So I was brainstorming with some of the good folks on the OSR Google+ community about adventures underwater. A lot of it was how things we take for granted here in the surface world would be different. And it was about what kind of cultures we'd see underwater. Combined with some more brainstorming with my buddy Donald and the guys on OSR, here's what we've all come up with.
One of the biggest things I feel would affect cultures is the lack of traditional metal working. Without fire, you can't really do it the traditional method. And then there's the rust. So there were some ideas we all had on how to deal with this. Tod Casasent had a cool idea that metal could be devoured or somehow implanted into some of the natural life and harvested by the underwater denizens. So here are some of his ideas, expanded on.
The silver marlin is a special predatory fish, fast as it is dangerous. Like a swordfish, it has a sharp, harpoon-like 'nose' it uses to hunt its prey. The reason it's called the silver marlin is because of the metal it absorbs from special coral reefs it lives in. The metal creates hard deposits in the fish that makes its bones hard as iron. Many of the underwater civilizations hunt these creatures to claim their bones, but only the best hunters can take on these creatures. Silver marlins are incredibly fast and difficult to catch. This could be a rite of passage for warriors, to claim their fish in an almost Hemmingway-esque battle between man and marlin. These would also be popular among nobles that might pay for older, slower marlins that they can easily hunt down and claim as trophies to show off with other nobles.
These are giant clams that, like the silver marlin, has iron deposits in its shell. These minerals are absorbed from the ocean floor through filter feeding, only instead of making pearls, it adds the minerals to their shell. This makes it a walking fortress and virtually without any predators, so long as its shell is closed. Still, a canny hunter can wait for the clam to open its shell for feeding to impale it in its soft, fleshy center. Cleaning out the clam is easy and unhinging the bivalve's shells makes for a natural buckler that is durable and surprisingly light weight. I feel with underwater adventures, heavy shield wouldn't really be usable, but a light weight buckler would be useful. And since most of these species wouldn't have hammers or other bludgeoning weapons, that'd make sense.
Coral reefs where the polyps absorb and leave behind iron rich exoskeletons to form these beautiful, metallic homes for animals. These are really hard to carve and most people use these less for weapons and armor and more as natural fortifications. Many canny generals cultivate these coral reefs to make study homes against war. I wonder though, what would artillery be like underwater? Floating ballistas driven by whales? Dragging a ballista on the ocean floor sounds really difficult with the push back from the water. Would we have floating walls, enclosing a whole city? Cities built into underwater mountains? Perhaps these coral reefs become massive and in turn are underwater cities for the deep denizens. A lot of these questions do less with limiting underwater races and option and instead help to carve out a different and alien civilization for those underwater.
The Deep Dark
Beneath the waves, where light fears to tread is the Abyssal Zone, a place of darkness, cold, and fear. The creatures that live down here are things from a horror novel, many of them deadly and vicious, forged by the shivering dark and crushing pressure. But down here, there are spots of immense heat. Geothermal vents and lava flowing and mixing with the water. Using the lava and pressure, these deep creatures have forged a durable steel that surpasses those of the upper dwellers. Lead by jealousy of their surface cousins, these deep dwellers take up arms with their powerful weapons and leviathan war beasts to raid the upperfolk at night for slaves and resources, before descending back down to avoid the light. I definitely want to write more about these guys in another, later post.