Excerpts Archive | 12/18/2009
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Excerpts: Underdark: The Shallows

In today's Underdark preview, we start our journey into this subterranean realm, first visiting the Shallows -- and stop off at Forgehome, City of Mines.

The tunnels and caverns of the Underdark nearest the surface are known as the Shallows. Here is where adventurers descend to begin their explorations. This region is also the safest portion of the Underdark: Its hazards are the most survivable and its points of light the least deadly to surface dwellers. That said, only a fool enters the Shallows without care. Threats constantly surround delvers: duergar that capture intruders to serve as slaves in their mines, troglodytes and their pets protecting their territory, and goblin marauders looking for easy prey, to name a few.

Despite its name, the region encompasses a vast area of tunnels and extended caverns, vaults, cavities, gaps, and nodes. It is a dark reflection of the surface above it, home to creatures that shun the light.

Chapter 2 of Underdark presents the following topics.

  • Denizens of the Shallows: A brief look at the monsters most commonly encountered in this region of the Underdark.
  • Typical Shallows Encounter: The characters are set upon by a band of troglodytes and must also contend with a poisonous fungus.
  • Phenomena of the Shallows: Terrain features and other aspects of the environment that affect those who attempt to negotiate the Shallows.
  • Forgehome: The City of Mines, home to a large commnity of dwarves who make their living underground.
  • Maelbrathyr: A city whose rulers have been twisted into insanity by Torog.
  • Dark Lake Ziggurat: A nexus for travel between planes—but those who pass through have no control over where they end up.
  • Hraak Azul: The troglodytes’ fortress of fungus, always on the move.
  • Howling Warrens: Insanity grips those who enter the warrens, making them want to stay here forever.
  • Hunting Grounds: One of the few places in all of creation where dragons congegate.
  • Grell Colonies: Groups of these tentacled monsters espouse different philosophies, making each one a unique threat.
  • Dark Fungi: A dungeon delve for heroic tier characters, featuring myconids and much more.


For heroic tier characters

Dwarves mine the Shallows for gold, silver, and gems. Communities such as Forgehome, also called the City of Mines, spring up around the mines, moving on when the riches are tapped out. Although this policy speaks to hard-headed dwarven good sense, a part of every dwarf ’s heart aches for the ancient days. Dwarven songs resound with legends of Deepreach, a legendary dwarven home lost in the Underdark.

Visiting Forgehome

Miners have learned to be wary of outsiders. Like any underground complex, Forgehome has a limited number of entrances. All are well guarded and can be sealed behind huge stone valves.

Nondwarves are permitted to enter Forgehome to transact business but cannot take lodgings here. Only if the group includes a dwarf, or has a local to vouch for it, are visitors permitted to sleep within the city. Mining community lodgings are notoriously austere. Adventurers can expect to be given a spot of flat rock to lay their bedrolls on. In the morning, they’ll get a flagon of ale to wake them up and, if they’re lucky, a leg of cold mutton.

A few vendors specialize in services for traveling adventurers. They conduct a trade in magic items, ritual components, and adventuring gear. In dwarven mining towns these businesses are known as “outlander’s exchanges.” Locals consider it a slightly unsavory way to make a living, but respect the additional wealth it brings the vendors. These cramped shops serve as clearing houses for rumors and opportunities. Locals seeking to hire mercenaries leave word with their proprietors. Forgehome’s three outlander’s exchanges are run by the following vendors:

  • Thora One-Eye, a former explorer anxious to hear her customers’ stories. Repeat customers learn to distrust her advice, which is more enthusiastic than wise.
  • The pinch-faced Bosi, whose prices are fair but whose contempt for freebooters is poorly hidden.
  • Ottar the Moody, who took over the family business when his father was lost in a mining catastrophe. Despite his father’s fate, he dreams of financing an expedition to find the ruins of Deepreach.

Forgehome Opportunities

When minor raiders cause trouble, workers are loath to leave their mine work to fight, but major attacks on the settlement rouse the entire community in its defense. The mayor hires adventurers to conduct raid-suppression duties on the community’s behalf. Success brings mercenaries not only the promised reward, but a thawing of the frosty Forgehome attitude toward visitors.

Common enemies include human bandits, drow, duergar, troglodytes, and other riffraff of the Howling Warrens. Short raids into the Howling Warrens are standard missions available to outlanders for hire. Right now, the dwarves are having trouble with a recently established grell colony that has put down roots in a secret space set aside for Forgehome’s lost heroes. (See “Halls of the Fallen”.)

Adventurers might also take work with one of the various Dwarven Free Prospecting Companies or with one of the gem hunter companies as guards or general labor. Payment is either in coin or in dwarven maps and information regarding nearby subterranean locales. Dwarves who would snub an outlander in the middle of Forgehome are far more friendly out in the wilds of the Shallows. After all, those adventurers might one day be all that stands between a dwarf and a hungry mind flayer. Gem hunting has a more sordid reputation than prospecting. Adventurers staying in a mining town are judged by the company they keep. If they take employment with gem hunters, the locals might disdain them accordingly.

Every so often, a dwarf with more money than sense finances an expedition to reclaim Deepreach, the lost dwarven kingdom that preceded Forgehome, said to lie in the Deeps. Such dwarves are happy to sign on adventurers, usually for promises of equal shares in any salvage returned from the expedition (although such contracts contain fine print that excludes dwarven relics from the shares).

