Game: The Complete Guide to Drow
Publisher: Natural 20 Press
Review Dated: 7th, November 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 17
Average Score: 5.67
Hmm. The Complete Guide to Drow has a shaky start. I found myself turning to page 86 of the Monster Manual to remind myself what the default basics of the Drow are. Jet-black skin, evil, live underground, spider goddess and matriarchal.
It’s pretty much from here that the Guide picks up. The Drow are still evil, they don’t have to have jet-black skin (the front cover has blue Drow), they do live underground, they’re still matriarchal and spider Goddesses are still important. It’s a different deity set though. Lolth, the spider goddess in WotC’s tome isn’t Open Source and so Goodman Games writing for Natural 20 Press has to come up with something different. Rather slyly there is the Spider Queen deity and Tororthun as a possible aspect of that deity or perhaps as another spider goddess of her own. It’s sly because it leaves readers and GMs to freely assume that Lolth is the Spider Queen, or Tororthum, or another aspect of the Spider Queen like Tororthum. There’s a history for the Drow right at the start of the product, a story of conflicts between the elves and their allies and how the ben’docian (dark elves) lost the Kindred Wars, how they divided and entered the deserts, jungles and caverns, of how they all changed but only those who entered the underground caverns survived and became the Drow we know today. It’s a simple enough story and didn’t really inspire me but by the time I’d read the supplement twice I released it starts an important trend. The history runs into the social structure of the Drow. The structure is as you would expect if you’re used to Drow in the various forms in popular high fantasy campaign settings. Various Houses politick and complete with each other and within themselves. The Complete Guide to Drow doesn’t make a song and dance about it but it does explicitly state that the society is matriarchal. The role of male Drow isn’t so clear; by implication we might pick up that they’re not treated very well at all but there seem to be exceptions here and there. There’s enough text to help you get to grips with Drow at war – the shameless use of fodder troops that are just there to die and with who the Drow trade with in the Underdark. Underdark? Illithids? There are a lot of pre-conceived Drow ideas that are taken for granted by this Guide… but I think it just about gets away with it. If you’re buying this book then you’re not taking your first anxious steps into the Dungeons and Dragons flavoured aspect of the hobby.
The chapter on Drow characters does better. From the start enough attention is paid to the inevitable Drow renegade idea. There’s a table for social status, I can’t encourage people to actually roll randomly to decide such an important issue – what sort of super GM can write a scenario which will work just as well with a Drow renegade and other characters as it would with a Drow noble with the same group? The table is there though and it does work to show the differences in the class culture of the dark elves and the attached paragraphs help add some mechanic quirks (such as benefits and penalties to starting cash) to character creation. In with the basic Drow race there are a half dozen of mutations; these are effectively half-drow and half-other-non-human-race. The Burol are the Drow/Mind Flayer combination, there are rules for Drider characters too (the Drow/Spider combination from page 78 of the MM, Shaturug are Drow/Orc, Shur are the dangerous mix of Drow/Demon and Urbam are the strange mix of Drow/Goblin. These hybrid mutations are normally the results of Drow trying to improve their blood line or perhaps just rewarding a favourite slave. There are illustrations for the Burol and Shur and I’m grateful for those two since they’re well drawn and really do enhance the mutant race. It’s just a shame that the other mutations don’t have accompanying images. I rather like both these character concepts and the direction the author, Jeffery Quinn, has chosen for the Drow. The Drow are mutants, they’ve changed a lot since the Kindred Wars and it’s nice to think that this can and is continuing to happen. Later on in the Complete Guide to Drow there’s observation on the magical radiation which permutated the Drow cities in the Underdark and this is another step on the same path. Unusually for presented character classes all of the above, including the basic Drow PC stats, have a challenge rating modifier which I assume is directly translatable as an effective level modifier for PCs or NPCs of these races.
The usual collection of prestige classes is present here too but there’s also a new core class as well. The Blood Druid is a variant of the standard druid character class. I think the variant is justified. You can try and walk the nature path to a point in the unique wilderness of the underdark but it is very different down there, more importantly, you can try and walk that path as a Drow but as a dark elf you are inherently different (mutated and changed from the original and balanced ben’docian. Different – but not impossible and so the Blood Druid works well enough for me. Besides, the route the class abilities take means its possible to have scary looking Drow polymorph into spiders. The other classes are all prestige and include the Adamantine Soldier, Dark Blade, Keeper, Soulless and Weaver of Power. I found the Adamantine Soldier to be slightly out of place and style with the image of the Drow as painted by the supplement but it’s still an interesting prestige class. This collection of prestige classes is actually a cut above the rest in that all of them are nicely defined, stylish and interesting. And yes, there is a collection of new feats too.
The chapter on Drow Magic starts with the typical list of new magic items and new spells. There are quite a bit of new spells, several pages worth. There are new domains too; combat, Drow, poison and spider. The inclusions of the Drow and spider domains are somewhat controversial and therefore interesting. It seems easy enough to justify the spider domain but what next? Could we have the bat domain, the earthworm domain, the ankheg domain or the black dragon domain? I guess it all depends on whether there is a deity ready to hand out spells on that portfolio. The very presence of a “Drow” domain is interesting for similar reasons and again if you play in a world where there is a Drow domain but there isn’t, for example, a Dwarf domain. Wouldn’t the Drow have a somewhat compelling reason to feel superior over Dwarves? Alright, so the Complete Guide to Drow doesn’t actually ask these questions but it’s a success that it inspires me to think them for the first time. It’s the opposite reaction to earlier on in the text when I was left feeling as if I could have come up with what was presented. Also of interest is the sub-section within the chapter on the background magical radiation in the Drow’s cities. It’s a sly idea insofar that magic items that work perfectly well in the Drow areas of the Underdark will start to fail if taken too far away – and that seems like a great way to limit the looting of player characters. Here in the Drow magic section you’ll find the spell lists for the Blood Druid variant core class and Dark Blade prestige class.
The supplement finishes by spending a page or two on loose ends, more pages on scenario hooks and Drow ideas. To my amazement I saw suggested here that you might want to try the Drow in some other setting that high fantasy. That was the last thing I expected such a typically D&D flavoured supplement to suggest. It’s a good idea even if there are just bullet point suggests for the likes of Drow CyberPunks and the like. Much more space is given over to taking the DM through the process of designing a Drow family. In some ways it would have been better if that particular section had been higher up the supplement.
New monsters, interesting ideas like spider golems and demonic spiders, take up about 5 pages in the appendix. The final two pages are for Goodman Game’s product adverts and the required OGL.
At the point of writing the Complete Guide to Drow is a PDF product and therefore it represents great value for money even if not everyone likes electronic products. It’s an easy PDF to print off; there are footer graphics on each page but they’re not solid and the whole document is black and white (with the exception of the cover and adverts at the back). There aren’t many illustrations in the Guide and that’s a shame but the silver lining is certainly the kinder touch on your supply of printer ink.
The Guide didn’t start well but through persistence and by slowly building up on common themes and ideas it improves significantly. By the end of the supplement I was quite pleased with the results. The Complete Guide to Drow is on the ball and reaching to be something better still but isn’t quite there yet. Nonetheless it’ll make a respectable addition to your electronic library.