D&D 5E What Genre of Fantasy would fit an Adventure in the Abyss?

Quickleaf

Legend
I realize this is a subjective question, but I'm very curious about your insights and opinions.

Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus featured a deep dive into the first layer of the Nine Hells. In the marketing it was described as Mad Max in Hell, and the designers cited wanting to bring the feel of Mad Max: Fury Road to D&D (the "Apocalyptic Road Warrior" genre?).

If you were pitching an adventure heavily featuring the Abyss, what sub-genre of fantasy would you aim for?
Another way to phrase the question: if you described it as "_____" meets D&D, or "_____" meets "_____", how would you fill in those blanks?

As part of the question, if you're game to play, I'm trying to keep in mind what existing official 5e D&D adventures have already done, and focus on new approaches. For instance, Storm King's Thunder could be described as "Shakespeare's King Lear meets giants", Rime of the Frostmaiden was an adventure of "modern horror a la The Thing in an arctic setting", and Wild Beyond the Witchlight could be described "Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes meets D&D."

...

EDIT: This is cross-posted from the r/DMAcademy subreddit. Azzagrat, specifically, is what I'm thinking about. But I didn't want to limit anyone's contributions if they were unfamiliar, and wanted to let you cast as wide a net with your imaginations as possible.
 
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Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
For my money, dark comedy is the way to go with the Abyss, so I vote "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Meets D&D."

That approach keeps the game moving, keeps people engaged, and isn't TOO dark unless you examine it closely. At which point you realize Willy Wonka has more on common with Jigsaw or a Bond villain than any of us should really feel comfortable with.
 



aco175

Legend
If you could get the feat part right, but that is hard to DM to the players to get to the PCs.

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Lyxen

Great Old One
In our previous campaigns visiting the Abyss, the most important feeling was that of ununending Chaos. Yes, some layers can be along specific genres (and Azzagrat, that I've used before, is a really good example, for something based on debauchery and vice), but the variety of chaos is infinite, especially when not bounded by good, and that should be felt as well. So go wild and random and just inject whatever evil you want to have.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
This is an interesting question. It would definitely be a horror game but what kind of horror? I'd go with Lovecraftian except that the niche of Chaos and Evil that it traditionally fulfills puts it squarely on the human moral axis which isn't really a Lovecraftian feel.

To a degree, the Abyss is kind of the ultimate dungeon. Each layer it's own level, descending into potentially infinite layers. So maybe survivalist horror? Trying to survive in a hostile environment with everything trying to kill you and only small respite every once in a while? Except with more demons.

So I guess "D&D meets Evil Dead 2"?
 

So part of my view of what the abyss would be like is informed by the urban fantasy/horror web serial, Pact. For mortals unfortunate enough to find themselves stuck there, the abyss is about breaking you down and changing you into something else. The degree of change and the end result depend on the nature of the mortal, luck, and - should they hold out long enough - the interference of the malevolent beings that dwell there.

Being in the abyss means struggling to maintain not only your life, but also your sense of self, as survival brings its own challenges in the form of attention from some of the greater beings that dwell there. There is little commonality in the form that nature will take from being to being. Some will seek to destroy, others to corrupt in various ways. It's not even unheard of for a demon to genuinely help the lost souls of the abyss from time to time. The only real guarantee is that whatever action a demon takes, it is in furtherance of their own personal goals.

The nature of a given adventure in the Abyss could vary greatly depending on the demons involved, but if I had to use a shorthand, I'd call this take "Aliens meets Something Wicked This Way Comes." Other possible influences could include Event Horizon, Nightmare on Elm Street, and especially the aforementioned Pact for any who have read that.
 

All good suggestions.

The one thing I'm thinking is that the Abyss is fundamentally chaotic as opposed to lawful (that's the Nine Hells!). Stuff should happen for no reason at all. So Mad Max is actually a good choice, as a good example of the post-apocalyptic genre that deals with the aftermath of the breakdown of society. Evil Dead, as an example of survivalist horror as suggested, similarly has lots of zombies that don't really have human goals. The only thing I'd add is that you can make a pretty good case for some aspects of Lovecraftian or cosmic horror--after all, the Elder Gods don't really have goals we can understand. Who's to say some Cthulhu-like creature can't suddenly rise from the stinking sea of some Abyssal layer?

