From Dragon Eye Atlas
At first glance, an elf looks like a tall, slender human with pointy ears and perfect complexion. In fact, by human standards most elves are superbly beautiful and some of them unnaturally so. Their colours are always clear - black or blonde hair, but never brown or another mix. Light, almost white skin. Crystal-blue or emerald-green eyes. There are legends of dark elves, with skin as black as the night and eyes in ruby-red or pitch-black, but those have never been seen on Auseka.
They are also old, both as a race and individually. That seemingly young elven lady you just met? Chances are that she met your grandfather when she came this way the last time. Elves grow about half as quickly as humans for the first fifty or so years of their life, and then - at a physical age equivalent to that of a 25 year old human - they just stop aging. A few elves are known to be several thousand years old, and there might be even more ancient ones as these are details they rarely share with outsiders.
Elves have also been around since the dawn of time. Their own tales and legends point back at least 50,000 years, and many of the ancient tales are hard to date precisely so that is just an estimate. They had already lived long on Auseka when humans started to behave civilized, building the first huts and villages just a few thousand years ago. That is why they still call humans and gnomes “the younger races”.
For all that seems to be perfection given by the gods, there is much about elves that makes them difficult to deal with and might explain why humans, not elves, are dominating the world.
Politics and Relations
The most unique feature about elven culture - all of them, because like humans and dwarves, elves too are not the same everywhere in Auseka - is that they do not have fixed social hierarchies. There is no strict equivalent of social classes, and especially nothing like nobility within elves.
That is not to say they have perfect equality. An elven war party will have a commander and if larger, a full command structure. An elven town council has a leader and a hierarchy of positions and administrative responsibilities. However, all of these hierarchies are based on spiritual guidance, tradition and divination. Like dwarves, the idea is meritocratic, and the most capable elf leads any particular endeavour, and lead only that. The commander of the war party may sit in a low position on the town council, while the major may be a simple scout in a hunting expedition.
Unlike dwarves, who look to past accomplishments to find the most worthy for any position, elves look towards the future. They place the one with the greatest potential or the one whose fate it is into positions. Someone whom the oracles have seen as a great weaponsmith will be taught everything about smithing and will be given his own smithy to run, so that his talent can come out fully, long before he has actually become a master smith.
Since ranks and positions within elven society are assigned by fate and providence, they are only very rarely fought over. It is by far more common that a leader willingly hands over his position to someone whom the spirits have sent to lead.
A shortcoming of this cultural principle is that positions can sometimes change hands rapidly and policies can change with them. Elves see no problem in this, but in diplomacy and trade with other races, it has created an impression that they are fickle and can change theirs mind at any time, and that even signed agreements or treaties count little.
Elves also have a rather losse attitude - by the standards of other races - when it comes to personal relationships, both friendships and romances. It might be that several hundred years is just stretching it too far or that they are generally less attached to things and people. For whatever reason, elves are famous for their deep and lasting romances, which can go on for centuries even if the two lovers rarely see each other.
The unsung part of those romances is that there is no concept of faithfulness within elves. Both lovers are likely to have romantic encounters with others, and may even fall in love here and there, all without ever losing their feelings for one another. Jealousy is an emotion unfamiliar to elves.
Elven society is also the one where men and women are the most equal. One major reason for this might be that elves are not fertile every month like humans, and thousands of years of practical experience, alchemy, herbalism and magic give elven women essentially free choice when it comes to pregnancy.
There is also no such thing as a “bastard” child. Elven families are large and meandering, due to the fact that six, seven or more generations can easily share a table at a family dinner. These expanded families typically welcome any new member, as birthrates are low among elves.
This general elven attitude of less attachment expands to things as well. The elven concept of property is quite alien to humans, and has at least three levels.
The most personal possessions are in a class of their own. When speaking the common tongue, an elf will even call these things “me” instead of “mine” (e.g. "me bow" instead of "my bow"), because that is the closest that a non-elven language can express that he really considers these items an extension of his self. Most elves have only a few of such items and they value them highly. And offering money to buy such an object, or asking what its price would be is a question that to an elf is entirely meaningless. The concept of trade simply does not apply to this category of things.
