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.
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).
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.
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.
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...
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.