Dwarves, Mines and the Underdark / Darklands.

This all started out with the thought that “Mining should be more interesting!”, but as I started to work through that I realized that I needed to understand Dwarves better, and then that I had to have a better idea of what lay below the surface of the game world.   However, don’t worry too much – no one from any of my games are going to the Underdark, this is more to do with refining the campaign rules for when I use them again.  It won’t affect the current rules.

“Surface Society”

I am going to start with an overview of my version of “Surface Society”, or at least the part of the world that adventures come from in my games.  Surface Society, and it cultures, is primarily Human, although halflings and half-humans (half-elves, half-orcs) are an integral part of it.  Dwarves, Elves and (to a lesser extent) Gnomes have cultures of their own, that while they are compatible with human society, are separate and different.  Elves have their own countries, cities and towns, most of which are reasonable Xenophobic –  they don’t kill intruders, but they aren’t welcomed, and are ushered away as quickly as possible.  Gnome society is chaotic – you never quite know where you are going to find them, or what they will be doing – apart from experimenting obsessively with Alchemy or some other craft.  Dwarves sit on the border between the surface world and everything that goes on below –  they aren’t, quite, part of either world.

Dwarf Strongholds.

Dwarves are the civilized world’s gatekeepers to the world below the surface.  Their strongholds are normally built around mines, but they also connect to a network of underground tunnels and caves that lead deeper underground.  These are often a source of trade with other underground races –  many of whom have metals and gems to sell.  While they avoid many of the underground races, they trade with many others, creating a series of trade routes that bring underground trade goods to the surface world.

These underground trade routes are dangerous, sparsely populated and not well travelled, they wind and twist along (mainly) natural caverns, that can be home to all sorts of hazards.  Other humanoid races send hunting parties out to monitor the routes, so merchants either have to be strong or stealthy to travel them –  so many of the ‘merchant caravans’ are small and only carry a few trade goods with them.  Whatever they trade, has to be valuable, or the risk is too high. A single bottle of whiskey can be worth many hundreds of gold pieces when you are two miles underground! 

Races such as Pech and, Svirfneblin live deep underground and trade the most valuable goods, such as diamonds and mithral.  Mongrelmen and Kobolds are closer to the surface, and are less sophisticated in their mining and smelting techniques, so they likely bring lower value gemstones, or perhaps nuggets of  pure gold (or silver)  with them.


I had got used to the concept of ‘The Underdark’ and documented a basic ecology (just enough to inform play) but never really developed an interest in it.  I have adventured there once, in 40 years of playing, and never run a game there.  Pathfinder’s ‘Darklands’ concept, of a three layer Darklands, has more appeal for me, as it  allows me to create a more precisely defined sections  of Nar-Voth that fit below my various dwarven strongholds – and they can be a size that suits me, rather than the ubiquitous, and (for me) relatively boring  expanse of the Underdark.

That said, I like some elements of the Underdark, so my version will incorporate various things that I have worked with previously – although they will be modified. I also use resources from AD&D1 and AD&D2 as I built things.

This Link covers some of the work that I have done on the ‘Below Surface ‘world previously. I suspect that I will keep a lot of it, as I don’t like to discard stuff that works 🙂 Oh, and I love Nubbe Paste – and watching dwarves wind up the surface colleagues with it.