Shellcracker Island

Map of an island in the middle of a subterranean sea, drawn and marked up by dwarves

Even for dwarves, the Shellcracker clan is eccentric. They make their homes on the shores of a subterranean sea. Their nautical knowledge in the dark below rivals that of the most capable sailors of the surface. They still brew beer—they aren’t that eccentric—but they also make a strong trade in harvesting the seafood they pull from the black depths of their sea.

Once every hundred years or so, on a cadence determined not by a calendar or a clock but the molting and migration patterns of the deep lobsters prized for their prodigious size and delectable flesh. When the signs show it is time, the call goes out from the central Shellcracker clanhold. Messenger boats are dispatched, and signal fires are lit throughout the island territories held by the clan and its tenant fisherfolk. The largest fire of them all is the bonfire on Shellcracker Island itself, and the site of the Convocation.

From far and wide, the Shellcrackers shut down their far-flung citadels, load up their fishing boats, and travel to their ancient island of moot. They harvest full loads of lobster on the way, filling their holds to the absolute brim; no clan wants to come in last in the competition for largest catch. Upon arrival, their hauls are piled in the shallow sorting tanks along the banks of the harbor. The brewmasters head to the brewery and lagering caves to get the festival properly started, and the cooks head up the hill to the cauldrons where the feast will be prepared. Everyone else sets to sorting the lobster, using massive rakes and shovels to move them along the line to the steam-powered conveyer that will take the live catch up to their final fate above.

Once the first batch of cooked crustaceans is ready, the Shellcrackers rush to the amphitheater and open-air dining hall on the north side of the island. The steaming-hot shellfish are sluiced into channels full of hot water that carry them down each row to the hungry dwarves. As clansmen dig into their feast, the emptied shells and viscera are channeled to the center of the amphitheater’s seating and pushed to the front of the convocation. Once a critical mass of discarded parts is reached, a steam-driven catapult is fired, flinging the bits like so much chum out into the shallow bay. It’s customary to toast and drain your stein with every launch.

While the feast is in progress, the business of the clan is conducted. Contracts are finalized, inter-clan marriages are proposed, enacted, and sometimes dissolved according to custom, and shared goals are agreed upon. The patriarch of the Shellcrackers rules by fiat as necessary, but usually will stick to tradition and the advice of his cross-clan council. All this business is conducted with deliberate efficiency, however, because there’s a ticking clock that could end the moot on a moment’s notice…

As the cast-off shells start to saturate the shallows, the scent trickles down into the deep. There below the king of crustaceans is awakened, and in its own sweet time makes its way to the surface. Almost as one, the gathered clansmen and clanswomen will surge down the amphitheater, taking up arms and charging into the shallows. The business of the convocation ends, and the true fun begins. The gargantuan creature, having grown to its full size over the decades, is enraged by the death and consumption of its children. The dwarves are eager to prove their prowess, and engage in the combat of their lives. Most will stand, some will fall, and names will be made among the fighters that will be sung and revered for the next hundred years.

After the battle, the foe vanquished, its corpse is divided among the clans. The massive shell will be cut and formed into weapons and armor as only the Shellcrackers could produce, and the flesh of the lobster king is scattered from their boats as they travel home, left as an offering to the lobsters they’ll harvest in the future.

Process video exported from Procreate

Inspiration for this map came from the annual crawfish boil my family has every spring. Take a normal family gathering, add a fantasy twist, and turn it up to 11, and you get this. The style I went for is more of a scratchy, hand-sketched map that maybe a dwarf would have scrawled on some parchment made of a deep-growing fungus pulp. You can see in the process video that I didn’t deviate much from my initial idea for the island, just refining details and writing the story of its purpose in my mind. In the future, I may explore the caves and tunnels beneath the island, or even the home cities of the Shellcracker clan.

What do you think about the Shellcracker clan? Drop me a line or hit me up on Twitter. Follow me on Instagram for more, and occasional previews of upcoming work. A high-res (3600px x 2700px) version of this map is available to my patrons.

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