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Underwarrens

Copyright © 2001 by Bob Hall

Return to Adelfarn

Introduction

Deep beneath the town lies a labyrinth of passages, chambers, insidious traps, deadly creatures, and evil powers. The complex structure of this underground nightmare has been steadily growing for many centuries. It is continually populated with fresh victims brought in from the outside to play out an endless tragedy for the benefit of a powerful alien entity that calls itself Oxagrief. Factions are continually forming and dissolving among the denizens of this place, each plotting and scheming to increase their power at the expense of the others. Those new to the dungeon soon find they must join one of these factions merely to survive, and thus they become entangled in their byzantine and ruthless politics.

History

Many centuries ago the large town of Adelfarn was a much different place than it is today. The outer walls were weaker although still impressive, and the buildings were of a consistent, though mediocre construction. Far fewer of the town folk were native born, and the majority of the residents were refugees who had been given sanctuary within the town. However many of these refugees had been toughened through their trials and hardships, so they fought bravely and well to protect their new home.

Thus begun the period known as the Long War, in which the swollen town suffered a period of almost a decade of continual warfare with determined foes. Talos Xinzytl, a powerful mage who was the town'’s lord and protector, was constantly drawn away to fight conflicts during this period and so Adelfarn was thrown on its own resources for defense. The commander of the town militia at the time, a stout warrior known as Alfred Everton, led a risky raid on a lightly guarded baggage train of the enemy and managed to capture and disarm some four hundred of their foes. Among these captives were several individuals of noble blood, including the sister of the enemy commander. The train and their captives were led victoriously into town, with much applause being given by the locals.

With the town population already swollen with refugees and the old Iron Hall dungeon filled with ruffians, there was no place to safely hold these prisoners. However, Alfred was determined to use the captives to hold the approaching enemy at bay and so he put them to work excavating a series of stone-lined caverns below the town. With the aid of magic commanded by the resident wizard D'’Alarchus, the cavern complex was constructed in record time although many of the captives bitterly resented this enforced labor. Despite the best efforts of the guard to keep things in check, the town refugees treated these prisoners rather harshly and not a few of them died.

The expanded gaol now complete, the town found itself besieged by their enemy - a siege to be one of the longest in its history. Many times the large enemy force camped around their walls stormed the parapets, but the determined defenders held them off. Magic was employed in an attempt to breach the town walls, as were flying mounts and siege machines. Fortunately Talos had created many defenses around the town, not all of them mundane, and the walls withstood the attack. The siege, however, dragged on through the winter and the locals grew increasingly hungry and demoralized, as Talos had still not returned.

With the enemy now engaged with other foes, their commander thinned out the besieging army and settled down to await the inevitable surrender of the town'’s people. The residents of Adelfarn were now close t starvation as their food stocks were running low. The prisoners held below were in especially dire straits as their rations had been cut repeatedly, and several began to succumb to disease. Matters weren'’t helped any when the enemy began hurling diseased cow corpses over the town walls, and many of the weakened town folk began suffering from the plague despite the best efforts of the local priests.

By late spring things were desperate indeed. The guards received the best of the remaining rations to keep up their strength, but even they were thin and weak. To rid themselves of the mounting bodies, the guards began burning the corpses in the town market square. As matters gradually grew worse, some of the refugees even began eating the cooked meat from the diseased corpses. Disgusted, the guards sought the help of D'Alarchus to rid the town of its corpses. For this purpose D'Alarchus resorted to an ancient scroll of spells that he had kept warded, as its powers were so deadly. The spell he cast created a mysterious orb with a heart of utter darkness. The orb consumed all that was fed to it, destroying the corpses utterly. However the orb did not eventually vanish as D'Alarchus expected. Instead over the course of several days it slowly began to sink into the earth, maintaining itself by continuing to consume all it touched.

Little could be done about the orb for the moment, although it did serve its purpose by consuming all of the corpses that were tossed into the pit. The hole eventually grew so deep that the bottom could no longer be seen, and it was assumed that the orb was no longer a hazard. It was at this time that Talos returned, exhausted from his many perils, and after a brief sojourn was able to relieve the town from its siege. Armed parties from the town were soon travelling the surrounding lands seeking provisions, and the town was brought back from the brink of utter starvation.