A quaggoth tribe lairing in nearby caverns has initiated a minor guerrilla war against the residents of Forgehome. Adventurers willing to journey to the quaggoth lair to quell the source of the attacks would be well rewarded. (See “Crying Caverns”.)

A protection racket run by a group of dwarves called the Dogs of Zardkeran shakes down Forgehome merchants. The adventurers might be contacted by a merchant brave enough to stand up to the Dogs and asked to deal with the troublesome criminal element. (See “Market Promenade,” below.)

Drinking Halls

The center of Forgehome social life is a clan’s drinking hall. A drinking hall is a simple affair, consisting of a rectangular chamber, barrels of ale, and uncomfortable (to nondwarves) stone furniture, which stands up best during brawls. To the miners of Forgehome, no thought is more upsetting than having to purchase ale by the flagon. Clans pay for the ale from a common fund.

Adventurers who belong to a clan that is well represented in Forgehome can attend its drinking hall and bring guests.

Market Promenade

The pride of the dwarves of Forgehome, the market promenade is located in a tremendous cavity carved from stone. The promenade contains a great bazaar where hundreds of dwarf crafters display various wares, including elixirs, perfumes, foodstuffs of every shape and hue, mining supplies, and oddities salvaged from deep ruins or brought down from the surface. Over time, a culture of extortion has taken root in the market. Established vendors must pay protection money to a seedy lot called the Dogs of Zardkeran.

Zardkeran is a dwarf warlord who failed to locate Deepreach in a publicly funded expedition and slunk back to Forgehome, after having spent a few months in a place called Maelbrathyr. A few years later, Zardkeran resurfaced as the head of the group called the Dogs of Zardkeran.

Visitors to the promenade market might never see or hear of the Dogs of Zardkeran, unless they happen upon a vendor in arrears being reminded of the value of staying on the good side of the racket.

Gem Hunters

Although ore prospectors restrict their explorations to the Shallows, a more hardbitten lot delves deeper in search of gem deposits. Mining precious metals requires the excavation of large quantities of ore, but gem hunters smash and grab. They find newly exposed mineral deposits, chisel out sackfuls of loose diamonds, rubies, or emeralds, and then speed back to Forgehome or another mining town.

Dwarf gem hunters keep a wary eye out for waylayers shadowing their trail. Cautious to a fault before they hit pay dirt, they become aggressively jittery when their sacks bulge with gems. Presuming that any topside adventurers they meet are out to steal their gems, they draw axes first and ask questions later.

Halls of the Fallen

Despite being a temporary dwarven community, Forgehome is well over a century old. During this time, many dwarves have fallen in defense of their clans, in defense of their mines, and in mining accidents. These dwarves are named Heroes of Forgehome and interred in a special dwarven burial catacomb beneath the city in the first mine shafts ever delved by the city’s father, Storvirk.

The Halls of the Fallen have been compromised. Grells have found a crevice and slithered in. Now a colony of these tentacled creatures lairs within the shrine to those who gave their all for Forgehome, dishonoring their memories. For their part, the grells see the occasional dwarven sortie sent down into the halls to clean them out as little more than easy prey.

The Path to Deepreach

The dwarves of Forgehome reverently tell of a legend, a wonderful place called Deepreach that fell to evil. Deepreach was a mighty dwarven kingdom of old, one whose many great halls and lamp-lit corridors could have easily swallowed the colony of Forgehome in one of its bustling, vaulted wards.

Cataclysm overtook Deepreach in the form of an unleashed monster of the deep, perhaps an ancient purple dragon or a primordial, depending on the teller of the tale. Only a few dwarves escaped the disaster, and their descendants (one of which was Storvirk) founded Forgehome.

The legend of Deepreach is remarkably light on details, but this fact hasn’t dissuaded a series of dwarf would-be heroes from embarking from Forgehome with the stated intention of finding and reclaiming Deepreach. The quickest way into the Deeps, where the lost dwarven kingdom is thought to lie, is through a wide tunnel that also hosts a rushing subterranean stream. This corridor has been dubbed the Path to Deepreach. It is also used by prospecting and gem hunting companies out of Forgehome, as well as by other creatures in this area of the Shallows looking to descend into the Deeps. As such, predatory creatures have learned that if they set ambushes along the path, sooner or later more prey will come along.

Crying Caverns

A series of interconnected caverns near Forgehome is known for the water constantly dripping from its roof, and for the colony of quaggoths that resides within the caverns’ heart.

At 7 feet tall, quaggoths are an imposing physical threat. The quaggoths that reside in the Crying Caverns, like their siblings in other parts of the Underdark, believe they commune with primal spirits that reside below their lairs. These quaggoths use the special mud gathered from sacred locations within their caverns to mold and stiffen their fur into elaborate and colorful coifs designed to give their foes pause.

The quaggoths of the Crying Caverns have received messages in omen and dream from the primal spirits saying that the dwarves of Forgehome are henceforth to be considered prey. What was once an uneasy relationship in which both groups ignored each other has become a guerrilla war whose front inexorably moves closer to the boundaries of dwarven territory. The quaggoths seek ever more devious subterranean routes into Forgehome.

In truth, a lone aboleth, outcast or lost from its own community in the Deeps, has taken up residence in a slimy reservoir immediately beneath the Crying Caverns. It is the impetus behind the quaggoths’ most recent instructions from the primal spirits. If the truth of its manipulations is ever discovered and demonstrated to the quaggoths, the evidence would go a long way toward ending their offensive against Forgehome.

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

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