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"Oh God, not another elf!"
- – English professor Hugo Dyson as JRR Tolkien's son, Christopher, read aloud an early draft of Lord of the Rings to his father's friends
Elves are a staple fantasy setting race which can also be found in science fiction settings with fantasy elements such as Shadowrun and Warhammer 40000, to say nothing of Elf-like races found in most science fiction that has aliens. The modern Elf trope is that of a humanoid being with otherworldly features, usually a tendency towards fondness of nature and the ability to sense and do things through a connection to it or the wider universe. A flowing language without heavy or guttural sounds and pointed ears are standard, and are usually as tall or taller than humans although an older shorter version (AKA Christmas Elves) exists.
The "Tolkien-esque" Elf, pretty much ubiquitous in Fantasy nowadays, is actually quite polarizing with the Fantasy/roleplaying crowd, most of whom either love Elves because "they're like humans only BETTER!", or hate them for the exact same reason. Some also dislike them due to the fact that fantasy is a genre which should allow for infinite creativity, yet elves, along with many other things popularized by Tolkien, just keep finding their way into every setting. Indeed, fantasy settings are more likely to have "our elves are different" than simply not have elves at all.
Compare and contrast them with Dwarves, another staple fantasy race who share mythological origins (in fact, the exact difference between dwarves and dark elves in Norse mythology is pretty hazy; they might very well be the same thing).
- 1 D&D
- 2 Pathfinder
- 3 PC Stats
- 4 Magic: The Gatherering
- 5 On /tg/
- 6 Elf History
- 7 Elven Ears
- 8 The Ugly Side of Elves
- 9 So why are these guys popular again?
- 10 How to make your Elves not be Mary Sues
- 11 Good Post-Tolkenian Elves
- 12 Monstergirls
- 13 See Also
Dungeons & Dragons obviously used Elves, and was in fact one of the first to ripoff the Tolkien Elves. Early D&D Elves were much closer to his and were comparable to a player today attempting to play a young Dragon, but as of 3rd edition were toned down greatly. D&D Elves are mostly notable for their batshit insane Greek-style god pantheon in the Faerun setting. Their lifespans are not much longer than Dwarves, and they can't grow facial hair. Half-Elves are a core race, and they tend to be sold as tragic figures who had to watch a parent grow old and die in their prepubescent equivalent while in turn growing old and dying as their other parent stays the same age they seemingly always were (of course the standard /tg/ approach is to utilize necromancy for a drama-free backstory).
There are three major "archetypes" of elf in D&D; the High Elf, the Wood Elf and the Dark Elf. The myriad elven cultures that have been developed for different settings usually base themselves in these three archetypes, but some sub-species are more unique.
These are generally portrayed as the most "civilized" elves; the most focused on exploring their magical heritage and the ones who are most interested in building cities and civilizations. This makes them the most common of elves, in no small part because they tend to be the most adventurous of the elven species. Whilst they are traditionally described as respecting nature heavily, their first true love is magic; this is the race that defined the archetype of the elven wizard, and they shamelessly exploit their natural talents in arcane magic to make their civilizations work. A high elf community isn't necessarily a magocracy, but it's an easily applied trope.
In AD&D, the following elven races are considered to be High Elves:
- Zakharan Elves
- The Silvanesti and Qualinesti of Krynn
- The Moon Elves of Faerun
- The Sun Elves of Faerun
- The Star Elves of Sildëyuir and Faerun
- The Dark Elves (Ancestors of the Drow in the Forgotten Realms)
- The Llewyrr of Moonshae Isles
- The Green Elves (Ancestors of Wood Elves in the Forgotten Realms)
These elves prefer the wild to civilization, and are much more reclusive than their High Elf cousins. Also known as Sylvan Elves, at least in AD&D, wood elves still possess an affinity for magic, but place far more importance on living in harmony with nature. If the high elves defined the archetype of the elf wizard, these elves are responsible for the association of the elf race with the druid and ranger classes - especially the latter, given the wood elf forte with bow & arrow.
In AD&D, the following elven races are considered to be Wood Elves:
- The Kagonesti of Krynn
- The Tamire Elves of Krynn (actually steppe elves)
- The Hulderfolk of Krynn
- The Cha'asii of Krynn (swamp/jungle elves)
- The Wild Elves of Faerun
- The Wood Elves of Faerun
- The Grugach of Oerth
- The Dusk Elves of Barovia
Dark Elves (Drow)
This is the obligatory evil elf race. These guys have their own name, the Drow, and that's helped them to develop their own iconic niche, in contrast to High & Wood Elves who often seem to have nothing but the most meager nitpicking of details separating them.
Water-breathing elves who live deep underwater. Usually the most xenophobic and thus least interesting of all the elves. Seriously, even in Dragonlance, where the local aquatic elves A: mirror the high elf/wood elf split in their own culture as the Dargonesti (Deep Elves) and Dimernesti (Shoal Elves), and B: are shapeshifters, with Dargonesti turning into dolphins and Dimernesti turning into otters, they have pretty much no value or influence on the setting at all.
The subrace hails all the way back to Pelinore, the flat world from 1st Edition, which established the basic ideas that persisted into their future incarnations, predominantly a) that aquatic elves have a raging feud with sahuagin, and b) that aquatic elves are pricks. Outside of Pelinore and Dragonlance, the most well-known aquatic elf culture is found in the Forgotten Realms, where they are known to inhabit both the Great Sea and the Sea of Fallen Stars. They're known to inhabit Mystara and probably inhabit Greyhawk, but they're pretty obscure unless you're talking to a real expert on the setting.
For what further details exist, see the Aquatic Elf page.
A subrace which most people prefer to forget, these are the most arrogant and elitist elves of all - that's right, they're literally defined as "the asshole elves who aren't drow". Obsessed with the idea that they represent the pinnacle of the elven species, even the CBoE struggled with portraying these guys at all sympathetically. Xenophobic, supercilious, condescending, these are pretty much the embodiment of every elitist asshole elf cliche you can think of. Even more so than High Elves, they rely heavily on their prowess for arcane magic to do everything. They also keep other elven races as slaves to do all the physical labor. Charming. A bit notorious in 3rd edition for being the only race in third edition's core to have a boost to a mental ability score and no Level Adjustment.
In AD&D, the following elven races are considered to be Gray Elves:
- The Armach-nesti are a spinoff, full-on apartheid elves; Taladas doesn't dick around
- The Valley Elves of Oerth
Athasian Elves are tall, lean, desert-dwelling runners with a culture based on trade and grifting.
Rockseer Elves - also Sargent - are a peaceful race of Night Below-dwelling elves with innate earth elementalism powers, who believe themselves to have been outcast by the rest of their race... who, again, forgot they ever existed. These don't hold grudges, though.
Shadow Elves are Carl Sargent's residents of the Mystaran Underdark and Hollow World, who'd scuttled down there in deep antiquity. The surface elves forgot them. They function almost as drow: no demon-worship, but just as xenophobic and vengeful.
Snow Elves are a super-obscure branch of the elf family tree who have adapted to living in artic, subarctic and mountain environments. Basically, if there's snow there most of the year at minimum, you'll find these elves there.
Look, Ma! No Elves!
Some settings do without, or pretend as much, although these may host fey and/or arrogant-alien races which fill this niche. Michael Moorcock's Melnibonéans form the template for the latter, this borrowing from Lord Dunsany and Poul Anderson with some antipathy to "Prof. T" whom Mikey made quite the show of disliking. Talislanta took those themes and ran with them. Ditto the faen and alabast in the Diamond Throne.
Paizo's elves have an origin that's pretty out-there compared to their contemporaries. These elves are literally space aliens who migrated to Golarion from Castrovel, another planet in the same solar system, via a network of massive magic portals. Thus, they look a bit more freaky than you might expect. In addition to usual elven traits like living for hundreds of years, pointy ears, and love of bows, their eyes are almost entirely black, and their limbs are noticeably long in comparison to their torso (except that PF artists regularly forget and gives them regular eyes). Having come from a different environment and atmosphere, elves are also notably more frail on-average than other ancestries, being the only core race to have a Constitution penalty in 1E (which explains their penchant for longbows, since they fold like paper in melee).
These elves have their typical respect for nature and magic that you'd come to expect. Their home nation, which surrounds one of the original Elfgates, is called Kyonin, where they live in forest cities and are generally pretty isolationist. The exception to this are the half-elves and a large community of the gnomes, who live in treetop villages and help the elves trade with the outside world. However, many elves despise this sedentary lifestyle and go out exploring, use their centuries of life to see the world and experience all life's pleasures... all of them. Seriously, some of these elves get down to some pre-fall Eldar shit. This also explains the large amount of orphaned half-elves on Golarion, since these elves don't want to waste their time raising a family, only to watch as they slowly die before them. Their patron god is Calistria, goddess of sex, freedom, and vengeance, since elves have plenty of time to pursue all three, though more good-aligned ones tend to follow Desna instead. While half-elves may face discrimination from other races, the elves typically have absolutely no problem with the children they have with other races.
Meanwhile, down in the Garund (fantasy Africa), the elves who came out of a different Elfgate were known as the Mualijae and they're typically more level-headed and than their cousins up north, and had much darker skin. However, they've historically had it pretty rough. In the past, they've had to deal with many threats to Golarion, including demons, devils, apocalypse cultists, and a giant evil dragon-god named Dahak trying to destroy the world. Each time, they came out on top, but never without serious casualties. Eventually, they culturally came to see themselves as Golarion's frontline of defense against external threats. But, as the millennia wore on, the elves began to have serious ideological differences, especially when it came to how to defeat the evils that were constantly threatening them, and which evil deserved the most attention. So what was the solution to these differences? Balkanize into different tribes who can't stand each other! These three tribes now protect Golarion in their own unique ways. They seem to have a "mind (Allijae), body (Ekujae), and soul (Kallijae)" motif going on.
The Ekujae are most similar to the archetypal DnD elf: Stern, serious, loves nature, thinks little of other races, and dress in simple greens/browns. They're pretty xenophobic unless you specifically have something that's useful to them. They have dedicated most of their culture to the eradication of evil through military force as a way to honor the sacrifices made by their ancestors. Notable in that they're the only elves to actively discriminate against half-elves, taking their kids away at birth and making them live in specifically 'half-elf communities.' They claim this is to save them from having to grow up with a family that will outlive them. Overall, no-nonsense military culture who will kick you out if you aren't there to help them kill evil shit, especially evil dragons.
The Kallijae focus on battling the cultists and other mortals corrupted by the Demon Lord Angazhan. But unlike their aggressive Ekujae cousins, they don't see evil as something to overcome with blunt force. The Kallijae warriors are mostly monks and they espouse the philosophy of conquering the darkness within before you face your enemy. Ergo, once you conquer the enemy within, the enemy without is no threat by comparison. They ritualistically remove all hatred, sin, and fear from their minds in a ritual called "The Unburdening," giving them unparalleled focus and self-control. This makes them the perfect counter to cultists who attempt to recruit or demoralize with fear tactics. They support sending their kids out to become adventurers, bringing back useful experiences and entertaining stories to the tribe.
The Allijae are semi-nomadic elves based in the city of Nagisa who are considerably more chill than their cousins. Focusing on studying, understanding, and finding the weaknesses of demons, they're a culture of magical scientists and researchers. While their cousins may focus on oral history, the Allijae make sure that ALL data, history, and research is written down and protected from becoming lost knowledge (nerds!). They even have magical decorative masks they wear on their clothes that automatically record important moments in their lives to create first-hand accounts of events. They come across as reckless or corrupted to the other elves, as their close battles with the Abyss have left their formerly black eyes as dark red, which causes quite a bit of discrimination from others in Garund. The exception is the demon-slaying Matanji orcs, who respect the Allijae and their work, the respect being mutual. They're huge fans of Nocticula, since the demon lord-turned-goddess regularly helps the Allijae out when fighting demons. Like the Kallijae, big fans of becoming adventurers, especially when it involves bringing back magic swag, weapons, and knowledge.
Back in the earliest days of D&D Elf was a class, not a race. That's how long they've been in the game.
The Basic D&D version of the Elf was a Gish class, combining elements of Fighter and Magic-User. As such, they required a minimum Intelligence of 9 to qualify for the character, and needed high Strength and Intelligence to gain bonuses to XP gathering. They had a D6 hit dice, started play with the Set Spear vs Attack and Lance Attack fighter manuevers, were immune to the paralysis attack of ghouls, and had a 1 in 3 chance to detect secret or hidden doors.
Technically maxing out at 10th level, they gained a fairly small selection of mostly low-level spells, maxing out at 3 spells for each level from 1st to 4th and 2 level 5 spells upon hitting 10th level. Companion Set relented, a bit: as with Dwarves and Halflings they could keep gaining experience after 10th level going to Fighter levels as "Attack Rank", by the alphabet. The Elves of Alfheim Gazetteer's internal splatbook just overturned all that, declaring the ABC plan the Elf Lord option. A high-level elf could instead focus on enhancing their spellcasting abilities, becoming an Elf Mage.
For those who care, the Companion / Elf Lord maxed out at Attack Rank M. At Rank D, they gained the Fighter Combat Options and could make 2 attacks per round. At G, they halved all damage taken from breath weapons (quartering it if they passed their saving throw). At K, they could make 3 attacks per round.
The Hollow World produced the Elf Warrior, an elf who, for whatever reasons, couldn't learn magic and so focused on their combat skills instead, complete with rules for "multiclassing" to "proper" Elf and gaining spellcasting at a later date. This works because the Hollow World setting has a unique trait where native PCs cannot become magic-users unless they have at least a 16 in Intelligence... which is almost twice the Intelligence required to qualify for the Elf race in the first place! So, Hollow World Elf PCs don't get to learn spells, but in a trade off, they advance faster - halving their XP costs up till level six, at which point their XP costs become a little over half. But, as the suppression of magic actually stems from an environmental factor in the Hollow World itself, warrior elves who find their way up to the surface can go on to learn elven magic; they do this by paying off the "missing" experience, and once they have as many "elfin wizard" levels as they do elfin warrior levels, they switch over to just using the normal elf XP levels. If these elves then return to the Hollow World, they retain their spellcasting ability; having learned how to cast in the first place, they are no longer affected by the thaumic "static" that saturates the inner world.
Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia introduced the Forester class, a human trained by elves who thusly has learned to blend martial skills and magic the same way that they do. Mechanically, this functions identically to the Elf class, but loses the Immunity to Ghoul Paralysis and Infravision traits. This was, in a sense, a prototype of the Half-Elf, which itself appeared in BECMI in issue #178 of Dragon Magazine, as part of the serial The Voyage of the Princess Ark.
Mystara does have its share of elven subraces, although mechanically these aren't as distinct as their AD&D counterparts.
- Shadow Elves kind of fill the drow niche, being subterranean elves, but aren't as outright malevolent as drow and are albinos rather than photonegative-colored. They do have an evil counterpart in the Schattenalfen, who have a vampire-like allergy to sunlight and culturally borrow from the worst traits of the Aztecs. See the Shadow Elf page for more.
- Aquatic Elves inhabit the seas of Mystara and were made playable in PC3: The Sea Peoples.
