Elli: Hello and welcome to the TowerTalk, Ree!
Ree: Hello, hello, and thank you for having me back again!
Elli: Yeah, I'm so glad that you're here. Ree, today we want to do a little gardening, won't we?
Ree: Yes, a little bit.
Elli: We want to talk about the Sylvari. The Sylvari are a new race for us. How did they come into the world?
Ree: The Sylvari are a little enigmatic. They have a city that is build around a great tree and they are born from this great tree in a very (?)-like fashion and they started being born 25 years before Guild Wars 2 officially begins. And beyond that not a lot is known about their real origin. You can track back when the tree was planted - we saw it growing in Eye Of The North - but where the original seed came from and why is still a matter of mystery.
Elli: So what kind of tree is it? Is it something special?
Ree: It is absolutely unique. No other tree like that has ever been seen in Tyria. Not only that it is sentient, it is aware, it is awake, it is alive. The Sylvari can go speak to it. It has a spirit that will manifest and actually interact with its children and give them advice and help them with their troubles.
Elli: The Sylvari, are they plants or are they just formed...?
Ree: They are plants, really, their bodies, if you want to take a Sylvari and do experimentation, which the Asura did - these horrible creatures- , they have sap instead of blood, they have hard wood where bones are, they're built very much like a plant what's trying to replicate humans. Like it had looked at them, had seen them and understood how they worked and it made a plant form of a human.
Elli: What do the Sylvari eat then, if they are plants?
Ree: They can eat anything, they can eat other plants, they can eat salad, they can eat meat if they want to - much like a venus fly trap. They do have a stomach area in their body; it does decompose material just like a humans would and then uses that material to fuel the body.
Elli: What can you tell us about sylvari society? Is it like: we have the first-born and then we have cycles or are they born in a... regular way?
Ree: How does it work at all?
Elli: Yeah, good question.
Ree: The way it started was 25 years ago you had this great tree and it flowered and created first-born. Very limited number only, there were twelve. And those first-born were the only Sylvari in the world for several years until the tree had a second flowering and the second-born came out. And then slowly over the last 25 years those flowerings have come faster and faster until we have today where players are making characters and that replicates the Sylvari each stepping out of the tree and being born into the world. For that first period of years the first-born - there were only twelve of them. Some stayed there at the tree, some wandered, some traveled, some went and came back. They had their own adventures. And when the second-born were created and stepped into the world they told those tales, some of those tales the second-born already knew, because the dream of the tree had been sort of collecting the memories from the Sylvari that had already been born and the tree continues to do this. It's a very random sort of thing whether the tree gets a memory. If it's a powerful memory then she will more likely pick it up and when a Sylvari is born, he is born with basic understanding the world. He knows what a sword is, he knows how to swing it, but he has never ACTUALLY swung it. It's like seeing magazine pictures of chicken but never having eaten it. You understand what it is, but you don' t really know. And as this continued while each generation of Sylvari was born, the Sylvari began to create a culture where the first-borns led, because they were the wisest, they had seen the most of the world. But the younger ones were off in the adventures to take the information they had gained and go off into the world and do something with it. The tree herself provides the center of the culture and the city around the tree is where they congregate, where they live.
Elli: What kind of basic or what principles do they live on, the society?
Ree: The Sylvari, when the tree was very, very young, before she had given birth to any Sylvari at all, she was planted in a human encampment. Human and centaur. Centaur named Ventari. Ventari was a noted pacifist, he was a gentle spirit, who wanted to see the world live in peace. And he outlived the other humans who lived in his campground, because he was a centaur. And when he died, he wrote his lifes lessons on a big, white sheet of marble and he left that at the base of the tree not knowing that the tree would one day flower and give birth to a race. But when it did, the tree had sort of taken those lessons into itself and taught them to her children, internalized them in the dream. So that when the Sylvari come out of the dream, they know these lessons and they kind of hold fast to them as a code of morality.
Elli: Do the Sylvari still have a connection to the centaurs?
Ree: They see as sort of a mentor race, but the centaurs have changed so much since the time of Ventari. And even when Ventari was alive, he was very different than many centaurs. So it's more like they look on the centaur and realize these are sentient creatures who could be something noble, but that they have sort of chosen a fiercer, more primitive way of life. It's probably pretty sad.
