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

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.
Let's assume for the sake of argument you're right. We're not just talking about any matriarchy, we're talking about "the most matriarchal society in D&D". Of the spectrum of matriarchies, these people are at the extreme end. Even if not all matriarchies consider women superior to men, this presumably is the one that does.

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 think you're mistaking me for somebody else. I don't recall making this claim here before, and I'm certainly not "pretending that, just because people aren't naming patriarchies, patriarchies, they're not patriarchies". So maybe dial back on the "you know perfectly well" and the "pfff disingenuous at best" rhetoric, please? A dwarf society with solely male leadership is definitely a patriarchy. And although, as you say, D&D has presented it without naming it consistently for decades, I get the distinct impression that you don't think it should continue to do so. I certainly don't. I'm not against depicting imperfect societies in D&D, but if the dwarves in your setting believe only sons can inherit or whatever, spell that out. Those sorts of tendencies may or may not constitute outright evil, but they tug in that direction, and -- to return to the point I made above -- "the most patriarchal society in D&D", the one at the extreme end of the spectrum, is I hope labeled as evil.

So if going forward we want to revise this "patriarchy by default" assumption of past editions, does this affect how we think about the drow matriarchy?
 

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SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
The original post (and referenced article) was a great read. Interesting history. As for how I used drow/dark elves in my games, we’ve never really gotten into describing the extent of hair curl, so I’m not sure I have much to contribute to the inevitable cultural skirmish in the comments. :)

A lot of drow/dark elves that I’ve encountered have had posh British accents for some reason. While a disproportionate number goblins and orcs I’ve encountered have cockney ones. Honestly after decades of play and a lifetime of living with actual brown-skinned people, connecting drow and people of African heritage seems superficial and twisted to me. But I appreciate that’s just my perspective.
 
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Pauln6

Explorer
Isn't there a Queen of Celene? Its been a while.
Ah yes but just having a female leader doesn't make you a matriarchy. Matriarchies often have inheritance laws that run through the female line. Women have the power to choose their own husbands. The first born women become heads of households etc.
 

Let's assume for the sake of argument you're right. We're not just talking about any matriarchy, we're talking about "the most matriarchal society in D&D". Of the spectrum of matriarchies, these people are at the extreme end. Even if not all matriarchies consider women superior to men, this presumably is the one that does.
There are two problems here.

1) If the most matriarchly society is defined by seeing women superior to men, and that the men are subjugated, we have a problem.

2) Drow aren't just "the most matriarchal society in DnD" they are the only one. Unless there is some incredibly obscure group I am not familiar with, Drow are the only Matriarchal society in DnD at all, and they are sexist in a near cartoonish fashion.

So, if your point is that we need a horrific cartoonishly evil "patriarchal" society. Well, despite all their problems, classical orcs do that one.

So let's step into the middle ground. Where is are the other matriarchies?
 

jerryrice4949

Explorer
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.
Me too! In my home brewed world most underground dwelling humanoids including drow are near albino. It also is more logical with the sunlight sensitivity.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I've thought about it for a day, and I think I'm going to transition to translucent skinned Drow and go with a more creature from the depths feel. Bioluminesence, that sort of thing. Maybe not invisible muscle tissue like a Nehwon Ghoul, so visible muscle and transparent skin. Maybe their emotions trigger various sorts of bioluminesence. I'm going to work it though. I think I'll redo the whole origin thing to, I may make them the offspring of a Elder God, bound deep in the earth, who fashioned them in the likeness of elves because he was bound to the depths so long ago that they are only humanoids he knows. Maybe more of a hunter insect/hivemind kind of approach.
 

1) If the most matriarchly society is defined by seeing women superior to men, and that the men are subjugated, we have a problem.
I honestly don't understand you here. If one society does this and another doesn't, I think we're on solid definitional ground calling the first society more matriarchal than the second.

2) Drow aren't just "the most matriarchal society in DnD" they are the only one. Unless there is some incredibly obscure group I am not familiar with, Drow are the only Matriarchal society in DnD at all, and they are sexist in a near cartoonish fashion.

So, if your point is that we need a horrific cartoonishly evil "patriarchal" society. Well, despite all their problems, classical orcs do that one.

So let's step into the middle ground. Where is are the other matriarchies?
Well, first of all, history unfortunately shows there's nothing cartoonish about the idea of extreme patriarchies.

Secondly, you're basically right, I could point to a couple of specific societies in specific settings that are less strictly matriarchal, but the drow are the only major one in default D&D. What does this mean, though? Does crazy drow culture have to be representative of all matriarchies, or can it just be crazy drow culture?

And thirdly, it's a bit strange to me to be looking for positive representation for matriarchies in the first place. There's a world of difference between that and positive representation for women. Flip the script: if orcs were the only patriarchy, would it make sense to say, "Hey, that's not fair to patriarchy, let's add some more positive portrayals of patriarchal societies"?
 

Voadam

Hero
I had not really thought about the warrior women drow being analogous to Amazons in Greek myth, other land warrior women who are dangerous to the base patriarchal society. I think because I primarily think of them as the decadent black-skinned demon worshipping magical evil elves.
 

I honestly don't understand you here. If one society does this and another doesn't, I think we're on solid definitional ground calling the first society more matriarchal than the second.
More sexist. But Sexist against men isn't the point of a Matriarchy.


Well, first of all, history unfortunately shows there's nothing cartoonish about the idea of extreme patriarchies.
Cartoonish in that it ends up being so extreme as to almost be a parody. Nothing really "cartoony" about Drow either, except that they are so evil it is hard to take seriously.

Secondly, you're basically right, I could point to a couple of specific societies in specific settings that are less strictly matriarchal, but the drow are the only major one in default D&D. What does this mean, though? Does crazy drow culture have to be representative of all matriarchies, or can it just be crazy drow culture?

And thirdly, it's a bit strange to me to be looking for positive representation for matriarchies in the first place. There's a world of difference between that and positive representation for women. Flip the script: if orcs were the only patriarchy, would it make sense to say, "Hey, that's not fair to patriarchy, let's add some more positive portrayals of patriarchal societies"?
To the second point, Drow society should not be representative of all matriarchal societies, but it is de facto representing them by being the only one.

To the third point, you are right, this isn't about positive representation of women, it is about positive representation of a form of society that is different from the norm. Egalitarian societies where both genders are equally in charge are of course better, but since we have so many patriarchies (quite possibly everything except Drow) but historically we have seen Matriarchal societies, I don't see any reason why not to have a positive representation of them.

I mean, we have positive and negative monarchies, positive and negative republics, positive and negative theocracies, positive and negative patriarchies...

And only negative matriarchies.

So, why not make a positive one?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I've thought about it for a day, and I think I'm going to transition to translucent skinned Drow and go with a more creature from the depths feel. Bioluminesence, that sort of thing. Maybe not invisible muscle tissue like a Nehwon Ghoul, so visible muscle and transparent skin. Maybe their emotions trigger various sorts of bioluminesence. I'm going to work it though. I think I'll redo the whole origin thing to, I may make them the offspring of a Elder God, bound deep in the earth, who fashioned them in the likeness of elves because he was bound to the depths so long ago that they are only humanoids he knows. Maybe more of a hunter insect/hivemind kind of approach.
Torog!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
That would work pefectly! The Drow are his Raiders and Hunter-Killers. It began in order to spread the Hive, raiding the surface for slaves and material for his ... experiments, but Torog has finally divined how to absorb a sentient creature and produce a duplicate that has at least some of its memories and can mimic it most successfully.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
So let's step into the middle ground. Where is are the other matriarchies?
The only other example I can think off off-hand is at best semi-matriarchal: the city-state of Nibenay in Dark Sun.

The Ruler of Nibenay is Nibenay, the Shadow King - so at the top, there's a dude. But the ones actually running the government are, much like in other Dark Sun city-states, a cadre of civic priests called Templars. In Nibenay, these are all women and technically the brides of Nibenay.

Other than Nibenay, Dark Sun books mentioned that Athas pretty much didn't have traditional gender roles, because the world was too harsh to tolerate such nonsense. But that makes it (in theory) egalitarian, not matriarchal.
 

Voadam

Hero
D&D has always been neat for filling in the blanks, cultures and leadership and social mores are generally undefined. You can have default egalitarianism, you can have models of aspects of reality, and fantastic models that strike you. Greyhawk could be completely egalitarian other than skewing male in the heads of state in the 1980 gazetteer. It could be medieval social roles throughout. Drow seemed an experiment in fantastical culture creation with accretions over time by multiple authors in addition to the blending that there source was.
 

More sexist. But Sexist against men isn't the point of a Matriarchy.
I am, to put it mildly, having an extremely hard time wrapping my mind around a claim that a social structure defined by assigning the positions of power to one sex only does not constitute sexism. If that is not the claim you intend to make, please clarify.

To the second point, Drow society should not be representative of all matriarchal societies, but it is de facto representing them by being the only one.

To the third point, you are right, this isn't about positive representation of women, it is about positive representation of a form of society that is different from the norm. Egalitarian societies where both genders are equally in charge are of course better, but since we have so many patriarchies (quite possibly everything except Drow) but historically we have seen Matriarchal societies, I don't see any reason why not to have a positive representation of them.

I mean, we have positive and negative monarchies, positive and negative republics, positive and negative theocracies, positive and negative patriarchies...

And only negative matriarchies.

So, why not make a positive one?
I'd argue that even the "positive" patriarchies are only positive until a female character runs up against the restrictions they have imposed. After that, they're... not necessarily bad from a game perspective, because this generates conflict and hence narrative, but certainly antagonistic.

You're right, though, in that there could certainly be matriarchal societies that are less psychotic than the drow. My question is how the presence or absence of these other societies affects how we evaluate the drow. Let's imagine that 6E promotes the abeils (lawful neutral bee-people) to a core rulebook playable race as a non-psycho matriarchy. Does that counterbalance the drow's matriarchy and make it look better? Even if it is itself unchanged? In other words: is the problem intrinsic to the depiction of the drow or extrinsic?
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

I mean, I guess that separates you from me. I'm someone who won't even say "Merry Christmas" to a stranger, because for all I know they're Jewish. If I did it probably wouldn't offend them anyway, but why say it when "Happy Holidays," captures the same well wishes?
And if they are Christian, you just offended them. But...that's ok, is it?

That was the point that @dnd4vr was trying to make; it is an exercise in futility to 'walk on eggshells because of the off chance you might say something that offends someone'...because it can go all different sorts of ways. "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays"....or "Happy Halloween" vs "Happy Saturnalia"...or...or...or.

I think that was his point. I'm 100% behind his reasoning, for the record. The only time I find myself "walking on eggshells" is when I'm not protected by the Constitutional Amendments and/or Charter of Rights and Freedoms (I'm a dual citizen of American/Canadian; born in US, also attained Canadian Citizenship). Which basically means anytime I'm "online at certain sites" (like Youtube, or if I was on twitter...which I'm not, never have been, and never plan to be, etc), so...yeah.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
And if they are Christian, you just offended them. But...that's ok, is it?
A Christian who gets offended by being wished happy holidays is upset that their religion isn’t being treated as default. Changing one’s behavior to avoid offending Christians in this manner inherently denies all non-Christians the same recognition of their culture and traditions. In other words, the Christian wants special treatment - specifically, for their religion to be treated as default.

That was the point that @dnd4vr was trying to make; it is an exercise in futility to 'walk on eggshells because of the off chance you might say something that offends someone'...because it can go all different sorts of ways. "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays"....or "Happy Halloween" vs "Happy Saturnalia"...or...or...or.
No, the point they were making was “if [minority group] uses [derogatory term for members of said minority group], they shouldn’t get upset when other people do.” The walking on eggshells comment was an evasion, inconsistent with the initial complaint.

I think that was his point. I'm 100% behind his reasoning, for the record. The only time I find myself "walking on eggshells" is when I'm not protected by the Constitutional Amendments and/or Charter of Rights and Freedoms (I'm a dual citizen of American/Canadian; born in US, also attained Canadian Citizenship). Which basically means anytime I'm "online at certain sites" (like Youtube, or if I was on twitter...which I'm not, never have been, and never plan to be, etc), so...yeah.
You don’t lose those protections online. Those protections are specifically against legal consequences for your speech. You won’t get arrested or sued for anything you say on those sites, provided what you say isn’t defamatory or likely to incite immediate violence. There is no legal protection against the social consequences of one’s speech.
 

A Christian who gets offended by being wished happy holidays is upset that their religion isn’t being treated as default. Changing one’s behavior to avoid offending Christians in this manner inherently denies all non-Christians the same recognition of their culture and traditions. In other words, the Christian wants special treatment - specifically, for their religion to be treated as default.
This might be a good moment to remind everyone about the forum's rules regarding the discussion of politics and religion.
 

