Vault of the Drow

Welcome to the Vault of the Drow
(A primer on location)

Beneath the Hellfurnace Mountains, in the place that surface-dwellers call the Underdark, lies a hemispherical cyst in the crust of the earth, almost six miles in diameter. Strange crystal decays in the zenith of the dome, lighting the sky like an eerie moon and stars, but affording none of the danger to the Underdwellers that the sun would have. This is the Vault of the Drow, home of nearly 50,000 beings, dominated by its capital city of Yethendrin. Here, noble houses of the drow plot and scheme against each other, and many other Underdark races come to trade, labor, engage in diplomacy or intrigue, pledge their loyalty to the drow, or else arrive in chains as slaves.

To the north and west of the city is Darkwater Bay, which permits drow ships to sail the Sunless Sea, engaging in fishing, trade (often in slaves of surface-dwelling races taken from evil empires), and exploration. To the southwest are the Wormwrithings, massive ancient caverns hollowed out by the travels of purple worms, and a source of both mineral and herbal wealth for the drow noble houses. Northeast lies the duergar city of Myrkheim—which has been both a trade ally or a deadly foe of Yethendrin as the ages have worn on—and other major settlements of the Underdark, including deep gnome holdfasts, the Great Fungal Forest, and more.

There are numerous noble houses of drow, but only those who sit on the Council of Eight have true authority in the Vault, vying against each other in deadly intrigue for the coveted position of First House, most favored of the goddess Lolth. A hundred years ago, the Vault was shaken by bloody civil war—the result of a prophecy of a child born with Lolth’s blood and blessing, who would threaten the long-standing absolute authority of the High Priestesss of Lolth. The birth of this spider-headed daughter—whom the drow call the Empyrean—resulted in savage bloodshed and internecine struggle. When the dust settled, two of the Great Houses were rendered excommunicate and destroyed, and a third was heavily censured and forced to intermarry with a lesser house, promoting them in rank. The Empyrean’s faction had triumphed, bringing her House to even greater glory, and a peace accord was reached with the High Priestess, who would remain religious authority over the drow, and cede the secular matters of the management of Yethendrin to the Empyrean. In keeping with ancient tradition, to fill the void left on the Council of Eight, two lesser houses were promoted to Greater status, and have been spending the past century dealing with their new responsibilities and power.

Inhabitants of the Vault
(A primer on common races)

The drow themselves are the most numerous and politically powerful denizens of the Vault, though few are those born to the Eight Houses—most drow will be of a Lesser House, or no noble blood at all, forced to vie against their kinsmen for any status or accord.

Drow make up the largest section of the Vault’s population, but are not even a full majority. Many mirthless duergar (gray dwarves) make their homes in Yethendrin, and some svirfneblin (deep gnomes) ply their trades there, as well. By far, the most plentiful non-drow race are the bizarre derro, creatures the size of halflings who are often forced into servile slave roles, and are generally regarded as barely sane.

For centuries, the drow armies have been bolstered by summoned demons and devils—their kind are seen in the Vault, as are the tiefling children they sire on various races. Half-elves of drow parentage are not unheard of, but those that survive their difficult childhoods (often in the drow orphanages called the House of Abandonment) are likely the strongest and canniest of their ilk. Goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, and half-orcs are represented in small numbers within the Vault, and a sizable population of surface-dwelling races (humans, halflings, dwarves, etc.) live as slaves. Some of these poor souls have been born into generations of slavery, knowing only the Vault and never having seen the fabled sun spoken of in hushed whispers.

Brutish reptilian troglodytes have found a home for themselves in the Vault, and many serve in the armies of the drow, as do the fearsome feral quaggoth, who nurture a hatred for the surface elves as strong as their drow masters. A small number of mind flayers are permitted in Yethendrin, though many drow view them with watchful distrust. Even rarer are those intelligent undead accorded citizenship in Yethendrin, though the city is plagued by no shortage of scavenging ghouls, ghosts, and other monstrosities.

Citizenship & Status
(understanding the laws of the drow)

By birth, all drow are granted citizen status in Yethendrin, but are consequently put under the authority of the Priestesses of Lolth. Barring crimes against the drow people themselves (blasphemy, mass drow genocide, etc.) the expectation is that lesser matters are settled by vendetta and blood-right between Houses. Drow with no tie to even a Lesser House consequently have to watch their actions. If they’re lucky enough to find a House to advocate on their behalf, they have more freedom to seek reprisal for injury or sleight done to them.

A non-drow earns citizenship through sponsorship by a noble drow house, diplomatic credentials or political maneuvering, or sometimes through utility or fame. Service in the armies of the Vault grants citizenship, and bribery presents another avenue for the wealthy. Non-drow citizens fall under the secular authority of the Empyrean, whose rule over them is passive, at best. In general, the assumption is that non-drow can offend and kill each other to their heart’s content so long as it does not disrupt the general day-to-day function of Yethendrin. A non-drow who harms or kills a drow will likely be hauled before the Empyrean for justice, or tried before one of her subordinates in the byzantine Court of Grievances, where bribery and wealth often win the day.

Non-citizens face the most complications. These are those “foreigners” who have come to the Vault to trade, in pursuit of information, or entirely accidentally. They must take care, as they have little to no protection under the law, and can face reprisal for even entering the Spider Quarter (home of most of the city’s drow). Worst of these are those who come to Yethendrin in chains, or else were born to slavery. Slaves are the lowest of the low, having little legal right at all. Killing a slave might result in having to pay a fine to its owner, though a favored slave can be treated as any other prized property, and result in vendetta. Slaves tread lightly, and rely on the favor of their masters to ensure their continued survival.


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