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Let’s Read: Underdark (4e)

jerandall

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DMG2 said:
Doomlight Crystal

These rare, glowing rock formations exist in the Underdark and deep caverns. The glow comes from the gas inside the crystals, which explodes if it comes in contact with air.

Effect: A fist-sized doomlight crystal emits dim yellow light in a 3-square radius. If a character in a square with a doomlight crystal is hit by a close or an area attack, the crystal is destroyed as well—and the gas inside it explodes, dealing 5 damage per tier to the character in its square.

Usage: Obviously, this terrain feature makes area and close attacks more powerful. It can also add an interesting lighting element to a battle if the doomlights are the only source of illumination. As they are destroyed, the battlefield grows darker and darker.
Again raises the question of whether anyone has ever run a battle like this, and if so, how did you / the players keep track of which parts of the battlefield were illuminated or not?
 

Outremer

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My favorites are the tunnels made of unidentifiable plantlike material that slowly rots into goo, the petrified remains of gigantic creatures forming organic looking tunnels and caves, and rock formations made of thousands of fossils of beetles with vaguely humanoid faces.
I like those ideas, they would contribute to the atmosphere pretty well. Since the Underdark is pretty much nothing but tunnels and caves, having all of them made of stone (even if it had magical effects) would end up being rather repetitive.
 

Skiorht

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Again raises the question of whether anyone has ever run a battle like this, and if so, how did you / the players keep track of which parts of the battlefield were illuminated or not?
I used visibility and illumination a lot when running 4E. The late paragon tier of our campaign was mainly spent fighting Fomorians in the Feydark, and both the players and their opponents manipulated the various light levels and sources a lot. Tracking was pretty easy, since we used the MapTool VTT for battlemaps.
 

Vagabundo

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Reading this thread and I'm getting some strong memories of the Dungeoners Survival guide. Flawed and nigh on unusable, but it really fired up my imagination about what the Underdark could be.

 

MacBalance

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Reading this thread and I'm getting some strong memories of the Dungeoners Survival guide. Flawed and nigh on unusable, but it really fired up my imagination about what the Underdark could be.
This whole thread is interesting because my background has me think of the underdark as a semi-natural mega-cave. Fantastic, but part of the real world. The 4e Underdark seems like it's a side dimension of some sorts, kind of like the feywild.

The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide is a weird book. It's got parts that read like they were adapted from a geology/mining technology textbook side by side with some neat ideas for fantasy stuff. I loved the mapping section in the back, even if I made hundreds of maps I never used for anything. I got the DSG out of the public library several times. (Yes, in the mid-late 80s some public libraries had a few D&D books.)
 

Seroster

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On a side note, there's another 4e book (riffing off TWO old books' titles?) called Into the Unknown: the Dungeon Survival Handbook which is a player-focused book.
 

Pieta

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-Wormrock: Ok, as much as I love 4e, I have to admit these names are a tad on the nose. This kind of rock is noted to be easy to burrow through (creatures can move twice their burrow speed through areas of wormrock – and even creatures without a burrow speed can dig through 1 square of the stuff as a move action) and it is edible for many of these types of creatures, leaving it frequently riddled with holes. That said, it regrows over time so it hasn’t been used up yet. You know, between being edible and growing, it sounds pretty alive, but the book doesn’t comment on that. Plus, the holes and its orange color make me think of cheese.
Stuff that didn't look so being alive or "alive" is one of the most often repeated themes of Underdark in this book, I think.
 

junglefowl26

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Conceptually all the rules around light / darkness are cool, and one can imagine interesting encounters involving Lurkers (the general monster role) vs. the PCs. However in practice I find implementing the rules for light / darkness and PC vision to be a pain in the ass, so I usually hand-wave everything to "you can all see each other".

Has anyone ever used the light / darkness / vision rules in an Underdark encounter and if so, how did it go?
I see what you mean - I am the same way about handwaving the light, even though i recognize that light manipulation could be pretty cool is I was willing to work at it.

https://i.imgflip.com/i0ahn.jpg

That sounds pretty disturbing.
First one - :D

-Second:Totally. I love it.

I like those ideas, they would contribute to the atmosphere pretty well. Since the Underdark is pretty much nothing but tunnels and caves, having all of them made of stone (even if it had magical effects) would end up being rather repetitive.
Agreed.

Actually, as much as I love this book, I do wish they flushed those out more than all the types of rock, for the reasons you said.

