Part 1 - The LandsThe Elf's Prisoner is built around a character idea I had when AD&D's Unearthed Arcana was released. Jyslyn took advantage of multi-classing rules not available in current editions, where non-human characters could work on two classes at the same time by splitting experience between them. Progression is slower, but provides flexibility. Jyslyn was a drow magic-user/thief, limited to fourth level as a mage but unlimited as a thief. I accepted the limitations; the idea was that she was unusual for being a drow woman dabbling in the arcane instead of being drafted into the divine.
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves - below.
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up
Since this was coming via AD&D, the different elves there worked their way in as well. Along with drow, there were also high elves, grey elves, wood elves, wild elves, and the grugach or sylvan elves. Lots of elves. However, I wanted to file off the serial numbers. The game is a start, an inspiration, not the desire result. Thus, the names of the elves will get changed.
Since Jyslyn was the basis of the story, let's start with the dark elves, or the Accursed as they're know by the surface elves. The details of the War of Splintering were lost in the dawn of history, but represents how the elves wound up across the world. The War saw the dark elves driven or escaping underground, depending on whose historians are consulted. The surface elves see the transformation that their dark brethren went through as a curse. The dark elves argue that the transformation was a blessing. Dark elves have ink-black skin and have hair colours that include platinum blonde, copper red, and jet black. The various dark elf settlements, including the Sundered Chasm, forced their buildings to form out of natural caverns, creating vast cities underground.
Dark elf society is matriarchal, with the heads of the ruling families forming a fractious council. Matriarchs of the ruling families are clergy serving the Outcast Queen and are judge, jury, and executioner. However, ruling with a capricious hand doesn't make the ruling families beloved by the common folk. There is a resistance, small as it is, dedicated to overthrowing the ruling families. Problem is, a power void is never good.
Moving to the surface, the first elves seen in the story are from Wildwood, in the Sylvan Forest. My intent was to have the elves of Wildwood be the high elves, but, on retrospection, that doesn't quite work out. The term "sylvan elves" might work better here. They are closer to nature, having grown the city of Wildwood. Physically, they are tanned and have similar hair colours as the fark elves. As a culture, I want them to mirror the Sundered Chasm. Wildwood is also matriarchal and run by the Council of Matriarchs. Unlike the Sundered Chasm, there is no core restriction on who is on the council. All family heads have a seat. Neither do the family heads need to be clergy, though some are. However, there are matriarchs who are listened to due to their wisdom.
If I'm changing up my elves, then why not defy expectations and have a group with darker skin that isn't drow? For this, I have the "crystal elves", the working term for the nation living further to the south. These elves also grew their city, this time using crystal formations in the area. Skin tones are ebony and mahogany; the goal is to have an African-American or Caribbean-Canadian tone while not having an Africa, America, Caribbean, or Canada in the setting. Using trees for descriptors may help with the idea that elves are/were tied to nature. Hair colours are similar to the dark and sylvan elves, though platinum will be rare.
Like the sylvan and dark elves, the crystal elves have a matriarchy, this time with ruling families. The idea is that the crystal elves see themselves as the core elf type that all the others splintered from. They may even refer to themselves as just elves, with no modifier, while the rest of the world adds the world "crystal" for differentiation. This does put a new twist on the War of Splintering. Not only did the War drive the dark elves out and underground, it sent the sylvan elves north and who knows what other types of elves elsewhere. The ruling matriarchs aren't necessarily clergy, unlike the dark elves, but most have spent their lives preparing for taking up the mantle of rulership.
Two elven types that aren't planned for yet but could appear in some form are the wild elves and the sea elves. With the wild elves, instead of living in forests, the idea is to have them living in nomadic groups in the prairies to the east of Wildwood and the Seven Domains. Sea elves, for now, are considered a legend by the various elves and don't exist. The more inland elves, like the sylvan elves of Wildwood and the dark elves of the Sundered Chasm, are too far from the sea to even consider the possibility of them being real.
For the languages of the different elves, there is a common ancestor language. Because of the Splintering, each type of elf went in different directions with how the language developed. In Part 1, I compared the elven tongue to English, with the sylvan version being akin to Canadian English and the dark elves using an Aussie development. The crystal elves, seeing their role as preserving what it means to be an elf, will keep their language as close as possible to the original, letting the splintered groups bastardize what they speak. This also gives another insight on the crystal elves. Instant conflict with at least three of my main characters right away. The key with the languages is to make sure that each different elf type has its own way of speaking, which may mean an edit pass to fix up the dialogue.
With all this work on elves, I really should put some thought into the human cultures. To a degree, I have, back in Part 1. Elves, though, tend to be treated as a singular culture; if there are differences, the it's more from distance, not design. Here, I want to make sure my elves are grounded in the setting, giving them a bit of a history to provide depth to use while writing.