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PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:30 am
The Beginner’s Guide to Drow Culture

Welcome, one and all, to this guide to the intricacies of drow relations and hierarchy. This is meant to be used as a reference, and it is highly recommended that you read it before starting into any extensive Drow-based roleplays. We may have a few friends stopping by to help us explain, so be sure to keep an eye out!


The How and Why of Drow Society
Drow Religion and Deities
Hierarchy and Law
Classes and Education
Family Life
Romance and Relationships
Magic and Technology
Drow Art and Design
Drow cities and Cartography
Agriculture and Wildlife

Drow Resources: The following links are to downloads of books that are excellent sources of information concerning the drow. They are located on a download safe site called 4Shared.com in my own personal account.

Drow of the Underdark : A book all about the Drow Culture and Race
Races of Faerun : There is a good section about the Drow in this book.
Plot and Poison : A extremely indepth look at all aspects of Drow Life.
The Quintessential Drow : Another excellent source of Drow information
(If you have requests for specific D&D source information please PM Yousei Akki )
PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:31 am
The How and Why of Drow Society

The Drow are generally sadistic, cruel, arrogant, scheming and more than a little dangerous. They are obsessed with power and station, and are willing to do most anything to advance and crush their rivals under foot. However, despite this seemingly chaotic personality, Drow are also proud creatures, who are more often than not polite and subtle in their interactions with others, even with their most hated enemies. This comes from both the Drow’s hedonism and from their paranoia. Polite conversation is simply more palatable, and veiled slights are always considered marks of higher intelligence. Outright aggression is considered uncouth within the cities, and can in fact result in the assassination of the overly aggressive if they are not found to be useful within a high ranking house’s military. Drow generally feel superior to other races, and outright hate surface elves and dwarves. In order to understand how this distinctive personality came about, it is important to take a look at drow history. I don’t intend to bore you with details, so I’ll just cover the most important bits:

• Drow were once surface dwelling elves called the Illythiiri, and followed the dark-skinned elven goddess Araushnee.
• Araushnee was also known as the Weaver of Destiny, and was associated with fate, textiles and artisans. She was also the consort to Corellon Larethian, the chief god amongst the elven deities.
• Araushnee, however, was sick of playing second fiddle, and eventually betrayed Corellon and began a war against him with the backing of the Orc gods. She was defeated, and for her transgression sentenced to the Abyss; the realm of dark and secret gods which are tied to the Underdark.
• Because the Illythiiri had followed their goddess to war, they too were banished to the Underdark. Araushnee took the name Lolth (or alternatively, Lloth) and her followers became the Drow.

So we can see already why the Drow are known for their hatred of the surface elves: they are responsible for the imprisonment of their dark goddess and for the banishment of the Drow themselves. And we can see why Lloth would favor females over males: jealous of her male consort’s power, she tried to replace him and lost, and so has developed a disdain for all males. It makes sense that the followers would attempt to imitate their goddess as much as possible. So in drow society gender roles are clearly defined, the males being subservient to the females. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but we’ll discuss those later. The majority of drow cities are devoted to their patron goddess and only have temples and festivals in her honor, unlike cities of the surface where several temples to several deities may exist. Again, there are a few exceptions- such as Sshamath and Menzoberranzan, but these are cities which are more tolerated than actually accepted into drow society. The only deity which Lolth will permit to be worshipped within her cities is Selvetarm, which brings us to our next section.

The supremacy of the female is deeply ingrained in drow culture. Females are seen as stronger, smarter, and more emotionally controlled than males, and—above all—holier and more devoted to Lolth. Males, on the other hand, are viewed as spiritually, intellectually, and physically inferior, useful primarily for physical and skilled labor and breeding purposes. A male drow is seen as superior to a member of any other race, but inferior even to female drow of lower status.

This attitude comes from a variety of separate but related sources. The fi rst and most obvious is Lolth herself. The goddess has, over the course of drow mythology and history, taken multiple consorts, all of whom have been eventually discarded. Whether this is the cause of Lolth’s opinion of males or a symptom of it, Lolth believes that only females are worthwhile servants.

Much like the spiders they revere, drow females also hold power due to biological reasons. In many spider species, the females are far larger and stronger, and males often do not survive the mating process. Drow childbirth is a physically strenuous occasion and though the drow feel little if any affection for their young, they understand the importance of continuing the family and house lines. Thus, the females, who are both essential to reproduction and capable of withstanding it, are clearly both stronger and more blessed than the males. Whether the drow think as they do because of their emulation of spiders is unclear and ultimately unimportant.

Finally and perhaps most important, females are already ascendant within drow society. Matriarchs and priestesses have enough trouble clinging to power in the face of other ambitious females; the last thing they want is to double the pool of potential rivals. Thus, the tradition of female dominance continues, in large part, at the behest of the females who are already dominant.

Male drow hold little if any power, but not all of them are mere property, even if many females see them as such. Some of the most skilled crafters, warriors, and arcane casters among the drow are male. In fact, the submissive status of males in drow society actually inspires many of them to excel. Male drow can lay claim to little authority, and they are constantly at risk of being discarded by their female leaders, so only those with skills and abilities that are not easily replaceable can be relatively confident of their positions.

Denied the right to formally influence society, male drow have become masters of finding subtle and nontraditional roads to power. Many become teachers of arcane magic or military strategy, attempting to form strong bonds with their students—particularly the females who might well hold power in the next generation. Others join the soldiers of a powerful house or the priestesses of Lolth, working their way up in the ranks. At the very least, these positions grant them some measure of authority, and if they are fortunate enough to be officers during wartime (or devious enough to start a well-timed war), that authority can grow to rival that of some matriarchs. And of course, some drow males attempt to seduce powerful females, using lust—and even the rare emotion of love—to influence drow leaders behind the scenes.

In the lower echelons of drow society, away from the movers and shakers, males and females hold similar roles. A member of either gender might be a household servant, a shopkeeper, a soldier, or an artist. The males tend more toward physical labor and the females toward skilled crafts—not because females are weaker, but because they often have more opportunities to choose their own path than males do—but this is only a tendency, not a societal constant.

~How & Why~Worship & Deities~Hierarchy & Law~Classes & Education~Family Life~Romance~Magic~Warfare~Craftwork~Economy & Trade~Drow Cities and Cartography~Agriculture & Wildlife~



PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:33 am
Drow Religion and Deities

The vast majority of Drow are followers of Lolth. There are very few drow who would dare to follow another god. This is in part due to the ability, through ritual, of drow priestesses to detect unbelievers in their midst and the terrible fates awaiting said unbelievers, and because Drow are taught from birth the rhetoric's of Lolth. The only other deity which it is socially acceptable to worship in most drow cities is Selvetarm; Lolth’s grandson and champion. Selvetarm is venerated by male warriors, and his worship is tolerated because it venerates Lolth by association. The worship of Lolth’s children Eilistraee and Vhaerun is forbidden, but of course there are always a few Drow who worship in secret, or in very small colonies. Drow are fanatical about their patron goddess, and falling out of her grace is akin to a death sentence. Any house which falls from her favor is quickly attacked en masse by at least one other house seeking to gain favor with the goddess and to gain a ranking. The favor of Lolth is gained in many ways; by raising daughters that become priestesses, or offering a sacrifice, or by eliminating the enemies of the Spider Queen. So the Drow Pantheon of Gods is as follows (even though several of these gods are not worshiped openly):

Lolth (lolth) (a.k.a. The Spider Queen, Weaver of Chaos)
Goddess of the drow race in general and the one most worshiped by the drow themselves, Lolth is a cruel deity who takes delight in setting her followers against each other and watching the chaos that unfolds. Demanding nothing less than absolute loyalty, her followers and clergy have absolutely no tolerance for the worship of any other deity save theirs, and mercilessly eradicate anyone caught paying homage to another. Though it is not unheard of for her to corrupt 'lesser beings' such as humans and even elves to do her bidding, her teachings show drow as the superior beings, and she the mistress striving to perfect them. Those fortunate enough to be in her favor are given extraordinary power and prestige, but even as she bestows favor, the merest slight will cause her to withdraw it, then reveling as others loyal to her devour the now-disfavourable. Drow who follow her place status above all else, believing it to be a sign of how much favor they have gleaned from their chaotic and temperamental deity. She has an obvious preference for females in her clergy; the more vicious and self-serving, the better. Her symbol is a spider with the head of a female drow.

