Elves are the Fair Ones, the Dancing Ones – some say the Laughing Ones or the Mocking Ones. They’re all of these, and more. As beautiful creatures as ever you’ll see, betimes so fair as to steal your breath away, not just your heart. Yet they’re carefree – capricious, malicious, uncaring of what befalls any creature who isn’t an elf. Save those they fall in love with, or whom they see as loving them. – Ioan Grell, Pathfinder
Physical Description and Psychological Outlook
Elves are generally taller than humans end possess a graceful, fragile physique that is accentuated by their long, pointed ears. Their eyes are wide and almond-shaped, filled with large, vibrantly colored pupils that dominate most of the eye. Their skin can be any color from pale white to dark brown, with reddish or blueish hues, and their eyes can be blue, green, gold, or violet. There large pupils allow them to catch more light, granting them a better perception than humans, even at night, and their feel for patterns allows them to notice hidden doors without trying. Their ears are shaped in such a way as to allow sound to travel better into the ear, allowing them to hear minor details in sound other races cannot.
Elves age considerably slower than humans or any other race, and do it with grace and beauty. A young elf may have a girlish or boyish appeal, while elders of their race still look young but with a handsome and ethereal look, showing their age to the keen observer. The full lifespan of an elf is unknown to outsiders, but most agree that it can last in its hundreds. Elves that do not die from wounds or other mortal dangers tend to move on to different planets, dimensions, or planes long before anyone sees them expire. Elven tales say that the eldest travel to places where time is irrelevant. Myth or fiction? Only elves know. Another myth is that elves never rest. They do not sleep as humans do, but they enter a trance that has the same effects on their minds and bodies as sleep has on other races. An elf only needs to meditate in this fashion for 4 hours per night, but many choose to meditate for longer periods.
While elven clothing often plays off the beauty of the natural world, those elves that live in cities tend to bedeck themselves in the latest fashions. Elven style values aesthetics from the simple to the bewilderingly complex, favoring free flowing hair and unencumbered movement, and always in an attractive and stylish manner. Elven garments tend to be soft to the touch and of a single hue or subtly blended colors. They tend to avoid bright red, orange, and yellow shades in their clothing, hair dyes, and furnishings, except for a few weeks in the fall. The seldom-seen high elven nobility of Sovyrian are known for their unearthly grace of movement, and their raiment of otherworldly beauty. These nobles, as do those on Golarion, decorate their garments with ivy and local plants, sometimes incorporating growing flora. In battle, elves dress in bright silver mail and long cloaks and hoods matching their surroundings.
Elves psyche is formed mostly through their long lives. They spend a great deal observing the world around them. They are able to wait for events much longer than humans do. An elven proverb says: “You can make amends for waiting too long, but you can never wait longer once you’ve acted.” On the other hand, their reckless nature stands opposite from this patient stance, yet their disregard for consequences is also a result of their long life. What seems to others as a reckless action may be informed by countless former experiences of performing that action. And setbacks are mere nuisance for elves. If they cannot fix a problem immediately, time will oten do that for them. That is also why elves as a race are slow to act upon what they see as “small problems”. A rising evil means to other races generations lost, but to elves it means a few years of trouble after which the sun will rise once more. Vanity and pride are often a byproduct as well, certainly on a racial level. You will rarely hear an elf boast of his achievements, but often will he demand respect for just being an elf.
Their emotional extremes – aloofness towards those they see as short-lived and pitiful, and loyalty towards those they have befriended – stem from too many memories and associations. A rainstorm can cause an elf to remember a thousand good and bad experiences, a mix so complex that not even elves can predict what emotion may be caused in any circumstance. This is the deepest reason elves’ laughter is used so frequently amongst other elves: to remind them that positive feelings need to prevail. Elves that falter in their positive thoughts easily become depressed and melancholic and often need interventions of other elves or even magic to become happy once again.
Elven society peaked thousands of years before the rise of humankind, and elves clashed constantly with humans as the latter clawed their way toward civilization. Despite superior skill at arms and in magic, the elves could not prevail against the endless tides of savage human warriors.
Never a fecund race, the elves knew they must ultimately surrender the world to their barbaric cousins. As their numbers dwindled, the wisest elves turned their attention to a series of interplanetary gates created in antiquity to explore the many worlds of Golarion’s star. On the eve of the Earthfall, most elves abandoned Golarion to its sad fate, departing through the gates to the mysterious haven of Sovyrian, the legendary homeland of the elves.
Those elves that remained behind changed by the experience of the Age of Darkness. Some became hermits, others barbaric and wild, as humans. The majority remained in Iadara and shrouded their city in illusion, making themselves caretakers of the queen’s palace, environs, magic and the Sovyrian Stone, which maintained the silent link to their brethren. Locked within their graceful halls, the Iadaran honor guard weathered the catastrophic birth of the Age of Darkness, only to watch in frustration as their abandoned communities were looted by vandals and bandits, and their former homes were overrun by tribes of squatters. Artifacts and treasures lifted from these pillaged communities reached markets across the world and to this day many elves of Kyonin consider their sale a slight against elvenkind.
The most dangerous of these intrusions was the demon called Treerazer, Lord of the Blasted Tarn. In 2497 AR, the being was cast out of the Abyss by its master, Cyth-V’sug. Adrift on the Material Plane, Treerazer embraced his exile, turning the Fierani Forest into his sordid den. Soon he felt the presence of the shrouded city of Iadara and the thrum of the Sovyrian Stone, and true to it’s nature, set out to corrupt it, turning its link to Sovyrian to point to the Abyss and to bring a howling demon horde to Golarion. These machinations resounded in Sovyrian, and the elves marched in response. A procession of elven scouts, warriors, and spellcasters filed through the portal tied to the Sovyrian Stone, reinforcing the weakened Iadaran caretakers, restoring the brutalized ecology of the forest, and driving Treerazer to an entrenched position in the southern swamps of the Fireani. They were reminded of their lost connection with earth, forests, and fey and were surprised at Golarion’s beauty after the Age of Darkness. They decided to stay.
Thousands of elves returned to Golarion from Sovyrian in the middle of the Age of Enthronement, causing great tumult throughout Avistan. These elves resettled many of their old holdings, taking up arms against human warlords who refused their ancient claims of sovereignty. They crossed Avistan in a great procession to the ancient elven kingdom of Kyonin, on the far shore of Lake Encarthan. A few elves journeyed elsewhere, traveling west along the island chains of Varisia to raise the Mordant Spire on the edge of the known world.
The elves then became an ephemeral presence in Golarion, dwelling in secluded forest kingdoms or isolated island homes. Families of elves tentatively emerged from these strongholds to dell more openly. Elves now thrive in many places they once lived, whether or not the current rulers of those lands accept their time-lost sovereignty. They maintained a policy of isolationism since their return, however lately, political pressures and their famously low birth rate are pushing them to take a more active role in the Inner Sea workings. They extended their trade to their immediate neighbors and elves are becoming more and more common in large cities.
The long-lived elves are children of the natural world, similar in many superficial ways to fey creatures, yet different as well. Elves value their privacy and traditions, and while they are often slow to make friends, once an outsider is accepted as a comrade, alliances can last for generations. The most trusted companions, or those that have helped the race as a whole, are called ruathar, or ‘almost elves’. This title is the greatest a non-elf can receive. Elves have a curious attachment to their surrounding, and find themselves physically adapting to match their surroundings, most noticeably taking on coloration reflecting the local environment. They are emotional and capricious, yet value kindness and beauty. Most elves are chaotic good.
Many elves feel a bond with nature and strive to live in harmony with the natural world. They find manipulating earth and stone to be distasteful, and prefer instead to indulge in the finer arts, with their inborn patience making them particularly sited to wizardry. They even get uncomfortable touching stone or other lifeless things, choosing to live in a growing world. They live in tree homes, roofed and walled in interwoven living plants. They introduce strong-smelling plants and water reservoirs in their homes. Most elf beds are moss-covered earth. Sometimes elves do build cities and when they do, these are bright and shining affairs, with shimmering opalescent towers and strange looping avenues, as to compliment the surrounding landscape.
