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Thursday, 8 March 2012


The Drow, or 'Dark Elves' are the combination of two classic fantasy tropes: the sexy lady warrior race and the implausibly evil, sacrifice-happy race. I guess it's also an attempt by Wizards to make a race of D&D elves who aren't dainty, serene and all-around perfect.

The drow are a race of black-skinned, white-haired, subtarranean, innately magical elves, who build their cities in the cavernous bowels of the earth (the Underdark). Their society is matriarchical to the cruelest extreme of the word and patterns a spider motif inspired by their goddess the Spider Queen Lolth. They're a race of schemers and false courtesies that somehow hasn't backstabbed itself into extinction (probably thanks to the divine intervention of their goddess).

(Not that she tries really hard, since in demanding sacrifices she "prefers sentient creatures over non-sentient, humanoids over non-humanoids, elves over other humanoids, drow over other elves, powerful drow over weaker ones, and her priestesses most of all". She is actively demanding the sacrifice of the ruling classes and clergy just because she likes to eat powerful things. But she totally wants to keep this society running.)

It's an extremely popular race (with some expected backlash) for the uniqueness of its setting, its innate angst and darkness, its cruelty and its absurd cheesecake factor. And also several series of popular books starring the most famous repentant drow Drizzt Do'Urden by R.A. Salvatore (causing countless my character is seriously not copying Drizzt you guys what are you talking about). I've only read two of the trilogies: the Dark Elf trilogy and the Ice Wind Dale trilogy. I've got to say I prefer the Dark Elf trilogy a lot more, and then the first book out of that, since you actually get to see the Underdark and their bizarre social customs.


  1. I love this picture. I really like how the dagger is designed to mimic their obsession with spider paraphernalia (along with the "web" dress, of course).

    The girls and I attended a few "D&D Encounters" and two people there were playing "good" drow.

    Kay, "These two are up to something. Who ever heard of a good drow?"

    Sue, "Should we kill them?"

    Me, "They aren't trying to trick you. I'll tell you guys about Drizzt later."

  2. Hmmm. Time for a little history lesson methinks. You're young, so you're forgiven (if you'll forgive my patronising tone), but the Drow are a Gygax invention from TSR days, waaaaay before WotC got their hands on the license. And even HE didn't come up with the idea originally, evil or dark elves were part of Scottish and Scandinavian folk lore. The original word was Trow rather than Drow (same word root as troll by the way).
    History lesson over :)

  3. It's not Wizards' attempt to create anything since the current version of the drow was mostly invented by R.A. Salvatore for his books. And yeah like savagelegend said, the drow existed way before WotC.

    Great pic.

  4. If we're going to talk about the mythological/folkloric origins of the creatures in D&D, then about a third of the monsters of these books aren't made by Wizards/Gygax, only borrowed from thousands of years of story-telling and tweaked with modern influence and design.

    The Trow and the Dark Elves (or Svartalfar or Dokkalfar) are two completely different creatures. The Trow (the ones of Scottish origin) have nothing to do with the drow outside their name and the fact that they were mean-spirited. The Trow follow the more classically British Isles definition of elves as ugly fairies/trolls/spirits that live underground, like many fairies/trolls/spirits do in almost every mythology in the world.

    The Dark Elves is a little more vague since it's unclear whether they're just elves with black skin that live in the earth, dwarves, or something in between the dwarves and the heavenly elves of Norse mythology. They weren't inherently evil, though that's also a little bit unclear due to lack of reference.

    Yes, the drow have a history behind them outside D&D, but I still think that a good part of their current form is designed to have them be the dark mirror of the elves (and the mirror is made of spiders). It's basically the Norse have elves with dark skin, and the Scottish have these guys that may have been influenced by Nordic ancenstry but are really different now. Let's take the Nordic one, give it the name and personality of the Scottish one, add some matriarchy, complicated social rules, lots of spiders and even more evil than it already had.

    The past created, Gygax redefined, Greenwood developed and Salvatore cemented.

    Also I sometimes just use 'Wizards' to refer to 'anyone from Gygax to now involved with D&D even though Wizards didn't exist until the 90s'. I should probably rethink that.

  5. "These two are up to something. Who ever heard of a good drow?"

    Frankly, even before Drizzt,I have a sneaking suspicion there were dozens of renegade Drow living it up in campaigns across the nation...

  6. Absolutely love your depiction of the Drow. The harsh angles let me know she's definitely evil (and that sweet spider-dagger), and the long vertical lines give her a powerful and noble bearing - not someone to be trifled with!

  7. I like it, but why does she have a red honker?

  8. @Jayson: The girls were 8 and 11 at the time and hadn't been exposed to the concept of a "good drow" in our home campaign. In fact, that was their first time in a hobby store that carried RPG products.

    But you're totally right. Even when I was their age, I can recall plenty of friends who wanted their characters to be the exception to the rule.

    I don't actually believe that this behavior spawned from Drizzt.
    Young or old, who hasn't played with someone like that? ;]

  9. Amazing work. I'm definitely a fan from now on.

  10. Oh yeah, the exception to the rule is a time-honored character trait. :-) Also the kids, I'm sure, are refreshingly free of longstanding preconceptions among long-term gamers, a quality I've seen mentioned about lately.