Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Surrounding Area

Menzoberranzan and its environs require some description.

Map of Menzoberranzan's Districts

I located this map of the city, here.

The Aboleth Lake:  A small, unnamed lake located between the Darklake and Menzoberranzan on a level lower than the Darklake is known to be inhabited by an undetermined number of aboleth (reports say at least 5 aboleth have been encountered at once here, though they aren't considered reliable).  The shore of the lake is sandy and the waters are fresh (if slightly dirty).  The aboleth do not interfere with those that drink or draw water from the lake or camp along its shores.  Entering the lake to bathe or swim or launching a craft of any sort onto the lake will always bring a response from at least one aboleth and its minions.  The aboleth sometimes attack those who dare to fish in the lake but spear (or crossbow), line, or net fishing in the shallows close to shore usually goes unanswered if only done for a limited period of time by one or two people.  Dumping bodies, degradable items, and useful items in the lake is also ignored by the aboleth but polluting or poisoning the lake, casting raise water, lower water, part water or the like on it, and similar acts will gain the aboleths' ire.  Those who do so and depart quickly are advised never to approach the lake again as the aboleth's apparently take note of such individuals and will attack the next time they come to the lake's shores, even if they aren't causing any trouble at that time.  The aboleths apparently don't worry about natural, unintelligent creatures dwelling in the lake or cavern or visiting and do not molest them.  This makes the area a center of local life, including visiting hunters of many races.  These hunters may be bold enough to ambush a small drow party or even gather a large warband to attack a caravan or patrol moving through the area.  Hostile natural creatures also roam the area freely and aren't worried that their intended meal is drow rather than goblin.

Caves Under the Light:  Menzoberranzan lies more than 2 miles beneath the surface of Toril.  Between a quarter and 1/2 mile in depth, almost directly above the city, exists a cave complex with innumerable small openings onto the surface that are used by bats, rats, snakes, lizards, and the like.  Fresh air and water are continually available in this area due to these connections.  The caves are frequently by humanoids of all sorts, many of them simply passing through but others establish more permanent lairs.  The Menzoberranyr have attempted to clear this cave system out for as long as anyone can recall, without success.  Menzoberranyr hunters, patrols, slavers, and nobles out seeking a thrill (or to practice tactics with some of their house soldiers) all visit the area frequently and in the past have encountered such unusual creatures as xvarts, fomorians, verbeeg, and qullan.  Most commonly, however, goblins, orcs, kobolds, and gnolls are found in the area.  Currently at least 3 groups of kobolds live in the area of the caves as do numerous goblins.  Destroying a clan or tribe is generally useless as the survivors scatter throughout the caves and join with or form new bands that need elimination.

The Cloaker Shaft:  Cloakers are a constant worry for the drow as their unique powers are extremely effective even against groups of drow.  In one particular cave in a small, many-tiered network of living caves, is an unusually cold cave (about 40 degrees F).  No one knows why this cave is cold but that doesn't matter as much as its other common feature:  cloakers.  The cave has a large (12' diameter) shaft rising directly from it almost 130' to the floor of a cross tunnel and has a few openings into its smooth sides along the way.  The cave at the bottom has two entrances, hidden from sight of each other by a 60' angle.  In this bottom cave for more than two decades lone and grouped cloakers have been discovered many times.  Each time they are driven off or wiped out, more cloakers show up within days to months.  No one knows what attracts cloakers to this particular cave, though the fact that the cave complex is frequently inhabited by intelligent creatures as well as having abundant life of other sorts may be part of the attraction.  Currently three drow way marker runes carved into the walls guard the cave but reports are they are being drained quickly so it is doubtful they will provide any lengthy deterrent for cloakers.

