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Located beneath the River Surbrin in the upper Underdark, Menzoberranzan (whose name means "Menzoberra's Home") lies wholly beneath Luruar's claimed territory. The city occupies a roughly arrowhead-shaped cavern, with the pool of Donigarten at its tip, two miles across at its widest point. The ceiling rises a thousand feet and the cavern floor is studded with stalagmites and lesser pillars. The drow have transformed the speleothems into row upon row of carved, spired stone castles, their salient points and sculpted highlights lit by the soft, tinted flows of permanent faerie fires. With one notable exception (Narbondel, see below), no stone has been left in its natural shape--everything has been worked into a smooth, unbroken, unjointed expanse. The noise of the city is a constant, muffled murmur spiced only by the occasional scream.
The city contains distinct districts, each occupied by members of specific station. Qu'ellarz'orl, also known as the Place of Nobles or "the House-Loft", is a raised plateau in the southwestern corner of the city, shielded from the lower city by a forest of giant mushrooms. It is in turn dominated by a higher plateau holding the vast House Baenre complex. Narbondellyn, home to the most ambitious noble houses, arcs along the base of Qu'ellarz'orl's slopes, while the West Wall area is home to older, established noble houses.
Lesser districts include Duthcloim, home to well-off commoners and wealthy non-drow; the Bazaar, an ongoing trade fair; Eastmyr, home to drow commoners, including mercenaries and lesser merchants; the Braeryn, home to Menzoberranzan's unwanted drow and other races; and Donigarten, home of rich fungi farms and the small lake described below.
Narbondel is the great natural rock pillar at the center of Menzoberranzan connecting floor and celing in a massive shaft. At the end of each day, the city's ranking archmage casts a fire spell into its base. The heat created by the powerful dweomer is conducted slowly upward through the stone, until all of Narbondel glows red to the infravison of the drow. Then it fades rapidly to darkness. This is known in the city as "the black death of Narbondel", and the time when the archmage casts his fire spell anew corresponds to midnight in the surface world.
Tier Breche, also known as the Academy, is located in a side cavern on the northern edge of the city, accessed by a massive stone stairway. The Academy is composed of three schools: the pyramid-shaped Melee-Magthere for warriors, the sculpted stalagmite tower of Sorcere for wizards, and the spider-shaped temple of Arach-Tinilith where the clergy of Lolth (referred to as Lloth in Menzoberranzan) are trained.
At the east end of Menzoberranzan lays Donigarten, a natural pond set in the smoothest, lowest end of the city's cavern. Its chill waters cultivate moss beds, irrigate fungi dungfields, nourish fish and eels, and serve as the city's reservoir. The Isle of Rothe is home to a herd of deep rothe tended by humanoid slave shepherds.

The Council, composed of the Matron Mothers of the eight highest-ranking noble houses. Currently, that roster includes Triel Baenre (CE female drow C20 of Lolth) of House Baenre; Mez'Barris Armgo (CE female drow C14 of Lolth/F14) of House Barrison Del'Armgo; Ghilanna Tlabbar (CE female drow C12 of Lolth) of House Faen Tlabbar; Zeerith Q'Xorlarrin (CE female drow C16 of Lolth) of House Xorlarrin; Yasraena Dyrr (CE female drow C11 of Lolth) of House Agrach Dyrr; Miz'ri Mizzrym (CE female drow C13 of Lolth) of House Mizzrym; Byrtyn Fey (CE female drow C12 of Lolth) of House Fey-Branche; and Prid'eesoth Tuin (CE female drow C11 of Lolth) of House Tuin'Tarl.

