D&D 5E Starting Out of the Abyss at Higher Level


First Post

I'm actually skimming over OotA. My actual group is playing in a Waterdeep campaign, but have to leave Waterdeep for an adventure. At the moment they are at the beginning of Level 4.

Now I like the Idea of getting captured by drow and having to escape the Underdark.
I wondered If you could start with a Drow ambush and getting the party (5 Level 4 PCs) captured. Then you would not have to play everything from the first chapters, just the interesting stuff and the PCs will return to the surface at level 7.

Do you think this could work? Would you do this? Do you have further ideas?

One additional thing that bothers me: 9 NPCs which are also captures. I was thinking about letting some of them die early on, or that there are random encounters where the PCs must chose which one to save. So that the PCs will only have do deal with 2-3 NPCs. Maybe just starting with only 6 and then letting a few die?
I really do not like the idea of having too many NPCs. Maybe just saying "there are 9 additional prisonrs, a drow, a gnome, ..." and then letting the story chose which are important and which not? Maybe the Drow catch on to the PCs and a few of the prisoners do not manage to escape?
Are the NPCs important for the further adventure?

So. Maybe you could help me with your ideas :)

best regards

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That's kinda what I did. Our campaign had languished for a few months so I told them, "You are all in a drow prison camp, describe how you got there." Some made new characters (Lvl1), others used their older 4th level characters. They weren't particularly bothered to find their old gear for some reason.
Anyways, making a "capture" encounter can be kind of a grind and difficult to pull off from the DM's side. You might try to up front narrativist approach.


I am keen to start it at higher level as well. I quite like the full on nature of the storyline but will start it higher level after the characters have enjoyed some more "mundane" adventuring. Probably about 5-6th. It's interesting though that with 5e characters having so many built in abilities it's harder to imprison them. I can see a major adaption in my future


First Post
I am planning to run my 5th level group through this after we finish LMoP. I'm assuming that Nezznar the Spider was connected to the slavers, and that the capture was conducted in retribution for the party's interference with the Spider's operations. I imagine that the group will have a fairly easy time wiping out their captors and retrieving their equipment. I plan to have the NPCs scatter to the winds as soon as they are set free.

A single NPC will probably tag along with the party, providing useful tidbits of information to help guide them through the vast maze of the Underdark. I'll let the situation evolve organically, though, choosing whichever NPC the party members naturally seem to gravitate to.

Since I fully expect the slavers to get wiped out, I'll have a large group of "reinforcements" arrive at the outpost from Menzoberranzan shortly after the prisoners escape. They'll naturally want to hunt the party down, thereby preserving the sense of urgency that seems so integral to the first few chapters of the adventure.
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First Post
I'm actually starting a group at 9th in OotA. Their 1st-9th run was basically an undead campaign with ties to the drow and the Underdark. One of the PCs is a drow who "knows too much" about some top-secret drow biz, so there are already other drow agents kinda bounty-hunting him.

Anyway, the PCs are currently investigating the leads they picked up at the end of the first campaign and getting a dime tour of the first 6-7 chapters. They hit Sloobludop last sesh and fled like bunnies from Demogorgon. Next sesh, it's Gracklsturgh, then Neverlight, then maybe Blingdenstone before they get called back to meet with some (now merged) NPCs who will segue them into the second half of the book as normal.

It's working out, so far. I'm modifying some of the encounters but leaving others alone. I don't mind if they cut a swath clear through to chapter 9 as long as they stop to smell the myconids.


Now I like the Idea of getting captured by drow and having to escape the Underdark.
I wondered If you could start with a Drow ambush and getting the party (5 Level 4 PCs) captured. Then you would not have to play everything from the first chapters, just the interesting stuff and the PCs will return to the surface at level 7.

It should be fine, especially if you're happy to beef up the first few chapters of OotA (for a higher-level party) and skip some of the material in the "escape to the surface" section.

But I would advise being cautious in handling the Drow ambush - if you hit them with anything less than overwhelming force (which is much more than you think is overwhelming), the PCs will probably either win or escape. But if you do hit them with truly overwhelming force, the players are likely to cry foul over a railroad - and not without justification.

I'd be inclined to actually talk directly to your players about it, let them know about the ambush and capture, and ask them to just "go with it". Things will probably just go more smoothly if you get player buy-in first.


My group was 3rd level when they were ambushed while trying to make their way to a dwarven hall, rumored to have been part of a major gold vein worth MILLIONS. They had set out from the east (homebrew setting so geographical reference may vary) at one of the PCs' request to help a contact and they were ambushed just as they were making their way to the mountain range where the contact was located.

As I posted in another thread - I wouldn't discount the initial escape scene's difficulty to be too easy. When my group ran through it I had to modify the encounters somewhat, limiting them to 1-2 drow or elites at a time. This could have easily swung out of the PCs' favor, leaving all of them right back in the cell after being captured, again. I can't really speak to the following encounters after the escape, but this one could have absolutely been a TPK/ad nauseum repetition of escape attempts.

