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Out of the Abyss: Velkynvelve

Enter my hastily scrawled notes on Out of The Abyss, the recent adventure module from Wizards of the Coast.  These sporadic posts are a place to organize my thoughts on the adventure module, chapter by chapter.  I’ve had the privilege of running this module for 4 different groups of 5 players, and therefore the opportunity to experiment with different adjustments & ideas.  I hope someone finds them useful.

I collected miniatures to represent each NPC in the cell in Velkynvelve.  To make the campaign simpler, I felt it’d be best if the minis for those characters remained consistent.  Printed up a page with their OOtA portraits, and cut them into roughly 3×5 cards.    After drawing the map (we actually projected the RedEpic map onto a grid, using a jury-rigged old hdmi projector), I placed the NPC minis around the edge of the cell, along with the PC minis.  The players would point to an NPC mini, I’d present them with the portrait card for that NPC, along with a few details about the PC.  The players wrote the NPC’s names onto each portrait card, as they learned them.  After their escape, the players distributed those NPC portrait cards among themselves.  The NPC’s move on the initiative of the player who holds their card.  The players who hold their cards are also able to influence their actions slightly, calling out commands or requests – all these interactions are subject to the NPC’s personality, of course.  Used these as opportunities to highlight and humanize each NPC (Ront’s cowardice, for instance, or Sarith’s ruthlessness)
Velkynvelve Labor tasks/encounters

Rather than feature one task per day, I opted to include one day full of different encounters – run simultaneously.  I figured my players wouldn’t remain in the Velkynvelve prison for long, and I wanted to squeeze as much activity into the time as I could.

 

I felt it important to emphasize the strength & number of opponents here.  To rage-kill every monster/prison guard in the area would be to undercut the tension & overwhelming odds which make the campaign so unique.  Not to mention impossible, in my opinion, if the villains are played to their full capabilities/intelligence.
At “random,” the draw/quaggoths split the prisoners into 3 different groups.  Each group was given a separate task, to be done simultaneously.  Important to bounce the spotlight between these groups frequently, at moments of heightened tension (if possible).

  1. In a group of 5 players, I’d place 2 in this group.  Group 1 is ordered to coil thick hemp-style ropes, at the top of the prison, near a ledge.  It’s an exhausting task, as the ropes are quite heavy.  2-4 Quaggoth guards watch over them, mocking them to their backs.  At a certain point, a Quaggoth approaches them, and lifts & shakes their coils into an awful tangle, forcing them to start over & highlighting the pointlessness of the labor.  Most of my groups thought better than to roll initiative at this point.  As they continue to coil, one of the quaggoths goes to kick (shove) a player in the back, off the ledge.  Best if it’s a smaller, weaker character.  If shove/kick unsuccessful, the Quaggoth growls into his/her face, daring the PC to challenge.  If shove/kick successful, the character falls and is caught by the spider web.  The quaggoths grin as the spider moves slowly towards the trapped character.  If another PC is in this group, leave it to him/her to rescue the fallen character & humbly return to coiling rope.  If not, the other PC’s can mount a rescue attempt (and possible lose someone in the process).  Either way, the wisest course will be to return to coiling rope, and submit.  The point of this introduction, in my eyes, was to emphasize the hopelessness of the scenario & humanize their NPC fellow prisoners.
  2. In a group of 5 players, I’d place 1 in this group, and include Jimjar.  Group 2 is ordered to kill & gut fish, collected in buckets from the stream under the prison, all by hand.  This disgusting task should be undertaken in the barracks/kitchen area.  Place several quaggoth or drow guards in the room, eating at a nearby table, mostly ignoring the PC.  This is an opportunity for a PC (or Jimjar) to use sleight of hand and hide some extra food for later.  Opponents percention check should have disadvantage, as their distracted by their own meals.  Note that 2 of my groups actually had the idea to use fish guts & oil to lubricate the squeaky cell-gate before escaping.  One attempted to fashion a makeshift lock pick out of fish bones.  On a natural 20 roll, this was successful, though the bones were jammed in the lock.
  3. In a group of 5 players, I’d place 2 in this group.  Group 3 is ordered to fetch water in buckets from the cold stream beneath the prison, at the far end of the cavern.  They are accompanied by several Quaggoth guards.  Mistress Ilvara and Shoor approach this area, midway through the work, and comment coldly on the slow speed & lack of efficiency of the prisoners.  They bark several orders to the Quaggoths, something to the effect of…
    “Useless slaves like these won’t fetch a price at the Menzoberranzan markets.  They require…motivation.”  At this point, the Quaggoth guards should beat one of the prisoners (PC or NPC).  As they draw blood, Ilvare & Shoor get physically intimate, aroused by the violence.  This serves to emphasize their devilish cruelty.  In most of my groups, some PC would protest, clumsily or cleverly.  If so, they’ve been selected, along with the character who received the initial beating.  If not Ilvara eventually tires, and says…

    “This doesn’t seem to be working…those two.”

The selected PCs (or one PC and an NPC, if necessary) are directed towards a pile of rocks/boulders.  The first to complete his stack will live.  The other… (she should look meaningfully towards the spider web.)  At this point, I asked the 2 players to separate out their d20 dice sets.  On 3, they began stacking them in a single stack.  The first to complete their stack (in any order, though the d4 is likely to be at the top) will remain to be transported the slave market.  The loser, Ilvara explains to the Quaggoth, is to be fed to the spider (our guest in the shadow) tomorrow.  Alas, the spider has already been fed today, possibly by group 2…     During the dice-stacking competition, as someone neared victory, I’d bump the table sharply, tumbling their stacks.  This represented the Quaggoths jeering & shoving them.  Repeat this sabotage several times, but not more than 2 or so.  Allow someone the victory, if they’re self-interested enough to doom their fellow prisoner.  One PC did lash out at the quaggoths, for interfering.  That PC was beaten into unconciousness, and declared the loser by default.

As they’re returned to their cells, the prisoner selected as tomorrow’s spider-dinner was chained to a wall, and denied food/water during the evening.  Usually, a fellow prisoner would offer to split their food, or share the fish they’d pocketed from group 2.  I saw this as an opportunity to highlight the NPC’s personalities again.  Ront would protest.  “He is dead tomorrow, why waste good food?  Give it to me, food is for the living.”  If denied, he’ll get face to face with the offering prisoner and try to brow-beat him down.  Ront will back down, however, if intimidated.  He’s a bully, but a coward at heart.

Hope this helps.  I’ve included an example from my table of the projector set up I mentioned earlier; though it’s from a later scene in a fungus-filled cavern, it gives you an idea.  I used high resolution versions of the actual RedEpic maps for projection onto a 10 ft battle grid for 2 groups, something a little less elaborate for 2 more.  These encounter ideas were some of my favorite found surfing the web, will post where I found them as soon as I find them again.  As always, let me know if I can help in any way, or share files.



About

Max makes his home behind a DM screen, limiting contact with the outside world. He has his meals delivered, pays entirely in d4's, and communicates through a network of carefully positioned homunculi. He lives a satisfying life, but secretly hungers for more. In the meantime, Max feeds his appetite with all manner of fantasy literature, PC & Console gaming, board games, & of course Dungeons & Dragons. With a penchant for DMcraft, he prefers 3.5 edition to 4.0, and is impressed with the changes introduced by D&DNext. Max was introduced to 2.0 AD&D early on, and prefers not to dwell on it (THAC0, anyone?)


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"Not all those who wander, are lost"  ~J.R.R. Tolkien