Menzoberranzan's power structure is in flux after a long period of relative stability, adjusting to the aftershocks of the disastrous war with Mithral Hall. For centuries Matron Mother Yvonnel Baenre ruled Menzoberranzan with the full backing of Lolth. But in the aftermath of her death and the losses in the war, the absolute authority of House Baenre is less secure. Some power has begun to flow back to the ruling Council, despite Triel's best efforts to retain her mother's authority. Mercenaries such as Jarlaxle, the leader of Bregan D'aerthe, and wizards such as Gromph Baenre, the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, also hold considerable power. True power here lies with the Spider Queen, for the drow of Menzoberranzan, in accordance with Lolth's lust for chaos and evil, pursue the unceasing and ultimately futile quest for station and power.

Slightly more than twenty thousand drow dwell in the City of Spiders, a population figure that remains relatively unchanged due to a high birth rate and constant attrition. Approximately one thousand drow are considered nobles, each a member of one the sixty to seventy noble houses. (The exact number of houses fluctuates because of internecine strife.) The dark elves of Menzoberranzan are served by at least twice their number in slaves, including bugbears, goblins, ogres, ogrillons, ocrs, minotaurs, quaggoths, and trolls, not even counting the innumerable kobolds in the Clawrift. (No drow citizen of Menzoberranzan is ever officially the "slave" of another, but many are slaves in all but name. Drow captives from outside the city can be held openly as slaves.) As many as twelve hundred visitors reside in the City of Spiders at any given time, including beholders, deep dragons, illithids, nagas, and fiends from the lower planes. Approximately two thousand drow--a quarter of which were soldiers of House Baenre--and four thousand slaves died in the war with the dwarves of Mithral Hall and their allies, but those numbers have been replenished over the past dozen or so years through deliberate breeding programs, extensive raiding, and slave trading.

Body dyes and augmentations, chains, high-quality edible mushrooms, everdark ink (made from deep dragon scales dissolved in acid, prized by wizards), fine weapons, giant slugs (sold as draft animals), herbal medicines, kayaks, liniments, musical instruments (flutes and drums as well as other percussive instruments), obsidian carvings (including "black glass daggers" favored for sacrificial use in some surface cultures), perfumes (particularly those that function as personal body scents or aphrodisiacs, or capture the fragrance of surface-world flowers), poisons, potions, pyrimo meat, riding lizards (bred and trained), rothe products, scented oils, slaves, spells, spiced sausages, stone sculptures, surgical services, textiles, tortoiseshell combs and inlays (made from the shells of giant Underdark turtles), ulaver wine (spiced, sparkling, luminous green wine made by the Ulaver family), and even water (prized by long-distance travelers).

The City of Spiders has no formal army, but over half the drow population is soldiers in some noble house. Most houses maintain at least as many slave troops as drow warriors, but slave forces are considered expendable. Each noble house is expected to contribute some of its soldiers to city defense, including patrol duties. In addition to regular soldiers, senior students at Tier Breche also serve on patrol duty when ordered by the masters of the Academy. Finally, spellcasters are an integral contingent of Menzoberranzan's defenders; drow wizards trained in Sorcere or drow priestesses trained in Arach-Tinilith support nearly every military action. Expeditions to the surface are a notable exception, for drow wizards are not permitted to venture above for fear that their magic will misfire.

The lifeblood of Menzoberranzan is its merchants, who import fruit, shellfish, slaves, and textiles and export goods produced within the city. Some traders are loners and eccentrics, while others form companies. Other merchants cooperate in using facilities and trade agreements as "fellowships". While most merchants claim to operate independently, many find it prudent to discreetly ally with one or more noble houses. Chief among this group include the Black Claw Mercantile, the most powerful and nominally independent fellowship in the City of Spiders, which was founded by House Baenre, and the Brown Mushroom Company, which was founded by an alliance of housed led by House Fey-Branche and House Barrison Del'Armgo to counter the mercantile migh of the Black Claw.


