The third universe I’ll spotlight was inspired by a comment I’d read elsewhere, about how Tokein-style elves tend to live as if they were in a post-scarcity society. Said topic also pointed out that elves were sort of the ultimate expression of how a wizard might view himself: Supremely intelligent and magical, but no one bothered to allocate for strength, and thus the idea blossomed: a world where (almost) all the fantasy races are actually magically modified humans.
The world of Aureial
It all started with a small magical college hidden away in a forest enchanted for their protection. Some wizard or other, whose identity was long since lost, finally managed to perfect safely using permanent alteration magic that did not require a pre-existing template, ie. you could actually make someone taller or shorter, without having to copy something else, and it stuck, even through dispels and dead magic zones.
With the possibility of transhumanism looking them in the face, they all got together and discussed not whether it should be used, but how. Being scholars of the magical variety, they considered things like magical ability, intelligence and sharpness of senses, but gave the shortest shrift to physical needs apart from general health and longetivity concerns, eventually by consensus hashing out the template for what would become known as an elf, after the college’s original name.
And so overnight the college wizards and those of their families that were willing became the first elves.
As others interested in the procedure heard, a small town, then a city grew up around the village as more people signed up to be enhanced int he same ways, extending their lives and magical ability. As the town grew, the council of elders that had been the first converted found they were having trouble keeping up with the demand for raw materials. There was a nearby mining town that they had friendly relations with who had been able to keep up at first, but the men grew tired and weary faster trying to keep up the pace. The cramped tunnels also led to issues with injuries slowing things down further.
One of the newer elves then came up with the bright idea of “well if we can improve ourselves for the life we wants, why can we not do the same for the miners?” So decided, he traveled to the mining town and set up a doctor’s office there, and as he healed the people he examined the nature of the injuries and problems that they ran into.
It took the better part of two years for him to put together the template, whereupon without consulting with the council he took it upon himself to approach the mining company leaders. Like the elven city, the mines were run by a coalition of elders, each representing a clan of highlander humans who had come here to try and improve their families fortunes. After listening to the young elf, living proof that his plan was possible, they sent him away without a response.
What followed was a heated argument just short of a brawl among the greying, firey-beared folk. They were a very earthy and practical folk, but some were uncertain about what they would be giving up in exchange for this “gift” of the elf’s. Eventually, the decided to send a runner to the elven city, which was already starting to become the capital of a small nation as settlements were already beginning to take shape on the edges of the forest.
The council was at first aghast at what the young prodigal had come up with. How dare he look at modifying others without permission! After sending the messenger away they debated it for several days, only taking breaks for the restful meditation they had engineered to replace the waste of time called sleep. Then, they called the young elf in and had him present his designs before them in each and every detail, follwoed by more discussion, with the designer included this time. Finally, they came to an agreement that they would provide the changes, but only to the clans that would agree to supply them in turn with the materials for their new towns as payment.
When the messenger returned with this news, he was met with trepidation, as now the decision was firmly in the miners’ court. Gathering once more in the mead hall, they spent the night in deliberations. The elves had proved in their success thus far that there was merit in moving beyond the current limitations of the human body, but those who accepted the deal would have to live with the consequences, including this supply deal. In the end, but the time the sun rose to shine on tired faces, they had decided. A couple clans were going to leave to start anew far form here, but the 8 remaining clans would accept the elven gift; making them stronger, hardier, and more suited to the world of the mines, under the earth itself. They would become one with the rock in ways no unmodified human would ever know.
And so was created the first 8 Great Clans of dwarves, the ancestors of the modern dwarven race.
And thus the elven empire began to grow apace over the years in a slow but steady expansion, buoyed by the knowledge and magical might of the elves and the sturdy, hard-working dwarves toiling away at mines and forges, shaping metal and stone in the service of the growing nation. There were even small villages of unmodified humans who sought safety within those borders, protected from the chaos of the human nations warring back and forth. In a matter of decades however, the elves found their borders pressing up against those of an aggressive human warlord.
At first there were just minor skirmishes, but as the warlord took the measure of his inhuman rivals he began to send larger forces in to ransack and pillage the towns of anything not nailed down. While the cost in human life grew, even worse in elven eyes were those of their own kind lost. While they were only maybe a generation removed from the first elves at this time, seeing the “base” humans be born, grow old, and die had lent the younger elves a sense of superiority, and the loss of one who would have lived as many as 900 more years was more harshly felt than the mayfly-like 60-year lifespan of their human subjects. Eventually the local authorities demanded something must be done!
