The Backgrounds, Bonds, and Orcus From D&D's Out of the Abyss

The Backgrounds, Bonds, and Orcus From D&D's Out of the Abyss

out of the abyss preview orcus 1

Take an exclusive look at the background features and bonds for the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons adventure, as well as the stats for Orcus, Demon Prince of Undeath.

Dungeons & Dragons is very close to releasing its upcoming storyline, Rage of Demons, across its many and varied incarnations. The next month will see the release of Out of the Abyss, the Rage of Demons super adventure book for the 5th edition of the tabletop roleplaying game.

Wizards of the Coast has shared a few pages from that book with The Escapist, and here they are. We've got the backgrounds,bonds, and the stats for the Demon Prince of Undeath, Orcus. We'll run through them individually and then you can click below for hi-res versions. First up are the big new character narrative elements introduced with 5th Edition - Backgrounds and Bonds. They have a decided focus on what we can only assume is the beginning of the adventure, but they seem to go in rather varied directions. Since we know the adventure has a sandbox structure, these bonds are likely all seeds leading towards individual locations to be found in the adventure.

If you're not familiar with how Out of the Abyss goes down, here's the official description:

"The Underdark is a subterranean wonderland, a vast and twisted labyrinth where fear reigns. It is the home of horrific monsters that have never seen the light of day. It is here that the dark elf Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan, casts a foul spell meant to ignite a magical energy that suffuses the Underdark and tears open portals to the demonic Abyss. What steps through surprises even him, and from that moment on, the insanity that pervades the Underdark escalates and threatens to shake the Forgotten Realms to its foundations. Stop the madness before it consumes you!"

Some highlights of the backgrounds:

  • A background option that abstracts the problem of supply and survival in the underdark.
  • Apparently not all Kuo-Toa are bad guys.
  • The dwarven kingdom of Gauntlgrym, familiar to readers of the Drizzt novels, seems to play a major role in the story.

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While other previews have shown Out of the Abyss seems to feature some fantastical and whimsical characters, it's still fundamentally about some of the D&D multiverse's most horrid creatures rampaging about beneath the Forgotten Realms. We know that "Madness" mechanics feature heavily in the module, and that exploration of the underdark will be a big deal. We were able to ask D&D Principle Designer Chris Perkins how the adventure would cater to this kind of exploratory sandbox play.

"The characters begin in the Underdark," said Perkins, "but where they go form there is really up to them. [Out of the Abyss] presents many different locations to explore, but the order in which the players visit these locations is really up to them and the DM." Perkins also said that there was a chapter in the book providing guidance to the DM on how to run the campaign, "given its many paths and distractions."

Just how big is the threat, though? Here's Orcus, which clocking in at Challenge 26 just might be the most powerful monster we've ever seen in D&D's 5th Edition.

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Of course, we already know that Out of the Abyss has characters topping out at somewhere in the mid-teens of power level. How will the characters deal with these threats? I asked Perkins. I did not get the answer I expected. "It would be madness for the adventurers to take on Orcus in a straight-up fight," he said. "Fortunately, Out of the Abyss gives characters the chance to amass a small army and also turn the demon lords against one another, thus weakening them. There are also a couple other ways to banish the demon lords back to the Abyss, which is the party's ultimate goal."

Out of the Abyss releases September 15th. The Rage of Demons storyline is also the basis for the Sword Coast Legends video game which will release late next month.

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Apparently not all Kuo-Toa are bad guys.

What? Blibdoolpoolp won't be happy that her children have gone soft. What's next, they wake you at the Innsmouth B&B with a pancake breakfast?

Thunderous Cacophony:

Apparently not all Kuo-Toa are bad guys.

What? Blibdoolpoolp won't be happy that her children have gone soft. What's next, they wake you at the Innsmouth B&B with a pancake breakfast?

The D&D adage of there being exceptions to every rule. However they're more than likely few and far between enough to make it into record. Basically any creature that isn't extra-planar is going to have a small amount that doesn't follow the racial/species-wide tendencies (those creatures that have intelligence beyond an animal). Glad D&D finally decided to start acknowledging the idea of an entire race being evil without them being extra-planar embodiments of said evil. As a DM though I'd still hesitate to allow players to go wild with this idea and make characters of any possible race that go against their race's general alignment only for the sake of not making the campaign that much more difficult to manage when the entire party is made up of races that most settlements would either kill on sight or shun completely from entering the area.

Imperioratorex Caprae:
The D&D adage of there being exceptions to every rule. However they're more than likely few and far between enough to make it into record. Basically any creature that isn't extra-planar is going to have a small amount that doesn't follow the racial/species-wide tendencies (those creatures that have intelligence beyond an animal). Glad D&D finally decided to start acknowledging the idea of an entire race being evil without them being extra-planar embodiments of said evil. As a DM though I'd still hesitate to allow players to go wild with this idea and make characters of any possible race that go against their race's general alignment only for the sake of not making the campaign that much more difficult to manage when the entire party is made up of races that most settlements would either kill on sight or shun completely from entering the area.

The old "All drow are Chaotic Good" problem.

Personally, I have no problem with humanoid races being totally evil, especially something like Kuo-Toa. They're a race of mad fish-monsters known for being religious zealots of dark gods and plotting their return to dominance, only interacting with surface folk when raiding seaside villages and ships. Their minds are so alien that I feel comfortable saying that they have no concept of Good that relates to Good as understood by the demi-humans.

