The Insane Tourist’s Guide to the Underdark

Underdark1In our first guide, we discussed the wonders inside the demon-infested catacombs of the Subterrane that tourists like some of you might enjoy.

The Insane Tourist might find the vistas of the Subterrane interesting, but not quite big enough.

Experienced tourists (that is, Epic characters) can take in the magnificent desolation of the Underdark, where not-so-happy dark elves plot to invade some towns of the surface world. It’s all drama down there. Yuan-Ti power grabs. Immense giant worms that try to eat you whole. A dragon. Zombies.

Sure, the Drow are rather ruthless and evil. But they also have style in doing it. And their digs (no pun intended) are pretty majestic for a massive underground canyon. You have to go see.

Preparations Before You Visit

The Drow aren’t standing about, asking for your tickets, passport or papers and ushering you inside the Underdark on a tram. As is their way, they’re out to kill or enslave you.

Therefore, you’ll need to be properly equipped for your trip. Weapons with Elf Bane are okay, but generally any good-aligned weapon will suffice to keep the crowds of natives at bay as they surround you in wonder and murderous intent. Remember that the Drow are more spell resistant than other enemies. They also tend to use more poison attacks that can be debilitating if you don’t pack some poison neutralization potions for the journey.

To reach the Underdark itself, customs require you to

  1. Be Level 20. You must be Level 20 or higher to enter the King’s Forest to find the sole portal into the area.
  2. Complete the “Lords of Dust” quest chain, and then complete “Beyond the Rift” to open a path for you from Eberron to the Forgotten Realms, if this is your character’s first life as an Insane Tourist.
  3. You may either venture through the King’s Forest to find the entrance on the barren hill, or complete the “Darkening” Eveningstar quest chain to gain access. Once you complete “The Battle for Eveningstar,” the portal to the Underdark activates inside Eveningstar Cavern. (Until you find another portal inside the Underdark or complete the chain, the other cavern’s portals may remain darkened.)

Once you’ve basked in the hospitality and quiet desperation of the villagers of Eveningstar, enter the King’s Forest from their town and head south. It may be easiest and safest to follow the path of the river to the east once you come to it, since it winds southward and just east of your destination.

As you travel, you’ll find many journals left for you to read by Elminster, known to be a powerful wizard and scholar of the area (as well as quite popular with the ladies and a goddess or two).

A Purple Dragon Knight outpost lies along the river’s edge just before the river ends at the southernmost reaches of the forest. You may want to stop there and speak to a mage inside, who can instantly teleport you from the outpost back to Eveningstar, and then vise versa for future tours once you speak to him while at the outpost.

Take some rest at the outpost, and then head westward until you find an easily identifiable barren hill with many Drow greeters. The entrance atop the hill allows you to find two sub-portals within the Underdark that make it easier later to reach a quest in the Underdark itself as well as the Drow city, Sschindylryn,  from the Eveningstar Cavern.

Update: One reader disagreed on the availability of accessing the Underdark. I am reasonably sure that any character that hasn’t entered the Underdark on their current life will find that the Eveningstar Cavern has only one of three portals active. You’ll only be able to use the single portal which (at that stage in your life) only returns you to Eberron (or, if you have one, a guild airship). The portals that activate once you visit the Underdark or Sschindylryn are not active until you reach their respective entrances for the first time. You must complete the Eveningstar battle quest chain for the Underdark portal to activate inside Eveningstar cavern.

Your First Stop in the Underdark: Greet Some Slavers

The King’s Forest entrance rests above a caravan of Drow slavers from House Avithoul. Their charges are Eveningstar villagers and soldiers, each equipped with a magical collar that forces them to fight you, rather than sell you tschotskes and maps.

Underdark2-slaves

More slaves…and slaver’s loot…liberated!

The slavers are often shrouded in invisibility and accompanied by more visible Drow guards. A good Spot reveals their outline. Show them how hospitality is best offered by killing the slaver and his guards without harming their collared slaves.

You’re rewarded with XP if you can save enough of these less-prepared tourists you find here and elsewhere the Underdark by using your skills of disabling devices, your Concentration, or even brute strength to remove the controlling collars from the enslaved ones–without killing them. For Monks, you’ll likely need a Concentration at least 48 or better to have a fighting chance of removing the slave collars.

Next Stop: See a Real Drow Priestess and Open the Portal to Sschindylryn

After the slavers, you can make your way over a stone bridge to a small redoubt with a few Drow archers who are happy to show you what real arrows look like–points first and at high velocity. Be mindful that slowing and damaging Spell Wards are all over this area, making a quick exit harder to do. A Rogue in your tour group can disable these to make your trip less arduous.

Continuing southwest and up a path leads you to a welcoming party of more Drow slavers accompanying a Drow priestess. They’ll demonstrate their religious customs for surface dwellers by making you their sacrifice of the day.

If you want that selfie of you alone and not you with your soulstone, you might decline the Drow’s insistence to die horribly by slaying everyone else first, except the Priestess. She’s a special one. If you attempt to kill her, she’ll use her magics to leech the lives of anyone in her party to continue fighting you. Only when a Priestess has no more allies or slaves left alive to leech can you (easily) kill the Priestess herself.

Did I mention that the Underdark denizens love to use death spells? Be sure to pack something or bring someone that offers Death Ward throughout your tour, and at least be wearing a Deathblock item if you haven’t Death Ward options at hand.

With the twisted religious service over, head a little ways up the path to find a shrine and a portal to enter the Drow city of Sschindylryn. Once you enter this portal, you will have now activated sister portals to both the Underdark and the Drow city to make it easier to return to either destination, directly from Eveningstar Cavern.

Sschindylryn: City of Portals

See_Rock_CitySo that’s what all those “See Rock City” barn signs were talking about, right? You’ll never see them quite the same way again now.

As you might expect, there’s not a tour guide awaiting you to show you the fine eateries and museums inside the Drow city. It’s still quite scenic on the outside. Lots of waterfalls.

Scattered about the city and the southern parts around the city are missives from a Drow leader that discuss their desire to visit Eveningstar and Eberron and take what they want. Seems they’re also learning about things from your world, like guild airships.

You might want to pass on any requests from them for a ship invite.

Collect all the missives scattered about the city outskirts and inside the city and you’ll complete a full map of the area.

The Drow make you work for that map. Watch your step! Sschindylryn rests atop a wide canyon to an underground river so deep that the Drow aren’t daring enough to visit there. Fall off into the bottomless crevasse surrounding the city and your tourist days are temporarily over. Several of the missives rest along the edges of the canyon to give you sphincter-clenching sensations as you hop over gaps on the way to find them. It’s good reading, really.

Look up. THAT'S how you build a pyramid.

Look up. THAT’S how you build a pyramid.

The city is stunningly built. Ornately inscribed doors and spires, seemingly carved from the stone itself, form the many residences and halls there. Unfortunately, the Drow never offer open-house tours of city dwellings, so you will not be able to share that Eberron fruitcake you’ve been carrying.

If you want to get an idea of how to build a ziggurat (a stepped pyramidal building), stand at the city’s main entrance and look up.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don't even think how they get up there.

Notice how the Drow built dwellings within stalactites above the city. Awe-inspiring. And don’t even think how they get up there.

You’ll also find yet another portal inside the city. Taking this is a quick way to head elsewhere in the Underdark. But should you activate this portal, you may find yourself materializing on return trips to the Drow city at this portal and not the outskirts portal. There are one or two other city portals, but these are inactive (likely for a future adventure somewhere else in the Underdark).

Underdark-Scity3There are three areas based on the Drow houses to see as you slay the guards, commoners and driders that greet you on your tour. House Dun’Robar is a military house, specialized in training fighter legions. House Avithoul, as you might guess from your first encounter as you initially entered the Underdark, specializes in the slave trade. House Szind offers to keep other Drow troops and slaves alive, even if you keep killing them, by using their necromancers to raise them as undead. Lastly, atop and inside the ziggurat of the city, is a Drow temple where you may get to meet the High Priestess and pay your respects.

