Drow are a dark-skinned sub-race of elves that predominantly live in the Underdark. They are generally evil, exceptions including Drizzt Do’Urden, Zaknafein Do’Urden, Jalynfein, Tos’un Armgo, Liriel Baenre,Jarlaxle, and Qilué Veladorn and other followers of Eilistraee . They are shorter than many other sub-races of elves and, in common with most Underdark-dwelling creatures, have a tremendous resistance to magic. They also have a much higher birthrate than most other elves, but strife tends to keep their numbers down.
In many ways, drow resemble eladrin Drow have obsidian colored skin and pale yellow (or pale golden), silver or white hair, the latter being by far the most common. This hair is carefully groomed and cared for by most drow and worn long with jewelry and other accessories decorating it. Like all elves, drow are incapable of growing beards, though many males are fond of long sideburns.
Drow eyes are usually bright red, but some are known to have different colored, commonly much paler, eyes such as blue, lilac, pink or silver. Sometimes their eyes are even green which would implicate that this particular drow has some surface elven blood in their veins. They usually vary in height between 5’4" and 6’, and weigh between 130 to 175 lbs on average. Like all elves, all drow are handsome and beautiful.
Drow have lifespans far beyond that of humans and comparable with the rest of the elves, although usually somewhat longer. This is, of course, presuming the drow doesn’t meet a premature and violent end, as many often do, but those that survive the trials of their society and the horrors of the Underdark can live for centuries, sometimes as long as 1000 years or more.
Drow are more agile and alluring than most humanoid races and also have many other special abilities that differentiate them from other races, including other Tel-quessir. Like all elves, drow require no sleep but instead enter a meditative trance throughout which they retain full awareness of their surroundings. This state is half-again more efficient than the way in which most races gain rest. Recently it was shown that more and more drow are actually sleeping because they can not find the peace in themselves to enter reverie.
The most distinctive feature of drow, however, is the touch of Lolth upon them. Just as Corellon cursed them and made them vulnerable to light, the Spider Queen gave the drow a blessing to counteract this, giving the drow a power over darkness that other races lack. This power can manifest in several ways. The most common being the ability to shroud enemies in magical, impenetrable darkness, usually called Globe of Darkness, or a debilitating charm called faerie fire that makes a creature an easier target, encasing them in something that looks like purple fire, though causing no harm.
Most drow can only use these abilities every so often, and the power tires them slightly. More experienced and well-trained drow, however, learn to cast both abilities separately. Yet others, particularly drow who are well-favored by Lolth, manifest another ability that both slows and impedes a foe, while also making it more difficult for them to see.
Some individuals learn to awaken these powers further, becoming known as the curseborn and possessing abilities that allow them to further master the shadow power granted by the Spider Queen, for whatever ends. Other drow struggle to rid themselves of Lolth’s touch and instead seek Corellon’s aid, eventually becoming the fey god’s crusader within the dark realms of their race, gaining blessings of healing and light from the patron of the elves. Either path leads to great power and grants even more unique abilities to an individual drow.
Drow are taught from an early age to trust no one, forging alliances only when they are confident that they can outmatch their ally if he/she decides to turn on them. The inherent pride in their own abilities quite often leads to such alliances being forged, though they almost always end badly when one party decides said alliance is no longer convenient. Even drow who escape the cruelties of the Underdark find it more difficult to form long-term friendships than most races do.
Most drow share a hatred of all other races, especially surface races but hate most of all the Seldarine and the surface elves (“Darthiir” in Drow). It is the only thing that unites them as a species, leading them to yearn for a return to the surface that will defeat the surface elves.
Drow have an admiration for stealth and guile, and works of great skill. They are encouraged to become warriors or arcanists, if male, and wielders of divine powers, if female. Drow scouts are also valuable for the early warnings of threats they can provide in the tunnels of the Underdark. An assassin is prestigious in drow culture. Drow are also known for their allure, which can be seductive but is more likely used as a tool of fear.
All drow enjoy surrounding themselves with things of beauty (drow cities are always spectacles of breath-taking architecture) and often partake of lavish revels, indulging in the most pleasurable of activities.
It is important to recognize that though drow are untrusting and devious, they are not necessarily evil any more than gnolls or tieflings and drow can become forces of good given the right conditions. However, the mental scars of drow culture are not easily removed from the minds of an individual and the terrors of the Underdark and drow society can leave those who reject its evil with fractured minds and even a loose hold on their sanity. Others may escape the Underdark relatively unscarred, but these individuals are rare and considered, by and large, anomalies.
