D&D Encounters: Out of the Abyss (Episode 1.1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 16, 2015

out-of-the-abyss-coverWelcome 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…

Thoughts

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?

Podcasts

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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1 Meanse September 17, 2015 at 4:44 pm

It sounds like you short changed your players and allowed them to escape night one something that is impossible it should take 3 or 4 sessions to do. The players don’t know enough about the camp or which way is safe, no trust in the NPC, no equipment, no understanding of the politics, etc….

It sounds like you read the adventure for the first time the same day you ran it as such you simply didn’t understand how it was intended to be run and instead ran it counter to the information provided.

The 6 spiders (not 1) are trained so it wouldn’t attack the drow?

Why would a drow help a PC that looks like they are falling? it makes no sense if the slave dies he dies the Drow didn’t kill him he just let Lolth’s will determine if the player fell or not… he wouldn’t go help a slave. The drow would probably call over other Drow and take bets as to if he would fall or not and how long he could hang on.

The Quaggoth’s are trained so why would they leave vs guard as orders by the drow? Also 2 unarmored half-orcs would never be able no matter how many 20’s take down 3 armed and ready drow… even giving you that 2 were killed in the first 12 seconds the 3rd would have raised the alarm and the quaggoth’s that were outside guarding that for no reason but to go against the information provided in the book regarding how they simply abandoned the post.

The book makes it clear that they separate anyone who they think gets along and pairs them up with those who dislike each other so why would they take pairs of the same race and not team up using knowledge of historical racial hatred? It is nonsensical and goes against the instructions of the game.

It’s not sad that the players attempted to escape that is to be expected, it is sad to see how much effort the DM put into helping them. If the DM put as much effort in preparing the game as he did in helping the players with no plan wing it and escape… then this probably would have been a decent game.

It seems like you as a DM didn’t want to put the effort in to make the game interesting and fun even though for 3 or 4 sessions no fighting.

Now that they escaped session one what do they know about the NPC’s? … sadly nothing of real value that will actually help them survive in the wilds of underdark the NPC have not learned enough to care about the players to risk helping them so sad to read that this group of players unknowingly had the game ruined by the one who is supposed to ensure the integrity of the game.
The whole idea of the first 3 or 4 sessions is to setup relationships that pay off and keep paying off for the PC’s as they game progresses. I imagine you will gloss over that and give it away to the players as well with out making them work for it so it amounts to zero.

Sad to see DM take what is intended to be difficult and gut it to make it seems wayyyyyy too easy.

2 Roland September 17, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Sounds like they had fun to me. Sometimes the player’s surprise you and move things along faster than you planned. Maybe you have 3-4 sessions planned for 1 chapter. Personally, if I was a player, I wouldn’t want to spend 3-4 sessions stuck in the same situation. That’s somewhere between 9 and 12 hours. How about story-pacing? Two sessions would be MORE than enough for me and personally, I’ll do the first chapter in 1.5 sessions at most. Keep things moving and at the same time, you’ve savored the scenario and introduced all the key NPCs.

3 Meanse September 18, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Hi Roland,

Assuming the players had fun is just that, an assumption on your part. I would like to point out that I made no assertions one way or the other regarding if the players had fun. I pointed out that the players were woefully shortchanged. The players essentially did nothing other than roll die and fight. The DM cleared the way and handed any success to the players it was not earned. Which if the players come to realize I would expect they would be none to happy to realize that other players who played the same game or read the book will realize it was a DM give away not player skill that won the day.

The DM fast forwarded through a core part of the story where the actions the players take have relevant reaction in the future of the module. Essentially what the players do say and treat the NPC’s will have positive and negative impact on what happens in other chapters

It sounds like you have not read the book. As the players in no way surprised the DM or thought of the box.

The sum total of the escape was two half-orcs attack three drow with no armor no weapons, during the fight they get a dagger. LOL that my friend is not surprising to anyone (least of all to drow slavers).

