Someone asked on Reddit, “why am I boring my players with the Tomb of Annihilation? They just spent 3 hours in the wine room,” and I wrote a whole thing. I think that thing is good enough for a blog-post!
Tell ‘Em Everything
I don’t know if this is something you do but I catch this in myself: I don’t tell my players enough. I hold back because I want them to be surprised, or to earn their rewards, but instead, they just end up not knowing things.
D&D is filled with low-information situations. Dungeon puzzles, treacherous NPCs, secret rooms, cursed items, etc. We, the Dungeon Masters, know all their secrets so we get excited about them and think that figuring them out is going to be exciting for the players. So we drip-feed information, require experimentation, and revel in the “gotcha!” moments.
But none of that is actually fun for players. It takes away agency.
It’s a lot more interesting for players to figure out how to deal with known problems and to see how their crazy solutions play out in the game.
Example: pit trap.
☹️: “You fall into a pit trap.”
🤨: “You spot a subtle crack along the edge of the next tile in the hallway.”
🤯: “There’s a barely concealed pit trap halfway down the hall.”
The first way is boring. The second way is better but it really only adds a formulaic checking for traps and rolling of dice, and can either lead to full information or not knowing after all. No, it’s the third way of describing a pit trap that gets right to the juice of the thing and gets the players’ brains working on figuring out how to deal with this thing – the fun part of D&D.
So my advice is to overshare. Tell them more than you are comfortable telling them, let them figure out a solution, and move on.
Here’s how I would play the wine room (if I was a good enough DM to follow my own advice):
- the light from the roof is real sunlight, emphasize this hard because it’s literally mentioned in one of Acererak’s hints
- you remember reading about sunlight in Acererak’s hints (okay this one maybe even I would skip :-P)
- It converges into a wide beam, exactly covering the coffin
- the coffin has a hinged lid, you could probably open it a little bit and peek in
- (if anyone does the above) there is a wooden plaque inside that reads “drown your sorrows”
- the gargoyle heads have crawl spaces in them but they are each blocked by a closed valve
- there’s a strong scent of wine coming from each gargoyle
- you spot a loose ceiling block just outside the entrance, it looks like something is holding it up but if it came down it would block off this room
To us, it seems like we’re giving it away at this point. But the players don’t know! All this information allows them to create a theory, act on it, and be rewarded! And if it does trivialize a puzzle or two, there’s always more where that came from.