by Mike Shea on 16 November 2015
This is the third in an ongoing series of articles aiding dungeon masters in running the D&D 5th edition adventure, Out of the Abyss. You can read the previous two articles here:
As before, this article is packed with spoilers. If you plan on playing in this adventure, skip this article series and go read a handpicked Sly Flourish article you might have missed.
Before we dig into chapter 3, we might want to take a moment to understand the structure of the material within the whole adventure. Unlike Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat, this adventure is not linear. One chapter doesn't necessarily lead to the next. If you force your players to travel through the chapters linearlly, you're less likely to have a good time.
Here's a loose guide to the overall structure of this adventure:
Chapter 1: This chapter covers the mini-sandbox of Velkenvelve. The PCs are captured and must figure out how to escape. There are multiple routes out but all of them will lead to the next chapter.
Chapter 2: This chapter gives the DM a bunch of tools for running interesting adventures in the underdark. It includes random tables and small adventure sites that you can throw in whenever you want to spice up the story. You're likely to return to this chapter each time the PCs end up back in the caverns between visits to bigger locations.
Chapter 3: Like the previous chapter, this chapter also gives a bunch of underdark traversing tools, particularly focused on the Darklake. This chapter also contains all the information on Sloobludop (Sloob-Lu-Dop) which we'll talk about further in this article.
Chapter 7: Wha? Why'd we skip the other chapters? It's because Chapter 7 is where everything is headed. Chapter 7 describes the goals and directions the PCs might take and what happpens in between the other chapters. If you ask me, this should be chapter 3, not chapter 7, but we have what we have. If you take nothing else from this article take this: Read chapter 7 before running this adventure. This will give you a much better perspective on how the authors expect this adventure to play out.
Chapter 4, 5, 6: These chapters outline large locations the PCs might travel to. Each one is like a tiny location sourcebook tied to an adventure. Your PCs may never travel to these locations but it would be a shame if they miss them. Consider tying the story back to these locations so the PCs get to see each of them. You can do this with NPC motivators or other quests.
We're not going to dig into chapters 8 through 17 since those cover a much greater part of the adventure beyond the escape from the underdark.
As mentioned in the above chapter guide, the first half of chapter 3 gives you tools similar to those in chapter 2. We have numerous random encounter tables we can use to make traveling the Darklake fun and interesting. We can mix this chapter with chapter 2's tools to make the whole underdark feel like a living breathing place on both land and in the water.
All of the same tricks for running chapter 2 work with this part of chapter 3. You can roll for an encounter and ignoring "nothing happens" events when you need something interesting to happen. You can also roll randomly to determine what might have come before the PCs arrived in a location or show them areas they might choose to avoid.
You'll return to this part of the chapter at least twice, once before the PCs reach Sloobludop and perhaps afterwards. Anytime the PCs return to the water is a good time to hit up this chapter. There's a lot of great material to pilfer.
The Kuo-Toa city of Sloobludop (Sloob-Lu-Dop) takes up half of chapter 3 in this book and, given the climactic end to the city, it's worth figuring out how to get your PCs to visit it. There are a lot of possible reasons the PCs might visit and hopefully as many reasons to get involved in the drama between Ploopploopeen (Ploop-Ploop-een) and Bloppblippodd (Blop-Blip-odd) (seriously, who came up with these names?). The scenes as they play out won't likely take a lot of time so don't worry about spending a lot of time in the city.
If your PCs are particularly crafty and able to avoid getting involved in the drama of Sloobludop, you might show them that one of the original NPC prisoners of Velkinvelve is now about to be sacrificed to the Kuo Toa God. Even if they don't rescue the NPC, they can see Demogorgon rise.
When Demogorgon shows up, it's time to hammer the PCs with that madness effect we've been reading about. Each of the PCs should make a DC 13 Charisma saving throw or suffer one level of madness and take on a short term madness effect. This might knock one or more of them completely out of commission so be ready to help them figure out how not to become sludge under Demogorgon's hoof. If they all fail, maybe another heroic NPC pulls them to the safety of a nearby cave.
When the madness effects hit, you have a great opportunity to turn the story back to the players. If they go to their happy place, what does that place look like? What horrors do they dream of while stunned? Let them describe their own madness and make it a part of their own character rather than force things on them.
Whatever happens, the PCs should escape somehow. Unless they make really bad decisions ("I hit Demogorgon with my axe!") give them plenty of chances to escape but no one escapes Demogorgon's presence unmarked even if that mark is buried in the minds of his witnesses.
The rise of Demogorgon is one of the main cinematic moments of this adventure. Take your time to let it flow into the story organically but don't let them miss it. It's a moment they'll never forget.
With Demogorgon storming Sloobludop, our heroes will likely make their way out of the city. Diving through the eastern canal into an underground river and into a cavern is a good way to reach safety. At that point, they can return to the rivers of Darklake and continue their journey.
At this point the PCs have a few choices. They can head to the Duergar city of Gracklestugh or perhaps follow Stool the friendly fungi to the Neverlight Grove. Either direction gets us back to using the random encounters in either chapter 2 or chapter 3. It's also a good time for the PCs to run into one of the encounter locations in chapter 2. You can roll randomly to determine which one of the locations they happen to find on the way.
Either way, the adventures never stop coming as our heroes continue to make their way out of the abyss!