- The Hollow World is home to three elven cultures that've gone extinct on the surface. Blacklore Elves are remnants of the technology-embracing elves of Blackmoor, and live an existence of utterly meaningless luxury and ease doted upon by golems in the shape of futuristic robots, with absolutely nothing to do or strive for and trying to fill the hideous boredom of their existences. You can actually play these, but they are treated as Warrior-Elves who start with no useful weapons (their culture's only native weapon, the Torch, is a magical lighter that doubles as a heat ray-blaster and doesn't work outside of their native territory) and no armor proficiency, but in compensation completely ignore the Cultural Bias rule. The Gentle Folk are the ultra-passive and docile root-stock of elfdom; PCs of this race can begin play as either Warrior-Elves or Elves, but they have no starting armor proficiencies or weapon proficiency other than a staff - they can, however, freely take up arms and armor by adopting them from other cultures, representing how they are mutants who do have an aggressive streak or self-preservation instincts: this frees them from the experience penalties aspect of Cultural Bias, but nothing else (overcoming the pacifism and docility is a roleplaying-only flaw). Finally, the Icevale Elves are the Mystaran equivalent of a Snow Elf; mechanically, these are just Warrior-Elves or Elves with a culture loosely based on Iron Age Icelanders.
Elves in AD&D got codified as one of the better races offensively, with a useful +1 to hit with long swords, short swords, and bows of all kinds (but not crossbows). They are also 90% Resistant to Charm and Sleep effects, and have a chance to spot secret doors just by going near them. They gain +1 Dexterity, but suffer a -1 penalty to Constitution. Their biggest downside is that Elves cannot be Raised from the dead; to revive an Elf, a much more powerful magic (the Resurrection spell) is required. All in all, Elves were a decent character race.
AD&D would later go on to publish the Complete Book of Elves, a hilariously bad book that achieved cult status amongst fa/tg/uys the world over due to how hilariously elf-supremacist the book is. While it's a stretch to say that it goes the Chakat route of establishing them as a race of Mary Sues, it does go out of its way to establish them as brilliant, capable, and far beyond the ken of those pathetic lower races. Even the original author of the book treats the supplement like a complete joke and has gone on record mocking how terrible it is.
To its credit, the Complete Book of Elves does include a number of interesting ideas all its own, including interesting takes on Elven folklore and myths, explanations of why it is Elves find humans attractive (mostly human dynamism and flexibility), explains the animousity between Dwarves and Elves, and perhaps most interestingly, ways to make an elf-themed campaign, whether because elves are the biggest race in it, or whether they're almost extinct, offering lots of potential insight into how to design such a campaign. The few good inclusions, however, do not do anything to lessen just how ridiculous the book itself is, or its funniest offenses (for example, a story of how Elves singing at a funeral accidentally killed human guests present).
The basic issue with the Complete Book of Elves is that it struggles under the burden of TSR both trying to emulate the Celtic Mythology from which the elves are drawn AND to present them as a playable race, which just... doesn't work very well unless you're trying to use them in a Heroic Fantasy instead of the Sword & Sorcery setting that AD&D aimed for.
The CBoE included playable stats for High, Sylvan, Dark, Grey and Aquatic Elves, plus the first basic material for playing Averiel. Mechanically, these ranged in power from overpowered to absolute crap - take the Sylvan Elf, who is mechanically required to be more of a dick than either the drow or the gray elves, who are established in that same book as such hyper-arrogant elitist elf-supremacists they think they have a divine right to enslave the other elven races!
The CBoE was also the birthplace of the Bladesinger, which was one of a wide array of kits that mostly were forgotten about in future material, such as the Spellfilcher (an elven mage/thief specialized in stealing magical grimoires and artifacts from non-elven wizards) and the Collector (which is basically the Spellfilcher mixed with elven Indiana Jones).
Elves are one of the core races of 3e. Like all the PHB races that weren't Human and Dwarf, Elves were really lame. They sacrificed constitution for dexterity, which is an awful deal for any class that doesn't like going splat (which is all of them). Their only other abilities were better-than-average visual acuity, proficiency with four weapons any class that should be using a weapon and isn't a Cleric (which they are poorly suited for) can use some/some of already, and immunity to magical sleep effects. In fact, they don't need to sleep at all, instead going into a meditative trance for four hours. Since everyone else needed to sleep and they could only regain spells after 8 hours of rest, even if they didn't need 8 hours of rest, the only use for this outside of all-elf groups was the elf was stuck with night watch duty. Also for some reason this was buried in their fluff (under "physical description", paragraph two. I checked), and never put in their stat block, so nobody actually remembers they have it. Since it wasn't in the stat block, it wasn't added to the SRD (though elves not sleeping remains in the description of the Dream and Nightmare spells), and therefore no OGL based system includes it either.
Unlike most of the PHB races, Elves didn't have to wait before they stopped being worthless. In the Monster Manual (still core) the subrace Gray Elf was briefly detailed. They get the normal elf traits, but +2 Intelligence and -2 Strength in addition to the standard elf traits. This gave them total adjustment of -2 str, +2 dex, -2 con, +2 int. These adjustments shoehorned them into one thing, Wizard, which they did moderately well but it was something they were useful for without leaving core, which is more than most PHB races could claim. Unfortunately, only NPC elves could benefit from this, since the races in the Monster Manual didn't get level adjustments to make them playable until 3.5e (or the FRCS, in the case of Duergar, Drow, and svirfneflbibbles).
Eventually, because Third Edition was shitting out books at an average rate of one every month, sometimes even releasing two or three in a single month, the elves came to have at least 20 different subraces, including 3 underwater variants, a flying variant, and albino half-drow. Surely at least one of them must have been good for something.
Compared to 3.5, all elves got a +2 to intelligence, a bonus to spellcraft and a bonus to checks against spell resistance. Since it wasn't in the SRD, elves lost their trance ability. This was a bit weird since when Golarion was a 3.5 based setting there were references to elves going into a trance. Once again elves were pretty much locked into wizard if they didn't want to be useless. Like all core races they got to trade some of their racial traits out, but this mostly amounts to swapping the bonus weapons and other secondary traits for more caster goodies.
Despite not being particularly strong race they are still the third most played race in Pathfinder (after human and half-elf). This is mostly an anomaly due to a very high number of elf wizards (22% of wizards were elves), plus a good number of Alchemists, Rogues and Arcanists (the only classes their bonuses are suited for).
A substantial change from 1e due to the built-in heritage and ancestry feat system. While the "core" is always the same (6 hit points, medium size, 30 foot base speed, Low-Light Vision, and boosts to their Dexterity, Intelligence, and one other attribute as well as a flaw to the Constitution), the rest can vary substantially. Cavern Elves grant Darkvision (but are 100% not Drow, those apparently never existed in Pathfinder, despite them showing up multiple times in books and adventures and having stats in 1e and even having a whole Adventure Path dedicated to them no less), Ancient Elves get a free multiclass dedication feat, Seer Elves get a free Detect Magic cantrip and bonuses to identifying magic items, and more.
Ancesty feats also are doled out fairly regularly, with one at level 1 then again at levels 5, 9, 13 and 17 allowing you to define your elfiness all the more. Maybe you focus on Elven history a lot so you take the Elven Lore feat, or later on you are so infused with magic you can manipulate teleport spells.
This isn't even touching on the versatile heritages and all that feats and quirks those bring with them either, or the new rule about how everyone can just take 2 ability score boosts (three with a flaw) if they don't like the ones their race give them. All in all, a solid race (ancestry is what 2e calls them) if you're into the pointy-eared bastards.
4th edition decided that the vast array of different elven subraces were, really, kind of silly. Plus, the basic divide between High Elf & Wood Elf was never really very clear - both races are simultaneously highly magical and highly enamored with nature, which itself doesn't make a lot of sense in D&D - there's a reason the wizard and the druid don't get along. So, they decided to twist things around.
Elves in 4e originate from the Feywild. Once, they were Eladrin clans who felt a deep affection for the nature, especially that present in the mortal world rather than their own faerie realm. Choosing to take Melora and the Primal Spirits as their patrons instead of Corellon and Sehanine, they gave up the cities and pursued a tribal existence, venturing deep into the uncharted regions of the mortal world. When Lolth promoted her civil war, a side-effect was that the ties between the Eladrin clans were broken, and much like the renegades who followed Lolth into the Underdark ultimately transformed into Drow, so did the mortal worlder eladrin mutate, losing some of their fey nature and becoming more tied to nature. Despite the fact that 4th edition elves all descend from extraplanar eladrin outsiders, which fits the very definition of planetouched, Wiztards of the Coast somehow entirely neglected to use the word planetouched when describing their elves-descended-from-extraplanar-outsiders.
Personality wise, elves are described as a simple and earthy people; eladrin may be reserved and scholarly, but an elf would rather tell jokes or go out and do some target shooting whilst sharing a drink with some buddies than sit around being gloomy all day. They're much darker-colored than their ancestors were - though more in the sense of brown/black hair and tanned skin than being full-on black-skinned - and lack the characteristic "one solid color" eyes that define an eladrin.
4e's elves favor martial, divine and primal classes over arcane ones; their initial ability score modifier was +2 Dexterity and +2 Wisdom, and it wasn't until later in the game that they got the ability to trade their Wisdom bonus for an Intelligence bonus. The Seeker was created as the iconic elf class, combining their cultural and mechanical predilictions for the Ranger and the Druid.
A 4e elf's statblock goes like this:
- +2 Dexterity, +2 Wisdom OR +2 Intelligence
- Speed: 7 squares
- Skill Bonuses: +2 Nature, +2 Perception
- Elven Weapon Proficiency: You are Proficient with the Longbow and the Shortbow.
- Fey Origin: You count as a Fey creature for effects that key off of origin.
- Group Awareness: Non-elf allies within 6 squares of you gain a +1 racial bonus to Perception checks.
- Wild Step: You ignore difficult terrain when you shift.
- Racial Power - Elven Accuracy: 1/encounter, you can reroll an attack roll, though you must use the second roll even if it is worse than the original.
It bears mentioning that elves attracted a lot of flak for Elven Accuracy, simply because it's a single attack re-roll once per encounter (with a +2 bonus to the re-roll if you've got the Elven Precision racial feat). This isn't really as powerful as it seems, because A: 1 re-roll per fight sequence isn't going to guarantee every attack hits, and B: most of the Leader classes can hand out attack re-rolls like freaking candy anyway. Most anons on /tg/ either hadn't read any of 4e's actual combat mechanics, couldn't get over the idea of elves not having a Strength penalty (never mind that races like Orcs, Bugbears and Goliaths still got Strength bonuses and so still had higher average bonus damage than elves did), or both.
Dragon Magazine #382 then introduced an elven subrace called the Dusk Elves, who are... different. These pale-colored elves (skin "like moonlight", fair hair, light blue or light violet eyes) are descendants from a 4th group of eladrin: during the great civil war between Corellon and Lolth, their ancestors just wanted to stay out of it entirely, refusing to take part in the fighting on either side. This attempt at neutrality backfired on them when both the Corellon-loyalists and the proto-Drow turned on them; if it weren't for Sehanine taking pity on them, they probably would have been exterminated. As such, they've been forced into exile in hidden cities and enclaves throughout the mortal world, protected by complex layers of illusion magic. Described as furtive, haunted and suspicious by nature, they are very emotionally withdrawn and extremely touchy about the topic of loyalty. Unlike other elves, dusk elves have no particular loyalty to the Prime Material; they view it as being a prison, at best a gilded cage, and culturally yearn to return to the Feywild once more.
As with most early subraces in 4th edition, Dusk Elves are represented by taking an elf and buying the appropriate "bloodline feats". The core bloodline feat is Dusk Elf Stealth, which grants a +1 racial bonus to Stealth to all allies within 6 squares who don't have this feat. It's... rather unimpressive, and the race rather relies on its other unique feats to stand out; Gathering Night lets you become invisible for a turn by taking a Total Defense action whilst concealed, Gloaming Ward grants you a turn of free concealment the first time you get bloodied, Sehanine's Boon means you gain extra HP from healing surges sent whilst concealed, and and Umbral Wind means you can use your second wind to gain concealment (or bump concealment to total concealment) for a turn instead of granting +2 all defenses for a turn. Oh, they also have Dusk Elf Weapon Training, which is free proficiency with light blades and a small damage boost with them.
Dusk Elves have a unique racial Paragon Path, called the Darkening Blade; a Dexterity-focused melee attacker who uses a combination of mobility, stealth, and swift but accurate strikes to prevail.
Similarly to the Eladrin, Elves also got a set of alternate racial traits in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting to portray the neglected wood and wild elves. Since the Eladrin were covering the High Elves, this enabled for elves to cover the more primal versions of the species. The unfortunate factor of this is that both variants replaced the racial power, where a good number of racial feats dedicated their existence to, though they did get some consolation prizes.
Wild Elf Variant Traits
- Replace Elven Accuracy with Subtle Step (1/encounter ability to shift at full speed)
- Replace Group Awareness with Wild Elf Weapon Proficiency (Javelin, Spear, Longspear)
Wood Elf Variant Traits
- Replace Elven Accuracy with Sense Threat (Use Perception for Initiative, allies within 10 squares of you gain +2 to Initiative rolls if they scored below you)
- Replace Group Awareness with Wood Elf Reactive Stealth (Can use Stealth to hide when rolling Initiative)
- Ability Score: +2 Dexterity
- Typical Alignment: Favor Chaotic Good (Lawful Evil if Drow)
- Size: Medium. Ranges from under 5 to over 6 feet tall, with slender builds. Nothing's stopping you from making a fat elf, of course.
- Speed: 30 foot base walking speed.
- Darkvision 60 feet
- Keen Senses: Proficiency in Perception.
- Fey Ancestry: Advantage on saves against being charmed, and immune to magic that puts you to sleep.
- Trance: Trancing for 4 hours yields the same effect as an 8 hour sleep.
- Languages: Common and Elvish.
And, of course, there are the subraces. The High Elves, with the Sun Elves being the asshole, extra arrogant bastards we all think of, and the Moon Elves, who are more common and friendly (note: they both fall under the umbrella of High Elf, with the same bonuses). Then, there's the tree-hugging Wood Elves, and the edgy Drow.
- Ability Score: +1 Intelligence
- Elf Weapon Training: Proficiency with Longsword, Shortsword, Shortbow, and Longbow.
- Cantrip: Free cantrip from the Wizard spell list. Uses Intelligence as it's Spellcasting Modifier.
- Extra Language: Free extra language.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
- Elf Weapon Training: see above
- Fleet of Foot: Base walking speed now becomes 35 feet.
- Mask of the Wild: You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by natural phenomena, such as foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, and mist.
- Ability Score: +1 Charisma
- Superior Darkvision (120 feet instead of 60)
- Sunlight Sensitivity: Disadvantage on attack rolls and Perception checks that rely on sight if you, your target, or whatever you're trying to perceive, is in direct sunlight.
- Drow Magic: Start with free Dancing Light cantrip, get free Faerie Fire at 3rd level, and free Darkness at 5th level. Both recharge on a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these.
- Drow Weapon Training: Proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.
Amazingly, if one doesn't count the Eladrin (who received a writeup in the Dungeon Master's Guide and then a tweak of that in Unearthed Arcana), it took until the November 2017 issue of Unearthed Arcana before the elves received some new subraces.
Avariel - Winged elves, and immediately a source of derision on /tg/ for getting absolutely nothing beyond their flight ability.
- Bonus Language: Auran (Elemental Air)
- Flight: Fly speed of 30 feet, but not available if wearing medium armor or heavy armor.
Grugach - Super-feral and territorial wood elves originally from Oerth... in many ways a prototype of the Wood Elves of Warhammer Fantasy. Also really made no sense as a subrace when the PHB specifically lists them as an example of a Wood Elf.
- +1 Strength
- Xenophobic: Your default language is Sylvan instead of Common.
- Grugach Weapon Training: Spear, Shortbow, Longbow, Net.
- Druidic Cantrip: You know 1 cantrip of your choice from the Druid spell list, which uses Wisdom as its spellcasting ability score.
Sea Elves - The long-anticipated(?) oceanic elves of classic D&D lore.
- +1 Constitution
- Bonus Language: Aquan (Elemental Water)
- Sea Elf Weapon Training: Spear, Trident, Light Crossbow, Net.
- Child of the Sea: You have a Swim speed of 30 feet and can breathe both air and water.
- Friend of the Sea: You can communicate with Small or smaller animals that possess an innate swimming speed.
Shadar-kai - These basically attempt to crudely mash-up their lore from the past two editions by using 4e's lore, but making them descendants of elves rather than humans.
- +1 Charisma
- Deathly Cantrip: You know a single cantrip chosen from a list of Chill Touch, Spare the Dying and Thaumaturgy. This cantrip can't be changed at a later date. Your spellcasting ability score for this cantrip is Charisma.
- Blessed By The Raven Queen: You can use a bonus action to teleport to an unoccupied space within 15 feet. After teleporting, you gain resistance to all damage until the end of your next turn, during which time you appear translucent and ghostly. After using this ability, you must complete a short rest or a long rest to use it again.
Mark of Shadows
- +1 Charisma
- Cunning Intuition. When you make a Charisma (Performance) or Dexterity (Stealth) check, you can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to the ability check.
- Shape Shadows. You know the minor illusion cantrip. Starting at 3rd level, you can cast the invisibility spell once with this trait, and you regain the ability to cast it when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
- Spells of the Mark. If you have the Spellcasting or the Pact Magic class feature, the spells on the Mark of Shadow Spells table are added to the spell list of your spellcasting class.
Mark of Shadows Spells
1st: disguise self, silent image
2nd: darkness, pass without trace
3rd: clairvoyance, major image
4th: greater invisibility, hallucinatory terrain
Hovering between offical and unoffical is the Pallid Elf of Exandria, from the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount. They're a newly emerged subrace and are essentially Lightforged Drow, and thusly considered pretty overpowered.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
- Incisive: You have advantage on Investigation and Insight checks.
- Blessing of the Moon Weaver: You can cast the Light cantrip. At 3rd level, you can cast Sleep 1/day. At 5th level, you can cast Invisibility (Self) 1/day. As with all racial SLAs, you don't need components when using these trait-granted spells. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability score for all three.
Whereas in the lore the Elven Imperial Fleet of Spelljammer had been a united faction of elves largely made up of High Elves and Gray Elves, 5e decided they needed to be their own unique elf race. Enter the Astral Elf, descendants of elves who migrated to the Astral Plane and promptly mutated there, gaining a distinct "starry gleam" in their eyes. Mechanically, they're like a weird mix of the original, 4e-faithful Eladrin from the DMG and the Gith.
- Astral Fire: You possess either Dancing Lights, Light or Sacred Flame as a racial cantrip. Choose at character creation if it keys off of Int, Wis or Cha.
- Darkvision 60 feet
- Fey Ancestry: You have Advantage on saves to avoid or end the Charmed condition.
- Keen Senses: You have Proficiency in Perception.
- Starlight Step: You can teleport 30 feet as a bonus action. You can do this (Proficiency Bonus) times per long rest.
- Astral Trance: You are immune to magical sleep, and can complete a long rest in 4 hours by spending it in a meditative, still-aware state called a "Trance". If you complete a trance, you can give yourself proficiency in one skill and in one weapon or tool of your choice, with these bonus proficiencies lasting until you next take a long rest.
3rd Party Settings
The Elves of the world of Arkadia are at once recognizable and unique, consisting of analogues to the standard High Elf/Wood Elf/Dark Elf trinity, but cast through their own set of unique history and racial mechanics. During the Age of Gods, Arkadian Elves ruled the world, but the passage of time and unique catastrophes have plunged most of them into decay, leaving a world littered with ancient elven ruins and the remnants of three elven races struggling to figure out what to do with themselves in this world where humanity now claims to be the dominant race, however tentatively.
The rarest of the elves in terms of total numbers are the Scyllaean Elves, Arkadia's equivalent to High Elves. These once ruled from the island-nation of Scyllaea, Arkadia's equivalent to Atlantis... until, like Atlantis, it was dragged beneath the waves by a powerful Titan of the Oceans. The race was the master of arcane magic, and to this day they are still its greatest practitioners; it is said that it was the survivors of Scyllaea that passed on the secrets of the arcane to humanity. Scyllaean elves have fair skin, with eyes of blue and grey and green, as the sea. They have striking hair of black or gold, and typically wear it loose or in elaborate coiled braids. Most Scyllaean elves dwell in Ithea, the closest city to the shattered islands of their lost home, where they are highly valued for their innate skill in magic and love of the sea. Others live as hermits along Arkadia’s bluegreen shores or the broken island ruins of their lost kingdom, hearing in the waves the muffled whispers of their ancestors, never far from the sea.Wherever they stray, they are marked by tragedy, beauty, and mystery. The most famed among them is the Oracle, an ancient and powerful seer, sequestered in the high reaches of Mount Hyperium.
In contrast, Arkadia's Wild Elves, the Oreyan Elves, are thriving in terms of numbers. Unlike their Scyllaean and Nyssian counterparts, they have never been city-builders, but instead have always chosen to pursue a nature-based existence as amazonian warriors and huntresses. Like the dryads, many are fearful and curious of the world of men. Others walk freely among humans, their hatred of the titans making them natural allies to those who would protect Arkadia. Oreyan elves have tanned tawny or bronze skin with dark hair and eyes.Most wear their hair long and wild or bound in a thick plait, though some crop it short. Oreyan elves dwell primarily in Oreya’s Wood, a sacred forest stretching from Crixos to Ithea. Beset by the spreading blight from the south, many have been driven from their ancestral home. Others can be found throughout the wild places of Arkadia, ranging the mountains of Garagos in pursuit of orc marauders or guiding a band of Krytan hoplites through dry manticore-infested hills.
Finally, the Nyssian Elves are Arkadia's Dark Elves, with a distinctly Egyptian cast. As their name suggests, they hail from the desert land of Nys, far across the sea from Arkadia, where crumbling stone pyramids mark the entrance to an underground of tunnels and crypts and buried cities, a labyrinth reputedly dug by the slain Titan known only as "The Great Worm". Their undying priests tend to its whispering husk, preparing for its prophesied return. Their highest caste are the pharaohs, liches beholden to the dead Worm, their hearts sealed in canopic jars in pursuit of the true immortality that is the dark promise of their master. Nyssian elves, or drow, have dark skin that ranges from obsidian black to onyx grey. Their hair is white, though it is common for Nyssians to shave their hair or dye it with henna. Their eyes range from blood red to canid shades of orange and gold. Whilst their culture is thriving, Nyssian elves are rarely seen in Arkadia; in their esoteric culture, to leave their vast and sprawling underworld of buried ruins, stone tombs, and ancient tunnels is anathema. Once on the surface, touched by the sun, a drow’s caste is broken, and they can never return to the life they knew. These damned souls wander the blasted sands, and some lucky few are rescued by tomb-raiders from Crixos, which welcomes their skills in the arts of necromancy, however begrudgingly, since the drow are the greatest allies they have found in their struggle against the undead plague.
Arkadian Elves use the D&D 5e Elf core racial statblock (albeit renaming "Fey Ancestry" to "Immortal Ancestry"), but have unique subraces.
- Ability Score Increase: Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
- Huntress’ Accuracy: Whenever you make a ranged attack roll and roll a 1 you can reroll the die, but you must use the new roll even if it is another 1.
- Elven Weapon Aptitude: You have proficiency with the javelin, spear, war spear, simple bow, and recurve bow.
- Amazonian Stride: Your base walking speed is increased by 5 feet.
- Ability Score Increase: Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
- Gift of Prophecy: When you trance during a long rest you are sometimes visited by prophetic dreams whose omens and portents may give you insight into the future.When you finish a long rest, roll 1d20. On a roll of 20 you can ask a single question concerning a specific goal, event, or activity to occur within 7 days. The GM offers a truthful reply. The reply might be a vision, a cryptic rhyme, or an omen.
- Thessa’s Trident: You learn the magic missile spell and can cast it once without expending a spell slot. You regain the ability to cast it in this way when you finish a long rest. At 3rd and 5th level the number of times you can cast the spell in this way without expending a spell slot is increased by one. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
- Lost Knowledge: You are proficient in the History and Arcana skills.
- Ability Score Increase: Your Charisma score increases by 1.
- Darksight: While in bright light, you have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight. While in nonmagical darkness, you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
- Whispers of the Worm: You learn the Command spell and can cast it at will, without expending a spell slot, but you may only target Undead creatures when it is cast in this way.
- Curse of Nys: You are immune to disease.
- World of Farland
The World of Farland is home to several unique elf subraces. The Player's Guide contains the Galan, or Glimmer Elves, who are also found in the "War of the Immortals" historical expansion set, and the Ranarim, or Sundered Elves. War of the Immortals is also home to the now-extinct Tellarim, or Frontier Elves. All have their own unique subrace mechanics.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom OR +1 Charisma
- Elf Weapon Training: Proficiency with Longsword, Longbow, Shortsword and Shortbow.
- Touched by the Swan: You have Advantage on Wisdom and Charisma saving throws.
- Let The Power Shine Forth: Once per short rest, you can draw upon your holy ancestry to gain Advantage on a single Wisdom check or Charisma check of your choice.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
- Elf Weapon Training: Proficiency with Longsword, Longbow, Shortsword and Shortbow.
- Fade Away: Once per short rest, you can use your Reaction to being targeted by an attack to become invisible until either the end of your next turn or you take any action that would end an Invisibility spell.
- Forest Stealth: You have Proficiency in Stealth and apply double your Proficiency Bonus to Stealth checks made in forests and woodlands.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
- Frontier Elf Weapon Training: Proficiency with Longsword, Longbow, Shortsword and Shortbow. You also gain a bonus weapon proficiency based on your settlement of origin; frontier elves from Emerain gain the Lance and those from Palahan are proficient with Net and Trident.
- Tough: You ignore the first level of Exhaustion you incur in a 24 hour period.
- Talent of the City: A frontier elf from Emerain starts play with a riding horse and has Advantage on Wisdom (Handle Animal) checks made with horses. A frontier elf from Palahan has Proficiency with Navigator's Tools and Water Vehicles, is proficient in swimming, and gains advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks related to swimming.
- Scarred Lands
Elves of the Scarred Lands are divided to three different subraces: the Drendali who are the drow-equivalent elves of the setting, the Ganjus are wood elves and the most common elves in Ghelspad, and the Forsaken elves who are high elves cursed by the Titan they managed to kill. All of the elves replace the standard Darkvision with Tattoo Mystic, proficiency with tattooist's supplies and the ability to use one magic tattoo one more time without completing a short or long rest.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Charisma
- Darkivision 60 feet
- Drendali Combat Training: Proficiency with the light crossbow, rapier, shortbow, and shortsword.
- Drendali Magic: You know the Mage Hand and Minor Illusion cantrips.
- Languages: Drendali and one other language.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Intelligence
- Darkvision 30 feet
- Elf Weapon Training: Proficiency with longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
- Chern's Curse: Advantage on saving throws against disease, but you're almost certainly infertile, and any child that's conceivied and survives the pregnancy is born with a birth defect.
- Languages: Elduran and two other languages
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
- Darkvision 30 feet
- Ganjus Combat Training: Proficiency with longbow, quarterstaff, shortbow, and spear.
- Natural Stealth: Proficiency in Stealth, and you can hide even when only lightly obsucured by foliage and natural phenomena.
- Language: Elvish and one other language.
Midgard elves are largely divided into two groups; River Elves, which fill the High Elf niche and use that subrace's statblock, and Shadow Fey, the setting's Drow analogue. Both are found in the Midgard Heroes Handbook. Then Tome of Heroes added two new subraces; Dunewalker Elves are desert-dwelling nomads who get +1 Wisdom and the racial traits Desert Dweller (free Proficiency in Survival, ignore high temperature penalties, don't need extra water in high temperatures), Dunewalker Elf Training (proficiency with longbow, scimitar, shortbow and spear), Sand Spirit (ignore difficult terrain based on desert environments, such as high sand), and Desert Mirage (once per short rest, when outdoors in a sunny area with an ambient temperature above freezing, you can create a mirage that surrounds you and Proficiency Bonus or fewer allies within 10 feet for one minute; creatures shrouded by the mirage are Lightly Obscured and can Hide behind it, so long as any observer is at least 30 feet away). Frostfell Elves are basically the Snow Elves of Midgard; rugged tribals who survive in high mountains and arctic regions. They get +1 Constitution and the racial traits Elf Weapon Training (Proficiency with longsword, shortsword, longbow, shortbow), Cold DWeller (Resistance: Cold), Snow Step (ignore Difficult Terrain based on ice or snow), and Ice Crafting (once per short rest, by touching water, ice or snow, you can shape it into an icy replica of any nonmagical object without moving parts that weighs 10 pounds or less - it's still made of ice, so it will melt depending on the temperature).
Two more elf subraces would be introduced in the splatbook "Book of Ebon Tides", which are closer to the Shadow Fey side of the family tree. Lunar Elves are a mutant strain of Shadow Fey who are always born under the light of the full moons, and who literally glow from within - this bioluminescence, combined with their luminous silver eyes and tendency to long, spiraled, pearlescent horns, is the only thing that visually distinguishes them from their pale-skinned Shadow Fey cousins. They often take up roles that keep them away from the hearts of shadow fey power.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
- Luminous: You emit a 30ft radius of light - bright light in the 15 feet closest to you, dim light beyond that; you can extinguish this light, reduce it to 15ft dim light, or restore it to normal as a free action. If your light enters an area of darkness created by a spell level equal to or lower than your proficiency bonus, you dispel the darkness.
- Moon Child: When in darkness, dim light, or a shadow large enough to cover your body, you can cast Moonbeam (Wisdom as SAS). This can be done (Wisdom Modifier) times per day.
- Shadow Fey Weapon Training: You have Proficiency with Rapier, Shortsword, Shortbow, and Longbow.
- Sunlight Sensitivity
Sable Elves, in contrast, represent a dying breed; whereas river elves chose to stand and fight and shadow fey to pact with the darkness when the elves fell into decline, sable elves just tried to run from their fate. As a result, both river elves and shadow fey look down on them, and sable elves are dwindling; only a single redoubt, and handfuls of wandering nomads, remain in the present. Sable elves are tall, willowy elves with silver skin, dark eyes and red or raven-black hair. Most carry an irrepressible aura of world-weariness. Luckily, they retain some of the lat vestiges of the now-lost elven high magics from when elves ruled over Midgard, which makes them natural survivors.
- Ability Score Modifiers: Your racial ASMs are +2 Intelligence and +1 Dexterity, instead of +2 Dexterity/+1 from subrace.
- Blood Affinity: Choose a single school of magic at character creation (Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation). You gain a cantrip of your choice, as well as a 1st level spell of your choice at 3rd level and a 2nd level spell of your choice at 5th level. All of these SLAs must be drawn from the school you chose, and the 1st level and 2nd level spells can be used 1/day.
