Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"So, what if the elves are the bad guys?"

This is probably a strange place to start but BARE WITH ME because I do get into some lore that, honestly, I find engaging:

I'm sure this isn't a completely and wholly original idea but that is where it started. The seeds for this dream started with binge watching Netflix. I had been watching a lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. 

 A major contribution of DS9 to the Star Trek Universe, in my opinion, was the exploration of the effects of colonization/resistance/revolution, etc.,  and the addition of species with more complex and deep cultures. Traditionally in Star Trek, each species could be soully defined by a single characteristics: Vulcans are logical and Klingons are warriors. DS9 introduced species with far more complex motives and persona that were harder to pin down while being more relatable and alien to humanity: the Cardassians and the collective species that make up the Dominion.

The Cardassians were very believable as an alien species because they were a dark mirror of humanity in the Trek verse. They shared a lot of personality traits but, collectively, chose a path of militarization and conquest. When confronted with the objectively morally superior Federation, the Cardassians are often forced to defend themselves as individuals and their entire culture. It is fascinating to see the mental gymnastics a Cardassian character has to go through to justify genocide and colonization. After all, they are basically Star Trek's equivalent to nazis.

The Dominion, on the other hand, catches my interest because of the interaction between a variety of species to create a complex hierarchy. They are lawful society, despite creating entire races for slavery and committing genocide against their enemies. Why? Because it is all justified under the auspices of creating a safer galaxy (mostly for themselves) and that is a fascinating motive for a species painted as antagonist. They are tyrants but, ultimately, they're selfishly benevolent tyrants and that is what I wanted to build upon.

So, I decided that in my setting, I wanted to re-purpose classic fantasy races to tell the stories this world is designed to tell, while remaining true to many of the core elements and themes of the species, but also evolving species into very interesting roles previously unexplored. After all, my fantasy settings tend to lean away from the medieval and more towards the Renaissance. I want to create a world that mirrors the "Age of Discovery".


With that in mind, we get to the question at the impetus of this setting's creation:

So, what if elves ARE the bad guys?


So, I decided to make the elves "bad guys". But not the woodsy elves. The "elves" I decided to make the bad guys are the high elves. This meant corrupting them a little bit. Let's talk about elves and, specifically, high elves a bit before I talk about how I've changed them.

The idea of different types of elves can be easily traced back to the differences between elves of Rivendell, Lothlorien, and Mirkwood, and, in every version of Dungeons and Dragons that I've played, this idea has been repeated to the point where there are myriad variants such as moon, sun, grey, wild etc, elves. By 5th edition, the various elf subspecies have been narrowed down to the three most significant and iconic variants: high elves, wood elves, and drow. Let's talk about the other two races and how I plan to make them fit in this setting before getting to the stars of the show, if not the whole setting...


In 5th edition, wood elves are defined as the elves most in-tune with natural world; they are fleet footed, have keen senses, and guard their forest homes against outside threats. And I don't really plan to change much about that. I will go into further detail when I do the racial article all about elves but for now you should know: the wood elves, also called Sylvanar, live exclusively in the forest of Saesun and don't trust outsiders except for their high elf cousins. The Sylvanar see the world from a naturalistic perspective; it is beautiful and wild, to be protected and revered, to be free.


In 5th edition, drow or dark elves were once categorized as a very similar subrace to wood elves, but were banished from the surface, to live in the subterranean world called the Underdark, for following the evil god Lolth. In Sublanarya, drow were once high elves but were twisted in the darkness of the Underdark by cruel giant masters into servitude. Since the giants were overthrown, not much is known of the races of the Underdark of Sublanarya, except for the occasional raid from below, conflicts with miners, and the odd refugee but one thing is certain: they like outsiders even less than sylvanar and despise the "weaker races" of elves even more-so.

Arguably, this is a setting where a drow hero is rare and, admittedly, the underdark is underdeveloped save for the idea that it is populated by wretched souls. Honestly, it seems odd that high elf would leave that issue alone but, really, those elves are busy.

In 5th edition, the high elves or "iaurdin" are defined as being highly intelligent and gifted in the mastery of magic and other arts. They are defined by setting themselves as superior to other races and often other elves. This idea grabbed me: taking the superiority complex of high elves to the max. High elves live longer than other humanoids, they are more gifted in magic and art, they are unanimously trained with a sword and bow, they have experience, they have moral superiority as magic knights who chase down and slay evil in the world, they look great doing it (ever seen a fat or ugly elf?) and THEY KNOW IT. By amplifying the snobby arrogance, corrupting their patronizing protector qualities and adding in a good motivation for this shift, we get a legitimate "big bad".

