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Scum of the (Under) Earth
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

S peaking of slimy things that live deep underground, let's turn our attention to other monsters of the Underdark—specifically, the intelligent humanoid ones.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Caverns

Also known as dark elves, drow are a depraved and evil subterranean offshoot of the elf race. Although they're elves, the only drow typically encountered outside of a major city are the ones that are powerful enough to survive in the dangerous Underdark—which is to say that drow are a challenge for medium-level characters. Encountering drow should be scary.

Drow all share the ability to create faerie fire, dancing lights, and darkness. They have magic resistance and superior darkvision (and they hate bright light). Drow above about 4th level can also use levitate, know alignment, and detect magic once per day. They wear chain mail that doesn't interfere with stealth, and they wield swords or rapiers and hand crossbows. They coat their crossbow bolts with a poison that makes the target fall into a deep sleep.

Drow are chaotic evil worshipers of the goddess/demon queen Lolth, and her priestesses rule drow settlements with an iron fist. They live in majestic cities in the Underdark, lit with permanent faerie fire. Some places within these areas are accessible only through the use of levitation (or flight). Noble families of drow constantly vie for power, striving to become the ruling house of the city. The fundamental tragedy of drow society is the tension between a drive toward a strict social order with ranked noble houses and rigid social class distinctions, on the one hand, and on the other hand Lolth's chaotic and whimsical nature. In their efforts to please Lolth, the drow engage in brutal acts of treachery and internecine warfare that sometimes upset their social order entirely.

For all that drow backstab and betray each other, at least they are united in opposition to their enemies in the Underdark. They hate svirfneblin and dwarves almost as much as they hate their surface-dwelling elf kin, and they sometimes war with duergar. On the other hand, they maintain decent relations with mind flayers, welcoming individual illithids into their cities.


Large Monstrosity
Alignment: Chaotic evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Caverns

A drider is a drow who has been transformed by the touch of Lolth, with his or her legs replaced by the body of a huge monstrous spider. Lolth sometimes calls upon exceptional drow to undergo a test of their ability and loyalty, and those who fail become driders. Some drow communities view this as a curse and shun driders, while others accept every gift that comes from Lolth's hand and continue to welcome driders among them. Outcast driders form miserable communities of their own, accompanied by spiders and living off the dregs of the Underdark.

Driders retain all the abilities they possessed before their transformation, including their innate drow abilities as well as any spells they may have learned by advancing in a character class. They fight with bows using poisoned arrows, and they wield swords or axes in melee. A drider's bite is poisonous, but it uses the poison to coat its weapons, since biting opponents with its drow mouth is rarely practical. The drider's poison paralyzes its target. Naturally, a drider can climb easily on walls and even ceilings. Driders do not spin webs.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Lawful evil
Level: Medium
Environment: Caverns

The duergar, sometimes called gray dwarves, are a malevolent offshoot of the dwarf race that exist at extreme depths underground. They appear as nasty-looking dwarves, and they favor drab clothing that helps them blend into the stone of their subterranean lairs. Their darkvision is superior to that of normal dwarves, extending to twice the range.

Duergar are stealthy and hard to surprise. They share their cousins' resistance to poison and are further resistant to paralysis and mind-affecting phantasms. They have innate magical abilities to become invisible and to enlarge themselves and their gear. They are severely hampered in bright light, and they lack dwarven weapon training.

Some duergar, more properly called durzagons, have the blood of devils in their veins. Normally, these fiendish duergar are rare, appearing occasionally as the leaders of some duergar communities. Legends tell, however, of entire Underdark cities populated by durzagons and their slaves. It is said that these durzagons made pacts with infernal forces to escape the mind flayers that had enslaved them. (The durzagon appeared in the 3rd Edition Monster Manual II, but turned into the default duergar in 4th Edition. Here's another example of how we're looking for ways to be as inclusive as possible regarding all the pieces of D&D's history.)

Duergar and durzagon alike are vicious slavers and slave traders, raiding the surface for captives, and buying and selling these captives among all the races of the Underdark.


Medium Humanoid
Alignment: Neutral evil
Level: Low
Environment: Caverns

Powerfully built humanoids clad only in dark, filthy rags, these warlike subterranean creatures emerge from their deep caverns at night to search for unlucky humans to add to their larders. Their most distinctive feature is their blindness, though it does not hinder them much—their incredibly keen senses of smell and hearing lead them to prey and guide their movement and attacks in combat just as effectively as vision does. Their blindness makes them immune to illusions and gaze attacks, among other things, but loud noise and strong smells can hamper their perception.

Grimlocks attack fiercely with axes or swords, but with little or no organization, often stopping in the middle of battle to carry off fallen foes (or comrades) for food. They are very stealthy, able to hide easily against stone because of their natural coloration. They are extremely xenophobic and rarely consort with other races, but they are popular slaves among Underdark races, particularly mind flayers. A medusa might also appreciate the company of servitors who cannot accidentally become statues.

What Do You Think?

It's dark and dangerous down there. How do you feel about crawling through the Underdark, knowing that these races are down there with you? Let me ask a couple of weird questions this time.

  First of all, how well does this description of the drow match with the drow that appear in R. A. Salvatore's novels?  
Great, and that's as it should be.
They're a good match, and should be better.
They're a good match, but that doesn't make them D&D drow.
They don't match, and they should.
They don't match, but they shouldn't.
I haven't read Salvatore's novels.

  Along similar lines, how well does this description of the drow match with the drow in the classic G-D-Q series of adventures?  
Great, and that's as it should be.
They're a good match, and should be better.
They're a good match, but that doesn't make them D&D drow.
They don't match, and they should.
They don't match, but they shouldn't.
I haven't read or played those adventures.

  So now, overall, how do the drow I’ve described here fit with your sense of the iconic D&D drow?  
1—They are an abomination to the Spider Queen!
2—They have turned from the true path of Lolth.
3—They’re pretty drowlike, but not there yet.
4—Those are the drow, or close enough.
5—They are the ideal of drowish perfection.

  Enough about drow. How well does the drider I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—It should be cast into a deep chasm and never spoken of again.
2—Kill it and put it out of its misery.
3—It’s getting there, but it needs more work.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a drider.
5—The perfect drider—now get it away from me!

  Digging a little deeper into the drider, what do you think of their origin story?  
Drow should be cursed by Lolth and outcast from drow society, period.
Drow should be blessed by Lolth and welcomed as allies to the drow.
I like the compromise in this description—different communities view them differently.

  How well does the duergar I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—Bury it. Bury it deep.
2—I know duergar, and that is not a duergar.
3—It’s getting there, but it needs more work.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a duergar.
5—It is the perfection of all dwarfkind—the ultimate duergar.

  Does the compromise between traditional duergar and infernal durzagon work for you?  
No, stick with the duergar and get rid of the fiendish abominations.
No, stick with fiendish duergar so we don’t have yet another evil Underdark corruption of a surface-dwelling race.
No, keep both races, but they need a stronger differentiating story.
Yes, that seems like a good compromise and there’s room for both in my world.

  Finally, how well does the grimlock I’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D creature?  
1—The blind led the blind into a chasm.
2—It is fumbling in the darkness.
3—A couple of stumbles, but it’s getting there.
4—I think it knows where it’s going.
5—It might be blind, but it can still find its way.

As always, please leave specific thoughts in the comments.

Previous Poll Results

OK, I can’t bring myself to ask about these three creatures separately. Do these descriptions of the gelatinous cube, gray ooze, and ochre jelly fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
1—They're disgusting, and not in a good way. 4 0.8%
2—These are not the oozes I know and love. 6 1.1%
3—Sure, they're slimes, but not quite there. 39 7.3%
4—They are more or less on target. 201 37.9%
5—Yep, they are what they're supposed to be. 281 52.9%
Total 531 100.0%

How does this description of the mimic fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—It bears no resemblance to a mimic. 2 0.4%
2— That is clearly something disguised as a mimic. 13 2.6%
3—I can see mimic from here. 70 14.1%
4—Sure, I recognize that as a mimic. 266 53.4%
5—It is the best of all possible mimics. 147 29.5%
Total 498 100.0%

How does this description of the otyugh fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1—I am repulsed and annoyed. 6 1.3%
2—It's sorely lacking. 9 1.9%
3—It's getting there, but it needs more work. 78 16.4%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as an otyugh. 240 50.5%
5—Aaugh! I can hear it in my MIND! 142 29.9%
Total 475 100.0%

And how about the roper?
1—I am repulsed and annoyed. 1 0.2%
2—It's sorely lacking. 16 3.4%
3— It's getting there, but it needs more work. 61 12.8%
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a roper. 238 50.0%
5—It has me by its tendrils! 160 33.6%
Total 476 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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