What follows is an illustrated dramatic retelling of my group's play through of the D&D campaign setting, "Out of the Abyss". SPOILERS for anyone wishing to play in this campaign.
"PRISONERS OF THE DROW"
Fourteen strangers find themselves
inside an underground prison cell.
Rendered blind and mute by sorcerous manacles,
they have each spent the last several days
unaware of their surroundings and unable to communicate.
Suddenly, their sight and voices returned
and the nature of their captivity became apparent.
They were the captives of the evil race
of subterranean elves known as the Drow.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Fourteen manacled strangers found themselves in a cave-like prison cell, fifty feet wide and eighty feet deep. The opening of the cavern was barred. A yawning chasm lay beyond, the sound of a medium-sized waterfall echoed throughout the chamber with unending white noise. Small lanterns filled with glowing liquid provided faint illumination. A bridge made of white silky rope stretched across the chasm and connected to a doorway on the side of a massive hanging stalactite. Another rope bridge connected another door on the left side of the stalactite to a destination beyond view.
There were fourteen strangers were a motley assortment of captives from many races.
- a male halfling - stout and well-fed
- another male halfling - lean, wiry, almost malnourished
- a male half-elf - young, nimble, with a wild countenance
- a female half-elf - also young, wearing the robes of a wizard
- a female dwarf - haughty, proud
- a male derro - a type of dwarf with grey skin, with a look of wary appraisal
- an adult male svirfneblin - also known as deep gnomes, a type of gnome with dark grey skin, with a friendly gregarious manner
- a young male svirfneblin - small, impish, and mischievous
- a young female svirfneblin - a twin to the young male
- a male quaggoth - a primitive hulking fur-covered brute, sitting in a regal lotus position
- a male drow - a dark elf with pallid ashen-grey skin and dark eyes in sunken reddish sockets, with a sullen defeated look
- a fat Kuo-Toa - an albino fish-person with the serene countenance of an enlightened monk
- a male orc - brutish, frightened, and dangerous
- a young myconid - a walking humanoid toadstool huddled in a dark corner
The healthy male halfling introduced himself as Kettle Bearclaw, an artisan baker living near a dwarven stronghold and served in their militia. In the eight "days" since he regained consciousness here, he had managed to scrounge a piece of flint that could be used as an improvised weapon.
The male half-elf was named Talorean, a foundling raised by wolves in the wilderness, he was a warrior chosen by Mielikki, the goddess of nature, to defend the wild places. He awoke two days ago and had yet to scavenge anything.
The female half-elf said her name was Angolwen, an apprentice wizard from Waterdeep. She has been here for eight days and had also scavenged a flint weapon.
The lean male halfling's name was Pain Grille' (pronounced "Pan Gree-yay"), a street urchin from Waterdeep that stole to survive. He had been here ten days and in that time had found a discarded gold coin.
THE OTHER PRISONERS
Kettle cautiously approached the quivering toadstool. In reaction to being prodded with a finger, the fungus sprayed a cloud of spores into Kettle's face. Kettle's coughed and spat. The mushroom responded in an alien language which, somehow, Kettle was able to understand. "I'm sorry! Please don't hurt me!"
Kettle made assurances to the mushroom and introduced himself. The mushroom said its name was "Stool". He was a myconid sprout. It explained that anyone that inhaled its spores would be temporarily able to understand any language. When asked how he came to be here, he indicated that the drow in the corner had captured him several days ago.
Kettle called Pain over. Much to Pain's annoyance, the halfling street urchin was likewise sprayed with a cloud of spores.
Meanwhile, Talorean and Angolwen cautiously approached the dark elf. The dark elf was sullen and moody. He said his name was Sarith Kzekarit, formerly a guard in the service of this outpost. He explained that the reason he was imprisoned was that he was accused of murdering a fellow guard. He has no memory of this action. He said that his family in Menzoberranzan would soon arrange for his release, but both Talorean and Angolwen could tell that he didn't really believe that and that he had resigned himself to imminent execution.
Kettle introduced Stool to Talorean and Angolwen and soon all were able to understand their fellow prisoners. They chose their potential allies wisely.
They met Eldeth Feldrun, the dwarven scout from the city she called Gauntlgrym, of which no one was familiar. Eldeth was haughty and superior and maintained her dignity despite her circumstances.
