Dread Elves - society, culture, mindset

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    • Dread Elves - society, culture, mindset

      Since the DE LAB is on the way, now would be a good time to discuss the Dread Elven background. Get your ideas in before the LAB is out and it's too late :P No, but frankly, I was surprised to not find any thread about them.

      I'm not talking about superficial features such as where they are on the map or what form of government they have. But rather, their fundamental essence to to say, what makes Dread Elves into who they are, what defines them and determines what they do?

      First of all, I would rather stay away from the usual fantasy trope of evil dark elves who are evil just because they are, such as D&D drow or WFB druchii, or because of some ex-post-facto metaphysical rationalization like 40k dark eldar. Utterly ruthless in pursuit of their aims, occasionally seasoned with a bit of spite? Yes please. All-out sadism as the reason for their existence, with everything about them being bleak and dark? Meh, no.

      Also, enough with the extreme cutthroat societies where everyone is plotting against everyone else and heads roll in a constant stream. Such societies would tear themselves apart and be unable to function, let alone threaten much anyone else in the world. WFB druchii are a particular case in point: High elves are supposed to be a dying race being outbred by the shorter-lived races, their birth rate being insufficient to replace their losses. Druchii then? They have the same biology so should have the same birth rate problem, and on top of that they murder each other all the time (including having an annual murder festival night), so why haven't they gone extinct long ago? Constant power struggles and the occasional civil war, sure. Murder as business as usual, meh no.

      Well, enough about what dread elves should not be and onward to what they should be, what makes them tick.

      If there is one thing that should define them, I think, it should be the will to power. To dominate, to overcome, to overpower. To bend the world to your will, including both nature and other sentient beings living in it. Not necessarily because it is the only thing in life that matters, but because if you manage it, everything else you want will follow. And because if you don't, everything you care about can be taken away from you. Vae victis. It is, simply put, the cynical worldview taken to the extreme and acted on by joining the fray. It is the notion that it is inevitable that there will be wolves and lambs, and that it's better to be the wolf.

      Would this not lead to precisely such a cutthroat society where everyone tries to become top dog and conspires against everyone else to get there? Not necessarily. The daeb aren't stupid, they know that not everyone can be top dog, and nobody can stay there without a critical mass of others to support them. They understand that cooperation is necessary for power, that while power might be a zero-sum game on the macro-scale of the entire world, banding together with others can improve the position of everyone doing so through sheer strength in numbers. The source of power is, then, to amass followers who believe sticking with you will improve their position. Followers who not only obtain the protection of their leader but also the implicit promise that his power will be used on their behalf.

      That's before considering that the daeb should be social creatures just like all other sentient beings. They do have kinfolk, friends, comrades-in-arms and cultbros. They can have all kinds of motivations to actually care about others, any of which could serve as social glue to hold together social groups, which in turn become power blocs. Also, even for the utterly amoral, social expectation can be self-perpetuating. Consider, for instance, a master-follower relationship. A master who would off his subordinates out of fear of being overthrown, or who simply would not reward them for their services adequately, would soon find himself without followers. Which is why he (usually) won't do so, and the followers know this, so they have a reasonable assurance they will be rewarded for their loyalty. Conversely, a follower would know that if he tried to overthrow and take the position of the master without due cause, he would become a pariah deserted by those whose loyalty he hoped to command, who would not trust him farther than they can throw him, preferably down a spiky moat.

      More thoughts to come.
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.
    • Konrad von Richtmark wrote:

      Would this not lead to precisely such a cutthroat society where everyone tries to become top dog and conspires against everyone else to get there? Not necessarily. The daeb aren't stupid, they know that not everyone can be top dog, and nobody can stay there without a critical mass of others to support them. They understand that cooperation is necessary for power, that while power might be a zero-sum game on the macro-scale of the entire world, banding together with others can improve the position of everyone doing so through sheer strength in numbers. The source of power is, then, to amass followers who believe sticking with you will improve their position. Followers who not only obtain the protection of their leader but also the implicit promise that his power will be used on their behalf.
      Well, I think here you have precisely described the attitude of our Warriors of the Dark Gods towards each other, so there is no reason our Dread Elves would be more bloody !