Eilistraee (eil-iss-tray-ee) (a.k.a. The Dark Maiden, Lady of the Dance)
The deity chosen by the select few drow who seek to shed their reputation as vicious and bloodthirsty and truly strive to do good in the world, Eilistraee is the Goddess mostly worshiped by the drow who have returned to the surface to live their lives in peace. As a stark contrast to Lolth and her hate-riddled teachings, Eilistraee teaches her followers tolerance for other races and their ways, and strongly encourage the aiding of distressed drow and delivering to them her message of hope; that a peaceful and happy life IS possible, whether you're a female seeking something more than constant hate and lingering paranoia, or a male looking for acceptance and a safer place. Her followers revel in song and dance, and include both in nearly all of their rituals. Females are preferred for clergy, but males are also welcomed as lay worshipers. Her symbol is either a moon and a b*****d sword, or the image of a naked female drow with long hair, dancing with a sword in front of a full moon.

Vhaeraun (vay-rawn) (a.k.a. The Masked Lord)
The masked God of thievery and advancement, followers of Vhaeraun tend to be male, his most memorable teaching being that males can be as valuable and skilled as females, a direct blaspheme to Lolth's own teachings. His teachings encourage males to advance themselves, and is somewhat more lenient than Lolth in terms of race-association. He revels in slight and deception, and is not one to forgive easily. Despite being the brother of Eilistraee, Vharaun's followers do not get along well with the followers of the Dark Maiden, and skirmishes between the two groups is not uncommon, as both hold their own ground on the surface. His symbol is a black half-mask.

Kiaransalee (kee-uh-ran-sa-lee) (a.k.a. Lady of the Dead)
The drow deity of both vengeance and the undead, Kiaransalee is one of the more obscure of the drow deities, securing a modest following among those who seek to better themselves in the dark arts or seek to prolong their lives. She surrounds herself with undead servants, the remnants of those she converted to ensure their never ending, unthinking loyalty to her. With a madness and cruelty to match even Lolth herself, the Lady of the Dead dwells constantly on thoughts of vengeance, and woe to anyone she accuses of slighting her, never mind if they actually had done something so foolish. Only the comparatively stronger power of the Spider Queen keeps this Goddess in check, and prevents her from gathering all the followers she can to her, many destined to walk the mortal plane as unthinking zombies. Her symbol is a female drow's hand wearing silver rings.

Ghaunadaur (gone-ah-dowr) (a.k.a. The Ancient One, That Which Lurks)
Since the dawn of time, this deity has plagued the darkest reaches of the realms, manifesting itself as a dark, ominous ooze with tentacles. It was said that its worshipers were smaller oozes with uncanny sentience, but a sudden madness took it and sapped its own followers of their sentience and intellect, snuffing out their very existence. Many of its worshipers are beasts themselves, possessing various measures of intelligence, but some drow are to be counted in its ranks; those who did not find the more established deities to their liking. Quite unpredictable, this deity can bestow unimaginable magic power to its followers, or attack them without warning. It especially enjoys the various routine hunting activities of the Underdark beasts, and takes pleasure in any anguish that results. It is said to community using telepathy, and even then using short and easy words. Its symbol is a purple circle with an inner black ring and an outer violet ring, with a violet-on-mauve eye in the center.

Selvetarm (sell-veh-tarm) (a.k.a. Champion of Lolth, The Spider Demon)
The patron and deity of drow warriors, Selvetarm represents the pinnacle of prowess among fighting drow, the epitome of the level that all drow warriors aspire to become. Once a solitary deity, he once sought the favor of Eilistraee, but by the evil plottings of Lolth, any chance Selvetarm had of such redemption was lost, and the Spider Queen took him for her own and made him her champion. As such, he is cruel and malicious, reveling in battle and destruction. He despises all living things, and only finds beauty in a perfectly honed fighting style. Like the tunnel spider, he is very patient when seeking out prey, but when given the choice, much prefers the mindless abandon of a frenzied battle. His followers are composed of both males and females (more the former than the latter). His followers devote every minute of every day to perfecting their skills and abilities, while still showing reverence to Selvetarm's mistress, the Spider Queen. His symbol is a crossed sword and mace overlaid by the image of a spider.

Ergosal (er-go-saul) (a.k.a. The Betrayer, The Shifter)
Thought of by many to be merely an aspect of the God Vhaeraun, Ergosal is a demigod said to have achieved his status above mortality by finding the legendary Staff of Orcus. He is said to dwell in The Veil, a realm that shifts about and can exist in any and all of the other planes at the same time and is shrouded in secret, much like he who dwells within it. Assassins, spies and illusionists tend to follow him. His clergy engage in such practices as allying themselves with both sides in a war and selling the secrets of each side to the other for a price. They like to stay out of the way ad manipulate things from the sidelines. Ergosal's symbol is a distorted mask.

This is, by and far, not the limit to the possibilities of worship. It is not unheard of for a drow to chose to worship a demon of the Abyss or a devil from one of the nine layers of hell. It should be noted that Lloth is a petty selfish goddess who will not tolerate worship of any other deity save herself or Selvetarm.

~How & Why~Worship & Deities~Hierarchy & Law~Classes & Education~Family Life~Romance~Magic~Warfare~Craftwork~Economy & Trade~Drow Cities and Cartography~Agriculture & Wildlife~
PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:36 am
Drow Hierarchy and Law

It is time that we explore the facet of Drow society which causes the most confusion for roleplayers. And that is Drow Hierarchy and social standing. I apologize if this explanation at times seems unrelated to the subject of hierarchy, but I assure you that the back story is necessary. As we have seen in previous sections, a large amount of Drow culture is based upon religious doctrines. However, unlike other societies where religion is a cornerstone the Drow are essentially chaotic, and thus do not easily conform to rigid social structures. This sounds complicated, but what it means is that because Drow are chaotic by nature, they require something other than rules and laws in order to avoid complete anarchy. In fact, the Drow have no formal legal systems; there are no judges, no juries, and no prisons. They abide by a code of ‘justice’ which only recognizes the strong. For instance, if a member of House Baenre kills a member of House Urdrae, and House Urdrae is not strong enough to retaliate, than in the eyes of the Drow no crime has occurred. If the weak cannot enact their own revenge, than they are deemed by the majority to be unworthy of justice. Only in rare cases will the Council of a particular city get involved with House disputes, such as if public bloodshed happens en masse between Houses. I mentioned in the How and Why that the Drow think public battles are uncouth; the reason for this being that it has the potential to spiral out of control. As much as Lolth is a goddess of chaos and destruction, she also demands obedience. Her priestesses and the matrons of Houses demand the same compliance. Outright battle is dangerous for the entire city, as it can end in a civil war and therefore in the interest of self-preservation it is prohibited.

Self-preservation is a major factor in Drow motivation. As much as they would deny it, Drow live in ever-present fear, although they no longer feel it the way other creatures do. It is a constant facet of their lives, and has been so for generations so it has become as unconscious as breathing. However, this fear also dictates their actions. The Drow are as paranoid as they are tenaciously ambitious. Although all Drow want nothing more than to further their station, they also must proceed carefully. They scheme and obsess over details, but when opportunity knocks they tend to be a little reckless. It is not unusual for Drow to work frenetically on several plots which may never come to fruition; just in case they see a chance for advancement. This battle for station can best be described as a pecking order: but for the Drow, they are always jostling to improve their placement. No matter how low on the chain a certain Drow is, he is always plotting and waiting for a chance to advance.

The Temple of Lloth, is the epicenter of political, legal and religious activity. It's hierarchy is ever changing as Priestesses can easily fall out of favour with the Goddess or can be assassinated by a lower priestess with ambition. There are no elections and no set time for a priestess to serve in office. The Hierarchy of the Temple can roughly be organised thusly:

Quite obviously the head honcho here. The Spider Goddess is omnipresent in the temple whether she decides to show herself or not. If she becomes displeased, heads will surely roll.

The Yathtallar
High Priestess of all the Underdark. The Yathtallar is based in the Temple of Guallidurth and is the only priestess permitted to converse with Lloth in her true form. She also has the title of the Spider's Mouthpiece as she announces all of the Goddess's decrees and judgments. The Yathtallar is granted holy protection and cannot be harmed by any drow provided she is still in Lloth's favor. She can only die from divine smiting, or natural causes.

The Yathtallar’s Council
Priestesses from the ten highest ranking houses directly assist the Yathtallar as advisers. Each Priestess is sent from a different city and rarely are they replaced. They stand in social ranking as high as the Yathallar and any drow foolish enough to incur their ire often suffers indefinitely.

