The kuo-toa are strange, vile inhabitants of the wetter sections of the Underdark. They are flabby, slimy humanoids that resemble enormous cave fish, and are akin to to the Deep Ones of the Lovecraft Mythos. They are not so inscrutable as the utterly mad derro, but their motivations are often confusing or strange to outsiders, as their lives largely revolve around the worship of bizarre and alien powers. Those who are not dedicated to the cults of Dagon or similar entities often serve aboleths, green, black, or purple dragons who have made a lair deep underground, hags, demons, or far-realms creatures. They intensely fear and hate mind flayers, but are often enslaved and enthralled into their service as well.
Reasons for Kuo-toa to Take Captives
Slave Labor. When left to their own devices, kuo-toa prefer to enslave locathah or other amphibious species, but can use air-breathing slaves to help them construct forts, temples, and other complex structures in underdark caverns or on remote islands if at sea.
Trade. The kuo-toa have surprisingly friendly relations with the drow, and will often sell captives to them, as well as to goblinoids and duergar. At sea they will often sell to pirates in need of galley slaves or to surface warlords.
Indoctrination. The cults of the kuo-toa are rarely xenophobic and frequently are eager to attempt to convert or brainwash members of other species to spread the worship into other communities. This process would likely take a long time even when successful, unless the subject is already mad or willing. Those serving groups like the Kraken Society may also simply attempt to recruit for their organizations rather than spreading religious worship.
For their Master. Kuo-toa serving as minions to a greater being will frequently take slaves to assist in accomplishing the tasks given to them as well as simply to increase the temporal power of the villain commanding them.
Ritual Sacrifices. The vile cults of the kuo-toa are far to dedicated to find themselves without captives to sacrifice when such sacrifices are demanded, so they would likely keep a large stable of desirable sacrificial individuals who may be kept for extended periods before their doom arrives.
World Specific: Eberron. Both underground and sea kuo-toa would eagerly supply slaves to the goblinoid kindom of Darguun and the monster nation of Droaam, as well as to less principled folk in the Lhazaar Principalities, the Shadow Marches, Q’barra, and the Thunder Sea/Xen’drik. They would likely serve various fiendish powers in the Demon Wastes, and have numerous Dragon Below cults and to various beings from Dal Quor and Xoriat.
Kuo-toa Capture Tactics
Mobs. Kuo-toa actively spurn armor, and most are not exceptionally dangerous to skilled adventurers in a 1-on-1 confrontation, but in a direct conflict, large hordes of them may come boiling out of the water to overwhelm their enemies in the sheer press of bodies.
Pincer Staff. Skilled kuo-toa warriors and clerics often carry pincer staffs, an articulated polearm similar to a mancatcher that resembles a giant lobster claw on the end of a staff. These are used to restrain adversaries both in combat and out.
Slime. Kuo-toa are covered in a thin layer of slime that, when applied in thick layers can form a strong adhesive. Most often they apply it in thick layers to the outside of their shields so that weapons become trapped, thus disarming enemies. This slime could also be used in more exotic ways, though, from glue traps and adhesive falling nets, to coating a combat beast in it to capture those it charges into.
Magic. Kuo-toa clerics frequently have spells like hold person prepared and are eager to use them. They may also have various scrolls and other items providing magical means of restraining or subduing captives-to-be, such as iron bands of billaro or a tentacle rod stolen from mind flayers.
Animals and Minions. If encountered in the water, a group of kuo-toa may have trained octopi or other beasts that could restrain an enemy. They may also be accompanied by cultists of other humanoid species to provide a range of unexpected options.
What’s in it for the Party?
Magic Items. Most adventuring parties are predisposed to destroying profane idols and mad effigies than collect them, but there are a variety of valuables they may be interested in, especially gear captured from previous captives. Kuo-toa hate wearing armor and are likely to completely overlook the value of items that assist surface-dwellers in traveling under the waves. As such there is a good chance that they have simply discarded something like mariner’s armor, a cap of water breathing, a cloak of the manta ray, gloves of swimming and climbing, a ring of water walking. More well guarded treasures may include such items as a trident of fish command, bowl of commanding water elementals, or a wand of paralysis.
NPCs. Kuo-toa enslave many beings and openly trade in intelligent humanoids so all manner of npcs may be held captive alongside the player character(s). Most will find it a great relief to be freed from such foul captors.
Favor. Aside from slave trading partners and beings the kuo-toa serve, nearly any group would be thankful for disruption of the fish men’s activities in the region. Organizations opposing slavery or attempting to make the seas safe for travel will also be gracious for such action against the kuo-toa, and there are few religions or deities who would oppose disruption of the spread of the bizarre cults.
Strange Objects. While adventurers usually have enough sense not to carry idols to evil cults back to civilization, the kuo-toa may be in possession of strange arcane relics and other objects of value that are probably only very slightly cursed. This is a great opportunity to introduce a homebrew magic item.
Relief. If you are using sanity rules of some sort, successfully thwarting a kuo-toa cult could possibly provide a mental up beat, giving confidence, hope, and closure. This might be reflected mechanically as some degree of sanity recovery or a short term mechanical benefit when dealing with other sanity-blasting circumstances.
Escaping Kuo-toa Captivity
Playing Along. It is probably risky to actually participate in the cult rituals, but pretending to be eager may grant you reduced scrutiny as they begin to view you as an apprentice rather than a captive. A talented adventurer, especially one with thaumaturgy or water related cantrips may even be able to pose as a prophet or other visionary.
Discarded Gear. Kuo-toa may keep air-breathing captives in chambers that have only one guarded surface entrance, but which rely on deep caverns to prevent non-amphibious humanoids from attempting to leave through the other paths. However, kuo-toa are likely to be completely oblivious to magic items that provide benefits like water breathing, as it would have no effect on them. Especially if the item is a piece of armor, it would probably just be dumped in a pile of junk to sell to the next duergar caravan to pass by for trade.
Arcane Magic. Kuo-toa are extremely focused on divine magic and pacts with powerful beings for power, and as such may underestimate the effectiveness of wizards, bards, and sorcerers. Whether the players use it subtly or make a show of it to demand subservience, there are many ways to use the arcane to make a break for it.
Brute Force. Kuo-toa leaders—especially the monks and clerics—are quite powerful, but the rank and file are individually rather weak as long as you know how to handle their tactics. Especially if caught off-guard or while the leaders are preoccupied, adventurers may be able to simply battle their way to freedom.
Sunlight. Kuo-toa are sunlight sensitive, so if by some method you can magically create sunlight or escape during the day if held in captivity on an island or some similar place, they will be at a substantial disadvantage.