• Dark Elves of Fantasy

    I love Dark Elves! They are one of my favorite fantasy critters. Here is an ultra-short primer on their history!

    The first historical mythological context of the Drow was seen in ancient Norse, Germanic, and Scottish mythology/folklore. The Drow, also called Dark elves, are seen in Germanic and Norse mythology. Dark elves were called the Dökkálfar (old Norse) or the Svartálfar; However, the Svartálfar were mainly referred to as black elves, as “Svar-“ means ‘Black’, while the Dökkálfar were referred to as the dark elves. These Germanic myths of the dark elves were first documented in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning Edda. These were considered the opposite of the Ljósálfar, or “light elves” (Simek, R., 1993, p.295-296).

     

    The Svartálfar from Norse mythology were humanoids that lived underground where they flourished in a place called Svartálfheim, or “Black-Elf-World”. According to the folklore they worked forges on the world tree at the lowest level, and it was thought that they developed their black skin from working the forges (Dark elves, 2007). Also these elves were believed to act either benign or evil, but most myths told of the elves acting evil (Lindow, J., 2001, p. 110).

     

    The Dökkálfar from Norse mythology were a bit different from the Svartálfar. While they did not like the light they did not live underground usually and were considered ancient male spirits that could protect humans, however they were often malevolent. They were considered the opposite of the Ljósálfar (light elves and/or high elves) Scottish folklore developed their version of dark elves from the Norse. They were referred to as Trow or black elves and were homogeneous to the Svartálfar. They lived in mines and caves and were sometimes considered to be good, but most stories portray them as being evil (Dark elves, 2007).

    Gary Gygax in the game Dungeon’s and Dragons created the second and most commonly known context for the Drow. He based all of the games mythology on ancient mythology, such the mythology listed above. This is a role playing game using paper, dice, and a pencil, most commonly played by the gaming and nerd culture. In my experience I have found that more males play this D&D then do females. The Drow are a playable race in this game. In general a Drow character has the social-alignment of evil. They have black skin and silky white-silver hair, generally. They usually have red eyes, but may have grey, amber, or even violet eye colors. Their eyes are sensitive to the light and they cannot tolerate sunlight well so, they live underground in a place called “the Underdark” (Vaughan, G. A., Schwalb, R. J., Pryor, A., Marmell, A., 2007).

     

    In this fantasy realm there is a vast amount of mythology and story behind the Drow. There is so much mythology; this essay cannot cover it all. Depending on which branch of D&D is being played, generally there is one goddess that Drow worship called Lolth. She has eight corporal forms, however she is mainly depicted as a Drow, a Strider (half Drow and half spider), or as a spider. She is often referred to as the spider queen. Also in the Drow realm the females rule and are the clerics to Lolth. The males are looked down upon and are often sacrificed to Lolth. In other branches of the D&D, such as Forgotten Realms, there are two other popular Drow gods. The first, Eilistraee is the only goddess that is good and attempts to lead the Drow from their evil ways, while the second, Vhaeraun, is an evil god yet his followers are males that wish to overpower the females of the race. All of these gods and goddesses are continually at war with one another (Vaughan, G. A., et al, 2007).

     

    The third context Drow are found in is really an off-shoot from D&D. Again the cultures involved are gamers and nerds. Many books were written about the Drow from the mythology found in D&D. These books again depict the Drow, as being evil however there are a few exceptions. In the Forgotten Realm series the Drow Drizzt Do’Urden and Liriel Baenre reject their evil culture and choose to follow a moral path they felt in their hearts (Salvatore, 2005).

     

    The last and fourth context for the Drow can be found in video games. Again, the cultures involved are gamers and nerds, and again most males play these. Some video games are part of the D&D world and those games include: Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Roll-Playing Game, and the Neverwinter Nights series, Icewind Dale, etc. Other video games, however, are not related to D&D directly; yet still contain Drow by other names. The Drow are referred to as dark elves since they did not have the copyrights to call them by the same name as D&D. Dark elves can be played in the following role playing games: The Elder Scrolls Series, Everquest (mmorpg), Everquest II (mmorpg), Lineage (mmorpg), and Lineage II (mmorpg) are just some of the examples. Again, generally the dark elves are socially-aligned as evil.

     

    “Dark elves.”, (2007). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 13, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Elf

    Lindow, J.(2001). Handbooks of world mythology: Handbook of Norse Mythology. Denver, Co: ABC Clio.

    Salvatore, R. A. (2005). The Legend of Drizzt, Book I: Homeland. Renton, Wa: Wizards of the Coast.

    Simek, R. (1993). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. (Hall, A., Trans.). Rochester, NY: D. S. Brower. (Original work published 1984).

    Vaughan, G. A., Schwalb, R. J., Pryor, A., Marmell, A. (2007). Dungeons & Dragons: Drow of the Underdark. Renton, Wa: Wizards of the Coast.

    Watson, T. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master (personal communication, September 12, 2007


  • What is a Dark Elf?

    Simply put, a “Dark Elf” is a mythical humanoid creature having pointy ears, slender with human features, and dark skin ranging from blue and purple to absolute black. Dark Elves are not always good or evil and have been portrayed in many different settings for many hundreds of years.

     

     

    General

    First, let’s look at what an Elf is in general terms: An elf is a mythical humanoid creature of northern European mythology. Elves appear in differing forms throughout history, but they tend to have similar features and characteristics. Elves tend to be slender in form, often aesthetically pleasing, depicted with an abundance of endowments. There are conflicting tales concerning the height, life span, and even the ear shape of elves, but for the purposes of fantasy works Elves generally have pointy ears, long life spans measured in centuries, and heights ranging from a few feet to the size of a normal human. These trends are an idealization of human fantasy and may be found in other mythological beings, such as titans, nymphs, fairies, and ever heroes. Given all of these differences, we are lead to the question: How does anyone categorize an elf since classical fairies, nymphs, etc, have many of the attributes described. The difference shouldn’t be sought in their appearance, but their archetype. Elves are an idealized sense of what humans could aspire to. They are often very wise, as skilled in their arts as a Kung Fu master, and beautiful beyond normal human measures. They cheat death with their extended lives and healing magic’s, while remaining young and well endowed for the majority of their lives. These are common human aspirations which exceed the bonds of tribe and tongue. We love Elves because of what we are not.

     

    The Dark Elf

    As humans come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors, so to do Elves. Because of their fantastic nature and the literary muse of their envisioners, Elves tend to be cast in themed groups based upon physical features, habitat, or abilities. The literary Dark elf is actually a product of the writings of a famous Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson, c. 1179-1241. Snorri’s famous book (poem), the Younger Edda, makes a short reference to the Dark Elves as being the maintainers of the fires burning deep below the world tree, or Yggdrasil:

     

    Then said Ganglere: Great tidings you are able to tell of the heavens. Are there other remarkable places than the one by Urd’s fountain? Answered Har: There are many magnificent dwellings. One is there called Alfheim. There dwell the folk that are called light-elves; but the dark-elves dwell down in the earth, and they are unlike the light-elves in appearance, but much more so in deeds. The light-elves are fairer than the sun to look upon, but the dark-elves are blacker than pitch. Another place is called Breidablik, and no place is fairer. There is also a mansion called Glitner, of which the walls and pillars and posts are of red gold, and the roof is of silver. Furthermore, there is a dwelling, by name Himinbjorg, which stands at the end of heaven, where the Bifrost-bridge is united with heaven. And there is a great dwelling called Valaskjalf, which belongs to Odin. The gods made it and thatched it with, sheer silver. In this hall is the high-seat, which is called Hlidskjalf, and when Alfather sits in this seat, he sees over all the world. In the southern end of the world is the palace, which is the fairest of all, and brighter than the sun; its name is Gimle. It shall stand when both heaven and earth shall have passed away. In this hall the good and the righteous shall dwell through all ages (Sturluson, 17).

