RoM is dedicated to ferreting out the traditions and bringing the original tales and folklore back to medieval-based fantasy roleplay.
The elfs of Realms of Myth are drawn from the iron-age Nordic sagas of ancient and powerful spirits called alfar – specifically the lios alfar – from the tales compiled later in the sagas and histories as the oral traditions were eventually composed and put down in writing. They stand in contrast to the “Svartalfar” or “Dark Elfs”, also known as the dvergar, who became the dwarfs.
Because of the many fancies of the authors who came along after the sagas were recorded, however, we end up with some very different traditions concerning them.
The alfar or elfs of old differ from the modern notion or conception commonly encountered among fans of the genré in a number of ways. The most notable aspect for which this is true is in regards to their appearance. The original elfs (ljosalfar) are uniformly beautiful to behold, commonly marked as being the most beautiful those relating their encounters have ever beheld, but they are otherwise indistinguishable from human kind.
The second concept of elfs was created under the influence of the creative Muses of writers like Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In Elizabethan England, William Shakespeare imagined elfs as little people. He seems to have considered elfs, sprites, fairies and the like to be one and the same. In “Henry IV”, part 1, act II, scene iv, Falstaff calls Prince Henry, “you starveling, you elfskin!”, and in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1595), the elfs are almost as small as insects. This stands in contrast to Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” (1590), in which elfs are portrayed as fully human-sized beings, however.
These later Tudor and Renaissance traditions concerning the elfs are very vibrant and alive in the minds of modern fans of the genré today. The perception of elfs being smaller than humans, slight in build, with pointed ears, is overwhelmingly common, by far the default in most peoples’ minds, especially among roleplayers’. This is coupled with amusing tropes concerning having a magical knack for domestic tasks, being light and lithe, unparalleled as musicians and poets and in all the arts and crafts, especially graceful and tasteful.
To a lesser extent, Tolkien’s depiction of the elfs as taller on average than humans is widely accepted among followers of the genré, as well, however. It was he who coined the variation of “elves” as opposed to “elfs”, and of “elven” as opposed to “elfin”. In the ‘30’s Snow White was accompanied by the Seven Dwarfs, NOT the Seven Dwarves, and the adjectival form used here is “dwarfish”, NOT “dwarven”. The same is true of the coining of “dwarves” as the plural form instead of “dwarfs”, and as such, I do NOT use those forms.
For the sake of familiarity regarding the current popular conception on the one hand and for the sake of the foreign-ness to the hobby of the historic, folkloric concept, both visions are offered and the means for incorporating both are provided for the GM’s consideration.
The common physical template most modern folk are familiar with forms the basis of the elfs to be played as PC’s, providing the standard for the rules by which they are created in Character Generation, while the second is provided as an alternative favored for its uniqueness, either instead of the popular form, or to be the taller Faerie cousins of the diminutive elfs born to the mortal world, so the PC elfs know the roots and origins of their people, and so they know what to expect should they ever meet their kin.
The GM also has the opportunity to make a decision between the two traditions, if he prefers to use one to the exclusion of the other. The standards used throughout the steps of Character Generation are based on the common familiar and popular view of the dwarfs’ physical appearance that permeates the modern world and the RPG hobby in particular BUT, at the end of the Physical Description passage in this race descriptions, a different set of statistics is offered based on the description provided in the sagas, as quoted.
In addition, the alfar/elfs of the sagas are cosmetically different – luminous, golden-haired creatures of Light and air, they are uniformly “fairer than the sun to look on” (Snorri Sturluson. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 17). These are details the GM can easily choose to retain or discard at his own discretion without it impacting Character Generation to any appreciable extent.
So to avoid stepping on the GM’s toes or cramp his style in creating a place and context for the elfs in his game world, the following description of the alfar/elfs is drawn first from the historic sources, then some slight embroidery is provided to give it further life and cultural context as an example to the GM and for the players’ sakes, a springboard from which to start in creating more details unique to the GM’s own world, if desired.
The words elf, álf and all their linguistic relatives seem to come from the same Indo-European root: albh, seen in the Latin albus (white), confirming this association. The lines dividing the elfs (ljosalfar) from the other spiritual beings of the Norse traditions, especially the gods, giants, dwarfs (dvergar/svartalfar), and various [local] custodial spirits of Nature are far from clear or distinct.
Álfröðull, in Old Norse “elf-beam”, ”elf-disc” or “elf-glory” or elf-heaven”, is a term and common figure of speech in Norse mythology. It is ambiguous, referring both to the sun-chariot of the sun goddess Sól (for example, Alfröðull is said to shine) and to the rider (Sól herself). Álfröðull is pulled by two horses, Arvakr and Alsviðr. The chariot is pursued by the wolf Sköll. According to Norse mythology, prior to Ragnarök, Álfröðull will give birth to a daughter and after she is eaten by the wolf, the daughter will take her place
The realm in Spirit called home by the Ljosalfar was known to the Norse as Alfheim (Elf Home), or to the medieval human poets and scholars, Elfhame. It is ruled by the Vanir god Freyr and his wife, Freya. Their messenger is named Skírnir, one of the alfar. Freyr has his palace and hall in Alfheim, where he rules as their god. It was said that the gods gave Alfheim to Freyr, as payment for losing his tooth.
…Alfheim the gods gave to Freyr
in bygone days as tooth-payments.
