Threads of Invasion
The ancient elves of Xen’drik battled the giants to earn their freedom. In contemporary Eberron, modern elves are split into a number of distinct cultures; the Aerenal, the Valenar, the Khorvaire elves and the Drow of Xen’drik. Each of these distinctive cultures have a common shared belief in ancestor worship but each with a unique twist.
The elves of Aerenal
An Aereni elf can have a natural lifespan of up to 750 years, and is an “adult” at 110 years. The Aereni elves mature mentally at a rate similar to humans, and elves develop mentally at the same rate as humans. An elf’s mental facilities don’t deteriorate due to age as a human’s will, so the 110-year-old elf is still sharp and alert – but he is also just as firmly set in his ways as a hundred-year-old human, and it’s difficult for him to adapt to entirely new things.
The notion of adulthood at 110 years is driven by a society that places great expectations on its people. Elven society is driven by tradition rather than innovation – by absolutely perfecting the techniques of the past instead of developing entirely new ways of doing things. Innovation does happen – and an Aereni player character might be the great elf innovator of this age – but it isn’t enshrined as a cultural value as it often is among humanity; instead elves take comfort in the familiar. Looking to a 110-year-old warrior initiate and a 20 year old human warrior, it’s not that it took the elf 110 years to learn the same skills as the human. Instead, it’s that the elf knows a truly astounding array of highly specialised techniques and traditions, while the human accomplishes the same things with far less style and finesse. When the ogre attacks with a club, the elf shifts into the fell-the-mighty-tree stance perfected by the ogre-slaying hero Jhaelis Tal (and he could tell you the whole saga of Jhaelis) while the human fighter says “Hey! I can stab him in the arm!” and does that. At the end of the day, the result ends up being about the same, but the style is completely different.
Intense, lengthy apprenticeships that focus with great intensity on every different aspect of a trade are the norm in Aerenal. As an example, an Aereni wizard might spend five years simply studying somatic components (mystical gestures) before ever learning to cast a spell. He would learn precise pronunciation of verbal components, and his fireball incantation would have the exact same accent as the elf who first devised the spell – and he might even learn the incantation from that elf. By contrast, a human wizard in Arcanix would learn that you can kind of fudge incantations if you find a pronunciation that resonates with your personal aura. Aerenal teaches perfect technique; Arcanix encourages you to improvise a bit.
In Aerenal the most remarkable members of society are preserved as animate Deathless entities, lifeforms much like undead but kept alive by the positive energy of Irian. These Deathless serve as advisers and defenders and are considered by those who worship them to be divine as a whole, in the form of the Undying Court.
Thus, the young Aereni wizard can learn magic from the elf who first invented the fireball, because that elf is still around. The Aereni believe that there is a limit to the number of Deathless the island can support, so you have to be truly impressive to earn a place on the Court, and that’s the great drive of an Aereni life. The consolation prize – if you’re close but not quite worthy enough – is to have your soul preserved in a spirit idol, where others can consult with it in the future.
So the Aereni don’t let go. They avoid death by literally keeping their ancestors with them. The line of Vol took the approach of negative necromancy, turning their best and brightest into vampires and liches. Unlike the Undying Court, there’s no obvious limitation on a vampire population, provided there’s enough living beings to provide them with blood. However, the Undying Court asserts that all Mabaran (negatively-charged) undead inherently consume the life energy of Eberron itself to survive… essentially, that the Vol practices would ultimately destroy all life if left unchecked. Hence, the bitter war that ended with the extermination of the line, and the ongoing duty of the Deathguard to eliminate Mabaran undead.
The other major elven culture of Aernal are the Tairnadal.
Tairnadal society is relentlessly martial. War is the lens through which the Tairnadal view their patrons. These legends arose in conflict, and so the Tairnadal seek to maintain a constant state of conflict. Preferably this involves an actual, true threat, but when there is no true threat they will create challenging scenarios. They hunt wild beasts and engage in complex wargames. This isn’t just frivolous behaviour; they believe that through these actions they are preserving their greatest souls. They must keep going, or those spirits could be lost.
Rather than preserve the elves of the present day as deathless, the Tairnadal seek to preserve the legendary elves of the past. They believe that by emulating the deeds of an ancestor, they can serve as a spiritual anchor for that ancestor and ultimately become a representation for them in the present day.
