The Elves, also called "The Eldest Race", are one of the most ancient and powerful of all the intelligent races of the Warhammer World. They are tall, slender humanoids who are inherently magical and live for millennia. There are three main factions or cultures of Elves in the world: the High Elves (Asur), Dark Elves (Druchii) and Wood Elves (Asrai).
Compared to humans, Elves are taller, fair-skinned, and slender. They possess high cheekbones and slightly angular faces and slanted eyes. Some depictions show them with completely black eyes, while in others they possess normal, human-like pupils and irises.
High Elves are often shown with blonde hair, Wood Elves with brown and Dark Elves with black, but these changes are minor and cosmetic and the three groups are for the most part physically indistinguishable and all members of the same species. What defines each kindred of Elves more than anything else is their different cultures.
Assuming they do not die a violent death, Elves are capable of living for several thousand years. It is not considered impossible for an Elf to live seven thousand years or more, although only Malekith, the Witch King of Naggaroth (and his Mother Morathi) could claim such an achievement at present. It is to be noted that such achievements seem to be products of dark magic.
Elves are inherently magical, and their long lives provide magically-gifted elves more than enough time to train their skill at controlling many of the Winds of Magic. This is in contrast to human wizards, who can usually only hope to wield one form of magic during their lifetimes. However this must also be attributed to the fact the winds of magic cannot dominate them to the same degree as humans, giving them the ability to wield them on balance without the danger a human magister (who would have trouble using any wind besides the one that dominates his or her being ).Elves are resistant to disease and to physical mutations caused by Chaos, although notably they are still vulnerable to Nurgle's Rot.
There is also some evidence that Chaos can affect Elven minds in more subtle ways. Elves experience emotions and thoughts more intensely than most other intelligent races. At best, this can result in them spending centuries obsessively training or honing a skill to perfection. At worst, they can become "lost" in their experiences, over-indulging and losing track of reality, which makes them a favoured target of corruption by the Chaos God of pleasure and excess, Slaanesh.
The ancestors of the Elves, along with those of the Dwarfs and Humans, were introduced to the Warhammer World by the Old Ones. The Elves were put under the care of the Slann, and learned much from their reptilian mentors, quickly achieving a high level of civilisation, as well as an understanding of the dangers of Chaos. The Old Ones eventually transferred the Elves from the Old World to the island continent of Ulthuan. The Elves have various creation stories regarding Asuryan the Phoenix God. They eventually adopted Ulthuan as their homeland and lived mostly in peace for a long time, recording this as their Golden Age.
The Coming of Chaos
During the Coming of Chaos following the destruction of the Old Ones' polar star gates, the Elves fought valiantly against the onslaught of Daemons who invaded Ulthuan as the winds of magic blew without restraint across the world, but slowly they were driven back and threatened with annihilation. A hero named Aenarion arose, and walked through the flames at the Shrine of Asuryan. Emerging unburnt as a sign of his favour in the Phoenix God's eyes, he was crowned as the first Phoenix King of Ulthuan and the united elves drove back the Daemons temporarily.
The Keeper of Secrets N'Kari killed Aenarion's wife, the Everqueen Astarielle. Aenarion's children Morelion and Yvraine had been saved, but he did not know this at the time. In his grief Aenarion drew the Sword of Khaine and fought back the Daemons once more. During this time, Caledor Dragontamer made contact with the Dwarfs and learned from Grimnir of the Portal at the north pole which spewed Chaos energy and empowered the Daemons.
Aenarion eventually remarried Morathi and she bore him a son amd heir named Malekith. Caledor devised a plan to create a Vortex to drain away the excess magical energy flooding the world and banish most of the Daemons back to the Realm of Chaos. Aenarion defended Caledor while the great spell was put in action, but was mortally wounded in the process. Before death, he returned the cursed Sword of Khaine to its place in the Shrine of Khaine on Ulthuan.
When it came time for the Elves to rebuild their civilisation and elect a new Phoenix King, they chose Bel Shanaar of Tiranoc rather than Malekith, due to the concerns of some of Ulthuan's princes about Malekith's temperament and Aenarion's altered personality after he drew the Sword of Khaine. Malekith instead became the leader of the Elven military and prince of Aenarion's own kingdom of Nagarythe.
It was at this time that the Elves explored the seas and shores of the world surrounding Ulthuan and established several colonies, most of them in the Old World to Ulthuan's east. They fought battles against Orcs, Goblins and Beastmen, and also re-established contact with the Dwarfs. Trade flourished between the two peoples, for a time.
