Tobold's Blog
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Out of the Abyss thoughts

I have spent much of my holidays preparing the second half of my Out of the Abyss campaign. I watched a series called Shane Plays on YouTube in which a DM explains how he run the adventure. I bought and read the Elven Tower Guide to Out of the Abyss. I studied the materials on the Out of the Abyss DMs group on Facebook. And I decided on the “default” sequence of events I would push the adventure in, if the players don’t express another preference. The amount of helpful material that is out there, and the time it took me to really understand the adventure tells me that Out of the Abyss is a deeply flawed book. The overall story is fine, but the execution is lacking: Information is all over the place, some important stuff is missing, and some is just badly crafted. Especially in the second half, where the encounters are all over the place in terms of challenge and interest.

I think that a good part of the problem is the idea to cram a campaign of 15 levels into a single book of 250 pages. For comparison, the Zeitgeist Adventure Path campaign that spans a similar range of levels is 1,300 pages long. That leaves one with two choices for Out of the Abyss: Either you use the book as a backbone for a long campaign, in which case you need to add a lot of stuff to it, especially in terms of encounters. Or you play the book as is, in which case players will level up very quickly. Having started in fast mode, that is how I will finish it. Which means doing the whole campaign in a total of 20ish sessions, which is about a year at the twice-per-month frequency we play. Not ideal, but then I think that after a year the players will have had enough of the Underdark and want to see something else.

The lack of material in the book also means that Out of the Abyss is not a good support for an Underdark sandbox campaign. Except for the two chapters dealing with travel in the Underdark at low and high levels, the remaining chapters are too linear and too focused on the story, with not enough details to support a sandbox approach. For example the chapter on Menzoberranzan is only 19 pages, and half of that is taken up by the specific Out of the Abyss story. You couldn’t run another adventure without using other books there.

I think my next campaign will either be Curse of Strahd or the shortened version of the Zeitgeist Adventure Path in 5th edition. Both have the advantage that I know the story very well, my group of younger players doesn’t, and both campaigns are narrower in level range. But first I need to finish Out of the Abyss. It is unfortunate how much preparation time this adventure takes, but now I have spent that time, I feel prepared.


If you need more ideas for Underdark adventures, Rise of the Drow is great or Cyclopean Deeps I&II.
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