The Council of Seers
Made up of the most powerful mediums and clairvoyants, the Council of Seers assist the Yathtallar with all supernatural matters from auspices, horoscopes and prophecies to communication with the dead and exorcisms. Traditionally any drow who is gifted with the Sight is snatched up and locked away in the Council. The power a Seer possess is seen as too powerful to allow to be unchecked. On top of this it's often seen as a sign from Lloth and to allow any Seer to stray from the predestined path of serving her is akin to blasphemy. This isn't to say that many Houses attempt to hide away their own Seer's for just this same reason.

The Noble Council
Created of the top 8 Houses in each city the, Noble Council or Ruling Houses as they are called, oversee the political matters of their cities. Typically the Noble Council tends to matters such as the disgrace of warring Houses, the disfavor of Lloth, and potential conflicts with 'neighboring' cities. The Noble council holds the power to declare a House fallen from Lloth's grace. This council is far from a collection of well meaning mediators however. A constant undercurrent of subtle power play infiltrates the Council, kept only in check by the fact that should one Council member become too ambitious, the others may band together in an alliance to take down the offender

Novice Priestesses
The Temples of the main Underdark Cities also serve as Universities for Priestesses in Training. Novices either live at home and come to the temple for training or if they have travelled to another city, they are permitted to live in modest quarters on the Temple grounds. Once a novice has completed her training and initiation ceremony, she must enter the constant battle to rise through the Temple ranks.

The Paladins - Lloths Army
The Paladins provide constant security for the Temple. They are part priestess and part warrior. Many form a private army for defending the temple as male warriors are not permitted inside. Others may be sent on holy quests or crusades to do Lloths bidding. Paladins rarely obtain much power within the temple itself.

The Healers
Healers work separately from the temples, often practicing in their own houses or offices. They make up the entirety of the Underdark's healthcare system. Since Lloth decreed healing to be a holy profession only women are legally allowed to practice healing spells and dispence medicines and potions. Unliscenced male healers are swiftly punished if caught, they rarely have any knowledge of healing spells but some have herbal knowledge.

The Merchant Council
the Merchant Council is largely made up of merchants of notable power and wealth. Far from a fair organization, the Merchant Council is a thorn in the side of the priestesses at times. Due to their habit of accepting males into positions of power, the Merchant Council is one of the few places a male can obtain a place of respect. Each city tends to have it's own Merchants Guild run by the local Council members, and wise wannabe merchants purchase membership if they intend to deal in that particular city. Because of the wandering nature of caravans, it is easy to get lose in the shuffle of course, and some merchants can get away with slipping by these 'customs'. Though it is done so at their own risk. Non-members of the merchants guild are afforded no protections against thieves or the unfairness of the House drow nobles.

The Wizards Council
Much like the Merchants Council, the Wizards Council oversee's the education of butting spellcasters. It is generally a requirement for all males with potential of pursuing a mage class to attend the strict schools overseen by by the city Archmages. Again, like the Merchants Council, this is one of the rare places where a male may excel and obtain respect and freedom he normally would not be afforded. Only the most skillful of mages find themselves snapped up by the noble houses. If one can manage to survive the constant backstabbing and betrayal of the school itself that is. The most prominent Wizards Council happens to be the one located in Menzoberrazzan by the name of the Tower Sorcere.

So we can see that Drow Law is a misnomer; it does not really exist as such. Instead a semblance of order is kept by way of the constant struggle for power. This sounds like a contradiction, but it makes sense when one realizes that all Drow enforce their power constantly. In order to maintain their positions, they must respond to any threats as best as their position allows. Drow Government, like Drow Law, is virtually nonexistent. There are no specific officials who are formally in charge, whether elected or otherwise. Instead, a precarious balance is formed between the Temple of Lolth, Noble Houses, and either the Military, or in the case of Sshamath, the Wizard Academy. The Temple relies greatly on the Nobility; as most high-ranking priestesses are also the daughters of Noble Houses. Despite this, the Temple often cannot take direct action against those who displease Lolth and so enlists the houses to do so in its stead. Many low ranking houses do so willingly; they earn the debt of the Temple and the blessing of Lolth; but in more serious cases, the Temple must request audience with the ruling Council of matrons, and this is one of the few times there is a semblance of a legal system, with the matrons acting as judge and jury. It is important to remember that the Temple of Lolth is not organized in the same way as Churches on the surface; Beneath the Yathtallar there is no one spiritual leader. Instead it is a collection of priestesses all clamoring and jockeying for position; more often than not serving as ruthless whistleblowers kept in check by the Council. Only when an offence is serious and of a grand scale will the Council openly take action, and order the elimination of an offender.

In contrast to the Church, the Military is not an institution. Since there is no government, there are also no legions aligned only with the state. Instead, each House has its own ranks and battalions of soldiers and warriors, and often there are more than a few bands of mercenaries wandering about each city. However; in times of attack against a region or city, it has been known to happen that a general or similar high-ranking soldier will take control of many legions of many houses by order of the Matrons in a state of emergency. As is often the case in such a situation, the generals are laregely female and the vast majority of soldiers are male.

And this, once again, brings us back to the Noble Houses, and the focus of this section (although you may have been fooled into believing otherwise by all that back-story I just made you read!). Drow, for the most part live in extended familial groups akin to the monarchy on the surface. However, unlike noble bloodlines that surface dwellers are familiar with, the lines of Drow family relations can blur. This will be discussed more in depth in the section concerning Drow family and children. For now we are focusing on the structure, creation and part Noble Houses play in Drow society. First, it is important to realize that not all Drow houses are considered noble: only the houses ranked 30 and above are considered nobles. Other houses jockey for position, but are more often concerned with other work: many focus on mercenary work in which they lend out their armies, or in trade (these are simply called Merchant houses) or even in food production. Many lesser houses, as they are called, own and operate the rothé farms on the outskirts of the city, trade in slaves, or run surface raids. These working-class houses will also be discussed elsewhere, in the economy, agriculture and craftwork sections.

All Noble Houses are headed by a Matron Mother, always female and more often than not a cleric of Lolth (those few who are not are usually magic users with strong ties to the Spider Goddess; it is unheard of for a female warrior to become a matron of a Noble House, although they are known to head lesser houses). Centering around the Matron is her family, all of whom are considered nobles, even the Matron’s great-great-great grandchildren. Any mates of the female descendants are also considered a part of the family, and it is not rare that the House adopt commoners into itself, giving them the family name and thus noble status. Often this adoption is a way to add powerful or useful Drow to the House, giving prestige in return. Because of the extensive relations to a single Matron Mother, it is possible for a single House to have several manors in several cities; each faction usually headed by a priestess daughter, and structured much the same as any other; although the Matron herself travels between each.

Houses in general are structured and interact much like independent city states making up a single nation. The collection of 30 Houses make a city, but each also has its own army, wizards, temple, gold vaults, and often their own armories, mints and more. The Houses also war with each other, but often in secret. One of the few Drow laws states that any noble is given the Right of Accusation: that is, if their House is attacked, then the noble may name their attacker and said House is completely destroyed by the forces of the Council. There is a way around this law however; and that is when one house attacks another, they do so in secret, usually enveloped in globes of darkness, and they kill every last noble, even infants in their cribs. This is the main way in which Houses acquire position; however, in order to be able to prepare an attack, there must first be weaknesses the lesser house may exploit. Thus the Nobles Houses are forever building themselves up; forever plotting against their neighbors.

You may be wondering about this ‘Council’ I keep mentioning; also known as the Ruling Council: it is a collection of the matrons from the 10 highest Noble Houses, who meet in secret and who essentially control the entire city. It is the Council who hears out nobles should there be an accusation or a complaint of open bloodshed. The Council is also responsible for the hearing out of any petitions of young priestesses to create new houses. This is a shocking revelation to many roleplayers: that new houses are created on a consistent basis. However, as other Houses are eliminated, their names and symbols are stricken from Drow memories and records. Like many Drow crimes which go about undiscovered, the losing party is forgotten completely. Therefore new Houses are required every so often. In order to establish a Noble House, a cleric of considerable experience (a Jabbres) petitions the Council for the right to establish the manor in their city. Before starting the priestess gathers military forces, a House Wizard, a Weapons Master and many other useful persons who are essential to the functioning of said manor. After this has been accomplished, the cleric approaches another Matron (usually one in the top 30, but never a Council member unless they are related) to represent her to the Council. This may sound strange to you: why would a Matron Mother represent a priestess to the Council? Isn’t that doing her a favor? Especially if it’s a daughter of the Matron, who could prove to be a rival? The simple answer is that the founding of a new House pleases Lolth a great deal, and that she tends to bless all involved. Also, it is of great advantage for the already established Matrons to do so. They get a chance to address the Council, and if approval should be given, the House in question would owe a great debt, often lasting a few hundred years, to the sponsoring House. If the petition is denied, it is possible for the wannabe priestess to be killed for wasting the Council’s time. However, the Matron sponsor is never looked upon badly, even if the cleric is killed. She has simply been obeying her goddess, and therefore is treated with respect

The Noble Houses exert considerable influence and pressure on almost all aspects of Drow life except in very rare cases (such as a military or magical coupe). It is easiest to imagine them as a nation of lords, ladies, counts, dukes, etc in which there is neither king nor queen. It is controlled chaos; each family battling for position while avoiding public ire and disgrace. Noble Houses function on several scales at once; on the small scale families fight amongst themselves, often with Eldest Daughters murdering siblings or her matron mother, against other Houses for money, power, revenge or even men, and on the large scale, whole cities compete for trade and gold brought in by raiding parties. For more detailed info, feel free to pm the makers of this guide, or to check out some of the references at the end. As well, please feel free to suggest what you would like to see added in the official guild suggestion thread. For now we move from groupings of Drow, to individual development in our section titled Classes and Education.

