Sunday, January 12, 2014

Whence the Underworld

Underground City of Derinkuyu (source)

In order to prepare for a campaign, page 5 of Men & Magic provides the following advice:
First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his “underworld”, people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level.
Establishing an “underworld” is essential in early D&D ; indeed, the first word is 'Dungeons'.  The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures booklet explains how to create an underworld, but in-game rationale for these 'dungeons' is limited to mention of a “huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses.”

Without a rationale, 'dungeons' are merely the backdrop for free-wheeling – if not gonzo – scenarios.  I cannot resist quoting Peterson on this matter:
...a funhouse-like underworld of wealthy monsters – a hole in the ground that exists for no discernible reason other than for adventurers to extract gold from it, filled with improbable creatures and situations...
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but such a thing is not well suited for a detailed, 'serious' setting like Tékumel.  Barker's world does not lack for adventure possibilities, yet there are many underworlds in Tékumel and Empire of the Petal Throne features underworld expeditions.  “It is...desirable,” Barker writes, “to have an Underworld developed upon logical...lines, with large complexes of tombs, temples, or other contents carefully worked out.”  While Barker falls short of adopting a paradigm of 'dungeon as community', he asks the prospective referee to consider the future ramifications of a party's explorations.

Barker explains why the underworlds exist:
Scattered over Tékumel are innumerable half-buried, half-forgotten ruins...there are tunnels of melted rock and steel constructed during the days of man's first glory; there are jumbled heaps destroyed by the cataclysms which rent Tékumel when the planet was cast into outer dimensional darkness; there are catacombs and subterranean labyrinths dating from more recent empires, cities, temples, pyramids, and fortresses dedicated to the lost and unremembered gods of half a hundred kingdoms.
Furthermore, there are underworlds beneath currently populated cities.  Barker explains this is due to the concept of Ditlána:
...the ceremonial “renewing” of many cities every 500 years:  cellars and foundations of an old city are filled in and roofed over, upper floors are razed, and then new and more splendid edifices are built upon this foundation.  Such earlier buried habitations are now full of burrows and tunnels built by humans, half-humans, nonhumans, and the many parasites and predators of Tékumel that subsist upon man's leavings.
Finally, many temples are maintained in the underworld, especially temples to evil gods, “and it is in these that many of the rich treasures of the ancients are preserved.”  (Since they're evil, it's OK to kill them and take their stuff.)

In the 'Developing an Underworld' section, Barker recommends various TSR products:  “These all give the mechanics...and discuss the construction of 'dungeons' in great detail.”  Regardless, he spends a few paragraphs going over the basics – using graph paper, making notations, etc.  Barker then supplies some examples, including “a brief sample of actual play” presented as a dialogue between a referee and the party leader as the party explores the Underworld.

In closing, I list some Underworld features described as “Saturday Night Specials” by Barker.
  • The Revolving Rooms of King Ssirandár I, which whirl around and deposit a party in an unknown and unexpected part of the Underworld.
  • Lelmiyáni, the Singer of Doom, who appears in the form of a little girl playing a flute.  Unless saving throws are made, she will lead a party into...
  • The Garden of Weeping Snows, which contains a variety of people that have been magically paralyzed in moments of extreme agony.  At the far end of the garden is...
  • The Palace of Frost, the habitation of Nyélmu the Wizard.  The good Gods have condemned Nyélmu to remain forever in the palace.  Nyélmu likes his guests to stay for an eon or two.
  • The River of Silence is an underground river that cuts across one of the levels below Jakálla.  On an island in the middle of the river dwells Death Himself.

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