"The drow are purely malign by temperament, as hateful as wolverines, as opportunistic as hyenas."
Gary Gygax, 2005

The drow,[1] also called dark elves, are a subterranean race of elves. They are noted for their cruelty and powerful magic.

Appearance and personality[edit | edit source]

Like other elves, the drow are slightly shorter than humans, and more slender, with little physical difference between the genders. They have pointed ears. They are differentiated by their black skin, pale hair and pale, almost-white hair and eyes.

Most drow are utterly evil. Those minority non-evil drow rarely have the malice necessary to survive in their cruel society, and many leave to adventure outside of drow lands. Good drow are exceptionally rare, but not unheard of.

Abilities and traits[edit | edit source]

Like all elves, the drow are exceptionally nimble and graceful. They have exceptionally good sense of sight and hearing, able to see in complete darkness. Centuries of exile has honed their darkvision to surpass even that of the surface elves, but they suffer from light sensitivity in bright sunlight.

Drow have exceptional inner strength and talent for sorcery, and possess innate magical talents, able to create motes of light or summon magical darkness. Their elven ancestry resists magic that would charm a human or put them to sleep.[2]

Drow live as long as elves, although in their violent society it is rare for any individual to live longer than 400 years. Drow begin schooling at age 8, and enter adolescence at age 20, where they enter an apprenticeship. Those who survive the harsh drow culture reach adulthood at age 80.[3]

Environment[edit | edit source]

Most drow inhabit the Underdark, deep caverns below the surface of the earth. There, the drow have built vast cities: some of the best known include Erelhei-Cinlu on Oerth and Menzoberranzan in Toril.

The Underdark is an inhospitable and dangerous place, full of monstrous creatures. The weakest of the drow do not survive.

History[edit | edit source]

The dark elves trace their lineage back tens of thousands of years, when the elves of good defeated the drow in a great war and banished them to the subterranean Underdark. There, they submitted to the worship of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, and united by reverence of that dark goddess they built massive cities in the caverns below the earth.[4]

Society and culture[edit | edit source]

Religion[edit | edit source]

The drow of the Underdark unanimously worship Lolth, the Spider Queen. Obedience to that demonic entity is absolute, and shrines to other gods do not survive for long.

The priestesses of Lolth demand sacrifices at an astounding rate. The Spider Queen demands hundreds of ritual killings from each priestess each week, and they must be intelligent—Lolth considers animal sacrifices an insult. Captives, slaves, traitors, and weak low-status drow are the most common victims.[3]

Drow who worship Lolth are expected to pass several profane tests during their life. The drow call them chwi, punishments, because there is no reward for succeeding; only dire curses for failing to live up to Lolth's expectations. The best known to outsiders is the chwidridera, where drow are punished for cowardice with transformation into a drider.[5]

Politics[edit | edit source]

Drow society is strictly matriarchal. At the highest tiers of society are priestesses to Lolth, chosen from among the drow noble houses and trained from birth to serve the Spider Queen. Of highest status are the house matrons, priestesses who lead each noble house.

The drow houses perpetually vie for power, a necessity in the cutthroat Underdark cities. Weaker houses are forced to pledge loyalty to stronger ones to survive.[4] The drow think nothing of murder or betrayal if it raises their status, and the powerful must constantly watch their back.

Open warfare between high priestesses is rare. They are all too aware that powerful drow make the best sacrifices to Lolth, and the noble houses typically maintain an uneasy peace as a result.[3]

Male drow hold low status in society. They cannot lead a house or their own, nor does Lolth accept them into her priesthood, so even higher-status males are ultimately subservient to females. Among the most prestigious role available to males is a hunter, tasked with venturing out from their underground cities to capture victims for sacrifice.[3]

Art[edit | edit source]

Like other elves, the drow have high regard for crafted things of beauty, although their idea of beauty is more cruel and monstrous than that of the surface-dwellers.

Music[edit | edit source]

Bards are especially important in drow society. Drow who successfully slay their rivals will hire a bard to pen a murder ballad, detailing the gory killing in the hopes of raising the killer's social status and attracting new patrons. Classic drow songs include "The Burning of Farza-Lach, "Tornon's Guts", and "Seven Drips from the Gore Cord".