From youth, Tairnadal children are trained for battle. At first, they are trained in the fundamentals, giving them a chance to prove their aptitudes and show their true nature. At this point they are selected by a patron ancestor, at which point they are assigned to a warband well suited to learning the skills of that ancestor.
Ask ten people in Sharn, and you’ll hear that the Valenar are bloodthirsty brutes who love to pillage the weak; that they seek glory in battle and won’t fight a weaker foe; that they are bound by a strict code of honour; that they have no honour; that every Valenar is bound to a horse. The people of Sharn aren’t wrong; rather, all of these things are true – about different Tairnadal. There are Tairnadal who abide by a strict code of honour, and there are those who act in a relentlessly dishonourable fashion. There are those who won’t fight a weaker foe and those who seek out the weak. There are those who will draw blood at the slightest provocation and those who will never strike an innocent regardless of how severely they are provoked. Because they will do their absolute best to act as their patron ancestor would act. And there is a vast spectrum of ancestors. While we often call them “heroes”, the real point of the Patron Ancestors is that the are legends; some are infamous as much as they are famous. These are the people who defined the elves during their greatest struggles.
The Patron Ancestors are people who played a defining role in one of the great conflicts, with something about them that makes them memorable, and that the Tairnadal never want to forget.
The spirit chooses the elf, not the other way around. For those chosen, it is their cultural, spiritual and religious duty to be paragons of that spirit. Your ancestor may dictate that it is your duty to be the purest, most honourable and virtuous person you can possibly be. By contrast, if you are chosen by the Butcher, it is your duty to be a brutal, ruthless murderer who preys on the weak. The spirit has chosen you, and it’s your duty to follow where it leads and to become that ancestor in the modern day.
When a patron ancestor chooses a Tairnadal, it forms a bond to the elf’s spirit. When that elf emulates their ancestor, they draw on that bond. A typical elf can’t communicate directly with his or her patron, though this is a gift that mystics and Revenant Blades develop; but the bond is there, and through it the elf have access to the instincts and the guidance of their patron. If the elf turns her back on her patron, she is throwing that gift away.
Despite this, Tairnadal aren’t clones – it is up to the elf to choose the best way to emulate their ancestors.
The Tairnadal humans know best are the elves of Valenar. They came to Khorvaire during as mercenaries during the Last War. They sold their swords to Cyre, but late in the war turned on Cyre and seized a section of land as their own. The newly appointed High King asserted that this territory had been claimed by their ancestors long before humanity came to Khorvaire and that it was theirs by right.
The Valenar don’t seem to have a particular interest in being lords of the land. They’ve passed a great deal of civic administration duties to Khoravar or Lyrandar, and largely ignored the human population. They’ve claimed a kingdom, but they aren’t very attached to it. In Valenar, almost all civilians are humans or Khoravar.
As Tairnadal, the Valenar elves worship only their warrior ancestors. By emulating the deeds of their ancestors, they believe the spirits can live again. They do not resurrect their fallen or beloved as deathless.
The elves of Khorvaire
Most of the elves encountered in the former Five Nations have some connection to House Phiarlan or Thuranni. Others are descended from exiles who fled in the aftermath of the war between the Undying Court and the line of Vol.
The Khorvaire elves are as diverse as the elf race as a whole. They divide themselves by nation or by Dragonmarked House and often follow the local customs though a few still hold their own races believes in ancestor worship but not to the same degree as the Valenar or Aereni. Their half-elven descendents, the Khoravar, have formed a separate community.
The Drow themselves don’t worship ancestors are much as they hold the preservation of their traditions. They view themselves as holding true to their ancestors more then any other by living as they did. The Drow also worship a scorpion god known as Vulkoor, though some Khorvairian scholars suspect this god to be an aspect of the Mockery, a deity of the Dark Six.
On the WotC website you can find some online articles that might prove interesting.
Dragonshard: The Elves of Valenar, Part 1
Dragonshard: The Elves of Valenar, Part 2
Dragonshard: The Khoravar – Half-Elves of Khorvaire
Dragonshard: The Elves of Aerenal, Part 1
Dragonshard: The Elves of Aerenal, Part 2
Expeditionary Dispatches: Crossing Valenar
Expeditionary Dispatches: The Walls of Taer Valaestas
Expeditionary Dispatches: The People of Taer Valaestas
Expeditionary Dispatches: Dangers of Taer Valaestas
Eye on Eberron: Vadallia and Cardaen (Subscriber only)