Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drow Part I

I don't like the Drow; which is to say that I do not like what the Drow have been turned into after 20+ years of D&D history and gaming. Somehow, somewhere along the line, they changed from an altogether creepy, consciously immoral race of evil elves broken from their kin and mutated by the mysterious radiations of the depths below the earth to an entire race of chaotic good rebels against a decadent and evil society of their peers. I suspect, perhaps too strongly really, that a certain TSR fiction character by a certain author who shall remain nameless, though I tend to think he rather "gave permission" to a practice that was already rampant by that time. After all, I'm sure that by the time D3 came out, there were more than a few persons chomping at the bit to sink their teeth into a Drow character.

Of course, there are other issues at work. First, and in my mind foremost, how many different brands of elf do we really need? There's already mechanically distinct flavors for wood elves, high elves, grey elves, and elves ad nauseum. Do we really need a special entry for "evil elves"? Granted, according to the grand D&D mythos, Drow aren't just evil elves, they're mutated by the magical radiation of their deep, subterranean lairs, but at times that just seems like an excuse for the next generation of gamers to play an "elf with bonuses" rather than anything else. In their first appearance in Gary's writings (I think they showed up in the Monster Manual, but I may be mistaken), they were little more than a legend, a foot note to a larger elf entry. It was the especially magic nature of Gary's underworld that had changed them, an artifact of setting rather than of sort, thus, I don't think that Gary ever intended all Drow to look the same on paper. They were a prime target for referee individualization and in that light, I'm gutting the Drow of all their magical gizmos and noisemakers. They are, from my perspective, holdover elements from the setting of Greyhawk and, worse yet, the Forgotten Realms and have little or no relavence on my conception of what a conciously evil society of elves would be.

Second, there are whole layers of unfortunate implications orbiting around the dark skinned Drow. Of course I'm not going to attribute racism where none exists, but seriously, the situation is ripe for misinterpretation. Which isn't to mention why a race living underground and far from light would have its skin turn black when, scientifically speaking, the opposite would be true. Of course I know that for Gary, the Drow's blackness was largely metaphorical, a blackness of the soul that was physically manifested as darkened skin pigmentation, but at the same time, I don't see the need for this, leastways because the moment a player catches sight of a dark skinned elf underground he knows precisely what he's in for. No, I see no need at all for dark skinned evil elves when there are other, more interesting ways to deal with physiognomatic ways of expressing inner darkness and spiritual rot. Salvatore from Name of the Rose springs to mind. Jeremy Irons as an "uber-morlock" even more so.

Of course, it's only natural from there to move on to the completely dysfunctional society. Honestly, has anybody seen a culture more rooted in backstabbing, betrayal, and self-gratification as the Drow are most often portrayed as? To the point of ineffectuality even. Nope, my Drow will work and play well, if not with others, than at least with each other.

Then there's the whole spider fixation. On the one hand, yeah, spiders creep me the fuck out. On the other, I'm really tired of Lolth and the dysfunction inspired by the whole premise. Honestly, here I'm torn about whether or not to pull it out entirely.

From what's left (a basic, pointy eared elf), I want to build up towards something that's not related to a certain wangsty character that's inspired millions of copy cats.


  1. Yah, I balked at a fairly recent player request to play a Drow...we ended up playing LL anyway. It might be fun to create a background and reason for an evil, outcast nation of (Hill? Gray? High?) fairskinned elves. I do like the matriarchal society aspect of the Drow though.

  2. They were just a brief blurb in the original 1e MM yep.

    And actually, I think in D3, the cult of Lolth were a bunch of upstarts; the primary faith of the drow was implied to be Zuggtmoy, the demon-goddess of fungus with some fertility aspects, which makes a lot more sense for a race building large, subteranean cities.

  3. That would seem to be confirmed by Gygax's Gord The Rogue - Sea of Death fiction where the Drow Priestess Eclavdra was in Zuggtmoy's service.

  4. Tad William's Norns are my go-to for bad elves since reading "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn". Pale-faced, iron-fearing, cold-loving creatures of the winter mists.

    Drow who?

  5. Just do what I do with some iconic races, change it and make it your own, and ignore the general stereotype. In my campaign world, Drow have nothing to do with living underground (they live in gloomy overgrown forestss), don't have special drow abilities unless they worship certain malign powers, and don't have magic resistance beyond 50%. They are much more a traditional "fey" race than purely evil, their malignance is more offhand and less personal....they wouldn't intentionally capture and torture a human, for example, but if they were in a caravan passing by a group of humans dying of thirst, they might point them out and comment on them while passing by and doing nothing to assist them.

  6. What are the odds that Gygax didn't rip the Drow directly from Eol the Dark Elf in the Silmarillion? Although the black skin & spider fetish is all new. Oh, and making them a whole race.
    Still, someone had to fuck over the sickeningly shirley-templesque cesspools of puke-making goodness that elves a la Tolkien represent. What Moorcock would call the Law of Balance.
    However, when you consider that having Drow means you can play both a murdering sociopath and a plucked-eyebrow assreamer at the same time, the question becomes not "Why?" but "Why so long to arrive?"