I’ve got so much campaign prep to get done that if I don’t do it here, in public, I’ll either never get it done in time…
But First, One more piece of context:
In preparing this article, and the series as a whole, it’s suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never explained just why this particular campaign prep is so important. Yes, a history of the campaign world from the Elven perspective was always going to be interesting to the players, and conceivably to a broader audience as well, but interest alone doesn’t justify the amount of effort involved in preparing it.
There are some sweeping themes that have always underpinned the Seeds Of Empire campaign, and this series is going to expose some of them for the first time. The contents will quite literally reshape the rest of the campaign.
When I was preparing the plan for this campaign, I broke it into four phases:
- Phase I: The Golden Empire
- Phase II: The Caverns Of Zhin Tarn
- Phase III: Imperial Sunset
- Phase IV: A Minor Matter Of Elves
For Phase I, I came up with seven adventure ideas, synopsized into a single paragraph each, and then further broken down into individual components. Phase II consisted of nine adventure seeds, which were similarly outlined. Phase III was made up of 11 adventure outlines, once again all ready for development into full adventures within the Campaign. Phase IV: Zero, Nil, Nix, Nada.
Why? Because Phase IV is all about the resolution of those inbuilt grand themes and I needed to have the history finished before I could work out what the adventures were that are to constitute that resolution. I had notes on the relevant history, and some very vague and unfinished ideas about how to pay off the various campaign themes and plot threads that I had incorporated from the first.
That’s not my preferred approach – I like to have the path to the big finish mapped out, at least generally, before starting, because once something is established within the campaign it’s too late to change it later if you have to.
So I need to finish writing what is now going to constitute the Orcs & Elves series – at least to a usable standard – before I can plot the rest of the campaign. I already know what the big finish is going to be, because it was spelled out as part of the other Fumanor Campaign that is running simultaneous with Seeds Of Empire. I know that the other campaign consists of a total of 22 adventures (most larger than those of the Seeds of Empire campaign), and that we are currently at the end of Adventure 9, about to head into Adventure 10, of those 22. So that means that I need roughly 22, minus 9 completed, minus 1 grand finish already specified, = 12 big adventures to get the timing to match up. Right now, I have 28 half-sized adventures, minus 19-and-a-half adventures already played, = eight-and-a-half half-sized adventures, or about 4 of those 12 adventures. That means that I need 8 big adventures, or 16 smaller ones. And how many of those do I have planned out at this point again? Zero, Nil, Nada, Zip.
Before the campaign gets through those eight-and-a-half remaining adventures, I have to have finished the Orcs & Elves series, planned out the rest of the campaign, broken that into the required number of adventures, and outlined the contents of those adventures.
Although it’s hard to predict exactly, my instincts are telling me that if I don’t start NOW, it won’t be done in time. Those Eight-and-a-half adventures could take anywhere from eight-and-a-half sessions of play through to about 25 sessions of play, averaging ten-to-15 sessions a year. So that’s between nine months and a year-and-a-half to get it all done. But, in theory, and if everything comes together, we could get 22 sessions a year in – so I need it done in six months at the latest, sooner if possible. And there’s an awful lot still to do…
So what are these underpinning themes?
Destiny. Understanding. Self-discovery. Responsibility. Redemption. Acceptance. Unification. And the resolution of the conflict between Elves and Drow, set against the backdrop of a larger conflict between two vast Empires that at least partially overlap.
The Golden Empire has been a stalking horse and a motivating force within the Campaigns, a spur to move events and create interesting conflicts while dealing with a couple of leftovers from the first campaign. Those leftovers were things the PCs of the time assumed the Gods would take care of, and which the Gods considered to be part of the burden accepted by Mortals in that Campaign. The Golden Empire is not really necessary any more, so that part of the campaign is meandering to a conclusion. Its real purpose has been to distract the key figures within the campaign long enough for the real problems to develop, and to educate the characters about various facets of the world. The heart of the Seeds Of Empire campaign has always been intended to be what happens in Part IV of that campaign, and possibly in Parts V and possibly Part VI if I am to keep them all of consistent length.
I’ve got half-a-campaign to create, and it all starts with getting the relevant background nailed down. That’s the task at hand.
The list of themes may seem vague, but if you’ve been reading the preliminaries, you will have seen how they connect with the adventures that have taken place, time after time. They are also the underpinnings of the story of the Elves throughout their existence. And that makes this a very good place to start.
These chapters are all in final form. I don’t change “speaker” in mid-paragraph, but the speaker does change from one paragraph to the next. So if it seems like the tone changes direction suddenly – sometimes it does. I didn’t keep records of who is saying what, or I’d be tempted to run a competition to see who could identify the most speakers correctly. Oh well, never mind.
