The Underdark is a fictional setting which has appeared in Dungeons & Dragons role-playing campaigns and Dungeons & Dragons-based fiction books, including the Legend of Drizzt series by R. A. Salvatore. It is described as a vast subterranean network of interconnected caverns and tunnels, stretching beneath entire continents and forming a literal underworld for whichever surface setting it is added to.

Use in campaign settings

The Underdark is featured prominently in the campaign settings World of Greyhawk[1] and the Forgotten Realms.[2] The concept of a dungeon that spanned a planet was first introduced by Gary Gygax in his D-series of game modules[3] and at the end of the G-series. The Underdark is described in detail in the 1986 manual Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, by Doug Niles.[4] It is also a part of the Eberron campaign setting, in which it is called Khyber and is home to a host of evil beings driven deep into the caverns at the end of the age of demons.[5]

Much of the literary attention for this deep underworld setting was received in the sourcebooks and accessories for the Forgotten Realms setting.[citation needed] R.A. Salvatore's novels about the fictional character Drizzt Do'Urden originated much of this development. Some other sources of information about the Underdark are more generic; these may not specifically refer to the Forgotten Realms at all.

The Underdark is also the setting for the expansion pack to the computer game Neverwinter Nights called Hordes of the Underdark, which features the port city of Lith My'athar, and the mysterious Seer.[6]


The Underdark is described as "a vast subterranean realm inhabited by drow, mindflayers, aboleth, and other strange, sinister creatures. It is a place where few humans go and from where even fewer return".[4]

The Underdark is described as a strange, alien setting, entirely underground. Bizarre creatures and ancient races populate it, nearly all of whom are of hostile nature. The fictional Underdark's physical characteristics are based heavily upon conditions in real-world caverns deep underground, but there are differences, owing to its existence in a fantasy setting. One notable variance from hard realism is the sheer size of the Underdark in a typical setting. This can be explained easily within the fiction, however, by the existences of rock-eating, burrowing monsters, several of which are detailed in various compendiums of monsters[citation needed].


Within the context of a game, the Underdark is extremely dangerous, especially to characters or other fictional creatures that are not native to it. There are the usual dangers associated with caverns: claustrophobia, occasional poor air circulation, and getting lost. Cave floor and ceiling collapses are also a hazard.

There is no light except for occasional patches of phosphorescent fungus; most Underdark inhabitants either have highly developed senses other than sight or have developed Darkvision.[note 1] Food can be extremely difficult to find, and much of the natural vegetation is poisonous. In addition, potable water is seldom easy to locate in this setting.

In the Forgotten Realms setting, the Underdark is permeated with a magical energy the Drow call faerzress, which is used as a source of energy by the native plant life but which interferes with scrying and teleportation spells.


In the Forgotten Realms setting, Araumycos (Dwarvish, literally meaning "Great Fungus") is a fictional enormous fungal growth that lives in the Upper Underdark of the continent of Faerûn. It is a single organism that exists in the region beneath the High Forest, beginning at a depth of one mile under the surface and ending at a depth of three miles. It is immune to magic and greatly resistant to psionic energy. Araumycos will sometimes attack intruders with poison, spores, and manifestations that resemble oozes and slimes.[2]

Araumycos houses many fungal creatures of all varieties. Travel within Araumycos is difficult, as the fungus regenerates quickly. Many passages and caves are blocked by the fungal growths.[2]


The Underdark is home to many predators and a wide array of races and fantasy monsters. As noted above, most of these are hostile to others. These races include, but are not limited to:

There is no unified underground government, although there are individual city-states, each with varying forms of rule. Thus there are cities ruled by an autocracy, magocracy, matriarchy, monarchy, theocracy, and so forth. The underdark economy primarily deals in armor, exotic goods, magic, slaves, timber and weapons. The ethical code of many indigenous races tends toward evil or indifferent behaviors; good natured sentiments are rare.

In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, R.A. Salvatore created the fictional city Menzoberranzan in the Underdark for The Dark Elf Trilogy.[7] This city is controlled by a fictional race of dark elves (drow).


Source books

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  • Wyatt, James (2007). Lost Caverns of the Underdark. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0786947098. 
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  • Cordell, Bruce R.; Kestrel, Gwendolyn F. M.; Quick, Jeff (2003). Underdark. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-3053-5.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  • Mearls, Michael; Kennan, R. Scott (2004). Underdark Adventure Guide. Goodman Games. ISBN 0972624163.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  • Heinsoo, Rob; Collins, Andy (2010). Underdark. 4th Edition D&D Supplement. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 078695387X. [1]

Game modules

Computer games

Parts of the Baldur's Gate series of computer games features journeys through the underdark, as did Icewind Dale II. An expansion pack based on the Underdark setting was released as part of Neverwinter Nights game series. It was titled Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark. The tilesets which came with the Hordes of the Underdark expansion pack were utilized in several Persistent Worlds, most notably Escape from the Underdark.

See also



  1. Baichtal, John (February 26, 2010). "D&D’s Underdark Describes a Vast and Perilous Realm". Wired. Condé Nast Digital. Retrieved 2010-07-16. 

Further reading

External links

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