~How & Why~Worship & Deities~Hierarchy & Law~Classes & Education~Family Life~Romance~Magic~Warfare~Craftwork~Economy & Trade~Drow Cities and Cartography~Agriculture & Wildlife~


Yousei Akki

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:24 am
Classes and Education

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:26 am
Family Life

The drow are notably more fertile than are their surface-dwelling cousins. They become pregnant more easily and have a slightly shorter gestation period.

The drow do not believe in using magic or anything more than basic herbal medicines to aid a mother through the pain and danger of childbirth. Should she die in the process, she is clearly too weak to contribute further to the race anyway. Once drow children are born, they are raised by servants (drow parents rarely spend much time with their offspring) in communal living areas used by families or even entire houses. Drow children are no less temperamental than drow adults, and are in fact encouraged to resolve their difficulties through violence. If a child is not strong enough to survive and thrive in this environment, well, better that it not live to an equally violent adulthood. Perhaps spurred on by these hostile circumstances, drow children develop much faster than other elves—almost as swiftly as humans, in fact—often beginning schooling as early as age eight or ten.

Drow schooling is heavily focused. Although the children receive a sufficient grounding in all the basics of learning, they are trained primarily in the drow faith, as well as in one or two other areas for which they show both an aptitude and an interest. Once they have reached adolescence (at about age 20, by which time over a third of them have been murdered or sacrificed), their training shifts from a group endeavor to apprenticeship with a single mentor. Assuming their mentor doesn’t slay them for some minor infraction, they eventually become skilled enough to adopt their trade on their own—which often involves competing with other apprentices to take the mentor’s place when she dies.

To fully understand the drow houses, one must first understand how they are structured. With very few exceptions, each house is ruled by a single powerful drow. Always a female, she is normally referred to as the Matron Mother—or simply the matron—of the house. A great many matrons are also priestesses of Lolth, leading to a blurring of the distinctions between church power and house power.

As stated above, not all clerics of Lolth are offi cially members of her priesthood. This fact becomes important when studying the nature of the drow houses. Although only a fraction of matrons are priestesses of Lolth, nearly all of them are clerics of Lolth. (Those few who are not are invariably other divine casters or warlocks with strong connections to the Spider Queen.) These matrons—along with their close female relatives, who are also often clerics of Lolth—lead the members of their house in religious observance, just as the priestesses do for the community as a whole.

At the center of a house is a single-family unit, made up of blood relations to the matron. It is from this family that the house’s authority figures—priestesses, spellcasters, teachers, military leaders, merchants, and the like—descend. It is quite probable, in fact, that in the early days of drow history, these powerful families made up the entirety of the houses. This is no longer the case. Assuming they have not been exiled, or have not chosen to secede, everyone with the slightest of blood ties to a house’s central family is now considered a part of the house proper. Anyone who marries into the house is considered part of the house. Most confusing for others studying the drow, an individual—or even an entire family—can also be “annexed” as part of the house, if the matron agrees to this. No tie of blood, or even of marriage, is necessary, though those relationships certainly make such connections stronger. If a house sees political advantage in claiming someone as one of its own, and if that individual wishes to join the house, then she is part of the house, pure and simple. These “adoptions” involve rituals and ceremony of some sort, to show the community that the house has accepted a new member, but even these displays are not essential.

Many houses wield influence in multiple communities. For example, House Eilservs, at the height of its power, had member families dwelling in almost every major drow city. Even today, though its star shines more dimly, the house is represented in the vast majority of communities. Dozens or even hundreds of separate families, related tangentially if at all, can make up a single house. Some of the greatest houses possess thousands of members and have larger populations than most drow cities.

In some cases, a house might have more than one drow who claims the title of matron. If House Inlindl has powerful branches in the city of Erelhei-Cinlu and the city of Yvoth-Lened, and both branches are led by a powerful priestess of Lolth, which priestess is the true Matron of Inlindl? If the two rarely interact, or do so only through couriers and the occasional emissary, both might claim the title without negative repercussions. In many cases, though, having more than one claimant to the title of Matron Mother leads to civil war within a house.

In simplest terms, a drow who belongs to a great house is obligated to do whatever the matron, or another high-ranking member of the house, requires of her. Depending on the situation, she might be ordered to undertake a journey, deliver a message, construct an item, or even marry a political ally. Of course, the individual can refuse, at which point the question becomes whether the one giving the orders truly has the ability to enforce obedience. If that authority fi gure is the matron of the house, she almost always does, and the disobedient drow is punished. Other cases might not be so clear-cut, and some members of a house have been overthrown and replaced simply because they lacked enough minions and personal might to enforce their own edicts.

Drow houses have sufficient structure that they do not assign random tasks to random individuals. A house member has specific duties required of her by her position. A blademaster, for instance, is responsible for teaching the art of combat to younger members in times of peace, and leading house soldiers into combat in times of war. A cleric must lead, or aid others in leading, house rituals to Lolth, and ensure that all members of the house are faithful in their devotion to the Spider Queen. A wizard must study new spells, create items for house use, or cast spells against house enemies, depending on her areas of specialization and the current political climate. Even hunters and adventurers, though they certainly seek to advance their own standing, also quest to aid the house’s endeavors. More mundane drow also work for the good of the house. Shopkeepers and vendors sell goods brought into the community by house mercantile interests, and funnel the income back into house coffers. Soldiers practice and train for the day they are ordered to move against enemies of their house. Drow houses are pragmatic, and they assign their members responsibilities based primarily on their capabilities, putting them where they will do the most good.

Where the houses vary is less in what they require of their members, but how much. In some houses, a drow must merely devote a bit of her time to the house when requested, and is otherwise left entirely to her own devices. Other houses require that their members work for them at all times; the only personal objectives and tasks they can undertake are those that also further the house’s own needs, allowing them to achieve both at once. The most powerful houses lean toward the latter option, making full use of their available resources, but those houses also see the most political infighting and deal-making as their members realign their personal goals along house lines. After all, if one must spend all her time working for the house, one might as well also gain as much from that house as possible.

Although the obligations of house membership are substantial, the benefits are equally so. The specifi cs vary from house to house, just as do the duties, but certain advantages are, if not universal, at least quite common. All drow respect and fear the power of the houses, so house membership offers advantages to social interaction in the form of skill bonuses. Rivals who might not think twice about sabotaging or assassinating a particular drow might hesitate to do so if that individual is part of a great house, for fear of reprisal. (The drow in a given house might constantly fi ght each other, but they frequently band together in the face of outside aggression, and a house rarely lets an insult or attack go unanswered.) Although the house demands a portion of its members’ income, it also provides supplies and equipment for house-mandated activities and even for some personal endeavors. Most important, the house can provide other resources, such as ancient lore, intelligence, and even (in some cases) soldiers or other assistants. Precisely how thoroughly an individual can draw on these resources depends on her status within the house, but even the lowest-ranked members can often beg some small amount of help.