I would increase the number of encounters per day to three, given the list of encounters that are in the table. Further, if you're looking for a solid list of monsters for the underdark to make your own encounters there's one listed by challenge rating and XP on page 305 of the DMG. You could find this helpful to provide some variation rather than only rolling on that single table.

I actually decided not to have a group of NPCs twice the size of the core PC group following them around. I allowed a fair amount of roleplaying in the initial scenes once they regained consciousness, primarily to see who they would build relationships with. During the escape the drow began knocking down the NPCs and the players had to make some fairly difficult decisions for who they wanted to keep and who they were going to leave behind. This also allows me to reintroduce them later on if I need NPCs for the story! I wouldn't kill them outright, just re-capture them and use them as you see fit. It may make Ilvara and her crew seem incompetent, but good help must be even harder to find in the underdark...
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First Post
Just found this thread and its full of interesting ideas. My 5th lvl party have just finished lmop and have gone their separate ways to develop their personal stories, planning to meet in phandelver on high harvesttide in a years time. I let them sort of vote on the next adventure and abyss has won by a landslide. Here are a few ideas I've had so far:

One of the pcs has joined order of the gauntlet and will be following up leads provided by documents recovered from the drow antagonist of lost mines. These will probably allude to the troubles brewing in the underdark. I have a few thoughts on how this could go:

> the PC gets captured by the drow and misses the meet up. The npc providing the mission becomes concerned and approaches the pcs to organise a rescue mission. This would mean the captured PC missing a few sessions but could give the player an NPC guide to play for a bit.

> alternatively, phandalin is raided by drow slavers and the whole party is captured, probably as retribution for thwarting the lmop antagonist. As many have said I might steer away from actually playing this out as a combat encounter.

>Either way, I'm playing with the idea of wave echo cave being an entrance into the underdark. In my adventure the booming cavern led to a vast underground body of water. Only problem with this is that most of the locations in abyss seem much further west than phandalin and the area of underdark adjacent to it (the labyrinth I think it was called) I could always move stuff around or have the underground body of water lead to darklake somehow. If I go with the rescue mission approach I could have the pcs reach the kua toa settlement and start things there?

Right now these are just ideas, but I'd appreciate any thoughts or feedback.


It's great you and your group are open to the idea to "narrative capture", that is not playing out the combat where drow tries to enslave the characters. (Either the drow are completely superior, as at level 1, which isn't fun; or the drow will probably lose, as for level 5 genuine heroes)

Because then you can play the adventure as written - just have more Drow guards be elite warriors, and reserve the standard Drow statblock for "grunts" (second tier auxilaries). The only real differences will be: the heroes have to lead, with the NPCs playing "helpless villagers". The mission will probably more be "raze the Drow outpost to the ground" and less "flee the evil Drow out into the endless Underdark with no food or gear". But dropping or downplaying the Drow pursuit part of the adventure isn't such a big deal.

Going the other route, where the heroes arent enslaved but find their way down into the Underdark by themselves is also possible. The biggest hurdle is definitely not the geography: I would argue it isn't unreasonable to find a passage from the Phandelver area to south of Darklake (the Velkynvelve area). And who says they need to start there? If they aren't enslaved, they could go directly to any of the chapters on Gracklestugh, Neverlight Grove or Blingdenstone.

Gracklestugh is probably the nearest: FR lore describes Gracklestugh to have passages to the surface from several locations that aren't that far from Phandelver. "Caves in Sword Mountains" and "through Beldabar's Rest in Yartar" are two possibilities.

The real issue is something else: the slavery plot provides the heroes with a simple reason for pressing on: "escape the Underdark". Unless you have your level 5 heroes fall down a deep chasm or stumble upon a random teleport portal, you need to answer the question why are they in the Underdark? I mean, if they went down voluntarily, the motivation to get back up is kind of weakened...

Of course, there is an obvious solution: have King Bruenor approach the heroes at level 5 instead of level 8. That's not too big a difference. Perhaps it should be a sage "sensing a disturbance in the force" rather than the king himself, though, since the scenario where they meet Demogorgon in person hasn't happened yet...

Other than that, you could have them follow a drow slaver gang, who took their loved ones while they were away. Just have Eldeth Feldrun be someone they care about, or add similar surface-dwellers to the slave gang.

As for why they can't simply go back the same way they arrived once they have freed the slaves and burned Velkynvelve to the ground, I would probably use the Sloobludplop encounter as inspiration, and have Yeenhogu or somebody cave in their exit for them...
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I think it’s perfectly fine, as long as they are fine with “narrative capture” as CapnZapp said. Indeed, it might even work out better. One problem I’ve run into is the progress in the module outstripping the leveling of the PCs, so that they’re now in danger of being in over their heads, challenge level-wise, and I’m having to hit the brakes and slow things down.

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