Meta Description: Drow are one of the most popular sub-ancestries in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Given their reputation, many Drow players end up with interesting story arcs. In this D&D 5e guide, we'll explore this idea!
The Drow remain as one of the most interesting ancestries in Dungeons & Dragons 5e due to their complicated history with other groups. In other campaign settings, Drow worship Lolth, the Spider Goddess, and served as her enforcers and slavers in the Underdark. Unfortunately, this affiliation and allegiance resulted in fractured relations with elves, above-ground dwellers, and most good-aligned ancestries. However, not all Drow are evil - and some might be out there for redemption, like Drizzt from the Forgotten Realms. Players interested in taking another spin on the Drow concept might find them perfect for their 5e campaign.
In this quick guide, we have a general summary of how Drow appear and act in conventional D&D settings. Moreover, we have some tips and tricks you can use to create a compelling character fit for your campaign.
Basics: The Traits
Similar to their Elven kin, the Drow possess almost the exact same traits as their cousins. As such, Drows may seem just as nimble and charismatic as other Elves - except with a particular sensitivity to sunlight, specialized weapon training, and even possessing some degree of Drow Magic. Players interested in making Drow may be enticed in identifying these differences, which are highlighted below:
Ability Score Increase: DEX + 2, CHA + 1
Age: While they mature at the same rate as Humans, their lifespans extend much longer. Drow can reach 750 years of age.
Size and Speed: Medium (5 to 6ft, with slender builds), 30ft walking speed.
Alignment: While Drow have the innate Elven appreciation of freedom and Chaotic alignments, Drow in the Underdark have grown to be dangerous and vicious. They’re most often Evil.
Racial Features: Drow have the following racial features:
Superior Darkvision, which grants the Drow the ability to see 120ft of dim light as bright light and see everything in greys when looking at darkness.
Keen Senses, giving them proficiency in the Perception skill.
Fey Ancestry, which means Drow can’t be put to sleep and have Advantage on Saving Throws against charming effects.
Trance, wherein Drows don’t need sleep and only need 4hrs of meditative trance to achieve the benefits of 8hrs of rest.
Sunlight Sensitivity, which grants Drows a Disadvantage on WIS (Perception) checks that rely on sight should the Drow or the target be in direct sunlight.
Drow Magic, which grants the Drow access to certain spells, of which they use CHA as their Spellcasting Ability:
At Level 1, they gain the Dancing Lights Cantrip.
If they reach 3rd Level, they can cast Faerie Fire once every long rest.
If they reach 5th Level, they can cast Darkness once every long rest.
Drow Weapon Training, which gives Drow proficiencies with hand crossbows, short swords, and rapiers.
Languages, of which Drow know Common and Elvish. People love Elvish for its fluidity, having complex but, beautiful grammar. Bards also learn Elvish to add popular Elvish songs to their list of ballads.
Drow: The Best Classes To Build
Given their similarities to their Elven counterparts, Drow tend to become familiar with the many Classes and professions their fellow Elves take part in. However, thanks to their specialized training and differences in culture, the Drow may have a different take on how they perceive certain Classes and professions. Players interested in making a Drow might want to consider picking a Class from an Elf’s point of view and then altering it as per the history of the Drow in their adventure.
Here are some of the more interesting Class options that take full advantage of the Drow’s offerings:
Bard: Given their Elven ancestry, it makes sense for the Drow to be just as alluring and charming as their Elven cousins. Moreover, their rather “exotic” or unique culture might find others interested in learning more about the Drow, making them perfect Bards. After all, what better way to help others get enlightened on Drow society and culture than to present it as an artform? Players who want a more expressive and creative take on the Drow character might want to make them a Bard.
Thanks to the natural nimbleness and allure of the Drow, they have great potential to become Bards. Thanks to their DEX Ability Score bonus and weapon training, they can wield hand crossbows with deadly accuracy or even switch to longswords should it be necessary. Their Elven traits also make them perfect spies, while their tendency to stay away from sunlight can add an air of mystery that a Bard might enjoy.
A Bard’s natural abilities seem to complement that of a Drow’s, especially for players who want to take on a more direct approach to both roleplaying and combat. Song of Rest and Bardic Inspiration make the Drow Bard a great support character, while Jack of All Trades and Expertise enables them to showcase their skill specialization outside battle.
Interestingly, Drow might find themselves in a good position to be a Bard regardless of the flavor of the adventure. Drow Bards with a flair for battle might opt for the College of Valor and College of Swords. Meanwhile, Drow Bards who venture out into the world to explore might fit the College of Glamour, College of Eloquence, or even the College of Whispers.
