The Political Situation Of The Summerset Isles In The Late 420's

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psychotrip
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So, I've been following this project since I was a kid. For years, I've been reading these forums, keeping up to date, and exploring the amazing worlds you guys have created. I started my journey into the Elder Scrolls with Oblivion, but later gravitated to Morrowind, in no small part thanks to you. You guys are awesome, and if you'd have me I'd love to start getting involved in any way I can. 

As someone who fell in love with the "weird lore" of the PGE1, I've been very disappointed at the direction the series is taking, particularly when it comes to my favorite race: the altmer. I'm not sure if this is breaking any rules, or if Im putting this in the wrong place, but I wanted to share some ideas I had regarding the high elves, their society, and their role in the Empire during the time of Morrowind. Most of this is based on pre-existing lore, and that old ESO datamine that never made it into the final game. I hope you enjoy!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
To understand the political situation of the altmer, we must understand the three core aspects of their society: The Kinships, The Generations and The Varlines

Kinships
Since the dawn of recorded history, the altmer have organized themselves into tribal factions known as "kinships". These are the massive extended families of the altmer, who can trace their relations back to the dawn era.

The concept of a kinship is similar, but ultimately incompatible, with the Imperial concepts of aristocracy, nation-states, and familial clans. There's a definite hierarchy within a Kinship, but it's more familial than feudal. The fact that a fishermer can come from the same family as a wizard or warlord leads to a unique dynamic within the Kinships. 

In general, an altmer king (or "Kinlord") will treat the smallfolk of his Kinship as younger siblings, children in need of guidance and enlightenment. While the imperial system of patronage is based on this idea, the altmer take it literally. When a kinlord is cruel, he is akin to a strict, abusive parent. When he's kind, he is a wise, loving grandfather. No matter the situation, a sleight against a member of the Kinship, be they a servant or a king, is seen as a sleight against the Kinship itself, and is met with swift, and often violent retribution. This led to serious misunderstandings In the early days of The Occupation.

The concept of family has an almost religious reverence in Altmeri culture. In fact, as altmer worship their ancestors, the two are inseperable. While altmer are far more secular than their dunmeri cousins, their obsession with family hasn't waned in the slightest. The altmer place little distinction between the nuclear family and that of the Kinship. 

There are hundreds of kinships, each controlling an area of land centered around a palace known as a "Kinhouse". The Kinhouse can refer to the physical house itself, as well as the nearby land surrounding it. The total land controlled by a Kinship is a Kinhold. Most altmer are insular, and prefer to isolate themselves from other Kinships. If not for the Varlines providing instant transport, few would venture beyond their homesteads at all. The major city-states of the Altmer are merely the largest Kinholds, ruled over by whichever Kinship claims the land at the time. 

Altmer have often been accused of materialism, and nowhere is this better displayed than within a Kinhouse. Herein lies the collected glories of an entire ethnic group. Priceless artifacts, animated paintings, and jewel-encrusted pottery abound. The altmer freely flaunt their own extravagence, almost daring their rivals to strike against them. Regardless of a kinlord's personal taste in finery, he will make sure his people's house is adorned with the best, even if it means stealing or raiding rival houses.

Imperial scholars confuse this decadent behavior for selfishness and greed, but to an altmer, it is Honorable to compete against another house, and brazen displays of wealth and material are a form of passive-aggressive warfare. In better times, lords would often send their retainers on adventures to gather rare and priceless items, often in the posession of rival lords. With the Empire on the brink of collapse, however, most lords have little time for such frivolities.

Outlanders, and altmer from different kinships, are generally unwelcome within the Kinhouse-proper. Altmer, as a general rule, look down on other races of mer, view non-mer as intelligent animals, and view other kinships as rivals. Entering another clan's home is met with suspicion at best, and violence at worst. In contrast to the palatial estates of breton and imperial nobility, the Kinhouse is seen as a collective home for the Kinship. The lower levels are often used as lodging for the kin, and kin visiting, or living on their homstead are expected to use them. A portion of a kin's wealth is donated to the Kinhouse treasury, which is then distributed among the people based on their needs. 

Technically these aren't taxes. They're not mandatory and there's no rule on how much a mer should give. However, it is Honorable to provide for your kin, and each altmer is expected to give what they can based on their income. Anything less is shameful, and many a mer has been ousted for avarice, their property seized and given to the clan. 

As a result, the concept of begging is virtually unheard of in altmeri society, save for the contemptable ousters who stalk the streets of Imperial cities and charter towns. Every mer has a basic standard of living, a place to sleep, and food to eat. At the same time, a true altmer would never shame himself or his clan by asking for something he hasn't earned. If an altmer has lived an Honorable life and falls ill or lame, then it's Honorable and Expected to accept aid, living within the Kinhouse and working only as much as she can. 

If a mer, for whatever reason, feels they have not earned the right to ask for aid, they would rather starve themselves or die of exposure. In the snowy mountains surrounding Eton Nir, it's not uncommon to find the frozen husks of mer, kneeling in a meditative pose as they allow themselves to return to the Dreamsleeve. 

This concept of Honorable Etiquette pervades altmeri culture. There are Expectations placed upon you by your Kinship, and they take priority over everything else. 

The Varlines
Kinhouses are almost always built around major nodes of the Varlines: magical lines of power that circumpenetrate the land. Made of meteoric glass and embedded in the earth itself, the Varlines provide power, communication, and transportation for the entire nation. Altmeri society is inseperably linked to the Varlines, and their entire way of life is dependent on them.

Thanks to the Varlines, the altmer need not concern themselves with petty labor and peasant work. Strange, possibly daedric, creatures are enthralled by the Varlines to obey their altmer masters. Aquiferi keep the land fertile by controlling the groundwater, and discarnates construct buildings and monuments according to the altmers' exacting specifications. It's possible this decadence  led the prophet Veloth to lead his people out of Summerset, to test themselves in the lands beyond. The smallfolk of the altmer do not till the land, nor do they sweat in the sun's warmth. They typically work as clerks, servants, or tradsmer, while others directly supervise and attend to the discarnates and aquiferi. This reliance on the Varlines is both the altmer's greatest strength and greatest weakness. 

Most permanent settlements are built around a major or minor node of the Varlines, affectionately called a "Starwell". These wells take the form of cylindric cores of meteoric glass embedded unfathomably deep within the earth. They're typically surrounded by circular structures of marble, malachite, and meteoric iron. These structures are designed to extract excess magicka from the lines, "giving it back" to Aetherius as a symbolic gesture. When one breathes deeply into a Starwell, she becomes energized, and mentally invigorated.

In Cyrodiil, the Starwells function differently, drawing magicka directly from the stars, and can only be used once per day. In Summerset, the magic is self-sustaining, and the community "bathes" in its Light throughout the day. However, overuse of a Starwell can lead to out-of-body experiences, hallucinations, and unintentional astral-projection, so the natives have learned to use them in moderation. 

The reverence given to a starwell cannot be overstated. They're often adorned with petrified insect wings or sea-shells, draped with sea-silk, and decorated by children with flamboyant, swirling graffiti. The altmer view their Starwell with warmth and affection, somewhere between an abstract god and a beloved pet. Most festivals, markets and local events are centered around the local Starwell, and children often feel compelled to dance around it playfully. 

Starwells are both jealously guarded and openly shared between Kinships. It's common knowledge that altmer from different clans distrust one another, but individuals are welcome to bathe in a Starwell's Sacred Light. No altmer would dare cause harm to a Starwell, but skirmishes are often fought between kinships over their posession. The largest Starwells are surrounded by a Kinhouse, and form the foundation core of the palace.

Over many eons, the altmer have developed a physiological link to the Varlines and by extension, each other. It is Honorable and Expected for young altmer to commune with a Starwell when they come of age. This ritual is poorly understood, but the altmer believe they link themselves to the land, the Varlines, and the United Altmer Nation through this holy communion.

Altmer are known to become extremely irrational at even the slightest sign of malfunction within the Varlines. It is unknown if this response is entirely cultural, or if there's some biological component, but many altmer grow ill, delirious, and even violent when they feel the Varlines are threatened. 

The Prime-Node of the Varlines is Crystal-Like-Law. Also known as the "Crystal Tower", this impossibly tall structure gathers Light from the stars. The Varlines themselves were created much later, to spread this Light to the four corners of the land.

