Ghost Elves: Elves of the Ethereal
by Kieran Terley (Dragon #313)
In the depths at the primordial forests, spectral citadels are home to elves unlike any others. Dubbed "ghost elves" for their eerie appearance, this rarely encountered subrace has given rise to a thousand tales at forest demons and lost civilizations. The legacy of the ghost elves is a tale at conflict, betrayal and vengeance. After a struggle for survival that stretches back to the fall of the drow, the ghost elves now flourish in cities built on the Ethereal Plane.
Suspicious and reclusive, they welcome few strangers into their halls.
Ghost elves dwelt on the fringes at elven society. They made their homes amid the ancient roots of the forests, rarely making contact with other races. Over time the ghost elves grew more and more isolated, eventually becoming little more than a legend.
Thousands of years ago, during the elven civil war that led to the fall of the drow, the ghost elves maintained their isolation and remained neutral in the great racial struggle. After the defeated draw retreated into the Underdark, they schemed against their distant cousins and soon launched an assault on the ghost elves. The very shelter that had kept the ghost elves safe became fiercely contested battlegrounds. The peaceful ghost elves were no match for the seasoned dark elven troops and were easy fodder for the sacrificial altars of Lolth. They were virtually wiped out in the blink of an eye. The other surface elves were either unwilling or unable to aid their beleaguered kin, something the ghost elves have never forgotten or forgiven.
Help eventually arrived - from an unexpected source. As the defenses of the last settlement were collapsing, an alien entity calling itself Thule appeared and offered to save the ghost elves in return for their service. Appalled at the slaughter of their people the ghost elven leaders agreed without a second thought, signing the contract that Thule proffered.
They were foully tricked. Tule revealed himself as the Archduke Thulikazt, a pit fiend of almost godlike power, and took the ghost elves to his home in the Nine Hells of Baator. There he enslaved them, slowly destroying their spirits and their strong connection to the land. The ghost elves called upon their deities to save them, but to no avail - Thulikazt's bargain was binding. For hundreds of years. they toiled for the archfiend, and thousands were slaughtered in savage arena battles and pointless experiments for Thulikazt's pleasure. Ghost elven historians call this time "the Tempering."
Countless centuries passed and Thulikazt crew lax, allowing his slaves (whom he believed completely broken) to take up arms and join his forces in the Blood War. The ghost elves learned the arts of war and conquest from fiendish generals and hellish sorcerers. They became Thulikazt's elite bodyguard, drawing admiration and envy from other fiends. This would prove the archduke's ultimate undoing.
The ghost elves secretly contacted their masters enemies and offered to serve those lesser fiends in return for aid in destroying their hated master. Greedy for the service of Thulikazt's elite troops, the baatezu lords formed an alliance to lay siege to his citadel. The ghost elves used the battle as a distraction, killing Thulikazt and opening a gate to the Material Plane in the confusion. When the fortress finally fell, the fiendish generals found only Thulikazt's mutilated corpse and a note of thanks. The ghost elves had won their freedom.
Fearing fiendish retribution, the ghost elves searched for somewhere to hide. It was then that they noticed a startling change in themselves: By severing their connection to the earth, Thulikazt had accidentally gifted the ghost elves with a strange connection to the Ethereal Plane, granting the most powerful ghost elves the ability to slip between the material world and the Ethereal Plane. Upon coming to grips with their newfound powers, the ghost elves set about creating a portal to the Ethereal Plane, and one stone at a time, they transferred materials to the Ethereal Plane to build their new homes.
Today ghost elves live on the Ethereal Plane. Their cities are usually built deep in woodlands and all are at least partially underground. Due to their long captivity and the dangers their settlements attract, their society has a strong martial bent. A thousand years have not cooled the anger of the devils humiliated by "elven treachery," and even today they seek out and destroy ghost elves whenever they can. For their part, the ghost elves launch preemptive strikes against their enemies whenever possible, relying on their hidden cities for defense.
Personality: The ghost elves have been strongly affected by their history. Before the Tempering, they were a carefree people with a passion for life. Much of that has evaporated, replaced by a harsher outlook. The typical ghost elf now seems a stern creature with little passion. In truth, ghost elves are gentle and nurturing at heart, forced to extreme measures to survive. They are wary; earning their trust involves many subtle tests and trials. Never intentionally haughty, a trait they despise in their cousins, they maintain a distance that makes them seem cold.
Ghost elves are still passionate about their homes and people, and they defend these to the last, exacting terrible vengeance against those who wrong them. A serious, calculating mindset allows them to hold their own against their many enemies. Dwarves compare ghost elves to mithral: beautiful and delicate in appearance, but stronger than the hardest steel.
Physical Description: Ghost elves have the same range of height and weight as elves but are slightly frailer, a consequence of the destruction of their bond with the land. They reach adulthood at about age thirty and have a life span roughly a hundred years shorter than that of other elves, although they do not show their age until a few years before death.
