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The Ruins of Undermountain (2e)

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BRAVE THE RUINS

UNDERMOUNTAIN awaits you: the fabled and feared battleground of the Realms - "The Deepest Dungeon of them all"

DARE YOU FACE?miles upon miles of deadly traps, glittering treasures, strange and cryptic rooms, and slithering, skulking, lurking monsters? They await you underneath Waterdeep!

UNDERMOUNTAIN is a dungeon setting for AD&D 2nd Edition campaign play: the oldest, largest, and deadliest dungeon-crawl in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It is the place where intrepid adventurers endeavor to become veterans, to win a place among the rich and famous - if they survive its depths. Enter an endless maze where waiting death bears a thousand faces and treasures lie hidden in a thousand places.

It's just the setting for long running, memorable, great AD&D game play, the perfect locale you'll never forget. So please, come in. Mind your step among the skulls. Oh, yes - good luck - you'll be needing it.

The Ruins of Undermountain campaign set includes:

A 128-page book describing Undermountain, its history, its horrors, and details of the first three levels of the dungeon;

a 32-page adventure book for use exclusively with Undermountain and Waterdeep;

Four full-color maps of the vast and dangerous dungeon and;

Eight new monsters.

Product History

The Ruins of Undermountain (1991), by Ed Greenwood, is a boxed megadungeon for the Forgotten Realms. It was published in February 1991.

Origins (I): The Megadungeons. The shadows of Castle Blackmoor, Castle Greyhawk, and Castle El Raja Key hang long over the origins of the D&D game. These megadungeons were vast, labyrinthine structures that could be the focus of years of adventures. But when TSR actually began publishing adventure modules, these megadungeons were nowhere to be seen.

Over the years, Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, and Rob Kuntz all left TSR, and the chance of seeing their primordial dungeons quickly receded. TSR's first megadungeon, WGR1: "Greyhawk Ruins" (1990), finally appeared a decade and a half after the advent of D&D but it wasn't directly based on Gygax's original delve.

Then along came the Forgotten Realms, and it offered a whole new chance for TSR to publish a megadungeon that had been designed around the same time, in the mid '70s.

And that possibility was sort of achieved.

Origins (II): The Classic Undermountain. Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood first started thinking about Undermountain around 1967, inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. But his megadungeon had a twist because he asked, "what if it were RIGHT UNDERNEATH a crowded, bustling all-races crossroads trading city?" He was thinking about how the populace of a city might use a dungeon if they knew it was right under them — and how under-dwellers might "'use' the city and its populace" in exchange.

After Greenwood started playing D&D in 1975, he had another source of inspiration for his Undermountain. He wanted to move away from the "jarringly unrealistic" dungeons being created by others, that had "magic shops, resupply areas, and the like". Instead he wanted to create a dungeon with a real ecosystem, where various races could live and eat ("and poop"). He also needed a way for the dungeon to get resupplied when traps were sprung and monsters slain. This led to the introduction of the mad mage Halaster, who had been featured in Greenwood's stories since 1967, but who only received attention in Undermountain in 1976 (and even more attention 15 years later when Steven Schend developed his "life, sanity, nature, and powers" for The Ruins of Undermountain).

A megadelve requires adventurers. Ed Greenwood's Company of Crazy Venturers, including Maclhor Harpell, Tolgar Anuvien, Savengriff, Nain, Trunnian Regallis, and others, was the first group to discover the mysteries of Undermountain, the first dungeon of the Forgotten Realms campaign; Greenwood's even more famous Knights of Myth Drannor would eventually explore the dungeon as well, thanks to the "portals" found throughout the Realms.

