The grey elves are a large culture of Third Age elves in Scarterra. The name "gray elves" was given to them by outsiders. A slim majority of grey elves accept the label without complaint, others prefer to be called "imperial elves" and a few old school holdouts still prefer the label "Lunatan elves" after their Second Age ancestors. The term grey elves refers to the geography and architecture of the Island of Lunatus which is the capital of the Elven Empire. Also, outsiders say they are "grey" because they are boring and hidebound traditionalists without a sense of humor.
Major language groups and dialects
Grey elves learn Elven as their mother tongue. The Grey elf dialect of Elven is distinct from the other major dialects of Elven but other elves rarely have trouble understanding them. The grey elf dialect vernacular uses a maritime slang and maritime metaphors in regular conversation, even among grey elf farmers and craftsmen who have never boarded an ocean going vessel. The grey elf leans more towards formality and flowery descriptions than the other elven dialects.
Culture and cultural heritage
The Masks and Guardians are also fairly powerful in the Elven Empire. Testers, Children, and Rovers are often very marginalized. Even the Tenders, Stewards, and especially the Lanterns feel fairly marginalized. Underneath the bland stoic layer of conformity in grey elf society, there are a lot of religious partially or completely underground and a lot of the most truly pious grey elves are those on the outs of polite society.
Officially, Elven Empire, and by extension most grey elves worship a fully balanced Nonagon. The Keepers of Khemra have had disproportionate influence over the Elven Emperor or Empress for over two thousand years. This has trickled down to every level of grey elf society so grey elf standard religious practices tend to be formal, heavily ritualized and leaning towards orthopraxy over orthodoxy more than most other Scarterrans.
Shared customary codes and values
History and tradition is valued and to know what history and tradition is, you have to be able to read about what went on before. Literacy and wisdom are highly prized in grey elf culture and even day laborers can usually read and write surprisingly well. Deference to elders is valued greatly, especially within the family.
Average technological level
At the dawn of the Third Age, the grey elves' ancestors the Lunatan elves had more preserved tomes and ancient lore from the Second Age than anyone else giving them a technological and magical advantage over the rest of Scarterra for several generations. They did not guard their secrets well and centuries of stagnation have caused them to lose their edge over the humans and others. The grey elves have much ancient wisdom but little in the way of new innovation. The grey elves metalurgy, agricultural practices, and alchemy lag slightly behind most contemporary human nations.
The one exception to their stangant ways is in the realm of seamanship. In the Third Age, grey elves' have far better ships with superior constructed sails, riggings, compasses, and navigation charts to those of their ancient sea faring ancestors.
Common Etiquette rules
Grey elves tend to be polite and formal, both relative to other elves and relative to most humans. Stoicism is considered an ideal worthy to aspire to for both men and women, highborn and commoners. Combining their love of formality and stoicism, grey elves have a reputation for being arrogant. This is sometimes deserved but grey elves can be quite jovial and personal, if you can get them to open up.
Common Dress code
Dyes are more abundant and varied in the Elven Empire than they are in most of the rest of Scarterra, so much so that dyes are not considered a luxury good like they are in a great many human dominated nations.
Upper class fashion norms reinforce the stereotype that grey elves like the color grey. It is common for highborn grey elves to dress in elegant finery in relatively monochromatic colors, there are expected to let their manners and class and their deeds define them, and not use fashion to show off. That said, highborn grey elves do show off with fashion, but they have they do so subtly. This is normally accomplished with elegant and slightly understated jewelry. "oh this? Yes, it is platinum."
Common born grey elves tend to be more outwardly expressive in all aspects of life, including fashion. Vibrant colors are the norm, sometimes clashing colors. Usually this is enforced by custom, but in some formal situations, commoners are required to wear brighter colors than their social superiors.
