Not wheat, nor fruit trees, nor rice, nor soybeans. No one tends row after row of rippling, wind-blown heads of cabbage. No one ties up the tomato vines threatening to overgrow the fields.
Tiny glowing mushrooms cling to the open steam vents. Small and white with purplish veins, the mushrooms looked like tiny baby fists. The mushrooms were weirdly misshapen. Lumpy. They smelled of old lady apartment and tasted rancid. They were, thankfully, not poisonous. But they were thin with caloric content. Eating only mushrooms led to a slower death via starvation instead of the quicker starvation death with no mushrooms. They prayed to their Goddess and supplemented essential vitamins with the bland fruits of create food and water and mixed it with mushroom gruel. This made the gruel stretch and feed more. They had food.
But it was still dark, and cold, and wet.
The plentiful steam vents were valuable. More valuable than handfuls of glowing mushrooms. The steam vents provided clean water, heat, a scant amount of light, and a foothold for a base. Steam vents also provided a somewhat predictable source of usable kinetic energy. Enterprising Elves harnessed the steam with crude machines lashed together from bowls and their own gear to make more mushroom gruel, faster. Wizards, Warlocks and Clerics conserved their magic for food and basic survival.
Once they efficiently produced a thin, runny water, gruel and magic bread combination, they promptly ran low on mushrooms. The Elves ate them faster than they grew.
This was a problem.
The survivors, after praying to the Goddess, decided on two courses of action before their children started to die:
- Send out teams to find more steam vents. Keep wizards and bards with them at all time with sending spells to send information back to their base. More steam vents means more mushrooms means more food.
- Build hunter-gatherer teams. Hunt the monsters of the Underdark. Bring corpses back to camp. Eat them, no matter how rancid and nasty. Go full on Monster Hunter.
The first team discovered the many caves that lace the darkness. Within the caves were the bounty of the Underdark: steam vents, mushroom fields, glowing crystal shards, coal and iron embedded in the cave walls. Some caves were minuscule. Some could hold a city. The wizards ran their hands over the exposed coal in the cave walls, pondered the steam vents, and thought.
The team Clerics prayed to their Goddess. She counseled sharing their findings, leading different camps to different steam vents, and building complex information networks on Sending and Message. Hold the community together, but spread them out so they could eat. Elvish survival depended on free and open information, she said.
This became a new holy edict. The Clerics later carved it into the glowing crystals.
The second team hunted the caves of the Underdark. They found plenty of monsters. Or, plenty of monsters found them. Purple worm steaks were chewy and fatty but nutritious. Only certain Umber Hulk limbs were edible, although the stewed meat was sweet. Umber Hulk tusks and armor had highly practical uses. Any aberrations, like Cloakers, didn’t have enough body to bone mass to make a meal, and hunters harvested them for leather. Beholders were large, dangerous, fatty, inedible, watery eye sacks. The hunter teams harvested the potent Beholder eye stalks for mining. Nothing removes coal from a cave wall like disintegration rays.
Otyughs were outright poisonous. And entire team was lost to a single meal of roasted, delicious smelling, and incredibly toxic Otyugh mushroom-stuffed stomach.*
The hunter gather teams brought meat back to their huddled people. They supplemented the mushrooms and magic food with the least toxic of the Underdark. They built catalogs of monsters: what was edible, what provided useful tools in skin and bone, what was useful as pack and labor monsters. And what to avoid. The Underdark was full of murder.
Elvish survival depended on free and open information, the Goddess said. Tell everyone what you learned, write it down, and share, so we survive.
And they did.
The Elvish population condemned to the Underdark stabilized. Death from hunger, misadventure, boiling in steam vents, or monster taped from a daily event to an occurrence.
Magic provided light and some food. Steam processed and cooked mushrooms and meat. Salt chipped off walls and frozen side ice-caves preserved food for more than a day. As the explorer groups mapped their world, the Elves moved to safer, larger caverns deeper in. Random rust monsters ate fewer stray Elves.
The early years were all about learning:
- Which monsters were edible and which weren’t.
- Which monsters were intelligent and which weren’t. Intelligent monsters lied, misdirected, presented mild ethical concerns, and were incredibly tasty.
- How to cultivate and grow the mushrooms so Elves wouldn’t move into a cave, consume them all like locusts, and move on.
- How to herd, corral, and breed worms. While not tasty, they provided a constant nutritional base.
- How to harvest the coal and iron from the walls.
- How to harness the steam.
And finally, an important lesson from their Goddess: science was more important than magic, since anyone could perform science, but science combined with magic and technology was the best Elvish recipe for survival. And science needed information.
