Beyond the Underdark: Secrets of the Drow

The phrase “Forgotten Realms” has never seemed so apt as broader drow society reveals itself from the shadows.


In the Legend of Drizzt, it is a widely accepted fact that the story of the drow and the story of Lolth are one in the same. Everyone—aboveground and below—knows that all drow elves live in the Underdark and worship the Spider Queen.

And everyone… is wrong.

Many D&D fans’ first experience of the drow world will have been through the eyes of its most famous son, Drizzt Do’Urden. As new areas of the drow world are revealed for the first time, Drizzt and his companions are being reintroduced to the world in Sleep Sound, an animated short narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch and written by R.A. Salvatore (learn more about the creation of Sleep Sound below). Watch as we experience the beginning of drow society again… for the first time.

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In the Legend of Drizzt, Lolth has always been synonymous with the drow, and for good reason. This cruel goddess was among the first primal elves and when she spun her web of lies millennia ago, she ignited a divine war between elven gods. Rebelling against her creator, Lolth led a group of drow into the Underdark to build Menzoberranzan, the great cave structure known as the City of Spiders.

To learn more about Callidae, visit legendofdrizzt.com

Over millennia, Lolth’s teachings have corrupted this “udadrow” society into one that values cruelty, obedience, and a burning hatred of surface dwellers. Her stranglehold over it is now total. Young warriors raid surface villages, proving their worth by killing their inhabitants. Lolthian udadrow have come to refer to only themselves as drow, disavowing the notion that other drow elves even exist, as all knowledge of their kind who remained aboveground has been eradicated from their histories.

While these actions drove a wedge into the family tree of elvenkind, the drow that built Menzoberranzan are but a splinter group. The Forgotten Realms is about to learn a truth that has remained secret since Lolth’s initial betrayal.

“The spider-inspired ‘udadrow’ expression of the drow elves that D&D fans currently know is based on Lolth’s influence over a pocket of elves who became isolationist, cutting themselves off from the rest of drow culture,” explains Franchise Creative Director Jeremy Jarvis. “There are whole societies of drow that did not follow Lolth into the Underdark. Two such groups are the ‘aevendrow’ and the ‘lorendrow’, or the starlight elves and the greenshadow elves respectively.”

It is believed that in the years following Lolth’s schism, some of the drow elves who remained aboveground followed their moral compasses north, vanishing from history behind curtains of snow, aurora, and illusion. They became the aevendrow, a secretive clan steeped in powerful magic. The memory of their glittering bastion of Callidae somehow escapes even the longest-lived of elves. What life is like within Callidae’s borders, and what mysteries have been guarded through centuries of storm and strife, remain unknown.

To learn more about Saekolath, visit legendofdrizzt.com

Another band of uncorrupted drow which remained aboveground are believed to have sought a new homeland within the towering forests to the south. Certain historians imagine these ‘lorendrow’ to be living in a verdant city that straddles rivers with airy bridges and wends around trunks as grand as cathedrals. Considered in many circles to be a case of scholastic fancy gone rogue, these historians have named the lorendrow homeland Saekolath—or “Place of Shade”.

DEFINING THE DROW

As the world of the drow has expanded in the Legend of Drizzt, their appearance has also been revisited. Led by Principal Concept Artist Lake Hurwitz, a group of artists explored the drow’s physical characteristics, as well as their clothing, weaponry and architecture. “We needed to ensure that the drow would read as a fantastical, living group of elves. As beautiful and otherworldly as they are nuanced,” Jeremy says, as Art Director Daniel Ketchum adds, “One of the very first things we did is explore lividity and temperature zones in the appearance of all drow. Adding these areas of warmth to their features communicates that they are living, breathing beings with beating hearts.”

One of the Franchise art team’s key tasks when expanding drow society was to differentiate between those elves who remained on the surface and those who followed the Spider queen into the Underdark all those centuries ago. The challenge wasn’t simply to align the udadrow visually with Lolth in a way that went beyond their clothing and architecture, it was to make a distinction between the drow who are onboard with Lolth’s agenda and those who were not susceptible to her corrupting influence.