Elli: The pale tree as a tree is rooted into the earth and is the tree like connected into the earth and knows what's going on like the world has changed so much with the awakening of the dragons?
Ree: Yeah, and it's questionable whether that's because that she's concretely in the earth or there's something about her spirit that knows. But she has a sense of Tyria, she has a sense of where the world is in pain, whether the world needs help. The Sylvari have sort of a calling called the wild hunt and not every Sylvari gets it. A Sylvari who has a wild hunt and completes it doesn' t necessarily get a new one. But these are when the tree realizes something going on that is very bad like the dragons are attacking a certain place and killing all the humans there. Some Sylvari in the area or some Sylvari who is particularly well suited to handle the situation will suddenly feel themselves called to go north, called to go to this place and when they get there they will feel themselves called to help the humans and defeat the undead. And that sort of wild hunt or that sort of quest comes subconsciously from the dream, it comes from the tree and from the tree having a sense for Tyria, for what needs to be done to save the world from the dragons.
Elli: So maybe the tree felt like the urge to bring a new life or the Sylvari into the world in order to defeat the dragons?
Ree: Entirely possible, yeah. That's one of the main theories, the things that the Durmand Priory believes.
Elli: Quickly explain what the Durmand Priory is.
Ree: The Durmand Priory are a group of scholars throughout Tyria who study and research ways to defeat the dragons.
Elli: Ok, let's go back to the dream. The dream is not only filled with good memories isn't it?
Ree: It got bad memories too. There's a group of Sylvari, sort of a faction of the race, who believes that Ventaris tablet is wrong and that those lessons were forced upon the tree and forced upon the Sylvari during the trees very formative years and they think that real Sylvari, what they should have been, shouldn't be influenced by the tablet, because the tablet was an external, was outside forced, making them believe things. So they go out of their way and try to defy the tablet to go against its basic code of morality and in so doing they try to be as horrible and vicious and cruel as they can, because the trees dream that educates new Sylvari when they're born is built of memories of current Sylvari in the world. And those memories are chosen often by the strength of the emotion attached to them. So if I am a member of this group - they're called the Nightmare Court - and I go out and I commit some atrocity, it is very emotional and it hurts people. Those feelings and those memories will also go into the tree and it's possible that a new-born will see more of that than of the tablet. And therefore bit by bit I change the dream into a nightmare, into something that doesn't have association with the tablet, and in the Nightmare Court's point of view I free my people of that influence.
Elli: It's like an emancipation.
Ree: Yeah. A very dark.
Elli: A very dark form. So there is still a connection between the Sylvari and the tree, even after they are born?
Ree: Yes, when you are asleep, before you are born, you are living in the dream. It's like a real world and I believe we've said in the past that the Sylvari tutorial very much takes place in that dream before you're born. And then, when you come out of the tutorial and you're born into the world, your connection to the tree is not that strong anymore, it's much more a very gentle empathy, the tree can sort of send out a feeling to you like a wild hunt. But there is no mental connection, there is no telepathy or anything like that, it's just an empathic sense of the world and of each other and of what the tree desires.
Elli: Do the Sylvari have a connection between each other?
Ree: Very subtle, very subtle. Sort of like feeling like you dreamed of people before, especially in cases where they have. A Sylvari who is new-born may occasionally recognize a Sylvari from their dream, because something had happened in that other Sylvari's past that was communicated to the tree, that was communicated to the dream and then the new-born saw that image in their own dream.
Elli: So, you just said that the first-born were born a little while ago,..
Ree: ..25 years..
Elli:..yeah, did the Sylvari establish like a society with organisations, with institutions?
Ree: It started really with the second-born, because until the second-born were created the first-born didn't even realize, there were going to be more. As far as they knew, they were the only Sylvari ever, that would ever be. And the tree had not yet flowered again. And when she did she started to create slowly generation after generation and that's when they started to create a society. They had to break it up somehow; Sylvari are born very quickly -especially now. And they divided into the cycles of the sun because each of the first-born would tend to the tree for a period of the day. One was at dawn, one was at noon, one was at dusk and one was during the night. And at that period the Sylvari who were born, who awakened during that time, would be taken under the tutelage of that first-born. And so they were called the cycle of night or the cycle of day according to when they were born.
Elli: How do the Sylvari live? Like in houses or... do they just stand around? :)
Ree: No. :) They can create houses and so forth from plants, they shape plants, they shape the natural world around them. They live a lot more in harmony with the environtment than the other races do. They would prefer to take a tree and shape it into a house than to build one out of rock. They would prefer to get their food from going outside and finding it in the woods or finding it under a tree than by raising it in a garden. Though they have a garden, they feel like the world is its own garden and they just live in a balance with it and be just rewarded by it.
Elli: Do they have a special access to the norn spirits?
Ree: No. No, the norn spirits are separate. The norn spirits are very much entities, like a symbol, it's kinda hard to explain the spirits, they're almost totemic of all wolves; wolf is all wolves. The Sylvari are a little more..would say primitavistic or basic than that. They see the entire world as a singular spirit, all Tyria, all souls, all spirits, all things that live are sort of one. They wouldn't break it down to the point of "And that's the wolf, and that's the bear". They just.. all things are one.
Elli: How do relationships work between Sylvari?
Ree: Sylvari believe very much in the concept of love. Emotion, the empathy that I spoke of with the tree. Because they are created by the tree, - they have a sense of sex like male and female, gender - but it is based very much on what they chose in the dream or what the tree chose for them. And when they come out they don't reproduce like humans do, they don't think of it that way, they think of it as the spirit inside the person, no matter gender the person is and they very much fall in love with each other and even with the other races, when they do, because of the spirit. They don't need to have a sex with it, they don't need to figure out what..you know..., it's not a bipolar system, it's an all spirit system. Sylvari can fall in love with anyone who inspires them and to them that's the most important quality of love. They teach that throughout the world.
Elli: Beautiful, I hope the people will learn.
Ree: We have quests in the game where Sylvari are in love with other Sylvari and it very much ignores gender barriers. It isn't a matter of pointing out that this female is in love with that female or that male is in love with that male or that this male is in love with that female. It's a matter of them saying: "My lover is in danger, please help me!" And nowhere in the quest does it mention the sex of either participant, because that doesn't matter. What matters is that this person is in love and that person needs help.
Elli: Exactly. Elli: What about fire? Do the Sylvari have a natural fear...?
Ree: No,as much as a human would. You stick your hand into the fire, it's going to hurt. They don't burn more easily than anyone else, I mean, they're made of wood and sap, but green wood doesn't burn any more easily than flesh. It's a person. They don't have a fear of fire. They have blacksmiths. They've learned how to work with fire. They just take as many precautions as anyone else.
Elli: Right. So the Sylvari are a very curious race, aren't they?
Ree: They are! And the more they learn, the better they race, they feel. If no one has been to a place before and I go there and look at it, some of those memories will find their way into the dream and new young Sylvari may come up with something very interesting to think or to go there themselves.
Elli: So how do they organize to give the knowledge to other Sylvari? Apart from the dream?
Ree: There're two ways. You can't trust the dream. The dream isn't really reliable. If I go out and learn a lot with a sword , that doesn't mean the next Sylvari born from the tree does know how to use a sword. It's sort of distinct to each Sylvari what they experience in their dream, what they know. So once you're born, the Firstborn still gather each cycle and there're tutors and theachers in each area. If you're born in the cycle of the day, you'll meet the Firstborn, you meet teachers, you meet menders, which are like healers and people who can give you really concrete understanding of the world. But the Sylvari race is only 25 years old. So their sense of history is sort of skewed. They know that the Charr and the Humans have been at war for a long time. Who knows how long a long time really is when you're whole race has been around for only 25 years? Someone tries to express, you know, 250 years of war and you look at them like 'That's long, right? That's longer than 25.' So they have a very concrete understanding, but not a concrete wisdom about it. It's really interesting. We didn't want to make the Sylvari childlike, we didn’t want to make them naive and you know like babies wandering into the wilderness. They're strong, though, earnest people. They just don't have a lot actual experience with the things that they know.
Elli: They're greenhorns.
Ree: They're greenhorns! Yes, exactly! [laughs] Nice one.
Elli: What about the Charr? Aren't they like natural enemies to the Sylvari?
Ree: Well, they're very far apart in the world. If you look on the map of Tyria, they're about as distance as you can get. I think Rata Sum is just a little farther. So by the time the Charr really met Sylvari or had some kind of dealings with them, the Sylvari had a grasps of the world and have already - I have mentioned - been abused by the Asura, so they weren't are trusting as they had once been. The Charr respect the Sylavris' attitude towards exploration and fighting. The Sylavri would fight the minions of the dragons, almost at any cost. And a Charr sees that as a great bravery. They are very experimental. They are curious, they want to learn how things work and that also go with the Charr, who take things apart and put things back together. The Sylvari are a little more peacenik than the Charr, sure, there're also places where they argue, where the Charr strip-mining the world and the Sylvari would be horrified. But those are the things that make people different. Those are the things that make the two race very separate from one another.
Elli: Is there like a natural approach for the Charr to certain classes? Like ranger? Oh, sorry, for the Sylvari?
Ree: Sure, sure! A Sylvari does tend toward more magical classes. but they also tend towards classes, that are capable of simply mixing it up in combat. I mean, a stright up warrior, who defend the Tree, defends the groove. They are a little less likely to be engineers. For obvious reasons, but they're curious. They want to know how things work, so you find all sorts of Sylvari. Necromancers are also a little less common, but the necromancers the Sylvari do have look at death as a natural part of life. We live and we die and when we die, when a plant dies, its body returns to the soil and fuels other plants. This isn't a bad thing; this isn't a dark thing or an evil thing. It's just a course of nature.
Elli: Do they start to write down their own history or somehow 'tend' it somewhere, like in a libery? Just to keep the knowledge that they have?
Ree: The Sylvari? They have scrolls. They have writings. They go to places like Lions Arch and the Durmand Priory to learn other things. They are a very inquisitive race. If they don't understand something they'll try to find out how it works and some of them stay behind in the groove as teachers and try to tutor others in these things. Especially - some Sylvari get tired of traveling. You go out and see different places and you want to come home again. And it's more exciting that you can share what you've seen. So they'll educate the young.
Elli: How works their relationship to the Tree? Is it like a mother to them? Or is it more like a goddess?
Ree: Oh, no, they call her the mother tree. She is their mother. They don't worship her, they don't serve her in a way that the Humans serve Melandru. She walks among them. They can go to her in her chamber, her council chamber and she will manifest and speak to them if they have problems. And no one takes that very lightly, but you can go and completely interact with the Tree. Elli: Oh, that's interesting. She really talks to them and there's an interaction? Ree: Oh, yeah! She has a form, she has a Sylvari form. We're still kind of messing with it in the art deparment, but it's lovely. It's a little bit ethereal; it looks a little bit gossamer. But it's clearly a Sylvari and it talks and walks and it stays in the little chamber at the base of the Tree.
Elli: How do the Sylvari react to societies like the Charr, which have many hierarchies?
Ree: Ooh, they have so many questions! How does this work, how does that work? What's this? What happens when that happens? How's this? Sylvari can be a little tiresome when they're finding a brand new thing, 'cause they want to know everything about it.
Elli: Because I don't think they have many hierarchies in their society, do they?
Ree: No, not really. They have respect for one another. Especially for the Firstborn. Because they came first and they've seen the most. But other than that it very much comes down to who knows more about this thing. If three Sylvari wander into the world, they wouldn't have a leadershipssstem, so much they would have 'You know the most about this, so we'll follow you now. Oh, we're doing something different? He knows the most about this, so we'll follow him now.' They have a very egaliterian system in that way.
Elli: So the Firstborn are like their natural leaders?
Ree: Yeah, yeah, they are. And they had the most time with the Tree, because they had several years where it was just them and the Tree. So they sort of understand her better, they have a little more closeness to her. When you're born as a Sylvari now you don't get to see the Tree nearly as much as they did. She's very busy. But when there are only twelve of you and you lived with the Tree and you talk to her every single day, you got a little more of closeness to her.
Elli: Do they like to work in teams?
Ree: Yes. The Sylvari have a group called 'The Wardens'. And the Wardens are like the Seraphs of Divinity's Reach. Where they stay near the Tree, stay near Sylvari areas and protect it. And they really work better in teams. They really work better as a group. They like to rely on each other, they like to learn each others' strengths and utilize those, like tactics, much more than going alone. A Sylvari who goes on a wild hunt is the exception, because he has recieved the calling to go to a place and to do a thing. And in that case he usuall has to rely on himself, it's not often that more than one Sylvari will be send to a place to go and do a thing, because there just aren't many Sylvari. But they very much prefer to be with others. That's one reason why when a Sylvari goes out into the world they often get into groups with lots of other races. Anyone they can find. Because when they like the socialization. They like to learn, they like to experience things and that's always better, when you have someone else to answer your questions or to talk to or to share their wisdom.
