Thursday, June 4, 2015

Races of Pathfinder: Drow

Drow have a long and tangled history in role-playing games, but in the world of Paizo’s Golarion campaign setting, they are inescapably evil and enslave or conquer anyone they come across. They’re nimble and cunning like their lighter elven counterparts, and therefore a lot of what works for elves works well for drow, but they have a few fun race-specific options I definitely want to highlight as well.
Racial Traits:
Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, -2 Constitution. These racial ability bonuses make drow ideal for sneaky Ninjas, Sorcerers, and Bards. They also make great summoning-focused characters thanks to the Blasphemous Covenant ability, giving demons that they summon a bunch of extra hit points.

Type: Drow are humanoids with the elf subtype, which means they qualify for any feats, spells, and archetypes that elves do.

Size: Drow are the same size as humans.

Speed: Drow move the same speed as humans.

Weapon Familiarity: Drow gain proficiency with three useful weapons, the hand crossbow, rapier, and shortsword.

Drow Immunities: Drow have the same immunities as their pale cousins, and they can come in very handy in the right situation.

Spell Resistance: Drow have spell resistance equal to 6 + their class level, and this can be both a blessing and a curse. It means that enemy spellcasters are going to have trouble hitting you with painful spells, but it also means that even cure spells are effected.

Keen Senses: A boost to Perception is ALWAYS great!

Spell-like abilities: dancing lights, darkness, and faerie fire can be useful spells, especially darkness. There is a great replacement for this, though, in the Darklands Stalker option.

Poison Use: This is a great ability, normally only available through a class feature. It also means that every drow is able to use drow sleep poison on their weapons without fear.

Superior Darkvision: Drow get longer darkvision than any other humanoid race, out to 120 feet. Awesome!

Light Blindness: This is a painful penalty because of the 1 round of blindness more than the dazzled condition. If you don’t want to deal with these penalties, you can take the Surface Infiltrator option instead, giving up both darkvision and light blindness.

Alternate Racial Traits:

Ambitious Schemer [Keen Senses]: There are many ways to get extra skills added to your class skill list, and of them, I wouldn’t recommend this one, since you are giving up a bonus to Perception, arguably the best skill in the game.

Ancestral Grudge [Poison Use]: A +1 to attack against dwarves and elves can be very useful, so if you’re not planning to use poisons, take this option.

Blasphemous Covenant [Keen Senses, Poison Use]: This is a great choice for any caster class, as it gives your drow a +2 bonus on Diplomacy when used against demons, and gives summoned creatures of the demon subtype two more hit points per hit dice.

Darklands Stalker [Spell-like abilities]: This is a good option for a mobility-based character like a Rogue or Fighter, as the spell-like abilities won’t be quite as useful for that kind of character.

Seducer [Drow Immunities]: For a caster, this is an excellent option, boosting the DCs of your enchantment spells and allowing you to cast charm person once per day. If you’re not a caster, obviously leave this one alone.

Surface Infiltrator [Darkvision, Light Blindness]: If you don’t want to deal with the light blindness (such as if your drow will be going out of the underground, well, ever) you’re going to want this option. You do gain low-light vision in exchange, which isn’t great but is better than nothing.


Alchemist: A drow can make a pretty great alchemist, especially thanks to the Poison Use racial trait, which lets you pick up an archetype that replaces Poison Use, but still make use of that drow sleep poison we talked about earlier.

Barbarian: With a Con penalty and no Strength bonus, Barbarian is a pretty bad choice for a Drow.

Bard: A drow can make for a pretty good Bard, thanks to the boosts to both Dexterity and Charisma. The extra spell-like abilities can come in handy, too.

Cavalier [Samurai]: Drow really aren’t made to be Cavaliers, since they have a penalty to Constitution and no bonus to Strength. Plus I can’t imagine a drow riding a horse across the battlefield. At all.

Cleric: Drow make pretty good Clerics despite the lack of a Wisdom boost. The favored class bonus is nice if you picked a domain with a decent 1st-level power, and the bonus to enchantment spells can be very useful for an evil charmer. There’s also a nice racial archetype, the Demonic Apostle, that gives you a demonic familiar and lets you channel energy to hurt good or lawful creatures or bolster chaotic or evil ones.

Druid: I have trouble imagining a drow Druid, though the Cave Druid archetype makes a lot of sense and the idea of wild shaping into an ooze does seem very drow-ish.

