Skava-Ra is a unique and terrifying place: an underground city of vampires, built by vampires, for vampires. Just that simple fact - the idea of thousands of these powerful undead creatures, all in one place and united in purpose - has kept mortals wondering if such a place could even exist (and for those who think it does, kept them far, far away.) Nevertheless, as it's conceivable that details of this dark city might one day be needed, some elaboration is in order.
Notations in BLUE are specific to events that have taken place in the Adventurers stories.
Thousands of years ago, for reasons lost to known history, a small group of powerful vampires had a vision of a dwelling place where they could live without fear of the hated sun and the attacks of mortals. After locating a suitable cavern, deep in the depths of the earth known as the Underdark, they put their plans into motion, using arcane magic and much slave labor to expand the natural space and construct buildings. This task took thirteen years, and the resulting city became home to several hundred vampires. In the milennia since, it has expanded both in size and population, even as its rulership has evolved. The vampires here are generally content to remain out of sight and mind of the world above, except for occasional small and covert forays outside the city. A large percentage of the city's vampires have actually never experienced life in the surface world, never had to hunt for their food, and never been hunted by mortals. While still potentially dangerous, such residents of Skava-Ra are content to mind their own business, free of worries and risks. Lately, however, the city's current ruler - not content to have his kind live in hiding - has grown restless, and seeks a way to return his people to the surface world to claim what he thinks should rightfully be theirs. Whether this endeavor will succeed, or bring ruin to the city, remains to be seen.
At the outset of Skava-Ra's construction, all existing entrances to the enormous cavern were sealed, save one: the roughly 100' diameter tunnel that connects the city to the Underdark. The junction of this tunnel and the main cavern is blocked by a pair of fifty-foot black iron doors, with several outlying buildings on the tunnel side. From here, a 30' wide road of black stone leads away from the city and toward the Underdark proper. The first two thousand feet of this road are lined with iron poles, atop which are fixed the skulls of many a man or beast. This road extends another ten thousand feet until it intersects the actual Underdark proper; the further away from the city one looks, the less maintained the road becomes. This long passage is routinely patrolled by vampires and their minions, making it impossible to get near the city without incident.
At about the 8000' mark (away from the city, i.e. 4000' from its junction with the Underdark) the main tunnel has a side passage of note: a narrow, rough tunnel that winds away several hundred feet. After a few side passages that lead nowhere, this smaller tunnel opens into one of Xusia's teleportation gateways. In episode 898, the party used this gateway to enter the main tunnel that led to Skava-Ra and had a brief skirmish with some vampiric guards before sealing the side passage with stone.
Inside the gigantic entry doors, a level plain extends a couple hundred feet toward the city proper, split by the 30' road of black stone, which continues all the way into the city.
The city rests within a huge natural cavern, roughly circular and about 6000' across, with a 2000' peak at the center of the cavern ceiling. Although the exact depth of this cavern has never been accurately measured, it connects to the Underdark, which puts it at least a mile under the world's surface. Long ago, powerful magic was used to give the cavern's entire roof the appearance of a night sky, complete with stars, wind, and occasional rainstorms. The temperature remains chilly to cold year-round, with little fluctuation.
The city proper fills almost the entire cavern, and consists of hundreds of buildings and towers, spanned by both streets and high walkways above street level. The architecture is both unique and hybrid, resembling a bizarre cross between Gothic construction and the organic style of drow cities; the taller structures are clustered toward the center, where the Imperial Tower looms above all. This thousand-foot monolith is inhabited by Skava-Ra's ruler, a god-king who sits upon the Blood Throne.
The vampiric population of Skava-Ra numbers just over a thousand, and the food chain here is as simple as it is horrific: the vampires breed humans to serve as food (and in a secondary role, slave labor.) These people are pale, generally meek wretches who have never known any other existence and have no concept of the world above. They number around two thousand, derive their sustenance from underground livestock and crops, and typically have lifespans that end when they become too old or ill to be of use to the vampires. These humans are used for their blood, and the rules are simple: they are not to be completely drained (slain) for two reasons (depletion of their numbers and complications rising from creating new vampires.) A select few powerful vampires have, or earn, the right to fully drain a slave upon occasion; this rare privilege is followed, of course, by mandated execution of the slain human, lest it become a new vampire. These same elite vampires sometimes have their own human slaves serving in their households. The importance of keeping the food supply healthy and plentiful has not escaped the vampires, and thus - in a bit of irony - the slave pens are sturdy, clean, and actually of higher quality than those of some free men in the surface world. The humans are treated well and stay busy, working hard and forming families, and generally lead a fairly quiet existence - except for those unpredictable times when one simply disappears for a day or two, only to return weak, disoriented, and even paler than normal. And of course, sometimes they don't return at all.
The water necessary for the humans' crops and life comes from an underground river which flows through part of the city. Its ingress and egress points have been blocked with sturdy metal grates, far beyond the ability of the humans to move or damage. These are routinely checked to make sure they are secure, though in truth the humans harbor no thoughts of escape that way; even if they had the will and were able to get past the grate, they do not of course possess the ability to breathe underwater or see in the dark.
