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All the World's a Stage: Elves and timelines in roleplay

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. In World of Warcraft, that player is you! Each week, Anne Stickney brings you All the World's a Stage with helpful hints, tips and tricks on the art of roleplay in WoW. Have questions about roleplaying, or roleplaying issues? Email me -- I'm always open to suggestions!

Last week, we covered the human race and to a lesser degree the worgen and undead, in regards to where those individual races "fit" into the Warcraft timeline when roleplaying. As far as age goes, it's pretty easy to wrap one's mind around the approximate age of a human character. A Warcraft human may have a bit of a longer lifespan than we do out here in real life, but the basic mechanics of aging and memory stay the same, so long as there aren't any strange magical circumstances involved.

In the case of elves, however, the timeline suddenly goes from being "just right" to amazingly, incomprehensibly huge. For some elves like Malfurion Stormrage, Tyrande Whisperwind and others, it stretches 10,000 years of history -- and only the very smallest fraction of that has been spent with the Alliance and an even smaller fraction of that has been spent with the Horde (in the case of the blood elves).


Which type of elf?

There are essentially four different "types" of elves out there, plus various offshoots and mutations -- but there are only two races of elves that we interact with on a friendly basis, depending on which side of the faction fence we're on. The night elves, or kaldorei, are the Alliance-based side of that elven equation; on the Horde side, we've got the blood elves, or sin'dorei. As far as the blood elves are concerned, the name "sin'dorei" is simply a name they took up after the Sunwell was destroyed during the rise of the Scourge. What those elves really are are quel'dorei -- "high elves."

Confusing? It's about to get a little more confusing. There is a section of quel'dorei who are still allied with the Alliance; these are the "high elves" with the blue eyes, NPCs that we see scattered around Azeroth. On top of this, there's another section of "high elves" who look just like night elves -- because they are. These high elves are called the Shen'dralar, and they lived in the ruins of Eldre'thalas after the War of the Ancients. Physically speaking, they look and are just the same as the night elves; they simply call themselves quel'dorei because they were the highborne of night elf society back in the days of the War of the Ancients.

Still confused? I wrote an article last year regarding elven evolution and the development of each type of elf out there, with a handy chart for reference purposes. The different types and races of elves may seem really confusing, but it's really just the terminology that throws a lot of people off track. Out of all of these types of elves, only two are currently playable: the kaldorei (night elves) and the sin'dorei (blood elves). These two races have distinct physical differences, but the blood elves were once -- long, long ago -- actually kaldorei who looked just like night elves.


Elven history

So why the difference in appearance? Thousands of years ago, after the end of the War of the Ancients, the World Tree Nordrassil was created and blessed by the dragon Aspects to grant a couple of different things: access to the Emerald Dream and immortality for every elf who stood watch over it. That immortality is what caused the elves to have such huge lifespans. But not every elf, as it turned out, got to keep that lifespan. The highborne of Azshara's court, the kaldorei who used arcane magic, were forbidden to use it by Malfurion Stormrage -- and this infuriated them. They rebelled, and as a result, they were banished from the continent of Kalimdor, setting sail across the ocean and landing in the Eastern Kingdoms.

Because they were no longer near Nordrassil, these former night elves changed in a dramatically physical way. They shrank, their skin grew pale and pink, and they lost the immortality granted by Nordrassil. This is where the quel'dorei came from -- the high elves of the Eastern Kingdoms. After the destruction of the Sunwell, the quel'dorei split into the two types we see today: the blue-eyed high elves and the green-eyed blood elves. The word sin'dorei was not used as a racial name prior to the Sunwell's destruction.

Meanwhile, those night elves over on Kalimdor continued to thrive and flourish for thousands of years. We have very little recorded history of what went on during that time; the night elves were in general very secluded and kept mostly to themselves. It wasn't until the humans and orcs came to Kalimdor after the rise of the Scourge that the night elves really interacted with the other races of the world.

But that interaction was both a blessing and a curse. The Burning Legion had returned, and over the course of the Third War, the night elves found themselves allying with both the humans and the orcs to try and save Nordrassil from destruction. This wasn't to be, however; as Malfurion Stormrage discovered, the only way to truly get rid of Archimonde was to blow up the World Tree. Doing so devastated Hyjal and also had the immediate effect of removing the night elves' immortality.


