As you all delve into the Underdark, the duergar and the drow tell stories to the half-orcs about The Shallows….
(These are stories that the party trades as they go down the mineshaft leading from the surface and travel for the better part of a day. Each player does not necessarily need to read all of this, in terms of story, it just means someone is talking but for whatever reason your character is just tuning them out.)
Those that were born or have lived in the Underdark earlier in life know that the Underdark is a three-dimensional realm whose borders are unknowable and nigh unmappable, that said, the inhabitants of the Underdark know it as two main regions, The Shallows and The Deeps.
THE SHALLOWS include areas nearest the surface and the Deeps extend below the Shallows down to where the haphazard construction of the primordials starts to fray into nothingness…and worse. The Shallows serve as the most common meeting place between the races of the surface world and those of the Underdark, since both kinds of folk are wary of wandering too far from home. Many surface races occupy discrete areas in the Shallows, from the deep mining colonies of the dwarves to goblin warrens safely hidden from human pursuers.
THE DEEPS- In game terms, only paragon or epic tier adventurers can survive in the Deeps of the Underdark. The drow in the party may have been born in the deeps, but their origin and specific details on how return to it are difficult memories to reconstruct.
THE DROW see the Shallows as a proving ground for young warriors, as a source for “cheap labor” for building their magnificent cities, and as a convenient barrier between their realm and the surface world. The Drow in the party know that raids by their people into the Shallows are common, but lasting settlements are rare.
THE DUERGAR have mining colonies and slave camps near the surface, although duergar prefer deeper, more hidden lairs for their homes. Unlike their cousins, the Underdark dwelling dwarves, who view outsiders with suspicion, duergar attack strangers first and capture them as slaves for later. After long years as thralls of the mind flayers, duergar are implacable foes of the illithids (same as mind flayers). “If we come upon a group of duergar let me do the talking,” Braggi says, “we share a common hatred of mind flayers and we may be able to ally ourselves with the Duergar against this common foe.”
THE KING’S HIGHWAY – Braggi tells the story about the broad tunnels that crisscross the Underdark, referred to as “the King’s Highway.” This is a reference to Torog as the King that Crawls forming them centuries ago. These caves are at least 50’ across and sometimes as wide as 200’. Despite dangers commonly encountered along these tunnels, the King’s Highway is the most reliable way to travel quickly between different regions of the Underdark without winding through every passage and cavern and cranny in between. We would do well if we can connect to the King’s Highway. There are dangers along the Highway, but it seldom dead ends. Torog allowed neither solid walls nor even planes of existence to halt his berserking rampage. Since the King’s Highway meanders back and forth between the Underdark and these “Echo” planes, it has provided a way for inhabitants of one region to emigrate to “neighboring” cross-planar regions as well.
The Feywild and the Shadowfell, the echo planes of the surface world, also contain reflections of the world’s Underdark. These realms, called the Feydark and the Shadowdark, bear traits reminiscent of their associated planes while reflecting elements of the world’s Underdark as well.
THE FEYDARK sports wild growths of bioluminescent fungi and glowing crystals, while the realms of the fomorians appear twisted and strange even to those drow in the party. The fomorians rule large swaths of the Feydark.
THE SHADOWDARK is pitch-black and heavily influenced by the power of death and decay characteristic of the Shadowfell, and if anything is even more hopeless than the surface area of the plane.
Some areas of the Shallows that you know of:
FORGEHOME – an enormous dwarven mining settlement, with a limited number of entrances, all of which are heavily guarded and can be sealed from within. They would only permit us to enter if we had a dwarf with us. “Spit on that lot, I don’t want in their guarded hole anyhow!” Braggi adds.
MAELBRATHYR – is one of the most dangerous settlements in the Shallows, since its mad rulers control the city with mercurial pronouncements and murderous whims. Despite these dangers, pilgrims, slavers, merchants, and power hungry fools have walked the paths to Maelbrathyr for centuries. It is widely viewed as being a crossroads in the underdark because so many different kinds of people and beasts travel through this city (but seldom stay for long). Even more so because the city is split into 4 tiers, each tier 60’ deeper than that of the previous. Many people travel this path down to access the Deeps never to be seen again.
