You Can’t Play a Drow

You sit down at session zero to create characters and introduce the world where they live. The GM is busy describing the perfect tavern where your adventure will start. Next to you a friend is deciding on their next character. Before you know it, the argument is on. 

Player 1: I’m going to play a four-armed Minotaur who wields an axe in each hand. 

GM: No. 

Player 1: What about a half storm giant wizard who casts lightning and thunder spells. 

GM: No 

Player 2: Is that even a build?  

Player 1: Then I’m playing the war-forged cleric.  

GM: (sigh) you know I don’t like them. 

Player 3: (meekly) Can I play a drow rogue? 

GM and all other players stare in disbelief. 

GM: Absolutely NOT!  

The Argument – For or Against Drow 

When any character concept begins with a drow there is likely to be an argument. This is a common occurrence around many gaming tables. There are reasons for or against playing a character such as drow. All Game Masters have variations they can’t stand to see as playable characters and all players have that one combination they’ve been dying to play. Drow are no exception to this.   

There are plenty of articles on the motivational reasons a dark elf would have for leaving their homes and turning to the side of good. The misconception that all dark elves are evil leads to many rejecting drow as a playable character. However, if the only argument is that a character cannot be evil alignment, throw that out the window! Players should be allowed to color outside the lines with their characters, not adhere to a ridged preconceived notion of what they are. Looking at this from both the perspective of a GM and a player can help everyone settle on drow as a viable option. 

But I’m in Charge – The Game Master Perspective  

As the head of the gaming table, the world is built and run by the Game Master, by whatever name they are called. They gather players around the table in the name of fun. But making sure everyone has fun can be a challenge.   

Players come to the table with their ideas of what makes a game fun. Sometimes, as a GM, the concepts a player has for their character may not fit your world.  One such issue: a player wants to be a drow. Instead of outright stating no, consider the following points:  

Sunlight sensitivity is often given as the first reason not to play a dark elf on the surface. The world presents challenges for everyone. For example, Aventyr is a vast world and within this world lies The Scorched Lands. They are an inhospitable place for anyone, not just drow. One solution in playing a drow character is allowing special garments, head to toe protection and custom goggles for the eyes. Justification for the cost of such garments could be part of the backstory (perhaps the character is a spy). When I played my first drow, the GM allowed such accoutrements.  

Would the villagers have killed my character if they knew she was drow? You bet!  Drow are not always welcome in a town. At best most are avoided.  

So how can a drow, who’s reputation precedes them, fit into a party of heroes working for the greater good? Alignment is a tricky subject to start with. It can be a source of conflict among the party, which could help them grow or derail a game. Managing expectations in your world can assist with any major conflict from players.  

Balance is key. As the GM, start with your expectations at session zero. Be open and honest with players about their character’s chance of surviving as a dark elf if the world is unkind to drow. Present them with the facts above so they know from the start what they could face. If the player is okay with the other members knowing their race and background, have a conversation about it. Otherwise, when it comes up in game remind the group that it was the player’s choice, and they are aware of possible consequences. Don’t box in a player’s creativity if there are ways around the challenges presented. 

 I’ll play what I want – The Player Perspective  

Being invited to play in a game is exciting. The chance to build a new character, role play a brilliant background story and face challenges. No one ever wants to hear that their idea is not allowed by the GM, but every Game Master has a reason for allowing or removing concepts from the game. Here are a few tips to remember when asking your GM if you can play a drow:

  • Have your background concept ready. What reasons do you have to leave the Underdark and travel? What sets you apart from another drow? 
  • Remember, you start at a disadvantage on all attack rolls due to sunlight sensitivity. 
  • Understand that the party may not accept you right away.  
  • Villagers may run you out of town with pitchforks. Or capture you on sight. No one wants to spend the entire campaign running away.  
  • Drow may have a certain reputation which could present difficulties when facing NPCs.  
  • Be prepared for infighting among the party, and for the possibility that a player character could die, not just at the hands of monsters but each other.  

