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General The Gygaxian Origins of Drow and Some Thought on their Depiction As Villians

Also do note that spiders are very protective of their children in real life, with wolf spiders going into full-blown panic attacks and anxiety if their eggcase is stolen from them

Some sort of prototypical spider goddess that was eventually corrupted into the Lolth nowerdays could still have aspects respected in other elven communities
I did not know this. That is... odd considering how closely I believe arachnids and insects are related.

Super frickin cool for mythology purposes though.

Just go with the 4e Lolth story of her original Fate Goddess weaver form before she sacrifices herself to become the Spider Queen of Demons and contain the Abyss.
The point is for her to be non-evil though. As an experiment for my new world.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I like pale-skinned drow, personally. Black just doesn’t make sense to me. A range of cool, dark colors is fine, if a little silly in my opinion.
That black skin always bothered me for the same reason. Underground and deep sea creatures are quite often pale or even translucent skinned. Hmm, translucent skinned Drow, that's got some appeal actually, I always loved the Newhon Ghoul.
 



Traycor

Explorer
World of Warcraft would be an interesting touchpoint for how Drow could be depicted visually. Dark Iron Dwarves (charcoal black skin) are now a playable option that has black, gray, and ashy white skin as options. The first time seeing it, the design was striking in that it still captured the same feel. It was subterranean and different from normal fleshy tones of all colors, shades, etc...

The Highborne Elves are basically drow, but their skin tones include very dark blue. Night Elves have purple (also based on drow).

Coming back around to drow: they have been depicted in art for years with purple, gray, and dark blue skin. It works visually and players are already comfortable/familiar with this.

5e drow should have a variety of available skin tones. Dark purple, dark blue, gray, ashy white, and charcoal black. More options for players, better visual variety for art/games/movies, and cultural problem addressed.
 

Catolias

Explorer
That black skin always bothered me for the same reason
Much the same. As a newbie way back, I remember being condescendingly told that I couldn’t play a dark elf because they’re always lawful evil. I wan’t confident back then to say that’s stupid.
 

Pauln6

Explorer
I noticed that the wicked elf in the Silmarillian seemed to use spells similar to the innate abilities of the drow.
 

There's the issue of the most matriarchal society in D&D being the most prominent villains.
A lot of weird gender and sexual hangups are all mixed up together in our classic picture of the drow -- there is, as you mentioned, a rather improbable amount of whips and chains. Is their villainous matriarchy specifically an issue, though? Like, imagine the most matriarchal society in D&D not being villains. Imagine the gnomes or whatever are said to have these strong attitudes about gender superiority, but are presented as "good" or at least respectable. That doesn't really work either, right?

So if there are going to be matriarchies in D&D, they kind of have to be on the bad side. They just need to not be weird about it.
 

One thing I'm trying to do, and I haven't had a lot of success so far, but I also haven't had a good chance to focus on it, is to make spiders more important to all elves, as well as just reunify the elven cultures. Mostly just to do something different.

Problem is, I haven't figured a decent way to make spiders more generic and less evil. So, I'm still mulling it over and trying to do some minor research for ideas
I'm pretty sure the equation of spiders with evil in modern fantasy derives almost entirely from the arachnophobia of one J.R.R. Tolkien. In folklore, they're far more commonly expert crafters, tricksters, and symbols of good luck. The worst depiction I can think of off the top of my head is Arachne, who's certainly no hero but hardly a monster either.
 

One thing I'm trying to do, and I haven't had a lot of success so far, but I also haven't had a good chance to focus on it, is to make spiders more important to all elves, as well as just reunify the elven cultures. Mostly just to do something different.

Problem is, I haven't figured a decent way to make spiders more generic and less evil. So, I'm still mulling it over and trying to do some minor research for ideas
I have a spider queen in my campaign setting that lives in the fey wild, and sits in between the seelie and unseelie fey. Spiders are neutral, not evil. They can be very helpful or cruel.
 

