Wednesday 12 October 2016

After eight days underground, Skadi took up cannibalism.

She said he'd been a bad man. She said he'd had it coming. She said the toad-men would be offended if she didn't. But mostly she just wanted to find out what sashimi-sliced human flesh tasted like.

If Hash had been around, he'd probably have egged her on. But Hash had run off somewhere into the darkness, chasing the ambassador of the Science Fungoids and occasionally coughing up lungfulls of blood.

Erin was turning green. Some kind of fungal bloom was spreading itself beneath the surface of his skin.

Circe was starting to scare people with her devotion to her newly-discovered divine patron. She'd begun calling herself 'Warlord High Priestess of the Frog God'. Sometimes she spoke wildly about building an empire in the underworld. She wouldn't take off her mask.

The vampire toads got Nick.

The goblins got Flora.

Soren took a spear-trap to the face.

Eight days since they left the surface. Five days since they fulfilled their notional mission. But the caves kept going, deeper and deeper and deeper. The caves kept going. And so did they.

The underworld awaits.

* * *

So, yeah. Spurning all my suggestions that they could, like, return to the surface and maybe stop living in a fucking cave, my players have insisted on plunging ever-deeper into the underworld. We've gone through a cut-down version of Liberation of the Demon Slayer and on into a cut-down version of Demonspore, with the Shrooms taken out and replaced with the Science Fungoids from 'They Stalk the Underworld'. The PCs appear to have appointed themselves as Tsathogga's mortal champions, and are determined to find his resting place in the deep Underdark. At level 1.

It's all turning out to be rather darker and weirder than I'd initially expected, but I can't say I really mind. The PCs are turning into a kind of band of Underdark conquistadores, taking advantage of the fact that no-one down here knows who they are or how to deal with them, and barrelling through situations on the strength of sheer audacity. Sooner or later - probably sooner - the consequences are going to start catching up with them and they'll need to beat a hasty retreat, but I'm looking forward to seeing how far they manage to get.

Image result for journey to the centre of the earth illustrations Edouard Riou
One of Edouard Riou's rather wonderful illustrations to Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

What I did find interesting - and genuinely unexpected - was the thoroughness with which the PCs have thrown their lot in with the 'monsters'. True to my romantic fantasy principles, I play virtually all the inhabitants of the underworld as being willing to talk and negotiate with strangers; almost nothing attacks on sight, and nobody really wants to end up fighting for their lives unless they don't have any other choice. As a result, the party has built up alliances with factions amongst the local goblins, dark elves, and toad-men; and as they push deeper underground, it's likely to be from these groups that they recruit replacement PCs. The group that finally emerges into the sunlight (if they ever do) may have very weak links with the surface world; and it's entirely possible that the party's 'home base', going forwards, won't be the human town they originally set out from, but the goblin tunnels on dungeon level 1.

People often point out the colonialist / imperialist narratives implicit in D&D: go to strange, exotic, unknown places, meet their strange, exotic, unknown inhabitants, and then kill them all and take their stuff. No-one ever mentions the possibility of the PCs going native instead.

Then again, maybe that's where the monsters come from in the first place. A succession of expeditions launched from the surface, deep into the underworld, in search of vengeance or conquest or knowledge or plunder: some get further than others, but the underworld is limitless, and everyone runs out of steam sooner or later. Lost, exhausted, crazy, stranded miles beneath the earth, warped by their exposure to strange magic and stranger toxins, their survivors regroup in the darkness, telling themselves that when the situation improves, they'll head back to the surface. They forge alliances of necessity with the creatures of the underworld. They trade. They intermarry. They bathe their weary limbs in the waters of lightless oceans. They eat the flesh of weird, blind, burrowing creatures. They forget the sun.

They change. 

They multiply.

And sooner or later, up on the surface, people start talking about mounting an expedition to deal with all these weird monsters lurking beneath the earth...

Image result for journey to the centre of the earth illustrations Edouard Riou


  1. And the cycle continues.

  2. Brilliant. I have used this idea in Gamma World, but never thought to apply it to the underearth.

  3. Been thinking about this post again in the context of other sorts of environments that it could apply to. Most of what I came up with are cliche (other continents, fey lands, alien planets) but one has some nifty potential- astral wanderings. Now I don't mean the official Astral plane from the different D&D consmologies, but the concept developed by Blavastsky and other spiritualists.

    So that would be characters who project themselves into the void, find themselves far from home and settle down who knows where. Their monstrous offspring will be very different from most D&D monsters, possibly some very alien outsiders?

    What do you think?

  4. A few years on, I found a short story that is much like your idea- "Far Below" by Robert Barbour Johnson. I found it in The Weird, a collection of weird fiction from 2012, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.