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I am delving into DM'ing a Drow campaign. Despite having read numerous novels and publications spanning from TSR to WotC to Paizo, I am now having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of their inherent light blindness and illumination within their cities.

Whenever I look at artwork, I often see a faint ambient glow and light coming from windows, such as:

drow city

Considering I can't really take an artists' interpretation as canon, what can I take this as? I am certain not all of their slaves have darkvision, not all guests have darkvision, or at least don't have darkvision as good as a drow.

I have read that Drow like to dress with certain colors, yet if there isn't adequate illumination the only colors they see are black and white with darkvision.

Does anyone know if Drow actually illuminate anything? I seem to remember from something I read that in one city (and forgive me for this horrific recollection) there was a central stone that would glow and not glow to give a resemblance of a day and night passing by.

If the drow do use illumination throughout their dwellings, how much light is enough to not interfere with their light blindness?

For sake of gameplay mechanics, this is a 3.5 campaign. However, the question is general enough that edition shouldn't matter as much.

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Please answer in answers, not comments. – mxyzplk Feb 1 at 13:35
up vote 24 down vote accepted

Drow typically utilize magic in the following ways for illumination:

  1. Specific Mention of the Forgotten Realms

    That pillar is the Narbondel of Narbondellyn, Menzoberranzan; which is illuminated in both visible and infrared spectrums by the Archmage Gromph Baenre at the start of each day.

  2. General Information on Drow City Illumination

    Various other books and novels have mentioned the use of Faerie Fire2 for illumination as well as low level lights. Basically any light source that only increased the light level by one step and they took care to make sure it never increased it to surface normal light levels.


1R. A. Salvatore, War of Spider Queen, Dark Elf Trilogy
2The light is too dim to have any special effect on undead or dark-dwelling creatures vulnerable to light.

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To add to this, the Narbondellyn would change its heat signature throughout the day, so it could be used to tell the time. Important for creatures without circadian rhythms. – Axelrod Feb 1 at 17:54
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If I recall, that book also described the houses of the mages as having candles glowing at all manner of hours, since infravision couldn't be used to read. Of course, in earlier editions, powerful mages required whole days to re-memorize a full compliment of spells. – GMJoe Feb 1 at 23:50
    
Do Drow have access to candles and other sources of flame? I'm assuming that they have various uses for heat (ie: fire), and they're pretty well known for having talent as wizards who are usually quite proficient at lighting things on fire. So, it seems plausible to me that they'd use small flames to light dwellings. – Ellesedil Feb 2 at 0:46
    
Because 3E darkvision can't see colors, unless drow spell component pouches are in braille, someone using normal vision must assemble, for instance, the material components for color spray ("A pinch each of powder or sand that is colored red, yellow, and blue"). – Hey I Can Chan Feb 2 at 0:55
    
@HeyICanChan Maybe they pre-arrange mustard powder, cayenne pepper, and blue pea flower powder in little sachets? – Ruut Feb 2 at 1:02

The pillar may be the case for Menzoberranzan, but it isn't necessarily universal. One of the original Drow sources (the old module D3 - Vault of the Drow) mentions special lenses of ultravision that can be used by anyone to to see in the ultraviolet/infrared range. This is accompanied by fungus that radiates ultraviolet light.

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Could you expand upon the glowing fungus? (Been years since I had that module open). – KorvinStarmast Feb 1 at 22:25
    
There were also, in the Vault of the Drow, nodules of crystals or ore embedded in the ceiling that seem to glow when viewed with infra- or ultra-vision. I'll try to dig out my D3 module ronight. – LAK Feb 2 at 22:27

In many (most?) rule sets, drow infravision has a limited range (120 feet in 3.5). On a city-wide scale, this isn't good enough for things like navigation or guard overwatch. Even basic ranged weapons are reasonably effective at a longer distance.

Lighting, therefore, is useful to help avoid people getting lost ("Head for the pillar with a lot of lit windows, then take a left and head for the temple of Llolth with the glowing altar on top"), help spot people who are trying to sneak up on your fortress, and ensure that you can fight back against attackers.

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