Early Experience running Out of the Abyss

House Rules for Out of the Abyss

I’ve decided to take the framework for Out of the Abyss and mold it to my liking. First, if you intend to run “Out of the Abyss” straight out of the “box”, good luck.
It is a toolkit, some set pieces, and a lot of narrative prose.

There are plenty of random tables to help move things along, but the book had disorganized core information. My guess is that not a single play tester ran this game from the published book; The information is too spread out for easy access.

What follows are the pieces that I’ve adopted to help me adjudicate the game.

From the Dungeon Master’s Guide

I’ve opted for a more brutal game. Characters are a bit more fragile. I had mulled over a long rest being 7 days and a short rest being 8 hours, but opted not to use that given the nature of the adventure. These are my personal preferences.

  • Slow Natural Healing (DMG p267): Character’s do not recover hit points after a long rest. They must use hit dice.
  • Massive Damage (DMG p273): Too much damage and you might be out of the fight.
  • Injuries (DMG p272-273): If you get knocked out of the fight, bad things can happen.
  • Morale (DMG p273): Because combat is more lethal, I want morale to help adjudicate monster’s. I’m not satisfied with 5E’s morale ratings, but they are an acceptable approximation.

Building on “Out of the Abyss”

The following rules build from my observations of the missing specificity in “Out of the Abyss”.

Illumination

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

Roll a d6 to determine how an encounter area is illuminated. On a roll of 1-3, the area is dimly lit by the phosphorescent moss and lichen common in the Underdark, or by faerzress (see “Faerzress”). On a roll of 4-6, the area is dark except for whatever light sources the characters might have.

And that is all you get for using Faerzress in encounters. Here is a table to help determine light. This table assumes that on a roll of 1 for illumination, using the original mechanics, there is a 50% chance that the illumination is from faerzress.

d12 Illumination
1 faezress (Out of the Abyss p21)
2-6 Dim
7-12 Dark

Foraging

From “Out of the Abyss” p20:

A foraging character makes a Wisdom (Survival) check.
The DC is typically 15, but might be as high as 20 in some parts of the Underdark.

Again, that is all of the guidance you get. So I made a table to help determine the base DC for each day of travel.

d6 Food Scarcity
1-4 Limited: DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging
5-6 Scarce: DC 20 Wisdom (Survival) for foraging

I made the following resource to help keep track of the day-to-day movements of the party. I also made sure to make a small character sheet for the “friendly NPCs”; There are four NPCs per side.

I spent a few hours this afternoon, rolling the random encounters for the next 30 travel days. Some of the random encounters are straight forward and require one page in the monster manual, but others require referencing numerous pages.

Here are the first 7 days (in which my players have already engaged) and how I wrote the information in Google Sheets. As we’ve proceeded, I need to refine when the encounter happens. I take rest to mean after the characters have stopped moving.

So, when the characters force march for a total of 12 hours, its easy. Encounters happen on the 1d12 hours into that timeframe. If the characters choose to not force march then travel encounters happen 1d8 hours into traveling and rest encounters happen 1d18 hours into the rest (roll a D20 and re-roll 19 or 20).

Day Time Location Creature Space Light XP
2 Travel Webs Escaped Slave (1 shield dwarf) 5′ dark 25
3 Rest Lave Swell 10′ dark 100
5 Rest Sinkhole Blurg the Orog open dark 450
7 Rest Green Slime Giant Rocktopus 5′ dark 200

Bitching and Moaning

The campaign kicks off with 10 likely NPC allies. Yippie! They aren’t retainers or henchmen, but independent characters with their own agendas and foibles. Then the random encounters have a few cases where more NPCs can join the party.

At this point, 3 of the initial enslaved NPCs have died (Prince Derendil, Stool, and Eldeth Feldrun). And two have parted ways (Topsy and Turvey). But they have picked up two new NPCs; Blurg the Orog and Tarrant a shield dwarf. They also started with 2 extra enslaved NPCs; The drow captured the party and extra NPCs at the same time.

This has meant an extreme number of NPCs to manage; It also means that the large group moving through the underdark can rely on the law of large numbers to make sure that everyone has enough food and water. After all, anyone can forage, with each foraging opportunity means 1d6 pounds of food. From a mechanical standpoint, the extra NPCs have been a blessing. From the narrative stand point, the extra NPCs have been needless complications.

And then there is the map. Each hex is 24 miles; Huge by hex crawl standards. The map is unclear about terrain and features. It’s an abstraction that shows distance, but does not convey important information; I’m looking at you Darklake and your ambiguous boundaries. Upon my examination of the map, I assumed one idea about the boundaries of Darklake. But when I read more of the adventure, the boundaries were very different from my assumption.

All told, if you are going to write a mega-adventure, have at least one person run the thing without any guidance from the author. There is a lot of ambiguity and misplacement of information in Out of the Abyss. I understand that proper organization is a tremendous challenge, but I believe if the authors focused on codifying the procedures, then it would be a much stronger presentation.

Advice

If you are going to run this, grab your highlighter and notebook. Scattered throughout the book is vital information; Make notes with page numbers. Make worksheets to help you consolidate information as you see fit. Scan monster entries so you can consolidate an encounter’s information.

Make more random tables. The size of the Underdark means that I’ve seen a heavy repetition of random encounters. The current random encounters imply a population and risk density of the Underdark. Consider other options.

“Out of the Abyss” is the first by the book adventure I’ve run since “The Red Hand of Doom”. I think Out of the Abyss has more interesting set pieces and ideas but its organization is rather confounding compared to The Red Hand of Doom.

It is very difficult to scan “Out of the Abyss” for pertinent information. Granted, “Out of the Abyss” leverages some of the more gritty components of D&D (i.e. starvation, exhaustion, wilderness travel), but I believe the book fails to account for the adventure being a direct reference for game play.

Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

I’ve been exploring using Scribus, a free desktop publishing alternative to Adobe’s InDesign. Previous Take On Rules PDFs have been crafted using iBooks Author, but I wanted to try something different.

So I began work on a Dungeon World Campaign Playbook – a printable, ready to saddle stitch booklet. To create your own, make sure you can do 2-sided printing. For my cover page, I grabbed some super heavy paper stock.

Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

Scribus layout of Dungeon World Campaign Playbook

 

Considerations

As I see it, there are five prime real estate pages:

  • Front Cover
  • Inner front cover and first page
  • The middle of the book, where the saddle stitching occurs
  • Inner back cover and last page
  • Back Cover

Another thing that I considered is that the inner pages of a saddle stitched book can easily be removed without adversely affecting the book. In the current iteration, I have Fronts occupying this position, but you could just as easily add blank sheets of paper in the middle.

Go ahead and download Dungeon World Campaign Playbook.

A New Year’s Eve Tradition – The One Shot

In a lifetime long long ago my gaming group used to do a New Years Eve gaming marathon. I’d typically make a batch of pregen characters, order up a 6 foot sub and then run a 12 hour session starting around 6pm.

This year instead of a New Year’s Eve session, it’ll be a New Year’s day session. We’ll likely only play for 5 or 6 hours. I don’t know what we’ll do food wise.

Of course, there is also the scenario to consider. In previous years I’ve completely winged it. I’d think of the situation –Escort the high priest to a neighboring kingdom — and run with it.

Throw some kenku assassin’s in the beginning; an abandoned decaying fortress occupied by orcish scouts enroute; an arrival marred by an assassination attempt via a stain glass golem; and we had a memorable evening that ended with a red dragon permanently polymorphed into a bunny (with all of its memories) and a player (not character but high school studented) wished into the campaign world.

Completely winging it worked really well at the time but I’m finding that I need to, and more importantly want to, spend more time prepping for the session.  So I’m sitting down and planning things out a bit.

In my experience with one-shots, I have found the most memorable sessions to have the following components:

  • A cast of characters with dubious moral compasses
  • A heist scenario with plenty of decision points

In essence, set the game in motion and watch the players run the show.

The initial concept was fairly straightforward.  Get the MacGuffin and return it.  Nice and generic.

Taking a lesson from the Bloodstone campaign and my propensity for starting characters at a great distance from their goal, I was going to make sure that the MacGuffin was nearby.

I decided that their patron was hiring them to retrieve a statue from a notable historian who likely didn’t want to part with the statue.  The patron and target are in the same town.

Then I began the process of breathing life into the scenario.  I did some brainstorming, and decided a church was interested in a statue that was being held by the historian.  Sounds reasonable

First I wanted some information about the historian.  Using Zak S’ Vornheim: The Complete City Kit, I rolled up the historian’s library collection.  He fancies maps, cookbooks, and economics.

Next, I wanted to know more about his house.  So I grabbed 2d6 and rolled to determine the number of rooms.  I proceeded to give a little flavor to each room.

I also created a handful of random encounter charts for traveling the city.

I wanted information about the city, and turned to Matt Finch‘s Tomb of Adventure Design.  With a couple of throws of the dice there were a handful of concepts brought into play:

  • Tree of the Crippled Congregation – a local god tree that was the city’s primary focus
  • Woodcarving – the city was known for it’s craft and I rolled up woodcarving
  • Traak the Wolf of Bitterness – the god of the clerics that want the tree
  • The Church is in a disagreement with a local merchant
  • The historian lived in the Guild district, and was part of a gated community

With those five points (all randomly rolled), I had enough to give shape to the city at large.  Given some more time I would like to roll some of the above information into the random encounter charts.

Attached are some scans of my session preparation.

New Years 2011 One Shot, Page 1

New Years 2011 One Shot, Page 2

Random Notes from my Burning Wheel Campaign Journal

I’ve been digging through various campaign notes, and decided to scan my Burning Wheel notes.  The campaign was interesting, but lost focus as there were too many sessions that were cancelled or postponed.