- This article refers to the fictional elven race from Dungeons & Dragons. See "Drow" of Scottish folklore for the origin of the word.
The drow (pronounced either , rhyming with "now", or ˈdroʊ, rhyming with "throw," per Mentzer, 1985) or dark elves are a generally evil, dark-skinned subrace of elves in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game.
The word "drow" is of Scottish origin, an alternative form of "trow", which is a cognate for "troll". Trow/drow was used to refer to a wide variety of evil sprites. Except for the basic concept of "dark elves", everything else about drow was invented by Gary Gygax
The Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax stated that "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.. This establishes Gygax's source for the term as Thomas Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)
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." They made their first statistical appearance in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
(later G1-2-3 Against the Giants
) (1978) by Gary Gygax
. The story continued in modules D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth
, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
, D3 Vault of the Drow
, and Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
each of which expanded on drow culture. The first D&D manual that the drow appeared in was the original Fiend Folio
. The modules in which the drow originally appeared were later published together in Queen of the Spiders
The drow are first presented as a player character race in Unearthed Arcana (1985).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)
The drow appears first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (1989), and is reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).
Drow culture for the Forgotten Realms campaign setting is expanded greatly in Drow of the Underdark (1991), by Ed Greenwood.
The drow are presented as a player character race for 2nd edition in the Complete Book of Elves (1992). The drow are later presented as a playable character race again in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000-2002)
The drow appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000).
The drow of the Forgotten Realms setting appear in the hardcover Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2001), and in Races of Faerûn (2003).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003-2007)
The drow appears in the revised Monster Manual for this edition (2003).
The Underdark hardcover for the Forgotten Realms setting (2003) features the drow yet again as a player character race, as does the Player's Guide to Faerûn (2003). Lost of Empires of Faerûn describes the drow werebat (2005).
The drow paragon appears in Unearthed Arcana (2004).
The umbragen for the Eberron campaign 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). The deepwyrm drow is presented as a player character race in Dragon Magic (2006).
The drow are presented as a player character race for 3rd edition in Expedition to the Demonweb Pits (2007) and Drow of the Underdark (2007). Drow of the Underdark also features the arcane guards, the drow assassin, the house captain, the house wizard, the drow inquisitor, the Lolth's sting, the drow priestess, the drow slaver, the spider sentinel, the albino drow (szarkal), the szarkal fighters, the szarkal druids, and the drow warrior.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-)
The drow appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008), including the drow warrior
, the drow archanomancer
, the drow blademaster
, and the drow priest
After the great war amongst the elves, the drow were forced underground in what is now known as the Underdark, a vast system of caverns and tunnels spanning much of the continent. The drow have since built cities across the Underdark, becoming one of the most powerful races therein.
The drow have adapted to seeing better in the darkness than in the light, and they rarely, if ever, venture up to the surface, for their eyes are sensitive to the light. In earlier editions of the game, the magic weapons, armor, and various other items of the drow would disintegrate on contact with sunlight.
Typical physical characteristics
Drow characters are extremely intelligent, charismatic and dextrous, but share surface elves' comparative frailty and slight frames. Females tend to be bigger and stronger than males. 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 green in normal light. Drow have several kinds of innate spell powers and spell resistance. This is balanced by their weakness in daylight. Also, drow weapons
(usually made of adamantite
or another metal unique to the Underdark
) slowly lose their magical
properties if exposed to the sun
. In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
second edition, adamantite disintegrates upon exposure to sunlight unless specifically treated. Drow also employ the unusual hand crossbow
, firing small, though very lethal, darts. Half-drow are the result of crossbreeding between another race and a drow, and share characteristics of both. (The term "half-drow" usually refers to one who is half drow and half human.) Half-drow are also generally evil; however, half-drow of differing alignments are more common than non-evil full drow.
Drow males are commonly wizards or fighters. Females are almost always clerics and almost never wizards.
As a race, drow are usually evil
. Exceptions exist, the most notable being Drizzt Do'Urden
and Liriel Baenre
, but these are highly unusual. (Note that even Baenre was arguably of evil alignment for the first portion of her life, only shifting to a good alignment after close relationships with several good-aligned characters.) Originally, drow were chaotic evil in alignment. Beginning with 3rd edition D&D, drow are usually neutral evil. There have been encounters with nonevil drow, but these are distrusted as much as their brethren, due to their reputation.
Drow society is primarily matriarchal
, with priestesses of their evil spider goddess Lolth
in the drow tongue) in the highest seats of power. Males are considered inferior to females within drow society, and while some males may be respected if they are powerful wizards (notably exemplified by Gromph Baenre
), they are never allowed to rule. The drow sometimes use their dark arts to turn humanoid slaves into living sculptures.
Drow society is based upon violence, murder, cunning, and the philosophy that only the strong survive (though in Drow tongue, a quirk of the language creates a reversal of cause-and-effect; more correctly, it can be translated as "those who survive are strong"). 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. 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, depending on her mood and how likely it is to be a successful deterent.
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.
Most drow societies hate surface elves, but will wage war with almost any surface race and other subterranean races, such as mind flayers, svirfneblin, duergar, kuo-toa, dwarves, and orcs, for spoils and territory.
Drow in various campaign settings
Drow in Eberron
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
. 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, and that there is 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
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.
Drow in the Forgotten Realms
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).
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.
The largest drow civilization is the subterranean city of Llurth Dreier (population 400,000) . However, Menzoberranzan is featured most prominently in the novels.
Previously 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. All of these alternative deities (except perhaps Ghaunadaur) where however killed or forgotten in the last years before the Spellplague.
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 former 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. The drow also have a long-standing, mutual racial hatred with the gloamings, a rare race found in the pages of the Underdark supplement.
Drow in Greyhawk
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
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.
Some drow, especially of the House of Eilserv, worship a nameless Elder Elemental God (said to have ties to Tharizdun) instead of Lolth.
Drow in other campaign settings
Different campaign settings
portray drow in various ways.
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, that 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 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 vulpdrax (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.
Like elves, drow have other creatures associated with them either by environment or by blood. The drider
is one of the most often cited examples, but it is not the only one.
See main article Drider
, 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.
List of works in which drow play a major role
- Sernett, Matthew. Plot and Poison: A Guidebook to Drow (Green Ronin Publishing, 2002). ISBN 0972359923
- Gygax, Gary. Artifact of Evil (TSR, 1986).
- Gygax, Gary. Come Endless Darkness (New Infinities, 1988).
- Gygax, Gary. Dance of Demons (New Infinities, 1988).
- Gygax, Gary. Sea of Death (New Infinities, 1987).