The Punishments of Lolth
by Eric Cage (Dragon #298)
Deep beneath the surface world lies a realm of darkness, danger, and betrayal. Although many races claim it as their home, the sinister drow claim to be its rulers. With arrogance that few can manage, the drow lord over their slaves, scheming and plotting behind the backs of their kin. Despite their sense of superiority, the drow fear one thing: their dark goddess Lolth, Queen of Spiders.
Lolth is a nightmare that few can comprehend. Although she grants the drow incredible power, wealth, and influence, she is also utterly corrupting. Anyone who worships Lolth walks on a knife's edge over madness, evil, and death. Described here are the various stages of this life path, called Lolthtanchwi, The Punishments of Lolth.
Urztehii - The Unchosen
Like any other race, the vast majority of drow are 1st level by default. In some ways, they are the luckiest, because they do not have to endure the torment and agony of having Lolth's many eyes turn their way. To the haughty upper classes this is just as well, for they consider drow of such puny power and low status to be cattle and slaves for the elite.
If a drow does not have the ambition to advance in society, then this is where they remain, toiling away as soldiers, servants, and playthings for the rest. They will die, and Lolth will consume their souls in the afterlife. Most are resigned to their fate, and they try to cram as much hedonism into their miserable lives as they can manage. This usually involves tormenting as many non-drow as possible.
When drow, through accident or determination, show a high degree of ambition, they play a dangerous game. Not only must they prove themselves to their kin, but they must also show Lolth that they are worthy in her eyes. This is known as the Test of Darkness.
The drow word zwy'il (pronounced zwy-ILL) means "candidate" and is used to represent drow who are being tested by Lolth. In a way, all drow who worship Lolth are considered zwy'il, for the Queen of Spiders is constantly reviewing and putting her children through series after series of tests of worthiness. However, most drow, especially clerics, reserve the term for specific drow who show the obvious signs of the tests.
The Paths of Lolthtanchwi
The Punishments of Lolth are a series of tests that a drow must go through as she increases in power. The Queen of Spiders is a fickle, cruel, and exacting mistress who delights in seeing drow break down into chaos and insanity as often as she enjoys seeing them expand and dominate.
Each of these tests takes place as the drow advances in level. She is compelled to pass it, or ruin is certain. The drow call these tests "punishments" (chwi, in Drow) because there is no benefit to passing, other than being able to live. Drow who have managed to evade the terrifying web of Lolth's power by gaining the favor of another deity are not affected by these tests, but they also become the target of every Lolth-worshiping drow.
Chwineka: The Test of Darkness
When a drow has shown ambition, drive, and a willingness to put herself before others, she has taken her first step onto Lolthtanchwi. She is now considered a zwy'il and is subject to the whims of her dark goddess. To the drow, this transition is known as Chwineka (chweeNEHK-ah), or the Test of Darkness.
In some ways, this is the most terrifying of tests, because it comes seemingly at random and without warning. The zwy'il is inspected by Lolth to see if she is dark enough of heart to truly be a drow. To the drow, being dark of heart means being without mercy, filled with selfishness, and possessing a remarkable sense of superiority.
This chwi comes suddenly and always at a time in which the drow is performing some deed within view of other dark elves. The drow feels her heart swell with pride, power, and drive, tinged with a sensation of being watched from afar. If she gives any indication of self-doubt or unworthiness, a terrible pain clutches her heart. Without any warning, the zwy'il's body begins to convulse and transform. Her eyes blacken and grow to enormous proportions, while six smaller eyes emerge around her face. Two huge poisonous fangs emerge from the zwy'il's mouth. Lastly, an extra pair of spider-like legs grows from her torso. The drow has been transformed into an aracholoth - another monstrous creation of Lolth that is feared and persecuted by other drow (see the Aracholoth entry). Lolth hates all such transformed drow and takes pleasure in making them mere mockeries of spiders and drow, rather than true members of either species.
The Chwineka occurs when a drow has gained enough experience to advance to 2nd level.
Chwikezzar: The Test of Ambition
Surviving the Chwineka, the zwy'il has shown the sense of superiority necessary to advance in drow society. Lesser drow immediately give her deference in most social circumstances, although she must still be mindful of her place in the hierarchy. The zwy'il must now brace for the Chwikezzar (chwee-keh-ZAR), or Test of Ambition.
