Behold! The Demogorgon, Prince of Demons! Demogorgon, the Sibilant Beast, Lord of All That Swims in Darkness! My recent #humblebrag has been about being pals with the Stranger Things creators, but I had independently started running Out of the Abyss before I knew the show was going to name check the Mad Prince of Abysm, the Gaping Maw. I've been a fan of baboon-head for a long time; "Mandrillagon" actually showed up in Oubliette for a cameo. It was just good timing that he got to debut in the campaign while the pop culture buzz was strong, & even better luck that none of the group, including the RPG nerds, are planar cosmology experts, so the kuo-toa's worship about Lemoogoogoon went unremarked. Demogorgon! Not going to lie, throwing down a Demon Prince in the middle of the Underdark is pretty much the elevator pitch that sold me on this module.
So my first & major complaint with Out of the Abyss is that it seems to have been written with an old school "& also a ton of minions" mindset that is annoying for my Dungeon Mastering style & means that even when I've got a bunch of relevant miniatures, I still don't have enough minis. Heck, more than just my DM style, it's my gameplay style overall. I like high-cost heavy-hitter units in wargames & am notorious for playing "swarm" style armies but surprising everyone by focusing on elites. A relatively minor quibble, all things considered. If there was something like Pathfinder's paper pawns for the adventure, that would be swell. I quite enjoy collecting minis but a cardboard set of peons would be alright, since I could use my plastics for the more notable NPCs.
I think my pacing was pretty on-point this session! I knew going in that I wanted to get to Demogorgon by the end, & was pretty sure I could pull it off. After all, when in doubt I could always use the NPCs to advance the plot. Which was a tricky part: I want to make it clear that sometimes the NPCs will try to railroad you, but that's not the same thing as the DM railroading you. (I mean, at the same time who hasn't popped helpful advice in an NPC's mouth...) It's like NPCs giving exposition: please don't mistake that for objective campaign information. NPCs are characters, & even the most honest of them are going to be biased & have their own agendas. The size of the party was good for forward momentum & consensus this session, & the "on turn X, Y happens" & objective based kind of combat is more my speed than straight up slugfests.
& so the kuo-toa archpriest Ploopploopeen has "befriended" the party as "bait" to help kill his daughter, Bloppblippodd. I think my anthropology background gives me a pretty good ground state for addressing alien civilizations. Or as Sam put it, "I like to see what it would be like if people stupider than humans made a city." Kuo-toa are great! You just don't look at anyone directly, suddenly rush up close to their face, combine a bit of sleepwalking & narcolepsy, & you are golden. I went for a cross between amusing & scary, sort of like goblins, & when they all started screaming "BARTA! BARTA!" & dragging chests, chains & shells out from the water, it was one of the better "merchants rows" for offloading loot I've run.
After trading some of their stolen drow gear & other miscellaneous loot near the shrine of the Sea Mother-- a broken ship's figurehead with shark & giant crustacean pieces replacing the missing bits-- Ploopploopeen browbeats them into helping he & his cohort of fish-people kill his daughter. They seem surprised that he's not more concerned about killing his own spawn...but he really, really isn't concerned about killing his own spawn. Ectotherms, what are you gonna do? The party, amongst themselves, are resolved to talk to Bloppblippodd & at least hear the Cult of the Deep Father's side of the story before getting into the middle of this civil war.
Except...that's not really what happens. Because the "shrine" of tied together sharks & octopodes is empty...except for the schools of kuo-toa that dart out of the shadows of the driftwood & kelp buildings to cut each other with crude obsidian knives, their piscine blood driving the sharks in the water below into a frenzy. The cultists are more predatory than odd & it goes sideways pretty quickly, once Ploopploopeen starts pitching his yarn. That farce goes on just long enough to turn into a massive riot, with the PCs & NPCs trapped in the middle. A kuo-toa monitor pins down the svirfneblin twin, Turvy, & the other fish-folk skewer him. With Shuushar the Awakened parting ways with the party here in Sloobludop, that's two NPCs less.
Then, of course, the riot turns into a ritual, & the prayers are heard, & the for-real-actual Demogorgon appears. A screaming chaos of giant baboon heads squabbling amongst themselves as Godzilla legs & kraken arms demolish the crude & eerie kuo-toa settlement building by building, the fish-people themselves half in worship, half mad, half fleeing, all at once, devoured by the tentacle-full. The players, the buzzing of insanity ringing in their brain pans from all they've been subjected to in the Underdark & now this Thing, steal a keelboat from the docks & escape in the confusion. Where to next? Gracklstugh, the Derro "City of Blades" is a subterranean coastal city on the Darklake, while their intended destination is across the sunken sea & then another clip through tunnels to the myconid Neverlight Grove...& those seem to be the two big contenders.