The Sundering and the Dark Elves
Though he had outwardly accepted being passed over a Aenarion's heir, Malekith had internally seethed with rage and resentment against the other princes of Ulthuan, and sought to bide his time before making his move to seize the throne of the Phoenix King. Malekith used an inquisition against the Elven Cult of Pleasure dedicated to Slaanesh (secretly headed by Morathi) as a cover to murder his political opponents and enemies across Ulthuan. Eventually, he poisoned the Phoenix King Bel Shanar, dismissing the king's death as a suicide.
Malekith proceeded to massacre many of the princes who opposed him for this act and then walked through the flames at the Shrine of Asuryan to claim the Phoenix God's blessing. However, Asuryan rejected Malekith's right to rule and he was horribly burnt in the fires.
Malekith was slowly nursed back to health over many decades by his mother and grafted to a suit of magical armour to reduce the constant pain he now endured as a result of his burns. Malekith launched a massive civil war, attempting to claim the Phoenix Throne by force using his partisans among Ulthuan's nobility and the military of Nagarythe.
Eventually, facing defeat, he planned to undo the Great Vortex to wipe away the forces of his enemies. However, loyalist mages interfered with this plan and the resulting magical cataclysm sank much of western Ulthuan into the sea, an event known as The Sundering. Malekith and his followers fled northwards across the ocean, founding the new kingdom of Naggaroth on the western continent and becoming the Dark Elves. The loyalists of the Phoenix King remained in Ulthuan and became known as the High Elves or Asur while Malekith's people revelled in the appellation of Dark Elves, known in their own tongue as the Druchii.
The War of the Beard
After the Sundering, the Dark Elves, seeking to stir up dissension in the growing alliance between the Asur and the Dawi, posed as High Elves and attacked a Dwarf caravan. Outraged, the Dwarfs sent a messenger to Ulthuan to demand recompense from the Phoenix King.
The High Elves, always arrogant, responded by shaving the Dwarf's beard and sending him back to the mountains of the Old World, claiming they knew nothing of the attack. This angered the Dwarfs even more and they began to attack High Elf colonies in the Old World in what became known as the War of the Beard.
The war raged for many years and finally culminated in the 14th siege of Tor Alessi, where the Dwarf monarch Gotrek Starbreaker killed the Phoenix King Caledor II. The Dwarfs took the crown of the Phoenix King and retreated to their holds, while the High Elves abandoned their colonies in the Old World as assaults from the Dark Elves on Ulthuan intensified. Relations between the two races have never fully recovered from this tragedy.
The Elves worship a wide variety of deities of varying power and temperament. These beings are divided into two main spheres of influence, with neither having dominance over the other. This is encapsulated in the belief known as Yenlui, or "balance"; a philosophy that dictates that there must be a harmony between the intense light and dark natures of the mercurial Elven spirit.
The most widely acknowledged Elven gods are the Cadai or the gods of the Heavens, who represent the more positive characteristics of Elven culture and the natural world. These are ruled by Asuryan, the greatest of the gods. In Elven belief many of the unsavory aspects of their nature and the world at large are also represented by gods known as the Cytharai,or gods of the Underworld. Of these, Khaine is the most well-known, being the god of murder and war.
Whilst Dark Elves aim to rule the world, they at least make their ambitions plain. Not so the High Elves, who seek control under the guise of protection, and care not what consequence might have on other lands. The Wood Elves instead are held in contempt by both, for they seek neither to rule nor control, only to endure.[2a]
The High Elves, or the Asur, as they call themselves,[1c] are one of the most ancient and powerful mortal civilisations within the Warhammer World.[7a] Hailing from a mighty mist-shrouded island-continent located within the centre of the Great Ocean,[1e] the High Elves of Ulthuan are a proud and mighty nation of masterful warriors, peerless mages and lords of the sky and sea. They are an ancient race with powerful armies and even grander magic, building a grand and all-mighty civilisation who, alongside the Dwarfs, fought a long-forgotten, apocalyptic war which saw some of the greatest and most powerful mortal heroes battle against the great darkness that tried to consume the world many thousands of years ago. At the zenith of their power, the world was truly theirs for the taking.[7a]
Yet their noble and compassionate nature, which was once one of the Elves greatest and most noble character was soon replaced by a great sense of pride and hubris in their own vanity and superiority. In their blind arrogance, they've only succeeded in shattering their once powerful friendship with the Dwarfs, culminating in a Great War which only crippled these two elder races and shattered whatever bright future there was for this young world. Isolated and alone in a world they no longer control, the High Elves are facing the twilight years of their existence, their cities no longer bustling with vibrancy and life as they used to be but now serve as a gloomy reminder of their ultimate, impending demise.[7a]
For the High Elves, long hair is a symbol of strength, power and nobility -- the clearest token of a real warrior. Just as the Dwarfs find great significance in their beards, so too do the High Elves hold their hair in high esteem. Because of this, locks of hair are also important talismans for the Elves. This ancient custom stems from the greatest heroes of Elven legend, who have always been depicted with long flowing hair, and it is said that it is from here that their might springs. All High Elves decorate their hair with combs made of silver or gold, and embellished with bright gems. Each jewel has a different meaning, and reflects the Elf's role in his family, his rank in battle, or can even be a token of favour granted by a betrothed.[1j]
The vast majority of Elves do not live in the Old World but upon the island-continent of Ulthuan. The Elves are accomplished international merchants; their ships effectively control passage of the Great Western Ocean, enabling their fleets to travel freely between Lustria, Cathay, and the Old World. Most of these traveling Elves are Sea Elves from the outer-coasts of Ulthuan, often merchants or travelers spending a year or so in the Old World before moving on to somewhere new.[4b]
To facilitate their trade with humans, some Elves have settled in Old World ports, usually within an 'Elvish Quarter' set aside for them by city authorities. Because the human cities highly value Elvish trade, Elvish Quarters are allowed to administer their own affairs, and are regarded as being off-limits to uninvited humans. Many of these Quarters are fortified, the Elves their own watchmen and militia. The largest population of Elves is that at Marienburg, where there may be as many as 500 individuals at one time.[4b]
Every Old World port with a population of over ten thousand has its own Elven quarter. A typical trading community would have a population of about 1% of the total city population. Although trading posts are sometimes maintained in smaller cities, this is rare, and often occupation is sporadic or temporary traders coming or going, a family settling for a few years before retiring back home.[5b]
The Eonir inhabiting the Laurelorn are a distinct elven culture that borrows traditions from both the Asrai (Athel Loren) and Asur (Ulthuan). Although Humans consider Eonir to be 'Wood Elves', there are several key differences between the Eonir and Asrai. Eonir are not spiritually bound to the forest by ancient spirit-pacts in the same way Asrai are bound to Athel Loren. The Eonir's relationship with forest spirits is weaker, and they're more inclined to venture from their glades to interact with outsiders.[3d] In fact, the kingdom of Laurelorn is older than Athel Loren and retains elements of Asur culture from the original Ulthuan colony. Eonir regard the Asur as hypocrites who abandoned the Old World, and then had the audacity to dispute Laurelorn's independence. On some level, Eonir sympathise with the Druchii of Naggaroth because they were also ostracised by the Asur.[3a]
Eonir religion recognises the entire pantheonic mandala, making them spiritually closer to Asur than Asrai. Meditation, divination, and burial practices vary according to birth kindred. Cityborn (Toriour) kin bind deceased souls into gemstones, whereas departed Forestborn (Faniour) souls are surrendered to the Weave and often reincarnate as Tree Kin. Eonir settlements are organised by a longstanding genealogical tradition that distinguishes between settler and refugee families.[3d]
During the reign of the Phoenix King Caradryel the Peacemaker, the Dark Elves launched a new invasion of Ulthuan. In response, Caradryel recalled the Elven forces from the Old World to deal with the Dark Elves. However, some High Elf colonists living in the Old World refused to leave as they had grown attached to their new home. Without the protection of the High Elf military, these colonists were vulnerable to attacks from Greenskins and Beastmen as well as Dwarfs.[6a]
Over time they retreated further and further into the mysterious enchanted forest of Athel Loren on the eastern border of what is now Bretonnia. The spirits of the forest were wary of the Elves at first, however they soon discovered that the Elves could protect the forest during the long winter months when the forest spirits were dormant.[6a]
Eventually two Elves, named Orion and Ariel, became the mortal avatars of the Elven gods of the hunt and fertility Kurnous and Isha, respectively, and they rule the Wood Elves to this day. Over time the Wood Elves became inextricably linked with the fate of Athel Loren itself.[6a]
The Dark Elves, not so unlike their High Elven brethren, possess a cold if not glamorous beauty which only helps to hide the corruption and vileness which lurks beneath their skin. All Elves are beautiful, but such beauty is different between the three peoples.
