The Eldar are an ancient race of elf-like humanoids. Once they dominated the Galaxy but are currently a dying race. After the Fall of the Eldar they lost their main homeworlds and are currently scattered among the stars, inhabiting planetoid-sized starships known as Craftworlds.
Superficially, the Eldar appear very similar to humans, though they are generally taller and slimmer, with sharp features and pointed ears. They are long-lived by human standards, and most will live more than a thousand years unless they die from accident or disease. Eldar also have much faster metabolic rates than humans, and their cardiac and neurological systems are more advanced. These traits manifest in their vastly heightened reactions and agility compared to humans. To them humans seem to move in slow motion with a certain degree of awkwardness, while to humans the Eldar can move with distracting grace and can be blindingly fast in combat. As a race they have a high level of psychic ability, which serves as the foundation of their technology. The Eldar that actively cultivate their psyker potential seem to exhibit a much-extended lifespan as well, one proportional to their prowess. The Farseers of the Eldar can live for several thousand years. Eldar are mentally far superior to humans, and feel all emotions much more strongly, requiring the Eldar to exercise constant restraint to avoid mental breakdown.[Needs Citation]
Eldar seem to reproduce in stages, with new genetic material being added by the father to the developing embryo over an extended period. This process is ill-understood, but Eldar autopsies are suggestive of it.[Needs Citation]
The existing Eldar are essentially a refugee population, the scattered remains of their former strength and power. Even in such straits, however, they are still a powerful force in the galaxy. Once, ten thousand years ago, the Eldar were among the most powerful and dominant races of the galaxy, dominating a significant portion of the galaxy and secure in their prosperity. Although there were other races of advanced technology and military power, none were in a position to seriously threaten the state of the Eldar nation. When it came, the disaster was internal. Consumed by arrogance and with no need for substantial work or labour, the Eldar began to pursue any curiosity or desire. Rapidly, cults devoted to exotic knowledge, physical pleasure, and ever-more outrageous entertainment sprang up. It did not take long for many of the Eldar to take a darker path, descending into dark study, instant fulfillment and unbridled violence, beginning the Fall of the Eldar.
Many of the Eldar grew uneasy with the actions of their comrades, and the wisest of the Seers warned that the path could lead only to evil. Disgusted, some of the Eldar left the central worlds of the Empire to settle on the outlying regions, while others stayed to try and alter the path their race had taken.
While this would have been destructive within any society, it was even more damaging for the Eldar. Within the parallel realm of the Warp, the psychic emanations of these activities began to gather, strengthened by the souls of departed followers and cultists. As the Eldar vices grew, this collection did as well, until it eventually came into a life of its own. It finally came to consciousness as Slaanesh, Devourer of Souls and doom to the Eldar, for the psychic scream of its birth tore the souls from all the Eldar within a thousand light years of it. Its awakening was so forceful that it tore a hole between physical space and the Warp, plunging the Eldar homeworlds into a limbo of partial existence. This region is now known as the Eye of Terror, and is now the home of the forces of Chaos. Many Eldar survived the Fall and remain trapped within the Eye on the homeworlds of the Eldar, the Crone World, and are enslaved to Slaanesh.[Needs Citation]
Since this time, which is known only as The Fall, the Eldar have been a broken and scattered people, lacking cohesion and purpose. The Eldar population is constantly dwindling.
The Eldar are known to be a very spiritual people, and much of their culture is based around their mythological cycles. The most famous of these cycles was the War in Heaven, an epic conflict between the Eldar deities, in two factions lead by Vaul, the god of the forge, and Kaela Mensha Khaine, the god of war.
With two notable exceptions, the Pantheon of the Eldar is considered to have been destroyed by the birth of Slaanesh. While the Eldar still revere all the gods and preserve their stories within the mythic cycles, they do not call on them for aid or hope for their intervention any longer. Still, there is a prophecy telling of the return of the Eldar gods and how they will battle and destroy Slaanesh as a unified pantheon. Whether this is anything but an old myth remains to be seen.
