D&D 5E Out of the Abyss: number of encounters per day in the Underdark?

CapnZapp

Legend
If you follow the random tables precisely, you get one or maybe two encounters per day.

If these encounters are easy or medium, the party is going to rip through them since there is never more than two encounters tops per day. On the other hand, if encounters are challenging (and fun), that would destroy any notion of believability that the relatively small NPC parties you meet have any chance of surviving themselves - the Underdark might be dangerous, but a bunch of Scouts can't still be alive if the Underdark serves up a level 6 Deadly threat every day on average...

In short: have any of you considered creating, say, five encounters and then having the party deal with them (fight them, avoid them, etc) all in the same day?

Preferably linked or themed encounters?

Example: A side path covered in spider webbing. After killing a couple of spiders they can find a dying NPC telling them there are more people captured by the spiders in the side passage. Then perhaps a second spider combat before they reach a larger chamber where they see various monsters and can choose which ones to confront and which ones to try passing by. Finally, the main spider colony with at least one NPC still alive that can be saved.

Etc.

Main thing about this: it isn't very strange if they previously met a a scouting party or smallish caravan that must have passed this point, since they could have fought off the first set of spiders and then chose to not investigate further and instead moved on.
 

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S'mon

Legend
"the party is going to rip through them since there is never more than two encounters tops per day."

Just change that - six 1 in 20 chances works a lot better than two 3 in 20 chances to keep players nervous.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
There is another way of making the Underdark voyage more challenging:

Take away the 100% assured long rests every night.

To me, one obvious problem with any wilderness trek (and definitely including the OotA underdark travels) is that if each night is equal to a long rest that completely destroys the DMG "expected" 6-8 encounters per long rest.

On the other hand: if you populate each day's travel with 6 encounters, that would turn the Underdark into a crowd, which we don't want. Furthermore, it would make the various described caravans and other travelers utterly implausible - that many encounters would overwhelm such small bands of NPC travellers. (And beefing up their security would only make them untouchable by the player characters...)

One way out of this dilemma and to make a slow drip of mostly non-deadly encounters challenging games-wise (not talking about story or world-building here; but D&D as a challenging game experience) is to not allow the players to insert long rests whenever and whereever they go.

Even the tiniest risk your night's rest is unfulfilling (counting as a short rest only) should transform the "one encounter a day for 30 days" monotony and keep the players on their toes.

Suggestion: Make the players believe the module is stipulating that Long Rests don't "work" automatically while in the Underdark. How?

An excellent ruse is to use the "Bad Dreams" as an excuse why. That is, save the following description for the first time the escaped characters sleep out in the Underdark:

The characters’ sleep [] is troubled and
fitful, filled with strange dreams and disturbing images.
Dark shadows seem to move and reach out toward them
as the characters wander lost through endless mazes of
tunnels. Oily tentacles slide to brush up against them,
while a great buzzing and howling rises in the distance.
Suppurating wounds burst open in clouds of spores or
crawling masses of maggots or insects. At least one or
more of the characters should wake in a cold sweat from
these nightmares after every rest, feeling as though
something is out there in the dark depths—something
far worse than the drow.​
-- Out of the Abyss page 9 (or you can get it on page 12 of DDEN3)

I am toying with the idea to make this a Saving Throw you need to make every night to be allowed to benefit from a Long Rest.

Failure means you have slept fitfully; you are not outright sleep deprived (no conditions, no exhaustion), but while your 8 hours' worth consumes that "Long Rest" it actually only counts as a Short Rest for you. Since you can only make one Long Rest per 24 hour period, you will have to go the entire day with no Long Rest (which is the point of having this rule in the first place).

The DC should be medium to easy. I am thinking DC 10 but each character can choose him- or herself which ability to use (this way no character is penalized more than any other). Con and Wis saves are self-explanatory, but if the player comes up with a good story, they can make Str-saves, Dex-saves, Int-saves or Cha-saves!

I am expecting many PCs (but not necessarily all of them) to be able to use a +3 ability modifier coupled with a +2 proficiency bonus to have a 75% chance of making the save: granting them 3 out of 4 Long Rests on average.

If you go the traditional route (and have everybody make the same Con or Wis save) the DC should probably be lower than 10 or you will have some characters miss every other long rest; which is probably a tad too harsh especially on spellcasters.
 

devincutler

Explorer
The wandering portions of OOTA are the weakest part of the adventure...and it is a horribly weak part. I don't think you have any conception yet how much wandering there is in that adventure. I didn't until I got to the later parts where the PCs are taking multiple 60 day long journeys! It is an absolute grind and basically unworkable. Not sure why they even bothered with the tables. If you used the tables as indicated, the PCs would probably encounter every encounter on it literally 20 or more times. Possibly close to a hundred or more times for the table in Chapter 2.

