Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Elven Culture and Magic

High Elves

These are the elves you think of when you hear about elves.  Aloof and magical.  Beautiful and wise.  Living in harmony with nature.  And that's exactly how elves think about themselves, but it's not quite true.

Beauty and Goodness

Elves embody beauty and domination.  They live in a world that is seen entirely through the lens of beauty.  They are known for building beautiful cities in the forests, but they also build beautiful cities over waterfalls, mountains, caverns, canyons, and coastlines.  They will go to war for these places, and their proxy armies will wade through rivers of blood to get them.  They will war dwarves for crystal caverns, and they will win.

Elves always win, in the end.

They equate beauty with morality.  The goodness of a person can be seen in their countenance, in the bone structure of their face.  Their trustworthiness is apparent in their posture, and the irregularities of their skull can betray one's aptitude for virtue or for vice.

Any action is good if it is beautiful.  Assassins are vulgar and disgusting, but that is why the elves train sword dancers.

Their own governments are ruled by the young, or the young-looking (this second category is a very broad one).

Just as dwarves assert that all precious metals/stones mined from the earth belong to them, so do elves claim that all natural beauty belongs to them.

surprisingly, it is not hard to find pictures of elves with bare midriffs
Wood Elves

These are the outcasts of elven society, either because they possess some physical defect, lack magical talent, or committed some crime against decency/fashion.  They have been kicked out of the verdant bourgeoisie of high elf society in order to slum it in the margins.

By any non-elven standard, wood elves live comfortable lives with many amenities.  Most first-generational wood elves consider this barbaric, and are desperate to win their way back into their society's aristocratic circles.

Technically, there aren't supposed to be any second-generation wood elves.  As part of their punishment and exile, fleshcrafters will remove their testicles or ovaries.  If and when a wood elf is re-admitted to high elf society, their reproductive glands are returned to them.

Some wood elves are those that have sold their faces.  These elves wear wooden masks and do not associate with wood elves who still have their faces.  These faceless wood elves are called skull people (most people don't realize that they're elves at all).  They are deeply troubled individuals.  Stay away from them.

Contrived Beauty

Elves will tell you that they live in harmony with their environment, but this is not true.  In reality, elves undertake huge engineering projects to re-arrange the crystals around their caverns, or divert rivers to make better waterfalls.  Or that they send their slaves out to paint rocks more pleasing colors.

To us, they seem trivial.  To elves, this is how you make the world a better place.

If you visit the elves on friendly terms (unlikely), they will make you wear masks because your ugly faces are disgusting to them.  Or more than disgusting--your faces are evil.  People with Cha 16 or more are exempt, of course.

In forests, they'll command the trees to uproot themselves and move to a location where they don't block the sunset.  Or they'll set their servants to the singular task of moving a hill to a location where it can provide better shade.

When possible, they'll get the trees to do it themselves.  This is where ents come from.

Elves have poisoned trees to make their foliage more beautiful, and released mildly-poisonous gases in order to enhance the sunsets.  They've made rivers undrinkable in order to have an enchanted waterfall that ran across the surface of a cliff.

Elven Necromancy

Some elves abhor necromancy; some embrace it.  (Elves are not a monoculture, although it may seem that way to non-elves.)

Elvish necromancers are sometimes kept busy killing a forest, then maintaining it in a state of pristine beauty.  Dead trees with beautiful leaves, fields of wild flowers perpetually in bloom.  Majestic herds of deer that collapse into rotten dirt with a single axe swing.

Elvish nobles will also sometimes rent out undead party guests.  What do you do when you have too many couches and not enough friends to fill them?  Why not hire some beautiful escorts who will sit on them and pretend to sip from a champagne glass?  And what elf is so bigoted to insist that these beautiful guests be, necessarily, alive?

(Elves will tell you that they are the least bigoted people alive, since they can respect anyone who is beautiful, regardless of race, creed, sexuality, or loyalty.)

The long-abandoned Mithril Chateau is full of these party guests, perpetually dancing up and down the ballroom, reclining on chaise lounges, and standing in circles while smiling and laughing (but never talking).

Cosmetic Wizardry

In elven enclaves, you may purchases faces as easily as ballroom dresses.  The cosmetic fleshcrafters showcase their faces inside thin panes of glass, where the faces float and smile at their prospective customers, grinning beautiful smiles.

And you must have a beautiful smile if you are going to be invited to any elven party.