They carefully approached the massive quaggoth. To their surprise, the hairy brute addressed them in fluent high elven, "State your names and places of origin." Upon doing so, the quaggoth replied, "You may approach our royal personage. You are in the presence of Prince Derendil of Nelrindenvane in the High Forest. Our royal personage was overthrown by the foul wizard Terrestor and transformed into this beastly form. You may address us as Prince Derendil or your royal highness."
|His Royal Highness, Prince Derendil of Nelrindevane|
Angolwen was dubious. She asked Prince Derendil several questions about the color of the trees in Nelrindenvane and for a description of the moons of Toril. Prince Derendil said that there was but one moon of Toril, Selune, and replied simply that the trees of Nelrindenvane were the same color they always were, the color of trees, and refused to answer further silly questions.
Talorean introduced himself to the bald grey-skinned dwarf. The dwarf was named Buppido, a derro from Gracklstugh. Buppido was friendly and gregarious with a sharp wit. He pledged his assistance in any escape attempt.
Buppido was interrupted from across the chamber by the bald deep gnome, "I bet you ten gold that he's the first to die!" The deep gnome introduced himself as Jimjar. Jimjar was roguish and sarcastic. He said that he could help lead the escapees back to Blingdenstone, city of the Svirfneblin. He also suggested that Blingdenstone would be the best bet for obtaining equipment or mounting an expedition to the surface.
Talorean, annoyed by the deep gnome's demeanor, wrinkled his nose at the idea of trusting Jimjar, whom he had already decided was untrustworthy.
MEET THE CAPTORS
The introductions were interrupted when they were rendered magically mute. Guards banged on the metal bars with their weapons. A voice in Undercommon shouted an order for all slaves to put their backs against the wall. The prisoners complied and a large contingent entered the cell.
The contingent consisted of six quaggoths, two lightly armored drow guards, and two heavily armored drow warriors. At the center of the group was a drow priestess carrying a cat-o-nine-tails made of writhing tentacles. She was flanked on her right by a handsome male drow commander whom she obviously favored. On her left was a male drow lieutenant, horribly disfigured and scarred by acid burns to his face and hands, who occasionally looked at the commander with jealous envy and resentment. Behind the priestess was a younger female assistant
The drow commander spoke with authority and menace, introducing himself as Commander Shoor. He informed them all that they were captives of the drow, soon to be sold as slaves in Menzoberranzan. They were only to speak when spoken to and any sign of disobedience or insubordination would be met with whippings and torture. They were to look at a drow in the eyes unless ordered to do so. He then said that his mistress, Lady Ilvara, wished to address them before withdrawing.
Lady Ilvara then stepped forward and introduced herself. "I am Mistress Ilvara. I am the commander of this..." (sigh) "...outpost known as Velkenvelve." Her voice betrayed his distaste for this place. "A caravan will arrive shortly to take you to Menzoberranzan. Until they arrive, I have decided to put you to more.. entertaining... use. You will serve the guards and staff here as they see fit. You will follow their every order and command. You will perform every service they require. You will do so without complaint or hesitation or you will be punished. Lieutenant Jorlan will provide you will your assignments for today."
At that, she turned and left, followed by Commander Shoor, the armored warriors and her assistant.
WORK FIT FOR A SLAVE
Lieutenant Jorlan then read out the assignments:
- Derendil and the orc were assigned to man the lift crank
- Talorean, Jimjar, and the fish-man were assigned to clean the guard room.
- Angolwen and Topsy were assigned to clean THE barracks
- Kettle and Stool were assigned to cook dinner
- Pain, Buppido, and Turvy were assigned to attend to Lady Ilvara
- The others were assigned various other duties.
|Topsy and Turvy|
The guard room was littered with the stinky shells and husks of many insects and cave crustaceans. Talorean, Jimjar, and the fish-man were ordered to clean up all the debris using small sacks, little more than pouches really. They were ordered to fill the small sack with trash, take it to the waterfall, dump it over the side, return, and repeat until the room was cleaned. During the work, Talorean was able to pocket several claws which might be used as improvised weapons or tools.
Meanwhile, Angolwen followed the quaggoth carrying the crying female twin Topsy. Topsy was distraught and unable to do work. The quaggoth asked for assistance and a drow guard carried Topsy away to the chamber of punishment. Angolwen went to work scrubbing the floor with a large piece of pumice provided her. She inspected the contents of the barracks which consisted of six pallets, on which was sleeping one off-duty drow. When the quaggoth wasn't paying attention, she surreptiously used a Mage Hand cantrip to dislodge a hook hanging on a wall. The quaggoth immediately noticed the movement of the hook. Angolwen stopped and the hook fell to the floor. The guaggoth rushed over to inspect the hook, not noticing that Angolwen had been responsible for the freak occurence. The quaggoth called for assistance from a nearby guard who inspected the hook with diminishing patience. He berated the quaggoth and returned to his duties.
Kettle and Stool were led to the common room where there were several tables and a cooking brazier and cooking supplies. Kettle was informed that he would be cooking the daily meal for his fellow slaves. Kettle's excitement turned to dismay when he saw that the only ingredients would be spoiled slimy myconid flesh. Even worse was Stool's reaction. Stool recoiled in horror at the thought of such cannibalism. Kettle went to work, using the little salt and spices and oils that were made available to him. At one point, the drow guard assigned to this room was called away by the quaggoth next door. Kettle used the distraction to... rather uncofortably.. hide a small bottle of cooking oil inside an orifice on his person. Later, as he was leaving, he was able to secret a three-tyned fork in a small pocket.
PAIN TELLS A STORY
Pain, Buppido, and Turvy, meanwhile, were taken to a second, larger, hanging stalactite. Within was carved a hollow chamber containing a shrine to Lolth, the dark spider goddess of the drow. They were led down a rope ladder into the private chambers of Lady Ilvara. Lady Ilvara herself was lounging on her large round bed. The room was draped with sheer silk tapenstries and curtains. Pain noticed a large chest containing the equipment of the captured slaves sitting partially open against the wall of the chamber. Turvy could not be calmed and was ordered taken away to the chamber of punishment.
Lady Ilvara ordered the remaining two prisoners to be inanimate, to stand completely still for as long as they could while she read some scrolls and consumed small confections. After a while, she grew bored and demanded that Pain recount the tale of his life to amuse her. However, his tale must be told without the use of the word "the". Any infraction would incur a lash.
Pain then told the story of his early life surviving on the streets of Waterdeep. He did not know his parents, they...
She interrupted him with an angry lash! "The word 'they' contains the letters T, H, and E!"
Pain bared his teeth in defiance, then said, "Fair enough." He continued, later receiving another lash for using the word "the".
Pain's story was interrupted by Lieutenant Jorlan. Lady Ilvara seemed annoyed by the appearance of the disfigured drow. Shoor said that the caravan from Menzoberranzan had failed to arrive for a second day in a row. Ilvara screamed at Jorlan in a rage, "You are never to report to me again! Is that understood! You will take this information to your surperior, Commander Shoor! You will leave my presence immediately!"
"With your leave, my lady." He whispered. She dismissed him with a wave of her lash and he left the room.
He was soon replaced by a smirking Commander Shoor. Ilvara, smiling, asked, "Do you have something to report, Commander?"
"Yes my lady."
Ilvara dismissed Pain and Buppido, who were ordered to close the hatch behind them. They were escorted back to their cell by two lewdly chucking drow warriors.
A LOOSENING OF MANACLES
That evening, after everyone was forced to eat the rancid meal, Kettle gave Pain the forks he had aquired. Likewise, Talorean gave the halfling the discarded carapaces. Pain used the fork to pick his own manacles first, keeping them on his person. He then tried to pick the lock on Kettle's mancles but broke one of the fork's three tynes.
Meanwhile, using Stool's spores, Talorean was able to speak with the fish person. The fish person calmly said that their name was Shuushar the Awakened, a kuo-toa from the city of Sloobludop. When asked if he would help during an escape, Shuushar serenely replied that he would help as best he could but would never cause harm, or help to cause harm, to another living creature. Talorean dismissed Shuushar with "No help then. Got it. Thanks."
|Shuushar the Awakened|
"That is what Ront is called."
"What did the drow have you do today?"
"Ront worked with fancy bear-man to turn crank. Crank lifts basket. Crank lowers basket. It was dull work, made harder by fancy bear-man's constant whining."
"Ront, we're going to break out of here. Will you help us?"
Ront's eyes gleamed at the thought of violence, "Ront will help if you help Ront return to surface."
Eldeth called from across the room, "He'll betray you at the first opportunity! No one can trust an orc, especially not one from the Iceshield tribe! They are the lowest form of life!"
Ront surged toward the dwarf, "Ront will eat you! Dwarf meat is good but Gauntlgrym meat is best!"
"You primitive CREATURE!"
Talorean calmed Ront down and gave Eldeth a menacing glare, "Everyone be calm. We must work together if we are to escape this place."
"I'll never work with that BEAST!"
"Ront EAT YOU!"
A FAILED ESCAPE ATTEMPT
The shouting was interrupted when the prisoners were muted by Jorlan. Jorlan ordered everyone against the wall. He brought in a new prisoner, a female tiefling with horns and a long tail like a devil. Jorlan removed the tiefling's hood. The tiefling captive smashed her head against Jorlan. Jorlan responded by bashing her into unconsciousness with the butt of this scimitar. Talorean gave the signal and everyone rushed Jorlan. Jorlan shot Talorean with a poisoned crossbow as he ran towards the exit. Jorland managed to escape, shouting that the prisoners would pay for their insurrection. Angowen quickly secreted away the crossbow bolt and gave it to Pain.
Ront, still excited by the earlier exchange, moved forward and grabbed the tiefling's chin. "Fresh meat. Ront likes fresh meat. Ront play real nice with you. and grabbed her chin." Kettle shouted at the orc, "Leave her alone! Get back against the wall!" The orc, astonished at the display of bravery, backed down.
Kettle moved forward to introduce himself to the newcomer. She introduced herself as Virtue. As a sign of thanks towards her new friends, Virtue attempted to heal Talorean's wound by laying her hands upon him. To her and everyone else's surprise, her prayers had no effect.
Later that evening, Pain tried to pick the lock on the barred gate with the stolen crossbow bolt while Kettle used the oil to slip out of his manacles. Jorlan left the guard room in the stalactite, causing Pain to stop what he was doing. Jorlan approached Pain, whispering that he would allow the prisoners to escape as long as they killed Shoor. Pain agreed. Jorlan unlocked the gate and told Pain to wait for the next guard change. Pain nodded then retreated into the cave to tell the others, palming the ring of keys which he had lifted from Jorlan's belt.
A DISTURBANCE OF DREAMS
The slaves got some sleep but there was little rest. Each of them were plagued by disturbing nightmares. Their dreams were haunted by shadowy tentacles that seemed alive, grabbing them, wrapping around their throats and constricting breating. Their ears ached with grotesque buzzing and howling. Festering wounds burst open with maggots and puss. Angolwen bolted awake with a hoarse gurgling cough, as if she had been choked. The others were likewise awakened.
The next shift had failed to appear and the guards had left Jorlan alone to summon their relief. Jorlan unlocked the gate and walked way. For a brief moment, there were no guards in the guard post.
The team made their move!
TO BE CONTINUED...
This session went fairly well. There's a lot of exposition and detail chopped up and hidden in different sections of this chapter. I get the impression that most of the exposition is supposed to be built into character dialogue. This works great if the players choose to spend time talking with the NPCs, or more important, choose to listen to what they have to say. I also get the impression that the sheer amount of exposition would require spending a LOT of game time being prisoners of the drow in order to be revealed in a natural way. I wish I had the time needed to dole out bits of information and allow players to come to a fuller understanding of all the things going on in Velkenvelve, but more time spent as prisoners of the drow means less time giving the players agency and narrative control, so I'll sacrifice some of the detail in favor of faster pace and player control.
Also, a minor note, I have never liked the idea of drow having black or dark grey skin as commonly depicted in D&D media. They're subterranean and I always envision them with pale albino skin and hair. I have painted most of my dark elf minis with pallid grey or purplish skin with red eyes like the Legions of Everblight from Iron Kingdoms, though some of my earlier dark elves were surface-dwelling Warhammer dark elves with regular caucasian skin tones.