I have already elaborated at length as to why I do not like drow-as-written, and since I do not expect WotC
to give this iconic Underdark race any depth, Josh and I came up with a different origin and flavor to back them up. As always, let me know what you think.
During the Sundering, the elves opened up gates that allowed them to evacuate to the moon. Other things made it there as well, or later—which we will cover in a blogpost specifically about the Feywild/Faerie/Wyld/whatever we end up calling it—but not everyone did.
Like the drow.
The drow were in a bad place at a bad time. When the barriers between words was shattered, each plane, with their own rules, layout, and denizens tried to fill in the gaps. The severity and end result of which plane, if any, would come out on top in any given place was...unpredictable to say the least; not only were the drow unable to maintain their own gate, but their home was flung into the far reaches of the Astral, and it was assumed that they were lost or destroyed.
They were not.
Drow dwell within the dark regions of the Astral, venturing forth to ambush astral vessels or hunt, though some houses are willing to trade or hire themselves out. Their homes are large motes of stone that vary in size and shape—though generally the more powerful the colony, the larger the mote—and riddled with numerous passages (think floating termite columns). Though gravity on the Astral is usually subjective, these tunnel networks are still useful in disorienting intruders, making it easy to separate and dispatch them.
For the most part drow are similar to other elves, except that their skin is very pale, and in some cases semi-translucent. Hair color is generally black or white, but other colors can manifest as a result of one or more transmutations.
Drow undergo ritualistic transmutations as reward for their accomplishments. These can range from additional eyes or limbs, venomous fangs, chitinous skin, and so on. As a rule of thumb the more spider-like a drow appears, the more powerful it is. For D&D, this would be reflected as optional powers that you can add to drow (boosting their XP value), while for Dungeon World this would just add moves.
We are sticking with the matriarchal society, but alignment-wise they would range from Lawful Evil to Neutral Evil, or either Neutral or Evil in Dungeon World parlance. Definitely toning down the random betrayals and murder, as there is really no way that any kind of meaningful society could flourish if almost everyone was Chaotic Evil. Plus, I want there to be other reasons for drow adventurers beyond "inexplicably good renegade".
We are also kicking around the idea of giving them something like a "hive mind", making them like Borg, only with spider-bits instead of machines. I think this would be more appropriate if their insect theme was ants or wasps, but as with the alignment shift above I want to make sure that there is a fairly easy way to play a drow.
At the top of the food chain is the Spider Queen. She appears as a drider, but her entire body is covered in a hardened carapace, and there is little to indicate that she was once an elf. I imagine her face being a largely expressionless mask—kind of like that scene in Mimic where they realize that the bugs are mimicking them—behind which is a grotesque conglomeration of eyes, mandibles, and hair.
The drow worship and offer sacrifices to her, making her the source of their divine magic and considerably powerful, comparable to Asmodeus (Next), an apocalypse dragon (Dungeon World), or a level 30+ solo controller (4th Edition D&D).
The typical rank-and-file warrior retains most of its elven appearance. They wield swords (often times two), poisoned javelins, and wear a kind of carapace armor that is mechanically identical to studded leather.
As for spell-like abilities, I am shying away from faerie fire and levitate. Darkness is fine, but I think giving them something like web, the ability to envenom one of their weapons, or even something more mundane like advantage on climb checks makes more sense.
Spiderships are, as their name implies, vessels built in the shape of a spider, complete with articulated limbs. I am thinking something like the Necron tomb spiders. Raiders attack by initially launching a salvo of ballista bolts at a vessel. Cables attached to the bolts allow their warriors to board while preventing escape.
Puppeteers specialize in telekinetic magic. This allows them to manipulate the legs, which they use to grasp onto ships, either to prevent them from escaping or to just crush them. The "strands" are visible to anyone able to detect magic, and can be severed with either abjuration magic or a cold iron weapon.