The Opal Empire
Elves almost universally follow the Four Paths, a system of belief and set of practices with a 10,000 year legacy. They maintain that the body can hold and channel eight kinds of energy, called “Thi.” There are Four Forms: earth (or solid), air (or vapor), water (or liquid), fire (or energy). There are also Four Forces: law (or order), chaos (or freedom), life (or sex), and death (or killing). Through meditation, ritual cleansing, the right diet (and sometimes fasting), and sacrifice (including avoidance or limiting of certain activities like sex), one keeps the right balance of Thi for right-living and the body accumulates Grace. With enough Grace, one can pass into heaven. While other races say the gates of heaven are closed, the elves believe that Grace is the key that opens the gates for a soul. They value harmony with the Four Forms and Four Forces, harmony with spirits, purity, and beauty.
Knowledge and Learning
Elven temples are sprawling works of art, crafted from stone and metal and wood, decorated with gardens and pools and fountains. There is usually an open temple room that is used during the day for business: merchants sell their wares there and people conduct all kinds of business in corners and alcoves. Far from the noise of the market chamber sits the inner temple, where people go to meditate and perform rituals. At the temple’s edge there are probably courts for the practice of magic or martial arts.
Elven Fighting Styles
The elves have created fighting styles based on the Four Paths. Any adherent of the Four Paths may replace the elven racial power with a fighting power based on the four forms and four forces. You must remain in harmony and live correctly to be able to access your Four Paths power. In a lot of ways, the temple is the center of life for elves.
Earth – Once per battle, this round, reduce all damage taken by your level. Spend a move action to maintain this effect. If you move, this effect is cancelled.
Air – Once per battle, take an additional standard action.
Water – Once per battle, remove all negative conditions you have.
Fire – Once per battle, after a successful attack, that attack inflicts ongoing damage equal to your level (does not stack with other ongoing damage).
Law – Once per battle, reroll any attack, damage, or save roll you made.
Chaos – Once per battle, force an enemy to reroll any attack, damage, or save roll it made.
Life – Once per battle, use a recovery as a move action.
Death – Once per battle, spend a recovery to deal its damage to an adjacent opponent (no roll to hit needed, no save).
Women hold most power in elven culture. In general, they believe that women are stronger and purer than men. They hold most rulership positions, including much of the clergy. The Courts of the Four Seasons are headed by the eldest elven queens, and the title of Empress moves from court to court in 64-year cycles. Female warriors are as common as males, and there is no difference of ability between them. Because elves seldom procreate, pregnancy rarely pulls an elven woman away from her duties.
Elven barbarians are extremely rare. One would have to grow up entirely outside elven culture, even outside “civilized” culture, and this just doesn’t happen. Elven rogues tend to be the curious, troublesome sort rather than the wicked, thieving sort. Most elven sorcerers and bards are men, however, since the practice of “chaos magic” is considered filthy and obscene or at least a little scandalous.
The Four Courts
There are four kinds (or courts) of elf. They tend not to marry outside their courts, since purity is highly valued. Still, intermarriage does occur and the offspring are usually shunned as “untouchable.” (Incidentally, half-breeds like half elves and halflings are also considered outcasts, but they’re treated a little better than untouchable elves.)
All breeds of elves have dramatically pointy ears, sometimes curling in a spiral, and longer and pointier faces than humans.
Winter elves come from the Winter Kingdom in the north. They have thin, pale, or pink skin. Their hair is ice blue, white, or black and their eyes are ice blue or light gray. They can suffer the cold much better than others but still tend to dress in warm furs and thick cloaks.
Summer elves hail from the warm western Summer Kingdom. They are tall and muscular and have tan or olive skin. Their hair is usually brown or green, and their eyes are brown or amber. They wear light and loose clothing of silk and linen, and not much of it.
Autumn elves live in the dark eastern Autumn Kingdom. They are of average height and build, much like a human, but their skin is dark tan or ruddy; their hair is red, orange, or auburn; their eyes are brown, red, yellow, or orange. Their clothing is practical, often linen or wool or leather.
Finally, the Spring elves are currently in power as the Spring Queen rules as Empress of the Opal Empire. They inhabit the wet southern kingdom. Spring elves are small and spritely, with green-tinged skin and brown or green hair. Their eyes are usually brown or green, as well, though the odd elf might sport a bright color like pink or teal. They wear silks and linens, tight-fitting, often decorated with animal pelts or bird feathers or dragon scales.
An elf who lives right, according to the principles of the Four Paths, can expect to live several hundred years.
Typically, elves are patient and do not take unnecessary risks. They also have a reputation for not fighting their own battles (the dwarves say “cowardice”). After all, if you can convince, trick, or compel someone else to do the dirty work, they take all the risk and you live another hundred years.
The Four Queens range in age from 120 (the Spring Queen, currently Empress) to 567 (the Winter Queen, oldest of all the elves). Such longevity is a powerful weapon against all other races, whose rulers simply die off before they can cause enough trouble to overthrow elven power.
The Opal Empire has gently and slowly conquered everyone around them, and elven rule has been the way of things for at least 5000 years. They’re mostly benevolent overlords, though they practice slavery at a grand scale. When the elves do finally fall, it will be a slave revolt that starts the plummet.
The Empress may grant titles as she wishes. There are eight traditional titles of nobility (but one is “Empress”).
At the top, the royal ranks are Empress, Hegemon (overseer of a group of kingdoms), Queen (ruler of a kingdom), and Princess (usually the daughter of a hegemon or queen). The next level is the aristocracy with the following ranks: Protector (a sort of duchess or ruler of a large holding within a kingdom), Guardian (a sort of marquessa or ruler of a borderland holding), Magistrate (a noble with some judicial or legislative power), and Lady.
Of course, there are male equivalents of these titles (Emperor, Hegemon, King, Prince, Protector, Guardian, Magistrate, Lord), but they hold less power than women of the same rank. Consider them effectively a rank below their female counterpart, or perhaps just above the lower rank.
“Emperor” is usually reserved for the husband of the Empress, who has a vast hierarchy of male and female servants: her Emperor husband, 4 consorts, 16 imperial husbands and wives (elves are not picky about gender), 32 court experts, and 64 court guards (male eunuchs or female monks).