Path Theory

I’ve been following some online discussions on the Paths of the Eldar and thought I’d take a quick break from Path of the Seer to explain a little of my thinking behind the Eldar Paths and how I have interpreted them for the novels.

The Paths were created to enable the Eldar to narrow their experience of the universe into bitesize chunks, so that they would not be overwhelmed by their heightened psychic and emotional power, as happened before the Fall. To my mind, each Path has two parts: the overt incarnation and the underlying experience the Eldar is learning to cope with. The easiest example is the Path of the Warrior, developed so than an Eldar can cope with aggression, bloodlust, anger and hate in a controlled manner. Thus as theEldar goes through life, they develop coping mechanisms for many of the experiences they will confront, whilst supressing all others.

Thus the overt incarnation of the path – warrior, healer, bonesinger, etc – is not the aim of the Path it is merely a means to create the mental and psychic disciplines required to deal with life as a super-emotive space elf.

This has led to the following Paths so far:

Warrior – Anger, hatred, bloodlust.

Artisan – The creative urge. This includes poets, artists, artesans. I hinted that this is about expression, so that an Eldar on this Path lacks introspection, doing away with the cultures and traditions that bind their society together without any sense of shame.

Service – The desire to help others. Perhaps think of it as the charitable, selfless instinct. Those on the Path of Service engage in any number of activities to help others, including serving them tea in the canteen, keeping the grass cut in the parks, or whatever.

Dreaming – This is an exploration of the subconscious, allowing the Eldar to explore their hidden motivations through the medium of active dreaming.

Awakening – This is an exploration of self (ego and super-ego) which the Eldar can embark upon to better understand their own goals and desires.

Seer – Seer covers many psychic disciplines, and at its hearts is the safe use of the psychic potential within every Eldar.

Explorer – Eldar have a wanderlust, to see the universe and explore distant stars. This is not the same as being outcast (more in a moment) and includes being a ship’s crew, steersman, and so on.

Healing – As mentioned in Path of the Warrior this Path enables an Eldar to deal with hope, that is the continual belief that things will turn out for the best. Unbounded optimism for an eldar could be very dangerous indeed.

Mourning – Dealing with matters of grief and loss as an Eldar is also a very serious business, and so to avoid the brain-melting depths of sadness, most control their grief. Those on the Path of Mourning can give vent to the full darkness of loss they can feel.

There are probably others, engineers and scientific endeavour for example, but I’m sure you get the idea. The point is, by progressing along several Paths during their life, the Eldar both perfect a series of useful skills, but more importantly learn how to manage their psyches in a safe fashion.

The Outcast is to eschew this limitation, experiencing the full range of emotions from the heights of happiness to the depths of sadness and everything in the middle. To be an Outcast is to be free from the burden of all of thos mental controls keeping everything check, but also at the mercy of every passing feeling and whim.

To become trapped on a Path is is give in wholly to the underlying emotional cause, rather than the physical representation. An Exarch is trapped in his or her anger. A Bonesinger is trapped in the creative moment. Others may become locked in selfless devotion or grief. The nature of this is that the trapped Eldar cannot see that they are trapped, because they are locked in a cycle of the same emotion without any context or self-awareness. The oddity is the Farseer, who makes a conscious choice to continue to explore their psychic being, knowing full well that this will eventually doom them to a crystalline experience, becoming one with the energy of the infinity circuit. Another exception are the Autarchs, though whether one can be trapped on the Path of Command is a whole canof worms…

Just some food for thought.

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 11:40 am  Comments (15)  

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  1. Explorer – The BFG article on the Craftworld Eldar has Path of the Mariner with further specialization within to Helmsmen and Wayfarers (navigator).

    How would being a ship crewman necessarily equate to being an Explorer and seeing the universe? Although Craftworld Eldar fleets definitely can go elsewhere, they also can be just patrolling their Craftworld’s nearby vicinity.

    As for being trapped without awareness, isn’t an Exarch (to take just one example of a Trapped Eldar) aware at least of the overt details since they are obviously dressed ritually in their Exarch gear, while other Paths may have their own distinct titles for those trapped on it?

    I always imagined a Farseer for example to be trapped by the intricacies of runic lore and maybe even duty to the Eldar: they get stuck trying to foresee and prevent every disaster that may happen in their future, or bettering their runic abilities in order to do so.

    Whether one can be trapped on the Path of Command is interesting, since clearly an Autarch is not trapped (Yriel was Autarch before being an Outcast then returned to being an Autarch). I would argue that the nature of the Eldar mind means yes to any Path and the trap may also be similar to the Farseer conception: being caught in the intricacies of strategy and planning and fascinated by the emergent order of a well crafted plan out of the chaos of battle.

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    • I think it is important to understand also that it is possible to spend a long time on a particular path without being psychologically trapped. That is, an Autarch or bonesinger, for instance, may spend several hundred years (probably the eldar’s last path) doing the same thing without the need to move on.

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      • I agree that some Eldar may spend centuries on a particular Path that they are interested in without becoming trapped. However I think it part of the obsessive nature of the Eldar mind that it is possible to become trapped on any Path, and thus somewhere out there sooner or later there will be someone trapped on the Path of Command for example.

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  2. Thank you for this insight! This information (and I know you say it’s not ‘official’) is very helpful to me right now with some fiction/fluff I was stuck on.