The Varline's Affect On Religion
The Varlines are often blamed for an evolution in altmer religious thought. While altmeri society began deeply religious, their reliance on high magic like the Varlines has made them much more secular. Where once one's personal ancestors were abandoned for the greater spirits of Syrabane, Trinimac, and Auri-El, many altmer have gone back to a simple, dispassionate form of ancestor-worship, focused more on the glories of one's kinfolk than any deep religious conviction. In general, they place their faith in their magic and engineering. 

This image of the secular altmer has led many mer, particularly the dunmer, to view them as godless and materialistic. While this is certainly the case for many, a great deal of altmer consider themselves deeply religious, and worship their greatest ancestors in massive, baroque cathedrals. 

The Generations
In altmeri culture, age is as much as state of mind as a measure of years passed. In the parlours and cantinas, political debate usually comes down to a divide between the old and the young. This divide defines altmeri political life, arguably moreso than the Kinships. It's worth noting that these mindsets are not absolute, nor are they uniform. Mer of the same Kinship may differ in their political affiliation, and many find themselves taking a moderate stance between the two. 

The Elders

The old guard of ancient aldmeri culture, The Elders are the perfect elven stereotypes. They're insular, xenophobic, culturally conservative, and generally want to be left alone. They harbor no desire for conquest, nor do they see the need to deal with the outside world unless it directly affects their home. The wizard-lords, the rural kinfolk, and most of the Kinlords  have an Elder mindset. 

Some of the elders were alive during the Reman Dynasty, and they believe they will be alive when the Septim Dynasty falls. They choose to accept the Empire by ignoring it. The follies of man are a passing thing, barely worth mention. A whale doesn't notice the barnacles on its back, nor the fish that clean its teeth. Still, both can be useful in their own way. The Elders recognize the Imperial Navy's role in keeping the maormer at bay, as well the redguards who once stalked their waters. While an Altmer marine is superior to an Imperial sailor, it's foolish to waste good mer on bad men. This simple fact is one of the few things keeping the peace within Summerset. If the Empire grows too weak to protect the Isle's waters, the situation could quickly change. 

The Elder's see taxes as bribes to keep the Legions contained within their shoddy forts, and are content to pay them, so long as they can fullfill their Honorable Expectations. 

Make no mistake, however: the Elders despise the Empire, perhaps more than the Youth. On principal alone, the concept of an animal claiming ownership of aldmeri land is nonsense. It's a paradox unto itself. In the Elder mindset, it didn't happen. The Empire has no legitimacy because it simply can't. But altmer are naturally intelligent, and they're well aware that an open revolt would decimate their home, with or without the Numidium at the Emperor's disposal. 

The Elders, more than any other altmer, are driven by Honorable Expectations. Things like the law (imperial or the laws of other clans) can be ignored, but one's Honorable Etiquette must always be maintained. The most ancient Altmeri rituals and beliefs are incompatible with the modern world, both at home and abroad, but they're followed nontheless. 

From an Imperial perspective, the rule of law is both fluid and convoluted in Elder lands. Imperial law is based on corruptions of altmer legal practices, further muddied by the draconian philosophy of Marukh. In traditional altmeri society, the law is entirely based around Honorable Expectations, and the Kinlord has final say in the interpretation of the law. In Imperial lands, actions that would be considered theft, vandalism, or even murder may be accepted in traditional altmer law based on seemingly irrelevant details and the judgement of the Kinlord. 

Codes of conduct can very based on the time of day, the color of a rival's clothing, or even the angle at which the sun reflects off a nearby pond. Guards in Elder lands are required to arrest those who break the laws of man, but they are intentionally lax in their enforcement. In accordance with the Crystal Concordat (the treaty that ended the brief war with the Empire), a mer is sovereign within the physical walls of his Kinhouse, and imperial law has no power there. Technically, the physical Kinhouse is a state unto itself, and the Elders use this to their advantage. 

In general, the Elder ways make sense in small communities that surround Kinhouses and wizard towers, but come into conflict with a globalized, modern world. This is the core conflict for the Elders. They think they can simply ignore the outside world, but the world is changing without them, and they may not be able to keep up. 

The Youth

Brash, abmtitious, and often loutish, The Youth see themselves as revolutionaries, the engineers of a coming altmeri rennaisance. They believe the old ways failed them, that their rulers were unable to adapt to the world, and that this folly led to the collapse of their civilization. The very fact that Man could conquer Mer is evidence of the stagnation and decadence of their people, and The Youth seek a major course correction. The urban city-folk, the revered Artists, and even a few Kinlords are known to have a Youthful mindset. 

At best, they seek to forge new bonds with other races, to make their people relevant once more, to place themselves in positions of power in anticipation of the Third Empire's collapse. At worst, they're violent terrorists, actively hostile to both the Empire and what they see as old, outdtated institutions. 

The Youth are curious by nature.They're by far the most common altmer seen outside the Isles, and they spend decades as adventurers, nightblades, or mercenary-wizards, eager to learn from other cultures. They don't necessarily have any loyalty or admiration for the lesser races, but seek to understand what makes other cultures successful, and how to incorporate these aspects into their own. 

Unlike The Elders, The Youth are driven by active measures to improve their relevence in the world. Altmeri culture is waning, their race no longer serves any vital purpose. The Youth simply can't reconcile this notion with their sense of self-worth, and are obsessed with proving themselves to the world. Their biggest issue, however, is how exactly they should achieve this. Many collaborate with the Empire, working as beaurocrats, agents, and even legionnaires. The Empire is based on altmeri culture,and is evidence of its worth to the world. These altmer seek to take back what's theirs, placing themselves in positions of power. Many Youth see Ocato as the defacto leader of their movement, but it's unclear if he shares their ideals. Their ultimate goal is to turn the Empire into a puppet-state for their ambitions, a platform to spread their light to the world. In their own way, they're loyal to the Empire as an insitution, if not the people who run it.

By contrast, many Youth seek to dismantle the Empire in its entirety. They're often militant and expansionistic, seeking to create a new Dominion or Ayleid Empire to protect their people. In the Niben heartland, many mer meet in secret, forming fraternities or tongs with the ultimate goal of reviving the Ayleid States. More often than not, these groups are less than serious, young folk arguing and boasting and making plans but never following through. Others are far more serious, and amidst the unrest in Cyrodiil, several riots have been violently quelled, as altmer demand one of their own be placed on the Ruby Throne. An especially violent sub-faction of The Youth, known as "The Beautiful", are disorganized cells of magical terrorists. By day, they're part of the Artistic Elite: creators of esoteric, magical, and often bizarre forms of art ill-understood by imperial scholars. By night, they turn these abstract creatons onto their enemies, liquifying beaurocrats with solid sound, using resonant spheres to topple monuments, and even creating golems in mockery of Numidium to smash charter towns. While the exact number of Beautiful operatives is unknown, many are members of a legitimate (if fringe) political tong known as The Thalmor. Whether this is a coincidence, or if one group is fronting the other, is unknown, but an alarming, increasing number of Youth are known to associate with this tong.  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So...yeah, those are just some ideas that were mulling around in my head lately. I also have ideas for the specific hierarchy of the elves, how artists can be considered higher ranked than princes for example. Or the role of wizard lords in altmeri society, and how they interact with the Kinships. I can also get into how the "normal" kinships interact with the "high kinships" that rule the city-states. I'll cut this stuff short for now though, since I'm not even sure I'm supposed to put this here. Oh, and please excuse the typos! I'm used to having spell-check handy...

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TheDVI
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I like it. Reminds me of a few years ago when I wrote Summerset Isles stuff as a thought exercise.

I do think the Kinship legal system presented here is a bit too loose and fluid when MKs writings seem to associate the High Elves with overcomplicated bureaucratic nightmares, ala the Dominion Prism Textract. 

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psychotrip
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I was sort of wrestling with this idea as well, but my idea is that when people think of Altmeri "law" they're thinking of their Honorable Expectations. Codes of conduct can very based on the time of day, the color of a rival's clothing, or even the angle at which the sun reflects off a nearby pond. 

