Dungeons in Drau-Mura

Exploring a dungeon is, of course, a staple scenario of Dungeons & Dragons, and the project of writing about Drau-Mura should attempt to make room for it. Quite often, some in-game context is needed to explain that very activity: just why this dungeon is here, and what its mortal or monstrous residents have to do with it, and what possible gain exists to skulking around in it. Moreover, the conventions of Dungeons & Dragons often make certain assumptions about the convention dungeon: that there is indeed treasure or loot within it, that it is in a state of abandonment or ruin, and that has some religious, magical, or supernatural associations. A story about a dungeon usually has to answer the following questions:

  • Use: For what purpose was the dungeon created? Is it the same as its present purpose, if any? Or, is it simply of natural origin?
  • Habitation and management: Who or what lives in a dungeon? How do its inhabitants prevent unwanted intrusion? Will harming its inhabitants invite repercussions? Does someone outside the dungeon manage it?
  • Reward: What is there to be gained from exploring and ransacking the dungeon? What factors have stopped previous adventurers from taking its riches?

There are, of course, any number of temples, monasteries, stepwells, castles, cellars, mines, and natural cave systems that, inhabited or abandoned, might serve as “ordinary” sites of conflict. Battles might occur here, but so might heists, or the search for a fugitive or criminal, or the attempt to spy one one’s enemies. Ordinary and extraordinary people may well live here, and when these places are abandoned, the poor, greedy, and opportunistic often show few qualms about looting them.

However, other sorts of dungeons warrant further treatment due to politics, mysticism, and the terrors of the earth.

Underworlds

Snarls of catacombs wind beneath Drau-Mura’s cities, and many of the region’s older towns. They are usually as old as the settlements above them, meaning that they can easily be centuries old. Imagine: generations of material, gilt and rotting, accumulating in a dank, lightless dead end. Catacombs are also places of interment, and thus each city’s catacombs is also called its underworld. Underworlds were once — and to an extent still are — sacred sites for the practice of ancestor worship, once more common in Drau-Mura than it is now. Living supplicants would venture into the catacombs to make offerings to the dead, or to pray to be advised by them, or compel their services through necromancy.

The early followers of Ashoum, the monotheistic religion in Drau-Mura, evicted ancestor worship from the catacombs, and repurposed them pragmatically. (The Old Faith was somewhat indifferent to these traditions.) Forced to conceal their faith, they would both use the catacombs as tombs, safehouses, and chapels, and expanded much of these underworlds. It is also thought that many early Ashoumites voluntarily entered undeath to continue to serve their brethren after mortality. Early Ashoum also clashed with other religions — not the least with demonic cults — that practiced clandestinely, such that a set of catacombs can be seen as a mishmashed statement of several contradictory faiths. As Ashoum entered mainstream society, many catacombs were repaired and “tamed,” changed from shadowy hiding places to ordinary, well-lit libraries, storehouses, and tombs.

Today, catacombs are considered places of both fear and respect. For some Ashoumites, they are the resting places of venerable martyrs of their faith — and a limited portion of catacombs are easily open to any pilgrim wishing to pay homage to this or that dead saint. For others, Ashoumite or not, they are simply a record of a past irrelevant to the present. Some mortals continue their practices of ancestor worship, attempting to visit the underworld and bring tribute to the dead.

That the undead inhabit the urban catacombs is a common knowledge (or assumption), though few actually know just how many undead lie beneath a city, and just what (if anything) they are up to. To be sure, mindless skeletons, ravenous ghouls, giant centipedes, and ghostly spirits are some of the more mundane monsters that might inhabit the underworld. The intelligent undead of the underworld are often mad and obsessive in their mentality, subject to bizarre quirks and compulsions, usually of a religious stripe. (Frequently, the intrusion of the living fills them with a great sense of revulsion and religious offense. It is also believed that they can be repelled with uttering a single verse from Ashoumite scripture.) They are not the only threat in the underworld: In most catacombs grow strange, unhealthy varieties of mold and disease, such that to venture for more than a day in them is to risk illness and delirium. Catacombs are also dungeons built by many people over many years, so a map of the underworld may be seriously outdated or misinformed.