Most humans are familiar with the saying “Blood is thicker than water,” representing that race’s philosophy that one can always turn to the unbreakable bonds of family. The drow have a saying about family, too. Roughly translated, it states, “In a female’s own home, she knows where the knives are hidden.” It would be easy to assume that the drow do not value family ties at all, and that they treat their own relatives as viciously and cavalierly as they do others of their race. This conclusion is not entirely accurate. It’s true that most drow feel, at best, only slightly more affection for relatives than they do for others, and that members of a given family might hate and scheme against each other as thoroughly as they do anyone else. Sibling rivalry among drow, for example, often results in actual bloodshed. Most drow, however, do not betray family members without good reason, and when they seek allies in an endeavor or protection from outside threats, they often turn to their relatives fi rst. This tendency stems not from any true sense of endearment so much as from simple logic. A drow knows members of her family better than she does others, and so has at least a somewhat better understanding of their goals and secrets. Further, since families focus on a particular arena of infl uence—commerce and trade, magic, soldiering, stonemasonry, blacksmithing, or what have you—the odds are good that what advances one member of a family advances the family as a whole. For instance, if a family is well known for producing military leaders, then advancing one of its members to the head of a house’s guards raises the esteem of that family in the eyes of both the house and the community at large. Most drow families consists of everyone in a direct line of descent from a single individual and relatives removed by only a single step. That group would include grandparents and parents, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, aunts and great-aunts, uncles and great-uncles, and first cousins. Some families go farther afield, claiming more distant cousins, aunts several generations removed, and the like. A family that is part of a house is more likely to extend itself—at least for the sake of skilled or important distant members—than one that is not. In some cases, an appropriate marriage can bring two families together into one larger unit, but in most cases the male is simply subsumed into the female’s family line. The head of a family’s household is usually the eldest matriarch.

Within a house, families rise and fall in stature just as specific individuals do. The matriarchs and other family elders might work together to topple or discredit another family, hoping to rise in the Matron Mother’s esteem. The action of a specific individual can impact the station of a family as a whole. A drow who obtains a position of great authority within a house lifts her family up by association, and one who is punished or exiled leaves an indelible stain upon the reputation of her bloodline. In extremely rare cases, one family might take the place of the house’s central family, an event that can alter the entire political identity of the house in question. (Such an event has occurred once in recent history, when the central family of House Eilservs—secretly worshipers of the Elder Elemental Eye—were removed from power by a bloodline loyal to Lolth.) In some of these cases, the house changes its name, adopting the appellation of the new central family, but most of the time (including House Eilservs) it keeps the old name simply for the sake of community recognition.

Although house families seek to advance both their own agenda and that of the house proper, the two do sometimes come into conflict. One house family might decide to move against another family during a time of crisis, an act that would weaken the house’s ability to face the external threat. Similarly, a family might conspire with members of an outside house or the priesthood to weaken a house’s central family, in the hope of taking its place, though this step would leave the new house in debt to an external power.

Obviously, drow are expected to report such disruptive ambitions to the house, allowing the matron or her proxies to deal with the problem. Whether a drow chooses to inform, of course, is a matter of whether they believe they can personally benefit from the act. If a member of the family thinks it is to her advantage to collaborate with the schemes, she does so; if she thinks there is more benefit to turning in her relatives, well, power really is more important than family.

Individual drow who threaten or betray a house can be tortured, exiled, or slain, but it’s a bit harder to punish an entire family tree (or “family web,” as the drow think of genealogical diagrams). If a family makes a power grab and fails, their resultant loss of respect, influence, and economic advantage is often penalty enough. In other cases, however, the house might actually expel the family from its ranks, or even—in a few rare cases—slaughter the bulk of them in a sudden overwhelming offensive and make the survivors into slaves.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:29 am

Most of the trappings of love in drow society are better defined as either lust or politics. Drow seek to sate physical desires with whatever partners arouse their attentions; the culture does not, in any real way, associate sex or reproduction with love, or even necessarily with marriage. Drow seek to slake their lust with partners of lower status—so as not to imply that they have given in to a drow of higher station—and rarely with members of an enemy house or family, for fear of compromising their position. Beyond these limitations, however, anything goes.

Marriage is primarily a political or fi nancial arrangement. Drow marry to formalize alliances, to combine family resources, or—in some cases—to cement their dominance over a weaker ally or companion. No stigma is attached to children born out of wedlock, but a child born of a marriage has a stronger claim to her parents’ wealth and power if something happens to the parents. Thus, some drow marry before procreating, to ensure that everything they have achieved remains in the family line.

Most drow marriages are monogamous, not due to moral or religious doctrine, but because few drow are willing to allow more than one other individual that close to them on a regular basis. A few drow marriages do involve multiple partners, however. These arrangements usually involve a single drow female taking numerous male partners, but other combinations are not unheard of.

Although such an occurrence is rare indeed, some drow do fall in love with other drow—or, although it happens so rarely that it’s practically a myth, members of some other race. For the drow, who are accustomed to thinking only of their own good, the sudden urge to consider someone else’s well-being is a strange and frightening experience. Many drow react violently to love, seeking to destroy the object of their affections before they are further “corrupted” by the odd sensations.

Those who don’t become violent usually make every effort to either impress or dominate the object of their affections, depending on their relative social standing. A drow in love with someone of a higher status seeks to increase her own authority, hoping her desired paramour will notice her and consider her worthy of an alliance, or at least of increased socialization. If the smitten drow is of higher status, she often seeks to acquire the object of her affection as a servant or slave, for even the most loving drow sees little difference between intimacy and possession.

The rarest event in drow culture is when two drow share affection for one another equally. The number of loving partnerships throughout drow history can probably be counted on a single drow’s fi ngers, but they often become an almost unstoppable force in society. Two drow willing to combine efforts and resources to that great a degree, particularly if they have influence in different but synergistic areas of society, are potent indeed. However, because even the most loving drow can never fully trust one another—it just isn’t in their nature—these rare couples often fall apart under the weight of betrayal, or even suspicions of a betrayal that never actually occurred.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:32 am
Magic and Technology

Even though the drow consider magic a normal part of everyday life, they are also a remarkably high-tech society when it comes to mundane arts and sciences. These cunning people know far better than to rely entirely on magic; not all of them are skilled in that field, after all, and as magic-resistant creatures themselves, they know that even the most powerful spellcaster cannot always attain a desired goal.

Much of drow technology is focused on stealth, secrecy, and miniaturization. It is believed that the drow developed the first hand crossbows, and their arsenal also includes spring-loaded dagger sheaths and telescoping blades. Their arms, armor, and fortification are based on the same techniques used by the surface elves (including their penchant for mithral), but they have evolved to make use of more stonework and heavy metals after generations underground. Although the drow appreciate an attractive tool or weapon, they are far more concerned with functionality and, when appropriate, ease of concealment, than they are with appearance.

The drow are masters not only of metallurgy, but of stonemasonry, engineering, and alchemy as well. They are particularly
skilled at the art of brewing poisons, and a single drow community might include a wider variety of toxin samples than an entire nation of surface-dwellers. Many of these poisons utilize spider venom as their primary ingredient, but venom extracted from animals, fungi, plants, or any other source is also a common baseline. As might be expected, the drow are almost as skilled with antidotes as they are with poisons, and sometimes the winner of an interhouse conflict is the one who first comes up with an obscure poison for which the other lacks an antidote.

Many drow throughout the years have been truly inspired alchemists and inventors. One or more drow have possessed the secret of spring-and-cogdriven clocks, tinderless lighters, moveable type, black powder, and even (briefly) very primitive steam-powered pistons. The individualist nature of the drow, combined with their constant exposure to conflict, inspires creation and discovery at almost the rate of the human race—sometimes even faster. Those same factors prevent drow from sharing their discoveries with others, and such wonders are frequently lost when the inventor’s enemies learn of her new innovation and strike before it can be turned against them. Every one of the above examples, and more besides, have been invented over and over throughout drow history, only to be lost and forgotten just as often.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:33 am

The drow have a saying regarding the waging of war. “If you allow the enemy to strike back, the first battle is already lost.” The drow do not believe in large, overt confrontations, with soldier meeting soldier on the field of battle, arrows and spells flashing by overhead as spear meets shield and sword meets sword. They’ll fight that way if they must, but they greatly prefer tactics that involve stealth, surprise, multipronged assaults, or sabotage—anything that allows them to win a battle before the foe has an opportunity to retaliate.

Almost all drow learn the basics of combat during their schooling—the better to survive in their violent society—but only a few of them study warfare, strategy, and tactics to a professional degree. The drow instinct for self-preservation discourages them from becoming career soldiers, so those who do are valuable commodities: Many obtain surprising amounts of influence with a house or the church, or make a good living as mercenaries. Military officers train not only in standard tactics of siege and battlefield confrontation, but in techniques of covert troop movement, counterintelligence, and diversionary tactics (up to and including the sacrifice of one’s own personnel). Drow tactics involve mundane weapons and magic in equal measure. If given the resources, they are as likely to use teleportation as a means of infiltration as anything else. Their strategies usually involve small, carefully placed strike teams. These highly skilled units carry out assassination or sabotage, and often reduce or eliminate the need for a larger force.