      I think a good proxy culture for ruthless, supremacist but very well organized and social society could be the Roman Republic, who also believed to be a supremely gifted people whose destiny was to enslave the world, respecting might and power above all else.

      I think our elves are the same, some kind of « Spartan » elves, who respect strength, power, and aspire to greatness.
      You can wish to be always the best and the strongest, yet also respect and admire those above you and wish for their appraisal.

      And yes, definitely, our elves should have a normal family life, as much as Romans or Alabama slavers had beautiful, fruitful and idillyc family lives.

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    • I would say that the notion that the will to power is their driving motivation is highly consistent with what has been revealed of their history so far. They settled and had to fight the Silexian wilderness, a fight that is ongoing this very day. Then came the Beast Herds that they had to fight for their lives. Then the struggle for independence from Celeda Ablan. The Republican Roman inspiration has another relevant similarity: Being utterly hell-bent on achieving victory at any cost, at costs that would be utterly unacceptable to anyone else. Hannibal won three major battles against Rome, any one of which would have been sufficient to make Rome sue for peace if it had been a normal Ancient Mediterranean civilization. I imagine the Dread Elves would have had a similar early history of victory through extreme sacrifice and unfailing (even irrational) belief in the possibility to overcome all odds. A history that would have become foundational mythology and shaped their mindset.

      I would argue that this will to power would work on many levels, and thus enable social organization and common cause. They individually want to rise in the world and overcome their immediate personal rivals, but they also want their own tribe, clan or other interest group (which might include some of said rivals) to rise and dominate other rival groups. At the highest level, they want their own nation, Dathen, to dominate all others, and that gives them common cause even with those they would consider domestic rivals. A three-way balance of ambition-fueled rivalry, loyalty born of kinship, and collective interest in serving a common cause would keep their society together and functional but always creaking at the joints and boiling under the surface.

      Given what has been established about them in official lore so far, I think it goes without saying that they must be capable of common cause on the level of their entire society, and to have some level of centralization of power. Otherwise they could not have citizen legions, just a hodgepodge of feudal private armies. A citizen army that is loyal to the state foremost and whose manpower is a cross-section of society would also serve as a safeguard against society devolving into constant private wars, or against whoever has the largest private army from oppressing everyone else. That would go along with the established libertarian side of the Dread Elves, with the state acting as a safeguard of individual freedom. That's not to say there are no private wars, and I imagine that some level of internal private warring would have to be tolerated as a way to let off steam and relieve social tension, but social dynamics (or outright enforcement from above) would have to exist to keep them from engulfing society.
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.
    • Then, the first thing that most of us come to think of when it comes to the dreadies, and fantasy dark elves in general. The main thing about them that makes them dreaded by everyone else. Slavery.

      This too is an area where I think WFB went overboard with the evil sadist elves theme. If the life of the average slave really is as brutal and short as tends to be the case in the descriptions that exist, there is no way slave populations that are several times larger than the population of free citizens could be maintained. Every citizen would have to be constantly out raiding to replace the ones worked or abused to death, and even a temporary reduction in the influx of slaves due to poor fortune of war would result in an instant economic crash from slave numbers melting away. That's not to say there aren't particular activities within Dread Elven society that cost a constant stream of slave lives. Certainly there would be some, like temple sacrifices or particularly dangerous or unhealthy jobs. But those would be the exception, since they would be expensive for the owners too due to the constant need to replace the dead. Real-world historical slavery in the Western Hemisphere was more brutal and oppressive than most historical instances of slavery due to going together with an ideology of racial supremacy, but that does not mean slaveowners worked their slaves to death and bought new ones to replace them as a matter of course. On the contrary, more often than not they bred them like rabbits to get more slaves.

