Menzoberranzan, also known as both the City of Shadows and the City of Intrigues, is the largest drow city below the surface of Arda and the Capital of the Free Duchies. The city is placed in the midst of a neutral patch of land between the vast, underground territory of Ilythiir and the Empire of Nirboram, however this has done nothing to stop various murders and outright feuds between the two factions, even within the territory of the city. Menzoberranzan is home to one of the largest temples dedicated to Lolth and as such is also a place of neutral ground where both the citizens of the Empire and the Free Duchies can meet without bloodshed. While the majority of Menzoberranzan's inhabitants are drow there are also a rather large population of both tieflings and those unfortunate beings who have ended up as slaves for the drow. Menzoberranzan is ruled supremely by a constantly shifting council consisting only of the Free Duchies' Matron Mothers and their current heir apparent.
Menzoberranzan is located in a huge arrowhead-shaped cavern, some two miles wide and a thousand feet high. The city is mainly carved from calcite and it is filled with blue, green, and violet faerie fire as the main source of light within the city. Buildings are often covered with the city's main motif: the spider, in honor of Lolth. The roof of Menzoberranzan are covered in paths. Some homes were 1,000 feet above the floor. Houses located in the highest points of the Menzoberrazan cave has to have great magic to prevent them from falling, though many stand empty in spite of the heavy population. An enchantment in the city cavern reduces echos from all the noise.
There are a fixed number of buildings in Menzoberrazan, meaning that the poorer areas are extremely crowded. Noble houses, once destroyed or abandoned, are not permitted to be reoccupied, meaning that there are a number of abandoned compounds both on the surface and roof of the city cavern.
The city has around a hundred gates, all heavily guarded by mixed patrols of male drow and tieflings. These gates lead into the myriad tunnels surrounding the city (collectively called the Bauthwaf).
One of the most distinct structures in the city is the pillar-clock called Narbondel. It is enchanted each morning by the Archmage of Menzoberranzan with a glow that slowly dissipates as the day goes on. Narbondel can be seen from throughout the entire city from any possible angle at any time. When the pillar goes completely dark, it is called Narbondel's Black Death (effectively midnight).
Menzoberra the Kinless, a powerful priestess of Lolth, founded the city that bears her name sometime during the First Age, although the exact year of founding has been lost to the times. By the wishes of Lady Lolth, she led seven drow families into the Subterranean Arda from a large, unnamed cave to the north.
Their goal was to escape from the constant warring between factions who venerated Lolth and those that worshiped one of Ungoliath's other children known as Kiaransalee. Lolth aided them on their journey directly via dream-sendings, but only when it seemed like all hope was lost. After battling several of the Subterranean Arda's natives, including a conflict with a clan of dwarves to whom they lost half their number, they slew a band of tieflings that had claimed a huge natural cave as its lair. The surviving drow took up residence in this cave, naming it after their leader.
The original seven drow families, having no immediate external enemy, fell to attacking and undermining one another—exactly what they had hoped to escape—to the greater glory of their evil goddess, who loved chaos. Only fifty years after the city's founding a great and terrible battle between the two most powerful Houses, House Nasadra and House Thaeyalla, occurred. This battle led to the collapse of a cavern wall that destroyed four houses and killed Menzoberra. The perpetrators, House Nasadra, were attacked by both House S'sriland and House Noqu'ath who also chose to side with them against Nasadra. House Nasadra were banished from the cave on the orders of Lolth, who ordered them to establish a second city in her name (which would come, a few decades later, to be called Ched Nasad, and House Nasadra is still the First House there) and for the two cities to maintain an amicable relationship. House Noqu'ath then rose as the First House of Menzoberranzan.
The city's internal machinations continued unabated for millennia. The Houses that grew weak were destroyed, and newer Houses rose up to find Lolth's favor. The full history of each House would constitute a nearly endless logbook of treachery, spite, and unceasing ambition.
However, after a century of living within the walls of Menzoberranzan, another war broke out, though this time it was between House Noqu'ath and Thaeyalla. The eldest daughter from House Thaeyalla had been killed at a public gathering by the competing House Noqu'ath, which only served as the spark that lit the fire to light up the slumbering hatred between the two factions. While House Thaeyalla were defeated in the end, a small group consisting of both females and males from House Noqu'ath broke off the main branch of their House and instead sought out to create their own haven, creating the cadet branch of House Noqu'ath that later came to rule over the drow outpost of Ilythiir.
Most of Menzoberrazan's 2.5 million inhabitants consist solely of drow. Just about 500.000 of the other inhabitants are purely tieflings who are trying to make a way of life in the underground city and the last 500.000 are slaves from all manner of races, from humans and the elusive Avariel to goblins and orcs.
The city exports poisons, mushrooms, spell scrolls, wine, and water (clean water can be hard to come by in the Subterranean Arda). Other goods includes body dyes, chains, herbal medicines, musical instruments (flutes, drums), obsidian carvings (often used for sacrifices), perfumes, spells, spiced sausages, stone sculptures, surgical services, textiles, tortoiseshell goods, and trelao wine.
