I'm running the Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Out of the Abyss. Reading it, I was like "woah, this seems like it would be fun to run," & so I decided to do so! I haven't run pre-made adventures since college, when I used to pepper in Harlequin adventures into my Shadowrun campaign: I'd do a SF-punk story, a Fantasy-punk story, then a Harlequin adventure, lather, rinse, repeat. I'm looking forward to running a game where the prep work is already mostly done for me! I also have been wanting to run "DnD," which is to say, the actual generic fantasy setting of the game. I had a blast defeating the Temple of Elemental Evil, & wanted to give newer players a chance to meet mindflayers, beholders, arch-devils & demon princes, that sort of proprietary intellectual property. Bragging rights for defeating named epic NPCs, that sort of thing.
We'd gotten together a few weeks ago to do the main push of character generation, so finishing up before the session was no hard shakes. Jim & Ellen are both pretty 5e adept-- more than me, in fact-- & Alicia, Sam & Pritpaul have some gaming experience, if not this edition. Katharine is a complete rookie, which is great; you know I like playing with novices, because they lack the bad habits some of us grognards have picked up. I told them they were encouraged to share backgrounds, but it was even less required than most campaigns, & that demon-y or Underdark-y hooks would play out swell. In the end, the party ended up about halfway "monster mash":
Imica the drow fey pact warlock & former sage, played by Jim.
Kalythra the cheerful half-drow thief & charlatan, played by Alicia.
Pook'Cha the thri-kreen bard who left his hermitage, played by Sam.
Norin, Ellen's wood elf cleric with a covert, not criminal, background.
Serafin the lightfoot halfling ranger (my first 3e character was too!) played by Pritpaul.
Gizem, Katharine's sagacious mountain dwarf old one pact warlock.
Captured by the drow! Honestly, the cliche in media res start was one of the early hooks this book got in me; it's kind of the only part of Against the Slave Lords that I think works, yeah? An oldie but a goodie, as I was telling Katharine; it's not the way most campaigns start, but it's a classic. Chained up with a very motley crew in a cavern far from the sunlit surface, stripped of all their gear, stuck in a cell with an anti-magic field! The players rolled to see if their characters scrounged up anything useful; three of them have semi-tame tarantula pets, one has a small gem, but nothing of immediate value.
The NPCs do the mash, too; they do the monster mash!
Buppido the friendly derro with bushy white hair.
Prince Derendil a quaggoth who used to be an elf prince.
Eldeth the surface world dwarf captured while hunting orcs.
Jimjar the svirfneblin gambler no one will wager with.
Ront an orc from the tribe Eldeth's people were trying to wipe out.
Sarith a drow, who captured the myconid Stool & killed his superior.
Shuushar the Awakened the non-violent kuo-toa.
Stool a myconid sprout with telepathic spores.
Topsy & Turvy standoffish twin deep gnomes.
Alicia gets the first point of Inspiration: kuo-toa are D&D's version of Lovecraft's Deep Ones, & upon meeting the enlightened Shuushar & leaning that he practices non-violence, she said "more like a pacifish, am I right?" Puns are the best! Her half-drow, Kalythra, befriends Stool, sharing a psychic link created by the myconid's spores with Serafin (& later discover that Sarith shares them too). Jimjar talks to them a bit, but they aren't interested in taking him up on any wagers. He's a gnome, but not like any gnome the surface folks have ever met.
Mostly the two drow talk to Sarith. Buppido the derro is friendly if a little bit "junkie shuffle" & the orc Ront doesn't speak a language anyone else knows but seems to know enough Common to repeat key nouns in agreement with wanting to escape. Eldeth the dwarf is a little foolhardy, & eventually ends up with a drow bolt through her throat-- the drow drag her unconcious & dying body to the "Shrine of Lolth" to be healed, as there's no easy escape in death for the prisoners. They chat with Derendil as well; there's a difference of opinion in whether the polymorphed elf prince should give into his quaggoth rages, or struggle to remember who he used to be.
