Tradition holds that 3,500 years ago the elves sailed to Greypeak (their name for the continent) from the north. Driven by storms they landed near the current harbor of Midnight and were stranded. After giving up trying to repair the three ships, they instead turned the hulls into the first settlement. Several dangerous creatures like enormous crocodiles, and nearly invisible hunting cats convinced them to make the settlement fortified and to stay nearby rather than explore.
Shortly afterward a group of fey-like beings came out of the jungle, the Tree Spirits came to warn them that they had been noticed by the rulers of the island, vicious elemental lords who were sending an investigative team. The elves could either submit and become slaves, or try to defeat the local lord. If they decided to fight, the Tree Spirits offered to assist. Then they vanished into the woods.
At dawn the following day the woods were silent, no birds, no insects, just silence. Elven guards were on high alert. A swarm of small humanoid creatures formed from rock and clay flew out of the trees and buzzed the encampment, then returned to the woods. Not wanting to start a fight the elves didn’t interfere. A loud buzzing and humming filled the air. It got louder. Then nearly three score winged humanoids with scythe-like arms came out, fully half as many as the elves fighting numbers. They took up positions in the air over the settlement and waited. The earth buckled and tore in the middle of the camp and a face formed. The elven Commodore tried to negotiate but he and the face were not able, even with the aid of magic to find a common language. Then the winged creatures attacked and the face melted back to clay. After a vicious battle the elves were victorious, but barely intact. The Tree Spirits returned at night and lead the elves into the woods and to a hidden undergound grotto formed in the roots of an incredibly large tree. There, a great crystal held an ancient Eladrin imprisoned in Amber from the days of their old reign. The commodore struck the amber with his hand and it cracked, freeing her. They were wed, and became the first rulers of the elven kingdom. They sent word via magical sending back to the elven homeland and many more ships were sent. The elemental lords were divided and petty and they would not aid each other, so the elves were able to break them one by one, establishing a mighty empire in their place.
The Commodore and his wife controlled every aspect of elven society through formal rituals and layers of "polite" behavior. Numerous lesser lords ruled only so long as they could hold the court’s esteem, setting an internal conflict system that lead to constant attrition and survival of the fittest. Over time this evolved into a facade of politeness covering an extreme ruthlessness and nearly constant attempts to discredit and destroy rivals. For nearly 3 thousand years this system allowed them to thrive and prosper, subjugating all the other races they encountered. Others were willing to support the elves because of the offer of equality, but no other race was able to match them in subtlety and political maneuvering, thus no others rose to significant authority. The elves grew haughty and arrogant, convinced that no other race was worthy of authority, or capable of rule. The gods had given them this world because only the elves were smart enough and cunning enough to rule it. The lesser races were created to be their servants.
The elven lords subtlety and political maneuvering were their undoing, as they had no loyalty to each other. Just as the elemental lords they defeated, they watched rivals defeated and die without raising a hand to help. One after another. Just as ever before. but this time, the elves didn’t see it happening because the falling kingdoms were so isolated and no one threat rose to assail them. Just local problems got out of hand and the lord lost control. Neighbors moved in, and the wilderness spread. Eventually only a few isolated settlements remained and virtually all of the continent was wilderness. Then the eladrin returned with their talk of breaking the cycle, of a hidden enemy who had nearly destroyed the elves, and their great plan to bridge the gap between their two races and to return to power. The few remaining elven lords rejected the eladrin as fools. But one family met with them in secret and asked for the eladrin to forgive their brethren and to try to fight the enemy as best they could. The eladrin accepted the advice and declared war on the elves conquering two kingdoms and renaming them Solarium and Midnight. Then they allied with the one wise elven house and watched the rest burn. Now, the Woodland Realm is all that remains of the ancient elven empire. The rulers are the least arrogant of all elven lords, but still not, by any stretch of the imagination, humble.
