Excerpts Archive | 1/8/2010
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Excerpts: Underdark: The Feydark

In today's Underdark preview, we descend a further layer, to the Feydark -- where we meet the madness of the gnomes.

If the Feydark is an echo of the Underdark, it is a smaller and brighter echo. While the Shallows might have a dank and dismal fungal forest, the Feydark has innumerable smaller caverns lit by dozens of varieties of phosphorescent mushrooms and their incandescent spores. Where each expanse of living stone chronicles the Shallows’ rasping assault upon the world above, the Feydark features hundreds of pocket-sized fomorian fiefdoms, each twisted by its own weird magic or insane monarch. The great dark oceans of the world’s deeps have cousins in the Feydark, but these fey cousins are finite and not as murky. Instead of an ocean, the Feydark has a sea. Where darkness conceals the Underdark, the Feydark is lit with the sporadic glow of luminescent sea creatures and spore creatures passing overhead.

Aside from scale, the significant difference between the Underdark and the Feydark is that the Feydark is more homogenous. The Feydark does not have areas of Shallows and Deeps. The entire Feydark is semideep—not as forgiving as the Shallows, but not as deadly as the Deeps.

Chapter 4 of Underdark presents the following topics.

  • Denizens of the Feydark: Brief looks at the monsters most commonly found in this region of the Underdark.
  • Typical Feydark Encounter: A fomorian and its cohorts lurk near a subterranean stream.
  • Geography and Phenomena: Terrain features and other special aspects of the environment.
  • Inbharann: A fomorian kingdom that is the site of both untold wealth and terrible danger.
  • Gnome Realms: Tucked away and populated by some of the hardiest individuals of the race, a few gnome communities prosper in the Feydark.
  • Deadtrees: The Forest Monarchs that towered over the Feywild long ago live on, after a fashion, beneath the earth.
  • Living Grotto: Every kind of fungus in existence can be found within this morass.
  • The Regrown Tree: A dungeon delve for paragon tier characters, who must try to preserve the rebirth of the Ivory Tree of Winter.

Gnome Realms

For heroic tier and paragon tier characters

Feydark gnomes' lives are marked by a grim determination to survive. Gnome realms survive in the shadows of larger, fiercer kingdoms by remaining secret and inaccessible.

Drochdan, Kingdom of the Gnomes

Drochdan Knowledge

Dungeoneering DC 15: Drochdan is a kingdom of gnomes in the Feydark, surrounded by a network of deadly, twisting tunnels.

Dungeoneering DC 25: The gnomes of Drochdan occasionally fall victim to a berserk fury known as the haze, said to be a curse delivered by a hostile kingdom.

Dungeoneering DC 30: The gnomes claim they won Drochdan from its original owners, known today only as the Fools.

Drochdan is made up of an inner sanctuary known as Haven and a surrounding network of narrow and twisting passageways called the Traps.

The gnomes fill the Traps with hazards that maim, poison, or slay intruders—at least those that can enter in the first place. The Traps are so constricted that Large creatures can’t move through the area at all, even when squeezing. Medium creatures find navigating the Traps slow and painstaking work. This configuration protects Drochdan from incursion by fomorians or giants directly because when these larger enemies want to invade, they must send smaller servitors to do the job.

Haven offers a clear contrast to Drochdan’s outer passageways. It consists of a vast series of squared-off hallways and rectangular chambers, all of them finished in polished, lacquered wood. Despite their appearance, the wooden floors remain alive and slowly regenerate when scuffed, burned, or hacked. The wood was an ancient gift from surface-dwelling eladrin.

The gnomes did not build Drochdan. According to their legend, they won it by tricking a people remembered only as the Fools. But since the gnomes of Drochdan keep no histories other than oral folktales, it’s hard to say for certain. Their tales contradict each other, perhaps deliberately, on the nature of the Fools.

The gnomes here make other unverifiable claims. They say they were the first gnomes and that their surface-dwelling kin are descended from cowards who couldn’t survive in the depths. According to their creation myth, the first gnomes sprang from the wild dreams of primordials. When the other mortal races appeared, gnomes had already been around for ages, scavenging a living from the rubbish of the gods. According to gnome belief, religion is a trick you play on the deities to make them give you things. Gnome priests in Drochdan brag they have learned the secret of worshiping several gods at once without the gods in question being any the wiser.

The halls of Haven are stacked high with junk and clutter accumulated through centuries of raids on cyclopean workshops and fomorian kingdoms. Drafts and chill winds blow through them, arising spontaneously and with no clear source. Haven echoes with cries, sobs, and eerie laughter, to which the gnomes pay no mind. Whether these sounds rebound from the Shadowdark or are the inconsolable final remnants of the Fools, no gnome cares to say.

Surviving by hunting and foraging, the gnomes supplement their meager catches with goods purloined during furtive robberies of the fomorians. Their hunting bands set upon weak or vulnerable exploration parties without qualms. Membership in these hunting bands shifts constantly as hunters defect to groups run by recently successful leaders.

On the rare occasions when hunting and looting bands need to coordinate efforts, they defer to their monarch. When a monarch dies, the bands gather to acclaim the hunting leader with the largest eyes as his or her replacement. During this process, cheating is rewarded, so if a monarch’s death seems imminent, band leaders fan out across the Feydark in search of a rare root that enlarges the apparent size of a gnome’s eyes. Because hunting leader is a coveted position, the gnomes find that weak, vacillating, or overly trusting rulers die suddenly under mysterious circumstances.

The current monarch of Drochdan is King Finutar, who single-handedly slew a ravaging firbolg that had somehow entered Haven.

The Haze

The gnomes of Drochdan suffer from a curse they call the haze. Often striking an entire hunting band at once, the haze plunges its victims into a state of berserk fury. It causes their eyes to glow red, their throats to constrict, and their mouths to open wide. One out of four victims of the haze sees his or her fingernails elongate and sharpen. Under the haze, victims lash out at the nearest threat, fighting until they or all targets in sight are killed. Fellow sufferers team up together, but turn on each other when everyone who is not touched by the curse has been felled. The haze suspends judgment but leaves the victims’ tactical instincts intact; they fight as well as they would while sane. This residual good sense does not extend to fleeing or disengaging.

King Finutar’s court magicians assure the people of Drochdan that the haze is a hostile sending from a rival kingdom—perhaps the fomorians. In private, some gnomes whisper that it is a curse created by the Fools and recently reactivated by unknown means.

In reality, this magical ailment is spread by contamination of Drochdan’s food supply by fungal spores. This fact explains why entire gnome hunting bands are stricken by it at the same time—they’ve all eaten the same rations.

Burrow under the Crystal Mountain

On the southeastern periphery of the Violet Thicket hides a gnome realm in secret crystalline caverns. By most accounts, the gnomes of the Burrow under the Crystal Mountain are more advanced than their counterparts in Drochdan.

The clandestine tunnels and chambers where these gnomes dwell, known as the Crystal Caverns, are protected by their remote and secret location and also by the ancient magic of their inhabitants. Obscuring glamors hide the entrance from casual and determined scrutiny alike. Those that penetrate the glamors face a honeycombed network of concealed deadfalls, narrow choke points, and dead-end false passages. The fearful gnomes rarely leave their domain; the few that do venture forth are trained to fight and, more important, to remain stealthy.

The Crystal Caverns are a place out of time, glittering with thick veins of rubies, diamonds, and other precious gemstones. The most valued common occupation among the gnomes of the Burrow is mining, with the greatest percentage of adults devoting themselves to that pursuit.

Excerpt Schedule

Monday Friday

December 14

Ch. 1 Torturer's Ruin

December 18

Ch.2 The Shallows

December 21

Encounter: Dark Fungi

January 4

Ch. 3 The Deeps

January 8

Ch.4 Feydark

January 11

Ch.5 Shadowdark

January 15

Ch.6 New Creatures