D&D Ideas — Underworld
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is underworld which we discussed in our exclusive Patreon live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST with Patreon supporters and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recommended preventative measures including social distancing, we’ve made a few changes. For starters, our Monday Patreon live chat will be public. While everyone is home practicing good health safety measures and staying at home we’re inviting more folks to hangout with us during these live chats. Visit us over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel and hit that notification bell so you don’t miss these live chats on Mondays at 8 p.m. eastern, plus our regular three videos each week where we talk about D&D and other RPGs.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Underworld is this week’s topic. As usual the newsletter topic starts as one of our Patreon live chats. This past week we opened it up to everyone to help pass the time during Coronavirus lock downs.
Nerdarchist Ted during the live chat hit me with an epic plot twist. I figured we’d talk about the lower planes or perhaps some other afterlife planes. Instead much of our discussion turned towards crime and criminal activity. So I say, “Why not both?”
Hear me out about the seedy underworld of the underworld. A criminal network of underworld denizens focused on contraband — both slipping it into and out of the underworld. I believe the Nine Hells already has something akin to it.
Underworld of the Underworld
I see this as a multiverse spanning organization that has spread out from the lower planes to the Material Plane and into the upper planes.
A Simple Goal of Profit. They broker and ferry celestial, infernal and Abyssal goods to any who have the coin to pay for it. These specialists have learned to use the Material Plane as the hub for their cosmos spanning wheeling and dealing.
How to use it in your game.
- Characters are hired to retrieve goods for representatives on the Material Plane.
- Characters are charged with infiltrating this organization by their deity or patron to crackdown on it.
- Characters need something from the planes above or below. The only way to get it is to deal with the UotU.
- Characters could join the UotU and become its agents.
From Ted’s Head
The underworld can be a scary place. If you mess with the wrong people you can wind up dead or worse. If you are going to make a new underworld organization for your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game you need it to be different than your standard cutthroat rogues’ guild. Allow me to present the nobles guild or often referred to as the Nobles Club.
I will get into the details in a moment but allow me to digress a moment to let you know the derivation of such a thing. I have taken two concepts from gaming history and combined them together into a new and wonderfully evil organization.
In my Gnar-Kee-Tis game Ryan, formally Nerdarchist Ryan, created an organization called the Silver Hand. The idea was they snuck people in the guild into nobles’ wait staff to be able to rob or case the location for the guild. The problem was the wait staff are usually high on the list of suspects. I needed a new to change that and ask who is least likely be be accused of such a crime? The next part came from when I was helping run our own LARP. A friend created a group in game called the Nobles Club. They would gather, talk in ridiculous accents and do what ever they could to feel superior to the others around them. It was hilarious.
When Dave suggested the topic of the underworld, I pondered what type of organization could I make. I debated using the Silver Hand or the group that tried to one up them — the Golden Hands. I kept slipping up and having an issue with the wait staff high on the suspect list.
Then it came to me. How often would a noble suspect another noble of sinking so low? The nobles gather together. They discuss the affairs and problems they believe the lower class has no way of understanding. As is typical the venue of each gathering changes each time, giving a different member the ability to host the gathering and thus to show off their wealth. There will always be actual nobles at these gatherings but then there will also be false nobles who are attractive and capable liars as part of the guild. They show up to case the place, to cause a distraction for others to get a good look at and to generally socialize.
The guild specializes in blackmail, so long as the blackmail cannot be tracked back to the club gatherings. They prefer thefts to be lower end items. Why steal a prized and easily identifiable item when there are less conspicuous things that are easier to liquidate?
From the Nerditor’s desk
When we settled on the topic of underworld my first thought was the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and I was just as taken aback when Ted began talking about the seedy underbelly of fantasy society in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.
Since he went over that and Dave blended the two concepts together I’m going all in for the mythic fantasy aspect of the underworld. As is so often the case, the best place to start is the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. Right there in chapter 1 I see the designers of the game are fans of Greek mythology too.
“Braving the terrifying guardians of the underworld, a noble warrior ventures into the darkness to retrieve the soul of her lost love.”
I love taking campaigns in bizarre directions like planar travel even for a fresh party of 1st level adventurers, and a trip to the Underworld to rescue a lost soul sounds like a lot more exciting way to start a campaign than clearing giant spiders or routing goblin bandits. And for a one shot? Perfect.
Did you know there’s only one creature in all official 5E D&D content below challenge 11 that has a lair, is not legendary and is not a dragon? A merrenoloth is basically Charon, piloting a ferry through waterways of the underworld. This CR 3 fiend makes a fantastic low level encounter for would be heroes descending into the unknown on a supernatural rescue mission.
In Eberron the underworld is Khyber, and like the Hades of Greek myth it’s connected to the material world. Quite plainly in fact! Everything below the surface of the world is Khyber, part natural realm and part series of strange demiplanes where anything is possible.
One of the things I’m most excited about in the upcoming Mythic Odysseys of Theros book is its version of the underworld. The concepts are already explored in Magic: the Gathering and I can’t wait to create epic heroes to adventure in the subterranean realm beneath the Rivers That Ring The World.
Is the underworld of your world a place characters can travel to easily? Maybe there’s another world even beyond the underworld, like a civilization at the center of the planet like Hollow World. What would it take to get your favorite character to delve into the underworld?