Magic: The Gatherering
Magic: The Gathering has had Elf as a creature type since forever and as green's "characteristic creature" show up in almost every standard set, a contrast with dwarves, who show up only in a handful of sets. Though they can do anything green, they are best known for their manadork creatures.
Elves of Dominaria tend to be stereotypical forest dwelling wood elves of post-Tolkien fantasy. The elves of Lorwyn more closely resemble the Children of the Forest from A Song of Ice and Fire, with satyr-like horns and other clearly abhuman features. On the planes of Kaladesh and Fiora, elves are cosmopolitan, resembling humans in dress and behavior.
NOTE: As mentioned above, elves have drawn their fair share of hatred. The sections below are a factual but tongue-in-cheek discussion about the aspects of elves. Due to various reasons including overuse, being arrogant, and the males being effeminate and gayer than thou and the elf who talks about gender insecurities as elves are prone to do, there is A LOT of scorn towards elves among communities such as /tg/ and here. Read on, learn more and draw your own conclusions.
The origins and nature of elves lie in Germanic mythology and folklore. Reconstructing the early concept of an elf depends almost entirely on texts in Old English or relating to Norse mythology, which altogether is a clusterfuck of alternate versions and retcons. The facts about elves in these legends often changed, though the general idea was a group of beings with magical powers and supernatural beauty, ambivalent towards everyday people and capable of either helping or hindering them. They have been everything from lesser gods to harmful fey beings almost as bad as demons. These varied portrayals and possible pagan origins led to further demonization of elves when Christianity spread to those parts of the world (though even in the earliest non-Christian mythologies about elves, they are portrayed as unpredictable, mysterious and potentially dangerous). Most elves in modern fiction are derived from their usually benevolent, fey or near-angelic portrayal in Tolkien's works. (Ironically, considering it was some early Christians who demonized elves, Tolkien himself was a Christian and a devout Catholic in Britain no less.)
For the average elegan/tg/entleman, elves are magical, pointy-eared, forest-dwelling hippies; the antithesis to the industrious, manly dwarven race (though ironically in the original Germanic mythology all Dwarfs are a subset of elf, meaning that all Dwarfs are elves but not all elves were Dwarfs). Though related, they are not in fact Eldar due primarily that one is found in space with guns that shoot shuriken, and the other live in forests and have bows that loose arrows... unless you're playing something crazy like Spelljammer. Elves are the chosen race of many hipster Mary Sues in the fantasy setting thanks to their pointed ears, slender builds and ever-perky breasts. In all actuality, that could be why they're always scantily-clad and the fantasy of neckbeards everywhere. An overdone joke (based on said appearance and fantasies) is that "all elves are female unless proven otherwise" or that "an elf's gender is elf".
Please note that this article probably wouldn't concern Dark Eldar and some forms of dark elf, who are usually many times more metal than their fruity non-dark cousins, allowing them some form of toleration or even acceptance by some smar/tg/entlemen. They are also much more likely to show some skin and/or put out, which helps.
Myths And Evolution
To sum up the history: "Everyone in the northern Old World kinda maybe sorta had the same creature, but evolved their own variations on it, then kept swapping ideas and offshooting other mythological creatures until we wound up with toymakers, fairies, bearded drunks, and perfect assholes who shoot arrows".
For the long version: Elves are one of the oldest western European myths, having roots in Germanic folklore (meaning "pretty much all of the northern half of Europe") which extends into the pre-Christian era, and at the earliest points of the written record there was already some fairly distinct differences in everyone's version. Thus its almost impossible to pinpoint an origin or original variation due to most Europeans not being big into writing shit down before the Romans, most of them having incomplete languages so they pretty much abandoned whatever they had before being introduced to the Greek alphabet, and the few that could write down their folklore rarely wrote shit down on anything lasted being buried for a few centuries in some forgotten bog aside from the rare grave marker or weapon inscription. While the name is synonymous with Germanic/Scandanavian folklore, the archetype is quite common under different names, such as nymphs, faeries, and other creatures that tend to get lumped together under the name "fair folk". Of note, unlike most modern incarnations, they weren't called this JUST because they were pretty, but because you should call them nice things lest they fuck your shit up with dickery. Generally speaking, if it's a magical human-like being from folklore of a country touching the Baltic Sea (as opposed to a talking animal or somewhere like the Mediterranean or whatever), it probably goes back to Elves.
Of some note: It's widely speculated that the idea of the Elf is a combination of two real world phenomena: People finding stone arrowheads from the stone age, which would inspire the question "why would you use stone if you had access to even low-quality metal?" (RL answer: "Because at the time, any metal was too valuable to use on something you could lose easily, and was too hard to work with") and distorted memories of other tribes and hominids, similar to what happened to turn a Rhino into the Unicorn--in particular, Neanderthals were historically claimed to be the inspiration behind elves by some naive folklorists.
The basic evolution of the idea as far as we are aware goes like this:
- Roman: Some historians connect the origins of Elf myths to the Romans, who had myths about the spiritual explanation for misfortune and guerilla warfare they dealt with in the far northwestern reaches of Europe (kind of like World War 2 "gremlins" being blamed for malfunctions in aircraft among superstitious pilots). Some further connect it to a tactic possibly used by the Celts against the Romans, dressing children and small adults in mud and leaf camouflage and using them to sneak into Roman camps to steal supplies and weapons to use against them.
- Scandinavia: In Norse mythology, the nature of Elves changed wildly based on the author's use of them, and the gradual evolution of the viking myths as they became more and more influenced by the groups they raided certainly doesn't help. We basically know all of the small details and none of the big ones, and the things they can be but not the things that they cannot be. In most texts, they are similar to how the Greeks used the word Daemon, a reference to most kinds of non-god spiritual beings that tells you very little about what said being is or does other than it not being human. In some texts, Elves includes the Vanir gods and not humans, or humans and not gods, made even more complicated by the fact some Vanir (nature gods) are also Aesir (human-centric) gods. One text divides them into svartálfar (Black Elves), dökkálfar (Dark Elves), and ljósálfar (Light Elves). The lord of the land of the Elves is the god Freyr, one of the most popular Norse gods and the twin brother of Odin’s wife Freya (which throws some water on Odin and Thor as a Humanity Fuck Yeah gods, with Thor’s uncle being one of his close friends). Some humans are reincarnated as Elves when they die, some Elves are demigods who are worshiped as someone more likely to answer your prayers than the gods themselves (this actually persisted even after vikings largely converted to Christianity; imagine praying to Legolas because Jesus is too busy for your shit). Elves are sometimes a type of Dwarf, or Dwarves are a type of Elves. There are references to paying tribute to Elves, the sun being an Elven creation, Elves wander the countryside and can be seen in mornings, and Elf men lust after human women while human men lust after Elf women and the descendants of such unions are often heroes. Unfortunately Elves aren't actually the focus of any surviving stories, and as a result, there are only minor references to them that we no longer have much context for. The only thing that's really concrete about viking Elves is they're pretty, all have magic, and are great to have on your side.
- Germany: German myths use Elves as tricksters who are a blight on humanity, causing mischief and disease like a type of fairy rat. Elves also behave like several Greek countryside feyfolk by seducing or raping human men and women. Dwarves are distinct from Elves, but Dwarves can behave like them and use Elf magic against humans. According to the viking writings about German folklore, Dwarves and Elves are basically the same thing and are powerful magical beings that play major parts in heroic stories; in particular the character Alfrikr/Alberich is a Dwarf who's name translates to a connection to Elves (there's interpretation on the meaning shared between the translation of his Old Norse and German names; he could be "power of Elves" or "Elf power", meaning he could be their king or a magician trained in their magic) who appears in a number of heroic poems (we'll discuss him more below). That being said, the vast majority of German Elf myth keeps them as humanoid evil magical beings in league with Satan, being described the same way that the Greek Satyr was albeit with the ultimate evil as their leader. They have are the servants and lovers of witches, they are among the beings you can blame for everything from milk turning sour to mental/physical illness to bestiality (maybe all three at once if they're doing it right!). Dwarvish-Elves had a lot better reputation in Germany before the works of Richard Wagner, who made them both very Jewish and very evil (there’s a reason the Nazis loved him so much). Although love of Wagner’s orchestrations persists, the cultural perception of the stories he adapted have shifted back towards the earlier versions with the Dwarf-Elf as a sidekick rather than instigating antagonist.
- Britain/Ireland/Scotland: Elves in British folklore are fairly synonymous with fairy myths. Elves are often trickster spirits like in Germany, and breed with humans like in the Norse accounts, but British Elves are gone into in depth as having their own kingdoms and politics, using humans as wet-nurses for Elf royalty and Elf nobility forcibly abducting/raping/marrying human maidens. Thus British Elves are less trickster spirits or types of lesser divine beings and more another race of mortals living in the realm of fairies and playing by fairy rules. Scottish and Irish folklore both kept Elves in the trickster fey position. The Brits took the ljósálfar/dökkálfar distinction one step further by creating the Seelie and Unseelie courts; elves of the Seelie Court were “generally” nicer, as in they'd reward you if you did them a favor and would warn you if you accidentally offended them (assuming your stupidity, pride, or short-sightedness doesn’t turn the reward into an accidental punishment), and would play mostly harmless, lighthearted pranks.
Sort of like that one knife eared...No, not really... Elves of the Unseelie court were usually assholes that would visit harm on travelers and would hurt you just because they felt like it. Sort of like these knife eared little shits. The Scottish also had the Sidhe, which both refers to various magical beings as well as being the word for the places that the Aos Sí feyfolk live. Sidhe/Aos Sí myths influenced the British heavily in regards to Elves/fairies, which they spread back to the French and Germans.
- Slavs: Pan-slavic mythology is a bit problematic due to two major reasons - one is the fact that the Slavs were/are a diverse group of ethnicities and cultures that were/are connected broadly by only some cultural elements and language, thus one can't exactly pinpoint a "slavic elf" and because many myths and beliefs were shared with the germanic tribes. The second reason it's relatively difficult to distinguish the slavic elves is because their mythology generally folded them with other mythological beings - a good (and closest clear equivalent) would be "Vila" - which had the characteristics of fairies (but without the diminutive size), nymphs and elfettes whilst also having a penchant for living in sky-castles and fighting alongside human heroes (Slavs know where it's at - magical fairy-elf warrior monster girls ftw!). Additionally, many beings that could be designated an elf were also tutelary deities, muddling the issue even further. However, the male of the species - "vilenjak" could be understood as basically an elf (and is usually translated as such when dealing with english). It is interesting to note that among the slavs, the more north one goes, the more various elven and fay beings become weird and outright malicious, while the southern slavs seem to sway towards the image of the elves and fairies that became the fantasy standard today.
In most myths Elves were seen as pagan, repelled by Christianity (like Vampires). The sign of the Pentagram was considered the "Elf Cross" and could be used as a symbol on jewelry or decoration to ward away the ill-intentions of Elves (in theory that would mean Elves not wanting humans to bother them would use the sign of the Christian cross).
During the Renaissance period and the Enlightenment, Elves were used to add a sense of wonder to stories such as in William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night Dream, or a touch of eroticism such as in the popular ballad Elveskud where a female Elf seduces a young man to be her husband (in most variations he resists her and she murders him with pestilence, likely to keep it PG-13). Just like how in the modern day you can circumvent rules regarding violence on television by using non-humans and blood colors other than red, you could get away with a lot of shit that uptight religious folks would (literally) burn you at the stake for by just substituting a human for a pointy-eared human. It should be noted that, as far as we know (it can be argued of course), the trope of Elves having pointy ears comes from Midsummer Night Dream through the Fey spirit named Puck, who later would be known as Robin Goodfellow in Shakespeare's Grim the Collier of Croydon and would appear in other pieces of English literature from other authors. Puck is a servant to the fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania, and is generally portrayed like a Satyr (which are usually portrayed with pointy ears like a goat). As fairies and Elves became staples of English art and folklore, Puck's pointy ears showed up more and more and in further and further cultures. Interestingly, its possible that Shakespeare derived the fairy king and Puck's master Oberon from the French Auberon, himself derived from the aforementioned German Alberich, and Shakespeare's Puck retroactively influenced the German change of Dwarfs from bit parts in the stories of great heroes to rapist goatmen that want you to shag a regular goat. Which is a pretty good summary of how Elf myth evolved and cross-pollinated. Of course it gets more complicated too, since Alberich is also likely the inspiration for the character Elegast, a Dutch character who is the king of the Elves and a friend of Charlemagne's (yes, THAT Charlemagne) who after proving his loyalty marries ol'Charly's sister, a story which may have influenced both later variations of Arthurian myth as well as Robin Hood. Alberich could change his appearance but was generally depicted either as an attractive bearded warrior or as a small child, his preferred guise for mischief which Puck/Robin inherited. On the other hand, Richard Wagner's operas used Alberich as a recurring character, influenced by the evil that Germans had come to associate with Elves and appears as a gross old hermit that is absolutely cram-packed full of all the anti-Semitic content Wagner could pack into one character before it spilled over into others and served as the catalyst for much of the misfortune in any of the stories he's in, giving a huge boost to pop-culture Dwarves being gold-obsessed dirty old men.
A kind of war of words was waged around this time between authors from various European countries for ownership of the concept of Elves by famous figures such as Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm) and Hans Christian Anderson, each of whom carried Elves further away from sexual human-like beings and further towards what we know today as fairies (as in the thing your daughter might run around the house in plastic butterfly wings pretending to be, not the cruel, thieving, kiddie-raping variety that was known to pagan holdovers in earlier European myth).
By the 1700s, elves appeared in song and literature to add a sense of beauty to descriptions of the wilderness, an idyllic version of the countryside full of magic and mystery. This continued into the Victorian era, where small diminutive humanoids were added to pictures of toadstools or tree branches, helped further by the widespread appeal of fairy tales and the reprinting of the works of the aforementioned great authors into children's storybooks with thousands of illustrations by different artists. Some folks, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the guy who wrote Sherlock Holmes) actually believed these to be real, to the point that "believes in elves/fairies" was the 1800s version of "believes aliens are living on Earth" and was just as common. Martin Luther himself (as in the one who kicked off the whole Protestant revolt/Reformation thing) believed in them too, but a much more grimdark variety, that is, creatures of the devil, in whom he had a quite vigorous belief, once lobbing an inkwell at the old chap's head, the resulting stain still being shown to tourists in Wartburg.
The return of the man-sized elves came with the 1823 American poem Twas the Night before Christmas, describing Santa Claus as being "a right jolly old elf"; this kicked off an artistic evolution, a key figure of which was cartoonist Thomas Nast, who created the visual and folklore for Santa Claus as an Nordic-esque elf who is identical to a human, helped by child-sized elves of the Danish "shoemaker elf" variety (they are called "nisser" in Danish).
The first modern Elf story that defined the fantasy trope that any fa/tg/uy worth their salt would know is actually not JRR Tolkien's. It was The King of Elfland's Daughter, written by Edward Plunkett, better known by his title Lord Dunsany, in 1924. It showcases the full return of the classic Nordic Elves. In it, a human king is given an order by his subjects that they want their next ruler to be magical. The king sends the prince to marry an Elf woman, and he enters the mystical realm of the Elves where he wins the heart of the Elf princess. She returns with him to rule the humans as queen, but is unhappy and longs for her family and returns. The prince sets out to return to her side but would die trying to find the entrance in vain, so his bride begged her father to enable them to be together. The Elf king uses his magic to draw the entire human kingdom into the Elf lands, uniting the two races in one dynasty over one kingdom. They all lived happily ever after.
