The Dark Deeps
Table of Contents
Characteristics of the Dark Deeps
Origin of the Dark Deeps
The Upper Realms
Map of the Upper Realms
The Lower Realms
Map of the Lower Realms
Ways of Peril
Characteristics of the Dark Deeps
Stretching from several hundred feet to miles below the surface of the continent of Farland lies a mysterious alien realm known as the Dark Deeps. Consisting of vast caverns, endless winding tunnels, deep rifts and chasms, sunless seas and rivers (of both water and magma), and strange cities, this lightless environment is harsh and inhospitable to surface dwellers. The creatures that call the Dark Deeps their homes are equally dangerous and alien. They have adapted to life in the dangerous lands below, and their abilities tend to far outstrip those who live under the warming light of the sun. To venture into the Dark Deeps is to enter a land of nightmarish danger.
Origin of the Dark Deeps
While some of the Dark Deeps has doubtless formed naturally, through the actions of water dissolving limestone or magma cutting channels through the rock, most of this realm cannot have been formed by these processes and must have been created. The processes that could delve miles of tunnels and caverns under the rock, however, remain unknown and are indeed a matter of myth. The elves say that the Dark Deeps were forged during the Ontological War, when the gods themselves battled over Núrion. The dead god Lagur's great trident, so the legends go, gouged out the Dark Deeps while he battled with Kantor, one of the gods of light. The barriers between the Penumbra and the Astral River were rent during this struggle, say the eldest race, and the magical emanations from the plane of shadow and even the Greater Planes have henceforth bathed this kingdom of night.
Scholars from other races deny this claim, stating instead that some mighty ancient race or races, now extinct, must have used powerful magic to carve these endless miles of tunnels. No definitive answer appears forthcoming. The fact that the Dark Deeps consists of strikingly strange landscapes suffused with powerful and strange dweomers is undeniable, though.
The Upper Realms
The Dark Deeps are truly a three dimensional environment, their endless miles of tunnels climbing and descending as often as they run level to the surface. They circle back on themselves in tight or loose spirals, and caverns stack on top of each other, separated by thousands of feet of rock. Still, the Dark Deeps can be roughly divided into two areas: the Upper and Lower Realms. The Upper Realms range from only a few hundred feet below the surface to as far down as 1.5 miles. The Upper Realms tend to be less inhospitable than the lower realms, but this tendency is violated as often as it is upheld. Huge deserts without moisture or organic matter, pockets of poisonous gas, deep rifts and chasms, and flooded passages can all be found here, if less often than in the Lower Realms. While the Upper Realms, like the Lower Realms, have never been fully charted by any race, not even the races of the Dark Deeps, some features are well-known and deserve mention.
(Note: The map only depicts the largest natural features and main routes. Countless smaller features as well as side-tunnels, chambers, and communities are not shown. Click the map for a larger version.)
The great domain of the dulim, the dark drow elves, is a defining feature of the Upper Realms. While only sparsely populated, the area that the drow control stretches along nearly 800 miles of the Deep Highway, the trade route that connects the far-flung reaches of the Upper Realms. The dominion of the drow, though in the upper realm, lies at least a mile below the surface and touches on the borders of the Lower Realms.
While several smaller settlements exist in the drow domain, they have three major cities. Their capital is Darkonglaxsti ("Dark Rule of the Serpent Queen'), located under the Stonewall Mountains. It is the largest of all the dulim cities that have ever existed. Most of the city is located in a vast underground cavern which is full of stalactites. The dulim of Darkonglaxsti used this natural phenomenon to build a highly defensible city. All houses and other structures are located in the great stalactites hanging from the roof of the cavern. Many of the most important structures are therefore quite high above the floor of the cavern and are very difficult to access and thus highly defensible. Roadways and paths exist on the cavern floor, and some are even carved into the roof. Others are made of hanging rope walkways. This city is a great splendor of the Dark Deeps, truly one of the most magnificent sights. The dulim of Darkonglaxsti and the duergar that border this area enjoy relatively good relations. The duergar were very helpful in the construction of the city and were important allies during the early years when the fleeing dulim were in need of assistance. Trade flourishes between the two races in this area. This is not to say, however, that the drow and dark dwarves are not above preying on travelers and even small bands of the other races.
The second major city of the dulim is Z'delik, located southwest of the Belendale. The city was founded as a stepping off point for a great invasion of the elves of the light. The population grew quickly, as the idea of the invasion was quite popular among the drow in general. Political intrigue and internal strife have kept this a dream so far, but the theocrat leaders of the city have not forgotten why their city exists. They never stop scheming and plotting for the day when they will get their revenge on their surface cousins.
The final city of the drow is a separate community called Celustel, located hundreds of miles from the drow domain proper in a region known as the Cursed Roads. Why the drow insist on manning this expensive and dangerous community, located as it is in the wilds of the Dark Deeps and perched perilously close to the domain of the aboleth, terrible denizens of the lower realms, is a secret known only to the Theocrats that rule the dark elf race. Only the toughest and most dangerous--or most foolhardy--of the drow live in Celustel. They see it as a sacred calling.
The delvings of the Duergar, like those of their surface cousins, consist of mines and other earthen works. Grim, hard workers, the Duergar dig valuable gems, iron, and salt from the heart of Núrion and trade it to the other races of the Deeps. They also use the iron they mine to forge mighty weapons and armor to make war on the other denizens of the Upper Realms, and in times past, on the surface dwarves.
The Duergar were created when a party of dwarves discovered an ancient tomb housing a remnant of the dead god Soggoth. Ever since then, their society has been marked by demon worship, since they see these fiends as relatives of their creator. The domain of the Duergar is thus marked by intricate temples to various demonic princes and overlords.
The capital of the duergar lands is Gilek. This large city looks like a reverse tower: the larger, less fortified areas are built on top, and one descends into the more important and more fortified areas of the city. Other than this structural feature, the city looks like a warped version of the architecture of the surface dwarves.
The Carcath Wilds are a twisted maze of tunnels and caverns. They are so vast and so convoluted that neither the drow nor the duergar have been able to map them. They are inhabited--nay, infested--by cloakers and hook horrors, so passage through this area is dangerous. However, the Carcath Wilds are resource-rich, containing a great deal of minerals as well as edible fungi and albino cattle-like creatures. Therefore drow and duergar raiding parties are common, and since both races claim this vast area, skirmishes and battles invariably result when dark elves meet dark dwarves in this region.
The Western-most region of the Carcath Wilds is known as Mevissen d'Xeldin-- the "Paths of Fading." Since the route to Faerie is cut off to the drow, as they age, the spirits of the few dulim who are not prematurely killed burn brighter and brighter within their bodies until their spirits literally wears them out and they "fade," becoming less and less corporeal. Eventually they exile themselves to the Mevissen d'Xeldin, the final home place for their disembodied spirits. Though not truly undead, their bitterness and anger at this fate gives their spirits particular power and makes the Paths of Fading one of the more dangerous places in the Upper Realms, to drow and non-drow alike.
The Doori Reaches is an area full of dangerous natural hazards. Miles of this region are choked by poisonous gas clouds. The caverns here seem unstable, and cave-ins or sinkholes are not uncommon. Magma flows are known to occur suddenly. Yet the area is also renowned for its gem deposits. Furthermore, it is one of the major routes to the Lower Realms, so travel through the Doori Reaches is often necessary for those wishing to enter the nightmarish regions below.
This region consists primarily of deep mines and other underground stoneworks created by the dwarves of Wawmar in long ages past as they mined for mithril, digging deeper and deeper into the heart of Núrion. While not originally a part of the Dark Deeps, wild orcs tunneled into and took up residence here after Wawmar fell to the Lord of Greed. The wild orcs who reside here never venture to the surface, for the Lord of Greed and his dragonborn troops kill them indiscriminately and on sight.
The Lost Ways are long miles of tunnels that have been carved and sculpted by an unknown civilization now defunct. The huge dilapidated city known as the Lost Ruin is the most notable feature of this region, though ruined communities are common here. While this area is very stable geologically, with the exception of one small volcano in its northwestern area, it is nonetheless dangerous. Somehow the traps and mechanical guardians left by the builders of this place are still quite active, and some explorers have even claimed that the ghosts of its ancient inhabitants also dwell here still. That is undoubtedly a myth....
