Welcome Greyhawkers! Having recently watched the new series Rings of Power, and in conjunction with Legends & Lore, I have elves and scaly races on my mind. One of the apocryphal sources that usually sticks in my brain is found in The Great Embarkation by Erik "Iquander" Mona which is posted on Canonfire! back in 2002. This article is not official Greyhawk but I believe it was written around the same time Mona worked on the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, so I'd consider it pseudo-official lore given his and Paizo's publishing cred. Let's have a look at this article and see how it stands up. Enoy!
"Myths tell of a time in the distant past when the elves were newcomers to the Flanaess, and great wars which raged across the landscape between the olvenfolk and those lizard-like species which lived here before them. During the final days of these wars, it is sometimes told of how the kuo-toa were driven from the land into the oceans about the subcontinent. Some of these tales go on to tell of elvish pleas to their gods to let them follow the kuo-toa into the watery depths to exterminate their enemies. Few even among the elves know the truth of these ancient tales, and they know better than to speak of them, especially to strangers. And yet, the tales still spread. Maybe they are true..."
The elves definitely do not want to speak of these tales, because they are the bad guys! Mona was once an avid scholar of ancient Greyhawk lore. Here he is dialing the timeline far into the past, way before the human histories like the Suloise and Baklunish Wars which most players are familiar. I presume this is the mythic era of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and the Battle of Pesh. (another pet topic Mona covered in the Age of Worms AP for 3.5E Dungeon Magazine)
The Great Embarkation
"Elven legends tell that, prior to the coming of their race, the lands of the Flanaess were overrun by the scaly races and their amphibious brethren. The elves viewed these creatures as abominations, leftovers of an ancient era in which the aboleth created foul spawn to take their evils from the seas and the underdark to the realm above. Whether fittingly or not, the elves saw many of the world’s oldest beings as servitors of the aboleth, and marked them for extermination. In this manner, the elves gained the enmity of dozens of races, including troglodytes, lizard men, grung, grippli, skum, bullywugs, firenewts, ingundi, blindheim, muckdwellers and kou-toa. These last were seen by the olvenfolk as the very worst of their kind – ambitious, industrious, fecund and supported by at least one god who sponsored potentially powerful clerics. For these reasons and more, the elves named the fish men their primary target."
To borrow a Tolkien analogy, our "First Age" elves in the Flanaess are not beset by a known enemy, they intentionally migrated to the continent (from over the Solnor Ocean?), discovered hideous scaly folk were indigenous there, and straight up went genocidal. I love the comprehensive list here; Trogs and Lizardmen (classic D&D creatures), Igundi, Grung, Muckdwellers, and Grippli (who did they ever offend?), Skum and Kuo-Toa (definitely aboleth friendly), Bullywugs (my favorites from the D&D Cartoon), Firenewts and Blindheim (hey more Fiend Folio!). Of all these baddies, Kuo-toa end up as the main adversaries for the almighty elves? Right, let's continue...
"Few records remain of the centuries of warfare between the two races. If the kuo-toa had any relations with the gloomy aboleth, nothing came of them during the conflict. Evil to their cores, they had enslaved or killed all races they had contacted in the early aeons, and thus enjoyed no allies. The olve, on the other hand, recruited many to their cause. Unable to rouse the dwarves from their underground lairs, they nonetheless enlisted many gnomes, as well as extremely early Flan and the dying race of the Rujari, primitive antecedents of human beings. These latter folk coined the name "gogglers" for the kuo-toa, an appellation that remains popular to this day."
The aboleth are indeed evil schemers bent on domination, but by then they are out of the picture it seems. Even more amazing is the Kuo-toa are so reviled in this era they are apparently dominant in the Flanaess, enslaving other amphibious races? Needless to say, the elves aren't teaming up with lizardmen or bullywug filth. What's funny is now we see dwarves are here too? Why are they not itching for a fight, but the gnomes are? Yeah, stereotypically dwarves and elves don't get along, that is evidently until many millennia later in the Hateful Wars where they battle orcs, goblins, and such out of the Lortmils. Elves will eventually shun everyone, ask Queen Yolande. I also like the reference to "extremely early" Flan. Maybe these are the ancestors of Sulm or the Isles of Woe in the central Flanaess? One more thing, the Rujari people is also a super obscure reference, and amazingly I remember asking Erik Mona about them in a forum discussion ages ago:
Mortellan (me): how about the Rujari? I can't recall where I
heard that one but I think it was in some writing you or Gary Holian did.
incidentally, is my name for the primitive humans (think non-Homo Sapiens) who
were around before the rise of the Flan, and who still exist in very small
numbers in remote mountain caves. I don't think they've made their way into the
"official" Greyhawk, but I will attempt to fit them into this current
Kirk: So the Rujari are like Flores Man perhaps?