When drow do wage war, they focus their might primarily on the opposition’s officers and rulers, making every effort to behead the opposing leadership and thus render the army ineffectual. Barring that, they target supply lines or poison food stores, resorting to direct confrontation only when all else has failed. Drow prefer to be the aggressors in any military action, and their strategies are designed with offense in mind. When faced with an attacking force, they still attempt to make use of smaller groups as described above, but they are far more likely to field a large force of troops—if only to delay the advance while their operatives work, or while the drow leaders retreat to safer, better-hidden locations. Some drow fortresses have no viable mundane entrance and require magic to access. Although this method of construction makes supplying the fortress difficult, many drow have found the effort worthwhile when an enemy proved incapable of breaking in.

The greatest problem the drow have with fi ghting a defensive battle, as opposed to an offensive one, is determining who is in command of the war effort. Drow do not have standing armies that answer to the community itself; all military forces belong to a house, the priesthood, or other private factions. Most drow attacks are launched by a specific house, or at the instigation of the church, and thus have a clear chain of command. Conversely, more than one drow city has fallen to aggressors because local houses could not cooperate suffi ciently to coordinate their soldiers, even in the face of outside invasion. The best-defended drow cities have a house (or two) potent enough to force the others into obedience, or a priesthood strong enough to assume citywide command for the duration of the assault. A few forward-thinking communities even have treaties in effect between the church and the major houses, dictating who controls what in the event of outside attack.

The majority of drow warfare consists of battle against other cities—be they drow or other races. Sometimes, however, the constant spying, sabotage, and assassinations between rival houses erupts into civil war within a city. This sort of confl ict can easily destroy an entire community if it is allowed to drag on; thus, the drow have very strict customs for dealing with civil wars. If one house can destroy another in a single overwhelming attack, the community assumes that the victim was weak and ripe for takeover. In this case, the victorious house is entitled to the spoils of war, including the resources of the fallen house and the right to take its surviving members as slaves. Should a house’s offensive fail to destroy another house immediately, however, the other local houses and the priesthood of Lolth collaborate to aid the target house in destroying the aggressor.

This action ensures that no civil war lasts longer than a few days in any drow community, and that no house launches an open attack on a rival unless it is certain it can win. The vast majority of drow soldiers (and, for that matter, hunters and adventurers as well) are males. Female drow have other avenues to power that are quicker and relatively safer. Military rank is one of the few positions of real power available to male drow, making it a favored goal of the gender. That said, many drow soldiers, hunters, and adventurers don’t necessarily seek authority, but simply relish the opportunity to thrive away from their domineering female relatives.

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PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2011 2:51 pm

Most drow art incorporates some degree of religious symbolism. It might represent Lolth or some sort of arachnid, or it might depict a powerful ancestor of the artist. The drow are fond of abstract weblike patterns, and rarely create landscapes or still-life images. Even when the images are not abstract, they are relatively simplistic.

The overwhelming majority of drow art has some threedimensional or tactile component; sculpture, statues, embossing, and engraving are all popular. Simple painting is considered a far lesser art form, a mere intermediary step toward “true” artistic ability. Sculptures and paintings both tend toward black, white, and shades of gray. Color is rare in drow artwork, for the simple reason that the art is often created and/or displayed in the darkness, visible by darkvision only. When a drow does include color in a piece of art, it is frequently intended to alter the meaning of the image. For instance, one famous artist was best known for an image of drow priestesses sacrificing surface elf maidens clad in grasses, flowers, and everything else the drow associate with surface weakness. When viewed in the light, however, what appeared to be the shadows of the priestesses over the victims turned out to be the victim’s skin, as dark as any drow’s. This suggests that the artist was equating some drow—perhaps a political rival—with the elves of the surface.

When they create jewelry, the drow do so to show off wealth (and power, by extension), not to be attractive. Dark elf baubles are quite gaudy by surface standards, made of precious metals and containing far more gemstones than a human or even a dwarf would feel comfortable with.

Drow architecture is functional first, with aesthetics considered a distant second priority. The primary exception to this rule is, as might be expected, imagery of spiders and Lolth. All temples, most public buildings, and many private residences are replete with such images, because nobody wants to be accused of being insufficiently faithful.

Perhaps the strangest of drow art forms is their music. The children of Lolth enjoy strange, prolonged, wavering sounds that other races consider unappealing or even uncomfortable. These often seem atonal at first, but when combined through the proper techniques they produce a symphony of alien, haunting appeal. The dark elves possess a variety of unique instruments, including the vazhan-do, a complex lute with sixty-four strings that can be plucked swiftly for a torrent of notes, or bent slowly, producing a ghostly wail; and the ezhirkiri, a wind instrument that transforms the air blowing through it into the sound of agonized, yet strangely melodic, shrieks.

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PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2011 2:52 pm
Economy and Trade

The drow economy consists of three separate yet inextricably
intertwined systems of exchange, each of which is largely
specifi c to a particular social and political caste.
When dealing with drow of a lower station, such as when
a matriarch or priestess purchases goods from a vendor, the
race makes use of coinage—just as do most surface dwellers.
Gold, silver, and other precious metals have roughly the same
buying power in drow communities as they do elsewhere,
though the rate of exchange varies somewhat based on available
metals, scarcity of resources, and the mood of the drow
doing the shopping. The drow rarely mint their own coins,
preferring to make use of foreign monies brought in by outside
traders or taken in raids on other races. On those rare occasions
when they do mint coins, the results are exceptionally
plain, either totally unadorned or stamped with the signs of
Lolth and/or the house who produced them. The drow also
use coins when trading with others, unless the foreigner has
something of particular interest to sell. Although one low-ranking drow might use coins to purchase
goods or services from another low-ranking drow, the
standard form of exchange between relative equals is a system
of barter. A swordsmith might offer the neighboring baker a
new blade in exchange for a few weeks’ worth of bread. A cleric
might heal a wounded soldier, if the soldier in turn agrees to
kill someone to whom the cleric owes a debt. A priestess might
perform a marriage ceremony in exchange for several barrels
of fi ne lichen wine and a potion of invisibility. At the upper
levels of society, drow might trade slaves, individually or by
the dozens, in exchange for exotic animals, valuable works of
art, or access to a fertile mushroom farm.
The third practice, common only among the drow elite, is
the exchange of favors. This system creates a web of debts and
obligations that often stretches across the entirety of the house
and church leadership, frequently binding drow to complete
strangers by only one or two “steps.” A typical agreement of this
sort might resemble the following: “If you ally with me to prevent
the Matron of House Inlindl from gaining control of the
northern trade route, I will owe you a great favor in exchange.”
The interesting thing about this system of boons is that drow
actually prefer to pay off their debts as soon as possible. For a
drow, having too many obligations hanging over one’s head is
tantamount to political and social suicide. She cannot afford
to directly challenge anyone to whom she owes a great favor,
for fear of that favor being called in and ruining one of her
ongoing schemes. Additionally, high-caste drow often trade
favors to third parties, meaning that a matriarch might fi nd
herself suddenly obligated to someone with whom she would
never willingly have cooperated, or even someone she doesn’t
know. One might imagine that the drow would simply ignore
these commitments, but despite their selfi sh nature, very few
actually do so. They know that if they refuse to acknowledge
a legitimate debt, word will spread swiftly and nobody will
deal with them in the future. They might even fi nd the other
houses turning against them, seeking to eliminate the threat
to the system and the status quo.
Not even enlightened self-interest is always enough to keep
the drow honest, so a wise dark elf making one of these deals
often demands the exchange of promise tokens. These are small
baubles or pendants, often made of silver, that are engraved with
the symbol of the drow’s family or house. They are often also
marked invisibly, such as with the arcane mark spell. If a drow
refuses to honor a debt, the creditor might present the promise
token as evidence of the arrangement when besmirching her
name and seeking redress. Of course, it’s not impossible to fake
a promise token, but their frequent usage does make reneging
on a debt—or making one up—somewhat difficult.

