Population: 850, split between 9 communities
Major Industries: Hide, Meat, Scrolls, Tallow
Safe, Mobile, Enchanted (Obfuscatory Illusions), Possession (Various tribes), Monsters (Dire Moles, Svirfneblin)
Referring to a cluster of nine different tribes, allied through bonds of blood and oaths of obligation, the Quiet Caravans are essential to the movement of goods through the Mushroom Forest and the Underridge beyond. Naturally inclined towards wanderlust and trade, the deep gnomes are on at least neutral terms with every major polity of the region, with the only exception being the Cranium Rats of The Choruses' Redoubt with the more friendly Troupe settlement of Stone Teeth Town being too new for them to have even heard of. The regions prime source of candles, fresh meat and hides, their dire mole-pulled sleds are both a welcome sight for friendly communities and a tempting target for those foolish or mighty enough to rob them. As a result of their status as potential prey, as well as the relative paucity of easily obtainable food in the Mushroom Forest, the various caravans are constantly on the move and they deal only with trusted individuals for trade. It's not uncommon for only certain families with a tradition of dealing with the Svirfneblin stretching back years or decades to be allowed to approach their hidden camps without being ambushed, killed and then eaten. This wariness frustrates those who wish to engage them for the first time, but their paranoia has served them well, raids are infrequent and generally foiled before the main camp is discovered. Even when the raids are successful, the savage reprisals demanded by the murder of their fellows by the deep gnome's rigid codes of honor give their would-be victimizers pause.
Beyond trading and raiding, tribes support themselves through hunting, opportunistic theft or scavenging, anything to get by. Already possessing formidable skills in stealth, their proficiency with illusory magic makes them terrifyingly effective guerrilla fighters when roused. An individual caravan generally is made up of four or five extended families, with perhaps double that number of sleds and dire moles. Rarely traveling as a unified whole, the tribe will spread out over miles of whatever haunt they've chosen for themselves to forage, bringing their spoils back to the central camp for distribution only after the area has been picked clean or become too dangerous. When encamped the deep gnomes live in cylindrical tents crafted from the rib-bones and hides of their beasts of burden with the sleds (themselves made of bone and hide) acting as the foundations. Tribe members dress in mole hides, occasionally augmented with spider silk or wool traded from the surface. Dyes or other forms of artificial coloration are rare, so browns and grey predominate and any dangling or metal objects are wrapped carefully against the body to muffle any noise or reflections. Tribes are generally led by a council with membership pulled from the component families household heads.
There are few true professions in the hard-scrabble, nomadic existence beyond that of hunter-gatherer, but there are illusion specialists known as Gloom Weavers & priests of the Wordless Lady known as Whisper Keepers. Dire moles are extremely important to the function of a tribe, useful for tearing new tunnels and pulling sleds, as well as for their milk, hides and meat. A tribe without a population of moles to draw upon will slowly find itself without the means to transport their goods, dig new tunnels or supply themselves with food and will generally be forced to in-debt themselves to a wealthier tribe for a new Labour. Tribes are governed in their dealings with one another through layers of blood relations, grudges and personal vendettas with few formalized agreements existing beyond the lives of those who swore the original oaths. Membership in a tribe is hereditary and new blood is added through marriage by capture or arrangement during one of the frequent occurrences of tribes meeting one another in the tunnels.
To outsiders it seems as if the Svirfneblin are as hard bargaining and ruthless with one another as they are with strangers, but that attitude only persists as long as there is no external threat to the Quiet Caravans, who will quickly band together to face threats to their way of life as a whole. On the rare occasion when deep gnomes go to war with another it's uncommon for outsiders to notice anything amiss other than the losing tribe simply disappearing, never to be spoken of again by the others. Tribes are generally similar in outlook when it comes to faith, hewing to the worship of an enigmatic deity known as the Wordless Lady, a goddess whose rites must be kept entirely secret from those outside the tribe and whom the stories about are passed on entirely through the oral lore of the tribe's Whisper Keeper. Devotions to the Wordless Lady are performed in temporary and unadorned shrines, or if available, the abandoned shrines of other deities. While primarily inhabitants of the Mushroom Forest, the deep gnomes can be encountered as far afield as the Underridge, the Cernunnokian Depths or even above ground on moonless nights in the wilds of Ingram's Tangle.
- Gaining the trust of a caravan is very difficult to say the least, no amount of persuasion or bribes will convince a tribe to trade or sway them towards affability, only concrete deeds which either benefit or protect the tribe are considered worthy of notice.
- It is reasonably common for the Svirfneblin of the Quiet Caravans to use their favored contacts as agents to buy goods on their behalf. Merchants on the surface may unwittingly be supplying a Quiet Caravan.
- Given their reliance on Dire Moles for digging, meat, shelter and clothing, the Svirfneblin consider the Cranium Rats an existential threat and the recent destruction of two Caravans by the creatures has only increased this fear. They avoid the creatures whenever possible, and exterminate or drive them away when they cannot.
Treasure & More: Beyond their mole products, the deep gnomes carry a potpourri of small and generally highly valuable items such as potions, scrolls, bolts of exotic cloth, precious stones and magical baubles. Goods which are always in demand among the Svirfneblin are foods, especially calorie dense ones, wood and any sort of metal.