Gray hair and pale skin are nearly universal, with the occasional throwback having jet-black hair. The eyes of ghost elves are their most striking feature; they are like twin mirrors lacking white, iris, and pupil. Their skin glows with a pale white light in the darkness. They are often mistaken for ghosts even by other elves, hence their name.
Ghost elven attire is usually light and flowing, colored gray, silver, or white. In battle, they favor light armor such as leather or mithral shirts. On the Material Plane they dress like ordinary elves in an effort to disguise themselves from distant observers.
Relations: Ghost elves deliberately limit their contact with half-orcs and halflings, whose intentions they do not trust. Gnomes are a mystery to the ghost elves - although the two races have a lot in common, the less-than-serious outlook of the little folk prompts the elves to keep them at arm's length. Humans and dwarves intrigue the ghost elves, who frequently spy on them from the Ethereal Plane and occasionally contact them in the guise of ordinary elves.
The few Material elves who know of their ethereal kin pity their plight, and the ghost elves hate them for it. They believe themselves betrayed by their cousins and snub those they happen to meet. Ghost elves treat half-elves as they do humans, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Half-ghost elves are so rare as to be practically unique, so there is no general opinion on them. The only mortal race the ghost elves truly despise are the drow, whom they treat mercilessly. An individual ghost elf will go to extraordinary lengths to hurt any dark elf that crosses her path. Many drow raiding parties have been thwarted by elves who materialized from thin air - centuries in the service of fiends has forged the ghost elves into warriors of deadly cunning and ability.
Alignment: The trials of the ghost elves have shifted their generally good nature to one of neutrality. A ghost elf is willing to do whatever is necessary to survive. The handful of Material Plane dwellers who have conversed with ghost elves describe them as almost humorless in comparison to their cousins. Neutral is the most common alignment among ghost elves, with a minority tending to neutral good. Adventuring ghost elves can be of any alignment but are typically neutral or chaotic good.
Ghost Elven Lands: Ghost elves favor building their homes adjacent to ancient Material Plane forests, which often hold a secret portal to the Ethereal Plane. They treasure privacy above all and hide these entrances with powerful magic. The greatest challenge facing a would-be diplomat to the ghost elves is finding any evidence of their existence at all.
These forests gain reputations as being haunted, and neighboring peoples sometimes speak of "forest demons." Sylvan creatures are aware of the ghost elves' presence but rarely mention them. The elves have an ancient friendship with the woodland beings and are grateful for their silence.
Ghost elven cities are wondrous places, lit by silvery light and laid out without regard to gravity. They are often covered with imported vegetation that has grown into bizarre shapes under the unusual influence of the Ethereal Plane. Visitors must contend with streets that wind up, down, and from side to side. Domesticated phase spiders occasionally roam the cities but are more commonly found in ghost elven patrols. The typical settlement houses many more inhabitants than a Material Plane counterpart: Ghost elves band together for protection and are accustomed to close quarters after their long captivity. A typical community numbers about a thousand, and every adult member is able to bear arms in times of crisis. The elves produce food by cultivating plants from the Material Plane, and by foraging and occasionally hunting in material forests bordering their ethereal cities. Ghost elven kings keep in contact through messengers and magic, allying to help one another as the need arises.
Ghost elven cities have well-protected gateways to and from the Ethereal Plane that allow lower-level ghost elves access to the Material Plane, as only powerful ghost elves can cross the boundaries between the planes on their own. The stern ghost elves do not open such portals lightly, but they sometimes permit young ghost elves to sate wanderlust on the Material Plane rather than allow them to be exposed to the dangers of the Ethereal that often lurk outside the well-guarded ghost elven cities.
Ghost elves encountered in human lands are usually either outcasts or on some special mission. They take pains to hide their ancestry, using disguises and claiming to be from some obscure Material Plane tribe. If their tell-tale eyes are somehow hidden, most folk cannot tell the difference between normal elves and disguised ghost elves; even other elves can be fooled.
Religion: The ghost elves abandoned the elven pantheon during the Tempering. Those deities did nothing to aid them in their plight and so deserve no worship. During their time in Baator, many ghost elves turned to the dwarven god Moradin in his aspect as the Soul Forger, converted by a small group of dwarven slaves also imprisoned by Thutikazt. These ghost elves see themselves as having been forged into a tool for some divine purpose as yet to be revealed. The elven gods' opinion of the ghost elves is unknown, and Moradin himself is strangely silent on the topic. Ghost elves do not build temples; instead, clerics hold small ceremonies within family homes. These events are attended by neighbors and help strengthen the community.
Language: Ghost elves speak an archaic dialect of Elven that is difficult to understand. The language borrows heavily from Infernal, particularly for words relating to battle and magic. Anyone who can speak both Infernal and Elven can pick up the ghost elven dialect after only a little practice. The war with the dark elves destroyed what few written records they had, so the refugees adopted the Infernal alphabet, which they use to this day.
Names: Ghost elves follow their own unique naming traditions, having abandoned their original clan names as divisive and contrary to the unity of their people. Every child is given a first name at birth, usually by his parents, and earns a surname, or "deed name" during the course of his life. The first name is usually elven in origin, but sometimes a name honors a family friend of another race. The deed name describes some feat, occupation, or event and may change many times as greater deeds take precedence over previous ones. Deed names are taken very seriously, except in the case of children. A ghost elf's first adult deed name usually relates to his chosen profession.
For example, a ghost elf is affectionately called "Mudeater" as a clumsy child for his habit of falling on his face. He later apprentices to a hunter and is called "Truespear" for his skill with a thrown spear. Following a battle where he slew three baatezu warriors, "Truespear" becomes known as "Grimslayer".
Male First Names: Griminnir, Kidsanat, Mendicalt, Peldraco, Quilvarin, Rhilianis, Stiragoth, Tolduart, and Xelunixio.
Female First Names: Akasa, Cherigi, Druilia, Ilrith, Kisurinda, Linseeri, Mistil, Sulista, Theriet, and Tyrisiss.
Deed Names: Barkchewer (child's name), Beast-Tamer, Boltcatcher, Djinnfriend, Flamesinger, Flyslayer (child's name), Mistskulker, Steelbiter, Stonecutter, and Tunnelrunner.
Adventurers: Ghost elves rarely leave their ethereal homes and do not share the wanderlust that distinguishes material elves. Those who do adventure often have a long-term goal: to gain power, allies, or magic to aid their people. Such adventurers may spend centuries abroad. Some never return home, seduced by the enticements of the Material Plane. Some adventuring ghost elves are outcasts whose temperament does not fit the grim ghost elven society. These are frequently throwbacks to the time before the Tempering and have more in common with their Material kin than their own kind.
Ghost Elf Racial Traits
- +2 Dexterity, -4 Constitution, +2 Intelligence: The ghost elves' time away from the Material Plane has weakened them physically. However, they have learned to adapt rapidly to any situation.
- Medium: As Medium creatures, ghost elves have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
- Ghost elf base land speed is 30 feet.
- Immunity to magic sleep effects.
- Low-Light Vision: A ghost elf can see twice as far as a human in starlight. moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. She retains the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
- Weapon Proficiency: Ghost elves receive time Martial Weapon Proficiency feats for the short sword and scimitar as bonus feats, weapons suited to the fighting styles of fiendish gladiatorial arenas. They do not share their cousins proficiency with bows: Such weapons are useless in the mists of the Ethereal Plane. Ghost elven children's games feature practice weapons, ensuring familiarity with the real thing in adulthood.
- A ghost elf glows with the brightness of a candle in the dark (5-foot radius of light). She can suppress this aura at will as a free action but must make a DC 10 Concentration check each round to maintain the suppression.
- +2 racial bonus on Listen, Search, and Spot checks. A ghost elf who merely passes within 5 feet of a secret or concealed door is entitled to a Search check to notice it as if she were actively looking for it.
- Ghost elves have Knowledge (the planes) as a racial class skill.
- Ethereal Power (Sp): A ghost elf can invoke her connection to the Ethereal Plane once per day in one of several ways depending on her level. A ghost elf can choose to use the ability available to her at her current level or the ability available at any lower level, but once a ghost elf uses an ethereal power she cannot use another one until the following day. Caster level is equal to the ghost elf's character level.
Level Ethereal Power 1st Slip Binding: The ghost elf gains a +10 enhancement bonus to Escape Artist checks for 1 minute per level. At 5th level, this bonus increases to +20, and at 9th level, it increases to +30. 4th See Invisibility: As the see invisibility spell. 6th Blink: As the blink spell. 14th Ethereal Jaunt: As the ethereal jaunt spell. 18th Ethereal Shift: The ghost elf may shift herself and objects she carries to or from the Ethereal Plane and remain on the destination plane until this ability is used again or other magic transports the character to a different plane.
- Automatic Languages: Ghost Elven and Infernal. Bonus languages: Common, Dwarven, Elven, Sylvan, and Terran. Ghost Elven is a blending of Infernal with an archaic form of Elven. A creature that knows both languages can understand Ghost Elven, but a creature that knows only one of the languages must succeed at a DC 15 Sense Motive check to understand a creature speaking Ghost Elven. Reading Ghost Elven writing without knowledge of Ghost Elven or both Infernal and Elven requires Decipher Script checks.
- Favored Class: Wizard. Many ghost elves specialize in conjuration and transmutation, taking advantage of their control over planar travel and knowledge of extraplanar entities. They spent years mastering these magical arts in the pits of Baator as tools for their escape.
- Level Adjustment: +1. Ghost elves are more powerful and gain levels more slowly than most other elves.