I really like the campaign elements of this book. The NPCs are colourful and bizarre characters, they should work really well as allies or antagonists to the PCs, sometimes even both at the same time. The randomly generated encounters really make the Underdark feel alive, I don't think players will be saying "oh its just a random encounter", they feel like they really mesh well with the main story. I also like the degree of complexity in the dungeons, they feel like they skew a bit more naturalistic/simple than the previous 5e modules which will make them work better with the theater of the mind assumptions of 5e. You don't have that feeling that "nobody would ever build something this arbitrarily convoluted" you get in more gamified dungeons. My only complaint is that the book is very light on added system content, no new spells, no new races, half of the six new magic items are re-skins of existing ones. The regular bestiary section is satisfactory, though they could have introduced a few more "new" underdark creature in addition to the variation on existing ones like duregar and myconids. The Demon Lords are all pretty impressive, any one of them being worthy of being the final boss of a campaign, but I feel like the 16 pages dedicated just to them could have been better utilized adding more variety to the regular bestiary and magic items.
What can be said about Wizards' new epic adventure module? Epic. Epic on scope, in setting, in combining two elements that I love: horror and fantasy. The good folk of Green Ronin, who have partnered with Wizards to deliver the newest adventure series takes your characters from level 1 to level 15. Many have compared this mod to games like Mask of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express by Chaosium, both which have won major game design awards and which truly encapsulate adventure in a world going mad. Besides the comparisons, this is probably going to be one of D&D's historic module series, akin to Vault of the Drow and Tomb of Horror. What I love about it is the simple plug and play, you have various locales that are interconnected, but not in a linear fashion. As a DM I have the freedom to choose which encounters matter to my story. This and the fact that at the begining, in a very origial way, the players dont even need to know each other. Best part: Demons, lots of them and while they are given stats, the best survival chance is for the players to learn stealth, and escape. This book is grand in design, and the labor of love shows in the NPC's, which have a whimsical element to contrast the horror/demonic madness, that prevades the setting. Its a very nice touch and very skillfully done. Overall, I give this mod 5 + out of 5.
Out of the Abyss is a flexible story driven campaign that balances the line between a linear plot with freedom for the party to go and explore areas and talk to people in the order they want. The campaign also provides a good balance of colorful people and places against the backdrop of darkness and madness. A first time Dungeon Master might have an easier time with Princes of the Apocalypse, as this is not an adventure that I would have been able to run well as a rookie with the high number of NPCs and madness rules needing to be run. That being said, this book provides more than just an adventure that links a bunch of Underdark encounters together. Dungeon Masters are provided with lots of support to run each interesting location and really good set encounters are provided to bridge travel.
The first half of the adventure did a great job giving the players options to figure out an escape and where to travel. I felt like the second half asked the players to push through the adventure with a little less freedom, but the areas they are asked to explore are varied and the creatures they encounter will keep them entertained. Even with the plot being a little less freeform in the second half, players should still feel in control, especially if they are motivated to get to the exciting finale against Demogorgon.
This book will give you everything you need for your group to play for a 15 level campaign or its can work nearly as well as a sourcebook for running your own Underdark adventure.
A whole set of 8 classic Demon Lords statted to kill, a fresh new take on a classic environment in a generic campaign setting... What's not to love? Oh, and no heavy emphasis on a certain Drow Ranger... (grins)
I picked up Out of the Abyss at my FLGS early on Friday morning and worked through devouring its contents over the long Labor Day weekend, in between gorging myself on food and visiting with family and friends. More than the other campaigns to be released so far for 5th Edition (and I mean the big hardcover, WotC produced ones) this one makes me want to get a group together NOW and run it. The beginning is engaging enough (one of the toughest parts of any campaign is the beginning, and this one, while not entirely original, relies on a good standby to get things going) but it's the NPCs right away that really get me eager to DM it. They're interesting, they're fun to read, and should be memorable to play out at the table as well. The desperate flight from the opening scene into the bewildering tunnels of the Underdark, now infused with demonic madness, make for some incredibly fun set pieces that I can see the players deciding - for themselves with NPC input - to head towards in an effort to be free of their tormentors. The campaign is broken up into two distinct pieces, and the second half has the PCs taking a much more active hand in figuring out what's actually going on, mainly because of their interactions and information gleaned in the first part.The layout of the adventure is my only gripe, and it's not a major one, but it would be nice to have a chapter that gathers together all of the disparate elements of the campaign and presents them together, maybe even a kind of plot web that you can connect the points as you go along to form your own unique spin on the campaign. Something that summarizes the big events that are laid out, as otherwise you have to have read and remembered some crucial information that is otherwise hidden in the walls of text.In summation - Dare I descend? Dare I? I dare, says I!
