Of Ronan, Ventari, and the Pale Tree: The Sylvari


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Written in the voice of Belzan Furu

I once knew the great centaur Ventari. We oft debated the human-centaur war over a campfire in Maguuma or the Tarnished Coast. He was wise and I learned a great deal from his teachings, even though our time together was short. He saw the conflicts between our races as wasteful and unnecessary considering the long history of peace our two races enjoyed. I was more concerned with the White Mantle and dodging roving packs of undead at the time. The centaurs were more of a nuisance to me than anything else.

Ventari and me under the Pale Tree sprout, circa 1078 AE (in game GW footage)

His words changed my opinion of conflicts in general. We had a common enemy in the White Mantle, yet we continued to battle each other. Ventari argued that the centaur were too proud to back down, while I rebutted that the humans were survivors. Neither of us could easily determine the reason for one race’s enmity for the other. Sadly, over a century after Ventari’s passing, the human-centaur conflict hasn’t changed.

What has changed, however, is the Pale Tree. Long after Ronan planted his seed; long after Ventari cared for it and laid his marble tablet at its base; the tree began to sprout…uh…children. These children are called “sylvari” and they have begun to make a name for themselves. I took some time this week to talk with as many sylvari as would sit with me over a cup of toadstool tea about their race, Ventari’s teachings, and their thoughts on Tyria and the Elder Dragons.

The Grove

The best place to find sylvari is The Grove. It is located in the Tarnished Coast east of Rata Sum and due south from Divinity’s Reach (it’s a bit of a hike from Divinity’s Reach). It is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been to some of the most breathtaking remote parts of Maguuma Jungle and they pale in comparison to The Grove. Everything is alive and growing there, from the sylvari themselves to the “ground” you walk on to the “houses” the sylvari live in. If you haven’t been, you really should pay The Grove a visit. Your eyes will thank you.

Beneath the Pale Tree (image captured from Home Soil of the Sylvari video)

Overview

One of the first sylvari I spoke with during my trip to The Grove had fall colored auburn “hair” and summed up the origin of the race rather succinctly:

[We] are a mystic race who’ve come from the depths of the forest. [We] are an expression of the land as much as anything else…[We] are born from a tree, and over the course of the 250 or more years that have passed, the [Pale] tree has become sort of sentient, and 25 years ago, the first [of us] blossomed from the tree and went forth into the world.

Sylvari aren’t children. They aren’t naïve and they aren’t like anything else. Sorrow and love and care and honor and so  many things went into the planting and care of the Pale Tree from the time Ronan planted the seed to the remainder of Ventari’s life to the day the cocoons of the firstborn opened. Every sylvari is unique–that is, I haven’t seen two that look anything close to similar–and they are much more than humans with pointy ears and plant accessories.

(For more of an overview, check out the Growing the Sylvari video here.)

Sylvari Anatomy (image courtesy of ArenaNet Blog)

Body Structure and Anatomy

There is an amazing variety of sylvari when you get right down to it. While distinctly humanoid, they are absolutely plants and there is a natural quality about them that is hard to describe. Just glancing around The Grove I saw many different sized and shaped sylvari, though they all maintained a humanoid shape: head, body, and four limbs (no pun intended!). Some looked like green humans with leaves for hair, while others looked almost aquatic with smooth blue-green “skin” and bioluminescent markings, and still others looked like walking, leafless oak trees with sharp branches for hair and bark for skin. The sylvari I am personally accustomed to are more flowery by comparison. When asked about the variety, one sylvari, who was a little shorter than me and had long blonde, or golden, or yellow “hair” (sorry, it’s difficult to wrap my head around substituting plant terms for things we talk about every day) had this to say:

[We] have a unique freedom in anatomy…[We] are not limited by the planes of a human skull; you can shape the jaw with layered vines, or create the illusion of a face by pressing shards of bark together vertically, and splitting the face in two. The brow can simply be a collection of leaves and it is the patterning alone that defines the eyebrow shape, much like the camouflage of a butterfly. Add to this freedom the myriad plant varieties and there are a vast number of options to explore.

Examples of Male Sylvari (image courtesy of ArenaNet Blog)

Another Sylvari Male (image courtesy of ArenaNet Blog)

Sylvari Fashion

This “blonde” sylvari was very informative, and a bit of a fashionista. She went on to discuss sylvari clothing and armor and how they share qualities with the sylvari. Most plant structures originate from bulbs and blossom out. For the sylvari themselves, this becomes vines and muscle tissue which form the body shape you see above. For their clothing, it creates more of a natural feeling, almost like the clothing or armor was grown from the sylvari wearing it rather than something that is draped upon them or fastened. I think this naturalistic style is very appealing to the eye, though I’m personally not impressed with how it looks on humans. While the mossy tunic she gave me to try on was quite comfortable, I looked like I was hiding under a rock. The leafy robe, by contrast, was much more my style. She let me keep that one. When I asked her if I needed to water it and she just smiled and walked away.

(For more information about designing and redesigning the sylvari, check out Kristen Perry’s article here.)