The average altmer understands far more about his Honorable Expectations than any imperial could learn about the law in a single lifetime, but even then it's not always enough. My point is less that altmer don't have a labyrinthian system of law, but that it's so labyrinthian that it can't traditionally function on a large scale, and it requires an ancient, wise Kinlord to interpret. It's not fluid in the sense that it changes, but it's fluid in its end result. On one day, the killing of a visitor from a rival kinship is seen as foul murder, but if it's the 27th day of the month while the Serpent is in the sky, then it's an absolute requirement to kill your rival's kin on sight.  I feel like this is a good way to express the sophistication of altmer society, as well as its moral incompatability with humanity. 

In general, I was trying to illustrate a society that, while extremely advanced, is having trouble adapting to the concepts of globalization and large populations. This, I feel, is the core conflict of altmeri society. Their utopian society, genius intellect, and numerous cultural advancements are increasingly meaningless in the wake of a rapidly changing world, and they're all trying to deal with this in their own way. 

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psychotrip
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Hierarchy Of Individuals

Altmer hierarchy can often be confusing to outsiders, particularly those raised in Breton or Imperial courts. The idea of teachers and artists outranking the aristocracy is incomprehensible to many. To better understand this phenomenon, we must understand that the Altmer hierarchy, despite its labyrinthian complexity, is ultimately driven by a pragmatic meritocracy.

A mer gains legitimacy through the deeds of her ancestors. She maintains legitimacy through her own deeds. Altmer see their physical forms as vessels for a divine spark. This spark is the last living remnant of their ancestors: the Aedra. It is infinite and omnipresent, and each generation is linked to this same spark. As generations go by, the spark grows weaker, but ultimately never dies. With this in mind, the Altmer place little distinction between the deeds of an ancestor and the deeds of an individual. In a sense, the Altmer believe they are their ancestors. The shadow of Auri-El walks among them in the form of Kinlords. An echo of Syrabane lives within the Sorcerer-Kings. Battlereeves are avatars of Trinimac, and Xarxes continues to chronicle their achievements through accountants and bureaucrats. With this in mind, the concept of Altmer meritocracy begins to make sense. 

The basic hierarchy of the Altmer can be summed up as follows:

The Wise
Altmer value knowledge above all things, but they're prone to keeping secrets. Secrets give you power over your rivals, and anyone selfless enough, or confident enough, to share their secrets should be revered. The Wise are those wizards and scholars who choose to share their knowledge with the people. Led by the Sapiarchs, unfathomably ancient and learned mer from eons past, The Wise are priests who worship knowledge itself. The youngest among them spend their days meditating, studying beneath their aged masters. Once initiated into the order, they travel the land, spreading knowledge and understanding to the remote corners of Summerset.

The Wise, more than any other faction, believe in the dream of a United Aldmer People. They understand the need for tongs and Kinships, but believe knowledge can unite the disparate tribes of mer. As such, they've been known to travel to distant Valenwood to educate the bosmeri tribes. Once, they would travel as far as Skyrim and High Rock, to spread their knowledge to the falmer and the direnni, but the cancer of Man has consumed these lands, and The Wise cannot risk their knowledge falling into the hands of animals. The Wise were never welcomed in Resdayn, and The Wise view the Dunmer with both sympathy and disgust. 

The Sapiarchs restrict themselves to the highest and lowest levels of Crystal-Like-Law, in chambers displaced by time and space. Few have ever seen them, and some believe they've transcended beyond their mortal forms. They should not be confused for reclusive hermits, however. They are constantly transmitting information to their students, in the form of hallucinogenic, psychedelic visions. Though they speak no coherent words, they have personalities, desires, and even a sense of humor, and their students grow to see them as eldritch parental figures. It is the duty of the Wisemer to translate their messages, and to record them within tomes and memory stones. As a rule, The Wise do not hide their knowledge from their fellow mer, but the knowledge of the Sapiarchs contain such terrible power that it must often be contained. 

The Artists

Part socialite, part god-hero, the Artists of Summerset are objects of near-mythical awe and reverence. To dream, to create, to bring joy is to grow closer to the Aedra themselves. Altmer who dedicate themselves to High Art hone their craft for at least a century, often in glitter-induced dream-states. They do not release their first work to the public until they believe it is worthy. Their first work of art is will forever define them, and they will spend countless decades working to perfect it.

To call them eccentric would be an understatement. Many speak entirely in poetry, their voices resonating within the body of the listener, granting them deep, almost sexual pleasure. Others have sculpted their flesh into objects of incomprehensible beauty, their forms shining blurs upon the eye of the uninitiated. Others still are brilliant engineers, creating golems, statues, and buildings based on Sacred Geometry.  

Despite their lofty reputations, they are prone to gossip, pranks, drinking, and scandal. Essentially, they're the celebrities of the Summerset Isles. 

A ravenous cult of personality surrounds the Artists. Varline-transmissions are full of rumor and innuendo concerning these godlike figures. Whose feuding with whom? Who slept with whom? These tales spark the imagination of the Altmeri small-folk, and form the basis of heated debate in local cantinas. 

The Kinlords
As discussed in the previous post, Kinlords are the parental lords of the Altmer. It may seem strange to see them so low in the Altmer hierarchy, but they are feared and beloved nonetheless.  In terms of practical, legal, familial, and political power, the Kinlords reign supreme. But politics are just a single aspect of the complex, kaleidoscopic social constructs that comprise Altmer society. 

A Kinlord's most trusted servants are his Canonreeves, as as well as his personal Vicereeve. Canonreeves are bureaucratic administrators assigned by a Kinlord as mayors or diplomats. The vast majority of Summerset communities are managed by the local Canonreeve, and they are often sent as ambassadors to Alinor or Imperial territory. A Vicereeve is the right-hand-mer of any high-ranking Altmer. The most powerful Viecreeves serve the Kinlords as chancellors. They are utterly committed to their lord, and handle the day to day affairs of the Kinhold. The word of a Vicereeve is considered the word of the Kinlord himself, and they wield considerable power in their master's name. 

Battlereeves
Altmer are not generally known for their prowess in battle, but this is because few have met a battlereeve and lived to tell the tale. Any soldier whose served his kin for over 400 years is considered a battlereeve. These ancient warriors blend spell with sword, and have honed their death-craft to a razor's edge. They are single-minded, viciously dedicated to the defense of their people. In general, they spend their days meditating, exercising, and patrolling the borders of the lands they protect. While a rare few may be amiable, or even friendly, they are constantly assessing threats and analyzing battle tactics. They haven't lived this long by accident. In general, they are a grim, morbid lot. If they have a sense of humor, it is violent and dry. 

To face a Battlereeve is to face death. Their adamantium face-masks are both elegant and terrifying, meant to symbolize the forbidden thought-forms of entropy and death, associated with the dread Sithis. Their blades are made of glass or meteoric iron, capable of turning a maormer into a slurry of gore within seconds. Thankfully for the Empire, battlereeves are exceedingly rare. Most  Altmer dedicate their lives to less violent pursuits, and those who take up arms do so only out of necessity. The vast majority of battlereeves committed suicide shortly after The Occupation began, and at present number less than a hundred. Still, it's worth noting that every Battlereeve was alive when their land was taken from them. This failure is their greatest shame, and the source of their deep-seeded rage. 

These warlords often control entire regions in the name of their Kinlord. These lands are highly militarized and strictly regimented, centered around a monastic fortress dedicated to Trinimac. The people have curfews and schedules, and crime is nonexistent. These warlords have little time for politics, wandering the remote corners and borders of the lands they protect. They prefer to isolate themselves from their kin, seeing themselves as grim tools of death, a force of nature their people should never have to face. Their most trusted and zealous servants run the day to day affairs of their fiefs, and they remain in touch with their Battlereeve via Varline or Memospore. The Battlereeves look upon their subjects with both love and suspicion, and are willing to die a thousand deaths to protect them. 

Landowners
The landed gentry are the upper-class kinfolk of the Altmer. They live in small but elegant estates on the land they own, or within the penthouse suites of urban skyscrapers. This is the highest position an Altmer can realistically aspire to achieve. 

In order to earn any respect, a landowner must have a trade. The Altmer do not tolerate their aristocracy to grow fat and lazy. Their legitimacy comes from what they can provide for their kin. They are rich because they deserve to be. They are respected and feared because they are Honorable. As such, their land is always dedicated to an industry that directly benefits their Kin, be it fishing, mining, or farming. The landowners themselves are not expected to work the fields, but they must manage the funds and ensure the safety of their workers. 

