What you really wanted to know about the Drow but were afraid to ask
Art by DireLilith
Disclaimer: This page discusses a race of villains in the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game from my own point of view, in the spirit of sharing game information and for the use of adults only. The author does not condone anything described below, nor does the author believe that violence should be acted out in real life. One of the important opportunities roleplaying presents is the opportunity to be faced with the worst that we hate and fear about the human race and to consciously turn away from it. But sometimes we must know more about the enemy than the bare bones to understand what is so terrible about them - and why they must be stopped. Please read with discretion.
The Drow have much to fear and distrust in each other - which is, of course, by their own design. The dynamics of power in most Drow cities are seriously skewed in one direction or the other: many Drow cities are female-dominated, and other gatherings are male-dominated. In either case, it's the domination that counts. The Drow are ruthless to those beneath them in station and they derive pleasure from acting out their superiority. They are also looking for ways to take advantage of Drow that are as powerful or more powerful than themselves. This does not go away during "courtship" (if such a word can even be used), nor does it generally abate in favor of sexual desire. The Drow must fulfill their sexual urges and create the next generation regardless of how much the genders hate and suspect each other. Thus, being successful in sex is no small feat.
Sex for the Drow is intertwined with power and control. From their earliest lessons, Drow are taught that sex is for the pleasure of the self, even when it comes at the expense of another (or especially when it comes at the expense of another). The Drow are not timid with their children and are willing to divulge the secrets of sexuality as soon as young children gain coherent speech. They share not only the basics of anatomy and copulation but they also describe desire, pleasure, and triumphant conquests. Drow children are not shielded from seeing adults in the nude, nor are they kept from seeing adults copulating so long as the adults in question want to be viewed by others.
Drow children by virtue of their size and inexperience are usually not seen as fitting sexual conquests - they are too weak and too insignificant to count. On the other hand, some adult Drow force themselves on children because they are weak. It is a simple and terrible fact that an adult Drow is likely to survive an encounter with a child, whereas they might not survive an encounter with another adult of their race. The rape of Drow children is often avenged as an insult to the house the child belongs to, but that has more to do with house politics than any outrage on the child's behalf. Whether or not it is avenged, the incident is often blamed on the child if only because they were too slow and weak to defend themselves.
A vast majority of the time, Drow adults must face one another in the sexual arena and struggle to see who can get the most from an encounter. In many ways Drow sex can be spoken of in the context of combat: stalking might occur, as well as ambush tactics. Force is a regular part of Drow sexual encounters (especially in cities dominated by one gender or the other), so violence becomes the prelude to more violence. Torture is also a common ingredient, since many Drow are skilled in it. Some sexual encounters are to the death in the manner of combat, with females slaying their mates or males avenging themselves on females, but most encounters end with one partner limping away.
The use of force is not always punished after the fact. If the victim can marshal the power necessary for revenge, they can try to carry it out; if not, then the victim is likely to remain silent about the incident. The perpetrator will probably reveal the occurrence as proof of their own prowess and to make the victim appear helpless (which might encourage others to take advantage of the perceived weakness).
Despite the extreme violence of Drow culture and sexual dynamics, dark elves are like most other sexually reproducing species. First, they have a drive toward copulation. This drive is usually centered around the pleasure of the self, but it can be based on the highly developed drive for conquest. Secondly, the Drow do desire the continuance of their species. Although they tend to rely on a large slave population and magic for protection, there have to be enough Drow to control the slaves and produce the magic.
There is an alternative to traditional female and male Drow relations, however, that must be considered.
Drow females in Lolthian cities view themselves as being superior to all others, including Drow males. Thus, Drow females become the greatest conquests worth seeking. Drow females may desire each other for a myriad of reasons: for power, for possession, for prestige, and for sheer physical lust. They might also wish to avoid the company of lowly males until they are ready to conceive children. There is no cultural taboo amongst the Drow regarding such relations, so females often indulge whenever they can manage it. After all, the greatest expression of strength in such a society is when one Drow priestess holds power over another.
Drow males, by comparison, are viewed as wretched scum and are given a host of thankless tasks. Even their sexual service to females can become a terrible chore, with no recognition for their contribution. In Drow cities everywhere, males are sent out in dangerous patrols or herded into various tasks where they might spend weeks alone together. They must often rely on each other at least for survival against hostile outside forces, and they tend to have similar experiences with females of their own race. This can create a special and secret bond between some Drow males, which in turn can lead to deeper relations.
While some sexual relationships are made public in Drow society, the majority are kept private because of fears regarding security. Drow will strike back at each other using lovers if they can, and few Drow want to be thought vulnerable due to their penchant for pleasure. The few relationships that are made public are usually of the conception variety: a Matron Mother might keep a patron for the strong children he grants her, or a priest of Vhaeraun might hold a breed mother hostage. Some relationships are made public due to unusual circumstances; a Drow female abandoned by Lolth might be given as a slave to a Matron Mother as a form of strict punishment.
Love and Marriage
"Trust me, my dear friend, there is no such thing as love - they're only misguided feelings and emotions."
-- Original Sin
The Drow do not marry. In Lolthian societies, females do not view males as necessary for the legitimacy of children. A woman's children are legitimate of blood by simply coming out of her. True claims to inheritance and title are settled not just by bloodline but by blood; those Drow not capable of eliminating their opponents will not live long enough to inherit from their mothers. A child proves herself worthy of her blood by surviving and thriving, not by the name of her father. In male-dominated Drow societies the female is merely seen as the incubator for the male's seed, and all children are the property of their fathers.
Love is not seen as something to be celebrated, but as a weakness to be hidden and purged. The Drow word for "love" has an ancient link to their word for "doom." Love is made into a twisted thing in Drow hearts, since they are taught that it is soft and dangerous. Most Drow who love also hate the object of their affection just as much. Love has driven more than one Drow into madness, and scathing stories are recounted to remind every Drow that love is a torture no hand may control with certainty. Those who love one another in a Drow city must hide their affection well. They might meet in secret, abuse each other publicly, or otherwise act indifferent to each other. Some version of love does exist, but it is hurtful and inexorably tainted. Even in its twisted form, love is perhaps one of the closest-kept secrets of the Drow.
The Drow can reproduce at a phenomenal rate for elves, in that they can get pregnant at about the same rate as humans. There are many miscarriages and deaths in the earliest stages of infancy, so a high fertility rate is imperative. Great sacrifices have been made to ensure more births in a city, or a last birth to a Matron Mother. Drow do reach menopause eventually, and once they can no longer bear children, Drow women must find other ways to be just as fruitful.
Pregnant Drow are revered for being strong enough to give birth. They are complimented on how robust they look and are paid compliments by Drow above them in station. Particularly successful Drow clerics are often granted the temporary use of powerful spells during pregnancy, a sure sign of Lolth's approval and blessing (although these spells usually disappear when the pregnancy is concluded).
The vulnerable state of pregnancy in the Underdark is no small undertaking. Pregnant females are given the best food by right and at the expense of others. Many Drow females become so paranoid during pregnancy that they will not dare to eat or drink anything they have not prepared after great examination; a race so adept with poison cannot be trusted. After a certain point in gestation, a pregnant Drow is exempted from hazardous work. Peasant women enjoy the same benefits as noble women, although peasants will not be placed on beds of satin to await the births of their children.
Births are attended by at least one cleric or Lolth-worshiping midwife. The Drow do not believe in sedatives or numbing agents in childbirth, although they possess such agents. Sometimes Drow women give birth to twins and very rarely to triplets. Such births are celebrated as blessings of Lolth. Drow do not always choose a child's name right away. Some Drow will perform prayers to be inspired by a name. Others will name their children after ancestors. Some will become inspired by the pain of birth. Needless to say, mothers in Lolthian societies always name their children. The opposite is true in male-dominated Drow gatherings.
