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Tomb of Annihilation has a

heavy focus on exploration, with a fairly comprehensive set of things to find in the jungles of Chult, for good or for bad.

I want to capitalize on the rich environment of the campaign, encouraging survival skills, exploration, and experimentation, but I want to do so without affecting PC's features, things such as the Ranger class' Natural Explorer ability, which prevents getting lost, or the Druid class' Goodberry spell, which eliminates the need for food.

What successful methods of encouraging exploration and experimentation exist, when features are in play that negate the need for such things?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do not answer in comments. All comments have been deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 27 '17 at 21:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I believe the first couple comments were rather constructive, although later ones turned into more of an answer \$\endgroup\$ – inthemanual Sep 27 '17 at 21:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ And they were already responded to by the OP, who has also edited their question, I trust to add any needed clarification therefrom. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 27 '17 at 23:04
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I am wearing my DM hat for this one and will be basing my answer as much as I can on personal experience or rules, so fair warning.

In the general sense, you encourage players to engage in certain habits by rewarding them for those habits. If you're the kind of DM who grants experience for good roleplaying, for example, getting the characters to go exploring is as easy as granting the party ranger a couple of points for each new area they visit.

Some parties, however, don't bother trying new things, and thus won't know that trying new things lead to rewards. That's where Passive Perception comes in.

Say your party is trooping through an area that you want them to explore in greater detail. Select the person with the highest Passive Perception and tell them they spot something odd- say, a jungle vine that has small, spotted leaves. Now, whether or not this actually means something (and this would be a great time for the druid or ranger to show off those skills and inform the others whether it does or not), you've got the party stopping to look. If, say, those leaves happen to grant advantage to a Medicine check when used in sufficient quantities, and if there just so happens to be about half the leaves the party would need on that one vine, you've just given them cause to stop for a couple of minutes and poke around, looking for another one.

This is where you can both encourage the plant-based members of the party to shine and give the rest of the party a chance to do something awful and interesting. The ranger and druid can obviously pick out those leaves again, as could someone with proficiency in herbalism, but to anyone else, it's quite reasonable to assume a leaf is a leaf. If you need someone to stumble upon poisonous things, or run into an angry giant ape, now's the time. Ditto for accidentally uncovering the entrance to a vine-covered shrine, or spotting a golden statuette half-buried at the base of a tree.

The key with this particular technique is balance. You don't want the party to run into something dangerous every time you call their attention to a detail- I once caused the party to run screaming from a windmill because I described a suspicious creak, having accidentally trained them that such odd noises led to surprise attacks- but you also don't want to liberally hand out rewards, because that leads to them pausing the game to search frantically every time you mention a detail.
Try to keep the details lumped into three roughly equal groups:

  1. Details that lead to rewards
  2. Details that are benign
  3. Details that lead to "bad things"

    You should end up with a party always questioning whether it's worth it to explore. If that cautious exploration is what you're looking for, then this is a way to achieve it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I personally dislike answers that are less than definitive, but hopefully this is at least helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Sep 27 '17 at 19:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please review the edit to make sure I clearly pulled out your core points. (If not, please edit again). I think that for the sake of presentation, the final close out of your answer being in a numbered form is better than the previous presentation. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 5 '17 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Numbers are always good. \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Oct 5 '17 at 17:35
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Disclaimer: I don't know the module you are talking about super well, my answer is more for the generic, "How do I get my players to explore?" + "How do I make exploring hard when my players have abilities that prevent this?"

Send an NPC with them. A real "Dr. Livingstone" type who is energetic and knows there is something in the environment. They may not know specifics, just generalities of "Treasure" or "Wondrous Items!" This can stimulate exploration and trying new things. The NPC could also help with the micro side of things as you put. Perhaps they are more of a "cabbage" so they are like, "Hey is this plant edible?"

As for the second part of this, I'd recommend against anything that neuters their powers. Let the players be awesome if they have abilities to be awesome. The comment VagrantDog said is very valid, just because you aren't lost doesn't mean you know how to find what you are looking for.

Think of this as well... just because they CAN use goodberry doesn't mean they will. This is a spell slot they would have to use for a non-combat situation. Maybe throw some monsters at them early so they think twice about using a slot for a utility spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Minor spoiler, but the adventure does contain several built-in NPCs that would be great for this. Most of them should be more knowledgable than the PCs, but I can think of several ways to make it work. \$\endgroup\$ – inthemanual Sep 27 '17 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's great when they include those like it. Also, don't be afraid to just add as many as you like. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Sep 27 '17 at 18:24

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