Drow

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Drow
Drow.JPG
First appearanceG3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (1977)
Based onDark elf, Drow
In-universe information
TypeHumanoid or fey humanoid
AlignmentUsually Chaotic Evil or Neutral Evil (1st – 3rd Edition)
Any alignment (4th – 5th Edition)

The drow (/dr/[1][2] or /dr/)[3] or dark elves are a dark-skinned and white-haired subrace of elves connected to the subterranean Underdark in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game.[4] The drow have traditionally been portrayed as generally evil and connected to the evil goddess Lolth. However, later editions of Dungeons & Dragons have moved away from this portrayal and preassigned alignment. More recent publications have explored drow societies unconnected to Lolth.[5][6]

Creative origins[edit]

The word "drow" is from the Orcadian and Shetland dialects of Scots,[7] an alternative form of "trow",[8] which is a cognate with "troll". The Oxford English Dictionary gives no entry for "drow", but two of the citations under "trow" name it as an alternative form of the word. Trow/drow was used to refer to a wide variety of evil sprites. Everything about the Dungeons & Dragons drow was invented by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax except for the basic concept of "dark elves".[9][better source needed] However, in the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson wrote about the black elves: "... the dark elves however live down below the ground. ... [and] are blacker than pitch."[10]: 103 

Gygax stated, "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."[11] The form "drow" can be found in neither work.[citation needed] Gygax later stated that he took the term from a listing in the Funk & Wagnall's Unexpurgated Dictionary, and no other source at all. "I wanted a most unusual race as the main power in the Underdark, so used the reference to 'dark elves' from the dictionary to create the Drow."[12] There seems to be no work with this title. However, the following entry can be found in abridged editions of Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of the English Language, such as The Desk Standard Dictionary of the English Language: "[Scot.] In folk-lore, one of a race of underground elves represented as skillful workers in metal. Compare TROLL. [Variant of TROLL.] trow "

Publication history[edit]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition[edit]

The drow were first mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons game in the 1st Edition 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual under the "Elf" entry, where it is stated that "The 'Black Elves,' or drow, are only legend." No statistics are given for the drow in this book, apart from the statistics for normal elves. The drow are described as purportedly dwelling deep beneath the surface world, in strange subterranean realms. They are said to be evil, "as dark as faeries are bright", and pictured in tales as poor fighters but strong magic-users.[13] From 1978 to 1980, the Greyhawk adventure module series explored the drow in depth, including statblocks for drow and an introduction to their Underdark society.[14][15][16]

The first hardcover D&D rulebook featuring statistical information on the drow was the original Fiend Folio (1981). Gygax wrote this entry, listed under "Elf, Drow", according to the book's credits section. The text is a slightly abridged version of the text originally found in modules G3 and D3. Likewise, Lolth's description from module D3 is reprinted in the Fiend Folio under the "Demon" heading.[17]

The drow were first presented as a player character race in Unearthed Arcana (1985), also written by Gygax. Several elven sub-races are described in the book, including gray elves, wood elves, wild elves, and valley elves; the dark elves are described as the most divergent sub-race, and dark elf player characters are considered outcasts from their homeland, either by choice, differing from the standard chaotic evil alignment of the race, or having lost in some family-wide power struggle.[18]

Greyhawk module storyline[edit]

It is hinted in G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (1978) that there is a "secret force, some motivational power behind this unusual banding of different races of giants." G2 The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (1978) mentions this guiding force again in its introduction. The third module in the series, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978) again mentions the party's need to find out whatever is behind the giants' alliance, and this time mentions the drow specifically by name. In the adventure, the player characters can discover the first hint of drow involvement in the fire giant king's council room, on a scroll which promises "powerful help from the Drow", signed by Eclavdra. Actual drow can be encountered starting on level #2 of the king's hall, beginning with a group of drow priests, and then other drow later.[14]

Having discovered that the drow instigated the alliance between the races of giants and its warfare against mankind, in D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (1978) the party follows the fleeing drow into the tunnels leading northwest and deep into the earth, to eliminate the threat they pose. Examining a golden spider pin found on one of the drow priestesses, the party can discover runes in the drow language reading "Lolth, Death Queen Mother".[19] The party continues to pursue the drow in D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (1978).[20] In D3 Vault of the Drow (1978), the adventurers eventually make it to Erelhei-Cinlu, the vast subterranean city of the drow, which is thoroughly described in the module. An extensive overview of the drow power structure is given for the purpose of creating any number of mini-campaigns or adventures taking place inside the drow capital.[21] The characters travel on to the Egg of Lolth, where they must enter the dungeon level and fight the demoness herself. The statistics and information for drow are reprinted from Hall of the Fire Giant King in the back of this module, along with statistics for Lolth herself.[21]

The story concludes in module Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (1980). The astral gate from D3 leads to the Abyssal realm of Lolth, goddess of the drow elves and Demon Queen of Spiders; Lolth is the architect of the sinister plot described in the two previous series of modules. At the very end of the module, the players face a final confrontation with Lolth, an exceptionally difficult challenge.[15] The G1-G3 modules were later published together in 1981 as a single combined module as G1-2-3 Against the Giants,[22] and the entire series of modules in which the drow originally appeared were later published together in Queen of the Spiders (1986).[8][23]

Novels[edit]

Gary Gygax's 1986 novel for TSR's "Greyhawk Adventures" series, Artifact of Evil, was the first novel to feature the drow prominently. Gygax's subsequent Gord the Rogue novels, published by New Infinities, Inc., continued the story and the drow's involvement, in the novels Sea of Death (1987), Come Endless Darkness (1988), and Dance of Demons (1988).