Pauln6

Explorer
A lot of weird gender and sexual hangups are all mixed up together in our classic picture of the drow -- there is, as you mentioned, a rather improbable amount of whips and chains. Is their villainous matriarchy specifically an issue, though? Like, imagine the most matriarchal society in D&D not being villains. Imagine the gnomes or whatever are said to have these strong attitudes about gender superiority, but are presented as "good" or at least respectable. That doesn't really work either, right?

So if there are going to be matriarchies in D&D, they kind of have to be on the bad side. They just need to not be weird about it.
The number of matriarchal societies in traditional D&D is woeful when you consider the wide variety of gender differences across the animal kingdom. Decades of humanoids with tribal lairs full of housewives did not help. I'm still playing in my WoG setting so the matriarchal town of Hardby, a dwarven town in Keoland, and the Drow are the only high profile examples, although we've always portrayed the elves as practising complete equality of the sexes.
 


A lot of weird gender and sexual hangups are all mixed up together in our classic picture of the drow -- there is, as you mentioned, a rather improbable amount of whips and chains. Is their villainous matriarchy specifically an issue, though? Like, imagine the most matriarchal society in D&D not being villains. Imagine the gnomes or whatever are said to have these strong attitudes about gender superiority, but are presented as "good" or at least respectable. That doesn't really work either, right?

So if there are going to be matriarchies in D&D, they kind of have to be on the bad side. They just need to not be weird about it.
I think you may be confusing definitions a small bit.

A Matriarchy is not (definitionally) a society where women are considered superior to men. It is a society where women are the ones holding the reigns of power. The rulers are women, the major merchants are women, ect. You never once have to say "women are superior to men", you never once have to have a woman treat a man badly.

You just need a society run by women.


I honestly think that the worst part about the Drow Matriarchy isn't that it exists, but that it being the only well-known matriarchy and is presented as the women abusing, deriding, and hating the men and that is why they are in charge. It heavily implies that that is the only way a matriarchy could exist.
 

I honestly think that the worst part about the Drow Matriarchy isn't that it exists, but that it being the only well-known matriarchy and is presented as the women abusing, deriding, and hating the men and that is why they are in charge. It heavily implies that that is the only way a matriarchy could exist.
Yes exactly - as the Foglio cartoon says, "A matriarchy as envisioned by the recently divorced". There's a whole strand of deeply unfunny 1970s and 1980s "comedy", often involving divorce, which basically boils down to women being horrible evil monsters who live to torture men, and despite being comedy it clearly represented genuine (and horrifying) views from some men, especially of a certain age. And the Drow seem to be a very literal embodiment of that.

The lack of matriarchies in D&D is a bit weird, honestly, given they weren't exactly uncommon in fantasy more generally, and tended to lean hippy-ish.

I think what makes them so deeply problematic is that, whilst the original idea was just a bit lame and OTT (not in a good way, either), it's sort of rolled along and picked up a lot of other really unfortunate ideas with it. Clearly the matriarchy thing comes from the spider worship and the one thing a lot of people know about spiders is that in some species (they probably think "all" but w/e) the female is larger than the male, and may eat them after mating. So you have that, which isn't an auspicious start, but I guess is a thing, then you get the notion of cruelty added (which definitely has misogynistic roots, given the era and the strong association of cruelty with women at the time - men who were cruel to men were often portrayed or coded as effete or homosexual in 1970s and 1980s media), and then that extends into actual BDSM. And that's without even addressing the racial coding angles and the "urban" angle mentioned.

What always got me though was that clearly Gygax and others read Moorcock, who had incredibly evil elves in the Melniboneans, who were pale-skinned, so the decision to go with this bizarre coal-black skin (especially given people were still using that kind of make-up for minstrel shows and so on back then in the US) was a really weird one. Warhammer, very sensibly, despite clearly deriving Dark Elves from a mixture of D&D and Moorcock, went with a Moorcockian appearance (not that they didn't have some wacky racism of their own, but they managed to get rid of most of it by the late 1990s).
 

