Like many habitats in the 22nd Century, the Undercity is a sealed environment. However, unlike the strictly controlled and regulated life support systems in the domes of Luna-1 or Viking City on Mars, the Undercity is an example of a closed environment that has been allowed to run out of control, with no monitoring whatsoever to keep the various life forms and habitats in a stable condition. The dark caverns have become the epitome of ‘survival of the fittest’ – only the strongest, adaptable or most numerous creatures are capable of surviving for any length of time. Isolation from normal sunlight has also had a dramatic effect on most plant-life – few species have survived the burial of the cities. Only a few mutant species of trees and flowers have survived in isolated patches. However, many new species of fungus and mosses have become common, thriving in the decayed darkness of the streets and buildings.
There is a huge diversity of man-made structures to be found in the Undercity. When the cities were buried, homes, offices and factories were evacuated and left empty. Lack of maintenance eventually took its toll and many ancient and historic buildings have collapsed. However, some have been appropriated by Undercity dwellers who have adapted them to suit their needs. Some have been reinforced into fortresses; others have been torn to pieces and used to make new buildings.
The Concrete Sky: The great rockcrete dome that covers most of the Undercity is almost universally known, incorrectly, as ‘The Concrete Sky’. In many areas of New York, the enormous structure is so far above the ground that it is almost impossible to see, giving the impression the old city is cloaked in a particularly dark night. In other areas, the roof is only a few feet above the ground to form claustrophobic caverns that constantly drip with freezing condensation. Huge stalagmites and stalactites are beginning to form in some areas – great, teeth-like growths that block large areas of the Undercity. The concrete sky possesses terrific tensile strength as it has to support the entire Mega-City, but individual segments are actually quite brittle. Many tribes have developed the ability to tunnel through the rockcrete walls, instinctively ensuring that the stability of the structure as a whole is maintained. The concrete sky is reinforced with hundreds of plasti-steel girders, which makes it far tougher than regular rockcrete.
Philadelphian Tunnels: Philadelphia was only the second United States city to be buried beneath the Mega-City, and the designers chose to use a radically different method. Colossal vaulted chambers were built over many important buildings and every street was converted into a tunnel to form a massive labyrinth before millions of tons of rockcrete smothered the entire city. Philadelphia became a claustrophobic nightmare of a city, regularly flooded by the stinking, fetid waters of the old Delaware River and overflow from the Mega-City sewer system. The tunnel and chamber walls are rather stronger than the concrete sky that covers the rest of the Undercity but is little more than a thin covering of reinforced vaulting. The rockcrete that covers Philadelphia is considerably thicker than the most of the rest of the Undercity – in some places over a mile. Some tribes of the stunted Philadelphia trogs are nevertheless capable of excavating their own passageways through the thick walls. Some areas have become a twisting, confusing labyrinth of low burrows interconnecting with the ‘official’ tunnels.
Sewer Tunnels: Sandwiched between the Mega-City and the Undercity is the vast sewer network, a convoluted warren of interconnecting tunnels and vaulted chambers. Some have speculated that the sewer system can be used to reach all areas of the Mega-City, but only a perp with an extremely strong stomach would actually use the tunnels as a method of moving from one place to another. The design and layout of the tunnels themselves tend to vary enormously from ancient, brick built three-foot high passageways to enormous reinforced tunnels and chambers to futuristic, plasti-metal clad shafts. However, before long every tunnel begins to look the same – dark, claustrophobic and extremely smelly. There are further dangers to investigating the tunnels – it has developed its own micro-ecology of savage life forms, from the giant white gators to millions of huge, vicious rats. There is further danger – explosive methane gas, an unavoidable side effect of the decay of sewage. Many Mega-City companies make a profit mining this gas as a valuable resource but pockets tend to quickly build up in hard to reach places. If exposed to fire or an explosion (such as a gunshot) a gas pocket will detonate as if it were a hand bomb (see page 98 of the Judge Dredd Core Rulebook) Sealed manholes are placed on City Bottom and beneath cityblocks at regular intervals to allow city maintenance teams access to the sewers – ordinary citizens must keep out of them at all times. Anyone found attempting to access the sewers without a valid permit will earn themselves a minimum of six months in the Iso Cubes should they be caught by the judges. Manhole covers are usually constructed from a durasteel alloy, firmly locked and sealed against any tampering.