One I haven't heard yet--magical realism (think Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende; Jorge Luis Borges has a whole bunch of short stories that can be binge-read and give you all kinds of weird ideas), though darker of course as we are in the Abyss. Weird or magical things may sometimes happen for no reason at all. But forget a woman suddenly rising up into the sky or a slave turning into an animal--your best friend (NPC of course) might suddenly turn into a demon, or the ground suddenly be replaced by the maw of a giant monster. The Abyss doesn't make sense.

Then, there's always surrealism--think Dali or Magritte (or anything by Grant Morrison), though in the Abyss the melting clocks are melting mouths that want to eat you, and the legions of men with apples for faces want to turn you into one of them. Oh and that cup and spoon covered in fur on the ground? They'll turn you into a lycanthrope if you pick them up.
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks for your suggestions. Please keep them coming!

So far, I've heard...
  • Dark Comedy / Comedy Horror – "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Meets D&D" from @Ath-kethin or "D&D meets Evil Dead 2" from @Jer
  • Sci-fi Horror Drama – "Stranger Things meets D&D" from @OB1
  • Sci-Fi/Slasher/Monster Horror – "Event Horizon, The Descent, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Silent Hill" from @OB1
  • "Wild and random evil" – from @Lyxen
  • Survival Horror – "Apocalypse Now" & "Heart of Darkness" from @Jer and @hawkeyefan
  • Psychological Horror – from @Blue Orange
  • Magical Realism and/or Surrealism – "Borges and Dali meet D&D" from @Blue Orange
Over on reddit someone mentioned: "It'd be fun to do a Film Noir/hard boiled detective genre. Everyone is a threat, but the knives/pistols only get pulled in dark alley ways, or when you're least expecting it. Topple a person of power just by showing their weakness, no fireballs thrown, then have your ally turn on you showing you've only made things worse."

I was thinking of where the Venn diagram overlap is between these different approaches, and I've been wondering whether the "New Weird" fantasy sub-genre might be a good fit. It's not a genre I'm terribly familiar with, having never read China Miéville, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, or any of the others writing in that genre; all I know is that the genre was part of the inspiration for the Planescape setting and Perdido Street Station is mentioned in the 5e PHB as a source of inspiration.
 

Thanks for your suggestions. Please keep them coming!

So far, I've heard...
  • Dark Comedy / Comedy Horror – "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Meets D&D" from @Ath-kethin or "D&D meets Evil Dead 2" from @Jer
  • Sci-fi Horror Drama – "Stranger Things meets D&D" from @OB1
  • Sci-Fi/Slasher/Monster Horror – "Event Horizon, The Descent, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Silent Hill" from @OB1
  • "Wild and random evil" – from @Lyxen
  • Survival Horror – "Apocalypse Now" & "Heart of Darkness" from @Jer and @hawkeyefan
  • Psychological Horror – from @Blue Orange
  • Magical Realism and/or Surrealism – "Borges and Dali meet D&D" from @Blue Orange
Over on reddit someone mentioned: "It'd be fun to do a Film Noir/hard boiled detective genre. Everyone is a threat, but the knives/pistols only get pulled in dark alley ways, or when you're least expecting it. Topple a person of power just by showing their weakness, no fireballs thrown, then have your ally turn on you showing you've only made things worse."

I was thinking of where the Venn diagram overlap is between these different approaches, and I've been wondering whether the "New Weird" fantasy sub-genre might be a good fit. It's not a genre I'm terribly familiar with, having never read China Miéville, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, or any of the others writing in that genre; all I know is that the genre was part of the inspiration for the Planescape setting and Perdido Street Station is mentioned in the 5e PHB as a source of inspiration.

I honestly just finished reading Perdido Street Station at the end of the year, and it was an excellent book and could serve as a pretty good template for including a lot of these elements. It has surreal elements and horror elements and fantastic elements aplenty. The city itself has a very noir feel. The political system is flawed and fascistic and hierarchal, so there are themes of oppression and class that are present throughout.

You could definitely do worse than to read the book for inspiration. I’m no expert on “new weird”, but it certainly checks a lot of boxes.
 

Weird Dave

Explorer
Publisher
For the Abyss, I would personally steer away from urban environments. I like the idea that the unrelenting chaos and malevolence of the plane simply breaks down conventional constructs of even demonic civilization. Things collapse, reshape, reform, and ultimately are hostile to all creatures, and demons come in a wider variety than the simple types recognized on the Material Plane (some vrocks are more bat-like than vulture like, for example, or glabrezu with lobster-like shells and crocodilian jaws). My mind wants to lean into a dark Western-movie feel where it's "Man Versus Nature" on a bonkers scale. I'm struggling to find a good pop culture hook to tie into though. Maybe something like The Hateful Eight meets D&D? Or, for less of a Western take and more of a wilderness angle, The Edge (the Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins movie where they have to fight the bear) meets D&D? Fun thoughts!
 