The landowning aristocracy is further divided into 3 castes. The lowest are the "common" landowners. Often first-generation, these mer earned their land through a particularly Honorable deed. They are often ambitious and expansionistic in their economic dealings, understanding little of high politics and coming into conflict with their superiors and one another. 

Next come the Exultants. The vast majority of these mer comes from long lines of landowners. They are cautious, measured, and generally fair in their dealings, but follow strict codes of conduct that conflict with modern political realities. Most Vicereeves and Canonreeves come from Exultant families. 

A step below the Kinlords are the Optimates. These mer have gone above and beyond their duties, and have showered their workers with wealth and well-being. No mer can be born an Optimate. It is a title to be earned through deeds in life. The close relatives of Optimates automatically gain the title of Exultant. Optimates are granted massive swathes of land by their Kinlords, and advise their lords in political matters. 

Merchants

These entrepreneurial mer begin as workers who master a particular trade-craft. They could be particularly skilled smiths, prolific and creative enchanters, or successful accountants. Some of these Workers remain set in their ways, and live the rest of their days as passionate laborers. Others turn their minds to business. 

Often, they take on apprentices and hire employees. As their revenue increases, they soon need space for a workshop or office. They'll often move near the cities, where they lease a small piece of land from the local lord. Before long, they're running a successful business, peddling their wares to the far corners of Summerset and beyond. They organize into trade unions known as tongs, which do their best to monopolize certain industries. These tongs often transcend the boundaries of the Kinship, raising suspicion from the higher castes. 

The lines between the merchants and the workers are often blurred, and Merchants can be seen as leaders among the Workers. An increasing number of Altmer work directly for a merchant, as opposed to a landowner. Recently, a few Merchants have grown richer than the landowners themselves. This has led to a great deal of confusion and turmoil within the courts of Summerset, as many fear the natural order of things will collapse under the increasing influence of the Merchants. 

Workers
The (not so) humble small-folk of the Altmer. Fishermer, clerks, and low-ranking bureaucrats, the workers form the vast majority of Altmer, and are considered the lowest rung of their society. They are not viewed with contempt, however. In most cases, they are seen as children by the upper castes, quaint "young" mer seeking their guidance and wisdom. This condescension grates on the nerves of the workers, but most know their place in the scheme of things. 

Beasts
Beasts form the backbone of industry in Summerset. Contrary to their name, Workers do little physical work, and spend their days supervising their bestial slaves. Discarnates cast nets into the sea, while aquiferi funnel sea-life toward them, all under the watchful eye of the local fishermer. Goblins are enthralled by a combination of illusion and sweat meats, and made to perform tasks unfit for the lowest Altmer. Because of their low birthrate, there are fewer Altmer than there are beasts in The Summerset Isles, though they often remain out of sight. If this caste were to vanish for a single week, Altmer society would collapse. 

Altmer Outside The Hierarchy

Vartisans and Skyharkers
Many Workers provide highly respected services that form the basis of Altmeri society. While Workers in theory, these mer are effectively outside the hierarchy. The most well-known of these Workers are the Vartisans and Skyharkers.

Vartisans:  Engineers that maintain the Varlines. These mer ensure the continued survival of their people, and can even replace broken segments of the Varlines. They are often called upon to soothe restless Starwells, or to resolve glitches within the system. Vartisans literally worship the Varlines, and the Stars that provide their power. They are some of the few Altmer that actively worship Magnus and his Magne-Ge. They believe the Stars are proof that the Magne-Ge continue to watch over Nirn, and that they weep for their imprisoned kin. The eldest Vartisans become gibbering madmer, barely coherent but deeply in-tune with the flow of magicka. They show no signs of age, but strange, glowing crystals begin sprouting from their bodies. Eventually, they become entirely crystalline, at which point they're sculpted and merged into the Varlines themselves. 

Skyharkers: These mer live in the Orrery, a city unto itself within the sprawling halls of Alinor. Here, they monitor, and in some small manner control, the movements of celestial bodies. These movements control the flow of magicka to the Varlines, and the Skyharkers effectively control where the magic goes. Each Skyharker communes with a plane(t) or constellation, at which point they become their living avatar. They maintain just enough individuality to steer the heavens in a direction that favors the Altmer, but the religions of the mannish races are constantly disrupting this process, whether they realize it or not. The vast majority come from the Syldarim Kinship, but they can come from all walks of life. Conflicts of interest are scarcely an issue, as once one becomes a Skyharker, they are beyond clan-based concerns. 

Outlanders 
Altmer from other provinces are seen with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. At best, they are wayward children returning to the fold, and must be embraced with open arms. At worst, they are vile race-traitors, likely the children of ousters, and should be driven out of the Blessed Isles along with the foreign dogs they serve. In general, they have no place in the Altmer hierarchy, and are treated as Imperial agents or diplomats, regardless of their loyalty to the Empire. Those who can trace their ancestry to a particular Kinship may be welcomed into the fold, especially in Kinships controlled by The Youth. Elder Kinships may accept them as retainers or mediators between the clan and the Empire, but are rarely regarded as Kin. 

Ousters
The Ousters are the untouchable pariahs of Altmer society. They have committed some unspeakable crime, and were exiled for it. Execution may be Honorable and Expected for a disgraced Altmer, but Ousters are granted no such favors. They are branded with a runic tattoo which covers half of their face, signifying their depravity. Those who dare show their face in public are treated with a sadism usually reserved for the beasts of man. 

Ousters are less than animals. A man can't help being vulgar and inferior, but Ousters choose their path. This mindset is key to understanding the seemingly irrational hatred toward ousters. They've forsaken their duties and Expectations, and are thus traitors to all mer, and to The Aurbis itself. 

No Altmer is above ousting, from the lowest worker to the High Queen Herself. If anything, Ousting is more common among the upper castes, as their lives are more public and their actions have a greater affect on the people. Imperial nobles are often disgusted by the practice of Ousting, as the aristocracy can be ousted for such "minor" acts as embezzling funds or allowing their Kin to starve.  

The children of Ousters are not Ousters, but are considered workers. Still, their ancestry is known to all, and they often find themselves incapable of employment. They're generally encouraged to leave their homeland entirely. Recall that in Altmeri thought, the ancestor and the self are one in the same. Therefore, the child of an ouster is the same person as the ouster, and must live several more lives before they can be fully redeemed. Only after 5 generations can the descendant of an Ouster earn their way back into society, at which point they are treated as Outlanders. 

Sorcerer-Kings

In Summerset, magic is omnipresent. Where once it was restricted to The Wise, respected Kin, and the reclusive Psijiic Monks, Vanus Galerion transformed the role of magic in Altmer society.  Today, even a common mer knows a few spells, passed down from their parents or learned from a traveling Wisemer. 

Because of this, it's unfair to isolate a single magical faction within the Altmer. The Mages Guild has great influence in the province, but it's mostly considered an Imperial institution despite its Altmeri origins. Every Kinship, every tong, and every criminal network is known to utilize magic in its own way. Still, there are those who operate on the fringes of Altmer society, who associate with these groups but never truly belong, whose ambitious motives are ultimately their own. These are the "Sorcerer-Kings". 

Like most Altmer, they belong to a Kinship, but their relationship to their kin can vary widely. In theory, they act with semi-autonomy in the name of the Kinlord. In practice, they exist outside the Altmer hierarchy. In general, they keep to themselves, claiming their own territory and recruiting apprentices or retainers from a variety of cultures and kinships. They often create towers made of coral, either on remote beaches or within isolated lakes. Some say they learned these techniques from the sload, but the Sorcerers don't seem to care. Overtime, as their power-base grows, entire communities form around their lairs, a hodge-podge of kinfolk, outlanders, and even a few ousters. Unlike The Wise, they have little desire to share their knowledge without incentive. Sorcerer-Kings pay little heed to Altmeri traditions and beliefs, and their motives vary widely. Some are benevolent, and seek to enrich the rural communities in which they live. Others see their retainers are pawns in their unfathomable schemes. Ultimately, their chief concern is increasing their power and influence. 

Because of Summerset's sparse and decentralized population, it's easy for a Sorcerer-King to create his own little fief before the Kinships have time to react. As they rarely interact with the outside world, many Kinlords are content to ignore them, while others attempt to align with them, or even return them to the Kinship-proper. 

There's a constant tug of war going on between the Kinships and the Sorcerer-Kings. Today, there are several isolated regions entirely controlled by local Sorcerers, who swear fealty to the Queen of Alinor, but ultimately rule the land as they see fit. In some Kinholds, the local Sorcerer-King has more influence than the Kinlord, much to their chagrin. The entire Kinhold of Cloudrest is ruled by a loose alliance of Sorcerer-Kings, after their Kinlady was displaced during the Numidium's Dragon-Break. 
 

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What exactly do the goblins do that the discarnates and aquiferi are incapable of?

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Plumbing, trash collection, fitting in tight spaces that need cleaning. Most anything that involves muck and grime. 

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I've been thinking for a while on how best to reply to this, but you keep posting. So I decided to leave it at a somewhat incomplete answer.

I'll leave the tl;dr up front: you have quite a few good ideas, but a lot of ESO nonsense and you're emphasizing the wrong things and not thinking history through. This starts with these weird "Kin" and "reeve" names that ESO kicks around for no discernable reason, when prior sources used generic "Lord" titels and such.
Infragris of Project Tamriel and myself had been kicking ideas back and forth, I'll try to get into that later.

 

First: varlines and starwells are derivative and dumb.
Starwells are pretty blatantly the Ayleid star light collection facilities. These were a specific Ayleid thing, capturing the aetherial creatia that shone through holes not made by Magnus in order to advance their goals. The Aldmer certainly didn't use it.
Varlines are just leylines with the serial numbers filed off. This is a concept that depends on the earth (soil) having magical quality. Magic in TES comes from the heavens, so leylines make absolutely no sense.

Second: Houses and Honour are incompatible with the Aldmeri feudal system.
One of the specific things that divide Elves and Men are their inherent organisational structure: elves default to feudalism, men to meritocratic tribalism.
The great outliers here are the Chimer/Dunmer which seperated ties so much that they chose their own ancestors and they are the one who developed a house system.
The Aldmer are the society from which Tamrielic feudalism developed, they are the only society which to this day has an overt caste system. That means western feudalism - think about how Breton society works and add alot more stability into it. The very strange focus on Honour makes the Altmer seem overly japanese as well. Their system would be based upon accomplishment by personal ancestors first and foremost, personal honour of the current generation would be always reflected against their deeds. The Altmer can trace their lineages back to the Earth Bones, without interruption.
You also have very little references to the Monkish orders as described in The Firsthold Revolt.

Third: The Tiber Wars do not factor in.
Your writeup of the Summerset Isles never ones considers the developments of the Third Era: the catastrophical loss due to the Anumidum, the near loss of the Isles to the Maomer decades later, the quick victorious war against the Bosmer during the Simulacrum. You describe a society which didn't have a near-cataclysmic loss of identity.
You also misuse the Thalmor. They were the government during the Aldmer Dominion (ESO's First Aldmeri Dominion didn't exist).

 

However: most of what you wrote is good. What I would suggest is not trying to reconcile ESO lore with earlier one, as it is inherently incompatible. There's one official text in Tamriel_Data dealing with the Altmer (On Purity) and an still in-development file (attached) dealing with the Thalmor but also the political situation on the Isles after the gutting of society by Anumidium.
I hope we can cooperate on this and form a sort of lore consensus because your castes and building styles are really neat. It's going to relevant as we're moving to OE and the official Summerset Embassy and for PC's west coast as well.

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Jesus Christ. I just wrote a huge response to each of your points and I lost it all. I'll try and sum up what I said. Sorry about that:

I wrote most of the above posts in a half asleep, angry fugue state as I just got fed up with the "new" lore and the way the Altmer are portrayed in Skyrim and ESO. Since I wrote most of this at the same time, and when I was barely coherent, there's a ton of typos and I didn't explain things well. I've since posted a ton of stuff to Reddit's /r/Teslore, and it got a very positive reception. It still has the exact same problems you mention above, but I'll leave some links here in the hopes that you can salvage something from it:

https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/79ja5m/the_political_situation_of_the_summerset_isles_in/ 
https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/7a0pry/an_analysis_of_the_altmer_caste_system_in_the/ (I added a lot more information on several castes)
https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/79nsbp/an_analysis_of_summersets_bloody_sundas_tamriel/
https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/79wd6a/fauna_of_summerset_the_greatfly_im_just_gonna/
https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/7ad623/an_analysis_of_altmeri_architecture_in_the_late/
https://www.reddit.com/r/teslore/comments/7a4l2w/an_analysis_of_altmer_crime_in_the_late_420s_the/

You're right that I shouldn't have tried to incorporate ESO's lore (varlines, kinlords etc) into the mix, but I was hoping I could take that stuff and make it a bit more interesting. 

I see what you're saying about the tribal system I developed being trash. Personally, it was the only thing I really liked about the Altmer's portayal in ESO. This idea that the entire feudal system that was later adopted by the Imperials being based on a literal familial system. I thought it was interesting to think about, especially when altmer care so much about their ancestry and (I assumed) their families. The idea of their "kingdoms" being massive extended families really intrigued me, and it leads to all sorts of weird dynamics you wouldn't see in a human society. Considering Imperial society is "based on" Altmeri society, I thought it would be really interesting to see how the Altmeri system could feasibly develop into a more recognizeable human government, while keeping it different enough to lead to all sorts of unique narratives and conflicts. 

The reason I didn't focus enough on the Tiber Wars was mostly because I planned on making another post about it. I probably shouldn't have specified "The late 420's" because that really does leave a giant elephant in the room. I was mostly trying to give a general blueprint of Altmeri society, but you're right that my priorities were in the wrong place. 

The Asian themes came from my interpretaion of Bethesda's work. Be it the concept art in Oblivion, or the orc armor in Morrowind, descriptions of Alinor as a “forbidden city”, indoril architecture etc., I always got a sense that traditional aldmeri culture had some vague Asian undertones, but not enough to overpower it. Really though, the idea of "Honorable Expectations" was just how I interpreted all the complex rituals and behavioral norms in Altmeri society. 

For the Thalmor, I wasn't trying to base them off the ESO interpretation. My idea was that the remnants of the PGE1 Dominion's government survive as a fringe political faction popular with the Youth (as in, the more militant, expansionistic, and outward-looking Altmer). 

My main vision for the Altmer is to showcase the society that Veloth wanted so badly to escape. A society that truly is so decadent and "perfect" that it makes the average person feel useless and empty in the grand scheme of things. Where high magic has made the people's lives utopian on paper, but it hasn't truly made their lives better, or sustainable in a rapidly changing world. I wanted to create a society whose conflicts didn't arise from the usual places, but from their own sense of ennui in their self-created paradise, and their increasing irrelevance as a people as the world moves beyond their accomplishments. Everyone is reacting to this new world in a different way. Some by ignoring it, some by collaborating with it, others by seeking to dominate it.  Again though, the societal apocalypse of the Tiber Wars changes far more than I led on. I'd love to see how this affects their society. 

Honestly though, what I care about is your vision. I'm just some kid whose been a lifelong fan of you guys. You're keeping what I loved about the series alive, and I wanted to contribute to that in some way. I had no idea whether or not there was a plan for the Altmer at all. If there is one, then I can just chalk this up as a fun writing exercise. 

In the meantime, I'll read up on the stuff you linked. I really appreciate you taking the time to critique this and give me feedback. But yeah, I mostly just wanted to know the Altmer weren't going to be left in limbo. 

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Well, I'm glad too see you're not giving up. You've got quite a good thing going here, it just is currently a lot more at home in the ESO/Skyrim world than the Morrowind one.

Just answering a couple points:

I wouldn't say the tribal system is trash, it just doesn't feel Altmer at all.
The Aldmer developed feudalism; the Nibenese derivated into a magocratic (Battlemage) nobility but had the Ayleids and Alessians with their weird systems as direct precursors. The "generic" nobility system is Breton, in itself an Altmer derivate through the Direnni Hegemony and largely untouched by the Nordic meritocratic tribalism.

I see familial systems as more common to the Dunmer, who based their society on a rejection of all things Altmer (thrice even, once during the Velothi exodus, when the High Velothi culture collapsed, and then finally with the rise of the Tribunal). The other elven states which were contemporary with the Aldmer which we know anything about, the Bosmer, Ayleids and Dwemer were focused on city-state governments with an unclear layer on top.

