The history of the drow is uncertain. Although there is a version of history that can be found as the official stance of the government, many question whether or not it is a true account. Originally, the drow are said to have been a military arm of the surface elves who favored conquest and expansion. They believed that elves were superior beings and that their long lives and accumulated wisdom made them the ideal individuals to rule and subjugate the world.
This was rejected by the majority of elven culture and a civil war ensued. The drow lost the war and were driven underground where they settled the city of Zar’Ahal. The first of their culture relied on survival of the fittest, weeding out the weak who could not endure the dangers of the underrealm. War against monsters
and other denizens of the underrealm forced them to form a strong military and encouraged the development of traits that encouraged life and survival in the dark and warlike regions
of the deep.
It is said the goddess first visited the drow and cast a hedge of protection and blessing upon them in exchange for sacrifices and bloodshed. They summoned creatures of violence and death to protect themselves and make war against others. By this and their military, they began to expand and conquer, becoming one of the dominant forces below the ground.
This superiority led to them founding more cities underground, which became relatively independent, though all still give lip service to the queen in the capital of Zar’Ahal.
In recent years, the drow have become more complacent in their conquests. With the silence of their goddess the drow have increased in infighting. They have focused much of their attention inward and their dream of surface conquest has begun to fade from the forefront of their minds. Although there are still living priestesses who claim to have seen and heard the goddess, many have begun to doubt the teachings of the clerics. Unrest has begun to spread through the kingdom of the drow.
Drow culture is notoriously cutthroat, which has earned them a reputation as an evil culture. Much of their culture is based around the worship of their goddess, Maelfazan, who takes the appearance of a large, half mantis, half drow creature. A creature that many outside drow society would label a demon lord, her existence is still suspect to many. It has been centuries since the drow priestesses have heard any word from her.
It is from this worship that drow society derives most of its traditions. An extremely matriarchal society, drow females control and rule everything. This has also led to a very clear hierarchy within society that runs from the queen and the priestesses down to the lowest slave.
At the top of drow society is the queen. She sits over a council of twelve matriarchs who represent the most powerful noble families. Although there are many noble families with varying degrees of power, it is the goal of each to ascend to a seat on the council in order to develop a greater say in the politics of the Zar’ahal.
Many of the noble daughters of houses that seek to ascend in position will become priestesses of Maelfazan. This order of priestesses is one of the highest that can be achieved by a noble daughter, and is seen as a position of great honor. They are widely thought to speak the words of the goddess herself and are tasked with performing rituals and sacrifices to appease her.
Traditionally, the first born daughter of a noble family will be the one selected to become a priestess, as each family may only have one daughter who undergoes the rituals. Subsequent daughters will often attend academies of magic or warfare in order to become officers or mages within the military. These females make up the most elite forces and leadership of the Zar’Ahal armed forces.
Male drow are second class citizens in drow culture at best. Although males born to noble families will often find themselves serving in slightly more prestigious positions, they will never be valued as much as a female. Males cannot become priestesses, and so most noble males are placed into military and magical academies as well, though these are maintained separately from the female schools.
Those who distinguish themselves may find favor in the eyes of their commanders as a sword or tool may find favor for use. However, even the most capable of males must be cautious not to arouse the ire of a female. Seen as little more than property used for battle, procreation, and trade, their welfare is a distant second to the concerns of females if it crosses their mind at all.
Below the nobles are the common drow. Making up the working class, most female drow of common birth will find their lives passable. They are capable of advancing themselves in power and prestige up to a point, and many join the military in the hopes of using it as a path to ascend to nobility.
Male drows of common birth are slightly better than slaves. Many are forced into service in the military and used as front line forces. Occasionally picked for breeding but more often used for physical labor, males take on the roles too complex for slaves but below the dignity of females.
The lowest form of life within drow culture is the slave. Captured from other underrealm societies or during surface raids, slaves are completely expendable. Lower in value than most livestock, they are thrown at issues that require menial, physical labor. Under the constant, watchful eye of slave drivers, the life of a drow slave is truly horrendous. Between beatings, battles
, and executions done in spite, the life of a drow slave is typically numbered in months.
"Maelfazen walked between the dark spaces of the mind. And she would see her blessings only fall upon those who do the same. Eradicate shame from your hearts, as you would eradicate those who insult your house. Cut out pity from your thoughts, as you would cut out the tongue from a lying slave. Tear out weakness from amongst yourselves, and your sisters, as you would tear out the hearts of of your sacrifices to the Shadowmantis Queen. Do these things and you will have earned the right to compete for Our Lady's favor."
