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Drowtales: Moonless Age is a fantasy manga-style webcomic that has been running since 2001, starting out as shitty MSPaint-tier art and growing to dozens of artists collaborating on what is now unarguably one of the best looking webcomics on the internet, although whether the story has likewise improved at all is open to debate.
On /tg/ Drowtales (woo-hoo!) is a skub topic, sometimes resulting in lulz, like when /tg/ had several raids of the site's roleplaying forums with neckbeards attempting to fight the drow Mary Sues with their own dwarf Mary Sues.
It's standard fantasy fare with a few changes, mostly with the elves and Drow in particular (go figure) who are shown to be mostly cute, animesque and angsty nerdy teenagers who bitch to each other about their lives before having an orgy on the settlement they just conquered from humans (more on that later). Some other characters have cat ears, all are bisexual. The main character pulls out any imaginable power out of her ass when cornered and there's faggotry like the drow getting high on chocolate (seriously).
Basically a long time ago there were two elven nations at war, until they used a magic spell to break the fucking moon apart and opened a giant portal to the netherworld so that demons flooded the surface of the planet and ate everyone. What few elves survived this clusterfuck of a war went underground and turned into the drow, building a giant city and then fighting each other while preying on humans and slaughtering entire surface towns to drag the women and children to slavery. The simplest way to describe what's wrong with Drowtales can be summarized as: Take Drizzt Syndrome, infect an entire planet's worth of elves with it and replace any self-awareness moments of characters with raging hypocrisy and pump up the Mary Sue. When you've done that, add in heaps of obnoxious T&A in the middle of all the wangst, and crank up the Grimderp to eleven.
As alluded, the Drow are the villains of the setting. Full stop. The fanbase and the author itself claims that it has no real villains, but that's only really because the Drow are the creator's pets and are evil for the sake of being evil, but unlike the DnD drow nothing about their society requires it to do any of the shit they do. Combine that with blatant Mary Sue bullshit like being able to alter their own DNA with magic and being a futuristic civilization when everyone else is stuck in the middle ages and you have what is effectively a race full of blatantly evil Mary Sues with a hypocritical streak a mile wide, and cringe-filled plot holes to match. Here are a few quick reasons on how/why they're so evil:
- Slavery: The first and biggest offence of the drow, they like to take slaves. It all sounds grim but logical since they are Drow and all that...just...they do not necessarily have need of these slaves, as all of their food/textiles the slaves produce could easily be made and tended to by golems and mana-powered devices on equal terms with modern industry, yet they insist on slaves for...bloodsports and sexual slavery(which is pretty rich when their society is sexually relaxed)... for no good reason besides shits and giggles (one Drow even remarks that the races could easily live peacefully). The slavery in this is so juvenile that sentient beings enslaved by Drow immediately become docile and obedient to the point that the Drow can openly gloat about eating their captives to thier slaves' faces without as much as a spot of anger on the victim.
- Cannibalism: The second biggest offence of the Drow, and one of the main driving forces of the story. They eat people, and this includes other Drow. Apparently meat is rare in the not-underdark, and so are brains since nobody realized they could just have farms up on the surface. They do eventually return to the surface, only to fuck up, massacre and take over human towns and make it look as if it's a heroic act in the series.
- Racism: Oh dear lord, this is bad. The Drow do not consider other races besides Elves as anything more than soulless cattle to do whatever they want with. Normally this is a fantasy villain staple, but in Drowtales it means you're supposed to agree with their point of view.
- Magic: Here's the Mary Sue factor. Elves and Drow are the only race that can use magic, and it allows them to do whatever the hell they want, including having giant walking siege machines and pulse rifles. It also grants them immortality, regeneration, it gives children the ability to take down entire armies on their own and the ability to alter their DNA so that the main character can pull new powers out of her ass whenever she needs to.
- Empathic Abilities: Arguably the same as magic, but a lot of Drow have the abilities to feel others' emotions. This doesn't prevent them from doing any of the above however, it just means they're a special snowflake with on-the-go created bullshit abilities for Animu effects.
- Hypocrisy: The biggest issue with the series, its creator, its characters, and its fanbase. Drowtales is full of unintentional double standards, where it's okay for Drow to murder and enslave, but when another race tries to defend itself or counterattack, they're portrayed as being the villains: even Romans noted the strength and dignity of their Gaulish enemies and made an entire statue to commemorate their sorrow, "The Dying Gaul", seeing slavery and defeat as a sad human factor that can be redeemed with manumission. Here? apparently we have paladins of Sharess who exhort their kind Goddess and march against humans to enslave, massacre and murder...for their philosophy of light.