Grimnir’s Sayings 5, from The Poetic Edda
translated by Carolyne Larrington
The origins of the elfs for our purposes lie primarily in the Norse ljosalfar or “Light Elfs”. The alfar originated as nature spirits and their great status, being revered in a manner similar to the gods themselves, as demonstrated by the ljosalfar being repeatedly linked with the Aesir and Vanir gods in Skaldic poetry, the Poetic Edda and other legendary sagas handed down in the historical record. Here, the commonly used phrase “Æsir and the elfs”, seems to indicate the entire host of gods and lesser forces of nature, together. The boundary that distinguishes the elfs from the Vanir gods and goddesses is particularly indistinct. At least one Old Norse poem repeatedly uses the word “elfs” to designate the Vanir.
In the Alvíssmál (“The Sayings of All-Wise”), however, the elfs are considered distinct from both the Vanir and the Æsir [gods], as revealed by a series of comparative names in which Æsir, Vanir, and elfs are given their own versions for various words in a reflection of their individual racial preferences. Possibly, the words designate a difference in status between the major fertility gods (the Vanir) and the minor ones (the elfs).
Lokasenna relates that a large group of Æsir and elfs had assembled at Ægir’s court for a banquet. Several minor forces, the servants of gods, are presented such as Byggvir and Beyla, who belonged to Freyr, the lord of the elfs. They also were not counted among the gods. As such, they were probably elfs. Two other servants mentioned were Fimafeng (murdered by Loki) and Eldir.
The great smith hero Völundr (Scandivanian iteration of Weyland [Wayland, Weland and Watlende]), is noted as a prince of the alfar.
In the Germanic Thidreks Saga, Velent (Völund) is described as the son of a giant who learned the smithing craft from two dvergar. The dvergar rose from the body of the giant Ymir, from which the world, Midgard, was fashioned. The power of the giants made them rivals of the gods. Weyland is considered godly, or at least a demigod, in his skills and ability as a smith, which was itself considered a sacred and magickal trade almost universally by the Gaelic tribes.
For the purposes of the game, the elfs precipitated down out of Spirit through air and light. In essence, they started out as nature spirits similar in character to the Greek naiads, dryads and oreads – especially the latter two – but less earthy, as well as the vili and rusalki of Slavic mythology. Unlike the transformation suffered at the hands of medieval monks and other chroniclers, the elfs maintained much of their original traditional appearance throughout the medieval era with which this game is primarily concerned.
Thus, the alfar have a deep affinity for nature. They are said to dwell still in all the ancient haunts with which they were ever associated, underground in mounds great hills or tumuli (burial mounds), or in wells and springs, lakes or ponds. The mortal born elfs prefer to also dwell in the vicinity of those places where their fey kin dwell by tradition, close by some place that provides a door into Faerie that they may see their kin.
Because of this association with ancient tomb mounds, a link is commonly drawn between the alfar and the dead, but in this the connection to their past as minor gods or spirits of nature and fertility can also be seen. The animistic belief in spirits of nature and of the deceased is common to most human religions, and the further Old Norse belief in fylgjur (“follower”) and vörðar (“warden”) spirits is indicative of this link, as well.
In the Beginning of Days, the borders between the Spheres (Nine Worlds to the Norse) into which all that is Spirit and all that is Flesh were divided were still amorphous, without defined boundaries, each flowing back and forth into one another. Gradually they separated, matter precipitating out of Spirit and the Mind of the All-Father. The world as it is now known was created by the gods in the place where Fire meets Ice, and was adrift between Spirit and the Flesh of the Mortal Coil for untold ages.
The many races of Spirit became accustomed to being able to shift from Spirit to Flesh and back again at will, so thin was the barrier between worlds, mingling freely and largely unknown with those of Flesh. This was simply the way of things. The elfs were one of the first races to descend from the heights of Light in Spirit through the border realms of Spirit that became known as Faerie and cross the Mortal Veil into Flesh.
Fire was brought to heel under the reign of Leo, among the Races of Man in the world of Flesh, the veriest medium by which matter of the world of Flesh was returned to Spirit.
Spirit and Flesh dwelt side by side through the reign of Taurus, under the rule of Bronze, and the Races of Men flourished.
But in the Age of Ares, the power of iron was discovered and did grow, inimical to creatures of Spirit.
The Races of Men prospered and grew so that they overwhelmed the homelands of the creatures of Spirit and set forth in great waves, migrating ever outwards, flooding the world. Bringing with them their iron, and later steel, they gradually pinned the mortal world in place. As time passed, especially as the power of the Light grew and spread to rival the scattered traditions of many gods, of gods almost without number, Spirit and Flesh drew further apart from one another. The majority of the Spirit creatures were not prepared for the harshness that the Mortal Coil took on under the rule of poisonous iron and the relentless march of the faith of the Light.
The threshold between Spirit and Flesh grew more distinct, more sharply defined. It took on characteristics of its own, becoming a border region in its own right lying between them which came to be known as “Færie”.
The peal of the churches’ great bronze bells chased the Spirits away into the incontinent mists, into the gray light of dawn and dusk or into the darkness of Night, all places where Faerie lay hidden. Rules for passing between the worlds made themselves known. Many of the spirits refused to surrender entirely their right and ability to walk in the world of Flesh as well as the spheres of Spirit and made their stand in those borderlands. These spirit folk gradually grew into solitary habits, haunting lonely places on the Mortal World, far from the habitations of human folk. These places were commonly dangerous in some way – sheer cliffs, in or by deep and/or swift waters, marshes and unstable boglands. As time passed, such beings were seen in the Mortal world more and more rarely, and eventually never in any numbers even in those remote environs.
This is the age during which the entire race of the lios alfar became sundered. Many retreated into Færie, where they could still pass into the Spirit Spheres and/or the Mortal World of Flesh freely, as desired. Others chose to remain in the hardening Mortal World, refusing to be beaten back and, as a result, completed their descent into matter. As it stands now, the elfin host has been divided between Faerie and the Mortal World for time immemorial. The two kindreds remain closely tied to their cousins of Faerie to the current day, but their histories unfolded along different paths.
