302 Monsters as Monsters

Sean, I had a couple questions about how you ran the final encounter of Tomb of Annihilation.

SPOILERS!!!

When the party encountered the atropal, did you follow the book’s suggestion to have Acererak show up only after it was dead, or did you have him appear after one or two rounds? Also, did you use the atropal’s summon wraith ability at all? I mainly ask because I’m running my group through the Adventurers League content for the ToA season, but I want to take them through at least part of the Tomb of the Nine Gods as a big climax to the entire campaign. They’ll be level 20 by that time, so I want to make sure I beef up the encounter accordingly. My thought was to definitely have Acererak appear pretty much as soon as they start to attack the atropal and to have the atropal be able to summon three wraiths at a time (still recharging the ability on a 6). That said, I don’t even know if that will be enough to not get steamrolled by a 20th-level party, so I’d appreciate any feedback.

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Another thing that has given some players challenge is dishing out levels of exhaustion.

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To be clear, this is an Atropal legendary action:

Disrupt Life (Costs 3 Actions). The atropal lets out a withering wail. Any creature within 120 feet of the atropal that can hear the wail must succeed on a DC 19 Constitution saving throw or gain 1 level of exhaustion

I’d use this early and often to soften up all but the toughest…

So much disadvantage!

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Yeah, I needed to exhaust them. I think only one was wearing armor but they were also not out in the jungle. Exhaustion is way underutilized for sure @OldSchoolDM.

@mrm1138 thanks for joining the forums and listening to the show.

It is beyond saying that I definitely messed up and could have run the encounter a ways that would have been more challenging for the players and more fun for myself. Without getting a ton of details, I waited for Acererak to come out by himself when the Atropal was done. Happy to DM you some more details. I outlined some in discord.

Just finished this episode and the Gollum/Sauron analogy is bang on. There are two correlations to go with this.

  1. The higher up the ladder a character is, the more evil they are. It’s almost as if the true sign of evil is… bureaucracy!! (Gasp!)

  2. In my own games, I’ve had truly evil characters become nuanced and deeper because they connected with the players in some way during play. My old home brew campaign had an undead devourer/crime boss known as the Kamouraska. He was meant to be a bad mother (shut your mouth!) that was targeted by a vengeful spirit looking to kill him. My expectation was that the party would want to help kill the Kamouraska but something about the character and how I portrayed him made the party want to keep him around as a recurring character. He was evil and you wouldn’t want to turn your back on him but they found uses for him. He became detailed, we built a history, and he became a major NPC in the campaign.

Being able to convert evil characters into complex ones is a valuable tool for RPGs and perhaps one of the missed points about all orcs/drow being evil. Regardless of your personal views and understanding of how this can be problematic for some, having that flexibility to make a monster or NPC more than just evil can and should always be a possibility. In a way, chalk this up to another flaw in alignments as they apply at the table.

Great episode, really got me thinking about the topic in my own games. Not that I’m running or playing in any right now - online play with rural internet isn’t a thing at this time. But that’s the sacrifice I’m making during this pandemic. And THAT is how you complain about first world problems. Cue end credits, close curtains, turn up the house lights, I’m out.

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