Voadam

Hero
The number of matriarchal societies in traditional D&D is woeful when you consider the wide variety of gender differences across the animal kingdom. Decades of humanoids with tribal lairs full of housewives did not help. I'm still playing in my WoG setting so the matriarchal town of Hardby, a dwarven town in Keoland, and the Drow are the only high profile examples, although we've always portrayed the elves as practising complete equality of the sexes.
Isn't there a Queen of Celene? Its been a while.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Hmm, having a Queen doesn't a matriarchy make, even a hereditary Queendom. Far Madding, from the Wheel of Time would be a reasonable fantasy example.
 


A lot of weird gender and sexual hangups are all mixed up together in our classic picture of the drow -- there is, as you mentioned, a rather improbable amount of whips and chains. Is their villainous matriarchy specifically an issue, though? Like, imagine the most matriarchal society in D&D not being villains. Imagine the gnomes or whatever are said to have these strong attitudes about gender superiority, but are presented as "good" or at least respectable. That doesn't really work either, right?
I don't agree. You've made this claim before, but it's wholly unconvincing to me, because D&D literally only ever specifies when something is a matriarchy, never when it's a patriarchy, even when it is obviously a patriarchy. If you have a society, and every leader we hear about is male, and they have only male combatants, and so on, it's pretty obvious, I would argue, that that's a patriarchy.

And yet cultures which are presented as unnamed-patriarchies are presented positively in D&D. Dwarves have frequently been presented as having solely male leadership, particularly in earlier editions, but it's almost never spelled out. Instead we just see all Dwarvish leadership is male. You see the same with other cultures - we'll see six or a dozen or even more leaders, and every single one of them will be male, or the only female one will have an actual explanation of why she's even there (usually she's someone's only child, or widow - which were the typical RL historical explanations for women being leaders in otherwise patriarchal societies) - an explanation absent for all the male ones.

You can't go on pretending that, just because people aren't naming patriarchies, patriarchies, they're not patriarchies. It's like our own society - it's been a patriarchy for thousands of years. Did it get called that much before the 19th and 20th centuries? No. Because it was just "how things were". And D&D has done the same, pretty consistently, for decades.

Even societies which are definitely egalitarian do tend to get called out as such in D&D, again, especially in earlier editions. Which again suggest that patriarchy is the default assumption, and it's only worth noting if it's different from that. I'm not going to bore us by listing all the other things in life which can work this way, but you know perfectly well, because you live in the world, that something can be a thing without being named as such, and pretending that because it hasn't been, it isn't, is pffff disingenuous at best.

I will note that when a demihuman race is closely examined, even if literally every ruler we've ever seen has been male, they tend to be suddenly "discovered" to be egalitarian, or have some kind of system that's sexist, but somehow gives both genders equal power (or males more, but not by a vast margin - still that is somewhat patriarchal, even though they'll never call it that).

And yes, it definitely is a problem, because it explicitly links matriarchy and being outright villainous. Being matriarchal or patriarchal doesn't make you "D&D Evil" (unless you want to label literally all your ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years, and the culture you live in as "D&D Evil", which is like, a bold move I would say - not necessarily wrong - but bold!). You could certainly have an LN culture which was Patriarchal. They might be prats, jerks, losers, but they don't need to be Evil with a capital E. Likewise Matriarchies. They're less likely to be Good (given the inherent link to equality), barring some wacky examples where they just choose women as leaders not because they're "superior" in some general way, but because the culture believes something else makes it sensible, but even that's not impossible. So again yes, making them not only evil but Super Duper Nuclear Grade Atomic Evil, the Evilest of the Evil, and as you do not, dragging in a bunch of other creepy junk about cruelty and whips and chains, is deeply problematic.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Sir Fang's Dentist
I don't agree. You've made this claim before, but it's wholly unconvincing to me, because D&D literally only ever specifies when something is a matriarchy, never when it's a patriarchy, even when it is obviously a patriarchy. If you have a society, and every leader we hear about is male, and they have only male combatants, and so on, it's pretty obvious, I would argue, that that's a patriarchy.
I agree, and think that this is accurate from my perspective. That's why I wrote-

"a quick read of other modules, such as B2, shows that the default for evil humanoids was a patriarchal society*, so .... progress?

*In B2, there is a disturbing amount of women and children that need killing."

As a general rule, if it doesn't say that some random humanoid culture is matriarchal, it is patriarchal.
 

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