The dwarfs/dvergar, based on the Norse svartalfar or “Black Elfs,” are the “cousins” of the ljosalfar, but they traditionally have little to do with one another.
The greatest single aspect on which alfar and the elfs familiar to the bulk of TFRPG gamers differ for the purposes of the game lies in their physical appearance.
While the alfar of Faerie retain their full human-sized Stature and pale, bright appearance, the tie to the realm of Spirit waned for those who chose life in the harsher Mortal World. The elfs who chose the Mortal World as their home had no choice but to accept the changes as their very bodies gradually settled into true mortal forms. Their defiance of iron and religion wrought them new again. Their bodies became far denser and more compact than those they had enjoyed in Spirit. They became the elfs as they are known now throughout the mortal world: perfectly scaled down in proportion from the humans their alfar forebears still resemble, only having cleaner, more sleek and pleasing lines, built to the standards of the ideal body type for a classical dancer, only a bit more generous of curve here and there for the females.
In addition, the coloration of elfs born to the mortal world encompasses the full range seen among all the Races of Man, plus whatever variations the players/GM might find desirable as an expression of their ancient Faerie heritage.
The mark of their choice to live in the mortal world can be seen in their large almond-shaped eyes, often referred to as “doe-like.” To the other races, this gives them a wide-eyed look conveying an air of almost innocent openness and apparent frank honesty. For all of that, their eyes are very deep and mysterious, nearly inscrutable, bordering on luminous in color, often shifting and sparkling with other shades and tones, intriguing and jewel-like. Their long, gracefully up-swept pointed ears, feral in length, are another obvious mark of their bond with the beasts and all of the natural world, a reminder to them that all life is one. They are held in high esteem, their length a point of pride.
Elfin faces are commonly heart-shaped, with high cheekbones and full rounded cheeks that tend to blush easily. Their lips are tempting and full of high natural color, like cherries. Their complexions have a baby-fine and fresh quality to them that lasts throughout their lives, never fading. Once they grow out of the delicacy of their infancy, the elfs’ skin never loses its pale smoothness or silken fineness. Their bodies are almost completely hairless, as well, down to the lack of beards on the faces of the men. As for the hair on an elf’s head, it is as fine as corn silk but full of natural body and radiant shine, strong and luxurious.
While great strength can make an elf more humanesque in mass and weight, an elf is never as bulky as a human who has the same STA and STR scores. This with their youthful appearance often results in their being dismissed as tender youths barely out of adolescence by casual observers.
Barring unforeseen circumstances (accident, foul play, etc.), left to their own devices, elfs born to the mortal world live 100 years, on average, Those with greater CND live longer, while those of lesser CND die sooner.
The Elfin Peoples & Society
The alfar are known for their affinities to various sorts of terrain, stemming as they do from the local nature spirits of the ancient pagan practices, as mentioned previously.
When the alfar who chose the mortal world for their abode parted ways with their kin of Spirit, they settled in the same types of terrains they favored as alfar in Spirit. There the mortal elfs they became traditionally remain.
The elfin descendants of the muntælfen (mountain alfar) remain in the deepest, highest mountains they know and love best, also favored by their distant kin, the dwarfs.They rely on natural hidden and barely accessible vales or high blind valleys and culverts surrounded by tall and imposing cliffs, deep in rugged mountains, surrounded by daunting peaks to keep them safe and limit the routes of access. They are sometimes referred to as the High Elfs by the rest of their elfin kin, and at times not so kindly.
The elfin descendants of the landælf (land or field alfar) remain in the the open, rolling fields and broad meadows, sometimes even in lightly or intermittently forested areas. They are commonly renowned as masters horse and chariot.
The elfin descendants of the [fresh water] wæterælfen (water alfar) or [saltwater] saeælfen (sea alfar) dwell in coastal grottos, building great towns perched like glistening masses of sea-foam on rocky beaches and coastal cliffs, while yet others of them joyfully ride the swells of the widest and wildest uncharted oceans in their unparalleled free-floating towns-upon-the-waves. These floating towns put into shore at their cousins’ coastal towns every few years to visit and renew bonds with their kin, make repairs, trade, celebrate, and so on. They are renowned as mariners across the oceans and as peerless boatmen in the fresh waters they haunt.
The elfin descendants of the wuduælfen (wood elf) remain in the deeps of the most remote of lush woods and virgin forest wilderlands, down among their hoary roots ancient boles and also up above among the boughs of the greatest and most ancient. They encourage the trees that surround them and grow tall and strong, to guard against the approach of strangers. These folk are renowned as huntsmen, and for their husbandry – especially mastery over the beasts of the hunt: training horses, hawks and hounds.
One with their environment, all elfin Huntsmen move almost like ghosts through their native terrain, raising the normal DV they provide to be heard or seen when being stealthy, tracked or tailed outdoors by (AGL). They have an equal AV for losing a Tail and for exercising any of the Stealth skills in their native environs, as well.
Due to the close bonds of their people with the alfar of Færie, all mortal-born elfs share the Færie Sight so they may recognize their cousins when encountered on their visits to the mortal world, even when cloaked by Glamourie. Any færie Glamour of altered image or invisibility (which usually cloaks them and their habitations) of a POT equal to or less than the mortal elf’s AWA is considered ineffective, the elf seeing right through it at distances up to (MSS) yards. The POT of færie Glamourie the mortal elf can see through is diminished by one (1) for every yard it is located beyond that distance from him.
In addition, the elf character has an AV to sense and see any other spirits with the Spirit Sight within the same range, as if the character had the Sight at SL equal to his MSS, by means of an AWA check.
