D&D 5E Small tweaks to improve Out of the Abyss [DMs toolbox; SPOILERS]

CapnZapp

Legend
Brycelynch gave a terrific review of the module, providing a lot of specific examples of what the review likes and dislikes.

Review link:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?467608-Out-of-the-Abyss&p=6699572#post6699572

It inspired me to start a thread, this thread, about not only pointing out weaknesses but for every such issue suggesting an actual ready-to-use improvement too! :)

Let me start by compiling and completing Brycelynch's points:

1. The drow guards are described as sleeping on mundane pallets.
Solution: Have them sleep in spiderweb hammocks instead, or maybe cocoon pods!

2. Members of the Brilliant Society are "dedicated to solving the problems of the underdark". Such as what specific problems?
Suggestions: "I am trying to map a new shorter path from A to B", "This next part of the road has crumbled, I am finding a detour", "I need to find the source of all these nightmares", "I am adding permanent lights to help travellers along well-used trails", "I am scouting out a suitable location for a chain of travellers inns, as it were", "I am looking for XYZ, a Beholder that I think I can use as a road construction worker", "I am planting patches of edible fungus every eight hours of travel to help travelers", "I am on a diplomatic mission to stop a war between X and Y from breaking out", and so on...

3. There needs to be more bizarre examples in each location of freaky stuff caused by madness than "psychotic rampage".
Such as people painting their houses/cavewalls translucent orange, or by regular races imitating beasts by living in cavern ceilings only, or by collecting disgusting creepy-crawlies in their homes and clothing, or by sending their children away in irrational directions, or by appeasing the gods by bacchanal matings with the deformed or the insane, or by old chestnuts such as wearing bird beak masks (tentacle masks?) or public self-flagellation (leechings?) or witch burnings (sink hole shovedowns).

4. Don't railroad the Oozing Temple.
Solution: Don't railroad the Oozing Temple. Seriously, describe the junction, and if the PCs don't investigate, simply add it some other time. It's okay for players that never explore to miss out entirely!

5. The characters don't know how hot on their heels the Drow are.
Suggestions: Let the PCs hear about rewards/threats being made that refer to them, if the Drow are getting closer. And nobody recognizing them if they're giving the Drow the slip. The Drow doesn't always need to be *behind* to be behind - let the PCs meet NPCs that tell you they met them an hour ago up ahead, and that they should go this other way instead. They could hear about NPC slavers capturing somebody that looks like a PC; I wonder why? Let the party stumble upon an isolated Drow scout to let them know they need to get the move on OR that the Drow doesn't have a clue of where they are (and have just sent out spies in all directions).

6. As the party are leaving he underdark they are attacked by the following drow who have caught up to them!
Don't. I fully agree with BryceLynch. Either save this for when the PCs deserve it, or drop it.

7. NPC factions mainly try to capture the PCs to enable the tired trope of "do this mission and you get your freedom".
Should be easy to fix, once you are aware of it and see it coming. PCs are easily motivated and revile getting their free will taken away. So approach them peacefully and offer money. Or goods. Or a free hour at the Pleasure House...(!) Or to take care of their "drow problem" for them, or even just delaying/misdirecting Mistress Ilvara a small bit. Or appeal to their common decency, and then not forcing them to make the decent choice. Even consider having no bad consequences for being not decent - this is the Underdark after all! This way, when other factions DO capture and go all "mission for your freedom" it feels different if not fresh.

8. ...

Feel free to complain IF YOU ALSO suggest at least one ready-to-go solution for your listed problem. Let's keep this thread positive and focused on fixing things :)
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
8. Some players might think their human or halfling characters stand no chance running away into the Underdark, thinking Drow are impossible to foil. Other players might just assume the point is to kill everything as usual, and not even consider escape.

That's why it is so important that you a) display how powerful Mistress Ilvara really is, and b) make sure the players talk to NPCs who feel confident they can outrun Drow in the Dnderdark.

You should still let the players try to kill off all the Drow if they insist; but as soon as it's clear to Mistress Ilvara her life is in danger you should not hesitate using her Insect Plague on them. In other words, if the players are to succeed, they must be especially clever, either neutralizing her before she can cast any deadly spells, or tricking her into casting them at somebody else (perhaps fodder NPCs). Having her kill off the entire party is an okay outcome if they go down this route - after all, they were only low levels. And perhaps they'll choose the escape route with their next set of characters...

9. For some groups, the anti-magic wards in the slave pens are problematic. How are these created and why aren't they everywhere?

The first suggestion is to say the wards are natural, and that the Drow built this outpost around that cave. Perhaps it's some kind of Faerzness-infused rock? Perhaps its a natural dead-magic zone? (Though this would prevent all spells, both the ones cast by prisoners and the ones the Drow might cast at them from the outside)

Another idea is that there exists a ritual spell that works much like dispel magic or counterspell. Meaning the wards doesn't prevent ALL spellcasting, just level 3 spells or lower. For spells cast in slots of higher levels, you need to make a spellcasting ability check of, say, DC 13. This way, Mistress Ilvara has a chance of forcing a ray of weakness into the slave cave, she just needs to use a fourth level slot to cast her spell.

Or the wards are really chaos magic, meaning spells aren't prevent from being cast, but that there's a significant risk of something going wrong or the spell's going wild.

Or you could simply remove the wards and instead say that the Drow has put the death penalty on spellcasting of any kind.

Regardless, you should consider being lenient as regards especially to arcane casters. Let them choose spells that need no components.

10. ...

Your turn :)
 

Dave Turner

First Post
Combine the terrain and encounter tables in Chapters 2 and 3. This option can occur 15% of the time using the table provided by the book, but it should happen 100% of the time if an encounter is rolled.

The terrain encounters are mostly skill checks and that's boring. The creature encounters (Society of Brilliance excepted) largely don't contain any interesting motivations. They're the equivalent of walking around the corner of a dungeon hallway and bumping into a wandering monster. Combining the two types of encounters creates much greater potential for an interesting, random encounter than the other two options.
 

Benji

First Post
5. The characters don't know how hot on their heels the Drow are.

This can be done via cutscenes - the dm pans the camera away and back to the Drow who are chasing them. He shows them picking up on clues or using the things they do against them. Or he shows them being confounded. Drop a few of these into a session reated to what happened last session and it'll remind the players they're being followed pretty quickly.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Thanks. I agree, though I believe the terrain encounters are intended to spice up the general travel descriptions (which we can't get enough of). Of course, making it an "encounter" is clumsy. Just bake it into your general narrative text, and skip the skill checks: unless you do what Dave says, and add a monster to the terrain, you shouldn't even look at those skill checks and their DCs. Just assume the characters manage somehow.

Which brings us to the table. As I see it, having 13 out of 20 encounters be "no encounter" is incredibly boring. I can only assume the author intended those to be either filled with general descripions or skipped altogether (as in "you travel..." *roll* *roll* *roll* "...for four days without anything in particular happening").

A better way would be to combine all of the above (including Dave's tip) into a new Random Encounter table:

1-13 Interesting terrain (roll for a terrain "encounter" but just describe how the party eventually copes)
14-20 Encounter (roll for a creature encounter and a terrain encounter, and combine them)
 

Daern

Explorer
Let's make this into a 1d8 table:
Members of the Brilliant Society are "dedicated to solving the problems of the underdark". Such as what specific problems?
  1. "I am trying to map a new shorter path from A to B"
  2. "This next part of the road has crumbled, I am finding a detour"
  3. "I need to find the source of all these nightmares"
  4. "I am adding permanent lights to help travellers along well-used trails"
  5. "I am scouting out a suitable location for a chain of travellers inns, as it were"
  6. "I am looking for XYZ, a Beholder that I think I can use as a road construction worker"
  7. "I am planting patches of edible fungus every eight hours of travel to help travelers"
  8. "I am on a diplomatic mission to stop a war between X and Y from breaking out"
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
For the anti-magic slave pens -- I am going to describe this as a pickled beholder central eye, mounted on the wall outside the cell. This links the anti-magic effect to a scarce resource to explain why it's not everywhere (finite beholder population and limited number of individuals with the expertise required to alchemically pickle an anti-magic eye). They might run into a few more such pickled eyes in places like Gracklstugh, Menzoberranzen, or Mantol-Derith.
 


6. As the party are leaving he underdark they are attacked by the following drow who have caught up to them!
Don't. I fully agree with BryceLynch. Either save this for when the PCs deserve it, or drop it.

Don't agree with this even slightly. I believe that Illvra and her crew should be the final test of them getting out of the Underdark. At this point they should be ready to fight her as well. (If not it is still presented as a chase scene you can run away in.) The point of the chase in the earlier parts is that the party won't be strong enough to beat Ilvra and her crew and so a good portion is spent avoiding them or making sure they don't catch up.

Illvra is only guaranteed to show up a little before they exit the underdark even then she can still just be avoided if the party wants. Actully it's not even guarnteed she will show up here. It's possible that the party could decide to take the fight to her earlier on and take her out.

