I’ve seen a few posts here and there asking for tips on running Tomb of Annihilation. Instead of repeating, I think it’s worth a short post.
For a start, the hex grid is rather empty. You’re going to end up doing a lot of encounter rolls at the start. This is how you mitigate this issue with the product (one way of doing so, anyway).
#1. What I do in actual play is I get one player to roll all three encounter chances for the day. One die for morning, one die for afternoon and one die for nighttime.
Players have a turn each at rolling each day. This is more engaging for players rather than sitting and listening to the GM rolling dice behind a screen and chuckling.
#2. I preroll encounters (for the types of landscape they will travel across). Roll TWO encounters and note the results. Then when the players roll an encounter, you give the players a choice of two ways of traveling across the hex – describe terrain that gives hints as to each encounter. For example, if you roll frost giants, you can on one path in the distance they see the trees sway, as if something large beneath them pushed them out of the way. And if you rolled giant plant eaters as the second roll, say the other way seems to have a lot of trees stripped of leaves.
Then let the players choose which way they go.
Edit: I’ve developed a PDF that has two path encounters that can be used in a jungle trek. It also gives further examples of providing two encounters for players to make a significant choice about.
#3. I have trader calling rituals. The players can find various sacrificial items to offer to the Chultan gods. When they have a certain amount they can sacrifice them to call the nearby natives, who arrive by next morning to trade. This way players can get some rations and insect repellent.
The point is that as I estimate it, traveling all the way back to the port for supplies will make your game take so long it just starts to get boring.
How the players find sacrificial items is through me as GM placing some in areas they search, or if they roll 16+ on an encounter roll.
#4. If you’re running a home game I suggest you add TWO locations of interest to the map, nearby to the port (two or so days). This gives players choice. Then add two more location that the players find out about after they visit one of the locations. This means they explore with purpose and keep finding new places and could find reasons to go back to places they’ve heard of or never explored. I give more reasoning for this in a prior blog post.
#5. Experimental: I’d suggest adding some kind of tomes of knowledge, each with 100 pages – as players explore, tell them they either find knowledge of where the soulmonger is and how many pages they find OR their characters are able to write their own pages of notes (again, say how many). And tell them they need, say, 5 tomes. With that much knowledge accumulated, they know where the soulmonger is hidden. This gives a progress marker. I tried this but I kept it more abstract as a percentage, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. If I were to do it again, I would use tomes. I might even give extra pages if players write actual notes to create a real life notebook/tome!
#6. Frankly I ignored navigation checks and even doing so I think the players have found the wandering to take a bit too long. If I had done failed nav checks, things would take even longer, the map would be a scrambled mess and we’d spend more time in empty hexes.
And that’s my SHORT set of tips! Feel free to ask questions in the comments, there’s plenty to ask!
Edit: And some accounts of play…