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Elven Settlements

by Rodger Burns

Because it's canon that Alphatia has more elves than just the Shiye. A lot of elven communities across Alphatia are probably just Shiye daughter-colonies like the elves in Norwold, not very noteworthy, but a few are different enough to deserve their own writeups.

Theranderol - The northwestern forests are home to Clan Ildaen, a small clanhold of elves that have the distinction of being the first of their kind to join the Alphatian Empire. The elves of Clan Ildaen came to the Alphatian continent only shortly after Landfall, and offered the new arrivals their counsel and assistance in exchange for a place within the Empire. The Alphatians accepted, and the Ildaen elves began to plant woodlands in the highland plains southeast of Sundsvall.

The basic terms of the Alphatian-Ildaen partnership still hold true today, and most common Alphatians consider the Ildaen elves to be ideal neighbors - polite, courteous, generous with advice and assistance, and understanding of personal failings. The nobility and royalty have a slightly different view, though, born out of knowledge of Clan Ildaen's secret history - a matter that has become well-known if rarely spoken of in the two millenia since the Ildaen first approached the Alphatians. The Ildaen elves didn't come to Alphatia out of altruism, or even enlightened self-interest - they were acting on behalf of no less than the Immortal Odin, who'd saved their ancestors from the wreck of Evergrun and wanted trustworthy agents within the newly-arrived Alphatian culture. Odin's motives in placing the Ildaen elves were simple - the Alphatians were an unknown element on Mystara, magically capable and without guiding restraint. If their arrival on Mystara was likely to provoke a second Blackmoor, Odin wanted to be able to have eyes on the ground that could give him early warning - and if necessary disable the threat from within, at the cost of their own lives if necessary. Fortunately, such extreme measures proved unnecessary... but the rulers of the Alphatian Empire know what the Ildaen elves represent, and know they're being quietly watched and judged.

The total membership of Clan Ildaen is thought to be around 10,000 adult elves - most of which dwell in the clan's main forests, in northwest Theranderol. Individual adventurers, sages and emissaries may dwell in other towns and cities of the Alphatian Empire, but the center of the clan - including absolutely all childbearing and child-raising - is kept within the Ildaen forests. Education of youngsters is intense, to the point of indoctrination - children are told of the history of the clan, its debt to its Immortal patrons, and the strengths and weaknesses alike of Alphatian human society from the cradle. Nearly all grow up putting the Clan and the word of its elders above all else, and even the few that choose otherwise find that there's little they can rebel against - Ildaen elves' devotion to the Clan is well-known enough that even renegades are often thought to be merely putting on an act, faking rebellion so as to hear the unguarded words of those who don't wish the Clan well.

The central clanholds of the Ildaen elves are strange and mysterious places - living palaces made half of lovingly-shaped plant life, half dug out of soil piled into ramparts, arches and foreboding mounds. Outsiders (which includes elves of the Shiye and other non-Ildaen ancestries, as well as humans and other races) almost never visit an Ildaen clanhold except as a sign of great trust or great need, and even then their access is strictly controlled by attendants and magical wardings. The clan relic of the Ildaen elves is the Cauldron of Dreams; it can be used to brew one ounce per year of oil of memory, a strange substance that requires many strange ingredients, including blood willingly drawn from the veins of a living Ildaen elf. Oil of memory can be distilled and rubbed into leather or wood, which can then be crafted into a horse's bridle or ship's keel; the resulting mount/vehicle will always be able to find its way to the side of the elf who donated blood to brew the oil. The Cauldron of Dreams can also be used to construct magic quarterstaffs, spears, potions and spell scrolls affecting thought, emotion, and memory, and similar magic items in the same manner as other demihuman relics.

Foresthome - The Arrovion elves dwell in the southwestern woodlands. They are not a clan - they don't have organization or leadership, and no real need for it except in times of sudden crisis (when leadership devolves onto whoever is most confident and forthright). The Arrovion elves were originally from Shiye-Lawr, but deliberately parted from their kindred more than twelve centuries ago, when their ancestors chose to explore a new kind of magic. Arrovion spellcasting doesn't involve books or ritual incantations - it instead draws on blood and inborn power, summoning magical energies and trapping them within the skin of the invoker. To the Arrovion elves, this is a much smoother and more natural way of using magical energies than the staid and formalist methods of memorization and recitation - to the Shiye, though, Arrovion magic is a dangerous and foolish exposure to forces that no mortal being was meant to be exposed to.

The Arrovion approach to magic leaks over into the rest of their livelihood as well. They have no cities or permanent dwellings, and live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (though admittedly one enhanced by frequent and ubiquitous use of arcane magic); their only tools and craft-goods are those bought from human traders, and their culture and learning is all oral tradition. Arrovion songs, chants and dance movements are thought by many humans to be strangely beautiful and compelling, but they have nothing in the way of art, sculpture, instrumental music or even woodcrafting in the manner of other elven peoples.

For the most part, the Arrovion elves keep to themselves. A few Alphatian wizards have tried (and failed) to adopt the Arrovion magical tradition, but most humans keep well enough alone - the marks of Arrovion magic can be quite disturbing to any who haven't grown up among the elves of Foresthome. Preparing even the simplest cantrip can cause an Arrovion elf's flesh to discolor or glow faintly, as magical energies become bound up in skin and muscle to be released on command; more powerful spells can temporarily warp flesh or cause hair to be replaced with chitin or fur. An Arrovion elf in the prime of life, focused on preparing all the magic his body can hold, often looks like something out of the deranged nightmares of a denizen of Shraek.

Despite their odd reputation, the Arrovion elves have not caused much trouble in the past - but this may be changing. Strange creatures from beyond the bounds of the Empire have been quietly coming to Alphatia in the past decade or so, slipping past the borders unannounced and meeting not with the Empress or members of the High Council but with Arrovion elders - and sometimes staying. A colony of metamorphs is known to have settled in the Foresthome woods recently, as has a tribe of thouls; whether the latter includes shamans or wokani is unclear. A pair of malferas, a sphinx, and a sollux sun brother are also known to have visited the Arrovion lands in recent years. No outsider has yet determined any reason for this sudden interest in the Arrovion elves, and adventurers may be asked to investigate the matter.

The Arrovion elves are believed not to have a clan relic - the Shiye elves certainly have not provided them with a daughter-Tree of Life. However there are some rumors that some of the elders of the Arrovion elves have gained sufficient skill in magic to transform their own bodies into something approaching the powers of a demihuman clan relic - a sacrifice that would trap the invoker in a state of half-death, without the ability to clearly reason or to act on one's own accord, but which would make the invoker's body into a powerful tool for his kindred to focus magical energies through. These are, of course, just rumors - there's no sign that any Arrovion elf has undergone this transformation. If it did happen, though, the Shiye elves would likely consider it an absolute abomination, and their king would begin quietly maneuvering to have the new Arrovion living relic destroyed.

Eadrin - Clan Diedne has resided in the northeastern woodlands for the past century. The elves of this clan descend from the Shiye, and originally emigrated to the lowlands of Randel - but a plague of undead monstrosities overtook their original holdings a hundred years ago, and the clan fled to the sparse pine forests of Eadrin's highlands. Their exile was always intended to be temporary, but the undead infesting the clan's former holdings have proved unexpectedly resilient and the Diedne elves have been unable to return home.

As a result of their long exile, the Diedne holdings are unusually poor and shabby - for elves, at any rate. Their homes and structures have an undeniable elegance and grace, but are distinctly temporary in nature - walls are made of branches trimmed and slotted into place rather than living trees coaxed into growing in exactly the right way, roofs are not blankets of interwoven broadleaf but instead simple oilcloth stretched over a dwelling. The somewhat slapdash nature of Clan Diedne's holdings is as much choice as necessity, though - an unspoken statement that the clan doesn't intend to reside in Eadrin forever, and fully intends to return home someday. The fact that 'someday' was originally intended to be decades ago, and that the clan's refusal to put down permanent structures forces the clan's members to spend a great deal of time on repairs and busywork, is a source of much tension between the tradition-minded Diedne elders and the more impulsive youngsters.

The former Diedne holdings in central Randel are something of an eyesore and danger spot, even today - a muddy, fetid mire during the rainy season, fading to barren withered heath in the heat of summer and fall, and not home to any living creature larger than a housefly. Human and elven war-parties alike have assembled, once or twice a decade, to try and clear out the undead infestation, but the monsters here are unusually numerous and potent - including banshees, apparitions, wights, sacrols, and greater wyrds; also present are a great many undead skeletons, individually easy to destroy but apparently capable of reassembling and reanimating themselves with each new moon. The first attempt or two to reclaim the lost Diedne territories met with apparent success initially, but when the victorious adventurers reported back to the Diedne elders they found that their enemies had regrouped in their absence; the contrast between reported success and actual circumstance was extremely disheartening to the Diedne, and they remain extremely suspicious to this day of facile claims of victory over the undead. Alphatian wizards that have studied the ruins of the Diedne lands claim that some sort of direct intervention by the Diedne elves is needed to break the curse and lay the undead to permanent rest - but the details of such intervention elude them, and the Diedne are too cautious to act without certain knowledge. While they wait, the overflow of undead continues to trouble the villages and towns of Randel.

Internal relations and politics of the clan, meanwhile, are rather twisted and vicious. Opinions on the future twist in three ways - the elders of the clan have the dominant view, which is to claim a desire to return to Randel but refuse to take action until more is known and a clear path to success is open. While they wait, they ask for charity from others and claim the rights of a government in exile; an attitude that wins them fewer friends than they think. An opposing faction, meanwhile, wishes to give up Randel as lost and focus on improving the forests of Eadrin - their work is constructive, planting oak, yew and rowan trees among the rather sickly highland pine and crafting sturdy, long-lasting homes, but also abandons any sort of responsibility for the plague of undeath left behind in Randel. Finally, a third group wishes to take immediate and forceful action to reclaim the clan's Randel lands, regardless of the risk or likelihood of success. This faction acts fervently but without much concern for morals or the needs of others, focusing on the greater good - they might even be willing to traffic in dark magics or Entropic pacts in the hope of achieving their goal. One notable action in the past decade or so has been the purchase of human slave children from Arogansa and Theranderol - these children are tested for clerical aptitude and affinity for the precepts of Eiryndul, and those suitable raised as acolytes to (eventually) serve as shock-troopers in raids on the Randel undead. Less pleasant is the fate of those children who lack clerical talent - they're sent northwards sooner, as sacrificial victims to scout out where the undead are likely to strike at living prey...