Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Elves in the Old World

I’d said previously that I had decided to make those areas of my world which had a low population density inhabited by non-human races. I don’t have a need, you understand, to be deadly accurate in my portrayal of Earth…I like there to be some parallels, but we can assume that since there is magic and monsters and so on, any sense that this is actually EARTH or that it should subscribe to some detailed perfection is just silly. Every now and then I change some minor detail as it suits me and as it makes my world more playable.

The inclusion of non-human races does allow some interesting takes on history—which, I suppose, might insult some peoples, but I’m not concerned much with that. This is my world, and it obeys my whims.

For instance: the Old World continent has, as far, two specific conglomerations of Elves. I’m not a big fan of Elves, and because my system demands they occupy low-density forest areas, I didn’t choose to make one of the major countries in Europe the home of some Elven kingdom (I suppose the high country in Italy or somewhere in the Carpathians would have done well enough).

I’m also not a great fan of immortal Elves or Elves that live for two thousand years, as that would fuck up a lot of my history; therefore my Elves have normal lifespans, like humans. None of my players has ever particularly cared about that…probably because no one has ever campaigned long enough to live to old age anyway.

No, in my case, Elves occupy the great forests of Karelia and Finland, discounting the lands along the coast of the Baltic, which are Swedish. Long ago the Swedes and the Elves of Ulthua fought a nasty war that the Swedes won, largely through their mastery of military tactics and sheer numbers…but they could not penetrate deep into the forest. The border runs more or less from Saimaa to south of modern Oulu, an Elven city called “Ulea.” That information is for the benefit of LOTFP, who is probably the only one who knows what I’m talking about.

The other concentration of Elves in the Old World is on the very eastern edge of what we call Siberia, presently the territory of Chukot. I call it “Anduin,” stealing from Middle Earth; these Elves dwell more or less unmolested, surrounded on the south by an ogrish humanoid called a cavewight (I used to love Thomas Covenant), on the southwest by Flinds and on the west by Norkers.

This outpost of Elvenkind is the last vestige of what was once a great Elvish prehistoric race, existing in the same period as Cro-Magnon man and establishing its first Paleolithic culture some two million years ago on the shores of Lake Baykal. Like caveman, cave Elves took a considerable time before developing into the recognizable Elf of the present…the first historically relevant action of this ancient tribe was the crossing of the land bridge into what is now North America some 18,000 years ago (7,000 years before the humans in our existence did so).

Yes, that’s right. Instead of Native American Indians, I have Native American Elves.

Elvish races occupied the whole of the New World, just as their human counterparts did. Mayan, Incan, Aztec civilizations were all Elvish in race…and when Columbus landed in 1492 on the shore of a small Caribbean island, it was a party of Elves that he met.

It was these same Elves who, in and about 3500 B.C., moved by sea across the North Atlantic, exploring first Greenland and Iceland and finding both unsuitable. They would find themselves unable to establish themselves in the Fjords of Scandinavia on account of early tribes of Gnomes who dwelt in the mountains of northern Norway and Sweden; so the Elves moved further eastward, where they settled at last in the lowlands surrounding the White Sea and extending along the Barents Sea (I don’t bother to make up Elven names for these things, though no doubt there would be one. The world is complicated enough as it is without there being five names for everything).

Those Elves in the White Sea Basin called the land “Ulthua”…they would later lose contact with their brethren to the west (Canada), but they would establish a highly developed civilization in and about 1100 B.C. around a city called “Colyan-Ar.” This city would thrive in the north of Europe at the time when human civilization was crumbling, with the disappearance of Mycenaean, Minoan and Hittite culture.

It was hubris that would end the Colyan culture, along with the migration of gnoll tribes that crossed the Ural Mountains in huge numbers during the 9th century B.C. Lands that had been Elven, such as those along the upper Dvina and the Pechora rivers, were steadily lost over a period of four hundred years, as the central authority broke down. A civil war erupted circa 550 B.C., resulting in a stronger government based in the city of Aenaria (the location modern day Murmansk), much farther from the gnoll-lands. The solidarity of the new kingdom was established; a treaty with the gnomes to the south (along the Oka River) and with those of the west (northern Sweden) greatly increased the Elven forces. Halfling mercenaries (I feel no need whatsoever to limit the perceptions of my races to those of Tolkein) came from the lands around Lake Vanern and thus all fought in the “Last War.” The elves/gnomes/halflings won the Battle of Silver Lake (near Beloozero) in 501 B.C. Thereafter the power of the gnolls were broken…in centuries thereafter the gnolls became more preoccupied with the southern migrations of ogres and later haruchai, while the Elves of Ulthua contented themselves with the region of Lapland, Karelia and Kola Peninsula, no longer interested in empire building. There have been continued wars with the gnolls since that time, as they gnolls still dwell in Bjarmaland west of the Urals.

A number of the Halfling warriors settled after the Last War in the delta of the Dvina. None of these settlements would develop into large cities…2,000 years later, human explorers from England would arrive, settle among the halflings and establish trading towns (such as Archangel).

And that is how history goes in my world. Some of it from actual reality, some completely invented. The mesh works rather well.


Max said...

"Mayan, Incan, Aztec civilizations were all Elvish in race…"

Do you mean that elves in your world had/have similar cultural traditions to these real world societies? If so is that also the case with the northern elves? Any notes on the culture(s) of your elves would be welcome if you'd care to share.

Alexis said...

I've not had any reason to get that specific, as my party has never remotely gone to the New World. However...

What I would probably have is a meeting of the two cultures...Native American and the more traditional Elvish. When you consider the comparison, they are not far different. It is easy to see Elves replacing the native characters of the Leather Stocking Tales, or the Inuit or the Plains Indians. Focus on nature, tribal bonds, druidic/natural magic and so on.

As far as the Mayans or Aztecs, is it not interesting to consider an Elvish tribe, perhaps a Drow Tribe, ripping the hearts out of tens of thousands of victims, tossing them off the steps of a pyramid and practically bathing in the blood? Fires my imagination.

Carl said...

The Mezoamerican tribes suffered from protein shortages. They had plenty of water lillies and mesquite beans to eat, but meat wasn't so plentiful as their cities were huge and the forests around hunted to exhaustion. The sacrificial victims served a very necessary role in that society, and so they were honored for their contribution.

The heart wouldn't have been cast down the steps. That was removed, ideally when the victim was still alive, and either given directly to the gods (by being burned on the spot) or kept by the priest to enjoy later. The bodies were rolled down the steps to the grateful (and hungry) crowds below.

Gives a new meaning to the words "Food Pyramid" doesn't it?