The Upper Realms have several striking natural features. The Hodrin Sea and the Sea of the Deeps are huge underground bodies of water that have never seen the light of the sun. They are hundreds of feet deep. Sool Lake is fed by the Lake of the Sky dripping into it from above. Many less-notable underground rivers and bodies of water can be found throughout the Upper Realms. The Doori Abyss and the Great Rift are each areas containing many deep chasms and gaps that drop thousands of feet to the Lower Realms. Finally, the Moreld Magma Fields is a region of volcanic activity, a remnant of the geological processes that pushed up the Grand Peaks.
The Lower Realms
The terrible Lower Realms start 1.5 miles below the surface and descend to an unknown depth. They tend to be quite inhospitable to races from the surface and even to races from the Upper Realms. Many tunnels and caverns are flooded, sunk in magma, or filled with noxious fumes that are poisonous to breathe. Sometimes the air itself is stale and dangerous. Often the tunnels are barely traversable, with jagged and broken rocks, deep chasms, and other natural hazards. Food and drinkable water are scarce. But the true dangers of the Lower Realms are the races that inhabit them-- creatures that are the stuff of nightmares to those who dwell on the surface. Even the denizens of the Upper Realms shudder at the thought of the Lower Races. Many notable features mark the Lower Realms.
(Note: The map only depicts the largest natural features and main routes of the Lower Realm. Endless smaller features as well as side-tunnels, chambers, and communities are not shown. Click the map for a larger version.)
The strange domain of the Illithid, the race known as Mind Flayers, lies to the far west of the Lower Realms. The illithid are a fading race, dying faster than they can reproduce their numbers. They do not breed as other races do but replicate their kind through some strange and mysterious fashion. Still, they are numerous enough to be a real danger in the Lower Realms, and even the mightiest of the denizens of the Dark Deeps fear to tread the benighted corridors to which they lay claim.
Illithid Communities are ruled by Elder Brains. Each community is known by an adjective that best describes the Elder Brain that rules that community. On the map of the Lower Realms, the names of the two main communities, Ruthless and Harrowing, have been translated into the common speech, as the Illithid themselves only communicate telepathically. Like almost all of the races of the Lower Realms, the Illithid are a slave-keeping people, trading or raiding to acquire their thralls, which serve as both servants and food. Thralls also do most of their fighting, with Illithid being considered too valuable to waste in front-line combat. Their communities are often built in a descending, circular fashion, with long looping corridors delving further down into the earth toward the communal great hall, which lies in the center of the community at what is nearly its deepest point. Other halls and living spaces open off of the main corridors. Beneath the great hall, and accessible only via teleportation or some other magical or psionic method, is the pool of the Elder Brain of the community.
Sometimes the mysterious reproduction methods of the Mind Flayers fails, for unknown reasons, and instead of normal Illithid being produced, terrible half-formed abominations are born. These creatures roam the outskirts of the Illithid area, seeking brains and fresh meat. Even the Mind Flayers themselves fear them.
The terrible Eye-Tyrants occupy an area in the center of the Dark Deeps, connected to the domain of the Illithid by a trade route called the Deep Road. The Beholders are also not a numerous race, but they do not need to be, for each Eye Tyrant is powerful in and of itself. The Beholders keep slaves as well, but they sequester their thralls in their own communities for several reasons. First, they do not require service often, and they hate the sight of lesser races when they are not exploiting them. Second, they are a suspicious, paranoid race, and they do not want their slaves to learn their secrets or become familiar with their ways. Third, because their slaves do not generally have the ability to levitate, as they do, it is difficult for their slaves to traverse the area in which the Beholders have chosen to dwell.
They occupy a series of gigantic, flooded caverns, dotted with islands and outcroppings. This area has come to be known as the Eye Lakes, named for the Eye Tyrants themselves. Relying on their levitation ability for travel, the Beholders have filled these lakes with all manner of deadly aquatic creatures. Thus, just getting to the Eye Tyrants is deadly-- and then one has to actually face them.
The capital city of the Beholders is the hive called Barosh. It is a fortified stronghold consisting of multiple platforms at various levels, built around the walls of one of the Eye Lakes. The Beholders use their powers to get from platform to platform. They do not welcome visitors, leaving the handling of trade and other mundane tasks to their slaves.