And you must go to an elven party if you wish to talk to an elf an any importance.  (Everyone knows that all important business is discussed only at parties.)

The fleshcrafter halls are like Armani stores.  White and black surfaces dominate.  Pleasant scents and pleasing music drift through the air, without any visible source.  Pedestals hold pieces that customers might be interested in.  A pair of breasts on this pedestal, a particularly graceful forearm on another.  (Elves obsess over forearms.  The wealthiest wear a different pair of forearms for each season.)

Unfortunate souls can choose to sell their face, and wealthy ones can buy new ones as they age.  (Metagame: You can buy and sell your Cha score in elven metropoli, but it will cost a fortune in gems.  Elves love gems more than dragons do.  Gems remind elves of stars.)

This is why elves always wear little armor, or close-fitting armor.  A trustworthy elf bares their (toned) midriff.  Wearing heavy armor is equivalent to lying about your name.

This is partially why elves hate dwarves, and take extra pains to master styles of combat suitable for killing their heavily-armored foes.

Euphemisms and Lies

Elves abhor violent violence.  They prefer to speak of it as "the dance".  Their speech is couched in so many euphemisms and jargon that it is nearly incomprehensible to outsiders.  Here are two elves describing the destruction of a human town:

Elethriel: "Most Graceful Lady, the dance at Shimmerbridge was inspired, a recounting of our ancestor's gracile touch.  Our dancers distinguished themselves.  The floor has already been swept and the windows braced.  Their pipers already carry news of the song, if it please Your Most Majestic Eye."

Quinthera: "Compensate the composer, and wizen the unicorns."

Politeness and social niceties are paramount of course.  Insult an elf in public, and you will have made a deadly enemy.  Work against an elf in private--steal their possessions, kill their pets--and all can possibly be forgiven with a proper apology and compensation.  (Perhaps your forearms.)

The worst thing that you can do is contradict an elf's worldview.  To accuse them of ugliness, or to remind them that perfection doesn't exist in this world upsets them terribly.

Slaves and Proxies

Mere slavery is abhorrent to elves because slaves are often miserable, and it pains an elf to witness pain.  So they are careful to practice their particular brand of it.

Slaves are inducted into families, where they are charmed and given the title of "little brother" or "little sister".  These subservient "siblings" are extremely careful to never enter the sight of their proper elven siblings (because then niceties and greetings would have to exchange, hugs, kisses, etc).  Most of these slave-siblings are active during the night, and travel through elven enclaves through their own set of secret passages.

Elves are rich through their mastery of magic and technology, which they sell.  They also sell a substance called amberine, which allows for eternal youth and an elf-like longevity, and another substance called odochrysm, which is a powerful euphoric that allows wizards to cast more spells per day.

With this money, they hire mercenary armies.  It's not uncommon for an elven enclave to have a mercenary army on their payroll.  This army can be composed of wood elves, humans, or even orcs.  (The orcs are usually forbidden from appearing without their silvered helms.)

Elves rule through the extensive use of magical charms, tailored indoctrination, and grooming their subjects from childhood.  And when that fails, they are not above wiping the subject's memories.

Although an elven subject-slave might be starving and ignorant of anything beyond the magnificence of their "big brothers", they will be clean, fashionable, and cheerful.  The iconic image is that of an orc (grandson of a warlod who once warred against the elves) sitting in his leaky tent, shivering inside his gaudily painted elf-armor, praying for the well-being of his elven benefactors before going to bed, and then waking to fight and die for his elven masters.

Elves laugh at the crude techniques of the mind flayers.  Elven mind control is based in love!  It is fitting because the elves are beautiful, and therefor worthy of love.  And even if their charm spells are dispelled, their subjects will still die for them.

"Rescuing" an elven slave also includes disabusing them of the lies that their heads are filled with (such as "all halflings are cannibals" and "all humans are butt rapists" and "everyone else is diseased and starving").  It also helps if you have a beautiful person do the explaining, since elf-slaves have a hard time trusting anyone ugly.

Ancestor Golems

The most potent servants of the elves are their ancestors.

When an elf is old enough that they grow sickly, incompetent, or unmitigatably ugly, their peers will creep into their house and murder the senile elf in their sleep.

Then, the three murderers (called "carpenters") will capture the dead elf's ghost, laminate it with secret, brutal domination spells, and utterly suppress it's former mind.  Then the ghost is stuffed into a wooden golem called an ashtar.