This story didn't really influence anything that /tg/ know of directly, since nobody gets whacked with swords in it; but its worth mentioning that Plunkett beat Tolkien to the punch.
Tolkien grew up fascinated by mythology, but thanks to most of the pre-Christian pre-Roman British culture being lost he always felt disappointed that his own people would never have the amazing mythology of the Norse or the Egyptians. As a result, he spent much of his youth creating his own, which became a lifetime project. Tolkien's non-fiction scholarly pursuits in the study of language and translation of various classical texts from early European history helped him greatly in his endeavors, allowing him to essentially reverse-engineer a semi-plausible fictional mythology. Tolkien himself was a very devout Catholic, and as a result his work shied away from being heavily pagan, taking a note instead from how the Norse mythology gradually changed (Odin becoming less warlike and wiser, Loki changing from clever trickster to villain, Baldur transitioning from unimportant victim in a story about arrogance to being a literal resurrected nice guy everyone loves after the end of the world). Tolkien's fiction borrows heavily from many feyfolk in European folklore which, as previously mentioned, basically can all be fairly called elves. The actual word "elves" was reserved for his favorite beings in the setting.
A recurring theme in his work is the importance of music and passing on stories (because many of the pieces of ancient history we have today were exactly that, stories told by a storyteller or a song sung in celebration or remembrance, thus the appearance every dozen pages or so of verse which varies, shall we say, a great deal in quality.) Tolkien entrusted his many, many, many, many, many, many, many semi-organized (putting it politely) volumes of notes from a lifetime of work - including enough for many stories - to his own son Christopher, along with the control of the canon. Christopher Tolkien has spent most of HIS life trying to decode his father's intent, decipher scribbled notes, and try to figure out which of a hundred versions of one text is the final copy; to this end he published several volumes of collected stories, the last being Tolkien's most important work Beren & Luthien (which was already released in a very abridged form in The Silmarillion.)
In the Tolkien setting, there is (Tom Bombadil, as well as) one omnipotent god called Eru Ilúvatar who used aspects of his own personality to create lesser beings, mistakenly worshiped as gods by mortals, called Ainur. After creating the Ainur he conducted them to sing, the first sound that ever existed. One of the Ainur named Melkor refused to participate in Eru's melody and began singing his own tune, confusing others into harmonies and dissonances between the two conductions, although the vastly more clever Eru trolled Melkor; the second piece became a single greater song no matter how hard Melkor fought to create an independent one. That song not only created everything that ever was or ever will be, but its echo is literally destiny and the great plan of Eru for all his creations and their creations and so on. Eru gave the Ainur their own free will at this time and gave them the knowledge they needed to understand his plan (but not all of it, for nothing is omniscient other than himself.) He then fucked off to watch his plans unfold (which is basically all he does for the rest of time as far as anyone knows), while the Ainur sorted themselves into Valar (the strongest, and the rulers) and Maiar (the weaker ones which serve the Valar.) The Valar set themselves to finishing the world according to Eru's still-echoing song - with the exception of Melkor, who followed his own by fucking up the works of the others and creating volcanoes and dark deep places, not knowing that Eru had planned for that shit during the singing of the great song.
While the Ainur helped to create much of the world during the Music of the Ainur, Ilúvatar alone created two special races using the secret fire; the firstborn were the Elves, who awoke before the creation of the Sun. The first to awaken were three married couples: Imin and Iminyë, Tata and Tatië, and Enel and Enelyë. As they traveled from the eastern region where they awoke towards the west, they found six other married couples of Elves, which Imin and wife claimed as their subjects; then nine couples which were claimed by Tata and wife; and finally twelve wives were claimed by Enel and wife. The sixty total Elves followed the rivers on their journey to the west (not that one) and focused on poetry and music as they went, despite not yet having developed a language. They discovered eighteen more stargazing couples, whom Tata claimed, and another twenty-four singing pairs who joined Enel's group. At the end of Elf Genesis, there was a grand total of 144 Elves (so much less incest). Elf numerology as a result is based on two, three, six, twelve, and 144. Here, the Elves created the first spoken language and named themselves Quendi.
Melkor first discovered the Elves and sent minions to harass them, which took the form of great horsemen resembling the Valar Oromë. This was done so that when the real Oromë discovered them, some Elves hid or fled. These Elves were later collected by Melkor, and seeing the terrible influence he had on Elves, the Valar finally waged war in order to basically put the fucker in time-out. The Elves who didn't flee from Oromë sent three ambassadors to visit the Valar, and returned with tales of a literal Garden Of Eden that all Elves were invited to. Most Elves did leave, with the exception of the Avari who refused to leave Middle Earth; this came to be called the Sundering Of The Elves. During the Great Journey the Elves passed by Melkor's dark lands and grew afraid, returning to live with the Avari.
The Elves who reached the western coast of Middle Earth were guided by Ulmo to the kingdom of Valinor, on a small continent called Aman where the Valar dwell while on the planet and not in Eru's realms. The last group to arrive was the Teleri, who were so curious about the wonders of the mortal world as they traveled that they stopped constantly.
Of the Elves that reached Aman, there were three groups ruled by the ambassadors who had been sent there by the Elves before the Sundering began: the Vanyar ruled by Ingwë, the Ñoldor ruled by Finwë, and the Teleri ruled by the brother of their ambassador named Olwë (because the real ambassador Elwë remained in Middle Earth among the Falathrim).
The "family" tree of elven ancestry so far is as follows:
- The Teleri are the ancestors of the Sindar, Falathrim, and Nandor/Laiquendi. They love the sea, and even during the Sundering many decided to island-hop and explore the watery parts of the world with the Maiar Ossë.
- Sindar are the Teleri who never reached Aman, but were given knowledge of the wonders of Aman by their king Elwë, who had been one of the elf ambassadors to Aman. Additionally, they were educated by Mélian the Maia, wife of Elwë, and thus received a partial measure of the gifts of Valinor. Elwë Singollo, or Elu Thingol in the Sindarin tongue, styled himself King of Beleriand, and all Telerin Elves acknowledged him as such. Thingol's realm of Doriath was the core of Sindarin power in the First Age, and something all future Sindarin lords such as Celeborn, Elrond, or Thranduil would seek to emulate in their own realms. They are called Grey Elves as they were more enlightened than their Avari cousins but still hadn’t received the full benefit of Aman’s blessings (or, more boringly, because of the name 'Thingol' (grey-cloak), or because the first Sindar the Ñoldor met were the tribe of Mithrim, or literally 'Grey-elves.' Did we mention Tolkien was a linguist?). They formed one of the more powerful elf kingdoms until it was destroyed, where the surviving Sindar decided to rule over the lesser Nandor, depart west to the Grey Havens, or linger in remaining Elven holdings such as Rivendell. Sindarin is the dominant elvish language used in Middle Earth.
- The Nandor are Telerin Elves who chose to remain when the rest of their kindred passed west of the Misty Mountains. They drop out of history until a group of them pass into Beleriand, led by an Elf king named Denethor (one of several characters of that name) when he heard Elves nearby had established a kingdom named Doriath. The Nandor settled the area of Ossiriand (later the Elven realm of Lindon, the only part of Beleriand left after the War of Wrath) until Denethor was later killed by Orcs, whereupon the Nandor became known as the Laiquendi, or Green Elves, and their kingdom absorbed into Doriath. The Nandor who did NOT relocate to Beleriand became known as Wood Elves, or Silvan Elves, and established their own kingdoms, which would later come under the dominion of High Elves such as Galadriel or Thranduil fleeing east. The average Tolkien moviegoer would know them as almost all of the non-speaking Elves seen in the Hobbit and LotR trilogies.
- Falathrim are simply Sindar who loved the sea so much they lived among the coasts of Beleriand, under the lordship of Cìrdan. After their realm was destroyed they established the Grey Havens, providing passage for Elves (and a very select few non-Elves) seeking to depart Middle-Earth for the Undying Lands.
- While it may seem that the Avari would be important later given they're given importance enough to mention, they aren't... for their own sake. They remain wild and feral, one of their number (Eol) is literally called a Dark Elf when he's namedropped later, though that might be due to his own evil actions rather than his race, as Tolkien never seemed to decide if he was Avari or Sindar. But the Avari (as such) are a dropped plot in canon Tolkien work. They may be evil or good, but their fate is 90% unknown.
- That 10% is a doozy. As strays from the path of Aman, many Avari fell prey to "the dark powers" - Melkor and his balrogs. Melkor twisted his captives into the first Orcs. Maybe. He might have changed his mind later. Thus exiting the scope of this article here.
- As you will see, the Ñoldor are something of the historical fuckups of the Elves. On one hand they are great warriors, great smiths, great artists, great lovers (in the non-sexual sense), and literally shaped most of the history of early Middle Earth. But on the other, they are the only group of Elves even slightly corruptible, due to their impulsive natures and desire to see and experience and learn. It's worth noting that according to Christopher Tolkien, the Ñoldor were originally supposed to be called the Gnomes, but Tolkien early on decided against it because he didn't figure people would be able to divorce the idea of the tiny jolly lawn ornaments from his elf Saxtons and used his skills with linguistics to create the more
nerdy plz nerf number of words kthxrespectable-sounding Ñoldor.
- The Vanyar, who all went to Aman, and never did anything interesting afterwards, except marry a bunch of Ñoldor princes and bear blonde-haired elf children.
After some time Melkor pretended to have reformed, but immediately set to work stirring up trouble again, starting by corrupting his caged Elves into Orcs. The Vanyar were uninterested in him or his promises of power and gain, the Teleri were useless in his eyes given they had little potential for warfare or interest in his non-ocean gifts, but the Ñoldor were corruptible in their unending desire for knowledge. It should be noted that Ñoldor do NOT learn to achieve power, but to understand; this ties into Tolkien's explanation of power and its role in determining good and evil. Tolkien literally stated in a letter once that anytime the word "power" is used and it isn't in deference or servitude to the divine creator Eru's plan (like Gandalf's power is) it is a sign of villainy, particularly if used for its own sake; this rather reflects the philosophical perspective that learning is a type of prayer to better understand the divine creator's work (compare to Einstein's desire to understand the mysteries of the universe and his apprehension and regret for being a part of the creation of the atomic bomb). The Ñoldor simply took it way too far in their ambition, and Melkor thus gave them exactly what they wanted: knowledge of all things he knew, but peppered with more than a few of his "suggestions" once they had come to trust him. One of the greatest revelations was that sometime in the future, the human race would be created, with the implications that mankind was the replacement for the Elves and Aman was a metaphorical kennel to imprison them in while mankind enjoyed Middle Earth.
In particular, he convinced the most hot-headed of the Elves, Feanor, that his half-brother Fingolfin wanted his royal birthright, and the two nearly came to blows. To stir things up even more, he destroyed the Two Trees - Earth's only source of light at the time other than stars, mere fragments of which became the moon and sun - murdered Feanor's father Finwë, and stole the Silmarils, gems that Feanor had created using essence from the trees (which were now impossible to replicate). Feanor was so pissed that he swore revenge, no matter who stood in his way, including his own kin and the Valar. Well, oaths are a pretty serious deal in Middle-Earth, and Feanor did end up committing the first Elf-on-Elf murder; due to the Teleri refusing to provide him with ships, he took them by force in order to reach Melkor faster, and as a result his people were exiled from Aman in his quest for revenge - only for Feanor himself to get killed by Melkor before he had the chance to exact it.
Pretty much all of the worst Elves were killed in the wars against Melkor, so the ones that survived to the end of the Third Age were much wiser and mellower, though they also experience intense sorrow since immortality means outliving every mortal you knew. On top of that, while Elves can't die of old age, they will eventually grow so world-weary that they fade away into wraiths unless they return to the Undying Lands, which nearly all have done by the end of TLOTR. Many Elves are actually envious of Mens' mortality, calling it "the Gift of Men," since Ilúvatar has a special fate for them that nobody but him knows of, whereas Elven souls are bound to Middle-earth until the end of time.
All of these stories give us a pretty good grasp of why Elves are the way they are, and it is 100% the setting they are in and the values of the beings who created them and raised their culture (Eru, Valar, Maiar).
- Elves are the most aware of Eru's plan compared to any non-Eagle non-Ainur race. They know the basics of where their race will go and end up. So when Men start talking about destiny and fate, or choice in a conflict, the Elves know that they themselves are playing with a different set of rules than Men, something very few Men know and less really understand.
- Elves are not greedy or ambitious for power. Like a Hobbit, babbling brooks or really tall trees contain as much beauty to them as the finest gold and diamond crown, and with less literal appetite than a Hobbit the Elf has even less need for gold. Elves also take to heart Tolkien's philosophy that power is evil when not used in service of the divine. The only Elves with a hook to play to their baser natures are the aforementioned Ñoldor, who were hot-headed and knowledge-lusting - but the descendants of Fëanor's people have learned their lessons, and great leaders such as Thranduil and Elrond feel it's better to spend centuries in inaction than jump rashly into a fight. Elves such as Vanyar and Teleri have no desire to fight at all, to the point that regardless of stakes they cannot be drawn into war.
- Elves look at the achievements and failings of Men, and their reactions are "yeah, we've been there." Elves (especially the Ñoldor just above) have already made every major mistake you can possibly make, and know in the case of Fëanor that assholes gonna asshole, and as a result are hesitant to involve themselves in anything shortsighted no matter how seemingly righteous. Contrast with Dwarves, a race who seemingly continues to repeat the same mistakes for stupid reasons (from an Elf perspective) and wonder why Elves never want to get involved.
- Elves are generally extremely rigid in their psychology. They develop certain personality qualities, mindsets and obsessions which get set into stone. At most an Elf can be broken by tragedy or torture, leaving the permanently damaged being. This is part of why Elvish/Human relationships are problematic - total heartbreak for one party is an inevitability. This does nothing to stop human-elf relationships, though. Indeed, the elven songs seem to most commonly be about how great such a relationship is or how awesomely badass a half-human half-elf hero was. If anything will preen your man feathers, it’s how the Mary Sue elves recognize and look up to man’s heroic and noble spirit.
- Elves are literally part of nature. Their afterlife is to continue to faff about while many reincarnate back into the world as mortal Elves, and no matter what happens, they can always uproot and fuck off back to Valinor. This means they are connected to the fate of the world as a whole and thus have high stakes to defeat world conquerors, while they are simultaneously disconnected from the smaller localized events such as the fate of kingdoms, including their own. Elves are intrinsically connected to the goodness of the world, and the mucking about of Sauron or random Orcs means little in the long term. Separating themselves from this natural world saps their strength, and in time would degrade them into what Orcs are today (I.E hobbit-sized sun-fearing cowardly humanoids that can only be whipped into a warrior culture by a powerful evil).
- Elves value things that other races have mild appreciation to outright disdain for. The Falathrim prefer sailing around the coast to a literal Garden Of Eden. Laiquendi disregard the promise of gold, and instead would accept gossip, songs, and jokes as payment for services and lodging. While ideal friends of Hobbits and decent allies to many humans, Dwarves and ambitious men find Elves to act like mentally handicapped assholes. Exceptions exist, such as the warmth Gimli has towards Elves coming from his humble appreciation of beauty without the need to possess it, but in general greed and pride make you a poor bedfellow for an Elf (Beren/Luthien joke not intended, but true).
