I find myself worried for the Sylvari.
For me the sylvari are a race that I like without feeling the need to join. I could see myself joining them, but from what I’ve seen of them so far I have no desire to.
I’m not even talking about the two sylvari-improvement camps either. If you hang around the Guru you’ll know that most of the people who are unhappy with the way the sylvari look fall into two camps: ‘They’re too planty’, and ‘they’re not planty enough’. When I weigh in on the issue I tend to gravitate towards ‘not planty enough’, but that particular debate has no bearing on my reasons for shying away from this race.
I’d like to illustrate my point with this bit of concept art, released recently with the Loot Article by John Hargrove.
While we have humans modeling this design, the aesthetics are obviously sylvan. The lower central panel on the woman is the petal of a lily, the two flanking panels are reminiscent of a pitcher plant, as are the sleeves on both the male and female figures. The hem of the male’s robe is constructed of giant oak or maple leaves in full autumn display. Both sport leaf-shaped brooches at their necks.
My problem isn’t the plantyness, it’s the jungle. Despite the oak/maple leaves and brooches, these armors are still strongly evocative of a tropical rainforest.
Granted, the sylvari are all born in the rainforest, and this armor may be from a rainforest-centric dungeon. All I have seen of the sylvari so far, however, has felt lush, wet, and tropical.
That’s not bad, but I feel that the sylvari could be so much more.
So we have our rainforest themes. That’s great, especially for a spring or summer sylvari. But what else is there?
Is a night-born winter sylvari doomed to look like a diminutive human with white moss for hair? (I’m looking at you, Caithe) There’s so many more options. Most people think ‘winter’ and all they can see are bleak expanses of snow, and maybe the skeletal limbs of hibernating deciduous trees.
But winter is so much more than that. There are snowflowers, mosses, lichens. Tiny little spindly plants that cling and grow low, their leaves tiny or furry to cope with the cold. There are deciduous trees that at first look dead, but in their slumber we can see the beautifully twisted bark. The gnarled branches, shaped and bent by wind and cold, hold more character than any generic green tree, fluffed out with leaves ever could. And let’s not forget the haunting white and peeling bark of the birch.
That’s just the deciduous side of things. If you travel farther north into climates where winter holds even more sway you’ll come upon towering conifers. Even when winter holds everything captive, their boughs are green. They hang, swooping, needles fluffed out against the cold like velvet to look upon. Their trunks glisten with gooey sap. You can’t climb a conifer and not get covered in sap. I’ve tried.
It’s easy to think of summer as green, lush, and fruitful. It is, I’m not arguing that. But I grew up among rolling prairie. I have seen that summer is also brown and sere. It is hot and cloying, it is a cacophonous din of cicada calls. It is towering grasses with tops heavy with seed, nodding drunkenly in a breeze that doesn’t reach quite low enough to cool. It is a soft whisper as the wind moves over the sea of grass, wave upon wave bowing. It is the creak and groan of the oak as its flush of summer growth is caught by the air, like a million little sails.
Grasses. Grass and grass and grass, in a million different colors. Short grass and tall grass, blue and green and silver and gold, luminous under a sun that burns in a cloudless sky. Grass that laughs at drought, that cannot be cowed by fire. Grass, not trees, the bedrock of the prairie.
Nature is not just jungle. Plants are more diverse than vines and leaves and stems and pulpy petals and bulbous flowers. It is grass, and twigs, and boughs and needles and moss dripping from ancient trees. It is the soft down of thistle and cattail, the peeling bark of the birch and the crust of lichen on a stone that flakes off like so many tiny scales.
And that’s why I don’t feel much affinity for the sylvari. I feel they should be more than stems and bark and flowers and vines. The jungle is beautiful, but I find its riot of plantlife oppressive and confining.
Give me an open sky and an ocean of grass.