The strange, aquatic aboleth dwell in the easternmost reaches of the Lower Realms. They live in a vast underground sea called the Ocean of Thralls. Of all the races of the Lower Realms, the aboleth are perhaps the most focused on enslaving other races. Indeed, they have become quite dependent on their servants, having grown decadent and lazy over time. There is little chance of revolt, however, for somehow in the presence of these gigantic fish-like beasts, slaves gain the ability to breathe water. Aboleth can withdraw this ability if they choose, however, causing any disobedient slave to quickly drown.
The capital of the aboleth domain is a huge city, actually more of a palace, that rests at the deepest part of the Ocean of Thralls. Here the aboleth dwell in darkness and in their own slime, waited on by their huge force of slaves. The only thing the aboleth have not grown too lazy to do, though, is raid and make war to acquire more slaves. For this reason the aboleth dominions stretches beyond the Ocean of Thralls into the chambers and passages that lie around and above it. The aboleth also trade with the duergar and drow from the Upper Realms-- or at least their slaves do.
The Gorakal Area lies below the Doori Reaches and must be traversed by those wishing to venture into the western Upper Realms, or by those coming down that area. It is less hospitable than the Doori Reaches. It is full of dangerous fumes, and both the Beholders and the Illithid monitor it for slaves and spoils that they can capture. It is also home to a large population of cloakers, strange beasts that make the Lower Realms their home.
Ways of Peril
The Ways of Peril are a huge, uncharted area of the Lower Realms. Filled with miles of maze-like tunnels, large natural caverns, chasms, and waterways, the full extent of this area is unknown. Those who have tried to map it seem to have discovered a strange feature of the Ways of Peril-- when they have returned a second time, their maps are entirely inaccurate. It seems that the Ways of Peril either cloud the minds of those who enter them, or they actually shift and change. The latter seems impossible, but this area is indeed filled with some of the strongest magic auras in all the Lower Realms, so nothing is impossible. The source of this aura is unknown, but it seems to lie somewhere in the center of the Ways of Peril. Perhaps some artifact or unknown race occupies this region and does not brook intruders to find their way through it.
The Tortuous Way is a seemingly endless road that twists, loops back on itself, climbs, descends, and climbs again. It is not a natural feature and was obviously constructed by some unknown builder-- but who would build such a seemingly maniacal road is unknown. Many side passages, chambers, and caverns open off the Tortuous Way, and many foul creatures live therein. The road itself is often interrupted by deep chasms, themselves seemingly dug on purpose to block the route. Still, if one is persistent enough-- and does not die of hunger, thirst, or want of light and air on the nearly endless miles that this twisted road spans-- one can travel from the Beholder Domains to the evil realm of the aboleth via the Tortuous Way.
Two other cities in the Lower Realms bear note. Soggathol, the ancestral city of the Duergar, lies at the north-western edge of the aboleth domain. The aboleth long ago made war on the duergar and drove them from the mighty city, leaving it mostly in ruins. Still, in recent years, the duergar have attempted to recolonize the city, which is connected to their domain in their Upper Realm via secret roads. It is unknown if they have succeeded.
The city of Vortokol is the capital of the deep gnomes. Having chosen long ago to stay behind in the Dark Deeps to keep tabs on the drow and the other evil races, the deep gnomes have become masters of stealth and deception-- it is the only thing that has allowed them to survive. Only the general location of their city is known. Those rare visitors who have seen the city describe it as looking entirely like a natural cavern full of stalagmites and pools of water. Apparently each stalagmite is a building equipped with a secret door. The city is also warded by powerful illusions and nasty traps.
The Lower Realms have multiple natural features. The vast Sea of Night dominates the Gorakal area. It is incredibly deep and cold, though its water is noxious. The Barrier Rift marks the end of the Deep Road. Lava can be seen at the bottom of this huge natural chasm. The Barrier Rift, though, is dwarfed by the immense size of the largest abyss in all of the Dark Deeps-- the Endless Chasm. This massive abyss is nearly a mile across, and its bottom has never been discovered. The ceiling over the Endless Chasm is very unstable, and rockfalls are quite common.