Feudalism is always tinted in my eyes with the original reason why it took off (the lack of monetary support structure in the Frankish Empire), which was based on indiviuals being gifted positions and holds, and their descendants living off them. As elven societies are mostly focused on ancestors, this would generate a noble caste, and other specialised castes at the same time, while not allowing a fluid enough system so that clans or families would not really exist the way they do in Dunmer society. Lower castes would be tied entirely too land (or lack of land, as with troubadours).
You have a point that it was too idyllic to last, but its breaking point has already passed I think. That's something that the mainline games never really addressed either, unfortunately, just replacing worldbuilding with "well they're Nazis now".

Point about Indoril architecture: what you are thinking of is Old Mournhold style. That, Velothi style ("Dunmer blockhut style"), and the stronghold style are the oldest building styles in Morrowind. The modern Indoril style was developed decades or centuries after either of these.
 

The plan for the Altmer is currently being written, so you certainly got in at the right time!

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Thank you for responding! I guess the next step is establishing a basis for what we’re working with then. I have a few questions for you, just so I can get a better understanding of your vision for me to work within:

 

1. What, if anything, did you like about the work I’ve been doing on the altmer? I just want to know what to focus on and expand in the future.

 

2. How exactly do you see an altmer feudal system working? How do we keep it from feeling too “generic”? I know we’re nowhere near even thinking about any sort of Summerset mod (if one will ever even exist), but how would you see a theoretical player interacting with it?

Even if it’s not set up in a tribal way, I still want to play with the idea of familial relations in altmeri society. These people trace their ancestry back to the dawn. Coupled with their low birth rate, a great many of them must be distantly related in some way, and they must be aware of it. This goes especially for those within the same city-state / feudal land. I just feel like there’s so much potential here.

 

3. What cultures do you see us drawing inspiration from? Of course, I don’t think we want to base any of the elven nations too closely on real-life human cultures, but I’d like to know if you had any in mind as a jumping off point. I always imagined altmer culture (not necessarily their government structure, but their art, entertainment, food, architecture etc) drawing inspiration from island nations like Polynesia, Indonesia etc, Pre-Columbian south and mesoamerica, India (especially with its caste-system) and China. Many of these cultures also have unique feudal or semi-feudal systems from which we can draw inspiration. 

 

I know you’re pushing back on the Asian themes in Aldmeri culture, but I still see it there. The word "tong" is literally a Chinese term for a guild or secret society. It becomes even more obvious in Oblivion with the altmer concept art. Wasn’t there a chopsticks hair-style? Either way, I know we’re dealing with Morrowind lore here, not Oblivion. In truth, I feel like Bethesda just didn’t quite know what they were doing, and the Asian themes felt spotty at best, but I definitely see hints of it and feel we should integrate it into their art, architecture, clothing, etc. Again, so long as it’s not a monolithc, overriding theme, and instead one of many undertones in an overall altmeri culture, I don’t see the harm. If it’s something you really don’t think should be a part of their culture, then I’ll work with that. I just don’t want medieval Europe to be our only model.

 

Speaking of Mournhold, I always imagined altmeri architecture having some similarities with Almalexia’s palace and some of the underground ruins. 

 

4.  Just how magically advanced are the Altmer? I feel like no matter how crazy we go, we can still make their society feel relatable in some way. I always liked the idea of altmer culture having some level of anachronisms within it, due to their advanced magic. I see them using magic in somewhat “modern” ways, especially since the time of Vanus Galerion: long-distance communication, alchemical refrigeration, advanced plumbing and irrigation, elevators working with levitation enchantments, etc. I want to feel like the altmer have a reason to be so smug, even if their influence on the greater world is greatly diminished. 

 

This could also help them feel both strange and relatable, as their conflicts could arise from very modern places. I feel like it would be so easy to JUST make their conflicts come from the standard fantasy tropes (tyrannical nobles, monsters, an oppresive empire), but I see so much potential in exploiting this would-be utopia for our narrative purposes. The numidium rocked the Altmer’s world, you’re totally right. But I also see Septim’s conquest as the end of a long-term disintegration of Altmeri life. I see them as a people who, on the surface (and before numidium), lived in a paradise. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this paradise was working against itself? For example (and this is still pre-numidium), what if Workers had their basic needs met, and magic took care of most of the hard work? In theory, this has made their lives easier and more comfortable, but it’s caused a host of new problems in their lives. 

 

I wrote this about the Worker caste a few days ago. Most of it is still filled with ESO nonsense (varlines, kin, etc) but in general it still expresses the ways in which I want to turn this utopia on its head:

 

“In theory, they exist in a paradise, but in practice, many are deeply unhappy. They distract themselves with varline-transmissions, tabloids, and material-goods, but many feel a gnawing, restless void within them. Their basic needs are met, but they yearn for self-actualization. This sense of ennui is common among the Workers, who often wonder if they truly contribute to their great society. Are they Honorable? Do their deeds improve the lives of their kin? The happiest Workers are generally those who see a tangible benefit from their deeds: retainers who faithfully serve a powerful landowner, mages who advance the science of their craft, a smith whose armor saves the life of a soldier. Altmer find the most meaning in these things, but rarely do they realize it. Many Workers with Youthful mindsets seek a (slightly) less decadent lifestyle, dedicated to deeds and the collective good. Many of these mer find themselves within fringe political tongs like the Thalmor, or serving radical groups like The Beautiful.”

 

“In general, Workers live in utopian conditions, without the deadly responsibilities of the upper castes. As their basic needs are met, they have time to ponder their existence, and their place in society. Many feel a void of meaning within their lives, and try to fill it with material-goods and frivolous entertainment. Others find purpose in family, in serving one’s kinfolk and improving their lives in their own small ways.

 

Others become reavers.

 

Berserking madmer, reavers are broken Workers driven mad by a lack of purpose. Often, reavers are born during particularly violent House Wars, when Workers are caught in the spell-fire. For a caste so removed from hardship, feeling something real, even if that feeling is sorrow and hatred, is exhilarating for an Altmer.

 

Soon these mer begin seeking these emotions. Anything to break the creeping ennui of their meaningless lives. Isolation, nihilistic thoughts, and self-harm are early signs of this mental degredation. This phenomenon is disturbingly common after a house war, but thankfully one’s kin will intervene and counsel these sick mer. In other cases, they simply disappear, vanishing in the dark of night.

 

If they’re ever seen again, they are broken husks of mer, wild-eyed vessel’s for Sithis’s entropic rage. They retain enough sanity to spare their kinfolk, but nothing else is spared from their perverse desires and murderous intent. Autopsies suggest physiological changes to a reaver's body, including increased muscle-density and some form of dementia. How and why this happens is unknown.

 

Reavers seek to debase themselves, to shock and horrify their increasingly desensitized minds. In this way, they quickly spiral into moral, spiritual, and eventually physical self-destruction.

 

Revears are almost unheard of in lands controlled by Battlereeves. These regions are highly militarized, with strict curfews and dictated schedules for Workers. Because they feel dedicated to a tangible cause (the defense of their kin), and have little time to philosophize, there's simply no opportunity for reavers to develop. Many fringe Youth tongs like The Thalmor see this as proof that a united, organized, militant society is the best way forward”

 

I see Altmer society as a textbook example of Maslow’s hierarchy. On one hand, the people’s basic needs are met, but this only serves to create new needs that are harder to satisfy. The stage has already been set for a massive societal shift / collapse as a result of their decadence and spiritual emptiness. The numidium is the catalyst that finally sets this apocalyptic upheaval in motion.

So yeah, in general I wanna know where you see this all going so I can work within those restrictions. As you can see I have a lot of ideas and they easily spiral into increasingly complex and strange creations.

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Well, Arena had Homunculi without tieing them to a specific province (to be fair they did this with every other creature as well), you could say that the first Homunculi were created in the Crystal Tower - some of them broke loose during the Tiber wars and made it on to Tamriel proper and began to breed. 

Or any other backstory really, with magical beasties they tend to become less interesting the more you explain them. So whatever backstory is given about them should probably be kept short-ish.

Rawr.

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I'm aiming to reply to your post as soon as feasible but I'm currently rather busy on site and personal matters.
Do not take my lack of reply as a lack of interest, however.

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Sure thing! Take your time!

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Sorry I didn't get around to it, but here's some replies.
 

1. What, if anything, did you like about the work I’ve been doing on the altmer? I just want to know what to focus on and expand in the future.