Local authorities do not smile upon random gangs of looters and would-be monster-slayers entering the underworld at will. Entrances to catacombs are sealed if not well guarded, so one must pay a steep fee (or bribe) to be allowed access. (Even so, more than one band of thieves has been thwarted by entrapment.) Such authorities also show no initiative in destroying the undead monsters of the underworld. This is in great part thanks to a persistent belief that to aggress and destroy the undead invites random misfortune. It is also thought that the ruling elites visit the underworld for their own mysterious purposes, or at least intend to keep this option open to them.

Perhaps more than any sort of dungeon in Drau-Mura, the catacombs are said to house untold riches, lore, and magical relics. If even a tenth of the tales were true, the underworld would be awash in jewels and elixirs. However, given the combination of restricted access to catacombs and their extensive history and, the likelihood of discovering something valuable is relatively high. Rarely, a new entrance to the underworld is discovered or created, since cities are always under some manner of reconstruction; more often, certain entrances are not known to the city’s authorities, and are instead kept secret by whatever private interest — perhaps a temple or family — guards them. Of course it becomes easier to enter the underworld during moments of upheaval and crisis, when a city’s rulers are focused on (say) a siege or riot. A sudden transition of political power may also mean that a city’s rulers are, at least for some time, inept at protecting its hidden underworld.

Rules note: The association between the powers of death and the catacombs are strong, bolstering the unquiet spirits who dwell in them. In some parts of the underworld, undead enjoy a bonus to their saving throws from +2 to +5, possibly among other benefits.

Dolaria

Across Drau-Mura are numerous dolaria (singular: dolarium), most of which are centuries-old, decrepit, half-razed places. They’re crumbling and shrouded in ivy. Many fear even to gaze upon them. A dolarium means something like, “place of painful offering,” and has largely unpleasant connotations to the peasants and workers of Drau-Mura. A dolarium is not quite a temple, not quite a laboratory, and not quite a fortification, but combines elements of both mysticism and lordly power. Dolaria were places where mortals worked magic over the course of months and years. To fully understand the construction of dolaria, one must know about how early magical rituals, called thysiai (singular: thysia), were practiced. Broadly speaking, there were two sorts of thysiai: those which involved raising light, and those which involved offering blood.

The core idea behind the former type of thysiai was simple: One had to sustain a large fire at a great height, for several months. The core idea behind the latter was also simple: One had to spill vast quantities of blood into a subterranean chamber, over the course of several months. Thus, to direct a thysia meant to build a dolarium, which would be a tower or underground place. (Of course, not every tower or dungeon in Drau-Mura is a dolarium. Some dolaria have turned out simply to be ordinary tombs.)

Thysiai were a set of magical practices, but were very different from normal magical spells as described in the Player’s Handbook. Anyone — not merely a magician — could succeed at thysiai; they simply needed enough resources, patience, and precision. In practice, only the wealthy and powerful were able to succeed at this, and even then they faced opposition from peasants and their rivals alike. Although many people would labor to accomplish a thysia, the magic would benefit one or a few individuals. The beliefs behind thysiai were both spiritual and pragmatic: One would make an offering of light or blood to some otherworldly force — the gods, or ancestral spirits, or an archfey, or the like — and would be rewarded with power. A great deal was at stake here: If the offering was pleasing, the directors of a thysia would be granted magic powers, or immortality, or the servitude of supernatural beings, or something similarly fantastic. If the offering was inadequate, they would be somehow punished by nature or God: perhaps no longer being able to succeed at a thysia, or being struck with divine sickness. Specific ideas about thysiai — how to correctly direct a thysia, and what benefits are reaped — are sprawling, incomplete, and contradictory. In all likelihood, no one successful thysia has ever been replicated, though not for lack of trying.