by Christopher Perkins, Adam Lee, Richard Whitters
The Underdark is a subterranean wonderland, a vast and twisted labyrinth where fear reigns. It is the home of horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day. It is here that the dark elf Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, casts a foul spell meant to ignite a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark and tears open portals to the demonic Abyss. What steps through surprises even him, and from that moment on, the insanity that pervades the Underdark escalates and threatens to shake the Forgotten Realms to its foundations. Stop the madness before it consumes you!
This is a 250 page two-part adventure in the underdark that is, ostensibly, centered around demonlords. Some jackass drow cast a spell and now the demonlords have appeared in the underdark ... but no one really knows that yet. The party starts off as prisoners, escapes, and makes their way out of the underdark, all in part one. In part two the party goes back into mess up the demonlords. It ends with a Royal Rumble, with each of the demonlords duking it out in a mass giant demonlord melee … that the party can determine the location of.
WOTC has given a couple of interviews in which they compare the underdark in this adventure to Alice in Wonderland. That is marketing nonsense; there is none/very little of that in this product. It is a serviceable adventure that will takes mountains of time to prep to play. It does a much better job than Hoard/Princes in presenting an adventuring environment, and even shines at times in some of the things it puts forward, especially with NPC’s and factions. It is quite weak in two ways: organization and what I’m calling, today, evocative specificity. In spite of this is manages to do an ok job presenting a sandboxy like environment with a plot. It’s light on railroads and heavy on needed DM prep … but maybe there is a way around that. As with all modern WOTC products, no one who has ever run a game at the table seems to have been involved in this product.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first and we’ll start with the organization of the product. There are roughly thirteen underdark locations descriptions, each in a separate chapter. There are also three of so “events” that get a separate chapter. Finally there are two chapters, one for the first “escape” half and one for the second “invade” half, that describe moving through the underdark. What there is not is an introduction or overview of the adventure to help you figure out what the F is going on. I’m a HUGE fan of plot coming out during play. Deep Carbon Observatory did this wonderfully. It was also much shorter and had no plot embedded in it. For a 250 page adventure with a plot there needs to be an overview that tells you how things work together.
The second part of the organizational problem lies with the chapters themselves, and more specifically with the locale chapters, which make up the majority of the book. They are laid out terribly. Each of these chapters is trying to do two things: describe the location and describe what happens at the location … to the party. This is the principal mechanism in which this sandbox has plot. You get to choose where you go, and what you do there, but there are events and motivations there as well, all related to the plot. The locale descriptions revolve around places, personalities, and factions … and it’s generally mixed in the plot portion. What you end up with a disconnected eventi-sh based description of the location. If the party doesn’t follow the script you’re left hunting the wumpus. Separating the two types of data would have been a much wiser decision, and allowed for better organization … which means better support for the DM. This is combined with ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE layout templates that WOTC is using for these. The headings, colors, size, break-outs, etc all run together. It is terrible from a “easy on the eyes/picking out what I need to” standpoint. I’m pretty sure Princes and Hoard used the same layout.
