The Underdark, where the legendarily tough dwarves dare not trespass. The Underdark, where surface races survive only as slaves. The Underdark, the scariest place this side of the Elemental Chaos.
If you’ve played D&D for any amount of time you’ll recognize the reference: the Underdark is the subterranean realm where evil critters are super tough and kindly leave the soft surface races alone (mostly) in return for the same courtesy. It should come as no surprise that Wizards of the Coast has released Underdark, a definitive 4th Edition guide to the dark land.
The concept of the planetwide dungeon was introduced by E. Gary Gygax in his famous “D” series modules and since then it has only expanded. The Underdark described in this supplement is bigger, deeper, meaner and more logical than it ever was. Forget empty caves with the occasional ogre; there are whole nations of aboleths, duergar, mind flayers, beholders and kuo-toa — it’s kinda scary when the most rational and benign race in the Underdark is the freakin’ drow. There are world-stretching oceans as vast as any on the surface, in vaulted caverns so high that they even sport rain and lightning. There is a leagues-long road stained in the blood of a fallen god, the King who Crawls.
Did I mention that the Underdark is unremittingly dark, evil and sinister?
Which is not to say your sissified sundwellers don’t have a place there. Heroic-tier characters can get their feet wet tackling the weak foes who populate the upper reaches of the Underdark (called the Shallows) and for tougher PCs, well, it doesn’t have to be a constant battle. The wicked nations of the Underdark use mercenaries and assassins in droves and even the most fragile eladrin can expect to walk the streets of an Underdark city with a degree of safety.
Some races that we’re accustomed to being benign live down there. For instance, gnomes have their own cities — but the short folk are darker, and rightfully so. Surrounded by so many cunning foes, the gnomes are quick to attack, and see non-enemies as being resources to be used, not befriended. Does your PC step forward as a pal? Sorry, gnomes are too paranoid for friends.
WotC’s Underdark describes the general geography of the sunless realm, an overview of races with the requisite new monsters, along with a series of short scenarios. However, the best part of the book is its unified history of the Underdark. Previously, no explanation was given as to why and how it came to be. Why is it so dark and evil? I don’t want to spell out all the answers, but suffice it to say that at the very depths of the (known) Underdark there lies a kingdom of unprecedented danger and madness, and its history parallels the origins of the sunless world.