Inside the Deep Elf Marketing Department

my grellIn the early days of the Long Sojourn Beneath, the Deep Elves struggled to survive in the Upper Underdark. Foods was scarce, magic worked sporadically, and familiar building materials were rare.  They also endured constant raids from the surface.

Murder Hobos descended into the Underdark following tales of glory. They came searching for money, treasure, and XP.  While adventuring, killing things and taking their stuff, Murder Hobos tripped over the Deep Elf villages. Purposeful or not, the irritated Deep Elves squared off with adventurers and killed dozens of Murder Hobos in standard military deterrent and repellant actions.  Angry but not vengeful, the Deep Elves let a few – the wizards, the bards, the soft, squishy, mostly harmless ones – go home as long as they actually went home.  That meant no walking off with Deep Elven babies to “rescue” or Deep Elven artwork to fence.  Seriously, go home.

The bards went home and did what bards do.  They exaggerated.  A lot.

In the tales, Deep Elven villages turned into enormous sprawling evil cities filled with mystery, intrigue and loot.  Horrible tentacled monsters carrying sacks of magic items roamed the Underdark and ate men’s brains.  Huge treasures glittered in forgotten caves waiting for that special someone to claim them.

Instead of deterring the Murder Hobos, the bard’s tales drove them to further adventures.  Bigger Murder Hobos gave up on hunting dragons and suited up for the better risk-to-loot ratio below.

Over time, the Deep Elves moved past the survival phase and into the successful transplant phase.  Their society was stable, their people fed, and magic worked again. Yet, the Deep Elves still faced constant Murder Hobo raid and the unwieldy piles of magical loot from the Murder Hobos bodies.  The desperate Deep Elves turned to the Dwarves.  “Help us,” they said. “We had six raids last week.  We now have 2,139 +1 longswords alone.  How do we get them to leave us alone? And what are we supposed to do with all this stuff?”

The Dwarves had a simple yet cunning idea.

It wouldn’t be simple. But it would work.

VALADHIEL:  Let’s review the first monster. The Grell.

FEREDIR: The design is elegant yet practical.

BOB: Does it have tentacles?

SAELDUR: Shut up, Bob.

FEREDIR: Twelve tentacles.  Here. Look at this drawing comp.  You see…

SAELDUR: Is that a beak?

SAELDUR: Are we seriously supposed to manufacture a floating brain with a beak?

SAELDUR: The wizards will never go for this. This is ridiculous.

VALADHIEL: This lore sheet says Grells colonize.  I don’t see how it makes, ah, little baby Grells.  Does it subdivide?  Fission?  Can we get some details on its anatomy and growth patterns?

BOB: We have an over-supply of tentacles this year, Saeldur.

VALADHIEL: Feredir, what’s the bardic hook here?  Floating brains with beaks and tentacles?  Do they eat brains?  Use their suckers for psychic powers?

FEREDIR: The Grell have a rich background.  They float.  They suck brains right through eye sockets.  I designed them so they not only kill, but write philosophy.

VALADHIEL: Aaaah floating brain philosophy.  Interesting.

SAELDUR: I don’t see how this works.  Are bards really going to spread stories about these things?

BOB: They have tentacles!  We’ll attach extras for redundancy. Can’t have too many tentacles!

VALADHIEL: We accept the Grell into this year’s program.  Saeldur, we’ll need at least six to make a real “colony” as stated on the lore sheet.

The Dwarves and Deep Gnomes enacted the first part of the plan. They moved the Deep Elves to the Middle Underdark and sealed the caverns behind them.  But, the Dwarves knew from their own experiences with curious Murder Hobos, simply moving deeper into the Middle Underdark encouraged the Murder Hobos to bring wizards, search for magic doors, and raid deeper in.  Something needed to stay on the Upper Underdark.

The second part of the plan involved a screen and those bards.

The Deep Elves built the Upper Underdark exactly as the Murder Hobos expected.  They fed captured bards outlandish tales and set them back on the surface.  And they seeded the Upper Underdark with the dead Murder Hobo’s own equipment.

VALADHIEL: Next up, the Grick.

SAELDUR: Again?  We did giant purple worms last year.

BOB: Does it have tentacles?

FEREDIR: Saeldur, this is an improvement over last year’s giant purple worm.  If you take a look at my comps…

SAELDUR: Giant purple worms bore the wizards.  We all know about bored wizards.