The end result of this is that the chapters are hard to read and understand. This is not an adventure you are going to be able to pick up, read through, and run at the table. There will be a lot of rereading, photocopying, note taking, reference sheet preparing, and so on. Combined with the sandbox nature, that MAY mean you need to do that for several locations at the same time in order to be able to deal with the party’s free will. Maybe. The one saving grace here is the “Travel in the underdark” chapters. The chapter locations are relatively far apart. Two to three weeks of travel to get between locations is not uncommon. This COULD mean that you could roll some random encounters in the Travelling chapter, etc, and that can serve as a breakpoint for the DM, giving them enough time to run content until the end of the evening and, presumably, a week off to prep the next location chapter. That’s not a valid excuse for the crap organization job of the chapters, but it is a decent workaround.
The second issue is a general lack of detail, or, perhaps, misplaced detail. The drow guards sleep on pallets. Gee, that’s exciting. Wouldn’t it be much cooler if they slept in spiderweb hammocks, or maybe cocoon pods? That would reinforce the Alice in Wonderland nature that WOTC claims to be present in the product. There are multiple examples of this all over the book. Choices are made to describe something in length and detail which is completely unjustified. Meanwhile, other things are left a little too open-ended for my tastes. For example, there’s an EXCELLENT wandering encounter with The Society of Brilliance. There are some “monsters”, each of which has an 18 int and is fluent in multiple languages. They are dedicated to solving the problems of the underdark. That’s about it. That’s a GREAT encounter, but with just a little more it would have been even better. Instead of paragraph after paragraph of detail that is meaningless, a sentence on the NPC’s personality and maybe the problem they are specializing in? That would have really brought these folks to life. There’s this fine line in providing inspiration to the DM. It’s easy to provide too little and, perhaps, claim it’s left to the DM. Frequently when something is TOO open-ended the mind can’t focus. By constraining things just a little the mind can then explode onward. Not a paragraph. Not “Doing the DMs job for them.” Not a bunch of read-aloud. Just a sentence more to narrow things down a bit. This adventure is much better than Hoard/Rise/Princes in this respect, but still pales in comparison to a well written adventure. Another nice example of this is the madness that is infecting the underdark as the demonlords influence grows. There was a great opportunity here to provide some bizarre examples in each locations of freaky stuff going on. Instead the madness manifests as “psychotic rampage” … over and over again. No OCD scenes. No random mandelbrots in blood, while blind. Nope, just Monster Screaming Demonlord Battlecry and Attacking. Seriously, just about every time they yell “For the faceless one!” and attack, or something similar. They didn’t even try and make it interesting. L>A>M>E The magic items are almost always just as lame. No Alice/demontainted stuff here. Generic book treasure. Yawn.
Obvious railroads are few, but jarring when you run into them. The locations are, otherwise a little formulaic. There’s this “random” cave in of the tunnel which blocks off your access, front and rear, but opens a side passage to a temple next door to the tunnel. Uh huh. Nice one there. [Aside: the temple is in the process of flooding. It could have been just a bit more obvious that you NEED to make it flood to get out.] There’s a second one also, AN EVENT, that clearly represents someone in a meeting saying “We really need a big finish for the first part of this adventure. What can you give me?” There’s this “the drow are chasing us” mechanic going on through the first half of the adventure. Choices the party makes will cause the drow to get closer or fall further behind. It’s GREAT … if only partially implemented. The location chapters have details on actions to cause the drow to advance/get lost, but they don’t have much in the way of how that manifests. As a result the party doesn’t really know they are being chased until the drow catch them. A small table at each location for how the various chase levels manifest would have been great. That’s that lack of detail thing again. Anyway, I digress. As the party are leaving he underdark they are attacked by the following drow who have caught up to them! That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. None of the parties choices have been meaningful. They’ve all been taken away in an instant because some jackass wanted a big combat scene as the party exit the underdark. That’s stupid and insulting. It stinks of the Hoard/Rise style instead of a more open-ended style from Phandelver and most of this adventure.