I'm curious how I would describe the Abyss myself in a game.

My initial idea is to make a safe place to rest extremely hard to come by. Demons and other monsters are plentiful, the environment is hazardous, and there are corrupting influences that can warp body and soul.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Do demons sleep?
The reason I ask is that, if they do, this will impact the Abyss as they will need to make provisions for safe sleeping; some form of secure building?
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Well, the Abyss being the Abyss, and the home and, literal, manifestations of embodiments of Evil Chaos...the stage is rather wide open.

You can literally get away with any genre you like...or find evocative of the themes you want to portray.

If it's the classical kind of "punishment/violence/the strong lord over the weak with cruelty and unspoken (inhuman) horrors, you can do that for a layer or 500.

Anything from Dark/Gothic to Gruesome (blood and gore) Horror genre.

You can do the Apocalyptic, utterly desolate wasteland route and have whatever "Apocalyptic/Mad Max/sci-fi-esque" route.

A layer could be the endless sea of a Waterworld, simultaneously freezing and boiling, filled with all manner of aquatic-demonic-horrors...most of which will inflict great pain and misery...but not kill you...not right away. Imagine drowning...endlessly...and not dying. Just the burning, wracking, unable to breathe...taking damage every round, ignoring when you get below zero. Your'e still alive. And still drowning. And still taking damage (just continue to subtract into negatives until you get out of this layer). Every round (beyond the characters normal capacity to hold their breath).

A layer of "dark" where there is just no light. Light magic/effects will light up to a max of 5' bright/5' dim light for a single round and then is snuffed out by the pure darkness that is the...everything: matter, energy, air; of this plane. You can not see anything, anywhere. Just a universal black. No sound. No anything, but black. Nothing exists here. Nothing will attack you. Of course, the players and charcters have no way of knowing that...and may strike out at some perceived sound...which is either a figment of their mind or made by one of their own because they are all that is here. You have no way of knowing any direction in which to move. Passage of time. Nothing...just darkness. How long before your minds start coming up with sounds or "visions" that are not real? Delusional paranoia seems likely, or eventually inevitable.

A layer that finds you in a "prison" of some kind having to fight other inmates and guards for your life, searching for the exit...of which there is none. The entire plane is this demonic prison. You can survive, maybe. But you'll never escape (unless you find or have means to move from one Abyssal layer to another)

Remember that part of "chaos" and "evil" feeling isn't just splattering blood n' guts. There is hardship. There is starvation...dying of thirst (of being held on the cusp of such for what seems a minor eternity). Lonliness? Personal (to the characters, of course, no psych-warfare against known issues of the players!) Inadequacies? Belittling/mocking/bullying. There are all of the mental/emotional/psychological "mind---flocks" and abuse that can be inflicted on those traveling there...

"You fly through the portal, barely escaping the demon horde fast on your heels. The swirling flash of magical light fills your eyes and mind and you feel an abrupt "landing" on your tush. When you open your eyes and senses clear, the party finds itself in a car (possibly squeezed in, depending on number of party members). Stopped dead in endless lanes of traffic as far as the eye can see in all directions. You are not moving. The air is thick with the unpleasant scent of exhaust and smog forms a low-hanging gruesome gaseous "ceiling" only about ten feet above the vehicles. The doors are locked and can not be opened. Not that you could get them open anyway as the vehicles to either side are so close as to prohibit their opening more than crack. You are not moving. It's sweltering hot. The windows don't open. The air conditioner doesn't work. Periodically there are the peelings of a loud obnoxious horn. Sometimes very faint and far off. Sometimes closer. Sometimes immediately next to you and blaringly loud and sudden. You are not moving. Just acres and acres of vehicles, random momentary lighting up of brake lights, but no movement. Other drivers stare blankly forward and don't acknowledge any attempts to engage them...You are not moving. " ...That's it. That's the entire plane. An infinite traffic jam.