Nondrow visitors are well advised to maintain a low profile. At least four rooming houses in Eastmyr cater to clients seeking to avoid attention, cold treatment, and high prices. Typical rates are 1 gp/person/day, a price that includes all meals, basic drink, stabling, and a private room with a glowglobe light source.
Narbondel's Shadow (good/cheap) is run by Nicholas Tindall (LN male human F11), a retired adventurer who was stranded in Menzoberranzan when his company ran afoul of an angry deep dragon in the form of a drow noble. This rooming house is on the border of the Stenchstreets district along the cavern's north wall. The inn was named in jest, for Narbondel sheds no light and casts no shadows. Although cynical, Nicholas is a kindhearted man who does his best to serve his customers as long as it poses no risk to his own life. The innkeeper has extensive contacts with the city's merchants, and can direct guests to discreet sources of magic, healing, weapons, and gear within the city.
Symeera's (excellent/moderate) is unremarkable except for its propietor. A miscast teleport spell stranded Symeera of Neverwinter (CG female human S10), a mid-ranking member of the Many-Starred Cloak, in the Dark Dominion over two decades ago. Instead of escaping, this perennially cheerful sorceress adopted her new home. Like Nicholas of Narbondel's Shadow, Symeera is well connected with the city's mercantile districts, and she can assist paying guests in obtaining nearly any supplies they might require.

Over a hundred tunnels link Menzoberranzan with the Underdark through the surrounding area known as the Mantle. Strong guards stay only over the entrance to Tier Breche (a pair of Jade Spiders), the tunnels that open out of Qu'ellarz'orl (companies of drow guard with magical items such as Wands of Viscid Globs, alarm horns, and servant giants), and the three tunnels that open into the eastern end of Menzoberranzan (scorpion-shaped, poison-shooting Jade Spider statues) known as the Eastways. A mighty Contingency field woven by the mages of Sorcere unleashes a Stone Curse if triggered and deters excessive tunneling in the Overways, the Underways, or the Mantle of the City.
Menzoberranzan connects to the surface through tunnels that lead west some fifty miles to Blingdenstone and then double back east to Mithral Hall and Keeper's Dale. Another route leads east through tunnels claimed by a variety of creatures before exiting, after seven days' worth of travel, in a cave in the heart of the Moonwood. This route, often used by drow raiding parties hunting surface elves, requires magical passage through a crack barely an inch wide in the back of the cave. A third route leads south to Dead Dragon Gorge before exiting via Drygulley Tunnel on the western edge of the High Forest and through Feldyn's Gate, which leads to the Old Monster Shop of Waterdeep.

Menzoberranzan is one of the most infamous Underdark cities. Known throughout the North for its recent war with the allied armies of Mithral Hall, this festering pit of evil is also the birthplace of two of the better known drow renegades of the Savage Frontier: Drizzt Do'Urden and Liriel Baenre.
Menzoberranzan was founded in -3917 DR by Menzoberra the Kinless, a high priestess of Lolth who led seven families from Golothaer into the Underdark, guided by the will of the Spider Queen. No living drow knows that Menzoberra's tomb lies within Narbondel at the bottom of a hidden staircase that spirals down from a secret door at the top. At one time Menzoberra's bones lay atop a monstrous spiderweb, tightly bound by a cocoon of webbing, above an apparently bottomless chasm in the earth. Zaknafein, the famed weaponsmaster of House Do'Urden, found the tomb. When Zaknafein retrieved the Dagger of Menzoberra that had been wrapped within the cocoon, the bones of Menzoberra fell into the chasm, and the web that spanned it dissolved. While the Dagger of Menzoberra now rests in the Spider Queen's web in the Abyss, many other treasures lie at the bottom of the chasm, although they are most assuredly guarded by horrors long forgotten.
House Oblodra, the former Third House of Menzoberranzan, was destroyed by the command of the Spider Queen once the Time of Troubles ended. Matron Yvonnel Baenre summoned a great tentacle from the Abyss that emerged from the Clawrift and swept the entire Oblodran compound into the chasm. Rumors persist that several Oblodran priestesses were not drawn into Lolth's web, but instead haunt the Clawrift as witchlin, appearing as a pair of floating eyeballs and a pair of floating, skeletal hands. According to hearsay, they retain their psionic powers but have lost clerical spellcasting powers. While the truth of this tale has yet to be determined, something is stalking the thousands of kobolds who dwell in the Clawrift and significantly reducing their numbers.
The smooth, chill waters of Donigarten mask a murky, muddy bottom that flickers with magic. Long ago, the elite of Menzoberranzan were interred beneath the waters, dressed and adorned with finery including gems, magic, and the like and affixed to a stone spar of strong adamantite content and dweomer radiations. Many murdered drow were also dumped iont Donigarten in haste, along with all valuables that could be identified as theirs. This rich treasure trove is guarded by something malevolent, as many slaves and not a few drow have discovered to their horror; legends of lurking, water-dwelling ropers and worse make the rounds regularly. Age-old rumors speak of flooded tunnels that link Donigarten to an underwater kingdom, a lost temple of a god older than Lolth, or a warren of watery caves inhabited by creatures more powerful than kuo-toa.
The truth is more immediate, but no less dangerous. Deep beneath Donigarten and the Isle of Rothe lays a long-flooded temple of Ghaunadaur. This temple was constructed by House Masq'il'yr, one of the founding houses of Menzoberranzan, whose members secretly venerated the Elder Eye. When House Masq'il'yr was destroyed along with many other nobles houses and commoners by the wizards of House Thaeyella, the secret of the temple's existence was lost. A few of the elder priests and priestesses of House Masq'il'yr vanished before the destruction of their house, transformed iont ghauropers by the magic of their fell god. Those same ghauropers still lurk in the still waters of Donigarten, guarding the secrets of the ancient, flooded temple that lies below but never revealing their presence to the Lolth-worshipping drow who dominate Menzoberranzan.

