D&D Again: Drow Musings and Originality

It had been some time since I last dipped my toe into role-playing, and the recent real-world lockdown did not inherently lend itself to such round-the-table activities. However, as luck would have it, an acquaintance recently set up a Fifth Edition D&D game online, with the sessions being conducted via Discord.

So I’m back, and muddling along at Level 3. And unlike my previous character, Ivor the Human Bard, this time round I’m playing Annalax the Drow Rogue.

And while I am a comparative newbie to D&D, I am fully aware that that opens a can of worms.

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Specifically, Drow as player-characters involve a dilemma:

  • Drow played ‘true’ to their species are basically scheming psychopaths. They backstab and murder each other, and enslave and murder everyone else. Such a character is not going to last in a party of adventurers, unless you are running an all-evil campaign.
  • A ‘Good’ Drow, who rebels against their monstrous society, runs the risk of cliché. After all, this is the premise of R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt books, and jokes about Drizzt clones are a staple of geek culture.

My own personal view (take it with a grain of salt – as I’ve mentioned, I’m not overly experienced at gaming) is that it depends on the DM and the situation. If you genuinely enjoy playing a Drizzt tribute character, and the DM and your fellow players are fine with that… then there is no problem. After all, the purpose of playing this game (or any game) is personal enjoyment, and it really isn’t any outsider’s role to pass Olympian Judgements. Not least because D&D does lend itself to character archetypes generally. On the other hand, if your colleagues react badly to such a character… there is something to sort out between yourselves.

However, if we are approaching this in story-telling terms, rather than gaming terms, I do remember that neat bit of creative advice: bad artists borrow, good artists steal. And one way of doing this is distilling something down to its essence, and swapping out the extraneous stuff. What is the essence of Drizzt? It isn’t that he wields two scimitars, or has a panther as a familiar, or has his particular love interest – that’s just the wrapping of the character. It isn’t even that he’s a male in a matriarchal society.

The essence of Drizzt is that he’s a rebel, who rejects the moral underpinnings of his society in favour of his own. From that foundation, building a distinct ‘Good’ Drow character should be viable, especially if you sit down to consider the experiences that led your character to this particular path. There’s even no particular reason why your rebellious Drow has to be ‘Good’ in a real-world sense. They can have their share of Blue and Orange Morality – the essence of Drizzt is rebellion, and one does not need to be Good to rebel against Evil. Just look at Tolkien’s Feanor.

In my own case, I have gone a different route. Rather than trying to build a ‘Good’ rebellious Drow, Annalax is actually a traditional conformist ‘Bad’ one. He’s just really, really good at hiding his psychopathic Badness from the rest of the party – he can do this because he’s a merchant-flavoured rogue, so he’s more open to cosmopolitan interactions via the realities of his background.

Annalax understands the broad strokes of surface morality, even if he personally thinks it’s stupid and weak. He might even find it rather cute and funny, a thing for infants. There is an element of role-play within a role-play, a game for amusement within a game for amusement. He also knows that certain things about the Drow freak out his prospective slaves customers, so he does not say or do things that are Bad for Business. He’s already glossed over the whole Drider thing in conversation with a human. On the other hand, Annalax has an adorable habit of trying to convert non-Drow to Lolth worship (he’s not particularly successful, of course, but it doesn’t stop him trying). So the Blue and Orange Morality is there too.

In short, I’m rejecting the ‘Good’ horn of the dilemma, and trying to fudge the ‘Bad’ horn enough to actually make for a functional player character. We will see how well it works.

2 thoughts on “D&D Again: Drow Musings and Originality

  1. My experience with D&D dates from the days when the rules were in three paperbacks. #old You’ve used a couple of terms I don’t quite get. Primarily, is “Rogue” a character class? Fighters, Magic-users, and Clerics are people who’ve done a lot of work studying a discipline. What does one study to become a rogue?

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    • Yes, a Rogue is a character class (and there are sub-divisions of that. Specifically, Annalax is an Arcane Trickster). Rogues are notable for having excellent Dexterity (and hence Stealth), and can do a fair amount of damage with Sneak Attack, but they have lowish Strength, and far fewer Hit Points than Fighters.

      (In Tolkienian terms… Aragorn is a Fighter. Bilbo is a Rogue).

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