-Meditations Upon Divine Intervention, by High Priestess Mahroizeth, the Eternally Ruthless
Drow religion is a strange thing. Though translators of the Drow tongue find the wording to give an impression of monotheism, this is actually more representative of the exclusivity and arrogance that drow culture encourages. Though the Temple of Maelfazen is the most important and largest religious institution in Zar'Ahal, other temples do exist. And they are allowed to. As drow culture tends to view competition as a healthy mechanism for weeding out the weak.
Historical texts show that in past millennia other temples, such as the Temple of Lylthryal the Spider Queen, were favored above the Temple of Maelfazen by the Queen and nobility of Zar'Ahal. These "lesser temples" seem to have originated out of animistic mergers of ancient drow ancestor spirits and their favored totem animals.
Always having had a strong matriarchal streak in their hearts, the deities of these temples are almost as exclusively female as their priestesses. Almost because some of these goddesses seem to have distinctly masculine features. It is possible that in the ancient days, one or two of the more revered ancestor spirits may have been males. Of course temples whose deities have thes features, like the Temple of Vaene the Bat Queen, are more likely to be shunned publicly, but have managed to exploit the secret support of drow males for many ages
by feigning sympathy for their plight in Drow culture.
As Maelfazen's temple has long been acknowledged by the nobility of Zar'Ahal as the strongest of temples, she is the Goddess to whom all drow of any great importance refer when they simply say "the Goddess". Like most of the other temples, Maelfazen's religion stresses many traditional drow ethics like might making right, pleasure being the reward of the strongest and smartest, and servitude and suffering being the just desserts of the weak and the foolish.
However it is known to have taken a harsher stance on acknowledging the inherent superiority of the female drow over the male drow than any other temple. To the devout of the Shadowmantis Queen male drow are barely any better than non-drow, and completely expendable in all circumstances. Even the temple of Lylthryal, perhaps the second harshest in it's view of male drow, still considered them to be potentially valuable assets to females, capable of rendering acceptable assistance to the women who claimed them.
As with most other drow temples, the ritual slaughter of sentient beings up to and including other drow, male or female, is a vital component of the celebration of Maelfazen's festivals and rites. This is often done in a ceremony that involves specific chants and prayers to honor and flatter the goddess and swearing to uphold her ways. It can feature many methods of killing, but the temple rituals often call for the cutting open of the victims chest and dramatic removal of their still beating heart, to be held aloft before the bloodthirsty cheers of all in attendance. In more personal rituals of praise to Maelfazen however, any style of ritual murder is acceptable. It is rumored that for about a century it was all the rage amongst her followers to ritually mate with a male just before decapitating him and having his head prepared as a cannibalistic dinner in imitation of Maelfazen's sacred animal, the Shadowmantis.
Because of the dangers of the underrealm, drow society has a large military and its senior officers are treated with great prestige. Threats from the outside - whether the monsters of the underrealm or opposing cultures - necessitate that the drow be ready for whatever threat may face them.
Most military officers have a dual loyalty. As members of the queen’s army, they answer the call to defend Zar’Ahal, but most are also loyal to their own noble houses. Feuds between families can last for centuries, but open warfare is highly discouraged. As such, assassinations and conniving have become the way of society.
This is not to say that open warfare never occurs. The military has been known to march forth to inflict penalty against particularly grievous offenses of heresy or treason. The military marches forth alongside the priestesses who summon demons and the offenders are wiped out down to the lowliest male child and slave.
In the event
that a noble family is capable of usurping another house, the usurper will often gain the assets of the destroyed family and thus grow further in power.
Magic is a commonly practiced craft in drow society. Due to selective breeding, most nobles have at least a limited capacity for spell casting. Those who wish to specialize in this will often either become priestesses or attend schools of magic in order to better hone their craft and choose specialties to learn.
Although most forms of magic can be found within drow society, arguably the most common type is a variant of blood magic. Drow use the blood of sacrifices and their enemies to fuel their spells in order to sustain themselves and wipe out their enemies. Blood also plays a large part in sacrifices and rituals performed by the priestesses. Sacrifices are made frequently for all manner of purpose, and the priestesses use these sacrifices to not only appease the goddess but also shape events within Zar’Ahal.
Schools for magic are quite rigorous, shaping mages for all purposes. Many will find themselves within the military while others may find themselves in more mundane roles. Magic, thus, has become relatively commonplace in the nobility of drow society.