 So You’re a Dark Elf – Now What?  

Now that the decision to play a drow has been made, what should you play? Building a character which relies on saving throws instead of attack may help with the disadvantage in sunlight. Rogues, bards, and warlocks or sorcerers make excellent choices.  

In Aventyr, drow clerics are given the option of a new domain from the deity Naraneus. A rogue variant Mistress of the Web and a monk variant Master of the Web offer exciting new builds to play. Along with new spells and feats, both can be found in Underdark Races and Classes.   

Drow of Aventyr have blue-grey skin with tones of purple or violet with various hair tones and eye color. They can live for hundreds of years. Women rule the roost, with males tending to be less socially sophisticated.  

Whatever you choose, just remember that a unique backstory, a lofty goal, and a reason to be trusted should gain you a foothold in any adventuring party. And rely on your GM for support, after all they control the world.

6 thoughts on “You Can’t Play a Drow”

  1. Great article! It is important to have these conversations, promoting discussions at the table keeps the games going. I admit as a DM I dislike some combos (Halfling, Lucky Feat and Divination Wizard!) but I’ve never been a No Because I Say So person. Time at the table is so much more than gaming for some. Its a save place for some to express themselves in an environment that they feel able too. As DM from now on my response to a player choosing a Drow will be, So you’re a Dark Elf. Now what?

  2. I tend to accept drow within the party, as long as they can fit around the story line for the campaign and the group mechanics of the party – it can make them pretty RP heavy, to earn trust in a little corner of the game world away from the Underdark. I tend to use the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting when already has communities of “good drow”, who broke away from drow society and now live on the surface. It does make things slightly easier.

  3. I’ll let the players play whatever type of character they would like so long as it fits within the campaign setting (world) being run. For example, I wouldn’t allow some kind of technological constructed race in a world set in the dark ages. Otherwise, most everything is fair game.

  4. Hywel Phillips

    I start by setting a game theme which needs to be a powerful motivator for characters to be proactive. For example “you need to play a character who cares deeply about the wellbeing the people of Baron’s Gate and would die to save them if necessary” or “you need to play a character who regards their military unit as their family” or “you need to play a character who has a burning desire to explore the underworld”. How and why they have that motivation is up to them.

    Then usually I will add a second part about inter-party dynamics. So a thieves’ guild campaign might add “but who is not at all averse to robbing the nobles blind whilst saving the people”, or “and the other player characters will be your squad, closer than brothers and sisters to you”, or “and need other trustworthy folks to help them explore the underworld and stay alive”. Or sometimes as blunt as “Inter-party arguments are fine but no inter-party fighting or stealing” vs. “and if you manage to steal more than your fellows – well, that just adds to the kudos. But you’d die to defend them, too.”

    If you can come up with a drow or a living spell or a spider polymorphed into a sheep who somehow fits the criteria, or the annoying familiar of someone else on the party, or even a cursed magic sword… then you can play it!

  5. Hywel – thank you for the feedback. I love that you set up campaigns like that. I’m perhaps a lazy DM and say – meh play what you want. So much so that one of the group for my Rise of the Drow Campaign didn’t know drow = spiders and she’s afraid of spiders.
    I think my husband is one of the best game masters for setting things up. I would love to turn his campaign into a primer for others to use. It was amazing.

    Is there anything you don’t allow? Or as long as they can reason it they are good?

  6. im typically allowing and disalllowing characters based on if they exist in my setting and they fit into the campaign. an example is dragonborns in my setting, they dont really exist so I would not allow a player to play them.

    instead I would work with my player to understand why they want to play that character and give them suggestions on something else that fits better or maybe homebrewing some abilities on other races.

    if I trust them as a role player(so usually not new players) I will tell them how the setting will treat them, and as a once player who left a campaing because I was playing a drow I think it is important they know what they say yes to

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