As the cavern containing the city has no ventilation, the supply of breathing air for the humans comes from the exotic underground fungi which grow throughout the area. These plants thrive on the byproducts of the humans' respiration, and excrete breathable air. Due to the importance of these fungi crops, they are regularly checked to ensure that they are free of disease etc.
Owing to the unique ecology of vampires, the majority of Skava-Ra's undead population came to the city after tiring of life in the world above. Even the most powerful vampire is vulnerable for roughly half its lifespan, and the places on Oerth where one can live free of worry are few and far between. In almost all cases, vampires who emigrate to Skava-Ra settle in and never want to leave; the few who still wish to venture to the surface world end up serving as scouts, undertaking covert missions on behalf of the dark city's rulers.
Despite its unique location, Skava-Ra has the same elements as any city: markets, shops, theaters, even crooked officials. Not every vampire here is a ruler, or rich - for if that were the case, if everyone was elite, then how would elite status be measured? It is important to remember that just because one is a vampire, with terrible strength and dark powers, not all such individuals were meant to be exceptional...to be mighty warriors, great wizards, and the like. Indeed, the majority of Skava-Ra's denizens were average in their mortal lives, and compared to those who rule the city, they are still average. Astoundingly, many of them have little or no experience in battle or dealing with mortal vampire hunters.
The vampires engage in little to no commerce with other residents of the Underdark; their goal is to be completely self-sufficient. Similarly, they have formed no alliances with drow or any other species, and indeed those all give the undead city a wide berth.
An approach to Skava-Ra along the huge tunnel would encounter multiple layers of resistance. Firstly, there are patrols ranging all the way out to the juncture of this tunnel and the Underdark - and since these are vampiric guards, they can detect intruders at longer range, and move quickly to engage or retreat. At any given time, there are typically 3-4 patrols spaced throughout the roughly twelve thousand feet of the main passage. Each such patrol will consist of up to a half-dozen vampiric warriors and possibly some large bats or subterranean wolves. In addition, the area is infested with large, evil-looking rats; when these creatures see something, the vampires will know about it. (Note that all such animals are native to the Underdark and possess slightly-higher senses than their surface-world counterparts.)
As one moves down the huge passage toward the city itself (assuming one survives that long) the double 50' high black iron doors will come into view, along with the outlying buildings near their base. These serve as the garrison for all vampire patrols, and hold an additional dozen vampires (including at least one wizard and one priest) who are not out on patrol. These forces are augmented by a score of large, savage wolves, these creatures being kept in their pen when not out roaming the main passage. Worse, the ceiling of the tunnel, right above the barracks buildings, is home to twoscore of large, vampiric bats. Like the wolves and rats, these winged beasts are completely loyal to the vampires and will fight to the death if necessary. Note that this is just a portion of the overall bat population; hundreds more live in one particular edge of the huge cavern, nesting near its ceiling.
The two gigantic doors are each fifty feet high and half that wide, not to mention a foot thick. They open outward, each one requiring the might of two ebony golems to push it open. When closed and in the locked position, each is secured to the cavern floor by heavy stone anchors (these also require the golems' efforts to lift, before the doors can be opened.) On the inside of the doors are a series of guardhouses; above these and the doors is a platform upon which a half-dozen defenders can stand and cast spells upon any attackers via the wide, barred window that looks out on the garrison and beginning of the tunnel out to the Underdark. Of course, the gigantic double doors are really just for show (or repelling conventional forces) as all vampires can enter and exit the city through the barred window above the portals.
From an overall perspective, it is important to note that in several thousand years, there has never been any sort of organized assault on the city. Most vampires (even the guards on duty at any given time) simply cannot conceive of the possibility of a threat, and therefore they do not take their duties seriously. This overconfidence could be a weak point should any sort of coordinated attack ever take place.
Due to its location deep within the bowels of the world, and the fact that no outsider has ever been there or seen it, the city has little to fear in the way of intruders teleporting into it. Conventional scrying simply will not work to offer a glimpse into the reaches of Skava-Ra.
(In episode 990, Belphanior used the Loom of Ages to peer into the past of Skava-Ra, and therefore it is possible that he might be able to successfully "see" the city for purposes of magical teleportation, provided he possessed such magic of sufficient strength.)
As noted previously, at the outset of the city's construction, all entrances save the main passage were sealed. Subsequent intrustions into the central cavern (created by random burrowing underground creatures) have typically been sealed quickly and efficiently. Of course, people (even vampiric ones) being people, a few secret entrances and exits do exist, known only to a select few.
Nearly hidden on the city side of the great doors, five hundred feet from the left-hand one, a narrow tunnel leads outward, around the beginning of the great passage, opening into it about a thousand feet from the city and forty feet above the passage floor. Not only is this tunnel extremely cramped (just 2' wide in most places) it also zigs and zags both horizontally and vertically and is extremely difficult to move through. It is concealed on the outer side by a six-inch thick panel of stone which would require greater-than-human strength to move, and on the inner side it is blocked by a ten-ton rock wedged perfectly into its opening.
