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Disclaimer: Eberron is property of Wizards of the Coast. I am 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 far are:

  • 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.

  • The Sulatar. These 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 Umbragen. 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.     

Mechanically, unless otherwise mentioned, these drow are exactly the same as the drow presented in the SRD and Monster Manual. So, with all of that in mind… 

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 house rule.

The other drow cultures do have different weapon proficiencies, as follows:

Umbragen: Proficient with longbow, shortbow, longsword, and rapier.  

Sulatar: 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.

The 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 characters.  

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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