HRAAK AZUL – Mambazo tells the story of the day she saw slowly crawling through the Shallows of the Underdark a massive living fortress, later you learned is named Hraak Azul. The origin of the multiple fungal entities that came together to form Hraak Azul is unknown. This structure has no central heart or brain, but it possesses a real if somewhat vague living presence, and it grows, slowly but surely. As far as Maambazo could tell, Hraak Azul is made up of millions of cooperating fungi. No matter how many of them are burned or destroyed, the fortress eventually regenerates. It is said that even the god Torog has tried and failed to destroy Hraak Azul. I can tell you this, she says, “It is impossible to perceive the whole mass, since it conforms to the very shape of the Underdark, even as it moves through it! No matter how small the passages it reaches out with an endless number of tendrils into crevices and chimneys of rock. It has no straight passages and its floors aren’t flat or even anywhere. Sometimes entire rooms or passages close up after you pass through them. What’s worse is that its absolutely crawling with troglodytes. I could tell you more, but trust me you don’t want to know.”
places to watch out for…
THE HOWLING WARRENS – Throughout the Shallows are many small, dank caverns linked by narrow, crumbling tunnels. These foul warrens are of no use to the more powerful races that inhabit the Underdark. No food grows here, and the water is polluted. Instead, these foul caves are filled with all manner of feral humanoids, including orcs, goblins, and troglodytes, gathering together in groups of varied races under a powerful leader. These groups survive by attacking easy targets at the edges of larger camps or outposts. They also attack other tribes within the warrens on a regular basis. You see in the The Warrens have no code of behavior: The strong dominate the weak until the weak have outlived their usefulness, then they become food. A cousin of Braggi’s once told him that if you find yourself in the Howling Warrens and hear the “echoes” to cover your ears. Tis’ the sound of someone (or something) eating or being eaten that will rattle your soul and unhinge your mind. You’ll lose hope of ever leaving the place and go wild with madness, like the others there.
THE HUNTING GROUNDS – In most parts of the world, dragons live far apart from one another. Their great pride and their voracious appetites prevent them from coexisting, much less cooperating. In an area of the Underdark known as the Hunting Grounds, things are different. This location is more conducive to life than any other place for miles around it. As the story goes, told to many a young drow hunter– in a nearly unprecedented, several young dragons occupied this area, put aside their arrogance and greed, and made a truce. Within these lands, the dragons do not hunt one another, pursuing only weaker prey that come in search of food or water. Over the years, other dragons came to the Hunting Grounds and settled here, so it is not unusual to see chromatic or metallic dragons of any color here. This makes it a particularly keen spot for drow hunting parties, but also exceedingly dangerous if the dragons start to act in unison against the hunting party.
GRELL COLONIES – The Half-Orcs have always heard of grells being solitary hunters, but their allies from the Underdark know that colonies of these tentacled creatures are scattered throughout the Shallows. The fervor grells have for invading and controlling and eventually devouring the minds of their victims with incomprehensible philosophies is well known to the drow and the duergar. For awhile, you all walk in silence trying not to think of about the prospect of accidently walking into a Grell colony.
In the Underdark, no culture is exactly friendly, and with good reason. Communities don’t survive for long without a healthy distrust of strangers. On the other hand, the difficulty of trade makes isolated settlements hungry for outside goods. Though small settlements are cropping up all the time in the Shallows, the problem is that there are also old ones being destroyed all the time as well. This makes the Underdark a constantly changing place and treacherous to navigate by way of landmarks.
The good thing is that because more than half the party was born in the Underdark the party either knows from experience or has heard stories about the regions and inhabitants of the Underdark. In game terms that means everyone gains a +3 to Dungeoneering, Monster Knowledge, Nature or History checks if related to features of the Underdark.
While traveling through the Underdark don’t hesitate to ask me about terrain or to make skill checks to learn more about the environment.