Fauna of underground Middle Earth

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Gandalf[1]

The trouble with dungeons in Middle Earth is there is a limited number of monsters for you to meet as you wander through the hidden depths of Arda. In the most part, this is because Tolkien didn’t do monsters in the classical literature sense. His scary monsters were all the creatures of Morgoth and apart from those which had direct contact with his protagonists were left implied and unmentioned. All of which leaves a GM in Middle Earth with very little variety in the evil monster department underground. Orcs, the odd troll, giant spiders, and a variety of undead are your only option and quite frankly as a GM varying tactics to keep the players’ interest can become tricky. Even more so if you believe there should be a reason for a monster inhabiting that room or area of cavern. There are the Maia linked to the various elemental forms but if you are using the MERP/Rolemaster systems you might as well be thinking of assaulting a dragon and we know how well that turned out for Thorin and co.

So what is the answer for those surprises in the caverns? The Moria module which you would think would provide a decent treatise on cave dwellers, but actually most of the fauna described would still need access to the open upper levels to feed. Goblin Gate is even less forthcoming only adding the vampire bat to the list because the bat was associated with the goblin army in the Hobbit and I am guessing the brief reference to them in the Silmarillion.

Adventures in Middle Earth rarely focus on exploring underground and yet every quest covered by Tolkien had some form of underground journey. So perhaps there should be more of a consideration of the denizens of the deep.

With no mythical creatures to draw on GMs would naturally drawn on non-fantasy creatures which Middle Earth would happily accept. Bats, bears, and anything that basically has the prefix of Cave are trogloxenes: creatures which live periodically underground but rely on above ground for food. Obviously these encounters will be near entrances to deeper caves and are covered in the fauna sections of most of the MERP and Rolemaster material.

What we really need are troglobites – animals that live underground permanently in cave systems. Unfortunately, these are really small and pretty much not very aggressive which could lead to come interesting encounters.

As you enter widening passage a hochenwartii scuttles past. Idly you swat it from the wall to the floor where it curls up briefly before scuttling into the darkness.

Which is where Gandalf’s passing comment on the nameless things begins to provide an opening. Already we have giant spiders but what if there were other giant fauna below which live in a thriving ecosystem on which the nameless things would in term feed on and presumably surface into the the depths of Dwarven delvings. Thankfully, you can find a long list of these in Wikipedia and suddenly the risk of being crushed by a giant Phantom cavesnail as it blindly travels forward through a tunnel or even attempts consume the adventurers makes your random encounters far more interesting.

Below are some links that I’m using to create some challenging encounters in my underground campaign sections. I will build a bestiary companion on this blog as I go.

Flatworms

Mollusca

Velvet worms

Arachnida

Myriapoda

Millipedes and Centipedes

Sinocallipus deharvengi

Crustacea

Insecta

See Cave insects

Fish

Main article: Cavefish

Amphibians

Mammals

There are no known mammals that live exclusively in caves. Most bats sleep in caves during the day and hunt at night, but they are considered troglophiles or trogloxenes. However some fossorials which spend their whole lives underground might be considered subterranean fauna, although they are not true troglofauna as they do not live in caves.

3 thoughts on “Fauna of underground Middle Earth

  1. There’s little life in caves because of the limited ecology. You could have those giant creatures if there was a squirming mass of life in the caves on which they could feed. I solve that either by limiting the number of creatures in the caves (in the mundane world) or by using caves in Faerie, which naturally do not need to follow the rules of ecology. Faerie cave dwellers can also take on the most fantastic forms, which makes it easier as well.

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    1. Agree it has to be limited but you still have a good reason for a giant tardigrade munching its way through lichen or fungi down in the depths and is more agreeable than you see nothing. Magical Faeries just aren’t possible in ME.

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  2. Gabe Dybing

    Gandalf’s comment about the world below being “gnawed by nameless” things puts me in mind of Lovecraftian monstrosities out of even Sauron’s ken and unaffiliated with either Good or Evil. Your bestiary is so useful. I can imagine characters coming across gigantic slugs and centipedes and even stranger things lifted out of D&D.

    Liked by 1 person

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