Dark Lords of the Azathyr
Daily Life in the Azathyr
This campaign is set in a massive underground region known as the Azathyr of which only a portion is shown here. Over the course of this campaign adventurers you will be journeying far and wide through these strange environs.
Here are a couple facts about daily life in the Azathyr.
Travel is slow
Each hex represents a vast amount of space. A hex is eight miles across or approximately 55 square miles. Caverns, with their shifting elevations, winding indirect passages and ease of getting lost always count mean travel is always difficult. Every hex you traverse takes a full day of travel. The passages of the underworld are not level, and while some are more difficult than others, this simplification better approximates average travel times. Even in the comparative wide open spaces of the fungal jungle, this rule still holds. The floor of that vast cavern is anything but flat and the giant mushrooms that grow everywhere can be slow to circumnavigate.
This is A World without the Sun
Darkness is the norm in the Azathyr and everything down here has adapted to that fact. Anyone without darkvision (or similar non-light based senses) is at a serious disadvantage. Using fire or magical light attracts every sort of predator and signals to intelligent opposition that you are outsiders. Most enemies will use magic to counter magical light and try to extinguish torches and lanterns, realizing that such blindness creates serious problems for their enemies.
Water is Not a Problem
The Azathyr is located beneath a great forest and water filters down through the cave almost everywhere. Many cave walls are wet. Water drips and small pools are the norm. This water is largely fresh and fine to drink. In short, water is not a problem unless specifically noted.
Food is a Problem
Every living thing in the Azathyr struggles to find enough food. Starvation is a constant threat and even in the sprawling fungal jungle, food is not easy to acquire. Many of the mushroom that grow there are either not very nutritious or genuinely poisonous. Randomly eating mushrooms is surely asking to die.
That said the staple diet of the underworld is the mushroom. About a hundred different varieties of mushrooms are commonly eaten in the Azathyr from the common button to fire-caps to yellow frills and brown-heads. These mushrooms are consumed by almost every inhabitant of this region and provide a solid base for their diet. These mushrooms consume everything that dies underground. In the case of the fungal jungle that great cavern was once a sprawling bat cave before it got sealed up by seismic activity millennia ago. The mushrooms thrive on ancient guano hills that are in places hundreds of feet deep.
Further, the giant mushrooms of the fungal jungle (and mushroom fields) produce spores in such vast quality that they can be collected and milled into a sort of flour that can be baked into spongy grey bread known in undercommon as veska or mushcakes in the common tongue. Mushcake is hardy and nutritious but has an earthy flavor that is definitely an acquired tasted for surface dwellers.
There are even species of mushrooms that can be brewed into sweet wort. That wort can be fermented into beer. These “black beers” are very alcoholic and dark in coloration. Their flavor closely resembles an oatmeal stout – malty, sweet and perhaps slightly bitter. They have a unique musky aroma that those born on the surface sometimes find off-putting. But the Azathyrians themselves relish these black brews and every race proudly brews their own variation.
Black beer can be further distilled into a hard liquor. These home-made “shines” are made a thousand different ways. However, if you triple distill the beer, you end up with night whisky. This powerful stuff is black as ink and, if well-made, smooth as silk. The finest night whisky comes from the drow city of Taaryssia. The drow sometimes lace their whiskey with powerful hallucinogenic extracts.
But as nourishing as mushrooms are, most species of the Azathyr also need animal protein. The deep gnomes raise eyeless cave fish in their stock lake. Here is the secret to eating them – they must be eaten raw and whole. By eating them this way, the valuable vitamin C in their organs is not destroyed by cooking. Of course, the svirfneblin do not understand why this works. They simply relish a small cave fish quickly scaled, soaked overnight in a peppery-salty-sweet candycap vinegar brine and eaten whole the next day. Needless to say, surface dwellers often consider this ‘delicacy’ revolting.
The fungal jungle also supports lizards, salamanders, cave crickets and pteranodons all of which may be eaten. But most prized of all, and very rare, are the cave auroch. It was likely the duergar who originally bred this species of miniature cattle for the depths. Whatever the source, these cattle are often treated as more valuable than gold. They graze on mushrooms and produce meat, leather, milk and beef tallow just to name a few. Food imported from the surface is eagerly sought and ludicrously expensive when you can get it at all. Honey, wine and dried fruits and meats are particularly valued and fetch at least five times their surface cost.
Everything is Unfamiliar
For those who originate from the surface, the Azathyr will be a constant source of weirdness and wonders. This is an incredibly isolated ecology. Virtually every animal and fungus found here is found nowhere else. This novelty makes certain skills more difficult to use at least for a time. Of course, natives do not suffer this penalty. This is all they’ve ever known.
There is No Weather
The Azathyr is a fairly constant 16 C. Certain areas are warmed due to geothermal activity and those will be noted. But for most areas there is nothing equivalent to surface weather. It is always dark, damp and cool. Most dwellers here like it this way.
Wood is Scarce
Another surface commodity that the PCs may take for granted is wood. Wood is a precious and rare commodity that must be imported from above. Wood items are rarely available for sale at all, but when they are they usually fetch ten times their list price.
However, the inhabitants of the Azathyr have learned to make due. Giant mushrooms stalks can be cut into fibrous planks. If these planks are dried and kilned at a low temperature, they become hard as pine wood. This “grey wood” is commonly used in everthing from crossbow quarrels to wagon wheels. Mechanically, it has no difference from normal wood. It is unquestionably inferior to good hardwood however, particularly in terms of longevity.
Metal and Stone are not Scarce
The Azathyr is blessed with rich deposits of iron and marble. Items surface dweller would never dream making out of such materials commonly are in the underworld. For example on the surface, hammers always have wooden hafts. In the Azathyr, hammers are often entirely metal perhaps wrapped with leather to avoid conducting heat.
Another example – every gnome peasant in Fasturvalt lives in a house made of carved marble. This is not because of the beauty and opulence of the stone (though it is lovely). Instead, this is because marble is easily acquired from the nearby quarry and the svirfneblin are masters at working it.
The Azathyr is a Wild and Lawless Place
There is no central government in the Azathyr. No great empire unites the disparate peoples of this region. When you leave a town or city, you are on your own. Even the so-called Gnome King’s Highway that connects to great svirfneblin cities outside of the drow regions is not routinely patrolled. This anarchy has two effects upon almost anyone the PCs meet for the first time.
First, strangers are always regarded with suspicion and caution. Weapons are kept at hand and a fight is expected. Second, people who don’t want a fight are often very polite and formal in their speech. They know that a single slight could start a deadly battle and so they seek to head off such confrontations by being pleasant. The closest thing that there is to a central power is the drow vault of Taaryssia. It is very distant from where the PCs begin the campaign and the drow are disinterested rulers. Almost all of the Azathyr is a wilderness.