The Tale of the creation of the Elves is well-known, even in these degenerate times – how Corallan formed the first Elves from the branches of trees to be the nurturers of nature, and prompted spirits from nature to guide and shape them; how Lolth, the spider-totem, led those who looked to her astray; and how the true race of Elves closed ranks against her, driving out those who would subvert the decisions of the Elven Council. But many of the details have been lost: the cause of the schism between spider-totem and the Elven Council; the significance of membership in the Council and its origins; the true nature of the Spirit Totems; the creation of the Orcs; and their relationship with the Elves.
The Orcs know little more than the Elves of these matters, though they do at least remember through myth and legend that there was a relationship; but what little has survived the centuries in their lore has been distorted through accumulated misunderstandings and contamination by others.
Those are the stories that everyone thinks they know. And they’re all wrong.
This is the real story.
It is not a coincidence that so many fundamental pieces of truth have been lost. All these lost truths are interrelated, and the rediscovery of even a single piece would set an enquiring mind apon the path to the whole lost tale, and a paradigm shift in the self-understanding of both races. The time has come for these truths to be rediscovered; for now, for the first time in millennia, the two affected races are not estranged by war and blood.
Corallan – The First
One of the great unanswered questions is “Where did Corallan come from”? He seems to exist outside the established pantheons of the past, and his origins have never been explained, even in legend. There is speculation that he is but a guise for another deity, but every such proposal has ended in internal contradiction, even disregarding the self-evident truth that a God cannot but be true to his nature. Whatever the answer, he is undeniably a Deity the equal of any other in skill, knowledge, and ability. Elvish Lore holds that he created the first Elves from the branches of trees to be the nurturers of Nature.
Corallan had done so in fulfillment of a compact with the Spirit Of Nature; the other half of the bargain required Nature to provide Guiding Spirits, or Elthrinasts, to the young elves. These guides would be drawn to Elves of similar personality and temperament, would Bond with the young Elf in a spiritual union, and thereafter would appear to guide the Elf from time to time, either in dreams, metaphysical visions, or actual encounters. The guidance would be, by turns, symbolic or practical, intended to encourage or discourage a given line of personal development, to educate the Elf, to help the Elf understand his own mind, or to reveal options that he had not previously contemplated. Through the link with their Guiding Spirit-totem, the Elf would learn to perceive the natural energies of the world around them directly, with no need of other senses; this ability has become known as the Elven Sight and is central to the lives and society of modern Elves.
As they grew learned and wise, the Elves began to master the natural world, developing the art of Spellweaving. Unlike the gross magics of other species, Spellweaving is a slow and delicate shaping of patterns of nature; a single Spell might take years or even decades to weave. This is an art that only Elves, with their long lifespans and persistence of worldview and Elven Sight, could master. While some rare Humans might live long enough to learn the basics of Spellweaving, their attitudes are too inconstant, their attention spans too brief, and their faculties too limited, to permit true understanding. The delicacy of touch and deftness of control is necessary; Elvish Spellweaving controls and shapes the most powerful of forces over vast areas. (As a side note, The Elves believe that the powers of the Gods are also Spellweaving, but that the Gods have the ability to compress time so that what might take an Elf decades takes only fractions of a second for the Deity. Certainly, this would explain some of the more incredible divine capabilities. They also hold that one of the major differences between a Deity and his avatar is that the avatar does not have this capability).
It was at this time that the Elves began to subdivide into different subgroups. The followers of the Spider-Totems were the first to leave; a representative sampling of all three land-dwelling subtypes of Elves, the day came when the other Elves looked around to find them simply Gone. Always they had stood a little apart from the others of their kinds; but this spoke of a greater unity of opinion and purpose than had been suspected. Whole communities of Elves were torn asunder, children had vanished from their families without trace or warning. Accordingly, hundreds of search parties were formed to investigate this strange occurrence.
Some of the Elves searched the High Passes and Mountain Peaks; and of these, some – especially those guided by the raptors and other more solitary totems – came to enjoy the isolation and tranquility. These became the Calquessir, or High Elves. Others remained within the Forest that had nurtured them, especially those guided by the more gentle and herd-oriented Herbivore totems, where they searched for their lost kin by Arcane means and began forming ever-more-complex community bonds; these became the Taurquessir, or Forest Elves. And some found the rolling plains of the grasslands to their liking, dividing into smaller and more subtly distinct sub-groupings led by the Hunting Totems and the Building Totems. These became the Amrunquessor, the Plains Elves.