The environs of Menzoberranzan are largely unworked, although some caverns bear evidence of battle, magical experimentation, or small scale mining. The inhabitants of Menzoberranzan are widely loathed throughout the Underdark of the North and even above, yet they enjoy strong trading relationships with most of their neighbors. To the west lie both Blingdenstone and Mithril Hall, allied with and part of the surface realm of Luruar respectively. Neither the shield dwarves of Clan Battlehammer nor the svirfneblin have forgotten the recent war initiated by the Menzoberranyr. to the north and east lie the dwarf-claimed tunnels of ancient Delzoun, and, although reduced in number, the Stout Folk of the Fardrimm are still powerful. To the south and southeast lie the ancient halls of Ammarindar, now overrun with the spawn of Hellgate Keep. Deep below those tunnels lurks Menzoberranzan's nominal ally, Ched Nasad. To the soutwest lie the uncharted caverns of Darklake and beyond and below them the duergar city of Gracklstugh.

  • Chaulssin
    Beneath the northern tip of the Rauvin Mountains in the middle Underdark lie the lingering shadows of the ancient drow city Chaulssin. The so-called City of Wyrmshadows acquired its name when an extended family of shadow dragons conquered and enslaved its inhabitants in the Year of the Shambling Shadows (-221 DR). The Wyrmshadow clutch ruled the city for centuries before the dark elven inhabitants of Chaulssin mastered sufficient magic to defeat them. At least one shadow dragon escaped the carnage through the Demiplane of Shadow, possibly the wyrm known as Shimmergloom who later conquered Mithril Hall.
    In their studies, the Chaulssin drow mastered the art of assuming draconic form, transforming into shadow were-dragons. Within one hundred years of their emancipation, the entire city was shifted to the Demiplane of Shadow, leaving flickering shadows of the folk who once dwelt within. The city's fate is unknown, but lore suggests that the City of Wyrmshadows fell prey to the spells of the malaugrym shortly after its planar shift.
    In any event, Nurvureem the Dark Lady, a drow shadow weredragon in the Dessarin River valley, is believed to be the last descendant of Chaulssin, although she remembers nothing of her past. More than one foolhardy shadow mage has speculated that spell lore, and possibly a Gate to the Demiplane of Shadow, exist in Chaulssin's old cavern. None has survived an attempt to force the dragon to lead them there.