The Early Years

I wanted to know more about the mysterious dream and what it was like to be born from a tree (I must have sounded silly asking that question). Several sylvari were happy to oblige:

My experience of the dream was swimming in a vast ocean and listening to songs and stories carried along the currents. I learned something new about the world to come from each story and song. – male sylvari

For me, it was like walking through an endless orchard full of trees with thousands of different fruits. Each fruit tasted unique and with each bite I saw a vision of the world. From a green apple I learned about the sorrow of a dying friend, while I learned how to wield a sword from a pear.  – female sylvari

I had a nightmare. I dreamed of climbing an enormous ever-rotting tree. It smelled of mold and the branches broke like thundercracks. I could hear hundreds of creatures falling from its branches wailing as they fell and crying out as they hit its thorny branches. Each voice warned me of the world into which I would be born and I am stronger for their warnings. – female sylvari

Interestingly, I overheard one sylvari speaking to a norn about being born and it was very similar to that last story. Something about falling from a great height all the way down to the hard ground. Sylvari are born full grown and begin schooling and training through mentorship with older sylvari, such as the firstborn. I guess age isn’t everything.

Another interesting thing I learned was that sylvari have no family like humans do. They claim the Pale Tree to be their mother, but they have no true brothers or sisters or extended family, other than perhaps the cycles into which they are born. There are sylvari twins, but it’s unclear at this point of these twins adhere to human or plant standards as far as their identical or fraternal nature. Sylvari have strong relationships with other sylvari and other races and ultimately construct a family out of friends, allies, and acquaintances. I know a little something about that kind of family myself.

(Check out Talk Tyria’s exclusive interview with Ree Soesbee and Kristen Perry here.)

Female Sylvari (image courtesy of ArenaNet Blog)

Personality

Sylvari are noble, beautiful, plants. They are empathetic and curious and have a strong sense of honor. This last one surprised me at first  until I considered Ventari’s teachings, which most sylvari have embraced and continue to study. Honor isn’t a far cry from treating others respectively and not taking advantage of others. I’m told the sylvari even duel as a way of solving injustices. I think we humans could take a lesson from their book…er, stone tablet.

Another thing that intrigued me, but that I only gleaned the faintest bit of information about, was the Wyld Hunt. Apparently this is an important calling that few sylvari receive. Those so called are referred to as Wyld Hunt valiants. I’ll write more about this once I’ve learned more.

Finally, sylvari are divided into “cycles” determined by the time of day when they were born (dawn, noon, dusk, night). Apparently this plays a role in their personality as well. I’ve noticed the night-born sylvari tend to be quiet loners, while the dawn-born are very talkative. I’m sure that’s an oversimplification of a complex racial and cultural personality structure, but hey, I’ve only spent a few days observing them in earnest.

(For more information about the sylvari soul and to hear sylvari speak, check out Angel McCoy’s article here.)

Nightmares

Every race has internal strife. Humans have politicians (don’t get me started!), norn have the Sons of Svanir, charr have the Flame Legion, asura have, uh, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Anyway, the Nightmare Court of the sylvari are a collection of sylvari who reject Ventari’s teachings and seek to corrupt the Pale Tree. They are cruel and evil and commit atrocities in order to shape the dream with nightmares of their acts. Few sylvari would speak at length about them, though it was difficult to tell if they were more afraid of the group or ashamed. You try reading emotional cues on the face of plant! Still, the Nightmare Court appears to be bad news. I hear one of them has sway over Caithe…

(For more sylvari history and a video of the Home Soil of the Sylvari, check out the updated sylvari page on GW2.com here.)

Sylvari Cycles (image courtesy of ArenaNet Blog)

“Government”

The auburn haired sylvari returned later in the week to talk with me about sylvari leadership and governance. She stated the firstborn act as elders and mentors to the sylvari from they time they awaken to if/when they leave The Grove. Four of the firstborn (Aife, Niamh, Kahedins, and Malomedies) carry the title Luminary and are responsible for maintaining sylvari society and acting as mentors for the cycles (dawn, noon, dusk, and night, respectively). They and the Pale Tree are as close to a government as the sylvari have.

By contrast, the Nightmare Court has established a more extensive hierarchy. From the top down there is Grand Duchess Faolain and the Retinue that includes baron, count, countess, duke, and duchess who carry a lot of power (political and otherwise) within the court. Below the retinue are the Knights, who have learned to influence the Dream through acts of evil, and the squires, apprentices, and courtiers. I’m told this structure is meant to foster some sort of legend or myth about the Nightmare Court.

The auburn haired sylvari did not discuss where she learned this information and neither confirmed nor denied that she was a member of the Nightmare Court. To be honest, she was quite personable, informative, and polite. I’d be surprised if she is a member or even a courtier to the court, though I’ve been surprised before.

(For more sylvari lore and information about sylvari biology, the cycles, and the Nightmare Court, check out Ree Soesbee’s lore article Dream and Nightmare here.)

In Conclusion

Well, that wraps it up for me. I’ve learned a great deal about the sylvari in a short period of time. They are indeed an intriguing race of plant people who have established a society, complete with morals and internal strife, in less than a quarter of a century. They are aware of the rise of the Elder Dragons and are tasked with doing something about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think the other races could learn a lot from this young race, and they may be the key to all of the races coming together and finding common ground against the Elder Dragons. If nothing else, they are adamant about living by and spreading Ventari’s teachings. That, in and of itself, is a noble cause in my eyes. The old centaur would be proud of the sylvari.

Sylvari Week has come to an end. What do you think about the sylvari redesign? Do you like what you see? Will you make a sylvari character? What was your favorite part of Sylvari Week? Feel free to share your thoughts about this new, unique race here!

About the author: Belzan Furu is a Krytan spellcaster who is approximately 300 years old and is the GW and GW2 character of TT author Belzan. His blog can be found at belzan.wordpress.comYou can find him in game as Belzan Furu and you can read more about Belzan, the TT author, here.

Further reading: