Societies all over the world have their own way of doing things. Regardless where you are from, I bet you’d be surprised how cultures on the other side of the world did some of the most common things. The way we make a meal, prepare a home, treat the loss of a loved one, or manufacture materials or products might be done in a completely different way in a far-flung culture. This objective truth should also apply to the realms within fantasy. Volo’s Guide to Monsters goes into some of these cultural aspects, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Road Crew will examine something we take for granted, glass manufacture, and pop it into a fantasy world – with a twist of absurdity. To do this, we’ll also riff off something many of us see every day – road work. How often have you been on your way somewhere and traffic ahead has been slowed, stopped, or rerouted for some form of road repair. We know how this goes. There will be a crew of workers around, dressed in a specific way for safety and visibility, and there will be large equipment nearby.
Now take that image – and imagine Svirfneblin and a Flail Snail. The absurdity part just hit you. Good. Not every encounter should be dark and dangerous from the get go. Like any work site, dangers will exist. The room for harm is always there. But caution and common sense can make up for a lot.
Who am I kidding? These are player characters we’re talking about. We all know how this ends, right?
Description: The characters will be travelling through deep passages through the Underdark. Tunnels will twist and turn, rise and fall. Bioluminescent mushrooms create a dim ambience throughout. Turning a corner, the sound of muffling created by the mushrooms gives way to the sounds of digging. A squad of smaller humanoids, perhaps 3 feet tall and heavyset, wearing chain shirts with luminous fungi attached, guide a large snail-like creature slowly along a passage. The figures wear metal helms with candles, lighting the way dimly, with the light reflecting off the shell of this massive mollusk in a brilliant array of colors. One figure walks ahead of this large creature with a bucket of some kind, while three others walk behind with tools, carefully digging up a hardened surface left by the creature. Trailing this group is another small humanoid pulling a hand cart, into which the others load sheets of thin, shiny material as they gather it from behind the massive snail creature. The humanoids’ grey skin contrasts the bright lights created by the fungi, candles, and the reflections of the snail’s shell.
The player characters have happened upon a group of Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes) working with a befriended Flail Snail. The flail-like appendages of the Snail hang passively at the front of the beast until or unless it becomes agitated. The Gnomes are leading the Flail Snail along with a bucket of quart shards and then collecting the glass trail that the snail leaves as it moves forward. They use pry bars and hammers to tap the glass, and carefully break the trail into sheets that they load into the cart on cave bear furs for transport.
How they proceed from here is up to the player characters. This is a work crew. They are close to home in some regard, and likely close to guards of some kind or another. Unless the player characters threaten them in some manner, they will attempt to guide the party safely around the flail snail and allow them passage forward. Once the players are clear, they will resume work and continue on as normal. Should the players enter a friendly community of Svirfneblin ahead, they may well run into this same crew later on. having completed their day’s toil.
If they choose to be aggressive or attack, things may change rapidly. The Flail Snail (”Bessie”) responds favorably to the Deep Gnomes based on a long relationship of mutual cooperation. “Bessie” may not be so favorable to encroaching or aggressive player characters. That’s up to the DM. The Flail Snail will certainly turn on the player characters if threatened, much like a bull might when interlopers enter its field. So long as the Flail Snail has his handler (Gimble – the Gnome with the bucket), he might not attack. However, if the player characters attack the Deep Gnomes, all Hell will break loose.
Monsters: Svirfneblin (Deep Gnomes) (5) – As per Monster Manual, p. 164.
Flail Snail – “Bessie” – As per Volo’s, p. 144
Treasure: The Gnomes all carry some pocket change (3d6 gold, 5d6 silver, 50 percent chance of a gem worth 25 gold), but the real value is the Flail Snail. The glass it produces is hard to come by. The cart currently holds four sheets of Flail Snail glass, each approximately 2’x 3’, and each is worth 100gp intact. Broken, they’re valueless. The shell of the Flail Snail weights 250 lbs and has a lot of uses; an intact one can bring as much as 5,000gp. See the sidebar in Volo’s, page 144 for more details.
Complications: There are two complications of note. The Flail Snail on its own can be a real threat to low-level characters, especially squishy cloth wearers. Its shell carries Anti-Magic effects (see its entry) as well as its Scintillating ability. It’s dying scream can attract any number and assortment of wandering monsters in a dangerous place like the Underdark, which has its own number of complications.
The second one of note is based around the Deep Gnomes. Deep Gnomes in any community where they have manufacturing, especially around a rare and hard to befriend creature like a Flail Snail, will not take kindly to the harm of either their kin or the creature. This could lead to some serious consequences for the party. A wise group may take note of this. An unwise group may not.