- The race of Elves were planned by Eru as the first to dwell in the world, and teach the second race (humans) the ways they discovered, much like the first part of a song setting the tune and chorus that is echoed later in a different key. Elves view their own history like the way a person ages, their first era being childhood innocence but also being inferior to benevolent teachers while fearing powerful evils that would do them harm. In the second era their history reaches adulthood, being the primary force which shepherds their dependents (humans, to a lesser extent Dwarves) while being the main defenders standing up to the darkness. By the third era, the one where mankind is starting to take responsibility for the world and looking to stand alongside their former protectors as equals, the Elves are in their elderly years and preparing to leave the world; this causes them to fall somewhere between benevolent gift-giving grandparent and irritable veteran/teacher/“GET OFF MY LAWN”. By the fourth age their race is mostly gone from the world, leaving humans as inheritors with Legolas hanging out with Aragorn until his death and then taking Gimli across the sea as well.
Like most ideas which Tolkien invented, or at least popularised, many authors tried putting their own spin on elves in their own settings. Usually badly or at best, skubby.
When copying elves from Tolkien, many writers kept the differences between Elves and the other races of their setting but without explaining or demonstrating any reasons why those differences exist, making elves seem irrational and alien in their settings at best and as complete Mary Sue assholes at worst. Whereas Tolkien’s Elves started from scratch and worked their way up (making many terrible mistakes along the way) and worked hard to teach younger species to avoid their own mistakes (which largely worked and earned much respect for the Elves) and were just plain genuinely likable people, post-Tolkien elves are often successful just because they’re elves, withhold advice and wisdom away from other individuals or races seemingly just because they enjoy seeing them fail, and are often deeply unlikable as people. Arguably the biggest setting that really gets what Tolkien's Elves were all about is Warcraft, of all things. Sure, their elves are still prone to being selfish and don’t really advise anyone, but they have the rest of Tolkien's good stuff and their reason for not sharing wisdom is that they’re terrified of other species fucking up as badly as they themselves did. And not participating in world-ending wars is excusable for them because they lived on the other side of the world and so didn’t know those species even existed.
- In a setting without a Fëanor expy fucking everything up in their pre-human history, Elves often come off as douchebags for not wanting to join great wars against evil and leave all the heavy lifting to mankind, with only a few token Elves defying their elders' "wisdom" to join the adventurers. Likewise, any Elf attempts at isolationism and neutrality often comes from an unearned wisdom that is rarely ever explained.
- Without literally being taught by Mother Nature itself how to create a civilization, the tree-hugging stuff is just a dull trope without justification. A race that has the lifespan to watch mountains crumble should be more inclined to build out of stone and steel far more than wood and leather, and without the handwaving of "Elves lack man's ambition," the logic fails.
- Some settings have tried to give other explanations for the tree-hugging (their magic is tied to nature, they began as a simple hunter-gatherer culture, etc.), but whether or not these explanations are actually satisfying is a different story.
- Elves exceed the human lifespan in virtually every setting they are in, if not being outright immortal. There is often no obvious downside to this presented for the individual elf, which is strange because even vampires are like "everyone I know and love is dead" (an argument can be made this would be due to the mind of the formerly human vampire working still the same emotionally as a human, but the problem with that logic is it means that Elves wouldn't mourn things that live less long than them like dogs or their own children/kinsmen). By contrast Tolkien's Elves paid for it by having difficulty in politics with Men and Dwarves, and were unfortunately bound to Eru's plan taking away a large part of their free will as a race (not as individuals however). While in some settings they have to pay a personal price for it, such as Warhammer Elves and their shit afterlives where their gods are dead and/or assholes and their souls are tasty to Eldritch horrors, in most fiction they get off scot-free.
- Tolkien Elves suffer emotionally from the mayfly problem of their friends or lovers of other races dying (unless the Valar get involved, which only happened once) and having Elf kings still mourning the fall of ancient human civilizations to descendants who barely even know the legends of that era (like an Elf mentioning to the UK Prime Minister that he never got over the end of Mesopotamia and speaking at length about how wonderful it was). In most settings any sadness felt from the death of human companions is in the future tense (which the story rarely gets to outside of an epilogue if at all). This is also a critical difference in how Tolkien's Elves view Men as a species: as a dear friend and a sort of hybrid of younger sibling and child. Heck, they don’t even blame humanity for the whole Sauron fiasco as that was caused by Men being too compassionate to execute Sauron after defeating him. They see it more like “It sucks how that turned out, but we’re honored to know such a noble-hearted people”.
- Elvish civilization is far older and more advanced than human civilization but is almost always on the decline, usually due to the slow death of magic in the world or just their low birthrate/slow maturation and some general cultural stagnation. Some settings attribute limitations in magic to the decay of Elves while humans emphasize on the seemingly limitless technology, which is why in most settings the industrial nature of the Orcs and Goblins is removed so as to not leave the question why humans aren't just as in decay from an even faster breeding science race. Of course the scientific innovations of humans is also in the future tense, not explaining at all why having the same technology Elves have had for thousands of years has put them so far ahead, barring perhaps gunpowder although oftentimes if the humans have it then the Elves have it as well (Warhammer Fantasy being the exception that proves the rule).
- Elf science and industry hit a roadblock early on. In Tolkien's work the advancements of science are independent of the advancements of progress, the latter of which is just the pursuit of power (which is always evil) and the former being a beautiful and almost religious desire. Most settings simply decide that Elves stop at aqueducts and the winepress in the technological equivalent of the Iron Age and Rome expies, and even when technology is readily available from other races they ignore it since they've somehow attained the knowledge from magic millennia ago and didn't really do anything with it beyond make some trinkets. Most settings just get lazy with explanations, mixing in some of the other explanations on this list; "lack of ambition/more into magic".
- Elves have the best magic and would never use the crass artifices used by humans and Dwarves, even if they are advanced in their own right. Their own shit is so ancient and powerful it is literally never used, or no longer belongs to them and instead is passed from dark lord to adventurer to dark lord to adventurer and so on. In Tolkien's work its because of one of his universal rules that everything old is as good as its going to get, and the longer time goes on and the older things get then the worse everything gets. The Elves at the height of their power could give demigods a difficult fight, and likewise the things they made was just as grand in scale. But the humans at the height of their own power were as strong and full of epic talent as the Elves of the present and the great artifacts ancient humans created are just as legendary as the Elvish goods and even more rare due to the tragedies that befell men in the later centuries. In most settings, Elves seem to have been born as a race straight into their current level of technology and magic while humans had to spend 5000 years figuring out fire and the wheel. Most settings just handwave it as "Elves can see magic, of course they're more advanced" which then leads back into the above problem of why they are stagnating while other races are catching up to and possibly even surpassing them.
- Elves are almost always haughty elitists who look down on other races, whether they're snobby High Elves, murderous hippy Wood Elves, or sociopathic Dark Elves (though in fairness, you're supposed to hate that last one). Any explanation of why they act like this usually relies on some of the aforementioned orphaned advantages, which makes it even worse since the Elves basically act better because they are better because reasons, but are getting their ass kicked by time anyway. Few of Tolkien's Elves are actually racist, and all of the ones that are were members of the royal families that were known for hot-headed temperaments, while Galadriel's court seemed to hold some stereotypes of Dwarves when Gimli surprises them by being the exact opposite of what they expected. If anything, the animosity is implied to be one-sided AGAINST the Elves in The Hobbit as the commonfolk Elves irritate the Dwarves simply with their springtime celebrations and being overly chatty.
When poorly handled, these post-modern traits are often significant parts of the reasons that many people straight-up hate Elves. And while many people blame the worst elvish traits on Tolkien, many of them simply aren't present in the books (outside of the aforementioned asshole who got his ass handed to him). Or they blame him for fantasy writers adhering to this self-imposed mold without looking into the source material or original mythology like the narrative version of a coloring book page of Legolas glued in the middle of a painting.. Many creators have tried to break free of this mold by going back to the trickster fey roots, with mixed results. Others just treat Elves as humans with a trade-off, in which case their advantages are greatly toned-down. This can make them more palatable to people put off by Elven Mary Sueness, but of course, for the Elf die-hards, this approach is likely less satisfying.
Small wonder that a resistance movement arose to Bring Back The Real Elf. Poul Anderson went back to Scandinavian folklore for elves (and trolls) for The Broken Sword. This was published in 1954, the very year The Fellowship of the Ring (finally) came out. Gygax owed at least as much to The Broken Sword as he owed to Tolkien. And, of course, Michael Moorcock proclaimed loud and long his preference for Poul's work.
Elves and Dwarf Fortress
Elves in Dwarf Fortress are notably different than elves in other settings. Essentially the polar opposite of the above descriptions, the RAGE they create isn't inspired by bishie Mary Suedom, but rather derived from primal fear and panic. They are terrifying figures of slaughter incarnate - sure, they may approach your fortress as a group of traders that get pissy if they notice you own a wooden anything because "lol nature boys", but they also are actual cannibals who will kill and eat all your dorfs if they have their way. All that figurative rape usually focused upon elves in other fantasy settings will be thrust upon your little Dorfy settlers and fortress, with little to no mercy.
The DF community's hatred of the elves is widely known across the net, with lurid tales of horror, gore and devastation of the tree-loving bastards celebrated in almost every occasion. There are several reasons why they're so despised, which shall be marked here:
- Elves are tree-huggers and are easily offended when they see objects made of or decorated with wood (they're able to create stuff by growing it, without harming a tree like other races). More than one fortress met its end because the dwarves offended the knife-ears too many times. Hurting a plant is unnaceptable to them.
- Elves are cannibals and eat their enemies.
- Elves are biologically immortal and never die of old age, like the goblins. This makes them a massive plague on the worlds they live in and gives them enormous numeric superiority when they attack, a fact that has destroyed entire dwarven civilizations. They also need such numbers because their armor and weapons are almost entirely made of wood and tend to die in droves.
- Elves have no facial hair, which puts them at further odds with Dwarves.
Culture-wise, Elves are the complete opposite of dwarves. The only known elf that isn't hated is Cacame Awemedinade, the Immortal Onslaught, who adopted the dwarven culture, became their king and a fearsome warrior who killed many of his own kind in revenge for his wife's death.
TL;DR BITCH THEY EAT PEOPLE AND WE HATE THEIR FUCKING GUTS!
Non-D&D Roleplaying Games
- In Warhammer Fantasy, Elves are a race created by giant interdimensional space toads called the Old Ones to fight against a dimension of molestation/mucous/murder/mindfuck demons, but were
such a bunch of arrogant pricks generally prone to murdering each other over stupid shitslow to reproduce and their inherent compassion (yes, really) soured into arrogance - so much so that they were rejected as failures and the Old Ones went on to create Dwarfs. Later on the Elves split into three groups, two of which are murderfucking insane, one of which is the true heroes of the setting that you want to lose anyway because most of them are such fucking assholes, due to their gods being dead or insane assholes. They also ride around on eagles and on chariots pulled by giant lions. Its worth mentioning that Warhammer was the third setting to steal from Tolkien after D&D, and certainly took the idea further. Things got way the fuck crazier in Age of Sigmar, which is basically the straight-to-DVD Warhammer 2: Electric Boogaloo.
- Warhammer 40000 went with the name Eldar for their space elves (even though it was still ripping off Tolkien, especially since he invented the word Eldar), keeping them largely the same but in only two groups, neither of which are heroes (the setting really doesn't have any faction that truly qualifies anyway), and making them the origin story for the aforementioned molestation demons.
- In Shadowrun Elves are merely humans that mutated after the return of magic to Earth in 2012. They have long lifespans, although to varying degrees. Across the world they banded together and overthrew local governments to create their own "kingdoms" (keep in mind the world of Shadowrun is the lovechild of D&D and Blade Runner). Some Elves are effectively immortal unless killed, and a few in particular come from entirely different points in world history (keep in mind that everything we know that ever happened in our universe is known as the Sixth World...Harlequin is an Elf that's most likely from the Fourth...). Of course your average Elf player character is most likely between 20 and 60 years old, and physically most likely the same either way, as a homeless drifter orphan or the child of blue collar workers from a megacorp. Average Elf NPCs are low skill workers, street vendors, violent gang members, wageslaves, rent-a-cops, and corporate executives. Shadowrun Elves have the ability to see magic usually, some degree of feeling it, but an Elf is as likely to be able to use it as most other "races".
In Other Media
- In The Legend of Zelda, there are these Hylian race which are just human with pointy ears with their most notable characters are the main character Link and the princess Zelda. They have strong affinity with magic and has rich culture, religion background with a goddess called Hylia protects them. They also have this weird telepathic ability which allows their pointy ear to transmit messages to any other Hylian in any space, realm, dimension and time (ha! Suck it, shadows of the warp!). Depending on the exact game, they tend to be about 50-80% of the cast, and you can usually only recognise them by checking the ears. There used to be normal humans in the far past, but the first Zelda (the reincarnation of Hylia) spread her pointy ears to her entire species. TL,DR: People in Zelda have pointy ears.
- There's also the Sheikah, who fit the bill more. They resemble Hylians, but have crimson eyes and silver-white hair. They weren't fully fleshed out outside of Impa intil Breath of the Wild, which revealed they once had a highly advanced civilization that had energy weapons, deadly as hell robots and mecha, but lost it due to the envy of the other inhabitants of Hyrule. While still a shadow of their former selves, the Sheikah still have other things. They're highly skilled in martial arts and they have a strange tendency to not stay dead, with the mummies of their ancestors being able to move and fight like Lord Kroak.
- Elves in Elfquest are the descendants of a race of time traveling shapeshifting aliens that attempted to visit humans during the medieval period, and took the forms of Elves from folklore while also reshaping their giant spaceship into the form of a crystal castle to approach the humans as friends; the pets of the Elf aliens, in fear, tampered with the control panel and sent the ship into the past as the Elves were preparing to leave, and instead greeted cavemen who promptly slew many of the shapeshifters and forced the rest into the wilderness. The descendants of the Elves each have different characteristics based on what happened after their ancestor fled as only the first generation could shapeshift, such as tall bodies and wings for those who dreamed of returning to their ship and taking to the stars again. All Elves are psychic, and form mating pairs based on subconscious links. The main cast are mostly from the deep forests, their ancestor turning feral in the wilderness and taking the form of a wolf (also, she fucked a wolf too). They behave like the
Wulfenelf/wolf hybrids they are, are very short and have four fingers with very large eyes; their leader later finds a mate in one of the desert Elves, who retained more of the Elven alien culture and have the power to heal others. Stories include learning industrialization, kinslaying, that humans make good pets, where they came from, even more kinslaying, the medieval humans they were supposed to contact in the first place weren’t worth the effort, their ancestors were morons, and so on.
- Elves in Warcraft were a type of Troll that was mutated by magical radiation coming from a pool of Titan blood (and possibly further altered by the intervention of a moon goddess). This changed them, making them closer to humanoid (five fingers and toes and no tusks being the biggest changes). Each subgroup can be defined mostly by how much magic they consider too much, with each preceding group from lowest to “never enough” being ousted by the preceding group. The changes became more diverse as time went on, with the latter groups becoming closer to human than the former groups, and even spawning other separate races (Night Elves and Nightborne have fangs while High Elves and Blood Elves don't). The groups are Kaldorei -Night Elves (which had a group split off and become Shal'dorei - Nightborne), then some more Kaldorei called Highborne (which were made up of magic users and royalty) split and became Quel'dorei - High Elves, which also split with most supping on fel magic becoming Sin'dorei - Blood Elves. Even then are mutations such as the Naga (merpeople/snake people who are Highborne mutated by the Lovecraftian-type Old God N'zoth), Satyrs (like the real-life mythological beings based on a Highborne mutated by Sargeras) and the San'layn (the setting's vampires, who are mutated undead Sin'dorei made by the Lich King).