      I think the most plausible Dread Elven attitude towards slaves would be largely the attitude that (most) real-world humans have towards animals. Or, rather, had in the time before animal rights became a thing. That is, as assets to be used according to rational self-interest, without much sentiment either way. Occasionally as cherished pets or liked due to having specific utility, but never ever seen as equals. Occasionally subjected to horrible things when doing so has sufficient utility or entertainment value to be worth the loss of the slave. Subjected to enough fear, force and domination to break and subjugate them, but other than that, keep them in shape to preserve their utility. Even given occasional rewards to incentivize compliance and performance, should the situation be such that high gains in utility or control can be gained through rewards that can be produced at relatively low cost.

      The one fact that really would determine the economics of slavery is that Silexia is big, and there is plenty of wilderness that could be cleared and settled if there simply was someone to work it. So there is always use for more slaves, always something useful they could do. So it makes sense that the Dread Elves would not just constantly be trying to capture more slaves through raiding and war, but also conserve their current slave population. I can imagine that there would be multi-generational slave communities owned by particularly old and landed noble houses, slaves for whom their condition is effectively normal life and who have little idea of the world outside.
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.
    • Konrad von Richtmark wrote:

      I think the most plausible Dread Elven attitude towards slaves would be largely the attitude that (most) real-world humans have towards captured animals.
      Remember, we talk about captured slaves.
      For a captured animal, either you keep it under constant control, chains and whip, or you start by breaking its spirit and culling any hope it may have to gets its freedom back, or you make its life in captivity preferable to freedom (through drugs, for example).
      That's what I would expect DE to do with enslaved populations.

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    • oreogolem wrote:

      I'm really curious what low class DElves are like. What's their drive. I would theorize or expand on ideas, but I'm also not supposed to get political, but there's a lot of very mine from the idea of a idealized American Republic mixed with the fully... Demonized American Republic.
      Well, even a notionally "dispossessed" DE still likely feels that it is better to be a plebeian DE than a "noble" HE, for example. And that doesn't even factor in any inherent racial bias, since they are both elves. Add in the fact that they likely think the elves are, de facto, superior to other life forms and you have a recipe for why even a "low-class" DE considers themselves "better" than anyone else.

      I tried to do a little work on the subject a few years ago. The results were not well received by the project itself, and are hardly worth mentioning, but they might inspire something better for you. There I do some hare-brained work to make Yema into a metaphysical principle of striving (a will to power, if you like). The social order simply mirrors the religious one (and vice-versa, of course) and so even non-devotees or cultists still would find themselves within that normative order of striving (something probably more akin to Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation than Nietzsche's Will to Power, maybe). In other words, in a dog eat dog world, you want to be to eater, not the eaten.

      Personally, I don't think the slavery angle to why Dread Elves are Dread Elves seems convincing really. I mean, sure, it is a part, but Vermin take slaves, frankly so does nearly everyone else, to some degree because that is how the ancient world generally worked. Do DE do it more? Yeah, probably, since they are corsairs and the like, they probably have a large, cross-oceananic slave network. But I think, personally, the Dread moniker is propaganda of the highest order. Sure, DE are fairly ruthless and they actively would move to reinforce this notion at any opportunity. It makes people less likely to resist and more likely to capitulate.

      Take the Roman action against Carthage. Fairly ruthless. But also practical, since it demolished any real notion of Carthage ever deigning to challenge Rome again. If we are taking sorts of Roman influence, that seems to be to be the likely example of what "ruthlessness" is in service of, or why it would be something externally trumpeted and internally cultivated.
    • Calisson wrote:

      life in captivity preferable to freedom
      Like, run away from the DE plantations, and find yourself facing Orcs, Beast Herds, and…… Warriors of the Dark Gods.

      About « acceptance of slavery », I was profoundly affected by the series about Kunda Kinté, where the guy bows down to the slave master in the US and accepts his state of slavery, since, as a matter of fact, slavery was a thing in his own native country of Gambia, on the fringes of the then-devastated Mali empire. But :

      He says something like « I bow down to you, king, I agree that I am now your slave since you vanquished me, although I fought like a lion, you and your soldiers got the upper hand. Now for how long should I remain in your service ? »

      And is utterly shocked to learn that 1. shut up, you're an animal and 2. slavery is for life, you stupid.
      So, it's not so much the notion of slavery and living as a slave that was absolutely shocking and maddening for him, but the fact that he would not be treated as a vanquished foe who now has to « repay » his defeat, which would fair play in his book, but as just some game or cattle that will be worked to death (even it means a slow, long death).

