The Living Catacombs of Elutheria

Also called the "Underhalls," and the "Crypts of the Undercity;" this underground dungeon labyrinth has 33 levels and stretches deep below the surface of the modern-day city of Atharavon, where it connects to an Underdark city called Shadowport.

Tales tell of a powerful Elven wizard named Finarfen who, many ages past, came to the ancient lost city of Elutheria to make his home in isolation from all other beings. Scholarly research indicates that he was a founding member of the Synfari magic council. He is said to have devised many powerful spells, and perfected many processes and items now widely known and used in wizardly circles. His greatest creation was a labyrinth of underground rooms and passages called the "Living Catacombs;" a dungeon stretching down thirty-three levels underground.

Whatever the truth about Finarfen or his origins, the stories all tell the same story of his later years. He suddenly left off all dealings with other elves over three thousand years ago, and left Elutheria. Accompanied by his seven apprentices, Finarfen made his new home in the very Catacombs he had created. Finarfen summoned and bound fell creatures from other planes to build the ever-expanding catacombs. Sadly, Finarfen’s dealings with those summoned servitors changed him forever. The more Finarfen avoided contact with other elves, and dealt with these strange extra-planar creatures, the more obsessed he became. He grew grim, given to long silences, sudden rages, and erratic behavior. He had his creatures dig storage caves, additional laboratories, and long passages beneath his tower.

This work went on for centuries. As Finarfen dug ever deeper, the tunnels eventually broke into an ancient dwarven delving called Nekrum Feyr; once home to the long-vanished Delarkyn Clan, which was only a fading memory, even back then. The Underhalls of the Delarkyn Clan were large and grand, built to the scale of tall men rather than dwarves. They guarded an ancient Tilvium-mine known as "Ironhold," which extended far beneath Atharavon. The underground region was known to the ancient dwarves as Tor-Kazon.

Long before Finarfen's arrival, all the members of the Delarkyn Clan had been either slain or scattered from the depths of the Underdark by either the Duergar or the Dark-Elves. Those dwarven Underhalls became the lairs for the Duergar and the Dark-Elves. Both of these vile races were still in residence when Finarfen found his way into the deep ways. As soon as the Tilvium was worked out, the duergar moved on. During the War of Wrath, most of the Drow were slaughtered in vicious battles with the Silvar-Elves. Finarfen himself is believed to have eradicated the last organized remnants of The Dark Folk. The Seven wrote often in diaries of their Master’s increasingly dangerous expeditions against the Drow. The phrase ‘Finarfen’s Hunt’ still retains its meaning as a berserk raid or willful slaughter in the Underdark today. The Seven also hint at some captured Drow being transformed and enslaved into Finarfen’s service.

With the Drow gone or magically twisted into grotesque servant-creatures, Finarfen banished his summoned, extra-planar slaves to their home planes and moved entirely into the subterranean dungeon, abandoning his tower forever. His curious apprentices, upon exploring the tower, found only traps awaiting them, baited with powerful magics and enigmatic messages hinting that true power awaited them below. One by one, as their courage and capabilities took them, the Seven went below in search of their Master. They found a strange, dangerous labyrinthine world awaiting them. Finarfen stored his treasures, experiments, victuals and necessities, magical items, and servants in these underhalls. Here, he thought himself safe from prying intrusions, theft and attacks by thieves, hostile brigands of all sorts, as well as his sorcerous foes. At first, Finarfen sent his guardian creatures and traps against the Seven, testing both his students and the defenses of his new underground home. After the deaths of two of his apprentices, Finarfen stopped the attacks and enlisted his remaining students' help to add to the security of his underground realm. Finarfen reworked his defensive barrier-spells to allow his apprentices limited access to areas of the Catacombs by the use of specially crafted magic rings.


One lone apprentice; Jhesyra, survived her descent into the Catacombs and returned to the surface. She then broke away from Finarfen and fled the region. Jhesyra went west to Antharë and later wrote a journal. The Realms gained what little was known about Finarfen from her writings. The other six apprentices either perished or went insane living within Finarfen’s vast dungeon. Since the destruction of Elutheria in the War of Wrath, a new human settlement grew up directly over Finarfen’s dungeon, along the edge of the harbor. This human settlement became the great Amari city of Atharavon.

