D&D 5E Out of the Abyss versus Descent into Avernus - Which One to Run?

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
My group has expressed interest in these two adventures, but I'm not sure which one would be a better fit for them. I'm planning to look through both, but I'd also like to get the perspective of others who have run, played, or at least thoroughly read them. So, what are people's thoughts on these adventures?

What do you think are the main strengths and weaknesses of each one?

What would you say are the major differences between them?

Feel free to sell me on one or the other! I get the feeling the players are leaning toward Descent into Avernus, but I'm concerned that it might involve more politicking than they would prefer.
 

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I've played in both, under the same DM. I feel the DM's interest matters a lot, since my DM loves fiends and the outer planes, he was very interested in both. However, OotA didn't excite him much after reading it, but was really happy with Avernus. This significantly impacted how well he ran it, so take this into consideration.

Our OotA campaign died around level 4 or so, including a near TPK at level 1. It doesn't start particularly strong, requiring the players to be inventive and assertive under unusual circumstances while being enslaved by drow. Much of it was fairly linear, but in a couple of places you kind of fumble around looking for the next clue. Eventually no one, including the DM, was having fun, so we bailed.

We technically just finished Avernus, although we're continuing afterwards to finish up some plot hooks the DM developed before we went to Hell. The early part of the adventure in Baldur's Gate was pretty good, but like OotA requires some player ingenuity to progress. Once you get to Avernus, the adventure becomes much more linear, but there are plot points where the players have to make either/or decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions. I think the concept is better, and while it's very much a railroad, it feels like you have more freedom (you follow the railroad because it makes the most sense, not because you have to).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Out of the Abyss makes a decent underdark sourcebook, with lots of cool underdark locations and random encounter tables. As an adventure though, I find it really lacking. It starts out with the PCs in a drow prison, which they have to escape, and the first half of the adventure is just trying to escape from the underdark. It gets very formulaic very quickly: you spend several days traveling, doing one random encounter after another until you reach the next city, immediately get captured by its inhabitants, learn that there’s a conflict between the city’s inhabitants as some of them have recently formed a weird cult, then a demon lord shows up and wrecks everything giving you an opportunity to escape. Rinse and repeat until you’ve been through all the major cities and then you finally get to leave. Then the plot demands that you gather support for an excursion back into the underdark to deal with the demon lord threat. I haven’t done the second half because the first half was so awful nobody wanted to go back, so the plot couldn’t continue.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
It starts out with the PCs in a drow prison, which they have to escape, and the first half of the adventure is just trying to escape from the underdark. It gets very formulaic very quickly: you spend several days traveling, doing one random encounter after another until you reach the next city, immediately get captured by its inhabitants, learn that there’s a conflict between the city’s inhabitants as some of them have recently formed a weird cult, then a demon lord shows up and wrecks everything giving you an opportunity to escape. Rinse and repeat until you’ve been through all the major cities and then you finally get to leave.
Thanks for the summary. I don't know if that would bother this particular group, but I'll pay attention to that when I look through it.
 

Both are pretty rough around the edges for the first 20-40% of them and take no small amount of work to smooth out. I personally think decent is better just because I prefer the sandboxy approach it has for the bulk of the meat of the campaign but that could annoy some tables who don't like the open-endedness of it. It's still linear because it has to be to function as a published campaign but the critical path is more like a critical web. Plenty of points where the players can actively see their decisions impact the game.

Abyss felt like a mix of a haunting house ride and a tour bus of the underdark. Good(ish) for new players but there are quit a few points where failure is likely without either genuine clever thought or a pretty good understanding of the game as a game system. It's okay for getting the setting but the theme just doesn't quite click for what the underdark is.
 

jaspert

Villager
As a player we enjoyed the first half of OotA, but we decided not to attempt the second half as our DM was not enthusiastic about it. As a DM running DIA I think the adventure is a solid B.