Elves are prone to dismiss other races, writing them off as rash and impulsive, yet they are excellent judges of character. They might not want dwarves for neighbors, but praise them on their skill in smithing. They regard gnomes as strange curiosities, and halflings with a measure of pity, for these small folk seems small elves without homes, forever adrift. They are fascinated with humans, as evidenced by the number of halfelves in the world, even if they usually disown such offspring. They regard halforcs with distrust and suspicion. Those elves that spend their lives among the short-lived races risk becoming morose, the result of watching wave after wave of companions age and die before their eyes. Elves call them the Forlorn and tend to pity and distrust them. The Forlorn make up a disproportionately large number of elves who consider themselves reluctant adventurers.
Elves may seem to be carefree to others, but it is a mistake to see them as thoughtless and uncaring. They enjoy pranks, and try things on a whim, disregarding consequences, but do it with purpose and self-exploration. They make friends rather easily but determinedly, valuing them highly, and both love and indulge in lust with elves and non-elves. They eat anything but prefer grains, fruit, fish and wild meat. Many elves dislike the taste of domesticated livestock and prefer hunting for food. They eat with it raw fruit and vegetables, spiced tangy and with sauce.
They consider themselves failures if they do wrong to friends or if they act without honor. Honor, to elves, is keeping one’s word, providing for the best outcomes for family and kin, keeping all bargains, and following guidance from the gods. Friendship is paramount to the elven honor structure, and elves feel obligated to help friends when they can. Because of this, they do not make friends lightly. Wise elves count family members amongst their friends but family ties are not as important as friendship. After all, family may be scattered between worlds, while an elf’s friends are close-by. Wronging a friend by forcing him to do anything is dishonorable, limiting to be informative in situations of peril rather than commanding. An elf will never tell a friend what to do but will inform him what he would do or what others have done in the past regarding a similar situation. The strongest advise an elf would give is: “If you wait and reconsider, you might see a different viewpoint.”
If elves do fight, they do so with the same detachment. It is incredibly hard to make an elf murderously angry, and because of their sparse population on Golarion, other races tread with care around elves. Elves that feel insulted will make this clear to their provoker and will consider this person ilduliel – their nemesis. He will not want him dead but will try to deny this enemy what he wants the most, and will try to claim it himself. Thus, ilduliel will become very close to learn each other most true desires, and to plot his revenge at every step. When he achieves his goal, he leaves signs at the place or at the time he does it, so that his enemy knows he has been had – and other elves know it too. This behavior mostly goes on until the insulted party feels the insult has been repayed, or if the other party has become so frustrated he demands immediate settlement via a duel with blades. Such settlements are seen as less honorable and less satisfying than taking apart an elven life brick by brick – blood is easily forgotten. Elven feuds rarely last more than a century, and sometimes ilduliel will become good friends – a byproduct of getting to know each other so well.
Elven births are rare, so much so that every newborn is a community event. Celebrations often last for weeks as community members give their blessing and items to assist in the child’s care and development. Oracles and divination are consulted daily throughout pregnancy, and the information gained goes into the child’s naming and upbringing for the first century or so. Young elves learn to fences as human children play tag, and longsword and rapier are familiar tools to elves. Ceremonial swords are often worn well into adulthood and are occasionally drawn for playful fencing at gatherings. Archery is seen as a civic virtue and respected throughout the race. By law, archery contests can settle feuds and disputes. Top archers in elven society are seen as nobles and political figures.
Elves wait and focus for decades to perfect the fine arts and elves who become old master different crafts and disciplines of art. Elves are particularly known for sword and armorcraft, cartography, herbalism, tailoring, music, woodworking, perfumery, dyeing, cosmetics, poetry, and songwriting. In combat, Elves prefer to use slender, curved bladed weapons and curved, “fluted” armor, allowing agile body movement, and to deflect the weapons of foes. They prefer bows to melee weapons, and almost always master some magic to aid them in their plights. Retreating in combat is a common elven strategy and seen without any negative connotation. A popular elven war tactic is “life siege”, in which they simply wait for their enemy to grow old and inattentive and to strike when least expected. Others claim this to be cowardice, but elven see it merely as using the means at their disposal to win. If their opponents can’t measure up, they shouldn’t have picked a fight.
Elves typically live in or near holdings dominated by their race. The largest elven populations exist in and around the Inner Sea regions, but particularly in Kyonin and Varisia’s Mierani Forest. Aquatic elves live in the Arcadian Ocean and around the Mordant Spire. The Mordant Spire is also the home to most Gray Elves. Wild Elves are found in great numbers in the Mwangi Expanse.
Gnomes may be adept at magic tricks, elves are adepts of magic and study. Apprentices spend decades mastering basics of arcane spellcasting before moving on to anything showy. This focus on theory makes their casting seem overwhelmingly detailed, complex, and exact. Even creatures who are naturally resistant to magic have trouble with an elf wizard’s output. Their study makes them scholars of magic knowledge and properties as well. Their most accomplished sages are known to see magic talent in others, or magic in items, without even looking. Their magical resistance to enchantments has nothing to do with their magical knowledge, but with their love for freedom. Enchantments are seen by elves as insults, meaning the target is weak and easily manipulated. They will only use enchantments on loathsome enemies, or in dire circumstances, and elves wanting to gravely insult another elf will cast sleep upon him. This has been reason to many a feud between elven families in the past.
Elves do not simply think less of other races, they pity them. After all, they did not make themselves, they are just unlucky not to be able to master anything truly. Their long lifespans makes them unpredictable but they see it as losing focus. After all, when they look at a distant past in memory, they loose focus on the present, but when they look at the present, they can’t see their past clearly.
Because elves disdain sculpting, digging, or working with stones (except for crystals) they have a high need to trade with other races, particularly dwarves, to obtain tools, weapons and armor. Most prefer to pay well in order to have such things crafted to their specifications. This causes elves and dwarves, regardless of their obvious differences, to have good trade relations with each other. Also, both races know that good fences make good neighbors. Elves see dwarven strengths as complements to their own weaknesses and most elves try to use the differences rather than fight over them.
Gnomes are often seen as erratic and obsessive and many elf feels that the entire gnomish race has slipped into the world while his race was not looking. The gnome’s link to the fey world makes them tolerable, however, and these small beings are the only ones allowed to live in and wander Kyonin freely. Halflings were noticed before Earthfall but the elves lost track of this races soon after. Now they have no general opinion about the small folk, but they are seen as friendly and committed to home and hospitality.
Humans were considered enemies of the elves for a long time, even more detestable than orcs in that they cloaked themselves in a pale mockery of civilization. However, humans have since ten thousand years displayed a remarkable versatility, and the majority of elves admit that they appear to have adapted to civilization (mostly). Humans can still be fickle and seemingly barbaric, but with judicious prudence and safeguards, elves find humans to be good companions.
Elves prefer deities that share their love of the mystic qualities of the world – Desna and Nethys are particular favorites, the former for her wonder and love of the wild places, the latter for his mastery of magic. Calistria is perhaps the most notorious of elven deities, for she represents elven ideals taken to an extreme. It is often said that elves pray to Calistria to get into trouble, and to Desna to get out of it. Mordant Spire elves worship Gozreh in addition to the other elven deities.
Elves worship gods unknown to other races in their home world, Sovyrian. These deities are Findeladlara, Ketephys, and Yuelral. These deities have few personal holy days, as elves see life as a continual celebration and wake for the joys and setbacks that flavor even their immortal existence.
Elves see gods as their guides and inspirations in life, with swift and simple daily devotions being part of life but thought mattering more than petty details. Oaths sworn by a deity are binding, and not to be broken. Religious ceremonies occur at night, under an open sky, with songs, dances, and chants where all attending join in. Occasionally storytellers speak, but can be interrupted by impromptu singing of the attending crowd.
All elves believe that they will be reborn as some sort of natural creature if they find semi-divine enlightenment through self-exploration. They call this enlightenment the “Brightness”, and fear if they should not find it they return many times as random creatures, even monsters, before becoming an elf again. If they find it, however, they will spend one life as a wild animal, and then be reborn as an elf. Given their low birth rate, some elves believe that half-elves may be part of the elven reincarnation cycle and that their faster reproduction may prevent tedious waiting in between lives.
Elves dispose of their dead in a manner appropriate to the life and wishes of the departed. Some are laid to rest in crypts and tombs underground, while others are sealed inside trees or placed in the earth with a sapling planted above them. Cremation, burial at sea, or air burial are less common choices, but still seen occasionally. When no body is available, an item that the elf created is used as a substitute during the days-long funeral rites wherein friends and family tell stories of the deceased.
Elves embark on adventures out of a desire to explore the world, leaving their secluded forest realms to reclaim forgotten elven magic or search out lost kingdoms established millennia ago by their forefathers. For those raised among humans, the ephemeral and unfettered life of an adventurer holds natural appeal. Elves generally eschew melee because of their frailty, preferring instead to pursue classes such as wizards and rangers. Rangers make up the bulk of elven military forces, often solving problems from a distance in suitably elven vfashion. They also tame and handle falcons, hawks, and small forest animals for a variety of tasks, some quite mundane. Wizards are highly respected, and not just because of their power. In a race of people with long lives and long attention spans, magic is the pinnacle of study and concentration. Elders are often wizards, and their opinions and perspectives are heavily considered on any topic. They also tend to sound cryptically oracular. Sorcery is mostly considered to be an oddity in elven society, as it is considered a boon for short-lived races. It is seen as inappropriate to pursue magic without tending to its complex principles. Obviously some elves have an innate talent for the arcane, but it seems foolish to operate with a handful of instinctively learned spells if you have hundreds of years to pursue more knowledge.
Elves seek signs throughout their lives, both from the gods and from themselves of what they should do to find the “Brightness”. This is one reason elves often abruptly make long journeys to explore lands new to them or take up adventuring or new livelihoods – they aren’t restless, but rather following some personal sign “closer to the Brightness”. Elves strong in their thirst for Brightness, or who have progressed far in seeking it, are often aided by good fortune, and sometimes even regenerate when thought dead because of an intense inner will to survive to find and know the Brightness. The nature of the Brightness varies by individual, but all elves who embrace this philosophy firmly believe that it will be obvious when found. Some elves who find it cannot seem to manage to word the experience. Some can narrow it down to simple aphorisms, but these are inadequate, shadowy representations of the true enlightenment experience. The true indicator of the Brightness is a change in the elf’s behavior. They become blatantly serene, even in the most fearsome circumstances. Their honor becomes less of a struggle and aiding friends becomes more important than pursuing selfish goals. Some dictate their lives to finding the Brightness and are known to others as brightness seekers.
Language and Naming
Elves have their own unique language and runic alphabet, both called Elven. This alphabet is shared with Sylvan and has similarities with the secret Druidic language. All three language have a very different grammatical structure however, and scholars claim all three languages have different origins. Other races describe it like silver sliding across a harp string. According to purist, even elves cannot correctly speak their own language.
Most Elven have four names: a personal or given name; a hidden or intimate name, usually only known by close family and occasional lovers; an every day name or nickname (given to themselves, lest they be saddled with one they dislike); and a family name. Most names are polysyllabic, generally contain an internal rhyme and iambic meter. Elves can be named after ancestors or elven heroes of either sex, which leads to traditionally cross-gendered naming. This carries no social stigma, for elves recognize the allusions.
Male: Aerel, Amarandlon, Caladrel, Duardlon, Erevel, Felaelrel, Heldalel, Izkrael, Jaraerdrel, Lanliss, Meirdrarel, Narnel, Seldlon, Talathel, Variel, Zordlon.
Female: Amrunelara, Cathlessra, Dardlara, Emraeal, Faunra, Imdlara, Jathal, Maraedlara, Merisiel, Nordlara, Oparal, Praeldral, Soumral, Tessara, Varaera, Yalandlara.
Sources: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting, Pathfinder Companion Elves of Golarion