A while back, I asked him a question about some background material that has interested me for a while. I wanted to share it with you and hear your opinions on this issue.
This Q and A is really amazing. I’m glad I found it. I have listened to a couple of interviews you did with various Warhammer podcasts and really enjoyed them. There has been something that has been on my mind:
I don’t quite understand how Dark Elf society works. If every member of their society is selfish and disloyal, how do they stick together?
Even though they are kept together by fear/hatred/etc, it seems to me that things would eventually reach a boiling point and they would be torn apart by civil war and factionalism. This is quite a contrast of their image as elite, organized, and professional warriors (at least this has been my impression from the 4th and 6th edition books).
It seems to me that their background has changed a bit from 6th edition. I got the impression that still saw themselves as the proud descendants of Nagarythe and rightful rulers of Ulthuan who had been terribly wronged by their kind. They see all of the bad things they do as justified by this betrayal and over the centuries all of their wickedness has corrupted their society. This made them somewhat sympathetic and interesting to play.
In the 7th edition book, the Dark Elves are just evil. Cartoon evil. It makes them seem much less believable.
Am I interpreting the background right? Is this change in tone simply a shift in perspective (first person in the 6th ed book and third person in the 7th)?
I would, naturally, disagree with your assessment that the latest portayal of the Dark Elves pictures them as cartoon evil. To our eyes, the Dark Elves are utterly immoral and self-serving, capable of acts of violence and debauchery that are beyond anything we might contemplate, but that is not their only driving force. They value independence and strength, whether physical, magical or political, and in the harshest regime possible they support a meritocracy. Cunning and bravery are highly valued, as are martial expertise and political intelligence. Weakness is not tolerated, and so Dark Elf society is made up of, and dominated by, those individuals capable of excercising their will and achieving their ambitions. A good example are the corsairs, who risk life and limb on highly dangerous raids in order to gather physical wealth and politicl influence. One big haul can set up a dark elf for life, creating a new dynasty for future generations.
Yet for all their individual efforts, the dark elves are also united as a society by their hatred of their high elf cousins, their disdain for all other creatures and their overwhelming desire to become the most powerful culture in the world. While loyalty may be temporary, resulting from expediency, the system is self-regulating to ensure that no one individual becomes too powerful – all under the watchful (and insane) gaze of Malekith.
Were the spartans cartoon evil for having a heavily slave-dependent society dominated by a martial class and steered by mystical seers and prophets? The interplay of the cults, ruling dynasties and other institutions continue to keep dark elf society moving along rather than imploding, bound together my mutual self-interest.
I have been thinking about this again recently and I think you make some great points. I particularly like you comparison with Sparta.
To me, the High Elves borrow a lot of their image from ancient Athens. Like the Athenians they are poets, artists, scholars, philosophers, seafarers, and traders. They also have a king that’s elected by his peers (not quite like Athens, but at least there is some degree of consent about who rules)
The Dark Elves borrow at least some of their image from ancient Sparta. Like the Spartans they are war-like, martial, disciplined. Their society is geared almost entirely towards military discipline. Also like the Spartans, they have a slave class (Helots) that support the society and they engage in ritual brutalization of the slaves in order to ensure that they remain docile.
I particularly like this comparison because the Spartans and Athenians were bitter rivals, just like the Dark Elves and High Elves.
You probably thought about all of this as you were creating the image for the army book.
I guess my “cartoon evil” comment came about because I think that the Dark Elves lack subtlety.
I like the image of the Dark Elves as fallen, bitter, and corrupted. They have always been proud and disciplined. After their leader was betrayed and they had to flee their homeland to settle in an hospitable land, they also became hateful and pragmatic.
The Dark Elves want revenge for what happened to them and they will stoop to any level to get it. In that way they are a lot like many antiheroes.
To me, the Dark Elves are like Batman or the Count of Monte Cristo.
Some of the armybook background detracts from this somewhat by making them do evil things just for it’s own sake. For example there is a bit about Dark Elf merchants keeping enchanted bones of dead slaves in their bedchambers so that they can listen to them wail as they sleep. This is not only unnecessarily evil, but also probably quite distracting!
To me, this lacks subtlety. It makes makes them seem less like the Count of Monte Cristo and more like Skeletor. It’s “cartoon evil.” Evil for it’s own sake.
This was really long, but it’s my two cents.
What do you think? Do you agree with my take on this?