The drow were driven underground into a domain without sunlight, their numbers reduced nearly to the point of extinction. In addition, they fled into occupied lands, the ancestral homes of dwarves, orcs, and other subterranean creatures. They survived, but only by using every resource available to them and bargaining with powers beyond sanity. The drow make no apologies for that survival.
The Darklands are host to their own myriad ecologies, which vary according to depth and location. There are calcium-rich seas ringed with limestone shores, bog-like understories and caverns filled with luminescent fungi, columned chambers fertilized by the guano of blind, bone-white bats, and entire civilizations living within the crumbling halls of still-older and greater domains.
The drow conquered all of that in order to survive.
Taking ancient elven skills for shaping wood and plants and turning them to other goals, the drow gradually became masters of subterranean life—improving some, eradicating others. With deadly patience, perverted elven arts, and Abyssal magic, they warped their new realms to their liking. Fungi were altered to serve as guardians and sate a spectrum of culinary desires; blind, albino beasts were bred and improved to be used as pack animals, mounts, and food sources; and potent unguents and the eerie light of a forgotten rainbow were coaxed from grotesque vermin. What they couldn’t create or recreate, they stole. From the vegepygmies, the peaceful mushroom-herding people in the depths of the earth, they stole their fungal flocks and groves of ancient arcana-infused molds. From the derro they took ancient alchemical secrets and demonic lore, in the process of discovering methods of working the bones of the earth and perverting flesh. And so, deep below the world they once knew, the dark elves made themselves masters of a lightless paradise.
But for all they took, the drow needed something more: manpower. The drow exiles were beset on all sides by natives of this land—derro and skum, deep gnome and orc—who resented the intrusion of refugees. Given their situation, it was little wonder that the drow turned to enslaving their neighbors, waging war not out of self-protection, but out of necessity.
The drow maintain a number of slave races, typically referred to as “servitors.” These servitors range from creatures serving under lash and chain to those who have been molded, in body or mind, into more serviceable forms. Those that require overseers are given the most grunt-like tasks: mining, spore gathering, herding the giant vermin useful for food, and beating the underground forests and flushing out prey for more capable drow hunters. Those that can be trusted that have the capability are often promoted to butchers, cooks, basic tool-makers, and builders. In large conflicts, these more trustworthy servants drive hordes of their chained brethren forward to smash against the front lines of the drow’s enemies. The drow care little if such units return, only that they end the day with more slaves than when they started.
The most trusted servitors are those who have adapted to the drow way of thinking. These are curiosities, kept in the courts as novelties and traded as flashy trinkets. A creature with a good voice, a not-regrettable face, or a quick wit might be adopted by a family who has need of such a creature. If said creature embraces the drow way of life and does not need to be blinded, hobbled, or partially trepanned, so much the better. Willing slaves are always the best. Promising slaves might be branded with the mark of their owners if the drow think they will survive more than a year.
To drow mores, anything and anyone who is not a drow is a candidate for slavery. Their word for servitor is anquestra, while their word for outlander is jenanquestrok, which means “not yet a slave.” Sentients that are spoils of war are always considered slaves, especially if the purpose of the war is to gather more servitors. Similarly, non-drow trespassers can be declared anquestra, and this can happen even to non-drow offered protection from a noble house, should another noble house want to enslave them.
Most slaves are tools to be used, and if a tool is stolen, the umbrage generated depends on the value of the tool. Low-level vermin herders are regularly rustled from one family to another with little consequence, even if they are branded. A highly-trained, non-drow courtesan liberated from a powerful noble house, on the other hand, can be used as a pretext for war. The drow feel that their enslaving of other races is part of the natural order, and that less-enlightened civilizations fail to recognize its advantages.
Drow view the capture and enslavement of their own kind as anathema, the work of barbarians. Captured enemy drow are treated as guests and ransomed back at the end of hostilities. That is not to say that, should negotiations break down, said guest will not be returned in pieces as a sign of a matron’s displeasure.
Although the dark elves do not enslave their own, many drow willingly seek to serve other, more powerful drow. Particularly among the houses of drow nobles, scores of dark elf servants might attend to the whims of cruel mistresses. Such servants have a better lot than slaves and suffer the barbs and tantrums of their employers for the opportunity and respect afforded those close to nobility. Drow nobles, however, often forget the difference between servants and slaves, however, and many drow guards, handmaidens, pages, and attendants bear the lash marks of their mistresses’ furors.
Aside from drow, certain creatures are considered too powerful for enslavement. The aboleths and neothelids are best avoided, or at most treated with respect when they rouse themselves from their dreaming infinities. The brain-like intellect devourers are similarly treated cautiously and as potential enemies. Demons, the servants of the fiendish patrons of the noble houses, are a special case. They are not drow, and by normal conditions many lesser fiends would be considered enslaveable, but they are spared as they are the representatives of more powerful Abyssal lords. As a result, many demons are considered slaves, but slaves on loan from a fearsome ally. As a result, most drow order about allied demons at will, but they tend to do so politely, just in case.