The beauty of the Asur is one of light and glamour whilst the beauty of the Asrai is feral and wild. Yet the beauty of the Dark Elves is a cold beauty, being said to take a man's breath away, both figuratively and literally. No matter their allegiance, all Elves are long-lived to the point of immortality, possessed of a self-assurance that falls little short of other-worldliness. They are swift of both body and reflex, capable of an effortless grace that shames the most elegant of men. Though all Elves can broadly be accounted equal, the Dark Elves deem that only they make full use of their natural gifts, for they alone of Elvenkind do not allow such concepts as mercy and tradition to shackle their deeds.[2a]
Elves are cunning of mind and clever beyond the ken of mere mortals. Their every word conceals a depth of meaning that is altered wholly by the slightest change of inflection or stance. Dark Elves, in particular, are adept at the art of twisting speech to serve their cause and can gleefully manipulate the emotions of another to whatever end best suits their own interests.
Thus do the Naggarothi make and break alliances in a careless fashion, knowing that their silver tongues can always be counted upon to heal the wounds of the past. It is this, more than anything else, which renders Dark Elf society so opportunistic and impetuous.[2a]
When the deeds of old can be erased by a cleverly-spoken word, what need is there for integrity and law? Though a Dark Elf's swiftness of mind and deftness of body serve him well individually, it is the combination of the two which grants him such murderous prowess in battle.
Every detail of an opponent's poise and stance speaks volumes to an attentive Elf, telling him not only where and when the enemy intends to strike, but also the manner in which the act of attacking will weaken the foe's guard. Thus has many an enemy died midway through a blow he thought fit to end the battle, his life stolen by an impossibly swift blade, guided by a quicksilver mind.[2a]
It must be pointed out that Chaos has left its mark upon the Elves, just as it has on almost all the races of the world. In this race, however, the power of the Dark Gods has taken a subtle form. It has fanned the arrogance of the Elven soul, reinforcing all that is prideful and hubristic. Long ago, compassion could have been said to be the Elves' defining trait, for such was the nature granted them by the Old Ones, but now generosity has been eclipsed by narcissism, empathy by conceit. However, Chaos has not changed all the Elves in equal manner.[2a]
To the Wood Elves, it has made them isolationist, deniers of the wider world who blindly hope that, so long as their realm knows order, no danger can threaten it. The High Elves have become ever more stubborn, having gained certainty beyond words' ability to convey that they, and they alone, can shield the world against the perils it faces. [2a]
For the Dark Elves, however, Chaos has brought enlightenment -- the knowledge that the world exists only for the pleasure of the strong. They have embraced this revelation with a burning passion that shames the cold hearts of their ancient cousins. Indeed, it may yet set the very world afire.[2a]
For the Dark Elves, all of the world's bounty is theirs to do with as they wish -- provided that they have the strength to claim it. They have turned aside the benevolent gods of the Elven pantheon, flocking instead to the worship of their more capricious and cruel deities, in particular Khaine, Lord of Murder.
It is a match well made, for the Dark Elves care nothing for the sanctity of life and consider the "lesser races" to be nothing more than insects begging to be ground beneath a boot heel if no more productive or entertaining use can be found for them. Naturally, the Dark Elves consider all other intelligent races inferior. Even those who approach them in skill and intellect, the Naggarothi dismiss as weaklings, sneering at the laws and traditions that waste resources nurturing the weak even as they shackle the ambitions of the strong.[2a]
The Dark Elves have no such restraint; in Naggaroth, the weak perish, and the strong take whatever they desire. None of this is to say that the Dark Elves wish to see all other peoples exterminated out of hand. So long as mines must be worked, farms must be tended, fortresses must be raised and ritual sacrifices are required to win the favour of the gods, there will always be a place for primitives in the realm of Naggaroth. Indeed, some of the more capable barbarians can even be wielded as weapons in their own right, manipulated by threats, trinkets and empty promises into assailing the shores of hated Ulthuan or else wreaking havoc upon the high seas. Only the High Elves have no hope of survival under the yoke of Naggarothi rule, for every Dark Elf dreams of the day when their ancient enemies will at last be scoured from every corner of the world. None consider the possibility that, when the last High Elf dies screaming in agony upon Khaine's altar, that ultimate victory might leave a void of purpose that is impossible to fill. On that day, the Dark Elves will learn just how much of their souls have been devoured by their ancient hatred -- and they may not find the tally to their liking.[2a]
- 1: Warhammer Armies: High Elves (8th Edition)
- 2: Warhammer Armies: Dark Elves (8th Edition)
- 2a: pg. 7
- 3: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 4th ED: Archives of the Empire Vol I
- 4: Warhammer Fantasy Battle Rulebook (3rd Edition)
- 5: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition: Core Rulebook
- 6:Warhammer Armies: Wood Elves (8th Edition)
- 6a: pg. 7
- 7: Warhammer Armies: High Elves (7th Edition)
- 7a: pg. 3