The elder council, mostly still consisting of those original elves, pondered the problem. These bodies, while ideal in their eyes, did not lend themselves to fighting wars, and while the dwarves were stout and hardy, they were not well suited to quick offensive campaigns of this nature. Something new was required.
The elf who had designed the dwarves had been awarded a council position for his earlier efforts, and once again was the one who brought up the idea of modification once more. Just as elves were suited for strategizing and magical might, and dwarves for hardiness and endurance, why not create a design for combat as well? Create an army that would break the teeth of this human’s offensive, then wash over him in a wave and end his threat to precious elven life?
While a few of the council who still remembered where they had came from dithered, the majority agreed with a minimum of discussion. But where would they create this army from?
They put out a call for volunteers, but most elves were not willing to give up their gifts in defense of their homeland. In fact, it was one of those rejecting the call to arms that brought up the solution: convert he criminal!
Despite having been “improved” elves still had that core of humanity in them, try as they might to deny it, and so there were criminals. Not as many, given that imprisonment and execution were far harsher to folk that may live hundreds of years, but they existed. As well, the human population had those among them who would fight and steel jsut to put one up on their “betters” wherever they could.
With an actual source of manpower now, a small committee was formed to come up with the template for their new soldier. Strong and quick on their feet, but ultimately not as intelligent to reduce the risk of them reverting to their original tendancies. An inclination to loyalty would be helpful there as well, and given the terrain, a green skin would help with camoflauge. They had to be tough, but should also mature fast, to replace losses quickly in any future wars. It meant a reduction in their overall lifespan as well, but that would also help them to forget their origins quicker in favor of serving the empire.
A fortnight later, the first orcs exploded from the elven empire and wiped the uppity human warlord from existence, his name forever lost to history.
And so the great elven empire grew, displacing and absorbing the human nations surrounding it. A ruling class of elves ruled over all, and under them the dwarves toiled and the orcs patrolled to serve their elven masters, while normal humans eked out an existence in the smaller farming villages and towns between the cities.
In the capital however, progress marched on, and further discoveries were made. Over time, fewer and fewer elves were seen outside the great magical cities dotting the landscape as teleportation was perfected, as was the magical creation of materials from the ether itself. The vilages along what had once been thriving trade routes found themselves in a increasingly dangerous situation as the flow of good and traffic dried up; eventually taking up trade directly with the dwarves in their underground homes. With the absence of elven oversight, the orcs began to demand tribute from the villages as well for “protection,” more often from themselves than from any outside threat. And the elves were oblivious to it all, in their figurative ivory towers of plenty.
It only took a couple human generations for the empire to collapse down to several major cities, protected by legions of orcs and swerved by dwarves, connected only by teleportation while small human fiefdoms sprung up between them of the former farmers and servants.
Ultimately it was the daughter of the elf behind the orcs and dwarves that shook things out of the tentative balance that had been maintained for a couple hundred years. It was she that uncovered the secret of not just binding spirits to inorganic shells, but the actual creation of new life to inhabit it. Her research had begun as a way to repair an old golem that had been created ages ago as a guard for the estate. It had been badly damaged protecting her from a rogue orc, and she had been trying to repair it to it’s original state.
She was tired and getting sloppy near the end of her work however, and when she misspoke a word, instead of just energizing the dormant form, it awoke it as well. When it spoke its first words, her fatigue was suddenly gone, replaced with wonder and a bit of fear of what she had just done.
The two spend the next several weeks sequestered as she ran every test she could think up, and finally could only come to the conclusion that she had somehow created life within it. Troubled, she brought it before the city councilors, unsure of what to do with her discovery.
After sending her and the golem away, the council spent several more days debating what to do next. The original elves had all finally passed, and the new ones were of a more manipulative bent. Each had taken whatever measures necessary to place themselves on the council, as they’d all seen themselves as better than the rest. As such, the first discussion was whether it would be feasible to move their selves to new bodies like these that never wore down and could always be repaired.
