by Mike Shea on 25 January 2016
This article is one of several articles on Out of the Abyss. You can read all of these articles at the following links:
Like previous articles, this article will be packed with fungus-filled spoilers so hang onto your caps!
If you have an even rudimentary background in mathematics, you'll see that we skipped chapter 4. What gives?
As we've discussed in previous articles, Out of the Abyss is best played as an underground sandbox adventure. Your group might, as mine did, decide to go left instead of right and you might find yourself headed deeper into the book than you expect. That's fine. Our players should be free to choose where they want to go without us forcing them down the table of contents of the adventure.
However, given the excellent material in this adventure, it's probably a good idea for us to find reasons for the party to visit all of the locations in the book. They're all pretty great.
One great way to give the PCs some direction is to guide NPCs from place to place. In our adventure, the PCs met a duergar in Sloopludop who wanted the PCs to escort him to Gracklstugh while the small mushroom, Stool, wants the PCs to go to Neverlight Grove. The PCs can choose which way they want to go.
For this reason, it's best that the NPCs with the greatest drives to visit interesting locations are the ones with the PCs. Even if they didn't rescue them in chapter 1, they might run into them in their travels.
The NPCs that can best guide the PCs to interesting locations are:
Stool in particular makes for a great NPC to join the party. He's an obvious non-combatant and yet has a great tie into the events of Neverlight now and in the future. If the PCs aren't with him, or even if he somehow died, now is not a bad time to reintroduce him.
Chris Perkins describes Out of the Abyss as a D&D version of Alice's journey through Wonderland. That's all fine but if handled the wrong way it can feel like the PCs are in a little teacup traveling through the worst It's A Small World ride ever constructed.
Motivations are important and, at this stage in the adventure, it's important to ensure these motivations solid in the minds of the PCs and in the minds of your players. There are probably a few big quests they might follow, even some that come from the backgrounds of the PCs themselves, but there's a strong one built into the adventure: get to Gauntlgrym.
The NPC that can best steer the PCs this way is Eldeth Feldrun. She could have the strongest motivation to get to Gauntlgrym and can reinforce the need to let the forces of good know about the horrors that are unleashed in the Underdark.
The quest to reach Gauntlgrym and warn the king about the arrival of the demon princes is a good one to carry them halfway through the adventure.
No area in the first half of the book captures the theme of Alice in Wonderland as well as Neverlight Grove. Giant mushrooms, plant-covered stone walls and floors, and brilliant multicolored phosphorescent light build an area completely alien to any the PCs have likely scene. Play this up quite a bit and return to it as you run this chapter.
Mushrooms don't think and talk like any other creature. You might consider thinking about this like a giant fungal internet. Any fungus connected to the rest of the patch can understand the thoughts of all of the rest of the fungi attached here. This fungal connection can expand throughout the underdark. It is extremely powerful but also extremely dangerous since any rogue thought can be heard by the rest of the collective. Individuals have their own minds when connected to this fungal net, but there are no boundaries and no secrets to those connected.
The fungi of Neverlight are connected in such a way. The only way to have a private conversation with any of them is to tear them free of the net and have that conversation.
Though the creatures of Neverlight share a single ocean of thought with one another, each of them has their own consciousness. Now a great rift has opened up within this single view of the world: the coming of Zuggtmoy. Half of the grove wants to serve her and expand her empire while the other half know something is terribly wrong. Because of their open connections to one another, those who wish to uncover the truth of Zuggtmoy can use the PCs to investigate this truth.
Sovereign Basidia is the main point of contact between the PCs and the rest of the grove. He's not happy about Zuggtmoy's coming and asks the PCs to investigate the truth of the grove. Throughout their time in Neverlight Grove, he can be their primary quest giver and even speak to them through the great fungal internet once they leave.
The main goal of this chapter is for the PCs to uncover the upcoming wedding of Zuggtmoy, witness the madness of the rehearsal, and then get the hell out of the grove. Stool is very useful in relaying this information as is Sovereign Basidia. Basidia should likely want to stay in the grove but can, perhaps, communicate to the party through Stool when Stool is able to connect into a patch of fungus somewhere else in the underdark.
Like a few of the chapters in Out of the Abyss, the main purpose of chapter 5 is to give the PCs a view of the rarely seen fantastic location of Neverlight Grove and witness the further corruption of the underdark through Zuggtmoy's upcoming wedding. It also foreshadows chapter 16, the Fetid Wedding, further along in the adventure.
As the PCs flee from Neverlight, we can return them to either Chapter 2 or 3 for their further explorations leading to locations they have yet to visit.