My advice, having run the scenario, is this:

#1) Go to DMs Guild and get some of the many well designed side encounters made specifically for OOTA. There will not be enough, even if you buy all of them, to populate the encounters, but they will give you some good centerpiece encounters to break up the wandering monotony.

#2) Pre-roll about 100 encounters per session. Roll them and then massage them to make each one slightly unique. If you get 3 grell for example, just add a twist...say a fight between the 3 grell and a hook horror. Just twist every encounter at least slightly to keep interest. In fact, preroll the encounter chances each day (see below) as well. You want no dice rolling messing up the pacing.

#3) This is a big one....you have to have a mechanism for more than 2 encounters per day. My recommendation is to assume 6 periods per day (4 while travelling, say every 3 hours, and while camped). Make the encounter chance 15% per period. And, if you roll an encounter for a period, allow a 15% chance of a second encounter in the same period. And keep rolling a 15% chance for yet another encounter in that period until you miss the 15% chance. So, for example, I check for period #1 and roll a 13. An encounter. I roll again for that same period and roll an 02...another encounter. I roll again for that period and lo and behold I roll a 10...so a third encounter. I roll again for that period and get a 62, so that's it for that period...3 encounters in a 3 hour period. How they are spread out amongst those 3 hours is up to you. You can roll 1d6 to determine the half hour interval each encounter occurs (and if they occur in the same half hour...it can be a combined encounter!).

The point to #3 is that the PCs have to feel that they cannot rest or use resources with impunity. There is really only about a 2.25% chance of 2 encounters in a single period...but that is enough with all of the rolling to keep the PCs on their toes.

#4) Design a list of about 200 weird little nothings that the PCs find along the way. Really....nothings. A skeleton. A discarded mine pick. Just a bunch of meaningless but possibly interesting found items to punctuate the travel.
 

MarkB

Legend
As mentioned, the adventure as written includes a lot of travel, especially in the early stages - and it's not difficult for the party to have bad luck on the navigation checks and take even longer. Sure, you can up the number of encounters per day, but you'll end up running an adventure that consists of session after session of nothing but random encounters with no sign of any plot progression.

I would strongly suggest only focusing on the journey for the first trip the players make, and emphasising the difficulty of finding enough to eat and drink, the challenges of improvising equipment they don't have, and other survival aspects rather than bombarding them with so much combat that they wonder how anything short of a battalion ever managed to survive a journey through the Underdark.

Once you've established the perils of navigating the Underdark, handwave it for subsequent long journeys and just run a highlights feel of encounters to give a feel for the difficulties and weirdness of the setting, otherwise you'll be playing the game for real-world years' worth of sessions consisting of 90% random travel encounters.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
If you follow the random tables precisely, you get one or maybe two encounters per day.

If these encounters are easy or medium, the party is going to rip through them since there is never more than two encounters tops per day. On the other hand, if encounters are challenging (and fun), that would destroy any notion of believability that the relatively small NPC parties you meet have any chance of surviving themselves - the Underdark might be dangerous, but a bunch of Scouts can't still be alive if the Underdark serves up a level 6 Deadly threat every day on average...

In short: have any of you considered creating, say, five encounters and then having the party deal with them (fight them, avoid them, etc) all in the same day?

Preferably linked or themed encounters?

Example: A side path covered in spider webbing. After killing a couple of spiders they can find a dying NPC telling them there are more people captured by the spiders in the side passage. Then perhaps a second spider combat before they reach a larger chamber where they see various monsters and can choose which ones to confront and which ones to try passing by. Finally, the main spider colony with at least one NPC still alive that can be saved.

Etc.

Main thing about this: it isn't very strange if they previously met a a scouting party or smallish caravan that must have passed this point, since they could have fought off the first set of spiders and then chose to not investigate further and instead moved on.
FWIW I found that the issue wasn't with the OOTA encounter tables, which are roughly fine. The issue is how you pace your rests. If the party is resting every calendar-day (rather than adventuring day) then to have meaningful encounters either travel slows to a crawl while you have a hectic 6-8 encounters per calendar day (not provided for on the OOTA tables). OTOH if you set it up so that for whatever reason they are resting less frequently e.g. Gritty Realism, then I think the Underdark is sufficiently dangerous without being too dangerous.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
FWIW I found that the issue wasn't with the OOTA encounter tables, which are roughly fine. The issue is how you pace your rests. If the party is resting every calendar-day (rather than adventuring day) then to have meaningful encounters either travel slows to a crawl while you have a hectic 6-8 encounters per calendar day (not provided for on the OOTA tables). OTOH if you set it up so that for whatever reason they are resting less frequently e.g. Gritty Realism, then I think the Underdark is sufficiently dangerous without being too dangerous.
Yes, if you accept that other parts of the adventure doesn't necessarily work well with slowed rest frequency.

