Tips for Running The Tomb of Black Sand

Tomb of Black Sand is an exemplary adventure for 5E D&D. The only module written for the system I've run, and the only one I've been interested in content-wise or impressed by design-wise. Previously, I wrote a review of it from a physical and layout perspective, and I give it high marks with a few minor nitpicks.
  1. Take notes on the adventure, print the Treasure Checklist
  2. Familiarize yourself with the town of Brighton
  3. Familiarize yourself with the important Tomb NPCs
  4. Personal touches
  5. Optional: Print maps & NPC/monster art

1. Read closely & take notes
Use a highlighter to mark text and tabs to mark the following in the book/printouts:
  • Amulet fragments (p. 4)
  • 📑 Hexmap of Brighton (p. 6)
  • 📑 Brighton NPCs (p. 8-9)
  • 📑Sights & Sounds (p. 13)
  • Candles & Sacrifice Flow (p. 14-15)
  • Suffocating in sand (p. 16) 
Print the Treasure Checklist.

It will be helpful to make a few "breath bars" for the suffocation rules ahead of time. Make sure to check each character's Constitution mod so you make it correctly.

2. Familiarize yourself with Brighton and choose/make a map
The hex map of the Brighton area is really cool and there are some nice little tables to randomly generate townsfolk if necessary. It does not, however, have a map. I don't usually worry about town maps myself, but if you like to have that or plan on using Brighton as a hub, here's a Dyson Logos map. Same goes for the Red Squirrel Tavern: 1st floor & 2nd floor.
Brighton is a well-designed town with townsfolk that are simple but memorable. Pick one or two that you can roleplay well (for me it was Curate Baldo and Ian the Barber/Smith). NPCs are just as important as monsters, and towns are just as important as dungeons to making a story come alive.

One very important detail is that White Candles (p. 14) are actually being delivered to the town, and will cast Suggestion on users to go to the Tomb, drink from the pool, and become willing sacrifices. This fact is not prominently displayed in the text. I missed it entirely.

3. Flesh out the core elements
There are three stories here in Tomb of Black Sand: the story of the tomb, the story of the lovers, and the story of the brothers.
  • The Tomb is a ticking time bomb.
  • The lovers are tragic
  • The brothers are doomed
The tomb is constantly ticking towards its 77th victim (remember that townsfolk may be trickling in due to candles in town), after which it will turn Vincent from a CR 21 Lich into a Demilich. This would not be a good thing to have around, especially if somebody pissed him off by messing with his lover and house.

Vincent and Minerva are immortal but distant from one another due to his ritual. Minerva is melancholy and conflicted about her condition. She should not be immediately hostile. Threats to Vincent's phylactery and her own unlife would be the only immediate causes for hostility. She's not likely to feel threatened by players immediately unless they use magic or silver. Even if defeated, she will reform in area 18  in d4 hours unless her own phylactery (a topaz in the eye of the very deadly Sand Thresher) is destroyed. She loves gardening (list of cool plants on p. 27), singing, and the beauty of her moon pool. Have her interact with the PCs, perhaps befriending them if they will bring her flowers from outside the tomb, and she'll be more memorable than some random monster.

Vincent is engrossed in his ritual. Meeting him will almost certainly mean death. If encountered, he won't be interested in interacting with the PCs, unless they've befriended Minerva, offer to help with his ritual or something similar.
The PCs are not a serious threat, so he has little cause to dirty his own phelanges with violence. If he does, they're toast. He has an easy to use spell list in his entry, already filled out and with handy checkboxes to keep track. One thing to keep in mind is that he has Animate Dead, which he should be using off-screen if he suspects there are intruders that pose even a minor inconvenience.

The brothers are nice guys on a noble quest to save their sister, but have been trapped in a tragic cycle for years. They pose a danger to PCs, and possibly to the town or even each other if their lycanthropy is triggered. Developing a relationship between the brothers and the PCs before having them suddenly turn into bloodthirsty monsters is a solid way to pull the heartstrings and threaten the players simultaneously.

4. Personal Touches 
I focused on making Brighton an enjoyable place to spend time. My PCs did some midnight investigation in the graveyard to see if bodies were missing, and ended up doing a hide-and-seek with the deaf Curate Baldo so as not to lose their status in the town.

My players also enjoyed talking to Ian, getting their hair cut in creative styles, and buying his animal candle holders. I randomly determined which creatures he had made them in the shape of by doing a quick d100 roll and picking whatever creature was in the Monster Manual on the table of contents (sequentially, not page number). I also ruled that if lit with a candle, they had a 50% chance of attracting a nearby animal of that type who would be neutral to the holder, and have the effect of Speak With Animals for that creature. One of the things rolled was and Aboleth, so obviously a much lower chance for rare/non-native monsters. I kept the cost cheap because Ian doesn't know what they do, and neither did the party, so why wouldn't they be? It didn't come up, but would have been fun if it did. The brass mirrors are also an obvious choice to make magical, but I didn't.

I also made the are surrounding the tomb entrance filled with dead, black trees which closed in around the PCs as night fell, forming an impenetrable and flame-resistant barrier (not fireproof, but a forest fire wouldn't be good for the PCs either...). PCs trying to fight them were grappled and pierced, being drawn in and impaled if killed. One died, it was a great touch. The trees would open again in daylight, so it wasn't an on-rails dungeon crawl, but definitely created more tension.

To dial up the weirdness and darkness, you could easily exchange some or all of Vincent's spells with Weird Magic spells. This takes him from Dangerous CR 21 Lich who will murder the party to Fucking Terrifying World Ending Terror. Since the players are dead if they piss him off either way, this would make much bigger campaign-level implications. I didn't do this with the Vanilla 5E group I ran the dungeon for, but since it is OSR-inspired and most 5E things can port to OSR systems, I might for a different group in the future.

5. Print maps & pictures
The maps in this module are pretty usable and displayed throughout. Printing isn't strictly necessary. It might, however, be cool to print out the art from the PDF and turn them into stand-ups if you play with maps and minis, or keep them as handouts to supplement your descriptions during play. They're gorgeous, more so than a lot of modules, and it seems like a bit of a shame for only the DM to see them.

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