R. A. Salvatore's 1988–1990 The Icewind Dale Trilogy featured the unlikely hero Drizzt Do'Urden as one of the protagonists, and the 1990–1991 followup The Dark Elf Trilogy focused on Drizzt and the drow of the Forgotten Realms setting. Salvatore continued the story of Drizzt and the drow in his subsequent series Legacy of the Drow (1992–1996), Paths of Darkness (1998–2001), and The Hunter's Blades Trilogy (2002–2004). Other works continuing the story of the drow in the Forgotten Realms include Elaine Cunningham's Starlight and Shadows series (1995–1996, 2003), the War of the Spider Queen series (2002–2005, various authors), and Lisa Smedman's The Lady Penitent series (2007–2008).

Keith Baker's The Dreaming Dark trilogy (2005–2006) featured the story of the drow in Baker's world of Eberron.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition[edit]

The drow appear first for this edition in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), which expands the information on drow society. Also included in the entry for drow is a description and statistics for the drider.[24] This entry is reprinted with some minor modifications in the Monstrous Manual (1993).[25]

Drow society, religion, history, magic, craftwork, and language for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting is detailed significantly in The Drow of the Underdark (1991), by Ed Greenwood. Greenwood appears in the book's introduction as a narrator, explaining how he came across the information in the book: a discussion with Elminster, and chance encounter with a former apprentice of Elminster—the drow lady, Susprina Arkhenneld—as the two explain the drow of the world to the narrator.[26]

The drow are presented as a player character race for 2nd edition in The Complete Book of Elves (1992).[27] Drow deities Lolth, Kiaransalee, Vhaeraun, and Zinzerena are described in Monster Mythology (1992).[28] The drow are later presented as a playable character race again in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).[29]

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition[edit]

The drow appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000).[30] The drow of the Forgotten Realms setting appear in the hardcover Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2001),[31] and in Races of Faerûn (2003).[32] The drow also appears in the revised Monster Manual for the 3.5 edition (2003).[4]

The Underdark hardcover for the Forgotten Realms setting (2003) features the drow yet again as a player character race,[33] as does the Player's Guide to Faerûn (2004).[34] Lost Empires of Faerûn describes the drow werebat (2005).[35] The drow paragon 3-level prestige class appears in Unearthed Arcana (2004).[36]

In 2004, the new Eberron campaign setting introduced drow in a world where Lolth doesn't exist;[37][38] various drow societies were then explored in more detail in Secrets of Xen'drik (2006).[39] Additionally, the umbragen for the setting appeared as a player character race in Dragon #330 (April 2005).

The arcane guard drow, the dark sniper drow, the drow priestess, the Lolth's sting, and the Lolth-touched drow ranger appear in Monster Manual IV (2006).[40] The deepwyrm drow is presented as a player character race in Dragon Magic (2006).[41]

The drow are presented as a player character race for the 3.5 edition in Expedition to the Demonweb Pits (2007)[42] and Drow of the Underdark (2007).[43] Drow of the Underdark also features the arcane guard, the drow assassin, the house captain, the house wizard, the drow inquisitor, the favored consort, the drow priestess, the drow slaver, the spider sentinel, the albino drow (szarkai), the szarkai fighters, the szarkai druids, and the drow warrior, along with numerous prestige classes and other monsters related to drow.[43]

Open gaming[edit]

The release of the Open Game License and the System Reference Document's inclusion of the drow race also led to a number of books related to drow being published by companies not affiliated with Wizards of the Coast, such as The Quintessential Drow,[44] The Complete Guide to Drow,[45] and Encyclopaedia Arcane: Drow Magic.[46]

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition[edit]

The drow appear in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008), including the drow warrior, the drow arachnomancer, the drow blademaster, and the drow priest.[47] The drow appear as a playable race in the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (2008) and the Essentials rulebook Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010).[48][49][50]

The drow feature in a pre-written playable module called Demon Queen's Enclave (2008) which takes adventurers from levels 14 through 17 into the Underdark to battle the forces of Orcus and possibly ally with members of the treacherous dark elves and/or their minions.[51] The drow of Xen'drik are also outlined in the 4E Eberron Campaign Guide (2009).[52]

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition[edit]

The drow appear as a playable elf subrace in the Player's Handbook (2014) for this edition. They also appear in the Monster Manual (2014) for this edition. In the adventure module Out of the Abyss (2015), the players are captured by the drow at the beginning of the adventure. The drow are also discussed in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (2015) and in the Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018) supplements, including write-ups for their pantheon updated to the 5E Forgotten Realms status-quo.

