Black passageways stretch out in all directions. The still, stifling air swirls gently with each cautious step forward. The clank of armor and the crunch of footsteps on gravel are the only sounds in the deep chambers, but their soft echoes seem deafening.
Around the next corner, faint lights are visible down the corridor. With no way to gauge distance in the darkness, they could be anything: far-off torches, nearby glowing fungi, or the eyes of a lurking beast reflecting the flame. After sharing a glance with the others, the party leader lifts the shutter of the bull's-eye lantern to reveal what lies ahead. . . .
n today's preview of the Dungeon Survival Handbook: Into the Unknown, we look at the types of critters, creatures, and other denizens might populate a dungeon—from villainous aboleths to monstrous umber hulks.
Sometimes the best weapon a dungeon delver can have is knowledge of how to deal with the monsters that lurk underground. So lend an ear to the voices of experience quoted in this section as they tell their tales and dispense their advice, and grab a piece of parchment—you'll want to take notes.
This section spotlights a group of monsters that have a long history in the D&D game—including the beholder, the mind flayer, and the rust monster, to name a few. They've been "kept alive" as the game has evolved because they're just so . . . monstrous.
"Beware of what waits for us below, my friends. Drive any thought that is not your own from your mind, for it will betray you and leave you vulnerable to their corruption. Take solace in the knowledge that these horrors are flesh and blood, and they feel pain."
—Mord, escaped thrall
Aboleths are the slimy overlords of the subterranean realm. Their bodies are bizarre and revolting, their abilities maddening, their motives and origins inscrutable. In short, aboleths embody the alien horror of the Far Realm. Their emergence is a sign that cosmic forces are turning their gaze toward the sane world.
Aboleths dwell in subterranean lakes and oceans, surfacing to bend others to their malevolence. With hosts of corrupted thralls in their service, they instigate schemes with far-reaching consequences. When confronted, an aboleth turns its attackers against themselves by dominating their minds. The lash of its slimy tentacles destroys an enemy's sanity, and those who fall to an aboleth are doomed to become victims of its desecration.
When an aboleth is the hidden master of an evil scheme, its enemies typically don't realize the truth until the monster reveals itself. This subterfuge makes preparing for battle difficult, so adventurers must learn the telltale signs of an aboleth's presence.
The creatures frequently send thralls to the surface to spy and instigate their plots. These thralls can be identified by their emotionless insistence on completing their assigned tasks. Those who manage to escape sometimes feel a gibbering in their minds that crescendos when an aboleth is nearby, and observant delvers might notice trails of slime leading to the edge of a dark lake.
"Umber hulk tunnels are risky for travelers. The creatures do so much thrashing when they burrow that their holes could cave in at any time. When you also consider that umber hulk migrations follow patterns, suddenly that purple worm tunnel sounds mighty appealing."
—Jasyn of Therund, founding Deep Guide
Umber hulks are greatly feared in the Underdark, and not just because their claws rip through stone as if it were parchment. Their reputation is also due to their ravenous appetite. When hungry, umber hulks never stop looking for food. Their hunting methods aren't subtle; an umber hulk typically bursts through a stone tunnel and tears its prey apart with savage blows. Their scimitar-sized mandibles bristle with serrations, and their armored shells are thicker than plate armor. Veteran delvers know that when the ground shakes, it's time to take cover.
Umber hulks are solitary hunters, but their tunnels are thick with small creatures scavenging their kills or relying on the larger beasts for protection. After feasting, an umber hulk might let these vermin crawl over its mandibles and claws to pick clean any remaining scraps.
Umber hulks rest only when molting. This process leaves them in a torpid state for several days as they shed their exoskeletons and emerge even bigger, faster, and stronger. This period is one of the few times of vulnerability in an umber hulk's life. Discarded shells are marvelous finds for dungeoneers because they can be sold or fashioned into supremely sturdy armor and shields.
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.