- The series tries to mitigate this point by saying the Drow have a different moral/ethical code. Apparently it's honourable to do something, with the greater honour the harder it is to do whatever it is, but it's dishonourable to fail. If you succeed then your act is worthy of respect and awe, no matter how evil, while if you fail you're looked upon with derision. This applies no matter what, so blowing up the fucking moon during a war is worth great respect. This is also a frequently forgotten point considering how often somebody fails to do something without many repercussions and by contrast, this allows the characters to get away with anything and still claim to be in the right so long as they win, and it fails to apply whenever the creators feel like writing the Drow with regular morals instead.
- This point, a true Crowning Moment of Retardedness is best illustrated (pun intended) when the the characters visit a surface colony (i.e a human village massacred and taken over) and typical of Drow, an orgy ensues. During the blissful after-sex sleep they are woken up to a counterattack by desperate humans coming to save their kin. The humans are defeated, mocked and vilified for trying to save other humans for a lifetime of slavery before the main characters, who are supposed to be against slavery, leave for home having done nothing in the village but support slavery, despite talking about making the world a more peaceful place a few issues before. Crack cocaine might be a reason for the plot writing here.
Arguments with its fans about the bullshit reveal that they simply hand-wave any contradictions with the words that "they are a species with different morals" or "they are morally justified to do so based on their own morals". Apparently they seem to have forgotten that the people reading it don't have those different morals. Besides, even by their own standards however they fall flat (as their morals are whatever they want them to be whenever it's convenient) and if you want to see a case of values dissonance done right, look at 40K instead- practically every single race is a textbook example of how it should be pulled off, from the Imperium to the Dark Eldar.
TL;DR: All that needs to be done to remove the majority of the grimderp is for the Drow to use their golems/mana tech in place of the slaves to get the exact same results. If that happened though then they wouldn't have NSFW scenes with slaves in bondage, which is quite possibly the reason the comic got so well funded in the first place, or retcon the Magitech bullshit and have a still Grimdark, but logically sounder setting.
- Elves: The surface elves are socially functioning normal people, having a prudish, pacifist and non-slaving sex-segregated caste system. They are the boring to the Drow's exciting, because while the Elves are summed up by 'normal people' the Drow on the other hand are a bisexual, sex-rich, matriarchal BDSM empire which has slaves by the ton to eat/rape/kill with no moral compunctions (odd considering that the Drow are supposed to be the ones to sympathize with).
- Dorfs: Our good old diminutive curmudgeons are terrorists of the underworld, using gunpowder to ambush the Drow, and with good reason: their simple life was ruined by the arrival of hordes of Dark Elves (whose next generation was born as the Drow), who promptly enslaved them because...well...let's just forget we had no arable land and needed food and pretend they did menial slave work. Survivors and freedmen dwarves (Freedwarves?) ran away and now mostly are Taliban of Chel, the Drow underworld, complete with beards and explosives and ambushes, plus the complete justification for their acts. This alone should drive an elegan/tg/entleman insane.
- Everyone else: Humans, orcs, and so on. Their failure to manipulate mana makes them soulless and on par with animals in Drow eyes, and as such you're not supposed to feel pity for any of them either. Regularly enslaved (not that they don't enslave regular elves anyway), massacred and eaten even by the "good" characters. There's two flavors of humans, an Anglo-Saxon stereotype and a Japanese stereotype, the former desperately crusading against the Drow and the latter being their lapdogs and animal-like docile to the point of falling over each other to betray and collaborate with the Drow. The orcs and goblins are simply never discussed in detail due to nobody caring.
- Sarghress: The clan the main character belongs to and taken to fighting slavers, so... and thus the default "heroic" or "reasonable" one. They are a clan of mercenary commoners with a musclegirl matriarch who somehow ride wolves around in the dark underworld and are best buddies with the blue empath drow. In the third arc, they free all human slaves and finally become the heroic clan of the series, well, better late than never.
- Sharen: The aristocrats of the city who all wear beautiful outfits and act haughty. Their clan is split into multiple bloodlines who constantly plot against each other. These are the most D&D-like drow in the setting, and the bad guys who invited demon infestation in many drow. Also they ride dragons around and their males are mostly nether tainted automatons who wear special armor to keep them from being transformed into demonic horrors. Their leader has serious mommy issues and goes hilariously apeshit at the sight of her blood.
- Sullisin'rune: Essentially the Brave New World society in drow form. They wear a lot of blue, use empath abilities and have regular orgies in their glowing dome fortress (it's implied to be for intelligence gathering reasons). The main character's lover is from there and quips about that they treat their slaves well (Maya, the light elf slave had a real nice outfit and looked healthy and well cared for), so apparently being an empath works for once in the series as a not-depressing detail. Since everyone in their clan is always sensing each others emotions, they amount to a kind of quasi-benevolent police state with omniscient surveillance. One of the more interesting factions in the story.