Inside any of these houses you’ll find a magnificent living space. Tapestries adorn the walls. Sculptures and decorated altars abound. Racks of weaponry and military precision. The beautifully and tastefully decorated bedrooms of the Matron Mothers. Libraries filled with the knowledge of Drow over the milennia. Incredible furniture. The Drow blend form and function in a mesmerizing, captivating synergy.

Sadly, all of these areas are closed to deeper tours. Once you complete a battle to save Eveningstar from a Drow invasion, you can enter their Houses in the Drow city and get a closer look at mostly everything in House Dun’Robar without Drow complaint. But the illusion spell works only temporarily to allow you to contemplate the art inside House Avithoul, and the spell fails utterly in the necromantic spyworks of House Szind.

The city has at least one rare encounter in each house as well as two in the common area. These Drow and driders do not offer their wares willingly.

The Underdark Tour Continues

The wilds of the Underdark are contained on three levels. Being of natural formation, it’s not at all easy to find paths that lead where you want to sight-see. There’s also the matter of Drow and Yuan-Ti forces wanting to push you off these high ledges to your doom at your earliest inconvenience.

Key places to visit are noted in a copy of the full map. There is one additional portal that you can use to leave and return to the Underdark with greater ease than having to use the King’s Forest portal. Activating the Riz Malag portal makes it more convenient later to reach the quest, “In the Belly of the Beast.”

The ruins of Riz Malag.

The ruins of Riz Malag.

Ever seen a dragon up close? Any typical adventurer has done so, of course. Why stop now? In one of the harder paths to find, and a harder rare enemy to discover in his lair, is the red dragon Micahrastir. Now, dragons are rarely friendly. To them, you’re the snack on their version of a trip. You might be able to get a selfie of you next to his slumbering bulk, but if you’re that close, fighting him is probable.

Careful not to get knocked off of Micah’s lair by his wind buffeting if you’re trying to steal his loot (as is custom for adventurer tourists). Once a fight starts, the small path that leads up to him is destroyed and you cannot return to him in the same instance to continue your fight if you’re knocked off.

Overall, stealth is a wonderful and preferred way to enjoy your tour, especially if alone. You’ll certainly attract less attention if you are keen on reaching every encounter point. True to the name, however, it’s dark in there.

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

The Underdark with no goggles (enhanced a bit but still dark).

A vendor named Malchor is close by the Eveningstar portal into the Underdark. Now that you’ve activated a portal in Eveningstar Cavern, it’s easy to reach this vendor. Recall from anywhere in the Underdark, and then use the Underdark portal in Eveningstar Cavern and choose the option for the trader’s post.

Malchor’s having a promotion on his wares and will offer to give you a pair of his light-enhancing goggles at no charge.

The Underdark with goggles!

The Underdark with goggles!

These goggles better highlight the area, and they also mark hostiles in a red hue. Aside from changing your character’s gear setup, the goggles may cause contrasts in your sight that might annoy your appreciation of the aesthetics of the area.

Other notable encounters and sights:

  • The last priestess of House Jegg’Dralnoc. A rare sight to find a priestess all alone in the wilds. Doesn’t look like Lolth is giving her any sympathy or alms. You’re not that type of “take pictures, leave only footprints” kind of tourist, however. Once she attacks you, you can take a certain pride in ending an entire Drow house all by yourself. Her altar is always in the same place, although sometimes she isn’t there, replaced by a Drow acolyte.
  • Nessaleesa, She Who Hunts Among Stones. A medusa has made a garden of stone–specifically, enemies she has turned to stone by her petrifying gaze. If you’re a Shintao Monk, it would be curiously fitting to turn her into jade stone, if possible, for a few moments before ending her.
  • Agathea, a night hag, has a little old place where she wants you to get together. It’s not a love shack, however. You’re to be part of our food supply, baby.
  • The Grand Waterfall. The Yuan-Ti like it, too. But they aren’t inclined to share it with you.
  • Tranquility Grove. Wow, man. Poppies poppies poppies…you shouldn’t rest here. At all. The flora will attempt to make you sleep here indefinitely. If you’re of elven heritage, you’re immune to sleep effects and should be able to traverse the area without problem.
  • Riz Malag: A rather striking set of ruins amidst the starkness of the Underdark stone. Do find this for your alternate portal out and back to get to “In the Belly of the Beast.” There’s many illitids and animated armors nearby.