Thysiai are probably as old as the humans of Drau-Mura, who are believed to have initiated this kind of magic. Sages surmise that early rites were primitive, crude, and unsuccessful. (Drau-Mura’s historical record has always been spotty at best.) Over time, thysiai became increasingly elaborate, and perhaps increasingly successful: It was no longer enough simply to (say) light a bonfire atop a tower for a month; one had to begin and end during the full moon, atop a tower of exactly 200 feet in height, at the site of a specific battlefield, and so forth. (The sages and magicians who gained knowledge of thysia variously claimed to gain this knowledge through reason and magical theory, but also through inspiration and revelation, often through the Mountains of Morpheus.) Directors of thysiai would build them at some distance from settlements: Sometimes the ritual necessitated isolation, but thysiai also came to be seen as an enlightened, mystical undertaking, best kept away from the eyes of common peasants. And of course, dolaria would be physically fortified; some became miniature castles unto themselves.

The director of a thysia could be someone with great temporal power, but was more likely someone close to her: for instance, the spouse or daughter of a feudal warlord. Priests and magicians (e.g. clerics, druids, sorcerers) were often present to advise the director, but one usually did not need a deep mastery of magic to effect a thysia. Dolaria often became something of a status symbol among lords and kings as well: Most of them probably failed to do anything magical, but they made statements about how much wealth they could afford to sacrifice, and sent their enemies into bouts of paranoid distraction. It was considered a sign of destined success when a dolarium took on supernatural properties over the course of a thysia: The murmuing of invisible spirits, the sudden growth of ivy in the winter, unpleasant dreams had by its guards. Most of these quirks continue to “haunt” their dolaria.

The heyday of thysiai was probably just on the cusp of the Crying War, 177 years ago. Everything changed with Kasha, the Sword-Queen, heroine-warrior of the Azna people. When her forces moved across Drau-Mura with the speed of wild horses, she personally saw to the razing of at least 50 dolaria, and executed anyone believed to have directed a thysia. The following decade saw further attempts at thysiai, but they were frequently crushed by peasants’ revolts, assassins dispatched by the Sword-Queen, and organizations affiliated with Ashoum and the Old Faith alike. This is not surprising, as dolaria and thysiai tended to be controversial throughout their history, seen by the masses as attempts by the powerful to acquire more power (or to summon some infernal beast). Overall, the rituals of raising light had a more benevolent appearance, and were frequently described as attempts to attract the favor of angels and fey spirits; the rituals of offering blood were often associated with demons and the dark god Upan.

Today, thysiai have dwindled in knowledge and practice. Drau-Mura’s rulers tend to see them as hallmarks of a past era of pointless ambition, where a great deal of effort was expended merely to summon a few imps. (Some thysiai that ostensibly failed to succeed perhaps did, and their effect was simply subtle.) Many speculate, however, that much knowledge of the most powerful thysiai has been preserved — and someone of great ambition could accomplish them once again.

In the present imaginary, dolaria are filthy, abandoned, haunted dungeons with a “creepy vibe,” though some have been built only within the last century. They vary in size and location: Some are vast and elaborate, others are crude. Some are located within a town or city (perhaps sharing space with an underworld), others are located deep in the wilderness. Their presence invites several possibilities. People might protect them for the purposes of accomplishing a thysia some day … or to prevent others from accomplishing one. Dolaria might also be repurposed as watchtowers, hideouts, and homes by inhabitants who know nothing of their original purpose. Some supernatural creatures seem to instinctively gather in dolaria, and learned mortals speculated that they are attracted to residual magic generated by past thysiai.

Rumor and gossip about dolaria abound, so it is easy enough to locate most of them. Their relative accessibility and infamy, however, means that most have been thoroughly looted over the decades and centuries. Rumors speak that some concealed secret rooms — illusory walls, a hidden staircase — but a dolarium tends to invite superstition and tall tales. That said, some dolaria are quite difficult to access — in some distant forest, or in the Mountains of Morpheus. (One dolarium is located on a remote island, and water elementals crash any boat that strays near.) It is possible that they still house ancient treasures and lore.

Rules note: Some, possibly most, dolaria are enchanted in some way, which is basically a result of residual magic lingering in it. No two dolaria are alike in this respect, but a common effect is that a dolarium interferes or amplifies mortal magic. As a rule of thumb, the Dungeon Master may choose two types of magic (e.g. “abjuration spells,” or “spells that heal”). One type is amplified, and effect or duration is increased by 25 percent, or some equivalent. One type is muted, and an Arcana or Religion check (DC 15 to 20) is needed to successfully cast the spell; otherwise, the spell slot is lost.

Some dolaria glow intensely with magic when scrutinized with the detect magic spell. This is a good sign that they have some magical environmental quirk. It also means that this aura can prevent other magical items from being recognized as magic with the detect magic spell: a sort of “needle in a haystack” effect.

Here is an example of a dolarium and a thysia, fairly typical as far as “typical” can be used to describe them:

Lord Karseth’s Watchtower: Some 200 years ago, a Lord Karseth of the Azna kingdom of Strigis began to take up the work that his father and grandfather sought to complete: He would accomplish a thysia, this one called the Opening of the Light that Reveals, which apparently involved the raising of light for one year and one day, near the sea, and at least 20 miles from any village, and at least 50 feet away from any tame beast. Lord Karseth earnestly believed that if this light could be offered, along with much expensive wine and oils, fey spirits would answer the thysia, and invest his family with powerful magic.

Lord Karseth made little effort to disguise his work. He immediately sought the support of his Ashoumite churches, who nervously agreed to his project so long as no Ashoumite in good standing would be harmed because of it. Next, Lord Karseth sought a suitable place near the coast where he could have a dolarium built: in this case, a tower of limestone and cherrywood, standing approximately 66 feet high. Per the requirements of the thysia, such a tower had to be sufficiently isolated from a settlement, causing Lord Karseth to raze his several of his own villages and drive away their inhabitants, who were of the Old Faith. One of them, a charismatic and respected farmer, rallied a mob to destroy the strange, half-built tower, but this mob was routed by Lord Karseth’s men-at-arms backed by Ashoumite clerics. When the dolarium was completed on a January, its hot flames could be seen from over 40 miles away by night, and after July, its flames would sometimes flicker shades of turquoise and sea green. The dolarium was of course protected with a palisade and housed several houses for Lord Karseth’s retainers and servants. A stone wall was later built, as were a barracks, a chapel, a space for a forge, and a stable a considerable distance away from the tower.

It is said that over the course of the thysia, Lord Karseth’s behavior grew increasingly erratic. He became prone to fits of mania and depression, and began to speak ill of Asha, the Ashoumite deity. He also refused to entrust his advisors with maintaining the dolarium, preferring instead to personally supervise it. He also began to throw increasingly expensive offerings into the thysia-fire: not only wine and oils as was usual for the fire’s weekly “diet,” but also wooden flutes and bolts of silk and wool. One day, his young daughter vanished from his household, and while Lord Karseth organized a search for her, his seneschal once remarked that the lord seemed quite satisfied by her absence. After her disappearance, Lord Karseth began to be slavishly attended by a number of mephits, which are bizarre imps, which inhabited the dolarium. He claimed that their presence was a sign of the thysia’s impending success.

The next year, in a frigid January morning, after tracts of lumber in the area had been cleared to light the tower’s great fire, Lord Karseth declared the thysia complete, and awaited his reward as he stood atop his dolarium, eyes cast heavenward. At first, there was no sign of divine or supernatural intervention, and the lord began to audibly fret. By eventide, however, the fire began to flare unnaturally, burning rich shades of turquoise without smoking. Lord Karseth and his advisors fled a safe distance away that they might not be destroyed, and having believed that the thysia had failed to please the fey spirits whom he had propitiated, the lord began to wail like a woman and beat the earth.

Lord Karseth spent the next several weeks in a most unpredictable and foul mood, and had half of his pet mephits killed. A chance discussion with his hired magician, however, caused him to realize that something was amiss. Eventually, he came to realize that no magical illusion could deceive his senses, and that no mortal could utter a falsehood so long as he gazed upon her. By spring, Lord Karseth was in high spirits, having considered the thysia to be satisfactorily completed. He also claimed, in later years, that he had received the blessings of the angels of Asha, and would therefore live to be 100 years of age and be protected from physical harm. He spent much of his time in the dolarium, to the consternation of his sons, who managed his mundane political affairs. His coffers began to empty, not only due to money spent on the thysia and on a construction of a castle around the dolarium, but to soldiers who clamored for better pay, for they had to fight against unruly mobs of the Old Faith.

