Customs

Customs

Even living as slaves, many of Menzoberranzan’s races have their own customs. This is primarily because the drow don’t watch over their slaves enough and don’t worry about rebellion enough, to be concerned with native customs. Other customs are practiced by the native drow or duergar, many of whose customs are adopted by other races as well, and some customs have come to have the force of law (if a whip wielding priestess decides something is expected then it has force of law.

Birth: Young are as often seen as a burden as an asset and no race of the city other than the duergar doesn’t have members willing to sell their offspring into slavery rather than care for them. Despite this, even the drow recognize the uses of children and that blood can bind more completely than any other bond. This is why the tradition of noble offspring becoming nobles (unless immediately sold into slavery) developed. The noble females of many upper houses (though not all) limit themselves to only two living male children at a time (the matron mother’s sons are referred to as the elderboy and secondboy of the house) but several notable upper noble houses do not hold to this tradition and more and more lesser houses have also dropped it, favoring instead any increase in personal power they can gain (especially since the nobles—even males—are allowed to attend the Academy). Another value most matron’s have realized their male heirs hold is also tied to their status as nobles, for the more nobles a house has, particularly sons and daughters of the matron mother, the harder it is to ensure the entire house will be brought down and the city’s “justice” avoided by any attack on another noble house. Among the small and weak lesser houses of the city this has obvious value as a deterant against more powerful houses wiping them out.

Branding: Whether by actual branding with a scaldingly hot iron, using tattoos, using magic (such as wizard mark or the more common and less permanent color cantrip), or some other method, branding would seem to be common in a city with prestigious, vying noble houses, innumerable slaves and servants, and pets and mounts. The truth is surprising. Since most marks are permanent and most slaves and mounts may not be kept permanently (even by lower houses), most of the city’s slave owners prefer not to mark their property and destroy their resale value. This is also limited by the prohibitions against non-nobles openly using symbols in the city (even the mercenary companies stick to certain modes of dress without unit symbols unless in the current employ of a house). Those who do choose to use symbols on their property usually do so in the form of tabards, collars, or something else that can be removed when the property is sold. There is one exception to this. Property belonging to the church of Lloth (not an individual house or priestess) can never be sold and is always prominently and permanently marked with the Spider Queen’s symbol (often highlighted in continual faerie fire). This even includes the golems, jade spiders, and other automatons that might be found defending a temple as well as slaves and pets. Sometimes drow soldiers of the temples are also branded (usually on their cheek) in this fashion—a process that requires a regenerate spell to heal. One other method of branding that has arisen among the lower noble houses in the last decade or two and is coming into vogue is the tattooing of all house nobles (usually on the back so it can be concealed easily) with the house’s insignia. Magical inks that glow in the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared spectrums are usually used. This is meant to ensure nobles are absolutely loyal to their house as they will have nowhere to run if the house falls. Others have pointed out this also makes them easy to locate with magic and scry on.

Death: Generally the dead are left to rot in the underdark or in the city they are fed to any of the many carnivorous pets city dwellers keep. Even bodies left in alleys don’t stay there for long as spiders or worse make a meal out of them. Despite this, bodies are supposed to be disposed of—usually sold to city farms raising omnivores and carnivores or possibly to hunters as bait. Patrols are usually accompanied by several slaves (though not in the bazaar where they’d just get in the way, there a group of slaves is actually called in for cleanup) to handle clean-up of any dead found, a job that city-dwellers and visitors alike appreciate (no one wants to encourage the rat population to grow any more). A custom that has developed into reality is that if anyone attacks a slave detail hauling bodies away (generally watched by only one or two drow) that everyone else around comes to the aid of the masters of the detail and destroys the attackers. The last time this didn’t happen Lloth’s priestesses unleashed a plague of spiders that slew everyone in the vicinity, even low ranking priestesses of Lloth. Though that incident was well over a century ago, it is still recalled in tales and none doubt it would be repeated.

In addition to the general handling of bodies there are several other traditions. Goblins, orcs, kobolds, troglodytes, gnolls, and others are all willing to eat the dead of other races but none dare eat drow or duergar in the city. The drow—all drow—enforce the first ruthlessly. If goblins living in the city slums were allowed to eat dead drow then worse may come to pass so special magics have been arranged to alert the priestesses of Arach-Tinilith if any humanoid tries to eat a drow (or so the whispers say, to date no one has proved otherwise). For the duergar it’s a similar matter yet the duergar don’t have the power and control of the drow on their side. Still, they keep track of one another in the city (even the derelicts—which are especially rare among duergar) and if they discover such a travesty they meet out their own very effective justice as an informal and deadly gathering of the community. Only this one thing can bring the duergar of the city together in an army, an army of merchants, artisans, and mercenaries, and when they do gather even the drow stay out of the way. The duergar treat their dead in the usual fashion, by placing them in crypts. Visitors to the city have their possessions used to pay for their return to home (usually Gracklstugh for Menzoberranzan’s duergar) or they are entombed in the secret places in the nearby underdark, often through the use of careful stone work and secret entries as well as magic (meld into stone, stone shape, and Abbathoran mask stone spells). Such tombs (in the dark dominion rather than duergar territory) rarely contain anything of more than a few pieces of gold’s worth and always have deadly traps.

The handling of the dead wouldn’t be complete without dealing with their goods and dead nobles. The belongings of the dead of any race who don’t belong to a house (as slave, servant, or noble) are generally considered the property of the slayer or whoever else claims what the slayer (if a person rather than accident or monster) doesn’t want. The duergar have a tradition of honoring wills and such but none of the other races do, so non-dwarves don’t even bother to make them. Of course, since other races don’t recognize them, a duergar’s “will” may not be enforceable at least over goods in their immediate possession at their death. Any in the city who belong to a house in any way, however, regardless of race, when they die are supposed to have their possessions returned to the house they belonged to. In practice most houses aren’t worried about incidental items like money, and perhaps even normal weapons, but magical items of any sort (even potions in some cases), spellbooks, drow quasi magical items, and house insignia are all a very different matter. Generally it is expected that any dead nobles will also be returned, though if the house is a lesser house and is lost far from the city, a good excuse as to why this isn’t possible is usually enough to relieve the other members of the patrol of responsibility (provided they aren’t of that house) and returning nobles who aren’t priestesses of Lloth by animating them as zombies and having them trek back is also generally accepted. House Baenre in particular has been known to go so far as to openly attack groups of nobles from other houses when their dead aren’t returned, an act that has all but annihiliated two minor houses in the past century.

Greetings: Most humanoids aren’t interested in elaborate greetings and drow know only too well how salutes and shaking hands can even be turned into an attack (such as releasing a spell, activating an item, spreading dust, or delivering a contact poison) so they don’t bother with them. Dwarves and duergar do have such rituals, however. The most common methods of greeting are to cross clenched fists over the chest (crossed at mid forearm or wrist), hold shield in front of chest and fist or weapon against it in front of it, or a firm clasping of each other’s forearm (possibly both in the case of close friends or allies).

Though the forms of common greeting are not followed, there are recognized ways to meet others unknown to a person or group (these are most recognized by drow, illithids, beholders, derro, duergar, dwarves, and svirfneblin but many of the humanoids of the dark dominion have learned them of necessity of over time and inhabitants f all races in Menzoberranzan are aware of them—and practice if it’s their wont). Any display of weapons skill, magic (even a cantrip as long as it proves one is a spellcaster), or powerful force (such as a large unit of troops) but then keeping hands away from weapons, keeping fingers interlocked to prevent quick spellcasting, or keep troops with their arms at “attention” is considered a sign of intended peaceful dialogue. Closing formation (or simply moving) to one side of a cavern, cave, or passage, indicates intent to allow another group to pass or to share the area (possibly passing each other by at the same time). Drawing weapons or preparing spellcasting but then moving away while warily watching indicates a lack of trust along with a lack of desire for conflict (a common way to act toward groups of drow encountered in the Underdark). Any offer of anything more than simple space to pass or camp, whether food, fuel, fire, light, water, or anything else is a sign of desired alliance or active cooperation.
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*Innate Abilities:
Obviously, innate abilities are frequently used in Menzoberranzan. As such certain customs have grown up around them. Generally, affecting someone else with an innate ability without their consent is considered a hostile act. The use of divinatory abilities, other than clairvoyance, when dealing with someone is accepted, however (how would they stop detect magic, know alignment, and detect lie from being used, anyway?). Generating dancing lights is acceptable at any time but tradition prevents the use of the “fiery humanoid” form under any circumstances other than battle. Likewise, using faerie fire is acceptable as long as it’s not actually used on a person, their slave, or their mount. So it could be generated on a rock to light an area but coating someone in it is considered an attack (especially since it usually preceeds an attack). This has led to some interesting practices, however. Sometimes drow (usually nobles) will decide to coat someone weaker than them (usually a non-drow since one can never tell when a drow beggar is actually an archmage) just to see them run away (giving bystanders a great deal of amusement). Since someone running through the streets covered in faerie fire is presumed to be fleeing a fight (and thus with enemies in hot pursuit) sometimes drow will coat themselves with faerie fire in hopes that people will avoid them in an attempt not be caught under trampling lizard hooves or by a fireball. This is a dangerous ploy just to keep the streets clear ahead of you, however, as there are many opportunists who see the chance to do a favor for an obviously more powerful drow. Using darkness on someone is considered an attack, even if it is merely placed so the user is caught in its area of effect (remember, drow innate darkness is only a 5’ radius) but covering a light source with it, as long as no one is caught in it (or their mount or slave) is acceptable. Hitting anyone with a dispel magic is considered an attack (as it might affect personal defenses, potions, etc.) but affecting something they are doing and not them (for example, dispelling a levitation on a rock) is merely considered a warning and show of power. The use of suggestion is only acceptable if it comes form a noble or a priestess of Lloth (or a higher ranking priestess of Lloth, note that almost all noble priestesses are considered higher ranking than non-noble ones). Of course, it can always be used on one’s own slaves or commoners of other races. Any other use, however, is an attack.

