Meet the Party: D&D 5E Underdark

A former solider who has sworn an oath of vengeance in the name of his god, charging into the earth on the offensive. A ranger who stalks her prey through the shadows, ambushing her targets with point-blank shots. A sorcerer with shadows in her soul, disturbing to friends and foes alike. An acolyte who worships the raw stuff of life itself, determined to go into the darkest places of the world and cast the shadows out. Each Meet the Party article gives you an entire group of ready-to-play adventurers (maybe even some heroes) for your gaming needs for a variety of systems and settings. It’s time to bid the surface goodbye and travel where the light of the sun is a memory, as we explore the Underdark of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition!

The Underdark is a scary place no matter what edition of D&D you’re using to visit it. While it’s no Scarytown, the underground caverns and tunnels of the Underdark are still the home of drow, aboleths, duergar, and all sorts of assorted nasty creatures. My own players are currently stuck in Eberron’s version, Khyber, and are none too happy about all the mindflayers attempting to lobotomize them. Being such a dangerous and dark place to adventure in, the Underdark is often well-suited to specialized adventurers. November’s Unearthed Arcana article, Light, Dark, Underdark!, gives us options for characters looking to devote their efforts towards mastering the subterranean world: two new fighting styles (for Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers), and a new build each for Rangers, Sorcerers, and Warlocks. I hope you can see in the dark, because this lot can, and you’re going to need to if you want to keep up!

Ulfgar Rumnaheim, Mountain Dwarf – Level 3 Paladin

HP: 28    AC: 18

Str: 17   Con: 15   Dex: 8   Int: 10   Wis: 12   Cha: 14

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, Dwarven Combat Training, Stonecutting, Dwarven Armor Training, Divine Sense, Lay on Hands, Fighting Style: Tunnel Fighter, Spellcasting, Divine Smite, Divine Health, Sacred Oath: Vengeance, Channel Divinity (Abjure Enemy, Vow of Enmity), Background: Solider, Military Rank

Gear: Warhammer, Shield, Javelins x5, Explorer’s Pack, Chain Mail, Holy Symbol, Insignia of Rank, Trophy Taken From a Fallen Enemy, Deck of Cards, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch with 10 GP, A Hilt From a Broken Sword

Skill Proficiencies: Religion, Persuasion, Athletics, Intimidation

Tool Proficiencies: Smith’s Tools, Deck of Cards, Vehicles (Land)

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma

Ulfgar Rumnaheim is far and away the most dangerous member of the party in a physical sense. Aside from health, strength, and defenses his Divine Smite and Vow of Enmity make him a particularly deadly melee combatant. Of course, he has the same access to spells and Lay on Hands as other Paladins, giving him more utility and making him a solid enough healer for the party. The Tunnel Fighter fighting style makes him a target that enemies will regret ignoring. The ability to make opportunity attacks without a reaction, and a way to make an opportunity attack at enemies moving around him, will make efforts to bypass him in order to attack squishier members of the party a dangerous play.

Keyleth Naïlo, Wood Elf – Level 3 Ranger

HP: 25    AC: 14

Str: 10   Con: 13   Dex: 17   Int: 12   Wis: 15  Cha: 8

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Keen Senses, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training, Fleet of Foot, Mask of the Wild, Favored Enemy: (Drow, Mindflayers), Natural Explorer: Underdark, Fighting Style: Close Quarters Shooter, Spellcasting, Ranger Archetype: Deep Stalker, Underdark Scout, Deep Stalker Magic, Primeval Awareness, Background: Outlander, Wanderer, Extra Language

Gear: Leather Armor, Shortswords x2, Dungeoneer’s Pack, Longbow, Quiver with Twenty Arrows, Staff, Hunting Trap, Trophy From an Animal You Killed, Traveler’s Clothes, Belt Pouch with 10 GP, An Ornate Brooch of Dwarven Design

Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Investigation, Nature, Stealth, Athletics, Survival

Tool Proficiencies: Flute

Saving Throws: Stength, Dexterity

Keyleth Naïlo is the party’s resident expert on the Underdark itself, a master of navigating the tunnels and caverns while choosing some of the subterranean world’s deadliest residents as her Favored Enemies. The Close Quarters Shooter fighting style means she isn’t punished for firing in melee, ignores cover at short ranges, and gets a small bonus to all her archery attacks. Underdark Scout gives her a boost to speed and an extra attack on the first turn of an encounter, while letting her drop back into hiding at the end of later turns. Deep Stalker Magic grants her Darkvision, while also providing a series of spells that focus on trickery and defense, both valuable traits in the Underdark.

