Posted by: Sean | November 4, 2008

Theme Week Night Elves: The Night Elf Play File

It’s a Monday here in Australia, so it’s time to get back to blogging. This week, I take a look at probably the race that is the hardest of the lot for me to Play File: The night elves. The night elves are a race I find it difficult to get my head around, so this time, I called in help.

I asked our resident lorestorian, Travis. (There’s a reason he’s playing our night elf and not me.)

Sean 3:59: Hey Travis, I need help.

Travis 3:59: What with?

Sean 3:59: The Night Elves. I’m just having a really difficult time getting my head around their psychology. What it is they reward, they punish. A way of seeing through their eyes to work out what they think of their allies and enemies. Let’s leave the caste ideas out of it for now. Let’s make it a hypothetical Night Elf adventurer.

Travis: 4:03: See, I have an issue with that — as I tend to think that individually, one of the first and most important ways they identify themselves is by their station. I think the night elves expect one to fall in to line with the natural order of things. I think they value respect for the natural order of thing — the right place, the right time, the right method. Which reflects itself in their architecture, their social dynamics, and their ability to accept multiple faiths and ideologies at face value and equal importance.

Sean: 4:05: So is it, in a way, a very Eastern way of seeing the world? A belief in harmony, ordered progression and careful pruning of the world for best results?

Travis 4:06: Harmony might be a bit much — the night elves are not even in the slightest adverse to violence or savagery. But I do think that, yes, there is a heavy Eastern vibe in the Night Elves.

Sean 4:07: Not necessarily a calm and ordered harmony. It can be violent and savage. But they do not believe in tumult. They fear sudden shifts in the world’s balance. Heck, you can see that in the starting quests. A lot of them involve hunting animals that are overpopulating.

Travis 4:09: Agreed.

With that in my head, I could now get my head into it. The core virtues of the night elves are harmony and station, of course. Not a balance of nothingness and inaction, but a cautiousness based on an understanding of how far the world can shift and how delicate it is. Action, even fiery war, can be justified within this framework; especially in the pursuit of restoration. What scares them is not bloodshed, but radical change. For a race that was eternal, there is never an excuse for unconsidered action.

The Alliance

Before I even begin speaking, it’s worth making a bit of a detour here: The night elves are regarded by pretty much every other Alliance race as standoffish, as aloof and half-hearted in their support to the Alliance. This is actually correct, but the reasons are more complex than they might imagine.

The night elves see themselves as custodians of the world. They maintain it and keep it running, doing their best to be its shepherds and keepers. As far as they can see, the best bet the world has is to maintain that delicate harmony and balance as it always has been. Yet the Alliance, a massive grouping of forces into a single, potentially world-changing union is one of the most dangerous things they can imagine. They would normally have never agreed to join such a group, had not the Horde been evolving into exactly the same thing.

Of course the night elves don’t entirely trust the Alliance. It’s entire reason for being is against their most cherished beliefs… but the alternative is worse. As such, the night elves are highly loyal to the Alliance despite themselves. It’s not an attitude that wins them many friends.

Draenei: The draenei are probably at this point a cause for supreme consternation amongst the night elves – They represent a completely new entry into the world. The last time that one of those emerged, the results were not pretty. The night elves, ergo, are taking a tremendous interest in these newcomers. It seems likely that a there’s a split emerging: Those who want to tell the draenei to go back where they came from before they muck everything up, and those who think they need to manage the draenei very, very carefully. That they landed so close to Teldrassil likely increases the emotive power there. Given the draenei’s tremendous success in helping the sin’dorei, whom are one of the greatest threats to balance in the world, it’s likely the ‘manage’ school is winning. (Ironically, one could argue this victory proves they don’t need to be managed at all, but a lot of night elves probably don’t see that.)

“No no no. This won’t do, it won’t do at all! This … ‘society’ is founded on magic, mere miles from our most sacred place. We must tell them to leave, and now, by whatever means we can. Then we will HELP them repair their ship and send them off. No, we will do it without magic!”

Dwarves: The night elves do not like to publicly endorse the dwarves. They are in all superficial respects their opposites; the dwarves dig into the ground, the elves are the children of the stars. Yet if your average elf had to entrust a task to any other race within the Alliance, they’d pick the dwarf every time. Dwarves are cautious, conservative types, traits the night elves have a great deal of time for. They don’t agree with the where the dwarves want to go (in particular, their newfound interest in the Titans worries them) but they trust they’ve doing it the right way, if nothing else.

