Detracting from my typical style, I have decided to run a premade 5th Edition D&D setting for my players. For this I decided to choose the most alien concept possible for them, the newest addition to Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) line of super adventures, Out of the Abyss. For those unfamiliar, OotA is a setting placed almost exclusively within the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms. A world beneath the surface filled with treachery and danger, wildly strange to anyone who calls the topside of Forgotten Realms home. I found myself excited by the prospect of running something so tied to this strange land and was really glad the guys agreed to give it a go. Once I discovered the sandbox feel this Campaign Setting provided I was doubly glad to use it. So without further ado, I’ll begin my first post-game write-up!
The players begin this Campaign in some pretty dire straits. They have been captured and imprisoned by a group of Drow located at an Outpost far away from any civilization, even the Underdark kind. They are not alone either, there are ten fellow prisoners NPCs trapped with them. Many of these NPCs are denizens of the Underdark but that doesn’t save anyone from the slaver’s binds. The PCs and their NPC companions must attempt to work together if they are to escape before they are carted off to the Drow city of Menzoberranzan where chances are even slimmer for escape.
Man there’s a lot of prep leading into this adventure. There are TEN potentially friendly NPCs to juggle. For me that was a lot of time spent getting a rough idea of what to sound like when roleplaying these individuals and ensuring I was familiar enough with their stats to use them in any potential combats or skill based encounters. Fortunately I found a resource a Reddit user posted that gives a great three page spread of these NPCs where you have their stats laid bare for use.
I really feel like the burden was placed squarely on the DMs of the world to produce the stats for these NPCs. This is something that should have had at least a page of info on in the book. The OotA guide does a great job of providing background info on all these characters, why not their stats as well? Especially because it is heavily insinuated that these characters might be around for some time.
OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:
- Created my own set of Monster/NPC tokens to print off and use as Minis
- Made a spreadsheet, that will continue to grow, detailing what Monsters/NPCs might appear per chapter and where to find the stats for them in the Monster Manual or in the back of OotA.
- Scanned the stats for all the potential monsters so I could print them off separately instead of trying to flip back and forth in the MM &/or OotA in Combat (Hey WotC… SELL US SOME DAMN .PDF VERSIONS OF YOUR CORE BOOKS ALREADY!)
- Decided which events I wanted to occur to facilitate a potential escape
- The book details a number of options the players might go with and even provides the DM with some “nudge” options that I liked.
- Ran through what I’d downloaded from my Battlebards material to set the mood music and even some sound effects
- I chose the Musical Score “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas as my ambiance music as I enjoyed not only the subtle darkness of the piece but the fact that the water effects played nicely with the fact there is a waterfall present at this outpost.
- Rolled randomly to determine where the drow would be storing the player’s stolen gear. I decided pre-game that they would have to stumble upon it, I was not going to ensure they would get it back as many expect in a prisoner situation. They would have to get lucky, or clear the place out.
Sadly I’ve not received any fully fleshed out backstories from the guys yet but they might fill in those details a bit later. I do have a few bits to share though.
- Solaris – Half-Elven Bard
- Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric
- Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall
- Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian
- Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall
- Ander – Half-Elven Paladin
- Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture
- Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer
Battlebards Cue: “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas
The guys were informed right away that they were imprisoned by the Drow (my buddy was betting on Duergar and was sorely disappointed). Learning they were not alone they spent a little time getting to know some of the other prisoners. Corbin found himself approaching the reserved Deep Gnome twins Topsy and Turvy. He found their behaviors and mannerisms strange, but they’d been in here the longest (decided by random roll) so who was he to judge. From them he learned just how much the cards were stacked against escape as they detailed a large squad of Drow, Drow elites, and Quaggoth that stood in the way of escape. Rurick, immediately establishing his boisterous attitude to this particular setback, found himself befriending the Mychonid named Stool. Rurick nicknamed the little guy “Timtum” before finally hugging the fungal humanoid allowing some “rapport spores” to enter his brain via his ears and suddenly the two could talk. Though the connection was a psychic one Rurick continued to speak his end of the conversation aloud, which simply made him look mad to the others.