Next time on Insane Tourism: The Storm Horns.

The Drow and Klingons: A Character Study

Fellow blogger Erdrique has recently posted a series of articles on backstory insights of races and alliances in various adventures that are often illuminating and sometimes puzzling.

A stray thought came to mind regarding the Drow. Erdrique has touched on the ones we find in the Searing Heights.

Hazai_HaathaEven the weakest of them exudes attitude and weaponized bitterness. They often back it up with numbers and skill.

The Xen’drik Drow, commonly aligned with the god Vulkoor, can sometimes be mild allies, as with the peaceful Raveneye Drow in the Red Fens, whose backstory (if you bother to speak with one NPC) tells of their self-isolation after giantish enslavement.

But when they or any other Drow have their Vulkoor cheerleader mode on, they are ferocious, as we see in the Demon Sands adventures, especially “An Offering of Blood” where it seems that every desert Drow on Xen’drik shows up to kill you.

And then, it gets worse–not for you yet, but for them. The Xen’drik Drow get one-upped by another better-known Drow race from another realm–the Faerun Drow, the dark elves of the Underdark of Abeir-Toril.

These Drow enter into the world of Xen’drik by manipulating the Xen’drik Drow to free a senior drider priestess, the Spinner of Shadows, who contacts the goddess Lolth (who makes Vulkoor seem like an orange-named boss). Lolth’s mere “Hello!” when her aspect appears in the plane of Khyber causes an inter-planar rift in Xen’drik that threatens to destroy the planet. It’s a metaphysical attack so intense that it might be like being a grandson and getting slapped so hard by a bully that your grandfather feels it, decades before you were born.

Rather than Vulkoor’s scarrow (scorpion/drow fusions), we see the driders: Spider Drow borne from the stuff of nightmares. It’s not my first time handling driders, being a Neverwinter Nights player. (When I saw the scarrow for the first time, I laughed at their oddness.)

FaerunDrowPriestessOne of the most dreaded enemies in their ranks are the Drow Priestesses, powerful mages that will sustain themselves in a fight by sucking the life from anyone in her influence–even her own army.

Dun'Robar_BlademasterThe Drow of the Underdark are more sinister, more battle ready than the Xen’drik Drow. While the Underdark Drow have houses that often fight among themselves, the Xen’drik Drow are often seen in various alliances, most not with your interests and, interestingly, not with other Drow factions. As a result, they seem rather spread out in effectiveness, like the Sulatar Drow of the Searing Heights. The Vulkoor Drow in Menechtarun are arguably the most potent of the Drow on Xen’drik up to level 16.

From there, the nastiest ones are found in Khyber. They appear to be Drow who have been influenced by the Spinner of Shadows to gather dragonshards for her. As a result of their alliance, these Drow spellcasters are superior in firepower than any other Xen’drik Drow, if Sabriz Rinzyn Kho is any indication.

The contrasts between the Faerun and Xen’Drik Drow made me think of the Klingons, the warrior race in Star Trek lore. At first, these characters were written up as placeholders for Communist rulers of the Cold War, since the Original Series was produced during that time. They were humanoid in appearance then, resembling Asian/Slavic peoples you might find in the former Soviet Union, with a heavy “Fu Manchu” look.

By the early 1980’s, the Klingons took on a different appearance, still humanoid but with a more…crustacean appearance, for lack of a better term. These were first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Klingon commander at the start of the film was played by the late Mark Lenard, one of the first actors to play a role in  all of the non-human major races in the series and films as well as appear in more Star Trek projects than most other actors (The unnamed Romulan commander in “Balance of Terror,” the unnamed Klingon commander in The Motion Picture, and, of course, Sarek of Vulcan, Spock’s father, in the Original Series, Next Generation, and the movies Star Trek III and IV).

