In Forgotten Realms lore, Durnan beat the odds, or so he’d like you to believe.
Long ago, he and Mirt delved deep into Undermountain. Their sacks full of treasure and their tales overflowing with daring, they returned triumphant. They became Waterdeep’s most famous adventurers, a pair who’d survived due to pluck and good fortune.
Durnan used his riches to knock down the remainder of Halaster’s tower and constructed the Yawning Portal over the hole. To this day, he has remained owner and operator of the inn — the best lid a dungeon could ask for.
Dungeon’s lasting hold
One way or another, Undermountain grabs hold of those who attempt to plumb its depths and doesn’t let go. Despite his riches and apparent success, Durnan was no exception.
He’s tied to the place, sunk his riches back into it, and served as de facto gatekeeper ever since. For a gold coin he’ll lower you into the pit, and for another, he haul you up. He’ll lay odds on the adventurers and their chances.
Durnan’s never been the most sympathetic of bartenders; life is rough and you have to take your chances. Be you brave or foolish, it’s no nevermind to him. His wagering on any and all that takes place in Undermountain is just another example of how he’s fettered to that sunken tower.
Messages in a Bottle
When I was developing Undermountain: Messages In A Bottle for the DM’s Guild, I thought quite a bit about Durnan’s plight — and his reputation as a betting man.
It was then that I hit upon the idea of the Yawning Portal’s message bottle. It’s a wondrous item, one of many curios that decorate the tavern, that captures the dying pleas of Undermountain’s inhabitants. If that isn’t grisly enough, the message bottle is just one more of Durnan’s amusements: taverngoers use it to bet on which gods will be invoked by the dying person’s message.
It was the closest thing I could think of that approaches a macabre modern-day practice — celebrity death betting pools — and solidify the link between Durnan and Undermountain.
The real thrust of Messages in a Bottle are the 48 “messages” that DMs can use to salt their version of Dungeon of the Mad Mage, clues to entice adventurers ever deeper into the Undermountain. And if my selections aren’t a match for your game, I provided instructions on how any DM can use the tool to develop their own “messages in a bottle.”
A harsh lesson
But the product’s real gem, as far as I’m concerned, is Durnan’s little toy. Using it the way Durnan does paints him a little darker, a little grimmer. But when you’re talking about Undermountain, maybe a fatalistic approach is to be expected.
After all, Durnan knows it best.
Undermountain belongs to Halaster.
And the house always wins.