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The Real Reason the Underdark Doesn't Make Any Sense


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I always kind of wondered about an ecology based apparently entirely on fungus and magic.

 

I've always thought air would be a big issue.  There just isn't a lot of airflow in the ground, so unless the fantasy world has a lot more caves then I would think a sizable number of people living in an area would quickly use up the breathable air.  Granted, some creatures may not even need oxygen (do illithids even breathe?), but at the very least the dark elves would.

 

As far as fungus, I can imagine that being more viable.  There are tons of different fungi in the real world, so it's not unbelievable that there would be a vast array in a fantasy setting.  Hey, maybe the fungus produces air to solve the air problem!

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In a world where there are elves and dragons, and skinny old men with long beards launch fireballs from their fingertips, I feel pretty comfortable with the idea of there being either a magic or engineered solution to fresh air in the Underdark.

Edited by Qwyksilver
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In a world where there are elves and dragons, and skinny old men with long beards launch fireballs from their fingertips, I feel pretty comfortable with the idea of there being either a magic or engineered solution to fresh air in the Underdark.

Well, sure.

 

The problems addressed in the article are deeper ones, to be sure.  Like, how exactly does a murderous society of cutthroat betrayers manage to build and maintain a city anyway?

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In the ancient days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, some of us bought and had the original "Vault of the Drow" module. In it, it is explained that there are queer unknown straaaaange mysterious enigmatic peculiar energies, native to what would eventually be called the Underdark. The reason for these energies was to prevent all the magical Drow loot from going "Sproing" and disintegrating the red hot second you got it back to the surface. Which is what happened to all the Cloaks of Spiderkind, the Drow Boots, the Mystic Sword Of Slaying Pretty Much Anything, and all the other stuff your mighty murder hoboes obtained off the corpses of dark elves they'd hacked into chutney ... they became nonmagical the second the sun hit 'em. Whoops.

When Bob Salvatore pretty much invented the modern Underdark, he called these energies faerzress, or something similar, and expanded its role in the stories. (http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Faerzress)

Never saw any reason why this energy wouldn't somehow work to empower fungi and even plant life, down below. If you're going to have cities and nomads and agriculture and livestock, for potato's sake, you've got to have some durn thing powering your ecology. Why not magic as opposed to a sun?

Thang that creeped me out was The Illithiad, which really fleshed out the mind flayers, and revealed that you could have hundreds of mind flayers all living in one city... all of whom ate a sapient brain once a month or more. That's a lot of slaves. Seems like you'd go through a lot of sapients that way... which actually helps to understand the reasoning behind dark elf surface raids and the slave trade, as well as the more or less constant strife between drow, grimlocks, svirfneblin, duergar, and all those other subterreanean races running around down there.

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...how exactly does a murderous society of cutthroat betrayers manage to build and maintain a city anyway?

 

The same way those brutal, cutthroat, treacherous Romans built an Empire.

The same way Sadam Hussein tried to build a dynasty.

The same way Otto von Bismarck built the Second Reich.

The same way Fidel built the Cuban Revolution which will, eventually and inevitably, collapse.

 

 

The notion of a "sustainable" society/civilization/empire/city state/ecosystem/kingdom/republic is a 21st century pipe-dream.

 

 

Real world history demonstrates all of them are temporary—so why expect permanence in a fantasy world? 

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...how exactly does a murderous society of cutthroat betrayers manage to build and maintain a city anyway?

 

 

The same way those brutal, cutthroat, treacherous Romans built an Empire.

The same way Sadam Hussein tried to build a dynasty.

The same way Otto von Bismarck built the Second Reich.

The same way Fidel built the Cuban Revolution which will, eventually and inevitably, collapse.

 

 

The notion of a "sustainable" society/civilization/empire/city state/ecosystem/kingdom/republic is a 21st century pipe-dream.

 

 

Real world history demonstrates all of them are temporary—so why expect permanence in a fantasy world?

The way I read it, ruthless despotism does not build a stable society. None of those examples lasted more than a few years, a generation or so at best (Rome's history in particular is complex and full of disasters, collapses, coups and complete social changes which got glossed over as if it were somehow a unified sweep of the same peoples over time), and all of them were based on the actions of a tiny number of horrible people at the top while the vast majority of citizens lived fairly ordinary lives repairing the sewers and rearing the children and things like that, things which are never addressed in fantasy cities chock full of well-kitted vicious warriors who somehow manage to be fed and clothed and sheltered and maintained without visible support.

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