The Dark Dominion:  The area around Menzoberranzan that falls into it's area of influence (or territory, though the term is necessarily more loosely used here) is known as the dark dominion.  This area extended much further around the city horizontally than it does vertically but is very ill defined.  The best defined borders are those with the duergar kingdom of Gracklstugh due to their military outposts and outlying clanholds and the lower edge below the city.  Patrols that venture further than two miles below the city do not return with any regularity, regardless of their composition.  As the drow neither patrol this area (unlike the mantle) nor settle it, it is wild territory, filled with humanoids, monsters, and dead areas where no life exists.  Merchant caravans, explorers, and others passing through this area travel in heavily armed bands with numerous guards.  Prospectors from other races, including svirfneblin and duergar, can be found in the area, despite Menzoberranzan's seeming control.  Drow raiding parties are sent out periodically to deal with humanoids and monsters that have interfered with trade, mining, or some other important activity but in other areas there are tribes who've held their lairs for centuries.  Drow control here is an illusion (and not one the matron mothers of the city do anything about maintaining) but it is Menzoberranzan's sphere of influence and buffer zone against hostile forces so any "poaching" that is discovered, let alone attempts to establish a settlement or outposts, is met by brutal force.  A few drow enclaves, mining operations or fortified houses established in the underdark away from the intrigues and power struggles of the city, do exist in the dark dominion and are allowed to remain, a buffer against aggression.
     The dark dominion holds a darker, more immediate purpose for the drow of Menzoberranzan, particularly the noble houses and merchant clans.  Warfare in the city is too dangerous, too likely to lead to the destruction of both houses.  But away from the city assassins can strike and armed forces clash without the strictures of drow "justice".  Like so many things in the city's power struggles these battles, including troop losses and demonstrations of magical and military might, are recognized as ways to help determine the relative strengths and ranks of involved houses.  Of course, upper houses often manipulate lower houses and a common custom among upper houses is to allow lower houses, mainpulated by each, to decide some issue for them through battle in the dark domion (possibly with the upper houses aiding their side more directly).  This practice is never undertaken openly, never spoken of, and not taught formally as a possible or real solution to disagreements that disrupt the lives of all in the city, but it does, nonetheless, occur (as one duergar observer noted to his clan lord, "Chaos does not bring trade, stability does.  Thus it is that trade and the greed of the houses for the power, prestige, and wealth it brings has ultimately unseated Lloth as ruler of the city.  This is why Menzoberranzan has been so stable in its upper echelons of power for so long, for if it were not then no one would ever travel there to trade.  It's already bad enough that priestesses can act on whim, but if the priestesses at the top weren't interested in attracting more visitors then the whims of those at bottom would be truly uncontrolled--and woe then to any visitors that should arrive.").

The Darklake:  The Darklake is a large subterranean lake located between Gracklstugh and Mantol-Derith.  The drow consider it to be within the dark dominion and thus their sphere of influence but no force has a more than nominal presence here.  Enterprising free merchants, including both drow and duergar bands, have established fortified docks with large boats to ferry people, animals, and goods across the lake.  Most of the personnel used by the groups are actually humanoids, including goblins, ogres, and orcs.  The lake is home to unknown creatures and boats occasionally disappear in its depths.  A large variety of creatures are presumed to live in and around the lake and as a source of fresh water it naturally attracts many more creatures as well as supporting other abundant life.  Were it not so far from any major force, the lake would undoubtedly be the center of thriving farming and herding but as it is it provides for the wild monsters rather than civilization.  The Darklake has multiple inlets and outlets, meaning that creatures from other areas of the underdark, whether aquatic, amphibious, or terrestrial, often journey here, following the supply of water and the abundant food supply.  Thus even after proven reports of lacedons and kopoacinth (aquatic gargoyles) no one feels they know exactly what lives here--for anything could arrive at any time.  A small group of ixzan (freshwater ixixachitl) and several bands of freshwater scrags and merrow are known to live in the lake.
     This huge freshwater lake is both similar to and completely unlike any surface lake.  It is miles long and unmapped (the duergar travel ten miles on the lake to trade at Mantol-Derith).  It is deep along most of its length but just as it winds through twisting subterranean corridors, with stalactites and stalagmites breaking the surface in many areas and even stretching through side tunnels only to meet back up with the main body of the lake further on so the bottom of the lake is uneven and even exists in lower caverns connected to the upper area of the lake in many places.  Flooded caves and tunnels beneath the surface are not only not unknown but not uncommon.  Some areas of the lake's surface are bordered by traditional shore, other by shelfs, others by fields of stalagmites, others by solid walls, and still others by sucking areas of mud.  Water enters and leaves the lake both above and below the surface, creating treacherous subsurface currents, though close to the surface the water is relatively placid and has a relatively uniform and calm current.  Additionally some of the water that enters the lake is heated from below while other waters come from surface mountain runoff and are almost as cold as ice.  This creates additional swirling currents as well as filling some area with super hot steam, others with chilling mists, and in several treacherous but fortunately well known (and isolated in side passages and caverns from the main area of the lake) whirlpools.  The water of level of the lake remains oddly constant, risig a mere 3-5 inches during spring runoff above and settling back to its usual level by fall.  The reasons for this are unclear but presumed to be due to the extra water overflowing its routes down and emptying into other, seasonal waterways long before it reaches the Darklake itself.   In addition to these navigational hazards and monsters two additional things add to the Darklake's [admittedly low level of] surface dangers.  The first is a dark purple growth of floating mold known as blackwater algae (see Dragon #303 pg. 64-65).  Though currently not harvested regularly by any of the civilized users of the lake, it is very valuable as it is both nutritious and delicious with a spicy taste similar to hot peppers.  Blackwater algae, if properly prepared, can even stave off the effects of exhaustion.  The problem with blackwater algae is that it can cover huge areas of the lake if left untouched (though usually the lake's aquatic inhabitants and wandering monsters break it up while feeding on it) and can grow to a thickness of 3 feet or more when colonies get this large.  Certain, known, side passages of the lake are unnavigable as they have been so thickly overgrown by this mold for so long.  The spongy mass can even be walked on by those under 100 lbs. when it gets this thick, though they sink into it if they stand in one place and can become hopelessly mired.  The other menace is pirates.  Several minor pirate bands have grown up over time and live by raiding the increasing duergar and drow traffic on the surface (and hunting an fishing when there is none).  Though no one has considered it worth the time to try to make a concerted effort to eliminate these bands, they have prevented the establishment of permanent fishing and farming businesses on the lake (and actually forced the collapse of two poorly funded ventures from Menzoberranzan in the past few decades).  Some of these bands use captured or crudely constructed craft to cruise the lake while others are actually shore raiders, attacking those on the lake from the shallows and from openings in the ceiling and high on the walls.   Among known bands are a group of shore-raiding ogres led by a merrow shaman of Vaprak, several bands of goblins and hobgoblins, at least two bands of trolls (one led by a giant two-headed troll that often wades out into the water to attack), and a band of svirfneblin who are reported (through Mantol-Derith) to be renegades, though this is doubted even by the matron mothers who had their agents check the deep gnomes' answers with detect lie.  Bands that endure more than a season or two are generally assumed to have some more capable or intelligent leader, even if none is apparent (assumptions often center around drow from rival houses, rival religions, or just plain renegades).  The svirfneblin are particularly dangerous as they have the best built boats on the Darklake (they have apparently constructed their own boats whereas the drow and duergar generally use barges and rafts and other pirates use what they can capture or crudely construct) and employ summoned earth elementals from ceiling, walls, protrusions (stalactite or stalagmite), or the lake's submerged bottom to aid in their attacks while always gaining surprise due to clever use of illusions (and their non-detection means they can't be scryed so revenge is impossible).

The Greypeaks:  To the far east, in the region of Ched Nasad, lies the Greypeak Mountains which were once home to the dwarven kingdom of Ammyrindar.  Isolated dwarfholds still exist in the mountains along with numerous abandoned holds and mines as the mountains have been mostly mined out.  Chitine from Ched Nasad as well as driders have established themselves in this area as well.

The Mantle:  Population estimates of the city's mantle vary from 5 to 10 thousand [free] drow along with innumerable slaves and even some other free inhabitants.  Life in the mantle is even more dangerous than in the city itself as wandering monsters raid the farms, ranches, and mines constantly.  Small outposts, often families that chose not to become noble in the city but live in a similar manner outside it's confines, exist in several places, the only settlements beyond the fortified business operations to be found here.  As opportunities for business and success are both found increasingly in the mantle so the drow population of the mantle has increased over time.  Even as the city's non-drow population grows the population of drow (and their slaves and free servants) in the areas immediately around the city continues to grow to support it.