You're right, though, in that there could certainly be matriarchal societies that are less psychotic than the drow. My question is how the presence or absence of these other societies affects how we evaluate the drow. Let's imagine that 6E promotes the abeils (lawful neutral bee-people) to a core rulebook playable race as a non-psycho matriarchy. Does that counterbalance the drow's matriarchy and make it look better? Even if it is itself unchanged? In other words: is the problem intrinsic to the depiction of the drow or extrinsic?
Answering this first, I don't see why it has to be either/or. There is a part of the problem that is intrinsic to classical drow depictions, and part that is extrinsically focused on DnD. The Abeils would help solve the Extrinsic part.

I am, to put it mildly, having an extremely hard time wrapping my mind around a claim that a social structure defined by assigning the positions of power to one sex only does not constitute sexism. If that is not the claim you intend to make, please clarify.

I'd argue that even the "positive" patriarchies are only positive until a female character runs up against the restrictions they have imposed. After that, they're... not necessarily bad from a game perspective, because this generates conflict and hence narrative, but certainly antagonistic.
Okay, I'm seeing the confusion and I'm not sure how to explain the nuance my brain is giving this.

Our world is essentially a Patriarchy in ever way and has been for centuries. It isn't unusual to see a man in charge of whatever, and even if everyone has equal rights/pay/ect it will still take time for us to transition to a new normal.

The key I think is the word "restrictions" even if we removed all restrictions right now, we would still live in a Patriarchy. The restrictions prevent change, but they do not make the patriarchy exist.

So, I'm imagining literally just flipping the script of who is in charge. Not by restricting men, or by saying "men can't do X" but by it simply not being the norm. Not by repressing men, who resent this status quo and would just rise up and be in charge if it weren't for the women, but by it being just a normal thing in this society that the women are in charge.

I acknowledge it is a very very fine line, but the point of fact is, that this is exactly what we do with most patriarchal societies in DnD. De Facto, the men are in charge, the men are making decisions, the men are the soldiers, the men are the doctors, the men are the merchants. The women only show up as a counterpoint, to be unusual. I just wonder about running the mirror inverse of that.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Hiya!



And if they are Christian, you just offended them. But...that's ok, is it?

That was the point that @dnd4vr was trying to make; it is an exercise in futility to 'walk on eggshells because of the off chance you might say something that offends someone'...because it can go all different sorts of ways. "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays"....or "Happy Halloween" vs "Happy Saturnalia"...or...or...or.

I think that was his point. I'm 100% behind his reasoning, for the record. The only time I find myself "walking on eggshells" is when I'm not protected by the Constitutional Amendments and/or Charter of Rights and Freedoms (I'm a dual citizen of American/Canadian; born in US, also attained Canadian Citizenship). Which basically means anytime I'm "online at certain sites" (like Youtube, or if I was on twitter...which I'm not, never have been, and never plan to be, etc), so...yeah.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
If someone is a Christian who is offended by "Happy Holidays," then they're beyond help.
 

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'm currently writing a setting - and it has (based on a real world example) a functional matriarchy where most of the characters you meet are male. Only women are allowed to own land within the society and although a lot of the other roles are officially open to men there are some fairly low glass ceilings. This means that a comparative lot of men head out to adventure to try to prove their worth because they just don't have opportunities - and a surprising number of semi-successful male adventurers of the sort that survived their adventures but caroused their loot away retire there to be trophy husbands as in a land where men are considered only good at the four fs (fighting, feasting, feuding, and ...), that's basically the skillset of the type of adventurer who doesn't save their loot.

I'm not sure whether to claim that the setting has drow or not. Dark elves under their armour and warpaint look no different from any other sort of elves, and they are known as dark elves because of the pitch black sails on their slave ships (which use spider-venom to knock people out and keep them unconscious). The elves completely disavow all knowledge of them and claim that the slavers are their enemies. It's known that dark elf ships normally sail under elf colours - but it is deliberately unclear in the setting (and thus up to the GM) whether the dark elves are sea elves, whether they are sea elf corsairs, whether they are enemies of the sea elves and trying to both take advantage of and ruin the reputation of the sea elves, or whether there's some sort of relationship by which the dark elves are actively allowed to use sea elf colours, either through intimidation or bribery.
 

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