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    • Giladis wrote:

      @Ghiznuk please don't spread misinformation - what you just wrote is not what the internal wiki says :)

      Ghiznuk wrote:

      In our universe, Elves are not fit to work.

      They can deploy impressive amounts of energy in quick and short bursts, but have no endurance, especially when it comes long term, as they have such a high biologic upkeep.
      Well, if true, then it really justifies the paradigm even more. Sure, I wasn't working with that notion, I went for something more akin to low population, meaning they needed to supplement the simply because there wasn't enough literal hands. If the hands were simply ill-suited, then the paradigm simply justifies itself.

      If that were the case, sure, when they were "all Sylvan" and hunted/gathered, the energy demands were likely lower (IIRC, hunting and gathering is actually more calorically efficient than totalitarian agriculture) and the population would have been much lower. But, like in the real world, once you go agriculture and the population gets larger, you don't generally "go back" because it means people are going to die. So, you take other steps to make sure the paradigm maintains sustainability through other means, in all likelihood.

      That being said, I don't think that Elves not being suited well to manual labor, even if true, precludes them being taken as slaves by Saurians or anyone else, for that matter. Just means they would have been put to work for other purposes. Slaves aren't necessarily just pseudo-beasts of burden. As you say, there a lots of other uses of forced "labor" and not even in the nefarious sense. Enslaved crafts people, artisans of sorts, and many other things are always options. Recall what the ancient Greeks thought (I can't recall if it was Plato or Aristotle) who likened the slave to a "souled tool." That tool doesn't necessarily have to be a pick or a shovel, but can be seen as a tool nonetheless.

      I found a better summary of Aristotle's position:
      He argues that some people are what he calls “natural slaves,” and that it is not only permissible to enslave such people, but actually the right thing to do. A natural slave is, as he puts it, a “living tool,” and is in an even worse condition than a free woman when it comes to conducting his own life. It is good for the slave to be owned, just as it is good for a woman to be dominated by her husband or father.
      And further:
      So putting whole Greek cities into bondage after victory in war is definitely not acceptable, given that many who live in that city will not be natural slaves. These are people whose souls make them fit to be citizens participating in a political community, not mere tools of other men. Plato made a similar point in the Republic, exhorting the Greeks to stop enslaving one another, but also saying that those outside the fold of Greek society—so-called “barbarians”—were fit for enslavement (471a–b). Aristotle agrees, remarking, for instance, that everyone who lives in Asia is a natural slave. He connects this to climate, in a way familiar from the Hippocratic corpus—there too, it is said that one’s character is affected by one’s environment. It just so happens, according to Aristotle, that the climate of Greece is perfectly temperate, so that the Greeks tend not to be naturally slavish. It follows that barbarians cannot really engage in proper political arrangements, since they do not have the souls one would need to engage successfully in such arrangements. And indeed, he says bluntly that among the barbarians no one is a natural ruler: their cities are “communities of slaves”.

      The post was edited 2 times, last by .H. ().

    • Calisson wrote:

      Konrad von Richtmark wrote:

      I think the most plausible Dread Elven attitude towards slaves would be largely the attitude that (most) real-world humans have towards captured animals.
      Remember, we talk about captured slaves.For a captured animal, either you keep it under constant control, chains and whip, or you start by breaking its spirit and culling any hope it may have to gets its freedom back, or you make its life in captivity preferable to freedom (through drugs, for example).
      That's what I would expect DE to do with enslaved populations.
      Captured, or born into slavery. Anyway, I was rather talking about how the Dread Elves would view slaves (particularly ones that are not elves like them), not specifically about how they would go about controlling them. Certainly there are some similarities, but the animal analogy only goes so far. Pretty much all real-world domesticated animal species are herd animals and naturally inclined to follow leaders, which means they will instinctively obey as long as you manage to instill into them that you are their leader. More individualistic animal species are harder to tame and not worth trying to tame apart from the odd circus animal.

