Contained in a huge natural cavern deep in the Underdark, Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, is
home to some 25,000 drow and almost that many slaves. It is the center of the worship of Lolth, the Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
A character knows the following information with a successful skill check.
: Menzoberranzan was founded more than five millennia ago by priestesses of the
Spider Queen, and ever since has been ruled by a rigid matriarchal theocracy devoted to their dark goddess. The city was rocked in the early 1370s DR by the sudden withdrawal of Lolth from her worshipers, and Menzoberranzan sent an expedition to the Demonweb Pits to appeal to their silent goddess. What they found was a great cocoon and a transformed Lolth, more powerful than ever.
: Life in Menzoberranzan can be cruel and short for those not willing to embrace the drow ways of deception, manipulation, and submission to the matron mothers.
But all is not cruelty and brutality in the City of Spiders. Ambitious female drow of lesser houses, or even from the peasantry, can rise to the highest levels of power—or at least better their place in the stratified realm. But males are limited in how high they can rise in the matriarchal society, especially those who have lost the protection of one of the noble houses.
The entire city of Menzoberranzan is carved into towering stalagmites and huge stalactites hanging from the cavern’s thousand-foot-high vault, intricately carved and aglow with eldritch flame.
The Bazaar – Ever-Changing Market
A circle of bare bedrock about 750 feet in diameter, the Bazaar is a marketplace full of stalls and carts where the drow of Menzoberranzan can buy and sell just about everything imaginable. The Bazaar is a peaceful and open place patrolled by house guards and punctuated by street performers and hucksters. Merchants are not allowed to place their carts or stalls in the same place for more than a day, so the layout and mix of vendors is always different.
The Braeryn – Stenchstreets
The garbage-strewn alleys and spider-infested shanties
of the least of Menzoberranzan’s neighborhoods
are the domain of houseless males, defrocked priestesses,
maimed soldiers, and ruined merchants. Life
is cheap in the Stenchstreets, and wealthy drow
sometimes go there for drunken hunts, chasing down
escaped slaves and dishonored drow for sport.
Though not too far a step down from Manyfolk,
Eastmyr is a poorer neighborhood of struggling
merchants, lesser tradesfolk, and mercenaries.
None of the major ruling houses are located there,
but the ruins of Houses Oblodra and Freth, and the
abandoned House Kenafin compound, are home to
squatters and escaped slaves.
Manyfolk – Trade District
If there’s such a thing as a middle class in the City
of Spiders, it lives in the winding thoroughfares of
Manyfolk, which sports the highest concentration of
permanently housed tradespersons and merchants in
Inns, taverns, higher-class festhalls, and an
array of fine massage salons are sprinkled through
this neighborhood. The streets here are crowded
with drow and their slaves going about their daily
NOTABLE MERCHANTS OF MANYFOLK
Rhauvais del’Ygana deals in exotic weapons, including
the poison-tipped darts and hand crossbows that
traditionally define the drow warrior. She claims to know
a million different ways to conceal a weapon on any
The slaver Hrong Freedman bought his freedom after
two decades in the gladiatorial pits of West Wall. He
stayed on in the city to sell kobolds, goblins, and more
exotic humanoids, including the odd human, to Menzoberranzan’s
most discerning slave owners.
The female drow Sh’aun Darnruel sells exquisite gowns
of the finest spidersilk to the matron mothers and to
those who hope one day to join their ranks.
The Broad Streets District
This exclusive neighborhood of large manor houses
and fashionable shops is the showplace of Menzoberranzan.
The stalagmite towers here are more
masterfully carved, and more intricately adorned
with magical fire, than those in any other part of the
Narbondellyn is home to numerous gem-cutters
and jewelers, including the bitter rivals Hondel
Belek’tyr and Juron Shadalun (son of Mritt Shadalun,
found dead in Belek’tyr’s vault in 1463 DR),
who trade in the most exotic jewels from all over
Toril—and worlds beyond.
As famous as their jewelers, the perfumers of
Narbondellyn sell only to the finest drow in Menzoberranzan,
and their scents are woven with magical
compulsions that make them more than simple cosmetics.
In the right hands, such a perfume is the key
to power and influence—two of any drow’s favorite
Narbondel: This huge stalagmite is magically
heated every evening by Gromph Baenre himself.
The heat rises from the base of the pillar to the tip
over the course of 12 hours, and then it cools for the
same length of time. Through this glowing tower of
rock the Menzoberranyr mark the passage of time in the sunless Underdark.
Qu’ellarz’orl – The Place of Nobles
This tall shelf on the southern end of the city overlooks
the rest of Menzoberranzan, and from that lofty
perch, the massive compound of House Baenre looks
down on the rest of the city.
A massive forest of giant mushrooms adds a
strange beauty to the plateau, which is patrolled by
guards from Houses Baenre, Xorlarrin, and Mizzrym.
All three of those houses drill their troops and wizards
across the open expanses in a show of force to
the rest of the city.
Off one wall of the western end of Qu’ellarz’orl is a
small, well-guarded cave, the Chamber of the Ruling
Council, in which the matron mothers of the eight
most powerful houses meet.
Tier Breche – The Academy
Dominating the northern reaches of the city, the
great stairway of Tier Breche is the largest structure
in Menzoberranzan. The approach is guarded by
myriad deadly traps, an honor guard of two Melee-
Magthere upperclassmen, and two 15-foot-tall jade
spiders that can animate to protect the place.
Atop Tier Breche are the three branches of the
Academy, the center of learning and the source of
drow “justice” that both serves and controls the
matron mothers, as their powerful leaders see fit.
Arach-Tinilith: Housed in a building in the shape
of a giant spider, Arach-Tinilith is the most powerful
branch of the Academy. Since the rise of Quenthel
Baenre, it is even more closely allied with the First
House. Quenthel has not officially relinquished her
title of Mistress Mother of Arach-Tinilith, despite the
fact that it is unprecedented for a matron mother to
hold both titles.
Female drow are sent to Arach-Tinilith at the age
of forty to complete five decades of training in the
cruel and demanding service of their demon goddess.
There they learn to summon, control, and mate with
Melee-Magthere: This martial arts school
produces some of the most gifted and cunning handto-
hand combatants in all of Toril. Those who are
selected to undertake the ten-year course are mostly
males. The building is an unadorned stone pyramid.
Sorcere: A slender and graceful tower houses
the wizard school of the Academy, overseen by the
Archmage of Menzoberranzan. Drow (mostly males)
who show a talent or inclination for magic are identified
at a young age, then sent to Sorcere at the age of
twenty-five to complete thirty years of training.
West Wall – The Old Quarter
This neighborhood of lesser houses and wealthy
merchants is a quiet place where little of interest ever
happens—and the residents like it that way. Some
of the neighbors indulge in esoteric pursuits: gambling
over slaves who are forced to fight to the death,
collecting arcane magic artifacts from across the multiverse,
or hunting and capturing strange creatures
from the World Above. Anyone walking the streets
of West Wall would never know of these activities,
though. Discretion is the watchword here.
The Ruling Houses
Eight of the most powerful drow clans form the
Ruling Council, and they keep a firm hand over
everything that transpires in the City of Spiders.
House Baenre – The First House
House Baenre has held its position for so long that no
drow alive remembers any other First House, but it
has expended considerable effort over the centuries
to fend off attempts to change that status. Houses such as Oblodra, Do’Urden, and Agrach Dyrr have
crossed paths with the Baenre matrons, and all have
fallen by the wayside.
The First House effectively controls all three
branches of the Academy and holds firm alliances
with most of the other ruling houses. Still, power
draws attention in Menzoberranzan, and the attention
of any drow can be a dangerous thing. House
Baenre remains forever on its guard.
House Barrison Del’Armgo – The Second House
Matron Mother Mez’Barris Armgo and her three surviving
daughters quickly filled the gap left by disgraced
House Agrach Dyrr to become the Second House.
Though home to fewer priestesses than the other
ruling houses, Barrison Del’Armgo has collected a staff
of house wizards second to none in Menzoberranzan.
The house tends to keep its own counsel, eschewing
close alliances or open conflict with any of the other
houses. Rumors that Mez’Barris and Gromph enjoy
some kind of intimate relationship have persisted for
decades, but none dare attempt to confirm them.
House Xorlarrin – The Third House
In the days following the end of Lolth’s Silence,
House Xorlarrin enjoyed the favor of Triel Baenre for
its tireless and close military alliance against duergar
invaders and the upstart Agrach Dyrr. That favor was
enough to help Matron Mother Zeerith Q’Zorlarrin
leapfrog over House Faen Tlabbar to capture the rank
of Third House.
Like Barrison Del’Armgo, House Xorlarrin
employs a greater than average number of wizards,
all based out of the lofty Spelltower Xorlarrin, which
stands adjacent to House Baenre on Qu’ellarz’orl.
House Faen Tlabbar – The Fourth House
The priestesses of House Faen Tlabbar, led by Matron
Mother Ghenni’tiroth Tlabbar, are among the most
devout in Menzoberranzan. So fanatical are they that
even some of the high priestesses of Arach-Tinilith
are made uneasy by their wild orgies with demons
and mass sacrifices in the name of their twisted
House Mizzrym – The Fifth House
A close ally of both her Qu’ellarz’orl neighbors Baenre
and Xorlarrin, Matron Mother Miz’ri Mizzrym is a
wily and duplicitous negotiator who has trade contacts
throughout the Underdark and even in the
World Above. Much of the slave trade in Menzoberranzan
is controlled by House Mizzrym, as well as
the trade in illicit magic items.
House Fey-Branche – The Sixth House
Fey-Branche is one of the oldest of the ruling houses,
having been among the top tier of drow clans for over
four thousand years. It credits much of that longevity
to its having played the lackey to the other houses
for so long. Though Fey-Branche occupies the rank of
Sixth House, Matron Mother Byrtyn Fey fully expects
that both Melarn and Vandree will soon challenge
it, and the house will most likely have to accept the
eighth rank once again.
House Melarn – The Seventh House
The youngest of the ruling houses by far, House
Melarn was formed from a union of Houses Horlbar
and Kenafin a decade after the end of Lolth’s Silence,
and named in honor of Lolth’s Lady Penitent, Halisstra
Melarn. It has absorbed a trickle of survivors
from the original House Melarn, which fell in the
destruction of Ched Nasad, but the matron mother,
Zhindia Melarn, is the daughter of House Horlbar’s
Matron Mother Jerlys Horlbar.
House Vandree – The Eighth House
After killing her ineffectual mother Troken’ther in
1388 DR, Matron Mother Fiirnel’ther Vandree has
clawed her way from Seventeenth House, threatened
by the more powerful Barrison Del’Armgo, to
a place on the Ruling Council. It’s possible that even
Fiirnel’ther doesn’t know how many drow she had to
kill to make that happen.