To those who study the insane logic of Lolth, Chwikezzar is seen as the simplest of the tests, because the natural drive, zeal, and urge to succeed that all drow possess is weighed by the Queen of Spiders. However, no one is ever sure what amount is necessary to placate her desire. Zwy'il at this point commit horrid acts of murder, fraud, deception, and coercion to advance their place in society. This is tempered by the fact that all drow must continually be mindful of their place in that society. A drow can show tremendous energy in doing what it takes to succeed, but it only takes one wrong move to receive a poisoned dagger in the back - complements of a superior's assassin. The drow must place herself above others during this stage, wheeling and dealing, jostling for position at the expense of others.
The actual test is subtle. The zwy'il receives information from an anonymous source, spelling out an extremely profitable venture, but at great risk - the exact endeavor depends on the "business" that the drow is involved in. For example, a drow merchant might find a way to completely eliminate a competitor and raise the price of her goods but at the risk of angering a high-powered priestess. The information is correct, but it cannot be verified. If the zwy'il acts on this information and takes the risk, then she passes the test.
If the zwy'il hesitates or does not use the opportunity presented to her, then Lolth considers her unworthy of ambition. From that point on, almost everything the drow does is doomed to failure - business opportunities dry up, spells fail with alarming regularity, and she is inexplicably shunned by other drow. Eventually, the drow either goes into exile, goes mad, or is killed. When the drow fails the Chwikezzar, a tiny green spider is seen exiting the body.
In game terms, a drow that has failed the Chwikezzar suffers from a -6 effective decrease in Charisma (minimum 1) and a -4 enhancement penalty to attack rolls, saving throws, ability checks, and skill checks. These penalties can be removed by any non-Lolth-worshiping spellcaster casting bestow curse, break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, remove curse, or wish so long as the drow suffering the effects forswears Lolth. This test occurs at some point when the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 3rd, 4th, or 5th level.
Chwidridera: The Test of the Drider
The Chwidridera (chwee-dri-DERA), or the Test of the Drider, is the most infamous of the Punishments of Lolth. It is known outside of drow society, mainly because those who fail the test are transformed into the foul creatures known as driders. At this point, the drow has shown a high amount of aspiration, backstabbing, and conniving as she advances up the social ladder, but she walks a fine line between the "healthy" arrogance of a normal drow and megalomania, thinking that she is immune to her dark goddess's wrath.
When this aspect of the Lolthtanchwi begins, the drow has disturbing visions of her body being consumed from the inside by a mass of spiders. In a manner uncharacteristic for a drow, the zwy'il begins to avoid and fear spiders. Considering the amount of spiders and spider imagery that abounds in the cities of the drow, the zwy'il must confront this fear almost every waking second. Her paranoia increases, and she becomes convinced that every spider is waiting to sink its venomous fangs into her flesh. If the zwy'il can manage to overcome this irrational behavior, the fear abates, and her usual respect and admiration for spiders returns.
Those who fail this test do so by fleeing their community. Once this has happened, the zwy'il knows her fate is sealed. She is filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding, as the visions of the spiders eating her alive fill her mind in their horrible vividness.
Nothing happens until the next time she rests. The visions return with a terrible intensity, and a single miniscule red spider appears and crawls into the zwy'il's mouth. Once the spider is inside, the drow goes through a grotesque and traumatic transformation during which she turns into a drider.
If horrified onlookers do not kill the drider, it flees into the Underdark, knowing that it can never return. Drow despise driders, recognizing that they are failures in the eyes of Lolth, and will do anything to see them destroyed. The drider's mind is twisted by the transformation, filled with an incredible hatred for the race to which it once belonged. Drow clerics tell that Lolth revels in this animosity and the chaos that is sown from the creation of one of these aberrations. The Chwidridera occurs when a drow has gained enough experience to advance to 6th level.
