Upcoming MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online will feature a total of 9 playable races. This series is an examination of the lore behind these races. Last week we took a look at the lore behind the Bosmer Race. Next up is the Dunmer, commonly known as the Dark Elves of Morrowind.
The Dunmer are often mistrusted and treated with disdain by the other races. However, they are highly skilled warriors and sorcerers. Their great intelligence and wiry strength, natural resistance to fire, affinity for magic and talent for being excellent thieves and assassins make them one of the most dangerous races in Tamriel.
[ Homeland ]
Morrowind is the north eastern province of Tamriel, and is well-known for its alien, exotic life forms and giant, tree-like mushrooms. It is unusual in that it consists of an island, Vvardenfell, surrounded by an inner sea, which itself is surrounded on three sides by the mainland of Morrowind. Vvardenfell is a desolate, rocky wasteland dominated by Red Mountain, a monstrous, ash-spewing volcano that has erupted twice and is responsible for the evacuation of the Dunmer from the island. Even before Vvardenfell’s devastation, it was plagued constantly by ash-storms, hot winds and Blight diseases. Now most of the populace lives on the mainland, as Vvardenfell is uninhabitable due to masses of smoke and toxic ash coating the land.
Not all of Morrowind is as bleak, however. The warm, southeast coast is distinguished by marshes and swamps, echoing the landscape of Black Marsh, and the centre of Morrowind exhibits high uplands and fertile, river-filled valleys. The north eastern corner is rugged and mountainous and the island of Solstheim, which lies north of Vvardenfell in the Sea of Ghosts, has recently been given up by the Nords and is now inhabited by Dunmer. As for the capital city of Morrowind, it was Mournhold up until the Red Year. The north western city of Blacklight is the new capital; nearby is Dunmeth Pass which leads through the Velothi mountains to emerge near the Skyrim city of Windhelm.
[ Culture ]
Just as other races regard the Dunmer with suspicion, the Dunmer stare back at the other races with the same contempt. Typically proud and distant but also cruel, ruthless and vengeful, they are nevertheless loyal to their family. It is this loyalty to one’s house that has caused the Great Houses of the Dunmer to become a major aspect of Dunmer society.
The Great Houses are stemmed from ancestral clans and now function as not only families but political parties. Morrowind is currently ruled by The Grand Council, which consists of the five Great Houses: House Redoran, House Telvanni, House Sadras, House Indoril, and House Dres.
House Hlaalu used to be part of the council, but lost its position to House Sadras in the early years of the Fourth Era. Each of the houses is run differently and has differing aims and attitudes.
House Redoran prizes duty to honour, family, gravity and piety to the gods and is focused on maintaining the traditions of settled Dunmer and the way of the warrior. They consist largely of warriors driven by religious goals.
The Wizard Lords of House Telvanni believe that wisdom bestows power, and power bestows right. They care for little except their own studies and research into the arcane, are often involved with necromancers and vampires, and are essentially isolationists.
Little is known about House Sadras, as they were an unimportant house before the Red Year, when they were chosen to replace House Hlaalu on the Grand Council.
House Indoril has a history of being openly hostile to Imperial culture and defiantly practicing traditional Dunmer customs otherwise banned by Imperial law. When Tiber Septim was establishing the Third Empire, the Lord High Councillor of the Grand Council was of House Indoril. He was set against Imperial rule so he was promptly assassinated and replaced by the leader of House Hlaalu. Since that day the two houses have had an everlasting feud.
House Dres is infamous for their slave trading to the other Great Houses; they have earned much hatred from the Argonians as a result. Traditionally they have been an agrarian agricultural society, which relied on their slaves to work the farms; however with the conquest of southern Morrowind by the Argonians the house has lost much of its holdings.
Slavery has been a large part of Dunmer society for most of their existence. Even when Morrowind was made part of the Empire, the Dunmer were allowed to keep slaves as part of the treaty. It was only after King Helseth came to power in the Third Era that slavery was abolished; however this has not earned the Dunmer any favours. Many slaves were Argonians, and as a result of Red Mountain’s newest eruption, they were given the chance to strike back at their oppressors, conquering much of Morrowind.
[ History ]
Just as the destruction brought about by Red Mountain has rained down hard times on the Dunmer, events that occurred at that same mountain created the Dark Elves. Before the Dunmer were as they are today, they were the Chimer, a race of golden-skinned elves led by the prophet Veloth. Seeking religious freedom, they abandoned their Altmer kin and travelled to Resdayn (Morrowind) in a great exodus.
Soon they fell into conflict with the Dwemer and Orcs of the region; however in the First Era 240 the Nords conquered Resdayn, spurring the Chimer to ally with the Dwemer against the invaders. In 416 under Lord Indoril Nerevar and Dumac Dwarfking, the Chimer and Dwemer successfully drove the Nords out of Resdayn, establishing peace between the two races. Unfortunately, this would end in 668 with the discovery of the Heart of Lorkhan, an ancient Aedric artifact.
Disputes about the usage of the artifact caused war to break out between the Chimer and the Dwemer in the year 700; at the same time the Dwemer Tonal Architect Lord Kagrenac created Kagrenac’s Tools in order to tap into the power of the artifact. This resulted in the mysterious circumstances of the Dwemers’ disappearance from the world. The Chimer leaders then swore an oath never to use Kagrenac’s Tools.
