Last Updated on February 1, 2023
Deep within the jungles of Chult, an unholy machine feeds stolen souls to the undead fetus of a stillborn god. A death curse lays upon the lands causing those who have died and been brought back again to wither and fade and preventing the newly dead from being revived at all.
Will you venture through uncharted, dinosaur-infested swamps to the ruins of a forbidden city? Will you fight your way past deadly traps and deadlier foes to destroy the Soulmonger and lift the curse? Will you face Acererak the demilich himself?
Dare you seek the Tomb of Annihilation?!
- Tomb of Annihilation is an adventure for D&D 5e character levels 1-10.
- The adventure takes the players to the jungle island of Chult, where they must find a lost city and the tomb of nine trickster gods to stop a dangerous curse.
- The adventure deviates from the usual high fantasy tone and setting of the Sword Coast area of the Forgotten Realms. Instead, Tomb of Annihilation embraces a sword-and-sorcery aesthetic: lost cities, snake people (partially domesticated), dinosaurs, and lots of undead.
- The adventure is especially dangerous, seeing as there’s a death curse preventing anyone who dies from being brought back to life.
- Several famous factions (like the Red Wizards of Thay and the Harpers) make an appearance as well as the adventure’s notorious antagonist, Acererak (the powerful lich/demilich who built the Tomb of Horrors).
What Is Tomb of Annihilation?
Released in 2017, Tomb of Annihilation is an adventure book for Dungeons & Dragons 5e that takes adventurers from 1st to 10th level as they venture into the mysterious land of Chult in search of an artifact called the Soulmonger, hoping to destroy the eldritch machine and put an end to a death curse.
The adventure is heavily inspired by pulp adventure stories like Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, sword-and-sorcery fantasy like the Conan series, and the classic 1979 D&D adventure Tomb of Horrors (they even share the same villain).
We even get a visual nod to the green-faced devil — an iconic feature of the Tomb of Horrors… Well, it’s close enough to the entrance that it’s one of the few things people who play the module actually get to see before being arbitrarily killed.
Tomb of Annihilation — Adventure Summary
A mysterious death curse is disrupting resurrection magic across the entirety of the Forgotten Realms. Those who have been brought back to life are slowly withering away, and those who die cannot be brought back at all. In a high-magic setting like the Forgotten Realms, this is obviously causing a lot of people a lot of very serious problems.
The adventure begins with the PCs’ arrival at the city of Port Nyanzaru on the island of Chult, to which the origin of the death curse has been tracked.
In between meandering expeditions into the jungle in search of ancient ruins, conflicts with other factions seeking the origin of the curse for various reasons, and betting on dinosaur races (yeah, Chult rules), the players will slowly piece together the location of the Forbidden City of Omu where a powerful magical item called the Soulmonger is suspected of being the source of the death curse.
Once they make it to the forbidden city, the PCs must deal with several rival factions (including some belligerent snake men, a mercenary company, and the Red Wizards of Thay) and solve nine mini-puzzle dungeons (very much in the style of shrines from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) in order to get all nine keys to open the main tomb of nine trickster gods.
Then, it’s a perilous six-level dungeon delve to the heart of the tomb where the PCs find the incredibly creepy Soulmonger and the horrible undead god baby it’s feeding all those stolen souls to. If the baby is disturbed, the architect of the whole plan, Acererak (creation’s second biggest and baddest lich) rocks up to politely ask that you stop.
This should be an incredibly one-sided fight, even for a party of 10th-level PCs, but the souls of the nine dead trickster gods (who, it turns out, were murdered by Acererak) can possess the PCs, lending them powerful boons to fight the lich. Assuming the Soulmonger is destroyed, the death curse ends, and Faerun goes back to being a world living without real life and death consequences for the rich and powerful — much like this one.
Dino races, anyone?
Should I Run Tomb of Annihilation?
First, let’s talk about why you might not want to give this adventure book a go.
- It’s looooong. Tomb of Annihilation is a sizable book. It’ll take your characters from 1st to 10th level and represents a significant time commitment. However, that’s nothing especially new for 5e “adventures.”
- It’s grueling. Tomb of Annihilation is a pretty brutal experience, especially for 5e. The setting is a dangerous place, and the basic conceit of the adventure is that there’s no resurrection. This means players might end up cycling through two, three, or even four characters, which in turn might make it hard for folks to stay invested.
- It’s different. This is not your average 5e adventure. Because of the old-school dungeon design inspiration, the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom tone, and the greater emphasis on exploring an unmapped region of jungle in search of a lost and forbidden city, Tomb of Annihilation might clash with your idea of what D&D adventuring should be, not to mention your players’ conceptions of it too.
Committing to something that’s so different from the usual vibe of 5e adventures can initially be a little off-putting. Much like just about every other adventure written for 5e, it’s intended as an entire campaign rather than a specific adventure, and it will take a fair amount of time to complete, which is a big commitment if it turns out not to be your proverbial cup of stagnant malarial river water.
However, a good chunk of the adventure centers on bumbling around a gigantic mosquito-infested dinosaur buffet masquerading as an island and trying to find ancient ruins and locals intelligent enough that you can beat them up until they give you directions.
This means that you can truncate large parts of Tomb of Annihilation if you want to start your players off at a higher level with an accurate understanding of where the tomb is. You can even run this in, I reckon, three to five sessions if you just start outside the Tomb of the Nine Gods and go from there. Don’t quote me, though. I haven’t tried it.
But let’s talk about three reasons why you should run Tomb of Annihilation: It’s long. It’s grueling. It’s different.
See what I did there?
As nice as it is to have shorter adventures to run, Tomb of Annihilation is absolutely packed with content to keep you playing for months or even years. Chult feels absolutely massive, and the adventure itself is absolutely brimming with interesting NPCs, horrifying monsters, and vast vine-choked ruins to explore. Also, the starting city of Port Nyanzaru is great and could absolutely form the focus of a campaign other than the quest to destroy the Soulmonger.
Yes, Tomb of Annihilation is a slog, but it’s the good kind of slog — through a dinosaur-infested jungle where you’re not sure what’ll get you first: the dehydration or the T-Rexes.
It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity… and the velociraptors.
If you have rangers, barbarians, rogue scouts, and other characters who thrive in the wilderness, they’re going to have such a good time feeling like they’re mastering an untamable wilderness.
Exploring the uncharted jungles in the center of the island is a genuine challenge for the PCs and not the sort of thing you get to do very much of in 5e’s typically more narrative-focused campaigns. If you do make it to where you’re going (or, even more of a shocker, make it back again) it actually feels like an accomplishment.
Also, because of the death curse, a lot of the usual options for reviving a dead PC are off the table, which really ratchets up the tension and raises the stakes as the campaign goes on.
Lastly, it’s different from a lot of other 5e adventures. Tomb of Annihilation wears its influences proudly on its blood-drenched sleeves. This is an adventure about fighting fork-tongued snake cultists in 120-degree heat and 200% humidity, about torchlight twinkling off the gems in a skeleton’s eye sockets, and about poison dart traps and shafts of light innocuously falling across the pathway ahead…
If that all sounds like your idea of a good time, then this is absolutely the adventure for you. If not, get the heck out of the jungle, and I’ll see you back at the boat.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.