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Nymphs and Elementals

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The original fay races comprised the High Elves, Dwarves, and various Wer-Houses. Cross-breeds with the High Elves produced the Middle Elves. Cross-breeds among the Dwarves and Wer-Houses produced the Low Fays -- variously styled Low Elves, Trolls and Giants, Goblins and Low Halflings, and Low Petty Fays, depending on size and grotesquery.

But there are fay tribes and groups that don't fall into any of those categories, notably the many tribes of nymphs and elementals described in the literature of Hellenistic and Classical antiquity -- naiads and river gods, dryads, oreads, nereids and tritons, sylphs, undines, salamanders (or vulcani), mimi, and gnomes.

These groups arose later, by an evolution both cultural and physical. (When you deal with a race of shapeshifters, the distinction between the two fades.)

One way fays cope with huge amounts of time is to become fascinated, even obsessed, with some all-consuming interest. Naturally, they put their shapeshifting skills to use in pursuit of this interest. And this may cause a new fay breed to arise.

Whatever forms they may temporarily take, fay shapeshifters have a "true" shape that is easiest and most natural for them. (The Wer-Houses have two shapes, equally "true.") But, with persistence, a learned shape may become the true one, and is then passed on to later generations. A new fay breed arises.

Nymphs "versus" Elementals

Nymphs and elementals are, approximately, two different degrees of the same thing -- a fay centered on some non-animal theme.

The fays called "nymphs" are the ones with a very humanoid true shape. We are most familiar with the females, since these appealed most to (male) artists. As with ducks, geese, and cows, the female name is the species name. The masculine is "nymphus."

The fays called "elementals" have left humanoidy further behind. The distinction is much less important to fays, and "nymphs" and "elementals" may be members of the same clans or tribes. The elementals are even further absorbed in their theme, live very magic-intensive lives, and spend the bulk of their time just grooving on their theme. "Elementals" may also be fabulous beasts, not fays, i.e. not sapient. But, once again, the distinction is slender, since elemental fays may be too obsessed to act very sapient.


Dryads --

The dryads started when some tree-fancying fays took to developing magic with arboreal themes, including taking tree shapes. Eventually, they found that their true shapes were trees, or included trees, along with woman-shapes with green hair, wooden bones, and sap in their veins. (Ents and Ent-wives would be a parallel evolution along more robust lines.) Male dryads exist but are rare. Most apparently female dryads reproduce hermaphroditically, in arboreal form, by seed. Most dryads are fans of a particular species of tree, e.g. the hamadryads, the nymphs of oaks, and meliads, the nymphs of fruit trees (with still more obscure breakdowns by kinds of fruit).

Naiads, River Gods, Nereids, Oceanids, Tritons & Undines --

"Undine" is the most generic term for these water-fays. It may be hard for an outside observer to distinguish them from mer-folk -- wer-seals and wer-dolphins. The two are often closely allied. Both breathe water. But the undines typically have only one true shape, humanoid, usually pale, with blue, black, or green hair, coral bones, and water in their veins. The more elemental undines have a fully watery shape, transparent and easily merged with the sea or river. Animal traits in the true or learned shapes are usually piscine or batrachian -- webs on the digits, gill slits on the neck, fish-like or frog-like eyes, greater or lesser amounts of scales.

Sylphs & Hyades --

These are fays of air and sky. The true form of an elemental sylph may be a whirlwind or a cloud. The nymphal ones are roughly humanoid, though usually translucent and winged -- bird, insect, or bat -- and may be of any size, from petty fay to cloud giant. Many sylph tribes have size-shifting as an integral power of their true form. All fly. Animal traits in the true shape are usually avian or insectile, e.g. feathery hair or antennae. Sylphs naturally specialize in predicting weather and controlling winds, but also develop shapeshifting strongly.

Oreads & Mountain Trolls --

These are gracile and robust variations on the same theme: mountains. Their true form is often quite humanoid, tall, strong, immune to cold and falls, stony-boned. The voices of oreads have an echoing quality. Overt magic may be nothing more than turning themselves into boulders. They are very good at climbing. Animal traits in the true shape are usually caprine -- the horns, eyes, tail, or hooves of mountain goats -- but many tribes lack these and are more mineral.

Salamanders & Fire Giants --

These are gracile and robust variations on the theme of fire. Salamanders have nothing to do with the amphibians named after them, but the confusion arises because one major tribe frequents the shape of fire-dwelling lizards. Fire giants are more nearly centered on lava than on fire, and dwell in volcanoes, singly or in small family groups. Salamanders favor volcanoes, too, but also live in hot deserts. Both types are immune to fire, burning, and heat, but may be over-sensitive to cold.

They are quick and dextrous, mostly humanoid in true form, but with strong shapeshifting skills. Their hair, eyes, teeth, and nails may be silvery, golden, coppery, red, or black. Their skin is ruddy and feverish to the touch. Their blood is flamable and ignites on contact with air. They often go wreathed in glamoured fire and, of course, practice heat-controlling magics. They may form alliances with dwarves, working in metallurgy. The strongly elemental ones have true shapes that are merely masses of fire.

Mimi & Gnomes --

These are two independent and very different developments of the stone theme.

The mimi live inside rocks, or, perhaps, in the hyperspace adjacent to rocks. In any case, for a mimi, a rock is a potentially hollow but very tough shell that they can open by a tribal spell triggered by blowing on it. They are dark-skinned and enormously skinny -- wispy stick-figures, human-high. They live the lives of hunter-gatherers, emerging from their rocks on windless nights to hunt small game. They are so light, they can be blown away on the wind unless they carry an anchoring object; some have learned to ride the wind. All can see in total darkness and have very acute hearing.

Gnomes look like miniature dwarves and may be dwarf-petty-fay hybrids. They, too, can penetrate rocks, but only as a means of transition. They live underground, very often near or with dwarves. They are more volatile in temper than dwarves, and generally less skilled in craft and magic. The two races traditionally do not get along but are drawn together by economics and common interests. Strongly elemental gnomes look like crystals or rocks and are easily ignored.

Psameads --

Sand nymphs, or more exactly beach nymphs. There are large colonies of them in Hawaii, California, Florida, and the Riviera, but no one has noticed. They breathe water and can also lie, unbreathing, under sand indefinitely. They tan without burning.

Updated: 7-Oct-06
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.
The Pantope Campaign  |  Stickers On Our Luggage  |  New Blood Logs
Tom Noon's Tale  |  Puck's Tale  |  JT's Tale  |  Adventures in Babysitting
Of the Races of Earth  |  Faerie Geography  |  A Dialogue on the Demi-Spirits
Elves and Dwarves  |  Petty-Fays  |  Nymphs and Elementals