Drifting Sands, Drifting Souls
Elven Military Orders
Elves have a long and storied tradition of warfare and combat. One of the original races that fought in the Shadow War, the Elves have trained themselves for millennia in various forms of combat. However, Elves are few and far between in the modern era, as Humans proliferate and push them out of their native lands. The following is a list of a few Elven elite military orders and traditions that have lived on, or have risen as a direct response to Human intervention in their affairs.
The Ranger Corps
The Elven Ranger Corps is probably the most prestigious and elite military order that the Elves muster in the modern era. Not only are they well-trained and well-armed, but they also have a great deal of political clout. Any member of the Ranger Corps is immediately considered to be a ranking officer of any other Elven military unit, almost always out-ranking captains and lieutenants of Elven companies and platoons. The Ranger Corps is divided into five separate “Orders,” each one having its own particular duties and purview.
The Elven Ranger Corps once spread throughout all of mainland Visari; however, with the founding of the Holy Empire of Aritika, and the prolonged war between the ancient Elven Chiefdom and the Empire, coming to an end with the Treaty of Coelin that pushed the Elves into a reservation, the Ranger Corps is now located centrally in the city of Fil’Galas, the “capital city” of the region called The Neck within the Reservation. The Ranger Corps does maintain smaller outposts throughout Visari and on other continents as well, but pale in comparison to the massive temple that the Corps uses as its base of operations in Fil’Galas.
On a mechanics note: The Elven Ranger Corps is not necessarily comprised of characters with the Ranger class. There are some sorcerers, some bards, many rogues, and some barbarians. Rangers are overwhelming in number, but certainly not the only type of class that can join this group. No members of the Elven Ranger Corps have levels in NPC classes. They are considered an elite military order, and thus always have levels in PC classes. However, regardless of class, a member of the Elven Ranger Corps is always called a Ranger once she reaches the appropriate rank.
Ranks typically go in this order, unless otherwise noted (from lowest to highest): Initiate, Novitiate, Scout, Ranger, Ranger-Sergeant, Ranger-Knight, Master, Grand Master. It can be assumed that one gains a rank every 2 levels, reaching Grand Mastery at level 16. This is subject to GM approval, and is encouraged to be based on story rather than mechanics. Particularly young characters will generally not reach Grand Mastery, but may reach Ranger-Knight fairly quickly with valiant deeds. The Grand Master of an Order is considered its leader; while Masters are considered the leaders of various splinter groups of an individual Order. All Grand Masters reside in Fil’Galas and rarely travel, as they are tasked with strategic operations.
The First Order (Order of the Talon)
The Order of the Talon, the first Order of the Elven Ranger Corps, is dedicated toward the pursuit of war. While the Elves have signed a treaty with the Aritikan Empire indicating that they are now at peace (albeit a shaky peace), this group still gains members. Undoubtedly the smallest of all the Ranger Corps Orders, the Order of the Talon is also the most skilled and highly-trained. Many members of the First Order are trained in multiple weapons, as well as improvised weapons and martial arts, giving them the ability to fight an enemy with whatever happens to be at hand – or nothing at all, if the situation calls for it.
The First Order is the only Order that maintains its base of operations away from the city of Fil’Galas. The Order of the Talon has control over an abandoned monastery just south of Coelin, across the border. The monastery is named Aravae, which simply means “Talon” in Elven. The building has been outfited with various traps and secret passages, preventing easy discovery of the Elves there; if they are discovered, the austere lifestyle of the First Order is deceiving enough that most enemies would consider the residents of the fortress-monastery to be harmless commoners.
Of primary interest to the First Order is training to use two weapons at once. They have created a form of fencing using a mixture of an Elven Lightblade in the off-hand, and an Elven Thinblade in the main hand. While this is not the only fighting style that the members choose to use, it is the most common. The fighting style of using these weapons, known as Galasian Fencing, has spread away from the First Order to others throughout the Ranger Corps, and even into other lands. It is effective and brutal, emphasizing the use of the off-hand weapon for both defense and quick offense, and the use of feints to force an opponent off-guard.
The only other place that the First Order is located is in the Elven Colonylands of Velyria. The outpost there is unnamed and only houses a small company of about twenty members. They are there are functionaries, and typically an assignment to Velyria is considered to be a punishment of some sort.
Despite the truce between the Elves and the Humans of Aritika, the First Order will track across the border occasionally and skirmish with Aritikan military forces. They do not attack any force that they believe they cannot destroy, and will often destroy the bodies and equipment rather than leaving them for others. This whittles away Aritika’s almost limitless military strength, but prevents the Aritikans from viewing the loss of their forces as an act of war from the Elves. Many wilderness-savvy members of the First Order will disguise the last-known whereabouts of a company of Aritikan soldiers as the site of a gruesome animal or aberration attack, leaving droppings, slime, and other distasteful things to throw their scent. The members of this order are typically Barbarians, Rangers, Cavaliers, and Fighters. Paladins find their form of warfare distasteful.