The Elves weren’t starting from scratch. They weren’t condemned to a hunter-gatherer existence of scratching a bare survival from the stone walls. They still had their collective knowledge, and Wizards, from the Fall.
The raising, breeding and corralling of the great worms of the Underdark was the biggest challenge. Without a constant source of nutrition and vitamins, the Elves would slowly die. And no one enjoyed breeding giant purple worms. They were massive, they chewed through solid rock, noise attracted them, and they ate Elves as snacks. But they were also enormous, fatty, breed like mad, and 90% meat. One day, the pen would hold two worms. The next day, five. Fully grown. Where they came from, no one knew. Some weird Underdark anti-conservation of energy. The hunters herded the worms into traps and the warlocks solved the burrowing through rock problem with steel, spikes, poison, and magic. And then, the Elves ate.
The lack of non-magical permanent light sources was a problem, too. The Elves learned if they cooked coal over steam without oxygen, they got coal gas. Coal gas meant gaslight. At first, they used magic to hollow out the glowing crystals and host lamps. But, that allowed light only where crystals stood. The Elves iterated on a solution. They used the silicate sand from the cavern floors, heated that with hot coal gas, and created spun glass. They had iron and carbon from cave walls. They had steam to create heat and coal to stoke heat further. Soon, the hunter teams went into the Underdark with freshly forged weapons and hung chains of gaslight lamps from cavern walls lighting the way from cave to cave.
The Goddess, encouraging her Elves to share what they learned to survive, provided them her spiders. Spiders hid in the dark. Spiders went unnoticed by the creatures roaming the Underdark. Spiders got into corners and built nests.
The spiders crafted enormous fragile webs along the chains of the gaslight lamps and up the sides of the caverns. The Goddess granted her Clerics a new Channel Divinity – Web Message. At will, no matter the distance, when one cleric sat at one end of the spider-crafted web, they could point-to-point Message another Cleric at the other end of the web. The other Cleric could then respond. Back and forth, the Clerics spoke to one another in a point to point communications mesh.
As the Elves spread out into the caverns and colonized the Underdark, they built Clerical web communication stations. At first, they sent only status messages. But, the communication stations became critical to the Wizard/scientists working heads down on how to cultivate, herd, steam-automate, and build. The Clerics devised a metal, glass and wire mesh around the spider web channels to protect the cables from roaming monsters or malfeasance. The teams spread out and reinforced communication lines.
The Elves spread out to maximize resources. Explorer teams probed the Underdark’s secrets and took Lloth’s spiders with them to build new edges of the great Web. As teams discovered new caverns, each new location hosted a spider, a web, and a thin line of communication. Once the location stabilized, the engineers swooped in and built new permanent links to their central communications core.
The Elves connected their communities. They had the web message to come to one hub, and that one hub send out identical messages to all callers. Clerics built more web base stations. Soon anyone, no matter their role in their new universe, connected to Lloth’s Underdark Wide Web.
The Wizards even devised a way to allow Web Message to send graphical mental images via Magic Image, but this was, a century later, hailed as a huge mistake.
Instead of trying to escape the Underdark, the Elves, realizing they weren’t going to die, decided to seal any possible route in from the upper world. This was their home now. They didn’t need outsiders sniffing around.
The Elves had easy access to all kinds of interesting resources: bat guano, sulfur pools, coal, iron, steam, charcoal, copper, nickel, carbon, silicate, silver, gold. Food was a constant and pressing issue, and most of it bit back, but physical and magical resources weren’t. Forget the outside world. Lloth provided the tools to close the few remaining tunnels and exits to the foul, human-encrusted outside.
Instead, the Elves built glittering, impossibly delicate cities of steel, gaslight, steam, stone, crystal and glass.
Centuries passed. The Deep Elves met the Dwarves (who found them incredibly amusing), the Svirfneblin, the Illithid, and the other intelligent races of the Underdark. They hooked everyone into their Goddess’s Underdark Wide Web and built out spider cables between the great sprawling underground communities. It wasn’t the greatest idea: the Illithids turned into enormous, nearly compulsive web trolls.
Goddess of the Underdark Wide Web
Lloth is obsessive about sharing knowledge and scientific data among her followers and any who use her systems. As more races board on to Lloth’s Underdark Wide Web, the stronger she grows. Sometimes the data is good. Sometimes the data is bad. But data is all that matters.