I honestly began playing with this idea in my city setting of Beniro as one of the most memorable villains was an eladrin mage. He was participating in a plot with a race of underdark dwelling giants to invade the city and needed to distract the other high elves. He did this by exploiting their racial superiority; he managed to distract them with an influx of "lesser races" destroying the beauty and integrity of their quarter of the city. The idea of high elves being civilized, aristocratic and patronizing came from this sort of identity I created for them in that setting. It is even a popular trope: Elves are just better than you.

Elves can be well...


"Everything you can do elves can do better, elves are much better at everything than you." -Lords and Ladies (Terry Pratchett)

In Beniro, eladrin or as I often misconstrued them, high elves, ran coffee and smoke shops, owned big fancy houses in the country or city, and were more "cultured" than the other races. They certainly didn't get mixed up in the childish affairs of other races, if they could help it, but were more than happy to share their bountiful wisdom. They still stood up against the worst sorts of evil and were affectionate towards the other races, but they definitely came off as haughty. Even their iconic identity as mages and eldritch knights, To me, that made sense. They are an elitist race with refined tastes, incredibly elongated lifespans that made species of other members seem quaint in comparison and, due to their affinity for magic, didn't seem as dragged down by the mundanity of life. That can be annoying but they represent a niche of our real world. For my new setting, I wanted to take this identity even further.
 
In Sublanarya, many millennia ago, there was once only one tribe of elves, the iaur, who lived in a paradise where the line between the magic and material world was as thin as a butterfly wing. The Isle of Saesun, the innocent race of iaur, was guarded by metallic dragons and rune magic. This all changed when some elves became curious about the world beyond their island and left the shores to discover what lay beyond. The elves that remained behind became the Sylvanar (wood elves). The elves that explored and colonized the northern continent of Sublanarya, called Thule in the mondern age, became the iaurdin (high/great elves).

The Iaudrin befriended the gnomes and dwarves of Sublanarya, collaborating to build a great civilization and create feats of magic the world had never seen, in what they called the "Age of Wonder and Wandering". This ended when the giants of The Reach invaded from the East, conquering and enslaving the good races of Thule, and bringing about a dark age. The iaurdin were forced to serve in the mines of the giants, others were twisted into the cruel drow and others were crushed under the foot of their overlords. For generations, these elves were victims of the cruelest treatment and all hope was lost. Or so it seemed. A young iaurdin maiden took up blade, cutting away her chains to escape, and, with the help of the kind bjergfolk giants, freed the good peoples of Sublanarya from slavery. That young iaurdin maiden was Tytanya.

Tytanya was crowned the new queen of her people and would lead them back to Saesun. At first, the Sylvanar were suspicious of their strange cousins, changed so much by the years apart but, ultimately, they rejoiced in the reunion and gladly allowed their kin to resettle the lands of their forefathers. This Age of Restoration saw the two races joined again and Saesun became a beacon of hope in a cruel world. It was during this time that the human inhabitants of western Sublanarya fled the northern continent to escape vast hordes of demonic warlords that lay waste to the continent once again. The Sylvanar were reluctant but, sympathizing with the plight of the humans, Tytanya convinced King Orpheron, the Sylvanar king and her dearest friend, to show them the same kindness and generosity they had shown them. Orpheron could not deny that Tytanya was right. The humans were given lands in the isle to build new kingdoms as refuge against the bestial horde. This union was, at first, a beneficial one. The kingdoms rose and thrived under the guidance of the metallic dragons, who found humans to be more open to their ideas than elves had traditionally been, but, as we all know, humanity and war go hand in hand. Civil wars broke out.

At first, the elves kept out of the petty squabbles of their nature save many failed attempts at brokering peace between the various kingdoms of men. After all, the men kept their squabbles to their lands. But that changed. As the men used knowledge taught to them by the dragons and used war machines built by the dwarves of Rock Island, their wars spilled over into the forests of the Sylvanar. The wood elves, who always sought a life of peaceful solitude, were forced to repel these invaders to protect their home from collateral damage. After all, war machines need wood and hungry soldiers need meat. The Sylvanar never declared war on their invaders but simply defended themselves with force. The high elves attempted to force a treatise with the human kings but the wars escalated until one fateful day: King Orpheron was slain.

Queen Tytanya had loved Orpheron dearly. So dearly that his death changed her, changed the hearts of people, and would change the world forever. In her grief, as they lay his body to rest, she threw herself across his body and prayed to the elven gods for guidance. It is said she had a vision of the future, a future where humanity had taken over the world, and the world was doomed. All magic and beauty had been crushed under the horrors of war, humanity's disregard for the natural world had turned the skies black and the seas brown, and the last red oak withered and died. She saw Iaur, the lord of the elven gods, but not as he was traditionally envisioned. He had taken on aspects of Orpheron but wore full plate metal, carrying a sword, and a shield, with a great blue banner with a long sword on it behind him. Tytanya saw that Orpheron's death had changed the god and that the high elves too must change.

Tytanya moved quickly: she used the same rune magic used to protect the realm to banish the metallic dragons and summon the chromatic dragons from the void they had been trapped in for eons with the agreement they would form a new pact with the iaurdin, despite them being evil, cruel and greedy creatures. Their leader, Red Typhon, a dragon so massive that he cast shadows across city-scapes, agreed to form this Tytanyan Pact. Together, the iaurdin and the chromatic dragons easily routed the humans, forcing them to surrender, and flee from Saesun under the might of elven magic and dragon breath. But they didn't stop there.

Tytanya punished the dwarves for their treason by smoking them out of their mines from Rock Island and scattering the survivors to the corners of the realm. The dragons were gifted the island, renaming it Smolder, as their new home. The dwarves that failed to escape and the human prisoners of war from Saesun were sent to Smolder where they would become the first of many shipments of slaves to serve the dragons in the mines. All who opposed the Tytanyan Pact would be punished.

Over the following century, the Pact had conquered the most western lands of the Thule and colonized the islands to the south of Saesun that they call the Nuar-Lands. Despite allying themselves with evil dragons, despite sending rebels and enemies to live out the remainder of their lives in the mines of Smolder, and despite all the war that they wage to take over Sublanarya piece by piece, Tytanya and her people see themselves as saviors. After all, those that submit to their rule live under their auspices of their protection. In the Tytanyan empire, slavery of citizens is illegal (since prisoners sent to Smolder are not considered citizens after forfeiting their rights), equality of the genders is encouraged and all races are welcome even if their is a strong bias and privilege to being an iaurdin or half-elf, and the empire does what it can to ensure that the citizens under their rule can live and thrive. The price of this prosperity, though, is a gilded cage.

The high elves see themselves as bearing a heavy duty: to conquer the world to save it from itself and to cultivate a world like the one the lost when the left Saesun so long ago. The world is full of squabbling children, short-sighted and foolish, and only they have the ability to protect them from the threats of this world. Only by taking away their freedom, only destroy evil, and only by "loving" their fellow peoples with the firm hand of a parent can they make the world a better place.

Or so they believe.

As for the high elves's cousins, today, the Sylvanar live in reserve. They don't join the iaurdin in this new conquest. They remained in their forests, keeping to their traditions, and enjoying the fragile peace granted to them by the iaurdin with little knowledge of just how far their cousins have taken their crusade. And the iaurdin prefer it that way.

The Sylvanar see the world as an untamed forest. They seek to maintain the natural balance and find beauty in the simplicity of this world. The iaurdin see the world as a untamed garden. And there are the gardeners who will rip the weeds out by the roots and put every back in order.

Would you rather live in an empire that promises peace at the price of freedom or do you fight against the hypocrisy of an empire that keeps these promises by crushing all that oppose the vision of its glorious leader?

That is the question all heroes must ask themselves in Sublanarya. That or...

"Does nobody notice all the weird stuff happening? What lies across the sea? Beyond the stars? And why do I feel like the world is about to end?!"

What do you guys wanna hear about next? I am working on this blog as I work on my book. I hope to revise, edit and share some segments on the elven racial stats and features soon but have other ideas. Maybe I should talk about dragons next? What do you think?

P.S. Do not mess with Correllon.

3 comments:

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  2. oops. Dagrons, specifically the city dragon? What's up with him?

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    1. We will talk about dragons, dragonkind and Red Typhon! This stuff has to do with the creation myth and the "society" dragons and their slaves have created.

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