Great Rift Portals
By Jeff Quick
The main passage that connects the Wyrmcaves and the Deep Realm is uncomfortably large for most dwarves' tastes. A dragon of considerably advanced age could force his or her way through the passage with either spells or strength. The officers charged with overseeing defense in these sections of the Underdark have carved a curving path, inserted heavy redoubts, summoned elemental guardians, cast all the appropriate glyphs, and maintain a vigilant guard force. Their first line of defense is solid, and it holds off most draconic intruders. They also intended to make attackers waste spells so they won't see the second line of defense: a portal known among gold dwarves as "the Dragon's Noose."
The Wyrmtrap portal is enormous. More than 50 feet high and 40 feet wide, it encompasses the entire area of one slice of the tunnel, from ceiling to floor, wall to wall. Beyond the portal area, the tunnel runs another 30 feet and curves around to the right. The only sign of its presence is a seam of runes carved in a line around the circumference of the portal's area. As camouflage, the seam is placed just past a second row of carved glyphs, making it look as if the two are a single band. Once a dragon dispels the glyphs, he or she usually assumes the runes to be remnants of the spell. At this point, the commander nearest the portal speaks the key phrase, "Steady, soldiers," in Dwarven. This activates the trap.
The genius of the Wyrmtrap portal is not in its construction or design, but its destination. The Wyrmtrap portal deposits encroaching enemies into a section of played-out mines some 30 miles away from any occupied area of the Great Rift. This one-way portal teleports anyone who passes through it into another tunnel carved to look exactly like the tunnel the portal occupies. Thus, when active, the portal looks no different than when inactive.
Just like the original tunnel, the trap tunnel runs for 30 feet and then curves around to the right. Unlike the original tunnel, the trap tunnel abruptly halts around the corner. Behind the spot where a trapped dragon appears, the tunnel narrows to a 20-foot diameter, runs for 50 feet, and ends. At the end of the tunnel, a three-foot diameter circular crawlspace allows most Medium-size creatures to enter and exit with a little effort. Any dwarves who accidentally are swept through the portal with a dragon have a chance of survival if they can get to the crawlspace before the dragon makes sense of what has happened.
Of course, dwarves know that dragons are wily, and simply being trapped in a tunnel won't hold any wyrm for long. Most of them can change shape or teleport and burrow or come up with some escape plan. However, the portal does generally disorient them long enough for the spellcasters and archers waiting on the other side of the crawlspace to finish them. Then, workers climb in, check for treasure, remove remains, clean up damage, and repair the tunnel so it looks like the real tunnel on the other end again.
Though the portal is known as the Wyrmtrap, it has also been used on drow, hobgoblins, and once, a rampaging umber hulk. Its secret is well kept because only one dragon who has ever gone through has survived. The blue dragon, Zellenesterex escaped with her life after an assault on the caves of the dwarves. That was more than 100 years ago, and everyone who still remembers the attack assumes the dragon has moved on to easier targets.
How to Incorporate the Wyrmtrap Portal Into Your Campaign
- Zellenesterex, an adult blue dragon, and the only creature ever to escape the Dragon's Noose, still lairs in the Wyrmcaves and still holds a grudge against the gold dwarves of the Great Rift. But she has grown wise in her years and will not attack blindly again. Rather than charge in and expect her power to help win against the dwarves, she wants to know what she's up against. In the guise of a gold dwarf miner who has lost his memory after a head injury, she comes across the PCs in the Underdark, preys on their sympathies, and tries to learn about the Rift cities and gain access to them through her newfound "friends." She will not make the same mistake again.
- When a dragon attacks and walks through the portal, someone has to be on the other end to finish the job. The dwarf in charge of Wyrmcave defense asks the PCs to do the job, calling it "the easy part."