Monk: A Drow’s nimbleness seems to be unmatched except when facing their own Elven comrades. This expertise in mobility, combined with their natural Dexterousness, make Drows perfect for Monks. Moreover, it might be interesting to see how the Drow culture may affect a Drow’s perception of their Monastic Tradition - or if they must somehow “discard” their ancestral influences in order to achieve the kind of enlightenment their Monastic Tradition strives for. Either way, Players might want to try a Drow Monk for a change of pace in roleplaying that still fits the technical advantages of the Drow.
The Drow’s natural nimbleness makes them ideal Monks, as they possess a helpful DEX Ability Score bonus. And while there’s not much use for CHA in a Monk, a Drow Monk may benefit from their Charisma bonus if they tend to prefer more diplomatic approaches to combat. Either way, the Drow Monk may maximize their DEX bonus and Drow Weapon Training to make a more dexterous fighter and invest points in WIS for their special abilities.
The Drow’s ancestral traits help them maximize their Monk’s abilities. Unarmored Defense, Unarmored Movement, and Martial Arts all take advantage of the Drow’s innate DEX. However, since their Ki abilities recharge with short and long rests, the Drow’s Trance can give them access to their Ki abilities and spells much faster.
The Drow may find many reasons to begin their journey as Monks - they may be in search of enlightenment, or perhaps have been training to be of service to their respective clans and organizations. More cunning Drows might find their Monastic Traditions in the Kensei, the Long Death, the Shadow, and even Soul Knife. Meanwhile, Drows looking for a more personal Monastic Tradition might opt for Astral Elements, Four Elements, Mercy, Open Hand, and even Tranquility.
Paladin: A Drow might find themselves searching for Divine guidance, especially if their backstory in your adventure involves dark events befalling them or their Elven cousins. As such, a Drow Paladin in search of enlightenment, clarity, or even vengeance might make for interesting character arcs. Moreover, the innate CHA bonus of the Drow makes them fit for a Paladin role, at least technicalities-wise. And their DEX bonus might even transform them into a ranged-weapon Paladin, something that’s unique to the Class.
The Drow’s innate CHA Ability Score bonus makes them extremely ideal Paladins. Moreover, their Drow Weapon Training and DEX Ability Score bonus add a unique ranged weapon spin to the Paladin’s otherwise melee combat stereotype. Additionally, Paladins come with a Fighting Style of their own, enabling them to maximize their Drow Weapon Training and even create a dual wielder.
The Paladin’s wide assortment of class features complement the Drow’s own ancestral features. Divine Smite, Divine Sense, and Divine Health make the Paladin extremely capable melee fighters. Meanwhile, the innate DEX bonus of Drows gives the Drow Paladin an extra edge against spellcasters and AOE effects that force DEX Saves.
Flavor-wise, Drows can form interesting Paladins. Adventures that stick with the original Drow culture may have Drows serving Lolth, which means having a Drow Paladin makes sense for their story. Even then, Drows may find themselves seeking Divine assistance if adventure settings find Drows ostracized or exiled because of past incidents or even because of their culture. As such, Oaths of Treachery, Vengeance, Redemption, and Glory work for Drows with personal grudges, while Oaths of Ancients, Crown, Devotion, and Watchers may fit Drows with a gentler spirit.
Rogue: The Drow Rogue seems to be a popular stereotype associated with the Drow, especially given their history with the Underdark. However, just because you want your Drow to be a Rogue, doesn’t necessarily mean they have to possess a dark and gritty backstory. Perhaps your Drow Rogue wants to make a name for themselves in the black market or perhaps they’re interested in making profit in whatever means possible. Regardless, the Drow’s innate DEX and CHA bonuses make them perfect for roles involving deception, subterfuge, and sleight of hand tactics.
No Drow article would be complete without any mention for their innate potential to become skillful Rogues. Thanks to their innate DEX Ability Score bonus, Drows are naturally nimble and agile. Moreover, their CHA Ability Score bonus enables them to quickly charm or intimidate foes. These alone will help them take advantage of Rogue staples such as Expertise, Thieves’ Cant, Sneak Attack, and Cunning Action.
Flavor-wise, players don’t necessarily have to stick to the “Drows are evil” archetype, especially because they’re Rogues. More creative players can attach special story elements to set their Drow Rogue apart from “stereotypes,” such as being forced into thievery for survival, training to be an assassin to take on revenge, or perhaps wanting a life of adventure outside the Underdark.
Thanks to the mysterious nature of the Drow, players may create Drow Rogues that can come from both mystical and urban backgrounds. Drow Rogues immersed in cities aboveground may be a Thief, Swashbuckler, Scout, or even a Mastermind. Meanwhile, Drow Rogues may have trained in the magical arts to be an Arcane Trickster, Phantom, Revived, or Soul Knife.
Sorcerer: Drow might find themselves acquainted with various Sorcerous Origins, especially depending on how Dungeon Masters have built their version of Drow society. Interestingly, given the Drow’s separation from their Elven cousins, Drow Sorcerers with unique Sorcerous Origins may either tie them much closer to their Elven counterparts or even define some of the reasons why Drow were separated from them in the first place. Flavor-wise, Dungeon Masters can build impressive character development options from having an unconventional Sorcerous Origin for their Player’s Drow Sorcerer. Likewise, the innate DEX and CHA bonuses of the Drow Sorcerer may make them more adept when dodging attacks and powering up their spells.
The Drow’s natural DEX and CHA Ability Score bonuses make them not just ideal Sorcerers, but also extremely agile spellcasters. Considering how a lot of spells demand DEX Saves, a Drow Sorcerer may be able to take advantage of their innate dexterousness to dodge spells that would otherwise be lethal to others.
Thanks to Drow Weapon Training and their other ancestral features, the Drow Sorcerer may be more than capable of handling ranged weapons when trying to conserve their Sorcery Points and Spell Slots. This strategy can be extremely ideal in situations where the party needs to save up their valuable spells - and this makes the Drow Sorcerer able to hold out on their own without having to ask for much assistance.
Given DMs may make their interpretation of Drow society unique compared to their usual depictions, a Drow Sorcerer may be able to explore more creative means of acquiring their powers. Sorcerous Origins that keep in the usual Drow motifs of mystery and darkness might opt for Wild Magic, Shadow, Psionic Soul, or even the Aberrant Mind. Meanwhile, more creative Sorcerous Origins for Drow Sorcerer might be Phoenix, Stone, or Divine Soul.
Above The Underdark: Interesting Character Backgrounds
Regardless of the Drow’s backstory in your adventure, they will most likely have a different upbringing compared to their Elven counterparts. As such, this has to be taken into account when making a Drow character - as players need to understand that while their Drow character might be associated with Elves, they still have certain cultural differences that set them apart from their Elven cousins. As such, Drow characters tend to have compelling and extremely unique character stories.
Here are some interesting background choices for your Drow character:
Cloistered Scholar (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): A Drow taught to be hidden from the rest of society aboveground may be motivated to learn everything they could about the wonders of the world above them. Thanks to their Elven aging, a Cloistered Scholar may have enough time to study mysteries and lore of their choosing, provided their Drow settlement has the books or the learning materials necessary for them to learn these subjects. A Player playing a Drow Cloistered Scholar may be taking their first steps to societies above for the first time and may have to acquaint themselves with things they’ve only read in books.
Languages: Choose any two languages.
Proficiencies: INT (History), and choose one from: INT (Arcana), INT (Nature), or INT (Religion)
Far Traveler (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): Drow in any adventure setting don’t necessarily have to live underground. Sometimes, Drow can arrive from mysterious islands or countries only heard of in legends. These Far Traveler Drow may or may not be familiar with customs of the adventure’s main regions - and it’s interesting how a Player may be able to take their Far Traveler Drow and propel the adventure to explore mysterious depths and regions only they are familiar with, thanks to their travels.
Tools: Choose from Musical Instrument x1, Gaming Set x1
Languages: Choose one language.
Proficiencies: WIS (Insight), WIS (Perception)
Gladiator (Player’s Handbook): A Drow Gladiator may have found themselves fighting for their freedom in the arena - be it of their own desire or after being caught exploring the cities above ground. Unfortunately, the Drow Gladiator’s sensitivity to sunlight means they have an inherent disadvantage fighting in open spaces in broad daylight. However, this doesn’t mean the Drow Gladiator is incapable of improvising when faced with such a threat. It’s interesting how a Player may manage to roll a Drow Gladiator, as this has a lot of story potential - how did they end up becoming a gladiator? Have they fought for their freedom or did they escape?
Tools: Disguise Kit x1, Unusual Weapon x1
Proficiencies: DEX (Acrobatics), CHA (Performance)
Inheritor (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): Just because Drow have been separated from their Elven cousins doesn’t mean they’re less powerful. A Drow Inheritor may find themselves traveling back to the Underdark to claim their inheritance, or perhaps they’ve been forced to travel far and gather an army to retake their birthright as assassins follow them every step of the way. Either way, a Drow Inheritor may make for some interesting story options, especially for Dungeon Masters who want to explore the inner politicking in the Underdark.
Tools: Gaming Set x1, Musical Instrument x1
Proficiencies: WIS (Survival), and choose one from: INT (Arcana), INT (History), and INT (Religion)
Mercenary Veteran (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide): A Drow may have ventured above ground in order to make a name for themselves and their Drow weapon mastery may have led them to the path of becoming a mercenary. Now, years have passed since they’ve begun their journey - protecting clients, fighting enemies, or even assassinating targets for coin, loot, and prestige. What has forced your Drow Mercenary Veteran to come out of retirement? Or rather, what’s a last mission they would want to accomplish before putting their mercenary career behind them?