Tomb of Annihilation chapter 2

Module review

gaming dungeon modules 5e dnd

At the time of this writing, I'm running Tomb of Annihilation for the first time. As I read through the book, I've decided to post about my impressions. Although I started this review before the campaign started, I'm now running this module (using Pathfinder 2, incidentally) for my weekly session, but this review is focused on what I'm reading. I don't intend for this to be a report on how my game is going. This review contains lots of spoilers.

Chapter 2 is all about the lands of Chult outside the main port city Nyanzaru. Structurally, the chapter is great. There's a half page on basically every point on the map, and it's sorted alphabetically. It's functional, and there are a lot of good locations with little opportunities for encounters and side quests and, I guess, exploration (more on that in a moment).

Useless maps

When you pay $100 NZD or $50 USD for a D&D book, you might think there would be material in the book you could use in your D&D game. Well, there certainly are a lot of words in this book, and you can certainly use those in your game. But everything else in this book so far has baffled me. The maps are beautifully drawn, but they're half a page at best and they contain information meant exclusively for the Game Master. There are no maps suitable for players, either in terms of size or data.

There are some player handouts in the appendix, which I do appreciat. But chapter 2 has a fair few maps in it, all of which are basically useless to me. I guess it's nice to see what the artist imagines the author imagined [sic] when writing about some of these locations, but, ya know, I have an imagination too. If you're going to give me a map, you might as well make it useful, or else just skip the map.

Where is all the adventure

I'm also a little puzzled by the lack of adventure in chapter 2. I understand that this adventure is meant to be a hex crawl. But I've run hex crawls before, and in the published hex crawls I've run, there are explicit opportunities for adventure in many of the hexes. That doesn't mean the players are going to find all of them, but at least it gives the Game Master the chance to drop hints or provide hooks for the players to accept or decline.

But Tomb of Annihilation is almost Middle-Earthian in its approach to just the factual data of Chult. Locations are described. They exist. That is all.

Historically in the RPG world, there have (broadly) been basically three categories of books:

  • Rulebooks (including handbooks and bestiaries and so on)
  • Source books (background information about specific fictional settings, like Krynn or Ravenloft or Forgotten Realms)
  • Modules (books with a story for a gaming group to play through)

Chapter 2 of Tomb of Annihilation is definitely a valid method of describing a game setting, it's just not quite what I was hoping for in a Module. Were this a source book for the setting of Chult, it's exactly what I'd expect. But this book is sold as a game. It's the "level design" of D&D, except they forgot to spawn the players.

There's just nothing to do in Chult, unless you make it up yourself, which I'm happy to do when presented with a setting. But this book is apparently a book about a tomb? Like, it's supposed to have an adventure in it, and chapter 2 covers 90% of the land mass and has basically no adventure here.

Time bomb

Maybe chapter 2's lack of adventure is most troubling because the premise of the book is that there's a death plague that needs to be solved as soon as possible. When I started reading chapter 2, I was expecting some indication of the expected process for players to find the answer. Are the players just meant to wander around aimlessly while there's a death plague threatening the known world? Are NPCs meant to tell the players where to find the Soulmonger? There are way more hexes on the Chult map than there are locations, so what's the intended adventure between Port Nyanzaru and, say, Fort Belluarian? I guess I'll just roll for a random encounter every two hexes and hope for fun.

I don't anticipate players lingering in any one location if it's not the obvious source of the death plague. I think they're going to rush from one location to the next until they find something dark and mysterious enough to be the source of a necromantic plague. And then the adventure will begin. I hope.


I'm hoping to string players along through Chult through false leads. Misinformation in a game is a powerful Game Master weapon, and I'm hoping that if a fort full of superstitious soldiers tells players to hurry over to Dungrunglung, that's what players will do. And once they're there, when they find graffiti pointing them to the next dead-end-but-with-whatever-adventure-I-make-up, they'll follow that lead. In the end, ideally it'll feel like they followed a string of clues to the Right Place.

I'm disappointed and surprise at the lack of story in this book so far. The one hyper-urgent story hook it does provide is basically dropped the moment the players get to Chult in Chapter 1, and it seems that Chapter 2 doesn't pick it back up. Definitely an odd choice. I'm starting to suspect that this book is a setting, not an adventure. Sure, it's got a dungeon or two in later chapters (I've read the table of contents!) but I wish the book and marketing had been clearer about what it was.

Next up

Next is Chapter 3, which covers The Forbidden City of Omu. I'm hoping this livens things up!

Photo by Agent J on Unsplash

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