The Underworld, also known as the Dark Umbra or the Contrarium, is the domain of the dead and memories in the Classic World of Darkness.
The Underworld is divided into several areas: the Shadowlands, Dark Kingdoms, the Tempest, the Labyrinth, the Abyss and Oblivion. These are distinct physical (or possibly metaphysical) areas, not political boundaries: Stygia, the Yellow Springs, and the Far Shores all qualify as Dark Kingdoms in this taxonomy.
The Shadowlands are the part of the Underworld closest to that lands of the living (the Skinlands). The Shadowlands are a mirror "skin" of reality, with every location in the breathing realm having a corresponding location in the Shadowlands which, for the most part, obey conventional rules of distance.
The Shadowlands are uniformly described as "gloomy"; colors are muted, light is dimmed, the air is chill and life is generally dark and gray. Buildings in the shadowlands are often exaggerations or warpings of their Skinlands counterparts. An abandoned house may look relatively up to date (reflecting the memories of its original appearance) or look considerably more decrepit and decayed.
Separating the Shadowlands from the deeper underworld is the mystic storm called the Tempest. The Tempest is a perpetually swirling maelstrom of energy, memories and Spectres issuing from the Labyrinth and continuously raining plasm and materials on both the Shadowlands and Dark Kingdoms. The Tempest is generally weaker in the Shadowlands, although this changes when a Maelstrom occurs.
The Tempest is a "sea" in the Underworld, and the Dark Kingdoms are islands in that sea. Each Dark Kingdom is a hypostasis for the dead of a particular culture. The major Dark Kingdoms are:
- Stygia, the Dark Kingdom of Iron and the Hierarchy of the Western Dead.
- the Yellow Springs, the Dark Kingdom of Jade and the Empire of the Asian Dead.
- Karta, the Dark Kingdom of Clay, the aboriginal dead reside here.
- Swar, the City of Delights and the domain wherein the Indian Dead while away their existence.
- The Bush of Ghosts, the Dark Kingdom of Ivory which claims authority over the dead of Africa.
- The Flayed Lands, the Dark Kingdom of Obsidian and the ruler of the Mesoamerican dead.
- Amenti, the Dark Kingdom of Sand and the home of the Gods and Undying of Ancient Egypt.
- Auschwitz, the Dark Kingdom of Wire and the site of one of the largest populations of restless dead, thanks to the crimes of Nazi Germany.
In addition to these kingdoms are the Far Shores, islands in the Tempest controlled by the Shining Ones which help (or claim to help) wraiths achieve Transcendence. Some of the Far Shores have been perverted, most notably the Heaven of the Fishers, which is an early Christian torture chamber for sinners.
After the Tempest lies the Labyrinth, the domain of spectres and their Malfean masters. The Labyrinth is a constantly shifting maze where the (relative lack of) physics of the Underworld take on new and chaotic forms. While the Labyrinth can appear anywhere, one of the easiest ways to access it is through the Veinous Stair in Stygia.
At the bottom of the Underworld lies the maw of Oblivion, the drain that the Underworld is running into. Oblivion may be a place within the Labyrinth, but it is also the antithesis of a place, as Oblivion is nothing. And a hungry nothing it is.
Fundamentally, the Underworld is composed of memories. Wraiths are effectively memories of themselves, and they carry memories of items (in the form of relics) with them. The buildings and locations of the Shadowlands are memories of their Skinlands counterparts, and their appearance in the Shadowlands is a direct function of how they are remembered in the Skinlands - at least until enhanced using the materials of the underworld.
Most material in the underworld is affected by a certain symbolic physics; attributes such as Pathos and Angst are physical items as well as emotional states. How well something is remembered affects its health in the underworld. Savvy underworld tacticians exploit this metaphysic in combat; for example, the naval officers of the Tsushima Floating Renegades know that obscuring the major features of a relic ship will cause it to sink faster than broadshots at the waterline.
Travel through the Underworld is a function of several factors: for wraiths, the most important factor is the wraith's Fetters and their status in the wraith's Psyche. A wraith with Fetters feels a constant pull towards the Shadowlands, a wraith without them will dissolve outside of the Tempest. Wraiths can increase their mobility by resolving their Fetters, but are always vulnerable to a Fetter's destruction.
The Underworld is also referred to as the Dark Umbra by mages and Garou, while the Kuei-Jin and other shen refer to it as the Yin World. According to them, it lies below the world of flesh. Demons refer to it as Haven.