Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lessons Learned from Out of the Abyss

I have run through the entire Out of the Abyss campaign. If I had to do it over again, I would do things differently:
  1. PCs escape with no gear. I allowed them to rescue their gear from the guard house during their escape. I regret that decision. It lessened the sense of dangerous survival during their flight.
  2. No rests during their escape or during travel unless they spend time and make some survival rolls to create a safe space to rest (Each character - PC and NPC - rolls Survival, total up all the results and divide by 15, that's how many people get a long rest). Just lying down in the tunnel and falling asleep should not count as a recuperative rest.
  3. I'd make an actual map of major passages between locations and enforce them. I did this towards the end of my campaign (see the map above).
  4. Change Sloobloodop and Neverlight Grove chapters to actually give the PCs something to do other than "witness exposition and escape".

    For Sloobloodop, I'd give the players a partial victory condition. They might be able to stop the ceremony from summoning Demogorgon or help the other kuo-toa perform a counter-ceremony to drive Demogorgon away temporarily, or find a scroll with Magic Circle on it. Something.

    For Neverlight Grove, I'd make the wedding ceremony imminent. Even if the PCs can't defeat Zuggtymoy yet, give them an opportunity to delay the wedding until a later chapter. Let them accomplish something rather than just learn about a wedding to be held later then wake up someplace safe.

    The players HATED being un-involved spectators in both Sloobloodop and Neverlight Grove. They wanted to DO SOMETHING. They even commented how Neverlight Grove was essentially a repeat of Sloobloodop structure-wise. Their lack of agency in those chapters fueled the players' disdain for the entire module. They were not fans.
  5. More Faerzress. I kept forgetting about it. There should be madness - all the time!
  6. I'd replace the Ogremoch's Bane encounter with an actual challenge cribbed from the playtest material.
The Hall of Miners
From the Hall of Miners comes a dull rumbling, like large stones rolling across the cavern floors. The low, narrow passage opens, revealing the entrance to the vast hall. A vaguely humanoid form made entirely of rock lurches toward you, arms raised to strike.

Gallus quickly warns, “Do not attack it unless you wish to drive all the elementals in the hall into a killing frenzy!”

Pechs gather in front of you and extend their hands toward the onrushing elemental. The earth ripples forward until it reaches the elemental’s feet. It charges on a few more steps, slows, then stops, its arms falling to its side. It lowers its head, bowing or admitting defeat, then turns and hurries back into the darkness.

The pechs then form a ring around you.

Gallus says, “We can keep the elementals at bay, and we will try to prevent the Raging Spirit from harming you. But when we reach the spirit, holding it back will take all our efforts. You must talk to it, if you can, or rely on your own powers to drive it away from here. Normal weapons will not avail you, but magic might. We promise to aid you any way we can.”

The pechs wait while the adventurers discuss a strategy. Gallus can offer a few more details about Ogrémoch’s Bane.

  • Ogrémoch’s Bane manifests as a cloud of dust, but when angered it is a raging whirlwind of gravel. Entering the whirlwind is likely to be fatal. The pechs can keep it at bay, as long as the adventurers stay within their protective circle.
  • The pechs know of no way to coax Ogrémoch’s Bane to leave the area, but that doesn’t mean no such way exists.
  • As Gallus said before, the pechs believe that the Raging Spirit’s existence is linked to Entemoch’s Boon. The pechs are not willing to help destroy the Boon.
  • If the adventurers suggest taking Ogrémoch’s Bane to Entemoch’s Boon, Gallus realizes that the doing so might render the Bane more vulnerable to attack. He tells the characters this fact. If the characters can lure the Bane to the Boon (see “Talking to the Bane”), the Bane’s presence makes the journey safe. The characters then have to fight the Bane in the Boon’s cavern (see “Fighting the Bane”).
Once the adventurers are ready to proceed, the pechs advance with them into the cavern.

When the characters move on, read:
It takes a few moments for the group to arrive at the center of the cavern. As you near the midpoint, pebbles and dust leap into the air, coalescing into a spinning cloud of debris. The cloud gathers speed and shape, forming into a bloated, humanoid mass with a snarling, bestial visage. Glittering black stones serve as its eyes, which swivel in airy sockets to fix on you.

The monster’s maw tears open, and it roars, “Who dares enter my domain? Kneel! Kneel before me, you insignificant mortals, or face my wrath!”

