Friday, 10 February 2023

Thoughts on D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth


“Wherever he saw a hole he always wanted
to know the depth of it.
To him this was important.”
― Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth
The expedition against the marauding giants is complete.
The final confrontation with the giant, King Snurre, and the entry of mighty adventurers into the caverns under his stronghold […] discovered that Dark Elves, the Drow, had instigated the giant alliance and its warfare upon mankind and its allied races. Numbers of these evil elves fell before the onslaught of the party of adventurers, but many of the important Drow fled away to the northwest - the escape route a seemingly natural passage a full 30’ wide extending endlessly under the earth. Investigation of this area (cloaked by a steaming river of lava) revealed that the passage ran due northwest, slowly descending ever deeper into the bowels of the earth. [D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth – 2]

It’s an epic introduction to the Underdark – or Underoerth, in our case – although it would remain unnamed, as such, until the Forgotten Realms came along. That’s not entirely true; what was to come was hinted at already at the climax of G3 Hall of the Fire King.
A constant watch is kept on the east entry to the cavern, and if intruders come, the Dark Elvenfolk will know of it. If threatened by powerful characters, the Drow will flee to safety back down the passage from whence they came here, […] the one to the north-northwest [.] [G123 Against the Giants – 29]
Prior to these passages there was no realm beneath the surface. There were caves and caverns, and dank passages and dungeons, but nothing so deep as to constitute a realm apart from what we were accustomed to. I suppose there may have been a number of enterprising Dungeon Masters out there who had envisioned such a world and created it; but this adventure was our deepest and darkest in print, to date.
Must our heroes pursue these dastardly Drow who have stirred up the giants? There is no obligation, per say; not yet, anyway.
Surely here in the stronghold of the fire giants will be encountered the evil genius—or genii—controlling the uprising and planning the well-executed attacks, for Snurre is said to be far stronger than smart. [G123 – 16]
But it would be presumed that the lords who set our heroes against the giants are sure to demand that they pursue this new threat to its source.
Pursuit of these creatures is necessary, for unless their location and strength are known, the Drow can continue to strike where and whenever they like without fear of counterattack or reprisal. [D1 – 2]
There you have it?
But where might the heroes find these black-hearted Drow?
Fortunately, the party discovered a map of the maze of tunnels under the earth – hundreds of miles of passages, areas shaded and marked with cryptic symbols, and what is most probably the course of an underground river! [D1 – 2]
[T]he party will find an adamantite tube when they search [the meeting place and council chamber for Eclavdra and her minions], a scroll, and a map accidentally (?) dropped by one of the fleeing noble Drow. […] The map is a continuation of the Drow escape route, showing a vast maze of passages on a large scale. There are three cryptic areas on it, which could indicate the whereabouts of vast subterranean cities or other strange places which are far deeper than any dungeon known. [G123 – 29]
That’s handy. The subterranean world must be vast, indeed, if the Drow require a map to aid their navigating their own demesnes.
Will the heroes pursue Eclavdra directly? They might. But it should be readily apparent to their sensibilities that this would be a very bad idea after even the shortest of pursuit.
Elven Aid
But such an expedition will certainly require the utmost thought and care in planning and preparation. How many persons should comprise the expedition? how will they be supplied and equipped? and what of drinking water? Perhaps certain of the elvenfolk will help, for the Drow besmirch and stain their race, and such aid – whether in magical items, personnel, or both – might well prove the difference between success and failure, life and death.
[D1 – 2]
[T]here must be some “elven aid” available. […] [H]ow much the “elves” will volunteer [?] [D1 – 2]
One expects that they would wish to participate in this expedition against their dark brethren.
One might wonder, though, about the wisdom of elvish participation. It’s not as though the Drow will look upon any surface elves with benevolence.
Dark Brethren
Ages past, when the elvenfolk were but new to the face of the earth, their number was tom by discord, and those of better disposition drove from them those of the elves who were selfish and cruel. However, constant warfare between the two divisions of elvenkind continued, with the goodly ones ever victorious, until those of dark nature were forced to withdraw from the lands under the skies and seek safety in the realm of the underworld. Here, in lightless caverns and endless warrens of twisting passages and caves hung with icicles of stone, the Dark Elvenfolk, the Drow, found both refuge and comfort. Over the centuries they grew strong once again and schooled themselves in arcane arts. And if they were strong enough to face and defeat their former brethren in battle, the Drow no longer desired to walk upon the green lands under the sun and stars. They no longer desired a life in the upper world, being content with the gloomy fairyland beneath the earth that they had made their own. Yet they neither forgive nor forget, and above all else they bear enmity for all of their distant kin-elves and faeries-who drove them down and now dwell in the meadows and dells of the bright world. Though they are seldom if ever seen by any human or demi-human, the Drow still persist, and occasionally they enter lower dungeon levels and consort with other creatures in order to work out their schemes and inflict revenge upon those who inhabit the world above.
[G3 Hall of the Fire Mountain King – 15]
In fact, the above passage would indicate that the Drow would be specifically hostile to any surface elves they might encounter.

