Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drow & Drow Noble

The drow need no introduction.  But if you’re tired of spiders and demons, they might need some reimagining.

The elves on the world of Pelarin appear much like the elves of any other world.  In truth, they have a terrible secret no humans suspect.  Despite their chaotic-leaning natures, Pelarin’s elves are part of a rigid caste system, ruled from below the earth by the more magical drow and their born leaders, the drow nobles.  Typically they rule by benign neglect, but every village counsel fears the day when the dusky-skinned emissaries from The Court Below come calling.  Their requests—orders, if truth be told—seem innocuous enough, but they are not to be questioned under pain of disappearance, curses, and death.  And rumors bubble from underground about dark cities illuminated by crystals, massive slave armies, and the maintenance of great and terrible machines with the power to move continents.

Like gnomes, elves on the Cairn Isles used to belong to the realm of the fey.  But then an elf queen set herself up as a figure of worship: the Spider Bride.  As a punishment, the elves were exiled to the human world and made mortal.  In a cruel irony, the Spider Bride and her followers were the only elves not stripped of their innate fey magicks—the strange arachnid entity they worship having preserved their powers while staining their skins and souls.

In the Void, drow are pirates, their mantis-armed ships claiming every vessel they can snatch.  Only the vilest ports will harbor them willingly, but their ability to summon fiends in the void—an almost unheard of feat in the metaphysical turmoil of the æther—means many ports are forced to harbor them unwillingly.  If the drow do not control the spaceways, it is because they lack the resources, having blown up their own homeworld—now an atmosphere field of continent-sized asteroid shards.

Pathfinder Bestiary 114–115

The drow are victims of their own success.  The definitely evil (and wildly popular) subrace that, thanks to the success of the R. A. Salvatore novels, jumped the shark and became the definitely emo (and even more wildly popular) antihero race. 

So rehabbing and reimagining the drow has become a mandatory activity for setting designers.  Andy Collins sent his to the moon in Dungeon’s 3.0 Spelljammer reboot, Keith Baker had them emulating scorpions on Eberron, and Paizo’s “Second Darkness” Adventure Path doubled down on the mandatory evil and demon worshipping.  (Speaking of which, James Jacobs’s thoughts on this subject in the forward to Pathfinder Adventure Path 13’s “Shadow in the Sky” are required reading.) 

I once even spent most of a (short-lived) blog on the subject.  Looking back, I miss working on that blog—I’m actually pretty proud of it—and wish I’d been a little less ambitious (it might have lasted longer if I had).  It was called On Beyond Drow, of course.

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