The Generations in general, the honor (although I think you overdo it a bit), the architecture styles, the general lay of the castes (although some are lacking - no Troubadours?).
Each of these don't quite click with me, but they're good writeups.

2. How exactly do you see an altmer feudal system working? How do we keep it from feeling too “generic”? I know we’re nowhere near even thinking about any sort of Summerset mod (if one will ever even exist), but how would you see a theoretical player interacting with it?
Even if it’s not set up in a tribal way, I still want to play with the idea of familial relations in altmeri society. These people trace their ancestry back to the dawn. Coupled with their low birth rate, a great many of them must be distantly related in some way, and they must be aware of it. This goes especially for those within the same city-state / feudal land. I just feel like there’s so much potential here.

There is honestly no really generic feudal system.
What makes the Altmer system special is that is combined with a caste system. Feudalism allowed for limited social movement (more in the earlier times, less in the later times) and was born from the lack of money to support the Frankish Empire's bureocracy, so the bureocrats were given land instead.
In opposition to this, the Altmer system is religiously tied to ancestral worship and historical precedence. Everything is a pre-established ritual and routine. Bad harvest? Pray to the Aedra, reflect on your ancestors and enact the "I'm sorry" ritual to your local noble, who will file a "What's up with that" ritual to the Symbologicians. Or used to.
Altmer hold the position in their caste because of their ancestors, exclusively. It lacks the certain kind of mobility that historical feudalism always had. The only escape is to escape the Isles (or join an Imperial Guild) and this should show.
One thing that is in Infragris' and mine writeups is that the Altmer system has been broken when several castes were obliterated during the Tiber Wars, so the lack of some of them is what would kick off the current social problems.
I do not see the player interacting with the caste and feudal system all that much as such, they would just exist (basically not like Dunmer Great Houses). It would be a background element for Imperial vs. Altmer conflicts, motivate NPCs, maybe allow for a questline about shipping unsatisfied youth off the Isles. I would not recommend having the player actively involved in feudalism as some kind of ladder system.

3. What cultures do you see us drawing inspiration from? Of course, I don’t think we want to base any of the elven nations too closely on real-life human cultures, but I’d like to know if you had any in mind as a jumping off point. I always imagined altmer culture (not necessarily their government structure, but their art, entertainment, food, architecture etc) drawing inspiration from island nations like Polynesia, Indonesia etc, Pre-Columbian south and mesoamerica, India (especially with its caste-system) and China. Many of these cultures also have unique feudal or semi-feudal systems from which we can draw inspiration.
I know you’re pushing back on the Asian themes in Aldmeri culture, but I still see it there. The word "tong" is literally a Chinese term for a guild or secret society. It becomes even more obvious in Oblivion with the altmer concept art. Wasn’t there a chopsticks hair-style? Either way, I know we’re dealing with Morrowind lore here, not Oblivion. In truth, I feel like Bethesda just didn’t quite know what they were doing, and the Asian themes felt spotty at best, but I definitely see hints of it and feel we should integrate it into their art, architecture, clothing, etc. Again, so long as it’s not a monolithc, overriding theme, and instead one of many undertones in an overall altmeri culture, I don’t see the harm. If it’s something you really don’t think should be a part of their culture, then I’ll work with that. I just don’t want medieval Europe to be our only model.

More or less early Imperial China and Great Britain for the trappings. No idea otherwise and just grabbing pieces off existing cultures is a bad idea anyway.
Tongs are also a Dunmer thing I believe, not an Altmer thing.

4. Just how magically advanced are the Altmer? I feel like no matter how crazy we go, we can still make their society feel relatable in some way. I always liked the idea of altmer culture having some level of anachronisms within it, due to their advanced magic. I see them using magic in somewhat “modern” ways, especially since the time of Vanus Galerion: long-distance communication, alchemical refrigeration, advanced plumbing and irrigation, elevators working with levitation enchantments, etc. I want to feel like the altmer have a reason to be so smug, even if their influence on the greater world is greatly diminished.

Trick question.
The Mages Guild is the most magically advanced organisation in Tamriel, treating magic as a craft, spreading it far and wide, even playing support to long-range infrastructure for personal travel (which is by no means a small feat).
What you actually might be asking about is how advanced the magical castes are. The answer: probably very on obscure things such as Dawn magic and transformation of the natural order (they knew too much about it for misinterpretation), just don't overdo it - just trying to imitate technology with magic is not a good idea. Above anything else, the Altmer need to fit into Tamriel. Trying to cast them as too modern will just break suspension of disbelief.

The numidium rocked the Altmer’s world, you’re totally right. But I also see Septim’s conquest as the end of a long-term disintegration of Altmeri life. I see them as a people who, on the surface (and before numidium), lived in a paradise. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this paradise was working against itself? For example (and this is still pre-numidium), what if Workers had their basic needs met, and magic took care of most of the hard work? In theory, this has made their lives easier and more comfortable, but it’s caused a host of new problems in their lives.

Two things:
First, Tiber Septim and his Numidium did not just rock the Altmer's world, it was a violent and unprovoked conquest that (in our writeups and by MK's as well) irrevocably destroyed the basis of Altmer society. It was a death sentence for Altmer society that just took a long time to actually kill them.
Second, I don't see Altmer peasants having problems if their basic needs are met with magic. They are not human with our inherent unhappiness by unfulfilling routine, and by heritage and culture aligned to stasis. It shouldn't be unfeasible that they were, as ossified as they were, happy with it. Or most of them at least.
 

I see Altmer society as a textbook example of Maslow’s hierarchy. On one hand, the people’s basic needs are met, but this only serves to create new needs that are harder to satisfy. The stage has already been set for a massive societal shift / collapse as a result of their decadence and spiritual emptiness. The numidium is the catalyst that finally sets this apocalyptic upheaval in motion.

Reavers are kind of weird, sorry. That's a very Nordic thing to do and it's in fact a name for bandits on Solstheim.

Why would the Altmer be necessarily spiritally empty and filling their needs with emotional drugs or tabloids?

psychotrip's picture
psychotrip
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1. The castes are a jumping off point. We can definitely expand it and figure out where troubadors and the monks fit in. To what extent do you see honor playing a role in their society? I want to get a better idea of what you have in mind. 
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2. This definitely clears things up. For the most part, I agree with you here, but I have trouble seeing a society like this working at all with absolutely no social mobility, at least if we're going to incorporate anything from the PGE 3 caste system, or my expansion of it, into this. If not, then that's totally different, so feel free to disregard the rest of what I'm about to say on this matter.

If Altmer society has castes far above the landed nobility, castes that seem inherently based on your skills and abilities (artists, the wise), then I really don't see how this system could be in any way effective. Let's take the hierarchy of Imperial China for example. There was very little social mobility, outside of that which could be achieved through knowledge. If someone could get an education and pass a series of standardized tests (The Imperial Examination), they could become a beaurocrat. Sure, there were a ton of problems with this system in practice, but in theory it was meritocratic in nature, and on some level it had to be. When you get to the nitty gritty of running a nation, you can't solely rely on nepotism and heritage. You need people who are just flat out good at their jobs.

In this sense, I can't see The Wise being as powerful as they are if it's just something you're born into. I can't see Altmeri art being as special and beautiful as I imagine it if an Artist is merely someone born into that caste. Sure, if you raise a child on art they'll likely be good at art, but they might just not have a talent for it. How do the Altmer reconcile this? Is the hierarchy within these castes based on ancestry as well? If so, what happens when the son of a high ranking Wisemer is dumb as a bag of rocks? If the same families have been in the same roles since the Dawn Era, how does courtship and sexuality work with such a small gene pool (if such a concept even exists in this world)? Even for a race with such a low birthrate, eventually everyone will just be related unless someone new is introduced to the system. Is incest just a common thing among the upper castes? I feel like merit needs to come into play at some point for this society to work. 

As for how this relates to the Altmer's views on ancestry, that's a very good question. How would an Altmer react to a Worker being more skilled in magic than their caste suggests, as was the case with Galerion? How do they reconcile this with their views on heritage? Maybe this is where the idea of "collective" ancestry comes in? Like, Galerion's actions retroactively linked him to Syrabane? Or, I'd have to assume, since the Altmer can all trace their ancestry back to the aedra, that somewhere down the line there'd be some justification for this in the Altmeri mindset.