Pre-Atom War Building: Much to the horror and bemusement of the citizens of Mega-City One, the majority of the shops and houses found in the old cities consist of squat, boxlike buildings a mere two or three storeys tall. Once, these were sturdy homes and places of business but the decades buried beneath the City has left little more than shattered, worn out ruins. Over the years, time has taken its toll and many old buildings have collapsed into ruin, leaving nothing but a hollow shells or broken rubble. Some buildings have survived more or less intact – these have usually been taken as homes by some of the smaller tribes. Broken masonry and scavenged materials are often used to shore up collapsing or damaged buildings, making even serviceable abodes appear to be little more than piles of rubble. A typical low-level building has two storeys, plus a basement or cellar area. The ground floor is divided into four to six rooms including a kitchen and a living room; the first floor is usually subdivided into bedrooms. The basement area most often consists of a single, large area. However, the function of any occupied building has long since been forgotten. Houses in Philadelphia suffered an even stranger fate – many were smothered in rockcrete when the tunnels were built, leaving only a single façade with only the occasional accessible room.
Pre-Atom War Sky-Rise Tower: The majestic skyscrapers that once dominated the skylines of many cities in pre-Atom War America would be regarded as quaint, low level con-apts by the residents of the giant Mega-City. Even the tallest surviving building in the Undercity – the Chrysler Building in New York – is less than a quarter of the height of an average sized cityblock. Nevertheless, these structures are still regarded as valuable resources and their ownership is usually hotly contested by many of the Undercity factions. Even collapsed or ruined skyscrapers are regarded as a valuable commodity – bricks, girders and rubble are always needed to shore-up the slowly decaying habitats occupied by the Undercity dwellers. A typical sky-rise tower stands fifty storeys tall, although only the mighty New York dome is capable of housing such a large structure. Many tall buildings are cut off by the concrete sky, their top few storeys embedded in the great mass of rockcrete.
Troggie Hut: Most varieties of troggies have become adept at constructing themselves primitive shelters. As there are no natural weather patterns in the Undercity, these huts are generally used as protection against the other residents of the underworld and are therefore reasonably tough. Troggie huts usually consist of a single room, about ten feet square with walls made from salvaged junk or the remains of an ancient building, torn apart and reassembled in typical ramshackle troggie style.
Philadelphian Trog Roundhouse: The Philadelphian trogs are rather more sophisticated than their cousins that occupy other areas of the Undercity, constructing their own, individual style of buildings that, strangely, resembles an ancient Celtic roundhouse. Philadelphian trog roundhouses are large, circular buildings constructed using ancient methods but with more modern materials – salvaged metal and brick rather than wood and leather. As they are nomadic, the Philadelphian trogs ensure that their homes can be quickly dismantled to allow them to move with ease – this is typically to escape from the floods from the black water of the Delaware river that wash through their tunnel homes on a regular basis. Naturally, these temporary and prefabricated structures are rather more fragile than a permanent structure.
Isolated from natural sunlight, very few plants thrive in the Undercity. Most forms of vegetation have withered and died in the shadows, but, like their human and animal equivalents, a few mutant species have adapted to live without ultraviolet light and heat.
Fungus: Unlike most plant life, fungus thrives in the cold, damp darkness that forms most of the Undercity. Edible forms of fungus form a staple diet of many of the less aggressive species such as the great albino pigs known as hawgs, and many areas have been cultivated into huge ‘fungus farms’ by tribes of humans and the more docile troggies. Other forms of fungus are less beneficial. Some are deadly poisonous, bringing a slow and lingering death to any foolish enough to consume it. Other species bring decay, consuming and corrupting any substance that it can gain a foothold.
