Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Drow-Shaped Space

If you asked me what my favorite D&D races are, I would say without hesitation that they are drow and tieflings. Not for what they necessarily are, but because I can turn them into all sorts of fun things. They're weird, and they're the right kind of weird where they get the hooks in and make you think "I can do this, I should do this."

When the spider-themed dominatrices don't cut it, there's plenty of fuel for the mind. I would be remiss at this point to not mention +Patrick Stuart 's Aelf-Adal, +Skerples ' roses-and-cities drow,  +Jacob Hurst and his Hot Spring Elves, and +Chris Kutalik with the Eld. This sort of creative variety is precisely why this topic is so fun.

Sometimes the space around the center is better than the center itself. Like prime farmland surrounding a dilapidated house. There were good ideas here: they just got stalled out, sidetracked, ignored, or overpowered by bad ideas. But there were ideas, ideas with enough promise that you find yourself drawn back to it and start poking around in the guts of that dilapidated story. There are ideas that worked, and ideas that work that can be reconstructed.

So then! Drow. This is a post about drow.


The Lilu


Mother had a sister, did you know that? The gods cast her deep into the earth for sins we know not, and imprisoned her there along with all her children. This was many long ages ago, perhaps even before the snows melted.

They are like men seen through a darkened mirror, reflections shaped by the veins of the earth.

They have lived too long in the presence of demons, in the same way one might live too long in the presence of a leaking nuclear reactor.

They are impish, capricious, riotous, gregarious, violent and lustful; their blood burns brightly with their appetites and vices. They love fire, pipe smoking, strong drink and burning spice.

Imagine yourself starving and alone in the dark veins of the earth, and to hear from the cave ahead the stamping of feet, the clapping of hands, the bawdy chants of their drinking songs. They offer you liquor, spiced meat, a pipe, sex. Bounty enough to think you have gone mad. Perhaps you have caught some of theirs.

    The Matriarchs


    Imagine yourself a root of a great fungal tree, a strand of mycelium probing through the fertile earth. Trace yourself up that woven family-organism, all the way up to the crowned and you find her: the beloved autocrat.

    They are the architects and gardeners of the lilu; grow this branch, prune that branch, cross pollinate here just so. Perhaps that is too much of a lie, for they are not gentle and they do not nurture. The dark mirror manifests in them as a megalomania befitting their station: obsession and excess, cruelty and cleverness sharpened by the merciless caves below. Singular identity

    And love, which is perhaps the most terrible madness of all. It's all family business, after all.

    With rule that has gone unquestioned for so many centuries, made even more complete with the death of █████, contact with the surface has been nothing short of catastrophic for the Matriarchs. There are suddenly too many moving to keep track of; do they extend further on the surface or remain below the earth? How much superficial influence may be safely permitted? Ought we change what has been changeless?

    Families have split apart or turned on longtime allies over the matter. It will only get worse.

    Know this: one does not say no to the matriarchs.
    1. Has grown corpulent on the profits of her opium dens. Wears a full-length tapestry-veil of golden thread, embroidered with erotic acts. Extends no kindness, permits no complacency.
    2. Collects the eyes of her husbands and tattoos her wives with poetry. Sickness as a child left her with a permanent wet cough. Believes unquestioningly that she will become her own assassin.
    3. Takes immaculate care of her garden, where she grows rare mushrooms in the still-living bodies of her enemies. Wishes to see the sun murdered, for it is a terrible and evil god. Walks with a painful limp.
    4. Abnormally young for her position. Rarely emerges from the clan distillery. Outwardly friendly, speaks in a booming voice: it is well-known that this is an act, but not what it conceals.
    5. Melancholy and inquisitive. A sorceress by trade. Wears a blind cave eel around her neck, treats it as if it is someone else's infant.
    6. Wears mail of cave-crawdad shells, stamped with wax seals of old family conflicts. False teeth made of obsidian. Whispered to be an usurper, to have killed her aunt and taken her wife as trophy.
    7. Slick and decisive. Spider-silk robes and alkalion-hide boots. Ain't no one's fool, didn't raise no fools neither.
    8. Regularly descends further into the earth, to parley with the deep families. Keeps immaculate records, carved in lead. Reputation as a very dangerous neutral party.

    The Republicans


    Contact with the surface led to all manner of funny ideas filtering into the heads of the poor. Ideas like rights and representation and voting. Ideas like printing presses and coffee shops and civil liberties and independence from the matriarchs.

    Ideas that get you killed down below.

    They are True Believers, idealists dreaming of a republic untainted. They will fight and die for that dream with broadsides and pamphlets and soapboxes and firebombs and hidden rooms and sit-ins and protest marches. A hundred different inner circles with a thousand different plans forward and ten thousand arguments about it. The movement grows. The matriarchs have taken notice. The republic slouches towards the ballot box to be born.

    They will see the lilu dragged kicking and screaming into the century of the fruitbat, with or without the matriarchs.

    The Two-Faced City

    There was an earthquake that split open the land, so terrible that all the world's maps had to be re-made. In a single night the barrier between above and below was torn down: towns leveled, mountains built up, rivers diverted, valleys carved out, lakes born in pock-marked scars, caves opened to the sky.

    And from the veins of the earth came the lilu, blinking in the light of the moon.  

    They raised a city there, a city of towers and stairs and bridges, like bones cast for omens on the earthen scars. No space is wasted. Everything is connected. By day it rests near-empty, a nest of stone; by night, it teems with the mad energy of the lilu.

    In the lower city,  the veins have not yet released their grasp. There are passages here that lead further into the earth - if one follows them, one could find those lilu that remained in the darkness.

    City Districts

    1. Broken Clock (Upper City) - Puts forward a modern, surface-world air. Republicans are everywhere among the merchants and middle-class families. Book stores and coffee shops and newspapers. The lilu have never been gifted with timekeeping, thus the name of the district's great landmark.
    2. Paradise Pools (Lower City) - There are sulfuric hot springs here, along with opium dens, distilleries, and pleasure-houses. It is the bottom of the mug, where all the dregs settle.
    3. Whitechasm (Upper City) - The canyon walls are white, stuffed with fingertip shells. The constant carving of those cliffs into beautiful forms leaves the neighborhood cloaked in chalk dust.
    4. Firepit (Lower City) - Every surface of the bowl-shaped depression is coated in glazed tiles, the color of an autumn sun. When a lucky ray of light pierces the upper city the pit and all the buildings within look as if set ablaze.
    5. Tanglebridge (Upper City) - Dozens of tiny precipices linked together through walkways of wood and stone and rope, like a spider's web. It is functionally superfluous, and people like it that way.
    6. Path of Banners (Lower City) - A knotted thoroughfare, festooned with colorful flags and paper lanterns. It is the primary way into the lower city, and home to the best merchants.
    7. Silent Faces (Lower City) - Hundreds of massive  stone heads in black and white. Why were they built? Why is it untouched by noise and chaos? Why do the inhabitants go about masked?
    8. Sun Quarter (Upper City) - The foreign quarter, where the city's human inhabitants live. It is amenable, if cramped. Take heed: The matriarchs will have no gods of man in their city.
    9. Eunuch's Spire (Upper City) - The scholar-castrati of the great families hold their wise counsel within this stone spike. Here there is a semblance of order, but only so much.
    10. Shadepier (Lower City) - A small, quiet dock, where one may set out in a white-hulled coracle to the seas beneath the earth.
    11. The Houses' Hold (Upper and Lower City) - A great superstructure like a hollowed mountain or an inverted valley containing the family homes of the matriarchs. It is called by some the Third Face, a city within its own city.
    12. Shoulder Keep / Giant's Ward (Upper and Lower City) - When the ground opened up, it was found that a great  stone form like a man stood in the rubble, holding aloft an island of earth on its broad shoulders. The keep has long been home to sorcerers and mages, mad inventors and the like. The hollow bones and muscles of the giant are a hive for the poor and family-less.

     █████, their Mother's Sin

    It was killed, after all those eons of its dominion. Champions among the lilu went forth to its chambers, all but three died. Spikes of molten lead were driven into its side, its heart was torn out, but still the blood flowed for nine months and the severed head screamed for ten before at last it died.

    The name has been excised. Hieroglyphs were chiseled away, books burned, tongues torn out, graven images ground into dust. All that remains is an empty space, an anti-name, a blank hole in the collective consciousness. Great pains have been taken to keep that space empty. To fill it up again with euphemism or title or the idle daydreams of the forgetful is a danger that no one among the lilu would dare.

