Nothing is perfect, no matter how excited about something you are. It’s taken me a long time to realize that, but I have. And so, in my thralls of ecstasy about ToA, let’s take a peek at the places I think it falters.
I mentioned it before in the 10 things I like, but factions don’t play a large part in ToA, which is a right shame. I get that the mainland factions barely have a toehold, but there are no local factions that you can join that have clear, solid purposes. I guess my complaint here is that the book is not a setting splat book, and is instead an adventure focusing on visitors to the far off land of Chult, instead of natives from there.
- Hand out Woes
This will be resolved more and more the longer the book is out, whether officially or not. But from the start at least, there was no source of useful printouts. This book has a selection of hand outs, guide adverts, maps, dungeon riddles, a bunch of things. And on day 1, there was no place I could find with an easy version of them. There are a lot of things like that this book that I may reprint once I find myself a good digital copy.
- Zoom and enhance!
One of those things are the maps. They’re beautiful. Mike Schley is a master cartographer, but the ones that we ended up with have a lot of information crammed into the page ie: it’s hard to read my printed copy. I have to try and count hexes, squinting at these little squiggles… basically, I need to replicate the poster that came with it on paper I’d feel okay writing on. I just haven’t done that yet. (I might also want to make a super simple version of the map, but I haven’t done that yet. I don’t know if I have a program to generate he grids.)
- Player maps
On a very related note, one of the hand outs is this map with a lot of blank hexes that the players are given. I have yet to see a place where it is laid out how I, as benevolent DM, hand out that information to the party. No clue how they fill out the blanks. I can sort of see if they are leading them selves, and I’m describing day by day, but the chance they have to get lost would make it a little silly to have them fill in as they go.
- Daily Flowchart
So yeah, as I just mentioned, the party has a chance to get lost and lose some time. I think you randomly determine a hex they go to instead. I’m not sure. But there is a lot of little paperwork you have to do in an adventuring day and its all kind of slopped in there. It would be nice to have a nice little flowchart, just for the first few days, that steps you through how to do things like food, disease, water, when to roll for encounters, etc. I think I’m doing it okay, but I want to be doing it right, you know?
- Easy challenges
Speaking of encounters, my party has been way over level for the jungles so far. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I’m not sure. Having all the danger be in adventure sites where the party has to choose to take the risk makes a lot of sense. Then its only casual risk to walk around in said jungle. Which makes it easier for low levels to survive. I don’t know if that was the design philosophy, but it seems like a good idea.
But, if that’s no the philosophy, I don’t know how I’m supposed to challenge 6 level 5ish characters. Definitely not with stirges, I can tell you. They go through those like candy.
One of my weaknesses as a DM is in painting the picture of what’s going on. The book has fun bits of detail every once and a bit, but if you want to paint a masterpiece of a scene, that’s on your head. I might have glanced over it, but I’m not even sure if there is description for the various terrain.
- An Ambitious Guide
One of the guides is (spoilers…)… evil! Not telling which one. But in his description block, he’s listed as having “A sharp wit, insulting people in comical way, making him lovable to the players.” (Not an exact quote, but the gist is there)
Do you see the problem with that?
That is a great description of a fun NPC after the fact. Someone in playtest made this character work and it was a lot of fun for the table. BUt to put it into the book? WotC is expecting that:
- You can cleverly insult characters and NP
- (Cleverly insulting people is harder than just insulting people)
- It will be funny
- the party will like you because of it
That is a lot to try to get a DM to do. He also tries to follow the party if they don’t take him? I think there will be a lot of trouble trying to run this guide. It’s like trying to run the adventure on Insane difficulty mode.
Which I want to do now, dang it.
- Fill the Gaps
Port Nyanzaru seems like a really awesome town, but for being the only real city in the adventure, there is a lot of blank space to try and fill in. This is one of those things that could be good, or it could not be and it kind of falls on individual interpretation. Here at the outset of the new chapter, it feels like the city is undefined. I’ll have to run it a few times, set some things there, to really make it come alive. And I just haven’t yet (as my first group of players we around level 5 and headed straight to the jungles). I believe a lot of what’s come out of the DM’s Guild has been set in Nyanzaru. I’ll need to check those out sooner than later.
- Which Way Do We Go George?
One of the big potential problems I see with Session 1’s of ToA is choice paralysis, combined with hidden goals. You might be able to get a heading from one faction or another, but once you’re in Chult, you just kind of muddle about until you decide on a direction. That first session I ran was nerve-wracking, as I had NO IDEA where my players were headed. Now that they’re on the way, I can fill in information in front of them. But that first week, they could have gone anywhere, spoke to anyone, done anything. In SKT, the first area stuff is fairly well scripted (I mean, it has its own, different, problems) but here, you have to have the whole city basically prepare to jump fluidly. I’m rather glad my party is almost tier 2 and just walked through the city.
So those are my thoughts on the book. It might be interesting to redo these articles in a year or so of playing, see what changes. I really love ToA (at the moment) and I expect it to be my go to adventure, as well as a resource for a world I really want to share the story of. I’m glad we’ve got it and I can’t wait to kill your character in my Zombie Dinosaur Jungle Safari!