For me, Night Elf history has always been a personal favourite as they are, indirectly, responsible for the total destruction of Azeroth. They have faced, like so many of the races on Azeroth, destruction and slaughter and their history runs red with blood. As a result, they are interesting and often beautiful to play.
They are also a race in which their history has deep and abiding effects upon their culture and as a result it is a good idea to know the history of the Night Elves in order to be able to play your Night Elf character well.
It is uncertain where Night Elves came from, however it is commonly believed they lived upon Azeroth before the Titans came along. If you don't know what the Titans are, don't worry, it will all be explained in an upcoming instalment! One common theory is that they are genetically modified descendants of Trolls, who had been changed by close proximity to the Well of Eternity. Now, if you are a raider who is just coming over to role-play, you are probably already familiar with the Well of Eternity, but for many this will be completely new, so let me explain. The Well of Eternity was a huge lake of magical energy, that ancient Kaldorei drew their power from. It was addictive, however early Night Elves did not realise this danger and used the Well to create beautiful cities that where harmonies of nature and elf kind.
For a long time, Night Elf society was peaceful, as the Night Elves were immortal and so did not have the usual power struggles which affected shorter-lived races. They worshipped their beautiful queen, Azshara and were masterful hunters, crafters and spellweavers. And that was part of what caused the problem! Azshara and her most loyal followers, the aristocracy known as the Highborne, became addicted to magic, unbeknownst to the general populace. Drawing on the magic from the Well of Eternity, she opened a portal into the Twisting Nether, the realm of demons, and summoned forth their leader, Sargeras. He promised her untold power in return for his demon armies getting another world to destroy. Azshara, now quite mad from Well, agreed. Enter Malfurion, Tyrande, Illidan, Rhonin, Krasus, Brox (Rhonin, Krasus and Brox were not Night Elves, and had been whisked back in time in a mistake made by Nozdormu, at the hands of the Infinate Flight. It's a long story!) and a host of others who with the help of an army of Night Elves, Tauren, and Furbolgs help defeat the Burning Legion as the ravening army of demons are known. In doing so, Malfurion destroys the Well but not before Illidan saves a few vials of water from it
The remaining Night Elves escape up a mountain and find a beautiful lake to rest on while the rest of their civilization burns. It is then that Illidan pulls out the vials and tips them into the lake, ruining the water for anyone to drink and creating a new Well of Eternity. Malfurion, furious, orders Illidan seized and imprisoned. I would like to take this moment to point out that Malfurion and Illidan were brothers, guys. It's Romulus and Remus all over again! The Night Elves were given a chance to start again with immortality, growing the World Tree, Nordrassil. After the War of the Ancients, and the Sundering, which was what the destruction of the Well of Eternity was called, the remaining Dragon Aspects (Neltharion and Malygos having both becoming inactive after the war) blessed the new tree and tasked the Night Elves with looked after it, causing their society to become more druidic in nature. Many Night Elves believed they had to atone for their past mistakes, and gladly accepted the burden of becoming the world’s caretakers, an attitude that is still prevalent in Night Elven society. In return for this, they were once again immortal. Many of the druids decided to enter what was known as the Emerald Dream, a state of perfect Azeroth, in order to protect it. This number included Malfurion. The remaining Highborne, many having being killed or warped into Naga during the Sundering, tried to assimilate into this new society, but their burning thirst for magic caused them to defy the new rules set out by Malfurion, and they were eventually exiled. For now, the Night Elves could be left in peace to rebuild their society. This explains the Night Elven distrust and often hatred for magic, and the fact that although Night Elven magi are now playable, they would be rare and relative outcast. Night Elven warlocks are unthinkable.
Fast forward to the Third War, and the peaceful Night Elf society is once again shattered by the Burning Legion, this time under the guise of the Scourge. This was coupled by logging from the Orcs, who were gathering resources for their armies. This inspired a huge war spanning over the entirety of Ashenvale, during which the ancient Cenarius was killed. The Night Elves to date have not forgiven the Orcs for this transgression. The Night Elves and Orcs were forced put aside their enmity in order to combat the new threat from the Burning Legion, together with the Dwarves and Humans that then consisted of the Alliance. They battled the Legion at the foot of the World Tree. Although eventually victorious, the energy expended in slaying the commander of the forces of the Burning Legion on Azeroth, Archimonde, was immense, and drained the World Tree of its power to protect the Night Elves from frailty, ageing and death. This caused many Night Elves to be plunged into depression, something your character may have battled with.
Talk began of growing a new World Tree, however the dragon aspects refused to bless a tree grown with purely selfish reasons. With Malfurion still in the Dream, he was unable to protest the growing of a new, unblessed World Tree named Teldrassil. However, because this world tree was unblessed and soon become corrupted. It was discovered that the Night Elf leader, Fandral Staghelm, was at the root of this corruption, and Malfurion had to return from the Dream to combat him and save his people from madness. He now rules alongside Tyrande, his love. The Night Elves were conflicted for a long time over the growing of a new World Tree, with many agreeing with the dragon aspects and many more thinking that the Night Elves need their immortality. This could be important to your character!
With Cataclysm, and the introduction of Worgen, the Night Elves are discovering that their druidic talents can help their wolfish friends. Not only that, but with what is potentially Azeroth's greatest threat looming over them, Tyrande was persuaded to let Highborne, now with several millennia more experience, back into the Kaldorei society. Their help is crucial in helping beat the Orcs back yet again from their ancient homeland and in training a new generation of Night Elven magi, this time without the lures of corruption from the past.
As you can tell, the Night Elves are a people haunted by their past, mistrusted by their present and uncertain of their future. Their history shaped the people they are today, and will also be crucial in shaping your character, along with their present day culture you can find in my article here. My next instalment will be focused around the dwarves, and I have to admit I am looking forward to delving into a history and culture I know very little about. All that is left for me now to say is thank you for reading and good luck in Azeroth!