A humanoid race, elves are typically shorter than humans (though this has been mitigated slightly since Dragon Age: Origins) and have a slender, lithe build and pointed ears. Long ago, the elves were the dominant race on Thedas, and their advanced civilization was based on nature and magic. After the fall of their great city of Arlathan to the Tevinter Imperium and the subsequent generations of slavery, the elves lost most of their cultural heritage and identity. They attempted to rebuild their society in the Dales, but after four centuries they fell to the Chantry's Exalted Marches. Since then, their few numbers have been scattered all over Thedas in either forests as primitive nomads, the Dalish, or in cities as impoverished outcasts, with little hope of recovery for their culture or their race. They're now a people associated with poverty, crime, barbarism, and are often used as scapegoats for humanity's difficulties. Humans use the terms "knife ears" or, less cruelly, "rabbit" or "halla rider" (this may in fact be meant admiringly by some), as a racial slur. Though most of the elven language has been lost, they once referred to themselves as "elvhen" or "the people".
Racial benefits of elves: +2 Willpower, +2 magic
Once, my people walked this land as gods. We worked magic that would blind you with its beauty. Now, we lurk in the deep forests and prepare for the next time you shemlen do something that upsets the balance of this world.
Elves of Thedas live no longer than humans, but elven legends state that this was not always the case. Once, they say, they were an immortal and magically talented race that lived in harmony with the natural world and followed the elven pantheon. The first shemlen (a term meaning "quick children" that was used by the ancient elves to describe the humans and denote their shorter lives) they encountered were tribals who came south from Par Vollen. The ancient elves grew friendly with humans, but soon discovered that breeding with humans produced only human babies, while exposure to the "quick children" caused the elves to quicken themselves. For the first time, elves began to age and die.
In fear, the elves withdrew from human contact. Unfortunately, the human tribals gave way to the Tevinter Imperium, who viewed the elves' isolation as hostility and declared war in 981 Ancient. Elvhenan, the elven homeland, was besieged for six years, but was invaded when the magisters used blood magic to sink the elves' capital city of Arlathan into the ground, never to be seen again. As a result, elven survivors were enslaved and evidence of their culture was lost. With the enslavement, all elves eventually quickened and their immortality was lost. The elven calendar, established with the formation of Arlathan, was then banned by the Imperium. Although its existence is recognized by modern scholars outside of Tevinter, knowledge of how elves marked the passage of time beyond a few events is now forgotten. The exact details of the war are lost to history, though artifacts found in Imperium ruins within the Brecilian Forest suggest Elvhenan was looted, or that some elves joined the Imperium bringing artifacts with them. The elves, however, believe Arlathan lost to the Imperium because their Gods couldn't interfere as they were sealed away by the treacherous Fen'Harel.
Elven slaves, under Shartan's leadership, were among the most fervent supporters of the prophetess Andraste's uprising against the Tevinter Imperium. The elves joined Andraste in her quest to depose the Tevinter magisters in 1020 TE, and they were rewarded for their loyalty by being granted land in the Dales upon Andraste's victory. They called their journey to their new homeland the Long Walk. Many perished on the way, some even turned back to the Tevinter, but most continued the walk.
In the Dales, the elves created a second elven homeland and began to restore the lost lore and culture of Elvhenan, including the worship of their former gods. They built their first city, Halamshiral ("end of the journey"), and became isolated from other races. The borders were guarded by an order named the Emerald Knights who were watching for trouble from humans. For some years, humans loyal to Andraste's memory respected their elven allies. But over the generations and as the Chant of Light and the religion of the Maker spread throughout human nations, the diplomatic relationships between the Dales and surrounding human nations turned cold, as the elves refused to be converted while historians speculate this hostility began when the Dalish refused to aid the humans in the Second Blight. Humans claim the war with the elves began when a small elven raiding party attacked the nearby human town of Red Crossing in 2:9 Glory, leading to the Chantry eventually calling an Exalted March against the elves when they had captured Montsimmard and besieged Val Royeaux, claiming they had been attacked by the Dales. The Dalish claim templars invaded the Dales after the elves kicked out Chantry missionaries from their sovereign territory.
As the Dales fell, the elves were forced to abandon their second homeland, and their culture was torn even further from them. Many elves accepted the terms of their human aggressors, going to live in alienages inside human cities and worshipping the Maker. Those elves who resisted became the nomadic Dalish, maintaining the worship of the elven gods and continuing their efforts to recover the lost culture of Elvhenan.
