Drow, Lolth, and religion

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between Lolth and the drow. While it has become pretty much accepted across the board that the drow are invariably worshipers of the spider-demon Lolth, I think what’s often forgotten is that it wasn’t always so. If we look back at the Giants/Drow adventures (G1-D3), we see that there are renegade houses within the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu that worship the Elder Elemental God. So it’s not like they can’t worship other beings.

And that got me thinking; why do we automatically assume that all “normal” drow worship Lolth?

Now, there were a number of drow deities other than Lolth that came out in the 2nd Edition era, especially in the Monstrous Mythology book (which I know gets a lot of heat, but I really like it). But they’re mostly variations on a theme, and Lolth is always seen as the chief of the pantheon, such as it is. Certainly that’s the norm in Erelhei-Cinlu (and in Menzoberranzan in the Forgotten Realms), but I think it would make the drow a lot more interesting if they followed other demon lords.

I actually wrote up some very interesting spells and such for those who worship demons in one of my Darker Paths books – the Demonolater. But while that’s fine for clerics, I think it would be really cool to base a whole drow culture around another demon lord. Gygax mentions Graz’zt (or as I have to call him, Obsidiax) in the later Gord the Rogue books as a particular patron of drow, thanks to his black skin, and Leda, the clone of Eclavdra, serves him for several years. But let’s try something different. How about Demogorgon (aka Demoniarch)?

I can imagine a city of Demogorgon-worshiping drow, whose society is based not on spiders but on lizards, snakes, and apes, befitting their master’s attributes.

First, the whole would be based on the number two, derived from their master’s two heads. Wherever possible there would be two towers, two leaders, etc. Snakes and lizards of all sort would roam the streets at will, safe in their position as sacred animals, taking prey wherever they are able. To slay such a creature would be death, and even resistance to its attack would be so frowned upon that the peasantry would be terrified of doing so, lest they invite the demon-king’s wrath. Baboons, mandrills, and the like would roam the streets, and it would be worth inventing several of demonic aspect to haunt the alleys as well. Could there even be ape-drow hybrids stalking the dark recesses of such a city? And here’s an interesting question – is the gynarchy of drow society innate to the drow, or an outgrowth of their worship of the demon queen?

At first glance, one could be forgiven for saying that driders would be unknown in such a place, given their tight connection to both spiders and Lolth, but on consideration, it might make sense for them to be there. Remember that the driders are the ones who failed Lolth’s test, and were then cursed to their half-spider existence. It might make sense for such failures, burning with resentment, to offer their services to some rival.

I’m a big fan of making things more complex, in order to make them more interesting. Severing the iron-clad linkage between the drow and Lolth might be such a complication. Of course, it also opens up the opposite idea, that non-drow would worship Lolth as well. Imagine a human realm organized like a classic drow society. Could there be humiders stalking its nether reaches?

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Drow, Lolth, and religion

  1. I love all this-and it bears thinking about what Erelhei-Cinlu would look like if Eclavdra succeeded in her plans and converted the city to worship the Elder Elemental God. (Then again, given the EEG’s nature, maybe it doesn’t…)

    Thinking about that actually made me realize something else about Erelhei-Cinlu under Lolth’s rule. Erelhei-Cinlu’s drow are surprisingly tolerant of outside visitors compared to the drow of Menzoberranzan. who seem to enslave anybody and everybody they can get their hands on. Kuo-toa and illithids openly walk the streets of Erelhei-Cinlu despite their generally being enemies to the drow. Humans are also regular visitors while everyone from humans to dwarves to even orcs and goblins are full-time residents.

    Even the player characters, who may include surface elves, are able to walk around with relative freedom provided they don’t do anything to provoke the drow as a whole. There also seem to be a number of drow crossbreeds in Erelhei-Cinlu, including “Drow-elves”, which I’m assuming are the offspring of drow and surface elves, something that would probably be anathema to the Menzoberranzan drow.

    It’s rather odd how Lolth tolerates such diversity in the way her peoples on different worlds worship her…

  2. In the module City of the Spider Queen, made for the 3rd Edition, the main plot deals with an albino drow woman, cleric of Kiaransalee.

    However, as you have said, it doesn’t chance much, as they’re also sociopaths

  3. I’ve been culling a lot of my acculated paperwork, some of it decades old and nigh-on unreadable now.One of the notes I found was a summary many times removed from an original note, to the effect that a prara-Roman culture for orcs, militaristic + organised, might be worth working up.

    Somewhere along the way, another idea merged in with that: the drow inhabiting large cities, in a way analagous to the high rate of urbanisation of Australia, tho with each city having a patron deity in a manner analagous to the early Mesopotamian cities. And so each city’s religion differs.

    This was all for a homebrew setting that has never really amounted to much, tho….

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