Welcome to another exciting season of D&D Encounters. This is season 21 if you count from when the program originally launched, or season 3 since the launch of 5e. The new storyline is called Rage of Demons and this season’s adventure is called Out of the Abyss. The Encounters season has the characters wandering the Underdark as they struggle to learn what’s happening and why there are so many Demons wandering around. Along the way they meet numerous interesting NPCs and begin to understand that the Underdark is a dangerous and beautiful place. However, it will take all of their skills, wits, and magic to survive long enough to reach the safety of the surface world once again. Do you have what it takes? Visit your FLGS and find out.
We had a great turnout at Face to Face Games in Toronto. We ran four tables of six (24 players total), but will be expanding to five tables next week as we know more players will be participating this season. At Hairy T North we had five tables that could barley handle the 29 players who showed up. Everyone wants to play this season of D&D Encounters.
My table had the following PCs: Gnome Wizard (Folk Hero), Gnome Fighter (Sage), Half-Orc Barbarian (Folk Hero), Half-Orc Fighter (Outlander), Elf Ranger (Outlander), and Elf Wizard (Acolyte). We’ll see how the absence of any healing magic works out this season. I’m guessing badly.
A Challenging Beginning
The adventure begins with the PCs waking up in a Drow prison cell. They have been stripped of all their belonging and are chained up. This throws the PCs right into the adventure and presses upon them the urgency of their current situation. But the thrill of starting in the middle of the action is offset by the problem of having no gear. This means no weapons, no armor, and no spell books. I imagined some players would freak out at this realization, but none did at my FLGS. Most saw it as an interesting role-playing opportunity.
This situation is dire for the PCs. They are in the large cavernous cell with 10 other prisoners all of whom are about to be transported to the Drow city Menzoberranzan where they will become slaves or sacrifices. Neither of these options is really appealing to any of the PCs. So they need to try and escape. But how?
The outpost where they’re being held captive is run by a handful of Drow (they will later learn that there are 19 Drow guards there). Help the Drow keep order are a dozen or more Quaggoths. These are ape-like creatures that can fly into fits of rage and rip living creatures in two with just their bare hands.
Fortunately for the PCs, the caravan from Menzoberranzan is behind schedule so they have some time to plot their escape. The Drow guards grow bored of waiting for the caravan and find pleasure in forcing the prisoners to perform various demeaning tasks. The guards laugh and the prisoners get demoralized. And in many cases the prisoners get a good whipping for no reason other than they’re prisoners.
But, these demoralizing tasks often happen outside of the cell. This gives cleaver PCs a chance to get a better idea of the outpost’s layout, the number of guards, the location of equipment, and possible avenues of escape. And sure enough when the PCs were on work detail during the first session they got up to all kinds of shenanigans as we’ll describe below.
The Other Prisoners
When the adventure begins there are 10 other NPCs in the sell with the PCs. We spent much of the first session getting to know the gang. Here’s what they learned about their fellow captives.
- Buppido – Derro (male). The PCs have not interacted with him at all so far.
- Derendil – Quaggoth (male). An Elvin prince transformed into a Quaggoth when he was usurped by an evil Wizard. Derendil longs to return to his forest kingdom where he can break the curse and reclaim his throne.
- Eldeth Feldrun – Mountain Dwarf (female). Eagerly recruited the PCs into her escape plans. She’s been watching and noting many key details about the happenings in the outpost. She even knows all the Drow by name. Suggests the party head to Gauntlgrym once they’re free.
- Jimjar – Deep Gnome (male). Love to talk. Loves to gamble.
- Ront – Orc (male). Strong and eager to fight. A man of few words.
- Sarith Kzekarit – Drow (male). Accused of murdering his fellow Drow, he’s to be sacrificed to the Spider Goddess when he gets back to Menzoberranzan. He’s asked the PCs to kill him here to save him from a fate worse than death and to deny Lloth the satisfaction of torturing him. He also has a strange red rash on the side of his face. The only prisoner not to be given work detail.
- Shuushar – Kuo-toa (male). Seems to be a Monk or Cleric. Little interaction with him so far.
- Stool – Myconid (male???). Although he lacks a face or a mouth, he can communicate telepathically when another creature inhales his spores. He made fast friends with the Fighter. Stool seems child-like.
- Topsy & Turvy – Deep Gnomes (female & male). These twins seem mischievous and cunning. They’re always observing. They tend to keep quiet but when engaged Topsy does all the talking and is pleasant. They have already collected a few things to aid in any escape attempt.
Work Detail #1
The adventure doesn’t spell out what tasks the Drow will have the PCs undertake as part of the work detail. It just suggests that the tasks be demoralizing (like cleaning chamber pots) or non-productive (like stacking and re-stacking crates). It also says that they should happen outside of the cells most of the time.
When it came time for my party’s first work assignment it included the Barbarian, Ranger, Wizard, and Derendil. Earlier that day when the Drow were using the lift to bring some supplies up from the lower level some of the goods fell off when the lift tipped over. Most items were recovered, but a few were snagged on the cliff-side. The PCs were gives two coils of rope, each 25ft long and told to recover the goods.
A quick check of the rope revealed it was tattered and torn and wouldn’t likely support much weight. A look over the ledge revealed that the closest sack snagged on the cliff was more than 25 feet below. Climbing without the rope was possible, but perilous. About 100ft below the ledge was a spider web net and a Giant Spider was anxiously waiting below for a climber to slip and fall.
The Ranger began quickly braiding the two ropes together while the Barbarian started climbing down without a harness. The Drow felt the party was taking too long braiding the rope and began threatening them with the whip. Using what they had, they lowered the Wizard down. The rope was too short so he was puilled up and the Ranger climbed down, freeing himself of the rope when he reached 25ft.