Thunderous Cacophony:

The old "All drow are Chaotic Good" problem.

Personally, I have no problem with humanoid races being totally evil, especially something like Kuo-Toa. They're a race of mad fish-monsters known for being religious zealots of dark gods and plotting their return to dominance, only interacting with surface folk when raiding seaside villages and ships. Their minds are so alien that I feel comfortable saying that they have no concept of Good that relates to Good as understood by the demi-humans.

As a DM I've always maintained a limit on PC's using a monster race that usually is of an evil type alignment to have a maximum alignment shift of True Neutral. And if the player sufficiently roleplays the leeward shift towards a Good alignment the maximum shift would be a neutral good, with a huge negative bias from all good aligned races, much like the way RA Salvatore writes the general world's reaction to the aberrant Drizzt Do'Urden.

By the negative bias and pressures of being persecuted for the PC's race's crimes keeps said PC from ever gaining any further shifts towards Good alignments. And as I said, they have to work very hard in roleplaying the alignment shift and said alignment shifts will have heavy negative penalties as outlined in most DM guides. I'm unaware of most of the post-4th edition rules so I go by the earlier additions for support on alignment shifts.

My house rule has always been if an alignment shifts from one column to the other (evil to neutral, neutral to good) then the player loses one level of said character and if they're a form of a cleric they lose all cleric attributes and become a basic fighter with no retroactive bonuses like hit points adjustments. Plus a normally religious follower losing his/her/its faith in a deity has extreme world shattering implications and it must show through with a PC by way of penalties and possible class shifts. Sure one could at some point find faith in another deity but said deity will be wary of granting boons to a PC that has abandoned one deity, no matter what alignment and said PC must go above and beyond to prove his/her/its faith. If the deity shift is a totally opposing shift, chaotic to lawful, good to evil, etc., then said new deity may require a large personal sacrifice that would cause the PC a lot of introspection and personal suffering to even consider. The initial hard part though would be to even find a way to get said deity's attention.

In regards to mechanics of a cleric changing faiths and what they'd keep as a non-cleric would be any skills related to religion and arcana that the character previously held. Knowledge isn't stripped, just the faith based mechanics that would suffer. The player also has a choice of class shifting or not, depending on what the character's perspective would allow.

The reasoning behind the True Neutral alignment is much akin to how you described the perception of evil demi-humans not having said perspective of the term "good" and "evil". True Neutral allows them to be skeptical of their own races habits and likewise more open minded to learn of other perceptions but wary of falling into a trap of tunnel-vision.

Alignment shifts have to be weighed carefully as a DM because simply allowing a player to declare an alignment shift with no negative connotations allows for examples like: A lawful good wizard changing his/her alignment to neutral evil in order to perform necromantic spells that involve sacrificing living things then switching back later so as to avoid going against their alignment and being unable morally to perform said spells.

I try not to be too rules-heavy in my games but I do want my players to understand their characters motivations and moral compasses before they take actions in the game. If something a player declares intent to act upon and said action does not match up with the character's alignment, I may mark it in a column and keep it on record and depending on further acts beyond the first, if they continue committing acts against the alignment, then said character may just have a total alignment shift and all the negative connotations that go with it. Paladins shifting from lawful good to even chaotic good would lose their status as a paladin, etc.

I've had a lot of experience in D&D alone, my other TTRPG experiences notwithstanding, and I have cultivated a basic 10 commandments style house rules list. Alignment and non-traditional races are two of those house rules, of which you've read a good piece of. If you want to know the rest I'll gladly lay them out for you.

Imperioratorex Caprae:

My house rule has always been if an alignment shifts from one column to the other (evil to neutral, neutral to good) then the player loses one level of said character ...

A little harsh, eh? I can see clerics losing their divine magic when they step away from their god, but for a lot of characters that almost seems like it would be punishing them for exploring their own morals. For example, I once had a Chaotic Good ranger, a sort of anarchist-by-way-of-John-Locke who cheerfully preached against the nobility and government throughout the campaign as the party fought the Big Bad's army. It was only after the party doubled back through territory where the evil had already passed, and she saw how the sheriffs and levies of local militia were protecting what farms remained and sharing out food to keep the region from starving, that she understood the value of law imposed by a higher power on the unwilling to protect the vulnerable, and after a chat with me moved her alignment to Neutral Good to reflect the change in her opinions.

I'm not sure she would have done that under your system, though, as she would be trading mechanical usefulness for the chance to tell the story she wanted to tell. I can see where you'd want restrictions to limit something like the wizard who dips into neutral evil to cast necromantic spells, but that seems like something rare that could be handled on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't want to hold the characters hostage to an abstract concept like Chaotic Good (unless it was personified in their god, monk's code, etc), and make them choose between staying at the same level as the rest of the party and developing their character as they think they would develop.

I'd be happy to hear the rest of your commandments, though; they'll help me understand from where you are coming.

Can't picture Orcus as that creature. Gotta use the SMT image.

From what I've read of Orcus in DnD lore, he sounds like a massive dick and someone needs to just take care of him already. I'm surprised it hasn't been done yet.

And now watch, someone's going to try to cook up a way to kill Orcus. This is why you don't stat gods.

 

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