Thava ‘Tenebrous’ Norixious, White Dragonborn – Level 3 Sorcerer

HP: 20    AC: 11

Str: 15   Con: 14   Dex: 12   Int: 10  Wis: 8  Cha: 16

Racial/Class/Background Features: Draconic Ancestry, Breath Weapon, Damage Resistance, Spellcasting, Sorcerous Origin: Shadow, Eyes of the Dark, Strength of the Grave, Font of Magic, Metamagic, Background: Hermit, Discovery

Gear: Handaxe, Arcane Focus, Explorer’s Pack, Daggers x2, Scroll Case Stuffed Full of Notes on the Nature of Shadow, Winter Blanket, Common Clothes, Herbalism Kit, 5 GP, A Single Caltrop Made From Bone

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Deception, Medicine, Religion

Tool Proficiencies: Herbalism Kit

Saving Throws: Constitution, Charisma

Thava Norixious brings the natural strengths of the dragonborn to the party, breathing pure cold and being resistant to the same. She then provides the party with the deadly power of a sorcerer, but her Sorcerous Origin makes her a very different creature indeed. Eyes of the Dark gives her Darkvision, but also allows her to cast a darkness that she can see through for a single sorcery point. Strength of the Grave lets Thava make a Constitution save whenever she is reduced to 0 HP by anything not involving radiant damage or a critical hit: upon making the save, she stays at 1 HP. She’s a lot tougher than her AC and HP make her look.

Splendent, Tiefling – Level 3 Warlock

HP: 24   AC: 12

Str: 8   Con: 14   Dex: 13   Int: 13   Wis: 10   Cha: 17

Racial/Class/Background Features: Darkvision, Hellish Resistance, Infernal Legacy. Otherworldly Patron: The Undying Light, Radiant Soul, Pact Magic, Eldritch Invocations, Pact Boon: (???), Background: Acolyte, Two Extra Languages, Shelter of the Faithful

Gear: Light Crossbow with 20 Bolts, Arcane Focus, Scholar’s Pack, Leather Armor, Dagger x3, Holy Symbol, Prayer Book, Sticks of Incense x5, Vestments, Common Clothes, Belt Pouch with 15 GP, A Brass Orb with Strange Runes

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, History, Insight, Religion

Tool Proficiencies: None

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma

Splendent adds his Tiefling traits to the usual array of Warlock abilities, getting Darkvision, fire resistance, and a few extra spells out of the bargain. Taking the Undying Light as his Patron makes him a type of Warlock that really stands out in a crowd of other Warlocks. Radiant Soul makes him resistant to radiant damage, while adding his Charisma bonus to all fire and radiant attacks that he makes, with the expanded spell list of his Patron feeding into that. It also grants him the sacred flame and light cantrips. Splendent’s growth is actually particularly interesting, with his Pact features eventually making him a source of temporary hit points and healing for the party. He’s only going to become more of an unusual warlock as he levels up.

This article returns to Meet the Party D&D tradition: the spells that our characters know have not been chosen, leaving that very personal choice up to players so that they can tailor the spellcasters to their liking. Splendent’s bonus to fire and radiant damage should help guide his player, while Thava’s should remember that the Shadow origin makes the dragonborn decidedly creepy while picking out spells. Metamagic and Eldritch Invocations also need to be chosen, which will determine the style of play to a certain degree. Finally, Splendent’s Pact Boon remains undecided. Personally, I tend for the extra cantrips of the Tome option, but with the tiefling already getting two extra cantrips from Radiant Soul I decided to leave it alone for now.

It’s important to consider that this is definitely a party intended for a particular type of campaign. Thava and Splendent work universally well enough, but Ulfgar and Keyleth greatly favor a certain type of terrain. While they are no means weak outside of small spaces and close quarters (Keyleth never loses her +1 bonus, after all, and Ulfgar can Smite no matter where he is) the perks of their Fighting Styles will be somewhat weak if they’re always fighting in open plains. Keep that in mind if you’re playing or running for them, or making a character with these traits on your own.

Who They Are

Ulfgar Rumnaheim has spent most of his life fighting to defend the mountain keep of his clan, but not from any attack on the surface. The dwarves didn’t have to dig too deep in order to be assaulted from below; the horrible denizens of the Underdark were more than willing to take the initiative. Ulfgar and his fellows locked shields and fought off assaults in tunnels, mine shafts, and even the lower levels of the keep. One day, however, a unit that included Ulfgar’s brother was overrun. By the time the hall they’d been defending was reclaimed, all Ulfgar could find was the broken hilt of his brother’s sword. Ulfgar swore on oath of vengeance at the altar of his god, and his god answered. The new paladin set off into the tunnels to strike down his foes, and has yet to return.