Chwiakrell: The Test of Lies
If the zwy'il manages to survive the dreaded Test of the Drider, she still has many challenges to face. The next test focuses on the zwy'il's status within drow society. Even the most secluded drow must have some interaction with her kin; even if just to threaten them into leaving her alone. For a drow who is more entrenched in the workings of her people, the web of intrigue and double-crossing begins to tighten around her as she enters into the Chwiakrell (pronounced chwee-uhKRELL), or Test of Lies.
The zwy'il must plant seeds of lies and deception, with the dual purposes of bringing down an enemy and propelling herself higher up the ladder of status. The lie can be small and subtle, so long as it ripples and grows to monstrous proportions. The lie must also be completely untrue, although the zwy'il can help the lie along by planting evidence and arranging compromising situations for the victim to be caught in.
The zwy'il knows the test has begun when she catches wind of a rumor about her that is completely untrue (possibly the result of another drow's Chwiakrell). A cocky zwy'il can fail her test immediately if she does nothing, but most go through tremendous effort to quash the rumor (and the perpetrator) as quickly as possible. Clerics of Lolth believe that the Queen of Spiders whispers these lies into the ear of another drow to begin the test.
The zwy'il passes the test if her chosen victim is utterly humiliated and removed from her position of power, or (preferably) killed as a result of the lie. As mentioned above, the zwy'il fails the Chwiakrell if she does not respond to the lies about her. She also fails if her plan to bring down the victim does not have the desired effect. If irrefutable proof of innocence is presented to other drow, the zwy'il immediately fails the test.
Drow who fail this test become incapable of lying as though under the effects of a zone of truth spell. This effect can be removed by any non-Lolth-worshiping spellcaster casting bestow curse, break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, remove curse, or wish so long as the drow suffering the effects forswears Lolth. The Chwiakrell occurs when the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 7th or 8th level.
Chwidencha: The Test of Sacrifice
Having learned that the only person she can trust is herself, the zwy'il must now understand the meaning of sacrifice. The drow word for sacrifice (dencha) does not have quite the same meaning when it is translated in the Common tongue. For the drow, sacrifice equals loss without gaining anything in return. The concept of freely giving something to another without gaining any benefit in the process is completely alien to the drow mindset. During the Chwidencha, the zwy'il learns what this sacrifice truly means. Lolth is a greedy goddess and seeks to possess and consume anything that others have. By surviving this test, the zwy'il learns to prize her possessions and hoard anything of significance.
This test begins after the drow has gained something of importance. It is not necessarily a material item - an increase in status, a new skill or spell. or some advance in personal ability is likely, too. Shortly after the boon, the zwy'il catches sight of the spider messenger of Lolth, which appears on the object or representation of the trait that Lolth wants for herself. It might be a powerful magic item, a fabulous jewel, or even the zwy'il's hand. Whatever it is, the zwy'il immediately knows what the spider is indicating. Lolth never chooses something trivial - only something that has a close and powerful connection to the zwy'il suffices. In addition, the sacrifice is something that seriously hurts or reduces the drow in some way, whether through the loss of magical might, social status, mental facility, or a physical trait.
The zwy'il must decide if she willingly makes the sacrifice, and she must make the sacrifice within one week of the appearance of Lolth's messenger. In the case of an object, she must present it to another drow of equal or higher status, preferably a priestess of Lolth. If it is a skill, feat, or ability, the zwy'il experiences a wrenching vision that feels as though her soul is being torn apart, and she is drained of 1d4 x 200 XP. Some zwy'il are even commanded to sacrifice a part of their own bodies, such as an eye, foot, or ear.
If the zwy'il willingly goes through with the sacrifice, she passes the test. If she refuses to part with the chosen sacrifice, she fails, with terrible consequences. The next time the drow touches the treasured object or uses the ability Lolth desired, she transforms into a spiderleg horror (see the Spiderleg Horror entry). The Chwidencha occurs when the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 9th, 10th, or 11th level.
Chwidevbril: The Test of Betrayal
Chwidevbrii, or the Test of Betrayal, is a punishment that strikes deep. As the zwy'il has progressed through the various trials and tribulations of Lolth, she has gained powerful allies as well as powerful enemies. Although trust is a distasteful concept to most drow, they understand that sometimes it does happen and is even necessary. The Test of Betrayal teaches the zwy'il that she can only trust one person - herself.
