Drow

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Greyhawk creature
Drow
Drow01.jpg
A male and female drow, as depicted in Drow of the Underdark (2007). Art by Franz Vohwinkel.
Alignment Neutral Evil (3E; Chaotic Evil in previous editions)
Type Humanoid
Subtype Elf
First appearance Against the Giants (1977)

The drow (rhyming either with "now" or "throw," per Mentzer, 1985) or dark elves are a generally evil, dark-skinned subrace of elves dwelling chiefly underground.

Ecology

Drow weapons and armor (usually made of adamantine or another metal unique to the Underdark) slowly lose their magical properties if exposed to the sun. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first and second editions, drow weapons disintegrated upon exposure to sunlight unless specifically treated. Drow often employ hand crossbows, a weapon most consider exotic.

Environment

After the great war amongst the elves, the drow were forced underground in what is now known as the Underdark, a vast system of caverns and tunnels spanning much of the continent. The drow have since built cities across the Underdark, becoming one of the most powerful races therein.

The most famous drow community is the subterranean city Erelhei-Cinlu, and its surrounding Vault, commonly called the Vault of the Drow. Drow are also known to dwell beneath the Domain of Greyhawk, where they worship elemental forces, and beneath the Pomarj.

Typical physical characteristics

Drow characters are extremely intelligent, charismatic and dexterous, but share surface elves' comparative frailty and slight frames. Females tend to be slightly taller than males, though the difference is barely noticable to the untrained eye. Drow are characterized by white or silver hair, obsidian black skin, and red (or rarely gray, violet, or yellow) eyes, as well as innate spell-like abilities and spell resistance. This is balanced by their light sensitivity.

Drow males are commonly wizards or fighters. Females are almost always clerics and almost never wizards.

Half-drow are the result of crossbreeding between another race and a drow, and share characteristics of both. The term "half-drow" usually refers to one who is half drow and half human.

Alignment

As a race, drow are usually evil. Exceptions exist, the most notable being Leda, Nilonim, Jawal Severnain, Tysiln San, and Landis Bree, but these are highly unusual. In earlier editions, drow were chaotic evil. Beginning with Third Edition, drow are usually neutral evil. There have been encounters with nonevil drow, but these are distrusted as much as their brethren, due to their reputation.

Society

Drow, as depicted in D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (1981). Art by Bill Willingham. Note the Spider-Man chest to the lower left, containing Iron Man's helmet and Captain America's shield.

Drow society is primarily matriarchal, with priestesses of their evil spider goddess Lolth in the highest seats of power. Some drow, especially of the House of Eilserv, worship a nameless Elder Elemental God (said to have ties to Tharizdun) instead of Lolth. Males are considered inferior to females within drow society, and while some males may be respected if they are powerful wizards, they are never allowed to rule. The drow sometimes use their dark arts to turn humanoid slaves into living sculptures.

Drow society is based upon violence, murder, cunning, and the philosophy that only the strong survive (though in the Drow tongue, a quirk of the language creates a reversal of cause-and-effect; more correctly, it can be translated as "those who survive are strong"). Hence, most drow plot endlessly to murder or otherwise incapacitate their rivals and enemy drow using deceit and betrayal. Drow, particularly in higher positions, are constantly wary of assassins and the like. Their society, as a whole, is seemingly nonviable. The only reason they do not murder themselves to extinction is by the will of Lolth, working primarily through her clergy. Lolth does not tolerate any drow that threaten to bring down her society, and the clergy make certain that perpetrators cease their destructive actions by either threatening or killing them, depending on her mood.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some communities of drow worship other gods (like Vhaeraun or Kiaransali) and thus their hierarchy changes, reverses the roles of males and females, or results in other differences in their social order.

Most drow societies hate surface elves, but will wage war with almost any surface race and other subterranean races, such as mind flayers, svirfneblin, duergar, kuo-toa, dwarves, and orcs, for spoils and territory.

Religion

The gods most commonly worshiped by the drow include Lolth, the Elder Elemental Eye, Keptolo, Kiaransali, Vhaeraun, and Zinzerena. Other fell entities and demon lords may also be worshiped. Kanchelsis is known to be worshiped by some drow.

Notable drow

Known drow of Greyhawk include Clannair Blackshadow, Derken Gale, Jawal Severnain, and Landis Bree of Greyhawk City; Tysiln San of the Valley of the Mage; Eclavdra of House Eilserv and her clone Leda; Edralve of the Slave Lords; and Istovahn from the The Rod of Seven Parts adventure.

The drow of the moon Celene include Queen Lililth "Darkmane," her advisor Xerolan'th, and the priestess Tathis Spiderheart.

Creative origins

The word "drow" is of Scottish origin, an alternative form of "trow", which is a cognate for "troll". Trow/drow was used to refer to a wide variety of evil sprites. Except for the basic concept of "dark elves", everything else about drow was apparently invented by TSR's writers.

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax stated that "Drow are mentioned in Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, as I recall (it might have been The Secret Commonwealth--neither book is before me, and it is not all that important anyway), and as dark elves of evil nature, they served as an ideal basis for the creation of a unique new mythos designed especially for the AD&D game" ("Books Are Books, Games Are Games" in Dragon #31). This establishes Gygax's source for the term as Thomas Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries (1828; aka The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People).

Drow were first mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons game in the 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual under "Elf," where it is stated that "The 'Black Elves,' or drow, are only legend." They made their first statistical appearance in Gygax's Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978). The story continued in modules D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, D3 Vault of the Drow, and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits each of which expanded on drow culture. The first D&D manual that fulls stas for drow appeared in was the original Fiend Folio (1981).

Bibliography

  • Cagle, Eric. "The Bestiary: Punishments of Lolth." Dragon #298. Bellevue, WA: Paizo Publishing, 2002.
  • Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume Two. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1989.
  • Laws, Robin D. "Flesh for Lolth." Dragon #298. Bellevue, WA: Paizo Publishing, 2002.
  • Turnbull, Don, ed. Fiend Folio. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1981.

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