The drow of Xen'drik are again outlined in Eberron: Rising From The Last War (2019).[53] The new Exandria campaign setting added a non-Lolth based society of drow which was introduced in the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount (2020).[54] Per Wizards of the Coast, the drow of these settings are presented as more "morally and culturally complex".[55]

Christian Hoffer, for ComicBook.com, highlighted a 2021 update on Drizzt Do'Urden by Wizards of the Coast and wrote, "it also notes one major change to D&D canon that relates to the drow culture that Drizzt ultimately abandoned. The website points out that while Drizzt grew up in a 'cult of Lolth' [...], there are two other entire cultures of drow who have no ties to Lolth whatsoever. [...] The reveal of the Lorendrow and Aevendrow seem to suggest that Dungeons & Dragons is officially moving past some long-held canon about the drow".[5] Tika Viteri, for Book Riot, highlighted that Salvatore's Starlight Enclave (2021) "contains a singular shift in the narrative of the story of the drow; Salvatore reveals that drow are not, in fact, the only dark-skinned elves in the Forgotten Realms".[56]

Reception[edit]

Made famous by R. A. Salvatore's Drizzt novels, these dark elves from the game influenced subsequent works of fantasy.[57] Drow have a gender-based caste system that says "a great deal about attitudes towards gender roles in the real world".[58]: 34 

The drow originally created by Gary Gygax are now "essentially the drow of fantasy fiction today", according to Ed Greenwood, who believes them to be "arguably Gary Gygax's greatest, most influential fantasy creation" after the D&D game itself.[8] Designer James Jacobs considers the drow to be a rare example of a D&D-invented monster becoming mainstream, with even non-gamers recognizing them.[59] Rob Bricken, for io9, named the drow as the eighth most memorable D&D monster.[60] Drow have been proven to draw additional sales of products which feature them. While Paizo Publishing was printing Dragon and Dungeon, covers featuring drow often sold better than other issues in the same year.[59]

The drow, especially when used as player characters, are surrounded by much controversy, especially after the release of R. A. Salvatore's novel, The Crystal Shard.[59] Game designer James Jacobs has said that the drow player characters often spark arguments, with some players refusing to play in a campaign that allows drow PCs. Jacobs says that "even the name" is controversial, having at least two pronunciations.[59] Matthew Beilman, for CBR, highlighted multiple reasons to play as a drow character and wrote "you will love playing a drow if you enjoy making others uncomfortable. In most D&D settings, the drow civilization is evil. [...] This makes them excellent campaign villains but also gives them great potential as antiheroes who lack traditional heroic attributes [...]. Playing a drow can also present an opportunity to play against traditional gender norms. [...] The drow are outsiders, even in settings that do not include Lolth and her corruptive influence. These campaigns might not have evil societies of dark elves, but they still tend to make them into foreigners with strange customs [...]. Playing a misunderstood, feared yet potentially heroic character can be great fun".[61] Alex Lucard, in his review of Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue for DieHard GameFan, wrote, "I'll be honest: I've never understood the appeal of the Drow at all. They just seemed overly angsty and dark for the sake of being dark. I've been bored by the novels where they are the featured race and I've generally avoided them unless someone is making fun of them".[62] Rob Bricken, for Kotaku, wrote that there "has been one good Drow in the history of D&D, and that's Drizzt Do'Urden, who is one of the Mary Sue-iest characters in all of fiction—and he's been the star of countless novels and is the only reason any D&D player has even been interested in the Drow, of which now there is a terrifying amount of material".[63]

On June 26, 2020, Netflix and Hulu removed the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons episode of the TV series Community from their platforms due to scenes with Chang playing a dark elf by wearing elf ears and makeup resembling blackface. A statement from Sony Pictures Television said that the studio supported the decision to remove the episode.[64][65]

Some critics have highlighted that the drow[66][55][67] are "dark skinned and inherently evil"[68] and are connected to the "racist idea that non-white people are inherently bad".[69] In 2010, scholar Cory Lowell Grewell found that in the Baldur's Gate video game series, "issues of contemporary race relations are brought to the fore in the player-Character's interactions with the dark-skinned Drow Elves."[70] In the book Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy (2012), author James Rocha states that the difference between drow and dark elves in the Forgotten Realms setting is rooted in racist stereotypes: "an acceptable lighter skinned dark race side by side with only the most rare exceptions in the darker race, which is thought to be inherently evil, mirrors American history in a very uncomfortable fashion".[71]: 98  In response to this criticism in 2020, Wizards of the Coast stated: "we present orcs and drow in a new light in two of our most recent books, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. In those books, orcs and drow are just as morally and culturally complex as other peoples. We will continue that approach in future books, portraying all the peoples of D&D in relatable ways and making it clear that they are as free as humans to decide who they are and what they do".[55] Christian Hoffer, for ComicBook.com, highlighted a 2021 Forgotten Realms lore update on the Wizards of the Coast website and wrote that "while Drizzt himself is proof that all drow aren't inherently evil, many fans still think that Dungeons & Dragons lore needs major updates when it comes to the drow. The main issue is that the drow (like other 'evil' races) are presented as a large monolithic society dedicated to evil instead of a group with multiple competing interests and beliefs. It's not that some drow, or even a city or country of drow, are seen as evil—it's that Dungeons & Dragons lore has traditionally considered evil drow to be the default. [...] By bringing in two entirely new cultures of drow that have rejected Lolth, it seems that the lore will show that drow are just as complex and multi-faceted as the many other elven subraces in the game".[5]

Fictional description[edit]

The drow made their first statistical appearance in the Greyhawk adventure module Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978) at the end of the module, and received a lengthy writeup. The history of the drow within the game is revealed; in ages past, the elves were torn by discord and warfare, driving out from their surface lands their selfish and cruel members, who sought safety in the underworld. These creatures, later known as the "dark elvenfolk" or drow, grew strong in the arcane arts over the centuries and content with their gloomy fairyland beneath the earth, though they still bear enmity towards and seek revenge against their distant kin, the elves and faeries who drove them down. They are described as chaotic evil in alignment, and highly intelligent. They are described as black-skinned and pale haired in appearance, around 5-feet tall and slight of build with somewhat sharp features, with large eyes and large pointed ears. Drow are difficult to surprise as they are able to see very well in the dark, have an intuitive sense about their underground world similar to that of dwarves, and can detect hidden or secret doors as easily as other elves do. Drow are highly resistant to magic, while all drow have the ability to use some inherent magical abilities even if they are not strictly spellcasters. The module also reveals that there are rumors of vast caverns housing whole cities of drow which exist somewhere deep beneath the earth, and now that the drow have dwelled in these dark labyrinthe places they dislike daylight and other forms of bright light as it hampers their abilities. They are able to communicate using a silent language composed of hand movements, and when coupled with facial and body expression, movement, and posture, this form of communication is the equal of any spoken language.[14]

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game's second edition product Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989) describes the world of the drow, where violent conflict is part of everyday life, so much so that most drow encountered are ready for a fight. Their inherent magic use comes from training in magic, which all drow receive. Not long after the creation of the elves, they were torn into rival factions, one evil and one good; after a great civil war, those who followed the path of evil and chaos were driven far from the world's forests and into the bleak, lightless caverns and tunnels of the underworld. Drow society is fragmented into opposing noble houses and merchant families, and they base their rigid class system on the belief that the strongest should rule. Female drow tend to fill many positions of great importance, with priests of the dark goddess Lolth holding a very high place in society. Drow fighters are required to go through rigorous training in their youth, and those who fail are put to death. Drow constantly war with other underground neighbors such as dwarves and dark gnomes (svirfneblin), and keep slaves of all types - including allies who fail to live up to drow expectations.[24]

The Complete Book of Elves (1993) by Colin McComb focuses some of its attention on the drow. The Elfwar is presented, an elven myth in which the elves were one people until the Spider Queen Lolth used the dissent among the elves to gain a foothold; the elves of Lolth took the name Drow to signify their new allegiance, but as they massed to conquer the other elves, Corellon Larethian and his followers drove Lolth and her people deep into the earth, where they chose to remain. The dark elves who became the drow were originally simply elves who held more with the tenets of might than those of justice, and as they quested for power they became corrupted and turned against their fairer brethren. Any elf character of good or neutral alignment, even drow, is allowed into the realm of Arvanaith where elves go upon reaching old age. The book notes that drow player characters have a large number of benefits while suffering few disadvantages, but that "the major disadvantage to being a drow is being a drow." Drow characters are extraordinarily dexterous and intelligent, but have the typically low elf constitution; also, their personalities are described as grating at best, and all other elves hate the drow which affects their reactions to a drow character.[27]

In the 5th Edition Basic Rules, drow are described as a subrace of elves with a connection to Underdark magic.[72] Additionally, it states, "the cult of the god Lolth, Queen of Spiders, has corrupted some of the oldest drow cities, especially in the worlds of Oerth and Toril. Eberron, Krynn, and other realms have escaped the cult's influence—for now. Wherever the cult lurks, drow heroes stand on the front lines in the war against it, seeking to sunder Lolth's web".[72] Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018) retells the story of Corellon and Lolth; the elves who supported Lolth were cast "into darkness. They became a people wholly dedicated to Lolth and her scheming and for many, many centuries were viewed in the multi-verse as a people of evil".[73] However, since all elves are descended from Corellon, the drow have the ability to "break free of Lolth's influence" and turn to "the light within themselves".[73]

Fictional ecology[edit]

Abilities[edit]

With the ability to resist magic and powerful darkvision, drow are more powerful than many of Dungeons & Dragons' races.[74] Drow possess natural magical abilities which enables them to summon globes of darkness, outline targets in faerie fire which causes no harm but makes the target brightly visible to everyone who sees them, and create magical balls of light. They can also levitate for short periods of time. They live to extraordinarily long ages if not killed by violence first, over a thousand years in some cases. Their hearing and vision are better than that of a human being and they are difficult to sneak up on because of this. They naturally excel at moving silently. Drow also employ the unusual hand crossbow, firing small, though very lethal, darts.

In Lolth based societies, drow males are commonly wizards or fighters. Females are almost always clerics and almost never wizards.

Alignment[edit]

As a race, drow were traditionally portrayed evil.[14] There were unusual exceptions, the most notable being Drizzt Do'Urden, Jarlaxle Baenre, and Liriel Baenre. Originally, drow were chaotic evil in alignment. Beginning with 3rd edition D&D, drow were usually neutral evil. There have been encounters with non-evil drow, but these are distrusted as much as their brethren, due to their reputation. In the Forgotten Realms setting, the Drow followers of Eilistraee were originally the largest group of good Drow, as Eilistraee is the patron goddess of all Drow that have a good alignment.

The 4th Edition Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010) does not suggest any typical alignment for drow player characters, however, it highlights the drow that break away from the evil Lolth based societies.[50] The 5th Edition Player's Handbook (2014) described drow as "more often evil than not".[75] In 2021, official errata removed the suggested alignments for playable races, including drow, in all 5th Edition sourcebooks.[76][77] As of Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse (2022), creature stat blocks that also have playable races "now state that they can be any alignment".[78]

Environment[edit]

Within the context of many Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings, the drow were forced underground in what is now known as the Underdark after the great war amongst the elves, a vast system of caverns and tunnels spanning much of the continent.[32][35] The drow live in city-states in the Underdark,[33] becoming one of the most powerful races therein.[33]

The drow are well adapted to seeing in the dark, and they loathe, are terrified of, and are easily blinded by the light of the surface.[40] Some magic weapons, armor, and various other items of the drow disintegrate or lose their magical properties if exposed to the sun.[33]

Typical physical characteristics[edit]

Drow characters are extremely intelligent, charismatic and dexterous, but share surface elves' comparative frailty and slight frames. Females tend to be bigger and stronger than males.[26] Drow are characterized by white or silver hair and obsidian black skin. Their eyes are red (or rarely gray, violet, or yellow) in darkness and can be many different colors in normal light.[79] In 5th Edition, drow typically have "white hair and grayish skin of many hues" along with better darkvision and a sensitivity to sunlight.[72]

Drow have several kinds of innate spell powers and spell resistance. This is balanced by their weakness in daylight. Half-drow are the result of crossbreeding between another race and a drow, and share characteristics of both.

Society[edit]

Lolth based drow society is primarily matriarchal, with priestesses of their evil spider goddess Lolth in the highest seats of power.[8] This society is based upon violence, murder, cunning, and the philosophy that only the strong survive. 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. One of the quirks of this constant infighting is the relatively short lifespan of the average drow. While being just as long lived as their surface cousins, living as long as a thousand years, elderly drow are rarely encountered. Consequently, they are the only race of elves that matches the fertility of 'lesser' races, such as humans. 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. Matron mothers lead the various noble houses and act as "high priestesses of Lolth".[80] Matthew Beilman, for CBR, highlighted that Lolth based "drow society is a lethal cloak-and-dagger affair – like a constant Game of Thrones but if every character were playing by Lannister/Bolton rules. That is to say, playing dirty and playing to win".[80]

There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some communities of drow worship other gods (like Vhaeraun or Eilistraee), and thus, their hierarchy changes, reverses the roles of males and females, or (such as in the case of Eilastree) even approaching something like a workable, progressive society. Drow societies can also vary vastly depending on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting.

In various campaign settings[edit]

Different campaign settings portray drow in various ways.

In Eberron[edit]

Inhabiting the jungles and Underdark in the continental isle of Xen'drik, the drow in Eberron have a much more tribalistic culture than their other Dungeons & Dragons counterparts. They are not an offshoot of the elven race like in many other worlds but rather a separate, if similar, race. Instead of the spider goddess Lolth, most tribes worship a male scorpion deity known as Vulkoor, though exceptions are common. It is believed that Vulkoor is actually one of the forms of the Mockery (a member of the Dark Six). The tribes are often xenophobic, and the social structure varies from tribe to tribe. It is known that the drow mastered elemental binding before gnomes did- including a cultural group of fire-elemental binders called the Sulatar. There is also a subgroup called the umbragen, or shadow elves, who worship the Mockery in the form of a scorpion god and Khyber or the Umbra, the Consuming Shadow, for whom the umbragen are named; the umbragen dwell underground beneath Xen'drik and are noted for producing many warlocks and soulknives.

Drow in Eberron run the gamut from almost feral in nature to being fully civilized and on par with the cultural level of Khorvaire, varying from tribe to tribe.

In Exandria[edit]

The region of Xhorhas, the eastern side of the Wildemount continent in the Exandria setting, is governed by the Kryn Dynasty and ruled by the Bright Queen Leylas Kryn. The Dynasty was founded by drow who escaped to surface after rejecting Lolth for a god of light known as the Luxon. The nation is now home to many creatures others in Wildemount would see as monstrous or evil. Due to the Luxon, the Kryn Dynasty also established a new source of magic called Dunamancy[54][81] which "involves the manipulation of entropy, gravity, and time"[82] where "dunamancers draw power from alternate timelines and unseen realities, subtly affect the flow of time, and even tighten or loosen the grip of gravity".[83] Compared to their neighboring country, the human-run monarchy of the Dwendalian Empire, "the Dynasty is freer, both politically and culturally. They accept anyone and everyone while the Empire is restrictive and nearly inaccessible to outsiders".[84] The Kryn Dynasty was first explored in depth in the second campaign of the web series Critical Role before being added to the Dungeons & Dragons canon in the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount (2020).[6][82]

Critics have highlighted that this setting breaks from traditional fantasy tropes especially around evil races.[6][85] James Grebey, for Syfy Wire, highlighted "it's a country of cast-offs and scrappy upstarts who are simply trying to thrive in a world that's prejudiced toward them. Due in no small part to a religion that allows for souls to be reborn in another body, the Kryn society is race-neutral in a way that's rarely seen in fantasy lore. It's borderline progressive, even. Crucially, while there are bad actors among the Kryn, they're not evil solely because of their race".[6]

In the Forgotten Realms[edit]

1991's The Drow of the Underdark, a 128-page sourcebook all about the drow, expanded the drow significantly for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition version of the Forgotten Realms setting.[26] In the Forgotten Realms, the dark elves were once ancient tribes of Ilythiir and Miyeritar. They were transformed into drow by the Seldarine and were cast down and driven underground by the light-skinned elves because of the Ilythiirian's savagery during the Crown Wars. The drow had fallen under the influence of Araushnee, who was transformed into Lolth and was cast down into the Demonweb Pits along with her son Vhaeraun by the elven god Corellon Larethian because of Lolth's and Vhaeraun's attempt to take control of the elven pantheon (which included Araushnee's seduction of Corellon Larethian). Drow society, being strongly matriarchal, allows the females to hold all positions of power in the government, and to choose and discard mates freely. Social station is the most important thing in drow society, making ascension to greater power a drow's ultimate goal. Drow have a strong affinity for arachnids, as most worship the spider goddess Lolth, and spiders dwell freely among drow communities.[26] The largest drow civilization is the subterranean city of Llurth Dreier. However, Menzoberranzan is featured most prominently in the novels.

Prior to the Spellplague descendants of the Miyeritar dark elves later succeed in reversing their transformation and are recreated as a distinct dark elf race.[86][page needed] According to The Complete Book of Elves, drow are not welcome in Evermeet and are turned away.[27] Drow could also worship Ghaunadaur, Kiaransalee, Selvetarm or Vhaeraun. A special case is Eilistraee, the only drow goddess who is chaotic good instead of chaotic evil; she wants the drow to return to the light. However, all of these alternative deities (except perhaps Ghaunadaur) were killed or forgotten in the last years before the Spellplague,[86][page needed][87][88] but they managed to return to life and regain their followers, about a century later, during the Sundering.[89][90][91]

Amongst the most infamous of drow are the members of House Baenre, whilst Abeir-Toril is also home to some famous benevolent drow including Drizzt Do'Urden and his deceased father Zaknafein (both of House Do' Urden), Liriel Baenre (formerly of Menzoberranzan's aforementioned House Baenre), and Qilué of the Seven Sisters. The drow Jarlaxle is also well-known, as he is one of the few males in Menzoberranzan to obtain a position of great power. He is the founder and leader of the mercenary band Bregan D'aerthe. These characters are from The Dark Elf Trilogy (1990–1991), a series of books by R. A. Salvatore (except for Liriel Baenre and Qilue). The six drow in the War of the Spider Queen series have also gained some renown since the novels have been published.

In 2021, two new Underdark based drow societies, the Lorendrow and the Aevendrow, were introduced; both of these societies have rejected Lolth and are not evil. The Lolth based society of Menzoberranzan is now referred to as Unadrow.[5][92] This retcon[92] "suggests that the beliefs and evil practices once seen as common to all drow are specifically related to the 'Unadrow,' the culture of drow who have become corrupted by the evil spider goddess".[5]

In Dragonlance[edit]

In the Dragonlance setting, Drow do not exist; rather, "dark elves" are elves who have been cast out by the other elves for various crimes, such as worship of the evil deities. Dalamar, a student of Raistlin Majere, is the most notable of Krynn's dark elves. However, over the years Drow have accidentally appeared in a few Dragonlance modules and novels. Similar mistakes have occurred with other standard AD&D races, such as orcs and lycanthropes, which are not part of the Dragonlance setting. Some theories say that these rare Drow may have accidentally been sent there during a plane shifting spell or related magic, a misfire as like as not that is corrected before the respective timelines are tampered with too drastically.

In Greyhawk[edit]

In the world of Greyhawk, the drow were driven underground by their surface-dwelling relatives because of ideological differences. There they eventually adapted to their surroundings, especially by attracting the attention of the goddess Lolth, "Queen of Spiders". The center of drow civilization is the subterranean city Erelhei-Cinlu, and its surrounding Vault, commonly called the Vault of the Drow. Drow rank structure was based much more on personal experience level and proven personal abilities rather than on gender. Males were just as likely to have positions of authority over both males and females, and the tradition of matriarchy, where the highest-ranking member was always a female, was not a special directive of the Demon Queen Lolth. The vast majority of Drow Elves both male and female in the original campaign setting of Greyhawk have no authority or ranking at all and live an idle and degenerate life in the great city of the Drow.

Known drow of Greyhawk include Clannair Blackshadow, Derken Gale, Jawal Severnain, and Landis Bree of Greyhawk City; Eclavdra of House Eilserv; and Edralve of the Slave Lords. In the drow city Erelhei-Cinlu, player characters may freely enter the city and spend time there, unless they attempt to organize any escaped slave groups for open warfare against the drow; the threat of a slave uprising will bring the chaotic drow into full cooperation.[21]

Some drow worship a nameless Elder Elemental God (said to have ties to Tharizdun) instead of Lolth. The module Vault of the Drow showcases that the House of Eilservs, led by Eclavdra in Erelhei-Cinlu, turned from worship of Lolth to the Elder Elemental God when the city's other noble houses allied against them after proclaiming that their mistress should be the Queen of All Drow. Eilservs attempted to establish a power base through a puppet kingdom in the surface world dedicated to the worship of their new deity, so that their demands of supreme power in the Vault can no longer be denied, but this scheme was ruined.

In other campaign settings[edit]

  • In the Mystara / "Known World" setting, shadow elves are a race of subterranean elves who have been mutated via magic. Aside from living underground, they have nothing in common with Drow and are not known as Dark elves.
  • In Mongoose Publishing's Drow War trilogy, the drow are recast as lawful evil villains and likened to the Nazis. The author of the series has stated that this was a deliberate reaction to the prevalence of renegade, non-evil drow characters.
  • Drow appear as a playable race in Urban Arcana, which is a d20 Modern setting based on Dungeons & Dragons. They are shown as very fashionable, often setting new trends. The symbol for most drow is a spider, and they often take the mage or acolyte classes.
  • A supplement book about the drow was produced by Green Ronin Publishing called Plot & Poison: A Guidebook to the Drow in 2002 and is based on the d20 System. It introduces several drow subtypes including aquatic drow and vupdrax (or winged drow) plus fleshes out drow life, such as how they treat slaves of the various fantasy types like elves and humans. Wizards of the Coast, seeing the heavy sales of the GRP supplement, released their own supplement book called Drow of the Underdark in May 2007.
  • Drow in the Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting used to be elves but stayed on Golarion when the other elves left the world. Over time, the remaining elves turned into drow by powerful magic, and at this time any elf who is evil enough can spontaneously turn into a drow. The existence of drow in Golarion is virtually unknown to non-elves. Drow are also the main antagonists in the Second Darkness Adventure Path.

Lolth[edit]

Lolth
Dungeons & Dragons character
Lolth.JPG
First appearanceDescent into the Depths of the Earth (1978)
Created byGary Gygax
In-universe information
Alias(Forgotten Realms only): Araushnee, Lloth (Menzoberranzan and Uluitur), Megwandir, Moander, Zinzerena
RaceDeity
GenderFemale
TitleThe Spider Queen, Queen of Spiders, Demon Queen of Spiders, Demon Queen of the Abyss, Queen of the Demonweb Pits, Weaver of Chaos, the Hunted, the Mother of Lusts, Dark Mother of All Drow, Lady of Spiders
AlignmentChaotic Evil
HomeDemonweb Pits
Power levelIntermediate/Greater
PortfolioSpiders, evil, darkness, chaos, assassins, drow
DomainsChaos, Darkness, Drow, Evil, Destruction, Spider, Trickery

Lolth is a fictional goddess in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game. Lolth (Lloth in the drow language), the Demon Queen of Spiders, is the chief goddess of the Drow. She is also known as the Spider Queen and the Queen of the Demonweb Pits; her realm, the 66th layer of the Abyss, is referred to as the Demonweb Pits.[93] Lolth usually appears in two forms: drow and arachnid. In drow form, the Spider Queen appears as an "exquisitely beautiful" female dark elf, sometimes covered in clinging spiders. In her arachnid form, Lolth takes the appearance of a giant black widow spider with the head of a female drow or human peering from between the eight spider-eyes. Sometimes, the two foremost pair of her spider-legs are actually humanoid arms. In third edition, her arachnid form has taken more of a drider-like appearance, due to the events of the "War of the Spider Queen" novel series.

Conception and creation[edit]

Lolth was created by Gary Gygax for the World of Greyhawk campaign setting, later appeared in the Forgotten Realms setting, and in the 3rd edition became a member of the default pantheon of D&D gods. In those various settings, the drow pantheon of gods consists of the leader Lolth, as well as Kiaransalee, Vhaeraun, and Zinzerena and also the one good goddess Eilistraee. Other drow gods may be present in different campaign settings.

According to the Forgotten Realms storyline, Lolth began as an intermediary goddess abiding in the sixty-sixth layer of the Abyss, the Demonweb Pits. Through the events that transpired in War of the Spider Queen series, she transformed herself into a greater goddess as depicted in 4th edition, the Demonweb Pits becoming its own plane.

Publication history[edit]

Lolth was first mentioned in the modules Descent into the Depths of the Earth (1978) and more fully described in Vault of the Drow (1978), and was the main antagonist of the module Queen of the Demonweb Pits (1980).[93] These modules were later reprinted as part of the Queen of the Spiders collection in 1986. Lolth's role as a deity was first explored in Deities & Demigods (1980). Her game statistics were reprinted in the Fiend Folio (1981).

Lolth's role in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting was first detailed in Ed Greenwood's second edition AD&D sourcebook, Drow of the Underdark (1991).[94] Lolth was detailed as a deity in the book Monster Mythology (1992), including details about her priesthood.[28] Her role in the cosmology of the Planescape campaign setting was described in On Hallowed Ground (1996).[95] Lolth received a very detailed description of her role in the Forgotten Realms in Demihuman Deities (1998).[96]

Lolth is detailed in Defenders of the Faith (2000),[97] and Deities & Demigods (2002),[98] and her role in the Forgotten Realms is revisited in Faiths and Pantheons (2002).[99] Lolth's priesthood is detailed for this edition in Complete Divine (2004),[100] and her role in the Abyss is detailed in the Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss (2006).[101] Lolth and the drow are further detailed in both Drow of the Underdark (2007),[102] and the adventure Expedition to the Demonweb Pits (2007).[103] Dragon #359 (September 2007), the final print issue of the magazine, described Lolth as one of the 20 most memorable villains of the Dungeons & Dragons game.[104]

Lolth appears as one of the evil deities described in the Dungeon Master's Guide for the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons (2008).[105] The story of her dissent from and war against Corellon and Sehanine is fleshed out in the supplements Underdark and The Plane Above: Secrets of the Astral Sea. A slightly different (and arguably more powerful) version of Lolth is presented in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. The Forgotten Realms Lolth has different appearance, dogma and personality than the core Lolth.[106] Wizards of the Coast's D&D Compendium and D&D Character Builder record the core Lolth and the Realms Lolth as separate entities. Lolth (Demon Queen of Spiders) appears in the 4th edition's Monster Manual 3 (2010).[107] She is the mascot for this volume, which includes statistics for Lolth in both drow and spider form.[108]

In 2021, Lolth was featured on two cards as a "legendary planeswalker" in the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms line from the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game.[109]

Reception[edit]

Lolth was named as one of the greatest villains in D&D history by the final issue of Dragon.[104]

Lolth was #10 on Screen Rant's 2018 "Dungeons & Dragons: The 15 Most Powerful Villains, Ranked" list—the article states "The War of the Spider Queen series would show Lolth's transformation into a greater goddess, making her one of the most powerful beings in the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. [...] Lolth can appear in the form of a monstrous spider, which many fans have mocked, due to the fact that it only has sixty-six hit points. You likely won't get a chance to get close enough to harm Lolth, due to the fact that you are battling her in her home dimension, which is filled with an army of demonic spiders. Lolth can also transform into the form of a high-level magic-user/cleric, which gives her access to a wide-range of powerful spells. This is to say nothing of her psionic abilities, though these are given to her at the discretion of the dungeon master".[110]

Lolth was #8 on CBR's 2020 "Dungeons & Dragons: 10 Endgame Bosses You Need To Use In Your Next Campaign" list—the article states "the DMs can even get rather creative with the stage; since Lolth is a creature of the Underdark, the fight leading up to her and the boss herself can take place in a dark and nightmarish cave that requires some spelunking and vertical maneuvers. Bonus points if the fight happens in a web network suspended midair with an abyssal drop".[111]

Related creatures[edit]

Like elves, drow have other creatures associated with them either by environment or by blood. The drider, a drow transformed into a half-drow half-spider creature as a punishment, is one of the most often cited examples.

Drider[edit]

Only high-level priestesses in good standing with Lolth are able to initiate the transformation of a dark elf into a drider. This transformation is very painful, and lasts at least 12 hours. Driders develop a poisonous bite. Their digestion changes and they must drink blood of living creatures for sustenance. Driders still maintain the spells and special abilities they had developed as a drow. There can exist any character class of drider. They retain intelligence and memories. This usually makes them bitter, spiteful creatures. Some hunt for magic powerful enough to undo the transformation.

In previous editions, driders appear sexless due to bloating, but able to magically reproduce. In Dungeons & Dragons edition 3.5, driders seem to retain their gender and characteristics after the transformation, but fertility is debatable.

Driders play many roles in drow society. The dark elves both fear and are revolted by driders. After transformation, they are usually pushed to the wild area around a drow city. Driders are usually found in company with tiny, huge and giant spiders. Driders speak Common, Elvish, and Undercommon. In the first and second editions of the game, Driders spoke Drow. Driders are almost always Chaotic Evil.

In the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, becoming a drider is actually considered holy and a blessing from Lolth.

Draegloths[edit]

Draegloths are half-demon, half drow monstrosities. Found in any campaign setting, they are particularly numerous in the Forgotten Realms. They are created by the unholy union between an ascending high priestess of the drow goddess Lolth and a glabrezu.

Draegloths are about ten feet tall and have four arms, the upper pair being much larger than the lower. They have large claws on the upper arms and they use them for hand-to-hand combat, for they usually prefer the feeling of tearing flesh and sinew under their claws and fangs. Their face is stretched so it resembles that of a dog. Their flesh is as dark as a drow's, and they are covered in a fine coat of fur; they also have a white mane. They are sacred creatures to the Lolthites and are usually treated with respect.

Triel Baenre of Menzoberranzan, in the Forgotten Realms, had a draegloth son, Jeggred.

V3.5 statistics for the draegloth can be found in Drow of the Underdark.[43]

Chitines and choldriths[edit]

"The chitine and the choldrith are part-elf, part-spider abominations created by magic as servitors of the spider goddess Lolth"[112] appearing in the Forgotten Realms setting. Chitine resembles a sickly, white, four-foot tall humanoid with vaguely spider-like features. They are depicted with wavy hair and sly faces with a set of spider's fangs protruding from their mouths. Chitines also have four arms which feature an additional joint (compared to a human), giving them great flexibility and dexterity. They were created inadvertently by the drow as a result of failed experiments on normal humanoids.

Chitines typically hate their former masters, the drow, but keep worshipping Lolth. The role of priests in their society is taken up by a closely related but completely separate race, the choldriths. Chitines strongly live up to their spider heritage; in their underground cities and villages, they build with webs in the same way that humans build with wood and stone. They build everything out of it, homes, traps, clothing, weapons, and more.

See also[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

Game products

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