Playing Drow Part 2 – Know Where You Came From

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 30, 2012

One of the toughest parts of role-playing a non-human character is to give that PC a distinct cultural identity. We often play ever character of every race as if they were born and raised in the Human world. For many races this isn’t a big deal because their societies will parallel Humans’ in many ways. However, Drow are very different from Humans and this should be reflected in the way they are played.

Although your character is an individual and you have the freedom to play him as you see fit, it’s important to consider his upbringing and how that has shaped his personality and attitudes. He might have forsaken his heritage to become an adventurer, but if he was raised in Drow society there are a lot of little details that you should keep in mind when running him. Use these differences to make your Drow stand out from the Elves and Humans in the party.

Society

Drow are a subterranean race that thrives on chaos. Their world is filled with magic and danger. Every Drow is taught the value of power from a very early age. The strong survive; there is no place for the weak. Drow consider themselves superior to other races, especially other Elves and other subterranean creatures. Drow will often enslave other lesser races, treating them harshly and giving little thought to their well-being.

Within the chaos of Drow society is an order of sorts and there are rules. Drow are one of the few matriarchal societies in D&D. Males are treated as inferior to females. This is not something that is questioned by either sex; it’s just the way things are. This is perpetuated through the worship of Lloth, the Spider Queen by the priestesses that rule in many Drow societies. Lloth only accepts females as priests and cleric, which goes a long way to keeping men subservient to women in Drow culture.

Much of the established Drow cannon was created and refined by R.A. Salvatore in his Drizzt novels. It’s certainly easiest when using Drow in your campaign to use what’s been established but that’s not to say that this is the only way to use Drow in your game. The Salvatore interpretation of Drow certainly applies to the Forgotten Realms but in other worlds Drow may have very different roots. For example, in Eberron Drow live in the forests of Xen’drik. They do not worship the spider goddess nor are they associated with spiders at all. They are a savage, barbaric race whose forefathers escaped slavery of the Giants by fleeing belowground.

Geography

Think about where your Drow character was raised. Forget the social or cultural influences for a minute and just picture the terrain. The Drow are a subterranean race. Your character has always lived with a roof over his head. Before leaving his home world (for whatever reason) he’d likely never seen the sky, the sun, the moon or stars. The vast open spaces of the surface world will likely cause your PCs serious bouts of agoraphobia (the fear of wide open spaces).

The natural light of the sun that surface dwellers take for granted is a foreign concept to Drow. They live and thrive in darkness. They have darkvision which allows them to function in complete darkness. Drow do employ artificial light but when they do so it is for a clear purpose.

Sounds behave differently underground than they do on the surface. Although it’s rarely taken into considerations in most D&D games, it makes sense that Drow would have a keen sense of hearing. Sound trapped in the enclosed spaces and will bounce off of cavern walls, ceiling and floor, as well as objects and creatures. This is not to say that Drow have sonar or super-hearing, but they would know what to listen for and be able to interpret those sounds (or lack thereof). Conversely Drow might find it more difficult to judge the distance, location, and origination point of sounds on the surface world.

A society in which all the members can see in complete darkness and interpret the faintest sounds would understand the value of stealth. So regardless of a Drow’s class he’s likely to know the basics of remaining unseen and unheard.

Influence of Environment

The physical and cultural environment in which your character was raised would have greatly affected the person he became. You need to decide which of these factors and influences are most prevalent. Do bright lights and open spaces make your PC feel uncomfortable? Is he subservient to women, showing them unquestionable respect or does he resent them? Does he go out of his way to demonstrate how much he is not like others of his race or does he use the stereotype to gain an advantage during social interactions?

Take all of this into consideration the next time you play a Drow character. Make sure that your Drow has characteristics that separate him from the rest of the party. Play your PC in such a way that it will remind the other players that Drow are unlike any surface dwelling race they might have adventured with in the past.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alton May 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Not a big fan of the drow. I think they are the brittney spears of the realm, overplayed, underappreciated etc. I agree wiht your article. People who play drow in campaigns are usually good or unaligned, and tend to have the same story;

‘they were raised in human society with human values, yadda, yadda, yadda.’

No quirks, nothing inherent from their race, nothing and this frustrates me when someone wants to play the drow. To most people they are just cool for their abilities and that is it. I have to admit though and in line with your article, drow do have a lot of potential for roleplay.

I support my comments by directing you to the book ‘Oath of Vigilance’ by James Wyatt. The drow in the novel is a cocky male, who has no fear of females, sees well in bright sunlight etc… He acts like one of the vampires from the Twilight series.

They have a good possibility for roleplay, but it is hard to do with a system that promotes goodness over evil. It would be a monumental task for one of these characters.
Alton´s last blog post ..D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen: Session 1 – The Old Skull Inn

2 Philo Pharynx May 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Another environmental issue is that drow think in three dimensions. They build into the walls of a caves. Spiders climb along walls, and sometimes carry riders. Drow nobles levitate. If you are not wary of threats in the vertical plane, you won’t survive long. Likewise they would value climbing, jumping and magical movement.

3 Paik the Kenku Monk May 31, 2012 at 8:44 am

The 2 articles about the Drow have been awesome. Great sense of what/who the Drow really are and their intentions. I have been playing Drow for a awhile and now have a much better idea of where my role playing should be. Not all Drow are Drizzt. Drizzt is an anomaly. One in a millon but many of use template our characters on him.

For more zest I have started reading the War of the Spider Queen omnibuses (6 novels) in preparation for this season of Encounters. Again adding that knowledge has upped my game.

Thanks for another great articule!

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