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The Original Edge Lords of DND
The drow are just as iconic as dungeons & dragons itself. Called night elves, dark elves, or “The Ones who Went Below” if you're being fancy, drow have been with D&D since the beginning in 1st edition and they're still here in 5th edition. Drow were originally just monsters, as were a lot of the “monstrous races” of yore. But with the extremely popular Drizzt series which portrays the “rare” good drow, countless edgy anti-hero dark elves have been championed in innumerable games of D&D. When we boil it down though, what exactly are the drow? What is it like to play them? Follow us on a quick jaunt into the underdark as we go through everything you need to know.
Drow love Lolth! Lolth is the Spider Queen, the patron deity of the drow and a nasty customer you might have seen before as a major antagonist in multiple books. Lolth is essentially the reason the drow are drow. Long ago numerous elves began worshipping the spider queen and were banished into the underdark by their saner elvish cousins. The countless generations in the dark made them what they are now, and the drow worship of Lolth added in the spider motif. Drow cities reside in the underdark, formed from strict hierarchies dedicated to their own ego and keeping the blood flowing for their patron Lolth.
It's in Lolth worship where the good/evil dividing line is drawn. Lolth is a big fan of slavery and blood sacrifices, which doesn't jive well with the whole "good alignment" thing. Drow that accept their ancestral culture of Lolth worship tend to be arrogant, cruel, hedonistic, and are generally murderous bastards. Whereas drow that reject their patron goddess (ala Drizzt) have a chance to mellow out.
Another prominent core of drow society is sexism and matriarchal rule. Male drow are perceived as worthless and all positions of power within drow communities are held by females. Male drow live at the whims of their female superiors and can be legally killed in the same vein as putting down a pet. This culture is so oppressive of its men that many of the "good" rebel drow are male, seeking merely to escape from the persecution of matrons that would have them put down if they stayed. A drow priestess is above even other female drow, creating strict tiered hierarchical matriarchy with each layer subjugating the people below them.
Overall, drow culture values nobility, "good breeding", strength, and devout worship of Lolth. However, nine times out of ten a drow player character will have to be a rebel or outcast drow. Drow that abandon their society by choice are conflicted souls, raised in a culture of pure evil and grasping for meaning in an outside world that spurns them for the acts of their brethren. Outcasts may try to integrate or will perhaps try to work their way back in through some unspeakable act of violence or betrayal in Lolth's name.
Drow are first and foremost a type of elf often called a dark elf, which means they have all the stereotypical elven features but darker. Drow tend to be tall and lithe, and almost supernaturally beautiful. Even a drow down on their luck will pull off their rags with grace and dignity.
The main physical distinction between drow and other elves is their skin color. Drow tend to have very dark or black skin, sometimes reaching a pure charcoal black. Others have a range of dark grey colors, verging on dark bluish hues. You'll also often see drow depicted with dark purple or even close to lilac skin tones. Purple isn't listed as a possibility officially in dnd 5e, but it's shown so often that it may as well be canon.
Drow eyes can be of literally any color, though bright red is the most common. They're also commonly very bright or near white in color, which often leads to a misconception that they have purely white eyes with no iris.
Finally, drow hair is usually a very bright color that contrasts with their skin. Silver, pure white, or pale yellow are all common hair colors. They usually wear their hair long and decorate it with pins or webbing in dedication to the spider queen.
Like most elves, drow have both a first and a surname taken from the melodic elvish tongue. Their names can be either masculine or feminine, though due to the drow subjugation of their males drow male names have become gradually more feminine.
Male Drow Names: Bemril Uloavae, Fildiirn Oussath, Gulmyr Araburden, Jaezkiir Helvion'lyr, Jalynryn Zolinn, Quevryn Arabarn, Rizhrys Torval, Ruaphrin Baenreaer, Syrdar Glaurach, Zaknaston Tlin'eztice.
Female Drow Names: Aunrae Blundyth, Baltana Rrostarr, Felynlene Telinath, Ginbreena Despth, Laeyana Mizzruil, Larithra Baenani, Larniss Baenath, Malice Filifar, Nhilymma Baenrret, Urmesyne T'soavae.
Drow are a subrace of elves, for the sake of clarity the following racial stats are elven after choosing the drow subrace.
Your drow character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age: Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old.
Alignment: Elves love freedom, variety, and self-expression, so they lean strongly toward the gentler aspects of chaos. They value and protect others' freedom as well as their own, and they are more often good than not. The drow are an exception; their exile into the Underdark has made them vicious and dangerous. Drow are more often evil than not.