The Second Order (Order of the Arrow)
Second smallest of the Orders, the Second Order – known as the Order of the Arrow – is also the most far-ranging. Its membership includes Rangers to a fault, with a select few being Barbarians and a few wilderness-minded Fighters. This is well and good, considering their primary objective. The Second Order of the Elven Ranger Corps was created solely to venture into enemy territory and scout. Often working alone, many members of the Second Order find themselves traveling with non-Elves more often than the other Orders. Odder still, occasionally a Human or Half-Elf will be initiated into the Order. They rarely achieve rank, and it’s primarily an honorary position if the non-Elven member provided some great service to the Elven race. Thus far, only three Humans have been inducted, one Half-Orc, and ten Half-Elves.
Members of the Order of the Arrow have a lengthy initiation process that often lasts well into an Elf’s middle age. Younger Elves are sent to guard the secretive caravan pistes that travel through the Sand Wastes north of Coelin. Unlike the other Ranger Corps Orders, the Second Order does not maintain splinter temples; they do, however, have caches scattered throughout the landscape of Visari. These are always well-hidden, and often only known to members of the Second Order – or very high-ranking members of the other Orders. Caches are typically utilitarian. They include dried food that will not spoil or attract vermin, and several canteens of water, occasionally a few healing potions and chirurgeon’s kits to help with natural healing. It is rare, but some caches will include a magical item or a set of magical arrows.
The Second Order treats the supply caches as a form of honor. Many Elves will not take the equipment stored in a Second Order cache unless they are in life-or-death situations that would require them to do so. If a member of the Order of the Arrow takes the stored equipment, they must repay the cache with interest. If magical arrows are taken, those same type of arrows are expected back, along with a well-worked bow. If potions are taken, a larger assortment of useful potions are expected in return. The same goes for food and water. Over time, caches can bloat, which causes a higher chance of discovery as animals scent out the food stored there, and mages and sorcerers traveling through the area detect the magical aura from caches storing magic items.
Throughout the initiation of a member of the Second Order, a Ranger must go through the process of guarding and protecting the area around the caches first, then must focus on guarding caravans traveling north toward the Elven caravansarai on the northern end of the continent, near the Dwarven Redoubts. Following that, Elves of the Second Order are given a more wide-ranging status, allowing them to choose their own duties. These duties must involve protecting the Elves of the Reservation Lands without fail. This is left largely ambiguous, as each member is encouraged to think of their own specific way to protect the chiefdoms.
By the time a member of the Second Order reaches the rank of Ranger, passing her Novitiate initiation, she will be given a set of duties that fit her specialty. Some Rangers are particularly good at fighting, and will often be attached to a First Order war-party. Rangers that are particularly gifted in strategy will be kept in Fil’Galas to assist Grand Master Valan Olqlas, who has been the Grand Master of the Second Order for nearly three hundred years. Many Rangers without a specialization will be given more freedom, and some will travel to other continents to seek out enemies to the Elven chiefdoms.
The Second Order is treated with a kind of reverence among other Elves, but not without a touch of fear. As many members of the Second Order are used to isolation and traveling through harsh and difficult lands, it’s very common for members of the Order of the Arrow to become callous and cold, even towards their own people. Nonetheless, they are loyal to the last, and many stories are told of Second Order Rangers giving their lives in a valiant last stand against the enemies of their people.
The Third Order (Order of the Hunt)
Solely a domestic group, the Order of the Hunt – or Third Order – is the first line of defense against any interlopers traveling into the Elven Reservation. While some Humans are allowed, and some military units are given free passage (often passed along by carrier crows to the Third Order members near the border), by and large, the Elves of the Third Order will attempt to subdue and question anyone traveling into the Elven Reservation Lands who is without an Elven guide or prior knowledge or allowance.
Every member of the Third Order is an Elf. Even the most loyal Half-Elves are not allowed to join the Order of the Hunt. It is believed that any other race would not understand the gravity of protecting the Elven homeland, and thus would be a liability – or even compromise its mission. As a purely defensive Order, this group is often the one most often seen traveling through the wilderness of the Reservation. They also have several temples dedicated to their order in Velyria, and protect that as much as they would the Reservation. It’s rumored that two or three cells have gone native among the wild Elves that make up the western portion of Velyria, given over to the purity of the idea of the Hunt.