Art & Architecture
Grey elves are often mocked because most of their buildings are grey and grey elves tend to be very stoic and reserved. Many assume their stoic sensibilities dislike bright colors. Grey elves do not actually dislike colors (most of them anyway). It just happens to be the case that the salty sea breezes and frequent rains take their toll on the architecture on the Elven Empire, so home and business owners either have to repaint their properties frequently or just accept an exterior made of grey stone or use alchemically treated weather resistant resistant paint (which just happens to be limited to relatively muted colors). It should be notes that the insides of homes are often brightly and luxuriously painted proving that grey elves do have color in their souls."The grey elves have grey clothes, grey homes, and grey hearts. Their refined elven senses are so powerful that bright colors hurts their regal eyes." -Sir Pie Eater, Kantoca court jester
Grey elf architecture may be grey or muted, but that doesn't mean they can't be beautiful, at least among the upper classes. Grey elf architecture favors tall towers, beautiful arches, elegant domed roofs, and varied and visually striking geometric shapes. Reminiscent of the grand architecture of the Second Age
Foods & Cuisine
"It is said that imperial elves are bland and boring, but their cusine is anything but. Sometimes the elves overload their dishes with excess spices simply because they can. The Elven Empire's chief export to the rest of Scarterra is spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, grains of paradise, ginger, pepper corns and more all predominantly come from Imperial islands.
Meat And PoultryMost grey elves live within a one or two day's journey of the sea. Not too surprisingly seafood is a huge staple in the diet in grey elf cooking for all social classes. To some extant, any meat that is not fish is considered an upper class food. Pork is found on the dinner tables of peasants and princes alike but almost all other meat is primarily for the upper classes or for commoners on feast days and special occasions. Various fowl are kept primarily for their eggs. Even rich grey elves seldom eat poultry meat. Dairy products are relatively limited in the territory of the Elven Empire, especially cattle. Most grey elves made cheese and yogurt comes from sheep and goats.
Staple CropsRice and maize are the two most important staple crops with wheat taking third place. Bread is not exactly uncommon, but grey elf cooking often centers on noodles. Grey elves generally dislike root vegetables in general and many refuse to eat potatoes completely. This is largely potato cultivation has only become widespread in the human dominated Third Age Age rice and maize date all the way back to the the First Age. Since the Elven Empire controls so many tropical and subtropical islands, grey elf cousine sees more varieties of fruits and fruit dishes than most other Scarterran cultures.
AlcoholGrey elf operated vineyards are widely considered some of the best, if not the best wines in all of Scarterra. Their vintages are certainly more varied and diversified than anywhere else in Scarterra. There are high end and low end wines so even lower class grey elves frequently enjoy wine. Rice based sakes are fairly popular as is rum. The Elven Empire produces a fair bit of ale and cider but this is usually consumed by the Elven Empire's human subjects.
Birth & Baptismal Rites
Grey elves generally name their babies after nine days or eighteen days after birth. If possible, a priest or priestess is involved in blessing the child but traditional blessings are simple and straight forward enough that lay people can perform the ceremony if necessary. Infants are annointed with fresh water, salt water, and then fresh water again and the Nine are called upon to bless the child.
Coming of Age Rites
Grey elves have a unisex ritual for becoming adults involving several days of fasting and solitary meditation before a formal religious service recognizing them as adults. This normally occurs on the eighty-first anniversary of their name day. Eighty-one is of course is of course nine times nine, a holy number. Eighty-one is also very close to the ancient elven custom of recognizing the age of majority at ninety.
This is one of the few times when it is socially acceptable for a grey elf to truly cut loose. A lot of grey elves make it a point to attend as many of these ceremonies as possible. That is why it is common to invite pratically everyone. "We never met, I'm your second cousin's fiancé’s brother. Happy eighty-first Elmen—I mean Almon!" It common courtesy for bring a guest to bring a present or bring a dish to the feast, so the young elf can make out like a pirate.
Then after the formalities, the family of the young man or woman throws a raucus party, not a drab grey elf party, a real party, with lots of alcohol, music, and fine food. Obviously, wealthy families throw more elaborate parties than poorer families but almost every family will go out of their way and pinch copper pieces to throw party they can afford.
Funerary and Memorial customs
With so many grey elf sailors get lost at sea, the grey elves' ancestors got tired of wringing their hands at a lack of bodies to bury. The spirit of the deceased and the memories of the deceased kept by the living are considered far more important than the physical remains of the deceased. The Elven Empire does not have a lot of spare land, so cemeteries and crypts are a very expensive luxury. The Elven Empire does not have as much timberland as they would prefer, so crematoriums are a fairly expensive luxury. Most grey elf burials are done at sea, even if the grey elf in question rarely if ever set foot on a sailing vessel.
