I am running Out of the Abyss, and there is a cleric in my campaign. This cleric requires his holy symbol to really do anything. However, you do not start with any items in this. I don't know what I should do about this. Should I give him the holy symbol? Should he find it in a shop? Please help me out here. I'm still a new DM, and just need all of your help.

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    – V2Blast
    Dec 30, 2019 at 20:24

5 Answers 5


There are quite a few things that the Cleric can do ...

This cleric requires his holy symbol to really do anything.

That's not quite true.
What cantrips does the cleric have?

  • The following cleric cantrips do not require material components (and thus do not require a holy symbol).
    Guidance, Sacred Flame, Spare the Dying, Thaumaturgy, Toll the Dead

The cleric gets to prepare any cleric spell at first level.

  • The following cleric First Level spells do not require material components (and thus do not require a holy symbol).
    Command, Cure Wounds, Detect Magic, Detect Evil and Good, Guiding Bolt, Healing Word, Inflict Wounds, Purify Food and Drink,

The Cleric can always Help.

If cleric helps help in combat, the better-at-combat party members get advantage on attacks. (If there is a monk in the party, this is very handy ...)
The Cleric can offer advantage on most ability checks that party members are making.

This adventure tests party resourcefulness. Teamwork is rewarded.

What should the Cleric do? Make the team better at whatever they do.

FWIW, guidance, the cantrip, is IMO a must choose for a cleric at level 1, but that's due to having played a lot of clerics.

Suggest you review, with your player, their spell and cantrip line up, and both of you review the "Working Together" section in Chapter 7, and the Help Action in combat in Chapter 9. If the Cleric does not have that cantrip, guidance, in their first three chosen, consider allowing them to replace one with that cantrip. It's a significant party improvement cantrip. (Stealth, lock picking, insight, perception, medicine checks, survival, all benefit from guidance ...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, initially there are some other things that come into play while being in the slave pen that further limit their abilities and invalidate your answer at that stage in the module. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Dec 30, 2019 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch The problem as stated is that without a holy symbol, the cleric can't do much. That is not true. If a party member or the cleric needs to try and sneak past some guards, or surreptitiously try to do X, guidance may be a way to overcome the dire situation the party is in. The entire party is trying to deal with having no equipment at that stage. The cleric is in a unique position to assist them all. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30, 2019 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't want to give more away, but just know that in the module there are additional things going on which impact your answer's viability while the characters are in the slave pen. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Dec 30, 2019 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Naut I am familiar with the module...the point is, you can do stuff as a cleric without a holy symbol. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30, 2019 at 18:53

Keep in mind, everyone will have a similar issue.

Unless you have someone whose main focus is unarmed combat, everyone will be in the same boat. No one will have any materials or focus for casting and the martial classes won't have any weapons or armor. The best they can hope for is improvised weapons.

Read the adventure cover to cover. Find out when they will get the items they need and do your best to keep them alive without pulling too many punches.

If I was a cleric starting this campaign, I would see the intro as a stealth mission and try to avoid combat at all costs until I have my holy symbol back.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I recently played in an unrelated campaign that started similarly -- even to the point of PCs being forced to wear collars that suppressed their magic, even if it had no material components. It's a special challenge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 30, 2019 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Way of the Wicked for Pathfinder starts the same way. This requires DM to be prepared and to know what lies ahead, and requires players to be crafty and imaginative. Can be a lot of fun, but you need to make sure players are up to such "unconventional" beginning. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Dec 30, 2019 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggest that you look at the spells at 1st level that I list in my answer. Avoiding combat is not necessary, but I agree with that approach for this adventure module ... \$\endgroup\$ Dec 30, 2019 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast im not recommending that, I'm just saying if I was a paladin in this scenario, that's probably how I would react \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2020 at 2:09

They can find their gear if you want them to

The text of the first section or the adventure specifically says:

7. Ilvara’s Quarters


Additionally, the chest contains any valuables once held by the characters and NPCs, including any spellbooks, components, focuses, and magic items lost to the adventurers.

...and then a bit later:

...For some characters, it might be a fun challenge to escape into the Underdark with little more than the clothes on their backs. For others (including spellcasters who need spellbooks or components), consider placing the party’s captured equipment (normally in Ilvara’s quarters) in an alternate location if the characters are intent on escaping without exploring all of the outpost, such as the elite drow barracks (area 4) or the armory (area 10).

