Return to Undermountain
Room 1: The Bottom of the Well (EL --)
By Matthew Sernett

Room Summary

Creatures: None.
Traps: None.
Terrain: Sandy floor; no special rules.
Lighting Conditions: Darkness.
Magic: None.
Detectable Alignments: None.
Secrets: (3) There is a secret door, a hidden message, and a gold coin that is the treasure. See the Relevant Skill Checks sidebar.
Treasure: 1 gp. See the Relevant Skill Checks sidebar.

Relevant Skill Checks

Listen DC 14: This result allows the PCs to hear the distant murmur of the Yawning Portal's taproom above the shaft. If a PC beats the DC by 10 or more, she can discern what someone is saying, likely getting scraps of different conversations about their chance of success and whatever other business or entertainment the individual patrons are focused on. If someone whispers up above, the DC increases by an additional +15.

Knowledge (Geography) DC 10: One of the stones in the wall bears an uncanny resemblance to the shape of Cormyr's borders. This is important only if the PCs discover the words scratched on the back of the shield (see below).

Search DC 10: One of the shields has the words, "Crevice by the stone shaped like Cormyr" scratched into its back with a knife. It was left as a hint to the whereabouts of the gold coin left lodged in the crevice by someone hoping to use it to pay Durnan for the trip up. Having the hint provides a +10 bonus on a Search check to find the coin.

Search DC 25: A well-hidden secret door lies in the north wall. It can't be opened on this side except by magic or force.

Search DC 25: A Search check result this high discovers 1 gp lodged in the wall behind one of the shields. It was left by a dungeon delver to pay for his return journey up the well. Unfortunately, he never returned to claim it, as the 40-year-old minting on the coin attests.

The Map

The map for this room is available in two different sizes: One serves as a reference for the DM, and the other is a map with a grid that works nicely with your miniatures.

Each map is presented as a compressed (zipped) Adobe Portable Document Format file (pdf). You need to have Adobe Reader installed to use it. Adobe Reader can be downloaded for free from the Adobe website.

Room Location on the Poster Map: This room is on piece 5 and piece 6 of the poster map. You can see the pieces in thumbnail size in the introduction to this series. For a better idea of where this room is, please view the Article Reference Map.

If the PCs entered this area through the well in the Yawning Portal (see Return to Undermountain: An Introduction read the following text. Otherwise, skip to the next read-aloud text.

The last echoes of the crowd's toasts and betting whisper about you as you descend deep into the well. As the flickering light from the torches above fades, a chill overtakes you, and you find yourself still sinking with no end in sight. You drop slowly and steadily deeper on the rope, almost as if you were the bait on an unweighted fishing line in placid waters, but the cold and the quiet of the well that surrounds you is anything but peaceful. The silence has more of a waiting quality to it.

After being lowered for what seems like an eternity, you at last see the bottom. Below you stretches sand-covered ground and whatever fate awaits you in Undermountain.

Allow each PC to react to their environment a bit, and use the following text for the room's description.

Several inches of sand covers the floor of this roughly square room. Broken and dented shields hang on stone walls covered with chalk and charcoal graffiti. The ceiling looms a mere 10 feet above you -- as it does in the hallway that leads out of the room to the south -- but a 30-foot-diameter hole in the ceiling forms a chimney that rises up over a hundred feet.

This is the bottom of the well, and the hole above leads to the Yawning Portal (described in Return to Undermountain: An Introduction). The shields decorating the walls are worthless, although some bear the mark of noble houses and dwarf clans. The writing on the walls consists of dire warnings, snippets of popular songs and poetry, and the crude commentary common to graffiti everywhere. It's written in Common, Elven, Dwarven, Halfling, Gnome, Orc, and Goblin. (DMs should feel free to add regional languages to suit her campaign.) Many people have written in Common that "'So-and-so' was here." These were often left as proof of fulfillment of a bet or a dare to spend a night in Undermountain.

The writing could say almost anything you like. Here are a few of the more memorable inscriptions:

  • "Durnan is a bastard. I swear by Gruumsh that when I get out of here I'll stuff his throat with gold pieces until he chokes. -- Slurg" (written in Orc)
  • "Hesod -- Went to check out a strange music only Jayce can hear. Have a few drinks until we get back." (written in Common)
  • "It's been two days. Leave a message if you have returned. -- Hesod" (written in Common)
  • "It's been two weeks. I can wait no longer. I seek you out myself. None of our 'friends' would come with me. If you are not with me when you read this, then I am dead. Avenge my death on those who abandoned us in our time of need. -- Hesod" (written in Common)
  • "Many swords come here. Do not stay." (written in Goblin)
  • "Here there lies a secret door,
    but you will not find it or,
    you won't be able to open it,
    and then you'll rot here in this pit.
    Ha ha." (written in Common on the secret door)
  • "Beware the she-wolf and her night hounds. They killed Sarth." (written in Common)
  • "You came here unbidden, now you'll die in this midden." (written in Common)
  • "Tymora, remember me." (written in Common)
  • "Durembar Ironshanks was here and killed more orcs than he could count." (written in Dwarven) "That means eleven." (written in Elven)
  • "Beware the eastern passages. The Metal Mage has made them his home, and he is not to be trifled with." (written in Common)
  • "When you hear screaming, go the other way." (written in Halfling) "Coward!" (written in Halfling in another hand)
  • "Sorci Laughmantle died somewhere in that maze. She wears a heart-shaped brass ring. If you find her, say a prayer over her bones. We didn't have time." (written in Gnome)

Adventure Hooks and Tie-Ins

  • Some inhabitants of Undermountain know that this room is a place where adventurers enter the dungeon. Most creatures avoid it for that reason, but a desperately hungry monster might wait just outside the room.

  • The sand in the room could disguise a deadly threat. Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead contains the swarm-shifter template, which allows an undead to take the form of a swarm. The sand swarm form might be particularly useful, allowing an undead to lie in wait in the sand of the floor. The template can be applied to any corporeal undead with an Intelligence score, and it adds +1 to the undead's CR. A ghoul might be appropriate for a low-level party, but Libris Mortis presents many other great options.

  • The writing on the walls might provide a hint about a trap or puzzle encountered later in the dungeon.

  • The writing on the walls might have something written by an old friend or foe the PCs didn't expect to see in Undermountain.

Need more information? Check the Return to Undermountain: An Introduction for more details.

Article Reference Map

About the Author

Once editor-in-chief of Dragon Magazine and now a game designer at Wizards of the Coast, Matthew Sernett wrote in a Dragon editorial that there's nothing in D&D he likes better than when the adventurers flee through the dungeon, running pell-mell through traps and past monsters because what chases them is worse. When he wrote that, Matthew was thinking about Undermountain.

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