Knights of the Longbox
For thousands of years before The Kingdom of Ulthar’s founding, the elves were the dominant political and cultural force on the continent. That was all before the Elven Diaspora, when, for reasons shrouded both in legend and secrecy, the majority of the elves left their homes and descended into the south, crossing the great sea for an unknown safe haven. Those who stayed settled primarily in Shiverling and other southern communities.
For the most part, the elves who have remained have abandoned the traditions they once held dear. Many retain something of a sadness about what the race has lost in the centuries since the Diaspora. Some have clung to the old ways, retaining the alliances the High Houses once held and following the ancient traditions. These groups generally have stayed in Elven settlements, avoiding further interaction with dominant society.
The Elven Diaspora
The Diaspora is a piece of history that’s something of a mystery, even to Ulthar’s longest lived scholars. It’s a story shrouded in legend, song and story, with many different tellers outlining different stories of elves leaving the continent.
Most of the stories focus on one central figure, Aladar Cormanthor, a master sword and spell singer and one of the greatest heroes of elven kind. Different High Houses tend to focus on different stories of Aladar’s final adventure.
Those critical of Cormanthor’s role, viewing him as an interventionist or human sympathizer claim that the diaspora was due to the hero’s corruption. They claim Aladar was corrupted by his warblade, a sentient sword that consumed his thoughts and forced him to commit great crimes against the elven people. Others claim that his magic, either inadverdantly or with malice, sowed corruption through the great Elven kingdoms, forcing elves from their traditional lands and into exile. Others claim that Aladar fell to an evil no one could stop. Tales differ on what foe, whether infernal, draconic or otherwise, that ultimately stopped the elf king and forced his people to retreat.
Other stories of the Diaspora are more positive. Many claim that Aladar sacrificed himself, perhaps consuming much of elven knowledge or magic and forcing his people to give up their homes and find a new one. Some claim that Aladar’s final wish was that his people find a new home and let humanity and the dwarves take the land for their own. Others claim the Hero of House Cormanthor begged for cooperation between the races and many elves, unwilling to share their secrets, chose to leave the land rather than give magic to man.
Modern Elven Society
Traditionalist Elves, those still clinging to the rules of the High Houses, tend to stay in traditional environments familiar to the elves. They stay around the ruins of the fallen elven empires, retreating to forests and seaside redoubts, avoiding contact with intruders and focusing on preserving history and magic. Some traditionalist elves, particularly those who have found a place in urban areas, maintain their connection to the House system while working to find power in human societies. This is particularly evident in Shiverling, where elves control much of the city’s magical economy and trade.
Those who’ve abandoned the House rules tend to have integrated more thoroughly with human, dwarven and halfling society. They’re generally survivalist, focusing on family and strength while traveling and trading as tribes. Many abandon the tribal structure, striking out on their own and integrating more thoroughly with predominantly human society. Most half-elves in Ulthar are the children of elves who integrate with human society.
The High Houses
Whether or not they subscribe to the ancient family ties and beliefs of the High Houses, all elves belong, to one degree or another, to one of the five houses. For some, their House is the defining part of their personality while others actively reject what the Houses represent and the expectations that come with it.
Membership in a house is passed along by family lines. Elves with a variety of surnames can be found in any house, although members who can trace their family line to the originators of the houses are held in highest esteem. When elves marry, they tend to mutually decide which house to belong to based on economic or political opportunities.
The five High Houses, with a brief explanation of their characteristics are:
The House of the Sword is most known for being Aladar’s house. Most elven rulers from history come from Cormanthor lines. Members are diplomatic, studious, focused on history and legacy, often focusing on melding elves passion for magic with swordplay. The highest honor of members of House Cormanthor would be finding the scattered Elven Warblades, three magical swords from the ancient past and bringing back the honor of the people.
The House of Gods is one of the most visible to non-elves, with the lines’ focus on the faith bringing them to prominence throughout the land. Members of House Illidan tend to be encouraged to join and find prominence in the Church of Correllon Latharien, whether as a priest or protector of the cloth. Members of House Illidan are focused on spreading the faith, helping any in need and following Correllon’s tenets to battle the minions of Gruumsh wherever they may appear.
The House of the Word is renowned as the magic makers of Elven society. Members of House Colak are practitioners of elves mightiest magics, wielding earth shattering enchantments and twisting the unknowable forces of creation to do their bidding. Most members of House Colak are cloistered in a few places in Ulthar, focusing on their magic and studies and shutting out anything that would stop them from again wielding the strength the elves held centuries ago.
The House of the Root is made up of the elves most devoted to the natural world. Members of Hosue Wievan are the guardians of the elven way of life, protecting the people with a bow and from a secured hiding place. Archers, rangers, hunters and assassins make up the house, killing from silence and leaving not a trace of their passing. As such, House Wievan holds something of a sinister reputation among elves, with some not trusting the families’ standoffish way of dealing with outsiders as well as elves outside of the House. Despite the rumors members of House Wievan are as often good as they are evil.
The House of Secrets is the least known house of elven society. In ancient times, House Akida probed the greatest magical secrets of the age. Their mastery of magic forged the Warblades and helped to make Aldar the greatest hero of the people. More than any other house, members of House Akida have retreated from the eyes of man, practicing their magic away from all witnesses. Whispers among elves claim that members of House Akida have done everything from intermingle with demons to unlock the secrets of psychic powers to creating a new race of aberrations in their service. Members of House Akida are rarely seen but rumors persist of conclaves of elves practicing the House’s ancient crafts in secret.