After another presentation by and dismissal of the creator, they decided against this, as it also meant a loss of the simple pleasures of the flesh, and they were too enamored of their current luxurious lives to risk giving it up yet. However, another idea was then presented. Rather than depending on the increasingly unreliable orcs for protection, they could replace them with an army of these golems, forged for war. In addition, while most of the dwarves had left with the replacement of their services by magical means, eliminating the orcs meant the cities could be pure of all non-elves, and reach a perfection hitherto unimagined.
Thus decided, they brought the creator back in and charged her with creation of a great forge to create a race of these new “warforged” for their protection. While she was hesitant at first to create a race of permanent servants, they played with her fear of orcs from that day long ago, and before long the green-skinned soldiers were forced out into the wilderness by crystalline and metallic bodies.
While some of the orcs form the satelite cities went full bandit, the orcish general of the Capital army managed to keep most of her army under her command. Angry and prideful, she marched her forces to the gates of Dwarvenhome, the great underground city that had once in ages long past been a small mining town of highland folk. To the dwarves’ surprise however, rather than attach she sent an emmisary, offering a truce.
While orc lives were typically short, she had heard tales form her father’s father’s father’s time of how the dwarves had been phased out in favor of magical appliances that ran themselves, forcing them to leave long-held craftsman positions and make a life for themselves away from the great elven cities. This general was also more intelligent than most other orcs, a fact she had hid form her elven superiors, and now she envisioned a world where it was the elves and orcs who enjoyed the fruits of the elven society that they had been denied.
In the end, only about half of the Council of Ten Hammers agreed, but it was enough. Deep below, arcane forges belched ash and hammers sung out the song of war approaching, as alloys the elves had never known were molded into sword and axe, honed to an edge fine enough to slice the remaining puppet strings dangling from elven fingers.
The war that followed of elf and orc, warforged and dwarf, was so destructive that any remaining records of it were wiped form living memory; even that of the long-lived elves and dwarves. Int eh end, the great cities fell, and the magical knowledge that had allowed them to exist was likewise lost to sword and fire. The very ground itself rose up, rearranging the face of the world. Dwarvenhome was likewise lost to the depths, taking with it most of the knowledge of dwarven forging, leaving the remaining dwarves with the hows but not the whys to allow them to advance any further until they could rediscover everything once more.
The orcish general’s daughter led the remaining orcs in the final battle of the war, her mother long since lost to old age. When the dust settled, not a thing there stirred, the landscaped scarred and paved with bones and metal, unchanging to the present day. Without a strong leader, the remaining orcs broke up into nomadic tribes, while the dwarves sought out new homes under mountains that had not existed a hundred years before. The elves, shaken and traumatized as a people sought the forests and a more natural lifestyle, albeit enhanced by magic to present a shadow of their former luxury.
The warforged themselves were supposedly all destroyed in the great war, but about a human generation later new ones began to appear. They had no memory of where they came from other than a masked humanoid of some type and a great forge, but as they seemed to have no ties to the old elven empire, they were gradually accepted by most of the other races. Orcs were the one exception, as like the elves the war had traumatized the entire race, leading them to blame the warforged for everything wrong with the world as it exists now.
In the aftermath of the Great War other, new races also began to appear, possibly created by the fallout of the strength of the magic used and destroyed in that war. The enigmatic gnomes, snivling kobolds, and the more compact halflings and goblins that originated from an area of humans and orcs caught in the backwash from a sudden release of great magical energy.
Other animals and creatures were changed as well, resulting in the magical menagerie that confounds modern magical scholars. But history and life moves on, as it has a wont to do. Groups of explorers now travel a changed world, following rumors of ancient elven fortresses that escaped destruction or tantalizing hints of magical artifacts from that lost age.
Yeah, I know, there’s no explicitly defined origin for Dragonborn or Tieflings, but it’d be easy enough to work in an origin if one was needed beyond “magic fallout” – especially if kobolds are tied to dragons. Still, a Pathfinder/D&D-based world that explains some of the tropes without destroying the setting by following them to their logical conclusion – by the fact they already did once, and look where that got them! The war also acts as a good place to slip any additions in, since it can act like the Black History of Turn A Gundam in terms of “this exists” without having to explain why.
Either way, I hope it was an interesting read, and someone somewhere gets a good campaign out of it!