D&D 5E Gracklstugh


I just realized I posted in a thread moved to the house rule forum nobody reads, so here's a crosspost, since my post doesn't really belong in that forum anyway:

I have now digested the Grackstugh chapter, and it truly is a mess. Your headaches are understandable.


The first thing to understand is that what the chapter is: a brief outline of this famous Duergar city, and a short adventure (the Whorlstone Tunnels). There are no real adventures in the city proper, if you don't count isolated random encounters.

The main problem is that the module never tells you it offers one (1) solid lead, for the party to find the actual adventure.

That is Drokki the Derro, down by the docks (at the Blade Bazaar, to be exact). You essentially follow him (or capture and scare the :):):):) out of him) to the Tunnels, and the adventure can commence.

Before that, you need questgivers.

The only reasonably fully realized quest is Captain Errde Blackskull's, but as written this requires the tired tropes of "heroes being captured" and "outsiders getting preferential treatment" and "outsiders considered worthless, which is why we shower them with exciting quests and good loot". The good thing is that, unlike every other questgiver in town, Errde actually tells the PCs what they need to know: there's this derro called Drokki, that Errde believes is somehow connected to corruption within the Council of Savants, where they might find him (Blade Bazaar or Westcleft District), why the PCs might succeed where the Stone Guard hasn't, and what's in it for both Errde and the heroes (favor with the King; Errde's gratitude and/or safe passage)

The other quests are variations of this one, since the only real lead is Drokki. The problem is that the info is so scattered it's very hard as the DM to piece together the puzzle for the benefit of the players playing the module.

Errde actually has a second quest, called "search for corruption". But this is not a real quest, as in an adventure with a beginning, middle and end. There are no connected clues. This only makes sense after absorbing the entire chapter: then you realize this is a clumsy way of rewarding the players for rooting out the various bad guys they are about to root out anyway. This should have been worded more like "and by the way, there are rewards for rooting out evil, just so you know - be proactive" rather than an independent quest.

The "random" encounter with the two-headed Stone Giant. It's actually important, and should not be left out, though you won't know it until you've read the Whorlstone Tunnels section completely. It leads to an audience with Stonespeaker Hgraam. He provides nuggets of information for the far future (as in "many chapters of OotA later"), and actually doesn't provide a quest for the PCs. If you don't plan for the heroes to be given a reason to follow Drokki any other way, consider having Hgraam do it.

Then there's the Keepers of the Flame. They might "snatch" captured heroes, taking custody of the prisoners and instead lead them to Themberchaud's Lair. Where Themberchaud himself plays the same trick on the Keepers, taking the heroes for himself :)

The quest here is Drokki. You see, he's running errand for both bad-guy groups. So this is essentially the same adventure. You should probably not give out both this and Errde's quest, since that's lame.

Then there's the corrupted guard, Gorglak. Problems: when you read about him, the adventure fails completely to tell you he plays a part in the Grey Ghosts' operation. Also, chances are high the adventurers have never met him before when they complete the Whorlstone Tunnels, since he's stationed far away from the Darklake Docks. I suggest you simply make Gorglak the first patrol officer the PCs fall foul of, so the introduction is made.

Then there's Werz Saltbaron. I honestly don't know what his deal is. This chapter offers several pointers to Blingdenstone, and Werz provides one. But what the connection between Werz and Gorglak is, I can't say.

And there's "Ylsa's Deal". When I read this section I flayed about helplessly: where's the quest? What should the PCs do? And what is the solution? No answers are to be had - unless you catch a sentence at the very end of the Whorlstone Tunnels section, where a special coin is mentioned (with no reference back to Ylsa, naturally). Apparently the author once thought Ylsa could too be the heroes questgiver, providing information about reaching the surface in exchange for information on how "the derro gets access to surface coins". Problem is, the party needs to just follow any derro, and happen to choose Drokki. Also, as far as I can understand, the cultists get the surface coins "because magic", so this really never leads anywhere. And this would be fine, if the text actually said so anywhere.