Things DO get a bit formulaic as well. Show up at a location. They try to capture you as slaves/arrest you/offer you a job. One factions, the leaders, want to suppress another faction …. invariably the one touched by the demonlords madness. It seriously happens every time in the first half. Capture you, offer you freedom if you kill the other faction. There ARE factions, sometimes more than two, and that’s GREAT. It offers wonderful opportunities. The lame captured/arrested/hired mission style of play IS one way to add plot to a sandbox … but it's far too formulaic in this. The worse example is the dwarf city in which EVERYONE is trying to capture you as slaves or arrest you for any reason … so you can get offered your freedom in you go on a mission.
That’s a lot of negative, and I do tend to focus on the negative. On the positive side it IS a more open and less linear style of adventure and that’s very refreshing coming from WOTC. The presence of the factions EVERYWHERE is a great thing. There are memorable NPC’s, quite a few of which are willing to join your party. How about an intelligent gelatinous cube as a hireling? The first chapter, the prison break, starts you off in this regard with a HOST of fellow prisoners with different personalities, goals, and are quite memorable. [Too much of a good thing? The DM could get saddled with too many extras to run. Anything smelling remotely like “DM pet NPC” sets off a hair trigger for me.] The fungus level is a nice little place that is the closest to a “Bizarre/Alice” theme. The end of the adventure has each party member taking control of a demonlord for a titanic battle royale among the various demonlords. That alone is a nice end cap to a campaign. It DOES manage to marry plot to sandbox in at least a halfway decent manner that is NOT completely full of railroads. It does stretch its legs sometimes and get VERY good, such as with portions of the Society of Brilliance.
It’s worth noting as well that the adventure uses quite a few of “minor rules.” Madness, exhaustion, downtime activities … all are represented in the adventure. They’ve done a fairly good job integrating them in. Crossing an underground river? I bet someone wants to make a raft! Downtime activities. Similarly, the madness rules are used to help represent the incursion of chaos from the abyss and the impact it has on those nearby. These minor rules are presented well and integrated well into the adventure. They don’t feel like a tack on. Nor do they feel onerous as, say, the rules from Wilderness Survival Guide did. Instead they are abstracted to a degree that they are not a burden to play and, in fact, support it. Nicely done.
I would suggest that it’s the best adventure from WOTC since Phandelver. It’s going to take MAJOR work to prep the chapters/locations, but in the end you’d have something halfway decent to run. I just wish WOTC didn’t you work so hard to have fun.
Unlike Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat (which are plot-driven) or Princes of the Apocalypse (which is static-location-driven), Out of the Abyss is very character-driven. By this I mean that this adventure is full of wacky, memorably NPCs, all of whom want something from the party or stand as an obstacle to their success. Sure, there are some dungeons, but the adventure spends a lot more words describing the weird people who live there than the traps and treasures within. One of the best examples of NPCs driving the action are the drow slavers who begin the game as the party's captors; even after you escape, they continue to antagonize the PCs, hounding their trail and preventing them from staying too long in one place.I love this style of adventure, and I'm impressed with the creativity and quality of the NPCs, and also with the amount of effort the authors have put into providing players options and providing DMs with guidelines. I'm kind of really excited about playing this adventure!
Like others have discussed, this adventure appeals to me due to the Underdark landscape, the ability to pull what I want in or out of adventure, a very close sandbox-y adventure that I'll enjoy running since it doesn't appear to railroady as a player. Excellent job Green Ronin and WoTC, Great Stuff!
There is a lot of great content in this module from what I have read so far (all of Chapter 1 and then skimming the rest of the book). However, one thing is irking me bad here; where in the book do I find out what is generally going on? I personally know what "Rage of Demons" is about, as I have been reading online forums for the last several months. But I want to approach this from the perspective of a DM who has not done so. In this book, it just throws you into the first scene and goes from there. That is just fine, but you keep hearing "Demon Lords" sprinkled thorugh the text, with no justification as to why they are present, or worse yet, implying that you already know why they are mentioned. As a DM I want at least a couple of paragraphs worth of synopsis at the beginning that can be easily located and gives you a birds-eye view of what all this is going to be about. Other than the blurb on the back cover, I have yet to find any information in the book that tells why the all the demon lords are running amok in the Underdark. That is just poor organization.Other than that one very present gripe, I like what I am seeing.
