The Underdark

Imagine the darkest night, the deepest dusk, the longest you have ever had to wait for the world to turn and bring back the light. Imagine that, a blackness so obscene it consumes all light, draws it in as easily as we draw breath.

The Underdark is crossed by a giant cavern, so high and so wide you can’t see the edges of it from the ground. This tunnel was made long ago by a great demon worm that still burrows its way through the bedrock, carving out this route known only as The Devil’s Highway. The rest of the Underdark is riddled with a complex system of caverns and tunnels, most of them wide and open with stalactite and stalagmite forests, some with safe havens where soft ferns and crystals grow (but these are few and far in between, usually inhabited by roth, dumb herd beasts with no malicious intent), and still others with ravines so deep they go all the way to the bowels of the earth, or to the next level down with dark oceans unseen by man, or to Hell. There are caves filled with acid, and some with quickly changing water levels. There are the bowers of spiders, numerous cracks and fissures to find refuge—or danger—in. Not to forget the smaller tunnels, the twisting lanes used by the deep gnomes when mining, the friendly pesch, or the Black Dwarves. But, despite this mysterious maze, there is always a way out, and many tunnels run parallel to each other.

This is to say nothing of the peoples, which are as varied as the canvas they live upon. Roth, as mentioned above, are dumb herd beasts who are often harvested by the more intelligent races for their shaggy fur and meat (they are quite like musk oxen). The pesch are tiny earth elementals who live in the rock and control it in times of need. They are friendly enough, but shy, and live in a tight-knit community. The deep gnomes are a pale, small people who, while they celebrate joyous holidays and are among the best peoples of the Underdark, are incredibly sturdy. Their mining parties and convoys always carry several clerics and formidable warriors who can summon giant earth elementals to cover their escape from drow raiding parties. The humans are decent enough, as humans go, but those who live in solitary towers or caves are usually religious lunatics, if they are not mad wizards with little—but unpredictable—power. There are also the Black Dwarves, who are inherently evil, but more neutrally so than the drow. They mine deep, and in secret, keeping their own counsel. Their greed for treasure is unmatched by any of the other citizens, and they can become quite brutal in pursuit of it. Higher up in the cave system the regular dwarves are to be found. They are good, sturdy people who build great halls and worship the Low King. Sometimes they delve too deep, and the drow, whom they hate, retaliate to reestablish their borders.

The second-worst of these peoples are the drow, or Dark Elves. Their closest city is the city of Mezobeahrn, a dark place with warring merchant clans and the fifty noble Houses of Lolth (an evil goddess), the Spider Queen, enemy of Irinok (god of the deep gnomes). The nine highest houses have a cruel system of deceit and villainy to occupy them, each vying for yet more power. Those who revere and make sacrifices to Lolth are always highest on the social chain. But the Spider Queen is fickle, and does only what pleases her. Mezobeahrn is as described in R.A. Salvatore’s “The Dark Elf Trilogy”, complete with Aracne Tilith, the magic/military/cloister academy for the drow, who must choose one of these three professions. The drow are a matriarchy, and look down on and despise males, except as cannon fodder and sex objects. Males may become soldiers, mages, merchants (lowest on the totem pole), or members of Bregan D’erth, a males-only mercenary band (they don’t take shit from the women). All females are priestesses in some right, some more so than others. Those who choose the cloister over the warrior’s path must undergo a brutal graduation ceremony; to summon a high-level demon from the pits of hell and have sex with it. The drow often raid the other races’ cities and towns for slaves, and are friends to no one. If they get along with the other races at all, they do so with simpering smiles and money exchanging hands. They can switch between normal sight and infrared sight, meaning they can see heat in the rocks and bodies. They can levitate, but not fly, and not for very long and often hide near the ceiling for ambushes. Their weapons are powerful, but grow weaker in the face of light, as does their armor. They are cocky and overconfident, and often travel in groups of mostly male soldiers with one or two priestesses for magic-using. The women carry snake-head whips, but they are not poisonous. The women are especially foolhardy and zealous. Because of the culture, males are more likely to be passive and have good qualities to exploit (see, Drizzt/Zaknafein), but that doesn’t happen very often. They are a race of vicious bastards.

The worst peoples of the Underdark are the Ilithids, or, Mind-Flayers. They can float for long periods of time near the ceiling, and attack using mind-shocks, paralyzing the body temporarily. They capture slaves to fight in “champion” arenas, and think all other races exist to serve them. They love to boast about their catches and place bets in the arena, and are most interested in whose slave is strongest. They numb the mind into submission, although the slave can still think, but are unable to break free unless by tremendous effort. They love capturing drow (when they are not allies) and using them to massage the central brain that is the link to their hive mind. They are strong telepaths, and broadcast an evil aura around them. If the central brain is destroyed or damaged it is extremely painful, and many even die from the backlash. They have huge heads, scaly skin, tentacled upper lips, bulbous eyes, and wear long robes. Also, without their mind magic, they are useless and squishy. They can mindspeak to anyone, even those without the power of telepathy, and understand all languages because of this. There is no reasoning with them unless you are talking about the “champion” arena.

These are all the peoples of the Underdark, to say nothing of the monsters; blind harpies that use echolocation like bats, great spirit animals that are either neutral or good (and often ally themselves with worthy adventurers. See, Guenwhyrr), hook horrors that are giant crabs eight feet tall, and minor imps, demons, and beholders in the deep, deep caves. There are other, assorted creatures, too. Mostly everything in the Underdark has exceptional hearing and has infrared vision, or function with blind expertise.

So come now, into the Wild. We must be quick, and silent.

The Underdark

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