Reading this thread and I'm getting some strong memories of the Dungeoners Survival guide. Flawed and nigh on unusable, but it really fired up my imagination about what the Underdark could be.
Sounds cool. What was the Underdark like in that?

This whole thread is interesting because my background has me think of the underdark as a semi-natural mega-cave. Fantastic, but part of the real world. The 4e Underdark seems like it's a side dimension of some sorts, kind of like the feywild.

The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide is a weird book. It's got parts that read like they were adapted from a geology/mining technology textbook side by side with some neat ideas for fantasy stuff. I loved the mapping section in the back, even if I made hundreds of maps I never used for anything. I got the DSG out of the public library several times. (Yes, in the mid-late 80s some public libraries had a few D&D books.)
1st - exactly. It is what made me want to do this Let's Read in the first place, and really sold me on the idea of the Underdark as something I wanted to use in my games.

2nd- sounds really interesting. For all this book's strengths, it is lacking in maps.

On a side note, there's another 4e book (riffing off TWO old books' titles?) called Into the Unknown: the Dungeon Survival Handbook which is a player-focused book.
I got that recently. I have only flipped through it, but it looks interesting. At the very least, it has cool artwork.

Stuff that didn't look so being alive or "alive" is one of the most often repeated themes of Underdark in this book, I think.
Yes. It is wonderfully weird and creepy.

....................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Underdark Phenomena Continued:

The King’s Highway: This bit opens with a discussion of the physical attributes of said road, and its use as the most reliable way to travel around the Underdark. There are a lot of dangers there, but nowhere in the Underdark is safe, and it is easier to navigate than to go by caves and tunnels, not to mention reliably wide enough for travel (though it mentions that there are other wide roads – those carved by dwarves, other humanoids, rivers, or geologic activity). Most of the highway consists of uneven red and black spotted rocks, covered with crusted blood that turns wet again when trod upon, leaving footprints for a long time. Torog’s healing abilities are such that there is even pus in some places. Other than that, it varies quite a bit, with the road in the shallows noted as being especially different from the road in the shadowfell. The road also has few dead ends – pretty much only where Torog saw his own blood and turned around, which even then means another stretch of road is close, if a landslide hasn’t cut it off that is. Finally, it is pointed out that it is hard to follow the trail without being on it, because of the way it cuts through cliffs and oceans, especially in areas of living stone that regrew around the road.

Dangers of the Highway: This bit opens with a common underworld joke about why the road is still bloody (namely, it uses pantomime to suggest all the blood is from people traveling on it recently). The text notes this isn’t far from the truth, as the road’s usefulness is only matched by its danger. First, all that divine blood laying around and interacting with Torog’s “desperate magic” and the unstable reality of the Underdark produces all kinds of hazards, such as blood oozes. Each area of the Underdark has its own kind of unique Highway terrain – godsdream in the Shallows, godsrage in the Deeps, godsblood in the Feydark, and godsrock in the Shadowdark. (Ok, I can see the people of the Shadowdark being incredibly uncreative, but you think a land of imagination and whimsy like the Feywild would have a better name for terrain than a literal description.) The second big problem is that the Highway calls creatures to it – while none can derive nourishment from it, not even vampires, but it draws them in all the same. The third problem is the biggest and yet the most mundane – other people are going to be using the highway as well, and they aren’t going to yield to you.

Traveling between areas: This is a rather straightforward bit on what it is like to travel the highway. One thing to note is that usually you can reach a new location in five to ten miles, though “stretches of ten times that length aren’t unknown.” So grab some granola bars. Also, transitions between planes are easy to notice – even if it still an empty cavern, the smell of the air, the texture of the rock, and the hue of any lighting change instantly. You are perfectly free to turn right around and walk back if you want to stay in your world, unless something has been following you and would object.

Most interesting however, is that not only will the Highway not block any travel, it refuses to allow itself to be blocked. If someone builds walls or gates, monsters are compelled to knock them down. “Magic barriers that should be able to hold forever dissolve in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds….and always at inopportune moments.”

