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The Ruins of Undermountain - your experiences?

Mark Hope

Adventurer
Third thread of a series on the younger classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure modules. It is interesting to see how everyone's experiences compared and differed.

The Ruins of Undermountain
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Synopsis: A masssive dungeon beneath the city of Waterdeep, Undermountain is "the deepest dungeon of them all". In addition to crypts and catacombs, Undermountain also features the city of Skullport, a wild and lawless place on the banks of a subterranean river.

Did you Play or DM this adventure (or both, as some did) or any of its sequels? What were your experiences? Did you complete it? What were the highlights for your group?

(With thanks and a tip of the hat to Quasqueton for his ground-breaking series of classic adventure discussions.)
 
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Gilladian

Adventurer
I ran bits and pieces of this one, and added tons of my own content. Eventually after I quit playing in the realms I gave it away. I wish I hadn't, just to be able to look at it again now.

It was an okay adventure. There were some fun parts of it, but overall it wasn't especially good. I liked the idea of skullport, but not the implementation of it. I remember doing major redesign work on it.

One of the best things I remember from the upper levels was a silly gold coin that was either glued to the floor or melted through the floor or something similar. My PCs spent hours poring over it and trying to figure out what was going on.
 

Psion

Adventurer
My favorite megadungeon, with the caveat that I also used ROUII and Skullport.

The whole "Halaster was a nutty mage" explanation for the magical nature of the dungeon never sat well with me. When I yoinked it out of the FR for use in my home campaign, I altered the backstory. The magical wards, portals, and preponderance of creatures were due to the fact that the Undermountain was originally a holding pen for dangerous evil creatures created by a society of powerful mages. After their civilization was brought low, some of their wards started to fade, but a lone mage (my halaster equivalent) found his way into the "control room" of UM and dallied with the wards. However, as the wards faded, drow and other underdark creatures made it in from nearby underdark tunnels.

I find it baffling that some people hated that there were undeveloped sections. To me, the UM wouldn't have been half as useful to me if it hadn't been that way. I dropped in my own encounters and adventures that ran through the undermountain, and took advantage of some of the cool encounters in surrounding areas that were written up.

Most of these "it's so undeveloped" rants ignore that the undermountain book is huge. Not being able to direct players to encounter areas you find interesting... especially in a dungeon full of teleports... is on the DM AFAIAC.

There were some great, flavorful encounter areas. One of my favorites is a room with a ghostly woman holding a staff surrounded by animated suits of armor. You go for the staff, the armor moves to strike. (This encounter becomes really nasty in 3e, since these creatures got powered up pretty nastily.)

I hated the whole "Test of Tyr" thing in Undermountain II, but loved the ancient drow fighting school and willowwood as well as some of the cool NPCs, like the archmage in permanent form of a boy.

Overall, I got a lot of mileage out of the two boxed sets.

Did you complete it?

How does one "complete" Undermountain? Stardock sort of gives you some closure, but that's as good as it gets.

Really, the "undone" thing I never got to try was to run the slavers stockade on the 3rd level. That seemed like it would have been a hoot.
 
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Ambrus

First Post
The original boxed set had beautiful poster-sized maps and lots of flavour to it, but in the end it amounted to little more than a big box of air. IIRC the text on the back of the box boasted "over 2000 rooms to explore!" Unfortunately, upon reading through the suspiciously thin booklet inside, one discovered that roughly 1850 of those rooms were completely undetailed, with no contents, monsters or treasure. The backstory and metaplot of the dungeon was likewise paper thin.

Essentially the box set was a fill-in-your-own dungeon with ready made maps and little else trying to pass itself off as a ready-to-run adventure. I bought it expecting something akin to the World's Largest Dungeon™ and ended up with some very expensive graph-paper instead. :\

Edit: I did end up running my players through it once, but it was fairly boring with only a handful of rooms having anything noteworthy in them. It amounted to little more than having the characters running around lost in a massive empty maze.
 
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Crothian

First Post
It was fun. There is a room in there that has a lot of treausre in it assuming I'm thinking of the right place. There were like a thousand gems worth quite a bit and a very big emerald. I remeber that because my character got out with all of it and retired. Of course I left the rest of the party to do so. Ah, good times!! :D
 

Rhun

First Post
I had a great time using Undermountain. Ran an entire campaign set in Waterdeep, and my players would make sorties into the dungeon on a fairly regular basis. I've even continued to use it in 3rd edition D&D. As I think I mentioned in another thread, more of my players' PCs have been killed in Undermountain than probably any other "module" that I've ran.
 

Rhun

First Post
Crothian said:
There were like a thousand gems worth quite a bit and a very big emerald.


That emerald was worth 300,000 gold. I remember it well. It was funny, because I went by what it said about the gem. Something like "The PCs will quickly discover that although very few people can afford to purchase the gem, many people can afford to hire thieves and thugs to steal the gem."
 


an_idol_mind

Explorer
I got a copy at a yard sale, but never ended up running more than the initial kidnapping scenario (which served as the intro for a different dungeon/prison). Personally, while I wasn't particularly taken with the boxed set, I did like the later modules set in Undermountain: The Lost Level, Maddgoth's Castle, and Stardock were quite good.
 


Crothian

First Post
Rhun said:
That emerald was worth 300,000 gold. I remember it well. It was funny, because I went by what it said about the gem. Something like "The PCs will quickly discover that although very few people can afford to purchase the gem, many people can afford to hire thieves and thugs to steal the gem."

My DM didn't do that. But I never had to sell the big one, as I had thousands of the smaller gems for day to day expenses. :D
 

evildmguy

Explorer
I never ran completely through this but have used it recently. I ended up taking a different tact to it.

I photocopied the maps at about 10% to have the maps on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper. Then, I went through and made an "ecology" of the various levels. I put the known monster groups in those areas, gave them enough rooms to have private rooms, chief's room, etc. Then, I explored the relationship that each area had with its neighbor. For example, the top left of level 1 is orcs. The top right of level one is goblins. I created some tribes to have a little intra group conflict (or said that a few tribes were gated in) and then figured out what the orcs and goblins do together, where they have conflict and what they are doing in general, besides trying to survive.

It was a lot of work, but now that it is done, I can leave it as is until a group fully explores an area. Then, I change around a few groups, remove a group or two and add a group or two and the next time they go in, the players know of some groups but the characters don't.

I liked that the map was open with no description, myself. I liked that the rooms looked like something, a temple or barracks or arena, as that helped define who was there and what they did. I had my own fight club near Skullport, with many of the factions of UM being present in some way or another, treating this as neutral ground.

A bit back on topic, then. Did I "run" UM? A long time ago, I did run it as a dungeon, with the characters coming in from the Yawning Portal, but it got old fast for me and the group. Plus, they didn't want to leave the site of the "entrance" and be trapped, which was probably wise! Recently, I ran it but the players had a direct way to get to Skullport and go venture from there. They did go to the slaver's area north of Skullport and a few other areas but most of it was Skullport. They were close to the drow area of the Promenade and had a few random encounters but otherwise didn't explore much. The focus was on Skullport.

I think the best use for Faerun's largest graveyard is more as a backdrop to a quest. The group has to retrieve something or someone from UM and they have to negotiate with the "locals" to get there. I don't see how any group of less than 14th level could otherwise survive for long in UM!

I hope this helped!

Have a good one! Take care!

edg
 
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Arnwyn

First Post
To this day, our group still makes forays into Undermountain. I use it as a location that the PCs go into for a particular goal, and then can leave and re-enter in the future.

Past missions include a PC cleric of Eilistraee hearing news that the Temple (Level 3) was being attacked, and wanted to help her sisters defend it. On their way there, they ran across a few encounters, including an illithid slaver in talks with it's human contact. This was their first ever meeting with a mind flayer, and it scared the bejeezus out of them - one player lit all the smokepowder on himself and blew himself (and the flayer) to bits...

Another mission included going to Skullport to assassinate a Ghaunadan slaver - and while doing so, causing a riot and freeing slaves on the island and around the docks. Lots of indescriminate fireballs during that free-for-all.

I was disappointed in the (lack of) information given - a 128 page book isn't enough when you make a dungeon that size. Getting the additional books for it (notably Skullport) helps, though. (I know Psion's feelings/rantings on the matter - but he continues to be wrong. ;))
 

I had a lot of fun running the expeditions to Undermountain for my Waterdeep campaign back in 2e. With its ominous reputation, PCs were always on their toes and knew when to call it quits for the day. They only made it a little bit into the third level.

It was tough, but there plenty of cool rewards for those clever, bold, and strong.
 

Ghendar

First Post
Psion said:
I find it baffling that some people hated that there were undeveloped sections. To me, the UM wouldn't have been half as useful to me if it hadn't been that way. I dropped in my own encounters and adventures that ran through the undermountain, and took advantage of some of the cool encounters in surrounding areas that were written up.

I agree for the most part. I just wish a bit more of it had been fleshed out while still leaving room for individual DMs to do their thing.
 

I haven't played or run it, though I picked it up to use in my last campaign and never really got the chance. I'm with Psion on the whole Halaster business, but I like the size, modularity, and options it offered. I've always thought of the city of Skullport as a genius concept. I'm looking forward to seeing what the 3E revisit comes up with ... though I doubt it will be as open-ended as the original.

Now, the CRPG versions ...

I'd hoped that Hordes of the Underdark for NWN would have provided me with more UNdermountain fun, but I honestly couldn't get into that particular CRPG adaptation. I never made it off of the 1st level. I think it may have been the high-level play -- it would have been better starting at lower levels.

Now, I don't know if the dungeon in Eye of the Beholder was Undermountain (though it was under Waterdeep) - -that one I did play all the way through, and had much fun.
 


CryHavoc

First Post
Ambrus said:
The original boxed set had beautiful poster-sized maps and lots of flavour to it, but in the end it amounted to little more than a big box of air. IIRC the text on the back of the box boasted "over 2000 rooms to explore!" Unfortunately, upon reading through the suspiciously thin booklet inside, one discovered that roughly 1850 of those rooms were completely undetailed, with no contents, monsters or treasure. The backstory and metaplot of the dungeon was likewise paper thin.

Essentially the box set was a fill-in-your-own dungeon with ready made maps and little else trying to pass itself off as a ready-to-run adventure. I bought it expecting something akin to the World's Largest Dungeon™ and ended up with some very expensive graph-paper instead. :\

Edit: I did end up running my players through it once, but it was fairly boring with only a handful of rooms having anything noteworthy in them. It amounted to little more than having the characters running around lost in a massive empty maze.

Here here! I'm going to feel a little dirty in saying this, but I had more fun running Greyhawk Ruins than Undermountian...

...and let the first stone be cast...
 

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