Knowledge is power. With Knowledge comes information sharing. Information sharing leads to trade (I have mushrooms, you have umber hulk teeth, can we trade) and science. Trade leads to healthy, open markets and science leads to technology. Markets leads to… all kinds of interesting things. There’s that day the one cheeky Deep Elf decides he wants to bet on a trade of this month’s hook horror skins supply to corner the market and things get crazy.
As Lloth grows in strength, she threatens worshiper power-bases of the other Greater Gods of Knowledge (including the Unspoken One). No Gods like their worshiper power-based encroached. In retribution, they cast the Deep Elves and their Goddess as crazed, spider-worshiping, murderous psychopaths. Lloth is good with this; it keeps outsiders out of her cities. Until it doesn’t and adventurers come looking for loot. Then she sends out her warriors to kill intruders to keep the core solid and secure. Despite having long sealed the tunnels down, adventurers still find a way.
The Tenets of the Goddess of the Underdark Wide Web:
- It is a mortal sin for a Lloth worshiper to harm any of her spiders or their webs. To break the communication web is a mortal sin and an insult to the Goddess. No one wants to insult the Goddess. She has spiders. She will put them in your bed.
- Clerics are the White ICE of Lloth’s Information Network. They dedicate their lives to maintaining the lines, build new nodes, bring new communities online, and continuing to build out the network.
- Lloth’s Paladin’s take Oaths of Vengeance. They hunt down anyone who disturbs the physical network – monster, creature, adventurer – and kills them. They are the hunter-killer Black ICE, the security pods, of Lloth’s Information Network.
- Lloth’s followers run the gamut of alignments, from Lawful Good (the communication network has rules and laws to hold together civilization), to True Neutral (usage of the communication networks for scientific exchange) to Chaotic Evil (Illithids who compulsively post tentacle pics).
- Lloth encourages mixing technology and magic, since she believes it gives an edge to her people’s survival. This leads to weird results: silent image projection feeds from Lloth’s information nodes hung randomly in Underdark tunnels and strange pushes into magic-infused communication technology.
- Feeding misdirection and incorrect data to outsiders to keep to preserve the Deep Elf civilization isn’t only allowed, it’s encouraged. Even marketed.
- Communication above all. Not only are Lloth’s Clerics handy engineers, they are librarians and archivists.
- Clerics may cycle out the old for the new. Elves update their data as they discover new facts and old facts are discarded.
- Elves allow anyone into Lloth’s libraries and archives – provided they present a library card and have no overdue fines.
- Elves allows anyone into the communications mesh. It is open to all comers, even surface folk and trash-talking Illithids.
- Lloth encourages creating communities on her Underdark Wide Web. And this might be her undoing.
Along with Channel Divinity: Web Message (2nd Level), Lloth grants her Clerics :
- Blessing of Underdark Knowledge: learn two other Underdark languages (Dwarven, Gnomish, etc) and gain bonuses to two of the following skills: Arcana, Investigation, Religion, Survival
- 1st Level: Comprehend Languages, Silent Image (Memes)
- 3rd Level: Spider Climb, Magic Mouth
- 5th Level: Sending, Tongues
- 7th Level: Arcane Eye, Divination
- 9th Level: Scrying, Legend Lore
- At 6th Level, the Cleric gains Center of the Web. They can then can use an enhanced Sending to communicate in a mesh from anywhere 2 * Wis Bonus people at once and transmit their responses through the Cleric. Messages increase in size up to 2048 characters in length.**
- At 8th Level, the Cleric gains Like a Spider. Clerics infuse their weapon with the poison of Lloth’s spider’s bite and web. Once on each turn when the Cleric hits a monster with a weapon, they can add 1D8 points of poison damage. When the Cleric reaches 14th level, damage becomes 2D8 and monster must make a Wis saving throw or be slowed by a Web.
- At 17th level, the Cleric gains amazing spider-based outfits with ridiculous spider-based hats. The outfits are amazing.
Lloth’s growth and strength presents a clear and present danger to the Gods outside the Underdark. The Gods encourage their followers to descend to the Underdark cities via blasting through the closed tunnels and kill the Spider Worshipers. While there are now known and open routes between the surface and the Underdark communities despite Underdark best efforts, the Underdark does everything they can to keep the filthy Lawful Good humans Paladins out.
It’s all about perspective.
* The Deep Elves have an incredible cooking culture based on the highly deadly culinary offerings of the Underdark. They have opinions on mushrooms. They are all about a good gibbering mouther steak. They have access to salt and ice (underground) for meat preservation. But if they only had, say, a little pepper…
** For whatever reason, Lloth determined 2K to be her Holy Commanded Message Packet Buffer Size.
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames