This post is part of the Tales of Peril Book Club, indexed here.
The second short "scene" of the Maze of Peril is a few paragraphs of compact world-building that expands the setting outward from the Green Dragon to the surrounding town and the Underworld beneath it. I quoted most of this section in a 2012 post, The Underworld of Holmes. As I wrote there, the term "The Underworld" is straight out of Vol 3 of the Original Dungeons & Dragons rules, "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures", being the original term used to refer to the vast multi-layer dungeons of the game.
The narrator tells us that Zereth and "every man in the [Green Dragon] tavern" knows the rumors of the treasure of the Underworld. Holmes uses a favorite turn of phrase, "fabulous treasures", which also appears in the introduction to the Basic rulebook ("The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils") and the Sample Dungeon ("Whispered tales are told of fabulous treasure and unspeakable monsters in the underground passages").
The rumors draw all sorts of adventurers and other types to the "tiny town", indicating that it is special in the land in its relation to the Underworld. The name of the town, Caladan, is first given here, and is noteworthy in that it was previously used by Frank Herbert as the name of the homeworld of the Atreides in Dune. Chris Holmes said that his father was a fan of Herbert but didn't know of any other specific reason for its use.
The description of the Underworld, like the name, is very much in line with OD&D: "corridors of wealth, they were also tunnels of deadly peril" and "there must have been many layers of dungeons and underworlds laid down, one atop the other". But Holmes takes this concept further by giving a putative origin for these dungeons: they were built by a mysterious prehistoric race. This echoes the introduction to the Sample Dungeon, where "the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the older, pre-human city". As I wrote previously, this theme is "reminiscent of the pre-human alien civilization described in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness (1931), who built vast underground cities in remote locations". Holmes never reveals any more details about the mysterious builders, so on this blog I later took the idea one step further, positioning Lovecraft's creatures in that story as Holmes' architects of the Underworld, to create a "new" monster for Holmes Basic called the Ancient Builder. The write-up for this monster now appears in the recently released Blueholme Journeymanne rules as the "Old Ones" entry in the Monster List.
While the rumors of the Underworld are well known in Caladan, the entrances are not. The narrator indicates that Zereth has been looking for information about an entrance but has not been successful. One reason that the entrances are not well known is that "many of the rash adventurers who set forth for the secret entrances to the fabled Underworld were never heard from again". Again, this fits with the story's origins in actual OD&D games, where many first level parties perish on their first expedition below.
In the next scene, Zereth will finally succeed in learning of an entrance.