Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for ... Elves

With Easter here, and my wife's big cafe stall at the local market, last night's post didn't happen, but due to the marvels of the international date line, I might be able to squeeze this post in on the 5th of April somewhere in the world.

And it's not too long or exciting, just the notes I have scribbled down a while ago to outline the 'Elven' cultures in my far-too-big campaign world.

Up until either the Romatic Age, or possibly Mr Tolkien's Silmarillion, elves, dwarves and other creatures from folklore weren't as well separated or defined.  The popular culture (or at least the RPG culture) view of elves were increasingly codified by all manner of published works, from the OD&D books through to Forgotten Realms, with Elfquest and all manner of other things.

Which explains why in every home-brewed campaign setting, while stealing liberally from other sources, elves are either completely 'reskinned', or not changed from the 'original' concept in OD&D.

Anyway, here's the concepts I'm working with for some sort of internally consistent culture, that is 'other' enough, provides some dramatic tension with other species, and has reasons for complicated interactions with these other species.  Still not finished, but;

Ancestor Worship;  no gods, only one's own ancestors, which means that knowing one's genealogy and family structure is on prime importance.  As are family feuds.  Being able to 'request' a favoured ancestor to lend knowledge or aid is something all elves are the potential to do, but few learn the deep racial mysteries required to do so.  However, many sites of importance are protected by bound ancestor spirits as guardians.  Given that no gods = no paradise, those with powerful enough spirits to endure after death don't have all that much to do, and usually welcome the requests of their descendants, within reason and allowing for changes in culture over the ages. 

Those that aren't asked presumably haunt their final resting place, but are just as likely to converse with or quiz intruders as attack them.

Stolen from Warhammer online
Cities of the Dead; each major Elven centre has a necropolis, where bodies of only the famous, the noble and the powerful are interred, after careful and magically ritual preparation, usually involving mummification.  There is a vast but hidden Necropolis, used for the past two millennia for the burial of Kings and Queens.  It is exactly like a real Elven City, but all objects are ritualistic, and the interred are 'displayed' on life-like poses, guarded by obscenely wicked traps.

Culture is built around the family structure, and individuals are tightly bound by expectations, duties to others, and obligations.  The families are usually insular, and cold and distant amongst all others, aside from other Elven Clans that may offer aid or opportunity.  Families are built around the Family Estates - the basis of each clan is one or a series of holdings, with a central sprawling keep and a number of workshops for industries or cultivation.  There will be a (to human eyes) amazingly beautifully laid out patchwork of forests, pasture and crops surrounding the keep, laid out in keeping with, and reinforcing, natural landscape features and processes.  These provide each family with basic self sufficiency for foods, and each will specialise in one or more crafts, for the glory (and economy) of the family.  Up to 500 elves can life in one of these, with up to ten times as many half-elven or human slaves, who are servants, farmers, and basic crafters.  Raiding others for slaves is considered work as usual...
A Royal Couple rule from the capital, but true power lies with the cabal of ancestor worshipping Mage-Priests who appoint a new ruler when the incumbent passes away.  This means that rarely do the Royal Couple have any form of relationship, and much of their effort is spent plotting against their co-ruler.

Also, the Blades, a small elite force of assassins and warriors who have authority to operate outside Elven Lands.  They report to the Royal Couple, but it is rumoured that they are truly loyal to the Mage-Priests.

Roll all this up with an iron cast superiority complex and unassailable self assurance and it should prove interesting.


  1. Elves are one of my pet hates as a fantasy writer. Or rather, I hate that thing that lets people just say 'elves' as a kind of shorthand rather than developing that aspect of their fantasy world into something unique.

    1. I sort of agree, but in RPGs they serve as a good shorthand to let people know what tropes to expect. Same with Dwarves. I hate hobbits, myself... In fiction, I fully agree, as the idea of a novel is to develop your own world.

  2. Nice. I love elves and while others seem to think there are too many books with them involved, I want more. Then again, I often use the username "elfmage7" for web sites. I have one series that has the elves and such, and while others may not find it original, I am writing it for me.

  3. Nice! I especially like the ancestor worship part.
    In Hungarian we have the same world for "fairy" and "elf", but the fae of our folklore are much closer to the elves of Tolkien than to fairies in children's books.
    Happy A to Z! :)