FEREDIR: Technically, they aren’t purple.  They’re rubbery grey with a white underbelly.

BOB: They have tentacles!  They only have four, though. Can we add two more somewhere?

BOB: We’re oversupplied with tentacles this year.

SAELDUR: Shut up, Bob.

VALADHIEL: The beak is a nice touch, Feredir.

FEREDIR: And they jump out of shadows, wraps the victim with sucker-encrusted tentacles, and drag the victims back to their lair.  Then they eat their victim.

SAELDUR: The wizards won’t like this at all.

SAELDUR: More purple worms.

SAELDUR:  They are so tired of goddamn purple worms.  Every year with the purple worms.  It’s a lack of creativity, I tell you.

VALADHIEL: Feredir, I like this touch with the beak.

VALADHIEL: Okay, let’s order these.

The Murder Hobos were not satisfied with the same monsters year after year. Enough repetition, and the Murder Hobos started looking for the “truth” behind the Upper Underdark.  They knew the “true” boss monsters were somewhere.  Quest enough and they would find out where.  Those boss monsters? The Deep Elves themselves? They had the best drops.

The Deep Elves didn’t want to return to a time of constant raids and uncertainty.  They wanted their privacy.  Using mined materials and magic, they built the Upper Underdark as the ultimate screen.  Military bases disguised as fake cities coordinated packs of designer monsters. “Monster Experts” balanced monster difficulty against Murder Hobo expectations. Deep Elves put on elaborate underground shows about “deep elf society.”  They carefully stashed loot behind overly ridiculous traps.

The Deep Elves developed a scriptwriting tradition.

Instead of an authentic Underdark, the Deep Elves built the Upper Underdark into a Murder Hobo theme park.  And they established a whole design, marketing, sales, and manufacturing chain.  Thrills!  Chills!  Man-eating glow in the dark mushrooms!

What did the Deep Elves get out of this?  Other than lucrative drops from lured in Murder Hobos?


VALADHIEL:  Let’s review an enduring staple: the Mind Flayer.

BOB: What isn’t there to like?  Squid headed psychic dudes that eat brains!  Tentacles all around!

FEREDIR: Valadhiel, we’re designing a new line of Mind Flayer wardrobe. Instead of the classic long black robe with the fan neck-piece, we’re going with more pep.  A little flash and flair to the classic lines.

SAELDUR: The wizards complain they have trouble driving Mind Flayers.

SAELDUR: They say they need scripting help.  We cannot have mono-maniacal super-intelligent brain eaters without evil monologues.

SAELDUR: Do we have anyone on tap for scripting assistance?

BOB: Slurpin’ out brains with psychic powers.  Slurp slurp slurp.

BOB:  They wrap their squid tentacles on someone’s head and they pull out brains!  And magic!  And claws!

BOB: So many tentacles!  I love these guys!

SAELDUR: Shut up, Bob.

VALADHIEL: Feredir, we need to stay within the color scheme as approved by the Color Design Committee.

FEREDIR: We’re in the color scheme.   We’re considering…

FEREDIR: Keep an open mind here…


FEREDIR: Trousers.

SAELDUR: The wizards won’t like this at all.

FEREDIR: Before you judge, take a look at these comps.

Word spread on the surface world.  Deep elves were evil.  They had a crazy matriarchal society.  They worshipped some insane Goddess.  When their people were bad or disloyal or whatever, Clerics turned them into half-elf, half-spider things who formed into Murder Hobo murdering packs.

Terrible tentacled brain-eating hyper psychic monsters roamed the Underdark caverns and sucked out victim’s eyes.  Huge globes of semi-intelligent acid managed to both absorb Murder Hobos and keep an attractive square shape.  Giant worms crashed up through the floor and mauled unsuspecting parties. Those giant worms ate other giant worms.  Ate them!  Whole!

Horrors filled the caverns!  Cthuloid monstrosities clung to the walls!   And behind the monsters, in stashes, hung inexplicable suits of glittering and pristine magic armor!

Come adventure and get killed!  Or not!  Take loot!  Or not!

No one questioned the simple fact that Underdark monsters became more ridiculous as the years passed.