Some 15 years after that night when the dolarium burned turquoise fire, Lord Karseth died of natural causes at the age of 68, to the relief of his subjects. His eldest son and successor ordered the dolarium abandoned, and halted construction of the castle around it, and had all of his family’s written knowledge of thysiai translated into some foreign language, and then burned the original tomes.

Temples of the Forgotten Ones

It is a controversial but evidenced theory that some bizarre race inhabited Drau-Mura, and perhaps the rest of the world, when the mortal races were young and barbaric. They are but a passing thought today, but their subterranean temples remain. It is believed that they kept some mortals as slaves, or perhaps sacrifices, but no one knows just what these alien forerunners looked like; for now, one will have to gaze upon a statue of which only a clawed foot remains, or an enormous shield depicting a man with the head of an insect, and wonder. These entities are called the forgotten ones, or the orvahii (singular: orvahius), and there is no proof that they still walk the earth.

Their temples, often carved into cliffslides and mountains, can be vast, complex, and dangerous. The orvahii clearly had a masterful command of architecture and sorcery, and traversing an orvahii can be dizzying and un-proportional to the human form: One might encounter “hallways” merely a foot wide, massive staircases with each step four feet high, and vertical shafts without stairs (perhaps testifying to some ability to levitate or fly). Some temples of the forgotten ones are larger on the inside than they are on the outside. Many of them remain attended by nigh-invincible guardians, from lumbering golems to semi-sentient poisonous clouds.

Some of the most remarkable treasures of Drau-Mura, magical or not, were plundered from these temples. (Again, these items suggest an inhuman make: a silver gauntlet with seven fingers, or an amulet that completely protects the wearer from sunlight.) The better-known temples have been scoured by mortals over centuries, in the mostly vain hope that one more secret wall or eldritch tome might be discovered among the ruins. Such hope is not entirely foolish: The orvahii were apparently masters of conjuring magical illusions to conceal their temples. One might stumble upon a previously unknown temple by blind luck, or a major earthquake might expose its entrance. Few things excite a band of treasure-thieves more than the rumor of the sudden appearance of a forgotten temple.

It seems that most forgotten temples lie in the wilderness. Some noblemen, however, have taken to claiming one as part of their own territory, and grant or deny travelers permission to enter them as they see fit. Most lords have forbidden anyone to enter their forgotten temple, citing reasons of public safety, for their deadliness can be subtle: Unnatural disease befalls some adventurers in these temples, and is then spread to villages and towns. At other times, those who leave a forgotten temple seem possessed of a certain madness or change in personality, speaking of fallen glories that shall one day rise again. (That said, many forgotten temples lie in the Mountains of Morpheus, which are well known to incite madness and folly through magical dreams.) A few temples seem to have a curious relationship with time: Some visitors have left a temple astounded to find that a season or two has passed. Perhaps most disturbing is the phenomenon of mortals — often led by masons, artists, and philosophers — voluntarily gathering at these temples for reasons they cannot explain themselves. Sometimes they convene in search of magical relics. Sometimes they take to inhabiting the temples, making violent raids for supplies and captives. (Some suggest that these temples are pre-human dolaria, with a horrid demon awaiting the trickle of ritually spilled blood.)

And so, mortal authorities often strive to detain and interrogate adventurers believed to have visited a temple of the forgotten ones. It is understandably difficult to do this well, especially when the temple is remote. Thus exist a few well-funded orders of clerics, paladins, barbarian warriors, and other heroes who pledge themselves to sealing up all temples that they might find, and slaying anyone “contaminated” by the forgotten ones.

Troll-mines

Dwarvish society has long known that to dig too deeply into the earth is to uncover the horrors of earth: strange monsters of unnatural form and visage. This knowledge has more recently trickled into the human realms of Drau-Mura. Some theologians suppose that these creatures were sealed away eons ago by the gods or now-forgotten mythic heroes. Sages who favor a more naturalistic philosophy suggest that these creatures simply hibernate within the earth; in this state, they are literally petrified, but when disturbed they become flesh and gorge themselves upon mortal and animal bodies. (Yet others suggest that it is the very act of mining that disturbs the earth itself, and the earth spits its revenge in the form of monsters.) In any case, a troll-mine is any mine (or subterranean place) that has had the misfortune to unearth such a beast.

