The Legend of Drizzt: Becoming the Face of the Forgotten Realms

 R.A. Salvatore is writing a new Drizzt trilogy, starting with Timeless on September 4th.

One could be forgiven for assuming Drizzt Do’Urden was planned to be the Forgotten Realms’ greatest hero from the moment he was dreamed into existence. After all, Drizzt is famous. Even people who don’t play D&D know of the iconic dark elf ranger, and his novels consistently appear on the New York Times Bestseller list. He has appeared in over 30 novels to date, and has made countless other appearances in D&D game books, video games, board games, and comics.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Drizzt began his life as a name plucked from the ether when creator R.A. Salvatore was required to create a character for The Crystal Shard, his first book set in the Forgotten Realms. His dark elf he had created on the spur of the moment was conceived as a sidekick to the barbarian Wulfgar, the true hero of the novel. The Crystal Shard was the first book of the Icewind Dale trilogy, and while Wulfgar was the protagonist of the first novel, Drizzt’s popularity instantly propelled him to main character status in the second and third novels within the trilogy. R.A. Salvatore’s next two series (one trilogy and a tetralogy) focused on Drizzt’s adventures.

Drizzt’s popularity has waxed and waned over the years. Many adore his thrilling adventures and brooding-yet-heroic demeanor, but like any popular character, Drizzt has his fair share of detractors. Depending on your opinion of the absolute, innate evil of the drow, Drizzt’s reputation as “the good drow” earns him just as much derision in the real world as he receives in the fantasy world he lives in. Those who think the drow ought to be exclusively evil—no exceptions—bemoan Drizzt as an annoying trendsetter that gave birth to a legion of drow player characters that were also one of the only “good drow” from an evil society. Given that drow are now an official elf subrace in the Player’s Handbook, people who dislike Drizzt for this reason are probably in the minority.

These days, it is the absolute evil nature of the drow that catches the most heat from D&D players. In the world’s most popular roleplaying game, why is there a race of people—a race included in the Player’s Handbook!—that is described as unilaterally evil, with only few exceptions? Drizzt’s exceptional nature is even more distressing, as it draws unfavorable comparisons to the pernicious myth of the model minority prominent in the United States. This may a deal-breaker for some readers, and understandably so. If you're able to look past it, you'll find that the Drizzt novels are fantasy comfort food, beloved by many who grew up with the Forgotten Realms. And with the release of the first book in a new trilogy of Drizzt novels on the horizon, new readers need a resource to help them catch up on the many adventures of the storied ranger. This is that resource.

The Legend of Drizzt, Abridged

The Legend of Drizzt—as the combined list of all Drizzt novels are known—is 33 books long and growing. Even dedicated Forgotten Realms fans would be hard pressed to read all of these novels. And while the books are mercifully designed to be read without full knowledge of the prior trilogies, a little context goes a long way. The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories audiobook collection is an enjoyable and travel-friendly way to listen to key chapters of Drizzt’s history, read by all-star geeks like Felicia Day, Dan Harmon, Tom Felton, Melissa Rauch, and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

The Dark Elf Trilogy

First chronologically in the Drizzt series, the Dark Elf Trilogy tells the story of Drizzt’s origins, beginning with his upbringing in the Underdark city of Menzoberranzan. He was born a male dark elf in the cruel drow matriarchy and the son of a minor house in a city ruled by power and birthright. Drizzt was a political pawn at best, and a common soldier at worst—and his only means of rebelling against the cruel he was born into was in small acts of mercy, such as saving the life of a young elf girl during a surface raid or a defenseless deep gnome that crossed his raiding party.

Drizzt’s compassion cost him the life of his father, who was sacrificed to Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders, as penance for his kindness. Driven to rage beyond reckoning, Drizzt left Menzoberranzan behind and fled the Underdark for the surface world. It was in this time when he acquired a figurine of wondrous power in the shape of an onyx panther, which could call upon the Astral spirit of a panther named Guenhwyvar. This great cat became Drizzt’s closest companion.

Upon reaching the surface world, Drizzt grappled with the fear, hatred, and prejudice of people who have suffered at the hands of drow raiders, and those who have simply heard stories of their evil. Drizzt had no such evil in his heart, but he was nonetheless pursued and hunted until he met a blind ranger named Montolio “Mooshie” DeBrouchee who taught him the ways of rangers on the surface. Following Mooshie’s death, Drizzt traveled to the frigid reaches of Icewind Dale and met two lifelong companions: the dwarf-king Bruenor Battlehammer and his adoptive human daughter Cattie-brie.

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

The first trilogy set in the Forgotten Realms to be written by R.A. Salvatore, the Icewind Dale Trilogy begins with The Crystal Shard, a novel that focuses more on the adventures of Wulfgar, a barbarian of the north, along with his companions: the halfling Regis, the dwarf-king Bruenor, and the ranger Drizzt Do’Urden. There they battled orcs threatening Icewind Dale, banished a mighty balor, and encountered a wizard seduced by the power of Crenshinibon, a sentient magical Crystal Shard that bent the wizard’s power to its will.

Following the defeat of the Crystal Shard, the companions traveled to Bruenor’s childhood home of Mithral Hall to reclaim the ancient dwarf-hall from its duergar occupiers. Along the way, the companions met a cruel assassin named Artemis Entreri, who hunted Regis at the behest of the Pasha of distant Calimshan. Entreri managed to capture Regis, but his original goal was nearly forgotten as he became obsessed with besting his newfound rival, Drizzt, in combat. Mithral Hall’s evil invaders were defeated and Bruenor’s adoptive daughter Cattie-brie prepared to restore Clan Battlehammer to its rightful throne while Drizzt and Wulfgar pursued Artemis Entreri to rescue their halfling friend from his clutches.

The Companions hunted Entreri to the sands of Calimshan, where Drizzt once more dueled Entreri and even did battle in the fiendish plane of Tarterus (known today as Carceri). The duel between Drizzt and Artemis was cut short by Entreri’s cowardly tactics, but the Companions were reunited and victorious. They returned to Mithral Hall, once more restored to its former glory, and celebrated their victory.

Legacy of the Drow

The Legacy of the Drow tetralogy is a direct sequel to the Icewind Dale Trilogy. It follows the personal drama of the Companions as Wulfgar and Cattie-brie are to be wed, and the Underdark politics of the drow houses—particularly those of Vierna Do’Urden, Drizzt’s sister. This series raised to prominence the drow scoundrel Jarlaxle Baenre, who would become the often-enemy, sometimes-ally of Drizzt throughout his adventures. The two plotlines intertwined when Artemis Entreri, using a mask of disguise, captured Drizzt and handed him over to the Bregan D’aerthe, Jarlaxle’s mercenary company, who were presently pledged to the service of Vierna Do’Urden.

The forces of Mithral Hall, the Bregan D’aerthe, and Vierna’s demonic servants clashed in the Underdark in a conflict that led to Wulfgar's tragic death at the hands of a yochlol demon. Drizzt delved deeper into the Underdark in an attempt to reach Menzoberranzan and stop his sister’s schemes once and for all, but he was captured by Jarlaxle and the Bregan D’aerthe and thrown into the dungeons of House Baenre. He endured terrible torture there, but Cattie-brie pursued Drizzt into the Underdark and she, temporarily allying with Artemis Entreri, helped Drizzt escape to Mithral Hall.

During the Time of Troubles, a Realms-shaking event in which the gods walked the earth and the Weave of magic was disrupted, Drizzt and his companions struck back into the heart of Menzoberranzan and defeated Matron Baenre. Though the Companions had hoped to strike a blow against Lolth—who walked the earth as an avatar—Lolth’s ultimate plan was to sow chaos throughout the world, and the defeat of Matron Baenre played straight into her scheme.

Six years after the death of Matron Baenre, Drizzt and Cattie-brie joined an old friend Captain Deudermont aboard his vessel the Sea Sprite. They go on many swashbuckling adventures on the open oceans of the Realms, hunting treasure, freeing captives, and finally tracking the balor Errtu, who Drizzt first banished to the Abyss in The Crystal Shard. Their adventure ultimately takes them back to Icewind Dale, as Errtu managed to recover the power of Crenshinibon the Crystal Shard, and used it to wreak havoc just as it did in Drizzt’s first published adventure. Errtu was ultimately defeated and Crenshinibon trapped, but the Companions grew worried that the Crystal Shard’s power could ultimately never be contained, and they sought a way to destroy it once and for all.

The Continuing Adventures of the Companions of Mithral Hall

Together, the Dark Elf Trilogy, the Icewind Dale Trilogy, and the Legacy of the Drow tetralogy comprise ten books—less than a third of Drizzt’s epic-length saga. By this point, Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of Mithral Hall, Jarlaxle Baenre, and Artemis Entreri had become some of the most beloved heroes and villains of the Realms. They have earned their place among the Elminster Aumars, Khelben Blackstaffs, and Laeral Silverhands of the setting.  

Around the time of the next Drizzt tetralogy’s publication (Paths of Darkness), TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast and second edition AD&D was supplanted by the new, shiny third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Drizzt’s adventures have continued through three more editions of D&D. The Companions have died during the chaos of the Spellplague and returned to life over one hundred years later during the Second Sundering.

The latest novels in the Legend of Drizzt series are Archmage, in which the actions of the titular Gromph Baenre cause demons to battle for control of the Underdark, Maestro, in which the titular Jarlaxle Baenre joins forces with Drizzt in an attempt to save House Do’Urden as the demon lord Demogorgon ravages the Underdark, and Hero, in which the Companions and their allies attempt to save Drizzt Do’Urden. At the end of this novel, Jarlaxle is shocked to see Zaknafein Do’Urden, Drizzt’s father who was sacrificed to Lolth in his stead, appear before him in a newly resurrected body.

Timeless, the next novel in the saga of Drizzt, promises to show us Menzoberranzan in a fresh light, possibly giving readers new insight into the inner workings of the troubled city of the drow. Timeless’s pre-order page states:

R.A. Salvatore reveals the Underdark anew through the eyes of Zaknafein and Jarlaxle—an introduction to the darkness that offers a fresh view of the opportunities to be found in the shadows and an intriguing prelude to the intriguing escapes that lie ahead in the modern-day Forgotten Realms. Here, a father and his son are reunited and embark on adventures that parallel the trials of centuries long past as the friends of old are joined by Drizzt, Hero of the North, trained by Grandmaster Kane in the ways of the monk.

Timeless appears to be a new beginning for the saga of the legendary dark elf, told via the perspective of one of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist’s major antagonists. If you’re new to the Forgotten Realms, Timeless sounds like an excellent place to start exploring its extensive lore. And if you’re an old fan, this new trilogy promises grand new revelations about the nature of this well-trodden world.

James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of  Worlds Apartand a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his two kitties of wondrous power, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.


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