How about a frickin' breathtakingly beautiful fairytale land. The forests and rolling flower-filled hills. The pristine shining castle with pendants of white and gold. The kindest, most beautiful and helpful people. You can rest as long as you like. The water is clean and refreshing. The feasts-worth of food, that appear whenever you are slightly hungry, sublime...and each night, a marvelous gala with flowing wine and elegant dress...At the stroke of "midnight" the perfect, huge, silvery moon that floods the evening and night with nearly as much light as the day, turns a deep crimson. The hosts/residents suddenly have no eyes. Their mouths fill with shark-like rows of razor-sharp teeth. Everyone begins attacks, kills, and tears apart everyone else in the bloodiest goriest gruesome horror the PCs have ever seen... including coming after the PCs, of course. Fight you way through the night. When the sun rises, it's a pristine fairyland again. Everyone is alive. Everyone is as they appeared the day before, whole, alive, with eyes. No idea what the characters are talking about or find it all a very humorous tale...and then the silver moon rises...the gala is glorious, the music, the feast, the libations...and the moon goes red at midnight... That is the entirety of the layer. The seasons do not advance. Time, really, does not pass. Just perfect idyllic setting, day, night, massacre, and all's well and fine the morning after.

It's the frickin' Abyss. There are (depending on your preferred cosmology) 666 up to infinitiy layers to create and choose from. You can have any genre you want.
 
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nevin

Hero
I realize this is a subjective question, but I'm very curious about your insights and opinions.

Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus featured a deep dive into the first layer of the Nine Hells. In the marketing it was described as Mad Max in Hell, and the designers cited wanting to bring the feel of Mad Max: Fury Road to D&D (the "Apocalyptic Road Warrior" genre?).

If you were pitching an adventure heavily featuring the Abyss, what sub-genre of fantasy would you aim for?
Another way to phrase the question: if you described it as "_____" meets D&D, or "_____" meets "_____", how would you fill in those blanks?

As part of the question, if you're game to play, I'm trying to keep in mind what existing official 5e D&D adventures have already done, and focus on new approaches. For instance, Storm King's Thunder could be described as "Shakespeare's King Lear meets giants", Rime of the Frostmaiden was an adventure of "modern horror a la The Thing in an arctic setting", and Wild Beyond the Witchlight could be described "Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes meets D&D."

...

EDIT: This is cross-posted from the r/DMAcademy subreddit. Azzagrat, specifically, is what I'm thinking about. But I didn't want to limit anyone's contributions if they were unfamiliar, and wanted to let you cast as wide a net with your imaginations as possible.
lovecraft.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
It's the frickin' Abyss. There are (depending on your preferred cosmology) 666 up to infinitiy layers to create and choose from. You can have any genre you want.
That's some amazing and disturbing imagery! So... thank you?

If I wasn't clear, I apologize, but I was actually looking for you to inject yourself into the question. Yeah, I'm working on something, but I was trying to frame the question about you. I am curious how folks answer the question for themselves, not ideally or what's pragmatic or whatever, but personally.

lovecraft.
How would you different a Lovecraftian inspired Abyss-centric adventure vs. a Lovecraftian inspired Far Realms/abberation focused adventure? Or would you at all?
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
That's some amazing and disturbing imagery! So... thank you?
Heh. No problem.

If I wasn't clear, I apologize, but I was actually looking for you to inject yourself into the question. Yeah, I'm working on something, but I was trying to frame the question about you. I am curious how folks answer the question for themselves, not ideally or what's pragmatic or whatever, but personally.
hm. Ok. I guess, if the above isn't clear, I"d handle it "D&D meets Abyss as a flipbook."...so/or "...as all genres?"

Everywhere you go is going to be something different. Often jarringly so. No rhyme or reason to it. It's going to be something that is...unpleasant and inevitably -if not immediately discernable- dangerous, if not actively horrifying.

The only thing "consistent" about the [cosmological home and origins of Chaotic Evil] Abyss are Demons and inconsistency. SO, demons of some kind will be everywhere...even if they're just [low level mooks] locked in their cars [by bigger bads] in the same eternal traffic jam as you all.

You can inject dark comedy...even regular comedy. But no particular "genre" should be prevalent or consistent throughout.

Think, like....channel-surfing... Demogorgon sitting back on his sectional, channel-surfing... Oo! Something akin to Rick & Morty's "Interdimensional Cable" but with more danger and horror.

Imagine "bamfing" into an Abyssal layer that's a demon-filled soap opera in progress. The PCs are thrown scripts and accosted by dretch and chasme trying to put wigs and accessories on them and beat their faces with make up brushes and powder puffs. Getting shoved onto a set with other various other demons in ridiculous (soap opera) garb and overdone clownish makeup, in front of lights and cameras operated by goristros and glabrezu, a balor shrieks "PLACES! LIGHTS!..." from the director's seat.

That's how I'd handle it.
 

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