Many would-be heroes, upon first entering the Black Sanctum of Sorrows, find themselves asking what all the fuss is about. After all, they had heard countless stories about how dreadful the place was, but when they got there, they found a relatively cleared out dungeon.
But they weren’t there in the centuries before the Iron Truth Adventurer’s Guild was established. And they haven’t yet gone that far.
The first three levels of the Black Sanctum have been mapped out by the Iron Truth, and they are relatively safe, constantly patrolled by guild members and visited by others. But even with constant vigilance, everything from goblins to nightmarish creatures beyond description find their way into these “cleared out” floors.
Nobody is quite sure where the dungeon’s name comes from, but seeing as it has claimed the lives of hundreds of adventurers it seems fitting. Before the construction of Castle Oritz, nobody would even live within a few days travel of the entrance, fearing the horrors that commonly spilled forth from it.
These days, the first three floors are much easier to survive, though they still claim lives. It is the subsequent floors which are truly dangerous, and which hold real reward. While the Iron Truth has managed to map out some of each of these floors, enough to get from one stair to the next, much of each floor remains a mystery. Groups are often sent out to methodically map areas, and if they come back, the maps get better. If they don’t, the area gets left to itself for a while.
The deeper levels also have a tendency to drive adventurers mad, and only the bravest or most foolhardy delve below the fifth level, much less try their luck exploring the tenth level. There is something about the dungeon which makes most who explore it uneasy, and many who have returned from deeper levels have done so only by fleeing horrific visions. Even before encountering the slavering beasts and twisted mockeries of sentient beings that roam the deeper floors, delvers are submitted to a battle of willpower.
Though all manner of beast has been reported in the dungeon, the unifying theme is one of chaos and madness. Scribes have recorded numerous descriptions of creatures encountered nowhere else, and even among those more common dungeon denizens weird mutations abound, rendering even familiar threats more dangerous than normal. Powerful forces are at work in the Black Sanctum, and those creatures dwelling in it that are capable of speech are often mad themselves, gibbering about incomprehensible nightmares as they gleefully kill and maim anyone in their way. It is postulated that whole societies of lunatics must live in the depths in order to produce so many wandering victims.
Those adventurers who return from a trip into the Black Sanctum of Sorrows do so with a newfound respect for the place. But few return untouched by the madness that dwells within, and many of them find themselves driven to return to its darkest depths.
Artwork: “Punishment” by Albert Robida, from Les contes drolatiques, vol. 1 by Honoré de Balzac, ca. 1900.