     

    Note: In the Younger Edda the word for Dark Elf is dökkálfar, literally “Dark Elf” and the word for Black Elf, another reference to Dark Elves, is Svartálfar, literally “Black Elf”.

    Dark Elves are often seen in popular fantasy, such as video games and books, most notably in the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. In these contexts Dark Elves tend to have commonalities: They tend to be subterranean, matriarchal, reclusive, evil, and extremely powerful. Above all else, popular fantasy tends to place light colored elves at odds with Dark Elves. These themes are reminiscent of story devices found throughout all of recorded literature and probably reflect many of the basic truths, fears, and longings of humanity.

    Sturluson, Snorri. The Younger Edda. Trans Rasmus B. Anderson Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company. 1901.


  • Following Eilistraee – A Character Creation Primer

     

    Dungeons and Dragons is a game spanning more than thirty years of history with source books and methods of play which have changed over a long time. This tutorial is very generalized and covers some of the basic aspects of a Priestesses of Eilistraee. The concepts are mostly 1st edition AD&D (old school) but can be easily ported to 3.0 or 3.5. D&D 4.0 rules may be used, but D&D 4.0 is not recognized by Eilistraee.org as a valid release due to the radical divergence from the foundations of D&D.

    Priestesses of Eilistraee may come in many forms, but the three most common forms are: Cleric or Paladin. Special classes are covered in an upcoming document. The Cleric and Paladin are very similar with respect to Eilistraee. Paladins and Clerics tend to differ in their choices of weapons and their ability to use spells. Priestesses of Eilistraee are significantly more battle-oriented and sword proficient than the average cleric, making them nearly equivalent to a Paladin. The major difference between these two roles is the way they are played. A cleric spends more time with spells, aiding people, and trying to teach the ways of Eilistraee. The Paladin is a weapon with the sole duty to rain holy wrath upon the evil and wicked. A Paladin must be battle ready at all times and totally fearless.

     

     

    Clothing and Armor

    The primary edict amongst the Dark Ladies, a common name for the followers of Eilistraee, when clothing is concerned, is: utility. Clothing can be decorative, flagrant, or even sexy, but only for special occasions. For normal day to day life, clothing should be comfortable, durable, and practice to the events at hand. Contrary to popular view, Priestesses of Eilistraee do not run about in the nude all of the time. Nudity is reserved for any sacred dancing, song, and prayer. The only time nudity is allowed in combat is during the yearly ritual hunting event, known as “The Hunt”, where Priestesses run into the forests with only their holy symbol and a sword to prove their devotion.

    Typical armor for a Priestess will include chain mail and thin, flexible, cloth clothing. Paladins will wear field plate, scale mail, or ring male armor. Both Priestesses and Paladins will wear Elvin Chain or magically enhanced armor if possible. Elvin chain is perhaps the most common armor for a cleric of at least fifth level, allowing her to truly move without hindrance. Helms are cowls are commonly worn, but shields and full plate armor are rarely worn. The Paladin of Eilistraee must balance armor with the need to retain dexterity.

     

     priestess

     Weapons

    Typically, D&D prevents cleric classes from using swords, the chosen weapon for followers of the Dark Maiden, but this rule must be removed. Often, a Dungeon Master will merely swap swords for blunt weapons, like maces and morning stars. The favored weapon for a Priestesses is a Bastard Sword. The Bastard Sword is effectively a slightly elongated Long Sword, normally a one handed weapon. The Bastard Sword typically requires either two hands or special training to use. Elves are able to greatly bypass these issues with their use of magical swords. The typical Priestess of Eilistraee will carry a magical sword of not less than +1. Elite Priestesses, High Priestesses, and Chosen Priestesses may carry even more powerful swords.

     

     

    Character Ability Stats

     

    Strength

    The ability to swing a sword is an important factor in becoming a Priestesses of Eilistraee. Strength is not as important as dexterity when it comes to to swordplay, but a strength of at least 15 is a good place to start. Too weak and a character will be forced to rely more heavily on spells.