The Third Order is also the most pious of the Elven Ranger Corps. Each member is a devout worshiper of Ilthurin’tra, goddess of the hunted prey. While their prey can include humans and the like, they are also incredibly apt at taking down the errant aberrations that sometimes wander into Elven territory. Each kill, whether human, goblinoid, aberration, or animal, is given in sacrifice to Ilthurin’tra. It is this piety that causes many Elves to see the Third Order as a kind of necessary evil. They protect the land, but are almost fanatical in their beliefs, which makes them somewhat dangerous and often seen as unhinged.
Regardless of this, many Elves clamor to join the Third Order, due to the romantic notions surrounding their activities. Even though the Order of the Hunt is the largest of the Ranger Corps, they still maintain rigorous and strict entry requirements, forcing members to learn trap-making, knowledge of the divine and the wilderness, and how to survive. Their initiation period is spent alone, and is often the only time that a member of the Third Order will be solitary in their duties. Upon survival, an Elf returning from the swamps of the Reservation will be given proper induction into the Order, Novitiate status, and will be assigned to a group of four Rangers led by a Ranger-Sergeant.
The Third Order is also the most rigid in rank. Rather than the flux and shift of the First and Second Orders, the Third Order has clear guidelines on who can gain rank within the Order, how they can gain rank, and how many members of the Third Order they lead. The Grand Master, Amra Vasti, spends her time in Fil’Galas, but will often go out and survey territory alongside Ranger-Knights and their platoons.
The Fourth Order (Order of the Vine)
The Order of the Vine is the only Order of the Elven Ranger Corps that focuses solely on the power of the Divine. Rarely, they will allow a Ranger into their Order, but only after that Ranger has become strong enough to cast the magic required from their often very strict requirements. Most members of this Order are Druids or Clerics of Ilthurin’tra, Aran’thaldris, or Drellala. This Order is also the only one expected to reside solely within Elven settlements.
Mostly thought of as healers, members of the Fourth Order will be given a post in a village or city to mend wounds and cure sickness during their initiation. Upon reaching Ranger status, they travel like itinerant monks, moving through the wilderness and searching for others to help. While their primary base of operations is in Fil’Galas, similar to all of the other Orders, they do maintain several temples in Druidic Glades. The Fourth Order is also known to truck with creatures of the Shadow Plane – specifically the mercurial Fey. This is kept as a secret from outsiders, who would see this as a monstrous breech of the trust given to the people by the Divines.
The Fourth Order, like the Fifth, has a bizarre and often contradicting policy on promotion. The Grand Master of the Fourth Order, Felaern Asral, was jumped from Ranger-Sergeant to Grand Master when he was only one hundred, fifty years old. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the Elven Ranger Corps; however, the Order of the Vine has always been odd in this regard. Typically, members will find themselves being judged based in a meritocratic fashion, rather than through the various duties that they must perform. If someone is a particularly powerful druid, they will find themselves in a higher position than someone who might have otherwise been in the Order longer, and might be older than the Elf in question. This often breeds resentment.
Like the Second Order, the Fourth Order occasionally allows non-Elves into their Order. It’s rare, but it does happen. If a Half-Elf or Human expresses an incredible knack for Divine magic, they will sometimes be given membership. Because of the Order of the Vine’s strange jumps in rank, it’s not uncommon for these non-Elves to hold station above Elves. This breeds even more resentment than a young Elf leading older peers. This is only done through the direct intervention of the Grand Master. Currently, there is only one non-Elf Master of the Order, residing in Tinithiel on the far northern shores of Visari (the so-called “Hidden City”). This human, a woman named Katima Mahmud, presents herself as a Divine Oracle touched by Istikar, but in truth is an Oracle in service to Aran’thaldris, the Elven goddess of the rain and sea – one of the rare Humans that worships a deity from a non-Human pantheon. Despite her race, she does have a great deal of power bestowed upon her by Aran’thaldris, which is surprising to all Elves and uncomfortable to some.
The Order is notoriously non-violent, to the point that they will not attempt any sort of warlike action to prevent crossings into Elven territory. This often makes them appear weak; however, the members of the Fourth Order will defend themselves if necessary – and often with deadly force, considering their divine power.
The Fifth Order (Order of the Moon)
Like the Fourth Order, the Order of the Moon is secretive and often misunderstood. They are comprised entirely of Arcane spellcasters — Wizards and Sorcerers being the most common. All of them must pass muster and know how to live within the wilderness like any other Elven Ranger Corps member, but from there the training of a member of the Fifth Order wildly deviates from the norm. Many Elves that choose to join the Fifth Order (or are assigned to the Order of the Moon upon completion of basic Ranger Corps training) will have some knowledge of Arcane magic, either innately (if a Sorcerer or Witch), or through the study of several spells or formulas (if an Alchemist or Wizard). True instruction begins upon the Initiate phase of a Fifth Order Ranger.
For the first twenty to forty years, an Initiate of the Fifth Order will spend their time studying with Ranger-Knights and Ranger-Sergeants that mesh closely with the Initiate’s own knowledge of magic. Once the Initiate has grasped the concepts of using magic in both a supportive and combative role, the Initiate is then given Novitiate status and is allowed to travel with members of the First Order to protect them against other spellcasters. This takes another few decades, and they are usually assigned to watch over a Second Order cache with an Initiate of the Order of the Arrow for another decade while they practice their abilities in a more free-form environment. Finally, after attaining the rank of Ranger, they are given free-reign to do as they please in the context of their Order. Many become adventurers, traveling with non-Elves and Elves alike in search of magical treasure and documents. The Fifth Order believes that it is their charge to watch over the ancient relics of the past.
Another, more secret duty of the Fifth Order is the search for something known as the Banner of Kiris-Torith. In the Shadow War, one of the greatest Elven generals was a man named Kiris-Torith. He fought alongside the deified Taraquin (human goddess of vengeance and wrath) against the ancient Umbral dragon K’til’ak’sirax and lost his life upon killing the beast. As Kiris-Torith and Taraquin’s combined forces contained a great deal of magic-users, and the power of the Dragon and its minions was slung across the battlefield, the army standard that Kiris-Torith held was suffused with magical energy. This prevented any Elven army from failing when bearing the banner throughout the later years of the Shadow War. In the thousands of years since the Mythic Era, the Banner of Kiris-Torith was lost, primarily due to the encroachment upon Elven lands by the Aritikan settlers. Every member of the Fifth Order takes an oath to find this artifact. It is believed that through finding the Banner of Kiris-Torith, the Elves will be able to retake Visari and re-establish themselves as a world power.
Finally, the most secretive duty of the Order of the Moon is in dealing with aberrations, dragons, and the shades that sometimes cross over into the Material Plane. While many of these creatures mean grievous harm to the residents of Thirajin, the Fifth Order attempts to treat with them in order to prevent them from spreading their influence in a wide range, and requesting that they settle in a place wherein they will not cause a repeat of the Shadow War which destroyed the world. This would be seen immediately as both abomination by any other humanoid race, and as extreme heresy by the Aritikans; thus, this aspect of membership in the Order of the Moon is kept very private – and only members who have surpassed the rank of Ranger-Sergeant are allowed to know this secret. Not even the Grand Masters and Masters of the other Orders know about the dealings that the Order of the Moon has with the Shadow.
The Fifth Order maintains temples (known as Librariums) throughout the world, even in places where Elves are not normally found, such as Ki-Taliq. This is of prime importance to their directive of cataloging and storing all magical artifacts they can find. These LIbrariums also maintain a healthy amount of trade with other nations, as Rhikari, Stormraven, Valeish, Alaekorish, Valinosian, and sometimes Aritikan soldiers purchase magical items and order special magical equipment. Though it is frowned upon for an Aritikan military unit to have Elven weaponry – or even weapons enchanted by Elves – some generals sympathetic to the Elves’ plight (either through hidden Elven heritage of their own, generations past, or through seeing the horror and terror inflicted upon the Elves by their nation) will often supply their elite soldiers with these weapons, giving extra to the Fifth Order for both their silence, and as a form of reparation.
Unlike the Fourth Order, the Fifth Order does not allow non-Elves to join them. While they recognize and appreciate the power that non-Elves hold in the Ars Arcana, their prime directive prevents them from allowing anyone else to join that would not be sympathetic to the extreme patriotism that the Fifth Order displays in their search for the Banner of Kiris-Torith, nor do they believe that other races would understand the dealings that the Order of the Moon has with the Shadow. On a more practical level, training is often simply too long for any other race, Elves being the longest-lived race in all of Thirajin. No one, save for the Dwarves, would be able to complete the first tiers of training.
The current Grand Master of the Order of the Moon is a secretive Elven woman by the name of Lyre Shalendra. She is an accomplished Witch, and has also been inducted into the Tattooed Mystics, a secretive monastic group hailing primarily from Ki-Taliq. She spends her time traveling through each Librarium, checking the progress of original spell research, and assisting others with the creation of magic items – both tried and true methods, as well as potential new methods in creating them. She is known to be the most powerful of all the Grand Masters, and is treated with the kind of reverence that many would reserve for a saint or mythical hero.
Back to Races.