But none of them could find the vanished Spider-totem Elves.
Then Corallan summoned representatives of all four branches of the Elves to a summit. The other elves were overjoyed to be reunited with their lost kin, to know that they had not perished, had even prospered in many ways; for the Spider-representative was garbed in robes of finest silk, and bore weapons of power, and wore devices of great beauty crafted from gold and the finest gems. Yet, his pallid features decreed that wherever they had hidden themselves, it had begun to mark them; and the cruel expression of his face was most unElven and disturbing. Even as they rejoiced, they felt apprehension, and questioned him closely as to the whereabouts and circumstances of those who had been long-vanished from their company. Although the answers were evasive, those assembled learned the basics of Drow society and their purposes in setting themselves apart from the dwellers of the surface, and their history since dividing from their Kin. They answered,
“We believed that the surface world, with its myriad distractions for the senses, interfered with the development of the awareness of the weave. By living an ascetic existence within caverns deep underground, these distractions could be avoided, producing a manyfold increase in the powers of elvish perception and Spellweaving.” The elves who had accepted this concept had then been joined by members of the other subcastes, and in particular by large numbers of High Elves, who were always ready to follow their research wherever it led. The spider-clan began to utilize their Spellweaving abilities in the diverse manners of all the other subcultures, from the environmental manipulations of the Forest Elves to the raw Spellcraft of the High Elves. To protect themselves from “contamination” by Sunlight, they erected barriers and isolated themselves from the surface populace. In time, a schism erupted amongst the members of the newly-emerging subculture when the Spider-clan, closest to the Spider Elthrinast, began to expect that they would command, as they were the ones who had led the others underground; but the malicious Elthrinast spun webs of deceit and ambition amongst the High Elves and Civil War ensued. When finally the bloodletting ended, the former high elves had formed a mage-dominated ruling caste; the former plains elves, a religious caste; and the former Forest Elves, who had been caught in the crossfire, a servant caste.
And then Corallan appeared before those assembled, ending the interrogation. “Nature hath decreed that some of each of your peoples must be stood aside from the majority,” he instructed. “These few shall have as their homes the rivers and oceans of the world, gaining far more than is lost; and I shall, in furtherance of our bond with Nature, alter them that they may be at home in the places they will hereafter dwell. These should be drawn from those of your peoples whose Totems are already familiar with, even contented by, the waters: the Watersnake, the Waterspider, The Seagull, and yea, even the Beaver and Otter.”
“This is an abomination,” replied the representative of the Spider-totems, “and our people refuse to take part. Long have we dwelt apart from these surface-dwelling simpletons, and by choice so would we remain. I have been permitted to come forth from our hidden retreats for the sole reason of giving you this message: Our totems have learned to join, becoming one mind, one being, the Queen of the Spiderwebs, she who we have named Lolth in our Adoration; and we shall not permit Her to be lessened by the loss of the Waterspiders. She is our Goddess, our Mistress and our Guardian. Do not summon us again, Corallan; we look to you no longer.” And with that, he spun on his heel and stalked from the gathering.
“As my Children are ye, not my subjects;” announced Corallan in sad tones, cutting through the angry shouts of the others gathered, “and if the children of the Spider Totem have chosen to live apart, then so be it. So long as they impose their will apon no others, they shall be permitted to find their own paths to Wisdom; for who can foretell with certitude the shape of Futures still remote in their unlikelihood? Drow, I name them, Those Who Dwell Apart; and yet, the time may come when they discover that they have a role to play. We must proceed without the Spiders Of The Water; Nature, our Mistress, will brook no delay in her needs.”
And so it was that the Elven people were twice-sundered on the same day; as the followers of the Spider-queen, Lolth, declared themselves a race apart, and one-quarter of those whose totems were at home in the Water were forever transformed into the Isallithin, the Aquatic Elves. In but a short time, these became the glue that held what remained of Elven unity together. Their aquatic environs reached from the realms of the High Elves all the way to the sea, passing through all the other lands occupied by their Elven Kin. They became natural couriers and message-bearers, and while forever estranged from their Kin by physical transformation, they remained Elven in spirit. Over the ensuing generations, those lost to the aquatic totems were replenished in numbers, while the descendants of the chosen few found themselves guided by new totems – the languid Octopus, the savage Shark, the docile Shrimp, and the determined Salmon amongst many. And slowly, their communities scattered well beyond the realms of the other Elvenkind. It was the Aquatic Elves who first met Humans, though the humans recognized them not, avoiding the Seafolk from a fear inspired by the other Aquatic species, about whom all manner of wild tales had become the stuff of myth and legend.