Such beasts are most often trolls in the conventional sense of the word: the misshapen giants of potent regenerative ability. (Troll in dwarvish also means “to unearth.”) Their association with the earth appears obvious, for when they are slain, they re-transmogrify into their natural state of stone, soil, and slime. (Many endeavor to somehow preserve a living piece of troll, by which potent healing elixirs can be made.) Trolls are not the only sort to emerge from mines. Other such monsters are called: umber hulks, giant intelligent beetles who can visit hysteria upon their victims with but a glance; gricks, serpent- and squid-like creatures that can spit poison and camouflage themselves among stone; and troglins (dwarvish for “little troll”), which are beings that are by all appearance human or dwarf. All of these monsters are called, in vernacular, trolls, and it is widely assumed that when slain they too will crumble back into an inert form.

Trolls — in the latter sense of the word — go on violent, hungry rampages, and fiercely defend their territory. Obviously, they pose a threat to both mortal life and economy. Soldiers, mercenaries, adventurers or bandits are sometimes hired to eliminate such monsters, and are paid in a share of the mine’s gains. Since the owners of a mine have the bottom line in mind — or else they wouldn’t consider the removal of trolls in the first place — they sometimes get the idea to have multiple parties make bids for the right to slay trolls: After all, the wealth in that mine isn’t going anywhere. However, a lord or baron who allows a troll-mine to “fester” by itself may regret the consequences. Some trolls simply eat, reproduce, and return to a state of petrified hibernation. Other trolls begin to themselves mine, possibly with the goal of awakening their lost brethren.

Often, a troll-mine passes between being mined and being infested by trolls, soaking up the blood of ambitious adventurers and hapless workers. Over the centuries, many of them have simply become exhausted of ore, and now simply house a slowly growing nest of monsters; their only treasure might be the belongings of their prey. For some adventurers, however, the wealth in a troll-mine is not silver or gold, but the flesh and blood of these monsters, applied to bizarre alchemical experiments.

Bear-caves

It is well known that Drau-Mura is home to numerous caves, adorned with crude, ancient paintings that depict beasts. Such paintings are believed to be associated with the druidic religion in its primitive infancy. It is less well known that these paintings have mystical effects, and seem to vanish from a single cave en masse, only to appear in another one (with or without paintings of its own) years or decades later. Such “bear-caves” and their paintings are called dvarja, though these paintings may depict all other variety of animals, and possibly monsters. Such paintings are presumably supernatural, as they likely move across the walls they inhabit — but only when no person gazes upon them.

Dvarja were — and often are — considered sacred, especially by druids and similar nature-worshipers. Adherents of the Old Faith who have visited them and gazed upon the images claim to have experienced a feeling of oneness with nature, a holy loss of ego and fear, and even a sudden learning of magic spells or acquisition of ki. Being holy sites, these bear-caves were guarded jealously by druidic covens, and accounts suggests that druidic magic was bolstered in these places, with the faithful being nigh invulnerable within them, or restored from death to life when fed water from their pools. A bear-cave’s druids sought to keep away the eyes of uninitiated, but as it turns out, there was little need to prevent thieves or followers of other faiths from defacement: When its paintings would be touched by mortal hands, they would glow intensely, not unlike foxfire, and their light would poison and sear the interlopers to death. The paintings could also mesmerize mortals, subjecting them to hallucinatory flights. When a more formidable band of faithless mortals would visit the dvarja, a “pack” of paintings would manifest as spectral wolves, bears, bats, and snakes to slay it. Yet when two rival cults of druids vied in combat for a bear-cave, the paintings would stand still as if judging their worth.

Bear-caves also house lichens, mushrooms, and bat feces thought to have magical properties, or at least peculiar medicinal ones. The caves themselves also appear to be shielded from divination, preventing discovery by magical means. Sects of druids still vie for dvarja, and a few cunning lords have used knowledge of a local dvarja to pit two such sects against each other. Other lords, and many priests of non-druidic religions, fear and despise dvarja, and seek to conceal their existence from would-be archdruids seeking power and wisdom, or seal up the cave entirely. Sometimes, this is far easier than expected.

