. I've had characters die, and as a dungeon master I've killed several characters, some of whom weren't able to be resurrected. I believe in the power of character death, as long as players agree. An adventure that does away with a chance of resurrection is a bold move, and for 5th Edition I think it's an important one, because 5th Edition has a definite deficiency in danger of death. (At least for some groups. Obviously people should play D&D the way they enjoy. I just wish Death Saving throws were an optional rule.)
The introduction is a good start to a fun adventure. There are plenty of hazards for player characters, and there's a lot of potential for the Dungeon Master. Chapter 2 is a hex crawl, very close to a sandbox, and at first glance it looks like a lot to manage and to prepare for. But the stage has been set with the introduction, and it's full of intrigue, and in adventure design that's 9/10th of the law. I'm looking forward to chapter 1.