      Then there's the fact that we're dealing with enslaved creatures that are far more sentient than any real-world domesticated animal. Dread Elves might think of enslaved non-elves as lesser species, but would be stupid not to recognize that the slaves still have a level of intelligence and understanding above that of animals. Which poses its own set of challenges for controlling them, but also all kinds of opportunities. You can't make a horse into an artisan or a copyist, nor can you coerce a horse to obey by keeping its family hostage.

      I guess slaveowners would differ in how they handle slaves. Some would be outright cruel and spiteful. Others would be stern believers in using the biggest stick possible and not bothering with carrots. Most would be ruthlessly self-interested and do what they believe works best, which would usually be fear sweetened with a pinch of hope and sticks sweetened with a little bit of carrots. A rare few could even have an attitude of benevolent paternalism, even if they'd regard their slaves just as condescendingly as any other owner.

      I guess it would depend on the type of slave too. Captives fresh off the boat would likely be considered suspect due to having until very recently been free, and be subjected to breaking measures and harsh repression at the slightest sign of noncompliance with their new station. On the other end of the spectrum I imagine there could be slaves who have been enslaved for countless generations and who lack any concept of things possibly being any different, who'd have internalized the notion of elves being superior near-divine beings who rule over you and who you must never displease, the elf giveth and the elf taketh away. Such slaves would probably be afforded more slack by the Dread Elves, as long as they keep working as ordered and show their superiors proper deference.
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.
    • .H. wrote:


      I tried to do a little work on the subject a few years ago. The results were not well received by the project itself, and are hardly worth mentioning, but they might inspire something better for you. There I do some hare-brained work to make Yema into a metaphysical principle of striving (a will to power, if you like).
      Change "Yema" for "Olaron" and you pretty much get the idea I had and posted back when army book unit descriptions were being crowdsourced. Olaron being the god of the state, the will to power and the struggle to dominate the world.

      I sure would like to know who or what Olaron is canonically meant to be :P
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.
    • In some situations on the planet of earth where slavery has been widespread, it should be mentioned there was an attitude of fear. Fear because, a slave could very potentially incite violence on you and their skill level/intelligence/deadliness is not the same distance from say me-human to a cow-animal. And since these slaves are social animals and organizing allows power that also is a level of power. It became an unspoken fear, or at least an attitude that became very pragmatic and irrational behaviors to stamp out any potential slave self-defense.

      And oh boy, let' just say there's history there, and I made myself sad. (Cryptae, and more examples in the last 300 years in my own country)
    • oreogolem wrote:

      I'm really curious what low class DElves are like. What's their drive. I would theorize or expand on ideas, but I'm also not supposed to get political, but there's a lot of very mine from the idea of a idealized American Republic mixed with the fully... Demonized American Republic.
      The Silexian Dream, of course :P

      Increasing your own standing in the world is something that would be within reach for most citizens. Even the lowest of citizens would effectively be middle class since there's an underclass of slaves that outnumbers citizens several times over. A society needs all kinds of middle class positions to be filled, and with slaves doing the low-end work, there should be enough middle positions for all citizens. Slaves need to be overseen, managed and kept in line. Slaves are ill suited for positions that require professionalism or trust. I would imagine citizens to mostly be soldiers, professionals, small business owners like farmers and artisans, and retainers serving noble lords. So the "low class" Dread Elf would not be such a simple pleb after all, and have opportunities for advancement. Soldiers and retainers can get promoted, or get rich from the spoils of war. Professionals can excel at what they do, and have an entire elven lifespan to git gud. Small business owners can grow into big business owners employing retinues of retainers overseeing masses of slaves.

      So your average Dread Elf is much like a white kid born in American suburbia to solidly upper middle class parents, thinking he lives in an idyllic society full of opportunity, utterly clueless to how privileged he is and how the world is laid out before him over the backs of a large, socially immobile underclass :P
      Sunna is not with the big battalions, but with the ones whose parts move with the best coordination.