Two half-orcs (which if you follow the book would never be on the same work detail) went to help a drow cook, killed three drow and the Quaggoth’s didn’t follow orders they received from a drow (not something that would have happened). Then those same two half-orc dropped a drow elite with nothing but daggers??? I suggest you look at the stats of the drow elite but lets say this would never happen it would take the entire party to make this happen. Also still no alarm went off hmm yeah it’s obvious the DM was giving the players the escape.

The players did exactly as the book expects attempt to escape and they would learn the hard way that attempting to attack directly with no help or understanding, or plan is never going to work..

The players are forced to come up with a plan and work together with the NPC’s to make an escape. If they were going to surprise the DM the players would immediately start working the social aspects and building up alliances and learning about the guards. Not try to take the most obvious and direct route that is also the least chance of success.

The fact that you cant handle being “stuck in the same situation” just means that this type of game is not for you which is fine, not ever player can handle being a hero who is captured and needs to escape or has lost all his hard earned equipment, etc. That is fine but the fact that you cant handle it doesn’t mean that the game’s that is a core part should be skipped as others will find it fun and interesting to work out the escape.

Your no more important than other players who do enjoy figuring out how to escape, and making plans.
You are playing in the game that explicitly requires that you do stay in one place to figure out a plan and for the rest of the chapters to pay off. You either have to figure out how to handle it or not play, but what should never happen is the DM change the core parts of the game to fit the need of one or two players. It would be far better to not play the game and instead play some other game that doesn’t have the players start off captured, with no equipment, with skilled slavers who have long experience with slaves attempting to escape, etc.

The first chapter requires the DM to work more to keep it interesting and fun. The lazy DM who shows up and reads it once the same day he is going to run will be shortchanging his players, his players may not realize it immediately but at some point when they talk to others they will come to realize it.

Another item plays into this is that hundreds of AL games are being run using the same material. Which means pace is extremely important… cutting 3 or 4 sessions is huge and will mean that they complete the story early and wait around doing nothing while friends continue to play and enjoy a much deeper and fun story since they put more effort at the start the things that occur near the end will have far greater impact and mean more because the players of those games played the hard “stuck in the same situation” phase.

4 Roland September 19, 2015 at 11:50 am

Dude,
I’ve been literally DMing since 1980. I’ve read the book. I get the scenario. I’ve run similar scenarios like this in the past.
I just take issue with your passing judgment on the DM here. Hey, you love your style of DMing and your players do too. Kudos to you. There is more than one way to go through the content.

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) September 20, 2015 at 4:11 pm

@Meanse

Welcome to Dungeon’s Master. We appreciate your readership. You brought up some great points in your comments so let me try to address them.

One thing that I should probably make clearer in future write-ups is that my articles are not exact blow-by-blow recaps. They’re interned as a summary of the high points. So in some cases what I describe actually took place over a lot of real time or over many more rounds that what’s described.

It is indeed recommended that that prison chapter take 3-4 sessions to complete. This is a recommendation, and it is a good one. My sessions generally take 3 hours which is longer than other FLGS, so we generally get a lot more done in one week than other stores. As you’ll read in next week’s write-up, they didn’t actually escape until the end of session 1.2, so after 6 hours of play.

Your point about making friends and interacting with the NPCs is almost the same thing I said to my group. The players were not really interested in spending a lot of time in the prison and didn’t really care about the other NPCs. They’ll realize the folly of this oversight in the coming weeks.

I’ll admit that I only had a few days to prep, but I did read the adventure more than once before running it. I made some adjustments on the fly to better meet the needs of my group and ensure a fun play experience.

You’re right, the Spiders are trained. The PCs believe that the Spiders killed and ate the Drow guards. The Drow were not actually been harmed because the Spiders have been trained not to harm them. None of the PCs made any effort to witness the deaths so they made that assumption and I ran with it. They made this same mistake in week 1.2, assuming that a Drow knocked off the ledge was dead. Surprises are coming for this party.

The circumstances that got the Drow guard to the ledge didn’t involve a PC falling, but a PC making a good show is potentially losing the supplies they’d been sent over the ledge to retrieve.

The Quaggoths didn’t just leave, they were called to tend to another matter that the PCs were unaware of. Again, I just said they’d left because the PCs had no way to know why the Quoggoths were gone.