Elli: The Sylvari cannot reproduce, can they?
Ree: No, no, they can't. The only way a Sylvari reproduces is the Tree. The Tree gives birth.
Elli: So how do they deal with the family experience they make with other races?
Ree: They are so curious. Families and children. Children are just fascinating to a Sylvari! They're smaller and they are like...a Sylvari doesn’t physically grow. He comes out of the Tree, full born. So it's interesting to see a Mini-Human and it doesn't know as much and it has a really different way of thinking, it's very strange. They feel very protective towards it, because they don't have any. So they understand that this child is smaller and weaker and not able to take care of itself. And that's sort of strange, because none of them experience that stage. But at the same time it's got to be scary or the child, right? So that's the way they approach it. [Elli laughs] They understand a certain amount of family, because they understand groups and socializations, because they do fall in love. Sylvari who fall in love and have a relationship will live in the same house, will congregate together. But children - they're just mystified.
Elli: What do the Sylvari think about the Gods of the Humans for example?
Ree: They are very agnostic. They've never met a god. They've been never able to ask it questions. When I ask two priests of the same god questions sometimes their answers aren't exactly the same. So the Sylvari are not sure what to think. They haven't made any religious determinations. You can call them agnostic.
Elli: Is there someone like a spokesman or someone who speaks for the people of the Sylvari? Like when Queen Jennah for example wants to make a connection or a treaty with the Sylvari in order to fight the dragons or something, is there someone she can like talk to?
Ree: Oh, yeah! Depends on what she's doing it for. If you go to Divinity's Reach and I believe also in the Black Citadel, there's an ambassador from the Sylvari specifically that the Tree has chosen. The Tree will call them to her and explain what she needs and then send them to the Black Citadel to be her ambassador to their emperor there.
Elli: And what happens then? Is it like the ambassador is coming back with the suggestions and the whole society makes the decision?
Ree: No, the Tree makes the actual descion, but she calls together as many of the Firstborn as she can or as many people that she feels are specialists. Like the treaty of Ebonhawke. It's a treaty between the Charr and the humans. They try to bring peace betwen the people. The Sylvari are watching that and her ambassador in the area will send letters back to the Tree, back to the Firstborn, explaining what's going on. and the Tree will call together the wisest around her and she will get their advice, she'll get their thoughts. But then the Tree will also go into the dream. Because the Tree is the only one with the ability to sort of freely access that information. And she will look at all the things that have been brought into the dream about the Charr, about the treaty and so with the advice of her council, but also drawing on the strength of that dream primarily, she'll send out her recommandations or her orders, what she wants them to do.
Elli: The nightmare court - is it a strong group?
Ree: Uh, yeah! The Nightmare Court grows stronger with each passing year as more Sylvari are born, but also as they twist the dream more towards nightmare. And their final goal is to twist the whole Tree. When the Tree abandons the tablet, than the dream would be entirely nightmare and they would have won. And they work towards it. They have much more of a structure and a hierarchy. They're individuals in the Nightmare Court who have very much seized power and commanding the other ones around. Because they don't have the Tree, they don't have that gentle wisdom they can call on, they don't have the dream. They have the nightmare and without that connection they're kind of have to be more organized. They have to be more structured. They have to able to say these people are in charge and we will listen to them, because they can't fall back on the wisdom of the Tree in the same way the regular Sylvari can.
Elli: So there has been some disconnection between the Tree and the nightmare court?
Ree: Right, right. And in the Nightmare Court's opinion that's because they are doing the right thing and the Tree has been brainwashed.
Elli: So the Nightmare Court - is it like a secret group or is it open?
Ree: Oh, they are open and they are disliked. They don't walk openly through the groove, the Sylvari city. But you can't really tell if someone is Nightmare Court by look at him. They look like every other Sylvari. So they have secret meetings in the woods and they have groups who congregrate or one or two of them go through the Slyvari and try to convert them and then just vanish away in the crowd again. They have villages in areas in the game where they live, where they gather, where they have their dark vigils and so forth. Where they make their plans to cause pain and destruction and otherwise unfold the dream.