Drow society is matriarchal, militaristic, and heavily influenced by religion. Their city-states are formed in huge underground caverns but frequently at war with one another. These cities are ruled by the most powerful of the families (or houses) and although the power of the many families changes often, the top few usually remain stable. Males who hope to find any place of power in society often resort to ends as treacherous as the women that rule the drow, hoping to perhaps win a coveted place as the Mate of a powerful matron mother.
It can be easy to imagine that drow females, by comparison, have it much easier but this is an illusion and their prestigious position within society comes at a high cost. In fact, the teachings of Lolth, and drive to gain more power over others makes competition between female drow, particularly those who belong to powerful houses, violently competitive in a way that males do not have to cope with. Matters are even worse for those who seek power through venues outside of Lolth’s church, where the females have to compete not only with one another but with resentful and oppressed males.
Drow are arrogant, ambitious, sadistic, treacherous and hedonistic. From birth, drow are taught they are superior to other races and should crush those beneath them. Children who resist and show kindness or love are brutally punished, so as to drive the instinct of cruelty into them. They value advancement over their peers more than anything else, pulling down their superiors and crushing their inferiors. This doesn’t mean they treat all of their peers with disdain, however. They appreciate a sense of subtlety and thus drow are often courteous and urbane, even to deadly rivals.
Cities are structured around the most powerful families taking the best areas, leaving the other drow to take whatever land they can. The focus of a city is often the temple of Lolth and this is often in the grounds of the ruling family. Magical items that emit faerie fire adorning buildings are a sign of prosperity. Outside the city, the garrison and some of the slaves are kept, as well as rothé farms.
Often a city will seek to forge an alliance with a powerful Underdark creature like a deep dragon or a beholder so that they can gain extra protection.
Although many drow seek to regain the surface world that they feel was taken from them unjustly, some have become so used to life in the Underdark that they would prefer to make the best of this realm and have no interest in the surface.
The drow who do choose to live on the surface do not form any kind of organized society and instead live as hermits and outcasts. They will interact with other societies when they need to, but not through choice.
A drow slumber potion
Poisons and toxins are favored by the drow, especially a powerful knockout poison made from a slippery black fungus growing in certain Underdark caverns, but other poisons can be made from purple worms, scorpions, and spiders.
Drow favor mithral chain armor when it is available, but will always wear non-restrictive armors that will not hamper their natural dexterity. They also favor fast weapons like rapiers, and will choose hand crossbows when possible, to deliver their poisons from a distance.
It is common for drow to place magical symbols or glyphs outside their houses which can ward against intrusion. These house defense glyphs are only one of the three types of glyphs, the others are way-marker runes and sacred glyphs.
The drow love magical items of all kinds and all powerful families give some enchanted items to those who service them. The piwafwi is a particularly special drow item, although the drow house insignias are also important to the drow houses and grant special powers, sometimes levitation. Many drow items are crafted in such a way that they can only be used by the drow.
Drow primarily worship the Dark Seldarine – that is, those deities cast out of the Seldarine and exiled to the Demonweb Pits. They generally worship the goddess Lolth although those on the surface often worship Vhaeraun or Shar. A small number of good drow on the surface worship Eilistraee or other non-drow pantheon deities and are lead by Qilue Veladorn. Generally an entire city worships a single deity. Even more of a minority are the drow that worship Kiaransalee and Ghaunadaur. Also, because drow males are banned from the priesthood, males who become adept in divine magic tend to worship Selvetarm, Lolth’s champion.
Though religion plays a large part in drow society, the caste system and other seemingly-lawful aspects of the culture clash with Lolth’s intent and directives as a chaotic evil goddess. As a result, much of the tension between the clergy of Lolth and more secular drow comes from this very different perspective.
Not all drow become a part of the violent mainstream culture that most of the race are forced to endure. Those few who escape the life of the Underdark might break away entirely from their dark past, while some fortunate drow are actually born and raised outside of the world below. Some drow found a hint of virtue within themselves in spite of all the terrors they witnessed, or perhaps because of it. Others have only recently turned to better ways, either out of guilt or out of the simple fact they’re no longer obliged to do so. Yet others are dangerously insane, broken by the horrors that shook their psyche.
Relationships with other races
Drow see all other races as inferior, even those to whom they are allied, and will attempt to enslave any enemies they capture, usually never willingly releasing them. Drow commonly enslave hobgoblins, ogres and orcs but also other humanoids.
Above all else, drow save their hostilities for surface elves. They are willing to forge temporary alliances with anyone that will help them inflict pain or suffering on the surface elves, for whom they know no mercy at all.
Pets and slavery
Slavery plays a large part in drow society and drow households usually have two or more slaves for each member. All unskilled labor in drow cities is carried out by slaves. One slave from each household is usually kept as a “pet” by the household, and this is often a spider, since it is the symbol of the deity Lloth. Spiders roam the streets in drow cities, acting as pest controllers, and larger ones are used to guard houses or as mounts for transportation. These spiders are often specially bred for the purpose and are more intelligent than their regular counterparts, especially the sword spider.
Other types of working creatures include riding lizards, bats and cavvekans, and also spider-like creatures such as bebiliths, myrlochar and retrievers.
Drow were once known as Dark Elves (Ssri-tel-quessir in old Elven) and their nations, Ilythiir and Miyeritar, Ilythiir was one of the most powerful,9 but, in -30000 DR their goddess Araushnee betrayed her fellow Seldarine and, along with Ghaunadaur, Vhaeraun, Malar and others they tried to invade Arvandor. Afterwards Araushnee was cast into the Abyss, where she took the name Lolth.
During the First Crown War, the Ilythiiri made several unsuccessful attempts to conquer Faerûn (actually they conquered Southern Faerun and to the north up to Shantel Othreier, and perhaps only the intervention of Corellon Larethian had stopped them), and at the time of the Fourth Crown War, they turned to Lloth and the other outcast Seldarine in the Demonweb Pits who gave them powerful magic and fiendish allies, as a reward for allegiance. One of these was a balor named Wendonai. He bred with the Ilythiiri, giving them a taint. After many malicious acts and abuses of elven magic, Corellon Larethian banished the dhaerow (traitors) whom Lolth used to be responsible for (and most of whom still secretly worshiped her) to the Underdark. A horrid magical storm known as the Dark Disaster laid waste to Miyeritar. History (as written by the victors of the Third Crown War) says that Miyeritar’s attempts to stop Aryvandaar’s armies caused the Dark Disaster. In truth, the fell magic that produced it was called forth by Vyshaantar high mages and proceeded unopposed because a Vyshaantar assassination campaign had destroyed many of Miyeritar’s high mages in the months before. The Dark Disaster hung over Miyeritar like a funeral shroud for months, and when it’s cloying mists and bloody rains finally dissipated, the once-proud forest had been reduced to a blasted, poisonous wasteland. Although many of Miyeritar’s original inhabitants had fled long before the killing storm hit, innumerable innocents died horribly. The taint of Wendonai allows him to hear the thoughts of the tainted. It is only the Ilythiiri who carry it, and it gives them their cruel and arrogant nature. The drow, as they were now named, have always believed that they were punished for being “successful” and have remembered this perceived slight and vowed eternal revenge, still claiming the surface world as rightfully theirs.
After the so-called “Descent”, the warlike drow immediately began violently trying to establish their own territories in the Underdark around -9600 DR. They stole dwarven magical items and used them against their former masters, creating the enmity that still exists to this day. They also seized the gold dwarf cavern of Bhaerynden, creating the kingdom of Telantiwar. The drow then began fighting amongst themselves, trying to establish a single ruler. The attempt failed, only resulting in a great magical explosion that destroyed this large cavern, forming the Great Rift.
The surviving nobles took what they could and left to establish their own realms elsewhere in the Underdark. This time was known as the Scattering and produced most of the cities in which the drow live to this day, such as Sshamath, founded beneath the Far Hills in -4973 DR, Menzoberranzan, founded in -3917 DR, and Ched Nasad, founded in -3843 DR.On the surface the drow are sometimes referred to as The Ones Who Went Below.
The vast majority of drow live in the Underdark, to which they were driven following the Crown Wars. Here, drow city-states are spread throughout the world, bastions of evil and demonic dealings sanctioned by the Spider Queen. Of all the Underdark races, drow are the most feared due to the combination of their widespread presence and immense power. The most famous Underdark bastion of all is Menzoberranzan, one of the dark centers of Lolth’s worship.
Known drow cities:
Not all drow dwell in the Underdark, however. While most of the race that flees the dark civilization they were born into die trying to reach the surface world, others escape the dark recesses of the earth to see daylight. Most drow that don’t live in the Underdark dwell within the lands of the Dragon Coast or the East Rift. Drow who head for the Dragon Coast typically are less apologetic about their past and simply seek a place away from Lolth’s corruption where few questions are asked and skill is the only quality that matters. Many of those who dwell in the East Rift are refugees of the catastrophe wrought on the neighboring regions of the Underdark by the Spellplague and the draining of the Sea of Fallen Stars.
Most drow speak a drow version of Elvish as well as Undercommon, and a language suitable for the region in which they live, such as Abyssal, Common, Draconic, or Goblin. It is quite common for the Drow to learn the language spoken on the surface beneath which they live. All Drow are literate except for their barbarians. Drow Sign Language is commonly known, and is a silent language that consists of hand signals and facial expressions. There is no equivalent written or spoken form of this language.