The term Elves is an umbrella term for various races native (but not indigenous) to the continent of Artograch that have descended from the Proto-Elves (not native to the continent, having colonized it between 2000 and 1500 BEKE), and meet certain other criteria. All Elves and other related Elf-like races are mammalian and sentient.
True Elves versus other Elfoids
Being biologically descended from the Proto-Elves alone does not necessarily qualify as a race as an "Elven race" in the minds of most people. When people say the word "elf" in any language, they usually think of the Wood Elves, High Elves or Dark Elves, and exclude other races that also descended from the Proto-Elves, such as the Humans and Orcs.
It has been a subject of debate and much contreversy what is the exact criteria - other than being descended from the Proto-Elves - to classify a race as "true Elves", and the ultimate conclusion is a combination of physical appearence (largerly cephalic index and ear shape) and biological/genetical distance. The so-called "True Elves" (Wood Elves, High Elves, Dark Elves) are largerly dolichocephalic, have rather prominent occipital buns and pointy ears, while the other two Elfoid races (Humans and Orcs) are largerly brachycephalic and planocipital. Humans also have round ears.
As Wood Elves and High Elves look similiar enough to each other that interbreeding between each other is not considered hybridization (and does not have the traits generally associated with hybridization, like difficulties with socializing in parent societies), Humans and Orcs have deviated from the common Elven ancestors enough that interbreeding with the earlier two races is considered hybridization, resulting in Half-Elves and Half-Orcs. In other words, Wood Elves and High Elves - despite the linguistic and religious differences - can adapt to each other, and socialize in each other's environments as children, while Humans, Half-Elves, Orcs and Half-Orcs can't. Wood Elves and High Elves are biologically nearly identical, making the separation between the two races more of a political or cultural thing, rather than biological.
Dark Elves are another special case, as their skin colour and several other biological traits differ markedly from that of Wood Elves and High Elves, but still have the same long lifespan as their overworld cousins, and give birth to children that would not have any biological handicaps at socializing if it wasn't for mutual racism towards each other, unlike Half-Elves and Half-Orcs who find it challenging to socialize in Human/Orcish and Elvish societies alike.
Another interesting case is that of the Ice Elves inhabiting the north-eastern slopes of the Grey Mountains, who - despite their physical resemblance to High Elves - have an entirely different culture, language and religion unrelated to that of any of the Elven races, and their other biological traits make them a truly unique race. It is believed that the Ice Elves are not an Elven race at all, and are called "Elves" only because of their physical resemblance to the Elven races (Human-like appearence, pointy ears, heavy growth of hair on the head but very limited growth of hair everywhere else).
- See also: Wood Elves
Considered by most to be the race that diverged the least from their Proto-Elven ancestors, the Wood Elves are descendants of those Proto-Elves who settled in the land that would become the Kingdom of Dragoc. They are primarily under the spiritual guidance of the Cult of Nature and speak the Wood Elven language.
- See also: High Elves
Considered the most beautiful race by many, the High Elves are descendants of those Proto-Elves who settled in the land that would become the Kingdom of Froturn. They are primarily under the spiritual guidance of the Church of Titanius and speak the High Elven language.
- See also: Dark Elves
Easily the youngest race on the face of Continental Artograch, the Dark Elves evolved from a mixture of Wood Elven and High Elven exiles, who chose to live underground. Altered by the environment, food, drugs, or even magic, they have a greyish-blue skin that sets them apart from other elven races - however, because they have the long lifespan, dolichocephaly and sharp ears of other elves, they are still considered "true elves".
- See also: Humans
Not considered "true elves" due to their short lifespans, brachycephaly and rounded ears, the Humans are descendants of those Proto-Elves who settled in the lands that would be later known as the Etrand and Etrancoast. While so-called "true elves" easily live for centuries, even the most healthy human can only live for a hundred years at most - they compensate by being more fertile breeders, more passionate lovers, and innovative fun-loving people. Just like in the case of the Orcs, it isn't known what exactly caused the transformation of the Humans into what they are now, but it is generally assumed, that they must have made a covenant with a very powerful entity, selling away their long lifespan for something. Whatever is the case, in spite of their obvious Elven ancestry (hence their ability to produce fertile offspring when reproducing with Elves and Orcs alike, producing Half-Elves and Half-Orcs), they are not considered "true elves".
Unlike all the other races mentioned above (and below), the Humans exhibit a rather large amount of regional phenotypical variation. They used to have their own religion, but nowadays they are largerly followers of the Church of Titanius. They primarily speak the Etrandish and Etrancoasti languages.
- See also: Orcs
Not considered "true elves" due to their relatively short lifespans, brachycephaly and ugly, un-Elven faces, the Orcs are descendants of a group of Wood Elven exiles who were sent off to the cold and unforgiving lands of Brutang, led by the fierce general Thorm'Fa, veteran of the Great War. They have green skin and various other features that most other races consider repulsive. It isn't precisely known what caused their transformation from proper Wood Elves into the green-skinned race they are now today, but most people assume that a powerful entity must have cursed them with ugliness, or maybe they collectively made a covenant with a semi-divine entity, selling their Elven beauty for something else. Whatever is the case, in spite of their obvious Elven ancestry (hence their ability to produce fertile offspring when reproducing with Elves and Humans alike, producing Half-Elves and Half-Orcs), they are not considered "true elves".
Hybrid Elfoid races
- See also: Half-Elves
The results of hybridization between so-called "true Elves" and Humans (or Orcs), Half-Elves have a lifespan roughly the average of the two parent-races.
Their condition is rather unstable: anything more or less than a perfect 50% admixture of each parent-race (so-called "clean hybrids") will cause the children not to be Half-Elves, but instead be the parent race with the higher amount of admixture (so-called "dirty hybrids"). As such, while the offsprings of two Half-Elves may be Half-Elves, the offspring of a Human and a Half-Elf is always a Human, and the offspring of a Half-Elf and an Elf is always an Elf. These "dirty hybrids" may still retain features of the secondary parent race, such as Humans with trace Elven ancestry being dolichocephalic.
- See also: Half-Orcs
The results of hybridization between so-called Orcs and Humans (or Elves), Half-Orcs have a lifespan roughly the average of the two parent-races.
Their condition is rather unstable: anything more or less than a perfect 50% admixture of each parent-race (so-called "clean hybrids") will cause the children not to be Half-Orcs, but instead be the parent race with the higher amount of admixture (so-called "dirty hybrids"). As such, while the offsprings of two Half-Orcs may be Half-Orcs, the offspring of a Human and a Half-Orc is always a Human, and the offspring of a Half-Orc and an Orc is always an Orc. These "dirty hybrids" may still retain features of the secondary parent race, such as Humans with trace Orcish ancestry being slightly more aggressive and having rougher features than other Humans.