Tomb of Annihilation: Handling Jungle Travel

When our group first started playing Tomb of Annihilation, the prospect of emphasizing the dangers of the jungle was very exciting. While in a typical region (like the Sword Coast of Faerûn), characters can generally expect to find a small town (and maybe an inn) within a day of travel in pretty much any direction and therefore will rarely face a situation where they have to forage for food and water, Chult is a deadly landscape populated only with dinosaurs, sentient poisonous plants, vicious cannibals, xenophobic albino dwarves, fire newts, and other creatures that make for poor hosts. The characters are on their own here, and if they’re not careful they’ll starve to death before they make it to their destination!

Or will they?

The longer the campaign went on, the more acutely we became aware that keeping track of food and water consumption was becoming a tedious distraction from the rest of the game. At first it was fun, but there is a reason you rarely see people in fantasy stories having to scavenge for food. It’s the same reason you don’t see them cooking dinner or relieving themselves: it’s unnecessary. It adds nothing to the narrative. While travelling through the jungle, one expects the characters to be thirsty, just as they’re expected to be sweaty and scratched up from thick bushes and whatnot. Books and movies may include it in a travel montage, but unless it’s the players against the jungle (instead of the jungle just being in the way), we found it to ultimately become an unwelcome obstacle to the real fun.

And so, being nerds, we looked at the math behind what was being rolled for.

The Issue of Water

The primary danger in the jungle is the increased amount of water characters need. Normally, it’s 1 gallon of water per day for a Medium creature. In Chult, that becomes 2 gallons because you’re sweating so much.

Of course, Chult also has water in abundance. According to the descriptions of the peninsula, rain is almost a daily occurrence. And not just normal rain, heavy rains. The streets of Port Nyanzaru are built with wide gutters to quickly clear water out so as to prevent flooding in the city. It rains a lot.

To reflect the increased precipitation Chult receives, we used the following table in place of the one found in chapter 5, “Adventure Environments”, in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

d20 Precipitation Rain per Hour
1–5 None None
6–10 Light 1/8
11–15 Medium 1/4
16–19 Heavy 1/2
20 Tropical Storm 3/4” or more

Light. Light rain continues for 1d6 – 1 hours (minimum 1 hour). A region experiencing light rainfall is lightly obscured beyond 1 mile. A rain catcher deployed during a light rain can catch 1/4 gallon of water per hour.
Medium. Medium rain continues for 1d6 + 1 hours. A region experiencing medium rainfall is lightly obscured beyond 500 ft. A rain catcher deployed during a medium rain can catch 1/2 gallon of water per hour.
Heavy. Heavy rain continues for 2d6 – 1 hours and comes with an additional 1d4 hours of light rain. Lightning is not uncommon during such storms. A region experiencing heavy rainfall is lightly obscured beyond 150 ft. A rain catcher deployed during a heavy rain can catch 1 gallon of water per hour.
Tropical Storm. A tropical storm is typically a violent weather phenomenon that comes along with fierce winds. It lasts 2d6 hours. A region experiencing a tropical storm is lightly obscured beyond 60 ft. and creatures have disadvantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks made to navigate in unfamiliar terrain as long as the storm persists. Rain catchers cannot be properly deployed in a tropical storm.

With these parameters set out, the following table shows how much water a rain catcher can typically collect during a day based on the intensity of that day’s precipitation.

Rain Collected Per Rain Catcher

Rain Intensity Minimum Collected Average Collected Maximum Collected
Light 0.25 gallons 0.63 gallons 1.25 gallons
Medium 1 gallon 2.25 gallons 3.5 gallons
Heavy 1 gallon 6 gallons 11 gallons

Foraging: Taking the Average

According to page 111 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, “if multiple characters forage, each character makes a separate check”. Given that the DC for a Wisdom (Survival) check to find food in the jungle should (using the table on the same page) be an easy 10, chances are that even someone untrained in Survival will be successful about half the time (or more than half the time, if they have a higher Wisdom score). Assuming that nobody in the party has Survival and Wisdom scores are all average across the board, in a typical day of travel the party should have the following results:

Average Wisdom Party

4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
Food/Water Collected (lbs./gals.) 7 / 7 8.75 / 8.75 10.5 / 10.5
Food/Water Consumed (lbs./gals.) 4 / 8 5 / 10 6 / 12

This means that there is a water debt of 12.5% in any given party of average-Wisdom characters, hence the need for rain catchers (or for boiling water if you are near a river). The only time you risk dehydration is if you are not travelling along a river or stream and it hasn’t rained, two uncommon occurrences in a tropical rainforest.

But what if you have someone in the party with some foraging skill? Assuming that the foragers have a Wisdom of just 13 (+1), the average foraging results become the following:

4 PCs 5 PCs 6 PCs
Food/Water Collected (lbs./gals.) 8 / 8 11.25 / 11.25 13.5 / 13.5
Food/Water Consumed (lbs./gals.) 4 / 8 5 / 10 6 / 12

Note that, rather immediately, the issue of getting enough water vanishes. While some days the party might not get quite enough water, their average consumption is less than their average collection. If the party packs extra water skins, they should be able to stock up and maintain supplies, eliminating the need to keep rolling every day.

Magic

If the party includes a cleric or a druid, 10 gallons of water can be produced at the low cost of a single 1st-level spell slot using create or destroy water. Add in all the other crazy ways that magic can be used to gain an advantage in the search for water (a wizard sending their flying familiar up to do scouting, a druid using speak with plants to learn where the nearest stream can be found, etc.) and it becomes clear that the characters should rapidly move past the need to worry about whether they can find enough food and water.

Conclusion

If your party’s average foraging results over the course of a week would indicate that they are self-sufficient, the task of tracking their supplies is going to become a chore with no real benefit. It’s fun at first to call for foraging checks to reinforce the danger of traversing the jungle, but if it becomes clear that the party would have to have spectacularly bad luck to suffer, the trials of the jungle should be left to narrative style. Our players much preferred to have the weariness of a day of trailblazing and the cloying sensation of constant sweat narrated to them in passing than they did rolling dice to tell them much the same thing, only with some extra bookkeeping.

Save the rolls for particularly difficult situations, such as having to find shelter from a tropical storm, or if a character ingests some of the more interesting specimens of Chult’s flora. The game will run a lot more smoothly.

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