It wasn’t long before intrepid adventurers discovered Finarfen’s catacombs and the initial entrances to the dungeons beneath. As time passed, Finarfen and his apprentices encountered an increasing number of exploratory expeditions by armed adventurers within his subterranean lair. Finarfen’s preoccupation with his underground stronghold allegedly affected his mind, and he used the halls and numerous magical gates to give free rein to his rather curious hobbies of roaming various planes and collecting monsters. He enlisted these monsters to further defend the upper levels of his halls. The upper levels were then abandoned from use except as a glorified killing ground for intruders. Finarfen then moved his own dwelling and laboratories ever deeper into the vast and endless darkness. Deep in the bowels of the Underdark, in the 33rd and lowest level of his dungeon, Finarfen grew to be a great and terrible wizard who dabbled in magics that gave him immortality, but at a price of madness.

Quite late in his life, Finarfen also created "doubles," or clones, of himself to continue his work relatively unmolested, Roaming the halls of the Catacombs, he amused himself by watching parties of thieves, wanderers, soldiers of fortune, and magical rivals fall afoul of his gathered monsters and the clever and deadly traps he had devised. He found humor where many found comfort in the mistaken belief that he was dead and they could pillage the wizard’s dungeons unopposed. No one in Atharavon or the Catacombs today is positive if Finarfen still lives or is dead. Many who venture deep into the Catacombs believe he lives on. They say he watches from the walls, walks the lowest levels, and is vastly amused by the pain, suffering, deeds, and deaths of intruders. Sometimes, he aids those who are lost by providing a single lit torch, or a dagger clattering down from overhead often accompanied by a human skull as a grim warning. He indulges the whims of his cruel humor by playing tricks, manipulating explorers like puppets on a stage.

Greater Atharavon

When the first Amari settlers arrived, Atharavon was no more than a human town in the midst of massive, Elven ruins. Ethnic Amari soon settled here, because the site was a perfect trading port on the coast of Dragon Sound, and an easy stop along the trade routes to both the east and west. As the centuries progressed, Atharavon grew beyond a simple settlement and became a great human city in its own right. With it grew the tales and legends of the ancient dungeons under the city. The Catacombs became known as a place of horrors, the labyrinth holding many terrible monsters and traps. The burgeoning city swallowed and built over the ruins of the old elvish city; its citizens now tunneled beneath the surface for its sewers, hidden ways, and castle dungeons. In many places, the growing city met the older, darker catacombs and avoided or embraced its presence. The rumors spread, and they directly led to The Catacombs becoming infamous across Corwyn and the (probably false) claim as the deepest dungeon of the world. One of the first to walk the Catacombs and emerge to tell the tale was a warrior named Durnan. He was the first to discover the portal to the catacombs beneath the ruins of Finarfen’s tower, long since shattered by wizard battles and other fell magic, and to survive and return.

Upon his return to the surface, Durnan built an inn over the entrance. It was named: The Yawning Portal. It was a good spot for trade close to the Atharavon harbor, and Durnan made a good living outfitting and provisioning those who journeyed down to explore the depths. He encouraged local priests of Aleyssia to heal those who dared the dangers of The Catacombs in exchange for large donations to their temples. Durnan spoke of riches and dangers, both in large measure, and of the vast size of the underhalls. Many others, for whatever reasons of their own perhaps they became bored or desperate for riches, adventured on bets or were hiding from foes or authorities went down the long shaft in The Yawning Portal. Criminals once lived in the dungeon willingly: the Thieves’ Guild of Atharavon had a citadel within the craggy slopes of Mount Atharavon. Located in an upper level of The Catacombs thick with traps, guardians, secret passages, and peep-holes, the Guild managed to secure their citadel from the roving monsters set loose by Finarfen. For its time, this trap-filled area was known as The Citadel of the Black Hand. The Guild was later driven out of the city, but it was not known if the Lords now controlled the former citadel of the Guild. If it was destroyed or if it lay deserted was a question best asked of and answered by the roaming monsters who quickly returned to inhabit the vast dungeon ways. Besides Durnan, few others have returned from the world’s deepest dungeon and made good with the wealth and adventure they found there.


