With Wizards of the Coast’s initiative to strip monsters and fantasy races of their default alignment preferences, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the first non-evil drow character.
No, this isn’t about Drizzt Do’Urden, although you might be forgiven for thinking so. I present to you, Nilonim, from the dungeons of the temple of Lolth in Vault of the Drow:
To either side of the altar are small silver cages. Into these are thrust additional sacrificial victims when an especially great offering is demanded by the demoness, and Lolth will paralyze these victims and then take them to feed upon at her leisure. In the right hand cage there is a Dark Elf male fighter/magic-user of 4th/4th level (H.P.: 24; no armor; 12 strength, 18 intelligence, 9 wisdom, 18 dexterity, 15 constitution, 13 charisma) placed into captivity yesterday and paralyzed by the spider demoness. He is Nilonim, a dissident Drow captured in Erelhei-Cinlu where he led a band of rebels attempting to overthrow noble rule. He is of neutral alignment with a slight tendency towards good deeds.
According to Gygax,
He was there to test the players, to see if they were in a kill first and talk later mode, and to call their attention to such mindset if they found and slew him. It was to provide some role-play and questioning opportunity outside the city encounters as well. Nilonim was placed where he was, in peril, to sort of give the PCs a hint he might not be Evil to the core as most in the place are.
And this, I think, brings up a very good point as to why having default alignments for creatures isn’t a bad thing. Even though drow in 1st edition AD&D are listed as being chaotic evil, that in no way prevents the DM from introducing other drow of different alignments, as such can be done for very specific in-game reasons. Without having a city full of evil elves worshiping a demonic spider-queen, the opportunity to have a golden exception to the rule is lost. In a city where any dark elf can be of any alignment, having a Nilonim present loses any sort of specialness. The same goes, of course, for heroic characters such as Drizzt. He is heroic and exceptional precisely because he undermines the expectation and cuts across the norm. The norm being, in the case of the drow, that they are evil, treacherous, and depraved.
Without a standard present, it’s impossible to undermine that standard to create interesting characters.