Behind the Screen: Wherein I admit my failings…

2010 January 11
by Dante

Hello, my name is Dante and I have a problem.

Today I admit an uncomfortable truth: I have never read any of the Drizzt novels or pretty much any other Forgotten Realms related novelizations.

Before I hear the “door slamming”  sound of the rest of my readership leaving the premises, allow me to explain:

I have spent most of my D&D career learning at the feet of masters.  My original DM, Chuck, was exceedingly well versed in Salvatore-lore and all other manner of Forgotten Realms storylines.  He painted so many vivid and disturbing examples of Drow culture that it held me over for quite some time, and since my first real campaign was a continuation of his storyline I didn’t have to know much more than I already did.  My other campaigns have predominately revolved around non-Forgotten Realms themes and topics I haven’t had to revisit the setting, so my interest wasn’t focused there.

And now I’m screwed.

Well, maybe not screwed… but I do have a situation.  I have worked up a plot that involves the dark elves, and strategically timed it such that I had all holiday break to do some reading to prepare me to subject my characters to a proper representation of Drow society.  The trouble is that I didn’t do my homework and now I need some crib notes for how to whip up a Drow society and make it believable.  I’m going to crack open my 4e Forgotten Realms campaign guide and see what I can glean in a few sessions prior to this weekend, but I’m open to any suggestions on how to bone up fast.

Also, I would like to extend my apologies to everyone who has written in the Forgotten Realms universe.  I consider this one of the most grievous gaps in my D&D education, one that I fully intend to rectify.  Just not this week!  I fully expect to suffer the barbs of my fellow roleplaying bloggers on this one, so the comment thread should be fun!

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 11, 2010

    Not only have I never read them, I have no plans to – or any desire to run or play in a Forgotten Realms based campaign.

    This has zero to do with criticism of the works or authors – from what I understand some great things have been done with the setting and fiction, and I admire that.

    But for me, I don’t like it for a game – it has killed all the mystery for a setting.

    When you have a campaign where the players can sit there and say “no, in this book XXX happened, so YYY couldn’t be in your campaign,” or “wood dragons are always susceptible to extra fire damage, except the ebony variety of course, which requires penetrating weapons of +3 or better,” I lose my interest in a setting. IMHO too many people have spent too long building the canon and reading the works for me to enjoy it as either a player or a GM anymore.

    Of course, this is just my opinion and enjoyment – for the thousands who love the Forgotten Realms settings rock on. Just as there are plenty of ideas in that and any other work free to poach for your own campaign…

    It’s the same reason I could never get into MERP as purely run – too much canon to the world, so where is the magic for me?

    IMHO is all…

  2. Aoi permalink
    January 11, 2010

    Well, I would say first and foremost that it’s your game, and your dark elves can be as similar to or different from canon as you like.

    Depictions of dark elf society have, in my readings, typically involved strict theological matriarchies (worshipping Lolth). They also tend to be incredibly sadistic and prone to Machiavellian intrigues (that often result in the deaths of political nobodies and prominent figures alike) and blood sports (or more precisely, torture of captured prisoners as entertainment) and, if memory serves me right from a reading from a while back, weird sadomasochistic BDSM orgies. Seriously, it’s really messed up and probably way too graphic for most games.

    Moreover, drow societies IMO would not actually work – there needs to be a certain level of trust that you won’t be randomly killed off by your matron for fun in order to generate buy-in to the society. This trust allows for the development of long-term institutions and allows governments to function. Drow as commonly depicted would be too busy trying to kill each other off to actually be a threat outside of their weird society. From the individual drow’s perspective, why participate in drow society when you stand a better chance of surviving by going the way of Drizzt and striking out on your own?

    Oh yeah, and they have spider-themed decor for just about everything.

    I think that if you stick to the spider-theme (the spider-fashion-sense, if you will), the theological matriarchy, extreme social darwinism combined with manifest destiny, and general lack of value placed on the lives of individuals, you’ll create a drow society that is true enough to canon that players won’t be confused.

  3. Dante permalink*
    January 11, 2010

    Thanks for the thoughts and advice! Stupid Ranger reminds me that part of the problem is that she has read them and I have not, so I have already gotten (in jest) a set of “wow, Drow probably wouldn’t really do that” comments from her.

    I’m set to get into reading the campaign setting a bit more and I have some ideas percolating already. Keep it comin’!

  4. January 11, 2010

    “I have already gotten (in jest) a set of “wow, Drow probably wouldn’t really do that”

    This is one of the major reasons why I only run homebrew settings. I’m not going to DM a world that my players know more about than I do. Half the point of DMing is that no one knows more about the world than you.

    I’ve only read one FR book, but it had no Drizz’t. The drow seemed classy.

  5. January 12, 2010

    Aaah, I’m in the same boat as you, Dante. I inherited an ongoing campaign that was set in the Realms, which is both good and bad. As a new DM, I don’t know the first thing about world creation. So a lot of my time has been freed up to come up with stories about the characters, instead of the story about the world. On the other hand, my husband is an enormous fan of FR lore. But he told me up front that he wouldn’t call me out on deviating from the canon as long as the story I was weaving for the group was interesting.

    Anyway, whenever I have a question about the Forgotten Realms, I consult the Forgotten Realms Wiki at . Because of them, I’ve gotten a much better idea of how the world works. Best of luck, and I hope to read about what you’re doing with the Drow. Sounds like you got some interesting ideas going!

  6. January 12, 2010

    I have never read a Drizzt book either! Maybe we can form a support group.

    I did read a bunch of FR books back in high school, but like other people here, I’ve had bad experiences playing in FR games through canon-lawyering (mostly from DMs telling me that I couldn’t play the character I wanted to play even when I justified it.)

    I was really impressed with P2: Demon Queen’s Enclave giving me an insight into Drow society, actually. I’m running through it now, and there’s all kinds of arrangements being made, with the party trying to come out on top.

  7. Starwind1985 permalink
    January 14, 2010

    There is a 3.5 book called drow of the underdark that might be worth tracking down for the fluff. A few things to help you though: drow are a very self-serving bunch; everything they do is for thier own benefit or is done out of fear. They think themselves superior to all races. They are very magic-dependent (both arcane and divine). They love intrigue and respect power. Women are superior in thier society, while males are expendable. And they love chaos.

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