Moss: Moss is probably the most common plant to be found in the Undercity. Moss requires little water and can grow almost anywhere. It tends to cover vast areas of the desolate streets and buildings of the old cities. Unfortunately, this plant has very little nutritional value, although many species – such as the pathetic sub humes known as wretches – are forced to eke a miserable existence grazing on it. Another form of moss is far more valuable – the so-called ‘glowmoss’ is a mutant species of luminescent moss, often cultivated on walls and ceilings in order to provide dim lighting.
Mutant Vegetation: Many mutant plant species have appeared since the burial of New York, although, as yet, none have become particularly common. Most tend to be weak and feeble, capable of surviving in the darkness or in the toxin saturated slime of the Big Smelly. Others are more robust – a few trees have managed to survive, and clusters of pale grass exist in isolated places. Others have developed along more sinister lines, such as the deadly Boston Strangler Vine and the parasitic Hoxton Creeper.
Dead Vegetation: Dead and decaying plants are by far the most common sight in most of the Undercity. The majority of the dark underworld was at one time rural fields and wastelands that were simply covered by the great rockcrete foundations of the Mega-City, leaving the unfortunate vegetation cut-off from vital life giving heat and light. Most of the Undercity is cluttered with dense mats of stinking mulch.
Humanity is not the only species to make a home in the Undercity, although as always they regard themselves as the most important inhabitants. Many creatures and monsters endure life in the darkness. However, there are several other forms of creatures native to the Undercity.
Rats: Rats are by far the most common inhabitants of the Undercity – some have estimated that there are over a thousand rats for every human resident. The ruins of the Undercity make an ideal home for these tiny scavengers, with thousands of nooks and crannies where they can make nests and warrens. The rats’ prolific breeding rate ensure that the Undercity dwellers never go hungry – in fact, rat has become the staple diet of nearly every creature that calls the Undercity home. However, the rats are not merely defenceless victims. The creatures posses a high level of natural cunning, and occasionally ‘gang up’ on isolated individuals, gathering together in groups of dozens or even hundreds to form a deadly tide of squirming bodies. Usually, though, they will only prey on the weak and defenceless – babies and infants are their favourite target. Many a time an un-attentive Undercity mother will leave a cradle for a few moments only to find nothing but gnawed bones and a few pitiful scraps of flesh on her return. In some areas, the rats have grown to colossal proportions – some have spoken of savage monsters the size of large dogs, or ultra-intelligent, two headed monstrosities somehow guiding the others.
Gators: No one seems sure how alligators, usually only found wild in tropical areas, came to live in the sewers of many American cities, but their existence is undeniable. Although the larger specimens have emigrated to the cleaner waters found in the Mega-City sewer system, the old sewer networks beneath most of the old cities still harbour a healthy population of gators, and the swamp-like tunnels of Philadelphia make an ideal home for the fierce beasts. Naturally, the lethal, armour plated reptiles are greatly feared by humans and troggies alike.
Werewolves: Lycanthropy actually originated in the Undercity. No one knows the whole story, but a strange pool in central park was found to contain mutagenic bacteria that could transform a human into a savage, wolf-like hybrid. Before long, many areas of New York had become overrun with the terrifying, savage monsters. Fortunately, Judge Dredd was able to eliminate the mutagenic pool and most of the werewolves, but a few managed to escape. Although far less of a threat than in previous years, werewolves are terrible opponents. Many tribes will put a great deal of effort into wiping out a werewolf nest should they discover one. Werewolves kill anything that moves, but nothing can eat the flesh of a werewolf without risking transforming into a similar creature. However, at least one tribe – the savage Grid Iron Union – take advantage of this phenomenon. Gridiron grunts have been known to deliberately eat werewolf meat in order to spark the transmogrification, so that they can become the elite ‘dogfaces’, fearsome monsters that are loosened at rival tribes before a battle. The Undercity dwellers have never had access to the cure for lycanthropy, so the transformation is permanent.