- The Eldar Armoury includes the standard Shuriken weaponry that uses gravitic forces to fire monomolecular-thin discs at the enemy. The Eldar use these weapons in the form of Shuriken pistols, Shuriken cannons, and a light carbine known as the Shuriken catapult.
- Spirit stones - When the Eldar die, their souls are in danger of being devoured by the Chaos god Slaanesh. To prevent this, the Eldar wear spirit stones, which capture and contain their souls at the moment of death. These stones are then collected and inserted into the Craftworld's "Infinity Circuit", where they may rest along with the spirits of their ancestors. In times of need, the spirit stones of the Craftworld's strongest warriors may be taken from the Infinity Circuit and placed inside Wraithbone automatons, such as the Wraithguard and Wraithlords, to once again fight for the Craftworld.
- Webway - The Eldar do not travel through the Warp in the same manner as other races, having long ago developed a much faster and safer method known as the "Webway". This is a system of ancient "tunnels" through the Warp which is completely isolated from its inherent dangers. It is best imagined as a vast and tangled network of doorways between fixed points in realspace, by which the Eldar can travel far more rapidly than most races. However, if there is no Warpgate near their destination, or the one present is not big enough to permit the necessary forces, they are a disadvantage. Much of the Webway has fallen into obscurity and disrepair, with tunnels and doorways sealed or broken. This often forces the Eldar to make connecting stops on their way to their destination. Finally, it is said that the fabled Black Library of Chaos resides somewhere within the Webway, though only the Harlequins know where.
- Wraithbone - The main construction material of the Eldar, and the staple of their psycho-technic engineering. It is brought forth from the warp and shaped by Bonesingers through psychic power. It is used to create the Craftworlds of the Eldar, their tanks and other vehicles, constructs such as the Wraithguard and Wraithlords, and weapons and armour. It is a psychic conductor and so not only provides the structure for the things built of it, but also power distribution and communications. Wraithbone is a highly resilient material, and capable of limited self-repair. It, and the other building materials of the Eldar, will grow and react more like tissue and plants than the building materials of other races.
Eldar activity and Craftworlds in the Galaxy
Following the Fall, the Eldar are socially and culturally divided into several broad groups. While there are divisions within each of these, they are the most obvious and clearly defined groups of the existing race (excluding the Dark Eldar):
In the time leading up to the Fall, not all the Eldar that remained on the homeworlds fell into the lure of Slaanesh. Many remained, struggling to turn their species from its doomed path. Unable to do so, many of the greatest Seers caught glimpses of the darkness to come, and undertook a titanic effort to save their people. For each Eldar homeworld a gigantic ship was created, sung from Wraithbone and so massive as to be nearly a planetoid itself. The last uncorrupted people from each world were loaded onto these ships, along with works of art, plant life and animals, all that could be saved. In these Craftworlds (as they came be known) the final Eldar Exodus began, and only barely in time. The psychic shockwave caught some of the Craftworlds and destroyed them, while others were pulled into orbit around the Eye of Terror. The rest drift through the galaxy, their exact number uncertain, as contact can be difficult and intermittent. There are several Craftworlds of particular fame:
- Alaitoc - Far out on the frontiers of the galaxy, on the edge of explored space, lies the Alaitoc Craftworld. The Alaitoc Eldar are zealous in their guard against the touch of Slaanesh, even more so than other Craftworld Eldar. For these two reasons many of its citizens will at one time or another decide to leave the strict confines of the ship and strike out on their own or in small groups. They will return in times of need, however, and so all Alaitoc armies will have a substantial force of scouts and rangers.
- Altansar - A small Craftworld that had been on the edge of the shockwave, Altansar was long thought to have been lost in the Eye of Terror with the homeworlds of the Eldar. However, there were reports of its sighting and even active involvement in the recently conducted campaign against the Eye of Terror, and doubt now exists as to its fate.
