Intro: Since the beginning of my Tears of Vummor campaign I haven't been able to stop sneaking in Underdark stuff. That game isn't really about the Underdark in any way, and initially I only added it because I love the idea of the place and thought mentions would lend a little verisimilitude. Besides, my take on the Underdark is very grim, where resources are scarse and life is very cheap. I handwave a lot of the resource management in my Tears campaign because it doesn't matter much to the story and it slows things down too much. Bucking down and forcing my players into that for more than a session or two after they've become accustomed to not doing so would be harsh and probably a little unfun.
Last winter I came across two very inspirational sources : Gus L's Underdark company game ideas from the Dungeon of Signs blog and Patrick Stuart's Veins of the Earth material* from his False Machine blog. Both sources fit nicely with what I appreciated about the Underdark, elegantly conjuring images of beings struggling for survival in an eternal, haunted darkness, living and dying wretched existences unknown to the light-loving world above. I couldn't stop thinking about the stuff Gus and Patrick wrote (seriously, check it out, it's great stuff!), and wound up reading several books about caves and caving. My partner went away to visit her dad for the holidays, leaving me a few weeks to dig in deep and get really weird thinking about caves and all the weird adventures (and nightmares) to be had below New Solinheim.
After a discussion with some greatly-missed old friends back east, and in lieu finding somebody else's campaign to just play in, I decided to say fuck it and run a second game. Despite work, being a full-time student and already running a bi-weekly campaign, I knew I needed to do this.
I cobbled something together by adapting some of the rules, creatures and setting Patrick posted (as well as taking a bit of the mood and he set in that material) and morphing Gus' setting with surface-world troubles I've already established in my Tears campaign.
My goal with this game was to abandon the "Epic Quest" motivator of my other campaign and make this one about survival and exploration. I came up with a few surrounding points of interest in the main cave, cooked up a bit of history, and wrote out a few loose ideas for nearby factions, individuals and creatures, all with the intent of keeping the scope of this game very tight with a focus on living long enough to see what weird stuff was down there. Between work and school I typically only have off one day a week. I didn't have the time or energy to sit down and figure everything out, so I tried experimenting with mostly improvising as much as possible. I've gotten pretty decent at paying attention to the players in my Tears campaign and changing on the fly based on their reactions, so I asked myself if I could sustain a full campaign based around the concept of just making 90% of it up as I go along. The players are not only some of my favorite humans, but all people I've been gaming with for years, and all of them were involved in some absolute favorite gaming moments dating back to high school. With a crew like that, I knew they'd keep me supplied with plenty of crazy stuff. After the first session, when some of them immediately started killing wounded NPCs to butcher for food I knew this campaign was going to be awesome, and seven sessions it truly is. I run this game about once a month via Google Hangouts, and each session I swear it's like I'm sitting at the table once again with these maniacs. So much fun, and running this game is challenging and intensely rewarding.
The Gloomlight Prisoners:
Preacher (played by Allen) - A dwarven miner from the Korthal Hills, Preacher spent a great deal of time trapped underground years ago in a cave-in and resorted to unsavory means to ensure his survival. Preacher carries a glass eye in his mouth, which he claims allows him to see the future. Preacher recently was turned into a floating ghost-like creature by a strange little boy after jumping into a portal showing a vast, bleak plain, thinking it was a way out of the Underdark. He is presumed dead. Or undead. Or whatever that floaty ghost state is called.
Lightfoot (played by Jim) - Lightfoot was a dwarven apothecary above, but has found a new calling in the darkness underground as a cleric of That Which Carves the Aeons. By following the path of this powerful, if slow-moving, deity, he is quickly adapting to his new home.
The Cheat (played by Sal) - The Cheat was a squire for a knight in the court of Wayheath, but found himself on the wrong side of Lord Eberhardt's attention. Sneaking through the caves surrounding Gloomlight has help him find his calling as a thief; his excitement at making a candle out of the Meazel the party killed has really help establish him as a creepy guy.
Warbaby (played by Denis) - Warbaby was a simple woodcutter before his imprisonment in Gloomlight. He has used his strength and speed impressively in fighting the terrors of the dark below, but his bad luck may yet be his undoing.
Wayheath has remained a very important trade destination for years; its central location marks it as a waypoint for goods and resources gathered in the Korthal Hills, Tanglewood Forest, the White Hell Desert, and from the ports along Bloodrum Bay. The prominence of the city led the rulers of the barony, the Eberhardts, to accumulate great power over generations. The Eberhardts ruled with kindness for years, but the power ultimately led to corruption 50 years ago with Lord Greinas Eberhardt. Lord Greinas became greedy and spiteful, and was known for making his opponents and enemies disappear. Stories spread that he was sending his prisoners into the subterranean labyrinth of the Underdark. An uprising, led by the prominent leaders of the Thieves Guild, struggled to remove Lord Greinas from power. His kind and intelligent son Sigmar worked with the cutpurses of the guild to overthrow his evil father to great success; it was said Greinas Eberhardt was lowered into the Underdark alone as punishment for his crimes against his people. Sigmar ruled for many years in peace, bringing a new prosperity to the barony of Genevieve.
However, the evil merely skipped a generation. Despite his best efforts to raise him as an intelligent and principled person, Lord Sigmar’s Son, Donar, grew into a man much more like his grandfather than his father. Donar kept his evil secret, revealing it only after the death of his Sigmar. When he became lord, he began taxing the people of the barony heavily, employing thugs from the Storm Plains to enforce his new policies. Those who spoke
openly against him were disappeared. Many were executed, their headless and handless corpses fished out of Lake Genevieve. No one dared point the finger at Lord Donar, but all knew he was responsible. Lord Donar blamed the deaths on gnolls in the Korthal Hills and used it as an excuse to further bolster the number of mercenary troops on the streets of Wayheath.
Many captives, however, are hidden in prison camps at the site of Lord Greinas’ former estate on the outskirts of Wayheath. The prisoners do not know why they are being held, but the general sense is that Lord Donar is waiting for something. The prisoners live in dread of what that may be, as some of the old-timers spread rumors that like his grandfather before him, Lord Donar may have plans to send his prisoners into the endless night of the Underdark.
These rumors are true, and in the final week of The Moon, 7,614, Lord Greinas lowered about 30 prisoners miles below the surface on a massive chain. Half of that number were lost in the descent or to the horrible things waiting below in the darkness, but the survivors found a giant cavern nearly two miles wide. In this cavern, known as Gloomlight, were the remains of an ancient fortress, complete with a pueblo city set in the high walls behind it. The prisoners were instructed to make a home in this city for themselves, reopening the mines and bartering with any non-hostile denizens they found below. Anything they uncovered of
value was to be sent up in trade for food and supplies. As veterans of Eberhardt's prison camp above, they knew what manner of treatment to expect and naturally distrusted this arrangement. The party began exploring, hoping to find some other way to the surface, but their number dwindles as they mostly find things trying to kill and eat them, such as the wrinkled tiger-like creatures, the crow-headed men screaming "DOOOOM!", the bizarre winged head things whispering madness in the darkness, the meazel that stalked them and took one of their own, and many others. They have encountered a mad old man named Mother, who resides in the fortress with his myconid slaves Asashi and Channi, but have only found a single ally in the trilobite knight Klack. At present the group is attempting to find a safe place to use as a base of operations from which to explore the massive network of caves around them, hoping that one day the bright light of the sun will help drive away the nightmares they encounter daily in the deep below.
|Map by Gus L|
*which will eventually be published as a Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement and I CAN'T WAIT!