- Elves in the Witcher franchise have a complex origin, but generally come in two varieties.
- Aen Elle are Elves from another dimension, where they are constantly at war with Unicorns and the "White Frost", an apocalyptic scenario that is the destined destruction of all realities (one at a time rather than all at once). They're not exactly nice, but technically they're trying to save all worlds even if they kill everyone they meet while doing it. A major factor in the latter novels and the video games (less so in the first where they are the direct cause of the events you are dealing with, which you won't learn until the end of the second game). They don't particularly care about humans, monsters, or other kinds of Elves, they just want to wipe out the Unicorns and the White Frost plus all witnesses while generally being fairly pleasant and peaceful in their own dimension.
- Aen Seidhe are the Elves native to the setting, although not originally. Elves, monsters, and humans arrived to the world from their own separate dimensions after the White Frost destroyed them during an event known as the "Conjunction Of The Spheres". Elves arrived first and created a civilization while warring with the natives, humans appeared later and destroyed many of the civilizations that preceded them including those of the Elves over time. Many humans and Elves believe themselves to be a native race to the planet and hate the other for being an unnatural invader, while other Elves believe themselves to have been created by gods and humans simply being an evolved ape whereas humans believe Elves to be disguised demons and humans to be the divinely created ones. Many events that would in other settings have cemented the bond between Elf and man, such as a human prince and an Elf princess falling in love, instead always end in tragedy and cause further discord between the races. The Witcher setting takes place in the Northern Kingdoms of an unnamed continent where Elves are treated worse than any other, having formed largely into guerilla warriors spread across the world called "Scoia'tael" that also include Dwarves, Gnomes, intelligent monsters, and some human outcasts such as Witchers (read: Geralt "GIT YER HANDZ OFF MAH ELFS AND WITCHES OR I'LL GUT YE" of Rivia). Scoia'tael attack humans constantly, usually retribution for casualties in a war they can't win due to Elves only being able to breed in youth while humans have most of a medieval lifespan to do so. Any time Elves don't join Scoia'tael they are found in the ghettos of human cities, which are subject to frequent ethnic purges either by mob or inquisition. Of course because its Witcher any time Geralt can side with some decent Elves you'll find out in the next game or novel they were slaughtered or were politically out-maneuvered back to square -1, the rest of the time there being little difference between the Elf and human assholes other than the humans generally raping before they murder the townsfolk. In one of the later novels of the series (Lady of The Lake) its mentioned that some form of magical door opened to another dimension, with many of the Elves choosing whatever is ahead of them over the bullshit behind them.
- Elves in Monster Hunter International are one of the few friendly species of monsters with a species wide PUFF exemption. They live in the "Enchanted Forest"... which is actually a trailer park and are every trailer trash stereotype at once. The US Government basically gave them a PUFF exemption and welfare in exchange for being on hand for consulting on magic (as they are one of the few outright magic users that isn't powered by demons or old ones) and like started acting like anyone else on gibmedats. They aren't officially supposed to cast magic, but MHI is known to bribe them with alcohol for some assistance under the table. One elf shows proficiency with a bow though takes offense, calling it a hurtful stereotype, when the local fa/tg/uy points this out. The next book shows another elf using a bow on their own volition when they have access to guns, so bow use may be truer than they admit. Supposedly the European elves aren't trailer trash like their American kin, but it is never shown.
- The Keebler Elfs, possibly the most famous elfs of the "old, shoemaker" style elfs. Keebler, a US brand of cookies, needed some pitchmen, and went with what we'd call a bunch of animated tree gnomes, which got called "elfs" because it was 1968 and advertising executives thought consumers were idiots (with some justification, admittedly) and Mr 1960s tie, crew cut and Ford-Fariline office man had only the dimmest understanding of mythology. Feel free to research them and bring them up next time you encounter an elfaboo.
In modern fantasy the most universal physical difference between elves and humans is their pointed ears. This is not a unique feature to elves, as many other fantasy races have them (fairies, goblins, orcs, etc.), but it's the prime diagnostic trait of elves. In the case of Tolkien's Elves, the point is usually subdued. In other cases, it is more pronounced with elongated ears that can often move and adjust to express emotional state or better pinpoint the origin of a sound, like rabbits and horses have.
There's a trade off, of course: The chief advantage of humans' round ears are that while they have a harder time locating sounds, they are more likely to actually hear something if they aren't pointing at it, and are better able to differentiate between two similar noises. Other advantages/rationales for long, pointy animal-like elf ears are dubious given how small they still are relative to body size; they would, for example be much worse at dissipating heat than an elephant's... well, elephant-sized ears. Though a type of elf whose ears double as a mating display like a male peacock's feathers would be funny.
The Ugly Side of Elves
Elves are truly a love-or-hate phenomena amongst fantasy fans, and the main reasons for the dislike stem from some of the traits in the "post-Tolkien" elves section above. In a nutshell, elves are often portrayed as the Mary Sue race in fantasy fiction; even when the author doesn't outright use them as a mouthpiece, the simple fact of the matter that they are rarely called on their shit (screwing things up, being arrogant, being wrong about shit, acting like they have the right to lecture other races, etc.) usually pushes them into the "asshole" category for many readers. When the setting's non-elf characters outright agree with them, that's when readers/viewers/gamers tend to get particularly pissed. The exception to this is when the reader is NOT supposed to like them, in which point they are often pants-on-head retarded and Stupid Evil, being villains who don't deserve to be as hammy as they are written compared to their minions.
Compounding matters is that those who are fans of elves tend to be on the obsessive side, even by /tg/ standards; which is part of the reason why they often get pushed into the Mary Sue's territory. Dungeons: the Dragoning 40,000 7th Edition proposed the name "Elfaboo" for hardcore Elf fans; whether "Elfaboos" or Weeaboos come off worse by comparison is probably unknowable.
Adding to the Skub wars is that some people prefer elves as arrogant jerkwads, on the grounds that it's more "interesting" then having them all be perfect (since apparently we can't think to give elves any other flaws than arrogance).
Finally there is the problem of elves existing in the first place in some settings. Many would simply prefer to have a completely original species in different settings rather than elves again, even if they try to make them different from your typical Tolkien-elves (they usually do not). On the other side, many fantasy fans and fa/tg/uys would not consider any fantasy setting a "true" fantasy setting if it did not have elves.
This bears repeating
Tolkien invented the modern version of "elves". Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and his Elves were actually meant to represent what Humanity would've been like had we remained sinless and Unfallen™; deprived of these theological undertones, the modern image of elves has since lost its original context. In Tolkien's works, Elves had a certain degree of Mary Sue perfectness about them, yes, but they also had certain weaknesses in exchange that many subsequent imitators ignore or forget. Their "immortality", for instance, is a consequence of their spirits being bound to the world, and thus are they fated to endure as such when their body dies or fades away (unless they book a boat ride to Aman); either way they are unable to experience whatever afterlife awaits Men. Elves in other settings, on the other hand, are likely to be biologically immortal without any rationale or downside.
Also, Tolkien's Elves were genuinely likeable people for the most part (which you'd expect, given their sinless nature). When they or some members had something unlikable about them, those characteristics were distinctly human and therefore relatable to the reader. We don't feel like we're reading about a perfect species, we feel like we're reading about normal people who have simply lived long enough to learn from their mistakes and are trying to help others avoid those mistakes - which is exactly what they are. Later elves after Tolkien had none of that; in fact, many of the post-Tolkien elves would probably be considered horrible people by Tolkien Elves, especially with their anti-human or elven superiority traits, as his elves were close bros with humanity and fully believed elves were not some sort of super-people. While a few Tolkien Elves did act holier-than-thou to other races, it's either portrayed in a manner similar to real-life racism to show it's a character flaw, or their prejudice is based on legitimate historical grievances (hence the animosity between Elves and Dwarves) - and even that latter reason is criticized in-story as a lousy excuse to refuse to cooperate in the present.
This isn't to say Elves can't have boons like longevity, magical adeptness, and so on. It's just when they have so many advantages relative to other races, and the only flaw they're liable to have is being unbearably arrogant know-it-alls, it doesn't usually make a good combination.
TL;DR: Nobody likes a Mary Sue, much less a whole species of them.
So why are these guys popular again?
By this point we likely have you scratching your heads wondering how in the hell Elves ever caught on as a concept outside of Tolkien's writings. But for all
those damn Dwarves and their grudges salty haters certain concernced parties complain about them, the fact is that Fantasy Elves are indeed popular, and there are reasons why (though these do also vary somewhat depending on the specific source):
- Like Humans, but better: This is really the big one. Part of human nature is that we often more easily and readily identify with people who look like or otherwise remind us of ourselves. Well, since Elves usually look the same as humans except for a few physical differences, most audiences will more likely connect to them than, say, big muscular green soccer hooligans with fangs that are constantly violent, Alien Stalinists, murderous robots, giant alien-dinosaur-bug things, or literal demonspawn. But because they aren't humans, there's still (sort of), the novelty of seeing an experience through the eyes of another intelligent species. So it's sort of the best of both worlds.
- Drenched in Fantasy: Closely related to the above. In your typical fantasy series, the humans generally live rather mundane pseudo-medieval lives for the most part with the odd dash of magic. Elves on the other hand typically have magic permeate everything they do and make, from their arms to their architecture and even such minor things as illumination, cooking and cleaning. So Elves generally offer a less mundane option than humans, and yield opportunities for interesting small scale world-building.
- They're all pretty: It's an open secret that most people like their characters to be at least OK looking in appearance, but usually more than OK. Well, Elves are pretty much always slender, graceful, and beautiful. Nerd fetish for hot Elf females is well known (and let's be honest there are plenty of ladies and gay guys which like the Elf Dudes), and it basically boils down to the fact that (again), they're all hot and physically idealized, though it goes in the other direction too.
- They're long-lived: Growing old can be a real bitch. But Elves don't have to worry about it as much (or at all, depending on the setting). So whenever one is reminded of life's brevity and feeling down about it, Elves with their centuries-long lifespans or more offer a nice fantasy of a character who can live much longer than any of us will.
- They're the cool precursor race: A common theme in High Fantasy works is that there was a super-OP faction from the good old days who were running things more or less unopposed until some cataclysm brought them down. Audiences seem to really dig these "rise and fall" type narratives as part of a setting's worldbuilding and lore. Elves are often the ones given this role to some extent, so this adds to their popularity.
- They're the best mages and/or archers: Magic is cool, and so is pretending you're Legolas/Hawkeye/Green Arrow/Katniss Everdeen/too many other characters to list. Elves are frequently shown to excel in either or both of these, leading to some of the most spectacular displays of magic or marksmanship in a story. And since Elves are a fictional race that are usually superhuman to some extent, writers can get away with crazy feats of power/aiming that audiences might find a little harder to swallow if it was a human doing it.
- Cool armor: Whenever Fantasy Elves are given lots of plate armor to wear (instead of, say, leather or hide), its often made to be some of the shiniest, fanciest, and most powerful armor in the setting, and often very aesthetically pleasing. So that brings in the armor buffs.
- Dragons, son: While not all Fantasy settings do this one, it is still the case that Elves and Dragons are tied together in many Fantasy settings (Warhammer Fantasy being the big one). Since Dragons are universally considered Awesome, a race that regularly tames, rides, and has them is going to have some of that coolness rub off on them.
- Hybrid Friendly: Apart from the obvious of Half-Elves, Elves seem to lend themselves naturally to other cool combinations, such as a Vampire Elf, a Tiefling Elf, and so on. While other races can also be combined, Elves are just one of the more popular choices for doing it, probably in part because there are usually so many varieties of them to begin with, so there's a bigger pool of combinations. On that note...
- Sub-types, sub-types, sub-types: As the earlier parts of this page should have made clear by now, Elves often come in more flavors than other Fantasy races like Dwarves (who by contrast are often depicted much more monolithically). So if one type of Elf isn't your style, there will probably be some other type that is. Over the years, writers have done everything from the standard High/Wood/Dark to Sun/Moon, to Fire and Sea, to practically anything else the writers can think to have as a prefix to the word "Elf".
And all of the above ultimately leads to probably the biggest one of all:
- They're who you most want to be: Much as Batman and Iron Man are popular superheroes because, let's face it, we all want to be that rich, handsome, irresistible to women, and stuffed to the brim with cool armor and gadgets, so too are Elves a popular Fantasy race because they're who most people if they were dropped in a Fantasy world and asked to pick a new species would pick. You get to be beautiful, long-lived or immortal, and no one can ever gainsay your magic skills or inhuman marksmanship. And, depending, you might also get a dragon and/or a shiny suit of armor made from the setting's resident super-metal. Viewed that way, who would really say no? Especially if the alternative is a near-mindless brute who everyone hates and who is probably destined to be sword-fodder for a team of adventurers.
Rolling your own setting, and want to include an Elven nation who isn't immediately going to make non-Elfaboo players want to punch every elf (and possibly the author) in the face? Or have players wondering "Why don't the elves dominate everything?" Here are a few possible options to both problems:
The three big ones:
- Shorten their lifespans to be just barely beyond human. Anything more than 300 years, and you start heading into hard Mary Sue-race territory. (Tolkien got away with longer, but Tolkien...well, see above, especially under "This Bears Repeating".)
- If you want to get away with it, consider showing the realistic consequences of a race that lives so long, such as having difficulty connecting with shorter-lived races and angsting over losing non-Elf friends constantly, and particularly be aware of the next point:
- Make sure any paternalism they exhibit is actually paternal (in the Good Parenting sense) and based on actual wisdom, and not just arrogance.
- If you can't do either of the above, at least give them some real comparative weaknesses. Not just reduced physical strength, or other minor nerfs, but actual full on weaknesses that they'd need to lean on the other races for.
Lesser, still valid solutions:
- Make them so prone to factionalism that Elven politics makes the fight between the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea look positively civil and well-motivated.
- Make their entire leadership a bit like that annoying granduncle who talks like [political figure that died 10 years ago and retired 30 years ago] is still in office, and wants to re-litigate an argument his side lost 50 years ago. Only you can add an extra "0" or two (or in extreme cases, three or four) on to all those numbers.
- If you don't mind restricting them to NPCish roles: Their magical nature means there are places they can't go, and things they can't do without much heavier opposition than a human would get, or just flat out can't go or do and expect to be alive at the other end.
- A rare subspecies of this: There are a few settings that have a Magic vs. Technology theme happening, and the Elves are just the "Magic" side of that fight.
- Accept that everyone is going to dislike the main body of the Elven race, and just aim to have a niche underclass who's likable and plausible as PC material. (Sometimes called the "Shadowrun method", fairly or unfairly.)
- Toss all of them (those in your immediate campaign anyway) into that underclass (a.k.a. the Witcher/Dragon Age method). Notably, a lot of modern Fantasy writers seem to take to this one (especially if halfelves can happen), enough so that it's arguably become something of a cliche in itself. But then, whom are you more likely to sympathize with: folks living in ghettos who everyone hates and treats badly, or narcissists living in an ivory tower?