Grey elves are generally pragmatic and conservative in an economic sense and not just an ideological sense, so elaborate grave goods are frowned upon. It is generally considered better to pass on possessions to the next generation than to dump valuable things into the sea. After a formal ceremony, most corpses, even those of royalty, are dressed in simple clothes, wrapped in a simple shroud and dumped out in the open sea. While the grey elves do not commonly use memorial monuments, grave goods, or other physical reminders of the dead, they take their honored dead very seriously. Grey elves record the lives and accomplishments of their colleagues and loved ones in meticulous ledgers and carefully learned oral stories. Grey elves generally take their holidays dedicated to remembering the honored dead very seriously. Lineage is important, both patrilineal and matrilineal lineage. Most grey elves make it a point to learn as much as possible about their family tree on both sides. Ancestor worship is fairly common in grey elf families though keeping a physical family shrine is not common. Many keep a good luck charm made by a close family member as a token to focus on when reminiscing about or spiritually connected with their ancestors.
Grey elves tend to have formal and ritualistic funeral services but they don't normally bother with elaborate embalming or preparations of the corpse, even if the deceased is from a rich family. They are typically covered in a simple shroud and dumped into ocean once the ceremonies and rituals are done.
Most grey elves have some combination of primary watery and fiery ethnic traits. Many have a pinch of earthy traits mixed in. Visibile air traits are almost unheard of. All three major elven cultures consider themselves the most true and proper example of proper elfdom, but the grey elves are louder and prouder about it. The grey elf standard of beauty is to be the elfiest elves who ever elfed. Elves in general are tall and thin, grey elves consider the tallest and thinnest to to be the most attractive. Elves have large pointy ears, elves consider large ears the most attractive, and while they tend to wear their hear long, they rarely let their hair cover their ears. They will not normally cover their ears with a hat or helm unless they are going into battle or a very cold area. Elves in general are considered regal compared to humans and grey elves play this to the hilt. Grey elves try to cultivate an air of quiet dignity even if their job is to sweep floors and empty chamber pots.
Elf boys and girls, men and women, can take up whatever trade or profession suits their interests, and there is no stigma for acting outside a set of gender norms though there is a stigma for acting above or below one's social class. The Imperial Royal Family uses a very complicated and somewhat arbitrary system of succession and inheritance. Most grey elves, even highborn grey elves, use a much simpler system of inheritance. The eldest child either gets everything, or at least gets the dragon's share of everything while the younger children get scraps, regardless of whether the first born is male or female.
Most grey elves value age and expect deference to elders, and deference to those of higher social classes, but they are egalitarian with regards to the sexes at least. Elf sailors and soldiers are predominantly male. Elf scholars and trades elves are predeminantly female. These tendencies and others are by choice, not social pressure, and they are roughly 60/40 rather than 80/20 or 90/10 splits you might see along gender lines in other lands.
Grey elves tend to view marriages as political or businesses transactions, especially among the upper class grey elves. Most marriages are arranged rather than for love or casual reasons. Lower class elves have a little bit more flexiblity in choosing their mates than upper class elves. Also, second, third, and fourth born elves have more flexibility in choosing their mates than first born elves. Adultry and bastard children are highly frowned upon in polite elven society. The true rule in grey elf society is "don't get caught". Technically, it is taboo to use birth control herbs, but they are extremely easy to come by in the territories of the Elven Empire, territory, and most grey elves turn a blind eye to it.
The Elven Empire is famously conservative and rigid, but it is fairly well known that the closer one gets to Island of Lunatus, either politically or geographically, the more rigid and hidebound grey elves tend to be. The farther one moves from Lunatus, the more liberal and open grey elves tend to be. This tendency has only become more extreme over time as grey elves gradually migrate to places that fit their own personal ideological preferences. But sometimes this tendency creates the opposite effect where grey elves that are very far away from Lunatus become more conservative in sort of a horse shoe effect. There is a common saying "Nothing is more Imperial than an Imperial elf separated from the Empire".
Most grey elves are (or were) affiliated with the Elven Empire. A maritime empire with wide ranging territory, the vast majority of their territory is either islands or small coastal areas on the edge of large continents. Because the Elven Empire is based on maritime trade, grey elves individuals and small groups can and often do pop up in very unusual places.
Cover image: by Eron12 with Hero Forge