Light: The fact is that light is necessary in the city. As such lighting common areas (e.g., taverns), walking down the street with a light, and so on have all developed certain regulating customs. The use of continual light, except in one’s own private residence that (theoretically) no one else should ever enter, is illegal unless required for certain work (for instance, several jewelers in the city swear by bright, steady light). Traveling down the street with it or using it in the bazaar outside a well sealed tent with a “light lock” entryway (light locks are similar to airlocks, having an outer door or curtain of thick material that completely blocks light and a second, inner door that also does so, if curtains are used they must be weighted to ensure they block all light when not opened) will cause the user to be enslaved or killed. Likewise, such bright light cannot be used in battle in the confines of the city, not even in self-defense. Traveling with a torch is more common with a group (such as several slaves and an overseer) than for a single person but is not prohibited. Most people choose to use lamps or lanterns (fat lamps are the most common as they are the cheapest to keep fueled). Signs may be lit, as may the immediate entrance to a building, but otherwise no “public lighting” is allowed for streets unless travelers bring their own. Decorating buildings and outdoor public areas with lights and highlighting faerie fire is generally reserved for temples and nobility but a few trendy restaurants and many temporary parties get away with it without trouble (of course, if a priestess or noble comes along and wants to make trouble for some reason then the person will need connections with powerful noble houses to avoid it—something most such permanent buildings have either directly or indirectly as they are well known hang-outs for nobles of one or more upper houses). Faerie fires are also frequently used on sculptures and statues (or around the base or similarly placed to light the statue without actually coating it in its own illumination source) and this is accepted by all, though such statues usually stand in the open if the owners can defend them against vandals, miscreants, and enemies hoping to embarrass them. Anyplace dealing in goods of most any sort is expected to be illuminated (people want to see what they’re buying in all the available areas of the spectrum, even nobles and priestesses that can always come back and do something about it). Such lighting usually consists of lamps and lanterns again, with candles on candleplates available to shoppers for closer viewing (depending on what’s being bought a bullseye lantern or torch might be more appropriate). The use of light in the mantle or further from the city is considered dangerous, regardless of circumstances, and so is generally only done in desperation, in enclosed areas (surface dwellers would be surprised to find the drow have barns, however these are necessary for branding and handling animals, caring for them, and selling them to buyers for exactly this reason), or as a lure (of course, many underdark monsters are not only attracted by light but wary when they spot some, ready for a trap to be sprung).

Relaxation: Only drow nobles, in the safety of their own compounds, have much of a chance to relax and enjoy themselves (though archmages locked behind their wards may enjoy the same). Two places for relaxation for all are bathhouses and massage parlors. Though no laws or dictates govern it, a drow that enters one of these to enjoy themselves (not merely running from a fight) is considered to be immune to attack or assassination. As these times (and places) are those in which drow are the most vulnerable in public the safety of these sites is protected by unspoken agreement of the noble houses (who know there’s always a way to get at someone even at those times when they are watchful). Since this is governed only by custom and the threat of reprisal, those who run these establishments always keep magical wards and guards around to ensure this safety is not violated. As well, even members of rival houses and those personal feuding with each other will join forces to attack anyone violating this peace, even if they themselves aren’t threatened.

