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Underdark
By Robert Weise

Once more we gather around a brand new book on the table in front of us… and wonder what we can we pull from it in the two hours before our campaign game starts! This month, Underdark comes out and gives us a 4th Edition view of what lies below the surface of the world, helpfully dividing the Underdark into the Shallows and the Deeps, as well as crossing into the Feydark and Shadowdark. It also offers plenty of monsters, notably 4th Edition versions of subterranean threats you may know (and love) from past editions, giving them a new home in the Underdark.

So you have the book. Now what? If your campaign is already in the Underdark, figure out whether the heroes are in the Shallows or the Deeps (based on what you have them doing), and then grab a couple of unusual monsters to make an encounter appropriate to their levels. There are even typical encounters (one per area) for the Shallows (p. 30) and the Deeps (p. 62)—ready to run, straight from the book. If you happen to be in an area that can overlap with the Feydark or Shadowdark, you’ll find typical encounters for them too (p. 98 and 122 respectively).

A Typical Shallows Encounter

A small, elite troglodyte raiding party from the Bloodscale tribe sneaks through the Shallows searching for warriors from a rival tribe (the Darkgrubbers) that have recently claimed a nearby network of caves. The troglodytes plan to capture and sacrifice any rivals they find to their patron, Torog. Minutes before the adventurers approach this cavern, the troglodytes enter and identify the deathcap. Alerted by the adventurers’ light or by the sounds of movement down the passage, the troglodytes lay a hasty ambush.

When the adventurers enter this area, read:
Stalagmites choke much of the entrance to this chamber, and a pit pierces the floor at the chamber’s center. Two reptilian humanoids lurk behind a field of stalagmites against the far wall. A rockslide conceals part of the wall to the north.

When an adventurer looks at the ground next to the pit, read:
Mushrooms and other fungi carpet the bottom of the pit, climb up its side, and spread around the top. One particularly large specimen on top has a thick trunk with sickly yellow spots on its wide, red cap.

Download the Shallows encounter:

(679 Kbs PDF)

An Atypical Underdark Encounter

However, if you happen to be between campaign arcs, then you might start in the Underdark by checking out the campaign arcs presented on page 20 and following. They do ask for some modification of the PCs' backstories, so they may necessitate some personalization to your particular heroes.

Where you might find this article useful is if your players don’t happen to be in the Underdark right at present, but you wish to bring them there quickly and want to use material from the book to help accomplish this. Not to worry! The following encounter for 15th level heroes can be inserted into any wilderness or city adventure, and opens a gateway to the Underdark. It even sets up a plot hook to get them into the depths later on.

Stats are provided to modify this encounter down to 11th level or up to 19th level.

Uncle Torog Wants You

"In nearly all cultures, parents warn their misbehaving children that the King that Crawls might burrow up from below and drag them down to eternal imprisonment."

Torog, the King that Crawls, lurks at the deepest levels of the Underdark amidst his pits of torture and pain. For reasons you decide (see below), the heroes have come to his dark attention, and he wishes to arrange an audience. A group of Torog's wrackspawn are sent to the surface to collect the heroes. Figuring out just what is going on could lead to strange adventures indeed.

There are two things you must decide before dropping this encounter on your PCs. The first is "why does Torog want the PCs." Here are some ideas:

  • They have crossed some cult of his in the recent past, and he wants to collect them for torture.
  • He has heard of their renown, and needs some operatives outside his cult. This works best if Torog is pitting the PCs against a rival of his that is an ally of the PCs ("do this or else!").
  • Torog is using the PCs as some kind of bait to attract an even bigger prize, such as another god or primordial.

Adventure Hooks

If a traditional ambush works for you, go with it. Try to make it very sudden (if this is between arcs, perhaps it tales place during some final denouement with an NPC, or when bartering off some spoils of their last campaign back in town—resulting in the death of the NPC or innocent merchant). If the heroes prevail, you should also leave clues that the attack originated from the Underdark (by researching the creatures, intelligence found in their possession, etc.)

Alternatively, the wrackspawn might learn where the heroes are camping, and dig the ground out from underneath them (we'll assume that hundreds of wrackspawn minions were made available for the digging, then departed before daybreak). Just as the heroes wake for the morning, the ground suddenly opens beneath them, dropping them some 50 feet down into a tunnel of the Underdark (into the Shallows). They take 3d6 falling damage in the process, but can use their skills to help reduce the damage. As soon as they hit the ground, the wrackspawn attack (with surprise).

Stats

11th level Encounter (3,100 xp):

  • 2 armored wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 5 broken wrackspawn (p.154)

13th level Encounter (4,200 xp):

  • 1 jagged wrackspawn (p.155)
  • 2 armored wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 4 broken wrackspawn (p.154)

15th level Encounter (6,100 xp):

  • 1 jagged wrackspawn (p.155)
  • 3 armored wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 5 broken wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 1 tortured drow arachnomancer (Monster Manual p.94)

17th level Encounter (8,100 xp):

  • 2 jagged wrackspawn (p.155)
  • 3 armored wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 3 broken wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 2 tortured drow arachnomancer (Monster Manual p.94)

19th level Encounter (12,300 xp):

  • 1 flaying wrackspawn (p.155)
  • 2 jagged wrackspawn (p.155)
  • 2 armored wrackspawn (p.154)
  • 3 broken wrackspawn (p.154)

Setup

Set up a large area of tiles using a battle map, blank dungeon tiles, or underground terrain from either the Lost Caverns of the Underdark or Caverns of Carnage tile sets. It should be at least 16x16 squares; you might even want a 20x20 area so the wrackspawn have sufficient room to move around. Tunnels in the Underdark are usually 20 ft. wide, but can be up to 200 ft.—so a 100 ft. wide passageway is possible, especially close to the King’s Highway (see p.14). Place boulders or other cover around the central drop area, as desired. Then place the appropriate creatures for the party's level.

Tactics

The drow arachnomancer wants to stay out at range, but the rest want to get into combat quickly, so give them fast approaches to where the heroes fall. The tactics depend on the fact that the wrackspawn want the heroes alive—as such, throw in a subdual damage attack now and again, so that the heroes don’t outright die if knocked out.

(Note: These descriptions assume all named monsters are present; simply delete those parts not needed.) In the surprise round (while the PCs are landing), the drow arachnomancer targets as many heroes as possible with Lolth's grasp. The flaying wrackspawn will then attempt to hit the group with break loyalty. The jagged wrackspawn will target a heavily armored PC and use dread embrace. The armored and broken wrackspawn wait until the next round to move in and attack with their most damaging powers first. Following the initial assault, the general tactics for each creature are as follows:

  • Armored Wrackspawn Tactics: Armored wrackspawn attempt to bloody enemies quickly to make full use of their bloodwrack aura. A bloodied foe is kept close with crushing blow until it saves; then the armored wrackspawn uses inflict new tortures to choose another target.


  • Broken Wrackspawn Tactics: Broken wrackspawn stay in the thick of combat, hoping to weaken as many foes as possible with bone spear attacks before they fall.


  • Jagged Wrackspawn Tactics: A jagged wrackspawn targets heavily armored characters with its dread embrace, then attacks other foes with embedded needles while it has a creature trapped within it.


  • Flaying Wrackspawn Tactics: A flaying wrackspawn stays behind the first rank of combat, immobilizing defenders or strikers with its barbed whip. The wrackspawn keeps an immobilized foe close in the event that the enemy triggers discord from pain.


  • Drow Arachnomancer Tactics: The arachnomancer stays behind its allies and targets enemies with ranged attacks. It places a spider curse on an enemy defender, fires venom rays at enemy blasters, and tries to catch enemy strikers with Lolth's grasp. It uses cloud of darkness to protect it against melee attackers.

Features of the Area

Illumination: It’s dark, except for whatever light streams from the hole the heroes fell into. Consider it low-light conditions.

Ceiling, Walls, Ground: It’s a rock tunnel, with natural rough parts that don’t impede movement. The area of the drop zone is filled with debris, and is considered difficult terrain.

Aftermath

This is an ambush—it's meant to be played sudden, brutal, and overwhelming…but not to the death. Torog wants the heroes for his diabolical employ, so should they all fall in this encounter, they'll likely awaken somewhere deep within the Underdark (and strapped to some unimaginably horrible torture devices). The adventure could then involve the heroes escaping, being freed by Underdark agents with their own agendas, or making a deal with Exarchs of Torog to exchange some service for freedom.

If the heroes successfully fought off the wrackspawn, then they are still left with a number of questions. What were those creatures, and why did they attack? Was anyone behind it? And will they attack again? You'll need to provide them avenues to find these answers, if you want to bring your campaign into the Underdark!

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.