The Saving Throw
Out of the Abyss 2015
As the earth is broken the crevasse becomes a sore.

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Overall Review
published by Wizards of the Coast reviewed by Scott Wachter
253 pages, 2015, $49.95 Print
Game Setting 2.5
Art 5
Story 3.5
Game Rules 3
Intelligibility 3
Review Scoring

Another quarter, another one hundred and sixty pages of high adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, but this time the adventure is of a very different sort. There are a number of reasons for this - first the adventure's subcontract went to veteran studio Green Ronin; it takes a less linear setup, a broader range of characters, a different environment; and most importantly it's actually good.

The scenario opens with players sitting in a drow slave pen waiting on a caravan to drag them and their fellow slaves to the underground city of Menzoberranzan for auction. The other slaves are a dozen unique characters with their own agendas and ideas about their situation. But after their eventual escape, the players and any NPCs they've befriended now lost in the Forgotten Realmsí Underdark with an inkling of how to get out. Players are left to wander between a few settlements with attached quests, random encounters, and side episodes. Over the course of these events the players realize that a botched ritual is allowing the demon lords and ladies of the Abyss to break into the material plane, while also driving the inhabitants of the Underdark mad.

Each of the quests play, like a self-contained episode with a few dangling clues to the grander scheme. The have a few interesting set pieces, a good fight or two, and then they are done before they wear out their welcome. The major story points are unique and varied: repelling a siege against a horde of oozes, outrunning a giant demon, and crashing a mushroom man's wedding are all part of the game. They are also very hard; the Underdark is not a forgiving place and when all Abyss breaks loose something more intimidating than 2d4 quasits should pop out. The shorter chunks help players cool down, but the NPC allies are no slouches in fight either, and the rules-light nature of 5e makes troupe style combat a breeze. The between-chapters segments lean heavily on random encounters. The charts do offer a broad array of creature types and NPCs to run into but don't offer much in the way of creative implementations for them, just a sequence of "you round a corner and spot [percentile roll results] are in the chamber, what do you do?"

This is the first product to use the optional sanity mechanics from the Dungeon Master's Guide, and when applied to companion NPCs it can add to the tension of being lost in the Underdark, never quite sure how or when anyone might snap. It can plays up the creeping madness and paranoia of the plot. When applied to player characters, however, it becomes an annoying semi-continual debuff that pulls the character away from the player's control. A side bar might have given GMs an idea of how to incorporate the system as something other than a bookkeeping chore.

A refreshing return to AD&D 2nd Edition form is that after players hit tenth level, the players escape the Underdark and are granted prestige and minions to back their return into the deeps to undo the demon invasion. It does come in the form of the nigh-omnipotent council of Realms good guys swooping in to tell you what to do like so many hackey FR adventures, but their presence is brief and comes at the point where players are invested in the story already.

Organization is a step ahead of a lot of 5e products by making NPC stat blocks index card sized bordered in such a way to encourage Dungeon Masters to photocopy and distribute as needed. But on the other hand, there are still no page number references, and for an adventure that has two chapters that can in any order it's a major issue. Visuals in the book are up to the usual high standard of Wizards of the Coast products, but the maps are especially lovely to look as well as navigate.

This is the first adventure for D&D that I have actually wanted to run and made me excited for the game itself in a way all of the previous product havenít. This is in spite of my personal distaste for the Forgotten Realms setting. This book offers an epic story with varied content and characters and shows off the better aspects of the ruleset and showing off the more interesting elements of the Underdark.

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