Fighter: A drow is set up perfectly to be a ranged Fighter, especially thanks to the Cavern Sniper racial archetype. This archetype will let you imbue your drow spell-like abilities onto your arrows and give you bonuses to Stealth when loading a bow or crossbow. Also don’t forget that you can add poisons to your arrows, thanks to the Poison Use racial trait.

Gunslinger: A drow can be an excellent Gunslinger, especially if you take the Mysterious Stranger archetype. Just make sure to upgrade your gun with the Reliable property ASAP.

Inquisitor: A drow Inquisitor makes thematic sense, though the ability score bonuses don’t really help much. There are several Inquisitions that fit for a drow Inquisitor, such as Anger, Torture, and Vengeance.

Magus: The Magus is a decent choice for a drow, especially if you go Dex-based. There’s nothing that especially makes it a good choice, though, so I would suggest going straight caster instead.

Monk: Drow aren’t really made to be monks. With no bonus to Wisdom, and a penalty to Constitution, there just isn’t much reason to go Monk.

Oracle: The Charisma bonus actually makes a drow a great Oracle. Thematic mysteries include Battle, Bones, and Stone.

Paladin [Antipaladin]: If you can somehow convince your GM to allow a Lawful Good drow, she still wouldn’t make that excellent of a Paladin thanks to the Constitution penalty. Antipaladin is a bit of a better choice thanks to the pretty sweet favored class option, giving you an extra cruelty every three levels.

Ranger: A drow can be a pretty good ranged-focused Ranger, and the Deep Walker archetype is thematic and helpful when underground. The lack of a Wisdom boost is a little painful, though.

Rogue [Ninja]: Drow make excellent Rogues, but even better Ninjas thanks to their Charisma bonus. The darkness spell-like ability can be useful for a sneaky character too.

Sorcerer: A drow makes a nice Sorcerer, thanks to the Charisma bonus. Make sure to pick up the Seducer racial trait, and make use of the excellent favored class option, giving you extra spells known.

Summoner: Summoner is an even better choice for a drow than Sorcerer, thanks to the Blasphemous Covenant racial trait and the Spider Summoner feat.

Witch: Drow can make decent Witches, though a boost to Intelligence would be helpful for hex and spell DCs.

Wizard: Like the Witch, a drow Wizard would really be much better with a boost to Intelligence. There is at least a favored class option for a drow Wizard, giving you extra uses of an arcane school power.

Racial Favored Class Options:

Alchemist: An extra 10 minutes per level of mutagen can come in extremely handy, so I like this one.

Antipaladin: Extra cruelties are a great option for an Antipaladin, so this is a decent choice.

Cleric:This is an excellent option if you have a good first-level domain power, but if not you’re better off grabbing a hit point each level instead.

Fighter: A bonus to a single combat maneuver isn’t worth your favored class bonus unless you’re going to focus completely on it, so I’d go with a hit point instead of this one.

Rogue: If you want to focus on feint checks, this is a decent way to do it, but honestly you’re probably better off picking up a skill point each level instead.

Sorcerer: A bonus spell known is always useful for a Sorcerer, so this one’s likely a keeper.

Wizard: This is a decent option as long as you have a good first-level arcane school power, but you may find a skill point is a better option at most levels.

Racial Archetypes:

Cavern Sniper (Fighter): This is an excellent choice for a ranged Fighter. It gives your drow Fighter bonuses to ranged attacks and lets you imbue your arrows with your drow spell-like abilities. I like this one a lot.

Demon Apostle (Cleric): This archetype is interesting and thematic, giving you bonuses to summoned demons and letting you deal damage to good and lawful creatures with your channel energy ability. It’s not the best Cleric archetype out there, but it’s fun.

Racial Feats:

Drow Nobility: This adds a few extra spell-like abilities to your drow character’s repertoire. Feather fall and levitate once per day can come in handy, but it’s probably not worth a feat.

Greater Drow Nobility: You can use some of your spell-like abilities more often. If Drow Nobility isn’t worth a feat, this one definitely isn’t worth three.

Improved Drow Nobility: Just like the two above this, getting extra uses of your drow spell-like abilities isn’t really worth a whole feat chain.

Noble Spell Resistance: This would definitely be worth a feat if you didn’t have to go through the whole Drow Nobility feat chain first. Sadly, you do have to go through the whole chain, so this isn’t worth it.

Shadow Caster: Getting a boost to caster level is great, though this is only for shadow or darkness spells. Some of the best options include the shadow evocation line of spells, shadow weapon, and shadow barbs.

Spider Step: Gaining spider climb as a spell-like ability once per day is cool, and for a Fighter or other martial character might be worth a feat, but definitely don’t pick this one up if you’re a caster.

Spider Summoner: This is an excellent feat for any caster, but especially a Summoner. This gives you several new options for summoning, and the spiders’ web and poison DCs are given a boost, which is a great extra.

Umbral Scion: This is another extra spell-like ability, and it still isn’t worth taking FOUR feats to get. Leave this one alone.

Improved Umbral Scion: Even worse than Umbral Scion, this still isn’t worth the feat tree to get to.


  1. I disagree with the rating of the Nobility feats. Taking the four of them, to get the Spell Resistance up to 11+your level is really strong, and having at-will spell like abilities is also very strong.

    1. Agree to disagree then. You can just get a wand for these spells. Four feats is all the feats most characters get to level 7, and I can't think of a build that wouldn't have better options.

    2. Getting a wand requires spending money, putting points into UMD (and having the CHA to make use of UMD), and also having someone to buy the wands from in the first place (assuming you're in a situation which you can't get the items). If you're a spellcaster the feat chain is worthless, but for a non-spellcaster it works a lot better.

  2. A Cavern Sniper with at will Levitate is a nigh unkillable murder machine against anyone stuck on the ground. I would also rate the nobility feats higher.

  3. The argument for Drow PCs:

    First, I'm of the opinion that no PC race is inescapably evil. While it's certainly possible to have an evil campaign, to me it's sort of counter productive. People don't want to play Drow so that they can sit underground and worship demons in a Nietzschian-like, Nazi-like group of racial supremacists--or at least I don't.

    Anyone who played back before RA Salvatore was old enough to write poorly looked at the Drow and thought, hey...they are COOL. They're capable. They're beautiful. They're mysterious. They're smart. They're like elves, but even cooler. There's just one problem. They're evil bastards.

    Along came a spider...RA Salvatore tapped into what everybody else had already thought does a Drow leave the Underdark? After all, a lot of hir magic would rot away. The sunlight penalty is BRUTAL. And the society from which they originate isn't going to let them just--walk out..(something else that I thought Salvatore did a terrible job with--suddenly the surface is just a few days march!)

    That Drow would have all kinds of trouble. Just to make it to the surface, s/he'd need to be smart, absolutely devious in fact, capable, a survivalist, tough, independent. For non-SupermanRangerUltimateDuelistSupergoodguysFromHell, it would take a lot of information, planning, luck, guts, and very possibly divine intervention. They would be outcast everywhere, not only for the inherent racism of these kinds of games, but also because even if that were overcome, the fear of retribution would make rules careful.

    Yes a lot of people want to be Drizzt the Superhero, but many more love the idea of the redeemed moral outcast of an evil society. Drizzt was easy to write--he was the path of least resistance for a writer, ranger, trained by the greatest weaponsmaster, with his trusty sidekick who defied even magic to be loyal.

    I guess we should be thankful to Salvatore for trailblazing, no matter how lazy he was about it. "I took a vow never to slay my own kind...then the first thing I did when I met one was...kill him." Nice vow, Drizzt. How many times do Salvatore characters have to leave one another for dead before that plot device is not only cliche but stupid?

    But here's the thing, once Drizzt made it, once it got out that a Renegade chose the stars over the darkness...there would be others. And there would be a reaction from that superior society that thinks, not only do ends justify means, but any desired end is acceptable.

    Can you imagine writing the first female cleric to break ranks and actually make it? Drizzt is done, but no way is he the only one. He neither would nor should be.

    Then there's the "Drow are OP" argument. Cavern Sniper with somehow unkillable? Dispel, well there goes his once per day ability. They have some utility, to be sure, but if I were being honest, for straight out power, I'd put Aasimar ahead of them. And if I'm DMing, ya know what that Drow PC is going to have to fight once in awhile? Yeah...other Drow who HATE hir guts worse than they hate elves.

    I liked Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. I admit it. After that, well...let's just say that while Drizzt should have opened the minds of his kin, he killed Drow in the minds of players and DMs everywhere with his OP superheroness.

    I think there's still tons of fun to be had with non-Drizzt Drow, and that the dark elves are still a far more appropriate fantasy race than 75% of the rubbish that Paizo has put out there. G3-D1,2,-Q1 should not disappear from the RPG universe.