Tales of the Catacombs

Late at night, when the lamps are flickering low and the wine is running out, taverns in Atharavon resound with wild tales of how this mage or that rogue or some such band of adventurers went down into the Catacombs, and what befell them there. Nearly everyone has a story about what happened to the great Company of the Grey Griffon or how someone’s great-uncle barely escaped the embrace of a demon they encountered within the halls of the Catacombs. The best tales, of course, are those that end with the safe return of adventurers laden with gems, gold coins, magical swords, and grand suits of armor. Few adventuring groups emerge relatively unscathed from the depths. More common, by far, are the harrowing tales of those who went in and never came out, those who are found dead, or the poor lost souls driven mad in the depths. A silent toast is often raised in memory of the less fortunate: “Pray to your gods, brave adventurers, that ye end up not among them.”


The Lords of Atharavon ignore many of the dangers and troubles of those who explore The Catacombs, worrying less about dungeon explorers and more about the city and the rogues within its limits. They also turn a blind eye to dungeon-delving on an even greater scale: an entirely lawless trading-community in the depths named Shadowport. The dark waterways of the depths, magically altered by Finarfen’s great gates, link up with the South Sea-caves under Atharavon. The Sea caves, controlled by the Lords, are accessed by a great sling-hoist that can lift even the largest seagoing ships from one waterway to another. The hoist costs a ship is captain 50 gp peruse with no responsibility taken for ship damage. This is a small price to pay for most captains, considering their cargoes and trading opportunities. Many unscrupulous captains use Shadowport to smuggle cargo to and from the Drow cities as well as the settlements of darker beings who dwell beyond dark Shadowport. The Lords forbid slavery around Atharavon but turn a blind eye when unsavory and troublesome folk are smuggled out or down by this route. The hoist links Skull Pool one end of Krandar, the River of the Depths, to the innermost sheltered basin of the South Sea cave.

Rumors of a city in the depths of the earth always whirl about Atharavon, and the name Shadowport even appears in some tavern drinking-songs. Many simply regard the place as a legendary pirates’ port filled with debauchery and danger. Most citizens of Atharavon know nothing of this viper beneath their cellars. Unless directly shown that the place exists, you can’t expect the people to believe that the fabled pirate’s haven of Shadowport lies beneath their feet, can you? Start with the idea that Atharavon is a large, tolerant, wealthy port city, visited by many merchants and travelers during every season save the harsh winter months. The arts are valued in Atharavon, and most craft-work reaches its height in the markets of the city. “One can buy anything in Atharavon,” the wry saying goes, “if one has but coins enough." Money talks in The Surface City, with hundreds of rich and powerful noble Amari families whose wealth and power was founded in commercial success, in every case. There are guilds galore, and private individuals whose wealth can buy entire villages elsewhere on Corwyn, and some may already own half the civilized world, even today. Wide varieties of behavior, dress, beliefs, and interests are tolerated in such an eclectic, trade-driven, crossroads city. Adventurers, however, are warned that freedom and tolerance end sharply where deeds that cost others money to repair begin. Few alive on Corwyn today have money enough to buy the loyalty of any member of the City Watch (the police) or Guard (the standing army) away from the Lord-Governor of Atharavon.

The nobility of Atharavon walk proudly among the city folk, with eyes and ears open. Justice in the city tends to be both fair and swift; be warned, lawless folk. Most citizens hear tales of the fabled Catacombs either scary tales told in the street by urchins and old gossips, or scarier tales told by late night frequenters of the taverns in the city. Most citizens and returning visitors, such as traveling merchants can tell you two or three tales of death, danger, horrible monsters, and magic in the lairs beneath the city. There is even a tavern called The Bowels of the Earth, where the exploits of brave dungeon-delvers of the Catacombs are lionized, and young toughs gather to swagger and tell boastful stories about their own deeds in the dark ways.