- Biel-tan - The most martial of the Craftworlds, Biel-tan has made the decision to re-forge the Eldar Empire. Its armies contain the highest percentages of elite troops of all the Craftworlds, and few of the staple citizen-militia that most worlds call upon in times of war. Their highly-trained forces are known as the Swordwind, and they often come to the aid of Exodite worlds.
- Iyanden - The Iyanden Craftworld was once one of the largest and most prosperous of all the remaining ships. Its path brought it into the way of the Tyranid invasion, however, and the Craftworld was nearly destroyed in the following battles. Today many of its sections are still in ruins and the population is spread thin. This forces Iyanden to often call upon its fallen, raising more than the typical numbers of Wraithguard and Wraithlords to aid their dwindling warriors in battle.
- Saim-Hann - One of the more barbaric and wild of the larger Craftworlds, the warriors of Saim-Hann favour rapid attacks and moving battles. It regularly organises its forces into ranks of skimmers and jetbikes, known as the Wild Riders, and is famed for the speed and ferocity of its attacks.
- Ulthwé - One of the largest Craftworlds, Ulthwé was caught in the pull of the Eye of Terror, and now orbits it. As such it faces the constant danger of attack by Chaos marauders and has served as a bastion against the dark powers for thousands of years. The constant war and risk of attack has hardened the Craftworld's citizens, and it maintains a standing militia force known as the Black Guardians. Its proximity to the Eye has also given it an unusual number of psychics.
The Craftworlds probably compose the majority of the surviving Eldar race, although it is impossible to say just how many this is. They are certainly the seat of the remaining Eldar industry, technology, and culture, as they contain the only vestiges of their original worlds. Most of the Craftworlds contain special biodomes that house plants and wildlife from their original world, and these are carefully tended. Although each Craftworld is essentially independent in its actions and governance, they will generally offer and accept aid and advice from one another. Although not common, sometimes Craftworld disagreements will cause two to clash on the field of battle, though this is always a last resort.
Every Craftworld contains an Infinity Circuit, which is essentially the Wraithbone skeleton of the Craftworld itself. Within this matrix the souls of all the Craftworld's dead reside in a form of group consciousness, providing both a well of psychic power for the ship and a massive ancestral mind to advise and guide the living. With the rise of Slaanesh, the Infinity Circuit is the closest thing that the Eldar have to an afterlife; if their souls are not caught and integrated into it, they will be lost into the Warp and devoured by the Great Enemy. For this reason the Eldar will defend their Craftworlds with a fury and tenacity almost unrivalled; they risk losing not only their home but the souls of their ancestors as well.
The Exodites are a large group of Eldar who fled their homeworlds before the Fall and the creation of the Great Enemy. They preached out against the changes in Eldar society, but were ignored or treated as narrow-minded. As such, they were saved from the taint of Chaos and formed colonies on the edge of the galaxy, far from their homeworlds and the now-expanded Eye of Terror. Most have reverted to a more agricultural state of existence, and as such are mocked by many of the Craftworld Eldar as being backward, although they have maintained a certain level of technology. They are also generally a more accepting people, taking in Eldar Outcasts where Craftworld Eldar would push them away. They are supported mainly by Biel-tan and are often protected by the forces of that Craftworld.
Harlequins are followers of the Eldar god, the Great Harlequin (also known as Cegorach or "The Laughing God") who was the only one of the two Eldar gods to survive the Fall. They move throughout the Webway in groups and perform impressive displays of mime and acrobatics, telling the many strange and wonderful stories of the Eldar past, but also the dark and dangerous plays of the Fall. Harlequins are not only performing artists, but devastating fighters as well. They will appear to fight with their Eldar brethren, particularly in close combat. Their primary task however is to guard the Black Library of Chaos from intruders, and have done so ever since its inception thousands of years ago. They rarely communicate with members outside of their group but will call for help if intruders do overwhelm them.