Despite some close calls both PCs managed to climb down and retrieve some goods. The Barbarian found a few vials of Drow sleep poison, one of which he put in his mouth for safe keeping. The Ranger found fresh fruit and ate one on the spot before stuffing another into his pants. The Barbarian managed to climb down even farther and retrieved a weapons belt. He slipped two throwing darts into his pants and then climbed back up.
The Drow were not impressed that the PCs had succeeded without suffering any causalities. The Ranger used Performance to make it look like he was in distress from the climb. When the guard came over the Ranger pushed him over the ledge. The nimble Drow managed to grab hold of the ledge, but the Wizard used Shocking Grasp to cause the Drow to fall. The Spider below made short work of the Drow as he hit the webbing.
The remaining Guards didn’t actually see what happened thanks to the PCs coordinated efforts and Deceptions checks but the end result was a dead guard. The PCs were whipped and then returned to their cells.
Work Detail #2
Second word detail consisted of the Half-Orc Fighter, Ront the Orc, and Topsey & Turvey the Deep Gnomes. They were escorted to the meeting hall where the Drow eat their meals and prep their food. The Quaggoths were told to wait outside while the two Drow escorts led the four prisoners into the hall. Inside a lone Drow was busy prepping the next meal and was making a good mess of the kitchen.
The prisoners were told to clean the mess. The Deep Gnomes quickly started cleaning up the food scraps putting just as much in their mouths as in the trash. The Fighter and Ront were told to move heavy sacks of dried goods from one end of the kitchen to the other – clearly a make-work task with no meaningful objective but to demoralize and de-motivate.
It didn’t take long for the Fighter to whisper to Ront that this work was beneath them. They should fight the Drow guards. Ront needed no additional prompting. He charged the cook, grabbed a carving knife and stabbed him repeatedly. The Fighter ran past Ront, grabbed another knife, and charged the closest Drow guard. The knife normally wouldn’t do enough damage to kill a Drow in one shot, but with a natural 20 the Fighter did just that.
The remaining Drow tried to take down his attackers, but was unable to hit the nibble Fighter. Ront quickly rant to help the Fighter and the two of them easily killed the final guard. With three dead Drow laying in pools of their own blood the prisoners knew there was no covering up this mess. The Deep Gnomes each took a knife from the kitchen and fled. They said they were heading for the prisoners’ cell to free the others.
Ront and the Fighter took the Drow guards’ Short Swords and Daggers and decided to go on the offensive. Luck was on their side as the Quaggoths told to wait outside had left. The Orc and Half-Orc charged the closest door they could see – the Guard Barracks (not that they knew that’s what was on the other side of the door).
The door smashed behind the weight of the charging prisoners. Inside was a lone Drow relaxing in a chair shaped like a spider. This was not a lowly Drow guard, this was a seasoned Drow Veteran (with over 70 hit points). The prisoners won initiative and attacked. The Drow was armored but took 4 solid hits from the attackers in the first round weakening him considerably.
With a Long Sword in one hand and a crossbow in the other he fought back. The dart coated with sleep poison hit the Fighter. He was poisoned but didn’t fall asleep. The Drow Veteran dropped his crossbow and drew a Short Sword so he could attack both prisoners each round. Unfortunately for this proud Drow luck was not on his side and he was unable to score significant hits on the two un-armored attackers. With only a few hit points remaining the Orc and Half-Orc slew the Drow.
Meanwhile Topsey & Turvey made their way back to the cell. They quietly alerted the prisoners that it was time to leave as they began working the lock.
To be continued…
I cannot tell you how excited I was when I learned that the game began with the PCs locked in a cell with absolutely no equipment. I’ve always wanted to have a campaign begin this way but didn’t want to get lynched by the players. I get the joy of running this adventure with none of the grief for creating his setup. Thank you Wizards.
Of course beginning without gear does come with pitfalls. Assuming the PCs escape (which the game pretty much required them to do) they will have to decide if their freedom is more important than equipment. Their stuff is around but they likely don’t know where. They’ll have to decide if it’s worth slowing their escape to find any of it. The Wizards in particular will make a strong argument to get their spell books back.
I’m glad that the surprise of beginning without gear was kept under wraps for so long. I was a bit worried we’d see a disproportionate number of Monks simply because they are so good without gear. This was not the case at my FLGS. However, I’m guessing we may see a few people take a level or Monk before the season’s over.
A big part of the adventure to come involved Demons. I encourage all DMs to actually pick up their Monster Manual and read the entries on Demons, not just the stat block. Remember that most Demons can summon other Demons. This is a big part of why their challenge rating and XP is what it is. If you don’t try to summon more demons, than your party isn’t facing the full power of the monsters and is getting way more XP than they should for defeating them. Plus there is a some good flavour text in the Demons section of the book that you may be able to draw inspiration from. And of course the art is fantastic!
My only criticism of the first part of the adventure is that the PCs are supposed to on work detail for a few days but there isn’t really a lot of detail provided on what the work detail may be. I came up with a couple of things but felt they were just ho-hum. I would have been happy with a few suggestions or a small table we could roll on. Something. Anything.
What was your first session like? How did the players at your FLGS react to having no equipment? Did you see a lot of Monks? Do you think you will?
Recounting Encounters Podcast
- Listen to Derek Myers, Craig Sutherland, and Marc Talbot (from 20ft Radius) recount our weekly experience at D&D Encounters. We share the highlights from our respective tables and we talk about what worked, what didn’t and what we might have done differently. Find all episodes of Recounting Encounters on iTunes.
Actual Play Podcasts
- Each week we record our D&D Encounters session and make it available to you for download every week. These recordings are made in a loud, crowded game store so at times it may be difficult to hear everyone. Some language may be inappropriate for all ages, although we try to keep it as family-friendly as possible.
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