Anyway assuming stuff goes as the module expects Illvra should be the final challage for the party. This could be the parties 2nd meeting with her or the 12th. Depending on how many times she has caught up. But it should take a month or two real time before the party gets out of the Underdark and has the final encounter with her. And I believe a climax like that should happen.
 


CapnZapp

Legend
And I believe a climax like that should happen.
First off, you do whatever you want in your campaign. This is a positive thread :)

That said, let me try championing BryceLynch's point one more time, okay?

If you shove Ilvara in their faces even if the PCs have done everything in their power to avoid meeting her, you are setting a zero value on those actions. This isn't just about an adventure being a railroad. Even in a railroady adventure, the players will appreciate it if you the DM listen to their actions and adjust accordingly.

If you notice they have relaxed a bit about the Drow threat, sure. If they stop worrying about Ilvara catching up, yeah. If they focus on other important stuff, say Demon Lords, go ahead.

But the point isn't "don't ever run that final confrontation".

It's us saying "if the players obsess about not being caught up to, then let them have this small victory".

You could always use another encounter of comparable challenge if you want a climactic "exiting the maw of darkness" battle. The players doesn't have to know there is no way to avoid such a battle. However, if Mistress Ilvara shows up despite their best efforts, they will know all their plans and ideas were for naught.

In the spirit of being constructive, let me make a final suggestion:

You could even have a Drow battle exactly like in the book - simply say Ilvara has used her connections to persuade fellow priestesses to set up ambushes at likely exit points. This way, you can reuse the exact same encounter, only by changing the name of the Priestess of Lolth, you're acknowledging all the hard work the PCs went through to throw her off their track, and you will be giving them the satisfaction of denying her her final moment!

And that's what all this is about: acknowledging the actions of the player's characters! :)
 


77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
I plan to run the encounter with Ilvara -- but if the drow pursuit level is low, the PCs get the drop on her; if the drow pursuit level is high, she gets the drop on the PCs.
 

Bad Fox

First Post
Hey, Capn - sorry to have created another thread so similar to your own! I did a search to see if there was anything like this, but I missed your initial post somehow.

Anyway, to recap the idea that I'd written elsewhere: put the pictures of the NPC prisoners on index cards and spread them out on the table, so players have a visual representation of who is in the cell with them at the start of the adventure. I think it will make things easier when trying to keep track of that huge cast of characters. I'll probably start by describing the other prisoners, and then hand out the pictures one-by-one as the players interact with them.

I'm also going to write a list of mini-enounters with the jailers that I can use, rather then putting the adventurers on generic "work duty." Feeding the spiders (danger!), brawling each other for the amusement of the guards (danger!), testing an old batch of poison for potency (danger!), ect.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
No problem! :)

Since I linked to here from Badfox' thread, here's a link to Badfox' thread:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?468727-Running-Out-of-the-Abyss-DM-Tips

I'm also going to write a list of mini-enounters with the jailers that I can use, rather then putting the adventurers on generic "work duty." Feeding the spiders (danger!), brawling each other for the amusement of the guards (danger!), testing an old batch of poison for potency (danger!), ect.
Great! Be sure to update us when you're done!
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
It occurs to me that this society is perhaps self-named and thus the "brilliance" might be all in their heads. A set of impossible solutions might be fun to derive. No idea what those might be yet....
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
My thoughts on the first couple of chapters.

1) It bothers me that Shoors quarters are below Ilvara's. I would reverse that so that he could guard the entrance to her chamber while she slept.

2) The closeness of the pursuit (as already noted) needs to be communicated. I like the cutscene idea a lot. Another alternative might be Stool having some 6th sense of their proximity and communicating that to the PCs. Perhaps when they rest?

3) Tracking who is on which web in the silken path is unclear. But we need to know that to handle a web break encounter. I could imagine some kind of belaying type thing where one of the goblins goes ahead and then the party and then the other goblin, but that sounds dull. Alternatively, the goblins could make a game out of it, splitting the party in two and racing through the webs. But it still doesn't answer the question of who is affected when the web breaks?
 

Daern

Explorer
That OGRE thing is awesome. I wish I'd had it last night. I'd like to get the lists so that I can add it to my Last Gasp generator bookmark list.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
It had been bothering me I couldn't reply to [MENTION=6688546]bryce0lynch[/MENTION] in the review thread to draw his or her attention to how much use I got out of his or her review, but I finally remembered I could "mention" him or her. Hopefully this is what I just did :)
 


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