Erik Mona: More like Neanderthals, but you get the idea.
Very cool, so all those entries for "Cave Men" on the World of Greyhawk Glossography encounter charts are Rujari! Back to the article.
"Only one race of note defied the elves, the strange furred folk known as quaggoths. These creatures had profited much from their relations with the kuo-toa, and saw themselves as masters of the northern forests, near which most of the fighting in the final years of the War of Extermination took place. When the olve arrived, and claimed much the same territory, the quaggoths rebelled, attacking an elven encampment. The minor skirmish ended with the death of Amaranthe, a great olven princess thought to be more than 2000 years old. Her death is still heralded as the major loss of the war, and the violent retribution against the quaggoths defied both the elven reputation of goodness and all perceptions of scale. Thousands of quaggoths were put to death for each member of Amaranthe’s slain party. Though far fewer in number today than in those ancient times, the quaggoths of the Forlorn Forest remember still this slaughter at the hands of the olve, and they take every opportunity to return the favor in kind."
enter the fray and interestingly Fiend Folio
says they hate surface elves and will ally with Drow
to fight surface elves. Again, the elves push out the native folk, this time in the northern forests. Apparently, those sentient races who were not scaly or amphibious had to pick a side? Geez, elves are the worst. The poor furred folk lose their lands, then in retribution slay -one- elven princess and this practically turns olvendom chaotic evil as a result! Maybe this event is why Valley Elves
don't play with the rest of their kin anymore. Side note, Amaranthe
has to be one of the oldest elves in Greyhawk lore that I know. I'm getting Silmarillion
elf vibes, but I digress. Continuing on...
"Eventually, the elven alliance defeated the kuo-toa, laying waste to their cities and culture and destroying vast hatcheries of kuo-toan young. Finally admitting defeat, the gogglers pulled back to the shores and took to the waters. Though the tide had been for the elves all along, losses numbered in the hundreds of thousands – unacceptable to the olvenfolk rulers. At a great war council near the front of the final battles, the elves entreated their gods, the Seldarine, for a means by which to follow the kuo-toa to the seas, and exact their vengeance upon them completely. Their mournful pleas found purchase in the ears and hearts of their gods, who instructed a fifth of all elves in the Flanaess to take to the ocean."
The more I read about this, the more it does start to sound like myth instead of history. Like, can you imagine mass combat on land between kuo-toa and elves? Hundreds of thousands of elves die? So, I'm assuming millions of fishmen are slain in this war. Also, can you picture the coasts of the Flanaess hosting great kuo-toan cities
and vast hatcheries? Where would those exist in present day? Guess it doesn't matter, the elves wiped them out of existence! Anyhow, the elves aren't satisfied with conquering the Flanaess, nope, now they want to take the war underwater..."This event, known as the Great Embarkation, saw thousands of elves simply walk into the sea. These chosen olve found their hands and feet webbed, their necks marked by fully-functioning gills. Accepting this gift with great happiness, the newborn race of aquatic elves took to their task immediately. Within four centuries, every kuo-toa who had fled to the seas had been hunted down and destroyed. Within a millennia, the sea elves had spread to all the oceans bordering the Flanaess."
Fantastic! So, this myth becomes the origin story of the sea elves. The elven War of Extermination which raged for untold centuries, continued unabated beneath the seas for four more centuries, and in the end the scaly folk are wiped out (I wonder when Sahuagin come on the scene though?). Side question, when does the Drow-Elf schism happen? Before or after this story? If it's afterwards, were some elves changed into drow and sent to the underdark to hunt the other kuo-toa? (but they rebelled instead)"Today, the sea elves are as numerous as any of their kind, and can be found around the entire globe. Though the gogglers of the ocean were destroyed, those who fled underground survived, where they yet plot a return to their place in the surface world. The tale of the Great Embarkation remains a tightly guarded secret among the elves. Some decry it as myth. Others deny it completely, citing the brutality of the olvenfolk as an example of an attempt to make the race look much more violent than they actually are. The oral tradition of the quaggoths does not equivocate on the matter."
Aha the awful Kuo-toa of the D-series modules are the underground remnant of this great ancient culture slaughtered by the elves. I like that Mona acknowledges the mythic history is not flattering for the elves and that they go to great lengths to never speak of this age. This provides a good reason why there's very little lore on elven history outside recent Flanaess timelines. And the quaggoths? Oh, they remember. The Great Embarkation
is a great bit of lore that a DM can use to turn otherwise "good" elves into antagonists as they struggle to keep players from discovering the secret and letting it get out.