     

    Dexterity

     

    Flexibility and lithe reflexes allow a Priestesses to swing her sword very fast and dodge the strikes of others. As a Priestess of Eilistraee, dancing is a daily event. Like any professional dancer, the flexibility and overall dexterity of the body are on par with Wisdom as the two most important abilities. A dexterity of 18 is always the goal. Any means to obtain or plead with a dungeon master for this stat may be well worth it.

     

    Constitution

     

    Constitution governs more than the number of drinks you can imbibe before passing out. The poison you can withstand, and damage you heal each day, and your own ability to withstand hours of dancing for some powerful spells, if you choose to play realistically, are the meat of this stat. In general, the more realistic you wish your game to be, the higher this stat should be placed.

     

    Intellect

     

    Intelligence is important to Eilistraee. Blind faith is not as important to the Priestess because she can actually interact with her Goddess, face to face, each night. The followers of Eilistraee are few and their struggle is great, thus the need to defeat evil with careful strategy requires a high intelligence.

     

    Wisdom

     

    Wisdom is the most important state, along with Dexterity, for the Priestess. She must be wise in the clerical powers which course through her body and through her song. The mind and intellect are of great use, but the Priestesses of Eilistraee are taught to experience life, existentially. Only through wisdom can a Priestess hope to defeat the forces of evil.

     

    Charisma

     

    Charisma is perhaps the most misunderstood stat in D&D. Charisma is not a measure of physical attractiveness, as it is commonly thought to be, but rather a measure of the ability to command a presence and influence others by your words or deeds. Most of the greatest leader (and villains) of history have had great charisma. Priestesses need charisma to speak to the lay worshipers, but this stat is not as important as for other characters because deed is the greatest measure of a follower of Eilistraee.

     

    Comeliness

     

    Comeliness is a measure of physical attractiveness. There is no actual requirement for a person to be attractive to be a Priestesses of Eilistraee. Physical beauty can be a bonus when interacting with potential followers, but should convey virtually no effect when interacting with other elves or followers of Eilistraee. Elves are a very much more concerned by deeds and the rational of a players actions, than by their beauty.

     

    How To Act

     

    As a Priestesses of Eilistraee, you are a member of a small and reclusive religion. Your fellow members are few in number and far apart. Each small group of followers, called a Coven, must be relatively self sufficient and able to defend itself. Your attitude will be one of a good-aligned but chaotic and un-trusting person. Priestesses find themselves hiding from the greater parts of the world and typically remaining in the forests for protection. With evil lurking around every corner, a priestess must be prepared for combat at any moment, but she must also be ready to lend a helping hand, whatever the risk to herself.

     

     

    The most common race of a priestess of Eilistraee is a Dark Elf (Drow). You are a member of a hated race of the most evil form. Drow are known for their vile acts, such as killing their children, slavery, murder, and even genocide. The act of being seen will often provoke otherwise goodly folk to attack or flee (or both). A priestess has to be very mindful of keeping her appearance and beliefs hidden whilst in any populated area. She can expect the goodly and learned nobility to know of her people, such as a high goodly priest or a goodly archmage. Besides these very uncommon folk, the regular people will generally attack on site. Most priestesses will remain in the forests and wilds to avoid these problems. This does accommodate the need for ritualistic hunts and lengthy outdoor dancing bathed only in moonlight.

     

    Priestesses are expected to perform common rituals, such as ceremony for birth, marriage, and death. Healing should be granted to all, regardless of ability to repay. Further, the payment for such spells should be a good meal, a warm bed, and a glass of wine. In short, Eilistraee tends to grant spells to her followers without the need for expensive spell components, but with the need for her message to be heard. When performing a spell, perhaps healing a hunter who was attacked by goblins, the Priestess need merely let the deed be the message. If the priestess can manage to allow the wounded person to let her heal their wounds, though she is of an uncommon religion (or even a Dark Elf), the Dungeon Master must take into account the significance of this event to the regional view of Eilistraee and Dark Elves.