To begin with, I should provide a disclaimer that, though I am probably in the minority, I prefer story/plot/event driven adventures. While I enjoy a sandbox now and then, it still needs to have a strong goal and interesting set pieces. So take that into consideration for any bias.
I was really intrigued by the premise of Abyss. Pitting characters against Demons, Drow and weird Underdark creatures with interesting NPCs to interact with and cool locations to explore. The overarching plot of stopping demon lords on the rampage seemed good too.
After reading through it the authors clearly nailed the interesting NPCs and strange locations part. However the execution fell short for me in two areas. Plot/Motivation and interesting and challenging encounters and situations. In fact when reading through it, the book felt far more like a campaign setting with a random encounter generator then an adventure. This might be somewhat due to the layout of the material which did not lend itself well at all to DMs trying to pick up threads of that is going on and getting a big picture.
From a plot perspective the entire first half of the adventure really boiled down to escape the Underdark alive and on the way get hit over the head multiple times that demon lords are spreading madness. I felt like that plot could have been covered well in one or two chapters at most because a lot of it felt like it was just repeating the same theme. Yes there are mini-adventures in the locations, but again they really didn’t feel inspiring or like they advanced the story. They just again, reinforced that demon lords are on the loose. I would have been ok with the repetition even, if it felt like the madness was getting worse, giving it more of a sense of urgency. But it really felt like in each location the PCs had to uncover that there is something wrong and NPCs are slowly going crazy.
Once the PCs finally make it to the surface world. There is only a brief chapter about getting downtime. This was a huge letdown. It was a perfect opportunity to show vs. tell that what was unleashed in the Underdark is a threat to the surface world too. Instead all we get is NPCs in the underdark telling the characters that the surface world is next. An opportunity squandered to get players who are from the surface world really invested and motivated. I would have preferred this chapter to be expanded and the previous chapters shortened.
The final part of the book is a bit more railroad, and honestly a bit formulaic, but at this point I (at least when reading through it) felt like I would really struggle as a player or DM to be very invested at that point.
To sum up, I think Out of the Abyss could best be described as an awesome campaign setting book, with a mediocre adventure attached. If your group loves sandboxes where they come up with their own motivations and goals and the “big” story arc is really secondary to that, then I think you will definitely enjoy this. Or if you are looking for a great Underdark setting book, this is a must buy. Beyond that it is a pass.
Out of the Abyss is the first WotC product that has inspired me to write a review.
This review has no spoilers.There are several things I'd like to talk about in detail, but beforehand I should day that I'm a DM who writes 95% of my own material. It's not that I disdain published adventures. I just feel I do a better job keeping all the conditional events in mind during play when the story has come out of my own head, and that writing settings and adventures is a fun activity for me. So I seldom buy adventures, but I do buy campaign settings to mine for ideas.
I was interested in this adventure path for the promised insanity and whimsy, not for the demons. I wanted to see how WotC went about creating an adventure with these moods. I was not disappointed, and I learned some things from this book, so I consider it money well spend. And I ended up loving the demons too!
OK, off we go!
The Good Stuff
The book is beautiful, with evocative interior art. A lot of this art is exotic locations and NPC portraits, so you can use it to get your players into the setting. The adventure path is well organized. Some of these describe Underdark communities with a handful of encounters and mini-dungeons. Some of these give guidance to the DM: How to get the PCs from one location in the Underdark to another, how to get them back into the Underdark after they escape. Some of them are almost mini-settings: the drow city and dwarf city, which I will not attempt to spell correctly.
The adventure is advertised from levels 1-15, but the first half (escaping the Underdark) takes players only to level 8 and holds together very well as a smaller campaign. And it need not take the players even to level 8; depending on the choices they make they could escape earlier. So you shouldn't hesitate to run this for your players--you don't have to play out the whole thing to create a satisfying story. Likewise, if your players are already high level, it's easy to skip the early parts of the adventure and introduce them to the Underdark later in the story. This aspect of the adventure design is very nice.
The book has some innovative suggestions for increasing player agency and getting them into the mood. For example, I think it's no secret now that the players start (at level 1) as prisoners of the drow. Rather than have the DM act out all the unusual NPCs imprisoned with them, which would take the spotlight from the players, it suggests assigning each player one NPC to run alongside their PC. And there are lots of places in the book where these initial NPCs play a role, and lots of opportunities for other NPCs to join the party. I like this approach because players are often very conservative playing their own PCs (to keep them alive!), and giving them the NPCs to play with will encourage them to act out and take risks they might not otherwise.
The book contains a wealth of information that can be used to enrich any campaign, including descriptions of natural features, Underdark geography, portable communities, encounter tables, and more. Even if I never run the adventure, I do not regret buying it; I can use it to greatly enrich any dungeon adventure.
How about the adventures themselves? Well, I can definitely say that the encounters are well-designed, evocative, and inventive. There are lots of them, and they look easy to run. The large maps (like the cities) are clearly subdivided into smaller encounter areas, and these fragments are reprinted near their room descriptions which is very helpful. Your players will have a lot of fun.
Whimsy is an important element of the adventure, but it can be easily emphasized or downplayed. If you and your players have fun improvising dialog and acting out quirks, then you'll find plenty of hooks for that in the NPCs and plenty of opportunities for the players to go insane themselves. If you want a more serious game then you can easily ignore the whimsical quirks/insanities and focus on the grim and deadly types of madness.
The story is deeply embedded in the Forgotten Realms. There is a ton of material that you can easily pull out and rebrand to your own campaign, and you don't need to be a FR expert to run the game smoothly because the really important information (such as brief descriptions of the major factions) is given in the book. But some of the encounter areas cite FR history (e.g. Blingdenstone) and the high-level half of the campaign relies on this history heavily to motivate major NPCs.
The adventure relies on random encounters to deliver a large portion of the XP. This is neither good nor bad--the Underdark is supposed to be a dangerous place, and the book succeeds in making travel from one location to another dangerous. There are plenty of random encounter tables to spice up the travel, and these do a good job of making the endless tunnels less monotonous. For example, in some areas you roll for both a terrain feature and a monster. Another good design idea.
The high-level chapters are less fleshed out than the low-level chapters. This is not a problem for me, because it's harder to predict the capabilities of high-level PCs, and I think it makes sense to ask the DM to carry more of the load in the second half. The book also offers lots of suggestions to keep the second half from being a railroad--player agency is clearly important to the writers. But if you're a new DM and hoping for an adventure path that doesn't require a lot of effort to prepare, the second half doesn't meet that criterion.
The encounter areas are all very small, with only a handful of rooms. For example, Blingdenstone has over 40 major caverns, but its 4 mini-adventures are all tightly contained in groups of 4-5 rooms each. The writers clearly wanted players to complete one or two story milestones per evening. But this approach has some side effects--it undermines the sense of sprawling majesty that I want to convey in an Underdark campaign, and on a more practical level I think the players will be able to take a long rest after nearly every milestone.
Finally, the encounters strike me as rather easy--the number of opponents is usually small, or they arrive in waves. This is easy to adjust in play, of course, just by adding a couple more creatures or simply by using monster intelligence and tactics ruthlessly. One nice thing is that a lot of the encounters involve intelligent monsters.
I highly recommend this book to all DMs interested in running an Underdark-style campaign, whether or not they like the Forgotten Realms and whether or not they intend to write their own adventures and campaign arc. There are lots of interesting places to see and things to do here, and the book has made it very easy to take what you like and leave the rest. And the overall story is well constructed and satisfying.
I've played a lot of APs of late. Most from Paizo. I'm tired of running APs and want to do some homebrew stuff… but I want to run Out of the Abyss.
I've read WotC's past offerings. They're okay and a good source of inspiration, full of content to steal. I've never liked one of them enough to run straight… but I want to run Out of the Abyss.
It's good. There are oddities and problems but it's really good. I'm uncertain how easy it would be to run for a new Dungeon Master, but it starts off simple enough that it should ease DMs into the craziness. It should be easy enough to manage in the beginning, especially with the absence of a background lore dump. The hardest part might be the NPCs. Because there are a lot of them to manage. Regardless, it's the best of the storyline adventures. Hands down.
This is the first 5e module I actually bought and I'm very impressed. Looking forward to running this game soon.
It's very sandboxey, a huge plus, has great interesting characters, another big plus, and really mixes up our old assumptions of the Underdark, but in a way that's consistent with the established world.
This is really more of a mini campaign setting than just a mega adventure. I love the freedom it grants the players, but enough interesting set pieces and events to keep them moving. I havent been this excited about running a D&D adventure since the Red Hand of Doom.
Excellent adventure design and a compelling cast of weird NPCs make this adventure a must: to run, to just read and take inspiration from, you name it. The depth of the material is such that you could actually use this as a sourcebook for the Underdark, even though the adventure itself *is*very much in there.
I don't really see the sandbox/hex-crawl aspect that others have cited. This is no Kingmaker, to be sure: it's a non-linear story-driven adventure, in which the characters actually have a say on their next step. The railroaded parts are few and far-between, and even though there is a "natural" way of proceeding through the main story the characters are left an vast degree of freedom - especially when you compare this adventure to other 5E products such as HotDQ/RoT and Princes.
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss (sandbox GM review)
Out of the Abyss is a fantastic pull-no-punches epic adventure, with evocative writing, colorful NPCs, and brilliantly detailed Underdark setting. The only drawback is weak organization that will have you developing a bit of Abyssal madness flipping about trying to remember where you saw an NPC's name or which section had that random encounter table you need. It requires the DMG and Monster Manual, and I would personally recommend new GMs get some experience under their belt before running this one. For a seasoned GM and dedicated players? It's a treasure trove of awesome!
I purchased Out of the Abyss with the intention to adapt it for an Underdark sandbox-style campaign based on the old AD&D boxed set Night Below. And man, I am happy that I did. Steve Kenson, the lead designer, knocked it out of the park with the encounter tables and the evocative descriptions of the various micro-regions in the Underdark.
That said, it desperately needs a few pages of introduction and possibly an index to a help a harried GM keep track of all the moving parts. Here's my break-down of the adventure (17 chapters & 4 appendices) for sandbox GMs like me looking for an Underdark adventure setting...
1. Prisoners of the Drow: About 1/2 the chapter is description of Velkynvelve, a drow outpost where slaves are held prior to transport to Menzoberranzan. Velkynvelve could easily be used by a sandbox GM.
2. Into the Darkness: Very useful generic Underdark encounter/terrain tables, fungi descriptions, adaptable rules about being pursued thru the Underdark (by drow), and 4 encounters you can place pretty much wherever you want (The Silken Paths, Hook Horror Hunt, The Oozing Temple, and Lost Tomb of Khaem).
3. The Darklake: Evocative Underdark aquifer with encounter/terrain tables and a interesting little kuo-toa settlement called Sloobludop.
4. Gracklstugh: Well-detailed duergar "City of Blades" with encounter tables, NPCs & intrigues, notes on duergar culture, district-by-district descriptions, and Whorlstone Tunnels dungeon inhabited by derro cultists.
5. Neverlight Grove: A myconid community under corrupting influence, with encounter tables, and a mini-dungeon leading to the lair Zuggtmoy has carved out for herself in the Underdark.
6. Blingdenstone: A svirfneblin (deep gnome) settlement, with encounter tables, interesting NPCs with tons of side quests, district-by-district descriptions, and a nasty dungeon called The Pudding Court.
7. Escape from the Underdark: Pretty much ignore this chapter, unless you need a good Underdark Chase complications table.
8. Audience in Gauntlgrym: Pretty much ignore this chapter.
9. Mantol-Derith: Weak chapter. A neutral Underdark trading outpost, with some loosely sketched out NPCs, area descriptions, and an overall sense of an opportunity for intrigue that was missed. I actually found the way Mantol-Derith was used in the D&D Next playtest adventure "Return to Blingdenstone" to be much better.
10. Descent into the Depths: Interesting ideas about running a party with a large number of followers thru the Underdark, with random events tables, downtime activity for establishing Underdark outposts, and a lot about what's been happening about various Underdark regions after certain PC actions. Some hidden gems in here, but surrounded by a lot of stuff that sandbox GMs won't have any interest in.
11. Gravenhollow: An ancient stone giant library that's very very evocative. However, about half this chapter deals with visions of things relating to the Demon Lords, so be prepared to do some work to fit it into your sandbox game.
12. The Tower of Vengeance: Pretty much ignore this chapter. Potentially you could adapt it into some kind of solitary drow archmage's stronghold, but there isn't much in the way of area descriptions so you'd be doing a lot of the heavy lifting yourself.
13. The Wormwrithings: Here we go! Back to sandbox stuff! Old caverns carved by a purple worm, with encounter tables, and several mini-dungeons (Troglodyte Lair, Purple Worm Nursery, and The Vast Oblivium - lair of a beholder).
14. The Labyrinth: A mess of tunnels with an encounters table and a whole bunch of 1-page dungeons (Adamantine Tower, Spiral of the Horned King, Filthriddens, Modron March to Nowhere, Yeenoghu's Hut, Gallery of Petrified Angels), all organized around a damaged Machine Engine emitting bizarre magical effects.
15. Menzoberranzan: The famous drow "City of Spiders" described in solid detail, with potential points of entry, district-by-district descriptions with a ton of encounter tables, interesting tidbits about drow culture, and a quasi 1-page dungeon of the Tower Sorcerer & Gromph's Sanctum.
16. The Fetid Wedding: An interesting scenario with Zuggtmoy marrying a giant sentient fungus called Araumycos, complete with encounter tables, a few area descriptions, and a fight with Jubilex. You could strip it down just to the Araumycos caverns setting for a sandbox game. Or ignore the chapter.
17. Against the Demon Lords: Pretty much ignore this chapter.
Appendix B: Magic Items: Same, nothing special here. A cloak of elvenkind by another name (when they already have a sidebar for drowcraft items), a piwafwi of fire resistance (instead of, you know, a ring of fire resistance...because piwafwi is fun to say?), a spell gem which is basically the same as a spell scroll, an intelligent sunblade, and a stonespeaker crystal (that speaks with everything but stones!) are the mediocre or redundant items described here. The Wand of Viscid Globs is the one interesting item.
Appendix C: Creatures: Full of awesome in the CR 1-4 range! As a DM running an Underdark sandbox, I would have liked even more Underdark monsters of higher CRs, but space limitations I suppose.
Appendix D: Demon Lords: Wow! Some very cool 2-page writeups of Baphomet, Demogorgon, Fraz-Urb'luu, Graz'zt, Jubilex, Orcus, Yeenoghu, and Zuggtmoy! Personally it seems a touch excessive, and I'd have preferred more monsters for my sandboxing, but maybe our sandbox group will get use out of Zuggtmoy, who knows!
Afterword: A collection of concept art that is a wonderful touch and closer.
Final Word: I'd say sandbox DMs looking for an Underdark sourcebook can definitely use 60% of the material straight out of the book with little to no work. Another 20-25% looks potentially useful but would require moderate to heavy work to adapt it for a game not set in the Forgotten Realms around the Rage of Demons premise. And maybe 15-20% is not useful at all to sandbox DMs. All in all, I'm happy with my purchase, enjoyed seeing some innovative design alongside old school exploration, vivid settings, and colorful NPCs. Definitely worth checking out!
This adventure is evocative and fun. Someone mentioned that it was poorly organized, but I can only imagine it seems that way to an inexperienced DM or someone who has only run railroad adventures. This is a sandbox and the organization was excellent.