The Elves of Middle-Earth

LOTR LCG distinguishes between two types of Elf- Noldor and Silvan.

The Noldor are the High Elves, descendants of those who went into the West (or even those who went themselves), the ones who saw the Light of Valinor. The Silvan are the woodland elves of the west – “less wise, and more dangerous,” as Beorn describes them.

This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really fit with Professor Tolkien’s view of Middle Earth – he divided his Elves into 3 – The Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri.

As people who play this game largely for the Middle-Earth theme and, to put it bluntly are pedants, this jars slightly for us. Given my own fondness for creating custom content, I felt that a bit of a re-think was called for, to give enough scope for expanding the game.

 

The Lore Background

Before we go into details of the Elves of Middle Earth, a spot of background is called for – apparently when first created, the Elves “awakened” in the far east of Middle Earth, but were called by the Valar (roughly analogous to the Greek gods) to go to the West to join them in Valinor (think Olympus). Some ignored this call, some started but got waylaid. Others made it to Valinor, of which some are still there, whilst others (for reasons which will become clearer) left and returned to Middle Earth.

Evidently, this being Tolkien, there are volumes of additional detail available on this, but that’s hopefully enough to allow the following to make sense:

The Vanyar are the first, the High Elves – they all went west to Valinor and for the most part they stayed there, having little to do with future events in Middle earth. The most well-known of the Vanyar are Ingwe who was their King, and who fought in the great battle against Morgoth at the end of the First Age, and Indis, the second wife of Finwe, King of the Noldor – interestingly, this means that most of the Noldor had Vanyar blood in them, but as Fingolfin and Finarfin are typically counted as “Princes of the Noldor” the Vanyar aren’t really of much concern to this game.

Second come the Noldor. The Noldor were the sons of Finwe (and their sons, and soforth). In order to maximise the confusion, most have names beginning with F. Feanor was the eldest son, and he had two half-brothers, Fingolfin and Finarfin. They themselves had various sons, including Finrod and Fingon, not to mention a well-known daughter, by the name of Galadriel.

The last group, and by far the most complex, are the Teleri. Some of the Teleri made the journey to Valinor, some started and gave up, whilst some never even tried. One of the Teleri – Thingol, married a Maia (powerful semi-supernatural beings – the ones you’re most likely to have heard of are Sauron, Balrogs, Gandalf and Saruman) named Melian, creating another line of mixed race (The Sindar). Their daughter was Luthien, the first elf-maid to fall in love with a mortal man (Beren) – Aragorn sings about them in the Fellowship of the Ring.

Amongst the sub-groups of the Teleri, are the Sindar and the Nandor. These guys are important for a few reasons. Out of the Silvan heroes we’ve seen so far, Legolas and the upcoming Celeborn are both Sindarin. The Nandor were one of the earliest groups to give up on the journey west. They briefly fought against Morgoth, but soon ran away, as they were unable to stand against him. Their descendants are the people we would now see as “Silvans.”

The distinction between the Silvan and the Sindar is a tricky one – essentially the situation is a bit like England after 1066 – a French-speaking aristocracy ruling over a Germanic-speaking peasantry. Over time, the lines become blurred, but when dealing with the lifespans of elves, there were clearly some who still considered themselves of higher status – if you’re finding this a bit heavy going, just think of the conversation between Thranduil and Tauriel, when he says that Legolas would not be allowed to pledge himself to a “lowly Silvan.”

Part of the issue here then, is whether Silvan is considered to be a racial or a cultural trait – if Racial, then it certainly doesn’t apply to Legolas or Celeborn. If cultural, then it’s plausible (although perhaps stretched.)

 

In LotR LCG

From a gameplay standpoint, the dilemma the creators had is clear – if Rivendell blade said “attach to a Vanyar, Noldor, or Teleri character”, it would be a bit unwieldy. If it said “attach to a Vanyar, Noldor, Sindarin, Silvan, Half-Elven, or Nandor character” then things could quickly get silly.

Image

It seems to me that, in order to allow for both the level of accuracy required by geeks, and a manageable game-play experience, whilst moving towards 1st-age cards, (a side project which a few of us are working on – official 1st ages cards don’t seem to be a plan any time soon) that a compromise is needed.

On this basis, I’ve decided to re-jig cards accordingly: first of all, a new concept – Elven. This would be the generic trait, and found on all of these characters. It would also be what the attachments make reference to: e.g. Rivendell Blade would now simply be “attach to an Elven character.” Simples.

However, given other decisions below, this could make for some cluttered character cards. For this reason I decided as follows. Whenever playing with any of these cards, there is a rule in play (I could print it on a card, but may well not bother) “if any card refers to the “Elven” trait, treat this as if it said “Noldor, Silvan, Teleri or Rivendell.” It’s far from perfect, but it does the job.

This then allows a more nuanced focus on the individual traits.

 

 

I decided not to bother with all of them – as discussed above, there would be no point in having a Vanyar trait, unless it said “do not include cards with this trait in your deck”

Noldor is a must, but I felt that the current application was too broad – Of the characters described in the game as “Noldor” some, like Glorfindel, are most definitely Noldor, and fit the description quite neatly. Others, like Elrond and his family are rather more complex. They have Noldor ancestors, but they also have human, Maiar, Vanyar and Teleri.

For this reason I’ve added Rivendell – to cover folk like Elrond and co. This would allow for some 1st age cards which focus on the intensity and rage of the Noldor. I considered “Half-elven” but decided that this would be too narrow, as it would only cover Elrond’s family, not his household.

Equally, there needed to be something for the Teleri other than Silvan – my wife will just about sit down at a table that has a Legolas or a Celeborn card bearing the Silvan trait, but if I tried that trick with a Luthien card which read Silvan, I’d get pretty short shift.

At the same time, I’m in the business of tweaks here: I’m trying to facilitate some more accuracy and/or nuance, not trying to ride roughshod over the work they’ve already done. For this reason, I’ll be keeping the Silvan trait. All of the Teleri I could envisage needing right now were Sindarin, but I couldn’t guarantee this would always be the case, so I went for a Teleri rather than Sindarin trait.

In the end I settled on 4: Noldor, Rivendell, Teleri, Silvan. These will inevitably contain some overlap – all the Silvans Are Teleri, and most of the Rivendell elves will be Noldor, but it allowed a differing focus on trait interaction. It also allows people like Legolas or Celeborn to take advantage of the synergy with their people, at the same time as being able to be singled out for things more specific to the High Elves. Silvan and Rivendell should be seen as cultural definitions, rather than racial.

For generic cards like the bow of the blade, reference to the “Elven” trait seemed sufficient. For others, like Elrond’s Counsel, Rivendell seemed to be the far more thematic way to go – there would be something a bit wrong if having Feanor in play allowed you to reduce your threat for free!

An interesting side-issue, is the sheer longevity of elves. Many of the placid, reasonable folk of Rivendell were also the kin of Feanor who joined him in his exile, and fought his implacable battles. Their traits prove a grey-area. Potentially they could be given both traits (Noldor & Rivendell), to reflect the change over time. In the end, I’ve gone for a slightly mixed approach, giving the Noldor trait to the warriors and the uniques, but just Rivendell for the Minstrel and the Stargazer.

Cards

Thinking about how this would apply to specific traits, we get the following (just the elf-specific traits here, leaving out warrior / ranger / noble

Heroes:
Glorfindel: Noldor, Rivendell
Legolas: Teleri, Silvan
Elrond: Rivendell
Elladan: Rivendell
Elrohir: Rivendell
Mirlonde: Silvan

Allies:
Gildor: Noldor, Rivendell
Arwen: Rivendell
Erestor: Noldor, Rivendell
Rivendell Minstrell: Rivendell
Watcher of the Bruinen: Noldor, Rivendell
Imladris Stargazer: Rivendell
Trollshaw Scout: Noldor, Rivendell
Harbor Master: Teleri

The existing Silvan allies could all stay the same (Silverlode Archer, Lorien Guide, Daughter of the Nimrodel, Hennamarth Riversong, Haldir, Silvan Tracker, Mirkwood Runner, Silvan Refugee)

Events:
Elrond’s Counsel: Play only if you control a unique Rivendell character
Children of the Sea: Choose an Elven character

Attachments:
Rivendell Bow: “Attach to an Elven Character”
Rivendell Blade: “Attach to an Elven Character”
Asfaloth: “Attach to an Elven Character”
Light of Valinor : Attach to a Noldor or Teleri character

Complexities

One of the trickiest cards was “Light of Valinor” – this currently allows itself to be attached to a Noldor or Silvan character. Glorfindel (Spirit) is probably the most obvious choice, but Elrond isn’t far behind.

If Elrond is to be left with just the Rivendell trait, then he ceases to be eligible for the card, and suddenly a lot of decks (Vilya anyone?) get nerfed. However. Elrond never saw the light of Valinor (until the 4th Age). He was born in Middle-Earth, after the time of the trees. A mighty elf-Lord not doubt, but not one who had seen the Light.

Of the Teleri, very few actually went to the west and then returned to Middle Earth – Thingol is the only real example of note. However, it’s much easier to self-regulate (and anyway, who’s going to bother questing with Legolas) than to make it Noldor only, then get stuck if we ever make cards for the Teleri who went west.

That makes about 20 cards in all which would need revision. When I get time, I’ll make up some updated versions of them. A more long-term project, will be some cards designed to work with the Teleri trait, or more first-age themed Noldor cards.

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5 thoughts on “The Elves of Middle-Earth

  1. Master of Lore

    I just found your blog and read this article — awesome stuff! I always struggle with those Elven traits as well. As I mentioned in my introduction to my blog, I’m really an “apprentice of lore” as everything that I write, I’m also learning myself as I go. In the case of the Elves, I had to read the descriptions of Sindar, Nandor, and Silvan in J.E.A. Tyler’s Tolkien Companion a few times before I could sort it out in my head and I’m still not sure I get it. I like your historical metaphor and suggestion that Silvan could be a more flexible cultural term than a racial one.

    Are you working with Ian on the First Age project? I think you’ve found a cool solution and look forward to seeing some of these cards. Keep up the great work on your blog; I’ll be reading this one with great interest!

    Reply
    1. Dor Cuarthol Post author

      Yeah, I’m working on the First Age project – it tends to go in fits and starts, depending on when any of us have time to actually do some work on it. It’s definitely getting there though.

      Reply
  2. shipwreck

    I’m excited to find your blog and I enjoyed this article very much. Doesn’t matter how many times I read The Silmarillion, or look at the family trees, seemingly; I just cannot sort out the Teleri in my mind. Your simplification does help, though!

    -Derek

    Reply
  3. Pingback: How fortunate you are that your job is also your hobby | Dor Cuarthol

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