Elves in Alcina.
So, there’s this stereotype about elves that they’re all nobility, coming from largely from humans. That’s because elven standards of living in premodern times were really high across the board, and elven society was organized such that everyone from the top down had a specific name and assigned role. Along with extended families working their patron spirit into their iconography, it all seemed like a system of peerage and heraldry to humans.
So, every elf knows their role from birth, and there’s a hugely-stratified society, which makes it so the effectively-immortal elven leaders can (and did) try to keep things as static as they could. Elf society bends towards the reactionary pretty hard.
It also means that, as the world modernized and elves didn’t, the need for enchanted items and fancy elven handicrafts fell off, and the export economy, that most elven states were based around, went to shit.
So now we have this modern world where elven nations, with centuries if not millenia of intense patriarchal traditions, are becoming unstable. Humans don’t have much sympathy for the lords and ladies of the forest coming to their cities, and life’s pretty difficult all around. Life is pretty tense if you’re an elf, and even worse if you’re born female, since your role in life starts off sheltered in your father’s home, and ends sheltered in your husband’s home.
So it’s not really that surprising that, when they try to integrate with other species, elven women are starting to realize that they can make their own path. They can cast off their family totems, and adopt the spider, and live however they wanted, and work with like-minded women. When elves encountered broader society, the drow were practically inevitable.
This is really cool!
(See also the previous post.)
A large part of the drow shtick, in D&D, has historically been that they’re a whole lot like the player characters. They have character classes, and fit into the archetypes: in an age where you had goblins and maybe goblin chiefs, you had sneaky drow rogues, you had spellcastery drow priestesses and wizards, you had drow warriors with two swords, etc, etc, etc on for a lot longer than anyone else. They have tons of their own weird magic items. They come as badass loners occasionally, but more often they come for you in full-on adventuring parties.
The drow culture you’re outlining here and in the previous post goes a long way toward explaining and preserving that: of course they’re a lot more like adventurers than the ordinary elf, they’re the elven adventurer counterculture, they’re outcasts and runaways who prize flexibility and independence and castelessness and traveling somewhere anywhere outside of the elven homelands and doing something interesting for once, and I think that’s fantastic.
Here’s another thing that may or may not fit with your setting. It has to do with putting an entirely different light on the old “drow are major players in the slave trade” shtick. Putting it under a readmore because obviously this is gonna be a long post touching on slavery and human trafficking and a lot of people may not want that on their dash.
This is really cool. My initial thoughts were that drow-as-subculture/declared identity belonged in a more modern setting, which was how Alcina ended up being an early 20th century industrial era thing. But I really like this, and how it makes them work in a more traditional fantasy world. It’s definitely making me take some time to examine my assumptions about how to build a world that fits them. (Though, parenthetically, I think that both versions are great and I kind of want to build things around both.)
And to continue the slavery topic, after a break:
Read under the read-mores. It got better!