I don’t really like the iconic dark elves of the Forgotten Realms (the default setting for the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game).
I won’t go into the details as to why I feel this way because there are many other people out there who’ve done so already. I’m just going to jump into the goal of this article, which is a bunch of brainstorming formatted into lists so that others can use this as a tool.
These changes are more or less cosmetic, but offer some changes that could drastically affect any interactions with these people in your campaigns.
What do they look like?
These Drow aren’t the typical dark skinned, white-haired folk. They have evolved into slightly bizarre forms to better suit their underground environment.
- Colourless skin, no hair, long, bat-like ears and huge, white, sight less eyes. Think of the creatures in the horror movie the Descent.
- Short, hunched posture, amphibious features. Their homes are built near underground lakes.
- Like regular elves, except they have multiple eyes (each one has 2d4) and an extra pair of small arms.
- Like perpetually rotting corpses. Only those proficient in sorcery can look practically normal, albeit pale and corpse-like.
- Eerily tall, lean and their bones are rubbery. They can squeeze through tight spaces.
- Like regular elves but they have jaundiced somewhat scaly skin and have no visible eyes (just skin over the places where eyes normally would be).
How do they “see”?
For all intents and purposes, they can “see” fine, but their vision doesn’t rely on normal eyes that absorb regular light.
- Echolocation. They constantly chitter, purr, hiss and growl in order to see.
- Scent. Their sense of smell is so acute that they can even taste the air and determine the location of everything around them.
- Infrared. Yeah, just like the Predator. But that’s the only way that they can see. Using temperature-changing area spells, or using insulation of some kind can really mess them up.
- Auras. They can discern the mystical and electromagnetic haloes around organic and mineral matter (and tell them apart from each other, although unfamiliar, alien or demonic auras might throw them off).
- Hearing. Just like the famous crimson-clad super hero, they can function quite well by sound alone.
- Vibrations. They interpret the world through vibrations in the air and earth.
Why do they live underground?
For reasons good or ill the Drow fled the surface world. This is the original reason why (some are noble, but that doesn’t mean that they have since become cruel).
- Escaping the apocalypse. In the past, their greatest oracles predicted an epic doom for their kind. They fled into the under-dark and thrive there, still utterly convinced that the surface world is a horrible post-apocalyptic wasteland.
- Protecting the surface. A terrible, incurable disease swept through their people. In order to save the lives of countless millions, they isolated themselves underground. They still, to this day, forbid any visitors for their own safety; if the outsiders insist, then they do their best to quarantine them away, giving them special masks and medicinal herbs. Are they still carriers of a horrible disease?
- Prehistoric Migration. Long ago, an ice age forced these primordial elves into retreating to the warmer caves underground. They are completely unaware of life on the surface, believing that all outsiders are spirits, demons or lesser gods.
- Convergent Evolution. These people are not actually “elves” at all. They were once something very, very different and controversial: dwarves!!! If any surface dwellers discover this bizarre ancestry, it will be particularly shocking (especially for elves and dwarves).
- Elvish Afterlife. The terrible dark secret of your campaign setting is that the Drow under-cities are actually the spiritual destination of all elf-kind! When they die they re-appear in the under-dark as revenants, only vaguely remembering their past lives through their dreams.
- Reptoids. They are, in fact, humanoid descendants of prehistoric reptiles, like dinosaurs. Due to global changes in climate from an approaching ice age, they fled deeper into the earth where they could stay warm. Like the Yuan-ti, they have vaguely reptilian feature and are wholly cold-blooded.
There you have it: a quick n’ dirty way to make the Drow something different than the norm and, in my opinion anyway, more interesting.