To succeed at this test, the zwy'il must betray someone who has garnered her trust or in whom she has placed her trust. Mentors, teachers, leaders, friends, and family members are all fair game, as long as there has been a solid connection of dependence made in the past. The relationship between master and slave or servant does not count; Lolth knows that betrayal is inherent in such a relationship. The victim must also be on roughly the same (or higher) social step as the zwy'il - murdering a trusted stable hand means nothing to the Queen of Spiders.
The zwy'il must utterly destroy the other drow in a way that allows her to advance in some manner. The method is not important: Blackmail, slander, and theft are commonly used. In the end, the victim must die. Usually, the victim is murdered by the zwy'il herself. commits suicide, or is killed by a third party as a result of the zwy'il's slander campaign.
The Chwidevbrii begins when the drow's attention is drawn to a peculiar black spider with a dagger-like marking on its back. This occurs in the presence of the victim, who is oblivious to its presence. Once the victim has been chosen, nothing can change it, and the result is either a ruinous end for the victim or for the zwy'il - the zwy'il succeeds when the victim is dead. If it takes an unusually long time for the plan to manifest or if the zwy'il attacks the victim but does not kill her, she fails the test.
Punishment for failure results in having the target retaliate against the zwy'il. If the target does not immediately succeed, she gains a supernatural ability to hunt down the zwy'il, and it is just a matter of time before the failed drow is lying dead at her feet. If the zwy'il manages to eliminate the target after this point, the test is still considered a failure, and a family member, servant, or other ally takes up the pursuit of the failure. As in the other tests, a tiny spider is sometimes seen exiting the mouth of the corpse of the failed zwy'il.
When a drow fails this test, the target gains the ability to find the zwy'il at will using discern location (as though cast by a sorcerer of the zwy'il's level). The target retains this ability until the zwy'il is dead or until Lolth deems a different drow must take up the quest.
The Chwidevbrii occurs at some point after a drow has gained 12th level and before the drow has gained 15th level.
Chwihendrell: The Test of Domination
Having dispatched a drow ally in the last test, the zwy'il must now prove that she is capable of ruling lesser beings by leading her people to dominate non-drow. This is known as Chwihendrell (pronounced chwee-hen-DRELL), or the Test of Domination.
Chwihendrell begins when a spider messenger draws the zwy'il's attention toward a non-drow being. This could be as direct as seeing the spider crawling along the tunic of a duergar slave in the streets, or as abstract as watching it crawl across a map, where it settles on a territory known for its infestation of illithids. To the zwy'il, the meaning is clear: The chosen race must be destroyed.
To pass the test, the zwy'il must raise an army (or elite team) and mount an assault on a significant population of the chosen race. The goal is elimination and/or enslavement, down to every man, woman, and child. The population must be the equivalent to a small town, although this amount can be spread out over numerous individuals, thorps, hamlets, and villages.
Unlike the other tests, the Chwihendrell does not have a set time limit. The test can take years to complete if the enemy proves particularly tenacious or has a large population. Certain hard-to-find races, like the kuo-toa, can be maddeningly difficult to eradicate, which suits the twisted humor of Lolth.
Failure is also arbitrary. If Lolth believes the zwy'il has taken too long to meet her goal or the enemy manages to regroup and mount a significant counterattack, the zwy'il fails the test. This awareness comes suddenly, along with a sensation of abandonment and despair. Over the course of a few minutes, her body undergoes a transformation similar to that experienced during the Test of the Drider. Instead of becoming a drider, however, the failed drow is transformed into a brood mother (see the Brood Mother entry).
The brood mother is a source of many of the different species of monstrous spiders that roam the darkness of the subterranean world. It is "born" pregnant and spawns many spiders during its lifetime. The brood mother injects other creatures with its offspring, killing the injected victim and giving birth to its children. These spiders are likely to kill the drow's enemies at some point, and in Lolth's twisted logic, she accomplishes her extermination goals by creating more brood mothers.
The Chwihendrell occurs after the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 15th level.