And no one questioned the other salient and obviously bizarre fact: the so-called “deep elves” made absolutely no sense.  How can a huge, terrifying, dysfunctional society full of, apparently, crazy murdering people who kill each other for fun stay stable?  How do they get together to build cities?  How do they lay a road? Fix a wall?  Feed their children?  How do they form into military regiments to repel Murder Hobos?   If they’re crazy murderers bent on turning each other into half-spider things, how do they hold together as a functional society?  And if they are not crazy murderers… where are the non-crazy ones?

These were questions for academics.  Murder Hobos don’t care.  They don’t put sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists into their parties.  They employ Paladins full of the righteous fury of the Good and Barbarians who stab.   And that one guy in the back of the party going “hey guys can we think about this” is the guy who isn’t on the front line swinging a sword.

The Deep Elves fed Murder Hobos mythology to repeat and monsters to fight.  And it worked.

Very occasionally, Murder Hobos came too close to the doors to the Middle Underdark. There, they faced off with the real Deep Elven military. During these “boss fights,”  brave military women, wearing ridiculous bustiers and marketing-approved headdresses, gave their lives defending the way down.

The loot they left distracted the Murder Hobos. Thinking the adventure over, the Murder Hobos left.

The Murder Hobos stayed out of the real Deep Elven cities.

VALADHIEL: Last up – the Otyugh.

SAELDUR: So very last year.

BOB: Does it have tentacles?

SAELDUR: Yes, Bob.  It has a single tentacle.  With tentacle eyes.

FEREDIR: We know the Otyugh is a staple.  Our customers almost expect it.  But the current design is a little tired.

FEREDIR: That’s why, this year…

SAELDUR: The wizards hate making Otyughs.   They smell horrible. They eat everything.

SAELDUR: They get into bathrooms. It’s a mess.

FEREDIR: We are unveiling…

BOB: More tentacles?  We have all these extra tentacles.  They’ll go bad if we don’t use them.

BOB: It’s a major over-supply.

SAELDUR: Shut up, Bob.

FEREDIR: The Neo-Otyugh!

VALADHIEL: That’s a beautiful drawing, Feredir.

FEREDIR: It’s bigger. It’s stronger. It has psychic powers along with the bite.

FEREDIR: And it gives its victims tetanus.

FEREDIR: We hear that’s extremely uncomfortable.

BOB: No extra tentacles?

BOB: What am I going to do with all these tentacles?

SAELDUR: We could cross-breed this Neo-Otyugh with a Hydra… let me get with the wizards.

VALADHIEL: Let’s send the Neo-Otyugh to production.  Saeldur, we need at least a dozen.

BOB: But what about these tentacles?

No one from the surface has ever been to a real Deep Elven city.  No one knows what the Deep Elves actually do down in the Middle Underdark.  But whatever it is, it can’t be good for the surface in the long run.  They can’t simply be dedicating their existence to running elaborate and occasionally deadly Murder Hobo shows.

But meanwhile, this arrangement works for everyone and everyone has fun.  Murder Hobos have adventures.  Deep Elves receive a constant re-supply of loot to restock the treasure caches.  Bards have tales to tell. Quest givers have quests to give.  Innkeepers keep a rotating supply of Bards, Quest Givers and Murder Hobos drinking their badly brewed beer.  Diviners have magic items unearthed from the bowels of the Underdark to identify.  New, fresh, and increasingly bizarre monsters come out every year.

It’s been a bonanza business opportunity.

This scheme worked out so well for the Deep Elves, Murder Hobos, and generally, everyone, next year the Deep Elves are considering charging admission to the Upper Underdark.

Pending marketing review, of course.

BOB: What am I going to do with these cases of tentacles?

BOB: I know!  The Drow will wear them as giant hats as part of Drider-making rituals! Wait until Sales hears about this.

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –


  1. Brilliant!

    Now, let’s get Design on a whole range of tentacle-based fashioned accessories: Self-tightening belts! Backpacks that attach themselves to your back! We have to find more uses for these damned tentacles.

    • We talked about setting up tentacle-based concession stands but decided – I know this is difficult to believe – that the tentacle-based concessions and gift shops were a _little tacky_.


  1. […] forgotten depths. Any number of classic D&D monsters make their home there (because honestly, something like a Grell wandering around in broad daylight would highlight just how ridiculous it is.) Plus various classic […]