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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to the Drow

Today I am going to attempt to write a succinct and informative guide to one of the most popular races in D&D - the drow, also known as dark elves.

Because of the sheer volume of material out there, I am going to cover what I feel are the most essential products that any DM should know about. There's just no way I can do them all. I am avoiding some products because they'd fit better in a Guide to Lolth.

The Essential Information

  • Drow are elves with dark skin.
  • Sunlight causes them pain.
  • Females rule the society, males are subservient to them.
  • They have an incredible array of special items, such as drow sleep poison, death lances and tentacle rods.
  • Most drow worship Lolth, the spider goddess.
  • They live in communal noble "houses" that vie for power and control over underdark cities.
  • Some drow become half-spiders, known as driders.
My Advice on Using Drow

Way back when I was a kid, drow were extremely popular as a player race. Everybody I knew made a dark, angsty drow character who wielded a scimitar in each hand. It was all about doing two attacks per round while looking cool.

As a DM, when I think of drow, I think of a pretty stale monster. But if you dig into the lore and the material, there is a ton of great stuff that brings them to life.

I would highly suggest that you use their special items like the sleep poison and the tentacle rods, play up the fact that the females run things, and make liberal use of the cool monsters like the draegloth, web golems and driders. Definitely work in a demonbinder somehow too, as they are really inspired.

Also, consider making a badass drow NPC with a magic adamantine arm - she breaks the heroes weapons and punches through walls.

Use that sleep poison sparingly, though. Once your heroes get their hands on it, it can be quite a headache.

AD&D 1st Edition

I figured that the drow had a write up in the Monster Manual, but they don't. They just get a blurb in the "elf" entry, which says that they're dark and scary:

Descent Into the Depths of the Earth

A lot of info in this adventure is duplicated in the next one, Vault of the Drow. I'll cover it there. This adventure, by Gary Gygax, involves the heroes battling kuo toa worshipers of Blibdoolpoop. The drow are encountered as wandering monsters and in a few set locations.

Apparently the drow language is known as "Drowic", as it is mentioned when Gary describes writing on a small pin of bronze.

Vault of the Drow

This is a very highly-regarded adventure by Gary Gygax himself and it is part of the "Against the Giants" series. The heroes adventure through a drow city called Erelhei-Cinlu.

We are told that drow items were exposed to "unknown radiations" in the Underdark, giving them magic properties that don't actually radiate magic. These items rot in sunlight, and will be completely destroyed in a matter of weeks:

Drow Sleep Poison: Most drow have javelins and crossbows that use sleep poison.

Wand of Viscid Globs: This wand shoots a gummy substance that can be used to pin people's arms to their sides, or their feet to the ground.

Death Lance: This is a ten foot long spear that fires beams of "negative force" which does 3d4 damage and causes the victim to save or lose d4 levels! These lances have 6 charges.

Demon Staff: They can cause fear, summon a "type I demon" (that's a vrock - a vulture demon), and even transform the wielder into a vrock for 5 rounds!

Tentacle Rods: Drow priestesses have these incredibly deadly rods which have up to 6 tentacles, all of which attack opponents every round.

We get a massive drow entry in the back of the module. The drow were "bitter and cruel" elves driven out by their kin, and they constructed a "gloomy fairyland" underground and now quite enjoy it. They still resent the elves for what they did.

Drow have black skin and pale hair. Males have eyes of orange, while females have eyes of amber or violet. Daylight causes them pain, giving them -2 to hit and they'll flee if possible.

The Drow have a silent language composed of hand movements, in addition to their spoken language.

Fiend Folio

The material from Vault of the Drow is reprinted in the Fiend Folio. Not much more to learn, except that there is a pretty cool piece of art by Jeff Dee:

Dragon Magazine #60 - All About Elves

This issue has an article about elves, which is punctuated by a very in-your-face piece of Erol Otus art of what I presume is a drow priestess of Lolth.

I have to include another piece of art from this article, too. This depicts what I guess is a high level elf overloaded with magic items:

The article only briefly mentions the drow, saying that they are hated amongst other types of elves (high elves, gray elves and sylan elves) more than orcs. This article also has a bit of discussion on how female elves in the elf army are unicorn riders, which is pretty fun.

Unearthed Arcana

Drow are presented as a playable race in this book. They are outcasts, don't have drow items, and do not have their innate magic resistance.
  • Light Sensitivity: Daylight causes a -2 to hit, and spellcasters have to make concentration checks to cast spells. Ouch.
  • They can case dancing lights, faerie fire and darkness once per day.
  • Here's the big one: Drow can fight with a weapon in each hand, off-setting the normal penalties by +2.
  • Drow can't be barbarians or monks.
AD&D 2nd Edition

The Monstrous Manual drow entry is quite similar to the 1e stuff.
  • Drow cloaks and boots basically give them 75% invisibility. Direct sunlight destroys this stuff in 2d6 days.
  • In drow society, Lolth tests drow who hit 6th level. Those who fail the tests are magically transformed into driders - monsters that are half-drow, half-spider. They become outcasts who favor blood over all other types of food.
  • Drow live for about 800 years.
The Drow of the Underdark

This Forgotten Realms sourcebook is written by Ed Greenwood, and it is fantastic. I'd go so far as to say it is one of the greatest sourcebooks of all time. It is completely overloaded with inspired ideas, and it is written in a very breezy manner.

This is going to be long, but you might be shocked to know I am presenting only a fraction of the cool stuff in this book.

The Test: We get details on how Lolth tests certain drow wizards when they hit 6th level. They are abducted and given a "...thorough magical mind-reaming...". Those who fail are turned to driders through magical ceremonies performed by Lolth's yochlol (shapeshifters).

Driders: They're feared by the drow, they hang out with spiders and they are genderless.

Slaves: Drow keep slaves (usually goblins, orcs and hobgoblins) and treat them very poorly. Slaves are not allowed to look drow in the eye.

Customs: Drow like to give "...long, skilled massages involving scented oils, hot water and steam". Construct your encounters accordingly, my friends.

House Insignia: Drow carry magic tokens fashioned in the shape of the recognized symbol of their house. These items are enchanted, and there's a huge list given of minor and magic powers you can apply to them. Minor powers include comprehend languages and feather fall, while major powers include dimension door and wraithform. When touched by someone other than the drow attuned to it, it can deliver harmful effects including burning the victim or causing them to lose their voice for 2d4 days.

Drow Society:
  • Women run drow society.
  • Social standing is the most important thing. To ascend, one must assassinate those above them.
  • Spiders live among the drow. Drow have a great affinity for them.
  • There are two major social groupings: Merchant clans (usually run by males, as trading with outsiders is considered demeaning) and noble houses (the "...mothers of whom often live thousands of years, kept alive by Lolth's magic").
  • Females can choose and discard mates freely, killing the males they've tired of. Marriages last 1-10 years. Any children showing physical deficiency are slain.
The Blooding: A rite of passage into adulthood. The drow must kill an intelligent or dangerous surface creature.

There's a pile of awesome spells, including:
  • Spidereyes: Allows a drow to peer through the eyes of a spider spy.
  • Dark Wings: Gives the drow bat wings, allowing them to fly.
  • Passweb: Confers the ability to walk through webs, rope and vine. Very handy for dealing with web spells, which were crippling in second edition.
We get details on the different types of tentacle rods. You need to be an evil priest to use them, as well as wear a control ring.
  • Purple: 3 tentacles, slow the target if they all hit at once.
  • Red: 3 tentacles, if they all hit the target is slowed and one limb is weakened - it cannot be used to strike, grasp or carry things for 9 rounds.
  • Yellow: 3 tentacles, if all three hit at once the target is dazed for 9 rounds.
  • Amber: 6 tentacles, if they all hit, the target is soul-burned. They burst into flame and lose d6 hit points permanently!
  • Black: 6 tentacles, if all 6 hit the victim is soul-chilled. The victim takes internal cold damage and loses d8 hit points permanently.
  • Jade: 6 tentacles, if all 6 hit the victim is feebleminded until a heal spell or wish spell is cast.
  • Violet: 6 tentacles, if all 6 hit the target is blinded for 3 rounds and loses 1 point of Dexterity for 2-5 years.
There's many other cool items:
  • Staff of the Abyss: Does damage that can only be healed at one point per day. The wielder can summon vrocks and transform into a glabrezu.
  • Wand of Darkness: It can cast darkness spells, it can break protection from evil circles (!), it can summon a nightmare which serves the wielder, and it can animate dead.
  • Driftdisc: Magically-animated 6 foot diameter discs that drow use to travel around in cities. Some drow use them as beds.
  • Walking Chest: There are strongchests or cargo boxes with legs of a dead giant spider. They can be controlled with a control ring. They are known as "crawlchests". Supposedly there are "crawlchariots" as well, fitted with harpoon guns.
  • Death Lance: They are made of dull gray metal that, when it hits a target, causes dark tendrils to drain the victim of 1 level.
  • Whip of Fangs: These are like the tentacle rods, except they have living snakes on them! These are often used on slaves and male relatives.
Then we get even more good stuff on crafted items:

Drow Poison: It is black and gummy, quite like molasses. A victim must save at -4 or fall unconscious at the end of the round. The drugged slumber lasts 2d4 hours. The drow have built up a resistance to this poison, saving at +7 (I suppose in 5e they'd have advantage).
Adamantine Limbs: Some drow who lose a limb replace them with magic adamantine constructions. Some of these have removable parts, or attachments - a drow might have a spiked mace head attachment.

This book even has pages of drow words and sayings:
  • Elgg - Kill, slay, destroy
  • Rivvin - Humans
  • Sarn! - Beware! Warning!
  • Ssinssrigg - Passion, lust, greed, longing, love
  • Oloth zhah tuth abbil lueth ogglin. - "Darkness is both friend and enemy."
  • Lil alurl velve zhah lil velkyn uss. "The best knife is the unseen one."
  • Jal khaless zhah waela. - "All trust is foolish."
We also get monsters. There's one in particular that is handy.

Yochlol: The "handmaidens of Lolth" who live in the Abyss. Drow can summon them with rituals. They can appear as columns of gas, or an amorphous column with one eye, or even a giant spider or beautiful female human or elf. They can contact Lolth telepathically.

You can buy this book here.

D&D 3rd Edition
3rd edition Drow are smaller than normal elves and have red eyes. If you fail your save, their poison knocks you out for at least a minute, and could last as long as 8 hours. Light blinds and dazes them.

Drow of the Underdark

This is quite like the 2nd edition book, and is full of good stuff. It has lots of prestige classes, monsters, spells, feats, adventures, and even an entire chapter on the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu (the city from Vault of the Drow).

Females dominate drow society because drow females are like female spiders - they are stronger than the males and the males sometimes do not survive the mating process (!).

We get details on different tests of Lolth:
  • Test of Loyalty: Lolth sends a drow a vision. The drow must prove to be willing to slay one of her own allies at Lolth's command.
  • Test of Strength: Simple combat with a rival or a monster. Defeat or showing mercy constitutes a failure.
  • Test of Lies: The drow must trick individuals into believing lies.
  • Test of Mettle: The drow is stuck in a pit or confined space, and is covered with venomous spiders. She must survive and escape without harming any of the spiders.
  • Test of Doubt: A drow is stripped of everything, and is sometimes even turned into a drider. She must survive and thrive despite the setback.
Having a Drow Baby: Drow mothers are not given aid in childbirth: "Should she die in the process, she is clearly too weak to contribute further to the race anyway." Drow children are raised by servants and are encouraged to solve problems with violence.

Leisure: Drow drink wines brewed from underground fruits, mushrooms and fungus. They also like inhaling herbs and incense that causes hallucinations or euphoria.

Demonbinder: This is a prestige class - A drow who has absorbed the essence of a demon and wields demonic power. As far as game mechanics go, demonbinders spend "damnation points" to invoke the essence of a demon. The amount of points you spend buys you a different demon's traits. Here's a few examples:
  • Succubus: You grow useless black wings, gains temporary hit points, use of the tongues spell and a +5 to bluff and diplomacy.
  • Glabrezu: Your hands become crab claws, you gain 30 temporary hit points, true sight and +5 to bluff.
  • Marilith: You grow four arms, your legs fuse into a serpent's tail and your eyes glow with an unholy light. You also gain the ability to cast eldritch blast.
There's piles of magic items, and even two artifacts:
  • Cloak of the Consort: It gives you +6 to your AC and protects drow from light. It also grants concealment for ten rounds.
  • Egg of Lolth: A fist-sized egg made of platinum. It summons a bag that summons swarms of spiders that attack all non-drow. Anyone touching the bag is sucked into the Demonweb Pits.
There's many monsters listed. Draegloths became sort of prominent during this time.

