Out of the Abyss is the tabletop RPG portion of the new Rage of Demons Dungeons & Dragons storyline from Wizards of the Coast, in collaboration with Green Ronin Publishing. Officially releasing tomorrow, September 15th, I’ve had my copy for a few days thanks to my local game store getting a few early (thanks to a program WotC has with certain game stores).
You’ll find a photo gallery at the end of the post, and an optional YouTube version of this review is embedded below. Enjoy!
It should be noted that I haven’t actually played through any of the campaign, either as a DM or a player, so I can’t speak to how it feels to roll the dice and role play with it. However I’ve spent some time getting a feel for the book itself so these notes are based on that. I’m also trying to give an idea of what’s included without major spoilers, so feel free to read on as a player.
Out of the Abyss clocks in at:
- 254 pages
- 17 chapters
- 4 appendices
- 1 afterword
Amongst all that goodness, in addition to the campaign setting you’ll get:
- New background options
- New magic items
- New creatures
- Stats for the demon lords
As with other products in the D&D 5th Edition line, this hardback has great production values, design and artwork. 5th Edition is really establishing itself for that alone.
So what’s all about? Out of the Abyss is Cloverfield meets the Underdark meets Alice in Wonderland as a drow archmage unleashes a terror on the Underdark and madness permeates the already dangerous and mysterious realm.
Alice in Wonderland, you say? Why yes, I answer. Chris Perkins himself specifically mentions it in his foreword to the book as an influence. But not to worry, my perusal does not reveal silliness or whimsy… this is serious business. Cloverfield, you say? Why yes, I answer. Because, you know, big old huge nasty beastie rampaging through cities in the Underdark and leaving ruins and madness in its wake. Which I find extremely cool.
What about a certain dual wielding dark elf named Drizzt? Can you have an Underdark campaign without him. No spoilers here, but I will say he is confirmed for the Rage of Demons storyline (the multi platform story line that Out of the Abyss is part of), however IF (see, I said IF) he appears in Out of the Abyss the story and adventure are the characters’, not an NPC’s. The characters are not sidekicks to a larger story.
Speaking of the player characters, they begin the campaign as lowly 1st level prisoners of the drow in attempting to escape work their way towards a climactic encounter with the very demon lords themselves, along the way encountering many exciting locations, events and encounters… both set and random!
This isn’t the Underdark you think you know, however. Already a bit deranged, with the terror unleashed new madness is in evidence, so much so that a game mechanic very similar to the sanity check from the Call of Cthulhu RPG is in effect. Madness can build on your characters and manifest in very unpleasant ways.
Some old favorite races and new ones make appearances, including drow, duergar, kuo-toa, illithids, gnolls, orcs, derro, and beholders.
The Underdark is HUGE. The included full page map has fairly small hexes that each represent 24 miles and travel is at a reduced pace compared to overland travel. Locations include Menzoberranzan, Gauntlgrym, Gravenhollow, Blingdenstone, the Darklake and many more.
Statistics, encounters, game balance and math aside… since the Underdark itself is so atmospheric much of whether DMs and players like Out of the Abyss or not will depend on the atmosphere itself, more so than most other products.
Do section headings like “Fungi of the Underdark”, “The Pudding King”, “The Fetid Wedding” and “The Wormwrithings” appeal do you?
Do you like the idea of madness building up on your characters? Do unhinged encounters appeal to you, as well as not seeing sunlight for 15 levels?
Do you want to run into a spore servant, perhaps a drow, whose head has burst with spores poking up through its head like an awful crown?
Do you, in fact, want demon lords with challenge ratings that would make an adult red dragon run and hide in your game?
The Underdark and its locations and denizens are fascinating, but going this deep (pun only slightly intended) may not be for everyone.
That being said, Out of the Abyss is very well done. It has great descriptions of the motivations of the races and cultures of the Underdark, and monsters and locations exist within a defined, interconnected ecosystem with more than just a token attempt to explain how the ecosystem works. Just perusing through the book I felt both the wonder and the dread and claustrophobia of this underground world.
Price value? My inner grognard balks at the $50 price tag, yet it should be noted that seems to be a normal price price for RPG rulebooks these days. Also, as with other recent D&D books you can buy it from sources such as Amazon for much cheaper. I paid the full price to get an early copy, but that was my choice of course. So what am I saying? I guess I’m saying $50 seems steep to me for *any* rulebook but there’s legit ways to get them cheaper and, again, part of me is still stuck in the 80s and 90s.
Marketed as an adventuring campaign for characters 1st-15th level (that’s a lot of campaign!) this book is rich enough to be used as a one-off adventure, a series of adventures, a campaign, and an entire setting. I can see it being very useful as a reference if you wanted to ignore the campaign itself. If you’re a fan of the Underdark, you definitely need to pick it up.
I find myself in the position of having enjoyed studying Out of the Abyss, but wishing I had not so that I could play it fresh as a player for all the cool stuff that’s going to happen.
Thanks for reading and make sure to check out the photo gallery below! Happy Underdarking!