Outcasts and Pirates
Eldar outcasts and pirates are ill-defined, consisting of actual outcasts, pirates, and raiders, but also including long-ranging fleets of Craftworlds and others groups of mistakenly-identified Harlequins and Dark Eldar. To Craftworld Eldar, piracy is shunned, although some Eldar will leave their Craftworld for a short period to experience life outside of the strict regime that was put in place to defend against the Great Enemy. Eventually however, most return to their ordered and strict lives. Some Eldar however, are forced into piracy and exile through their own actions, those who refuse to follow the strict rules of the Craftworld for example. Often they form together and hire themselves out to human worlds and commanders as mercenaries. Some pirates however, are less noble and perform the dark acts that led to the Fall in the first place. They are generally quick-tempered and unpredictable, features which are usually suppressed while on a Craftworld. They are often refused access to a Craftworld, or if they are only very briefly, due to their dangerously unbound minds which may attract predators and daemons to lodge in the Craftworld's Wraithbone structure. They may also distract the young and inexperienced Eldar on a Craftworld with notions of a romantic and daring existence.
The Eldar Paths
The Eldar who live on board the Craftworlds have undergone a complete social reform. Every Eldar chooses and follows a path, somewhat similar to a profession, until achieving mastery over it. Then he chooses another one and the process begins anew. There are an unknown number of paths, and all of them are dangerous for the Eldar; sometimes an Eldar can become so focused upon his path that he will never leave it.
- Farseer Eldrad Ulthran - Late of Craftworld Ulthwé
- Prince Yriel - Autarch of Craftworld Iyanden
- Phoenix Lord Asurmen - The Hand of Asuryan
- Phoenix Lord Jain Zar - The Storm of Silence
- Phoenix Lord Baharroth - The Cry of the Wind
- Phoenix Lord Karandras - The Shadow Hunter
- Phoenix Lord Fuegan - The Burning Lance
- Phoenix Lord Maugan Ra - The Harvester of Souls
- Phoenix Lord Irillyth - The Shade of Twilight
- Farseer Macha - Craftworld Biel-tan
- Farseer Taldeer - Craftworld Ulthwé
- Farseer Caerys - Craftworld Ulthwé
- Farseer Idranel - Craftworld Ulthwé
- Autarch Slau Dha - Member of the Cabal
- Autarch Kayleth - of Craftworld Alaitoc
- Ranger Illic Nightspear - Craftworld Alaitoc
Etymology and Inspiration
The name "Eldar" comes from J.R.R. Tolkien's elves, who in their own language were called "the Eldar". The history of the Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 mimics that of Tolkien's elves, to the point that they are a "dwindling race" in the game universe, as the elves were in Middle-earth's Third Age. Incidentally, GW has actually copyrighted the term "Eldar".
Inspirations for aspects of the Eldar come from different real world ancient civilisations: Ancient Egypt, Celtic, Greece. There are also parallels between Eldar culture and that of feudal Japan, in particular the Samurai. For example, it is explained that "to the Eldar, war is an art." White Dwarf talks of the "Path of the Eldar", much like the "Way of the Samurai" (i.e. Bushido), and the use of Shuriken weapons. Khaine, the god of murder, is also analogous to the Hindu goddess Kali. It is likely the designers wanted to give the impression of an ancient culture to the Eldar.
"Trust not in their appearance for the Eldar are as utterly alien to good, honest men as the vile Tyranids and savage Orks. They are capricious and fickle, attacking without cause or warning. There is no understanding them for there is nothing to understand - they are a random force in the universe."
— Imperial Commander Abriel Hum[Needs Citation]
In the sense that Warhammer 40,000 races are derived from the earlier Warhammer Fantasy game, Eldar are derived from High Elves, except for Exodites, who are the equivalent of the Wood Elves. Dark Eldar are the equivalent to Dark Elves.
- 1: The Art of Warhammer 40,000, pg. 181
- 2: Codex: Eldar (3rd Edition), pg. 42
- 3: Planetstrike (cover)