- Stick 'em with an actual Mary Sue race, who turns around to make the elves their bitch: Valheru for Midkemia, Irda for Krynn and in many ways the Noldor themselves for the native Sindar. Or, we suppose, the LeShay. Yes, this just shifts the blame; so as, for humans, to make the basic problem worse. However if the events happened in the narrative's distant past (as is the case for Feist, Hickman, and Tolkien) the device serves to impose some much-needed humility upon potential master-race fantasies, for the elves and for everyone else. "There's always a bigger fish . . ."
- Put them on the slowly losing side of a long war (a.k.a. the 4e Eladrin method).
- If you must have arrogant elves, try to make it clear that they're as disliked by a large chunk of their kind as they are by non-Elves (like in The Elder Scrolls, where the Aldmeri Dominion High Elves are disliked by pretty much everyone, including other High Elves).
Weaknesses that are interesting:
- Maybe they are addicted to magic to the point they need it to survive (a.k.a. the Warcraft method).
- Maybe they're all insane in some way, just different ways for each Elf, so it sorta cancels each other out on a racial level.
- Cold Iron is an old favorite for this.
- Or maybe rip off the Pathfinder Gnomes and the 4e Shadar-kai: They're immortal, but they'll die if they stay bored long enough, which is at least a coherent weakness.
Is your Elf /tg/ approved?
A Quick guide to making a /tg/ approved elf. Every answer of yes is a point in their favor.
- Do they eat people?
- Are they batshit crazy?
- Do they have Dragons?
- Do they learn from their mistakes (or even make mistakes at all that are acknowledged by the story as such?)
- Does s/he do cocaaaaaaaaaaine?
- Are they NOT Chaotic Good? (Double extra important if it's a Drow)
- Does s/he wield a chainsaw? (
only applicable to some settingsForget that part. A chainsaw wielding, magic casting elf will be accepted anywhere, due to the rules of awesome)
- Is s/he NOT protective of trees/animals? Alternatively, is he/she protective of trees and/or animals BUT to the point of bloody fanaticism ?
- Is s/he sexually attractive?
- Is s/he bloodthirsty?
- Does s/he know how to work metal?
- Is s/he skilled at making technology? Otherwise, is s/he at least skilled at using technology?
- If s/he is an archer or melee combatant, does s/he have visible muscles? (Note s/he doesn't have to be RIPPED, just visibly muscular. "Swimmer's physique" is a thing. Go google image search for Olympic athletes in the relevant sport ("Olympic fencer body" seems to return good (if rather NSFW) results) for reference of what humans who do that kind of thing semi-professionally actually look like.)
- It is NOT another fucking Drizzt clone?
- Note that this doesn't mean every Dark Elf/Drow has to be a 100% bastard. Just that if you're going to have a non-evil Drow, try, try, TRY to not make it a Chaotic Good Ranger with dual swords.
- Does s/he inspire fear incarnate and is shunned if not hated by society?
- Is s/he NOT childishly, excessively optimistic?
- Does said elf fight with something ELSE than a bow/longsword/rapier/magic? (Axes, hammers, fists, crossbows, hell even guns if you have them)
- Does s/he swear profusely like a drunk pirate?
- Does s/he drink?
- Is s/he a pirate?
- Does s/he drink?
- Are they not bigoted against non-elves? Alternatively, do they hate non-elves to the point of seeing them as vermin to be enslaved or destroyed?
- Is it NOT like any other elf stereotype you have every seen?
If you have a large majority of "yes", congratulations. You have a /tg/ approved elf.
For DM's, you can create any type of elven race. Make it fun for your players, and no one will give a shit. Of course, this is true of Elves in general; if your players don't have a problem with Elves, then feel free to disregard a lot of what you've read so far.
Good Post-Tolkenian Elves
Here we'll list examples of Elves from modern fantasy which are inspired by Tolkien and why they work...
- WarCraft: As already noted, they actually are closer to Tolkien's take than many other modern depictions, plus having the inventive weakness of magic addiction. And, for those who are tired of seeing the usual High/Wood/Dark sub-types, WarCraft instead has its own sub-types: Night Elves and Blood Elves. While at a glance, you can pretty easily accuse the former of just being Wood Elves with a different name, they do actually have the advantage of being more "nature magic" types than merely "people who live in the woods" of a lot of Wood Elves.
- You also have some weird new ones as of late such as Void Elves (Blood Elves who delve into the void), The Illidari (While technically not a new race, they are demonic elves), and the undead elves (Sylvanas and the Dark Rangers). In Warcraft they are also descendant from trolls and different races have weird cultural quirks. Oh, and several other races in WarCraft are either mutated Elves or cousin-races of Elves (Dryads, Naga, etc.)
- The Elder Scrolls: Say what you will about Elder Scroll's incessant retcons and other mindfucks in their canon, but if nothing else, they do have some legitimately creative takes on the Elves. Want Elves who are intentionally unlikable in their arrogance and racial supremacist views? The High Elves (called Altmer), have you covered. Want Elves who live in nature but are hardcore and not a bunch of walking Vegan and Hippie stereotypes? Look no further than the cannibalistic and rather unstable Wood Elves (called Bosmer). Want Elves who aren't High, Wood, or Dark? They've got those too. Heck, even the setting's Orcs and Dwarves are Elf types here.
- The Witcher: While still often arrogant and anti-human, here it's a lot more understandable given that most humans in the Witcherverse are enormous assholes where Elves are concerned. Also the Wild Hunt are solidly designed villains who neatly eschew most Elf stereotypes (and are effectively a different race from the native elves).
- Dragon Age: Similar to Witcher, DA Elves have it rougher than Elves in many other Fantasy settings, which helps get them more sympathy points. They are also a lot less OP relative to humans, having access to the same classes and roles and not enjoying any obvious racial advantages. While they do get a bit of a stat bump in magic, it's not enough to keep plenty of humans from having comparable magic might, and as a trade-off, DA Elves tend to be very frail. They also have wolf motifs, if you're into that sort of thing.
- Warhammer: This one's debatable. On the one hand, for those who have gotten sick of seeing the Elves as totally pure goody-two-shoes, they're plenty flawed. Plus, they get dragons and most of them understand the benefits of armor and metalworking. On the other hand, they fit the usual problem of "Elves being arrogant pricks" more than virtually any other modern Fantasy setting. But, they have Malekith and Teclis, so they're not all bad.
- Warhammer 40k: This one's still arguable, but much less so than Warhammer Fantasy (if you ignore the Science Fiction angle, at least); their pride and arrogance led to the largest fall from grace possible without going extinct, and their Dark Elf equivalent are a pretty large part of what makes the setting Grimdark, while the non-Dark Eldar are played as, effectively, "slightly worse than the Tau and non-Chaos Human factions, but for sound reasons". In other words, possibly the most morally darkish-grey Elves around.
- Iron Kingdoms, AKA Warmachine and Hordes: Another Grimdark tabletop war game setting with its own spin on Elves, the Elves of Iron Kingdom have numerous elements that separate them from the standard Tolkien-esque takes, including mech suits and various other weapons and tech you don't generally see Fantasy Elves with, which helps them feel unique. Still arrogant overall, but in a much more precarious situation due to looking at possible extinction. Their souls are supposed to reincarnate, but that has broken down and now Iosian children have a 50/50 shot of being born soulless. Did we mention they have mechs?
- Starfinder: Remember how we mentioned that Elves with chainsaws/chainswords are automatically Awesome? Well, in this Sci-Fi counterpart to Pathfinder, you can have exactly that. Also a good choice for those who want Space Elves but prefer something more palatable than the haughy Eldar and depraved Dark Eldar. The events of Starfinder mean the long-lived elves all REMEMBER having society-wide amnesia, and it's made them super paranoid to the point of forting up and building space-elf Israel (which we guess makes their warriors Space-Mossad, which is also cool).
- Dragonstar: Another solid "Space Elves" take. While they fit the stereotypical modern Elf mold pretty well, they tend to not be unbearably stuck-up and seem to really just want to help preserve nature across the cosmos, being basically the galaxy's resident conservationists. Basically, like Tolkien Elves, the writers remembered to keep them likable. Its more the dragons in this setting who are the arrogant jerks.
(Apparently, that's all of them. Well, besides Dwarf Fortress Elves, who are straight up assholes, like just about everyone in that setting, including the Gods and Dwarves.)
|This article or section is about Monstergirls (or a monster that is frequently depicted as a Monstergirl), something that /tg/ widely considers to be the purest form of awesome. Expect PROMOTIONS! and /d/elight in equal measure, often with drawfaggotry or writefaggotry to match.|
Elves are technically one of the most widely accepted form of monstergirls, alongside the catgirl and the cowgirl. As such, there's a lot of /d/ aspects of elves, as you've doubtlessly gathered by now. Not helping elves is that their menfolk are typically portrayed as slim, clean-shaven, graceful and ranging from "pretty boy" to "androgynous" on the looks department; in Western culture, these are stereotypes of gay men, in contrast to the buff, rugged, hairy, chiseled appearance of, say, a dwarf or an orc. Ironically, in Japan, the stereotypes are actually reversed, so your standard elf man is expected to be an avid chaser of and/or magnet for human women whilst those burly dwarves and orcs are busy having sweaty gay orgies in their holes in the ground. Notably, if you go looking you'll find that the sort of porn actual women prefer reflects the Japanese stereotypes more often than the American ones, although gay men are more evenly split on the matter (bears do exist after all, and no, not THAT kind of bear).
Being one of the most accepted types, elves are just about as entry level as monstergirls gets. Pointy ears, superior senses, and an improved lifespan are the only ways they really differ from humans (the only other things that are often applied are superhuman speed and enhanced magical ability), and they're almost always very attractive with a comparative lack of aging. They can be anything from wholesome and homely to full-on tsundere or even yandere. Inevitably elves are very lewd, and even the stuck up ones secretly crave sex. They often possess overly sensitive ears that can turn them into helpless moaning messes when rubbed, if not outright drive them to orgasm (much like the Ferengi of Star Trek - yeah, good luck getting that image out of your head). Elves are also prime rapebait, frequently being characterized as submitting to sexually aggressive humans, orcs, and monsters after only a few short thrusts or rubs. This makes them popular for the genre of manga/anime where they are easily molested and submit to their partners, leaving them dripping with or soaked in semen and possibly pregnant as well. This also makes them popular with mindbreak and willing slavery fetishists. Alternatively, the Elf lady will be the dominatrix instead where she will literally fuck people to death to satisfy her urges.
In the Monster Girl Encyclopedia, there are three kinds of elf; the normal elves are pretty bog-standard. Those whom have been Monsterized(in much the same way as Human women are turned into Succubi) become tsunderes who live in seclusion to avoid giving into their craving for dick, whilst the "dark elves" have embraced their corruption and turned into a pack of dusky-skinned incestuous BDSM freaks.
- Elf Subraces
- Elf Slave, Wat Do?
- Despite rumors to the contrary, Elves actually struggle with the musical arts... a lot.
|Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Races|
|Basic Set||Dwarf • Elf • Hobbit • Human|
|Creature Crucible 1||Brownie • Centaur • Dryad • Faun • Hsiao • Leprechaun • Pixie • Pooka • Redcap • Sidhe • Sprite • Treant • Wood Imp • Wooddrake|
|Creature Crucible 2||Faenare • Gnome • Gremlin • Harpy • Nagpa • Pegataur • Sphinx • Tabi|
|Creature Crucible 3||Kna • Kopru • Merrow • Nixie • Sea Giant • Shark-kin • Triton|
|Dragon Magazine||Cayma • Gatorman • Lupin • N'djatwa • Phanaton • Rakasta • Shazak • Wallara|
|Hollow World||Beastman • Brute-Man • Hutaakan • Krugel Orc • Kubitt • Malpheggi Lizard Man|
|Known World||Bugbear • Goblin • Gnoll • Hobgoblin • Kobold • Ogre • Troll|
|Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races|
|Core||Dwarf • Elf • Gnome • Half-Elf • Half-Orc • Halfling • Human|
|Dark Sun||Aarakocra • Half-Giant • Mul • Pterran • Thri-kreen|
|Dragonlance||Draconian • Irda • Kender • Minotaur|
|Mystara||Aranea • Ee'ar • Enduk • Lizardfolk (Cayma • Gurrash • Shazak) • Lupin • Manscorpion • Phanaton • Rakasta • Tortle • Wallara|
|Oriental Adventures||Korobokuru • Hengeyokai • Spirit Folk|
|Planescape||Aasimar • Bariaur • Genasi • Githyanki • Githzerai • Modron • Tiefling|
|Spelljammer||Dracon • Giff • Grommam • Hadozee • Hurwaeti • Rastipede • Scro • Xixchil|
|Ravenloft:||Broken One • Flesh Golem • Half-Vistani • Therianthrope|
|Complete Book Series||Alaghi • Beastman • Bugbear • Bullywug • Centaur • Duergar • Fremlin • Firbolg • Flind • Gnoll • Goblin • Half-Ogre • Hobgoblin • Kobold • Mongrelfolk • Ogre • Ogre Mage • Orc • Pixie • Satyr • Saurial • Svirfneblin • Swanmay • Voadkyn • Wemic|
|Dragon Magazine||Half-Dryad • Half-Satyr • Uldra • Xvart|
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook 1||Dragonborn • Dwarf • Eladrin • Elf • Half-Elf • Halfling • Human • Tiefling|
|Player's Handbook 2||Deva • Gnome • Goliath • Half-Orc • Shifter|
|Player's Handbook 3||Githzerai • Minotaur • Shardmind • Wilden|
|Monster Manual 1:||Bugbear • Doppelganger • Githyanki • Goblin • Hobgoblin • Kobold • Orc|
|Monster Manual 2||Bullywug • Duergar • Kenku|
|Dragon Magazine||Gnoll • Shadar-kai|
|Heroes of Shadow||Revenant • Shade • Vryloka|
|Heroes of the Feywild||Hamadryad • Pixie • Satyr|
|Eberron's Player's Guide||Changeling • Kalashtar • Warforged|
|The Manual of the Planes||Bladeling|
|Dark Sun Campaign Setting||Mul • Thri-kreen|
|Forgotten Realms Player's Guide||Drow • Genasi|
|Player's Handbook||Dwarf • Elf • Gnome • Half-Elf • Half-Orc • Halfling • Human|
|Advanced Race Guide||Aasimar • Catfolk • Changeling • Dhampir • Duergar • Drow • Fetchling • Gillman • Goblin • Grippli • Hobgoblin • Ifrit • Kitsune • Kobold • Merfolk • Nagaji • Orc • Oread • Ratfolk • Samsaran • Strix • Suli • Svirfneblin • Sylph • Tengu • Tiefling • Undine • Vanara • Vishkanya • Wayang|
|Bestiaries||Android • Astomoi • Caligni • Deep One Hybrid • Gathlain • Gnoll • Kasatha • Munavri • Naiad • Orang-Pendak • Reptoid • Rougarou • Shabti • Trox • Yaddithian|
|Adventure Paths||Being of Ib • Kuru|
|Inner Sea Races||Ghoran • Monkey Goblin • Lashunta • Skinwalker • Syrinx • Triaxian • Wyrwood • Wyvaran|
|Ultimate Wilderness||Vine Leshy|
|Blood of the Sea||Adaro • Cecaelia • Grindylow • Locathah • Sahuagin • Triton|
|Planar Adventures||Aphorite • Duskwalker • Ganzi|