Out of the Abyss – Chapter 17 – Against the Demon Lords

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Before we start, you might want to read this recap of the final chapter in one of my games.

We have finally gotten this far. It’s the end of the campaign, a wrap up to this awesome long journey. Not many get here, it’s really difficult for some people to have a group steady enough to play over 60-70 hours of D&D. So congratulations to you and your group for getting to the end of Out of the Abyss. This chapter is very open ended. Mostly it depends on decisions taken by the PCs or how you as the DM lead the previous encounters against the demon lords. However you choose to play this chapter, it’s important to have a mega epic fight at the very end; it’s only logical that the final confrontation will be the toughest. However we will see that the book doesn’t really deliver, we have to make some changes.

The first thing that determines the ending is the Dark Heart. Its location was chosen in Chapter 16. It’s suggested that Menzoberranzan is the appropriate place, especially if the PCs hate drow. But the adventurers can really choose anywhere. Their reasons for choosing a different place would probably be humanitarian, since this showdown means the death of hundreds of drow. Any place other than Menzoberranzan changes things. If they choose a desolate place then no bystanders will be in danger. If they choose a different settlement like Blingdenstone (why the hell would they do that?) then you have to adjudicate any possible outcome. There is a special case, in which the PCs double-cross Vizeran DeVir and place the Dark Heart in the cave where his tower is. In this case, Vizeran will be too weak to fight from casting the ritual, he will get out of there with teleportation and swear painful vengeance upon the adventurers. The rest of this guide assumes that the Dark Heart is placed in Gromph Baenre’s sanctum in Menzoberranzan.

There are three popular approaches to this campaign ender.

Option 1.- 5 demon lords show up, Demogorgon, Orcus, Juiblex, Yeenoghu and Baphomet. Graz’zt will be missing as he is not deceived by the ritual. There is a 5 way battle, which Demogorgon wins. Then the PCs fight a weakened Demogorgon and save the day.

This is the default way to run this chapter by the book. The only problem is the difficulty, which is too low for a level 14-15 party. I talk about it in detail in the next section of this guide.

Option 2.- 5 demon lords show up, Demogorgon, Orcus, Juiblex, Yeenoghu and Baphomet. Graz’zt will be missing as he is not deceived by the ritual. There is a 5 way battle, but this battle is played by the players. Each is given the stat block of a demon lord and they fight each other. In this case, depending on how they do it, any demon lord could be the last one standing. Then the PCs fight a weakened Demogorgon and save the day.

This options is given by the book in a side bar (page 218). If 4 or 5 demon lords are available, this can be an awesome way to change the direction of the game and do something awesome. However it has two problems. First the difficulty for the adventurers, which is too low for a level 14-15 party. Second, maybe demogorgon doesn’t survive, if the other demon lords gang up on him, which in a way is anti-climatic, since the PCs are waiting for a frontal engagement vs Demogorgon since chapter 2 – Sloobludop. And third, Whoever demon lord survives, the players will have already seen its exact stat block. Which will only lead to meta-game decisions.

Option 3 .- Yeenoghu and Baphomet were either defeated in the Labyrinth or banished by the Maze Engine. And Juiblex was defeated after its fight with Zuggtmoy in the Fetid Wedding. In this case only Demogorgon and Orcus show up for the final showdown. A weakened demogorgon wins and the adventurers step in to save the day.

Since the Maze Engine is so popular among DMs. It’s really possible that 2 demon lords will not be available for the Dark Heart ritual. Even more so if Juiblex was defeated in the Fetid Wedding. If this is the case, then only Demogorgon and Orcus show up. And this variant is not even mentioned in the book.

Taking into account all pros and cons, any of these options can work perfect, with some modifications. It is often forgotten or underestimated just how powerful and resourceful a high level party is. By now the party is level 14-15, and just to state it plainly. If a level 14-15 party of 4-5 characters fights a full HP Demogorgon, they are going to kick his ass so bad he’s gonna wake up crying in the Abyss. It’s even worse with a bigger party. What happens is that solo fights in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition don’t really work so well. It’s all about action economy, which is a complete subject by itself.

The reality of D&D 5e is that you can only have a stressful / difficult fight, if this is the fourth or fifth battle in a day. The adventurers have to use up some of their resources and HP during a series of encounters before a solo fight. The book tries to address this issue with some options in page 218. It suggests a few encounters, the most dangerous of which includes 3 Vrocks. There are also some Near miss explosions that deal 3d6 damage (really?).  So here is my approach to this chapter, in order to make it more challenging and rewarding for the players.