It was when the Calquissir turned their attentions to the Fundamental Natures of Elves themselves that they discovered a truth which would ultimately shatter the disjointed unity of the Elves, perhaps for all time. The creatures initially created by Corallan were not dissimilar in attributes to the Humans they were modeled after; in order to achieve the attributes he desired, he was forced to create a second being to contain those attributes that were not desired. In all ways, these would be the opposite of the Elvish people. Nevertheless, they would forever be Kin to the Elves in subtle and convoluted ways. The Elves named these creatures the Illvaryssor, “The Other”, and began to search for these lost parts of their lives.
They were unsure of exactly what they would find, but logic yielded a formidable array of characteristics. Where Elves were slow to mature and long-lived, the Other would be quick. Where Elves were subtle of sensibility and thought, the Other would be rude and simple. Where Elves were wise and learned, the Other would be primitive and savage. Where Elves were born as blank slates, and needed to learn everything from their elders, the Other would have strong, even dominating instincts inborn , perhaps even an instinct strong enough to be termed a race memory. And where Elves were fair of feature, sheltered from the harshness of nature by their Spellwoven environments, the Other would be scarred, even disturbingly ugly.
At first, the Elves searched from a sense of lost kinship and curiosity; the estrangement with the Drow and physical separation from the Aquatic Elves having left a sore spot in the psyche, an itch that could not be scratched. And the chance of being able to consult a Race Memory of their early years, however dimly recalled, promised revelations of self-discovery that were beyond price. Even as the Elves searched, their Spellweavers were learning more of the Elven nature, and coming to a new appreciation of the genius of Corallan. The first Elves had not been created in adult form, as myth had long suggested; this had always seemed dubious because Elves have so little in the way of inborn instinct. The presumption had been that Corallan had somehow been aware of exactly what the fundamental knowledge required by his creations would be, and had created them with that knowledge in place. And, as much as they revered their creator, this had always seemed a little too much to ask. in fact, they now realized, the first Elves had been created as newborn babes, reared and sheltered by Nature itself. To protect these young Elves from the dangers of the wild for the quarter century until they reached sufficient maturity to care for themselves, a more aggressively-developing counterpart was needed; one ready and able to defend the community against any threat from an early age. In a sense, everything that the Elves now had was a gift from The Other, and a profound sense of gratitude and debt suffused the Elvish people of the time.
And yet the mystery remained – why were there no records of the Other? Why did they not appear anywhere in Elvish legend? Where had they gone – and why?
Some Notes on Language:
The only language that is even close to universal in Fumanor is “Arnost”, also known as “The Common Tongue”. Many Elves speak Arnost as their first language. “Elvish” is actually three languages:
- Hithâinduil, vulgarly known as “High Elvish”. Attempts to preserve this language have largely failed. Not even the elves can read more than 1 in 4 words at best. The written language could be learned as a dead tongue provided that a suitable “Rosetta Stone” could be located, and provided that the character was proficient in Nuthânorl (below). To learn the spoken version would require finding someone who could already speak it – there are few candidates and less who have the time required.
- Nuthânorl, vulgarly known as “Low Elvish” or “Common Elvish”. Almost all elves speak this tongue and many can write it. Those who can do neither will have it as a potential language and were human in recent memory. This is the most common second language, though it has also been corrupted and is now a pidgin language containing a mixture of true Nuthânorl and Arnost. Elves from Elessarune are more likely to speak this language than they are Arnost. The pure form of the language can be learned from the Drow.
- Zamiel, commonly known as Drow. This can only be learned from the Drow themselves. The written variety of the language is especially difficult.
It’s probably worth noting that these langauges, and “Arnost” for that matter, were named by the elves of long ago, and are amongst the few surviving fragments of Hithâinduil. As this series proceeds, I will maintain and extend an ongoing glossary of terms at the end of each post, in alphabetic order.
The Ongoing Elvish Glossary
- Arnost: Simple Speech (Modern “Common”, a human tongue)
- Arrunquessor: Plains Elves
- Calquissir: High Elves
- Corallan: The First
- Drow: “Those Who Dwell Apart”
- Eltrhinast: “Guiding Spirit”
- Hithainduil: High Elven Language
- Illvayssor: “The Other”, a mythical race
- Isallithin: “The Sundered”, a name applied to Aquatic Elves
- Nuthanorl: Low Elven Language, Common Elven
- Tarquessir: Forest Elves
- Zamiel: Drow Language
Next time: Men, Dwarves, and The Prince Of Lies – all in Chapters 5 through 9! (And yes, despite a continual effort at concision, the chapters do get longer)…
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51