Chwisasshra, or Test of Vengeance
The zwy'il is now ready to face the Chwisasshra, or Test of Vengeance. Just as in the Test of Betrayal, when the drow brought down a trusted friend, the Chwisasshra demands that she utterly destroy a sworn enemy. Considering the treacherous life that most drow live, the zwy'il probably has a large supply of enemies.
Unlike the other tests, subtlety is not allowed. The zwy'il must bring every resource at her disposal to the task of wiping out her chosen enemy. The destruction must be absolute, including the elimination of the enemy's immediate family, household staff, and residence.
This test is extremely dangerous, not only for the violence that is required, but also for the wrath of the target's allies. The test begins when the zwy'il sees the tiny spider that has appeared so many times before. It shows itself at a time when the zwy'il visibly sees the target or in some other abstract way (for example, spinning a web on the enemy's house banner). From that point on, the target can never change.
Once the target has been revealed, the zwy'il must eventually attack her and her household. This is usually done with the help of the zwy'il's minions and troops. The zwy'il is forbidden to use a third party to assassinate the target, and she immediately fails if she does so - Lolth demands that the zwy'il spill the blood of her enemy directly. If the target is killed, the zwy'il must continue the rampage, looting, desecrating, and destroying her foe's home as well.
If the zwy'il launches an assault and does not succeed in eliminating the target, the test is considered a failure. If the zwy'il is not killed during the attack, she must contend with a rightfully angry enemy. As in the Test of Betrayal, the hunter becomes the hunted, but in addition to gaining the ability to find the zwy'il at will using discern location, the zwy'il's enemy gains the ability to planeshift or teleport without error (as though cast by a sorcerer of the zwy'il's level) to the location of the zwy'il at will. Lolth revokes this ability if the zwy'il's enemy uses it for a purpose other than revenge, and should the zwy'il succeed in defeating that enemy, Lolth grants the abilities to a different enemy of the zwy'il.
The Chwisasshra occurs after the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 17th level.
Chwilolth: the Test of Lolth
The zwy'il is now reaching the pinnacle of her existence. She has overcome incredible odds and proven that she possesses the "best" traits that drow admire: uncompromising will, unbelievable cruelty, and an utter sense of superiority. One more test remains, however - Chwilolth, or the Test of Lolth. Having bested her enemies, the zwy'il must face down a representative of the Spider Goddess herself.
The test begins with visions. The zwy'il has a persistent vision of Lolth speaking to her. Lolth taunts, berates. and belittles the zwy'il in as many ways as possible, degrading her victories and revealing her weaknesses. The visions continue over the course of several weeks. Deprived of sleep (or, more accurately, the restful meditation that all elves require), the zwy'il starts seeing hallucinations. Visions of the Spider Goddess fill every moment of her life.
The visions abruptly stop one day, and the zwy'il now knows that she must face Lolth. The next time that she is alone, she hears the sound of skittering claws behind her. When she turns, she sees a monstrosity lurking before her - a proxy of Lolth, complete with the head of a beautiful drow maiden jutting out from a repulsive spider body. She states, "It is time," before leaping in to feast on the zwy'il's body. See the Proxy of Lolth for the proxy's statistics.
The zwy'il must fight for her life. She can use any and all means available to him, including weapons, magic items, spells, and traps. Although drow are taught that they must fight this battle alone, only a fool would do so. Most drow bring all the forces at their command against the proxy, often sacrificing much of their power to bring down the deadly divine being.
If the zwy'il defeats the proxy of Lolth, she passes the test. The reward for passing is greater than mere survival. Zwy'il who pass the test are allowed to advance beyond 20th level, never to be tested by Lolth again. Drow who reach 30th level are sometimes called to become proxies of Lolth themselves. They then have the opportunity to defend their positions by eliminating ambitious drow during future Chwiloths. For information on advancing beyond 20th level, see the Epic Level Handbook. For information on creating proxies, see Deities and Demigods.
Otherwise, the proxy kills the zwy'il. Zwy'il killed by the proxy cannot be raised, reincarnated, or resurrected by any means. The clerics of Lolth say that the souls of zwy'il who fail the test are taken back to Lolth and slowly consumed. The Chwilolth occurs when the drow has gained enough experience to advance to 19th or 20th level.