Culture and Society
Scared by their experiences in the wars of the God Kings, and forced to scatter into small groups of hunter-gatherers to survive in the unfamiliar depths of the Kaishar, the Ravenwood Elves have never developed the structure of cities and Kings that is the norm for the High Elves and Humans (who learnt it from the Elves of course). Instead they live in small tribal communities scattered throughout the near-endless Ravenwood.
Family and Kin
Two groups dominate an Elf's life, his Family and his Kin. The first is his by birth, and Elves seldom move far from their mother, or father, brothers or sisters, children and cousins. The second is by choice, adopted when the Elf child swears the Oath of Bonding, but the two often go hand in hand, with relations choosing the same Kin more often than not. It is rare, for example, for Wolfkin and Stagkin, predator and prey, to be born to the same family. To most elves the one is as important as the other, because in a real sense each Elf is both the flesh of their family and the spirit of their Kin.
An Elf generally lives with their extended family, sharing a many chambered house in the deeps of the forest, or perhaps a small compound of huts and halls in the case of a larger family. Since the Ravenwood are long-lived and quick maturing there are often five or six generations living in the one place. Individuals hunt, gather, craft and fight for their family first and foremost, and important decisions that concern a family member are seldom made without first consulting it's Elders.
A Kin is a more extended relationship, though the concepts of Kin-sibling, and Kin-cousin are well established (the first applying to those from the same pack or tribe, the second extending to Elves of the same Kin in other Tribes). Each Kin maintains it's own Kin Houses in each Tribe's lands, private lodges where only those of the right Kin are welcome (see Kin Lodges for more details). When Kin and Family come into conflict, which is rare but not unheard of, an Elf can find himself in agonizing conflict. Mostly though the two remain in balance.
The average tribe is composed of three to fifteen families, numbering somewhere between 100 and 500 individuals, with a small minority touching a maximum of a thousand individuals. The majority of these will be adults aged between 20 and 150 years, engaged in hunting, gathering, and the essential crafts of their tribe. Alongside these adults are a smaller number of children and younglings (see race description), and Elders who speak with the slow spirits of the ancestors and the landscape.
Although a Tribe is a social entity it is a loose one. For most Elves the bonds of family and kin are stronger than that of the Tribe, and Tribal Elders often find their authority undermined by the decisions of family Elders and Kin Lodge leaders. When a family has a grievance against another Tribe, or the Bearkin call for war, it is hard for the rest of the Tribe to resist.
Physically Tribes consist of a scattering of family homes spread out over a fairly large area of forest, usually half a mile or so across, and well enough concealed that strangers of other races might wander through one without ever seeing it. At the core of this area are the Kin Lodges, the sacred Oath Grove and other vital things such as storage huts and ancestor totems.
One of a Tribes most important positions is speaker, an Elf chosen at the turning of the year to speak for the Tribe when it is necessary to communicate with those of other Tribes. The speaker is usually an adult in his mid hundreds, rather than an Elder, because they often need to travel.
There is little formal organization of the Ravenwood race larger than the Tribe, other than the acknowledged relationship of one kin-cousin to another. Indeed it is more common for Kins to gather together than tribes. Certainly there is no concept of a King amongst the Ravenwood, that died with Seridar. Nevertheless some tribes are larger and more prestigious than others, perhaps because a famous warrior is one of their ancestors, or because a sacred place lies in the tribe's lands. Significant examples of the later are the tribal lands where the first Lodges of each kin are located, and those closest to the lands of the Centaurs.
Although most tribes have little contact with each other on a day to day basis, usually being at least a few days travel apart, they are by no means isolationist. Individual Elves will often make spiritual journeys to the lands of other tribes, visiting sacred places and lodges, or carrying news of things outside the borders of the Ravenwood. Entire tribes will also hold feasts and celebrations on important days of the year, such as the Equinoxes, Solstices and Cross-Quarter days, to which Elves from smaller villages are not unusual visitors, come to exchange songs, stories, and crafted goods.
When tribes must negotiate or work together they generally begin by sending their speakers too meet. The speakers will gather in a grove of one of the tribes involved (or a neutral tribe, should it be a matter of war between tribes), and discuss their business, often using song and allegory as part of their argument. In such negotiations each speaker is supposed to be equal, but those of more famous tribes often bear unequal weight in the minds of the others.
If speakers cannot agree what is needed, or it is a matter of warfare, only then will the Elders of the tribes become involved, a difficult matter when it is hard for them to travel. If the tribes are distant agreement may be very difficult.
The Elves of Ravenwood have little use for money, and do not value gold, silver and gemstones like the Humans and Dwarves, or mithril and stone like the High Elves. What they need to eat they gather from the forest, most other things they can make themselves. This is not to say that there is no trade amongst the Elves. Certain colours of clay (such as terracotta from the southern reaches), finely crafted totems, rare feathers and furs, and the work of the finest craftsmen, are all highly valued. Elves will often give such things to one another as exchanges of gifts that are much like the trade of any other race.
Isolated and hidden as the woodlands of the Ravenwood are, the people of the Kaishar cannot escape the warfare that dominates the world. Since that first battle the Wood Elves and Orcs have clashed many times, and not all humans are as respectful of the forest than those who were first saved by the Elves. There have even been battles with High Elves who remember the stories of Seridar's spells and hope to recover his lost lore at the point of a Mithril blade.
For this reason the families and kins of Ravenwood train to use their hunting tools as weapons in battle, the bow most of all. Every hunter holds great pride in his mastery with the bow, which is his constant companion, with the most skilled becoming Bowmasters. Nets, Spears and hunting packs of wolves are also put to good use.
When war comes to the woods it is often a single tribe that responds, fighting to protect their own lands. More significant threats will cause the Elves to call on their kin-cousins from nearby Tribes to join the fight, bringing Bear and Wolf packs along with them. Only the most serious invasions require the speakers to organize multiple tribes into battle.
In that last case, when multiple tribes must face battle together, the Elves recognize the importance of a single leader in the chain of command. Usually the speakers for each tribe will meet and choose one of their number, or a pre-eminent warrior from one of the tribes, to act as war prince till the conflict is done. As a precaution against the tyranny that created them in ages past no war prince may hold his position for more than the turning of a single year.