Social Classes: The protocols of interactions between the various classes of dwellers in the city are generally simple and strictly enforced. Since the enforcers are generally the more powerful and the more sensitive to infractions this isn’t surprising. Most surface dwellers, however, would find the number of customs governing interactions between social classes small. Generally there is no rule about getting out of the way of nobles in the street, though most people in the city are smart enough to move out of the way of a whip wielding priestess or contingent of riding lizard mounted guards. Speaking directly to a noble isn’t a problem, so long as the noble doesn’t take random offense (this is a chaotic society, after all), though no slave may ever look a noble in the face unless instructed to (slave troops tend to refer to war as the “chance to look other nobles in the eye”—note they never refer to doing so with their own). Spiders, of course, may not be slain but those who wish to keep them away usually keep flaming torches in their homes, not merely candles (most spiders don’t like open flames and with the wide variety of places to go in the city they simply avoid areas where large fires are common, or so the theory goes). Though torches are cheaper than oil or fat for lamps, openly burning torches has in a business has become a sign drow, or at least priestesses, aren’t welcome, though using even open lamps is not an issue. Many drow still haven’t realized what this custom means among the lower classes. Massage parlors are off limits to violence. This applies not just to the nobility or even drow but to everyone. Even whip-wielding priestesses can find themselves out of favor with their superiors if they attack or punish anyone other than one of their own personal slaves or someone of an outlawed faith (or actively promoting any faith other than Lloth’s).

Water: Poisoning or contaminating any source of water (including deliberately introducing dangerous creatures) in the underdark or city (except a cup, barrel, or other container—acts which carry their own risks) is against all customs and laws (in respect to the societies of greater underdark it is considered an act of war on all other societies, not just the one(s) that control the area). Water is one of the life bloods of the underdark (the other is air) and so endangering the entire environment is a danger to all. Poisoning a kill or food is perfectly acceptable and is a common tactic used with bait. Sharing all but the smallest bodies of water is considered a sign of desire to peacefully share unless an actual fortification or other permanent hold of some sort exists over the area, in which case sharing a water source is an indication of desired alliance or active cooperation (see greetings, above).

Warfare: Open warfare in the city, that is, the attack of one house on another’s compound, is fairly rare. Instead most house rivalries are settled through assassination, “random” street squabbles between those belonging to each house (valuable squabbles, and thus the most common, are those that involve at least one noble as nobles are usually the primary targets), and battles outside the city, in the mantle or, more often, the dark dominion. These battles can be outright duels between the forces (or rather, some of the forces) of two houses but more often are raids on farms, mines, caravans, and other sources of revenue for rival houses (consequently those houses whose monetary and power base are in the city are also the most apt to rise as they don’t have to spend resources in vulnerable areas outside the city). Such battles may even be conducted by proxies of one or both houses: hired mercenaries, the forces of lesser, allied houses, or other hostile forces of the underdark given information about the enemy and their weaknesses (alerting the duergar to any secret incursions into their territory is an obvious favorite but alerting nomadic or fixed tribes of a caravan’s approach or the recent establishment of a mine nearby is much more common). Battles between the city patrols, however, even though they are paid for by and made up of house troops, are strictly against the law and all members of both patrols (or an equivalent number of house troops when a house chooses to pay for commoners to fill their positions in the patrol) are destroyed as enforcement. Not only do the houses not want their forces usurped to settle other house’s disputes but the city would have long ago fallen if this were not strictly enforced. Even House Baenre has proven unable to hold itself above this law. Personal challenges issued in public are a good way for rival houses to settle differences with the battle usually occurring under “controlled” conditions (i.e., in an arranged area where passersby and businesses won’t be affected) or in the dark dominion. Treachery is, of course, expected, and there is no requirement to accept the challenge or show up (these are drow, after all, honor doesn’t mean a whole lot). Such an event generally leads to rumors of weakness and cowardice (or more sense than power depending on the challenger) so most accept in any case. If they then choose not to show up they ensure the “meeting” is to occur in the dark dominion. Then they don’t and simply spread rumors the other side didn’t (which conflicts with the other side’s story of who truly chickened out). Since more than one challenger has been the one to have second thoughts in the past, most people shrug the whole incident off and don’t worry about which one is lying.

As strange as it may seem when discussing drow, there are methods of “friendlier” competition. Challenging others to feats or displays of power is the usual method. One form is a display of spell casting or martial prowess, usually against a group of slaves or captured beasts under “controlled” conditions (and with an open audience of anyone who wants to come see, something direct, dueling challenges lack). Another method is the use of innate abilities. The most preferred is lifting a rock via levitation and holding it in the air the longest though the duration of faerie fire can also be used for those who lack the ability to levitate something. More than one contestant has cut the use of their ability short or used some cheating method (for instance, a magical item to generate the power) to gain a longer duration in the past. This isn’t even so much about winning and losing in this case as it is about giving a false indication of their own level of power. Another common method of challenge is racing mounts through the mantle (racing them through the city was done once but since then the matron mothers have become concerned about commerece too much to allow such needless recklessness—recklessness that might damage valuable goods). For especially dangerous challenges, the race is held on the eastern side of the city, where driders often lurk in hopes of catching drow with their guard down and slaying them.

Customs

Menzoberranzan Aeylric