Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Drow should be Lawful Evil, among other things

I have been thinking about the Drow of late.  We are going through some of the classic modules and I really am looking forward to doing the GDQ series again.  Now I have every faith in DM to make it interesting and new to me while keeping the same thrill I originally had for me and the kids.

But I have a problem with Drow.  Actually, I have had a lot of problems with drow for a long time.  Let's work backward.  In the GDQ series, Drow are the "secret enemy" the big reveal is they are elves! who are evil!  It was like when we first saw Romulans in "The Balance of Terror".  Elves, especially to those who lived on a steady diet of Tolkien, were light and good.  The drow were evil and dark.  And that is the other problem.
Why are drow dark skinned?  Really shouldn't they be albino?  And let's not even go with the dark = evil meme.  I am not suggesting any sort of racism on the part of the creators here; this is something that has appeared in fantasy and fairy tales for thousands of years, but that still doesn't mean it has to be that way in my games. I prefer the "Shadow Elves" from Mystara in many respects over the Drow.  They are described as smaller and pale.

You can see a visual evolution of the Drow through the eyes of fellow bloggers, James Maliszewski and Eiglophian Press.

The next problem is frankly Drizzt.  He is a symbol of everything I felt was wrong with 2nd Edition and uber-munchkin playing in general.  Since his advent, the drow went from hidden secret evil to S&M fetish elves.  Now I am not against S&M or fetish of any sort, but what makes for an interesting diversion does not make for an interesting enemy.

Finally Drow are nearly universally described as an oppressive, hierarchal society ruled by the Priestess of Lolth in an iron-fisted dictatorship with harsh laws of behavior.  That sounds positively Lawful Evil to me.   This is not a new idea, it was mentioned in Mongoose's "Drow War" books (which I do not have). They are described here as being like Nazis. That works for me.  Plus if elves are freedom loving do-gooders (Chaotic Good) then the ultimate expression of evil to them must be an evil, rigid society of absolute laws.  Lolth then needs to be closer to a devil than a demon;  she was a Goddess then was "cast down" by her fellow gods.  That sounds more devil like to me.  Plus unlike demons, which are manifestations of anger, destruction and hate, devils have agendas.  So does Lolth.

So combining features of my "The Church of Lolth Ascendant" and "Going (Up) to Hell?" I think I have a way to work the Drow into my world.

Drow and Lolth in Mystoerth
The story of the fall of Lolth has been detailed by many.  Regardless of the reasons for her fall one thing is known for sure, she and her children the Night Elves were cursed.
The Night Elves were regarded by many to be the most beautiful of the elven races.  They were as Lolth herself was before the fall; described by Corellon as a "piece of pure midnight and her hair reflected the light of the stars above".  When Lolth fell her sons and daughters were cast out as well (Well there was that business with the Elven Civil War, but that is another lesson).  They resided in a place they called "The Abyss" and it eventually became known as the Demon-Web as Lolth's new form attracted spiders and arachnids of all sorts.
While the Church of Lolth Ascendant maintains that their Goddess awaits only the chance to reunite with the other Elven Gods, the Drow, as the Night Elves became to be known, decided that the only means of reunification was by violent take over to the point of killing all the other elven races.  For this they train. Their society is everything elven society is not.  Elves are free with equality to all; all drow are slaves to the hierarchy or cast above them, with the priestesshood of Lolth at the top.  Drow males are second class citizens, a concept most elves can't understand.  But like their cousins above Drow excel at magic.  Maybe they are even a little better.

Lolth does not reside in the Abyss.  That was an error from a mistranslated document.   Lolth resides on the first layer of Hell.  Here lair is still called the Demon Web and she does have some demons in her employ, but Lolth herself is not a demon but a fallen Goddess.  This makes her closer in nature to the Devils whose prison she shares.  In Dante's Inferno Lolth occupies the area of Pagans.  As can be expected she has great enmity  with Beelzebub, the Lord of Flies.  She is on well enough terms with Glassya, having supported her rise to power, but Lolth maintains her neutrality and her own agendas.

The Drow
The Drow of the underdark live close, not just in word but in relative proximity, to their Goddess.  With the Underdark as the Antechamber to Hell, the Drow are as cast out as race as one could hope to find.  Due to their prolonged sojourn in the darkest places of the world their one dark skin is now pale.  Some Drow are nearly white and others maintain a pale blue coloration.. Oddly enough it is Drow that make regular trips to the surface world that find their natural coloration returning.    These are the Drow that most surface dwellers are most common with.  It is no coincidence then that surface dwellers and Drow have prejudices regarding Drow skin color.  Surface dwellers see a dark skinned Drow and automatically think "evil elf".  While a Drow associate the darker color with a Drow that has become more "surface" or "elf" like and thus "good".
All Drow are born darker in color, but still no where near what their Night Elf ancestors looked like.  As they age their skill becomes more and more pale.  Since like elves they tend to alway look young the one true way to guess a Drow's age is to look at her skin.  The lighter the skin the older and usually the more evil the Drow.
Generally speaking Drow are smaller than elves or humans.  Shorter, smaller build.

Drow and Evil
Drow are completely lawful evil.  But they do not see themselves as being evil.  They are harsh because the survival of their race demands it.  There are rules and hierarchies because they live in a harsh, deadly environment.  The pogroms and breeding programs are in place for the good of the Drow species.  They are doing what they must do to survive.  They survive because they demand revenge on the wrongs committed on them by the elves. Killing a non-Drow is not a crime.  Killing a lower caste Drow is not a crime IF there is reason for it, but even the lowest Drow is more worthy of life than any elf.  Drow do not ally themselves with orcs under any circumstance.  They will work with like minded evil dwarf races, devils, demons or giants but Drow do not have allies, they have servants and minions.
Their ultimate goal is to retake the surface world from the elves killing them all (they are no longer satisfied with mere reunification). This way the gods would have to take them back as the only elven race.
Though there is something standing in their way and they are not quite sure how to deal with it. Humans.

So that's a start on my little pointy eared, underdark Nazis.


David The Archmage said...

I like this a lot more than the standard drow, which I hated so much as to never (that I can remember) use.

Your shadow elves I like much better.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I have never cared for how drow society has been constructed especially in the FR, it just never made any sort of sense for the reason you mention here. While I like the idea of evil elves, D&D's 'standard drow' have not not been of interest to me. Your take has a lot of possibilities and I look forward to seeing more.

Daniel R. Davis said...

Yeah, I always pictured the drow looking more like that guy from Hellboy 2 and that's how I made them in my games. If you're living underground for a long time you're gonna pale out, not become pitch black. Just ask the Morlocks. ;)

Keith S said...

I've always imagined the drow as lawful evil as well. Although I prefer the black-skinned appearance to other coloration. Along the lines you've envisioned, I wouldn't put it past the drow to euthanize light-skinned individuals in order to preserve the natural camouflage that their coloration provides in the underdark. That's also a good explanation for their rarity.

Konsumterra said...

Well to stir the pot - i always liked making all my elves lawful exept drow - i saw elves as immortal and lived kinda dull lives of ritual that was pretty much mapped out - while chaotic elves were renegades who would adventure or perhaps they were feral wild elves - descriptions of sado-pornographic drow art described in the original modules and black skin were novel at the time. Im happy to accept drow as insane sadistic immortals who live CE out of decadant boredom. But i agree there have been too many b grade drow products and fanboys willing to love them unconditionally. I have drow and shadow elves from DnD in my world.