Size: Elves range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Superior Darkvision: Accustomed to twilit forests and the night sky, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can't discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Keen Senses: You have proficiency in the Perception skill.
Fey Ancestry: You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can't put you to sleep.
Trance: Elves don't need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is "trance.") While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.
Sunlight Sensitivity: You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
Drow Magic: You know the dancing lights cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the faerie fire spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the darkness spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Drow Weapon Training: You have proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish. Elvish is fluid, with subtle intonations and intricate grammar. Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.
While most of the abilities are self-explanatory, some have a bit of nuance so let's go through them one at a time and what they mean for your new character
Ability Score Increase: Dexterity is useful for almost every class as an improvement to your AC and in many cases your attacks. Drow get the bonus to Charisma as well which makes them ideal for classes that need both like Bards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks.
Age: Drow (and other elves) enjoy an extremely long lifespan, long enough to have lived through "ancient events" that may be plot-relevant. Ask your DM if your 500-year-old drow can have first-hand knowledge of some of the "ancient" things your party deals with.
Alignment: Drow are EVIL, to the point that your character has to be an exception of some kind. You'll need to come up with some reason why your drow character had a change of heart or was expelled by drow society. You need some reason for your character to be adventuring alongside the party in the dungeon rather than being a monster in one.
Size: Medium size with no bells or whistles.
Speed: Average, no worries.
Superior Darkvision: Darkvision with double the range, technically this isn't much of a bonus but there are some situations where dungeons are designed with normal darkvision in mind. Be sure to remind your DM about your extra range if you're encountering things at night or within caves, you might be able to spot things the DM thought would be out of sight.
Keen Senses: Simple but very good. Perception is by far the most common check players will need to make and it's nice grabbing a free proficiency in it.
Fey Ancestry: The advantage on charm effects is nice, there are some enemies that rely on charms and you'll have a major leg up in those encounters. The immunity to sleep is more of a hold-over from earlier editions, but once in a blue-moon it can save your hide. Just try to remember that you have it.
Trance: What trance really does is put you on permanent night watch duty. You only require 4 hours for a long rest (which can matter if the party is in a tough spot) but it's the semi-conscious clause that'll be important most of the time. You'll essentially always get an opportunity to spot incoming threats while the party is sleeping and that can be the difference between life and death.
Sunlight Sensitivity: This is a pure weakness and it's a rather savage one. Thankfully a lot of encounters will happen in dimly lit dungeons, but there will be some situations where you're just nerfed. Be aware of this weakness, try to stay in the shadows, and if you're a spellcaster try to make use of spells that will get you some shade or darkness to fight in. Most notably it messes with your attack roll, so if you cast spells that simply require a save instead of an attack there's no problem.
Drow Magic: Free spells are always nice, though these are mostly situational. Dancing lights is nice to have for utility, and faerie fire can save your butt in early levels if you face an invisible enemy. Darkness is the real get here, as it helps mitigate your sunlight sensitivity if used correctly.
Drow Weapon Training: This only matters if you play a caster, as any martial class would gain proficiency with them anyway. Rapiers are an excellent melee weapon for Dexterity-based martial builds, and the hand crossbows are good as an "out of spells" option for wizards. Keep this ability in mind when making wonky builds that want weapon proficiency without class level dips.
Languages: Common + Elvish. Elvish is a common language in many settings so you'll likely get some use out of it.
There are no "right" answers for building a dungeons and dragons 5e character. However, with bonuses to both Dexterity and Charisma, drow fit naturally in classes that can make good use of both of those ability scores. The rogue, the sorcerer, the warlock, and the bard classes are all natural fits. And if you're interested in optimization, think of the following builds as good starting points:
Drow already make excellent sorcerers with their +2 bonus to Dexterity and +1 bonus to Charisma. However, sunlight sensitivity makes "blaster casters" a poor choice since they'll often be firing off spells at disadvantage. The unearthed arcana aberrant mind solves this since most of the bonus spells rely on saving throws rather than attack rolls. It also makes your character surprisingly survivable with the AC granted from the warped being ability.
Glamor of Darkness
Drow work well as bards to start with but work especially well for bardic colleges that rely more on saving throws than attacks (sunlight sensitivity again). The college of glamor is perfect for this as all your abilities are based on saving throws like charm effects and illusions. Now go beguile them with the beauty of shadows.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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