Menzoberranzan:  The city itself would seem to be a near-lightless expanse, a huge bubble of darkness deep in the rock filled with a cacophony of sound and impenetrable stench as the normal evidence of daily life is trapped and magnified by the confining rock.  Instead it is much the opposite.  Real fires, generally torches, guttering fat lamps, and candles, as well as soft faerie fires and even light spells make the cavern well lit as far as the underdark is concerned.  While these lights must be close to recognize a person, read symbols or script, examine goods, and so on, they do allow normal vision to operate at some range, making navigation relatively easy (as long as you aren't worried about stumbling, tripping, or stubbing your toe--but centuries of feet walking those same stones and drow magic have smoothed most areas so this is not a common concern, either.  Many signs in the city are lit by just such radiances and some places, favored massage parlors especially, do not have typical signs, instead employing glowing symbols floating in the air above their entries.  In less well lit areas a number of glowing fungi, lichens, and mosses that have been introduced over time (most inedible to humanoids though not necessarily to other creatures) grow up, providing their own luminescence.  As well, the nearby underdark radiations doulbe the range of ultravision in the cavern and the mantle for those that possess it.  Similarly, the air is not still.  Warm bodies, small fires, magic, and other sources cause natural shifting of the air as hot air rises to disperse into the underdark's upper passages (passages that link to the roof of the cavern) and cooler air is drawn in through the lower tunnels.  Trese are augmented by air producing, air cleansing, and air circulating magics (such as permanent gust of wind and zephyr spells).
     Estimates of the city's population place it at between 20,000 and 22,000 (free) drow.  In addition, there are at least as many slaves and large numbers of [free] inhabitants of other races.  Humanoids predominate the non-drow population with duergar making up the only other sizable contingent.  The city's population is relatively stable, at least in terms of the numbers of drow.  Over time the population of other races has risen drastically and continues to do so with no end in sight as the cavern floor becomes more tightly packed with buildings for businesses and dwellings and residents become more tightly packed in them.

Neighbors:   The Spider Fangs:  The Spider Fangs is used as a waymarker by travelers heading from Menzoberranzan to the southern edges of the duergar kingdom of Gracklstugh.  The fangs themselves are a pair of stalactites that come out of the passage ceiling very near either wall and curve inward as they drop down so that they look very like the fangs of a spider.  As the corridor at this area is otherwise unadorned (it's round consistency leads many to believe it was created by some passing creature, such as a worm) the stalactites are quite unusual.  Priestesses of Lloth have declared the site a holy site of Lloth's and have established a small, fortified hostelry and shrine in a side cave less than 100 yards west of the formation.  Here the exiled but still respected high priestess "Black" Yasraena offers magical healing to all that can afford it (minimum price is 3x the usual, though she'll barter down for information or services) as well as selling food, fresh water, wine (imported from Menzoberranzan), and a small variety of common equipment (her fees for these items are double the usual price in the city with water costing as much as ale).  For a mere 3 gp/day, guests can also stay here.  While her prices are high, her goods are always of at least average quality and she will not allow those visiting her hostelry to be attacked or stolen from (though if the hostelry is attacked they are expected to help defend it).  It is this highly unusual reputation as a trustworthy drow that has probably ensured her continued survival and prosperity.  Yasraena has at least three lesser priestesses and a dozen male guards, including two wizards, that help her keep order.   They are well cared for and owe personal loyalty to her alone (or so it's assumed, some darker rumors say one or more of the sub-priestesses is a spy for certain Menzoberranzan interests and the wizards may be spies for Sorcere or one of its masters).

The Spine of the World:  Beneath the Spine of the World mountains lie numerous dwarf (and some gnome) holds that were lost to humanoids long ago.  While the inhabitants of these holds generally look to the surface for conquest their subterranean activities, including patrols, emigrations, hunting bands, and even outposts, create a dangerous northern border to the dark dominion.

Use the following links to learn more about Menzoberranzan, the city:

Return to Homepage.