The Underdark: Introduction

I’m working for a few days on a writeup of our latest adventures, then again I think our current campaign is a classic introduction to the Underdark. You might have the (official) Underdark Book (D&D 3.5) and find it quite useful if you’re running a forgotten realms based campaign. Then again, there are a few flavour factors you can hardly get from the book, something you should hear over and over again before you even consider running an underdark campaign. I’ll try myself on a series to prepare any motivated dungeon master to lead a party of adventurers into the down-below, feedback is (as always) very appreciated.

To introduce your players to the underdark, make sure you and they understand where they are going. It isn’t some dungeon-dwelling when you’re travelling into the homes of duergar, drow and illithids. All of you should be scared, where you’re headed there is more darkness than light and your chances for death are higher than for survival. This isn’t the place to go if you’re not accustomed to challenges, sleepless nights and more than the occassional problem. You might want to prepare accordingly.

As a Player:

It is neither fair (to your characters) nor fun to have a group of characters visit the underdark without any preparation. Depending on your general approach, your other party members, a little bit of basic skills available will be useful. First of all you’re travelling into the underdark, therefore it is very useful to have some basic form of communication at hand, in Faerun it is either Undercommon as a language, alternatively there are spells like Comprehend Languages and Tongues that are suitable. While above ground on adventures trips the need for a wildness-experienced class like a typical Ranger or Druid is given, it is usually not comparable to what you need below ground. Survival and Knowledge (nature), or similiar skills in other systems, might help you more than a bit when you’re about to avoid screaming fungi or depend on immediate water or edible food. A player should find out that underdark adventures are deadly and sleep, food and water might turn out to be not as available as above ground. Deadly predators linger around most corners and only wary and – well prepared – adventurers ever make it back to tell stories of these creatures.

As a Dungeon Master:

One word up front: Deadly. That is what the Underdark is meant to be. The special thrill of the underdark is nothing else than the everpresent threats that linger down there and this was the recipe of one of the most famous characters ever created. Escape from a most deadly environment and everpresent danger around every corner. Together with the unique races (all more deadly than their above-ground cousins) and with more fluff (just go and have a look at the swirfneblin) that is in basic what the difference is. If you’re preparing as a dungeon master an underdark campaign, make sure you get some pressure on your players. Don’t let them rest for eight hours in some open space without attracting a few predators. Even a rope-trick is easily fooled when the rope is discovered and after a long fight they might expect some resting period. It is most important that you understand basic tactics of drow, duergar and other races in your adventure. Drow will hardly attack a larger force openly and will use any advantage they have, use illusions to  deceive and wear down the party using darkness, ranged weapons with poisonous tips and magic. Duergar are dangerous due to their innate abilities for invisibility and enlarge-person. Imagine a few raging berserkers standing just next to you during night’s rest… You’ll have to keep track of your party’s capabilities and challenge them constantly. Keep them on their guard but don’t stress them so they loose fun playing your game. That’s the fine art of storytelling in an underdark adventure.

So what can you expect of this in the upcoming days?
First of all, we’ll take a look at underground environment, fungi, stones, dungeons, slopes – all kinds of natural and supernatural environment for your basic setting. Then we’ll have a spotlight on a few basic races to give you a good starting position for your adventure. The final part will be a summary of additional ideas and tools.

Further links for your preparation:
Suggested reads for your preparation include – The Undead are coming, that’s a nice basic idea to get you thinking on larger movements in your game and understand consequences. I’ve seen Bard of Valiant working on a new series on Alchemy, which is easily fitted into an underdark campaign, in fact I think it’s a great way to get a bit more atmosphere into your game, if you’re facing to constantly threaten the party and their spellcasters and keep them low on rest, it’s an option worth considering to avoid having them feel useless or powerless in the game… While not directly good for use with a normal campaign, Black Sheep has a great post on a drow project which sounds very nice so far, he hasn’t updated in the last month but hopefully will continue this… I’ll post more links in the upcoming posts with a direct relationship to the subjects, that was just a short update on my recent reads which I did enjoy.

3 thoughts on “The Underdark: Introduction

  1. Great start! Looking forward to more on this topic. I’ll admit that the Underdark is one of the locations that I’ve always wanted to run a campaign in.

  2. Then I hope you’ll find it most useful for your preparations. I’ve run a few underdark campaigns with evil and good characters, mostly as dungeon master and currently as player. Since I really like lethal adventures very much on the edge this was always a lot of fun to me, so I hope it’s the same for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *