“Demons huh? Those have some pretty good loot … right?”
So I picked up a copy of Out of the Abyss last month and I found it to be a pretty exciting read. Usually I’ll pick up a book, peruse it for a bit and get a sense of what’s in there and I’ll spot read bits after trying to read from cover to cover. Generally these mega adventures/campaigns, which seem to be the format for 5e, that cover 15 levels or more of play don’t exactly read like novels. The first one, Tyranny of Dragons a two-parter, is mostly driven by a string of imminent events. This wasn’t a deal breaker. Many of my campaigns in the past were, in retrospect, fairly linear, but my group was more inclined to be the reactionary type, happy to be pulled along by events. The second, Princes of the Apocalypse, is fairly praiseworthy. It gives the PCs far more latitude. The campaign constraints are still there, but I can see the narrative panning out differently in subsequent replays. This time, Out of the Abyss is a page turner.
Like Princes of the Apocalypse, you get that sand box feel with Out of the Abyss. Normally this means a disjointed narrative. There are certain touchstone moments built in that need to happen in order to drive the plot, but otherwise all possible outcomes happily coexist, parallel realities to be accounted for with ever expanding logic gates and “if this than that” contingencies. Usually most of these choices are rendered ultimately inconsequential by scripted events that are points of convergence for the story. There’s a bit of that in Out of the Abyss, but they include so many variables that these convergence points look less like an intersection, and more like a bottle neck. It’s set in the Underdark, which naturally constrains the player’s travel choices in the way a traditional dungeon does. Yet travel in this subterranean world can be pretty variable with arbitrary or random terrain encounters coupled with monster/NPC encounters, making each run-through a unique experience. Key locations each have a politically complex landscape that bewilder the mind with the potential story arcs. “Touchstone” events are rendered contextually dynamic based on the PCs circumstances. I know that’s all a bit abstract, but for the sake of being able to avoid a mild spoiler, I’ll foot note an example at the end.*
As much as I love D&D and running D&D games, reading adventures, let alone whole campaigns, can still be a bit of a chore. Usually I need a vested interest to keep me going. In other words, I’m about to run this story so I better know what I’m doing. Strangely, I found myself eagerly reading Out of the Abyss, even mentally tracking as many story iterations as my feeble mind could hold. It’s that good. I find myself attenuating to the weird and dreamlike vibe it’s trying to convey. The PCs are placed in world of strangeness with a constant parade of quirky NPCs to interact with, most of whom have an inclination to join or follow the party. I can see things getting pretty crowded unless the DM gets a little vicious and knocks some of these camp followers off from time to time, which adds a melancholic element to counterpoint to the whimsy since the loss of these characters would bereally felt as they are so colorful and memorable. Madness is definitely a theme throughout, and if you didn’t pick up on the dreamscape aspect early on, you get hit over the head with Alice in Wonderland simulacrums to reinforce the point.
The Plan: Brainstorming Projects for the First Chapter
Caveat! Some spoilage beyond. Be thee warned!