Basic Rules, pg. 307:

Underdark Cities. The dark elves build fantastic cities in enormous caverns where food and water are abundant...


I realize we don't have settings books for Dragonlance, Greyhawk, etc. yet, but some published books do reference them (e.g. the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide has a section titled "Class Options in Other Worlds"). On those other worlds do Drow reside in the Underdark? Does the Underdark even exist?

Since SCAG (and maybe other resources) seems to provide canonical answers for hypothetical questions such as "is Bladesinging appropriate to use with Qualinesti elves?" and since the Underdark is specifically mentioned in the Basic Rules I'm hoping there can be a canonical answer to this question. Material from past editions is fine if none exists for 5e, but consistency among those materials (i.e., no differentiation between editions) would then be important.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What about non-setting specific material, such as 2nd edition's Night Below, is that out of bounds for this question? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 17, 2021 at 16:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Excellent thought. I presume some published adventures are canonical (like how "Die Vecna Die!" set up the transition from 2nd to 3rd edition) but I don't know if that is true for all published adventures. I'd say adventures published by TSR or WotC are fine for answers, but it might help to point out if those adventures are considered canonical in the setting or not. If all published adventures are canonical then folks don't need to point that out for individual adventures. \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Jun 17, 2021 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ To remove one world from consideration, the Dragonlance world had individual cavern systems and delvings (Thorbardin being a primary example), but it did not have a connected "underdark" connecting the entire continent. Additionally "drow" were not included. A "dark elf" was just an evil elf that had been banished. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2021 at 13:32

3 Answers 3


Greyhawk: Descent into the Depths of the Earth

The Underdark concept originated in Greyhawk with the in the AD&D adventure module Descent into the Depths of the Earth, published first as two different modules in 1978, and republished in a compilation module in 1981. See Korvin's answer for more details about this one.


Matthew Mercer's world Exandria features an underdark, and is featured a few times in the Critical Role podcast. For canonical material, we see in Explorer's Guide to Wildemount that the Kryn Dynasty lived for a time in Wildemount's underdark before rebuilding their capital city:

Beneath the ruins of Ghor Dranas, a group of scavenging drow turned from Lolth, their primary deity for centuries, finding renewed faith in an esoteric entity they called the Luxon. Guided by the light of their new deity, the drow survived their ascent from deep within the Underdark and reclaimed the halls of Ghor Dranas for themselves, naming their new home Rosohna, or “Rebirth.”

And also:

Dark elves are the most populous race within the Kryn Dynasty. The drow were the first people to uncover the first buried Luxon beacon many ages ago, in a time before they turned from Lolth and escaped enslavement from the Betrayer Gods. The dark elves claimed the dread citadel of Ghor Dranas as their own, as well as the massive network of underground caverns that make up the Underdark of Wildemount. The Kryn are stealthily becoming a force to be reckoned with.


Eberron calls their underdark "Khyber", and it is featured in a section of Eberron: Rising from the Last War:

Any time someone descends below the surface of the world, they enter Khyber. But the underworld takes two very different forms. First is the natural realm, networks of tunnels and caverns formed from stone and soil. These passages are dark and dangerous, but they’re exactly what you expect to find in an underground realm. Such passages might be home to carrion crawlers, giant beetles, or clans of kobolds. But ultimately these mundane caverns follow the laws of nature.

There’s another aspect to Khyber: go deep enough and you find a seemingly endless array of demiplanes, each stranger than the last. When descending into a chasm, you could find a labyrinth inhabited by demons or discover a realm consisting of the guts of a colossal living creature. Anything is possible in Khyber, and these “worlds within” are home to all manner of terrors.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure whether more recent is better in terms of non-5e references, but there are plenty of canonical appearances of Drow in Greyhawk post 1e. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 17, 2021 at 16:18
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It seems to me like the first Wikipedia article has confused people a bit on the status of that adventure. AD&D Modules D1, D2, and D3 (Vault of the Drow) were published simultaneously in 1978, and represent three parts of a single adventure -- namely, the three stages of the official D&D tournament over the weekend of GenCon XI. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2021 at 5:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might also want to mention Ravnica, since it has a world-spanning underground cave system as well, even if it's not called "the Underdark". It plays triple duty as the plane-covering city's sewers and farms, as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Jun 18, 2021 at 6:44

The Underdark originated in Greyhawk, not the Forgotten Realms

The modules D1 and D2 which followed the original three Giants modules, came out in 1978 and were the introduction of the Underdark via module (and given that the author was E. Gary Gygax, it was set in Greyhawk). It's where the drow originate (in terms of game play; the first ever encounter players had with this monster/NPC) and live/lived. Drow live in the underdark; it had become their homeland (where they crafted their unusual armor that degraded in sunlight). Further lore/exposition on the drow homeland was in AD&D1e Module D3: Vault of the Drow, also introduced at GenCon XI)

The Wikipedia article for Descent into the Depths of the Earth summarizes the plot as follows (I am not where I can get at my original modules):

The plot of the original modules Descent Into the Depths of the Earth and Shrine of the Kuo-Toa places a party of player characters (PCs) on the trail of the drow priestess Eclavdra through the Underdark, a vast subterranean network of interconnected caverns and tunnels, battling various creatures on their journey.

Those adventures were very, very popular. As a result, the Underdark as well as the existence of Drow, deep gnomes, kuo Toa, et al, was subsequently ported (or adapted) into other setting like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and more recently Exandria.


Yes, other worlds often have subterranean regions, and drow often live in them. They are even, often, called the Underdark. For instance, the world of Oerth, for the Greyhawk setting, had its own Underdark (though also called Underoerth or Deep Oerth).

Other worlds can do different things, though—Eberron’s subterranean region is called Khyber, and drow don’t live there, they live on the surface, on the jungle continent of Xen’drik.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer could be improved with some citations and/or quotes to canonical material. Right now it's just an assertion with no support. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 17, 2021 at 14:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I disagree—I do not think that would be an improvement. This provides enough detail to strongly suggest I’m not just making it up, and appropriate upvotes from the community would and should back that up and confirm for the reader that this is accurate. It is not the case that more is automatically better—I find your answer unnecessarily lengthy for such a simple question. But I’ve certainly been on the other side of the fence much more often than not, so no criticism there. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 17, 2021 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan This is a surprising claim, that just because you are detailed proves you haven't made something up yourself. Any author of fiction books would beg to differ :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Jun 17, 2021 at 18:35

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