When Hamlen died and the party wanted to investigate ways of getting him raised, the party demonstrated a considerable amount of anti-elf prejudice. This afforded me an opportunity to explore the ways of the elves (what they think about bane weapons, etc.) and thus scratch an itch for Ahkmed's player. One way I intended to do this was have the Winter Queen bound to a bane weapon and the Winter King obsessed with finding a way to get her out.
When this campaign began, it was an experiment. I had no idea if a bunch of 3.5 players would be at all interested in playing the game in an old school style using a retrocloned ruleset. I therefore was not particularly interested in spending a lot of time creating a sandbox. I therefore placed Lost Colonies on one of the maps from the Wilderlands by Judges Guild. It has served me very well — it is sketchy enough to allow me to make the world my own but filled with enough detail to fire the imagination.
One of the few places where elves are dominant on the map I chose to use had a little blurb about the locals being very interested in finding out why undead were coming out of the ocean. I figured that the Winter King's obsession had gotten so bad that his own experiments were the reason for the undead incursion against his own kind.
About this time I had also picked up Frog God Games' Hex Crawl Chronicles: Valley of the Hawks. I have to admit, I have been hesitant to pick up anything they've done because I was never much impressed by any Necromancer Games product other than some of their Judges Guild conversions. Since the Hex Crawl Chronicles seemed to ape those conversions, however, I decided to pick this up (well worth the money, by the way).
Therein, the elves of the valley were divided between Summer and Winter courts. What inspired me, however, was that all of the Winter Elves were wights. This got me thinking about the life-cycle of the elf.
If one assumes that an elf's lifespan is measured in centuries and that they have something akin to a vegan diet (where fruits, leaves, saps etc. can be harvested without killing the source) than death would be virtually unknown culturally and mythically. Since it would be such a rare occurrence (as opposed to its daily presence in human life), there wold be no real need to explain it or incorporate it into the cultural/mythic landscape.
Elves are mortal, however. This mortality manifests as an inability to extract nutrients from food commonly consumed by elves. Thus, as the elf grows older, their diet becomes more and more exotic (possibly giving rise to the elven adventurer). When the diet of an elf results in the death of another creature (as in meat), they become a member of the Winter Court. Thus, the Summer Court is almost entirely made up of younger elves and the Winter Court is almost entirely made up of older elves.
Eventually, the elven system can no longer gain sustenance from food. This would be the natural end of the life cycle; however, since elves do not intimately know or understand death (outside of battle) they tend to fear it. Thus, they have spent centuries figuring out ways to cheat it. For example, many in the Winter Court have willingly become wights — they feed on the very life essence of other beings.
More importantly, the Bane weapons were one of these ways to cheat death. Elves of a certain age willingly had their souls tied to these weapons in an attempt to bring peace to the races in a kind of magical detente. Unfortunately, separated from their bodies, the elves went into a kind of torpor. The only way to wake was to find someone willing to give up their own will and allow the elf to act in and through the wielder of the weapon (as Ahkmed has done). In addition, the dwarves abused the bane weapons and brought corruption and death to the races instead of peace.
The Winter King is the oldest living elf. He has cheated death over and over again in a myriad of ways — including some that are truly heinous. He has made and broken deals with demons. He has killed innocents by the thousands. He is unwilling to die until he frees the Winter Queen from her torpor.
As a result of my players' interpretation of events, his latest cheat has had the unintended consequence of infecting others in the Winter court. While he is somewhat content to live as a half-shadow, he fears that once the Winter Court succumbs, it will affect elven kind as a whole. Currently, he is racing against time to find a way to work around this affliction. He has yet to find a cure.
16 hours ago