Thank you for your Encounter Map. It is a real shame this chapter provides zero organisation. It must have been written by a mad Derro.

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Gracklestugh is indeed written by a mad derro. I think the best way to go is to allow for multiple avenues into the same find the Derro quest. ( It would be even better if there was a clear sense that he was spreading demon corruption as he went. Two-headed Demogorgon worship is heretical to the devil worshipping duergar. In my campaign, the heroes have seen a lot of two headed art around the Derro ghetto.)
The Captain, Dragon, priest, or even the Salt Barron can send the heroes after Drokki. He has become noticed as a wild card in town (the Gray Ghosts cant totally control him) so he needs to be dealt with.
One thing to play up is that the Undercity of the Derro is super volatile, so the regular emissaries of the Duergar or even the dragon cannot enter the ghetto without sparking a minor civil war.
Its super frustrating. I have only gotten to these ideas after DMing a couple sessions and stumbling through it.
There is also the question of why? Should the players get distracted by this sidequest? One is that they have been arrested. I have told them that they will not be easily allowed to escape without doing a favor for the duergar, but if they do then they will be given supplies. I had the Salt Baron give them a map as well.

here's a link to a blog I found that has write ups of Gracklestugh sessions.


Just read of a good dwarven interrogation technique: Acid applied to a beard so that it will never grow back...


I should probably have said "compiled and organized by a mad Derro".

The adventure itself is inventive and quite all right. Once you reach the Whorlstone section, the "how to get involved" headache is over and the fun can begin :)


There is also the question of why? Should the players get distracted by this sidequest? One is that they have been arrested. I have told them that they will not be easily allowed to escape without doing a favor for the duergar, but if they do then they will be given supplies.
Well, this is D&D after all - you generally need no reason for the party to investigate... the allure of fighting bad guys is usually enough, and its own reward!

Of course, should your players be steeped in the mindset of... pretty much every other rpg... where it's realistic and prudent to want to avoid trouble, then I guess you need a reason...

...but to be honest, most D&D adventures only provide the weakest excuse for being allowed to go down the dungeon to slay monsters, gain loot and "xp up"!

In D&D, the safest course is often to seek out trouble. Otherwise you won't be of high enough level when the trouble reaches you ;)

Guess all I'm saying is: I knew my group wouldn't need to be "forced" into taking the assignment. They dutifully listened to my description of the city, but really only perked up when the quest materialized, and waved away any concerns, eager to finally get down to it. So I really didn't need more set-up than "there's this derro, follow him, deal with whatever happens as you see fit, GO"


Its more like, "Why stick around here instead of continuing to search the underdark for exits. I've resisted the urge to say, "So you find lootz and powerups!" :)
I drew up a player map for them. It might help them make further decisions past Gracklestugh. Or it might just confuse them.

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I crit!
At this point it might help to let them know that other drow are hunting them and know they are here. If they leave they'll have to face a bunch of them. It's a "safe" place because the Duergar won't let the Drow run amuck. That should be a good in story reason to stay.

The Duergar hate the Drow almost as much as the Derro hate everyone.
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Dragon Lord
I modified Gracklstugh in a fairly cliché manner. The party was attacked by the two-headed stone giant which was related to a mad two-headed stone giant they fought on their way to Gracklstugh. This signaled that there were serious problems in Gracklstugh.

I had Xalith put in a claim on behalf Ilvara for her property. I read Menzoberranzan and Gracklstugh have a trade agreement. I figure this included respecting property rights when it came to slaves and prisoners. Errde rounded up the PCs. He and Gartokkar decided to send the PCs after Droki, since they had word he was part of the problem. They agreed to free the PCs if they take care of the Droki problem including killing an Derro Savants involved with the operation. The duergar want to use the PCs so they don't cause a derro uprising if any of the Derro Savants are killed. They want order restored in the city.

It wasn't particularly creative. It fit with the story elements provided. It's keeping the characters pushing forward in the adventure.


I'm introducing a new character when the PCs arrive at Gracklestugh (secretly, by boat).

I'm considering having the new PC (halfling barbarian) having been a former slave co-erced by Captain Errde to track down Droki...but proving unable to do so. Willing to trade assisting the party in the city for their assistance in capturing Droki.


First Post
This thread helps a lot. My players are definitely not the type to go explore and help just for the XP. They have their own missions and plan to stick to it unless given a reason otherwise.

I was planning on luring them into the quest lines with promises of assistance avoiding or distracting the drow or promises of escaping the underdark (which may or may not be true).

I'm also planning on changing the culture of gracklstugh to one where a person's status is determined by how many other people they can inconvenience. So the highest ranking people will have tons of servants whose sole job is to order the servants below them to do the job they were ordered to do - and so on.

So the lowest-mid ranking individuals may be more prone to help the PCs with promises of helping them escape this nightmare of a city or even going up ranks themselves through political intrigue. Higher ranking individuals may "help" the PCs by thinking they're actually causing the PCs more trouble for their own gain.

And of course, there's the slave trade here.

Also, I'm having the Dueggar be completey honest - brutally so. And part of their "honesty" is convincing themselves that they're better than the person they are talking to by belittling them.

As I mentioned, my players are more likely to follow their own endevours rather than hep random evil bastards like most of the underdark. One of the PCs is in the underdark because he's investigating missing people from his homeland, and evidence suggests they've been taken as spaces to the underdark. He's the only PC that didn't start this campaign as a slave, because the player joined the campaign after the other PCs already escaped. So this player may very likely ignore any quest line that doesn't involve saving slaves. So I'm definitely tying in the rescue of slaves from the surface into the quests in Gracklstugh.

Well, my group made it to Gracklstugh this past session. It went well, but it's definitely a very tricky extra-sandbox-y section of the module.

I love the idea of the duergar as brutally honest. It fits well with their toil and work ethic.

I added a couple of things to the area - the Darklake Brewery had trouble with spoiled batches of their stout (courtesy of a vengeful specter), plus the chase with Droki went through a factory, complete with mechanized workers and conveyor belts.

I just through a bunch of hooks out there for them to interact with and let the PCs' action shape the adventure.

One thing I did find is that Grackle-lung is pretty vicious, especially for the spellcasters. The PCs immediately went looking for a cure for it. It was a small group this session, so I let them find something the reduces the symptoms.


My new player is playing a Halfling Barbarian (emotional artist-wanderer, it's quite a cool trope actually. :D)

She is starting as a tavern slave-employee in the Foreigners' Tavern. Captured a year ago, she tried to escape and was only saved from execution because the tavern owner found her useful. Her bonus language is Undercommon, so she acts as a translator in the tavern.

The Stone Guard captain has offered the halfling her freedom if she can capture Droki. But she has failed twice already, thus will trade the party assistance in the city, and a friendly contact in Blingdenstone in exchange for help capturing Droki, and escort to Blingdenstone.

I'm hoping it will work really well.

To convey the atmosphere of Gracklstugh, I'm describing it as being like the old East Germany. Cold personalities, everyone is very functional and all business (except the ones that aren't!).

The Stasi are everywhere, and most folks are fearful. everyone is always looking over their shoulders. Foreigners are viewed with suspicion, and mostly need to keep to their own areas.

My new player is a generation younger than me, so this comparator resonates less well with her! :(

I've told her to watch The Lives of Others before the session if she can.


For the smog, I'm referencing the problems that Beijing is currently having.


For the Derro areas, I'm not sure it quite works, but I'm thinking civil war Liberia. Terrible state of affairs, horrible crimes, complete madness and cruelty.

I'm most familiar with Operation Barras, the SAS hostage rescue raid on the West Side Boys, and the video intro gives some good image and atmospherics about the people, culture, clothing etc.