Time passed and the guards decided to bring a few of the prisoners out to the “yard” to do some demeaning labor. Rurick, Solaris, and Stool were chosen to go but Ander somehow convinced the guards he should go in Stool’s place. The labor was essentially moving large rocks to the side of the cliff and dropping them over. This served no other purpose than further discouraging escape as it showed the players that the only escape from this outpost was down past enormous webs guarded by giant spiders. Rurick attempted to hit a spider with a rock but failed. Solaris sang a little and actually did so well the guards enjoyed it. Meanwhile, Ander had decided he’d already had enough. Sensing an opportunity he succeeded in thieving a short sword right out of the hilt of a distracted guard and began some combat.
Things went better for the three than was to be expected. Ander immediately killed the drow he had stolen his weapon from with a blast of divine might that sent its body flailing over the cliff. As the drow flew a number of drow poisoned bolts fell upon the ground and Ander scooped them up. Rurick squared off against two drow and built up a furious rage, punching one square in the face. Solaris proved the most helpful however as he fully charmed one of the quaggoths standing nearby and sending it into the fray on behalf of the players.
In the four rounds of combat before reinforcements showed up the players and their quaggoth recruit killed two drow, two quaggoth, and almost downed a drow elite. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough. During this time one of the prisoners, Jimjar the deep gnome, attempted to do some wagering with Hunar about the survival of the three combatants. Hunar was not amused. Soon, Ilvara Mizzrym, the Drow Priestess of Lloth in charge of the outpost, herself came with Tentacle Rod in hand. With her were ten more drow, hand crossbows pointed at the players. Solaris surrendered, Anders struck down the staggered quaggoth in front of him and set a defiant pose, Rurick simply didn’t cease his fighting. All three of the tentacles struck home, dropping Solaris and Ander. Rurick remained standing though and said simply “You’d better kill me!” With that, ten drow bolts were launched that eventually dropped him, miraculously not killing him.
Ilvara drug the unconscious three to her chambers for a few days of torture, making a show of it to the other prisoners. The next two days did not go well for the three upstarts.
For the next two days the rest of the prisoners remained submissive to their captors, who were doubly cruel after losing a few of their own to the fray. Corbin started paying attention to the guard rotations and noticed that one of the guards was a drow wearing the garb of an elite, a heavily scarred individual known as Jorlen. He was the only elite who ever had to pull guard duty and by the looks of him he did not care for the assignment, quickly dismissing the other drow who were supposed to run the detail with him. Corbin decided to attempt to speak with the dark elf.
Jorlen was not very receptive at first but Corbin proved most diplomatic and persuasive so Jorlen eventually opened up. Corbin was able to discern that Jorlen was deeply unhappy with the way things were currently. He was once the right-hand elf and lover of Ilvara but that changed after an accident robbed him of the full use of his right arm and his features. These days she flaunts her new relationship with a younger drow elite named Shoor. Shoor takes full advantage of his position as the new head of the regular drow and the elites. It is he who placed Jorlen on guard duty. Corbin attempts to leverage the dark elf’s disdain into something of use but the drow merely continues to mock the captives.
Jorlen does let slip one bit of advice though. Ilvara intends to make an example of one or more of the prisoners after she tires of torturing the three who started the fight. He cautions Corbin to not “stand out” in the near future. True to his word when Ilvara brings the victims of her scourge back the very next day she declares one of the lot will be fed to the spiders. She chooses Topsy, one of the deep gnome twins, seemingly at random. Corbin attempts to persuade her to take him instead but she laughs off his noble gesture. When the guards grab for Topsy her brother Turvy attempts to stop them resulting in his being drug away as well. The rest of the prisoners overhear their plaintive cries as they are thrown to the spiders. Corbin vows revenge for the poor deep gnomes.
A few days later some items of interest arise. Corbin continues to foster a relationship of sorts with Jorlen, who appears to tolerate it with a measure of tedium. Stool convinces Rurick to get the others to accept the Rapport Spores so they can speak in secret via the telepathy it allows. The group begins to get desperate as it is well known the envoy from Menzoberranzan approaches. Their chance comes soon though from an unlikely source. Jorlen shows up for his shift in a rage of a mood. He also shows up with the character’s daily meal, a chore he was apparently given this day by Shoor. Feeding the prisoners is apparently quite the slight because he pulls Corbin aside and declares his intentions to leave their cell door unlocked so their escape attempt can be an embarrassment for Ilvara and Shoor. It is apparent he holds no real love for Corbin or the others though as he laughs off Corbin’s gratitude stating that he doesn’t believe they will actually make it very far, and they’ll receive no further help from him.