    Thank you again!

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  3. Interesting interpretation and the story that resulted out of it in “Path of the Warrior” was great (have to admit that it was the best depiction of Eldar I’ve read until now ^^ ).
    But what I missed was a sense of individuality concerning the Craftworlds. There was never a moment where I thought “So this is Alaitoc”. I mean, there have to be some sort of nuances in the way each Craftworld treats the whole idea of the paths.
    Otherwise I eagerly await the next novel in the “Path of the Eldar”-Series.

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    • There was so much ground to cover I haven’t even worried too much about getting other craftworlds involved for comparison. All grist for the mill for a follow-up trilogy 😉

      Gav

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    • We already are slightly aware of the differences. On Biel-tan for example it is stated that the first Path an Eldar takes once reaching maturity is the Path of the Warrior, and only once this is done do they move on to other civilian Paths. It is thus like a rite of passage or like the mandatory military service that exists in some countries today. Even on other civilian Paths, the martial nature of the Craftworld may still slant things, so a Bonesinger might still have a tendency to craft weapons or sculptures depicting martial themes.

      On Saim-hann we are told that the Path system is less strict. So while the same Paths or same titles may be used, the rules may be looser. There may be perhaps also fewer Paths compared to some of the more rigorous Craftworlds like Alaitoc, with the more obscure or esoteric ones absent.

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  4. Ah wow, cool to hear it straight from the source!
    Giving a useful skill set… so they can access path skills off path! Will it still be as good though? Say a former “Path of the Server” fellow, if he is currently an aspect warrior is that warrior still capable of mowing lawns and flipping burgers with the same immaculate grace as one currently walking that path?

    Related to taht… is it possible for a craftworlder that’s not trapped to be a better fighter than an Exarch?
    Like the exarch powers, rules wise they have gameplay effects, but fluff wise do they represent a level of ‘mystic kungfu power’ that isn’t achievable by a ‘mortal’ Eldar?

    hahah, the internet’s an amazing place, a decade ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to directly contact one of the men behind my favorite race of star faring space elves so conveniently.

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    • Generally I assume that those not actively walking a particular path are not ‘in the zone’ for that set of skills and so will lose some of their ability, but the practical abilities learned will not be forgotten. So, for example, in Path of the Warrior Korlandril continues to scuplt even though he is now a Striking Scorpion, be he has, in a sense, lost his muse and is no longer fixated upon it.

      The only non-warriors I would expect to be on a level with a Exarch are the Autarchs, who tread a related but slightly different path. I think that Exarchs have background psychic potential that gives them strange abilities (that are represented by Warrior Powers in the rules) and millennia of experience that puts them far above other craftworlders.

      Gav

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  5. I was pondering about various paths last night, and i thought “what about bionics” (i was thinking about Isha and those who are on the path of healing/healers).

    While the Imerium bionics are essentially Steam/Cyber punk in nature, i envision the eldar versions – if needed – would be more elegant, etc. and thus the reason no additional rules for kit, etc. Or, do some Eldar have the ability to mold/heal flesh, sort of like how they mold material like Korlandril’s sculpting ability?

    As always, thank you for your time in advance.

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  6. Generally, I’m not a big fan of Eldar. Chaos player, myself. Of the Khornate nature. However, I must say that you make Eldar so much more interesting than any other author I know of. Like I said, not a fan of Eldar, but I’m going to go out and buy the Path series.

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  7. Dear Mr. Thorpe, as an expert in all things Eldar could you please clarify the bit from the Eldar codex about Warp travel, namely “Eldar spacecraft can travel through the warp itself, although this is a slow and dangerous process for them.”
    essentially, would they dare? wouldn’t an Eldar craft entering the Warp be like a dish of tasty meal shouting ‘eat me’? 😀

    and the second puzzle: is Arhra with his ‘dark light of Chaos’ a Chaos follower or an example of metaphorical description?

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    • a. I think the Eldar would be very wary about entering the warp directly, but clearly they do – to retieve the Tears of Isha for waystones from the Crone Worlds, for example; or Warp Spider jump generators. I can only imagine them using the warp for any long periods if they wish to get somewhere inaccessible by the webway.

      b. A bit of both. Arhra certainly betrayed the Phoenix Lords to the forces of Chaos, though to what end is not known.

      Gav

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  8. Hi,
    I’m reading Path of the warrior and am wondering about the way guardians may deal with bloodlust, anger and guilt on the battlefield, and more importantly when they return to normal life.
    Certainly in troubled time, most Eldar are called on military duty, and not all of them have walked the path of the warrior. Even if they did so, they most likely aren’t able any more to don their warmask before going to war.
    As an Ulthwe player, the question is quite important to me. I do field many guardians and would not like them to ge raving mad after battle.
    I think you are really good at making sense of Eldar fluff, so I’d really like to know your opinion about this.
    Oh, and by the way, greatest 40k novel ever. Thanks!

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    • Hi,

      My view is that the war mask does not shield the Aspect Warriors from just the negative impact of combat, but also the enjoyment of gratuitous violence. Guardians and other non-Aspect Warriors are kept from going insane by the horrific experience itself – they feel guilt and shame from their actions; the temptation of Khaine, the lure of the Path of the Warrior, is to become addicted to the slaughter and bloodshed without doubt until all compassion and peaceful life have been lost.

      Gav

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