Race for the demon lords

When the demon lords are forcefully teleported to Menzoberranzan, they are disoriented for a moment. But then, all of them can feel each other’s auras and rush into a fight. This fight is not static, it’s moving all around the city. Also, it’s not only the demon lords. All kinds of demons are summoned too, complete armies rush to the scene and start fighting each other, each particular demon bound to one of the demon lords. The adventurers will not be safe anywhere. The demon lords will be fighting then running, fighting again, hiding for a moment, rushing to attack a different target.

If the battle ends and the adventurers are not near the victor, the winning demon lord can use its teleportation ability and get out of there. Hence the importance of following the fight closely, to jump in at the right time. The PCs can pretty much guess that Demogorgon is going to win. Or if only Demogorgon and Orcus are present, then only one of them must win. Run like this, the chapter becomes a race through Menzoberranzan. The PCs have to move fast and keep up with the demon lords.  There will be no time for rest or recovery. It will also not be easy, since the city is swarmed with demons. The goal here is to have the PCs fight 5 times before catching up with Demogorgon. 3 tough fights and 2 relatively easy ones. By the time they get to Demogorgon, they won’t have as many spell slots, potions and other resources in general. And that will be a tough fight worth remembering.

About the fights. Level 15 really means high level play. If you haven’t had the chance to try out iconic D&D monsters, now is a good moment to do it. The party can handle a Balor, Goristro or a Marilith aided with some lesser demons like scores or Manes and Dretches, or some Shadow Demons (rendered almost harmless by Dawnbringer) and maybe a Vrock or a Chasme Demon. This fights need to make the PCs sweat and spend resources. 3 tough fights like these and two easy ones will do the job.

Complications At any moment during any of these fights you can drop in a complication on initiative count 15. The demon lord’s fight draws dangerously close for a moment, causing a harmful effect.

  • Explosion (a la Michael Bay).- There is s sudden unpredictable explosion in a 20 ft. radius. Each creature must succeed in a DC 15 Dex saving throw. On a failure, the creature takes 5d6 fire damage or half as much on a success.
  • Falling Debris.- More like flying building, because that’s what’s coming down on the battlefield. Each creature in a 30 ft. radius must succeed in a DC 15 Dex saving throw. On a failure, the creature takes 4d6 bludgeoning damage and is prone and restrained by rocks and debris. Getting out requires an action to make a DC 15 Str (Athletics) check.
  • Close Call.- One of the demon lords jumps into the battlefield, attacks a PC and then jumps or flies away to continue its fight with the other demon lords. Just choose a demon lord and attack a PC.
  • Instant reinforcements.- Scores of dretches, manes or 1 tougher demon like a Vrock, or Barlgura arrive to attack the PCs.

Run correctly, by the time these fights are over and the PCs catch up on Demogorgon, they will be very beat up when they see Demogorgon kill Orcus. Now that will be a memorable fight. The book suggests to have a severely weakened Demogorgon, it has 290 HP, only one legendary resistance, his best spells are spent and a -5 to all attacks, checks and saves. Even a weakened level 15 party is going to kick his butt like this. It’s really not about winning anymore, this is the end of the campaign and the objective is the give the best finale. We know that the party is not strong, after those fights before.

What you need to do is to make the battle as hard as possible while giving them a fair chance to save the day. If you want hard numbers I would go with 350 HP, 2 legendary resistances, all spells available and only -2 penalty on attacks. But I regard a battle like this as highly flexible, you as the DM probably also want the PCs to succeed and get to the epilogue of the adventure. If that is the case then don’t even think about HP. You could decide on a “probably” HP and go with the flow of the battle. You get to decide who gives the winning blow, wait for a good moment, a critical hit, a radiant damage spell, a damaging spell from Orcus’ Wand. Remember that narrative beats mechanics every time.

After the battle there should be a grand epilogue to wrap everything up. Notice that the adventure still offers some unfinished business that the players might like to pursue. That would be outside the bounds of the book and into high level campaign style. Some of the unclosed loops are: Vizeran DeVir, Gromph’s Grimoire, the location of Gromph Baenre and the presence of Graz’zt in the Abyss. Plus any others that naturally occurred in your game. There’s also the money arrangement that was made with Davra Jassur in Chapter 8. All in all, it’s a great adventure and the players should be able to take the reigns of the narrative side and explore the different epilogue possibilities. Unless this is not the epilogue and they choose to continue pursuing other goals into high level play.

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