Emotional Effects: Basically, being in the Underdark is not fun. In addition to suffering from psychological conditions resulting from the dark, the constant fear, the isolation, the difficulty of finding food, and other such concerns, the raw, mutating, and unfinished physical substance and spiritual nature of the place have their own effects. Everyone will, eventually, feel just how wrong the Underdark is, though everyone experiences this in different ways. The most common experiences are flashes of paranoia, “moments of déjà vu that continually imply that the memory being reexperienced will end in terror or pain”, randomly tasting and smelling foul mud rather than anything else, the echoing of some sound but not others as if “nearby sounds were traveling through entirely different spaces to reach you”, and tricks of the light making it impossible to recognize faces or other distinguishing characteristics for brief periods. It is even worse for those connected to the gods, who experience a crushing feeling of despair, like the death of an old friend without any lessening over time. Dwarves are said to instantly feel a sense of recognition and loss for the ancient hero-city of Deepreach.

No wonder all the races that live down there are crazy. Or not: aberrants, some primordials, and Torog’s servants are free from all the above. Drow claim to be immune as well, but followers of Corellon get snarky about that, pointing out that “brief flashes of paranoia” define the Drow culture so long as you take out the word “brief.”

This is all illustrated very well by a picture of an elf: posed almost like an animal, with extremely pale skin and hair, a thin and haggard appearance, and sunken eyes that need sleep. Oh, and he is eating a bug. Has an oddly quizzical look on his – face, I am not sure what that is about.

Knotted Souls: According to the priests of Ioun, the title of this chapter is very literal: people get knots in their souls by being in the underdark, perceiving that which the children of the gods were never meant to perceive. The knots can’t take hold in a single lifetime, but as generations grow up in the dark, they need either strong wills or protective magic to avoid the spiral into madness. That said, this madness is apparently an adaptive mechanism – the line between madness and only being slightly mistaken about the impossible nature of the Underdark is very fuzzy, and those who embrace the madness usually live longer than those who remain earnest and forthright.

Anyway this section has two more sidebars.

One is about provisions, again giving the advice that such matters should in the realm of flavor (especially the characters eating that they would never touch normally) and the occasional encounter or adventure rather one of record keeping and a constant struggle to survive.

The other, Resting and Trading, is long enough to be its own section instead of a sidebar. It is about the Points of Light in the Underdark – the bastions of civilization in the deep. First of all, it notes that communities in the Underdark are untrusting and unfriendly, with very good reason, as no one lives long without a distrust of strangers. At the same time, no one lives long without food either, so trade is essential, and people have wants as well as needs. The book notes that even hostile or evil forces will be willing to temporarily treat peacefully with PCs out of a hunger for outside goods. There is a list of settlements to be covered in greater detail later on in a book, a bit on finding a place amongst one’s enemies or scatter bands of the desperate in places without civilization, and two sample settlements not mentioned elsewhere in the book.

The first of these is Ladoga, a small outpost of dwarven miners that broke off from Forgehome to mine on their own. They desperately want to spend the gold they have been hoarding through trustworthy intermediaries, but are paranoid that any travels they meet are agents of Forgehome, especially any dwarves. Furthermore, although the Ladogans don’t know it, their founder sold her soul to find a defensible gold mine, and it is devils that control the place by parceling out gold to be discovered, and because the advisor to the chief is a devil in disguise. The gold itself is cursed to cause violence, selfishness, and madness, and the devil in charge wants to use the PCs to spread the cursed gold to the surface.

The other is Refuge. The inhabitants of this place claim to be a unique race, but the text refers to them as humans and says anyone who makes a hard dc nature check can see they are humans. Of course, since the Refugites are “pale, semiamphibious” creatures who absorb nutrients through the steaming liquid that bubbles up through the steaming liquid of their luminescent home caverns, I have to side with the Refugites on this one. Anyway, they are a friendly bunch, defended by six “eerily lifelike” statues that come to life and fight anyone who attacks the natives. They stay animate just long enough to explain that they were adventurers who thoughtlessly attacked the Refugites and were thus cursed by an unidentified demigod to protect Refuge for eternity in penance. The original offense long forgotten, the Refugites worship the statues and wish to become eternal guardians themselves.
 

Glazius

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Underfell, I keep tellin' ya.

Underwild just sounds like a niche porn magazine, though. And you could do underfey but then they'd both start with underf.
 
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jerandall

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Supposedly there is only one word in English that both starts and ends with the letters 'UND'. So as not to derail the thread I will provide the answer here.

Spoiler: Show
UNDergroUND. Or 'underground' if you want to be able to read it normally. Oddly appropriate answer for this thread, eh?

Also some searching informs me that 'underfund' is also an answer, but screw that. What is that, some kind of made-up Congressional B.S. word? Bah!
 
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