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The region most widely known as the Underdark is an entire world beneath the feet of the surface dwellers of Faerun. Inhabited by monstrous and evil creatures that shun the daylight, the Underdark teems with entire cities and nations of derro, drow, duergar, and mind flayers. It is also home to even stranger races such as aboleths, beholders, and kuo-toas, as well as slaves of just about any intelligent humanoid found on the surface.
These evil beings battle or trade with each other for resources, magic, and power, forming alliances that collapse when plots unravel or better opportunities come along. Interspersed with the warring city-states are enclaves of gnomes, svirfneblin, dwarves, and other neutral and good folk, who remain isolated or resist encroachment by malign neighbors.

Life and Society
The Underdark is a harsh realm where two overwhelming drives rule: survival and the destruction of your enemies. Perpetually dark in most regions, the Underdark is filled with creatures that long ago developed darkvision or enhanced senses to compensate, often becoming intolerant of true light as a result of their adaptation. Some places are dimly lit by glowing rocks, luminous crystals, or phosphorescent moss, lichen, and fungi. Bizarre plants are common, and visitors usually find it impossible to identify which are hostile or poisonous without magic or potentially lethal experimentation. The most precious resource is fresh water, since the Underdark has no rain and inhabitants must rely on whatever filters down from the surface. Those who discover water hoard it and protect it with their lives.
Because of the scarcity of certain resources, each city often specializes in producing a few items and trading these with neighbors in peaceful times. A typical trade caravan consists of several dozen heavily armed merchants and soldiers, with two to three patrols sent forward or behind while traveling. Although the tunnels are generally silent, echoes travel far, and a skilled Underdark scout learns to recognize subtle signs of natural animals and lurking threats by their echoes alone. Wealthier cities teleport caravans to their destinations or use existing portals to speed travel, and access to a convenient portal is often the cause of lengthy wars between nearby cities. Cities that develop a reputation for killing or enslaving caravans in peacetime (as opposed to exhibiting cool hostility and rudeness, which are expected) usually find themselves cut off from valuable resources and made easy prey for aggressors.

Major Geographical Features
Because most of the Underdark has been only cursorily surveyed, and given that the largest caves are only a few miles long, few geographical features would be considered noteworthy to a surface dweller. Lakes tend to be the largest features, although the nearby stone may dip below the surface of the water, breaking it into quasi-separate regions that can only be identified as the same body of water by the most meticulous cartographer.
Tunnels in the Underdark extend for miles, some ballooning into caverns thousands of feet across, only to shrink to narrow spaces too small for a halfling to squeeze through. The largest cavern halls become representations of the surface in miniature, with hills, valleys, underground rivers, and lakes. In this three-dimensional environment, most races make use of the walls and ceilings of their caverns, accessing the higher levels with natural or magical flight or levitation or wall crawling mounts such as giant spiders or certain breeds of lizards.
The Underdark is divided into three general levels. The upper Underdark is close to the surface, has considerable interaction (trade, raids, or conquest) with surface races, and is mainly inhabited by drow, beholders, dwarves, mind flayers, svirfneblin, and -- under cities -- wererats. Water and food are relatively abundant, and adaptation to darkness is mild.
The inhabitants of the middle Underdark tend to see surface races as slaves. These include drow, lone aboleths, cloakers, derro, mind flayers, svirfneblin, and kuo-toas. Water and food are difficult to find.
The lower Underdark is incredibly strange, filled with alien societies and bizarre cultures, hostile to any unlike them, ruled by aboleths, cloakers, derro, and mind flayers. Food and water are very rare, so the races here prey upon each other for survival. Adaptation to darkness is often extreme, with new and peculiar senses appearing in some monsters. All levels contain evil humanoids, usually as slaves in civilized cities.

  • Araumycos
    This great fungus fills the Underdark beneath the High Forest between one and three miles below the surface. Possibly the oldest living organism in Faerun, the fungus predates the empires of the elves. It cannot reach beyond the borders of the forest above it, and pieces of it taken away quickly die, so it may be magically or symbiotically tied to the forest. While susceptible to fire, acid, and similar attacks, it is immune to magic. No effort has eradicated much of it for long, and it sometimes unleashes psionic attacks upon its attackers. Occasionally entire portions die, revealing ruined cities or colonies of fungus folk, but the cause and origin of the growth remains unknown.

  • Giant's Chalice
    This brackish lake in the lower Underdark curves from the northwest of Proskur, under Iriaebor, and around to Elversult. Inhabited by intelligent octopi, the Chalice is thought to have connections to the Sea of Fallen Stars. Vampiric squid introduced into the Chalice by the illithids now threaten the octopi. A glowing coral that lives only in this lake is a great prize and one of the few luxury items that the octopi export.

  • The Labyrinth
    This maze of unclaimed passageways fills the upper and middle Underdark in the region between Red Larch and Triboar on the Long Road north of Waterdeep. Used by northern Underdark merchants heading for Skullport and beyond, the Labyrinth is known to have shifting walls and dangerous inhabitants -- particularly baphitaurs, sorcerous beings thought to be descended from minotaurs and demons.

Regional History
The history of the Underdark predates and parallels that of the surface world. Progenitor races arose in the Underdark and died out over time or were slain when their equivalents retreated underground in the face of opposition from new races such as elves and dwarves. Ancient races such as the kuo-toas disappeared from the surface before recorded human or elven history. Evidence of the illithids' origin is scarce, but sages believe that the mind flayers arose at nearly the same time as the kuo-toas or invaded from another plane during that empires height. The abolteths are also ancient, but the history of their machinations from the lower Underdark has gone unrecorded.
The drow entered the Underdark after the Crown Wars, roughly -10,000 DR, with evidence of the first drow cities built around -9600 DR. A vigorous and aggressive race compared to those extant, they seized a great deal of territory before falling into endless internal wars. Dwarves, always present on and below the surface, battled the drow and other Underdark races, losing the entirety of Clan Duergar to the mind flayers only to see them emerge generations later as the duergar subrace, imprinted with the cruelty of their psionic masters. The derro also emerged during this time, bred from captured dwarves and humans by the illithids. In later millenia, races such as the svirfneblin, goblinoids, orcs, and grimlocks were brought or found their way into the Underdark. The most recent arrivals are the cloakers, which have been present for only the past few centuries.
War, conquest, decay, and collapse form the familiar cycle of the Underdark nations. Cities fight each other for riches, resources, or slaves, or out of age-old hatred. Stable empires grow decadent or suffer from numerous and constant skirmishes that bleed away their power. Failing empires collapse, sometimes from within and sometimes prompted by the blades of their enemies. From these broken cities come groups of survivors who find niches where they can scratch out an existence and eventually build new cities.

Page Last Updated May 28th, 2005

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