- Vloz'ress: Anarchist demon worshipers. Like anarchists IRL, they are generally useless and self-defeating. Their leader is a figurehead woman with brain damage making her equal to a 4 year-old child who turns the clan's slaves and captives into eternally tortured dolls, accompanied by a reality busting, 4th wall leaning LOLRANDOM orange haired kid.
- Beldrobbaen: Emo goths who live in an inverted castle built on the cavern ceiling. They dress in all black and mope around. Needless to say, they are by far the most popular clan among the fanbase. Their clan is dying out because they lost a whole generation of their girls during a summoning accident, which one would think wouldn't be too bad for a race of immortal beings who can apparently reproduce for their whole lives, except that they refuse to mate with commoners and traditionally turn any male that impregnates a Beldrobbaen woman into a drider knight, so they're basically drow panda...mantis...things..
- Nal'sarkoth: Surface merchants who dress in all green. They are seen running a surface trading post and treating their human workers as equals as they actively recruit non-drow races to build up their numbers. They might have even been one of the good/more interesting factions (also being good people in general) but they barely show up in the story and nobody gives a flying fuck about them.
- Illhar'dro: The other merchant clan. Slightly more interesting in that they have a form of magic based on singing (and mana powered concerts). Biggest exporter of drow pop stars in the underworld.
- Kyorl'solenurn: Fanatic crusader assholes, who, aside from torturing tainted Drow to death, are the exact same Mary Sue bastards, with a twist: most are descendants of former light elf slaves, so their hatred of tainted Drow might be an outlet for their passive-aggressive grudge... Kinda like an entire society of half-black KKK. In an amusing irony, they're the only clan who regularly worships the Drow goddess Sharess and hunts down demonic threats, whereas the rest just dick around and ignore the demonic threats she tried to save them from (just imagine a bunch of high elves worshipping Lolth while the Drow go "ah fuck it, who needs her?"). Yes, the insane religious fundamentalists have more sense than the "normal" Drow...
- Jaal'darya: Female-only clan who use biotechnology. They create artificial life forms and transform their bodies into all kinds of weird shit. Regularly seen snatching babies to make bio-golems, because apparently they don't know how to just clone them or simply because Edgy.
Way too many to list. There are dozens of them. The comic just rains characters, most of which are unimportant or are only there for background. The reason is that the characters are commissioned by donators who want to show off their horribly designed alter egos.
Some semi-important characters who still do fuck all half of the time:
- Clan Matriarchs: The clan matriarchs are all expert mages who would kick your shit in if you fought them, yet can't even run their houses without fucking up half of the city in an enormous conflagration by magic and demons (all with unique abilities, like coming straight out of Dragonball Z).
- Ariel: Ariel is supposedly the main character but in the end amounts to fuck all. She goes to a magic school and then dicks around on the surface for a while, occasionally wrecking human towns and generally being a Mary Sue with a moral myopia. Before she was retconned, it was even worse: letting her light elf slave Maya be a sacrifice to Sharess for visions (a goddess who wasn't even supposed to be a Lolth expy but a sorcerer/turned savior goddess of her people and the world since she stopped demons from emerging). After the retcon she is still a fucking idiot with a case of Grimderp-lesbian-mana-operated mecha pilot (which is one of her hundreds of different, omnipotent skills) who accidentally killed Maya in a fit of rage when the light elf tried to maternally protect her young master, and started to feel bad about it... For a few days.
- Liriel: Ariel’s perky loli slave who is retardedly optimistic of her fate and cheered as Maya's guts were blasted by a magic missile by accident. It turns out she’s actually the Empress whose soul fled into her personal slave to escape death... yeah, some chuunibyou-grade cliche shit there (I was the Empress in my former life!).
- Vaelia: Ariel's human gladiator bodyguard, and a character who is so fucked beyond all saving that she needs to be explained in detail.
Vaelia is hands down the greatest missed opportunity of the series in the shape of a broken Aesop, and shows how Drowtales never fails to miss the mark of making its story uninteresting to those that don't bend over to the Drow concept 24/7.
To start things off, she was a human gladiator slave woman whose village was destroyed when she told the Drow where it was in a fit of anger. The survivors were put to chains and sold to Drow cities, while she was put to an arena to fight to death because nothing says that slavery is 100% vital to keeping their society alive like arena bloodsports.