One thing DIA has going for it is that since it is a newer adventure it has much better community support to make running it easier. The DM's Guild has the "DM's Bundle" which does a good job of making the various parts easier to manage, provides a few extra encounters and generally makes DM prep easier. There's also the Alexandrian Remix of DIA which changes the structure significantly which some people really like. Searching around you can find countless blog posts and forum discussions on ideas for running DIA better, improved maps, monsters etc.

Since OotA is a much older adventure there really doesn't exist this level of community support. There are supplements on the DM's Guild, but nothing as extensive as what you can get for DIA. w
 

Enrico Poli1

Adventurer
Personally I think DoA is one of the best 5e adventures. Second part requires a bit of adjustment but it's epic.

Tried to play OotA once but had a TPK at the beginning. Plus, I don't think demon lords can get lost.
 

TheSword

Legend
If you have the time and the inclination have a read of the War of the Spider Queen series. At least the first two or three books. Aside from the fact that it’s a great story - one of the best published for D&D - it’s massively inspirational for Out of the Abyss.

The way to play it is the same as if it was overground. The cities are just like overground cities but with alien and unusual inhabitants. Of course you can play everything as hostile. But it’s far more interesting to come up with reasons why they can adventure in Gracklestugh. Trade is the great leveler. and everyone has their own agenda.

The other thing is for everyone to believe their way of life is the right way. Get inside the psychology of each underdark community. What makes them tick. Exploring Gracklestugh should feel very different to Menzoberranzan.

I think Out of the Abyss requires more work than Descent but I think it offers much much more.
 

I've had reasonable success with Out of the Abyss as a sourcebook for the Underdark, but of the several published campaigns I've used or looked at it is by far the least supportive of the DM. There is no real summary at the beginning of what happens, you have to read the whole thing to figure out what the plot is and what the overall narrative looks like. The other official adventures I've run or looked at gave me a decent overview of what they were about. I've been running an adventure partially based on the book for over a year and I still don't really feel like I know what happens in the actual adventure except from other people's summaries online.

One thing that particularly irks me is that the central figure in unleashing the Demon princes is Gromph Baenre, now-exiled Drow archmage of Menzobarranzan. Fair enough, except that he then doesn't appear in the actual adventure, he's just incorporated because he's a Forgotten Realms lore character and people who have read every Drizzt novel or whatever might think its cool. And then another high-level exiled, Drow wizard character, Vizeran DeVir, is introduced to present the players with a plan of how to deal with the Demon Princes. The second guy is clearly just a stand-in for the first guy, except one whom the adventure can mess with the character of without messing with Forgotten Realms continuity and established characters. So what should be an adventure where the semi-villain who accidentally started the semi-apocalypse through his own hubris has to recruit the party to help him stop it, becomes one where the whole plot is set in motion by an offscreen character whom our heroes never meet and an unrelated-but-similar character of near identical background, status, and abilities forms a delicate and duplicitous alliance with them instead, resulting in less interesting tension, and more need for elaborate exposition. If you're going to run the adventure just make them the same character (as I'm guessing they were at some point in some draft). Then let the players kill him at the end for all the untold suffering he caused.
 
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jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Do people have any comments on whether Descent into Avernus is highly political/requires a lot of interaction with NPCs? I gather I overdid the NPC intrigue in Curse of Strahd for my players' tastes, so I'm trying to watch that in future. (Some of my players also tend to respond to that kind of thing by being smartasses, and that can be hard to salvage a credible story from.)
 
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I like both adventures, though they both have caveats. Out of Abyss is a bit more freeform, but requires more work to tie it together (and indeed, I found (using XP rather than milestones) that I needed to create a bunch of additional content to get the PCs to the levels required for it. Descent into Avernus is more on-rails (though certainly not as railroading as Hoard of the Dragon Queen) and (for my party) started off with some absolutely brutal early battles, but has some jawdropping moments that really pay off.
 

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