5E DMing "Out of the Abyss"
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  1. #1
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    DMing "Out of the Abyss"

    *** SPOILERS ****

    I'm almost through reading Out of the Abyss and I'm psyched to run it. At least the first half. There are two broad areas where I'm wondering what thoughts/ideas other DMs have.

    1) "Random" encounters in Underdark
    A lot of time will be spent traveling in Underdark, and not only will there be random encounters, but it seems the intent is for these random encounters to provide some (much?) of the XP needed to gain the levels that in turn will be needed to tackle later chapters.

    Anybody given any thought to some more detailed side-adventures, to make it more than just random, meaningless fights. Seems to me this is an opportunity flesh out the adventure some and add more color. Maybe we need a repository of mini-adventures to intersperse though their travels, especially for those who find themselves a bit behind the XP curve.

    2) Followers
    The one thing I'm wary about is the potential troupe of NPCs that will be following the heroes around, especially in the 2nd half of the adventure. There are a couple of good suggestions for how to manage the horde, but beyond simply bookkeeping I could see some players being turned off by the idea of adventuring in a large group.

    On the other hand, many of the fights will be extremely challenging without some meaningful support, so just leaving all those NPCs behind isn't really an option.

    One partial alternative that occurred to me is to not use the templates in the back of the Monster Manual ("Spy" "Archmage" "Thug", etc.) and instead use actual classes for the NPCs, and have them scale in level with the heroes. That way fewer would be needed.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    Some disjointed thoughts:
    I just DMd the escape and travel/chase sequence. Your concerns are well founded.
    I was running seat of the pants style and I had a sense that it was beginning to devolve into just a series of incidents.
    If I were to really prepare well for then next session I would roll up the encounters and terrain ahead of time so that I could really think about what the options might be.
    I would focus on offering choices. Make the system of the Chase very clear: Fast is dangerous but may outrun pursuit. Slow may lead to recapture. I would also try to offer some terrain choices, perhaps with an NPC saying, "Both paths lead to the lake... this one is fast but full of spiders, and this one is safe but slow..."
    It is 8 days to Darklake, which is basically the only place to go. They are mostly unarmed. The drow are chasing them. They are starving. They are being followed around by a crazy group of weirdos.
    I ended up rolling: Fungus forest/gas spores (Druid failed his Nature check to ID, and attacked...), Rock slide (while chased by the pursuing drow), and then I threw in the Spider Web Surfers scene (they murdered the goblins for their food, found a halfling friend who had iron rations, and fought drow and quaggoths.
    Now they are within striking distance of the Darklake. They will be heading to the Kuo Tua village, but I will offer the Temple of Slime as an option. The rescued halfling's fellow adventurers were slain there and left magic treasures behind...

  3. #3
    Abyss doesn't do a good job explaining to the DM how much additional prep will be required for play. I think you're right that a substantial amount of XP needed to level up isn't presented in the published set pieces found in Chapters 2 through 6. Chapter 7 states that the characters should be 7th level before they're attacked by their drow pursuers. It's a free-form way of telling DMs where the midpoint of the campaign is. It could be rewritten as, "Keep throwing monsters and challenges at your PCs until they're 7th level. Once they reach that point, you can start to figure out when to spring this drow encounter on them."

    Also note that the end of Chapter 7 states that the PCs should be 8th level before they start Chapter 8. So, they've got to be higher than 7th before they start Chapter 7, but "Chapter 7" is really just one single encounter described over several pages. So the PCs must level up on this single encounter so that they can start Chapter 8? Unless you've got pinpoint control over how the PCs receive XP, it's probably easier to spring the Chapter 7 fight on them when they're 8th level. I have no idea why this is presented so confusingly in the text.

    As far as getting to 8th level, though, you're right. You're probably going to need to prepare a fair amount of your own adventures or side treks. I'd think of it as WotC having provided you with half of the material you need for a satisfying game from week to week. Maybe someone has done the math, added up the XP of the encounters presented in the book, and found that there's enough to get everyone to 8th level. I've eyeballed it, though, and I don't think it's likely. If you are going to roll on the random encounter tables from Chapters 2 and 3, always combine a terrain and monster encounter. The separate results for each are bland on their own.