Eventually Ariel buys her as a bodyguard, and Vaelia saves her from being strangled by some asshole Drow. This gets her freedom which amounts to fuck-all since Vaelia is now homeless, the rest of her tribe sold to a horrible life of slavery and alone below miles of rock, so she stays with our Skub loli Drow for some time. Vaelia's loyalty and the time she spent with the Drow makes Ariel wonder if humans have feelings and stories worth preserving; so just when we see the trigger of a change in the Drow society, she suddenly goes to the surface and leaves her circle of friends... to work with Drow raiders who hunt for artifacts and murder human towns for fun because she wants to see the sun and didn't feel like asking enough to get anyone fucking else (not even some wandering Drow trader dude/chick) to take her up there. From that point on she's treated like a dog, beaten and left to starve in a locked magic hut because she prevented Drow from crushing fairies to death for fun (remember, the Drow are supposed to be sympathetic!). At a point her "captain" even remarks how races could get along with a little effort (by robbing the villagers and sparing their lives), inadvertendly poking holes in the whole setting before forgetting this point entirely. One needs real brain damage to even appreciate the broken Aesop.
15 years later she is seen again, now a mother of three human children and helping the more peaceful, less racist Drow overthrow Sharen slavers, STILL treated worse than a dog by her captain, only mildly appreciated by a Drow whom she saved later, and reminiscing that some things get better (LOL they don't). Of course, in typical Drowtales fashion, the kids' fathers are irrelevant and unknown because father figures are anathema to the comic. Surprise: Last few chapters showed her living in a Drow colony with an entire quarter built for humans (Goblins), and Ariel's clan made it a policy to free every human slave. Soo...a belated happy end might be a redeeming final grace.
- Chrys'tel: One of two actual main characters. She’s a Sharen petulant loli drow noble who investigates her traitorous family.
- Kiel'ndia: The other main character. A Vloz'ress tomboy punk demon summoner girl who breaks the 4th wall and speaks in modern English vernacular. This is as obnoxious as it sounds.
- Naal'suul: is the best character in Drowtales. She is a totally adorable Beldrobbaen emo goth drow girl who has a giant spider that she wears as a backpack. She’s also one of the few characters who could be considered to be purely heroic.
- There's 4-5 other characters from various clans that travel with Ariel, but they do nothing of any importance.
- Snadhya'rune: The main villain of the story. She is a purple haired Sharen summoner who wears fabulous fur coats and has smug levels that go into orbit. Though evil and cruel, at least she doesn't dick around or claim goodness or innocence. Perfect sociopath.
Now for the Porn
Amazingly enough somebody thought a "Space Age" story arc/parallel universe about 10000 years later would be a good idea. In this timeline the Drow apparently are the sole rulers of their world and explore the space with mana powered spaceships and Earth of all places. In this arc Drow are somehow good people after millenia of slavery and genocide and help Earth humans with some civil war; only after they beat the crap out of them when they mistake a powered-down human spacecraft for a derelict.
But what about the humans on the Drow planet?
They're left alone in hut reservations next to high tech Mary Sue cities. The exact reason for this is because apparently the humans haven't developed far enough to be on the same technological level as Drow, despite stating to have developed faster than regular human civilization yet they somehow haven't moved past the medieval age in 10000 years. Funnily enough too they mention that humans used to be classed as beasts and hadn't developed nearly as far, when both of those were caused by Drow raids and those 'modern day' Drow take no accountability in the actions of their ancestors and like to pretend they never happened.
Everyone else is only given the bare minimum of attention due to lack of interest. Instead, they just show bizarrely deviant porn involving nanomachine dildos. There is no real plot, just a mishmash of repetitive lesbian sex scenes. Because Gods forbid if there is a scene with any healthy, heterosexual male having sex with a female. (read. Insecurity of donators)
A saving grace is that Daydream is in a different universe than Moonless Age, so we can chill...speaking of saving graces...
Are there saving graces?
Now to render unto Caesar...
As stated, the art is outrageously above and beyond the usual webcomic fare. It really can't be stressed enough how beautiful some of the pages can get, though when other webcomics are mostly teenagers on DeviantART and you employ the best artists with porn sponsor money, that's to be expected.
The artists also deserves some praise for actually keeping this thing going since 2001. They also deserve a lot of praise for their hard work and improvement - just compare their current skill with the original crayon style art from 2001.
With 52 chapters and over 3000 pages not including the spin-offs, it is one of the longest webcomics ever and runs at an insane daily update rate, and it is not going to end soon, if ever. The artists work at a pace that makes Servitors look lazy. If only we could give some of their energy to GRRM... But then, they have a certain motivation called money and actually employ lots of artists by the fuckton and are financed by fan donations. Donate enough and they can have self-inserts (when humans try to liberate their imprisoned kin, an out-of-place drow character uses a female high heel shoe to kill the desperate (and justified) attackers while shouting a stupid line) as well as their own plot lines, so the sheer commercial motivation will allow this series to carry on for a long time yet, which is a good thing if you enjoy it.