The city imports few things as it is more or less self-sustainable. However produce such as shellfish, slaves, and textiles are highly sought at all times by the Menzoberranyr, and the neighboring drow city of Ched Nasad is the largest provider of these highly sought wares, with the exception here being the slaves and textiles.
Various currencies are also accepted in Menzoberranzan as their coin come in many shapes, including round, square, triangular, ring-, and spider-shaped ones. The greatest dozen houses in Menzoberranzan mints their coins. For example, when House Noqu'ath still resided in the city they minted their own coins with the draconic emblem of their House, which were accepted throughout the city.
The city have had many different factions, or Houses, all of which vied for power. As it has always been a matriarchal society, however, only females truly holds any power within the city. Officially, the city is under the rule of the Ruling Council of Eight, composed of the eight matron mothers of the first (and most powerful) eight houses. For many centuries—as long any living drow can remember—it had been under the indirect rule of House Noqu'ath which was governed by Matron Mother Yvonnel Noqu'ath, also known as Old Matron Noqu'ath, and perhaps the most powerful de facto ruler the city ever saw. House Noqu'ath had been the First House of Menzoberrazan for centuries of uncontested power, however, after their feud with House Thaeyalla that position went to House Do'Urden.
Although drow culture is matriarchal, a few male drow in the city hold some political power, including the Archmage of the city, and the leaders of the few mercenary bands which are often utilized by the wealthiest and greatest of the Houses.
A separate council of mages deals with the affairs of the arcane—but as its members are all male, it is wholly within the grip of the matron mothers.
Menzoberranzan is guarded by huge magical jade spider constructs. The two dozen or so most powerful Houses are able, and expected, to rise a formidable army if the city should ever be threatened by any source, be they kin or outsiders. Even despite these large structures and armies, the cave itself where Menzoberranzan lies is naturally fortified with high, strong walls of obsidian and stone as well as small and narrow passages where enemies are forced to strip of any armor if they wish to squeeze through.
The worship of Lolth is prevalent, and the worship of any other deity is strictly forbidden. However, there are still quite a number of secret worshipers of Kiaransalee.
The Academy of Menzoberranzan is located in Tier Breche and is composed of three schools: Arach-Tinilith, the clerical school; Sorcere, the wizards' school; and Melee-Magthere, the warriors' school. Tier Breche and Qu'ellarz'orl are considered the "two heads" (most important unifying parts) of Menzoberranzan.
Food and Drink
Local food is primarily produced in and around Lake Donigarten. The Isle of Rothe in the lake houses the city's rothe herds, managed by one of the city's minor Houses, which provides both rothe cheese and meat to the city. The area in and around Donigarten also houses moss fields, giant mushrooms, fungus farms and also minor fish farms.
Pyrimo, a type of aggressive fish similar to piranhas, are prized within Menzoberranzan as an extraordinary delicacy, despite being deadly if not prepared in the correct manner.
Cheap street food in Menzoberranzan includes roasted sausage and rolls, which can be bought from street vendors in the slums, and pickled sausages as well. Finer foods includes rothe steak, raw mushrooms with creamy dipping sauces, wine, and a salad of black, red, and white fungus.
Alcoholic beverages found in Menzoberranzan includes the prized, green trelao wine and a type of sweet dessert wine. There are also lace fungus brandy and some drow have been noted to favor strong, Dwarven brandy.
Entertainment is perhaps not the most obvious word connected with Menzoberranzan, but the city nevertheless provides recreation and relaxation (as much as possible) to its (drow) inhabitants. Taverns are plentiful and brothels can be found if one just looks hard enough. The Bazaar offers food, shopping, street performers, and even a game tent or two. "Houses of delights," massage parlors, and public bath houses, all of which are usually manned by slaves, offering their services.
Well-to-do drow, particularly nobles who are not busy plotting to overthrow their rivals or guarding against usurpers of their positions, are quite fond of wild parties and dances.
Another notable past time in Menzoberranzan is the plotting within Houses and carrying out of pranks.
Because the drow worships Lolth, the Spider Queen, killing spiders (even unintentionally) is punishable by death in accordance to the absolute law of Lolth.
By law, any party have to end at the start of new day (the Black Death of Narbondel, or midnight). Dancing while armed is considered a grave insult (as well as being hazardous), so dances, particularly the frenzied nedeira, are usually performed sans clothing.
Death (usually by intrigue) is rather widespread in Menzoberranzan. The dead are usually placed in airtight stone crypts in the solid rock north of the city cavern so that they can later be reanimated as battle fodder. Only priestesses are ever cremated to prevent such a thing occurring to their corpses.
"Rock, knife, and parchment" is a game in Menzoberranzan that strongly resembles the surface world's "rock, paper, scissors."
- Most of the information about the city is taken from the Forgotten Realms Wiki: http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Menzoberranzan