So Out of the Abyss was released for three weeks by the time this article is released, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the latest adventure by Wizards of the Coast. Here’s the thing, some disclaimer if you will, I have not played the actual module myself and I will not be subjecting my players to that adventures either (though I may use some inspirations from it down the road or for future campaigns). There is also a second disclaimer, I love Forgotten Realms, which may cause some initial biases. I won’t deny that I was happy that we were returning to Underdark, but I’m sure there is a narrative reason for all of this madness from Wizards of the Coast. No, I don’t mean they have been overtaken by demon lords, their merchandising rationale has been odd but I suspect that their desire to give a polished experience has something to do with their releases and their release schedule as a whole. Third disclaimer, I’m glad that after this adventure’s release we shall see new character options in the Adventurer’s Guide in November.
Regardless of my opinion of how I feel about the setting, the adventure is a self-contained adventure from levels 1 to 15, so it’s meant to give the large epic feel of unlikely heroes that rise to a point near the end of the adventure to demon lord slayers. The adventure really gives a smorgasbord of adventure choices for the players, but what I enjoyed would have be the various NPCs that are introduced at the very beginning and varying impact that they present as choices for the direction of the player characters. But let’s break it down some more on the various aspects of this adventure.
The party are cliched into a rough assembly as prisoners from a drow raid, the characters are given opportunities to introduce themselves and shortly become acquainted with some of the established prisoners while at the drow camp. The one aspect that some DMs and even players often have a bit of discontent would have be that the players are devoid of their equipment and components (especially as a spellcaster). While some reviewers may consider that a harsh starting point, I unfortunately came from an era where that particular adventure starter was often utilized in gross amounts. The infamous Baldur’s Gate II game started the character and the purposed party in a prison cell.
The party initially spends a few days in a slave cart, there they learn more about one another. This is a great place for the players to introduce their characters and their motivations. Once at the camp, the players get to interact with their drow captors and even the other prisoners. There is a wide breadth of resolutions to these interactions, but the general gist is for the party to eventually plot for their escape. There several ways to initiate an attempt to escape, the choice of how rests solely with the players and their interactions. Once they are out of the drow outpost, the players are left with three passages to choose from. This is where the adventure really changes from the previous incarnations, the adventure changes depending on the players’ choice on passage. But an interesting twist, at least in regards to adding urgency to the game, the drow continue to hunt for the players. Sometimes they are close, and other times they are the midst of a struggle to actually recapture the party, or (my personal favorite) the party gets recaptured by the drow.
The next portions cover random encounters while in the Underdark, navigating through the dark caverns, the mystical faerzess, madness, and foraging. There are several tables for the random encounters, but there is also a section for set encounters to be used as fillers between the chapters. I thought this aspect gives the DMs more customization for the adventure as a whole, which sometimes can be daunting especially for new DMs who have never ventured into the Underdark before.
Now if you expect for me to go through the entire plotline of this module chapter by chapter, I won’t. It’s not that I cannot do it, but the details while interesting in various chapters, do nothing for this review or my impressions. I will say that the first time the party deals with an encounter with a demon lord (specifically Demogorgon) in the Darklake chapter. After narrowly escaping, the party journeys to various other cities in the Underdark. It’s a good way to introduce new players to the weird and alien world that is the Underdark, of course with the ever pressing desire for the players to reach the surface. By the time they get around 7th level, the players make a final push to escape the Underdark, but not before a final confrontation with their drow pursuers. After this encounter, the party return to the surface world and either go their separate ways or journey together afterwards, but the sky’s the limit from this point. But wait, we’re only halfway through this module? When do we fight demon lords?! Well you’re luck, the party is summoned to the dwarf kingdom of Gauntlgrym a few months after their escape from the Underdark.
While in Gauntlgrym, the players learn of the madness bleeding from the Underdark, the state of the Underdark, and try to forge new alliances with the various factions present at the dwarf kingdom. Regardless of negotiations, the players are tasked by King Bruenor to return to the Underdark in some capacity or other.
From that point onward, the party descends back the Underdark and witness first hand the madness that has slowly creeped into the minds of the many denizens of the Underdark. Eventually the party finds a drow archmage named Vizeran DeVir, a character that has some previous tie-ins from the Princes of the Apocalypse adventure. This aspect is actually quite fascinating for me, as the DeVir family are a drow family back from the Baldur’s Gate games and to see a callback to the franchise’s rich heritage brought a smile to my face. Of course our beloved archmage is a follower of the Elder Elemental Eye, he despises Loloth and her influence over the drow. So we have an nice dynamic of a powerful but undesirable alliance. The forging of this particular alliance is crucial to the rest of the adventure narrative, the whole chapter dedicated to their interaction with this NPC has enough different methods that the DM does not feel as overwhelmed if they stray off the plotline so to speak. I mean they even have a section that details for the DM what to do if the party decides to do the entire adventure without Vizeran’s aid at all. That is the most helpful aspect for DMs, especially new DMs, when the party strays in a pivotal story moment.
From this point, the adventure basically involves the party stopping the demon lords from gaining further footholds into the material plane, and ultimately activate a ritual that would draw all the demon lords to a single place for the ultimate Battle Royal: Abyssal Lords edition. After the dust settles, the party has a final confrontation with the surviving demon lord, which typically is Demogorgon (as he’s the King of the Demons for a reason). The ending of the adventure covers any loose ends and/or if the demon lords emerge triumphant; this section is no different than the previous published adventures, so I feel that overall this section does it justice regarding the narrative. One of my personal favorite loose threads for the party to pursue (assuming they survive) is that party ventures into the Infinite Layers of the Abyss to combat Lolth, since spoilers: Lolth was the one to who banished the other demon lords into the material plane so she may attempt to take control of the abyss. Of course once the demon lords are slain in the material plane, they return back to their home layer within the Abyss. The party might even forge a new alliance with a demon lord or two, as they would most certainly be vengeful against the Spider Queen.
Conclusions & Last Thoughts
I love that we got to cover the Demon Lords so early during this D&D renaissance, and even better we got to see the Underdark as well. While I would have enjoyed more splat books with all these details and even more options for the DMs to use, this product is great for new DMs and for groups that do not have enough time to make a setting of their own and simply wish to play. The loose threads section offers a great throwing of point, for continuing adventures along this storyline. The midway point of this adventure, once the players escape the Underdark, there is a nice time gap for some adventures before the second half of the adventure, the players can even brush with one of the Cults of Elemental Evil, which further enhances the presence Vizeran gives when confronting the players with aid. This adventure offers a lot of nostalgia for Drizzt fans since we return to the most memorable cities from R.A. Salvatore’s saga. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the “the party are prisoners” opening trope, but it works and it fits the dynamics and characteristics of a Underdark adventure. The one thing I will comment about that I didn’t comment about throughout this article, is the elevated stakes of this adventure. It tells DMs that the players can and will die, and offers ways for the new characters to be integrated into the party. This proneness to mortal death truly gives the players that the Underdark is dangerous and should not be underestimated, or they die…badly.
So if you like the Underdark, or demons, or drow in general; I say go for this adventure. Even if you don’t like the Forgotten Realms, having demon lords rampaging across your setting or world is still a solid plotline for your game.
Update: You can grab your copy of Out of the Abyss via Amazon here.
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