The second concept of property could be described as “something I am currently using”. It applies to much of the equipment of an elf, his sword, armour, backpack. But also to the house he lives in or the boat he built. Such objects have a value - since they are useful - and can be traded or given away. In fact, it is not unknown for elves to give such objects away for free or just leave them somewhere once they are no longer useful and it seems unlikely that they will be useful again in the future. To an elf, giving an object that he no longer needs to someone who currently or in the near future has a need of just that object makes more sense than hanging on to it. He might ask for an exchange against something he thinks will be useful to him. The exchanged items can have vastly different values by human standards, but among elves if the item given away has less usefulness than the item receives, the exchange is considered a good deal.
Obviously, elves are not generally good traders, and while there is trade between elven realms and human or dwarf realms, it is by far not at the scale of the trade between dwarves and humans.
There is a third category of things, and this can also apply to animals. Elves do not see animals as things that can be possessed or that are valuable for their usefulness. But they can fall into this third category, which is roughly “things I just happen to have right now”. Within elven society, this most often refers to things an elf holds for someone else, especially when bringing it somewhere. It also applies to all things that are not directly useful, and among those most prominently to coins, gold, gems and other valuables that are of no practical use, but it can be advantageous to carry them around for the purpose of exchanging them.
For elves living among humans in a town or city, most of the possessions they “own” there fall into this third category, because these things are considered highly temporary and a part of the city that the elf just happens to be sitting on at that time.
This whole system is most clearly seen in the fact that an elf who has to flee his town home in a hurry - from fire or an angry mob that wants to hang all elves - won’t stop to pick up even one item, even if it is right there and he would just have to extend his hand. But if there is a personal item (from the first class) in the house, he will run to get it, just like a human would run to save his youngest child.
As an invention and tool for trade, money is much too useful to have been passed up by elves. However, money is much less important in most of the elven cultures compared to human or dwarf society. Many more things are organized communally, and among smaller groups (the equivalent of human villages or tribes) barter, exchange or shared resources are more common.
Another clear result of elven attitude to power, property or promises (though that later is largely a prejudice) is that elven society is stagnant. There has been close to no social, magical or technological development during the past thousand years, while humans have expanded and built empires. Or at least one empire. Elves live more or less the same way that they lived a hundred generations ago.
The fact that the meritocratic system often sees ancient elves in important positions, those who while not exactly born a hundred generations ago, but often twenty or thirty, also are likely to be the most conservative. That said, elves do not grow old and suffer none of the set-in-his-ways issues of aged humans. However, after having seen a few hundred years with all their failures and successes, many ancient elves have indeed seen it all and that new idea actually is just a variation of something that was already tried three hundred years ago.
Human development often profits from stupidity and luck, when something is tried again and again by people who simply don’t know how many others have already failed at the same thing. And sometimes, very rarely, one of them makes the tiny variation that actually makes it work. Elves as a society fail much less frequently due to their longer lifespans, larger collective memories and reduced desire for fame and fortune. But they also miss out on the once-in-a-million lucky breaks.
With once-in-a-million lucky breaks becoming more and more common in a human population now at 16 million in Auseka, the cultural and even magical advantages of the much older elven civilization are melting away.
Elves are considered fickle and untrustworthy by many of the other intelligent races, something they do not understand at all as none of their “we have a new leader and he has a different view on this treaty” or strange trade deals are in any way meant to be trickery.
They are also well attuned to nature and magic, and regain mana faster than other races, but only if their connection to nature is not interrupted.
Further Information on Elves
- Elves have a special type of agriculture that humans often don't even recognize as such. Details are at Elven Agriculture.
- Elves pray to the Elven Gods, even those who have been living within human society for a long time.
- Elves are famous for their skills with the bow, but it is actually the Elven Arrows that make a huge difference.