  • Dark Dominion
    All tunnels in a 5 mile radius around Menzoberranzan are known as the Dark Dominion. Monsters roam the Dominion despite regular drow patrols. They even venture into the city, following the food and traffic, but most predators that invade Menzoberranzan are quickly dispatched. The Dark Dominion has nearly two dozen faerzress locations, where the adamantine-laden rock visibly emanates radiation in eerie blues and greens.
    The city's Mantle also contains several notable features: Orlaryn's Lake, known for its safe drinking water; the Cavern of the Masters, a spell testing area used by the wizards of Sorcere; the Fallen Stalactites, a well known meeting place southeast of the city; Glowstones, a meeting place to the north with naturally luminescent rocks; Albonsheir's Cave, a large cavern to the southeast; Heldaeyn's Pool, a cavern southeast of the city believed to contain safe drinking water (see below); and the Cavern of the Severed Tentacles, named for an old victory over illithids southeast of the city.

  • Courdh Mizzrym (CE male drow W22), the Archmage Emeritus of Menzoberranzan, is the aged Past Master who oversees all teaching at the Academy. He is in charge of experimenting with and guarding the most powerful magical items held by Sorcere. He is secretly Sorcere's overseer of security, and hence the spymaster in charge of watching the noble houses.

  • Dyrr (CE male drow lich W18), the Lichdrow, is the true power behind the Matron Mothers of House Agrach Dyrr. The Lichdrow is over two thousand years old and fiercely devoted to Lolth. He is completely immersed in maintaining his family's dynasty and his role in supporting it. Dyrr leads the wizards of House Agrach Dyrr while elevating the power of the priestesses and pitting both groups against each other. The Lichdrow has access to many magical items, but his favorite is his Staff of Withering.

  • Gromph Baenre (CE male drow W20), the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, is the elderboy of House Baenre and one of the most politically powerful males in the city. Gromph is more than seven hundred years old and well versed in Menzoberranzan intrigue under the Way of Lolth. The Archmage serves his sister, Triel Baenre, and House Baenre ably, if not entirely loyally. Gromph has access to many magic items, including the Robe of the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, a Brooch of Perpetual Youth, a Brooch of Lingering Heat, a Wand of Viscid Globs, a Wand of Acidic Spheres, a Brooch of Number Numbing, many Contracts of Nepthas, a Lens of Speed Reading, a Talisman of Memorization, numerous Thought Bottles, and a Spider Mask.

  • Horroodissomoth Xorlarrin (CE male drow W18), House Wizard of House Xorlarrin, is the patron of Zeerith Q'Xorlarrin and the leader of the council of wizards who oversee Sorcere, second only to the Archmage of Menzoberranzan. He leads the Xorlarrin wizards, all male, six of whom are counted among the masters of Sorcere. Horroodissomoth immerses himself in his studies and is an indifferent teacher. By necessity he leads the largest network of spies in Menzoberranzan on behalf of Matron Zeerith. House Xorlarrin is well known for creating wands, and Horroodissomoth usually carries with him at least four of them. He also possesses a Dagger +6 with unusual powers reminiscent of a Sword of Dancing.

    Jalynfein "the Spider Mage" (CN male drow W24) is perhaps the most powerful wizard in Menzoberranzan. He carefully cultivates a reputation of insanity and zealous devotion to Lolth, but truly hates the tyranny of the Spider Queen and opposes all forms of slavery. Jalynfein covers his disfigured face with a featureless grey cloth mask. Once a day, he can use his natural ability of Spider Summoning, with the side effect that his face is transformed into a writhing mass of long, spidery legs, lit by a flickering purple and orange faerie fire radiance. The Spider Mage is immune to most arachnid venom, and can unleash a burst of 24 Magic Missiles if he deliberately breaks a finger. Jalynfein has access to many magic items and has developed many new spells, including the 9th level wizard spell Web of Shadows.

Page Last Updated May 26th, 2005


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