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D&D 5E I am going to start DMing OotA in a few days- Any advice?


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Personally I'm not really running the module but using it as a resource for my current Underdark campaign. In terms of my usage it's great, as it has lots of good content to mine, but I wouldn't want to run it as is because I don't think the plot really works. I think the Demon Prince problem can feel too distant and radically beyond the power levels of the characters for them to really engage with, and the main motivation the module gives the characters is to get the hell out of the Underdark.

In my experience the plot is unnecessarily convoluted and doesn't really do a good job of providing motivations for the characters to think that they should stay in the Underdark and fight Demon Princes. I recommend either coming up with your own plot that actually makes sense for the player characters and gives them better incentive to stay in the Underdark, or else just run the opening chapters, have them escape the Underdark, run some unrelated adventures with those characters until they are higher level, and then when they feel qualified to save the world send them back to have some epic Demon Prince fights. The adventure is actually sort of set up for this (they are supposed to leave and then be summoned back after some time has passed by a Dwarven lord who needs their help or something like that) but if you aren't planning around doing that then you'll be put on the spot by them leaving the Underdark.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
Make sure your group is ok with helping Drow/Duargar/Koa-Toans & other such beings they'd traditionally see as mortal enemies.

For ex;
My group? As they escaped the Drow in the opening chapter they intentionally killed the Drow, Kuo-Toan, & quaggoth prisoners. They took the myconid, dwarf, & deep gnomes (not realizing the gnomes were infact lycanthropes) with them.
And coming across the Koa-Toan town? They cared not at all about the different factions & were quite happy to see Demogorgon wreck them all. Their only concern was staying out of the way while watching the show. When things really went south & the PCs decided to get out of town? They killed any K-T that crossed their path/was between them & the exist.
 

Baba

Villager
I would montage some of the traveling, with way less dice rolling. The characters can still spend days and weeks between the major stops, but for your players, a couple of encounters and some brief descriptions might be quite enough.

And I would look for some smart choices for the npc group members in combat. We enjoyed them a lot outside of combat, but found that they led to annoying slowdown in combat. Still we liked the IDEA of them helping. I would look for a really simple solution, like: Maybe each combat each player gets a random npc to controll, that npc goes right after the players initiative count, and only has a couple of quick and simple actions to perform - no multiple attacks or reactions or bonus actions or anything like that.
 

Agreed! Come up with something interesting for travel, with interesting choices (do you take the half-flooded tunnel or the hook horror hunting grounds, not "left tunnel or right tunnel?").

I would montage some of the traveling, with way less dice rolling. The characters can still spend days and weeks between the major stops, but for your players, a couple of encounters and some brief descriptions might be quite enough.

I might recommend changing the introduction. Being captured by the drow is a bit jarring considering the recent changes with the game.

I also cut back on the massive group of NPCs that they start off with. After getting to know them all, I had them pick one that came with them when they escaped.
 


jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
These threads may have some useful tips for you:

 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I attempted a high level remix and it wasn’t great. The two main problems with underdark IMHO is it’s quite samey on the terrain front and there’s not many NPCs to interact with. If your group is OK with that (or if you can figure out a way to mitigate those issues) then great.

We blew that campaign up with a wish spell and there was much rejoicing :)
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I would have the PCs get help at various points from either a group of higher level demon hunters that are super likeable, or some of the folks from the dwarven town near the exit.

They need some group that they actually give a toss about, or else when they leave the underdark, they will never choose to go back there again to deal with the higher level threats. IMO it is way too easy to just be genocidal and not care if the place is wiped out. 95%+ of people in the Underdark are evil anyway.

<Edit> The other thing that is a problem in almost every RPG is, "What is everybody else doing about this?" Why are people calling in PCs to deal with a problem while they sit around doing nothing? I would stress that the dwarves/demonhunters are working themselves to the bone to fix the issue, but need more help. Have problems arise, then get solved off screen by NPCs. So PCs don't feel they are doing everything themselves.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It’s tempting to answer “pick a module that doesn’t suck and run that instead,” but that wouldn’t be very helpful.

My biggest issue with the adventure is the almost total lack of player agency through the first like half of the adventure. The entire underdark sequence is just a long series of disastrous events the PCs can’t avoid or prevent, punctuated by long stretches of overland travel. It starts with the players in prison, and after they escape they’re railroaded from one underdark city to another, where they get captured, and escape when a demon lord shows up. Rinse and repeat. Honestly, I’m not really sure what can be done about this. It’s a glaring flaw with the design of the adventure, and short of a total rewrite, you just kinda have to live with it. But at least if you know to expect it, you can brace yourself for it.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
It’s tempting to answer “pick a module that doesn’t suck and run that instead,” but that wouldn’t be very helpful.

My biggest issue with the adventure is the almost total lack of player agency through the first like half of the adventure. The entire underdark sequence is just a long series of disastrous events the PCs can’t avoid or prevent, punctuated by long stretches of overland travel. It starts with the players in prison, and after they escape they’re railroaded from one underdark city to another, where they get captured, and escape when a demon lord shows up. Rinse and repeat. Honestly, I’m not really sure what can be done about this. It’s a glaring flaw with the design of the adventure, and short of a total rewrite, you just kinda have to live with it. But at least if you know to expect it, you can brace yourself for it.

I was trying to be a bit more polite.

Still think Princes of the Apocalypse is one of the better ones with minimal work to make it better.
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
It starts with the players in prison, and after they escape they’re railroaded from one underdark city to another, where they get captured, and escape when a demon lord shows up.
Adding to that, unless you’re a master story teller all the insanity effects of the Demon Lords start to feel samey. Oh another city where some of the leadership is mad and others are trying to fight against it? By the fourth one my players were rolling their eyes. Fancy locations (which aren’t even all that fancy) won’t cover up a very repetitive story.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
I am going to start DMing Out of the Abyss soon, does anyone have any advice?
OOTA is overloaded with interesting NPCs and it is worth establishing connections between some of them and the players. The dire times depicted should inevitably result in emotional partings and losses.

In my campaign, which ran about 70 sessions and topped out at level 15, I took advantage of the following opportunities -
  1. First there is a lot of underdark travel so I used the DMG guidelines for longer rests. In the end, settling on a 3 day long rest, 1 day short, and 1 hour breather (just to spend HD). That better aligned ability refresh with the pace of the campaign.
  2. The besieged town of Blingdenstone became my PC's base of operations and locus of empathy. Many a brave deep gnome befriended the party and eventually fell at their side.
  3. Rather than the contrived return to surface and events in Gauntlgrym, I found a way to make the lawful evil king of Gracklstugh a key ally. Serving much of the same purpose, but with more immediately relevant motivations. That amused my players because of course - these dwarves really are callous even if they happen to be helping the party at present.
  4. Like many published adventures, OOTA narrates world-changing events and fails to follow up the ripples out from it. I tried to think how the various factions would be impacted and where they would see their interests. And likewise on the side of demons, I tracked where I thought the major demons were on the map and the radius of their corruption of the material realm. Some - like demogorgon - have a clear path to follow. Others - like Orcus - are left more to the DM.
  5. As an example of the above, I mapped the kuo-toa diaspora (some headed north, others south, along the Darklake) and at times the party crossed paths with them. I think it is really valuable to your narrative to think of how the many underdark communities - despite being traditionally typecast as evil - will be impacted, and to create opportunities for your players to demonstrate the meaning of 'good'.
  6. I had the drow split between a powerful majority that aimed to simply depart Faerun to follow Lloth into the Abyss, and a minority who believed Lloth would expend the drow recklessly for her own ends and felt the wiser course was to return the demons to the Abyss. That of course plays well into a key ally (the drow mage) and some interesting foes (the priestess in the opening scenes, and her family).
  7. I made the barrier to the Library prevent non-good creatures entering, and allowed my characters to slide to non-good - for example if they simply murdered kuo-toa instead of recognising them as the victims they are. I made the OOTA timeline overlap the Tiamat timeline so that I could explain the absence of powerful NPCs as occupied with other world-threatening events.
  8. In the late game, I involved characters like Mordenkainen - focusing of course on 'the balance' and not necessarily on saving Faerun from the demons. I did spice up demogorgon a bit, statwise. I gave him some movement and AoE abilities that he seemed lacking.
  9. If you have Mordenkainen's then there is a really great opportunity to think about how this impacts the Blood War. The demons risk losing the Abyss, but gaining the Prime Material plane. The devils gain a chance to invade the Abyss, but risk the Material plane giving the demons far better resources. Clearly, the demons want a quick victory in the Material, while the devils want to protract any conclusion as much as possible.
I could go on, but hopefully this is enough for you to start unpacking the opportunities. OOTA is a rich, complex setting. I think the adventure path as written is really poor - it fails to grasp so many narrative opportunities! It also has this rubbishy Alice in Wonderland conceit: I strongly advise discarding that and playing events straight. They are far more powerful that way.

Once you let the characters wander into the Underdark, and meet real peoples there - heavily impacted by the most dire and powerful beings who physically corrupt the space around them - there is plenty of material to have fun with! Locations such as Blingdenstone and Gracklstugh are well enough detailed to run a hundred adventures, let alone one. Encroaching insanity gives you a lot of clear, really fun, motivations for NPCs. Altogether, OOTA is a diamond in the rough and my biggest criticism would simply be that, that places the burden on a DM to make the most of the material. Rather than treating it as a linear adventure, it is best treated as a campaign sourcebook where events are going to be propelled by the demonic incursion.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
It’s tempting to answer “pick a module that doesn’t suck and run that instead,” but that wouldn’t be very helpful.

My biggest issue with the adventure is the almost total lack of player agency through the first like half of the adventure. The entire underdark sequence is just a long series of disastrous events the PCs can’t avoid or prevent, punctuated by long stretches of overland travel. It starts with the players in prison, and after they escape they’re railroaded from one underdark city to another, where they get captured, and escape when a demon lord shows up. Rinse and repeat. Honestly, I’m not really sure what can be done about this. It’s a glaring flaw with the design of the adventure, and short of a total rewrite, you just kinda have to live with it. But at least if you know to expect it, you can brace yourself for it.
Rather than rewrite, or live with, you just let players step off the railroad and encounter the material in whatever order flows from there. You focus on the means and motives of the many groups depicted, put in motion by the Underdark-shattering actions of Lloth.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Rather than rewrite, or live with, you just let players step off the railroad and encounter the material in whatever order flows from there. You focus on the means and motives of the many groups depicted, put in motion by the Underdark-shattering actions of Lloth.
Changing the order does nothing to fix the problem of every town being “ some of them are going mad because of the demon lord, but some of them aren’t yet. They capture you and prepare to sacrifice you to the demon lord. The demon lord appears and destroys everything, but you manage to escape.
 

TheSword

Legend
I am going to start DMing Out of the Abyss soon, does anyone have any advice?
Read the books Homeland and Sojourn (particularly the latter, though it only makes sense in the context of the first) by RA Salvatore.

They aren’t long books but they do a great job of showing what day to day life may have been like in the underdark. Those two books probably informed me of the Underdark as a setting and not just a big dungeon.

incidentally I’m not a massive Salvatore fan, I just think those particular books are excellent. The rest of the Drizzt books can take a long walk off a short pier.

If you have more time, the War of the Spider Queen books build on what was first expounded in the first books I recommended.
 

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