For that matter, if every Altmer can trace his ancestry back to the aedra, how exactly are some bloodlines considered better than others? Is everyone in the upper castes descended from Syrabane, Auri-El, etc? While the lower castes are descended from less prominent aedra? Does personal achievement ever come into play, and if so, how? Are the personal deeds of "later" ancestors valued at all? If so, were these deeds valued in life? 

Most importantly, I still want to understand how the player will interact with Altmer society. If the castes won't play an active role in this interaction (even if the player merely acts as a retainer or mercenary), then how is the player interacting with Altmer culture at all? 
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3. I love everything about what you just said, especially because I'm a shamless lover of ancient China. Are there any other cultures we should be drawing from? Or just any ideas you had for them that don't fit into a real-world culture? Also, I know "tongs" are a thing in Morrowind, but I wasn't sure if it was ever clear if that was a uniquely dunmer thing or a loan-word from the aldmeris language. Since we both seem to see the Chinese influence on Altmer culture, I figured I'd throw the term around a bit and see if it stuck with you. It's 100% fine if it doesn't. 

[Edit]: While we're on the topic of ancient China, I'll share this article on the daily life of an Emperor during the Qing dynasty. The highly ritualized behavior, coupled with the high valuing of knowledge, history, and studying the deeds of one's ancestors, really remind me of the Altmer: https://www.theepochtimes.com/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-chinese-emperor_1276071.html

I guess, moving forward, I need to address my (possibly incorrect) perception of modern Dunmeri society. I feel like this is where a lot of issues are coming from with me, and I want to get a better understanding of what's right:

When I played Morrowind as a kid, and I looked at the differences between House Dunmer, Ashlanders, and the descriptions of The Altmer, I always got the sense that there was a fatal irony in the House Dunmer lifestyle. I thought this irony was intentional, and it's one of the main reasons I found the political and religious aspects of Morrowind so damn compelling.

The Chimer's entire "plan" was to be different from the Altmer. To completely cut themselves off from what they saw as a decadent, godless, soft Aldmeri culture. The modern dunmer talk about this nonstop. It's a constant theme in Morrowind. But, when the player actually sees dunmer society, what do they find? 

A society that left a life of big buildings, caste systems and reliance on magic for a society that's different but suspiciously similar. 

A dominant political faction caring more about money and personal advancement than any pretense of asceticism. (Hlaalu)

An aristocratic culture that's fallen into the same elitism  from which they were trying to escape, while abandoning the very gods they left Summerset to worship (Indoril). 

A warrior culture that's become soft and unscrupulous, and has a degrading reputation as a result (Redoran)

An entire section of their nation with absolutely no social conscious, who put sorcery above their gods and the common good (Telvanni)

And most importantly: a society that escaped a land of powerful sorcerers and a reliance on high magic in order to live an aesetic life dedicated to their gods...who end up worshipping a trio of powerful sorcerers using high magic to provide their people with a relatively decadent life in opposition to those very same gods. In Vivec's own words, he wanted to make his people's lives "more comfortable", which to me is the exact opposite of what Veloth wanted. 

In short, I believed that the "point" of Morrowind was to showcase a society that's betrayed itself. A society that exemplifies everything they stood against. Because of this they've grown progressively weaker in the face of various threats, and the Nerevarine's ultimate job is to return the dunmer to their roots. In essence, the House Dunmer have slowly grown closer to the Altmer than their Velothi ancestors. 

This is the basis for my entire perception of Morrowind's story, and the Dunmer's relationship to the Altmer. It's why I keep bringing up similarities between the Dunmer and the Altmer. It's why I sometimes look to House Dunmer culture for inspiration on Altmer society. It's why I utilized these ideas of "kinships" "outlanders" and  "sorcerer-kings" in my initial blueprint. Modern Dunmer society is closer to Altmer society than anyone is willing to admit. That's always been my perception, anyway.  If I'm completely off-base here please tell me. 
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4. The Mages Guild is the most magically advanced institution in Tamriel? This is definitely news to me, at least based on what I experienced in Morrowind. Sure, the guild guide network is a prime example of advanced magic, but I always got the sense that the Telvanni were far more advanced than The Mages Guild. Furthermore, I assumed The Mages Guild's achievements were child's play compared to the abilities of the Altmer. What can The Mages Guild do that the Telvanni can't? Are we assuming the Morrowind segments of the guild are just less advanced than the ones in Cyrodiil?

Do you see magic incorporating itself into Altmer daily life at all? I just don't want to fall into the same pitfalls of ESO's Auridon, where their society is so mundane and non-magical. We don't need to (nor should we) go full on modern magitech, but I do think we should see the Altmer using magic and alchemy to solve basic problems that would otherwise exist in a "medieval" society. It's less about trying imitate modern technology and more about magic being used in ways that solve similar problems.

Why use stairs in a big building when you can use some sort of levitation pad? Why worry about preserving food when you can keep it cold with alchemical fluids? I feel like these are questions a lot of fantasy worlds fail to answer, and we have an opportunity to do so here. More than anything, I want to feel like the Altmer have a reason to be so arrogant, despite the flaws in their society. They're supposedly the best spellcasters in the world. I want their society to reflect this in ways the player can see. 
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As for the "having their basic needs met" thing, I'm taking this from the (obviously biased)  dialogue in Morrowind, which described the Altmer's society as decadent and godless. I'm also not saying that there's absolutely no hardship, just that it's been greatly diminished with the help of magical advancements. People can most definitely still have problems even when their basic needs are met, and I feel like these problems can be more relatable and narratively compelling. I understand that they're not human, but I feel like it just wouldn't be interesting for them not to have any higher desires or needs, unless I'm totally midunderstanding what you're saying. I still feel like Altmer, while not human, are people.  Of course not all of them feel spiritually empty, but I imagine these issues must be somewhat prevalent to justify entire races worth of people leaving the Isles at various points in history. Sure, we can sum it up to issues of upward mobility and the restrictions of the caste system, but especially in the case of Veloth I always thought that there was something fundamentally self-defeating in the way Altmer society works. Something about its decadent nature and reliance on magic. My understanding is that Veloth left to find a place where his people could be tested and cut into better shapes by leading a less decadent life. I would really want a player to experience the decadence of the Altmer and understand why someone would want to leave it for a life in the Ashlands. 

So again, this may come down to me completely misunderstanding what you're saying here, but I definitely feel like the Altmer have advanced needs and desires just like everyone else. Like everyone else, when their basic needs are met, their needs become more advanced. This is when people begin wondering about their place in society, their legacy and role in the world. As I see the Altmer as a proud race dedicated to their society, I see many of them wondering if they truly have a meaningful place within it.

I find this sort of thing, generally, more compelling than tyrannical lords and dragons that need slaying (though can be fun too). It's one of the reasons I love the work you've all done with Tamriel Rebuilt. So, in conjunction with my thoughts on Altmer decadence and their increasing secularization, I had this idea that maybe on the surface their society is pretty good. Before the Numidium, life in Summerset was borderline utopian. But the increasing globalization of the world, the decreasing relevance of the Altmer in said world, and the lack of fullfillment in the lower castes is slowly eating away at Altmer society, and has been for eons with various people leaving altogether. The Numidium, as you rightly say, completely obliterated Altmer society, but it was also the final catalyst that led to what's happening in Altmer society when the player sees it. There's been a desire for change for many years, and it's finally reached a boiling point.  

I just feel like we have an opportunity of showcasing such an advanced, ancient society. I would love to see the very things that make the Altmer so advanced working against them in various ways. I guess my question is: where do you see the conflicts coming from in Altmer society? 

My idea for reavers comes more from the fall of the Eldar in Warhammer 40K than anything else. The idea of a society becoming so desensitized and deadened by its own perfection is interesting to me, but I'll scrap it. It all goes back to this basic theme of a utopian society negating itself. 

The Violet Euphemism's picture
The Violet Euphemism
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Perhaps instead of carriages/silt striders the caravaners use teleportation?

If we really want to lean into high fantasy then they might have pegasi, or they could just use levitation on their horses (similarly to the glitch in Daggerrfall where if you use levitation before mounting your horse your horse will be able to levitate as well until the spell runs out) to travel.

Rawr.

psychotrip's picture
psychotrip
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I would love the Altmer to have their own unique methods of transportation. If teleportation is used, I think it would have to be tempered just a bit to justify any other form of travel existing. There's a lot of ways we can do that, however.