Ashtars look like cylindrical logs.  The smallest ones are the size of soda-cans.  These small ones are tutelary asthars, and they are herded into graveyard-library-gardens, where they function as a library and repository for knowledge.  Elves go there often to confer with their ancestors, or to have sex with their ghosts.

Ancestral ghosts behave a bit like robots, or servants with anterograde amnesia.  They repeat themselves a lot, are utterly subservient, and have a hard time remembering what the last conversation was about (they cannot form new memories).

Military ashtars can be barrel-sized, or taller than a man.  They are full of so many spells and potent magicks that its a wonder they don't explode.  They specialize in forcefields, lasers, and fireballs.  (Living elves prefer not to dirty their hands with such blunt, crude combat spells).

Elf Metal

There is mithril, which is extraordinarily light and strong.  Everyone knows about that.  (Mithril armor takes up half as many inventory slots as it would normally, rounded down.)

But elves also know the secret of making fairy steel, which is so beautiful and fine that dirt and blood are loathe to mar its immaculate surface.  This is why edged weapons made from fairy steel are so sharp--blood and flesh part before the edge in order that not stain its loveliness.  (Fairy weapons deal +1 damage).

True Elves

True elves are genetically identical to high elves (and wood elves).  However, ever since a true elf was an embryo, they have been subject to so much magical and alchemical improvements that they're barely related to their cousins.

True elves call all other elves "low elves", and all other creatures are considered "beasts".  They are 50% taller than humans and are so beautiful that most mortal races can only fall down and weep when they behold one.  (They roll 12+1d6 for all of their stats.)  They are immortal, and will return to life if killed unless their remains are locked inside a golden chest, or encased in gold.

The most powerful human mages are considered apprentice-level among high elves, and the most powerful high elves are considered apprentices among true elves.  (They're lich equivalents, in terms of power.)

For the most part, true elves interact very little with the affairs of the world.  They deal with things on the astral plane, or with extraplanar machinations that do not concern "mere mortals".

True elves are also dying out.  The techniques used to turn a high elf fetus into a true elf baby have been lost.  But true elves don't care about this, not one bit.  They operate on a whole different level.

medusa is an elf
Using Them In Your Game

Remember that everything on this page is subtle, or it is backstage.  You can/should continue to present elves as the nature-loving mary-sues that they pretend to be (and that most of the world believes that they are).

Because when you visit an elven village, all you see are the professional wood elves escorting you into a treetop village between a pair of waterfalls.  The high elves are graceful, courteous, and excellent hosts (although a bit aloof).  You might even meet a couple of humans, who will tell you how they were rescued-then-adopted by their elven benefactors and allowed to live in this earthly paradise.

Most of the elven PCs are wood elves, who are removed from the madness of inner circles of elven bourgeoisie.

See also: the elven creation myth.


  1. Wow, elves are even bigger shitheads than I realised.

    Anti-elf attack force: A chattering hoarde of asymmetrical crawling things that crawl all over elves and vomit on them. Their acidic bile melts elven skin grafts to putty in a matter of seconds.

    1. That is a beautiful idea. I hadn't even started thinking about counter-elf technology. Too meta.

      Or razor-ravens, trained to attack the eyes, lips, and nose.

    2. Razor ravens are still too pretty. Give them poop maggots crawling through the skin. rust their steel feathers. Instruct them to shit on elves.

  2. Undead crafted as paragons of beauty reminds me strongly of the Scions Of Patria from Fall From Heaven.

  3. Excellent stuff as usual, I prefer the more interesting and unsettling interpretations like this when it comes to demihumans, keeps them special and underscores their differences from conventional humanity. Here's my take on the Elf Class where I tied them into Seasons to try and capture the different sub-types and attempt to keep them a little weird.

  4. "Just as dwarves assert that all precious metals/stones mined from the earth belong to them, so do elves claim that all natural beauty belongs to them."

    I have nothing to add; that's simply amazing.

  5. I found another skull person maybe:


  6. I know I'm late to the party here, but this is just a fascinating read. And probably my favorite interpretation of elves, period. I've always thought that their immortal-ish mindsets should set them so far apart from humans (and other mortals) as to make them incomprehensible, and I think your version pretty much accomplishes that.

  7. We'll never be as free as them, as light as them, as beautiful as them; we are animals. —Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett

  8. Excellent! I will have to remember this