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Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, is a fictional city-state in the world of the Forgotten Realms, a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. It is located in the Upper Northdark, about two miles below the Surbrin Vale, between the Moonwood and the Frost Hills. It is famed as the birthplace of Drizzt Do'Urden, the protagonist of several series of best-selling novels by noted fantasy author R. A. Salvatore.
Ed Greenwood, Salvatore, and Douglas Niles collaborated to release a three-book box set in December 1992 called Menzoberranzan: The Famed City of the Drow. A review for Pyramid identifies Menzoberranzan as one of "the most famous pieces of the Realms".
The first two books cover the history of the fictional setting, while the final book serves as an adventure module.
The city has 20,000 drow inhabitants and hundreds of thousands of humanoid slaves that range from a variety of creatures such as goblins, kobolds, bugbears, duergar, svirfnebli, orcs, ogres, minotaurs, and giants, as well as herds of rothé kept as livestock. The city trades poisons, mushrooms, riding lizards, spell scrolls, wine, and water. The worship of Lolth is prevalent, and the city has the clerical academy Arach-Tinilith, a spider-shaped building where priestesses are trained. One of the branches of the city's triune academies of Tier Breche, Arach-Tinilith is neighbored by the warrior school Melee-Magthere, and Sorcere tower where arcane spellcasters are sent to study. These academies are the quarters of some of the most powerful clerics, fighters and wizards, respectively, and the title of master of an academy is coveted, since being the master of Sorcere or Melee-Magthere is as high as the power ladder goes for some houseless drow or even noble males.
Menzoberranzan was founded by a priestess of Lolth named Menzoberra the Kinless. It is ruled by a council of matrons from the eight greatest noble houses; the most powerful House in the city is House Baenre, until recently led by Matron Yvonnel Baenre—a drow cleric who was the single most powerful political figure in Menzoberranzan for about two thousand years. She has been succeeded by her daughter Triel. A separate council of mages deals with affairs of the arcane—but as its members are all male, it is wholly within the grip of the matrons.
Menzoberra the Kinless, a powerful priestess of Lolth, founded the city that bears her name in −3917 DR. By the wishes of Lady Lolth, she led seven drow families into the Northdark from the southerly drow holdings of Great Bhaerynden. The drow families, having no immediate external enemy, fell to attacking and undermining one another, as was drow nature, to the greater glory of their evil goddess, who so loved chaos. Only fifty years after the city's founding, in −3864 DR, a great and terrible battle between the two most powerful Houses, House Nasadra and House S'sril, occurred. This battle led to the exile of House Nasadra (which later founded the city of Ched Nasad, and was the First House until the city's recent destruction) and to the rise of House Baenre as the First House of Menzoberranzan.
The city's internal machinations have continued unabated for millennia. The Houses that grow weak are destroyed, and newer Houses rise up to find Lolth's favor. The full history of each House would constitute a nearly endless logbook of treachery, spite, and unceasing ambition. Within the last century, this pattern seems to have accelerated. House Do'Urden ascended from the Tenth House to the Ninth House by destroying the Fourth House, House DeVir. It then ascended to the Eighth House with the much-needed help of Jarlaxle's mercenary band Bregan D'aerthe by destroying the Fifth House, House Hun'ett. House Do'Urden lost the favor of Lolth, however, when Matron Malice Do'Urden turned Zaknafein into a spirit-wraith by using Lolth's dread Zin-Carla ritual and failed to kill Drizzt Do'Urden with him. This resulted in House Baenre utterly destroying House Do'Urden.
In 1359 DR, during the Time of Troubles, House Oblodra, the Third House, aspired to be the First House of Menzoberranzan. Menzoberranzan was caught in a magic dead zone, so magic did not work there. House Oblodra, however, was gifted in the rare art of psionics and seized upon this opportunity to strike at the other Houses. The matron of House Oblodra nearly reached her goal, but an avatar of Lolth answered Matron Baenre's pleas for help and came to Menzoberranzan after the Time of Troubles had ended. (The drow thought that she herself had restored all magic, but that is not true.) Although she loved chaos, she did not wish to see a House that did not whisper prayer to her to rule the city. Foreseeing her temporary loss of power due to the Time of Troubles, Lolth had asked the demon Errtu to protect her worshippers, should she herself fail to do it. In return, Lolth gave Wulfgar over to Errtu as a prisoner, means by which the mighty demon could gain his revenge on Drizzt. She then opened a portal for Errtu and his host of demons to lay siege to House Oblodra. By the time the Time of Troubles had passed, Lolth was restored to full power and single-handedly crushed House Oblodra, the remains of their stronghold being pushed into a deep chasm known as the Clawrift, and Matron Oblodra's spirit went to Errtu for eternal torment. Thus the ranks of the ruling Houses changed once again. All this she said was done for her greatest high priestess (although it was really done for herself), the two thousand-year-old Matron Baenre. All Houses in the city witnessed this great miracle and knew that House Baenre was the most favored House of the goddess.