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PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2011 2:54 pm
Drow Cities and Cartography

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PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2011 2:56 pm
Agriculture and Wildlife

A cave is a natural opening in rock that is large enough for creatures
to enter. The Underdark, simply put, consists of a linked
network of several titanic cave systems. Large portions of it do
fit the definition of “a natural opening in rock,” but the Underdark
also encompasses areas of deep water that hide coral caves,
hollowed-out sections of ice in which creatures live, and places
where fungus, bone, or even pure force form “caves.”
Underdark terrain is dynamic and changeable. A map drawn
a few decades ago may show tunnels that have long since collapsed,
or lakes that are now dry. Terrain can change gradually
over the course of decades, centuries, and millennia, or swiftly as
a result of an earthquake or volcanic eruption.
The surface world is marked by mighty mountains, high
plateaus, and vast plains. The Underdark possesses none of these
features, but it does have physical features all its own. Unlike the
surface world, the Underdark is uniquely three-dimensional.
Knowing the direction of true north is not enough to navigate
the Realms Below; a traveler must also know the depth underground
of her destination. It is possible to find the correct coordinates
but still be several miles too deep or too shallow.
Many of the Underdark’s features can be explained as nothing
more than the results of purely physical forces, albeit sometimes
on a grand scale. Other features would be unlikely or even
impossible in worlds where magic, elementals, planar interstices,
and divine caprice did not help to shape the deep places.
Vast, empty voids of awesome scope, Faerûn’s abysses are rare
features that can form insuperable barriers to travel. An abyss
is simply a great open space, sometimes many dozens of miles
in breadth and virtually bottomless. Some Underdark abysses
are scores of miles deep. The difference between an abyss and a
vault is difficult to define, but as a general rule, a vast space
approachable from its higher reaches is an abyss, while the same
space approachable from the floor might be better described as
a vault. Abysses tend to be larger and deeper than areas that are
considered vaults, but this is not always the case.
Like the starkest mountains of the Lands Above, abysses are
often completely impassable to anything without wings. Underdark
civilizations near such features sometimes carve out harrowing
ledge-paths to circle the tremendous void of the
neighboring abyss, or endless stairs to descend its walls.
Perhaps the most common topographical feature of the Underdark,
a cave system consists of a series of caverns and passages
that may stretch for miles. Caves can be formed by several
different methods, but the most common is the action of flowing
water. Cave systems often twist, turn, climb, and drop in a maddening fashion, forming three-dimensional mazes that
dishearten even the most determined mapmakers.
Caves vary widely in terms of their habitability. Living caves
that include streams or rivers are full of life (by Underdark standards)
and can often support surprisingly large populations, especially
of improbably large and ferocious monsters. Other caves
may be barren wastelands, without food or water.
Over the course of a hundred or more centuries, Faerûn’s deep
caverns and vaults have been expanded tremendously by the
delving of various Underdark races. Thus, the term dungeon
when applied to the Underdark means a structure excavated
from the surrounding rock by intelligent creatures. For example,
a great duergar city delved into the wall of a vault might be considered
a large dungeon, with halls and passageways extending
for miles from its entrance ways. Dungeon complexes often serve
to link two natural features (such as two or more vaults close to
each other) with a system of artificial caves that vastly extends
the scope of a natural cave system.
Dungeons come in two varieties—abandoned and occupied.
Since they are not sources of food or water in and of themselves,
empty dungeons do not necessarily attract Underdark settlers.
However, dungeons are often supremely well suited for defense,
and a dungeon that happens to be near a rich area such as a
living cave is almost certain to be occupied by something, even
if the original builders are long gone.

Just as on the surface, water can carve deep canyons and gorges
in the Underdark. An Underdark gorge is nothing more than a
cave that runs vertically instead of horizontally. Gorges often
feature streams (and therefore life and food), although the difficulty
of the terrain makes a gorge less desirable as a residence
than a living cave with less extreme topography.
Since gorges can run for many miles, they often serve as the
highways of the Underdark. Travel along the floor of a gorge
can be very difficult, but many Underdark races take steps to
improve these natural roads for the use of their own merchants
and hunters. Gorges also offer good opportunities to
change depth and perhaps access another level quickly, through
a little climbing.
Water is common in the Upperdark, since runoff from the surface
frequently drains into cave systems belowground. In many
areas, the water table is close enough to the surface that only the
most shallow cave systems can form. However, due to the
unusual factors involved in the creation of Faerûn’s Underdark,
a water table 20 feet belowground does not necessarily mean that
air-filled caves don’t exist at greater depths. Planar connections,
particularly to the planes of Earth and Water, make very
unlikely hydrology possible.
Any body of fresh water is called a lake. Underdark lakes
range in size from small pools to inland seas hundreds of miles
in extent. Large lakes typically occupy either tremendous vaults
or connected networks of partially submerged caves. The Lake
of Shadows and the Giant’s Chalice are examples the former
type, and the Darklake is an example of the latter. If a lake has
both an inlet and an outlet, its water is usually drinkable, but
lakes that are not refreshed from time to time may stagnate.
Most lakes are found in the Upperdark or Middledark. Bodies
of water that collect in the Lowerdark simply can’t drain to any
lower elevations, so they tend to be seas (brackish water) instead.
However, planar connections to the Elemental Plane of Water
mean that at least a few of the bodies of water in the Lowerdark
hold fresh water.
Large lakes can form the best and most accessible highways
of the Underdark. In many places, however, the cavern ceiling
descends to meet the water, making the lake impassable to all but
aquatic creatures.
Unlike gorges, rifts are not formed by erosion. Rather, they are
the scars of tremendous upheavals deep in the earth. Rifts are
places where vast blocks of stone rose, sunk, or slid past one
another in long-ago cataclysms, leaving tremendous chasms.
Rifts may be dozens or even hundreds of miles in length, and
sometimes miles deep, but they are rarely very wide—most are
less than a bowshot across.
Rifts sometimes break apart preexisting features such as cave
systems, presenting formidable obstacles to creatures traveling
through caves. In order to continue when faced with a rift, the
traveler must climb or descend to the appropriate level on the
far side. Like gorges, rifts often serve as vertical highways in the
Underdark, offering travelers the opportunity to change depth
with little fuss.
Underdark rivers tend to be swift, violent, and tortuous in their
windings. It is a rare river indeed that flows level and smooth for
more than a few miles at a time before disappearing into a deep
gorge or sinkhole in a fuming waterfall. Rivers are the great
builders of the Underdark, the natural force that sculpts great
caverns and brings lifegiving energy and food to sustain the
Underdark ecology. Most rivers are surrounded by a halo of
living caves, which can be valuable real estate indeed.
Perhaps the most wondrous of the Underdark’s features are the
vast, nighted seas of the deep earth. Seas are saltwater bodies, not
fresh, and most of them are found in the Lowerdark, though
Underdark seas also occur at higher spots beneath Faerûn’s surface
oceans. While air-filled cave systems may extend for dozens
or even hundreds of miles beneath the oceans above, or form airlocked
siphons of extraordinary size, these features are exceptional.
Most caves beneath large bodies of saltwater are simply
subterranean extensions of surface oceans.
Seas tend to form in the largest of vaults, occupying caverns
large enough to be miniature worlds in their own right. Like the
lakes, seas offer some of the best roads in the Underdark, and
many are heavily traveled.
Sometimes natural processes form deep pits or wells in the earth.
The shaft of such a structure may be carved out by water flowing
straight downward in a subterranean waterfall, or created by
volcanic activity. Unlike a gorge or a rift, a shaft tends to be a
relatively small feature (usually less than a bowshot in diameter),
but it may plummet for miles straight down.
Because of their relatively small cross-sections, shafts often
serve to channel air movement between disparate portions of the
Underdark. In places where the conditions are extreme (for
example, a shaft near a superheated magma chamber), the air
movement can also be extreme. Screaming winds might roar up
or down a shaft in a scouring blast that would put a hurricane to
shame. Sometimes, cave systems “breathe” in conjunction with
changes in the surface world above, resulting in tremendous
rushes of wind in and out through shafts every day.
A tunnel is simply a passage that connects one place with
another. Most are cut by creatures, though some are the results
of natural movements of the earth and other forces. Underdark
races often cut very ambitious tunnels to link multiple cave systems.
Though such dreary passageways may be dozens of miles in
length, most are only 10 or 20 feet across. Other tunnels are the
work of burrowing monsters such as delvers, purple worms, and
umber hulks. These “natural” tunnels may be twisting, turning
mazes of intersecting passages.
Tunnels are some of the Underdark’s most useful roads, but
they severely restrict a traveler’s options. If you don’t like where a tunnel leads, you really have no choice but to go back the way
you came. Tunnels also offer few hiding places for those who
cannot blend in with stone, so often the only way to get away
from a predator is to run—and hope you’re faster.
The higher reaches of the Underdark consist of immense networks
of relatively small caves, but as a traveler descends, the
number of caves decreases while the size of the individual caves
increases. A large cave near the surface may consist of a few
dozen linked chambers, each perhaps a few hundred feet long
and a few dozen feet wide. But deeper down are openings in the
earth that dwarf any surface dweller’s conception of a cave.
A typical vault may be 2 to 4 miles across and as much as 1
mile high. Some, however, sprawl for 50 miles or more and reach
heights of 5 or 6 miles from the floor. Larger vaults often feature
immense columns—huge piers of natural rock that help to
buttress the soaring ceiling. Some were formed by unthinkably
massive pieces of the world grinding past each other in the very
dawn of time, others by the influence of the Underdark’s native
magic, and still others by the confluence of planar characteristics
in buried planar connections. However it was formed, a vault
is a world in miniature, with its own streams, lakes, hills, and
plateaus all contained in a single vast cavern.
Vaults are almost always highly desirable territories, since
they usually offer enough space and resources to support huge
forests of fungus, moss, and other strange growths. By Underdark
standards, most vaults teem with life, so it comes as no
surprise that they support the most powerful and numerous
of Underdark settlements. Some stories even tell of illuminated
vaults, places where sun-bright crystals in the ceilings blaze
with the intensity of true daylight and support green plants and
surfacelike fauna in abundance.
It is not universally true in Faerûn that descending 40 or 50
miles straight down in any spot brings a traveler to magma. Volcanic
activity is extremely variable in the Underdark. Isolated
pools of magma seep up almost to the surface in all sorts of
places without any other volcanic activity, and in other places
deep tunnels and vaults support humanoid settlements at depths
where magma should be all that’s present. Again, planar anomalies,
deific intervention, and the powerful magic of the earth
itself are likely to blame. Whatever the cause of these surprising
conditions, racing rivers of molten rock, caverns full of brimstone
and sulfurous reek, and scalding geysers and hot springs
can be found at almost any depth in the Underdark. Underdark
volcanoes aren’t really mountains—they are usually tremendous
fissures or magma chambers that can vomit deadly rivers of lava
into nearby caverns with little or no warning.