This is because the cave paintings are thought to “migrate” from one cave to another, perhaps even with two sets of paintings merging into one. It is thought that when a dvarja’s paintings begin to move more frequently, it is a sign of their restlessness, and intend to leave for somewhere else in Drau-Mura. More than once has a coven of druids simply been found dead in an empty dvarja, with no witnesses to account for how the paintings vanished. Attempts to “follow” dvarja are obviously very difficult and dangerous; even if one could somehow track them, Drau-Mura is no friend to casual travelers. Dvarja also seem fond of “migrating” to the Mountains of Morpheus.

Bear-caves are usually located in the wilderness, apart from civilized eyes — so quite pleasantly, raiding them often involves little political interference. (Some pious Old Faith lords are committed to protecting the local druids, and may offer aid should they catch wind of bandits and adventurers discussing a “visit” to the local dvarja.) They are often targeted by thieves, religious enemies, and rival druids; secrecy is considered the best means of safeguarding them. That said, only some understand the nature of a dvarja, and it can take years for a circle of druids to elect to take up permanent residence within one. Adventurers might thus hope to quest for the visions (and magical mushrooms) found among its cave-paintings — before a coven of territorial druids claims it, or before it vanishes to elsewhere. Stories also speak of mystics somehow persuading or forcing a beast-painting to “migrate” onto a stone, or a shield, or an person’s skin, thereby enchanting it.

Rules note: Druidic and similar magic enjoys considerable benefits within a bear-cave. Specifying the advantages is outside the scope of this article, but a good starting point is that druids may cast spells and use wild shape as if they were two to four levels higher than their actual level, in the presence of a dvarja, after meditating within it for about one week. Commensurate benefits can also apply to barbarians on the Path of the Totem Warrior, clerics with the Nature or Tempest domains, and Beast Master rangers.

The World Below

The World Below, or the Underdark, is not really a type of dungeon, but a vast subterranean realm, perhaps as large as Drau-Mura itself. Accounts of the World Below are uncommon, scattered, and contradictory, and anyway few intelligible visitors arrive from it. Legends describe caverns as vast as kingdoms where dwell forests of giant toadstools, staggering veins of gold and mithril, and cities of ghosts, unspeaking automata, and insane troglodyte dwarves. (Dwarvish society knows quite little about the Underdark, its ancestors having long ago sealed most of the passages connecting it and dwarvish under-cities.)

It is possible that a dungeon — most likely a natural cave system — leads to the World Below, but the journey from the surface world to the Underdark proper would likely take days of careful spelunking, often with little guarantee that one will be able to climb their way back up home. The few expeditions that have returned from the World Below also claim to speak of encountering absurd, nigh-impossible landscapes: featureless deserts of smooth stone instead of sand, seas of some slick translucent oil, labyrinths of basalt and flame. Yet others speak of accessing the Underdark by entering cavern pools that are actually magical portals. All this leads some sages (and madmen) to conjecture that the existence of the World Below is as much metaphysical as physical, not restrained by the properties of nature. Perhaps it is the literal place of afterlife. A few pagan cults, worshiping Hecate or Upan, regard the journey to the World Below as a sort of one-way spiritual pilgrimage, where if a mortal passes through the trials of the World Below she will be rewarded with its dark, immortal splendors.

The World Below is regarded as an unholy place, where the corpses of mortals immediately spawn malevolent spirits. A popular proverb describes it, as well as dolaria and dvarja, as “places that the soul cannot leave.” Between the Underdark’s hauntedness, its environmental dangers, and the lack of established knowledge about it, one must be highly motivated to adventure into the Underdark — but at least no one appears intent on stopping such adventurers, since they are usually regarded as good as dead.

Rules note: When one has descended into the World Below, a subtle but unmistakable chill upon the soul will be felt. This is a sign that should a mortal die in the Underdark, she cannot be returned to life with magic — not ever. The sole exception is the revivify spell, and even in this case it must be cast within one round after death, in order to take effect.

Dungeons in Drau-Mura

The Mountains of Morpheus Dssong Dssong