The Drow stance on abortion depends on several factors. First, one must consider the type of Drow city. In a Lolthian city, a Drow female is considered to have ultimate control over her own body. If she does not wish to have a child, she can procure methods of birth control as well as spontaneous abortion regardless of what anyone else thinks - to an extent. A Drow female increases her power and prestige by bearing children, and if she waits too long some might begin to doubt her fertility and her standing in the eyes of Lolth. Also, Drow women who have been impregnated by outsiders, most notably during ceremonial rites, are forbidden from attempting to abort any resulting children. Punishments for infractions are very severe, ranging from enforced re-impregnation and magical compulsion to death, depending on the outsider involved.
In a male-dominated Drow encampment, the male determines if a female is allowed to keep a child or not, at any stage. If it is ordered, abortion will be performed or a child will be taken away long after birth. Since male-dominated groups are not the norm and are often small, female Drow tend to be kept pregnant as often as possible. The same ban on abortion is upheld if females are impregnated by outsiders, with the same sort of punishments used against those who disobey.
Contrary to sexual fantasy, few Drow slaves are kept strictly for sexual purposes. There is simply too much other work that needs to be done. A number of slaves have sex forced upon them at some point, however, by guards and sneaky peasants. Some slaves choose to trade sex with guards in exchange for better treatment, accommodations, and food. Sometimes a slave will develop an obsession with their captors and offer themselves eagerly, but this is an exception rather than the rule. Occasionally a Drow master will set up their best-looking slaves as prostitutes to bring in extra revenue or to cater to a particular circle of Drow.
The few slaves that are maintained for sexual purposes tend to be of the special variety. They are kept because of their beauty, alluring voices, exciting screams, exceeding purity, and so forth. Sexual slaves are not usually expected to perform heavy manual labor, but they do find themselves getting more personal attention from their masters, a fate that is seen as far worse by seasoned slaves.
Pleasure slaves are treated as a kind of currency. They are often lent out as gifts to notable Drow and must spend a prearranged amount of time under their new masters. They are also given as rewards to students or even servants who perform well. If worse comes to worse, they can also be collected as payment for debts. They are not automatically worth more than an average slave if they are sold at auction, however. Sometimes an auction audience feels that pleasure slaves are good for only one thing and are pretty much worthless. Other times an auction audience has a high demand for pleasure slaves, or is interested in particular slaves because of their former masters.
The Drow are by no means naive. They know that all slaves will either be having sex willingly or unwillingly, in secret or in the open. Drow masters cannot afford to ignore the risks and disruptions that come with pregnant slaves. While some masters might not mind breeding new slaves, no master wants a significant portion of their workers to be pregnant at once. In general, slaves have herbs or light poisons added to their food or drink to render them temporarily infertile. Masters might arrange it so that one group is not dosed; pregnancy will only occur in a small fraction of the slave population. This might be necessary with humanoid slaves, since they can truly breed too much.
A slave with a sexually transmittable disease might or might not be killed, depending on the severity of the disease and who they infect. A disease that seriously impairs the ability to work is not going to be allowed to spread. Likewise, a diseased slave that is a "favorite" of Drow with station cannot be allowed to spread contagion to such important Drow. Killing infected slaves is the quickest and cheapest way to deal with such a problem. Special slaves, on the other hand, are bound to be severely punished for catching a disease and then, perhaps, they will be cured. If a painful cure is known, it will be used.
Slaves might or might not be punished for having sex with other slaves. Most often, those who are caught in their rendezvous are punished publicly and a strong example is made. It is likely that slaves know their lives will be short and painful anyway, and that they will risk punishment when their need gets to be too great.
This page is not affiliated with WotC in any way. This is simply how I view the Drow, based on all that I have seen, read, and come to imagine of them. This has obviously been influenced by R.A. Salvatore and others who have discussed the Drow. I am indebted to the creators of the race.