Besides its many predatory races and monsters, the Underdark is
also home to a variety of natural animals that live out their lives
normally below the ground. These animals include (but are not
limited to) bats, crickets (and cricket droppings and eggs), eyeless
cavefish and crayfish, springfish, salamanders, rats, flies and
gnats, and spiders. Additionally, it is not unusual for creatures in
the Upperdark to encounter the occasional raccoon, frog, stray
dog, or even lost dwarf, elf, or other representative of a surface
race who has accidentally fallen down a deep shaft or well.
Plants of one kind or another are the beginning of any food
chain. By organizing inorganic minerals and capturing the
energy of sunlight, plants create food that animals of all kinds
depend on. Since plants in the Underdark do not have access to
sunlight, they must make food by other means. Thus, most take
very different forms than the green plants of the surface world.
Most of the Underdark’s plant life consists of a tremendous
variety of fungi. Fungus normally requires some amount of
detritus or decaying material to thrive. So where does the fungus
find its food? The answer is simple: magic. The natural magical
radiation of the Underdark and its various planar connections
support many weird fungal growths, as well as lichens, mosses,
and other simple plants, whose existence would otherwise be
impossible. In effect, faerzress is the sunlight of the Underdark,
forming the basis of the subterranean food chain. Underdark
regions particularly rich in faerzress or planar energies have
been known to support fantastic forests of pale, gnarled trees or
crystalline plants. These growths are completely adapted to their
lightless, hostile environment.
Surprisingly, however, green plants are not entirely absent
from the Underdark. Some caverns illuminated by particularly
bright radiant crystals can actually support green plants. Caves
with this sort of dazzling illumination might be filled with grass,
moss, ferns, creepers, or even small trees. Any such place is a
treasure beyond price in the Underdark, and it is certain to be
guarded by deadly spells, monstrous guardians, or both.
Barrelstalk: Stout as a hogshead of ale, the barrelstalk is a
large, cask-shaped fungus that grows up to 8 feet in height and
5 feet in diameter. Its outer layers are tough and woody, but its
inner flesh is edible, and its center is filled with a reservoir of
water (usually from 20 to 50 gallons) that can be tapped and
drained. The inner flesh turns black and poisonous when barrelstalk
begins producing spores, which happens after ten years
of growth.
Bluecap: The grain of the Underdark, bluecap fungus is inedible
to humanoids, but its spores can be ground to make a nutritious,
if bland, flour. Bread made from bluecap flour is usually
known as sporebread. Bluecap seems to do well with or without
faerzress, and most Underdark humanoids cultivate it.
Cave Moss: Found only in faerzress-rich regions, cave moss
is inedible to humanoids, but it is a favorite grazing food of some
giant vermin, as well as rothé.
Fire Lichen: Pale orange-white in color, fire lichen thrives on
warmth, so it grows in regions of geothermal heat or near connections
to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Fire lichen can be
ground and fermented into a hot, spicy paste, which is often
spread on sporebread to give it flavor. Duergar ferment fire
lichen into a fiercely hot liquor.
Luurden: Luurden, or bloodfruit, is a rare tree that grows
only in areas of strong faerzress. The barren branches of this
pale, gnarled tree seem more dead than alive, but once every 3
to 4 years, it produces a small amount of bitter red fruit that is
used to make rare Underdark wines and elixirs.
Ripplebark: A shelflike fungus that resembles nothing so
much as a mass of rotting flesh, ripplebark is surprisingly edible
without any special preparation, although it tastes much better
if cooked properly. Ripplebark grows naturally in living caves.
Sussur: Rare and magical, the so-called “deeproot” tree is
found only in the largest of caverns. It can grow to a height of
60 feet, and its branches are long and gnarled, with banyanlike aerial roots. Few leaves grow on the sussur; it exists almost
entirely on faerzress and is often found in caverns where wizard
fire is prevalent. a sussur treecan drink in magic from its environs,
so most sussurs are surrounded by antimagic fields that
extend for hundreds of feet.
Waterorb: This bulbous fungus is aquatic. It grows in boulderlike
patches underwater wherever the water deposits detritus.
Zurkhwood: This giant mushroom can reach a height of 30 to
40 feet. Its large spores are edible with proper preparation, but
zurkhwood is important primarily because its stalks are hard and
woody. Zurkhwood is one of the very few sources of timber (or
anything like it) in the Underdark, and many items that would
be crafted from wood in the surface world are fashioned from
zurkhwood in the Realms Below.
The Underdark supports a surprising variety of animals. A few
herbivores exist there, but most are predatory in the extreme.
Many mundane hunting animals, including bears, lions, bats,
rats, and monsters of all sorts, can be found in cozy underground
lairs near the surface. In deeper places, animals must shift from
the surface world ecology to the Underdark ecology. Many surface
creatures are ill suited for such shifts and therefore cannot
be found more than a few hundred feet from a cave mouth,
except for places where a surface ecology is somehow maintained
in the Underdark.
Bats: Better adapted to a life in darkness than most other
animals, bats are extremely common in the Upperdark and Middledark.
Only the lowest, most inhospitable reaches are free of
these creatures, and even then, monstrous varieties such as dire
bats and deep bats flourish. Near the surface, these creatures are
simply surface-world bats that lair in Underdark caverns. Titanic
roosts that house many thousands of such creatures can be found
in some spots. Lower down, most Underdark bats are fungivores
or insectivores.
Fish: Many of the rivers, lakes, and seas of the Underdark are
filled with cave fish. For the most part, such fish are small, pale,
relatively inoffensive creatures. Most are blind, though some
that reside in illuminated caverns may retain their eyes. In the
larger bodies of water, subterranean versions of dangerous fish
such as sharks may be found. Cave fish need something to eat, of
course, so isolated lakes don’t support cave fish populations
unless they’re large enough to support plant life that can survive
in absolute darkness.
Lizards: the Underdark is home to a variety of lizards, ranging
from the poisonous spitting crawler to the wild varieties of
pack lizards and riding lizards. Some are fungivores; others are
dangerous hunters that can easily make a meal out of a human.
Domesticated giant lizards are commonly used as beasts of
burden and mounts in drow and duergar settlements.
Rothé: These grazing, muskoxlike creatures are well adapted
for life in the depths. Subsisting on fungi, moss, lichen, and
almost anything else that grows in the Underdark, rothé are
highly valued by most Underdark races and often kept in large
Vermin: Perhaps the most common of all Underdark creatures
are vermin. The versions native to the Realms Below range from mundane creatures the size of a mite to Gargantuan spiders
and centipedes. Many, such as giant beetles and cave crickets,
are fungivores, but varieties of deadly hunting vermin such
as spiders and scorpions also infest the depths. The Underdark
races keep some of the edible ones (mostly beetles or crickets) as
livestock of a sort, but few vermin are palatable, and the giant
sort are simply too dangerous to keep.

~How & Why~Worship & Deities~Hierarchy & Law~Classes & Education~Family Life~Romance~Magic~Warfare~Craftwork~Economy & Trade~Drow Cities and Cartography~Agriculture & Wildlife~
Legends of the Underdark

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