Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Escape From the Underworld

I'm making long-term plans for a campaign during this December's get-together with my friends, and I need as many "Escape From the Underworld" myths and stories as I can come up with.  Most of the ones I'm familiar with are from Greek myth:


The legendary musician Orpheus descended into Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice. He was allowed to, with the caveat that he couldn't look back until he got back to the mortal world.  He failed and thus failed his quest:

So, a quest to the Underworld should probably have an unusal or arbitrary failure condition, but one known to the questers.


When Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his bride, her mother went to the Underworld to get her back.  Persephone had eaten six pomegranite seeds (or was tricked into eating them, I've read different versions,)  and was required to stay with Hades six months out of the year.

From this I take the idea that you shouldn't eat or drink anything while in the Underworld: bring food and water.


Hercules had to kidnap Cerberus ("Spot," no, seriously,) the hound of Hades as one of his labors.  While he was there he found his friend Theseus glued to a chair, and ripped him loose, leaving Theseus' rear end "behind."  

So: treasures and old friends not directly related to the quest at hand are there to be had, but they may bear a cost.


I also found this page, Myth Encyclopedia: Underworld, which has a few I'm unfamiliar with.  I need to track a longer version of each down (Mulian rescuing his mother from Buddhist Hell seems really interesting.)

If you're aware of any others, feel free to post about it in the comments.  I'm really looking for inspiration for this one and any help is appreciated.


  1. Great ideas! I'd add Dante's Divine Comedy to the list. Dante is led through a tour of the underworld, and relies on his guide Virgil to lead him correctly, to explain what he is seeing, and possibly even to protect him when he passes out. Key lesson: have a guide (or at least a map or protection).

    1. That's an excellent one and I should have thought of it. That's one of my favorite works of all time.

  2. If you want to dive into the epic tradition, check out the Odyssey - and the Aeneid -and Paradise Lost.

    Odysseus goes into the Underworld, and then escapes, in the Odyssey, and it's a pretty cool scene - he wants to talk to the shades of the dead, so he spills blood on the floor, and the dead shades all gather around to drink it, because apparently they hunger for the blood of the living. He meets a whole series of famous women from history, as well as the ghosts of his old frenemies Achilles and Agamemnon.

    Aeneas' scene is a bit more boring, in my view - but he does get to meet his dad, as well as the unborn spirits of all his future children, who will go on to become the bloodthirsty emperors of Rome, so that's something.

    Paradise Lost, Book II, has the ultimate escape from the underworld: it's Satan escaping from Hell, on a mission to find Eden and cause the fall of man... If you're looking for monsters to fight on the way out of the underworld, then you might want to look up "Sin" and "Death", who Satan has to fight/charm on the way out... The fact that they're his children makes things complicated.

    I know it's epic poetry, butt it's also kind of great fantasy literature!

    1. All three are excellent suggestions, and I should have at least thought of the Odyssey as I always preferred it to the Illiad anyway. It's been a while since I read Paradise Lost, so that's not so embarrassing, and I never did finish the Aeneid in the first place so I definitely need to add that one to my list.

  3. Here are a couple of norse excerpts from the underworld/afterlife


    1. I have to dig up my encyclopedia of Norse Myth now.

  4. For the past several years, I've been running a solo BESM game for my wife that is set in mythological Greece. Her character once journeyed to the underworld, and I used elements of both the Odyssey and Aeneid. We're now playing out a plot line about the god/monster Typhon trying to escape from his prison in Tarterus, so the underworld is still haunting our heroine.

    I have found Robert Graves' "Greek Myths" especially useful in creating this game, both for his excellent summaries of the myths (with their variations), as well as the copious footnotes in which he expounds his various pet theories about the myths. Those notes can quickly get rather eccentric, but sometimes his more crackpot ideas are exactly the kind of thing to suggest sneaky twists you can use to keep the players on their toes, even if they know the stories well.

    Here's the Underworld page on my game's wiki, if you want to take a look at it for ideas: https://sites.google.com/site/thekynthiad/home/known-world/underworld

    1. Thanks for the link. I haven't read Graves' Greek Myth, but the Claudius books are favorites of mine. I also know he had some out-there notions from having read his Golden Fleece, but it was all pretty entertaining so it's probably worth a read.