Dark or Light

Monster Journals - The Duergar and the Drow

William Murphy Posted:
Previews 0

Sword Coast Legends, due out at the end of this month, sports a lot of the creatures from Dungeons and Dragons' illustrious history. But, unlike most RPGs, you can actually play as these monsters should you decide to take on the role of Dungeon Master, in our third of a series today we're pulling back the veil on the Duergar and the Drow... two races you'll face deep in the Underdark of the Sword Coast.


First up is my own personal favorite, the Duergar (gray dwarves!). I've always had a proclivity for the stout bearded fantasy race, and when I'm feeling particularly evil the Duergar are just my style.  But it's also sad, because the Duergar were once regular dwarves, but held captive by the Illithids for so many centuries, they're an offshoot of the proud and industrious race and now server only the evils of the world.

The tyrannical duergar, also known as gray dwarves, dwell in fantastic cities deep in the Underdark. Using ancient dwarven knowledge and myriad slaves, they work tirelessly to expand their subterranean kingdoms. Most duergar (including females) are bald and have ashen gray skin. They wear drab clothing designed to blend in with stone, along with simple jewelry that reflects their severe and utilitarian demeanor.

The duergar were once dwarves, before their greed and endless delving beneath the earth brought them into contact with the mind flayers. Held in captivity for generations by the illithids, the dwarves eventually won their independence with the aid of the evil god Laduguer. Slavery had forever changed them, however, darkening their spirits to make the duergar as evil as the tyrants they had escaped. Despite winning their freedom, duergar are dour, pessimistic, untrusting creatures, always toiling and complaining, with no memory of what it means to be happy or proud. Their craftsmanship and accomplishments endure, yet they are bereft of warmth or artistry. Duergar make war against their dwarven kin and all other subterranean races. They forge alliances when it is convenient, then break those alliances when they have nothing more to gain. They take and hold slaves to toil in the Underdark, regarding them as free labor and crude currency.

The Underdark is saturated with strange magical power, which the duergar absorbed over generations of imprisonment. A duergar can increase its size and strength for a short time, becoming a powerful ogre-sized warrior. If it faces a foe it can’t fight, or when spying on creatures approaching its territory, it can just as easily become invisible to slip away into the darkness. Eons spent in the Underdark also sharpened their darkvision, allowing them to see twice as far as other dwarves. This keen eyesight comes at a cost, however, as a duergar’s vision is compromised by sunlight.


You'd be foolish to think that the only important Drow is Drizzt. While he may be the most famous, the Drow of D&D are one of the most prominent evil races in all of the Underdark.  Our own Christina Gonzalez undoubtedly loves them because they're also masters of Spiders and all things arachnid (note: this is absolutely false). Thing is, the Drow are pretty darn dark, even for a race called the Dark Elves.  They can't even stand sunlight anymore. The lone exception being Drizzt for reasons most of you can Google.

Tens of thousands of years ago, the elves were divided, with those of benevolent disposition battling those that were selfish and cruel. The war among elven kind ended when the good elves banished their malevolent kin to the subterranean depths. Here, in the lightless caverns and endless warrens of twisting passages, the dark elves—the drow—found refuge. They also found leadership in the only elven deity who had not forsaken them. At her command, the dark elves built an empire in the underworld.

The drow worship Lolth, a deity who resides in the Abyss. Known as the Spider Queen or the Demon Queen of Spiders, she is the figure around which the dark elves have built their subterranean civilization. Whatever she demands, the drow do. The wickedest of elves, drow are seldom seen by the surface world. Though they plot to destroy the elves that banished them, they no longer see themselves as exiles. They are the destined rulers of the darkness, and when Lolth commands them to rise up and destroy their surface-dwelling kin, they will.

The drow have lived underground for so long that they have evolved to their surroundings and can see in the dark. However, they can no longer stand sunlight. When slaves are in short supply in the Underdark, the drow send raiding parties to the surface to capture humanoids under cover of darkness, bringing them back to their cities to be tortured into submission. Beyond those occasional excursions, the drow are content to remain in their subterranean realm, where they feel secure and in control.

The dark elves build fantastic cities in enormous caverns where food and water are abundant. Their ability to sculpt stone rivals that of the greatest dwarf artisans, yet their structures retain a decidedly elven aesthetic. Though appearing delicate, drow settlements are structurally sound and remarkably resilient. The drow like to hollow out enormous stalagmites and stalactites, creating populated spires that rise from the floors and ceilings. A drow city is a sprawling metropolis enclosed by high walls. Non-drow visitors must conduct their business outside the walls under watchful eyes. The drow raise and keep giant spiders to help protect their cities against intruders, even as they drape those cities in beautiful webbing, creating a gossamer snare to catch flying enemies that would otherwise soar over the walls.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.