Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 12, 2019
Out of the Abyss - Session 2

In the previous session the characters started as prisoners of the drow in the Underdark. They escaped without any planning, and now found themselves somewhere in the Underdark, with no idea where they are, no idea where to go, no equipment, no food, and no water. Ideal start of a campaign, isn't it?

They have 9 NPCs with them, but the players still weren't very interested to talk with them. I had to nudge them a bit to at least make it clear to them that these NPCs, who are mostly denizens of the Underdark, would know a bit of the geography of the region. So the group found out that they were in the region of the Underdark surrounding the Darklake, and that the Kuo-Toa who had suggested a tunnel to choose during the escape was heading for his home village of Sloobludop, on the shores of that lake. They also found out the general locations of the homes of the other NPCs: Gracklstugh, Neverlight Grove, Blingdenstone, and Menzoberranzan. Nobody asked how to get back to the surface, so I think I will need to gently nudge them again in a future session.

My general model of a pen & paper roleplaying game is that there are two parallel levels: The one where the character Thrud the Barbarian swings his mighty axe and beheads the orc, and the other where the player Mike rolls a natural 20 and then rolls damage dice for more than the orc's hit points. My group is clearly concentrated on the latter of these. Knowing that, I used a technique that had already worked well on this level for a previous group, and "gamified" the travel through the Underdark; I turned it into a repeatable sequence of dice rolls, mostly survival checks, for navigation and foraging. The players need to decide whether they travel fast, normal, or slow, with the fast option not giving them time for foraging, while the slow option leads to the drow pursuers catching up. Although not very realistic, I use a big d6 to indicate the pursuit level, keeping the pressure up. That worked very well.

While I let the players roll for random encounters, I only use the encounter tables if I have nothing else foreseen. So normally, when the players' roll says that there will be an encounter, I start the next prepared encounter. Which is important for this part of the adventure, where the characters are under-equipped and a bit weak compared to a regular group of level 3 characters. So, first encounter, half a dozen goblins. The players managed that very well, with the help of the druid's Entangle spell. Still it was no pushover, and the players were happy with scimitars and short bows they looted. That's the advantage of a low starting point, you don't need to hand out magic swords to make the players happy. They then cast Purify Food on the goblin corpses and ate them. Well, it is kind of a dark fantasy campaign.

The next encounter was with two Hook Horrors, who were fleeing from four gnolls. The group wisely let the Hook Horrors be, and fought the gnolls. But nobody thought to cast Light, so the human fighter was fighting blind, which gave her disadvantage and the gnolls advantage against her. So she quickly went down. But the rest of the group managed to kill the gnolls, and heal the fighter. However they heard more gnolls yipping ahead. They explored the tunnel the Hook Horrors had run in, but that was a dead end, and they still didn't want to fight the monsters. They also didn't want to turn back, as backtracking increases pursuit level. So they tried to distract the gnolls with light and noise down one corridor, while trying to slip past them by another. However the druid rolled a 1 on his stealth check, and the gnolls noticed the group. We stopped there, but the next session will begin with a tough fight.


Eh, if worse comes to worse they can just run. As long as they run faster than some of the nine NPCs that will be used as fodder. :P
Oh, I totally can see the npc halfling or gnome, complaining, that he has the shortest legs and they all will leave him behind to slow whatever monster that is after them. Test of conscience:-)
Doh, forgot to ask: you said, they have 9 NPCs with them, are those supposed to be fighting alongside PCs? If not, how its explained? Because not mentioning sheer scale of fights, just number of NPC actions would make fight like 6 goblins trivial.
Up to now the group didn’t even have enough weapons to equip the NPC. Now they have, but several of the NPCs are non-combatant. There is a myconid sprout that doesn’t even have arms, and a kuo-toa sage who is pacifist. In any case, I won’t let the NPCs get used as cannon fodder.
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