Some posho’s flunky comes up to you and offers to strand you in a malarial jungle swamp, in which you must busk for enough money to outfit yourself for an expedition into a death-god’s lair and smash an artifact so the posho can have her hit points back. When you’re done, abase yourself before the merchant prince’s manor where she’s staying to let her know she’s good to go home.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an unfair summary of the framing device used to kickoff Tomb of Annihilation — but it’s not too far off course. For the record, I really like a lot of what ToA has to offer in terms of gameplay, but some of its setting assumptions rub me the wrong way. I’m planning to run it, but not stock out-of-the-book.
When preparing a new campaign, perhaps the most important ingredient is the call to action. Your “elevator pitch” to the players should suggest to them exactly the sorts of adventures they’ll be having, and they’ll imagine characters they can project into that expectation of action. Everything in your preparations should point back to that question: How will the campaign use this detail?
Luckily, I recently ran across this tweet, which prodded me in the right direction, I think, for a game more in keeping with my tastes, and also that empowers the players more than making them thralls to a fantasy one-percenter.
For the next reboot that makes men angry I’d like to submit for your consideration Lupita Nyong’o as Indiana Jones. She steals artifacts from museums and returns them to their rightful cultures.
— Denizcan James (@MrFilmkritik) December 20, 2017
Yes. Excellent. Flip the assumption.
With that principle in mind, I bashed together the campaign notes below. So how, then, can I frame the events of Tomb of Annihilation so that they can be used in the context of a reverse-grave-robber premise?
The PCs are members of a sociopolitical faction known as the Reclamationists. They can be native Chultans with an interest in protecting their own destiny, or they can come from abroad, acting against exploitative interests seeking colonial dominance of the jungle. The PCs are rebels, a resistance faction, heeding a moral mandate.
(GM Notes: I actually probably won’t set this in Chult, as I’m more attracted to other campaign worlds, but I leave it untouched here for the sake of clarity.)
- An ecological interrelationship exists between humans and nature, acknowledging the inherent connections between people and their surroundings.
- “True freedom lies where folk receive nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth.”
- Economic value derived from land (including natural resources and natural opportunities) belongs equally to all members of society.
- Cultures and communities make sovereign decisions for themselves, and outside influence intrudes upon that sovereignty.
(GM Notes: This is swiped almost whole cloth from the Wikipedia entry for the Diggers, which seemed like a good conceptual fit.)
The most commonly accepted origin of the Reclamationists is the unification of a druidic circle and a locality of tenant farmers. With the spiritual guidance of the druids, the land-workers rallied to a common cause, giving rise to the faction’s motto, “All who believe are together and have all things in common.” Reclamationism spread among numerous land-working classes, and various offshoots of it exist, from deity-aligned dominionists to secular humanists and everything in between. It is a form of agrarian populism and often finds antagonism from traditional feudalists, across numerous nations.
(GM Notes: This section is pretty weak. It needs more supportive, actionable detail. It does, however, indicate some potential conflict, whether internal to the Reclamationists or from external entities trying to hinder opposition.)
- Occupy! Reclaim public lands that have been privatized.
- Dig them over, pull down hedges, fill in ditches, etc. to plant crops.
- Return any items of cultural significance to the cultures that claim them, if such cultures are still extant
- Ensure that any items taken for academic purposes are taken by reputable academics — none of this “sell it to a museum or private collector” nonsense
- Harry the efforts of factions seeking to exploit the resources of Chult
- Ex.: The Merchant Princes are speculators intending to profit from colonial interests plundering the resources of Chult
- Ex.: The Flaming Fist at Fort Beluarian is a rent-seeking organization extracting revenues from those who would themselves explore and exploit the lost regions of the jungle
- Ex.: The Order of the Gauntlet may have some admirable aims in opposing the undead, but it may have more imperialistic aims, and cannot be completely trusted until any other objectives have been discerned.
- Act in opposition to those entities that extend their influence at the expense of others
Opportunities for Action
- Smash colonials, especially where they conflict with indigenous communities
- Expand knowledge of indigenous entities
- Recover items of cultural significance from those who would exploit that cultural significance for private gain
- Explore the unknown
(GM Notes: Note the strong verbs in these last two sections, the calls to action. Most of them stand on their own, but some could use some touch-up. “Ensure,” “act,” and “return” can probably be replaced with more robust actions that are more engaging on their own.)