The module is built around the characters having a chance to retrieve their starting equipment, and a higher chance if you warrant it. For that higher chance, perhaps one of the captors pocketed the holy symbol since it seemed valuable.

There are countless options to allow the cleric, or any other character, to retrieve certain equipment if it is vital and/or you think the player will enjoy the game better going forward.


No, you shouldn't give the cleric his holy symbol.

Giving the cleric his holy symbol would be like giving the fighter his greatsword, or the wizard his spellbook, or the rogue his thieves' tools, and the drow captors, who aren't stupid by any means, would understand this and not allow him to hold on to it. Plus, it wouldn't exactly be fair to the other players to give him special treatment just because he's a cleric and he "can't do anything without his holy symbol". None of the players can do anything, they have no resources and they have no power over the situation, they're going to have to sit tight and wait for an opportunity to present itself.

The intent of this part of the adventure is to force the players to rely on teamwork and clever thinking to get themselves out of the sticky situation that they've found themselves in. Besides, having played in this adventure myself, I can tell you he won't have significant use for it until he has a chance to get it back anyways.


Let the players improvise

In general

Depending on how you strictly define "holy symbol", the Cleric could scrounge one from things on hand. D&D Beyond says that a holy symbol is "a representation of a god or pantheon". Though the examples it gives further down the paragraph suggest it should be somehow special ("amulet", "symbol carefully engraved", "fragment of a sacred relic"), it doesn't say that it must be anything in particular 1. A lenient DM might allow the Cleric to crudely lash one together from whatever is on hand in a similar manner to an improvised weapon. There is certainly precedent for improvising tools in WotC materials: Out of the Abyss itself (or at least the Encounters version) says "A character using makeshift [thieves] tools can attempt the same check but has disadvantage" on page 18.

To take an example from our world, two sticks might make a cross (TVTropes warning!). In the Realms, a cartwheel and some stones might suffice as a makeshift symbol of Gond (a toothed cog with four spokes); a strip of cloth with torn eye-holes and wrapped around the head is a serviceable mask (for a symbol of Mask, god of thieves); three bolts, hastily scratched on a piece of burning bark, may appease Talos (god of storms) enough to get protection from the elements... for now.

In the specific case of Out of the Abyss

The characters have a chance to have scavenged things while in captivity (p. 9, Encounters version, but might be a different page in the full adventure). They might get:

  • Nothing
  • A gold coin
  • A living spider the size of a tarantula
  • A 5-foot-long strand of silk rope
  • A flawed carnelian gemstone worth 10 gp
  • A rusted iron bar that can be used as a club
  • A flint shard that can be used as a dagger
  • A hand crossbow bolt coated with drow poison

The Cleric might use the rope to bind sticks or shards of pottery (perhaps from smashing the chamber-pots in the slave pit); or could use the flint, crossbow bolt, or carnelian2 to scratch a symbol into something (like a chamber-pot).

A crude symbol, made of such poor-quality3 materials, might inflict some sort of penalty for its use. It could give advantage on saving throws against the user's spells, or disadvantage on attack rolls; it could prevent using proficiency for spells; it could make spells have a lesser effect (shorter duration, lower die size); concentration rolls to maintain spells could be made at disadvantage; it could prevent channel divinity.

A word of warning though: be careful that you don't go too far with the penalties, and only inflict them on spells where the holy symbol is used if at all. Two of the scavenged items are explicitly described as being usable as a real weapon, and a hand crossbow bolt is rather stabby too. If any of the martial characters get those, they would have a full-fat weapon just by luck. Don't make the Cleric's player feel like they're being punished for a having a good idea when other characters get perks for being lucky.

(1) The three types of holy symbol listed on D&D Beyond all have a price of 5gp, but it also gives a price of 25 gp for thieves tools, which can be improvised.

(2) Carnelian is quartz, so it's reasonably hard and certainly good for scratching pottery.

(3) And in the case of chamber-pot symbols, potentially offensive. Though maybe the deity would be pleased that their worshippers are bearing up and keeping the faith even in trying situations?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Holy Symbol as a generic entity don't have a price because they're a category of item rather than a specific item (the same is true of arcane focus, but the holy symbol category appears in the adventuring gear table in 3 forms (amulet, emblem, and reliquary), each of which are worth 5 gp (as you note in footnote 1). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jan 1, 2020 at 0:28

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