“Drow elf skin is clear of any markings as a rule,” Lake says. “Lolth is the corruptor and her markings, Lolth’s Embrace, are visual evidence of that corruption. And not every drow has them. Lolth cult members are ‘gifted’ those markings as a result of their connection to the deity. It was an opportunity to introduce more of the spider theme in a visual way.”

To learn more about Malice, visit legendofdrizzt.com

“Any Drow that has Lolth’s favor gets these markings that creep up over the skin. The more you embrace her teachings, the more pronounced those markings become. But if you fall out of favor, they start to fade,” Daniel adds, revealing that only Lolth’s personal connection can add the marks. “You’ll see Malice Do’Urden has very pronounced markings but it’s not a family trait because her son Drizzt is seen without them.”

“We always knew that Lolth’s corruption would be a spider motif, we just didn’t know how we were going to express that. Leaning into the spider aesthetic, those creatures’ markings can be brightly colored and often resemble shapes such as skulls or droplets. We decided instead that we wanted lighter markings to contrast against the drow skin tone and as these markings develop, they would begin to combine with spider legs and spider eyes. Malice in particular has an amalgamation of web-like, fang-like, but also leg-like shapes,” Lake says.

“Those have been expressed in a really beautiful way. When Lolth adorns her followers, those markings are always going to accentuate the beauty of the person that they’re placed upon. They’re going to flow with that person’s features and the way that they carry themselves. And those markings will be specific to that person because Lolth favors everyone in different ways.”

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DRIZZT AND THE DROW

The star of numerous novels by New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore (including an upcoming Drizzt novel trilogy that makes a great jumping on point for new readers), it was fitting for Bob to add some fine touches to this expanding drow lore.

“As part of this worldbuilding we had to show that Drizzt was hardly unique as an udadrow who isn’t evil. I did that in my early books but it really came to the fore in the recent Generations trilogy, when we go back in time with Zaknafein and Jarlaxle,” Bob explains. “You see an undercurrent in drow society that knows the Matrons’ actions are wicked and cruel. Even Dab’nay Tr’arach, who’s a priestess of Lolth, hates the Spider Queen and everything that she has to do to survive. But what are they going to do? They can’t fight the power. If a priestess stands up and declares that what is happening is wrong, the Handmaidens show up and take her to the abyss for retraining. This is why Drizzt is such an icon for them. Not only did he escape, but Lolth tried to get him back, and failed—twice.”

To learn more about Drizzt, visit legendofdrizzt.com

Drizzt’s story is one of tragedy. In Jeremy’s initial concept pitch for the animated short Sleep Sound, the drow ranger has realized the dysfunction of his own home, and more importantly his own family, and has been forced to turn his back on them and venture out into the world to become who he wants to be. The narration was planned as a lilting, spoken lullaby that Menzoberranzan drow use to ease their children to ‘sleep’, filled with Lolthian drow values such as the comfort of the dark and the safety of community.

“Initially, the visuals support these statements. As the poem continues, it starts to take on a more ominous character, and we see Drizzt begin to act in ways that diverge from what we’re hearing. Ultimately, we realize that this sleepy-time poem is actually a tool for indoctrinating the young second-boys into this dark religion and we see Drizzt acting in outright rebellion against the false teachings,” Jeremy explains.

“The narration becomes increasingly biting in tone and delivery as if responding to Drizzt’s actions. As the audience takes this short but memorable journey of revelation with Drizzt, we all join him in rejecting the underlying evil we have been hearing.”

You can find more information on Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of the Hall at legendofdrizzt.com. You can also team up to play as Drizzt and the Companions in the action co-op video game Dark Alliance, released June 22, 2021. R.A. Salvatore’s latest novel, Starlight Enclave, publishes August 19, 2021 and is available for pre-order now. Visit the dedicated Amazon hub to find novels, action figures, and other expressions of Drizzt and his friends, foes, and adventures.