Out of the Abyss
Hey Game Fans, we’re back with a book review of one of the Hardcover adventures for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. As part of our coverage of the 3rd season of Adventurer’s League, we’re going to cover Out of the Abyss and go over some of the more interesting plot elements of this book. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Other books like this give the DM a lengthy write up of the campaign and what’s going on with the main storyline. Out of the Abyss turns this idea on its head and starts the player characters in the middle of the action. This book starts with the characters in the clutches of Drow slavers in a holding facility on their way to the Drow metropolis of Menzoberranzan. The characters are going to have to escape from the Drow and find their way back to the surface through hundreds of miles of hostile territory. It’s a good thing you’re heroes, right?
The second half of the book (chapters 8-17) focuses on dealing with the manifestations of something awful that’s happened in the Underdark. A request from a legendary hero from the Forgotten Realms asks the characters to return to the Underdark, seek out the trouble, and end them. This is an odyssey through strange worlds that few surface dwellers will ever see, and the danger is a subtle one. Madness is rampant in the Underdark, and if it escapes to the surface, the consequences will be dire.
Let’s take a closer look at the chapters (and we’re going to look at this in terms of First Half and Second Half, and give you a look at what’s coming).
The 1st Half
Chapters 1-7 look at the characters journey from the Drow slave pits to their eventual return to the surface world. This First Half is a combination of race for survival and search for relief. The characters start their journey as prisoners of the drow in Chapter 1, and will eventually have to figure out a way to escape from their clutches. The player characters also have a motley (and i think this is the first time i’ve used that term correctly) crew of nonplayer character prisons that they can bring with them.
Once the characters have enacted their escape, they are loose in the strange environs of the Underdark, and this is an excellent opportunity to let them interact with that environment. This starts the action in Chapter 2, which is probably the most heavily used chapter in the book. The characters have a variety of directions they can go in order to find their way home and this chapter covers all of the travel destination characters are likely to take on their way home. There are also distances and travel times for other major locations in the Underdark, which means you will be referencing this chapter frequently. Besides the survival needs that are covered in this chapter, there is another pressing concern that the characters have to deal with, the Drow.
The guards and keepers of the Drow prison the characters were jailed in aren’t so keen on letting them out. Even if the characters manage to somehow kill off all their drow overseers, more Drow will come looking for them. So once the characters are out of the prison complex they have two primary drivers, the quest back to the surface and the pursuing drow.
Chapters 3, 4,5, and 6 feature primary locations that the characters can hopefully make friends, find equipment, work and sources of money. Keep in mind that the characters are likely missing a lot of essential equipment that normal characters might have, and that’s part of the struggle of getting out of the Underdark. There are several locations that characters can use to resupply and rearm, but each of these locations offers encounters to manage, strange creatures to deal with,and challenges of their own. It’s entirely possible that characters will end up travelling between these locations as they chase their freedom, and that’s fine. Characters are expected to be around 8th level by the time they make their escape from the Underdark, so feel free to add some of your own touches along the way.
Chapter 7 is the conclusion of the First Half and ties up a lot of the plot elements of this half of the story. The various ports they’ve used in their escape have finally born fruit and the characters have found a way towards the surface and freedom finally. However, the Drow they escaped from in Chapter 1 have a score to settle with the characters and will not just let them leave. The characters will have to fight their way free in order to escape the Underdark finally.
The 2nd Half
The Second half of the story kicks off after the characters have finally escaped from the predations of the Underdark. They’ve had a chance to rest and recuperate from their experiences when they are summoned to Gauntlgrym by King Bruenor Battlehammer to share their experiences and hear an offer. The King would like the characters to consider being his agents in the Underdark to deal with a variety of potential dangers in the Underdark. He offers assistance and equipment to help them with this task, but ultimately it’s up to the characters to decide what to do. The rest of the campaign assumes the characters choose to go back into the Underdark and try and finish the campaign. The characters have opportunities to unite the disparate factions of the Sword Coast into an alliance to work together to protect the North from the dangers in the Underdark and this can add additional resources for their quest.
The first destination the characters have to travel to is the trading post of Mantol-Derith and it’s seen better days and moments. The lingering madness in the Underdark has affected the community terribly, and it’s descending into anarchy quickly. The characters have to pick up a guide to another area in the Underdark and have the option to figure out what’s causing the madness. There are options to be very good people in this region, and there are options to be reasonably bad people. Your characters are going to have to decide what they want to do as things happen around them. However they resolve things, the characters find the way to their next destination, Gravenhollow, and are off to the races to their next destination.