On the northern wall of the great cyst containing the city, about 200' above the cavern floor, a past tunnel created decades ago by a wandering purple worm was sealed at the time. However, an undiscovered pocket of moisture has weakened this seal over time, such that the stone could be shattered by a few giant-strength blows or an equivalent force. The capped exit leads upward and away from the city, connecting to a series of abandoned tunnels currently inhabited by a pack of umber hulks; these creatures currently remain unaware of the weakened barrier between them and the vampire city.
In the depths of the Imperial Tower, its entrance hidden within a series of empty and forgotten chambers, a small square passage winds underneath the tower, the city, and the cavern, eventually leading to a secret sanctuary through which an insect - or mist - might eventually escape into caverns that lead to the surface world. This escape route is of no value or use to Yegyar and he has all but forgotten about it.
Skava-Ra is ruled by the vampire god-king Yegyar, from his seat atop the Blood Throne. He is the undisputed master of the city and all within and around it. However, he does delegate to some extent: his decisions are handed down, implemented, and enforced by the Council. These six vampire lords have differing personalities and responsibilties, and they gather periodically to discuss matters of import. Capsule profiles follow:
Yegyar role: ruler (has controlled Skava-Ra for over 2000 years) power level: demigod (at almost 3000 years of age, he is currently the oldest vampire on Oerth) appearance: slight, wizened body with chalk-white skin, wears black robes sheathed in shadows, seems to loom over everything even when seated unusual vampiric powers: "possesses powers and abilities unknown to the wisest of sages and experts" immune to turning, holy symbols, holy water, running water, garlic, mirrors regenerates at twice normal rate immune to cold and takes one-quarter (instead of one-half) damage from electricity more powerful charming ability (saves have -3 penalty) has innate godlike abilities inherent ability to command other vampires (only older ones have even a chance of resisting) 50% magic resistance innate spellcasting abilities equal to 16th level wizard (5/5/5/5/5/3/2/1/0) weaknesses: despite fearsome power, he can't exert himself for long, and then needs rest afterward other notes: has successfully resisted a dozen attempts to usurp his throne over the years; none came close never leaves the city anymore, hasn't even left his tower in many years Ulruk role: general power level: 18th level warrior appearance: 6'8" and broadly built, physically imposing, long straight black hair, only wears armor for major battles unusual vampiric powers: immense vampiric strength (20) and near-limitless stamina wields an intelligent +4 two-handed vorpal sword whose purpose is to slay the living any wounding blow also stuns the victim for 1-4 rounds if they fail a save vs spell wears chain mail +3 and carries a large shield +3 (he can wield the sword one-handed) weaknesses: overconfidence other notes: became a vampire in his prime veteran of many battles, possesses extraordinary fighting experience and tactical knowledge has been Victoria's consort for the past two years Varnath role: high priest power level: 18th level priest appearance: morbidly obese elderly fellow with mottled, sickly-looking skin; his robes could cover a large couch unusual vampiric powers: "has great unholy powers" control undead as 14+ level priest spellcasting abilities of 18th level priest (8/8/8/8/6/4/2) weaknesses: physically slow and uncoordinated, despite vampiric nature other notes: serves deity Kanchelsis Drakov role: administrator power level: normal vampire appearance: handsome, well-dressed, regal, accustomed to money and luxury both before and during vampirism unusual vampiric powers: none (he's just very good at his job and has thus been promoted to his current level) does possess several magical items (smoke powder, potion of unholy healing) geared toward protecting his own well-being weaknesses: typical mental deficiencies of a rich, snobby aristocrat other notes: runs all aspects of the city's day-to-day existence and maintenance reigned for decades on the surface before being driven underground lives in a lavish manor house with many servants doesn't like change Count Ossok role: beastkeeper secret role: spy (he is Yegyar's eyes and ears on the council) power level: has innate abilities equal to an 18th level thief appearance: animalistic, with bald head, pale hairless skin, rat-like fangs unusual vampiric powers: can shapechange at will (bat, rat, wolf) highly-developed senses and cunning affinity for talking with and controlling certain wild beasts weaknesses: none, besides not being held in very high regard by most of the other vampires other notes: enjoys unsettlings others by virtue of his bestial appearance sleeps in filthy dirt, not particular about where he gets his blood from very, very old with a lot of experience best summarized as a simple primal undead creature that lives because it's not ready to perish yet Sadira role: slavemistress power level: 16th level wizard (specializes in necromancy and death magic) appearance: lithe, stunningly-beautiful vampiress with dark brown hair unusual vampiric powers: spellcasting abilities of 16th level wizard (5/5/5/5/5/3/2/1/0) more powerful charming ability (by voice too, not just gaze) weaknesses: cannot control her emotions and urges at times other notes: in charge of slave pens and all associated matters interested in dark magic and pleasures of the flesh keeps a sizable stable of servants, which constantly needs replenishment as they are consumed Cagan role: sorceror power level: 18th level wizard (multiple spheres) appearance: ten-year-old boy with red hair unusual vampiric powers: spellcasting abilities of 18th level wizard (5/5/5/5/5/3/3/2/1) weaknesses: physically weaker than other vampires, tends to overcompensate via powerful magic; also has bad temper other notes: despite childish appearance and frequent giggling, is actually 600 years old