As for the prisoners below, most had succumbed to the plague and had to be unceremoniously tossed into the pit. A few nobles survived and were successfully ransomed for a healthy sum. The caverns beneath the Iron Hall were sealed off and preserved for future use, and Talos created magical wards to permanently seal up the pit of the orb. In time the pit was covered in many layers of dirt and stone, and eventually even the memory of the pit was lost. (Although the local storytellers sometimes enjoy telling frightful tales of a horrid black beast that dwells deep beneath the earth.)

At this point all now seemed well within the town of Adelfarn and so it slowly began to recover from its many wounds. Refugees from many parts continued to seek sanctuary in this town, and some stayed on to live out their lives here. This continual influx of newcomers brought many diverse ideas to the town, and the place continued to change beyond recognition. Adelfarn gradually grew wealthy from trade, adding many interesting buildings, fine monuments, and even attracting a small college of wizards. If it were not for the frequent wars in which the town found itself entwined, it might even have grown into a small city.

Yet this prosperous town held a dark secret, one that would grow and spread over the centuries to threaten the very existence of this place of sanctuary. Deep beneath the town of Adelfarn existed a mysterious world that few on the surface would suspect or would relish the opportunity to visit. This dark, hidden world is the twisted creation of the orb of darkness that D'Alarchus had created out of desperation. Fed by the steady stream of corpses created by that long and deadly siege, the orb had absorbed all of the horror and suffering of the spirits. In time the orb became more than it had previously been when it was drawn into this realm. Though it at first lacked what might be called true self-awareness, the orb had come to name itself Oxagrief and had begun to subtly change the fabric of its surroundings.

Unsatisfied with the meager diet of common rock, Oxagrief now fed itself purely on the pain and suffering that were radiated by others. But it now lay trapped in the powerful wards of Talos and was powerless to sake its thirst for misery directly. Instead it came to rely on the delightfully malicious nature of many underground dwelling beings to feed its unending appetite. The denizens of the deep began to be subtly drawn towards its presence, and they dug out many chambers and tunnels beneath the town.

Untold horrors were perpetrated beneath the town by an endless stream of creatures, yet for along time the town lay ignorant of the dark acts below. This came to an end a century ago when the sealed caverns beneath Iron Hall were penetrated by the underground dwelling creatures. A bitter struggle was fought for the heart of the fortress and it was only when Talos intervened that the invaders were put at bay.

Exploration of the upper chambers of this complex of tunnels revealed a nightmare setting of horrid beasts, unending conflict, and terrible torments and sacrifices. Talos knew that the town was threatened with destruction from below, and so he called upon his sorceress sister Gwyneth to enter the underground realms. Together the two fought together with brave members of the town militia and guards to battle the rising tide of evil. Several more openings appeared within the town and more waves of invaders appeared before the town gained the upper hand.

To her horror Gwyneth discovered the extent of the passages lying under the city as well as the number and the power of the denizens that dwelled below. She almost lost all hope of overcoming the tide of despair that seemed to fill these endless twisting passages. In time, however, she appeared to change her attitude and actually began enjoying the struggle. Her efforts gradually turned the tide and the minions were driven ever deeper into the earth. Talos was now able to build powerful magical safeguards to protect the town from this threat, and in time no further openings appeared in the cellars or the sewers.

The threat now appeared to be over, or at least bottled up deep below. His duties to his goddess called for constant attention, and he had spent all the time he could spare on the situation. So he satisfied himself with building several layers of protection beneath the town. In addition to his magical wards, Talos had rescued a group of good-natured creatures who enjoyed dwelling beneath the earth and who seemed more than willing to protect the town from further incursions. He also animated some magical wardens to patrol the main tunnels and warn of future threats. Finally he tasked his sister with keeping watch over the deeper underwarrens, although he was concerned about her growing obsession with this dark labyrinth.

Orb of Darkness

The orb now rests in a hemispherical pocket within the bedrock at the bottom of a deep hole. The walls of this hole are very smooth and quite symmetrical, making it all but impossible to climb normally. A huge granite plug that is many meters deep caps the upper end of this hole. It is also warded with magical protections that make it as hard as steel and all but impervious to most forms of magic. Oxagrief has thus lain suspended and isolated in this hole for several centuries, and its increasingly corrupting presence has had a very peculiar effect on the surrounding stone. The rock in the vicinity of the orb is now jet black and feels bitterly cold to the touch.

Oxagrief continually radiates an almost palpable range of negative emotions that can be sensed by creatures in its vicinity. Those who approach the effected area surrounding the orb will initially have a creeping sense of dread, as if something awful is about to happen. Drawing closer still, this sensation will gradually become one of heightened excitement combined with a feeling of imminent danger. Those not of a strong willed or goodly nature will also become irritable, and will feel increasingly nervous about their surroundings.

The orb itself can not be attacked by physical means as it absorbs all forms of physical matter. It is also immune to all and mind-effecting spells and psionics, including charms, and it is highly resistant to most forms of magic. Oxagrief is not an undead being and so can not be turned, but neither can it be aged. The orb can also not be transformed through magical means such through shapeshifting magic. It attacks by moving slowly toward its opponent and absorbing the physical form of its foe as well as any possessions. No form of physical or magical defenses will defeat this attack. It can also completely dominate individuals in the immediate vicinity, allowing it to wreck untold havoc by this insidious means.

Within 1,000 ft. of the orb, its effects become more powerful and will have a direct effect on the personality of each individual. It requires a direct act of will to cease fighting once engaged. If a combatant decides to surrender, a mental struggle against the power of the Orb is required to successfully cease fighting this foe. When 500 ft. from the orb, the effects of Oxagrief's power can now be felt directly and any injury will become shockingly painful. For each physical wound suffered by a combatant, the victim will also be stunned for a period unless he is able to overcome the effect through strength of will. Magic that is intended to inflict pain are also more effective here, and much more difficult to resist. Likewise healing magic is weaker than normal and often provides little benefit.

Finally, within 150 ft. of the Orb its power becomes overwhelming and each living being must constantly struggle to maintain control of their very sanity. Fortunately most of this volume is solid rock and all attempts to dig here have come to naught. So individuals should only be affected if they attempt to tunnel closer to the orb.

Eliminating all forms of misery and suffering within a radius of 1,000 ft. will slowly starve the orb. Even a minor source of suffering within this radius, such as an injury to a small living being, will sustain the orb. Once it has begun to starve the orb will require a month or more to snuff itself out. Its powers will slowly fade during this period and the radius of effect will begin to shrink every day. The orb can also be destroyed by means of a wish combined with a ritual to remove the curse.

Factions

In the area of the underwarrens that has fallen under the influence of the Orb of Darkness are several significant power groups that are constantly vying with each other for control of the others. Their conflict has been waging for centuries, changing only when new groups move into the area or when alliances shift. This struggle has become known as the "Great Game", and each of these factions is utterly consumed with the contest almost to the exclusion of all other factors. With so many groups vying with each other for power, no one alliance has been able to remain intact long enough to sweep aside the others. Undoubtedly this is due to the insipid influence of the Orb.

What follows are brief descriptions of the factions. Note that smaller groups exist in the area, but these are either politically insignificant or not a major factor in the great game. Powerful individuals also exist in the vicinity, but these have their own goals that do not coincide with the alliances.

Undead Hags

In ages past a powerful Lich grew tired of meddling in the mundane affairs of petty mortals and decided to pass on to the great beyond. However he wanted to pass on his secrets and his horde of treasures to a worthy successor. So the Lich set up a deadly challenge to attract powerful adventurers to come and slay him, with the victor gaining all of his worldly possessions. To his chagrin, however, a coven of hags found a means to trick him into a form of magical slavery, and now he serves their every whim. Through his secret knowledge the hags have transformed themselves into undead, and are now effectively immortal.

A century of slavery at the hands of these witches has changed the Lich utterly, and now he seeks only to break his bonds and gain his ultimate vengeance. He despises those who have enslaved and so seeks to ruins all of their plots. However he is powerless to resist their commands, and they carefully monitor his every action. Together the Hags and the Lich form a formidable power, and few groups in the underwarrens would have the power to resist them if they had a cooperative partnership.

The Hags possess a small army of undead that they use to protect their territory and wage war upon the other groups. These undead lack the will or intelligence to perform effective raids, however, so the Hags settle for waging a constant war of attrition. When the moment seems ripe, however, the Hags can act decisively to inflict a devastating defeat on a foe. The Lich is usually employed at these moments, wielding all of his formidable powers of magic under the direction of the Hags.

Honorable Goblins

Dwelling in close proximity to the Orb of Darkness is this odd community of Goblins. In their natural state Goblins take great pleasure in tormenting, slaying, and generally inflicting misery upon others. This group, however, have had their nature steadily warped and perverted over many generations so that they now behave in a generally decent and kindly manner. Needless to say these Goblins are a miserable bunch, as they behave quite contrary to their basic instincts. Their misery, of course, is quite to the liking of the Orb.

Over the years this Goblin tribe has come to forget their origins and the dark gods they once worshipped. Instead many years ago a missionary of the goddess of sanctuary discovered this tribe and converted them to her cause. The Goblins are now dedicated to protecting the innocent and attempt to live peacefully. This is not to say that they do not wage war or slay others, but they now do so for the most decent of reasons.

These Goblins are perhaps the weakest power group in the underwarrens and their beliefs cripple their ability to form alliances with a more powerful protector. Instead they survive through steadfastness, crafty tactics, well-defended tunnels, and by not appearing too threatening. On occasion they also prove useful to the other groups as trusted messengers and intermediaries, but lack the mental acuity to exploit this role.

Illithid Tower

At one time a major player in his own right, at the end of a long struggle for power a Beholder Lord was left blinded and nearly helpless at the hands of his enemies. Fortuitously for him, however, a group of Illithids rescued the Beholder Lord and secreted him to their underground fortress. Since then this Beholder has served the Mind Flayers well, serving both as brilliant strategist and inspirational leader. In exchange the otherwise helpless Beholder Lord has regained his purpose in life and is well tended by many slaves. This alliance has since become a significant power in great game, employing the mental powers of the Illithid to lure valuable secrets from unsuspecting visitors.

The fortress of the Illithid is located on top of a great mount of stone in an excavated underground cavern. The upper layers of the mount serve as the home base of the Illithid, with a domed throne chamber at the top where the blinded Beholder Lord resides. The lower layers of the fortress have been outfitted as a recreation zone where intelligent beings from many parts of the underwarrens come to relax away from the effects of the Orb. Carefully trained humanoid servants manage this zone, but are constantly controlled from the background by the Illithid.

With their deep knowledge of the stratagems and secrets of the other power groups, the Illithid know just when and where to strike for maximum effect. Despite their small numbers they have had a significant impact on the overall struggle. The Beholder Lord has cleverly maneuvered each of the groups so that no one alliance can gain dominance over the others. Thus, although they are not the dominant power in the area, this group has a significant effect on how the great game is played.

Blind Martial Artists

This underground colony of humans came to be founded when a blind master of the martial arts name Arthogar joined forces with a lonely Medusa. How these two came to befriend each other has been told to nobody in the colony, but they found agreeable company in each other. Since that time the pair offered protection to other humans in the underwarrens, but only if they first agreed to be ritually blinded. This would protect the newcomers from the gaze of the Medusa Queen.

Over the years the colony has grown very slowly, adding the occasional hardy newcomer who survived the gauntlet of the maze. This made the recruits naturally hardy, but the expert training given by Arthogar transformed them into deadly fighters who could hold their own against the deadliest of foes to be found in the underwarrens. In spite of their serious handicap, most factions think twice before they will tackle these martial artists.

There is little doubt that the lot of this colony is a miserable one. They are constantly forced to fight against foes they can not see using every martial trick they have been taught or learned during their trials. Their possessions form a pitiable collection, but they have little need of pretty treasures or other visual delights. Instead they lift their spirits through song, colorful tales, and tasty meals.

Gnomish Illusionists

The effect of the Orb on this clan of gnomes has been particularly severe, and many are now deranged or otherwise mentally impaired. However this has not stopped them from constructing a particularly fiendish maze of illusionary terrain and mechanical traps to trick or slay the unwary. These Gnomes have become an unsavory bunch, and relish inflicting all manners of illusionary torments on their enemies.

The outer extent of the gnomish illusionary territory is craftily blended into the surrounding terrain. Thus if a foe approaches through an area infested with a particular species of monster, they can expect to be subject to illusions of a similar nature. The illusionary terrain is constructed in such a manner as to lead intruders in the direction of the deadliest traps. The Gnomes then feast on whatever prey has wandered into their home.

The actual gnomish village is a mundane complex of chambers and tunnels that have been decorated with all manner of grotesquerie. A tyrannical clique of gnomish master illusionists rules this place. The walls, floors, and ceilings appear to be made of the finest materials, but somehow the place comes across are threatening rather than beautiful. The rulers of this clan often amuse themselves by tormenting prisoners with sickening images of their own deaths. At other times they face a mix of illusionary and real beasts in the pit arena, not knowning which opponent is imaginary and which is to be feared.

Other Factions

Deeper in the warrens are even more potent factions who constantly war among each other, creating alliances only to break them as quickly. Prominent among these factions are the cult of lies and deception who raise herds of rust monsters, and have forged an odd alliance with several small groups of underground dwellers. This has allowed them to survive in a place for which they are otherwise poorly equipped.

There is also a community of Xorn and Pech that live in a mutually beneficial alliance in the lowest levels of the warrens. The Xorn provide protection for the Pech while the later feed the Xorn with minerals from their mining operations.

One abysmal region seemingly contains a society of assorted jellies, pudding, and blobs. They are controlled by a great amorphous blob known as Aboth the Unclean. Few who enter this realm return alive.

Other groups include a large clan of Kuo-toa; groups of renegade Driders; a family of sadistic Duergar; a snake cult of medusa, Yuan-ti, and lizardment; packs of Troglodites; and a nest of crafty Kobolds.

Locations

The following are locations of interest within the labyrinth that are the Underwarrens.

Sewers

There are two layers of sewers beneath Adelfarn. The first are the tunnels that collect runoff and sewage from the various parts of the town and direct it toward the accumulation pools. The town sewer workers maintain this level. The lower parts of the sewer system are the large collection chambers where the sewage can accumulate in great cesspools for recycling. This portion of the sewers is home to various scavenging creatures and guarded by animated undead.

The run off from these chambers filters through various layers of sand and dirt to reach the wells beneath the town. The water also runs down through cracks in the earth to supply the underwarrens with somewhat clean water. These collection chambers are occasionally dried out and the accumulated filth excavated to fertilize the grounds that surround the town. When this is done the workers are well guarded and any scavengers are cleared off.

Caverns

These natural caverns are home to the creatures that Talos rescued from annihilation. They form the final line of defense against invasions from the Underwarrens, and the beasts that dwell here have done an admirable job of protecting the town from this threat. However many dark tales have spread throughout the town about the nature of these demonic-looking creatures, a myth that Talos has allowed to flourish in order to discourage adventuring below.

Catacombs

This maddening complex beneath the Tower of Ghaelwyth is the work of Gwyneth Xinzytl. Passages from here link to the mazes of madness around the Orb.

Defensive Layers

This includes various layers of tunnels and chambers that Talos has arranged both to discourage exploration of the underwarrens and as the front line of defense against incursions from below. The top layer includes various complex traps and magical wards to prevent access, but that are only designed to discourage entry rather than slay intruders. The next layer down contains various tricks and puzzles to block access. Finally the lowest layer includes various lethal traps, wards, and guardians that are meant to slay any that approach from below. This level is relatively easy to pass through for those going down, but much more difficult to pass on the way upward. The defensive layers link most of the primary surface entries into the underwarrens.

Realm of the Orb

This is the area surrounding the shaft down which the Orb of Darkness sank when it was first created. This area is where the Orb has its greatest influence and as a consequence has few permanent inhabitants. The upper portion is protected by the magical wards that Talos created to seal the Orb below. The remainder of this area can only be accessed through the Maze of Madness.

Maze of Madness

This area roughly forms a sphere surrounding the Orb of the darkness. Gwyneth designed this place and its architecture is as maddening as the sorceress is insane. There are passages and staircases leading nowhere, beautifully designed rooms that seemingly belong in a mansion, and all manner of traps, puzzles, and oddities. The Maze is under constant construction by a group of workers that report directly to Gwyneth. A set of well-warded passage connects directly from this maze to the catacombs.

Tower of Sanctuary

Of all the traps in the underwarrens, this site is perhaps the most insidious. To all outward appearances it manifests itself as a sanctuary in a region of bloodthirsty rivalries. Intelligent creatures are welcomed into the tower and are allowed a brief period of respite from danger. Various pleasures of the senses are offered, ranging from alcoholic beverages to companionship, and even the chance to watch and gamble in the blood sport arena. Yet beneath this veneer of pleasure and relaxation lies a terrible secret. In actuality a powerful Beholder Lord, with the aid of his cunning Illithid allies, rules the tower from a domed chamber at the very top.

The tower was originally created about a century following the appearance of the orb. The Illithid masters discovered a natural cavern at this location, one of the few beneath the town, and set their slaves to work excavating a great domed fortress. By digging down about the central dome, the Illithid effectively walled themselves off from the constant conflicts that rages about them. This digging continued for many years, gradually carving a great mount out of the solid bedrock. The only entrance into this mount was the tunnel leading up through the bottom, and a pair of staircases that spiraled upward around the rock.

The tower fortress now stands many stories above the surrounding excavated cavern, and is now all but impregnable. The slaves continue to labor at the base, digging further into the hard rock and adding a new layer to the tower. The rock has been slowly expanded as it grew deeper, adding support to the layers above. An entire arena chamber was built just above the current base and the corridors and chambers weave through the rock in a somewhat bewildering maze. This design was deliberate, as it allowed the Illithid masters to create a network of secret passages throughout the rock. The Illithids can spy on virtually every chamber of the tower, picking the thoughts of any visitors and using this knowledge to further their plots against the other factions.

Save for an area kept clear above the floor, the cavern about the tower is choked with heavy webs, the strands of which can be as thick as a human forearm. Spiders freely roam this forest of webs, capturing any prey unlucky enough to fall into their nets. The arachnids apparently feed off the creatures that inhabit the surrounding passages. A number of such tunnels terminate at the great cavern, leaving a gap of ranging from twenty to a hundred feet across to reach the tower. Only two such openings have been connected directly to the tower, and well-guarded drawbridges protect these entries.

Once inside the tower, most visitors will feel a sudden sense of relief wash over them as hidden Illithid observers temporarily shield their mind from the oppressive psychic pressure of the Orb. This temporary alleviation is often a reason why so many intelligent beings choose to come here for some rest and relaxation. It serves as a temporary ceasefire zone where the constantly warring factions can send their warriors to recuperate for a brief time. But the pull of the Orb is like an addictive drug and few can long stay away from the bloody feud between the factions.

Upper Factions

The upper reaches of the underwarrens contain groups that have either escaped persecution from the town folk, or those factions that have been relentlessly displaced by new groups moving up from below. This area has some of the most recently excavated areas of inhabitation, and consequently the chambers and tunnels are poorly finished with few fortifications.

Middle Factions

This band roughly level with the Orb of Darkness holds the longest settled areas of the Underwarrens. It is well defended with large accumulations of possessions and many good quality residences. Much of the conflict between the factions is over control of this real estate, and so many areas are heavily fortified with many traps and defended obstacles.

Lower Factions

The lowest reaches of the underwarrens are where new groups arrive to carve out a niche. These groups are usually inexperienced in the great game between the factions, but they can draw on the most resources from the outside. So these tend to be the most dangerous areas to travel, but with the highest prospect of reward for the effort. Few of the established factions bother to fight for these warrens.

Depths

Far below lies the many mysteries that inhabit the lands below the earth. This area lies outside the zone effected by the Orb, and so no organized factions dwell here. However many beasts dwell down here, carving out and defending their territories in the tunnels and caverns. Some sporadic trade moves through this area, but nothing well established. (Note that if the town of Adelfarn is being used as the basis of this campaign, then the depths will shift from time to time as the town teleports about. Thus the depths can contain anything from solid rock to a maze of tunnels connecting to underground settlements. This will change about once a year when the town moves, and any characters down in this area risk being left behind when the town moves.)