A Sundered World: Drow Draft

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 laterwhich we will cover in a blogpost specifically about the Feywild/Faerie/Wyld/whatever we end up calling itbut 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 matrons look similar to the Spider-Queen, but the humanoid half of their bodies are still mostly recognizable as elf. Each drow house is lead by a single matron. They are very capable in combat and able to channel powerful divine magic, but tend to keep a handful of heavily mutated warriors (aka, royal guard) on hand just in case.

Priests are drow that have yet received the same "gift" that their matrons have, but are still trained in martial combat—wielding daggers or swords instead of snake-whips—and have access to divine magic.

Warriors who prove themselves enough are elevated to royal guard, ranked just beneath the priests that they are assigned to protect. It is because of this that they are the subject of numerous transmutations, oftentimes retaining only a vaguely humanoid shape.

Weavers are arcanists that specialize in thematic "spider" magic: they can summon spiders—including spider-like demons and devils—conjure sheets of webs, bind creatures, poison, and such.

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.


  1. Speaking as a huge Drizzt fan, this is a very interesting take on the drow.
    Thanks for clearing up the existance of Driders. I was always confused because some sources said it was a gift, others said it was a curse, SO confusing before.

    It feels like you took away what makes them unique and turned them into spider-themed Githyanki-borg. The intrigue behind everything they do is why they are fun to use. The aforementioned Drizzt books explain how their society functions without falling apart in a decade. It all boils down to this: If you are caught when you obliterate a rival, you will be sacrificed to Lolth. If you're not, then you get blessed instead. With this basic law, it usually takes years to decades to plan the downfall of a house, maybe a few months to a few years to plan a single assassination, and every alliance must be meticulously plotted out by each party.

    As for good drow, I have developed a character concept that is not evil or an 'inexplicably good renegade'. Drow sorcerer/rogue. He showed signs of a strange, unknown magical power (wild magic), and his upbringing emphasized maximizing the ability rather than instilling him with a fear of Lolth. His house was destroyed when his training was almost complete, and he changed hands in this manner a few more times before he finally got fed up and went topside. Of course, factions such as Bregan D'arth are still trying to manipulate him, control his mind, or otherwise harness his magic to their advantage.

    Drop the hive mind and put the intrigue back. I'm not a purist, mind you, but I still think that the Drow have an established niche that shouldn't be altered.

    lol that was long.

  2. In 2nd and maybe 3rd Edition, the drider was a curse. 4th Edition changed it into a blessing. To me, getting a spider-body and various other things, especially when your race is about that kind of thing, seems like an upside.

    I am not sure what unique things I took away; they are still evil, maintain a solid spider theme, have a matriarchal society, and so on. The main deviations are the lack of snake-whips, casual betrayal, and I guess one component of their alignment.

    The hive-mind bit was something that Josh suggested, and as I mentioned in the post not something I am too keen on because I /want/ drow to be a viable character race.

  3. The casual betrayal is actually a bigger part of the drow flavor than you realize. What you don't see is that their casual betrayal stems from a gain to be had through that course of action. If there is some form of gain, be it political, social, or monetary, the typical drow will stay faithful to his 'allies'. However, I will acknowledge that the typical drow disposition leads them to the conclusion that betrayal is much easier/more lucrative than alliance.

    A HUGE relief on the hive mind issue.

    Here is an additional, but not contradictory, detail that I think would add more depth to a drow-oriented campaign:

    The drow hate elves/eladrin (hereafter referred to as elves) because they felt betrayed by the fact that the elves did not look for them and left them for dead. This feeling of betrayal festered in their society, growing into a burning general hatred of all elves. Ironically, this betrayal reverberated throughout drow society and grew into a social norm.

    This makes every drow into a hippocrit. (pardon the spelling)
    What do you think?

  4. That is /exactly/ the angle we were going for: they felt abandoned, maybe even betrayed, forced to eke out an existence in the darkness while the rest of their kin got to live normal lives. Well, at least relatively normal.

  5. The idea I had for the Drow in Sundered World is that when the veil between worlds was rent and the planes bled together, the Elven colony that eventually became the Drow were trapped with an aggressive, invasive species of symbiotic organisms that mutated the race forever, and this is where their insectoid/arachnid thing came from.

    Initially this was my characterization of winter court fey, until Antioch had the idea that Drow could be their own separate thing. A lost elven colony if you will.

    The inspiration for Sundered World Drow for me, comes largely from Giger's techno-organic, almost chitinous designs for movies like Alien and Species. I pictured them as a marauding species of predators and an utterly terrifying foe, rather than a player option - so that's where the hive mind idea came in. For a player race though, there has to be a sense of individuality so instead I thought that Drow society could instead just have an ultimately utilitarian mindset wherein each sees it as his/her duty to work for the good of the entire collective, sort of like the Soviet ideal.

    The hive mind idea is something that we could revisit within another concept. I like China Mieville's idea of the Construct Council from his novel Perdido Street Station.

    Anonymous also reminds me that we have to do something with the Gith.

    As for the culture of casual and ubiquitous betrayal, for Sundered World that is more appropriate for cultures like Asmodeus and the Fey Winter Court, which I will detail in another blog post soon.

  6. A Soviet-like society works for me.

    As for Gith, the main question that needs to be answered is 'Why do they ride red dragons?'. Maybe something to do with Tiamet's corpse or an ancient artifact?

  7. It is because I dislike entire races being "evil" and such, that I specifically mention drow colonies that are willing to interact with other races. Some of them are very xenophobic and would kill on sight, but I do not think that all of them have to be like that.

    I also like the idea of the Soviet mindset, I just forgot to include it.

    As for gith, well, we still have stuff on modrons, chronomancers, the fey courts, celestials, and more "normal-ish" settlements to work on. They will be an interesting challenge, though.

  8. well, Gith are from the Astral Sea to begin with, so you don't have to change them that much.

  9. A thought on the hive-mind/soviet-like society to consider is something like Mercerism from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It's a religion based on a shared experience, where people use a machine to connect into a collective consciousness. It extends into an almost communist society with hints toward an empathic hive-mind with many personal goals common to everyone (like owning an animal), but each individual manages to retain their own unique and separate identities (arguably to varying success).

    I think it could be fit to Drow readily, drawing ties into their deeply entrenched spider worship and hatred of elfs. Granted, this could easily give them a "creepy cult" vibe, which may be good or bad.

  10. @Svafa:

    I completely forgot about that story!

    I need more Dick in my life, I guess.

    But yeah...going along with the whole spider motif of the Drow, the connectivity of a spider's web is what makes me think of the hive mind idea, like each drow is an intersection in a vast, intricate, world spanning web. I'd like to keep that aspect, but the sort of "dream web of shared experiences" is a great idea that allows for each Drow to remain an individual.

    As for Gith, I see them as being space spartans who behave a lot like Christopher Eccleston and his soldiers from 28 Days Later.

    The thing about Sundered World is that Antioch and I are not married to any existing D&D tropes...hell we STARTED by blowing up the world! We fully intend on turning old, familiar archetypes on their ear and spinning them into completely different directions. If we do our jobs right, we'll have a compelling starscape for players and GM's to explore.


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