However much they might is neither here nor there here, at present; what ought to be addressed is that this portal into the deep dark is the one and only one the heroes are aware of; and this necessitates that Snurre’s caverns needs to be properly secured, if they haven’t been already.
Whether the heroes plunge into the subterranean world presently or after much preparation, they will soon discover that the presumably solid ground beneath spine of the Crystalmists less dense than imagined.
The passageway from the caverns beneath the Hall of King Snurre Iron Belly runs to the northwest, rough and twisting, from 12’ to 16’ width for some 300’. Then it suddenly widens to 30’ and more in places, obviously hewn, and goes almost perfectly northwest, slowly sinking in gentle slopes and by natural terraces. [D1 – 2]
[T]here are faults, spurs, splits, rubble, small cave areas, sink holes, crevasses, columns, stalactites, and stalagmites. Most areas are damp and dripping. There are occasional pools, rivulets, even streams. [D1 – 2]

Luckily, the true pitch-black nature of the underearth realm is not an issue.
Fortunately, the darkness is not total, for there are sometimes patches of phosphorescent lichens to light the way with a faint glow - almost like faerie fire. There are also swarms of fire beetles now and again, and their glowing abdomens shed sufficient light to see clearly. [D1 – 2]
If this were not so, this expedition would have been impossible, given the number of torches would be required for the time required to chase the Drow back to whence they came. The impossibility of Darkvision was not possible then (and should not be now, either, given that there is in actuality no light to gather for any sight at all where the sun don’t shine – which might be while true denizens of the real-world-underdark have neither pigmentation nor eyes), and infravision would be of no help at all.
Infravision, the ability to see radiation in the infra-red spectrum, is an ability possessed by most of the creatures dwelling below ground and nocturnal animals. [PHB 1e – 102]
Thus heat radiation becomes visible and differences in temperature allow infrared sight. Warm things are bright, cool things grey, very cold things are black. [PHB 1e – 102]
Rock would invariably have the same temperature, however it might grade and tier; as might the water that flows from it or upon it. This would make it rather difficult for even dwarves to see much further than their corneas.

