Monday, February 8, 2010

Something Wicked: The Drow

"The tiers and dungeons of Erelhei-Cinlu reek of debauchery and decadence...Unspeakable things transpire where the evil and jaded creatures seek pleasure, pain, excitement, or arcane knowledge, and sometimes these seekers find they are victims."

- Gary Gygax, Vault of the Drow

Like regular elves, drow provoke ambivalence in the collecitve gamer heart. Thanks mostly to R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt do'Urden books, and an enduring viusal appeal (at least the drow females), they have a prominent place in tabletop and computer rpgs. On the other hand, charges of implicit racism and sexism, and general blacklash against overexposure, fan flames in many a message board thread.

Having never read a Drizzt novel (and never intending to, honestly), my appreciation of the drow comes mainly from the AD&D D and Q modules that dealt with them. There, they were exotic and powerful adversaries. Then came Unearthed Arcana, which gave us drow as a (somewhat overpowered) player character race. Players always like more options--particularly "cool" ones--but there the seeds were sown for over-familiarity and the contempt which usually follows.

So in trying to do a little re-imagining of the drow for my current campaign world, I wanted to chart a course between the purely villainous drow of the early D&D modules, and the posing, voluptuous viragos and emo-Elric wannabes of today. Since I've conceived the world's "high elves" as posthuman, glam anarcho-capitalists, and the "gray elves" as alien beings partaking of the melancholic sense of "passing" found in Tolkien's elves and Yag-kosha in Howard's "Tower of the Elephant," it seems proper to me that the dark elves should have pulp roots growing though Lovecraft's K'n-yan, and Clark Ashton Smithian decadence, which break the surface in the vicinity of Hellraiser, along the Left Hand Path, posted with fuzzy LaVey philosophy.

"Do what thou wilt" shall be the whole of Drow law, I think.

"free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy...all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."

- H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"

Like all the aethyr, the elves of the world of Arn, the drau, or "drow," are beings aligned to extraplanar chaos. Unlike the other elves, who are general beneficent, and aligned to the extraplanar power of "good," drow have chosen the path of egotism without concern for concepts like morality, and have aligned themselves with "evil."

These philosophical differences long ago caused a schism among the elves, and led to the drow being driven underground. There, they nurse their ancient enmities and plan for a chance at revenge.  They past the time until that day in strange pleasures--byzantine intrigues, arcane drugs, elaborate assassinations, and baroque orgies. 

The primary goddess of the drow is Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. Like all demons, Lolth seeks the destruction of all matter and form, the dissolution of the multiverse, and a return to a state of pure chaos--but she wishes to enjoy every sensation and fulfill every other desire prior to that end. She offers her faithful the same reward, and finds her chosen people enthusiastic followers.

There are legends that hold that Lolth was once an elven sorceress in a time before there were drow. In the pursuit of knowledge and experience beyond what she could find on this plane, Lolth trafficked with demons from the Abyss. Tricked by a demon lord and cast into the abyssal depths, Lolth was forced to live through a myriad of lives, deaths, and physical forms, experiencing all the inhuman horrors and pleasures that fiendish minds older than the earth can conceive. After lifetimes, she arrived at the realm of the demon lord, who she thanked--and then slew. At that moment, a new demon queen was born.

Drow are often as ambitious as their goddess. Implicit in her teachings is the opportunity for any drow to ascend and claim her power for their own.

Lolth sits at the center of her demonweb and waits, nourishing herself on the partially dissolved souls of those who have challenged her before.

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