Origins (III): It Sort of Came from Dragon. Readers of Dragon magazine saw their first hint of Undermountain in Dragon #106 (February 1986), where Ed Greenwood led off an article called "Open Them If you Dare" with the narrative, "And then the fools fled deeper into Undermountain, Elminster said, but took the wrong passage. They passed through a Dread Portal, and then fell into the pit beyond it …"

However, unbeknownst to them, Dragon readers had been reading material associated with Undermountain for years. Some of the spells and books in Greenwood's "Pages from the Mages" series, which began in Dragon #62 (June 1982), and the "Rogue Stones and Gemjumping" magic from Dragon #116 (December 1986) were "first inflicted" on PCs in Undermountain.

Origins (IV): It Sort of Came from the Campaign Set. Rather surprisingly, there's no explicit mention of Undermountain in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987). However, "The Halls of the Beast-Tamers" adventure is of some note. The portal described in area 11 was intended to send players to "the uppermost main level of Undermountain", at least according to Ed Greenwood's home campaign.

Origins (V): It Really Came From FR1. The first notable mention of Undermountain in print was in FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987). There, it's described as "a deep, many-leveled former dwarven city and mine of great antiquity that, as its name implies, lies largely beneath Mount Waterdeep"; there's also some discussion of its connection to characters like Durnan and Xanathar.

Over the years, slight mentions like this would appear here and there, but it would take a bit more than three years for Realms fans to really learn about the megadungeon.

Origins (VI): Producing A Box. Ed Greenwood's Undermountain contained nine levels and fourteen sub-levels. TSR quickly decided it was impossible to fit this into even a large box. So The Ruins of Undermountain instead contains information on just the first three levels. Later products would expand this, but TSR's version of Greenwood's Undermountain would never be completely detailed.

Origins (VII): Changing the Maps. Though The Ruins of Undermountains offers the nearest thing to a look at a primordial megadungeon of anything that TSR ever published … it's turns out that it's still somewhat distant. That's in large part because TSR didn't actually use Ed Greenwood's original maps. Greenwood says that The Ruins of Undermountain uses the "original keys to the area around the shaft down from the Yawning Portal", but that the rest of the maps are actually "an old Empire of the Petal Throne home-campaign map that the late Dave Sutherland … had lying around". Apparently TSR didn't want to spend the time redrawing Greenwood's faded maps with their "cramped, tiny, wandering-all-over-the-pages keys". You can see the differences between the two styles of mapin printed product when you look at the smaller rooms around the Yawning Portal entrance and compare that to the larger rooms everywhere else — though those larger rooms were sometimes broken up by Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, and other TSR staff to make them more reasonable!

Adventure Tropes: Doing it Old School. Ruins of Undermountain was able to finally answer the question, "What did a classic megadungeon look like?"

Sort of.

TSR choose to represent Greenwood's megadungeon by creating complete maps of the top three levels of Undermountain, then defining those areas to various levels of detail. "Core Rooms" show the most important areas within the dungeon, while "Areas of Interest" reveal much-less detailed encounters. Though the core rooms have read-aloud texts and lots of details (like an adventure from the late '80s or '90s), the areas of interest are terse (more like a GM's personal dungeon from the '70s). Together, these two categories of rooms feature the sorts of puzzles, traps, tricks, and monstrous encounters that you'd expect in a classic adventure.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Undermountains expanses are left empty. The adventure claims this as a feature, saying they're meant "to give each DM comfortable room to add encounters and background ideas to make Undermountain fit his or her own campaign."

Put all that together and you have a big delve, allowing players to go room to room, fighting monsters and puzzling out problems (at least for the filled-in rooms). But that's not at all how Ed Greenwood actually ran his game. He says: "In the original Undermountain, the Core Rooms … were less important in play than the dynamic interactions between exploring PCs and various NPC power groups." This is a recurring trope in Greenwood's adventures in his original campaign, but it's almost impossible to represent in a printed adventure. Ruins of Undermountain does its best with 18 pages of "Undermountain Adventures". These scenarios give a little bit of context to the delves into Undermountain, offering some hints of the more character-based and story-based adventures of Greenwood's Forgotten Realms.

But, in summary, Ruins of Undermountain isn't necessary a representation of what Ed Greenwood's '70s adventures were like because:

  1. The map doesn't represent his original Undermountain.
  2. It's also full of empty spaces.
  3. The simple delves that are most likely with this adventure don't match the character-based adventures of his original campaign.

Which isn't to say that Ruins of Undermountain isn't a good adventure — just that it follows different tropes than one might expect given its origins.

Exploring the Realms. Obviously, Ruins of Undermountain details Undermountain and through it the interconnected city of Waterdeep. However, it only covers the first three levels of the megadungeon, and it only hints at numerous other connections to the city and at the levels deeper below. Future supplements would have to pick up these threads.

Monsters of Note. Though Ruins of Undermountain doesn't repeat the information on Xanathar, the beholder crime lord who rules from the sewers of Waterdeep, it continues to focus on the beholders of Waterdeep's underrealms by including stats for two new beholder monsters, the elder orb beholder and the death kiss beholder kin. This was the first appearance of the elder orb, though the death kiss had made one previous appearance, as the "bleeder" in Dragon #59 (March 1982). It was one of many monsters that Ed Greenwood wrote for that magazine over the years.

NPCs of Note. The star of Ruins of Undermountain is obviously Halaster Blackcloak, the insane wizard who constantly restocks the dungeon. This was his first major appearance of note, though afterward he'd be a regular in Realms products.

Along with Halaster come his ex-apprentices. The most powerful are known as The Seven, a popular number in Realmslore. The histories note that one apprentice, Jhesiyra Kestellharp, went on to become The Magister. Another, Nester, appears as a lich-like monster on level two, while Arcturia, Muiral, and Trobriand all appear as NPCs in the book. Whether these five wizards were all intended to be members of the Seven is unclear, and readers would have to wait years for the publication of Expedition to Undermountain (2007) to learn the names of two more: Marambra Nyghtsteel and Rantantar.

The other NPC of particular note is Durnan, one of the first explorers of Undermountain, the founder of the Yawning Portal inn, and its innkeep decades later. Durnan is interesting because he was one of the stars of the Realms stories that Greenwood started writing in the late '60s (alongside Mirt). Durnan's long life is apparently due to Potions of Longevity that he won while adventuring.

Future History. Ed Greenwood and Steven Schend supplemented Ruins with "Seeing the Sites in Skullport" in Dragon #172 (August 1991), then with "If You Need Help — Ask the Drow!" in Dragon #176 (December 1991).

A few years later, the Undermountain megadungeon was expanded with The Ruins of Undermountain II: The Deep Levels (1994), but Ed Greenwood would no longer be directly involved.

About the Creators. Ed Greenwood is of course the creator of the Forgotten Realms. He detailed a variant of his classic Undermountain here with the help of editor Steven Schend, who would take on an even-greater role in later Undermountain publications.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Reviews
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April 4th, 2008
One dungeon to rule them all... I owned the box set but seeing a show I left my AD&D stuff behind in a move. My gaming ahs evolved over the years into less hack and slash games but sometimes there is an itch that needs to be scratched. The d [...]
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May 10th, 2006
This is by far the biggest dungeon crawl quest, produced by TSR, & its actually not bad, the only down side is some of the maps were not the best but I ended purchassing the full set again from Ozone.<br><br> <b>LIKED</b>: [...]
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March 10th, 2006
The Ruins of Undermountain is a massive dungeon crawl (the maps are huge) with space for the DM to add stuff, or just use the random tables for dungeon dressing, encounters, and treasure. Included are adventures and hooks (or ideas) which provide good [...]
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July 12th, 2005
Great adventure for any level! Huge maps are soooo handy<br><br><b>LIKED</b>: the whole dam thing<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: some paragraphs incomplete.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excelle [...]
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May 6th, 2005
One of the best Dungeon Crawls of all time. If you have not run this or played through it - Do so as it is Awesome.<br><br><b>LIKED</b>: One of the best ad finest dungeon crawl ever and for a great price.<br><br>< [...]
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This title was added to our catalog on August 22, 2017.