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Outlining Karameikos' Underdeep

by Francesco Defferrari

The most ancient ones, part 1

The land that is now Karameikos exist since billions of years, long before the Traldars, long before Taymora.
It has been higher, lower, under the sea, desertic or wooded, inhabited by elementals, worms, oozes, insects, araneas, dinosaurs, fairies and giants for ages before men, and by other men before the ones that inhabit it now. Most of the ancient races have disappeared in history and not much is left of them, yet each people that inhabited this land has left at least something till the present days...

The Melting Tower

When the planet of Mystara was young, it was covered with lava and inhabited by fire creatures. They forged nations and empires that lasted thousands of years, until they were replaced by new races. Many of the fire creatures died, others escaped in their elemental plane. But some stayed. Besieged by their enemies they seek refuge in the only place where only them could live, in the fiery deeps below.
Now entire nations of fire creatures live in the dephts, hundreds of miles below the surface, and only rarely they come in contact with the other creatures living above them... But in some places, where hot lava comes to the surface or near to it, they could be encountered...
The Melting Tower is a huge lava shaft near to Karameikos' surface, in an underground area 8 miles north east of Highforge, that goes down for miles all the way to the World Shield. The shaft is surrounded by intricated passages and tunnels that are the home on the higher levels to lava lizards, fire beetles, lava Oozes and fire fundamentals, but that, going deeper, are inhabited by flame salamanders, elementals, fire drakes and efreets.
The people of the Fire nations however are inside Mystara since so much time that their culture is peculiar and quite different from their brothers in the elemental plane. But to expand on this, I'll go with an In-game POV.

Report to the king of Highforge, prospect squad 12G

We went into the tunnels of the north east as we were commanded. As your majesty knows, the area is full of ancient ruins and dungeons, some dating back to lost giants kingdoms, others to more ancient creatures, others to humans. Yet what we found there is something completely different. We were into a tunnel going deeper and deeper, that we found had more and more metal ores as we descended. At the beginning the tunnels were dark and cold as expected, and we encountered only harmless small animals and insects, until we began to see a dim red light ahead of us.
Wary and prepared we went forward until we found a cave lit by small pools of melted lava. This was revelead as a rather large area, also rich in minerals and gems, that continued for several caves and tunnels. Many were inhabited by lava lizards, fire beetles and little elemental creatures that posed no threat to us as they just fled our approach. Onwards we went until we saw something bigger coming toward us. We were ready for the worst when we realized that the approaching creature was clearly a flame salamander. And we were astonished when she, as we later learned, made peaceful gestures and tried to speak to us. We managed to comunicate only with magical means, as her language is unintellegible and sounds like crackling fire. The salamander told us that we were near to the entrance of the Fire nations, inhabited by thousands of fire creature that live below the earth, right below us. She said that many of them would be happy, like she was, to communicate and trade with people from the Air kingdoms, as she called our lands. But the most wonderful view was yet to come, because as we spoke with her we went forward and suddenly we came out of the lava tunnels into a great rock ledge that overlooked what I could only describe as a huge lava shaft, lit by fire, that went below into the depths of the earth as far as the eye can see.
And in the middle of the great shaft, that I think was at least 600 feet across or more, there was a flying vessel kept aloft probably by hot air, not unlike our baloons. In the vessel there were other creatures. Some were flame salamanders, as the one that was speaking with us, others were more similar to us, they looked like slightly taller gnomes, shorter than humans, with braided bears and hairs that seemed on fire. Others yet looked like giants, taller than humans, and had no bears nor hair. We were indeed very intrigued by these people, but we thought it was best to return to Highforge and report this amazing encounter, even if the Flame salamander, she gave her name as Shal'iass or something similar, invited us to enter the vessel and come down to visit their realms. We just said her we would return, and she let us go without hostility. I believe now is up to your majesty and the elders to decide if and when to contact these creatures again...

(The goal here is to draft a Karameikos' underdeep as recently discussed here)

Outlining Karameikos' Underdeep

The Deeper levels

1 - The Fire Pit. approx. 550 miles below the surface. This level is a permanent gate to the elemental plane of Fire, and it's connected to other huge lava lakes/environments that leads to the same plane deep below Ylauruam, the Northern Reaches and Norwold. It's not connected however in any way with the surface, nor with the levels above. The place exist since billions of years and it has been occupied and inhabited by several fire creatures, from elementals to elions. Now the Efreeti Empire rules here, has recently discovered the anti magic shield and it's slowly digging its way around, up and down, searching for inhabited areas and treasures.. they could be quite far from the surface, but they have a sort of connection with it since the Karameikos school of Magecraft opened in Krakatos the so-called "Elemental tavern" a room within the school where teacher and students can peacefully meet outsider creatures, like elementals. Recently an efreeti agent of the Empire visited the place in disguise, and his masters could decide the idea could be useful to visit the surface areas in force...

2 - The maze of Madness. approx. from 500 to 300 miles below the surface. That's a huge multi-level than include dormant burrowers and several other aberrations, like beholders, illithids, chokers, chuuls, demons, otyughs, lesser outer beings, giant worms, athachs, nekrozons, dusanus, brain collectors, hook horrors, ropers, undeads of forgotten ages and other nasty things... this pitch dark and terrifying area has several planar gates but is not easily connected with below and above levels, yet it could be eventually crossed through difficult passages in 40-80 days going down, double time going up. And those would be quite interesting months for a group of PCs

3 - The Moving earth. approx. from 250 to 200 miles below the surface. The main inhabitants of this huge level are Earthquake Beetles and other giant insects and worms. This area of the underdeep is literally moving and has constant landslide and lava explosions. It's also inhabited by several lava creatures. It could be crossed in 10-20 days but managing to escape it alive it's not an easy feat...

4 - The Deep Black. approx. from 200 to 100 miles below the surface. This pitch dark area is inhabited by the ancient dragon Mahandrahyax, who in ages past fought against the Immortals and was blinded. Mahandrahyax is an earth dragon, an extinct breed, much larger than modern dragons, wingless and grey, with incredible elemental powers. He sleeps most of the time, but rarely he wakes up and scream his pain and rage, an appalling sound that travels for many miles in the tunnels. The area is also strangely devoid of lava and seismic activity but every two days, for unknown reasons, a strong wind blows, creating other strange, eerie sounds. The Deep Black could be crossed in 20 disquieting days.

The Worlds Below

5 - Fyarash. approx. from 90 to 85 miles below the surface. Fyarash is the land of the Fire Nations encountered by the gnomish prospect squad above. The intelligent races that live in this area are a sort of flame salamanders, fire drakes and two species of elementals that looks a bit like tall gnomes and short hill giants. The latter two are visually similar to humanoids but are not, indeed they are ovoviviparies just like the salamanders and their newborns must stay several days in very hot pools of sulfuric waters. Normal water and cold are instead harmful to them. Fyarash is a great area of tunnels, huge caves, lava rivers and lakes with town and cities and around 90.000 inhabitants. The origin of the fire people date back to very ancient times, when fire elemental creatures inhabited the surface of Mystara. Defeated by air and cold creatures, they sought refuge below the earth and have lived there ever since. In so many years they have lost any connection with the elemental plane of fire. Indeed invaders from the plane were defeated by the fire people several times in their history. They do not know the truth about the Deep Black level below them, nor they know of the Fire Pit (that would bother them much) but thanks to the Melting Tower they do know of several levels above them and of the surface, that they call the air kingdom, thinking it is still under the rule of the dangerous and hated air creatures.
They had some sporadic clash with the earth people directly above them but they do not know of the main menace to their land, the powerful Water empire that's spreading just two levels above.
They have other neighbours on their same level: to their south there is the Great Lava Sea dotted by the islands of the Fire drakes, peaceful nations with whom they trade. To the east there is the realm of the Fire Giants, kin to the same people who inhabit Fyarash and usually peaceful. To the north there is the so called Efreet dominarchy, a nation of renegades who left the plane of fire centuries ago and who the fyarashians mistrust. To the east there is the hated dominion of the Deep Glaurants, with whom the fyarashians fought innumerable wars...

Notes on borders and neighbours
What's interesting to note here is the main directions are not 4 (NWES) but 6 (above and below) so any underdeep culture could have at least six main neighbour nations around. Yet in the underdeep travel is not easy and therefore, differently from the outside world, it could be very difficult to know of other cultures beyond those in the immediate vicinity, unless there is an easy connection or the culture has a penchant for explorations...
As there isn't much in canon about Karameikos underdeep, I would leave many underground cultures quite separate from each others, unless PCs change that

Fyarash politics and society
Fyarashian are, predictably, fiery people, divided on many issue in religious and political factions. The factions are always engaged in heated debates that usually do not escalate in open battles, but often results in bloody duels. There is an atheist faction, one that serves an ancient fire dragon and factions of Ixion, Zugzul, Rathanos, Pflarr, Tarastia, Fire Elemaster and others...
Another major cause of duels in fyarashian society is romance, a fundamental part of life for the many hot blooded youngs and less young.
Factions sometimes cooperate, but more often divide families, marriages and cities. Against outside aggression however fyarashian have always been able to unite, yet a very powerful enemy could exploit their division to its gain...

6 - Actoian. approx. 80 miles below the surface. Actoians are descended from earth creatures in ages past. They resemble dwarves in physical proportions but are tall as humans. An ancient, peaceful nation, they have recently been conquered by the Wiassian water empire from the level above. Many actoians have come to accept the conquest, but a resistance movement is still active among the younger generations and followers of Maat, in spite of the small chances of success. The known neighbours are several communities of geonids and rockmen to the north and the east, that the Wiassian are trying to conquer too, and Deep Glaurant to the west. The Actoians sealed all the passages to the west centuries ago to keep the Glaurant away, but the wiassians do not fear them and are ready to re-open the tunnels to invade these lands too...

7 - Wiassian. approx. 75 miles below the surface. The Wiassian Empire is inhabited mainly by three very different water descended races, one resemblying crabs, one manatees and the third knas, but they have not a real relation to these outer world creatures as their ancestors came from the plane of water aeons ago. The Empire now spans a huge underdeep area from below the serpent peninsula to the alatian islands, from southern Darokin to northern Davania, and has conquered several areas in lower and upper levels too. All this area is filled with water, and if the wiassians find an area which isn't, they fill it. Actoians do not know yet that will be their future, but they'll discover it soon enough. For now the Wiassan occupying force has magical deviced to breath water in Actoian. The wiassians however do not drown all the air-breathing races, they just modify them to make them able to breath water. Obviously that works best with the second and third generation of the modified specimen, while the first one normally has more difficulties and often die out quickly. That's also for the best as second and third generation subjected people do not remember anymore their original culture and nation. The main result of their great expansion is that the Empire is now the home of a dozen more races that were originally air-breathing creatures, but aren't anymore. The Empire has good relations with other powerful nations of the elemental plane of water but it still has some opposition on its main level as in the Underdeep of Davania there is a powerful nation of lizard-like water beings, to the north and the east there is a strange race of underground amphibious giants and to the west and south west there are Deep Glaurants.
Wiassan is an orderly, authoritarian society where the state religion is dominated by Protius and Vanya. There is also an outlawed peace movement lead by the clandestine churches of Koryis, Calitha, Petra and Chardastes.