Monday, August 3, 2020

The Drow Have Discovered Agriculture!

I might do more posts like this in the future, following a similar format of taking standard fantasy cultures and squeezing them through the 'how does this change after this particular apocalypse happens' lens.


The Drow have discovered solar agriculture, anyway. Lunar Horticulture has been a practice since time immemorial.

When I started running my Tidelock campaign some uhhh.... 5 years ago?? (Jeeze, that's long), I was initially going to scrap all preconceptions and cultural baggage that's been associated with the drow and make them into weird dream people or something.

But then a player wanted to play a drow, and she seemed really excited about like, playing against the edginess grain and being friends with spiders and stuff so I was like ehhh... okay!

But being the contrarian that I am, and wanting to fit the drow into the larger themes of post-post-apocalyptic societal change, I couldn't simply regurgitate the old tropes (at least not without some spin).

So the Drow in this campaign have agriculture now, and that's a really really big deal.


A Very Very Brief History of the Pre-Apocalyptic Drow

They were what you would typically associate with drow: underground, spiders, slavery, Lolth, depravity, torture, Houses, matriarchy, mushrooms, weird drugs, all that jazz and rock & roll.

This is what they are far before the Campaign begins.

I've been coding them as Classical Romans, co-opting stories from the Iliad, the Odyssey, Romulus and Remus, and the Aeneid as their origin myths. (Romula and Rema suckle the Wolf-spider's poison milk and gain immunity - that sort of deal.) They have a tyrannical monarchy (but not for long).

This but more spider.

Everything is defined in the context of the fact that there isn't enough food underground - even the Matricians couldn't eat lavishly (to do so would mean feeding fewer troops/guards, a recipe for internal assassination). Young life is cheap, old life is very expensive. A leader's ability to procure food (protein especially) is what defines them as successful.

The Traditionalist factions of the present world herald back to this time. They point to the legendary figures as founding foremothers of impeccable strength chiseled from adversity. They believe that the present changes in drow society will make them complacent and weak, and that strict discipline to traditionalist protocols is necessary to maintain empire.

Then Comes the Tidelock

The world literally stops spinning. Nearly everything on the surface gets wiped out. The last remaining holdouts are shelter-dwellers, wizards, and peoples at the old poles. The Underdark remains largely untouched, insulated from the Apocalypse-winds and the Unsetting Sun (or lack thereof).

It takes a while before the drow notice this. Slaves and trade from the surface stops. This is compensated by more underground operations against other Underdark factions. Slowly, unbeknownst to anybody, underground warfare becomes unsustainable without the resource sink of the surface. This never becomes known except to maybe a handful of ignored and ostracized academics.

But slowly, rumors start to spread in the cities of a place on the surface kept in perpetual twilight - where the Sun shines enough to sting but not blind. It is a cold place. Humans dwell among the crags.

Expeditions are sent by industrious Houses desperate to rise above their station in an infamously ossified political system. They are discouraged by the Monarchy, who are violently resistant to change and aware of how new territory will change the power dynamic. The new Republican factions establish colonies, founding the future capitol Twilight City. Their access to new resources and power inevitably lead to internal conflict and Civil War.

The Republican factions win a Pyrrhic victory at a terrible cost. They unleash something upon the old city (it has varied over time exactly what this thing was/is) - a Death Tyrant, the Mondmilch, a Memetic Plague, a Cordiceps Betrayal Strain, something civilization-ending. It kills everyone, including the monarchy. The city cannot sustain life anymore and is abandoned.

Those that stood with the monarchy are exterminated. All remaining refugees resettle in Twilight City.

Then Comes Agriculture

With total victory achieved, a new form of government is formed. The New Moon Republic comes into being. Every House gets to field one Senator. A Chancellor is elected from among the Senators. (This eventually changes as population begins to boom among Republican Houses, prompting governmental reforms allowing "New Houses" to form and gain Senate seats.) The sky is the limit - literally, figuratively. On the surface, there is nothing to keep a House from expanding as much as they want.

Cold weather crops are "discovered" by Drow researchers (having been grown by local humans).

This changes everything.

Pictured: Everything changing.

The drow can just grow as much food as they want (with help extorted from the local humans, anyway...). There's no limit of space or fertilizer or farming labor (necromancy is found to be particularly potent in the shade of the Eternally-Eclipsed Moon). Suddenly the wealthy can eat whenever they want. Suddenly even the poor Houses can feed all their members. You don't have to sacrifice every other baby to Lolth because if you don't they'll just starve to death anyways.

They don't need Lolth anymore. There are other gods, ones more relevant to the troubles of the surface world - Hydur (Wind/Vengeance), Tiamat (Ocean/Disaster), Iune (War/Migration), Manmanuk (Chaos/Dreams), Dolena (Unchange/Undeath). Lolth threw her hat in with the monarchy anyways, so her worship becomes illegal. The clerics are told by the governmental powers that be to worship the new gods or go the way of the monarchy - nearly all comply. Those that don't practice in secret. Those that do are pragmatic about it - after all, Lolth detested weakness, and she was ultimately the loser after all was said and exterminated. It's perfectly consistent with Lolthian ideals to abandon her worship for the winners. Even the Traditionalist factions take up the new gods. A Sword of Damocles is established for the campaign.

The population explodes. Now it's not about maintaining that perfect population balance, but about making as many children as you possibly can. The Traditionalists are slow to pick this up, so the Republican factions will always been 50-100 years ahead of their rivals in terms of numbers of soldiers, workers, and Senate representation.

Things That Are New:

Feasts and Obesity. Vomitoriums are added to estates. Beauty standards change from petite chiseled lean muscle to double chins and THICC. Male concubines now look like Pillar Men or Dad Bod. The first drow ever suffers from diabetes and then subsequently dies from diabetes because drow medical practitioners have no idea what that is.

Pictured: Pillar Men, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

I want you all to appreciate what a nsfw land mine
it was to google "overweight drow".
Artist: EPgalo

Land Ownership and Marriage. Ownership in drow culture has traditionally followed this axiom: if you built it then it's yours. This applied equally to buildings, food, and children alike (men, of course, had no input in building children). Land ownership in the way we understand (as in a person owns the land itself, apart from anything built on it) wasn't a thing. But now the land itself is super important - you need it to plant more kale, cabbage, and wheat. You need people to not disturb it because otherwise the food doesn't get made. Hence, land ownership gets introduced to drow society.

And guess who gets the land? Those that could claim it, namely the Houses with resources at their disposal. The lands of the Feyfjord to the north are claimed by the Republican factions. The south lands (the Suthlands) are claimed by the Traditionalists (who hate this idea but they can't not go along with it). The Feyfjord gets turned into zombie farms. The Suthlands become targets for ever-emboldening slave raids.

Marriage comes hand-in-hand with land ownership. With land becoming important so does lineage - you want this land to go to your children, not someone else's. Marriage, at this point, has not become ritualized. It is merely a contract, like any other (I help you make this baby and that baby gets this land). The Republican factions embrace marriage as innovative, the Traditionalists don't.

Gymnasiums and Sports. Oh boy oh boy, now there's really energy to spare. The first public gyms are created by the Traditionalists factions (as traditionally, there was maybe one gym in the city, and everyone wanted more). Calories can finally be spent en-masse on getting SWOLE. Gender segregated is present (gyms for men are smaller and fewer, only recently constructed). Sports other than watching sick slaves get eaten by monsters can now reasonably occur. Favorite among them: tunnel wrestling, acrobatics, peryton racing, mountain climbing, and trick archery. Bloodsports to the death are far less common because now you can actually use those people. The Traditionalists maintain gladiatorial games, but it tends to be far more showy and dramatic nowadays than in the past.

Gyms take up space. Underground they require more justification.

No Rest For the Dead and Cannibalism Goes Out of Fashion. Necromancy progresses to the point where the spirit may be detained indefinitely within this world. Servant castes of a House are expected to serve, die, and serve again... forever. Bodies are a resource for making food, as now there's no resource ceiling cap on labor. So sadly, for those who enjoyed the symbolic, aesthetic, or religious aspects of cannibalism, it is no longer of prudent economic use. The Traditionalists will still sometimes do this, with children consuming the parents - especially with someone important such as a matriarch (to doubly spare them the undead afterlife and 'have them join their lineage in body'), but even they have recognized the importance of undead labor.

Fashion and Furs. It's cold on the surface. Much colder than in the cities built neat heat vents, cradled by the passive radiation of the earth's core. There's also much more space - to fight, to walk, to simply be. Drow used to wearing nothing but light silks must adopt that which they always associated with the barbarians and crude troglodytes of the surface: pants. Oh, those barbarous pants! Drow stop complaining about pants after the first couple of times a cold wind sweeps up their undersides - now silks are indoor/traditional clothes. They're for Senate meetings and heated baths. Furs take over as the garb to wear - some senators even wear them in the senate now! Fur trapping becomes a very lucrative industry, with pelts hunted all across the world to make warm vestments in Twilight City. Increasing waist sizes have even compounded this demand further.

New Fashion = Furs + Silks
Heavy armor becomes desirable as the need to design for spelunking becomes less of a priority. The drow didn't spend millennia on making comfortable and utilitarian armor to suddenly abandon it now, though. As such, drow armor is easily the most comfortable to wear, anywhere. It's good to hiding things and carrying tools. You can sleep in it without penalty.

Heavy Armor is now a viable means of protection
when you're not spelunking.

Cuisine and Chefs. The drow don't need to consume every bit of slop that becomes available - they can now be choosy. Chef becomes a viable profession, and they explode in popularity. The first Drow Cookbook is published, largely to train other chefs. It contains classic royal recipes such as mushroom steaks and eyeball a la mode (dwarf eyes are traditional), as well as new dishes such as cabbage soup and *gasp* bread! Bread is a big deal - it's cheap, it's compact, it lasts - more for the lower classes than anyone else. The Traditionalists think eating grain makes one weak, though, and that those empty calories are suitable only for slaves.

Just wait until they discover dairy... Hoo boy that'll be exciting!


  1. This is great! This could be a series, honestly - taking generic fantasy races and talking about what happens when they get thrown into a new environment.

  2. Very interesting! I have issue with how you characterize marriage-- would fretting about lineage be even a little bit relevant in a caricaturishly matriarchal society? there's no doubt, after all-- if the child comes out of your drow-lady-parts it's yours, the father doesn't really matter. Otherwise I love it, fabulous read, WOULD like to see a series of these!

  3. Your sacrifices in the name of spreading the radical democratic revolutionary drow zeitgeist are well-appreciated, for it is a just cause.

  4. The title of this sound straight from bill wurtz. I can even imagine the jingle.