The pechs lift their hands to create a ward against the Bane. If the characters drop to their knees, the elemental’s curiosity is piqued, and you should use the “Talking to the Bane” section. If the characters fail to kneel, Ogrémoch’s Bane becomes enraged. In this case, go to the “Fighting the Bane” section.

Talking to the Bane
The spirit looms over you, and a deep laugh sounds in the cloud. It then says, “What have we here? Puny mortals, seeking plunder?”

The elemental entertains questions. If necessary, you can call for Charisma checks (DC 11 or 13). Some possible questions and answers follow.

Why are you here? “The gnomes brought me forth when they sought succor and comfort from my master’s hated brother, Entemoch.”

What do you want? “An end to the calling and binding of elementals. The gnomes call up elementals from my master’s service and enslave them. By what right do they do this?”

What will it take for you to move on? “As long as the miserable gnomes profit from Entemoch’s Boon, I will remain. I will undo their works and loose elementals they bind.”

What is Entemoch’s Boon? “Long ago, when the gods were silenced at the beginning of this age of upheaval, the gnomes of Blingdenstone sought wisdom from the spirits of the earth.

They received a blessing from Entemoch, consort to the princess of good earth elementals. This blessing allows the puny gnomes to call forth the elementals and enslave them. The blessing is within a cavern some distance northwest of here. I would destroy it, but I cannot do so without the aid of mortals.”

How can we end the Boon? “Topple the stones of Entemoch’s Boon. Shatter them, and the blessing will end. Only then will I move on. I cannot attack the stones, but I can give you the strength to do so.”

The characters are free to try another approach to persuade Ogrémoch’s Bane to leave Blingdenstone. Use the information presented here to weigh their likelihood of success. Reward creative thinking.
If informed, the svirfneblin endorse no plan to harm or destroy Entemoch’s Boon. Any svirfneblin who learn about the plan try to stop the characters from enacting it.

If the characters go to the Boon, read:  Three twisting columns reach up from the floor of this large, boulder-­‐strewn cavern. Bright runes wind round each pillar, and the earth thrums with energy here.

Each pillar has 100 hit points and can also be broken with a DC 17 Strength check made with disadvantage. Destroying any pillar ends the Boon and banishes the Bane. If Ogrémoch’s Bane is in the cavern of Entemoch’s Boon, it cannot attack the stones, but it can grant a +5 bonus to damage rolls against the stones and eliminate the disadvantage on Strength checks made to break them.

If the Boon is destroyed, the Bane disappears.

Fighting the Bane

The pechs raise a low wall of stone from the cavern floor, and the whirlwind parts around it, unable to pass their barrier. In a moment, the cloud of dust and gravel envelops their entire protective  circle.

Ogrémoch’s Bane has AC 15 and 100 hit points. It is immune to nonmagical weapon damage, and it takes half damage from (has resistance to) any damage not of the force or holy type. In the cavern of Entemoch’s Boon, the Bane loses its weapon damage immunity, but retains its resistance. The Bane cannot be charmed, frightened, put to sleep, or held.

Unable to reach through and harm anyone inside the pechs’ protective ring, the Bane takes no actions other than to whirl around the stone circle.

Flying rocks batter any creature that leaves the pechs’ protection, dealing 1d8 bludgeoning damage each round. Pushing through the ten-­‐ foot area of the whirlwind requires a DC 15 Strength check made as an action. Once per round, the Bane can slam a creature no more than fifteen feet outside the protective circle. The elemental has +4 to hit and deals 1d8 + 4 bludgeoning  damage.

If the characters grow frustrated in fighting the Bane, one of the pechs, grunting with the effort of maintaining the ward, lifts a round stone out of the earth. An instant later, the stone begins to glow, and the pech hands it to the adventurer. This effort causes the ward to falter momentarily, allowing the Bane to deal 1d4 – 1 bludgeoning damage to each character inside the circle. The stone can be thrown as a simple weapon, dealing 1d12 + the character’s Strength or Dexterity modifier force damage to the Bane on a hit. A given pech can create such a stone once per round, at the cost of weakening the ward each time.

Reward the players for creative thinking in this process. Give them 1d6 bonus damage for clever efforts. Increase the bonus damage if the plan requires weakening or leaving the pechs’ ward.