If the character is a wizard and equipped with the Spirit Sight skill, this is added to his AV as a bonus.
It is quite possible that an elf feel the presence of such a spirit rather than see it if it wishes to remain hidden.
The elfin people tend towards solitude or small groups, rarely gathering in great numbers, especially outside one of their own settlements. They are rather individualistic and not overly fond of the great teeming crowds in which the other Races of Man who lack their ancient bond to Faerie can often be found. Indeed, there aren’t that many of them to pull a crowd of their own kind together with in the first place. Their insular nature rarely drives them to socialize with numbers greater than can be found in a single clan homestead, unless important matters are afoot.
The average elfin community is generally small, about the same size as a typical village of humans (50 – 100), and each is usually occupied by a single clan and those families or “septs” dependent on them. Marriage and travel between these family settlements is not uncommon.
Elfin buildings are always situated and constructed in such a way as to blend easily into its setting in the natural world, in both materials and design. They are designed so as not to detract from the surrounding beauty, or distress the elfin need for harmony with the world in which they live.
The elfs are organized in a loose feudal/signeurial hierarchy, but one in which the lords claim no ownership of the land as the mortal lords do, but merely stewardship over the elfs themselves in a certain region. Elfin lords acknowledge the burden and responsibility of the sacred trust they hold to preserve and manage wisely the resources represented by the lands where their stewardships lie, and balance it with their responsibility to the elfin people in their care. It is said the original tenets of Chivalry were first set down by the elfs, as a means to reign in the bloody-mindedness of the early nobility among the younger races. xAs for the lands of the world itself, they were there long before even the elfs, much less the arrival of the younger Races of Man, and sure to endure long after the last elf rides back through the gates of Færie.
In the lands where they dwell, elfs are the sworn guardians and caretakers of the lands and waters. They look after the welfare of all the natural denizens, both predator and prey. They are always on guard to catch and mete out punishment to those who would despoil land, waters or beasts, stripping all of any resource in foraging so the plants are unable to recover to produce their flowers, berries, or nuts, bark or roots again, but die out. They abhor and pursue without mercy those who kill for sport rather than need, for merely a fur rather than meat, or those hunting for meat who waste the furs or other valuable gifts the animal gives with its life. They are especially harsh with those who do so for personal gain, for profit rather than to meet a pressing personal need.
They also share the prevailing culture of the realms in which they dwell. The stamp of their own culture appears in fluid, naturalistic interpretations of the same motifs translated in the fashion of the Art Nuveau movement from the turn of the previous century. Styles are much slower to change among the elfs, even a few centuries years out of step. The differences in their preferred natural settings and the inimitable elfin character show in the way their cultures, traditions, and folkways mellow and mute some of the forms and attitudes commonly associated medieval society, as described elsewhere in the text of the game.
While lordship among the elfs doesn’t inspire the same fearful, awesome respect or blind love and admiration it commonly does among mortal [human] folk. Among strangers, a certain amount of decorum is always expected of the nobility and a distinct note of deference and outward respect shown by all the commonalty towards them. The rules of precedence and propriety are basically observed in all social interplay. In private however, with close friends and family alone , these formalities are generally dispensed with.
They also know better than to debate the subject with the lords and rulers of other races, especially when they find they must bend the knee in fealty to them. Their histories plainly show that debating their concept of absolute ownership of everything from household moveables to the land bound classes and the very rocks and soil on which they toil can only end in bloodshed. Thus, elfs are loathe to discuss their way of life with those of races that have no ancestral bond with the fey. The nobles and lords of those other races treat them with distrust. They know well how dangerous the ideas they carry can be to signeurial duties of the commons, although they follow the same practice of feudal relationships.
For these reasons, elfin communities never consent to being directly ruled by any of the other races. They are far too elusive to confront when they refuse to grant an audience for them to fear reprisal when such a stance is unpopular. In the lands dominated by one of those races, however, they may bend the knee to a loose sort of over-lordship that provides their own lord with the status he needs to act as their representative, while also allowing them to maintain their own body of law and custom.
From the original conflict between the world of Spirit and Flesh, two factions emerged among the alfar who retreated from the world of Flesh to settle in Faerie.
The first faction harbors resentment against the younger mortal races, determined to find some way to fight them, conquer and supplant them to regain their ascendancy in the material world again. They watch the spectacle of the Mortal World assiduously as it plays out, watching for an opportunity to nudge the flow of events in their own favor, to betray the trust of naïve noble hearts, seeking to throw the world of Flesh into Chaos, opening the door to their plans.
The second is composed of those who accept with what grace they can muster that they are a remnant of an age largely forgotten. They may watch the spectacle of the Mortal World as it plays out for their own amusement or ignore it completely, even watch for mortals who shine in spirit and character with great and noble heart, and/or artistic talents of any sort, especially for poetry, performance or visual arts, and test them to make sure of their sterling quality before granting them some boon or gift to protect them as they face what challenges they may face.
These factions continue still, around which politics and policies in the kingdoms and courts of Faerie revolve. The former commonly lean to what has come to be described as the Darkness, and are referred to as the “Unseelie” fey, while the latter are identified with the Light, and are referred to as the “Seelie” fey.
Creatures of a Darker nature, including Unseelie fey such as goblins, withdrew almost entirely into Færie, although war bands of perhaps as many as a dozen or so can sometimes be found roaming desolate places that still carry the vibration of unspoiled Spirit and Nature. The trolls, creatures of Darkness, earth and stone in the same manner as the dvergar but grown from the dwindled blood of giants, abandoned the world of Flesh almost completely as well, only seen there singly now or in pairs, perhaps as many as a handful, but so many is an extreme rarity. There in Færie, these Darker creatures of Spirit continue to strive against and bedevil their ancient enemies, the elfs and dvergar, and that enmity is traditionally carried over whenever their kin face each other in the Mortal World.