My plan for the city was to have the guard initially attempt to arrest them, probably after they deal with the two-headed giant, intending to ship them back to the drow, but have the Keepers of the Flame show up and insist the party hear their offer instead, whereupon the dragon can make a counteroffer. In either case, the reward would not only be freedom, but safe passage out of the city where the drow aren't watching. If they refuse, I wouldn't have them actually arrested, but neither would they get any help.


My players caught on to the thieves guild connection from the alchemy lab in the whorlstone tunnels, and seemed much more interested in pursuing the rest of the Grey Ghosts organisation than finishing the Whorlstone "dungeon".

Of course, there is no adventure material to support this. I could have created a brand new adventure from scratch, but didn't want to shift away the focus from the material in the book.

What I did was to prepare an alternative adventure vignette (instead of the second half of Whorlstone) that had the Grim Herald of Laduguer ask them to infiltrate the Council of Savants palace for signs of demonic corruption.

(Since they accidentally let slip to the dragon that the Gray Ghosts were rumored to have the Red Dragon egg, I had Themberchaud torch their hideout, neatly bypassing that stage of the "investigation", so I could go directly to the Council of Savants)

With them they had Hemeth the Duergar, which I made into a psionic agent of Deep Duerra, to explain how they could bypass the magical wards of the palace.

Once inside the heavily Star Wars inspired palace*, they fought Uskvil and the sisters Zubriska and Aliinka of the council and their summoned demons. Hemeth revealed himself to be a rabid anti-derro fanatic, and his plan was that once the council was attacked, the derro slums would rebel, finally giving the Duergar the excuse they needed to assault the slums and return the derro to slave status. (All of course induced by demonic madness, though the adventurers have only caught onto half of it yet)

*) opulent luxury with drug-addled councilmen and servants everywhere (including a cantina-like band) contrasting with freaky insane derro mutants and "derro fetal savants" (google it!) made for a good Jabba's Palace vibe

The heroes succeeded in their mission but was rewarded with exile. Now the Gracklestugh path to the surface is closed to them (which was my plan all along, since they ought to experience at least one of the Neverlight Grove or Blingdenstone chapters before managing their escape)

Oh yeah, me too. Things get weird with Sloobludop, than vaguely normal with Gracklstugh, and then go completely bizarre and alien in Neverlight Grove.

So in my latest installment, the group did a bit of a bone-headed thing, and totally forgot the terms of their deal with Themberchaud to report to him directly, instead spilling it all to Gartokkar. Themberchaud was not happy at all. So they’re heading back into the Whorlstone Tunnels to try to regain his favor.

Neverlight Grove is disgusting. I can't wait to describe that sickening place.


I realized (somewhat belatedly) that Medium-sized PCs shouldn't be able to follow Droki in Whorlstone at all after he eats Pygmywort.

Droki shrinks from Small to Tiny, which must be required for him to be able to squeeze through the various cracks, else he wouldn't bother. A Medium-sized PC will only shrink to Small.

So Medium-sized PCs must use other means to track him. Halfling and Gnome PCs can (nominally) chase him the whole way.


I realized (somewhat belatedly) that Medium-sized PCs shouldn't be able to follow Droki in Whorlstone at all after he eats Pygmywort.

Droki shrinks from Small to Tiny, which must be required for him to be able to squeeze through the various cracks, else he wouldn't bother. A Medium-sized PC will only shrink to Small.

So Medium-sized PCs must use other means to track him. Halfling and Gnome PCs can (nominally) chase him the whole way.
The adventure is quite clear on this.

Not that medium PC can't follow, but that they too must eat Pygmywort in order to be able to follow Droki.

There are plenty of the fungus scattered all around the Whorlstone Tunnels.

As to why Droki eats the stuff when he would be able to squeeze through anyway - perhaps he doesn't want to wrinkle his poncy hat?

Don't conclude the tunnels are impassable to small creatures; that's directly counter to the adventure "idea" here.

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