The party's first testing of the guards-- throwing a fit during feeding time-- leaves them unfed for the day. The leader, one of the male "dones" that serve the matron in charge, shoots amber goo from a wand, which cocoons the Kalythra to the wall. The other drow shoot the thri-kreen who made a fuss, but all three miss, so the drow male leading the group of guards takes them away to be punished for their failures, with the rest of the grub. Norin & Gizem fail their Constitution saves & gain a point of exhaustion from hunger. Eventually they decide to eat the pet spiders (Norin's was crushed by the gate, as she tried to wedge it open with her spider, so she eats Kalythra's pet), & successfully manage to choke them down. Goodbye, little spiders!
Try number two is much more successful; when one group is taken to dump out their chamber pots, the group makes their move! Having heard from gossiping with the other prisoners that two of the "drones," or the elite drow in charge of the other worthless males, are rivals, they wait till the "scarred one"-- Jorlan-- is in charge of the guards, & then use Stool's rapport spores to secretly & telepathically communicate with him. At first, the drow is not having it, as the bug-man dumps his chamberpot on the floor, like he did the day before with his mushroom broth, & he orders the other prisoners to dump out theirs on the floor, fouling the prison with excrement as punishment. It does succeed in bringing him over to scold Pook'Cha, putting him into telepathic contact with those who've shared Stool's rapport spores. They convince him to aid their escape attempt, leaving the door open & a key to their manacles, in order to disgrace his supplanter.
Jailbreak! They spring the gated door of the cavern, & tell the NPCs to hang back. The sneaky characters-- which turns out to mean the cleric Norin, the half-drow rogue & Serafin the halfling-- head out. The cave has enough of a lip to have a walkway, but then it drops off into sheer darkness. Hanging opposite the cave is an "inverted tower," an enormous hollowed out stalactite that the drow use as a guard post...& an armory, at least according to the scarred drow who helped them slip free. Otherwise, one way leads to a waterfall & a dead end, the other to spider webs below, & then down to the small lake where they dump their chamber pots.
Beyond the guard "tower" is the Shrine of Lolth, where their equipment awaits, & their intended destination. If the sneaks can just get some equipment for the crew, maybe they can fight their way...drat! Curses! Spotted! The drow drone in charge-- a third, neither the scarred one or his rival-- notices them & battle commences! In the fray, the party use their manacles as improvised flails, & defeat the warriors, whom the leader sacrifices to buy him time to get reinforcements. It is a close battle; the drone puts down the ranger, who's already been down once already! They begin to raid the armory-- full of shortswords & chainshirts in the drow fashion, hand crossbows & studded leather-- as fast as they can.
Synchronized with the drow alarms-- little ringing bells on threads-- is a KABOOM! as the sounds of horrifying battle commence, culminating in a crash as a hideous being of incarnate evil shatters the wall of the stalactite, shaking it precariously. Resembling a cross between giant skeksis & a blasphemous angel, its feathered wings shed maggots as their bony fingers rattle. It's beak somehow manages to sneer & smile, especially at the two warlocks, claiming "it will see them again soon." It screams rage & envy at them & flaps back into the sky, where black flies the size of dogs with human faces wait to fall upon it with barbed pitchforks.
With that, the drow arrive! Mistress Ilvara herself leads the group, with her apprentice, all the elite drones, & a pack of lesser drow males. The native denizens of the Underdark, besides the drow prisoner, have already made a run for it; Buppido, Jimjar, Topsy & Turvy all booked it once the drone went for backup. They went for the path of the spiderwebs down to the pool of water below. Ront, Stool & Shuushar are with the party, along with Xarith. Seeing Ilvara, & the lateness of the hour, they decide to make a run for it as well. To the spider webs! & that is where we leave it. The game's ambient music was the Bloodborne soundtrack.
I think a big success all around! Katharine was pretty quiet, but it was her first time & I think she was in deep absorption mode. As DM, good table flow is your responsibility-- Wil Wheaton is really good at it-- but I'm also pretty sure she won't have a problem making herself heard when she's ready. Jim & Alicia don't know each other & are playing siblings & that always makes me happy; that's just good social engineering. Similarly, Sam's weird bug-person is their mentor. I've got to talk to Pritpaul about what terrain & enemy he picked; part of the fun of being stuck in the Underdark is the fish out of waterness of it all, but I don't want to actually screw his character. Ellen reminds me of Mike, actually, both in that she's the one with her character on a spreadsheet & that she's the wildcard. (Photos by Liz D.)