At its height the Elven Empire boasted 14 kingdoms, and controlled about 94% of the continent with only a very few, very dangerous areas left as true wilderness. No other race existed outside their heirarchy, all were slaves, servants, citizens, or participants. The emperor ruled from a glass palace at the top of the highest mountain, guarded by a race of warrior women who kept all visitors away unless they had permission from the emperor to approach. The palace gleamed like a second sun on the top of the mountain, visible from every point of the continent. All of the nobles had quarters in the palace and it was the home of a constant masquerade ball where all of the business of court was decided. Councils met at various regional courts and were very formal and stuffy, but they only gave voice to decisions made at the ball. The palace still stands but has not shone in over a century.
The Woodland Realm was a traditional elven realm with a few "cities" and many "villages". Now it has over 10 "cities". Elven cities are based on the ruins of older races and inhabited primarily by non-elves. The elves rule and hold a ball-like formal court where the lesser races are both entertainment and subjects. In theory, if they manage to succeed in court they earn a noble title and may hold authority, but in practice only elves have noble titles. The Woodland Realm was an exception in three ways. First, they had a small number of non-elven nobles, not a lot, but by far more than anywhere else. Two, they had one city with many elves living in it, their capital, the great tree Laoch, the same tree where the Tree Spirits sheltered them from the Elemental Lords so long ago. And three, their lord ruled not by humiliating and crushing his rivals, but by forging bonds of loyalty and letting his rivals exhaust themselves trying to break him. The Tree Spirits and his overly large family were the keys to this successful strategy. Today each of his 8 children rule one of the cities, one more is rumored to be ruled by an unseen Tree Spirit, and two are ruled by refugee nobles from fallen realms. Laoch, he and his wife rule, and they are traditional enough to keep alive the endless ball.
New arrivals from foreign lands may pledge loyalty to Siddaereen III, Emperor of the Stars, Lord of Laoch, Guardian of the Trust of the Trees, Immortal Lord of All Lands Under the Sun, and Patriarch of the Palace. If they agree, they are assigned to one of the cities according to their nature and the cities’ needs and turned loose. Laoch itself, tries to remain elven.
The Woodland Realm is most commonly beset by enemies from the Shadowfell and deep under the earth. Dark fey, undead, and burrowing creatures are the most common threats. A few ancient races have come out of the mists of legend and time and carved holes in the Emperor’s land, and the coastline is very dangerous with many reptilian predators hunting the elves. Some examples are goblin-like creatures called Grim, living crystal entities, and a collective that is capable of shape-shifting known to the elves only as The Horde and rumored to be a surviving Elemental Lord over 4,000 years old.
Grim stand 3-foot tall, have tourquiose skin, and mouths with shark-like teeth. They are much like spriggans in personality and violence, but they live in caves and prefer darkness. They set traps and rarely confront an enemy without overwhelming numerical advantage. They prefer hit and run tactics and will sacrifice any amount of land if they can come back later and kill their enemy. They are also famous assassins, sneaking into homes and killing children but leaving parents alive.
The Crystals appear as multi-colored clusters of partly transparent crystal. They are usually symmetrical, but as they age they get more and more asymmetrical. They float a few feet above the ground and appear incapable of true flight, though they can cross some very wide chasms without falling. They communicate via music and electricity, but can create visual illusions that speak elven. They are powerfully magic and their ability to manipulate the senses makes them both feared and sought after. Their rewards are enough to cause addiction and to turn mothers against their own children. Their punishments are said to be worse than death. No Crystal has ever been seen above ground.
The Horde is a single entity with many bodies. Most take the form of animals sculpted as if from gray rock or clay. But the bodies are really a mass of many tiny creatures that cling to each other and the bodies can reshape at will. Because it is one entity, "what any body sees all bodies see". In truth, it has one mind and an multitude of sensory organs, so there is no "all". It can understand elven, but never speaks. Many of its greatest servants claim to receive orders telepathically, but no enemy has successfully negotiated with it. It is worth noting that while many elves and many of its servants claim it is an Elemental Lord, those servants who communicate with it say that it never has made such a claim.
The most dangerous undead live in a ruin not terribly far from Laoch itself. This site has been corrupted by countless millions of years of vile acts. From time to time artifacts from ancient races are pulled from this ruin, but all are vile and twisted and while they might bring power, eventually all bring tragedy. The ruin is home to a number of undead beings so old that what race they might once have been is unknown. Large portions of the ruin exist both in the shadowfell and the material world at the same time.
More to come.