The latest 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons supplement from Wizards of the Coast is simply titled Underdark, and it contains all kinds of information and fleshed out details on the entire realm for which it is named. This book is along the same vein as The Plane Below book on the Elemental Chaos, but the Underdark is a subterranean realm just beneath the surface of your game world and so will always be more accessible than the other planes to your players and their characters. That means that while your game may be able to get along without ever going near the Elemental Chaos, it is much less likely that your players won’t journey somewhere in the Underdark during their dungeon delving careers. Thankfully we have this book, Underdark, which is 159 pages of exquisite and pure D&D content that any game can benefit by including.
Roughly the same size as The Plane Below, this book contains 39 new types of monsters (compared to Plane Below‘s nearly 50), but among those new monsters are some essential additions such as oozes, cultists, kuo-toas, mind flayers and the King that Crawls himself, Torog. The beginning of Underdark starts exactly where it should, with a brief description of how the subterranean world is viewed from the surface and then a great description of how the underdark was created by the torture of a deity. Torog, the god of torture and prisons, is properly featured very prominently in this book so much so that his holy symbol can even be seen worn by the mind flayer on the cover.
Once again one of my favorite parts of the book are the adventures and campaign arcs that are tied into the setting that is detailed. Underdark presents us with three new campaign arcs that each emphasize a different facet of the realm. The first focuses on aberrant creatures and has the adventurers attempting to avenge the deaths of their retired adventurer parents. The second campaign arc focuses on the most prominent race of the underdark, the Drow, and has some very interesting elements including the option for characters to be transformed into a drow between the heroic and paragon tiers. This is one of the first published campaign arcs I’ve read that skirts the lines between good and evil, allowing things to play out either way depending on how your DM or players want it to go. The third campaign arc features Torog and his torture dens and a large plot by the deity that can have a wide variety of outcomes depending on what the players decide to do.
Although the underdark is one large and immeasurably deep realm, it is handily divided into several sections in this book – The Shallows, The Deeps, the Feydark, and the Shadowdark. The Shallows is the first area detailed and it consists of the entire portion of the underdark that is closest to the surface world and most likely for characters to travel through on their adventures underground. Not surprisingly this portion of the realm is mostly designed for heroic and early paragon tier adventures, pitting characters against the likes of duergar, dwarves, goblins, twisted humans, and troglodytes. The more well known and feared creatures are more rare in the shallows, but you’re still encouraged to throw the occasional drow raiding party or insane beholder into the mix. In addition to explaining some of the common phenomena in this part of the underdark, several specific locations are also elaborated upon in great detail. Forgehome is the largest friendly settlement in the shallows, a mining colony set up and run by dwarves that has many ties to the various underdark locations around it. Some of the other locations include an old city from Bael Turath that was pulled underground by Torog’s wrath, the Dark Lake Ziggurat, Colonies of almost civilized Grell, and a giant moving mass of fungi and foliage infested by troglodytes known as Hraak Azul.
The Deeps is the section where we see the underdark at its best including aboleths, drow, beholders, drow, mind flayers, grimlocks, drow, and kuo-toa. There are drow too, and like the previous section it begins by talking about each of these inhabitants and a selection of the phenomena that can be found in the deeps. The drow city of Erelhei-cinlu takes up eight full pages of this section, and as such is one of the best locations to adventure in the lower portion of the underdark. The system of government is detailed, including the prominent drow houses, architecture, military structure, and a veritable ton of features and inhabitants all found inside of this one city. Several other locations are expanded upon like the aboleth realm of Xarcorr, an area called the Sunless Seas, and a very interesting part titled Past Masters that talks about the previous major powers of the underdark – the illithid empire. The deeps features challenges for character from the lower paragon tier all the way up through the epic, including the Buzzing Vaults, home to the swordwings and the Hatchlands, a place so abominable that it actually births forth beholders.
The last two sections of the book focus on the Feydark and Shadowdark, two regions where Torog actually managed to break the barriers between the worlds. These are perhaps the weakest parts of the book as I feel it takes something away from both the underdark and the feywild/shadowfell to have separate realms that encompass qualities of two regions diluted together. That said, if you simply look these portions of the book as more content for you to throw into the underdark itself, having regions populated by the Fomorian lords of the fey and masses of undead then I don’t see it as that big of a deal. Both sections add more content along the same lines as the previous two parts of the book, but with obvious overtones of the realm it resides in. The feydark is a really cool region of subterranean fey creatures and fungi while the shadowdark includes some interesting ideas such as Esarham, the graveyard of demons. Though I may not be totally pleased with how the cosmology was treated with regards to the underdark, I think that all of the content could create some great moments for players and DMs alike. Maybe just skip the part where you tell the party they have just entered a region effectively called “the darkbad”.Every single one of the previous sections I’ve discussed is accompanied by a series of linked encounters to showcase the typical monsters and scenarios that go along with the material, and I think this is exactly the kind of springboard people want in a book like this. Some of those encounters introduce new types of monsters, but also at the end of the book even more new varieties are introduced. Here we find the Blood Ooze, Elemental Eye Cultists, several new types of Gnomes and Grimlocks, humanoid creations of Vecna called Incunabulum, and more types of Kuo-Toa including a huge levaithan creature. A Mind Flayer Tormentor is added to literally drive your players crazy, along with some new Myconids including the always popular Gas Spore and some new types of swordwings to go along with their home location described above. To finish things out we are presented with the deity himself Torog, a level 34 solo lurker with broken legs and all.
As far as good locations to adventure in go, there really is no beating the underdark and its various locales. The Manual of the Planes only barely mentioned this realm and it drove me crazy, so now we finally are presented with a complete guide to the most dangerous dungeons and lairs a group of adventurers may ever encounter. If not the most dangerous, at least the most memorable as they can crawl inside a moving mass of fungus, swim the lightless lakes as bait for whatever creatures live beneath the dark surface, or visit one of Torog’s many gruesome torture dens. If you’re looking for some iconic experiences to add to your D&D game, I highly recommend picking up this book.