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Out of the Abyss (D&D Accessory) Hardcover – September 15, 2015
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The characters start out as prisoners of the Drow with no equipment and have to escape their captors. Then the situation gets very "sandboxy" as the NPCs who are with the characters each want to go to different areas of the Underdark. The choices of where to head are up to the players What makes the adventure so great is the richness of the NPCs, and the variety of encounters. Some are heavy combat and some are role-playing and can be resolved in many creative ways. There are all sorts of decisions characters must make which have consequnces later on. The environments/encounters are extremely rich and some are truly bizarre (as would be appropriate for the Underdark).
In conclusion, a DM can't read a chapter an hour before the game and effectively run this adventure. DMs must really be willing to do the necessary prep work. But, if they are willing to invest the time, this adventure will provide months of fantastic entertainment as it takes the characters from 1st to 15th level.
UPDATE (10/16)- I have now run the entire adventure and, in my opinion, certain serious flaws have become apparent. I will start with what I consider the worst flaw (and the reason I dropped the adventure from 5 to 3 stars). The campaign is advertised as going from 1st to 15th level. However, the 2nd half of the adventure (when you supposedly go from 8th - 15th level) is still chocked full of encounters with very low CR monsters. For example, when you are supposed to be around 12th level, there is a major encounter with troglodytes (CR 1/4!). The authors seem to imply that somehow this would actually be challenging for a 12th level party. Another example is the fact that the random encounter tables in the 2nd half of the book are almost exclusively full of monsters below CR 6. Once again, the characters are way beyond that sort of threat at that point. This sort of flaw is repeated numerous times. With the exception of a 2 or 3 boss encounters these encounters are boring for the party. As a DM, I had to completely re-do most of the encounters not only to challenge the party, BUT TO GIVE THEM ENOUGH XP TO EVEN GET TO THE LEVELS THEY NEEDED TO BE AT for the finale. The encounters as written are basically useless. Other flaws include numerous errors in organization such as stating that Overlake Hold is the home of the Deepking (pg. 62) and then stating the Deepking lives in a totally different place (pg 82). These errors are much less serious but there are so many and they do get annoying. Finally, the organization of the chapters is pathetic.
While the game offers that your party can go to Menzoberranzan, Darklake, or Gracklestugh after chapter one, what they really mean is you SHOULD go to the Darklake, Gracklestugh isn't the worst idea, and Menzoberranzan is certain death. This is a running theme through the book. You "can" go anywhere, but you only can go one, maybe two places without being captured, or TPK'd. If you do allow your party to not follow strictly to the chapter progression of the book (Velkynvelve > Travel > Darklake > Darklake Travel > Gracklestugh > Travel > Neverlight Grove > Travel > Bligdenstone > Leave Underdark), make sure to be prepared to have NPCs fight on behalf of the party if things get too sticky. Unfortunately, with the pacing of the recommended levels, the book would lead you to believe that any of this activities could take place in any order, but that is simply not the case. You are basically required to hit every single stop before leaving the Underdark.
The chapter on travel is a bit of a nightmare to boot, as the travel times for reaching certain cities don't match up with the math for travel times as expressed in the DMG and this book. Specifically, the PHB states that in an hour, PCs travel 3 mph or 24 miles per day at a normal pace, the table for OotA says they travel 0.75 mph or 6 miles per day, but OotA ALSO states that Underdark travel is considered "difficult terrain," which should be 1/2 movement speed, putting the travel down to 1.5 miles per hour or 12 miles per day. Ultimately, it only adds to the confusion that travel distance, isn't listed in distance at all, but in "days traveled." This makes it incredibly frustrating to keep track of how much the party is actually moving and leads to a lot of necessary BS'ing on the part of the DM.
Another thing is that the "random encounters" for the first half of the book span wildly different CR ratings and actual combat difficulty. Be prepared for very hard encounters early on and trivial ones once the PCs obtain the "Daylight" spell or the sun blade Dawnbringer. Additionally, since the party will face at most 2 encounters a day by book ruling while travelling through the Underdark, the "easier" encounters serve as little but speedbumps in the path to reaching the actual meat of the story in the dungeons and major chapters. I strongly recommend that DMs write specific content to occur for the party along the way to each major chapter and use that over the excuse for
Additionally, with modules in mind, not a lot of mind is paid to making the world feel alive much. Specifically in the case of the Darklake where the players are expected to be kidnapped (AGAIN) and taken as prisoners to the city of Sloobludop. This practice becomes a trope even among a party who hasn't been exposed to it before. The book says the PCs are taken as prisoners three separate times (four if they are captured by the first group of Kuo-toa at the Darklake and the second) before the end of the fourth chapter.
This kind of storytelling is tedious. And makes the players feel like they are in a game, rather that writing themselves into a world.
Also, be prepared to explain to your party that this adventure is sparing with magic items early on. Some of the setpiece dungeons offer meaningful magic items in the first half of the book (including a +1 dagger, a fiery mace which deals 1 additional fire damage with no +hit bonus, and a legendary sentient sunblade), but unfortunately this leads to some disparity in magic item possession among party members.
One particular thing I've noticed is a lack of items for casters in general. Now I know items like +1 weapons for casters are rarely a thing (unless you're a warlock), but there should be some compensation added for casters throughout the adventure, given that all major items handed out consist solely of melee weapons.
And the last thing is this: make certain to read the entire chapter before running it and make notes of specific plot paths. There is not adventure summary in this book and it makes the product especially difficult to fully prepare for, and as a DM that's already difficult enough. I don't need to have trouble finding where the plot-hooks are in the DM's guide for the story.
All-in-all, however, I think it's a fantastic story that requires a lot of polish from the DM, use of additional resources (such as this one: [...]), and some extra attention to making modifications based on your preference.
For DM's with extra time on your hands and a desire to have some say in world-building and designing for your party? I rate a 8.5/10 for the plot and setting alone.
For DM's looking for a real sandbox, inexperienced DMs, or those with little time to prepare looking for a true alternative to world-building? 3/10
A fun beginning campaign for the group. You have to tweak it a bit so you don't have a TPK in the beginning. There's a lot of NPCs at the start, and my group managed to keep almost all of them alive, so there's a lot of management there. It would be a shame if something tragic happened to them....
Well worth the buy!