This landmark article, written by Roger E. Moore and published in DRAGON #241 (Nov 1997) is one of my favourite pieces of roleplaying history, with extensive 2E mechanics on playing PCs from the lost albino Lerara tribe (first tantalisingly mentioned in the original Greyhawk boxed set), derro, the diminutive jermlaine or even a unique albino su-doppleganger.
The fiction material in this piece forms the basis of much of the Greyhawk derro lore, detailing and expanding on the now classic Suloise slave origin story first hinted at in Gary Gygax’s third Gord the Rogue novel, Sea of Death, which details the exploration of the Forgotten City.
Much of the background fiction is in the form of a letter:
My dear Mordenkainen,
Your inquiries into the origins of the derro following the recent discovery of them beneath our city streets will be satisfied in part by the account herein, taken from my personal investigations. The heroes who last month saw to the defeat of the serpentine Falcon and her derro followers saved us all from an unspeakable fate.
The creation of the derro, the only servant race of the Suloise whose generation was publicly known and debated, is an especially ugly page in our fragmentary history of the Suel Imperium. References to their creation and uses appear in several buried libraries in the eastern end of the Sea of Dust; I have made copies of some of these if you wish to examine them, though as usual I do not wish to reveal the exact location of my sources.
Approximately 1,800 years ago, after much debate, the Suloise Imperial Congress approved the creation of a new subject race of beings to serve as miners, delving into the earth in search of precious metals, gems, and magical compounds sought by the wealthy and politically powerful wizards of the empire. The race was bred from human and dwarven prisoners and slaves by means that do not bear description here. This new race was called the thurgamazar, Suloise for “little miners,” but they became more popularly known as dwur-rohoi, “twisted dwarves,” a term used by a Flan slave of the Suloise who saw the new race at work. Dwur-rohoi was corrupted over the centuries to dwurroh, then to derro.
The creation of this race produced a permanent rift in the Suloise pantheon. Fortubo, the industrious god of stone, metals, and mountains, was so outraged at the horrific mistreatment of the captive dwarves used by Suloise wizards to create the derro that he withdrew his favor from nearly all his human followers. Clerics of Fortubo were apparently later responsible for instigating numerous anti-imperial revolts among the empires few dwarven slaves, free workers, and merchants. Fortubos efforts to destroy the derro and punish the Suloise who created them were seen favorably by the dwarven gods Moradin and Berronar. They soon gave Fortubo his hammer-artifact Golbi and joined forces with him in the Flanaess to destroy enemies of the dwur-folk. Fortubo is the sworn enemy of the derro and their patron deity Diirinka, whose origin I do not know but which I suspect lies in the Suel Imperium’s time.
The derro gained a great streak of possessiveness from their dwarven progenitors, but they craved magic and knowledge, not gold, perhaps as a result of their Suloise ancestry. The Suloise blood in them gifted the derro with extraordinary magical ability, and the dwarven resistance to magic was magnifiedfurther as well. But the derro temperament was most fully formed by their cruel mistreatment at the hands and spells of the surface-dwelling Suloise.
Their slavery came to an end 1,000 years ago, when the Baklunish Rain of Colorless Fire slew the Suloise above ground but failed to penetrate the deep mines dug out by the derro over their centuries of enforced servitude. Derro regard the Rain not as a disaster but as their deliverance and a blessing. There in the subterranean darkness they survived and prospered, looting the many ruins above them now buried deep under the ashen desert we call the Sea of Dust. In imitation of their former masters, the derro began taking slaves of every sort from neighboring races in the underworld, but especially from human adventurers or survivors of the cataclysm. The derro continue this evil practice to this day.
Humans and dwarves of all worlds would be horrified to learn of the truth of derro ancestry, that our world Oerth is responsible for their creation. The dwarven priests of Fortubo know this today, and they rarely share it even with their followers though they act upon it to destroy their distant, wicked kin. It is suggested here that this knowledge never leave our Circle, lest our world serve as a lightning rod for the wrath of those elsewhere whom the derro have tormented.
– letter from Otto to Mordenkainen following the defeat of the Falcon, 22nd of Reaping, 582 C.Y.
There’s a lot of interesting concepts from earlier supplements concisely summarised in this part of the article alone beyond the basic description presented in Monster Manual II back in 1983 that have carried through to later incarnations of the derro:
- derro were created ~1,800 years by the Suloise of Oerth
- derro are dwarf-human (Suloise) hybrids
- Diirinka is their primary deity
- their possessive streak (power and knowledge but not gold)
- their enhanced magical ability and spell resistance
- their cruel temperament
- derro are voracious slavers
Let’s see what else we can dig out of this article over time…