Welcome to the Underdark. Don’t mind the spiders.
Today we visit the only fantasy city to provide free web access for all its citizens…That’s right, gather your sunrods, your darkvision goggles, and your list of SEO keywords, because it’s time to visit the most well-indexed city in the Underdark: Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders.
Menzoberranzan is famous (or is it infamous, I always get the two mixed out) throughout the Realms. It is the birthplace of Drizzt Do’Urden, famed wielder of the swords Twinkle and Icingdeath (which, incidentally sounds like a pastry-themed Batman villain); it is the site and namesake of the 1994 CRPG Menzoberranzan, which introduced the world to the glory of the Myconid King.
He’s a hit at parties though. A real fungi.
And it is the subject of countless splatbooks and novels, including a 3-book boxed set in 2nd Edition and its own sourcebook in 4th, complete with rules for creating characters that belong to the various drow houses and getting mired in the byzantine politics of the Underdark’s crowning jewel.
Founded in -3917 DR by a high priestess of Lolth, Menzoberra the Kinless–who was at the time, fleeing the destruction of the Drow city of Golothaer–Menzoberranzan is the favored city of Lolth. It bears the name of her high priestess, the moniker, City of Spiders, and is so beloved by the queen of the Demonweb Pits, that during the Time of Troubles she took refuge there in mortal form, ensuring through all manner of Machiavellian schemes that her followers would be protected.
Menzoberranzan has quite the pedigree. Menzoberra led seven families from the city of Golothaer into a realm called the Northdark (some say, at the behest of Lolth herself). And there in a massive cavern, two miles wide and a thousand feet high, rests Menzoberranzan.
Here in this cavern, the great houses of Menzoberranzan fight among each other, vying for power and dominance–ironic, in that the original reason the seven families fled Golothaer was to escape the constant infighting among factions and glorifying Lolth. Little did they know. Most of the outright warring came to a head when two of the most powerful houses fought a battle that caused part of the cavern to collapse, destroying four families and killing Menzoberra herself.
The ensuing fallout and retribution led to the rise of House Baenre the current power in the city–for now. In the wake of that battle though, houses rose and fell only to rise once more, leaving behind treachery upon treachery–enough to make even a Harkonnen blush.
AdamHarry isn’t the only one who can make Dune references in these things…
Scheme after scheme, the Drow of Menzoberranzan venerate Lolth, using their magics to protect the city from their many enemies (for the most part, every now and then she falls silent, because Menzoberranzan exists primarily in the Forgotten Realms which means every few years the gods are thrown into catastrophic chaos and the cosmos threatened, so that Elminster and co. have something to do).
When they’re not defending the city from their enemies, Menzoberranzan is renowned for his trade. Their mercantile prowess is one of the best in the Underdark, featuring merchants and merchandise from across the Material Plane and beyond, offering frequent visits from the lower planes as demons and devils visit to sell favor and buy souls.
Places to Go
There are a number of important sites in Menzoberranzan–the city is two miles wide, after all, and boasts a population of 20,000 or so Drow (and considerably more nondrow slaves and “guests”).
Donigarten The breadbasket of the Drow, this is an area of food and farms and filth. A lake with a small island at its center sits in the Donigarten, providing water for the fungi farms that line its shores. The lake itself is filled with fish and eels, and in the “fields” that surround the lake, there are deep rothe. It is arguably one of the safest places in Menzoberranzan, it is well-guarded and, owing to the peasantine quality of the landscape, almost entirely free of scheming Drow nobility.
The Bazaar as previously mentioned, the markets of Menzoberranzan are the finest in the Underdark, where one can go to buy just about anyone or anything they desire. Here is a place for trading and commerce–though as anyone who has lived to tell the tale will confirm, oftentimes, trading with the drow is just as dangerous as fighting them.
The Clawrift This part of the cavern is home to a massive rift. Up near the edge, and also clinging to its side is the compound of one of the great houses of Menzoberranzan, House Oblodra. Deep within the rift are a number of kobolds, abyssal tentacles, and the secret headquarters of the city’s most famous and competent mercenary band, the Bregan D’aerthe, led by none other than the Dandy of Menzoberranzan, Jarlaxle.
Tier Breche Arguably one of the reasons Menzoberranzan is as successful as it is. Here’s the massive academy that sits above the city in a massive side cavern. Resting literally above it all (well most of it, the Baenre plateau is higher), this is where all drow of great promise come to study and rub elbows. Here’s the drow’s Ivy-League, packed to the spidery brim with spoiled rich drow (nobleborn) and those who show exceptional promise from the common ranks. There are three separate schools to be found here, the Melee-Magthere, the Sorcere, and the Arach-Tinilith, which provide schooling for warriors, wizards, and priestesses, respectively.
The Melee-Magthere is the drow equivalent of Brown. Prestigious, sure, but not as prestigious as the other two. This is one of the schools that male drow can attend if they want to end up as anything more than dead, and even then, no promises.
The Sorcere with its arcane instructors and focus on mystic arts is a far more prestigious school, and is generally male-only. Which means that their structure of academic hierarchy is probably in place to give “lifetime students” a break from the schemes and politics of the city. Their powers are considerable, though.
Finally the Arach-Tinilith, where priestesses are raised. Founding the Arach-Tinilith was one of the literal final acts of House S’sril (whose name adorns the steps leading up), in an effort to provide clerics of quality. Priestesses who survive their training and the terrible ordeals without becoming driders are quickly elevated in the city.
All in all, this is one of the more dangerous places in the Realms…full of schemes and murder and plots that reach out from the Underdark and shape events, unseen, on the surface world. Even those staying far away from the Underdark may one day find themselves drawn to the city, and the Web of Intrigue at its heart.
Getting back out of Menzoberranzan…now that’s a sticky situation…