It is one of the paradoxes of the drow that their culture, while encouraging selfish ambition and advancement through deception and murder, is still one that focuses— almost in spite of itself—on the good of the community over the good of the individual. Drow society, as a whole, lacks any concept of personal worth. An individual’s abilities or accomplishments are not, in and of themselves, of any importance whatsoever. The culture does not reward skill for skill’s sake, or celebrate individual success or ability. It’s not that the drow choose to downplay these factors; rather, they literally have no notion that they should matter. It is as foreign an idea to them as judging a person’s worth based on shoe size would be to most surface-dwelling races.
The only true measure of importance in drow society is how thoroughly and effectively an individual can direct, shape, and change that society—in other words, by how much authority an individual has over other drow and the community’s needed resources. Although personal ability and accomplishment, or birth into a powerful bloodline, often leads to such control, it is the influence itself that determines a drow’s station and status.
Like many other sentient beings, the drow think in terms of dichotomies: If something is not good, it must be bad; if it is not strong, it must be weak. Thus, if a drow with authority over others is worth-while, a drow with little or no authority is worthless. When nothing but status and infl uence deter-mine individual value, and life itself is of no intrinsic worth, a weak drow is nothing but a commodity to be traded, abused, and eventually exhausted by those more powerful. Enslavement, torture, and even murder are not crimes, when the perpetrator is a drow of high stature and the victim is not. Drow do avoid randomly slaughtering others who offend them, but this is due to a concern that they might accidentally slay the relative, servant, or slave of someone more powerful, not out of any sense of the value of life.
This core belief in power has developed the drow culture as it exists today: a society in which every interaction is deter-mined by a dominant/submissive hierarchy. A drow divides everyone—drow or otherwise—into only three categories: someone with more power, who must be appeased and placated (at least until she can be replaced); someone who is a useful tool to one’s own advancement, who must be exploited in all possible ways; and the weak, who are worthless except as labor or disposable troops. From a general giving orders to her soldiers to a shopkeeper bargaining with a customer, everything is about who holds the most power. Haggling, for instance, is all but unheard of. If a client is of higher station than a vendor, she pays what she chooses; if she is lower, she pays what the vendor demands or receives no goods. Only when it comes to trade with non-drow is bargaining an option, and even then vendors must take care, for fear of accidentally offending the slave of a powerful drow. A drow who refuses the orders of one with more power has earned whatever tortures that act brings down upon her, and can expect no pity or aid from by others.
The drow are experts in the application of pain and death; they are considered cruel by other races. This, too, is an outward sign of the beliefs at the heart of their cultural development. Pain caused to a superior or a rival is a necessary means to an end; pain caused to a subordinate is unimportant because the subordinate is unimportant. The drow are cruel, in part, because they literally see no difference between torturing an underling, whipping a horse, or even repairing an old garden tool. It cannot be stressed enough that societal authority is the only measure of worth the drow understand.
These philosophical underpinnings result in a culture of constant scheming, in which every member of a community is perpetually conspiring to gain greater power over her neighbors while struggling to keep others from gaining power over her. Paranoia is rampant, with every word and deed carefully examined to ensure that it does not contain a hidden danger. Although visitors certainly expect to . nd back-room deals and constant betrayals among the ruling castes of the drow, such as the priestesses of Lolth and the matriarchs of the great houses, they are often surprised to find them equally as prevalent among less powerful drow. A shopkeeper conspires to destroy a rival’s supply of goods, or frame him for some offense against Lolth. A soldier weakens another soldier’s armor with carefully applied acid, hoping that her death in battle will open a path to promotion. A favored servant conspires with slaves to poison the mistress of the house so that she can take over, only to later poison the slaves as well rather than provide the freedom she had promised. When every interaction is a challenge for dominance, no drow can afford to drop her guard or cease her constant plotting to get ahead.
Roleplaying Application: React to others based primarily on their perceived value to you. Your adventuring companions are vital to your survival, so you won’t want to alienate them. In other cases, though, react with anger when someone you perceive as inferior disagrees with or disobeys you. Judge all individuals by how much power they wield, and offer them respect accordingly. You do not revere life for its own sake, and are puzzled by those who speak about the inherent value or dignity of living beings. This doesn’t make you a wanton murderer; it simply means that you have no compunctions about killing if doing so is the most expedient or convenient means of handling a situation (and you feel you can get away with it with minimal repercussions).