The Story of Tomb of Annihilation
The Story of Tomb of Annihilation will take players to a part of the Forgotten Realms they've never explored before in fifth edition. I talked to Chris Perkins about the story and how the threat this time is personal.
Chris Perkins: The overarching story of Tomb of Annihilation is you die. No. The story is there is a death curse, an effect that is happening across the world that is preventing people from being raised from the dead and also causing people who have previously been raised from the dead to wither and rot away and no magic can stop this. Various forces kind of track the cause of this to Chult, this jungle, this sort of end of the world area of the Forgotten Realms which is very little is known about it. You have to sort of descend into this wilderness, find the cause of this death curse and end it.
Todd Kenreck: Acererak is somehow involved obviously.
Chris Perkins: Yes. He is on the cover so we're not spoiling anything really but Acererak, who is the classic villain from the olden days, from the original Tomb of Horrors, is back on Faerun and up to no good. What you don't know at the outset is why he's doing this and what the ultimate reason is, like could it be that he's just looking for souls to feed on or does he have a much more sinister motive. With each new story, we wanted to really stand on its own and have themes that it deals with that are unique and new to it. Tomb of Annihilation is all about mortality and what people, what characters and heroes are willing to do to save people from the inevitability of death and kind of restore the natural order.
Chris Perkins: The other thing, the other theme is this idea of you start off with a very broad story. You just sort of land in Chult and can go anywhere and do anything and hire guides and go here, there and everywhere but as you get deeper and deeper in and you start to zero in on where you have to go and what you have to do, it becomes much more claustrophobic and the walls begin to close around you until finally, you're in this place called the Tomb of the Nine Gods, the Tomb of Annihilation. Then, you are completely sort of trapped. Very much like the Tomb of Horrors, it becomes just a battle for survival.
Chris Perkins: We've had other big events like the Giants stampeding around in Storm King’s Thunder to try to find the missing Storm Giant King. We've had Tiamat rise from hell and threaten the world. We've had other big threats in our fifth edition stories but this one, this one kind of hits close to home because in D&D, there is magic that can bring people back from the dead. That's kind of built in or it's a built-in conceit of the game that, “Oh, don't worry, we’re on ninth level. If we die, we'll just cast arrays dead and all is good and well.” When that no longer works, I think it puts genuine fear in the hearts of players and so we are playing with that fear.
Chris Perkins: This story, because it's kind of there's a grimness to it, a bleakness to it, it was very, very important that we have humor to offset it. There is a lot of humor embedded in the story. To help us strike that balance, we tapped Pendleton Ward who is a D&D player, longtime D&D player, he's the creator of Adventure Time, the cartoon series, which if you've seen is a sort of very quirky take on D&D. There's no denying, it's the love of D&D bleeds through that entire show. We brought him in and tapped him to help us refine the story, come up with elements that we can inject into the story that would be new and unexpected that nobody's ever seen in a D&D story before and also get at the humor that's going to sort of offset the deadliness and the meanness of the adventure.
Chris Perkins: Every story I work on is basically just me and others trying to find those elements, those things that people are going to go, “Well, I haven't seen this in an adventure before. Oh my God, I can't wait to play her,” or it or whatever. Yeah, there are characters that are scattered throughout. Some of them are very, very different like I'm thinking right now within the tomb, it's called the Tomb of the Nine Gods because there are nine dead gods buried in it. Acererak murdered them and trapped them inside the tomb. They're not completely dead so characters can actually interact with them. I think those interactions are the ones I'm most looking forward to.
Chris Perkins: I think the secret to keeping a dungeon from just becoming a slog or just boring is first, identifying what is the character of the dungeon, what is its personality and what is the personality of its architect and how can you marry those things together but I think the other key is you've got to make it like a peeling onion in the way that a good narrative kind of unfolds before your eyes over time. A dungeon has to reveal itself gradually and as you peel away layers, you've got your understanding of why the dungeon is the way it is. It has to get deeper and deeper and the mysteries have to sort of unveil themselves slowly so that you feel like as you advance, you're not just doing the same thing every time. You're learning something more about the story and what's going on.
Chris Perkins: There's an impetus to want to continue, not just simply to continue for the sake of getting to the end but there are mysteries and things that have answers that you know are lying ahead. I think the dungeon, a cleverly constructed one, can reveal things as you go along and never get boring in that way. In an attempt to link this story to Storm King’s Thunder, we use the Ring of Winter as a narrative device. It's mentioned in Storm King’s Thunder and actually one of the major villains of Storm King’s Thunder is looking for the ring but it doesn't show up until Tomb of Annihilation.
Chris Perkins: We are making good on something that we kind of put out there in Storm King’s Thunder and tying up a loose end. I love that our stories have little ties to one another. For instance, it's embedded in Tomb of Annihilation and you might not encounter it but there are elemental cultists from the Princes of the Apocalypse story that popped their heads in so little throw backs.