“That a dwarf will move a mountain in his way is remarkable; all the more remarkable is that he’ll do it in the quickest, most efficient way possible short of leaving the mountain in its place and walking around it. We might advocate the best solution, but at least they choose the best of the bad ones.”

Gnomes: Oh, good grief. If the gnomes think the night elves are insane, then the feeling is surely returned and in spades. The night elves are in many ways mystics in the true sense of the term: they believe that mystery is often a good thing, that much of nature cannot be understood, but must merely be appreciated. Gnomes, though, scoff at the very notion. This is very much my own personal opinion (isn’t all of these Play Files… heck, isn’t all of my work here?) but I think the pedomorphic effect might just kick in double to the Kal’dorei. The gnomes mean well, even the night elves would admit that, but they need to be handled and managed like small children who don’t understand what you’re meant not to do.

“Elune bless her, Fizzlecrank has blown up her workshop again. None of us would ever have expected it. Can we please now remove her chemistry set before she kills herself?”

Humans: But there’s only one race on Azeroth that scares the night elves more than the humans, and thankfully for the Alliance, that’s the orcs. The humans are terrifying. They’re ludicrously short lived and thus live in a frenzy of trying to do everything at once. They have an uncanny knack for forging alliances, which makes the odds of natural orders being subverted exceptionally high. (Nothing, to a night elf mind, is quite as stable as constantly fighting groups who make no ground on each other; politics is savagely dangerous by comparison.) Their only good point is that they at least seem to have some sense that their actions matter to the next day; the densely forested Elwynn forest has been sensibly left mostly untouched (despite several large farms) and this calms the night elves a little bit to the humans’ intentions.

“When an action causes us to think thrice, a dwarf will think thrice, and a human but once. At least they’re not gnomes; those things don’t even think until after the action.”

The Horde

Blood Elves: The odd thing is that the night elves despise the blood elves because of their shared history, and yet aren’t quite as concerned by the blood elves for the same reason. The Kal’dorei know that the Sin’dorei are a group of power-obsessed, ruthless elitists. But they’re elvish power-obsessed, ruthless elitists, and believe it or not, that makes a lot of difference. Their actions are horrifying; they seek to elevate themselves from their natural position into an unnatural position of dominion. Yet, and this is important, Azeroth still stands, despite centuries of their foolishness. And they’re elves. They think in long terms. They’re not going to risk everything in a mad dash for power. (Kael’thas aside; the night elves know these kind of people can come from anywhere.) In short, the blood elves are a stable, despicable evil that the night elves hate yet don’t fret too strongly about.

“Ah, I recognise the handiwork. Hm? Oh, it’s Regitiris. I knew him an eon ago, before everything. And everything about this, the red glow left over, the preponderance of men among the dead.. the women will be alive and well somewhere, in captivity. How very noble of him. Let’s go finish the bastard.”

Orcs & Trolls: And not one sentiment about the blood elves applies to the orcs. No other race probably scares the night elves quite so much. Let’s go over the history: The orcs are first encountered by the night elves in the act of desecrating a forest. They attack, and in response, the orcs willingly drank the blood of Mannoroth and slew one of their most revered deities, Cenarius. (It is this fact, more than any other, that sent the night elves to the Alliance rather than the Horde.) To this day, the Warsong Clan continue to defile their forests. Orcs are, to the night elves, every evil the humans are; political, short lived and reckless, combined with active malevolence. There is probably no race the night elves despise more. (And, given the short history between them, few night elves likely distinguish heavily between the orcs and the trolls.)

“Let me make my orders plain, then. The orcs do not touch one leaf, one branch. As they approach the trees, cut every last one of them down. And if any survive the initial onslaught, keep shooting. Let’s send their ‘warchief’ a lesson: This is what it costs to anger the Sentinels.”

Tauren: Of all the horde races, the night elves have the longest history with the tauren, going back to the War of Ancients. The relationship then remains almost unchanged today; the first night elf commander saw them as bloodthirsty, uncontrolled brutes. The second saw them as a worthy race, and made use of them. Today, this remains the split. Most night elves probably see the tauren as almost a mirror of themselves; certainly they are equally spiritual, if differently focused, and the bonds of the druids provide a link between the two. Their alliance with the horde has probably sent some more xenophobic night elves to dismiss them yet again as brute savages, but more probably see the decision as a ‘there but for the grace of Elune go I’ moment.

“Hold your fire. Those are gatherers. We’ve observed them before; they don’t pose us a threat. Curious… why are they moving ever further north? Sisters, keep your eye on them.”

Undead: And then there are the undead, almost on a par with the orcs as far as the night elves are concerned. Horrifying atrocity against nature that they are, the elves hate them on principle and only hate them more once they learn that a blood elf leads them and that they’re trying to start a new plague. So far, however, they’ve yet to quite achieve the disruptive levels the orcs have, and so they’re only number two on the night elves hit list. This may, however, change…

“Do not stop attacking, sisters! Call down moonfire and and arrows, bring them down by any means and watch out, these things don’t stay down. Do not use fire; we cannot risk the forest for these monsters!”

Viewing the Classes

Death Knight: Twice damned. To be undead is to slip out of tune with the world, to deny ones rightful place in the circle of life. But to do so willingly, in the search for power? There is no way faster to demonstrate your contempt for the wisdom of Elune.
Druid: Ancient counsels and protectors, the druids are to the night elves what the paladins are to the humans and dwarves; a legendary order. But it’s not something you aspire to: It’s something you’re born to. The decision recently to allow women into the orders of druids was almost certainly not a decision of politics, but of theology. (Well, OK. Not purely of politics.) As such, any women who are druids now may well be feeling awed and shocked by the revelation; for most of their lives they genuinely felt women couldn’t be druids, now they’re revealed to be one. You could get a lot of milage out of this.
Hunter: Hunters come in two classes for the night elves. Those who focus themselves on animals and their maintenance (Beast Mastery spec, most likely, possibly Survival) see themselves less as fighters and more as custodians, they hunt because the world needs to be managed. If a species overpopulates, they cull it. If one looks in trouble, they protect it and revive it. On the flipside, a hunter with a more martial viewpoint (Marksmanship, maybe Survival) probably views herself as a Sentinel. There may very well be very little cultural ground between this Hunter and a warrior; both are Sentinels who merely prefer different styles of combat.
Mages & Warlocks: Here’s a night elf joke: What’s the difference between a mage and a warlock? The warlock knows he’s a damned fool. OK, not really. But seriously, that’s the only difference the night elves are likely to see between the two. Both mages and warlocks are wielding power they have no right to, but at least the warlock admits this. The pretension of the mage, by contrast, is insufferable.
Paladin: Paladins are likely a very intriguing order to the night elves, and perhaps a sign of hope for the humans. Like the night elves, they seem less concerned with conquest than conservation; they were born to fight the Scourge, a worthy goal, and admirably have not much shifted from it. They defend rather than deny, keep safe rather than endanger. As such, if any night elf will truly trust a human, it’s probably the paladins they trust. (And this goes double for dwarves.
Priest: The difference between a priest and a druid, to the night elves, is the relationship between themselves and their deities; and their relationships between themselves and their people. The druids are very clearly a cloistered discipline; they don’t evangelise, are exclusivist, and in fact traditionally more concerned with the Emerald Dream than being active in Azeroth. A priest, however, is a long-time activist role. Unlike the druid, you can aspire to the priesthood, and many do. It is a deeply respected profession, but a demanding one. Night elves have tremendous respect for priests of any race.
Rogue: As SI:7 is to humans, so to are the Wardens to night elves. Much like humans, night elves know there are watchful eyes upon them, and fear the wardens. However, the night elves are likely somewhat more reassured given the Wardens are primarily seen as bounty-hunters and marshals. This is true, and a nice cover-story for their less honest activities. However, a Warden declaring themselves a Warden would not earn the same horrified looks an SI:7 operative would earn for revealing themselves similarly.
Shaman: The shamanic traditions of the tauren are what night elves most likely think of first whenever they hear the word ‘shaman’, and as such, night elves are not part of the tradition, yet respect it. To them, it’s simply a bit circuitous; why honour the spirits when you can honour those the spirits obey?
Warrior: As noted above, most warriors in Kal’dorei society either are or were Sentinels at some point. I strongly suspect that the ranks of the Sentinels cross boundaries between Hunters and Warriors, with Hunters being long-ranged specialists and Warriors close-combat specialists. As those warriors who favour close combat tend to be (shall we say) more reckless than long-ranged ones, they are likely either the most daring, the most foolish, or the most fervent of the Sentinels.


Responses

  1. Nature is not a ‘balance’, it is a dynamic instability, and I’m guessing that the Night Elves have the longevity and the keen sense of observation to notice this. Volcanoes erupt, hurricanes blow, water and wind and ice slowly erode and species come and go. If they are custodians of nature, what are they safeguarding? What are they actually trying to preserve? If a drought happens and a population of grazing animals is wiped out, will the elves act? Or do they limit themselves to combating the changes wrought by less natural actions? Like orcs or an excess of fel magics in an area?

    They have the lifespans to be able to watch natural change occur, and they have the wisdom to know that meddling can do more harm than good (I’m thinking here of what some well-meaning zoologists have done to Yellowstone Park over the years).

    Your character needs to balance the balance they are preserving, as it were. What changes are right and good and the way of the natural world, and what changes need to be resisted?

  2. Another good entry. Glad you got some help on it, as it seems you needed someone to give you the proper perspective as Travis did.

    “For a race that was eternal”

    I hope that was a slip, and you meant immortal because being eternal is much much different. I often see lots of people confusing one for the other, so its understandable if it was just a slip of sorts.

    “Those who want to tell the draenei to go back where they came from before they muck everything up, and those who think they need to manage the draenei very, very carefully.”

    As you put very well, the night elves views on both paladins and priests. I would think your entry for the draenei be a much more positive one. Because while they began long ago(it was over 25,000 years ago after all) as the high magic using eredar, the point is, their heavy dealings with the arcane is more part of their past as there more about the Light now and serving it. Sure some still play with arcane forces, but with the insurgence of shamans amongst their kind, the numbers of mages have surely dwindled even more amongst the draenei to the point they may even abandon it one day. Especially with their recent interactions with the wise night elves and their views on the subject of such magic use. Because in the wake of what using the arcane did to the eredar, and now seeing what it did to the night elves so long ago as well as the high elves too & Azeroth in general, the draenei might opt to abandon using such things. And if they did such, maybe they take up being a druid in its place. But mind you, all this take quite awhile to happen.

    @ oriniwen

    I would say, the night elves are about preserving the natural order and preventing disruptions to it from more unnatural things. Course, they still do hunt creatures to keep the numbers under control, which kind of is against nature slightly because as a hurricane will grow rampant as per its natural order, so shall a species.

  3. Alex, really just more poetic than literal. I know they’re not truly eternal, but it fit the cadence of the sentence better. And yeah, I see the priestly point, but the draenei represent the greatest shift in Azeroth in… well, since the orcs. The elves are gonna be nervous.

    Orinwen, I dare say that’s a debate within night elf society itself. The standard clash within views of nature is the idea of nature as harmonious and self-correcting (the romantic idea) or red in tooth and claw (the other romantic idea, to be honest). I think more night elves subscribe to the former while acknowledging the latter holds a lot of truth. But they hold to a view of nature that says, in the long run, it’s in balance. As you’ve noted, the world changes, that’s how you know it’s alive. If nothing else, the night elves are worried about the large scale systemic change that could wreck everything. They see that in the orcs and humans most of all.

  4. ‘…given the short history between them, few night elves likely distinguish heavily between the orcs and the trolls’.
    It was my belief that the trolls were the first indigenous species, and that the night elves followed after on the shores of the Well of Eternity. Is there not a malicious troll myth that the night elves are in fact their descendants? I think that the night elves would most certainly make a distinction between orcs and trolls, one race being native and as old as the elves themselves, while the other offworld and have had a relatively short presence of Azeroth.

  5. Hold on, recent history of the trolls?

    From wowwiki,

    ” Aside from their shadowy origins, it is clear that the night elves came to power soon after their discovery of the Well of Eternity. Despite the trolls’ attempts to keep them from expanding their territories, the night elves built up a mighty empire that expanded rapidly across primordial Kalimdor. Wielding fierce magics never before imagined by the superstitious trolls, the night elves had little trouble doing what the evil Aqir could never do: topple the two greatest empires in the world.
    The night elves systematically dismantled the troll’s defenses and supply chains. The trolls, unable to counter the elves’ destructive magics, buckled under the onslaught. The night elves proved to be every bit as cunning and bloodthirsty as the savage trolls — incurring the latter race’s eternal hatred and disdain. The Gurubashi and Amani Empires fragmented within only a few short years……”

    Is this gibberish or?

  6. I’ll let Sean speak for himself, but remind you all that the Amani empire of trolls (ie. Forest Trolls) are not the Darkspear jungle trolls. The two races look nothing alike.

  7. mmm n thng ……. nght lfs hv bllybtns bt nvr nd nght lf kd? wtf

    Edit: Blogatelle has decided to begin disemvoweling comments that are not spam, but none the less are incoherent.


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