Out of the Abyss

5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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!
 

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shager

First Post
4 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.
 

3 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.
 
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fuindordm

Adventurer
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.

Caveats

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.

Summary

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.
 
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5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.

Read my full review here: http://www.5mwd.com/archives/3053
 

arjomanes

Explorer
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.
 
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Lukja

First Post
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss (sandbox GM review)

90% (A-)

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!


SPOILER ALERTS

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...

CHAPTERS

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.

APPENDICES

Appendix A: Modifying Backgrounds: It's alright, nothing special.

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!
 
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Dvergr76

First Post
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

Great stuff from Green Ronin. I especially love how open it feels and the many different things the PCs can run into travelling through the Underdark from location to location.
 

scourge

Explorer
5 out of 5 rating for Out of the Abyss

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.
 

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