The more predatory elfs and creatures of Færie still dream of the days when they hunted with impunity the beasts and even the Races of Man in the world of Flesh. Even among the elfin and dvergar courts in Færie there are partisans that are determined to test the mortals at every turn, to make sure not only that their hold remains secure, still, but also that they remain worthy of their ascendancy. In the days when the Fey ruled, Spirit flowed seamlessly into Flesh and back again. Most hold no real hope of those days returning, but their memories are long, and those memories are still too fresh in their minds.
Should the hold of the burgeoning mortal Races of Man ever falter, Fey Folk both dark and light are always ready to ride back from out of the pages of legends.
The elfs who chose the Mortal World as their home accepted the changes in their very bodies that their defiance of iron and religion wrought. The bloodlines of the mortal born elfs are easily traced back to Faerie, however, so these Seelie and Unseelie factions and their maneuvering sometimes bleed over into the politics of the mortal realms in which they dwell. When the concerns of the Faerie Courts press too closely for the comfort of the elfs of the mortal world, they have been known to belittle their cousins who retreated to Faerie for lacking the courage of their convictions, too weak and perhaps even being too cowardly to stay and fight for their place in the world.
Courtesy is a high priority. It helps them navigate what would otherwise be awkward meetings between those who prefer their own company. The ancient laws and practices of Hospitality are inviolable. Guests are always offered bread and salt and a cup of wine on first arrival and from that point on their care is a sacred trust. Fair speech is highly prized, and imprudent words of harsh or hurtful intent unjustly dealt out can be punished by censure of silence. This may not sound like a terrible punishment, but it cuts the recipient off from all social interaction with those of their own kind. It can be terrible, indeed.
The elfs share a unique form of almost utopian communalism within the framework of their medieval feudal and (roughly) signeurial society. Everyone in the elfin community is given what they need (clothing, bedding, personal items, tools of the trade, bags and/or boxes to haul them in, etc.) in return for their contribution to the community. When the player is buying adventure gear for his elfin character, he is in fact bartering whatever goods and/or services he has at his disposal to fulfill his wants with the local craftsmen to make sure he is prepared in the event he might have to leave the community. Like any others among the elfin peoples, the characters items are items of great beauty and intrinsic value in the markets of the mortal cultures, though not constructed with precious metals or gems unless the PC pays for them from his starting monies.
All members of a given elfin community help with the domestic work of the group, particularly meals and setting up the eating area. Everyone fetches their own trenchers, cup, serving dishes and utensils to their own place. When the meal is served, all are seated in a great circle, as equals, in no particular order except for a tendency to gravitate towards family or close friends. These family meals take place in a convenient field, glade, meadow or in the local noble’s grand hall or under some big pavilion in inclement weather. Flagons of drink are placed at convenient intervals as are wash basins. All serve themselves very informally, family-style throughout the meal, serving bowls and platters passed about the circle with only one rule: if one empties a bowl, platter, or flagon, more must be fetched, prince and commoner alike. Again, courtesy. Afterwards, all pitch in and pick up after themselves and then those who have the skills to do so begin the entertainment. Every night is some noble feast with a gentle festival of thanksgiving afterwards, small groups splintering off for either more lively or more quiet diversions, according to their moods.
Though the lady elfs fill all the traditional roles of women in the medieval society of the game, they are the complete social equals of the men in a way that they are not even now in the modern day. They are an equally important part of the workforce and practice a wider variety of trades than even human women, and those were engaged across of broad spectrum of trades in the period of the game. This is doubly true of ladies in the scholarly pursuits, in addition, which the default human societies view as unnatural, even unwholesome, such scholarly pursuits being dominated by their Church. That display of fragile male ego is considered alternately sad and laughable among the elfs.
The elfs are always happy to find kindred spirits in scholarship. While they refuse to give counsel outside their own peoples, they have always found a joy in sharing, in teaching all who petition them to be allowed to come learn. If the outsiders come and learn enough of what has gone before, they will know how to keep their own counsel and won’t have to ask!
In a similar vein, to prevent creating difficulties for others and themselves further down the road, they are very thorough in testing the hearts of those who come to learn their crafts, especially wizardry. The elfs are VERY serious about teaching their arts only to those who are pure enough in intent and strong enough of will to resist using their knowledge to oppress those around them and raise themselves over them.
Magick is often employed to entertain and educate the young elflings, awakening plant spirits, tree spirits, water spirits, putting them in communion with various animals to delight them and help teach them. Magick holds little to fear or cause apprehension for most elfs, unlike those of the mortal races. It’s label as a “mystery” is just a matter of habit due to the overwhelming use of the term by the rest of the races, and actually a source of some amusement. It is so much a part of the daily life that the elfs don’t even really consider it to be magickal in the sense employed by most folk. To the elfs, magick is just another natural force like the weather, though more wondrous and delightful than mysterious.
Magick is considered a very natural part of the elfin world, especially down to the everyday “hearth magick” but it is also a power that brings with it a towering responsibility.
“Strength without Virtue is a fell beast with no compassion.”
Because of the baggage the practice brings in the outside world, wizards and witches are no more numerous among elfs than among the other races, in spite of the magick inherent in their blood from their forebears of Faerie. The greater one’s power to change the world, the more one must answer for and consider when exercising that power. Unlike the beasts maintained by the mortal races, all the beasts that live in or near the elfs are acclimated to and tolerant of magick. They slowly get used to its almost constant (gentle, low-level) daily presence from birth, usually getting over their skittishness around it by the time they are weaned.
Despite their seeming carefree ways, elfs can be highly industrious when the mood takes them. Although their industriousness is not so consuming as that of a dwarf craftsman can grow to be, the result from an elf’s hand is considered to be more pleasing to the eye. Aside from education, philosophy, history, magickal lore, and other higher intellectual pursuits, many elfs find their mortal purpose in the arts, music, poetry, or one or more of the various crafts. Not for the elfs the stark practicality or technical innovations of the dwarfish craftsmen. The elfin craftsman, smith or otherwise, pursue a quest to render lovely tribute to the natural world by baring the spirits hidden in the treasures they use for materials, after the fashion of the Art Nuveau movement at the turn of the previous century.
While dwarf goods are cleverly wrought and highly valued for their overall quality for practical use, it is the goods of the elfs that are prized most highly for their beauty, and also for the fact of their rarity. Elfin craftsmen aren’t in the habit of mass production of anything after the fashion of the dwarfs.
But beauty, while desirable, is not always cause enough.
“Beauty without Virtue is a flower without perfume.”
The elfs can show something of a practical and pragmatic streak. The industry pursued by the elfs is most conservative, conscientiously kept from marring, much less scarring, the land, or corrupting the waters or air. Their works are generally kept to the level of cottage industries. To each of the elfin smiths, a single forge and anvil, no great manufactories like the dwarfs often times construct.
It is very common for members of the other mortal races who share no Faerie heritage to conflate and confuse those born of the mortal world with those that are denizens of Faerie.
Thus, the elfs are commonly called The Fair Folk or the Immortal Sidhe (“shee”) by mortal folk, an ancient name only properly applied to the alfar of Faerie meaning elf or færie spirit lingering still from the days when the gates of Færie were still easily found by the younger races and they could not easily tell Spirit from mortal Flesh.
For the fey alfar, time passes but slowly, and whole centuries in the mortal world might pass in a matter of weeks for them. While the elfs born to the mortal world can die or be killed like any other denizen of the Mortal World, the alfar are hardier and more resilient, knowing no disease or sickness such as it is known among mortals. Barring the deadly stroke of a weapon or some accidental misadventure, the alfar are essentially immortal.
To the eyes of the mortal world, the alfar linger on and on unchanged. The mortal born elfs don’t appear to age either, in much the same manner, but this is only cosmetic and is only true until they reach the final stretch of their mortal lives, at which point they deteriorate at an accelerated rate towards their final breaths.
Disposition & Beliefs
The overwhelming majority of elfs have great empathy, even more so expressed in those who have an actual talent for magick. Their traditions emphasize the consequences in Spirit of acts committed in the mortal world. Scars of the body suffered in mortal life and permanent marks such as tattoos are carried into Spirit, making them widely avoided, even strenuously so, in some cases.
Culturally, elfs are not shy of showing their feelings and express them easily. Most elf have a disposition towards openness and honesty, and generally predisposed to touch and hug each other. Like children or the caprices of Nature, elfs can be changeable as the wind or weather, quick in both love and anger, fellowship or enmity. Death may not be a reason to grieve for loss, but a time to celebrate the life of those passed. Or both by turns, as the mood strikes.The elfs feel that life is not only for living, it is for enjoying. They have nothing but pity for those who don’t embrace it, and in some cases even scorn.
Among unmarried elfs there is little sense of propriety. Romantic affairs are treated rather casually unless a deep attachment is present or grows over time, and there is no such thing as jealousy – the “green-eyed monster” of the mortal folk. Again, life is for enjoying. There is no question of parentage among any resulting babes. ALL elflings are cherished. Elfin children are never treated to the stigma of being “illegitimate” found in human societies. The common human concept of illegitimate birth is laughable to an elf, until he or she realizes the humans are serious about it, then the concept simply disgusts.
If the mother is unmarried, the new elfling is given her surname. If the mother is married, the elfling takes the clan/sept name. When a lady elf is married, there is never any doubt about the parentage of any children, either. There are a dozen different forms of domestic vows or contracts that can be entered into as a form of “marriage.”
To the elfs a formal marriage requires an immense commitment. Most elfs who do marry usually don’t do so before they reach 30-40 years, and they generally last for life. Some of them continue into their lives in Faerie, after. Elfin marriages must be kept in total fidelity to the terms negotiated. If either party to the marriage feels that commitment may fail, the marriage may be ended at any point with a very simple but solemn public declaration. This does not mean that all partings are made by unanimous decision, only unanimous consent. No reason need be given.
No elf can suffer any form of bondage for long without sickening and pining away, nor willingly inflict distress of sorrow, especially on one they are supposed to love, it is unthinkable that any elf would hold his spouse in bondage of matrimony, especially if their love is true. They would rather part friends and the abandoned one adore his love from afar in courtly chasteness, in the Chivalric ideal. Due to these facts, if either partner is caught being unfaithful, he is considered to be no better than a rutting beast, incapable of love. His surname is taken from him and he is cast out of the community.
To the elfin eye, the mortal world is full of the fire of Life. To be worthy of life in the elfin view, one must respect all life regardless of its form, but especially in other humanoids. Capable of the greatest harm to the world around them, the Races of Man have the greatest responsibility to each other and all other life. No natural beast of the wide world ever caused such pain and suffering or did harm in cruelty to another creature or the natural order of the world for its own sake or for sport while acting on the instincts it was born with (generally speaking, wolverines notwithstanding).
Those of there races commonly either overestimate the weight of the feelings displayed due to their own culture being more repressed, or they fail to understand how great the weight of the emotions vented. Regardless of the fact that they are great respecters of life in general, however, players should not take this to mean they won’t kill at need when faced with conflicts to which no other means of resolution can be found.
