Aye, have ye heard the tale of Bard the Bowman of Knollwood, he who has a +5 to attack bonus and survives with a wee bit ‘o luck on his savings throws?
No? Never heard of him?
That’s actually understandable because Knollwood is the D&D campaign setting I made up 15 seconds ago, mainly because I had zilch when it came to put my fingers to my keyboard in order get this article started. (By the way, they just remodeled the Knollwood Mall close to my house and the new Panera has excellent WiFi.)
My point is this: since the very dawn of D&D, people have been creating custom homebrew campaign settings. And even when players aren’t worldbuilding from scratch, they look to alternative published campaign settings like Eberron or Dark Sun, because Bard the Bowman just needs to spread his wings, by gosh, as he feels a little cramped just adventuring around The Forgotten Realms.[divider]Give us Moar D&D 5e Campaign Settings!! [/divider]
But Wizards of the Coast have taken an entirely different strategy with the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Rather than rush book after book to market, they’ve instead taken a slow, deliberate story-driven approach. And instead of publishing an array of campaign setting options, they have instead provided flexibility and tools with which players can create settings at home.
I’ve enjoyed this strategy from WotC. In fact, outside of the lackluster Drgon+ (blech), I think WotC is really in full stride the the D&D 5e release. Still, I can’t lie: I’d love an Eberron campaign setting book. And I’m not the only one. A familiar refrain from fans is “when will we get a D&D setting that isn’t The Forgotten Realms?”
But what if WotC slipped a campaign setting book past us this week because we were so caught up in what we expected to see that we totally missed it?[divider]Is Out of the Abyss a Campaign Setting Book?[/divider]
As I read through Out of the Abyss – the latest storyline adventure for D&D 5e – I was struck by how much it read not just like a wide-open adventure, but also by how much it read as a campaign setting book. Consider the following:
The Underdark is in, but not of The Forgotten Realms. Out of the Abyss did and excellent job of painting The Underdark as ‘the other’, as something totally different.
The Underdark is a land that originally sat in the earth below Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk setting, but now as been molded to fit The Forgotten Realms. As a result, it would be very easy to make The Underdark feel just like The Forgotten Realms, only with less Vitamin D due to a lack of sunlight. The Underdark could be viewed as merely as sprawling dungeon cavern in other words.
Out of the Abyss doesn’t read that way at all. There is a uniqueness to the setting. Not only do you have unique and interesting creatures, but there is a special flavor to them. What’s more, the Alice in Wonderland vibe of Out of the Abyss gives it a wacky, playful tone that further differentiates it as not of The Forgotten Realms, although it is set in The Forgotten Realms.
Out of the Abyss details numerous cities and locations. Just like in real estate, location, location, location provides much of the value in a campaign setting book. And Out of the Abyss details lots of locations, Blingdenstone, Menzoberranzan, and Gravenhollow to name a few.
And the included locations aren’t glossed over. Take Gracklstugh, the home of the duergar, for example. The content for Gracklstugh is a full 32 pages with maps. It includes not just district-by-district adventure opportunities, but it provides factions, major NPCs, adventuring opportunities in caverns beneath the city, and full information on the various races that live there.
In other words, there is ample background, maps, and story hooks for Dungeon Masters to create separate campaigns centered on the individual locations in Out of the Abyss.
The mechanics or travel and survival are covered as well. Out of the Abyss doesn’t just cover locations, it covers the space between as well. The book contains enough crunch and specific rules that a DM could run her own adventure centered in The Underdark. Wondering how player characters would forage fungi for food? Well, wonder no more, because Out of the Abyss tells you.
What’s more, Out of the Abyss meticulously references the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide, pointing you to the sources you need, should it not be covered within its own pages.
There are dozens of NPCs. NPCs in many ways are the overall strength of Out of the Abyss, as they are unique, interesting, and fleshed out with compelling backstories and motivations. A Dungeon Master could almost take any one of the individual NPCs in Out of the Abyss and create a mini-campaign around him. Want to know how an NPC’s story began or ended? Well, the book (as any good campaign setting book would) provides you with ample tools to create your own adventure to find out.[divider] The Out of the Abyss Campaign Setting Book [/divider]
I won’t insult your intelligence and claim that Out of the Abyss is a full campaign setting book like the Dark Sun book we want, but I do think WotC did something very interesting here. Out of the Abyss gave us a campaign setting hidden within an adventure. Not only is Out of the Abyss an excellent overall storyline adventure, the book also offers tools for a creative dungeon master to mash it up and form something new. I’ll take a two for one any day.
Out of the Abyss is available for pre-order from Amazon.