Ask the DREAMING DARK
Source of Inspiration
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not an employee of Wizards of the Coast, and any answers given
here are in no way sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. This is
NOT official material, and may be contradicted in future Eberron
sourcebooks or articles. My answers are in this forum my
opinions and reflect how I might run a situation in MY personal
campaign – nothing more.
August 22, 2006
The drow are the subject of many
questions. The dark elves of Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk have a
strong, established flavor, and people are still learning how the drow
of Eberron differ from their cousins in other worlds. This week we'll
look at a few of the frequently asked questions about the drow. However,
to start off, I want to establish a few things. In some settings, the
drow are presented as a more or less monolithic culture. This is not the
case in Eberron. The drow of Xen'drik have many different nations and
cultures, just like humans, elves, and the other races. So far three
drow cultures have been established in official material, but there's
nothing preventing a DM (or Wizards of the Coast) from introducing new
dark elf civilizations in days to come. The three cultures we've seen so
The Tribes of Vulkoor.
Primitive folk who live in the wild lands of Xen'drik, the tribes of
Vulkoor favor leather or chitin armor and exotic weapons such as the
Xen'drik boomerang. Most Vulkoor tribes are nomadic, living off the
land and using ruins and caves as temporary shelter. Many tribes
have no tradition of metal-working; as a result, metal weapons are
treasured. The worship of the scorpion god Vulkoor is a common
theme, but there are many variations in worship; a few of the tribes
have broader animistic beliefs, in which Vulkoor is just one of the
great spirits of nature. The drow of Vulkoor are not inherently
evil, but the constant struggle for survival promotes a ruthless
outlook on life. In addition, the tribes are typically hostile to
foreigners, who are seen as desecrating the land. Beyond that,
tribes often compete with one another for resources. Some feud with
the giants, while others maintain vendettas against the other drow
cultures described below. Information about the tribes of Vulkoor
can be found in Races of Eberron and Secrets of Xen'drik.
One example of a Vulkoor tribe can be seen in the novel The
Shattered Land, and an example of a Vulkoor village can be found
in Dragon 345.
The Tribes of Vulkoor appear to be
the dominant drow culture in Eberron, and a reference simply says "drow",
it can be assumed to be referring to tribal drow.
drow appear to have held onto traditions and magic dating back to
before the fall of the giants. They are especially skilled in
summoning and binding fire elementals. They have been seen to bind
fire to weapons, armor, and even the walls of buildings. They have
small, two-person "firesleds" that appear to operate using the same
principles as the airships of House Lyrandar, but there is no
evidence that the sulatar have ever created anything as large as a
Lyrandar airship. The sulatar live in renovated fortresses, and make
use of metal arms and armor, along with a crystaline material called
blood glass. Sulatar religion is based on their ancient service to
the giants, and revolves around a promised land of fire. The sulatar
population is unknown; there may only be a single city of
firebinders, or they may have an empire stretching across the
interior of Xen'drik. Information about the sulatar can be found in
Secrets of Xen'drik, and the sulatar play a role in the novel
The Shattered Land.
The ancestors of these dark elves survived the fall of the giants by
fleeing into the underdark of Khyber. There they found themselves
battling aberrations and other horrors; casting about for a defense
against these terrible foes, they forged a bond with a mysterious
force of shadows. In contrast to the tribes of Vulkoor, the umbragen
are a sophisticated culture with magic and metal-working skills on
par with the smiths of the Five Nations. And like the sulatar, the
full numbers of the umbragen are left to the DM; there mayonly be
one community of these dark elves, or there could be a nation hidden
in the underdark. The umbragen appear in Secrets of Xen'drik
and the computer game Dragonshard, but the primary source is
the article in Dragon 330.
otherwise mentioned, these drow are exactly the same as the drow
presented in the SRD and Monster Manual. So, with all of that in
QUESTION: Are the racial weapon proficiencies of Xen'drik drow the same
as those of FR/Greyhawk drow?
Officially (as presented in Races of Eberron)
tribal drow are identical to the drow from the Monster Manual;
they are proficient with the short sword, rapier, and hand crossbow. The
Drow Skirmisher feat allows Xen'drik drow to treat certain exotic
weapons (Scorpion chain, drow long knife, and Xen'drik boomerang) as
martial weapons, but this is not an innate quality of the race. If I
were to change the proficiencies of tribal drow, I'd set them to short
sword, drow long knife, and Xen'drik boomerang… but that would be a
The other drow cultures do have different weapon
proficiencies, as follows:
Proficient with longbow, shortbow, longsword, and rapier.
Proficient with short sword and hand crossbow; the double-bladed
sword is a martial weapon for sulatar drow.
QUESTION: Are languages the same as well?
No… but I can't officially back this up.
Here's the thing: I've searched through Races of Eberron and
Secrets of Xen'drik for anything that would spell this out, and I
can't find a statement of "Tribal drow characters possess the following
languages…" anywhere. However, if you take a look at the drow NPCs
presented on page 68 – 73 of Secrets of Xen'drik, you'll see that
none of them speak Undercommon, the one of the base languages of
traditional drow. Since all of the drow NPCs have at least one bonus
language, it's hard to say exactly which it is. Personally, *I* would
say that all tribal drow speak Drow, Drow Sign Language, and Giant, with
Common, Draconic, Elven, and Undercommon as bonus languages; tribal drow
don't live in the underdark, but they may scavenge below. You could
certainly swap DSL and Common, but I personally prefer the idea that
many drow don't know the language of explorers; Common and Riedran would
languages they'd only learn by trading with or hunting foreigners.
So, there is no official source that
tells you exactly what the languages are, but Secrets of Xen'drik
makes clear what they aren't… and Undercommon isn't an automatic
language for tribal drow.
umbragen have a different set of languages and bonus languages, as
described in Dragon 330. Likewise, the RPGA Xen'drik
Expeditions campaign uses yet another set of languages for drow
QUESTION: Since drow don't live in the underdark, why do they have
darkvision and light blindness?
Good question. Legends claim that the
first drow were created by one of the giant nations of Xen'drik; giant
transmuters "bound the essence of night" into elves, creating the drow.
These dark elves were used as overseers, soldiers, and assassins in the
giant's conflict with the rebellious true elves. The small (well,
medium) size of the drow allowed them to follow the elves into places a
giant couldn't go. The spell resistance of the drow protected it against
elf magic. And darkvision is a boon for the assassin. According to this
tale, light blindness is an unfortunate side effect of this bond to
night. This tale would also explain why no drow were brought on the elf
exodus to Aerenal; even though some drow turned against the giants, the
dark elves were made to slay the first elves, and the enmity between the
two races ran deep.
This is only a legend, and you may come
up with an entirely different explanation. However, the existence of the
legend itself is official; it is presented in Dragon 330, The
Shattered Land, and Secrets of Xen'drik.
QUESTION: If they
don't live underground, how do drow deal with light blindness?
By avoiding direct sunlight. Drow prefer
the forested regions of Xen'drik. In the dense jungles, the light that
penetrates the canopy is insufficient to trouble the drow. In other
regions, drow maintain a nocturnal lifestyle, taking shelter during the
brightest hours of the day or using shaders to protect their eyes.
Beyond this, some drow have actually overcome this racial weakness; this
gift is represented by the Daylight Adaption feat. See Races of
Eberron for full information on shaders and Daylight Adaption.
QUESTION: What do
you think about using drow as player characters?
I think that if both you and your DM are
comfortable with doing it, it's none of my business. With that said, my
question to anyone who wanted to play a drow in my campaign would be
why? Why would a drow possibly decide to become an adventurer,
leaving his homeland behind to travel in strange foreign lands? A city
light Sharn would be an alien hell to the typical tribal drow warrior.
All of the drow cultures are fairly insular and xenophobic, and most
drow consider outsiders to be despoilers of sacred ground. Gold – one of
the typical motivators of adventurers – has little meaning to the drow.
So what's the explanation? Why has your drow left his homeland, and why
is he traveling with this particular group of adventurers?
Now, I can think of a dozen answers I'd
accept. There are many interesting stories you could tell around a drow
character. I think you could also build a very interesting campaign
around an entire group of drow; as a group of tribal warriors, you could
have to defend your territory from the Emerald Claw, the scions of
Riedra, and of course pesky adventurers from Khorvaire. But whatever
answer I chose, I'd want to see the player really think about what it
means to be drow. If he's just doing it because he wants spell
resistance and darkvision, that won't fly in my personal game. But if he
wants to explore how a tribal warrior from a distant culture would fit
into Khorvaire, I'd be willing to give it a chance. Perhaps his tribe
was massacred by the Dreaming Dark or the Emerald Claw; as the lone
survivor, he is traveling the world in search of vengeance, in the
company of the only foreigners he can trust… those who saved his life in
that fateful battle.
That's enough for now. Next time,
we'll look at ways to adapt a few of my earlier works to Eberron!
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