This has led the elfs to keep their own counsel and not to hand out advice to any of the younger races. Even with those of the mortals with whom they have regular dealings, the elfs keep their insights to themselves.
“Most mortals who seek advice do not have the wisdom to understand it, much less make use of it; Of those who would heed it, but few of them do need it.”
In lieu of offering advice on better courses of action, the elfs reign supreme in the art of the leading question. They do not advise, in its place they question the constituents, their circumstances, direct and indirect influences that affect the matter under consideration, and whether all solutions are being weighed equally so the petitioner makes the best informed decision he may.
Unless an outsider can successfully relate a situation to the elfs’ own concerns, an immediate threat to some aspect of Nature, the lands in their stewardship, their honor, or their personal safety or that of their people, it is highly unlikely an elf gets involved in any outside affairs. The elfs see other Races of Man as filled with an unquenchable urgency and immediacy, as hot and bright as a fire. This is doubly true in their dealings with humans in which the fire burns the brightest. The elfs have suffered that fire in their past and caught it like a fever, and paid the ultimate price in rash actions with tragic consequences. This is a major reason they respect and fear too much or too frequent exposure to the other mortal races, avoiding as much as they can in good conscience.
The elfin tribes live close to the earth, to the beasts and plant life, the waters the winds, carrying race memories of a profound bond that few outside their people ever come to realize, not even the gentle rural dunladdin they mentored in ages past, before the rise of the human folk. The elfs find it difficult to keep anyone near who doesn’t at least try to understand the elfin ways and relate to the world as they do.
They are starkly opposed to tearing the earth up to make it produce more than it is inclined to, as the younger races do with plough and seed. Here, their sense of pragmatism does not extend. They carefully glean only what Nature provides, while still leaving enough for the beasts and to allow the plants to continue propagating. Even more abhorrent to them is the mortals’ practice of felling the trees and ripping the stumps out to cut even more furrows in the land to sow what they would have of the earth. To supply their modest needs they engage in a unique form of “farming.“ The elfs use natural glades, field, and meadows for their “cornfields,” scattering what seed they find desirable over them to allow Nature to grow what it wills. Their foragers range far and wide to ensure their needs to not deplete the land to the point where it can no longer support them. The elfin nobility use their rights of chase and warren for the benefit of their people, to feed them, rather than for the abhorrent practice of hunting for sport commonly enjoyed by the nobility in nearly all lands. They speak gently to the birds and creatures of the land that they share, sparing the seed to grow for them and to look elsewhere.
When Nature decrees the crops fall short of their need, well, elfin goods are always in demand in the mortals’ markets, so they have plenty to trade. Besides, the mortals are always good for a laugh when the elfs come out to trade, tripping over themselves and each other to snap up the limited amount of goods offered.
The elfs feel so strongly about crossing lands that have been so violated for selfish motives by axe or plough that they never willingly cross such lands when they encounter them, or any that in the past have been made such use of. Old plough lands that have been let go for pasturage are not hard to spot, since they retain their furrows for centuries, and as for old timberlands, they simply remember and remind their children. In addition, they and their Seers can see the outraged spirits of second-growth woods and old plough lands, which enables them to give a bit of solace to them as they skirt the area. Such lands can be fiercely haunted by the outraged spirits of Nature, easily seen in the scars that linger in the land long after it was so arrogantly seized and set to work.
Among the elfs, property doesn’t have the same sense of meaning that it does among the younger races. Elfin attitudes concerning ownership are somewhat nebulous, a way of identifying the things with which they are most comfortable, and perhaps have some sentimental meaning. But they will not allow themselves to be tied to the wider mortal world for their sake. Even for the items that represent great loves, or sorrows, or important occasions, or the like, every elf understands they have equal meaning to the rest of his family and clan, as well, because of the great respect they have for the emotional meaning to him. In that way, like anything else, it belongs to the entire family or clan.
When an elf needs something that he doesn’t have at hand, he goes looking for it, heading back to get his own, but if he should run across someone else’s first, there he stops, picks it up and goes to use it – unless of course he doesn’t care for the design motif. Items wrought with aesthetic motifs that do not agree with the character’s mood or disposition are generally be passed by unless the need is real and immediate. Seriously. Aesthetics have that much of an impact on day-to-day life for an elf.
Borrowed items are generally returned where they were found so they can be found again by whomever might come looking for them, but especially if they are going to visit the one from whom it was borrowed. If a kinsman is passing that way, they may be passed off to them, instead. Just so long as it gets returned eventually. If the owner misses his own and comes looking for it, he doesn’t worry. Should he not find it he finds another just as good to meet the need of the moment. His own will be returned in time. The elfs are not concerned with time, generally speaking. There is little urgency in most matters. because of the freedom this easy attitude brings, the common plenty enjoyed by the people, and basic sense of trust and security within the community, covetousness is a completely foreign concept, and the concept of greed is wholly alien.
Generally speaking, the items belonging to each member of the community, those that please him best and with which he is most comfortable, can be identified by the use of a common decorative motif, different from every other elf’s. These are not commonly based on or even associated with the elfs’ names (which invariably refer to various plant or animal names, types of weather, or other elements of Nature present at their birthing), but they may be. They are purely a matter of personal taste on the whole. So, because of this, everything eventually returns to its owner. Eventually. And this seems to cause the elfs no distress at all. If one elf likes what another elf has, he goes and has one made for himself in his own motif and renders fair value for it. An elf’s belongings are simply his, easily identifiable, and they are always returned, but in the end they are just things. The world is full of them. An object’s intrinsic value is rarely high enough to risk life or limb for, if ever. The lure of treasure troves of hard coin, filthy lucre, just doesn’t serve to motivate an elf. Violating the tombs of the dead for plunder is sacrilege no matter whose religion it is, but for the sake of history and increasing the store of knowledge of the past, so long as the remains of the dead are treated with respect, that is another matter.