Draegloth: "Draegloths are fiends born from profane unions between drow high priestesses and powerful demons". Draegloths are huge humanoids with 4 arms, white hair and a bestial face with an elongated muzzle.

Albino Drow (Szarkai): These drow look like surface elves. They are rare mutants trained in espionage from birth.

D&D 4th Edition

In 4e, drow were once creatures of the Feywild. Lolth led them down a sinister path. We get some interesting types of drow:

Drow Warrior: They use rapiers, can fire off darkfire as a minor action (which prevents the target from being invisible or concealing themselves), and they use weapons coated with drow poison. In 4e, the poison, weakens on the first failed save, and knocks you unconscious until the end of the encounter on a second failed save. That is no joke in 4e, as your player might be sitting at the table doing nothing for 20 minutes.

Drow Arachnomancer: She has a spider rod that immobilizes, can shoot poisonous venom rays, cause spiders to swarm the target, and can create clouds of darkness that block line of sight.

Drow Bladmaster: Can attack many foes at once with his blades.

Drow Priest: She casts pain webs, can blow up an ally and release spectral spiders that bite all enemies within 25 feet, and can even heal herself by transferring her damage to a drow or spider ally.

Forgotten Realms Player's Guide

This mentions that drow now live for up to 200 years, although "...exceptional members of the race measure their age in centuries".

They trance instead of sleeping. They also get either darkfire or cloud of darkness as an encounter power.

Demon Queen's Enclave

This is a well-regarded 4e adventure which involves the heroes coming to a drow settlement to deal with a cult of Orcus. While there, they get entangled with the machinations of a drow vampire.

I am including this because it includes web golems, which I think are a cool monster that you should consider using:
Web Golem: These are golems made of webbing. They can grab up to two enemies and are extremely sticky. In fact, if you hit them with a melee weapon, your weapon or you might get stuck to them. When you kill a web golem, it explodes, causing you to be stuck in a sticky web. There are also Web Golem Threshers, which can spit webbing.


This 4e supplement had a mishmash of stuff for you to use in an underdark campaign.

The Fall and Rise of the Drow: The book explains that the drow fled to the underdark after a war with the eladrin. The Underdark in the 4e cosmology (the world of Nerath) is ruled by this guy named Torog.

Torog, "the God that Crawls" (god of imprisonment and torture), was imprisoned in the primeval underdark. In his efforts to escape, he carved tunnels in the underdark, and even carved into the feywild and the shadowfell, creating the feydark and the shadowdark, respectively. He's still down there, and has a central network of torture dens, served by depraved painseekers.

Torog destroyed a drow city but then made peace with Lolth.

Mark of the Drow: This is a campaign outline. In it, the heroes begin as slaves of the drow. They were born with a special mark and are known as "the gladia", adventurer-slaves celebrated by the drow. They will have the opportunity to become drow themselves and eventually battle against the cult of elemental evil. Deep into the campaign, they learn the secret of their marks, which is pretty crazy.

Erelhei-Cinlu: The book gives a nice little summary of Erelhei-Cinlu. There's a nice quote on how the drow perceive themselves. They see themselves as "...dewdrops on the web of Lolth".

Dragon Magazine #412 - "A Tangled Web - The Origins of the Drow"

James Maliszewski writes a brief article on the drow. We learn that the city of Erelhei-Cinlu got its name from the first two letters of the names of Gary Gygax's kids: Ernie, Elise, Heidi, Cindy, and Luke.

Dragon Magazine #413

This issue is full of drow "character themes", detailing different sorts of drow usable in running drow. These were made with Neverwinter and the Forgotten Realms in mind, but they can easily be transplanted to any drow society.

Elderboy: These are favored drow males, a matron's oldest living son. They play by the matriarchy's rules - at least when others are looking. They have a hilarious set of powers, including "Endure Torment", "Shift Blame" and "Beg Lolth's Favor".

Melee-Magthere Champion: Warriors who attend a school devoted to martial pursuits. All noble male drow are expected to attend, sometimes females do as well.

House Priestess: Her societal status is like a political office. "One day, you will succeed your matron mother — most likely by the edge of a sacrificial blade. Until then, you lurk and scheme, weaving a web of intrigue." A house priestess has a power called "Obey Your Betters", which enables her to reroll a diplomacy or intimidate check with a +4 bonus.

Ooze Master: These rare drow abandon drow society to worship Ghaunadaur, god of oozes. They fight constantly against whispers of madness and they can summon corrosive acid to do their bidding. They have a power called "Sudden Slime", which is a ranged attack that causes an explosion of green slime. They also have "Pudding Sight":

D&D 5th Edition

I really dislike the art of the drow in the monster manual. I decided to use this Rise of the Underdark cover instead.

Now that we've waded through the main stuff that came before, let's see what the 5e monster manual has for us:
  • The good elves banished their malevolent kin to the subterranean depths after a war. There was only one elven deity who hadn't forsaken them - Lolth.
  • The drow worship Lolth and believe they are destined to be rulers of darkness.
  • Their magic equipment now loses their magic after one hour in sunlight. It keeps getting shorter and shorter.
We get stats for a few different types of drow. Most of it is similar or identical to what came before. Drow mages can summon a shadow demon once per day. Drow Priestesses have pile of spells and can summon a yochlol once per day.

In the player's handbook, we see that if your drow is in direct sunlight, he or she has disadvantage to hit and on Wisdom (Perception) checks. I completely forgot about this in my public play games!

The picture of the drow in the PH is actually of Drizzt. They even mention Drizzt in a sidebar as an example of a drow hero that a player could model their character after.

Major Drow Deities

The gods of the drow are known as The Dark Seldarine.

Lolth: Goddess of the drow, demon queen of spiders. She lives a layer of The Abyss known as the Demonweb Pits. She's one of the major villains in all of D&D, and has appeared in many adventures and novels.

Eilistraee: Goddess of song, beauty, and good drow. Her female followers are all musicians.

Ghaunadaur: God of oozes. He's an amorphous purple blob with roper servants. Ed Greenwood's Drow of the Underdark book claims he is The Elder Elemental God, but that has since been revealed to be Tharizdun.

Vhaeraun: The drow god of thievery. He is also the god of drow males opposed to the matriarchy of Lolth. He wants the drow to claim land on the surface and found a society where the sexes are equal.

Drizzt Do'Urden

You can't really talk about drow without mentioning this guy. He's the star of 20+ D&D fantasy novels and one of the most popular NPCs in D&D history. Drizzt is the archetypical "good drow" who battles the darkness inside of him.

Fun Facts about Drizzt:
  • His name is not pronounced "Drizz It". It's "Drizzzz(t)".
  • He has a magical black panther named Guenhwyvar. He summons it from the astral plane with an onyx figurine.
  • He spent ten years in a "bestial" state of mind, hunting in the Underdark. He snapped out of it when he almost brought harm to some gnome children.
  • Rapper/actor Ice T is a big Drizzt fan.
  • Drizzt was created by author R.A. Salvatore at the last minute to be a sidekick to the hero of The Crystal Shard, Wulfgar.
Go here for more info on Drizzt. You can also go here for info on every book, comic and board game.

Full disclosure: My brother ran Drizzt as a character in an AD&D second edition campaign I ran in the early 90's. He committed murder in a city and he got thrown in jail. He never escaped. 1,000 years have passed in he game since that happened. So in my campaign, Drizzt died in prison. 

Hopefully this will help us get set for Out of the Abyss, which comes out in September as part of the Rage of Demons storyline. It's set in the underdark and Drizzt is heavily featured in the promo art . From what I understand, the heroes help Drizzt, or Drizzt gets possessed...? I guess we'll see soon enough.


Timothy Brannan said...


Excellent work as always.

Anonymous said...


Your blog is gold to me, hope you are still here.

Could you tell me, maybe, where I could buy a D&D magazine issue ( the 413!) about the drows?
I've been looking up,but could not see where, for now. :/

Gods of playing and tabletop gaming bless you! ;)