On the Table of Fate
“When the kingdoms of men have fallen, and the stone of the dwarves has worn away, yet shall we remain”
At once frivolous yet serious, playful yet aloof, no demi-human race is more difficult for humans to understand than the elves. Superficially more similar to man than any other race, it is often difficult for humans to appreciate just how different the two truly are. Quite simply, the answer lies in time. While humans have but a handful of years in which to accomplish their goals, the elven life span is measured in centuries. The longest lived of any humanoid race, elves can survive well over 600 years, and this longevity influences every aspect of their culture.
Unlike humans, elves are never in a rush to do much of anything – time is rarely a commodity in short supply. But when elves do choose to do something, they are rarely satisfied by anything less than perfection, practising and honing their skills for centuries. Elven artisans spend countless human life spans developing their talents, until they are capable of works of such flawless perfection that even the greatest masters of the other races are left awe-struck. This obsessive perfectionism can be problematic, however, when elves encounter problems to which no perfect solution exists. This, combined with a reluctance to rush into anything hastily, can leave elves prone to dithering and indecision at crucial moments.
However, while elves are slow to abandon habits and tradition,, they are surprisingly quick to embrace new experiences and ideas. With centuries of time on their hands, boredom and stagnation are the greatest enemies most elves will ever face. As such, great value is placed on anything that can entertain or enrich their lives. Conversely, little value is placed on material possessions, as their great life spans makes them acutely aware of the transitory nature of such things. For an elf, knowledge, beauty, and artistry are worth far more than gold, gems, or mythril, and few elves can fathom the need to hoard exhibited by the lesser races (particularly the Humans and Dwarves).
Elven customs are extremely complex, with countless rules and formalities to be followed in all aspects of social interactions. For an outsider, it is almost impossible to avoid putting a foot wrong somewhere when attempting a polite conversation. Most elves understand that the lesser races cannot be expected to know their customs, and make a reasonable effort not to be offended by their social gaffes. It is, however, considered extremely rude by the elves to ask a direct question unless in great urgency; inquiries are instead made through a series of oblique, leading statements. This can make a conversation with an elf painfully exasperating for one not familiar with the process.
Elves see the nations of man rise and fall many times over the course of their lives, and come to understand such events as part of the natural cycle of the world. As such, few trouble themselves with events that do not reach within the borders of their own realm. Those elves who are caught up in the events of the outside world are most often only a century or two old, and still afflicted with the rashness of youth. If truly convinced of the need to act, however, elves are fearless and determined adversaries. Elves apply the same relentless focus to warfare as they do to the rest of their lives, and elven warriors are rightfully feared throughout realms. Though their reluctance to involve themselves in the conflicts of the world have led many other races to view the elves as cowardly, this could not be further from the truth. Centuries of existence lead most elves to understand the great cycle of life and their place in it better than most, and while they may meet their death with sadness and regret, they do not fear it.
Most elves spend their time in inward looking pursuits, honing skills, crafts, and revelling in their connection to the natural world. All elves have an insatiable hunger for knowledge, however, and many youths (youths being a relative term) are overcome with a desire to see the outside world. Such elves often leave their homes for a short time (a hundred years or so) to take up the mantle of adventurers. Inevitably, the lure of new adventures gives way to a longing for their former home, and they return to their waiting friends and family. While adventuring, elves often have awkward relationships with the other races they encounter during their travels, sharing few common reference points with their short lived companions. Elves get along relatively well with gnomes, who shares the elves love for the natural world, as well as halflings, who they tend to treat rather patronizingly as children. Concerning Dwarves, about the only thing the two races have in common is their mutual dislike of Orcs. Most elves find humans at once both fascinating and intensely frustrating. Rude, brutish, and with only a few decades of knowledge to guide their actions, humans somehow manage to surprise elves again and again with their improbable successes. For an elf, a human companion can be a source of constant pleasure and amazement – flitting furiously through life like the brightest of fireflies, trying to pack as much into its meagre lifespan as possible. At the same time, most elves feel humans would be better off if they just heeded the elves’ superior judgement – an attitude which is difficult to hide from their companions. For their part, most humans react to elves with a mixture of awe and resentment for their condescending attitudes.
More than any other race, magic is ingrained in elven society. Unlike other races such as the humans, whose mages are typically secretive and reclusive by nature, most elven magic-users are well integrated into the community, and their magics are used in everyday life. Among the more free spirited forest elves, sorcerers far outnumber mages, although the latter are by no means uncommon, while among their more conservative grey elf cousins, the studious methods of magecraft are more common. All elves have a deep connection to the natural world, and this is reflected in their religion. All elven communities have several priests, typically of Corellon Larethian, or one of the lesser members of the elven pantheon, known as the Seldarine. It is not infrequent for more solitary elves to chose to follow the path of a druid, and such individuals are typically found towards the wild edges of the elven lands. However, the harmonious balance of nature within elven lands means that unlike their humans counterparts, elven Druids do not feel the necessity to live beyond the bounds of their civilization.
Physically, elves are shorter and slimmer than humans, with fine bone structures and delicate, chiselled features. Although they spend much of their time outdoors, their skin does not tan, and they have pale complexions akin to the colour of fresh cream. Most elves have either blond hair and blue eyes, or dark brown or black hair with intense green eyes. Elven hair is always straight, and is typically worn long by both men and women, either braided or loose. It is worth noting that elven men are incapable of growing facial hair. The average elven male stands approximately 5’0" tall and weighs 106 pounds. Female elves are proportionately shorter and lighter, averaging 4’7" tall and 86 pounds. The elves speak their own language, among the most complex of any race, with a diverse vocabulary that allows for precise meaning in almost any context. Most other races find the language, with its soft, almost musical intonations, among the most pleasant to the ear, and it is said that the voice of an elven minstrel can make the angels weep.
Elven dress serves as another outlet for artistic perfection, and is typically custom designed for each wearer, with colours and cuts designed to best suit that person’s personality. At the same time, all elven clothing is designed to be extremely functional, marrying artistry and practicality. Elves typically prefer clothing of light pastel shades, and both men and women frequently wear tunics and breeches, or robes, as it suits them. When hunting or adventuring, elves prefer tunics, breeches, and cloaks of browns, greens, and other earth tones for purposes of camouflage. Elven dress is relatively plain but serviceable, with comfort placed ahead of fashion. Most fabrics are soft but simple of cut, usually white, dark blues, or earth tones. Jewellery is sparse but typically extremely flattering, with pieces selected based on their beauty rather than their value.
Elven society is highly egalitarian, with women and men equal in all areas. Positions of authority are chosen based on wisdom and skill, and are as likely to be held by women as men. Due to the low birth rate, raising young children takes up little of a female elf’s life, leaving her free to pursue a path of her choosing. While most elven soldiers are men, female soldiers are by no means uncommon. Adventurers encountered beyond the elven lands are as likely to be female as male.