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5E Out of the Abyss - Alice in Wonderland? Or Reign of Fire

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Hadn't heard of EX1 so I'll check that out. Sticking with OoTA for a few reasons, not unlike most who've run an out of the box (OoTB?) adventure--great art, feels official, everything's in one place.

So to clarify the motivations about why I'll be making changes away from what's written. Yup, running it for humans that include kids. But also, I'm about 0% interested in demonic rituals, skulking around to avoid enslavement by each race of underdweller. Let's zany this up.

Running this pretty straight up till things start to get heated at the Darklake [pretty much exactly where we are in our playthrough].

It's clear two groups disagree strongly and they're pushing and shoving each other. Shushaar translates for the party that they're through the screaming and shoving they're really talking about the old ways and those who respect the lake and its bounty vs a desire for their community to be much more powerful--these ones keep gesturing upward and out toward the lake saying there's a powerful being who can help make this happen.

Chanting, singing. Pushing, shoving. And a flash. Tentacles - waves. You can't see any colors and everything smells moldy. Then that begins to pass. Several of you are on your knees. Nearby where everyone was pushing and shoving early you see that about half the fish people are reaching down into the mud to smear streaks under their bulgy eyes. They're putting shells on their shoulders. The other half are kicking clods of seaweed back and forth between themselves. They're strapping chunks of driftwood to the front of their lower leg. Someone yells. CLEAR THE PITCH! Someone grabs your arm and asks - and how about you? Football or Futbal?

Something that seems clear in each OoTA chapter is there's things going on for each race and the characters stumble into them. That's part of what we'll keep.

Will be reading back through the chapters to see how the modified approach fits--what sections still stick out and whether they're needed to tell the story or not.

The characters will be in zany extreme situations inspired by The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, and told with some zest and some deadpan à la Dumb And Dumber...

Pre "ritual" - normal

Post "ritual", off the rails. What's spreading out from each community is not madness per se but IDEAS

Darklake - a feud between soccer and football devotees

Gracklstugh - Duergar are cats, Derro are mice. The cats certainly don't question their place while the mice run around in groups, quite afraid and protective of their cheese. The cats don't fully appreciate that there's a dragon...

Neverlight Grove - as is, but most fungi delight in changing sizes and everyone loves chess [this is a good time to show visual evidence of spread--spores spotted hanging in air well before they get their, landing on things, can see things shrinking and growing when the spores land on them]

Blingdenstone - these are pioneers rebuilding their city - they're also twangy cattle ranchers locked in land feuds with each other

Menzoberranzan/Drow patrols - behind it all - they're creating this upsidedown order which is pervading through the underground [and spreading beyond...], the other thing they do...enforce gender divides of "she can" and "he can't" so obviously speak only to female party members [this has some scary potential--I'm thinking of Russel's The Sparrow for assumptions of power differentials...but we're obviously not headed THAT far!]

Gauntlgrym - here's a place to bring home some earlier dropped hints that things just don't seem what they were - everyone should now know that SOMETHING happened "they told me this place was like" or Eldeth saying "this can't be where I grew up?" Everyone is very happy--and very few people IN THE TOWN will brook disagreement with that, probably just one key vizier. But what's going on is posters of the king everywhere. Him jumping over puddles, lifting a bag full of tin cans and people stop and point "he's so strong". An absurd cult of personality. The audience confirms it. He wants the adventurers to go back down and learn about / control for his glory / so people know who's really great / the underground. The adventurers will know that really they need his army's help to get back there and put things right. The way they were.

All the crazy bad ideas fight it out and things are normal. But is that a good thing? The end.


I'm having a hard time imagining any of the WotC adventure paths are really appropriate for 8-11 year olds. Too many attention problems, turning left instead of right, general grimness and setbacks.
Every child is different. My 4 & 6 year old (and their friends) didn't have any problem picking up D&D. However, I don't know how easy the WotC adventures are, as we ran my own campaign, but they handled the game just find (though it was 4e when we started) without and simplification of the rules.


I'm actually going to break down this villains even more just for kicks;

- The Drow are cartoon fascists; think the Red Queen, Scar in the Lion King, the grasshoppers from Bug's Life. Their bad, and will kill you, their self-absorbed, think their superior. Clever and smart, but quick to underestimate you. But nothing more than that.

- Baphomet is the lord of the wild, pure wild abandon. He'll try to convince and show the players that rules and formality is for the weak and meek. Why eat your vegetables and say "please and thank you," when instead you can eat ice cream and make fun of those you don't like? He's an evil version of Baloo from the Jungle Book.

- Demogorgon is pure, unadaltured rage and temper tantrums. Not only are you right to feel angry, it's the anger that makes you strong, the rage that gives you power. You deserve your revenge. He's the classic Sith "hate leaves to the dark side, which leads to suffering," trope.

- Fraz-Urb'luu is here to trick you, solely because he enjoys it. He's your friend, he's your worst nightmare, he's constantly changing and filling your mind with doubt as to who is your friend and who is your foe. Sometimes he'll help you, sometimes he's leading you to your doom. Mixture of the Chesire Cat and Mysterio.

- Graz'zt is every negative trope about love; he's lustful and self-obsessed, and wants you to love him because he's the only one able to love you back just the way you need it. He's everything you want in a partner, except you've got to be totally devoted to him and no one else. Flips genders for whatever is necessary. He's every seductress trope wrapped into one.

- Juiblex loves to eat and consume. He should sing just to give him a little more whimsical, but his whole drive is greed for food, preferably candy and cake and everything nice.

- Orcus is a popularity hoarder, as he wants to be the center of attention. His way of doing that is raising a horde of skeletons and zombies, who all tell him how great he is. Either you got to get with the program and tell him how good he is, or there's something wrong with you. If there is, you need to die and get raised back to be "fixed." Regina from Mean Girls.

- Yeenoghu is a the king of laughs, always thinking he's funnier than he is but having a joke and pun primed for every occasion. Watching people get hurt is of course the highest form of comedy, and the more chaos there is the funnier the world. This is the Mark Hamill Joker.

- Zuggtmoy is a clinging, nitpicky mother. She knows best, and if you disagree you need your mind wiped clean for your own safety. Everyone just needs to slow down, breath the spores deeply, and good old Zuggtmoy will take care of it. She's the snake from the Jungle Book, mixed with bad-mom vibes.
I’d tweak this to be “helicopter parent” from hell, so it’s not so gendered, but all in all super stuff.

Now what are the associated adventures? Each of these must have a quest or something that, if the PCs succeed, will grant their freedom (just kidding!). :) Something OotA suffers from is the sameness of the effects of demon madness on the populations.
Sounds like Mother Gothel from Disney's Tangled would be a good inspiration. I like these takes on the villains!


Here's a quick overview of how this adventure has unfolded over the past months.

Chapter 1: Prisoners of the Drow

Around 3 sessions. Playing this with wife and two younger kids who have not played before.

Sons first rolls...can't roll below 18, managed to break out of shackles and free fellow prisoners. Daughter, focused on how to make the jailers trust her.

Played straight as written. Vrock encounter not adjusted. My wife tracks use of cantrips against 1st level slots. Months later still thinks they use a slot--we last played 3.5ed.

Chapter 2: Into Darkness

Was pretty enamored with all the miscellaneous bits in this chapter--tried to work a bunch of them in. Still working on the standard story line but starting to think ahead. Do I want my kids thinking about ritual sacrifice...? Thematically this chapter is the random crap that happens when you're running for your life in the underdark.

So, we're still on track. Check.

Not playing frequently, not taking good notes. My players likely don't even remember guides attempting to extort them as they cross a network of webs. We didn't write down who had the nice shiny sword from the temple (intended to be seized [temporarily] by the guards at the gate of Grakklestugh - where at this point I was at least sure we were heading). They do remember the Society of Brilliance--I've had them come back a few times since also--but mostly I saved them for later, and they actually entered the story after chapter 3.

I believe we did 2 full sessions here--also tried playing in the basement. Was pretty great for not having to tear down game to free up table. Is currently being used...for...other purposes. More's the pity.

Chapter 3: The Darklake

Actually this chapter was a quick tag into, and a quicker tag OUT OF Sloobbludop.

Things were going well "on the rails". Sure you can have your players go to either chapter 3, or 4, or 5...or MAYBE 6...or technically 15...if they've got this death wish to chase the Drow chasing them. But, it seems pretty obviously you're really intended to do these in numerical order.

So I get to page 47 where we're murdering people and draining their blood into a basin and start really thinking.

We've already run the part of the adventure where the characters get to town, they see horrible stuff (I'm minimizing this)--and for us, the party + NPC prisoners are in a boat on the edge of town with the waves starting to pick up as the Demogorgon comes into town and everybody starts going crazy. This is when I have the idea of "well, it's Alice and Wonderland right--I read in every piece of promotional material (and it's why I bought this) that this is both sorta-serious but ALSO WACKY" and I'm going to have to make the wacky, aren't I?"

To this point the extend of the "wacky" is that the NPC Shuushar (a kuo-toa) is great. He speaks - well I speak for him - with a finger between the lips wiggled up and down. Classic voice. And I want some more dat.

So we pause for a bit and I try to figure this thing out. YES everything is crazy. NO it's not all murder. Chapter 3 is not two murdering factions but football (european) fans vs. football (american) fans. The HUGE WEAKNESS to this is I've already run the scene so I need to introduce it with "you all have huge headaches like you've seen a vision of the future--player 1 can't smell, player 2 can't see color, and player 3 can barely hear--but what you see in front of you now is a huge screaming crowd".

It didn't make any sense. We ran out of there, talked to the Society of Brilliance, faced a skeleton warrior, and I think everybody just scratched their head a bunch...

That's 2 more sessions in the can.

What's coming up? Well, more thoughtful, I've got ideas I'm more excited running. Next up is a town full of Duegar--most of whom behave and sound like cats--with an underclass of Derro--all of which personify mice. After that it's cattle-ranching Svirfneblin of blingdenstone with their outrageous southern accents and exaggerated hospitality/manners focus. Some peripheral encounters with chess-playing munchrooms (yes, not mushrooms). Yup, as then--still a little weak on the ending. More on that in a bit.

Chapter 4: Gracklstugh

This is where we're at now.

Getting in was a little rocky. While we played out the whole "I'm not going to let you in unless I get paid--and remember that I work for a lady who is very into law/order so you'll want to use that later" thing from page 58, it was one of those sinking moments as a DM.

You plan out this whole cool scene. Your players go 'hunh?' And while this is dragging on I'm stressing that the written material in this chapter is saturated with "if players do this they'll get REenslaved" which is off the table for our group.

But there's hope.

And it struck quickly.

When you ignore the chapter's express purpose of confronting everyone with a host of petty instances of madness and endless hectoring by the NPCs of what activities will lead to enslavement--you've got roleplaying gold.

See the stoneguard are superior. In my world they "meow" a lot and lick their hands. Just to let you know. They want to know all that's unlawful and give some examples. Plus they want their stone back (yeah, they're the stonespeakers too). If they can get info they give players material supplies. And if they get their stone back...they'll guide the players closer to the surface. Which should be what escaping prisoners want.

Now the keepers of the flame just want things to be normal again. So heyo - how 'bout you find our egg??? But about the same time players also converse with a dragon who also wants the egg, plus info on town. And he'll pay up. And quick.

All roads lead to the whorlstone tunnels and in section 1 LO AND BEHOLD there's a stone and an egg--but too many derro there to get it. They go to get help...and when they come back before they can even figure out how to doublecross every body and deliver the stone + the egg (to two different parties mind you)...the goods are gone.

We're chasing it into 1a because a lone derro cackles at them and runs into a crack [they don't yet have mushrooms to make them small--those are in area 4].

Area 2 seems too dangerous--a lake we can't see into??

So it's area 1b on the way to 3. Hello old friend. But in our adventure you're arranging blocks of moldy cheese??? And you animate them into cheese golems? And they stink? But we're from Wisconsin so we call them CHEESE HEADS?? Whoah. That aftermath is worse than a blue brie.

Now area 3 which is pretty chill because all the munchroom people start walking of their own accord to area 4. Where we have to hack through mushrooms (using the guardians that Errde provided for this event to help--funny how NPCs never seem to get involved in combat right?), and generally burn a tunnel to the other side.

My wife discovers that a flaming ball of fire you can move at will for 1 minute is both awesome, and a bit touchy to control when facing swarms that are in another players square...and has a 50% chance to explode nearby fungus based on pg 73...but is definitely once again the MVP. Plus has cleric healing. Whelp until rolling a 1 and a 2 (2d8) on that 2nd level spell.

Then we did what we've been doing--every 1.5 to 2hr we call it a wrap.

Very weird pacing as some days people roll a d6 when they make an attack. But for all that we're being lead by a ghost to recover its hand (made mostly of cheese) so we can get some goods with which to barter for our ultimate freedom. Which is surely just a step or two away right?

Great times.

Now a quick aside--how'z it gonna end? Well, there's great suggestions made in this thread for how to make demon lords "wacky". That is cool input that's appreciated. Now, it should be said that the scrum of demon lords at the end can be retoned into a crazy tea party--but the first points of consideration are still the most basic. Having fought for their lives to escape the underdark--characters are supposed to play politics to get an army, sleuth for hidden artifacts, willingly return to (as invaders) the realm that they escaped...and then mostly sit on the sidelines and watch demons crush each other.

And I'm not yet sure that's where we're headed.

Another 5 or 6 sessions down! I've got maybe 3 more to figure this out. Or--the default ending would be "congrats - you escaped!"

There are 5e Conversions for Gardens of Ynn [Actual Play] An excursion into the Gardens of Ynn [5e]

A Red & Pleasant Land is still one of my favorites. Avoid combat and master politics and maybe your character makes it out alive.

Ultraviolet Grassland is not Alice but it is all about the travel. Actually very entertaining to play. Use Black Hack or another similar rules system that just requires a lot of dice rolling to randomly create a character.

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game