As of The Masked Empire, any Chantry art in Orlais depicting elves has been destroyed save a single original mural of Shartan with his ears docked, and a faithful copy at the University of Orlais. Similarly, modern Orlesian scholars have begun to be asked to author treatises (in part to weaken Empress Celene) on how elves are little more than prey animals based on their "rabbit" ears and bestial intelligence, and that establishing a relationship with one is an insult to the Maker akin to laying with an animal.
Progress has not always been forward, however. Even in modern-day Ferelden, for example, city elves are not allowed to bear arms. In Orlais they may only carry blades the length of one's palm. Furthermore, during the Orlesian occupation of Ferelden, elves were considered chattel and bought and sold as property.
Alienage elves Edit
- Main article: City elves
Alienages are closed communities of elves living in human cities, often walled off and found in the poorest, more crime-ridden parts of the city, while elves in villages make home in barns or sheds. Their inhabitants are typically impoverished and survive by begging or taking on the most menial and unrewarding of tasks and in most desperate cases, leave the alienage to steal or murder. They can join the Chantry, such as becoming a Templar, but this is rare and racial biases usually preclude it.
Though overall treatment varies kingdom to kingdom, city elves are universally second-class citizens. Elves are, by law or prejudice, unable to join most organizations or hold decent jobs, and the law often turns a blind eye to their abuses. Slavery of elves is still legal in the Tevinter Imperium and there's a lucrative demand for elven slaves along with servants for nobles. They are often seen as beautiful by humans despite their low status. In Ferelden, for example, the social position of elves as "Low Freemen" is comparable to that of prostitutes and criminals, though they may make a living as they can.
Having been heavily discriminated by humans for so long, most city elves try to hold onto their remaining heritage. Artifacts from Arlathan like the vhenadahl (literally, "tree of the People") and an abiding deep pride in their close-knit communities bolster city elves trying to make ends meet in an otherwise hostile world. As such, elves that leave the alienage and try to enter human society are heavily looked down upon much as "flat ears" are derided by Dalish elves.
Marriage is highly important for city elves; it is the rite of adulthood in elven communities and will often be prearranged in order for new blood to join an otherwise diluted gene pool. The absolute worst thing an elf could do is marry or breed outside their race since only humans are born between elven and human unions; which is adverse for such limited communities that depends on each other and tradition for day-to-day survival.
Furthermore, their closer relationship can sometimes result in what are known as Elf-blooded children, of both human and elven parentage.
Known alienages Edit
- Denerim alienage, home of the City Elf Warden
- Highever alienage, home of the City Elf Warden's fiancé Nelaros or Nesiara
- Val Royeaux alienage, birthplace of Fiona; a cramped and overcrowded alienage with walls so high sunlight does not reach the vhenadahl until midday.
- Minrathous alienage, in the Tevinter Imperium
- Kirkwall alienage, Merrill's home
- Teraevyn alienage, in the Tevinter Imperium
- Verchiel alienage
Dalish elves Edit
- Main article: Dalish
Dalish elves seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms. They lead nomadic lives, wandering throughout Thedas. Their clans date back to the ruling clans of the Dales and the Dalish themselves are their descendants.
Interaction between city and dalish elves Edit
The Dalish elves and city elves in particular have a strange and bitter relationship, dating from the splitting of the People after the fall of the Dales. Some Dalish view their city brethren suspiciously and with pity as "flat-ears," culturally human elves who are no different "than their shemlen masters." To some, they are seen as having given up on and forgotten their culture, and the hope is to teach these elves their past when a new homeland is founded. Not all Dalish share this view of the city elves, however.
On the other hand, some city elves see the Dalish as near-myths: strange and savage "wood elves" living far from humans and preying upon the unwary; and yet somehow noble, as well. To others, the Dalish are seen as "savages", primitive elves who refuse to see the promise of the alienage, and live off the land in ways the average city elf could not. Indeed, city elves who choose to leave or live beyond the Alienage are labeled "flat-ears" as well by their city kin, ironically similar to how some Dalish view the Andrastian elves, and subject to violence or resentment from other city elves.
And yet, for all this uncertainty, city and Dalish elves still interact positively now and then. For Alienage elves who seek to leave their home due to desperation, poverty or abuse, wandering Dalish clans are often seen as a sort of "last resort" haven. They are normally willing to take in a refugee from the cities and to largely refrain from attacking a city elf on the road, despite their uncertainty, and train them in the ways of their Creators and culture. Similarly, Alienages may take in a Dalish elf who has broken with their clan voluntarily or involuntarily.
Elven mages tend to be grouped to the Dalish mindset along with city elves. This is particularly the case as they have turned not only their lives but their magic over to the human Chantry and Maker, and the Circle of Magi, with the Circles being implied to have played a role in the fall of the Dales. 
Elven language Edit
- Main article: Elven language
The elven language, or Elvish, was largely lost when Elvhenan fell and its people were enslaved. When the elves settled their second homeland, the Dales, they aimed to restore their lost language and lore, but the Dales fell to an Exalted March. The Elvish of the Dragon Age is thus a fragmented remnant, a few words that are thrown into conversation rather than a working language used to conduct everyday life. The Dalish Elves, self-appointed custodians of the elven language and lore, use more Elvish than their City Elf brethren. Living among humans, the City Elves now retain only a few old Elvish words whose origin is almost forgotten, such as "shem"—derived from "shemlen", or "quickling", the old elven term for humans—and "Hahren"—the leader of an alienage, meaning "elder" in Elvish.
The Dalish have more of the language. They are more capable of forming whole phrases and sentences, but the language is still fragmented and very incomplete, even to them. It includes the word da'len, which means "little child", and andaran atish'an, which is a greeting to friends and fellow Dalish. Serannas is thanks, while ma serannas is "my thanks" or "many thanks". Aneth ara is an informal greeting often used among friends. Dareth shiral is a way of saying good-bye.
- The children of elves and humans are "human" by all appearances and are generally referred to as "Elf-blooded". They may be referred to as "half-elf" in a slanderous fashion. Children of elves and dwarves are dwarven to all appearances, and such offspring are extremely rare. This is due to a number of reasons. a) the small number of dwarves in Thedas, b) the elves are reclusive in mating with other races as their offspring would not be an elf c) mating between different species does not easily produce children d) the fertility rate of dwarves is very small.
- All the races in Thedas are said to live approximately the same length of natural life.
- Elves see better in the dark than humans, and their eyes glint like those of a cat in the dark. This is likely the result of an ocular structure called tapetum lucidum. This ability is also shared by the dwarves; however, as dwarven eyes are never described as shining, likely for different reasons.
- Elves tend to be more susceptible in following the Qun than other races, which is considered a particular danger in the Tevinter Imperium. As spies for the Qunari they may go so far as to sell themselves back into slavery in order to move undetected through non-Qunari lands.
- Banter between Fenris and Varric Tethras in Dragon Age II reveals that elves are unable to grow facial hair. However, Yevven is a contradiction of this claim.
- Humans often find elves to be beautiful and physically attractive, as explained by both Zevran Arainai and Leliana in dialogue.
- Common foods among city elves include "salt chews," a fishy-smelling item found in shops in the alienage.
- City elves participated in the Fereldan Rebellion under the leadership of Loghain Mac Tir, in his Night Elves unit.
- When female elves become broodmothers, they produce shrieks.
- A common human insult regarding elves is "knife-ear" or "slant-ear." A less malicious slur is "rabbit."
- According to Abelas, an elf from ancient times, ancient elven society was less idyllic as the Dalish would like to believe; he insinuates the elves themselves caused the destruction of the fabled city of Arlathan by warring amongst themselves before Tevinter rose to challenge them.
- Unlike the elves of many other fantasy settings, the elves of the Dragon Age setting are not antagonistic towards the dwarves, though Zevran and Oghren's dialogue contains a joking reference to this fantasy trope.
- The elves in Dragon Age II, as with other races, have been redesigned to create more space between the individual races. The Dalish now feature Welsh and Irish accents (city elves retain the accent of whatever region they live in) and have been given tall, willowy frames and thin faces with large eyes, straight noses and small features, as opposed to being the "short, pointy-eared humans" in Dragon Age Origins. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, these changes have been reverted to a point, and elves once again appear more human-like, except for ears.
- The initial inspiration for the Dragon Age elves came from the Jewish people (lost homeland, ghettos).
- It is unknown whether or not Dalish elves live longer than the city elves, since David Gaider and Mary Kirby have given conflicting information regarding their longevity.