The group of prisoners agree with one another that it’s worth the risk of torture to attempt an escape when Jorlen leaves the cell unlocked, even if it might be a trap. Over their time as captives they had collected a few items the could use as potential weapons (an iron bar and a drow poison dart) but they knew that stealth would likely assist more. As Jorlen leaves he casually drops a dagger at the cell door and begins his walk. The captives discover the cell door unlocked, true to Jorlen’s word, and then witness him flippantly tossing a drow over the ledge to the spiders. It seems Jorlen’s temper was in rare form. The players and their NPC fellows slipped out into the quiet camp.
They headed to the right, as this was the direction of the waterfall they normally cleaned their chamber pots in. They had noticed the path continued past the waterfall but had never ventured that far. As they went beyond their regular route they came upon a cave where a few quaggoth slept, the smell giving away that the cave represented the quaggoths’ lair. Ahead of them was a small building hanging off the ledge, overlooking the gorge below. Corbin and Ander snuck ahead and peered inside. A pair of drow were holding casual conversation, apparently they eagerly awaited the arrival of the relief group from Menzoberranzan. The two drow would never see that group however as Ander and Corbin made sure the two fell to bottom of the cavern below, they never saw the attack coming. Ander was even able to lift a short sword off one of the drow before killing him.
Corbin exited the building and looked down. He could see that a pool from the waterfall lay below them, but was unable to tell its depth. He took a chance and sent some dancing lights towards the water below. He was just making note of the fact it was too grimy on top to determine its depth when a shrill screech was emitted from below. The dancing lights had disturbed the rest of a foul creature, identified by Hunar, as a Vrock. A chain reaction then tool place. The Vrock awakened all in the outpost and they began to defend themselves, but the Vrock was more concerned with another, bug-like, creature that began attacking it. It was chaos.
Jimjar mentioned above the din that he had seen a lift when he was brought in, but it was on the other side of the outpost. The group decided to utilize the chaos of the creatures fighting to try and push through. They ducked through one of the stalactites, taking out the distracted drow inside, and hoofed it towards the lift. They decided against seeking out Ilvara, and her junior priestess Asha, and ran past the shrine to Lloth. They spied the lift in the distance but there were a lot of drow and quaggoth between they and it so they ducked into another stalactite. Inside they defeated a drow elitie warrior while a few of the others held back the drow who were trying to get in the room. In a group of chests the PC’s discovered their looted gear. It was at this point we all called it a night.
POST GAME THOUGHTS:
Overall the first adventure was a lot of fun and had us all playing later than we typically would. My pre-game prep was solid and there were only a few takeaways I feel i could have considered better ahead of time.
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:
- I could have done a better job coming up with scenarios for the NPCs to instigate conversations with the players. By nature a number of players aren’t the type to instigate that sort of thing.
- I wish I would have encouraged everyone to take Undercommon as a language, even if it meant coming up with reasons why they would. It will certainly be interesting to see where this goes with needing multiple language to convey things however. I may end up liking the difficulty.
- I did all of the battles without laying out a battle grid and while I like how fast narrative battling ends up making things move I can tell the guys were a bit put off by it. They like their minis and the strategies that a grid based combat allows for.
THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE SO FAR ABOUT OOTA:
- The start off point is solid and different. Throws the players directly into survival mode.
- A few solid ideas were given for potential escape points. The Jorlen concept is great and I love that even though the players may never know the full reason he’d be willing to release them they ensure the DM knows exactly why.
- I really like the next part, Chapter 2, but I can’t really go into great detail about that.
- The Players had very little chance of getting out of prison without a DM push for them. My group noticed Jorlen and pursued getting him on their side but not a lot of groups would think to do that.
- The NPCs should come with stats. All it would have taken was one extra page in Appendix C.
- Would have been nice to detail some daily routines in the Outpost.
- Wizards of the Coast needs to give us the ability to purchase .pdfs of their Monster Manual at least. Having to choose to flip back and forth between two books for monster stats is terrible and I know for a fact their core books are already available for illegal download anyway so I really don’t grasp their fears in this arena (Barely a commentary on OotA and more of an “overall” complaint I know but… c’mon Wizards).
So far Out of the Abyss is great stuff. I can’t wait to see where this leads and the guys seem to really be digging it. Let’s see if they survive eh? Please feel free to comment below!