Determining age

So what's old for a night elf or a blood elf? As with last week's guide for humans, all approximate ages are taken from the various Warcraft RPG source guides out there. Blood elves and high elves no longer have the life spans of their night elf kin -- but they're still far longer than a human's life. While humans reach adulthood at age 15, for a blood elf or high elf, this happens anywhere between 60-110 years of age, depending on what resource guide you're looking at. For night elves, that number is even higher; night elves don't reach adulthood until age 110-300, depending on the resource guide.

Middle age for a blood elf or high elf is around 175. They aren't really considered old until age 260 or so; a venerable quel'dorei is around 350 years old, and the maximum life span for a high elf or blood elf is 360-400 years of age. As for night elves, that number is much, much higher. Night elves are considered middle-aged when they hit 500, old when they hit 650, venerable at age 700, and they live to around 1,200 years of age or so.

But with night elves, it's even trickier than that. Most night elves were born somewhere during that stretch of immortality that Nordrassil gave them -- so it is entirely possible that a night elf character could be thousands of years old. Given the age of Malfurion and Tyrande and their general appearance today as citizens well over 10,000 years old, this isn't as big a stretch as it seems. Night elves who were born after the battle at Hyjal and subsequent loss of immortality would be, at best, 10-13 years old by the time Cataclysm hit -- far too young to be out in the world on their own by night elf age standards.


Age and timelines

The same applies here as to human timelines -- you simply take your character's age and count backward. But there's a caveat to this: Most night elf characters, no matter how old they are, have not had any contact with humans, orcs, tauren -- any of the races of the Alliance until the Third War, which happened at approximately year 20 in the timeline. What does this mean for your character? It means that only the smallest, tiniest fraction of his or her life span was spent in the company of those other races; the rest was spent with your own kind on Kalimdor. Here's how the timeline works for night elf players:
  • -10,000 This was the year of the War of the Ancients, the first battle against the Burning Legion and the cause of the Sundering that split the world of Azeroth from one large continent into several smaller ones.
  • -9,000 The War of the Ancients actually spanned 1,000 years, according to the official Warcraft timeline, with year -9,000 being the year that Nordrassil was founded and the study of the druidic arts began in earnest. Prior to the War of the Ancients, the only real druidic student was Malfurion Stormrage; he began teaching the druids after Nordrassil was established and showing them the ways of the Emerald Dream.
  • -7,300 This was the year that the remaining highborne, forbidden from using arcane magics, rebelled against Malfurion's orders. They found themselves banished to the Eastern Kingdoms for their insolence.
  • -7,301-Year 20 This entire stretch of night elf history is a completely blank canvas. Somewhere in the midst of it all -- year -1,000, according to the unofficial timeline -- was the original War of the Shifting Sands in which Fandral Staghelm's son was brutally killed and the Scepter of the Shifting Sands was created. Other than this brief blip on the radar, the night elves were by and large a non-entity in Azeroth. What does this mean for night elf players? It means you have a gigantic stretch of nothing to fill your night elves' life with. Life for the night elves during this time was spent on and around Hyjal and in the forests surrounding the mountain. There was very little going on here, so feel free to fill it in with whatever you see fit.
  • Year 20 This is when it got big in a major way. Year 20 saw the return of the Burning Legion and the beginning of the Third War. Night elves at this time fought against the Burning Legion at the battle for Hyjal, and the end result of all of this was Nordrassil's destruction and the removal of night elf immortality. All night elves began to age. This is also the night elves' first encounter with the human and orcish races of Azeroth (not including the one brief encounter they had with Rhonin during the War of the Ancients due to some some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff).
  • Year 22-25 Somewhere between this span of time, the new World Tree Teldrassil was formed. Yes, it looks very old. No, it isn't really old at all -- it's not even 10 years old by the time Cataclysm hits. Consider this a bit of freaky druid magic. It was also during this time, probably shortly before year 25, that the night elves finally sided with the Alliance and joined them as allies.
  • Year 25 This is the year in the official timeline that World of Warcraft began. Night elves began traveling the world in earnest and helping their allies in the Eastern Kingdoms.