These “new” Klingons quickly gained a far grandiose warrior-race posture not unlike races we see in the Dungeons & Dragons universes. An artificial language was created for them for use with The Motion Picture by Marc Okrand. It’s now the most commonly spoken artificial language in the world. (Sheldon Cooper tries to use it at any opportunity.) SF conventions always have a contingent of attendees that are in full Klingon apparel–well, the armor from the Next Generation appearance, anyway. They speak of honor and war and battle. They aren’t necessarily evil, but are fearless, continually ready for battle to show their worth.

klingons

Klingons: Before…and now. For folks playing at home, this is the same character, Kor, played by the venerable actor John Colicos (also of original “Battlestar Galactica” fame as the original Baltar).

By their reappearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Klingons had a love/hate alliance with the Federation. Like the Vulkoor Drow, when the Klingons are miffed at you, you’ll have to fight for your honor or be destroyed. If Star Fleet shared the Klingon’s distaste for a common enemy, a Klingon/Federation war party is an awesome force to be reckoned with. The race also gained a substantially greater historical backstory and ethics that showed how a dangerous Klingon isn’t particularly evil–just Klingon.

The writers of Star Trek lampshaded why the appearance of the Klingons changed from Kirk’s time to Picard’s time in the very humorous and technically-beautiful return to Kirk’s time of tribble trouble, using clever CGI to meld 24th Century characters into the Original Series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” to interact with events in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations.”

So, when “New Klingons” showed up, it seemed to me (an old guy that’s watched The Original Series when it first aired) that the Original Series Klingons have become jokes to viewers and fans, spoken of only in passing. So it may be also true for the Xen’drik Drow, threatened with perceiving itself as the “New Coke” of the Drow race.

It would interesting to have a new adventure in DDO where players get to explore the history of the Drow, specifically how the Xen’drik Drow are handling the revelation that other Drow in the universe not only exist, but are tougher, badder and have a MUCH bigger god than they do. I mean, Vulkoor isn’t quite up to planet-killing prowess, to my knowledge.

Where did these new dark elves come from?, the Xen’drik Drow would ask. Why are they more powerful? What is the fate of the Xen’drik Drow with this revelation of both religious, political and ontological import? What does Lolth have in mind? Is she going to sacrifice the Drow of Eberron to the Demonweb?

Given that some Xen’drik Drow aren’t so much evil as they boast superiority (a common Drow trait), it would fascinating to see a Xen’drik Drow show up their Faerun counterparts in some way. Imagine that the Drow of the Underdark have their eyes set on invading Stormreach.

Do you think our Eberron Drow would have any of that?

With this line of thinking, I’m surprised that the devs haven’t created an adventure where the Xen’drik Drow then ask, “How can we help your kind in killing that overgrown false spider-god?”

Our Drow wouldn’t fight so much for Xen’drik, but just because they need to save face. They’d go out to prove that they are Drow too, dammit, not some knockoff copies that the Underdark used for slaves once upon a time.

The developer’s concentration in focusing on creating more Forgotten Realms adventures and less of Eberron quests make the probability of exploring this new plight to the Xen’drik Drow unlikely.

A Little Role-Play on My Part

My newest character, the star-thrower Szyncletica, is a House Dun’Robar Drow. So, with some practice, I’m going to play her as an outsider amidst outsiders with some inside understanding of her Xen’drik brethren. She’s going to get annoyed at the relative equality of Xen’Drik Drow men in the quests she’ll encounter (women are the leaders with the Faerun Drow), especially since her backstory is that she was a daughter of a Matron Mother and thus, heir to the throne–if she were able to kill off her sibling competition.

I plan to march Szyn into the Demon Sands shortly. I’ll likely choose dialog options that reflect her nature as a Drow. I’m hoping that the developers added a little NPC dialog changes that might make Drow-to-Drow talks a bit interesting. However, it’s not probable given the age of the modules, and my adventures in the Red Fens don’t show any change.

I do know one thing. I think Szyn has the cojones to take down the Demon Queen solo, at Heroic level. Her throwing attack can hit fast and hard, her reflexes will save easily against Queen Lailat’s blade-barrier like attacks, the gnolls will not survive and Szyn should be able to kite her way to victory.