Tier Breche, the famed academy of the dark elves, sits on a high plateau at the western end of the city, protected by guardians and fell magics, the Academy consist of three structures, Arach-Tinilith (The School of Lolth) Sorcere (The School of Wizards) and Melee Magthere (The School of Fighters). Presided over by the Matron Mistress of the Academy, all drow both common and noble are required to attend the academy. Students' length of education is dependent on their sex and occupation. Male Fighters will spend 10 years, male wizards will spend 30, and female priestesses will spend 50 years learning their profession. The majority of time is spent within their specific school; however each student will spend a portion of their last year at each of the other schools, gaining a basic understanding of the strengths and weakness of the other classes.
The School of Fighters is a pyramidal structure located on the east side of Tier Breche. Here males learn the art of swordplay, and individual and group fighting tactics. Beginning students spend their first sixty days unarmed under the instruction of The Master of Lore. Here they are indoctrinated against surface elves and non-drow. This racist propaganda provides a 'safety valve'- extra aggression can be turned on the surface folk, rather than (completely) on the Drowish hierarchy. Their junior years are very harsh, but conditions improve as they grow older. Students in their 9th and final year serve as guards for Tier Breche, as well as participating in practice patrols within short distances outside of the city cavern. Each year, in order to establish a hierarchy within the class, the Grand Melee is held. During this event the students are set loose in a maze chamber outside the city cavern, wielding simple wooden poles as imitation weapons. The last male standing wins. In the tenth and final year, fighters will spend their first six months in Sorcere studying magic, and the final six months within Arach-Tinilith learning the precepts of Lolth- most importantly, the inferiority of males in her eyes.
The School of Wizards is housed in a many spired stalagmite tower on the west of Tier Breche. Males will spend 30 years in study of the arcane arts, learning to channel the strange and unique magic of the drow that emanates from the Underdark. Acceptance as a student at Sorcere is highly coveted by young males as magic is the only path to any kind of real power in their matriarchal world. Masters of Sorcere are arguably the most powerful group of males within Menzoberranzan, headed by the city's Archmage. Not only are they responsible for the training of future mages but also for regulating the use of arcane magic for all drow within Menzoberranzan.
The School of Lolth is one of, if not the most important, holy sites within the church of Lolth. Standing at the center of Tier Breche, the school resembles a giant obsidian spider, sporting eight legs and a large central hall. Female clerics will spend 50 years in study under the Mistresses of Arach-Tinilith, learning the deeper codes, beliefs, and dogma of Lolth's faith. Some of the most powerful holy artifacts of the drow are stored within the halls. It is here that students will undergo the graduation ceremony, often involving demon summoning and sexual orgies between the new clerics and male wizards or fighters, reinforcing the subservient role of drow males. The Matron Mistress of the Academy resides here and serves both as head instructor as well as the leader of the academy. Currently the Academy is presided over by Matron Mistress Quenthel Baenre, who succeeded her sister Matron Triel after the death of their mother.
Bregan D'aerthe is a drow mercenary band based in the drow stronghold of Menzoberranzan and appears in many R. A. Salvatore novels. Founded by Jarlaxle Baenre as a means for houseless rogues to survive in Menzoberranzan, the group has thrived and expanded greatly since its inception. Due to its array of skilled soldiers and its many connections with the outside world, Bregan D'aerthe is a valued ally of many powerful drow houses. More than once in various novels, it has been remarked that Jarlaxle is one of the most protected drow in the Underdark due to the competent soldiers he surrounds himself with. This band of societal malcontents consists of approximately 150 members (though at times known to employ many more, having nearly one thousand agents at work with the Calimport initiative), mainly houseless males. Bregan D'aerthe has been very influential in the chaotic happenings of Menzoberranzan and has connections with Blingdenstone and has agents in Ched Nasad as well as major cities on the surface, most notably Luskan, Waterdeep, Calimport, and Heliogabalus. It was led by Jarlaxle Baenre, up until Servant of the Shard and is currently led by the drow psionicist Kimmuriel Oblodra.
"...no house desired conflict with Bregan D’aerthe. It was the most secretive of bands, few in the city could even guess at the numbers in the group, and its bases were tucked away in the many nooks and crannies of the wide cavern. The company’s reputation was widespread, though, tolerated by the ruling houses, and most in the city would name Jarlaxle among the most powerful of Menzoberranzan’s males." - Starless Night
"...in Menzoberranzan, Jarlaxle and his spying network, Bregan D’aerthe, had no equal." - Starless Night
The following are the topmost houses of Menzoberranzan: