Thursday, January 22, 2009

Monstrous Discussions: Drow - Contempt

Drow. Dark elves. Familiarity breeds contempt.

I remember when I first heard about them, way back in 1981-ish, a buddy of mine was talking about the D series, and the topic of the Drow came up, and I was thinking, “wow, that is cool.” Well 25+ years later they do not seem quite the same. It feels like they are now a bit overexposed, and they do not feel as fresh and exciting as they were back in the early 80’s. I really like the concept, but it has been watered down a bit, and they do not feel nearly as mysterious as they once did. For me, the attraction was the mysterious nature of them. They lived underground, hidden from the above ground world. We did not know a lot about that them, and that was actually a good thing. Forgotten Realms changed all that, and now we have a number of different flavors of Drow (including good Drow and surface Drow). This is too much, and I think the image is tarnished a bit. Too many designers have ruined an other wise good idea. Now it is just too much.

I have pulled some info from Wikipedia on the original history of the Drow:

The word "drow" is of Scottish origin, an alternative form of "trow", which is a cognate for "troll". Trow/drow was used to refer to a wide variety of evil sprites. Except for the basic concept of "dark elves", everything else about the Dungeons & Dragon drow was invented by Gary Gygax.

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax stated that "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." This establishes Gygax's source for the term as Thomas Keightley's The Fairy Mythology, Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries.

The drow were first mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons game in the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977) under the "Elf" entry, where it is stated that "The 'Black Elves,' or drow, are only legend." They made their first statistical appearance in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King and the sequel D series modules, which expanded on drow culture. The first D&D manual that the drow appeared in was the original Fiend Folio. The modules in which the drow originally appeared were later published together in Queen of the Spiders (1986). The drow are first presented as a player character race in Unearthed Arcana.

A couple of things to point out in the above text. I liked the way that the first edition MM just mentioned the Drow as a footnote to the elf entry. It is almost a throw away note at the bottom of the entry. I liked it. Greater mystery is only hinted at. Perfect. One of the things that I have read about world design is that you never want to wrap up all the loose ends. You want a number of dangling threads that are a bit messy. This leaves plenty of room to build upon. It feels like with all the information that has been written about them, they have become a bit too tidy. Let me be blunt on this one. When they take a crap, we know how many pieces are in the bowl. There is no mystery.

Unearthed Arcana is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some things I liked, and there are something I did not like. Adding Drow as a player race, in my mind, was a mistake. We might as well call them blue elves. We have grey elves, sun elves, moon elves, wood elves, wild elves, and now we can have blue elves. I go back to the idea that what appealed to me about the Drow is that they were something of an enigma. Not any more.

There will be more grumblin’ about this topic.


Chgowiz said...

Drow history and a dry reference to the tendencies to overthink a race (would that be a d6 or d8 for aforementioned caca?) - great post!

Chris said...

I have to agree with you on being Drowed out in recent years. At least, I was until I read one particular post by Joshua at the TotRB blog.

Mr Baron said...

Thanks for the comments...I will be posting more on this topic.