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So I bought the Out of the Abyss D&D campaign book and I've been reading it and I gotta say I like it better than the past campaigns they released.

One thing that is throwing me off though is: Do the players choose which location they do first?

For example, after episode 1, are they able to

travel to Blingdenstone first or travel straight to Neverlight Grove before reaching The Darklake?

Or do they have to follow the book's chapters in order?

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    \$\begingroup\$ are you running it at home or through Adventurers League? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 23:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am running it at home \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 19:51

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I'm going to answer this with a somewhat unhelpful "It depends." My answer isn't intentionally unhelpful; it's just that the nature of role-playing games makes answering your question difficult. Let me 'splain...

With my group, I'd never force them to go from location to location in a specific order. My players expect that they actually have a choice in such decisions. They'd be rightfully upset if I forced them onto some sort of story railroad like that. If a module/campaign was written in such a way, I'd either modify it or not use it.

Now... having said that; if you're playing a convention game or an Adventurer's League kind of game, the game might be a little more railroady. However, that doesn't seem to be the kind of game you're talking about here.

There are also groups out there that don't have the same dynamic as mine. Some groups want to be led from one encounter to the next without a whole lot of player choice in between. If your group is like that then I'd follow the chapters in whatever order the module authors seemed to think was most logical.

In my personal case, I would allow the players to choose to go anywhere they can reasonably go within the realm of the fiction. If the module proscribed that kind of thing from happening, I'd modify the module.

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Part of why it's so hard to DM Out of the Abyss is because it is a branching adventure- characters can go from Velkynvelve to just about anywhere, including Menzoberranzan, at 1st-level, right after the first chapter (talk about "out of the frying pan"...). I encourage the DM to read the first half of the book, at least, so he/she is acquainted with what is going on in each location that can be visited in the first half of the adventure- you never know what the players might think to go! That being said...

Allow the players to choose where they want to go

but if you present the options right, the PCs will follow how the chapters are presented. This is a hidden railroad trick that most players will not even notice, and I've personally used.

In the module itself, there are dis/incentives from going off the "ideal" path. If you haven't picked them up yourself, here are some that I have used:

  1. Travel Time - travelling from Velkynvelve straight to Gracklstugh, for example, will take 28 days of equipment-less, resource-less travel. Without food and water, that's simply too risky for low-level characters to attempt. If the PCs ignore this, make sure one of the underdark-savvy NPCs like the Drow or the Dwarf voices out the risks.
  2. Convenience - Having next to no equipment and resources, the PCs will want to re-supply, equip themselves and rest before going off again. Several locations are conveniently placed in between each other to allow the PCs to simply stop by, Sloobludop comes to mind, being a mere 8 days from Velkynvelve.
  3. NPC motivation - this is one of the best incentives to get the PCs to go to locations. All of the NPCs that ally with you have strong motivations to go home to their respective cities, you can use this as a powerful tool. In my game, the PCs were foreshadowed early-on of the events in one of the locations

    having met and killed the Parade of Fools in the Whorlstone Tunnels. By the end of that encounter, they wanted nothing to do with Neverlight Grove.

    But when one of their closest friend-NPCs started voicing out their concerns about wanting to go home, they all agreed to go there anyway. This option, in particular, may sound like I'm forcing them along the rails. To an extent, that is true. But I talked with my players about the option, and it turns out that they really wanted to go because it was interesting and exciting, despite the apparent danger. I pushed them, sure, but they were motivated enough to go there already, they only needed a little push.

If, despite all of the above, they still stray from the "ideal" path, then it's a good thing you've read up on the location before hand, as I encouraged. If you haven't, you still have the time to catch up on reading while you have a travel session where the PCs face the perils of the underdark.

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