The next chapter of the book (Descent into the Depths) focuses on the realities of traveling with a potentially larger group, new minions, and provides a new option for characters to spend some downtime. The other important thing about this chapter is that it gives the characters reasons to revisit the places they may have visited during their escape. The characters may not have visited the first time around may have allies and resources that they can put to use and this chapter (like Chapter 2 in the First Half) gives you a lot of information and resources to pull together for these stories.
Gravenhollow (chapter 11) is a wonderful plot exposition chapter that gives the characters an actual picture of what’s actually going on in the Underdark. It’s a wonderful place, full of interesting encounters and stories to learn, and through the use of the magic of the place (and some friendly Stone Giants), the characters can identify the source of the problem and make an ally who can help them try to fix it. This chapter is a lot of information to take in and you can miss some of the things that are going on. Read this chapter several times before you run it and you will get a lot more out of this. From this point in the 2nd half, things start to pop off and can go a few different directions. The characters can gather more allies and prepare for the coming troubles, but eventually they will likely end up at the Tower of Vengance (Chapter 12).
The Tower of Vengeance is the home of a disgraced Drow wizard who figured out what happened and why. His arcane assistance in this area is critical, and he provides a variety of assistance and support in helping the characters defeat the Demon Lords. He also has a daring plan to fix the crisis, but it requires a lot of parts and pieces to form the “Maguffin” i mean talisman of power to banish the Demons. Pursuing the parts for this Talisman are covered in the next three chapters of the book (13-15).
In Brief, Chapter 13 (the Wormwrithings) features a couple of components for the talisman and is a winding, twisting maze of tunnels and burrows for a host of Underdark denizens. Chapter 14 (The Labyrinth) is a different sort of maze (this one sort of moves on its own and is the home of some terrible monsters) that has more components for the Talisman. Chapter 15 features the drow city of Menzoberranzan, (the original destination the prisoners were headed for way back in Chapter 1) and will serve as the last destination for parts of the Talisman, and the place it will be set up as part of the arcane ritual offered in Chapter 12. There are allies to be made and decisions that will affect the outcome of the adventure, depending on what the characters decide to do.
Chapter 16 features an interesting interlude in the action, as the characters are summoned to a bizarre weddding. Myconoid allies from Neverlight grove beg the characters to intervene in the wedding between Zuggtomy, (the Demon Queen of Fungus) and Araumycos, the greatest fungus in the Underdark. Should these creatures be bonded together, Zuggtomy will turn the Underdark into her own personal domain and that should be enough of a threat that the characters might want to get involved. The characters will face a danger to the entire world in those ritual caverns, and they can find the final components of the Talisman if they make it out.
Chapter 17 (Against the Demon Lords) is the conclusion of this story. Their drow ally wishes for the characters to place the Talisman of power in Menzoberranzan to make that city the battlefield, but there are other choices. Wherever the characters choose to make their stand, they are going to be in for the fight of their lives against an assembled horde of demons (and their Lords). It’s a good things Demons aren’t known for their cooperative nature. The battle descends into a bloody free for all, and the characters will have to confront the last Demon Lord standing. If they can defeat that Demon, they will have saved the world from the Madness of Demons.
The end of Chapter 17 also features a variety of directions to take the campaign after they have completed the final encounter. If you’re interested in these and your players are still up for it, see which story hook you find the most engaging and make a run for it. Appendix A features a new background, and Appendix B has some new magic items from the adventure. Appendix C features the new creatures encountered in the Underdark and Appendix D has the stats for the Demon Lords themselves.
Out of the Abyss is a wonderfully complex adventure that takes away some of the most basic elements of adventuring and forces the characters (and their players) to deal with some major changes in the status quo. There is no safe space to rest and recover, no place to be guaranteed to get new gear. The characters spend the first half of their lives running away from dangerous things in the deep earth, and the second half of the campaign running into the most dangerous and wondrous places in the Underdark. They will see things that few others will, and will have stories that match any epic tale told anywhere in the world. It’s a hell of a ride, if you can survive it.
This is the last part of our review of the Rage of Demons Storyline (and there is an entire Adventurer’s League Season that ties into it, which you can check out our review of Here) We’ll be back to take a look at the next season in a month or so, so we’ll see you all back here then. Game On, Game Fans.