Drow bards sing in screeching tones and play a complex lute known as the vazhan-do, whose sixty-four sharp strings can be used as a garotte. Many bards moonlight as assassins, and a wise drow never turns his back on a musician.[3]

Sculpture[edit | edit source]

The pinnacle of drow sculpture are elaborate crafted automatons, carved from solid blocks of drider silk and painstakingly hand-painted to resemble living flesh. Among the most impressive of such artworks are realistic depictions of impaled human paladins and a gory likeness of the elven deity Corellon Larethian.[3]

Stage[edit | edit source]

Drow cities host large amphitheaters, featuring screeching music performances by bards and terrifying jesters. Violent bloodsports are also common. However, by far the most popular events are public displays of torture and ritual sacrifice. The most high-status sacrifices to Lolth are usually performed here in public, and it is not uncommon for the goddess Lolth to appear in person to partake in the sacrifice herself—or eat the priestess instead for failing to produce a worthy victim.

Another popular event sees captives (often captured adventurers) skilfully tortured to within an inch of their life, while their sensations are transmitted to the audience by telepathic orbs.[3]

Tools of war[edit | edit source]

Drow artisans adorn weapons, armor and the like with spider web motifs in reverence of their goddess Lolth.[4]

Drow mage artisans excel at crafting fine weapons and armor. They carefully guard the secrets of advanced drow materials, including as a deep black spider silk used to make strong cloaks, and an alloy of steel and adamantine used to make exceptionally strong chainmail.[6]

Language[edit | edit source]

Drow speak their own language derived from the graceful speech of the surface elves. Drow warriors are also trained in drow sign language, a system of hand gestures used to communicate silently and coordinate deadly ambushes.

The drow language has no words for "burial" or "old age".[3]

Notable drow[edit | edit source]

For a full list of drow, see Category:Drow

Variants[edit | edit source]

A drow arachnomancer is a spellcaster dedicated to Lolth, in a manner similar to a warlock. The arachnomancer can channel magic from the Demonweb Pits and transform into a spider.[7]

A drow inquisitor is a priestess particularly adept at discerning lies.[7]

Drow shadowblades have been infused with shadow magic, through a ritual that slays a lesser demon and prevents it from reforming in the Abyss. (The ritual also creates a shadow demon as a side effect.) Shadowblades gain the ability to teleport between shadows, and wield poisoned shadow swords in combat. A drow shadowblade is employed by a drow noble house, often to target one of the house's rivals; however, they are also known to protect drow communities and track down thieves.[7]

Related species[edit | edit source]

Driders are probably the best known creatures related to the drow. However, the drow were also responsible for creating the chitine and choldrith.

Publication history[edit | edit source]

AD&D 1st edition[edit | edit source]

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition Monster Manual (1e) (1977) is the first mention of the drow. However, the Manual describes them only briefly, with no special game statistics; they are said to be subterranean, evil, and powerful with magic.[8]

The drow fully appeared in Gary Gygax's adventure G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978), later republished in G1-3 Against the Giants (1981). They later appear in the Fiend Folio (1e) (1981), with their statistics and description closely matching their original appearance in G3.

AD&D 2nd edition[edit | edit source]

Drow appear in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989) and are updated for the Monstrous Manual (1993).

The drow of the Forgotten Realms setting are detailed further in FOR2 The Drow of the Underdark (2e) (1991).

D&D 3rd edition[edit | edit source]

Drow appear in the Monster Manual (3.0) (2000) and Monster Manual (3.5) (2003). Rules for the drow as a playable race first appeared in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3e) (2001).

Drow of the Underdark (3e) (2007) focuses on the drow, including details on the albino drow (szarkai) and drow prestige classes, such as the arachnomancer.

The drow priestess is detailed in Monster Manual IV (2006).

Dragon #298 (Aug 2002) featured the drow in the articles Flesh for Lolth: The Secret Life of Dark Elves and The Punishments of Lolth.

D&D 4th edition[edit | edit source]

Drow appear in the Monster Manual (4e) (2008), which details the drow warrior, drow arachnomancer, drow blademaster, and drow priest. The Monster Manual also presents drow as a playable race. The drow archmage, drow exalted consort, drow lady of spiders, drow shadowblade, and drow zealot appear in Monster Manual 3 (4e) (2010).

Drow appear in P2 Demon Queen's Enclave (2008), which includes the drow demonbinder, drow inquisitor, drow sniper, drow spiderguard, drow templar, and drow venomblade. The drow arcanist, drow matron, drow noble, drow ranger, and drow warblade appear in Revenge of the Giants (2009). The drow informant, drow spellspinner, and drow swashbuckler appear in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting (2011). The drow stinger appears in Halls of Undermountain (2012).

In the Essentials line, drow return in the Monster Vault (2010), which details the drow arachnomancer, drow stalker, and drow venomblade. Drow are presented again as a playable race in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010). The drow darklasher, drow razorscourge, and drow spider totemist appear in Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale (2011).

The drow adventurer and drow assassin appear in Dragon #370 (Dec 2008). The drow necromancer appears in Dungeon #160 (Nov 2008). The drow underling appears in Dungeon #166 (May 2009) and is reprinted in the Dungeon Magazine Annual (2010). The drow captain, drow hypnotist, drow infiltrator, drow skulker, and drow underpriest appear in Dungeon #200 (Mar 2012). The drow acolyte, drow garroter, and drow scout appear in Dungeon #204 (Jul 2012).

Drow in the Eberron setting appear in the Eberron Campaign Guide (2009), which includes the drow stingblade.

D&D 5th edition[edit | edit source]

Drow are a standard playable race in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, appearing as an option for elves in the Player's Handbook (5e) (2014). They also appear in the Monster Manual (5e) (2014), which details the drow elite warrior, drow mage, and drow priestess of Lolth.

Drow are further detailed for 5th edition in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018), which also provides statistics for the drow arachnomancer, drow favored consort, drow house captain, drow inquisitor, drow matron mother, and drow shadowblade.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (2018), set in the Forgotten Realms, details the drow gunslinger.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

According to Gary Gygax, he invented the drow after finding the word in an old dictionary.[9][10] Gygax may be referring to a dictionary such as Funk & Wagnall's Desk Standard Dictionary (1916), which defines drow as:

(Scot) In folk-lore, one of a race of underground elves represented as skilful workers in metal. Compare troll [var. of TROLL] trow[11]

In turn that dictionary describes trow as a synonym for troll, and defines troll as "Folk-lore, A giant; also, a mischievous dwarf." "Trow" appears in a list of folklore creatures in the Denham Tracts[12] (1895), a list which also includes the hobbit, although those names are merely mentioned there and not described in any detail. The spelling "drow" appears as far back as 1830, where Sir Walter Scott defines it as a creature from the myths of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, synonymous with "dwarf" or "fairy".[13]

The names "dark elf" and "black elf" derive from Norse mythology, where some scholars speculate that they are synonymous with the dvergar, or dwarves.[14] In the Prose Edda, the dökkálfar, dark elves, are described as living underground, and as dark as pitch, while the svartálfar, black elves, are described as crafting excellent magical artifacts. These two traits appear to have influenced Gygax's drow.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Drow" was historically pronounced to rhyme with "throw", but is now popularly and officially pronounced to rhyme with "how". The Drow in D&D's 'Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes' (YouTube). 2018-03-13. Retrieved 2020-09-14.
  2. Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.21-24.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Flesh for Lolth: The Secret Life of Dark Elves, Dragon #298 (Aug 2002), p.24-32.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Monster Manual (5e) (2014), p.126-129.
  5. The Punishments of Lolth, Dragon #298 (Aug 2002), p.34-41.
  6. G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (1978).
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (2018), p.182-187.
  8. Monster Manual (1e) (1977), p.39.
  9. ""DRow" in an Anglo-Saxon word. I found it in an old unexpurgated dictionary way back when. It means "dark elf." From that entry I created the drow race for AD&D, of course. There is no other background for them in myth or fable. Their characteristics were designed as they were to make them a suitable set of inhabitants of the subterranean world." - Gary Gygax, Q&A With Gary Gygax, Part I, ENWorld (2002)
  10. Possibly Funk & Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.
  11. Funk & Wagnalls Desk Standard Dictionary (1916), p.256.
  12. The Denham Tracts (1895)
  13. "Such possession of supernatural wisdom is still imputed by the natives of the Orkney and Zetland Islands to the people called Drows, being a corruption of duergar or dwarfs, and who may, in most other respects, be identified with the Caledonian fairies." - Sir Walter Scott, Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).
  14. Dwarves and Elves in Norse Myth, Jackson Crawford, Youtube (2017)
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.