Keyleth Naïlo grew up happy in the forests of her people, but it was hardly a perfect life. Plenty of creatures would seek to do the elves harm, and none were more persistent than the drow and mindflayers of the Underdark. Rather than advocate for better defenses or to flee from the raids, Keyleth devoted herself to the life of a Deep Stalker, hunting her prey in their own territory. Truth be told she deeply treasures those times when she is able to return to the surface world to rest beneath the trees, but she has become comfortable with the shadowy tunnels of her chosen hunting ground. Even the Underdark can hold beauty if you know where to look, and Keyleth has the eyes for it.

Thava ‘Tenebrous’ Norixious was born to a long line of dragonborn sorcerers, but her elders could tell early on that Thava was . . . different. That she had magic in her blood was undeniable, but the source was nebulous and the hatchling’s nature decidedly off-putting. Still, she was not cast out or banished to the Underdark; she went there of her own free-will when she came of age, seeking answers. It would seem that she eventually found them, mastering the shadows within her and around her as she came to call the Underdark home. She has not seen the surface in years, and aside from maybe visiting her clan she is in no rush to leave the shadows behind.

Splendent is one of those tieflings who takes a long and careful look at his own infernal heritage and goes screaming in the other direction. For him that manifested in joining a quasi-religious order that venerated what they call the Undying Light, some sort of being or force that seems to embody the raw stuff of life found in the Positive Plane. This order was no sedate grouping of acolytes, however, and eventually Splendent (having taken that name as a ‘Virtue’ name in the custom of his people) left the order to bring the Light to the shadows. He makes no attempts to hide that he dislikes being where the sun’s light cannot shine, but the Underdark is one of the best places to combat the darkness, and so he holds to his path.

How They Interact

Ulfgar considers Keyleth to be his sister-in-arms; while she hasn’t taken a divine oath like himself, she has devoted her life and skills to tracking and killing the threats of the Underdark, and her fighting style meshes well with his own. Thava is a necessary ‘evil’, as far as Ulfgar is concerned, far too closely tied to the shadows but useful in combating them. He would be less wary of her if he had managed to see her blink. Ever. At all. Splendent’s faith is something totally unlike Ulfgar’s own, and he seems far too nervous to be slaying monsters in the Underdark, but he’s a good person trying to do what he can. Ulfgar likes and looks out for the tiefling.

Keyleth worries that Ulfgar is too focused on his vengeance to the exclusion of protecting his people (and, by extension, hers). She watches him carefully in case she needs to rein him in, but all the same considers him a capable ally and a good friend, clasping her cloak with a brooch Ulfgar gave her. Thava is that rarest and most welcome of creatures: a ‘native’ of the Underdark who presents a friendly, if at times odd, face. Keyleth often talks with the dragonborn, seeking a greater understanding of the Underdark and its shadows. Splendent is almost a literal ray of sunshine in the depths, a friendly and upbeat fellow who longs for the surface even more than the ranger. He has an open invitation to visit her forest home, and he has returned an invite to his temple.

Thava thinks about as little of Ulfgar as he does of her. Compared to the quiet dignity of the darkness, the dwarf is like a boulder crashing through crockery. She does, however, admire his devotion to his clan; her long years underground have not made her shed the love of her own clan, and she understands the need for vengeance. While Keyleth might not have the shadows within her like Thava does, the elf strikes Thava as a fellow student of the darkness. The ranger’s travels and tales might just help the sorcerer expand her own understanding. Somewhat surprisingly, Thava actually quite likes Splendent. Her study of the Shadow itself has taught her well that it could not exist without the light, so she views the tiefling as a complement to herself. Overall, Thava sees the others as good company; while she doesn’t share the quests they all hold that drive them to combat the Underdark, helping them allows her to travel where she could not on her own.

Splendent appreciates Ulfgar looking out for him, although he is a little embarrassed that anyone thinks he needs looking after in the first place. Still, he thinks of the dwarf as the short, bearded, cranky uncle that he never had. Keyleth is much like Splendent, in that her decision to fight in the Underdark is a personal choice rather than something she was born into. She also strikes him as the most competent person in a party where competence is the norm, and Splendent has created for himself an important rule: If The Ranger Is Worried About Something, Follow Her Lead. Thava is downright unsettling, what with the not-blinking and the ability to simply shrug off hits that should kill her. When she’s not being creepy (which, admittedly, isn’t too often) she’s actually decently friendly to Splendent, and sometimes they engage in discourse on the nature of light and shadow.

The Future

The Underdark is a terribly hostile place. Derro, beholders, dire corbies, and all the creatures mentioned above make simple travel just as deadly as any dungeon or evil lair on the surface. Will Ulfgar, Keyleth, Thava, and Splendent bring death to the shadows and conquer them with light (or master them, in Thava’s case), or have these adventurers merely walked willingly into their own tomb? That’s for you (and your dice) to determine!

Originally posted 11/12/15 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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