What follows is less an adventure than a sourcebook – the original underdark gazetteer, if you will. We are treated with descriptions of sight and sound, with an abundance of hints on how to run a game under the oerth: movement rates, likelihood of slipping and plunging down sinkholes and pits and the damage one might incur, and whatever else that might aid in running a campaign below the surface, within what might be crammed into 12 pages of text, that is – which is more than you might imagine might be. More importantly, there are extremely detailed encounter tables within. The Jermlaine are introduced here. But you won’t find the Drow detailed; that was done in G3 (G123), and I’ll directed you to that adventure module, and the Fiend Folio, or whatever edition Monster Manual you might have at your disposal for enlightenment in their regard, if you need assistance there. The exception to this is what sort of Drow patrols and merchant caravans will be encountered. One will also find encounter tables for Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Passages that might be traversed – it stands to reason that there would be different monsters encountered in less trafficked tunnels than in those that are frequently trod.
How will you know which is which? They are noted as such on the Main Map. Each is described, albeit minimally:
Ceiling height in the primary tunnels ranges from 20’ to 50’, the average being about 35’. In the secondary passages the roof overhead varies from 15’ to 40’ above the floor, with 25’ being usual. In the narrow tertiary tunnels the ceiling is from 8’ to 25’ high, with an average of 15’ or so. Where enlargements occur, the roof will be near maximum height. In large caves or caverns, the ceiling height will be 10’ to 20’ above normal maximum.
[D1 – 3]
There are three detail maps included, to aid in that regard. And three caverns (I, II, and III). No others, aside from the Large Scale Area Map, that is. They’re enough to inspire the imagination, which ought to be enough, I suppose; but if you are not an imaginative map maker, you are going to have a difficult time with this “adventure.”
D1 is really only three true encounter areas, if truth be told, with however many random encounters that happen to pop up. But it can be so much more, depending on where the party might venture. You may wish to prepare a possibility or two, just in case, if they are inclined to stray off the beaten path; but if they keep to the Primary “straight and narrow” this could feel like and play out like a tournament module. They, in four short hours, with encounter one Drow checkpoint (Hex D3), and one Illithid/Wererat lair (M12), and another much larger cavern (Q18, Q19). The first need not result in combat.
This is a Drow checkpoint with two separate patrol groups, males to the left, females to the right. The males will have 2 pickets out on duty to observe the passage in both directions. Despite rivalry each will co-operate fully with the other in an intelligent attack and defense pattern. The two groups are detailed below.
[D1 – 6]
In fact, this encounter is a perfect opportunity for the party to realise that the Drow, however evil, are not necessarily hostile; in fact, this is an opportunity for the party to realise that there are factions of Drow; and that the Drow are a nation, and that they (the party) could never hope to hack and slash their way through what is to come if they have any hope of succeeding in their mission. Indeed, Vlondril, an evil High Priestess of Lolth, might not be hostile to the PCs, at all, knowing what played out above concerning Eclavdra’s retreat. This is not to say that the Drow will be friendly, either. I suppose that will depend on the PCs.
Despite rivalry each will co-operate fully with the other in an intelligent attack and defense pattern. [D1 – 6]
If the commanders are slain and the bodies carefully searched, the following small brooches will be discovered: on the male magic-user, a small brass wand (inscribed in Drow runes, ALEVAL); on the female curate a small blue-black mace inscribed DESPANA; on the person of Vlondril (hidden in her hair) is a golden spider pin with engraved runes which say in Drowic, LOLTH, DEATH QUEEN MOTHER. [D1 – 7]
Keen notetakers will note that Vlondril’s deity is not Eclavdra’s (the Elder Elemental God), and that those two clerics might not be on the same page, dogmatically speaking. This lore drop might come in handy down the subterranean road. In fact, it may be crucial to success and survival!
The second encounter will be as instructive, and potentially far more fortuitous to the eventual success of their mission.
The stronger lllithid is near the cave pool with a bound Drow merchant captive. The mind flayer is questioning the Dark Elf about the current alliances, power groups, and feuds between the Drow clans and noble houses. If the lllithid gets any chance, he will kill the Drow so no tales can be carried by him. [D1 – 7]
Rescuing the Drow merchant might be the best stroke of luck the party has while plunging ever deeper into the undiscovered unknown. He is a font of intel, a possible ally, and a potential passport into the Drow world. Indeed, defeating the Illithids and rescuing the Drow merchant might be considered crucial to their success:
Hex M12 is a secret advanced post for lllithid (mind flayer) expansion in the area – a place the Drow are aware of, and if the expedition kills the mind flayers and prove their deed to any Drow they happen to meet, it is 90% probable that the Dark Elves will be friendly with the party despite any past conflicts, and if the adventurers express an interest, give them a black medallion – the pass which will enable them to go through Drow areas without undue questioning or molestation!
[D1 – 3]
That’s all well and good, but there might be, ought to be, questions about why this party of adventurers are delving into their realm. It’s obvious that they are not slaves, and it’s not like they’re merchants, unless they are decked out to be. Verisimilitude demands an explanation, however feeble.
The Grand Finale of this short three-act play if the largest, and probably the most difficult and sensitive to navigate: THE CAVERNS AND WARRENS OF THE TROGLODYTES. It’s enormous. And a little overpopulated, to my mind. And lacking plausible ecological sense. There is no narrative given as to why such an abundance of disparate beings might be so situated; to say nothing of how such low-level beings as troglodytes and bugbears could hope to survive where they are, except in service of the Drow, that is.
Drow are located here to oversee any activities in the cavern as a whole, as well as to aid merchants or scout for invaders. [D1 – 8]
The presence of others is plainly inexplicable. A purple worm, for instance, and a lich.
Maybe the most noteworthy is [t]he lich Asberdies, [who] has cast 600 magic mouth spells in various portions of his lair-walls, floor, ceiling, and on stalactites and stalagmites too. Therefore, magic detection will show virtually everyplace in the cave as radiating magic. The hollow where he lies is lined with silks and velvet cloths, but no treasure. [D1 – 9]
Why is he there? His presence might make more sense if he were master of the lair, and not the Drow, in however capacity they might possibly be, if they are passing through it as frequently as they must be. It would make more sense if he were in transit and not in residence, and possibly there to negotiate with said Drow for his own gain, seeing that Asberdies was given further lease on life in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. We must surmise, then, that his presence in this cavern must be temporary, however many Magic Mouths he might scattered about.
In the century following the migrations, the humble folk who settled these lands were conquered and subjugated by a powerful Suel mage who mercilessly swept through their realm from the east. Lord Asberdies, as the tyrannical wizard was known, had emerged from the Dreadwood after the terrible destruction of his noble house, the infamous Malhel, some years earlier. Asberdies ruled the land and its people with cold blooded ruthlessness in a vain attempt to resurrect a vestige of the glory of the Suel Imperium. The tyrant was eventually cast down after years of dominion, during which his outrages ultimately grew unbearable. The yeoman farmers bandied together into small cadres of around a dozen fighters to overcome the forces of the mage in piecemeal fashion through relentless guerrilla strikes upon his forces. Asberdies was soon harried from his throne and realm by the insurgents, who successfully besieged his stronghold. [LGG – 135]
It is safe to assume that he must be there to seek out the Drow insofar as he might use them to regain his lost realm. But my opinion is neither here nor there. Do what you will with what’s there, as you will.

There’s grist for the mill here, in this “adventure”; a great deal of it, really, so much in fact, that you are only limited by the breadth of your imagination. This module is an opportunity for role playing, more so than most, I imagine. It’s possible that this could be the players’ introduction to the underdark, as we know it, to Illithids and wererats and the vast number of beings that reside in its glittering dark passages and caverns. It was then. And it still could be, now (maybe not so likely now, give their level – 10th, presumably – how play has evolved over the years and decades following its publication, how much supplementary materials is out there, and how DMs and players today might prefer high-fantasy, high-combat play). If it is their first foray into the vast depths, it’s a soft landing: Truly lethal encounters are few and far between, and there is enough opportunity for exposition within as to make what will surely come navigable.
Does this module stand alone? No. It has no purpose except in its intent to usher the heroes of the G-series down an ever deeper rabbit hole. To where? One must have purchased the D-series as a whole to discover that, but it could only lead to a web of evil intent and intrigue.

“What darkness to you is light to me”
― Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.

The Art:
D1 cover art, by David C. Sutherland III, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
Main Map, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
Tunnels and Caves map, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
Drow, by David C. Sutherland III, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
Illithid, by David C. Sutherland III, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
Giant Lizard, by David C. Sutherland III, from D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, 1978

9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2009 Monster Manual 1e, 1977, 1978
2011 Players handbook 1e, 1978
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9018 G3 Hall of the Fire Mountain King, 1978
9019 D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, 1978
9058 G123 Against the Giants, 1978, 1981

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