Nerevar himself died soon after the battle, however it is not clear whether he actually died of his wounds or was murdered by his councilors. It would appear the latter is the more probable, since Almalexia, Vivec and Sotha Sil broke their oath and used the tools to become living gods. Angered by this betrayal, the Daedric Princess Azura cursed them, transforming the Chimer into the grey-skinned and red-eyed Dunmer.
The Tribunal soon became worshipped by the rest of the Dunmer, with the exception of the Ashlanders, who knew the Tribunal’s theft of power was a betrayal to Nerevar. Taking up positions as benevolent god-kings, they ruled over the Dunmer from First Era 700 to Third Era 427. During their reign, they protected their people from invasion and from Dagoth Ur, their archenemy who also had stolen power from the Heart of Lorkhan. Dagoth Ur was once one of Nerevar’s closest friends and allies; it was to him that Kagrenac’s Tools were entrusted. However, when the Tribunal came to take the tools in order to achieve godhood, he refused to give them up. Although he was defeated, he would later return to the world.
In the Second Era 572 during an Akaviri invasion, the Nords led by King Jorrun were aided by the Dunmer and the Argonians in an uneasy alliance in order to repel the invaders. Soon after, the events of 578 unfolded, revealing the plans of Daedric Prince Molag Bal to begin drawing the mortal world (Nirn) into Cold Harbour, his own plane of Oblivion. This spurred the fragile alliance to endure as the Ebonheart Pact, although all three races are ancestral enemies.
In 882, Dagoth Ur reawakened with an army of Ash Vampires beneath Red Mountain. They moved into the Heart Chamber and took control of the Heart of Lorkhan. When the Tribunal arrived for their annual ritual bathing to restoring their divinity, they were ambushed and driven off.
Up until Third Era 417, the Tribunal made repeated attempts to return to Red Mountain to get access to the Heart Chamber; but each time they were repulsed. During this time Dagoth Ur began recruiting Sleepers and Dreamers; essentially building his army and his control of the heart ensured his power only grew while the Tribunal grew weaker. In addition to an army, Dagoth Ur created the Blight, resulting in a host of Corprus monsters that wandered the land.
896 saw the Treaty of the Armistice signed; this brought Morrowind into the Empire. One of the terms was that the Dunmer were allowed to keep their slaves, another was that the giant brass golem Numidium was to be handed over to Tiber Septim.
In the Third Era 417, Almalexia and Sotha Sil embarked on an ill-fated attempt to reclaim the Dwemer citadels, and consequently lost the artifacts Sunder and Keening, two of Kagrenac’s Tools. This was a massive blow to the Tribunal, and strengthened Dagoth Ur even further. The Tribunal then had to spend much of their last power maintaining the Ghost Fence that surrounded Red Mountain, to stop Dagoth Ur’s dire influence from spreading; but even this was only partially successful. Winged creatures infected with the Blight could fly over the fence and a series of tunnels connected to the lost Dwemer stronghold of Kogoruhn enabled Dagoth Ur’s minions to escape Red Mountain into the outside world.
The beginning of the end for the Tribunal begin in 427 when the Nerevarine Prophecies came about. The Nerevarine ultimately destroyed the enchantments around the Heart of Lorkhan, severing Dagoth Ur’s connection to it, and ending the Tribunal’s divinity. Dagoth Ur, still a powerful sorcerer, was slain. As for Almalexia, when she lost her powers she went insane and killed Sotha Sil, and her own life was ended when she tried to assassinate the Nerevarine in the Clockwork City. Vivec was the exception; while he did lose his powers, he aided the Nerevarine in bringing the prophecies about; his fate is unknown. Rather than taking power in the wake of the Tribunal’s disbandment, the Nerevarine set sail on an expedition for Akavir.
Unfortunately for the Dunmer, the Nerevarine may have caused just as much damage as good. With Vivec gone, the magic keeping Baar Dau afloat began to weaken. This hollow, celestial rock, commonly known as the Ministry of Truth, was used to reform dissident priests. Kept floating above the city by Vivec as a display of his power, it was a terrifying reminder that if the Dunmer ever stopped loving him, he could let it fall and destroy the city. In a desperate attempt to prevent this, two Dunmer mages, Sul and Vuhon, created an ingenium powered by souls. However, the device used hundreds of souls, and eventually living people were sacrificed.
Inevitably, Sul’s own lover Illzheven was sacrificed by Vuhon. His attempt to rescue Illzheven destroyed the ingenium. This selfish act doomed thousands of Dunmer as Baar Dau plummeted into Vivec City with the force of its original descent, smashing the city into ruins. The impact was immense, charring the surrounding land and boiling the water, triggering a chain of natural disasters. In what will be forever known as The Red Year, tsunamis rose up and devastated Morrowind, and Red Mountain erupted, laying waste to the province.
Since the Red Year, the Argonians have seized the chance to conquer most of southern Morrowind, although they have been driven back by House Redoran, which now takes its place as the most prominent Great House on the Grand Council. Throughout their troubled history, the Dunmer have lost much of their once great province. Only the passing of time will tell if their civilization will ever recover. However, with their skills in both combat and magic, stealth and assassination, the Dunmer are a powerful race that should never be underestimated.
[ Further Reading ]
The Bosmer Race
Will ESO Redefine the Holy Trinity?
AMA session with ESO devs
Andy Lex Bain is a 30 year old writer who resides in Tasmania. He enjoys writing, reading, writing video game reviews, gaming, writing fiendish campaigns for his roleplaying club “The Blades of Valour”, cosplaying, bushwalking and watching movies, DVDs and anime. He aspires to be a full-time published author and basically spends his days slaving away at his computer, ShadowLord.