As far as moveable goods go, why should any elf covet? The goods of other cultures just don’t appeal. They are far too plain and common-looking to be desirable, except perhaps to use for raw materials in making their own goods. For that use, however, elfs prefer virgin materials, being very sensitive to the vibration, the emotional history, of the things they keep close to them. Elfs have all the time in the world to acquire the goods for their comfort that they would like, in as high a style as amuses them, and just as long again to replace them at need. MUCH more important to the elf are the few items one acquires over the long years that represent happy times, significant occasions, loved ones, beloved mortals who have passed, evoking treasured memories. As is the nature of such things they can be anything – a flower pressed in a book, a thimble, a seashell, a small plain piece of jewelry, nothing necessarily rich or fancy, but heirlooms nonetheless. and every elf is likely to have some of their own or passed down through the family (along with the story of why they are important or significant), which may make them truly ancient.
The casual elfin attitude towards ownership is a major reason their non-elfin neighbors in the mortal world, when they have any, always clearly mark their belongings or otherwise make sure they are as plain as may be. That way, either the elfs aren’t inclined to use so ugly an item, or it is soon returned without any real difficulty when found to be missing. The practice is true of the elf’s cousins of Færie as well.
Elfs have a relationship with the races that have no such ancestral bond to the fey that is best characterized as ambivalent. This is largely a legacy inherited from their alfar forebears. By default, the mortal elfs too hold themselves aloof. They generally care only for the affairs of the other races where they affect the elfs directly, usually only in the lands where they dwell together.
The alfar are commonly blamed for human illnesses, historically, and in ignorance the mortal-born elfs are sometimes similarly blamed, as the two are commonly conflated as one in the minds of most of those of other races who have no ancestral relationship with the fey.
Medieval medical texts attest to the alfar afflicting humans by magical means and especially livestock with illnesses, apparently mostly sharp, internal pains and mental disorders. This is often as a reprisal for some sort of trespass against them, whether a violation of their privacy, the boundaries of their realms, or revealing their secrets. Those elfs born to the mortal world commonly value their privacy, their boundaries, and their secrets just as highly.
The alfar also have the power to heal most mundane maladies (if not all), however, and seem to be willing to do so if gifts are offered to them on the spot(s) that they are known to haunt, as was done in Kormáks saga. Lingering in the blood of the elfs of the mortal world is a common inclination towards the various Healer-type trades.
In addition to this, Kormáks saga illustrates the belief that a sacrifice to the alfar (of Faerie) could heal a severe battle wound: Þorvarð healed only slowly; and when he could get on his feet he went to see Þorðís, and asked her what was best to help his healing. Her answer:
“A hill there is, not far away from here, where elves have their haunt. Now get you the bull that Kormák killed, and redden the outer side of the hill with its blood, and make a feast for the elfs with its flesh. Then thou wilt be healed.”
This sacrifice is known as álfablót or “elf’s sacrifice.” The elfs commonly take those who are important to their people for reasons that may vary widely, regardless of race, that have suffered a mortal wound to be healed by their kin in Faerie in this way.
The practices of ancestor worship and the worship of the elfs as nature spirits seems to have overlapped among the ancient pagan human folk.
In The Poetic Edda, those human souls deemed worthy could be elevated to the rank of elfs in spirit after death, as was the petty king Olaf Geirstad-Alf, and the smith hero Völund (titled as “ruler of elfs” in the Völundarkviða).
This knowledge and its even rarer use is generally concealed from human folk, and specifically from all followers of the faith of the White Light that human city-dwellers usually follow. If such knowledge became more than rumor it would be a bloody bone of contention between as far as the followers of the Light among the humans would be concerned.
With their close ties to their cousins, the alfar of Faerie, the rewards of the next life are a simple fact to elfs born to the mortal world. Good or bad, each and every one of them is guaranteed a place in Faerie whenever they are ready.
The bond they shared with the natural world while yet denizens of Spirit has been carried forward into elfin lives in the mortal world, embodied in their traditions. They keep the ancient pagan ways fresh and alive, and get on best with the followers of the “new” White Light at a distance.
Due to the fact that most mortal religions preach immortal soul, afterlife and/or reincarnation (or some similar continuing existence beyond the mortal world), elfs have few or no qualms about sending those mortals they deem incapable of learning to live in the world to their final rewards … whatever those might be … so they can get on about the business of reincarnating and trying again.
When an elf grows tired of the earth, weary of the world and all of its uses and the many responsibilities and sorrows he has accumulated, beyond the power of even the sweetest elfling to bring a smile to his melancholy countenance, the elfs seek out their alfar cousins in the Spirit Sphere of Færie, returning home whence they first came. They kingdoms of the fey are many and names just as varied, but every world weary elf who picks up his kit bag and takes to the wilderness in search of surcease from sorrow eventually finds an ancestor along the road somewhere to show him the way home. The realms of Færie are caught in eternal spring and summer, where fruit hangs heavy on every bough and flowers everywhere sweeten the air. Death cannot touch the Faerie kingdoms. From Færie an elf can still return to the mortal world for short periods to give warnings, advice, reassurance, and even help at need, but essentially only as a NPC.
Some mortal religions freely acknowledge that their dead pass through Færie on their way to their eternal rewards.
I am so grateful for the great information I was able to pull together from these websites in writing this race description: