The Underdark is the vast subterranean network of interconnected caverns that run beneath the surface world. The Underdark is filled with creatures living and thriving underground, uniquely adapted for life without sunlight. It’s the perfect place for adventures to explore when seeking fame, fortune and forbidden knowledge.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This year we’ve decided that every article will provide our readers with new adventure hooks. Today “U” is for Underdark as we look at hooks suitable for campaigns that take place underground.
The most popular of the Underdark’s denizens are the Dark (Drow) Elves. Wizard has published plenty of books and articles on Drow if you want to know more about them. However, a lot of the hazards and dangers that Drow face are equally problematic for other races and PCs wandering aimlessly through the Underdark. So even if you don’t want your campaign to get bogged down in Drow details, you can still leverage some of the other stuff from those materials.
Besides Drow there are plenty of other monsters that you can use to thwart and challenge your party while they traverse the Underdark. Remember that PCs will likely need light to see, whereas many of the monsters they’ll face will not. If the PCs aren’t careful, target their light source and force them to fight or flee in pitch black.
Adventure Hooks: The Dangers of the Underdark
1. What’d You Eat?
Food and water are often hard to find in the Underdark. So when a party of adventurers finds anything remotely eatable there’s a good chance they’ll try it. Unfortunately there can be unexpected results from eating strange fungus or the meat off of a subterranean creature. PCs that eat the mystery moss emit a strange odor for the next few hours as their body metabolizes and digests it. Not only does it smell bad, but it attracts the wrong kind of monsters. Alternatively if the fungus was phosphorescent the PCs who eat it glow for a short period of time. Good luck hiding when you’re a shining beacon in the darkness.
2. The Underdark Diplomat
While exploring the underground passages the PCs meet a lone traveler (ideally of some subterranean or exotic race). Assuming they don’t kill him on site, he explains that he’s an Underdark Diplomat. He brokers deals between Underdark creatures that most people would never want to meet and merchants on the surface world. He uses his diplomatic talents to facilitate an arrangement between both sides. He’s got a list of goods his current employer wants to sell to a surface merchant and the diplomat is on his way to find a buyer. He’s confident he’ll find the right person but after that he needs help getting the goods from point A to point B. Is the party interested in helping him bring the shipment from the world below to the world above? The pay is good, but who is the seller and what are the goods?
3. Blinded By the Light (part 1)
During a battle in the Underdark one of the PCs suffers damage from a spellcaster who blasts him with a bright light. Although the PC seems fine afterwards, there was some long-term damage. When the party eventually returns to the surface world this PC cannot keep his eyes open in direct sunlight. He has to remain below ground or keep his eyes closed on the surface world. What will he do? What will the rest of the party do?
4. Blinded By the Light (part 2)
As the PC’s are heading back to the surface following an Underdark adventure they meet two travelers, a man and woman. They are frightened and need help if they’re going to survive the Underdark. The PCs will likely offer to escort them to safety, which the travelers gladly accept. During a random encounter the travelers spring into action to help the PCs proving that they’re good people. When it finally comes time to head to the surface it’s day time. The travelers reveal that they’re cursed and cannot be in direct sunlight so must wait until night to proceed.
[In truth they’re Vampires, but they don’t tell the PCs and hope to keep this dark secret hidden from them. They have their hunger under control and make no attempts to harm the PCs. They are genuinely of good alignment and really do want to get to a safe place on the surface.]
5. What Day Is It?
Players forget that their PCs aren’t wearing wrist watches. While underground exploring caverns and catacombs the PCs will lose track of time. Without the sun to remind them and their body how long a day really is they’ll inevitably misjudge it. Exactly how much time they lose is up to the DM. If the PCs get lost or have to travel for long distances underground they’re more likely to lose more time. Normally a few days here and there isn’t a big deal, but if your adventure is tied to a specific event happening on a specific date then playing with the length of a day underground can throw a wrench into the plans of any party.
6. Déjà vu
As the PCs travel through the caverns of the Underdark they start to get a strange sense of Déjà vu, the feeling that they’ve been here before. Have the PCs make checks or saves to try and determine what they find so familiar. In truth they’re just getting disoriented by being underground for so long. However, after they catch on, keep having them make saves. This will allow you to have a Mind Flayer or other creature play with their thoughts and try to lead them into a noticeably different area so the party can be ambushed.
7. Last Words
The PCs notice writing etched into a rocky outcropping. Someone carved their final words here before they died. Unfortunately the writer didn’t finish (likely because he died) and the message is unsigned. There is no evidence (like a body) nearby that might help identify who wrote it. The message can be whatever the DM needs it to be. It should be something heartfelt and compelling. Perhaps it’s a damning confession the writer had to get off his chest before he died. Include some details the PCs can follow up on like the description of a landmark or a woman’s name.
8. Belly of the Beast
The PCs find themselves in a strange cavern. There are strange growths on the walls that drip ooze.
[This is actually the belly of an enormous creature. If the PCs continue without molesting the growths they’ll reach a dead end and likely walk back out without incident. If they poke at the growth or attack it in any way, the creature will awaken.]
9. The Blinking Light
While crossing a chasm the PCs notice a blinking light shining up from somewhere below. They have no easy way to reach it. All attempts to discover the source of the light meet with failure.
[This isn’t really an adventure hook as much as something you can use to mess with the players. Realizing they can’t get the light will make them want it even more. Have other NPCs they meet up with mention the blinking light. Some say it’s something good and others say it’s incredibly dangerous. Have fun with it.]