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[OSSR]Double Bill: Drow of the Underdark
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 04, 2018 7:00 pm    Post subject: [OSSR]Double Bill: Drow of the Underdark Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OSSR: Double Bill

Drow of the Underdark





AncientH

What do you get when you combine the Player's Guide to the Sabbat with The Master Race's Handbook? Well, you either get a classic black-cover Forgotten Realms accessory or a shelfbreaker shovelware reject from the depths of the d20 era.

The Drow have a long and somewhat troubled history in D&D of being EVIL elves because...they...have dark skin. That sounds terrible and racist when you write it out like that, but it also helps that they live under ground and worship a demon spider, I guess?

Frank

The nominal idea behind the different editions of an RPG is that they are in fact different editions. So it's not actually weird that the different editions have books that have the same name. There's a Player's Handbook of every edition, and there's no particular reason that other editions can't duplicate popular titles like Deities and Demigods or Manual of the Places.


That is also a thing that happened.

There is always and forever a tug of war between the people who want to reuse names from previous editions and people who want books to have different names. The advantages and disadvantages are obvious: if you give your book for the new edition the same name as a book from the old edition, you let people familiar with the old edition know what your new book is about; and if you give it a new name you ensure that people understand that it's a different book. At any given moment, the upper hand will be with one group or the other, and I don't think that there's any hard evidence to show who is right and who is wrong. Heck, sometimes the upper hand will be had by both groups at the same time in arguments about different parts of the game line. So in 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons the new Manual of the Planes and new Deities and Demigods had the same name as the AD&D version, but the 3rd edition version of The Complete Priest's Handbook was called Defenders of the Faith.

Other games have similarly struggled with this exact problem for as long as there were new editions. The 2nd edition version of Shadow's Grimoire is simply called “The Grimoire 2.0,” while the 3rd edition version is called “Magic in the Shadows.” In Vampire, the clanbook for Ventrue has been done four times in different editions, as “Clanbook Ventrue,” as “Clanbook: Ventrue,” as “Dark Ages Ventrue,” and as “Ventrue: Lords Over the Damned.” In all cases the name of the book is simply “Ventrue,” but the superscript and/or postscript changes with the edition. Whitewolf being Whitewolf, they also made two other books called “Ventrue” which were not the Ventrue clanbook of any edition, with the novel “Clan Novel: Ventrue” and there's like a comic book from 2002 that is called “Vampire: The Masquerade: Ventrue.” Because of course there is.

But that underscores the underlying problems of repeating names. A new edition's books will presumably be different to at least some significant degree than books of the older editions. Picking up the 4th edition Player's Handbook won't give you the exact options that the 2nd or 3rd edition of that book did. And that causes real butthurt because in general even parts of your older edition that are relatively unpopular still have a significant number of fans in the fanbase. This was eventually codified as the “Gnome Problem” whereby it turns out that because RPG groups are 4 to 6 people that things which are liked by only 5% of the players are liked by somebody at about a quarter of the tables. Which makes major shakeups between editions into serious minefield territory.



This is from the video explaining why 4th edition added the Tiefling and subtracted the Gnome – it did not go over well.

Which is all kind of a long walk to explain that the 3.5 D&D book “Drow of the Undersark” is not a new edition of the 2nd edition AD&D Forgotten Realms Accessory Book “Drow of the Underdark.” It is an entirely new book that carries the same name for essentially no reason. It wouldn't surprise me if none of the writers of the 3.5 book had picked up a copy of the 2nd edition book in the ten years prior to having been tapped to write the new book with the same name. The are no people who overlap in the credits of the two books and there's no attempt at continuity between the two products. The books came out 16 years apart, and there is very little to connect the two other than name.

AncientH

You also forget the important thing that having the two books with the same name greatly confuses people that attempt to torrent the new book, since presumably scans of the old book will already be choking up their networks. Which is about as far as RPGs ever got when it came to digital copy protection that worked, since DRM is ass and if anybody actually seeded a bunch of lesbian pornography under the title "3.5 Player's Handbook" I never saw it.

Frank

The original Drow of the Underdark is book 2 of the Forgotten Realms Accessory series. In 2nd edition, they tried to have a set of distinct book lines that had different colored covers and had different themes. Other book lines included the Historical Reference series, the Campaign Reference series, and of course the far more notable series the Players Handbook Rules Supplement series. In any case, as far as I'm aware the Forgotten Realms Accessory series had ten books in it: Draconomicon, Drow of the Underdark, Pirates of the Fallen Stars, The Code of the Harpers, Elves of Evermeet, The Seven Sisters, Giantcraft, Pages From the Mages, Wizards and Rogues of the Realms, and Warriors and Priests of the Realms. Many of those books are super obscure, but chances are good that you've at least heard of a few of these.

Even a casual inspection of the contents will show you that the Forgotten Realms Accessory books are not meaningfully connected as a book line. It isn't like the PBRS books where there was mostly an agreed upon format and mostly a core mission statement for each book (even if it was just “talk about a class or race from the PHB until you run out of things to say and then babble on about whatever you're doing in your home campaign until you finish the required wordcount.”). The Forgotten Realms Accessories are just whatever the fuck the Forgotten Realms team felt like writing on any given month. And some of that stuff has a lot more traction and staying power than others.

The 3.5 version of Drow of the Underdark, by contrast, is not formally part of any book line, but is essentially formatted exactly like it was one of the “Races of [foo]” books that Andy Collins had masterminded back in 2004. It's even developed by Andy Collins. Now, by the time Drow of the Underdark came out, the Races of [foo] line had been officially discontinued for a year (somehow the powers that be didn't feel the book series needed to be continued after Races of the Dragon, which seems like a reasonable position to have). But it wouldn't surprise me a bit if this book had started its life as “Races of Darkness” and just got some shovelware text dumped into the Drow section and the vestigial Kuo-Toa text dumped in order to make it be technically different from the closed book line.

We've ranted about some of the books in the Races of Whatever series before, and Drow of the Underdark 3.5 is exactly like what would happen if you started writing one of those books with your first writing assignment to be about the Drow, and then you gibbered on for so fucking long that you overspent your wordcount for the entire book on just that part and ended up not only having too many pages overall, but no room at all for the other sections on the other races the book was supposed to include. So we're in for 216 pages of shovelware about Drow. That contrasts very sharply from Ed Greenwood's contribution, which was a 126 page rant by Ed Greenwood, pompous hallucinogenic tirades and all.



Ed Greenwood incorporated pretty much everything from AD&D into the Forgotten Realms, and that very much included the Drow. But it's important to remember that he started making the Forgotten Realms in 1967 and the first insane D&D booklets didn't come out until 1974. So there was a bit of work being done to harmonize the two projects. By the time Drow of the Underdark came out in 1991, there hadn't been any Forgotten Realms writings done outside the context of AD&D for more than a decade, but it's important to understand that Ed Greenwood's personal mind caulk about how the Drow from Descent to the Depths of the Earth fit into the Forgotten Realms was something that he came by honestly.

On the flip side of course, the authors of the 3.5 version were mercenary hacks who didn't give two shits and hadn't even written anything until WotC had taken over D&D. Since the first named author on this book was fucking born in 1974, the chances that any of them remember a time that there weren't any Drow in the Underdark is approximately zero.

AncientH

Drow as a concept are one thing you can't really lay on Tolkien. He had different types of elves, but none of them were actually evil, even if many of them were assholes. It's not even something that you can lay at the foot of Poul Anderson, since elves in The Broken Sword are basically amoral fae that don't mind raping trolls, stealing babies, or sleeping with their sisters. Gygax claimed:

Quote:
Drow are mentioned in Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, as I recall (it might have been The Secret Commonwealth--neither book is before me, and it is not all that important anyway), and as Dark Elves of evil nature, they served as an ideal basis for the creation of a unique new mythos designed especially for the AD&D game.


Which is important as far as the evolution of concepts go, but also because most of the actual material for the Drow wasn't written for D&D general, but for specific campaign settings - R. A. Salvatore has had an outsized influence on the perception of Drow in D&D even outside of the Forgotten Realms just because he's written a crap ton more about them than Gygax ever did.



Frank

A major question about the Drow in general is how extremely racist and sexist is the whole setup? Well, kinda a lot. But things are slightly more complicated than you'd think.



So yes, the Drow are like normal Elves except that instead of being light skinned and good, they are dark skinned and evil. And that's honestly pretty fucked up when you say it like that. The original Drow are actually based on Nordic fairy tales. The word “Drow” or “Trow” means pretty much the same thing as “Goblin” or “Troll” or “Elf” with the expectation that such creatures are evil or at the very least dangerous.


Source material is only sometimes sexy.

But with the Gygaxification of fairies, we had Dwarves and Elves being different things, but we also had distinct creature entries for Pixies, Sprites, Sylphs, Brownies, Goblins, Trolls, and all the rest. So bringing in a new dark skinned fairy creature of evil and then having that be “like the Elf we already have but dark skinned and evil” was a perfectly natural extension of the normal ways D&D had to expand the monster roster. It's just that of course if you do that, the thing you're going to make is going to sound racially insensitive. Because it genuinely is racially insensitive.


Gary Gygax wasn't like your Trump voting racist uncle, but he was a lot like your casually racist grandpa.

The Drow don't have skin the color of black people, they have actually night-black skin. Which isn't racially aggressive, it's just racially insensitive. With some thought, some empathy, and some work, you could potentially present them in a way that didn't make African Americans uncomfortable, and to my understanding no one at TSR or WotC ever thought they had to do that. Gygax and Greenwood have the excuse that they were relics from America's casually racist past, and the excuse of the 3.5 version is just nowhere near as good. All of the authors are white, and while I don't think they meant anything particularly racist by the portrayal of the Drow, they also don't take any action at all to distance themselves or their work from the obviously racially problematic imagery. And in 2007, that's just problematic all around.



The Sexism thing is a different story altogether. The Drow are an evil matriarchy led by sexy evil priestesses who have a black widow theme. The Drow are sexist. They were embarrassingly sexist in the eighties and they are embarrassingly sexist now. And in 2007 everyone knew they were embarrassingly sexist and WotC probably should have done something about that, but they didn't. Ed Greenwood didn't do anything to stop the sexism parade in 1991 because he was and is kindof a perv and has always endeavored to make sure that there was an ample supply of sexy bondage nuns available in every faction. I mean, not as much as Terry Goodkind loves his bondage nuns, but close. The opening fiction of the 1991 Drow of the Underdark involves Elminster (Ed Greenwood's self insert character) chilling with a naked Drow lady taking a bath. It doesn't get any more sensitive to gender issues later on.


Spider Cooch!

Anyway, it's difficult for me to imagine a real edition of D&D getting written today and have a book about Drow that didn't spend a lot of wordcount trying to reach out to blacks and women, because the original source material is pretty insulting to both groups in the sort of passively dickish way that fantasy often was in the 1970s. But while “times were like that” is a vaguely acceptable excuse for the material from 1977, when it comes to the material in 2007 I got nothing.

AncientH

I, on the other hand, have far less faith in humanity and have no doubt that not only would a contemporary RPG sourcebook double down on the issues, but they would probably call anyone that didn't like it an SJW cuck at the same time.



Frank and I harp on fantasy racism a lot because it is generally terribad in a sort of utterly lazy, contemptible way that a lot of bad fantasy is. They're the elves that dress in black and do freaky BDSM sex stuff with demons because it's edgy and cool. They are the Sabbat of D&D, and they serve the general narrative purpose of being stereotypes for your bad-guy needs at several different character levels. That means, to keep competitive, they need more material to work with - people were interested in the Drow. They wanted more. And TSR/WOTC would sell that to you.

Frank

A major question to be answered certainly is: who are these books intended to be for? They go into a lot of information that probably won't matter to the players if they are running around the city in full conquistador mode, and while there are minor attempts to write in things that might be useful for players who intended to play as Drow, these are not very compelling or complete. My impression is that these books represent the full rabbit hole: books whose intended audience was people who wanted to read about and imagine Dungeons & Dragons scenarios but weren't actually involved in a game as DM or player. There have been times in my life that I've simply read Dungeon Magazine adventures and imagined characters going through them, and that seems to be the rough wavelength of both the 1991 and the 2007 version.

As such, I'm really not sure how much I'm supposed to rag on these books for having terrible game mechanics. I mean, they totally do have extremely terrible game mechanics even by the admittedly lax standards of 2nd Edition AD&D or late-period 3.5 D&D shovelware, but I'm not convinced it matters. The Prestige Classes chapter spends 27 pages to tell you about 8 prestige classes that no player of 3.5 D&D has ever or will ever take. Is that a waste of space? Probably? But again, I'm not sure, because the purpose here obviously isn't that you actually play an Arachnomancer, it's that you read an entry and then think about a hypothetical Arachnomancer. It's extremely meta.

AncientH

I have actually played an Arachnomancer.

One of the issues with the Drow was fitting them in to your campaign: D&D has a lot of monster bloat, and while they were pretty bitchin' enemies in the first series for D&D, the playspace has expanded a lot since then and Drow have kind of taken a back seat - they aren't an evil empire set to conquer, in most campaign settings. They have their own cities, and trade in the Underdark, and have a feud with the surface elves, but there really isn't an ongoing racial war for the most part. That's partially because big events are hard to play out at the local game level. Most Drow and their equipment don't like sunlight, so these are the guys that come out for a nighttime ambush, maybe enslave a few people, and disappear. The fact that they can have class levels helps a lot in keeping individual Drow characters relevant as the PCs level up, but they still don't have some overriding need to attack the PCs like, say, Illithids do.

That's not necessarily a criticism unique to the Drow, but it's something to keep in mind: what are the dynamics at play in these books? What are the hooks for the characters, how do the Drow fit into a campaign?

Frank

The 2007 version is split into 7 chapters: All About the Drow, Drow Options, Prestige Classes, Drow Equipment, Monsters of the Underdark, Campaigns and Adventures, and finally “Erelhei-Cinlu,” which I assure you is the actual name of the chapter and not just me fucking with you. The 1991 version by contrast does not have chapters, and is just a series of short essays written by Ed Greenwood about Drow offered up in no particular order. There's some rough cognates in the first part of the book with the “All About the Drow” chapter, so at first there can be some serious apples to apples comparisons. But that's going to break down almost immediately and there just isn't anything we can do about that.

AncientH



Another thing to keep in mind...this was all for fun. This was writing a book aimed at people that presumably already liked Drow enough to write an entire book about Drow. It is still kind of amazing that people were actually paid to sit down and type out a book on Drow, and others got to illustrate it, and the whole thing went to press and then shipped to stores and people bought it. There are definitely sillier RPG books out there, and worse ones, but it's always amazing to me that there were enough people on more or less the same wavelength at the same time for there to be a book all about Dark Elves. Twice.

Frank





Next up: All About the Drow.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 4:15 am    Post subject: Re: [OSSR]Double Bill: Drow of the Underdark Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:

The Drow have a long and somewhat troubled history in D&D of being EVIL elves because...they...have dark skin. That sounds terrible and racist when you write it out like that, but it also helps that they live under ground and worship a demon spider, I guess?


I knew someone who instead went the WHFB route with them being extra pale with dark hair. Like vampires. Now, that could have been for like five different reasons:
1. He just went "No, this is too racist, sorry I can't do that."
2. He loved Warhammer and felt D&D should be more like that.
3. He went "No, darker skin happens near the equators where you get more sunlight, even underground animals tend to be weirdly pale."
4. As a Vampire player he just prefers sexy vampire ladies.
5. He's actually SUPER racist and just wants more white people everywhere.

It could be a combination of the above, but I know it wasn't 1 or 3.

Quote:
Which is about as far as RPGs ever got when it came to digital copy protection that worked, since DRM is ass and if anybody actually seeded a bunch of lesbian pornography under the title "3.5 Player's Handbook" I never saw it.


Back in the day when I was trying to find Rifts stuff on Kazaa and Limewire, I often came across "Olsen twins bare midrifts" as one of the top results if I didn't specifically look for "Rifts world book" or whatever.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

A lot of dark elf art these days tends less towards black skin and more towers blue, purple or even pink, at least in my experience.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've always had pale dark elves, even since I was like seventeen and running games in high school, primarily on grounds of Koumei's point 3. The evil underground elves being dark skinned stands out as being racist particularly because that is exactly the opposite of how living underground works.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Oh noes, the magic fae people don't follow real world science. Rolling Eyes

Wiseman wrote:
A lot of dark elf art these days tends less towards black skin and more towers blue, purple or even pink, at least in my experience.


I too experienced that.

In particular Warcraft's night elves drow.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You got lesbian porn if you downloaded 4e books off of /tg/. Granted, it was Touhou futa, but given how much of a clusterfuck 4e was, and how utterly useless the books became, the Touhou futa was the better deal.

Although sometimes it was dolphin dick. Still probably better than Essentials or anything to do with the Vampire class.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 7:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The art thing is typically because it's very hard to draw/paint a picture of someone who is literally 0,0,0 light. Going for something purple-ish or brown-ish or grey-ish lets you actually have different levels of shadows and highlights so you can more easily draw people and show what's happening.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:52 pm    Post subject: Re: [OSSR]Double Bill: Drow of the Underdark Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Koumei wrote:
Ancient History wrote:

The Drow have a long and somewhat troubled history in D&D of being EVIL elves because...they...have dark skin. That sounds terrible and racist when you write it out like that, but it also helps that they live under ground and worship a demon spider, I guess?


I knew someone who instead went the WHFB route with them being extra pale with dark hair. Like vampires.


Fun fact: they started out blue. Warhammer dark elves got retconned into super pale somewhere towards the end of 3rd or beginning of 4th. But when Warhammer Armies dropped for 3rd edition (circa 1988 or so), dark elves were ugly blue fuckers.




By the end, of course, they were nigh-indistinguishable from high elves, with the End Times bullshit as a reunion of the two branches.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 1:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I remember in someone else's discussion of DE and race somewhere on the net, they posted cover art for a D&D book in which the DE woman looked like a perfectly normal black woman, except for somewhat pointed ears.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:52 pm    Post subject: Re: [OSSR]Double Bill: Drow of the Underdark Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Koumei wrote:

I knew someone who instead went the WHFB route with them being extra pale with dark hair. Like vampires. Now, that could have been for like five different reasons:
1. He just went "No, this is too racist, sorry I can't do that."
2. He loved Warhammer and felt D&D should be more like that.
3. He went "No, darker skin happens near the equators where you get more sunlight, even underground animals tend to be weirdly pale."
4. As a Vampire player he just prefers sexy vampire ladies.
5. He's actually SUPER racist and just wants more white people everywhere.

It could be a combination of the above, but I know it wasn't 1 or 3.


When I first read about drow, #3 was my first thought. Sunlight makes skin darker and hair lighter. I wondered why they weren't super, instant-sunburn pale, with black hair. I was too naive to just assume "racism" at that point.


Wiseman wrote:
A lot of dark elf art these days tends less towards black skin and more towers blue, purple or even pink, at least in my experience.


From my understanding, the actual art came mostly from limitations in printing. Making fully-black creatures makes them very hard to see, so they tend to be depicted as other colors. This may have lead to some artistic license.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I appreciate you guys doing this OSSR. It is the only OSSR I've ever requested.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 7:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I don't know if it's just the places I've frequented on the internet or what but I see the Drow always catch a lot of flack for the racism and significantly less flack for the misogyny.

I mean don't get me wrong dark skin = bad/savage/unintelligent is lazy problematic world building that any halfway decent writer knows to avoid. But it still just feels lazy and not intentional. Drow culture (to the best of my knowledge) doesn't include any overt parallels to any historically dark skinned cultures which makes the implications unfortunate but largely due to lack of care. Once again this isn't an excuse or a dismissal and yes it's still wrong and dumb but...

I mean spider matriarchy where men are literally an oppressed second class under the leather clad heel of dominatrix spider priestesses who worship their dark goddess by fucking the giant spiders and engaging in blood orgies? This isn't just lazy this is an intentional design choice on the part of people who wanted to make it totally OK for the party to capture scantily clad dark elves and maybe beat a little information out of them and it's all totally above board doncha know because they're totally like, irredeemably evil and stuff. And also she's got a skeleton's hands for a bra and that's kind of hot.

But I think the worst part to me is they never actually Fixed this. It would be so easy to just rewrite the lore between editions. There are so many good fan reworks to make the Drow not stupid. Hell you could rework the society to be more like the trolls from fucking homestuck and it would still be less stupid. The drow are an entire race of wasted narrative potential because D&D decided they were married to the concept of evil spider matriarchy.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

shinimasu wrote:

I mean don't get me wrong dark skin = bad/savage/unintelligent is lazy problematic world building that any halfway decent writer knows to avoid. But it still just feels lazy and not intentional. Drow culture (to the best of my knowledge) doesn't include any overt parallels to any historically dark skinned cultures which makes the implications unfortunate but largely due to lack of care. Once again this isn't an excuse or a dismissal and yes it's still wrong and dumb but... I mean spider matriarchy where men are literally an oppressed second class under the leather clad heel of dominatrix spider priestesses who worship their dark goddess by fucking the giant spiders and engaging in blood orgies? This isn't just lazy this is an intentional design choice on the part of people who wanted to make it totally OK for the party to capture scantily clad dark elves and maybe beat a little information out of them and it's all totally above board doncha know because they're totally like, irredeemably evil and stuff. And also she's got a skeleton's hands for a bra and that's kind of hot.


wut

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evil spider matriarchy.


good fun for all.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

infected slut princess wrote:
good fun for all.

except the males
and the slaves
and the male slaves
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 12:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Hence the 'evil' adjective.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OSSR: Drow of the Underdark

All About The Drow


Is there more than sexy ladies with dark skin and pet spiders? Kinda.

AncientH

Quote:
It definitely wasn't easy, but you now hold the end result: a sourcebook exploring the fascinating, often deadly culture of the drow in (or rather, under) Faerun. Elminster helped, as did Susprina, but they both warn that much here is incomplete: adventurers may well learn more at their peril. Moreover, in the other worlds where they are found, drow may vary in customs and details from the information given herein. As The Old Mage says (all too often, it seems): Ye Have Been Warned.

Ed Greenwood had this thing where he would pretend the sourcebooks he wrote were more or less dictated from shit he'd heard Elminster say during his visits. Nobody old enough to read the book actually bought that line, but a a conceit, it's fair: you need some suspension of disbelief to get into the mood for these books, and you need some perspective from which to present the information - be that as an in-character document or an out-of-character survey, sometimes a mix of both. These books both went for out-of-character survey. There's a bit of fiction mixed in there, but for the most part nobody's pretending that these are in-character documents, like the Illithiad.

Frank

The beginning of the 2007 chapter is basically Bart Simpson's rant about a land of contrasts when he forgot to do the reading for his country report. It is somehow a paradox that people hate and fear the Drow but also don't know very much about them. Having lived through some amount of Cold War 1 and the beginnings of Cold War 2, I can say that this doesn't seem like much of a paradox at all. Basically, where the 1991 book is Ed Greenwood transliterating short, often hand-written notes into essay format, the 2007 book is shovelware composed by five people with word processors and every single line of this exhausting book is padded with bullshit.

Anyway, neither book can get one page before mentioning naked Drow ladies. The naked Drow lady in the 1991 book is named Susprina Arkhenneld and is bathing naked in a pond while drinking wine from a glass. The naked Drow lady in the 2007 book is named Velthura Vae and is getting up from sleeping nude in some spidersilk sheets in order to get her naked body cleaned by her personal maid. In neither case is the text particularly graphic, let alone pornographic, but the actual described actions are in fact sexy ladies getting cleaned while naked. I have no doubt that much verbing the noun was performed by various contributors to both books.


This is what Drow leaders look like when “fully dressed” and both books immediately ask us to imagine them wearing less than that.

Anyway, the demographics of Drow society don't actually make a lot of sense. Specifically, Drow have a lot of slaves. Like, really a lot of slaves. It's supposed to be basically Rome as depicted in high budget porn. Which makes me wonder where all the food comes from. Actual slave-holding societies aren't just nobles strutting around while slaves plump pillows in anticipation of where they will sit – they need a vast array of middle-ranked thugs to brutalize the slaves and also a whole lot of farmers and craftsmen and shit. Drow society does not appear to have that. It seems to be just soldiers, slaves, and scheming nobles. The 1991 book doesn't make this any better, with Drow Society being made of Noble Houses and Merchant Clans, and as far as I can tell 100% of both of those groups are not farmers. So apparently there are exactly zero people tilling the soil.

Which is not to say that they don't mention farmers and ranchers. Apparently there are fungus farmers and Rothe + Lizard + Spider ranchers. But since none of the population has been carved out to actually perform those roles and the 2007 book claims that people doing that kind of menial task would be uncompensated, I just don't fucking know. Also, that seems like a really crap diet. Elven food of all sorts is always supposed to be exquisite and fancy, but the Drow in these books are given a very small number of agricultural products and an even smaller number of people actually producing the fucking things – so the actual food on the table would seem to be scarce and also crap. The 1991 book seems like it's confirming that Drow food security is shit by stating that the Drow resort to cannibalism and mass migration when food stocks are insufficient, but the 2007 book seems to think you can have sumptuous feasts when you don't have meaningful numbers of people making food.

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The Drow are described as doing constant assassinations and Klingon promotions. How this fits with being exceptionally long lived I do not know. Like seriously, getting murdered is completely incompatible with being alive. You either live for a long time or you get killed, not both. The Drow we are asked to follow as a “typical” noblewoman murders a lot of people. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that the demographically sustainable number of murders is always less than one per person. The main character here not only poisoned several people to get her current position and then murdered a family member to keep her position, she gets poisoned and her place taken by her own sexy maid. There's just a lot of assassination to go around, and I don't know how any of these people can be exceptionally long lived if they keep fucking dying all the time.


It's not that I object to sexy Dark Elf Assassins. It's that I cannot wrap my mind around a society where these are a statistically significant percentage of the population.

The 1991 version talks mad smack about assassination, but tells us that 94% of Drow die of natural causes before the age of 800. Which is actually a normal modern civilized society. 94% non-violent death is what you get in much of Western Europe. The most violent hellscapes in the world are places like Saudi Arabia or The Ukraine, and those places manage to have 20-30% of the populace die by violence. Basically nothing could sustain the levels of constant murder and mayhem described in the 2007 version.

AncientH

D&D never went full edgelord with Drow. They didn't have to: Warhammer Fantasy did that for them.


Malus Darkblade's bucket list included killing his father and brothers, fucking his sister, and cutting off a bastard's head and drinking wine out of their empty skull. Check, check, and check.

More to the point, D&D was always pretty PG13 about the Drow. They didn't have a Black Dog Games to publish "mature" content under, so most of the sexy evil Drow stuff is going to be the kinda shit you could get past the censors in a Flash Gordon serial. This was evil and sexy by "I'll fap it to Evilyn" standards.



This blunted edge combined with fantasy elf wonk combines to make...problems. We talked about this in the Shadowrun elf books, but the Tolkienesque picture of a beautiful society of nobles who holds feasts and stuff - that's a medieval aesthetic. And medieval society ran on a lot of really shit labor. Tolkien didn't write any of that sort of thing into Lord of the Rings, but you can bet your ass that Shire pipeweed wasn't all free trade and grown in artisanal co-ops. So you can see that the authors are trying to paint an idea of what an "evil society" looks like while still portraying elves as fancy, albeit through a mirror darkly...

...and it doesn't work. Michael Moorcock could do it, and did, but even he doubled down on the slavery, magic, and cousin-fucking and didn't fuss about a lot of the individual economics and logistics.

Also, I want to add something: there is no reason why Drow in 1991 had to be all dark-skinned. Drow could have just been all the elves that sided with Lolth during the Kinstrife Civil War. Because ElfQuest started in 1978, so there was basically no excuse for not having a multiethnic elf mix.

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And it's not like the two Tirs where all the pointy-eared fucked speak Elvish, and share cultural elements but otherwise have raging hate-boners for each other. Drow have their own language. Drow and surface Elves basically don't share anything in the way of language or culture. I guess in 3e Drow can still take Elf feats and qualify for Elf prestige classes, but all of the writers on both books basically bent over backwards to try and avoid any actual interoperability of surface-elf-wank and Drow-wank...because, I suspect, player character elves were common enough that if they did that, then some PCs would have an easier time stealing Drow special abilities.

Frank

The Drow economy does not make sense. There are merchants, but people stronger than the merchants just take their stuff whenever they want. Which is exactly like not having merchants and instead living in Bartertown.



Conversely, if Merchants are higher status than you, rather than having prices and contracts they just take your stuff. Again, this is not actually commerce, this is just people taking other peoples' shit. And with everyone stealing shit all the time and no one making things or growing food, I don't understand where anyone gets anything to steal.

Drow of the Underdark 2007 wrote:
The lack of formal codes of law in drow society equates to a lack of formal law enforcement. A drow community has no watch or police force per se. Rather, each aspect or segment of the community is responsible for enforcing its own power as far as its authority extends.


Seriously man, what the actual fuck?

The 1991 version has the Drow being more Ferengi in that they make deals all the time but also break their words constantly if they have the ability to do so. So it's not that nobles seriously walk into a shop and take stuff without asking, it's that they will take a down payment on an item and then renegotiate the price later when they are in a stronger bargaining position. Which is dickish and non-functional, but is at least semi-plausible.

The 1991 book also talks about debt enforcement which goes all the way up to enslavement. This is totally the opposite of the idea that contracts don't exist. If breaking a contract of debt means that people can straight up reduce your status to that of a slave and have you spend the rest of your unnaturally long life as a butler or an armsman or something, that is extremely different from your promises not meaning anything.

The 2007 version instead gives us roleplaying prompts about how Drow think about vengeance from interested parties that they wrong and instinctively forget that communities might try to enforce rules or norms. Which sounds badass, but is basically stupid. And also wholly incompatible with there being a Drow society at all.

AncientH

Drow of the Underdark 2007 wrote:

A drow community is governed, so to speak, through the unsteady cooperation of its three most powerful institutions. The Church of Lolth is the most influential faction among the drow. The priestess of this church interpret and disseminate the will of Lolth, conduct rites and rituals to honor the dark goddess, and technically have the authority to demand anything in her name. If the drow were to have a formal government, it would be made up of these individuals. On a practical level, however, although the priestesses are indeed the social leaders of the drow, the church often lacks the power to take drastic action without the support of the great houses.

Triumvirate leg #3 is "the military," but that's more of a concept than a reality since the Drow don't actually have a formal government. You might ask how that work and...it doesn't. I mean, we're not even looking at a "three estates" (clergy, nobility, commoners) approach. We're down to the level of rival drug cartels down in Mexico or something.

Now, the upside of this is that player characters should, theoretically, be able to march up, take the Queen of the Drow hostage, and demand a ransom. If you take a Drow matriarch hostage, the nearest daughter will probably shoot a crossbow bolt through her brain, hoping to hit you at the same time, and then declare herself the new Matriarch. But the lack of any sort of government beyond the local gang means that the Drow have about the same level of civilization as the fucking quaggoths.



Frank



Drow society is matriarchal and misandrist. The exact amount of misandry on the table varies book to book, but also page to page within both books. Men are discriminated against in leadership and promotion, and when they get too uppity they are put through surrealistic hazing rituals that may end up with them being turned into a Drider.



In the actual books, Driders are almost all dudes, but fan art of Driders is almost all sexy ladies. Because fucking obviously. And also because when people think of Driders they think of Lolth and Lolth is a sexy lady spider thing.


Totally unsupported by either book, but this is what the fans think of when they think Drider.

There's nothing wrong with having the occasional Star Trek style social commentary civilization where all the gender roles are reversed. The problem of course comes in with the fact that the Drow are explicitly the villains. They have women in leadership roles and they are wrong. There's really no way to talk about that without acknowledging that the whole idea is deeply and uncomfortably sexist. It just fucking is.


Also, the art is pretty bad in both books. Although the 2007 version is at least in color.

AncientH

It's deeply and uncomfortably sexist in a kind of Dejah Thoris, good princess/evil princess kind of way. And it isn't helped by the fact that the most well-known "good drow" is, well, male. There are a couple of positive female drow rolemodels, but they're pretty much all NPCs that worship the "good" Drow goddess and aren't really rising above the misandry stereotypes. You just don't see Drow social movements for equality or organized efforts to conquer the surface world. Hell, it's not clear how the drow would do that. At least Warhammer Fantasy had their Dark Elves engage on regular viking-esque expeditions to raid the coasts of the Old World for slaves and treasury and any wine not made from mushrooms. I'm not sure how the writers of these books think Drow surface raids work, but even that level of cohesion seems pretty alien. Depending on their level, the drow priestesses either can't hold a bakesale successfully or impress your harem for the war effort. There is no in-between.

The lack of cohesion and social structure is, actually, a rather common problem with fantasy bad guys. Orcs and goblins suffer from it, but it is usually dismissed as them being primitive and stupid, and the lack of moral restrictions against backstabbing leading to a collapse of a strong government. Except that's not quite what we've seen historically.


I googled "Nazi Drow" and all the links went to 4chan

The thing is, heinously evil is a lot less common - and less efficient - than the more mundane evils we subscribe to every day. We support more slavery by going to Starbucks and Walmart and drinking Coca-Cola and paying out taxes than we'd like to admit. Really impressive villainy generally involves at least a fair amount of centralized power and national or state identity and loyalty. The Drow don't have that...and that might be a good thing.

I'm not saying it is on purpose, but one thing you see in the medieval period is that armies start to climb in size from "local lord and his drinking buddies" to "let's gather several thousand heavy cavalry and invade the Holy Lands." D&D aesthetic is quasi-medieval, but not in the sense of medieval warfare. The game engine shits itself and dies when it tries to manage a battle with more than maybe a dozen participants on the field - total. The Drow's complete incompetent inability to cooperate to the extant necessary to field a sizable force - outside of fluff or the occasional adventure module - means that they stay at a level the PCs can maybe fight. I don't think that was the intention, but if you do end up stuck in a Drow settlement, it's nice to know that you can stab someone in the back and then yell "She did it!" and a non-zero number of the drow will immediately set to infighting.

Frank

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Searching for Drow pictures on the internets basically gives you a lot of porn. Like, really a lot of porn. And that's honestly not far from the source material. D&D markets itself to the under-eighteens so they don't directly show naked Drow ladies in sexual situations, but they do straight up tell you that those situations happen and draw events immediately prior. Like, all the fucking time.

Drow of the Underdark, 2007 wrote:
If the drow are known for anything as much as their cruelty, cunning, and selfishness, it is their penchant for dressing in ways that other races would find revealing at best and positively scandalous at worst.


Drow relationships are described in extremely sexualized terms. They aren't “higher and lower status” they aren't “leaders and subordinates” they are “dominants and submissives.” In exactly those terms. There's a lot of weird kink shit about drow demanding that people not look them in the face and even weirder kink shit about tying people to tables and beating them with whips.

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To be honest, I do not have a problem with having some of your fantasy cultures be really into rough sex. Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy, and some people have fantasies of Elves whipping and or getting whipped. But it's weirdly puritanical and creepy to spend all this time salivating about submissive Elven pleasure slaves and then attempt to distance yourself by having all the rough sex be “evil” like you somehow weren't reading about the sex fantasies of a group of thirty-something nerds. It's basically like the Book of Vile Darkness in that respect. The fact that the villains are described letting their freak flag fly is creepy on a bunch of levels. The 1991 version is by contrast much healthier. I mean yes, it still goes on about Drow ladies doing sensuous naked massage with scented oils and tying people up to flog them for minor transgressions and stuff... but Ed Greenwood also wrote about whip-wielding sex priestesses of the Moon Elves. I mean, yes it's remarkably specific to have whip-wielding sex priestesses of every faction, but at least it's honest. Once you have Loviatar and Sune and Lolth priestesses all sex-whipping people for different factions, that's just the kind of fantasy you're telling rather than being a creepy “Let's all pretend we aren't really into this fetish we can't stop talking about” thing like the 2007 version. Ed Greenwood tells you exactly what his sex fetishes are, and doesn't pretend he doesn't have them. It's much more honest.

AncientH

Drow have a weird Clerical/Arcane magic split. Elves are inherently magical, and Drow even more so as long as they soak up that lovely underdark radiation, and on top of that they have spell resistance/magic resistance, which means they have a couple tricks up their dainty, web-covered sleeves. But they're also a matriarchy-cum-priestesshood under a dominant female deity, and most of the wizards are male. This might sound weird and maybe help set the stage for some male/female dynamics where the two genders have to work together but...mainly it's just weird. And that's before you get to the driders.

Becoming a drider is supposed to be a punishment visited on drow who aren't sufficiently loyal to Lolth. I don't see how that works. For one, you turn them into half-spider-taur things, or closer to Lolth's own given form. Two, this is a power-up for most of them. Three, the drider is kinda bitchin'. To the point where Spinnerette writers just embraced the concept.


Explanation: Goth highschool girl uses the original D&D books with their REAL MAGIC to become a drider. She later turns a nerd dude into a female drider, and you have to wonder why Lolth didn't think of adding a gender-bender twist to the whole thing.

...that brings to mind that magical gender-bending magic is never brought up in either book as far as I can tell. One silly cursed item could up-end Drow society. Maybe the male wizards level up until they can polymorph into female form and have to learn how to wear skirts and shit? I dunno. There's a lot of fanfic potential there.

Frank

What is the technology level of the Drow? “Better than yours.”

The ultimate purpose of the Drow was to provide challenging encounters for parties of adventurers, and all of their cultural and material trappings are ultimately subordinate to that. So the Dark Elves have access to super metallurgy, super clockwork, black powder, deadly poisons, awesome textiles, and whatever the fuck else any particular author can think of that would give Drow kill teams the kinds of material advantage they'd need to be competitive with the player characters. And then they also have a bunch of radiation-powered devices and shit.


Drow jackets are better than your jackets

Way back in the Fiend Folio days, the Drow were gifted with special equipment that would melt when taken into the sun due to the lack of ultraviolet radiation. This is so fucking stupid that subsequent editions have strongly downplayed the whole “underground ultraviolet radiation” shit. But Drow still have super weapons and super armor that loses its properties when you leave the Drow homeland for long enough for no reason to keep the players from breaking wealth guidelines because something something darkside.

AncientH

Ed Greenwood actually gave the underground radiation a special name: faerzress. As a plot point, it was useful for a lot of the kind of incremental magical bullshit that couldn't be explained by standard D&D magic, which was a lot. Shadowrun has really elaborate metaphysics so if you want to plant a city on an area with a high background count, because that increases the target number for spells and thus helps protect you from magic, that is a sane and reasonable act. When Drow in the underdark do the same thing to protect themselves from scrying and teleport and shit, it's an ass-pull by the writers who are trying to limit player abilities like scry and teleport, but don't have an actual already-established mechanic for doing that.

Anyway, Drow magic items are as close as D&D actually gets to the concept of "fairy gold" outside the spell of the same name - the idea that you have something really cool, which then melts away in your hand while Mister Cavern goes...



...quite literally, if you were wearing any of it at the time.

Frank



A lot of words get spilled in both books about what Drow “look like” and um... I got no idea. The descriptions are completely worthless. The only thing that's established is the skin color (jet black). Questions about like what a “Drow Nose” might look like or how deep their sideburns go or whatever are left undescribed. I don't even know if they are supposed to have underarm hair. Hair color is mostly white, but the two books do not have the same list of potential variations Ed Greenwood likes to talk about the possibility of Drow redheads, while the 2007 version natters on about Drow blonds.

The 1991 version also claims that some Drow have black teeth and purple tongues, which is a detail that seems important enough that you'd expect it to be carried over, but it's not. There's also a rant about red eyed Drow having their eyes get redder when they become upset, which is again lacking in the 2007 version.

AncientH

Also not mentioned: how big drow-ladies racks are. Which is probably for the best.



Pornoliciousness aside, Drow culture appears to be pretty static, ethnically limited, and conservative. You don't see the young drow kids experimenting with worshipping Illithid gods, or half-way sects where surface elves and drow live together in two-level villages, or any sort of organized drow militant-religious order where armored, pointy-eared blackguard bitches go on unholy crusades against the forces of light or...whatever. As a race the Drow just don't have a central schitck above "being evil" and "spiders."



Which is kinda what makes them a little boring as villains. I mean, the Illithid want to eat and need slaves, but they're also intelligent, curious, and some of them want to blot out the sun! It's a stupid goal, but it is a goal. Meanwhile, Drow want to...well, the males probably don't want to get castrated, and the women want to play Lord of the Flies Queen of the Web.

Frank

Next up: Bullshit history and weird religion!

AncientH

I can't promise we won't have more dark elf boobies. There are just so many.
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infected slut princess
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Trill wrote:
infected slut princess wrote:
good fun for all.

except the males
and the slaves
and the male slaves


Well yeah, so perhaps you should round up a party of adventurers and go free some slaves in the Underdark! That sounds like a fun adventure.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

fbmf wrote:
I appreciate you guys doing this OSSR. It is the only OSSR I've ever requested.

Game On,
fbmf

That's really the reason we're doing it.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Yeah, that hit's the problem on the head. On a surface level the drow seem like interesting villains, but it actually hard to come up with any level of detail that kinda holds together. Everyone talks about all the backstabbing, infighting, opression, slavery, and power plays because that's the interesting stuff, but it's hard to do a protracted campaign involving the drow unless you sorta descend into slapstick comedy like I tend to do.

I think at one point one of these books outright states that drow society is completely incapable of functioning, and it's only the power of Lolth that prevents everything from devolving into Mad Max. (Though Mad Max drow sounds interesting...)
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I applaud your restraint in not showing any drow cosplay.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Re: more dark elf boobies...

It's not a bad thing, necessarily. Maybe if you counterbalanced it with some dark elf beefcake? Maybe even a... phlong or two? Mmm...
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 3:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Hey you didn't mention that Suspira the bathing drow is Ed Greenwood's apprentice too

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 3:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:

Anyway, the demographics of Drow society don't actually make a lot of sense. Specifically, Drow have a lot of slaves. Like, really a lot of slaves. It's supposed to be basically Rome as depicted in high budget porn. Which makes me wonder where all the food comes from. Actual slave-holding societies aren't just nobles strutting around while slaves plump pillows in anticipation of where they will sit – they need a vast array of middle-ranked thugs to brutalize the slaves and also a whole lot of farmers and craftsmen and shit. Drow society does not appear to have that. It seems to be just soldiers, slaves, and scheming nobles. The 1991 book doesn't make this any better, with Drow Society being made of Noble Houses and Merchant Clans, and as far as I can tell 100% of both of those groups are not farmers. So apparently there are exactly zero people tilling the soil.

You just answered your own question. Drow are feared by the other races because drow love to raid them for slaves and food and anything else that can be carried back to the underground.

It also explains how a large percentage of their population can be assassins-they just spend most of their time assassinating people from other factions.

Ancient History wrote:

Which is kinda what makes them a little boring as villains. I mean, the Illithid want to eat and need slaves, but they're also intelligent, curious, and some of them want to blot out the sun! It's a stupid goal, but it is a goal. Meanwhile, Drow want to...well, the males probably don't want to get castrated, and the women want to play Lord of the Flies Queen of the Web.


There's also the mercenary/assassin's guild aspect. The 2007 book at least mentions several drow mercenary companies and assassin contracts and whatnot. Again, not necessarily targeting other drow. You can always count on the drow for small elite strike teams that don't cause much ruckus. I can't really think of any other D&D faction that would fit the bill better.

Wiseman wrote:

I think at one point one of these books outright states that drow society is completely incapable of functioning, and it's only the power of Lolth that prevents everything from devolving into Mad Max. (Though Mad Max drow sounds interesting...)


That too. I actually see it as an interesting bit. Drow are quite close to their main goddess.
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

maglag wrote:

There's also the mercenary/assassin's guild aspect. The 2007 book at least mentions several drow mercenary companies and assassin contracts and whatnot. Again, not necessarily targeting other drow. You can always count on the drow for small elite strike teams that don't cause much ruckus. I can't really think of any other D&D faction that would fit the bill better.

Githyanki probably steal this, especially at higher levels (where the game is already broken anyway, but hey)
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maglag
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2018 4:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

But ghytianki are a lot more obscure than drow and dwell in the astral plane which kinda makes it hard to hire them in the first place.
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