    As for the NPCs the party will gather in its wake, it does seem tricky. The idea of the PCs picking up a cohort of "hirelings" to crawl the dungeon with them feels very OSR to me. Modern D&D players won't likely be familiar with that style of play and its expectations. Scaling the NPCs as the heroes level will make it harder to shake them if the players don't like the extra bookkeeping, but easier to have them survive. The survival of these NPCs is important at first because they're the only source of reliable Underdark navigation the PCs have. If you don't establish early on that these NPCs are valuable, the players could leave them behind to their detriment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daern
    Make the system of the Chase very clear: Fast is dangerous but may outrun pursuit. Slow may lead to recapture. I would also try to offer some terrain choices, perhaps with an NPC saying, "Both paths lead to the lake... this one is fast but full of spiders, and this one is safe but slow..."
    I would copy the entire list of modifiers to the "chase level" and give it to the players. They need this information to make informed decisions about how to proceed through the Underdark.
    XP FormerlyHemlock gave XP for this post

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Turner View Post
    Abyss
    I would copy the entire list of modifiers to the "chase level" and give it to the players. They need this information to make informed decisions about how to proceed through the Underdark.
    Exactly

  5. #5
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    Thanks for input so far.

    What do you guys think of a thread with mini-adventures to add to OotA?

    *** SPOILER BELOW **** (how do you do spoiler tags on these forums?)




    And what about that sentient Sun Sword? I thought 5e was the "stingy on magic" edition! Looks like one PC gets an insanely powerful weapon and everybody else gets...potions and scrolls. (Well, maybe some drow weapons, which I guess are good for a while.)

    I would consider modifying it to have it scale in power with its owner. From +1 to +3, with bonus damage likewise scaling.
    Last edited by Elfcrusher; Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015 at 04:13 AM.

  6. #6
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    Oh, and I really wish WotC would sell a deck of NPC/Monster cards to go with this. It would be really handy to have cards for all those allies, with the artwork on one side to show players. Guess I'll have to make 'em myself.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    Oh, and I really wish WotC would sell a deck of NPC/Monster cards to go with this. It would be really handy to have cards for all those allies, with the artwork on one side to show players. Guess I'll have to make 'em myself.
    I would like to see the whole Monster Manual released as a non-random card set. Ideal sort of product with great utility.
    XP Otterscrubber, ranger69 gave XP for this post

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coffinthrower View Post
    I would like to see the whole Monster Manual released as a non-random card set. Ideal sort of product with great utility.
    I believe that Inkwell Ideas has products exactly up your alley. Although, they are not specific to 5e, you'd still need to crack your MM from time to time.

    /edit - Yes, Hussar, there is a k in Inkwell. sigh. stupid typoes.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    2) Followers
    The one thing I'm wary about is the potential troupe of NPCs that will be following the heroes around, especially in the 2nd half of the adventure. There are a couple of good suggestions for how to manage the horde, but beyond simply bookkeeping I could see some players being turned off by the idea of adventuring in a large group.*snip* Thoughts?
    One thing I have learned about the NPC horde is that it helps to have props to represent each NPC. I'm not good with doing distinct voices, and I hate having to say, "Jimjar says X" every time I open my mouth, so instead I printed out pictures of all the NPCs so that I can hold one up as a visual representation, kind of like a sock puppet, especially when two of the NPCs are talking to each other. Today's game got cancelled so I didn't get to actually try it out but I am looking forward to it, I think it will be much easier than last session.

    The other thing I'm planning on doing is giving my PCs dreams (preferably in the form of written printouts that they can refer back to) in order to fill the players in on the larger plot, in literal or symbolic form. E.g. "for a moment you see a broad-shouldered drow priestess berating a slender drow warrior while quaggoths cower around them; a corpse-strewn battlefield all covered with mildew and fungus; a king on his throne, surrounded by knights, but when you look more closely you see the king's face is just a skull; toadstool mushrooms dance around you in circle singing and then you realize that you have two heads and the other head wears a monkey's face; you smite the earth with your fist and it splinters into nothingness and you feel so cold... and then you wake up sweating and shaking. Roll a wisdom check to retain your sanity."
    Last edited by FormerlyHemlock; Wednesday, 23rd September, 2015 at 06:15 AM.

  10. #10
    I completely agree on having a set of encounter cards. I currently make them myself. A lot of time spent.

    As for OotA, I briefed the players that the drow would be in pursuit (no way they were letting their slaves get away). Also I told them that this is their
    adventure not an NPC adventure. I briefed them if the encounter is small (i.e. a few bad guys) that they would do all the fighting, and on large encounter the
    NPC's would pull a few bad guys to the side to fight. Said "Don't expect them the NPC's to save you and you to not have to save them".

    Also a suggestion, each demon lord has a type of madness, so using dreams and the characters background to introduce them to what madness might be
    like.

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