In other words, the solution is always to have a *variable* rest frequency - not always one day OR one week. But different rules for different kinds of adventures - for the SAME campaign with the SAME heroes!

Why so many players have a hard time accepting this I'll never know...

Sent from my C6603 using EN World mobile app
 

MarkB

Legend
If you want to have a feeling of attrition during travel, I'd suggest that, for extended voyages, you basically RP a "worst day" of the journey rather than odd encounters spread across the entire travel time. From the OotA book, the Silken Paths are a good example of this - it's a place the PCs probably won't need to linger long, at least if they're traversing it, but in the course of a few hours' travel they'll probably go through a fair number of encounters in short succession.

Maybe preface it by having the PCs doing some foraging rolls, and checking whether they got a good night's sleep, so that you can see whether they start that day well-rested or already somewhat depleted, and by the end of it they should be feeling the strain. It conveys the feeling of how arduous the journey can be without making the players live it.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
If you want to have a feeling of attrition during travel, I'd suggest that, for extended voyages, you basically RP a "worst day" of the journey rather than odd encounters spread across the entire travel time. From the OotA book, the Silken Paths are a good example of this - it's a place the PCs probably won't need to linger long, at least if they're traversing it, but in the course of a few hours' travel they'll probably go through a fair number of encounters in short succession.

That was exactly the inspiration for my home-brewed travel rules: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?496627-Alternate-Travel-Encounter-System
 

Do those five encounters advance the overall story? Or are they just just five additional encounters for the purposes of having a full adventuring day?

The former is good. The latter is just padding, which is detrimental to the actual story (needlessly expanding the campaign while adding nothing).
If they're just there but don't actually confer any really challenge (i.e. there's no chance of death, no interesting interactions to be had) you could just narrate them. "You fight your way past a few additional swarms of spiders, but dispatch them as easily as the last group."

Really, random encounters are good for a change of pace at the table. After a bunch of roleplaying and travel, a random encounter is good to give the action orientated PCs something to do. When the attention starts to lag and people start building dice towers, you throw out a random encounter. It doesn't matter of it's just one for that day and success is a foregone conclusion, because the fun of that encounter doesn't come from winning or surviving, but engaging in that encounter.
Adding two more in rapid succession (let alone four more) doesn't have the same "break" aspect. Because, closely after three combat encounter, you don't "need" a break from roleplaying and exploration.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
The wandering portions of OOTA are the weakest part of the adventure...and it is a horribly weak part. I don't think you have any conception yet how much wandering there is in that adventure. I didn't until I got to the later parts where the PCs are taking multiple 60 day long journeys! It is an absolute grind and basically unworkable. Not sure why they even bothered with the tables. If you used the tables as indicated, the PCs would probably encounter every encounter on it literally 20 or more times. Possibly close to a hundred or more times for the table in Chapter 2.

My advice, having run the scenario, is this:

Yep. That is so very true. And if you want to have the recommended encounters per day then you just make the wandering parts longer as you run though combat after combat of meaningless foes. For often months at a time as you and a massive group of NPC wander the Underdark.
 

In short: have any of you considered creating, say, five encounters and then having the party deal with them (fight them, avoid them, etc) all in the same day?
I'd probably just deny long rests until the end of the journey, with nights on the journey counting as short rests, instead.
 

Stormdale

Explorer
I'd probably just deny long rests until the end of the journey, with nights on the journey counting as short rests, instead.

Sam. these days I tend to turn wilderness/exploration section into a 4-5 room dungeon, which is how I prefer to do my wilderness exploration these days and gloss over the mapping and day to day stuff.

I tend to preplan them and would do something along the lines of:
• Combat encounter
• Role playing encounter- may be a party of svirfneblin miners who have some useful info about a hazard up ahead.
• Underdark obstacle/hazard to overcome- eg a chasm, bridge, dangerous terrain
• Trick/trap/puzzle encounter
• Possible plot twist/complication to storyline or other event

Or even just adapt the 5 room dungeon to a small dungeon they find on the way and run that as their travel encounter on the journey.

Stormdale
 

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