As for the blood elves, there isn't a blood elf alive today who was present when the blood elves first landed on the Eastern Kingdom's shores -- and there isn't a blood elf alive today who remembers that first alliance with the humans. Here's how the timeline works for blood elf players in relation to the other races of the world:
  • -7,300 The quel'dorei were exiled to the Eastern Kingdoms.
  • -6,800 The kingdom of Quel'Thalas was founded, and the Sunwell was built.
  • -2,800 This year marks the first year that the blood elves had any major contact with the human race, when they allied with the kingdom of Arathor after the troll attacks on Quel'Thalas proved too much for the quel'dorei to handle. In exchange for the human race's help, the quel'dorei agreed to teach some of these humans how to use magic; it was shortly after the Troll Wars were over that Dalaran was established as a place for magic users of all races to practice the arcane arts. Those quel'dorei who did not remain behind to teach magic or otherwise interact with humankind quietly retreated to Quel'Thalas to continue doing those crazy, magic-using things that the quel'dorei do.
  • -2,700 This was the year that the Guardians of Tirisfal were established by mages in Dalaran.
  • Year 0 This is the year that the Dark Portal opened and the orcs stormed into the southern portion of the Eastern Kingdoms. At that time, the quel'dorei were still quietly up in Quel'Thalas minding their own business.
  • Year 5 This is the year that the original Alliance of Lordaeron was formed. Quel'Thalas originally sent a very small continent of elves to help out, but once the Old Horde started torching the elven forests, they joined the Alliance in earnest.
  • Year 8-ish Somewhere just after the Second War, the quel'dorei withdrew from the Alliance of Lordaeron, claiming that it was the human races' fault that the forests of Quel'Thalas had burned. Those high elves who did not retreat back to Quel'Thalas with the rest were viewed with something akin to scorn -- and those were the high elves that would eventually become the high elves of World of Warcraft.
  • Year 20-21 Year 20, according to the official timeline, is the year in which Arthas drove his Scourge forces through the heart of Quel'Thalas and destroyed the Sunwell. It is the year that Sylvanas Windrunner fell to Frostmourne and was risen as a banshee, and it was the year that Kael'Thas Sunstrider returned to Quel'Thalas from Dalaran and dubbed his beleagured people sin'dorei, or blood elves. In Year 21, the loss of the Sunwell resulted in pangs of withdrawal, and Kael'thas realized his people were addicted to magic and he needed to find a cure for that condition. He joined forces with Lady Vashj and Illidan, traveling to the broken remnants of Draenor to find a cure for his people.
  • Year 26 Just five years after Kael'thas' disappearance, the blood elves joined the Horde. They have been members of the Horde for approximately four to five years now, but that's it.

The basics for elven roleplayers

So what does all of this mean in terms of roleplaying characters? It means that every blood elf currently traveling in Azeroth is going to be about 60-110 years of age, which means they absolutely remember the Sunwell's destruction and the origins of the name sin'dorei. It means that all night elf players -- even those considered "young" by night elf standards -- were well aware of the Battle for Hyjal and may even have participated in it. Recent history for night elf and blood elf players is history that's happened in the blink of an eye, according to their lifespans. Elves are old, far older than humans are -- but that doesn't mean they're superior or that they instinctively remember everything about human history ever written.

In fact, it means just the opposite. The clear similarity to note in both blood elf and night elf characters is that their races are reclusive by nature. Most of the life span of the kaldorei and quel'dorei civilizations has been spent quietly away from the prying eyes of Azeroth. As a roleplayer, this means you have a gigantic playground of history to work with and very little in the way of restrictions, save for a few. The night elves did not leave Kalimdor or even take note of the human race until year 20-25 in the timeline. As for the blood elves, it is entirely possible that they could have spent the entirety of their lives so secluded that they've never even seen a human, orc, troll, tauren -- any of the other Azerothian races.

For elven roleplayers, the span of history is a lot to grasp -- but there are plenty of resources out there to take a look at. As with humans, Wowpedia is an excellent resource in background information. There have also been several Know Your Lore columns dealing with both the blood elf side of things and the War of the Ancients and Third War for the night elves, as well as information on the Shen'dralar and the recent events with the Emerald Nightmare. And of course, there's always the War of the Ancients trilogy for more reading material.

While it may seem like an impossible amount to grasp, keep in mind that in this case, time is on your side -- more time means more moments that your elf has lived through and more opportunity for character development.

All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!

Filed under: All the World's a Stage (Roleplaying)

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