    Its magic, stripped from its master, still lingers heavy in the veins and wombs of the lilu. It is their heritage now. It is no curse, they grin. Why curse yourself? Let others curse at you.

    But in whispers there are some who still ask: what sin was so great to warrant this?

    Language of the Lilu


    Blacktongue is an incomprehensible mash-up of slang, idiom, neologism, and vulgarity. Unnecessary speed and wild gesticulation are necessary. Intoxication makes it easier. It sounds like gargling curry and tobacco smoke. Lilu speaking human languages will carry over many of their habits.

    It is possible to learn Blacktongue through carousing in a lilu settlement. 100 monies spent carousing will provide a basic understanding of the language, upgraded to passable and finally fluent with another night and another 100 monies for each stage.

    And his name...his name will  be KILL SIX BILLION DEMONS



    The lilu lived too long in the influence of demons, in the same way that one lives too long in the influence of radioactive materials. Their bodies have been changed beyond the simple pressure of darkness and want.

    40% chance of basic albino coloration
    50% chance of horns
     # of Mutations = 1d4 - 1

    1. Black
    2. Dark Grey
    3. Ash
    4. Red
    5. Blue
    6. Gold
    7. Burnt umber
    8. Dark green
    9. Rotten flesh pink
    10. Jale, ulfire, or octarine
    11. Stripes or bicolor (roll 1d10 twice)
    12. Mottled (roll 1d10 twice)
    1. Ibex
    2. Ram
    3. Crown
    4. Yak
    5. Rhinoceros
    6. Gazelle
    7. Markhor
    8. Antlers
    9. Nubs
    10. Other
    1. Normal
    2. No toes
    3. Opposable toes
    4. Hooves
    5. Talons
    6. Stumps
    1. Smells of incense and spice
    2. Third Eye
    3. Polyphonic voice
    4. Hermaphrodite
    5. Impossibly thin
    6. Grotesquely fat
    7. Carapace (roll second color)
    8. Digitigrade legs
    9. Head tendrils
    10. Seething with parasitic worms
    11. Metallic halo
    12. Blood tears
    13. Shaggy hair
    14. Asymmetrical
    15. Goiters, tumors, and boils
    16. Burnt and shriveled
    17. Folds of rugose skin
    18. Vestigial additional limbs
    19. Osteoderms
    20. Smoldering breath 
      Cosplayer Irina Sabetskaya


      Lilu Player Characters


      • d4 HP / level for veins-born lilu regardless of class.
      • d6 HP / level for surface-born lilu.
      • Blinded if they are without protective eye gear in open sunlight.
      • Can see in dim and low light without penalty. Cannot see in complete darkness. 
      • Are usually specialists or wizards. Rarely fighters. Clerics are automatically suspect and prone to prosecution. 
      • Or just use Daniel Sell's tieflings.

      And some extra details

      • Veins-born are deathly thin and rarely more than four and a half feet tall. 
      • Surface-born are of typical human size from the significantly better nutrition.
      • Excellent low light vision, as well as touch, smell, and hearing. If active in the day they must go about with tinted lenses or igaak goggles.
      • Will eat just about anything that is not overtly poisonous. Possession of or access to adequate food is a sign of social status.
      • Veins-born lilu tend to be intensely agoraphobic when on the surface. Many will be either terrified or hateful of the sun.
      • Without the sun enforcing a circadian rhythm, lilu do not have a recognizable sleep cycle. They sleep then it is needed and wake when they are rested.On the surface, they tend towards nocturnalism. Easier on the eyes.
      • You are born into your mother's line. If you are male, you are married off and will join your wife's family (or for rich families, harem). If female, you probably have at least one wife of your own for political reasons. Sexual relationships are a category all of their own, which is summarized as "fuck it, let's fuck". Child-bearing unions are orchestrated by professional matchmakers who keep pristine genealogies, to cut down on the worst mutations.
      • If you've got no family, whatever the reason may be, you have no social standing. Lots of houseless men and lesser daughters who can't be married take up lives as dungeon hobos for this reason.
      • The surface world has three things lilu society desperately needs: light, food, and space. Even those still deep in the veins will be willing to trade. 
      • Sex, drugs, rock and roll
      • Party hard.


      1. This is a silly post, I am a silly man, it's a good comic.

      2. Are you familiar with Satania because the drow here instantly reminded me of that. As usually some very evocative stuff!