The standard Drow guards have 13 hit points. Two stabs with a dagger from a strong NPC like Ront can and did kill the first guard. The PC’s crit with max damage rolled did 12 points (only 1 off) so I called it a kill for cinematic effect. The third guard missed with his attacks and the PC and Gront both hit for more than a combined 13 points. I’ll admit it was unexpected, but it happened. From there the heroes used the Drow guards weapons and armor to make the next fight easier for them.

As for who was on work detail, it was a combination of me rolling randomly and the players using good role-playing and smart deception on the guards to get certain NPCs together. Ront had already had a very vocal disagreement with the Fighter he ended up paired with, so until they attacked the guards they were at odds which the guards took note of.

I wouldn’t say I helped them, I merely let the scenes play out as I felt was appropriate given their actions. By the end of the first session only four prisoners were out of the cell and it was pretty clear two were going to be dead soon.

My intent was to let the players drive the pace. If they’d wanted to spend multiple sessions getting to know the NPCs and interact with he guards I’d be good with that. But with this group it was very clear that they wanted to bust out fast. Most sessions I’ve run during public play need some combat. The players at my FLGS want to roll dice and kill monsters. It may not be the same with all groups, but this is what my groups expect.

You make an excellent point that once the PCs are out, if they manage to escape, they’ll have no idea what to do next. I tried to remind the players of that but they took that attitude that they’ll worry about that later. Fortunately for them some of the NPCs will follow them out and they’ll be forced to listen to them at that time. It’s not my job to force their hand and require them to take certain actions (like interact with the NPCs). With an RPG they players can do whatever they want and in this case they wanted to escape ASAP. I don’t see this as a problem with the integrity of the game. Clearly you disagree, and that’s fine.

You may feel I made things too easy, I disagree. I think I did what was required to ensure everyone had fun, and they did. Some DMs will make things more challenging, but for this group on this day I didn’t feel that was the correct approach.

Thanks again for the comment. I’d love to hear how your sessions are going. It sounds like your group will be way more into the role-playing and relationship development between the PCs and NPCs than my group was. I’m always curious to know how other DMs and other players handle the same source materials.

6 anthony September 22, 2015 at 2:38 am

Both of the actual play podcasts are from the face to face games. Is there supposed to be a different one for harry t north?

7 SirZac September 23, 2015 at 2:14 pm

How to DM is completely subjective. Some DMs pride on honing the details and the other small bits. Some see the DM screen providing a clear division between DM and players. And of course there is debate on hack & slash versus story. My point is, someone having derision for another DM has no merit, and is frankly appalling.

8 Kevin Smith November 17, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Hey guys, first time listener and reader. Getting ready to run this for my at home group so it’s been nice to hear a few concepts for how to handle the early parts. I’m looking forward to this Campaign, it’s an interesting way to start what looks to be a very different version of D&D.

Also, kudos on being understanding about players who were uncomfortable. Sounds like you handled that situation with respect and kindness. I applaud that.

9 Steven December 23, 2015 at 10:53 am

I start with OotA in 3 weeks when we expect to be finished with our current campaign. Read all the summaries from 1.1 tot 4.6 you really help me with some small examples to smooth things and gaps with my own ideas.

Please continue. But I am wary for my group how we keep it interesting to keep traveling so long and so many encounters from A to B. etc.

10 Ellis Benus January 25, 2016 at 8:12 pm

Thank you! I just started running this in a play by post forum. Great ideas. I read through all the material and was kind of lost for what to do between them waking up and escaping. Thanks for sharing!

11 Cruvis February 28, 2016 at 7:31 pm

I played chapter 1 in a single 4 hour session. My DM is no slouch and we interacted with every NPC in that session. No punches were pulled, but we did have some luck. Also, I agree that Ront and a half-orc could get lucky against three drow guards. My gnome bard took out three drow guards alone in three rounds of combat. Lucky and inspirational, yes, you bet! Impossible, no! He criticaled one, hit one twice with two-weapon style, and used the hand crossbow stolen off a body to kill the third. The dice don’t lie.

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