Note: This article was originally released on ZAM.com and has been re-hosted here on Mattsta.Ninja.
In Guild Wars 1 there was a scrying pool located at the back of the Eye of the North. Periodically players would be led back to the pool throughout the story of the expansion, to gaze into its depths. During those moments, visions would be shown to the player revealing information of the fight to come.
Much like the scrying pool in Guild Wars 1, this column will gaze intently (but not creepily) at Guild Wars 2 and look at what could come to pass. I have no insider information, just all the information that the community has at its disposal. As such, any and all future telling should not be considered confirmed, destined or pre-ordained, just a “What If” look at things like lore, story and even game mechanics that very well could, or maybe won’t, come to Guild Wars 2.
For our first journey through the looking glass of The Scrying Pool we will be looking at the Sylvari.
Do be forewarned, SPOILERS for the Sylvari personal story lie herein.
The Sylvari is a race of humanoid plant people born of the Pale Tree. While the race is less than 25 years old at the beginning of Guild Wars 2, the tree that gives birth to the Sylvari was planted from a single seed over 250 years ago.
That seed was not the only seed of its kind however. Ronan, a human fighting with the Shining Blade, happened across a cave in the jungle that was full of strange seeds. He left with one to show his daughter only to find both his wife and daughter slain by the Shining Blade’s enemy. In despair he threw down his weapons and planted the seed upon their graves.
Sylvari Characters that chose the Where Life Goes, So Too Should You option during character creation are given an interesting story arc at level 11. In this story arc you meet a strange Sylvari who seems to have lost his memory. As you journey and help him, you come to discover that Malyck is not born of the Pale Tree but another tree believed to be somewhere in the Maguuma Jungle. So the Pale Tree appears to not be the only tree that has grown from the seeds in the cave.
It is hard to know whether Malyck is indicative of the Sylvari from this other tree. He knows nothing, was separated from his tree before his birth, and apparently is not connected to a dream. Being a completely different and previously unknown tree they wouldn’t have grown with Ventari’s Tablet, something the Nightmare Court had hoped would make those Sylvari more susceptible to falling into Nightmare.
One thing that the Ventari’s Tablet doesn’t explain about the Sylvari’s nature, however, is their desire to fight against the Elder Dragons. While Primordius and Jormag awoke before Ventari died, neither awoke anywhere near the sanctuary where Ventari kept watch over the growing tree. So why then do the Sylvari desire to fight the dragons and why are they immune to their corruption? Even Malyck who knows nothing still wants to fight the dragons and promises to bring back an army from his tree to fight them.
In the time old conundrum of the chicken and the egg, there is always one chicken and one egg. However with the Pale Tree there was an entire cave full of seeds. What if the Sylvari is not actually a new race, but a time forgotten one thought to be extinct?
The sole knowledge of races since the last cycle of the Elder Dragons mentions only the survivors: Dwarves, Mursaat, Seers, Jotun, and a serpentine race called the Forgotten. However, there is no mention of the races that existed but perished during the time the Elder Dragons were last awake other than that the Dragons reportedly caused the extinction of most life on Tyria. Could it be possible that the Sylvari were believed to be wiped out by the dragons and forgotten by time?
How then did the seeds survive through the extinction? What if the Sylvari trees, knowing they were losing the war, sent some Sylvari on a special Wyld Hunt to protect the future of their race held within seeds that were small enough to hide from danger but still had the power to grow into the trees that would restart the Sylvari race?
In The Movement of the World article, released by ArenaNet, it says that the cave where Ronan found the seeds was guarded by terrible plant creatures that forced him to flee carrying only a single seed. What if these terrible plant creatures were in fact those same Sylvari guarding the future of their race until the time came for them to take root and grow? No one would have seen a Sylvari in millennia, which, combined with the possibility of the Sylvari taking root and being grown over after standing guard for thousands of years, could make them pretty terrifying if they woke up thinking you were a threat. That Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade didn’t look too pretty either.
But if it is true that those plant creatures were the guardians of the seeds, why did they chase off Ronan yet allow another seed to be taken and grown into a new tree? Ronan managed to sneak away with a seed, but that could be because the guardians had been inactive for so long they were too slow to react, a problem that wouldn’t have happened immediately after for a Sylvari on their Wyld Hunt.
What we know of the dream is that it is built on the experiences of the Sylvari, Ventari’s Tablet and this anti-Elder Dragon drive. Maybe the Sylvari Wyld Hunt was not just to ensure the survival of the Sylvari but to ensure they survived to fight the dragons when they returned. This would make the idea that the Sylvari were born to fight the dragons not some fantasy but their race’s true Wyld Hunt. So if you were to take out the experiences of the Sylvari and the Ventari’s Tablet, you would get an inexperienced Sylvari willing to fight the dragons. Remind you of someone?
What if Malyck knew nothing, not because he lost his memory or was disconnected from his tree before his birth, but because he is the first of his tree’s Firstborn. According to the timeline of events, the Pale Tree’s seed was planted in 1078 AE, around the time of the events in the Eye of the North expansion for GW1. Due to the events of the player, it was another 40 years before the first Elder Dragon, Primordius, awoke. The Pale Tree’s Sylvari are almost 25 years old. This means the new tree would only be about 15 years younger than when the Pale Tree had her first Sylvari. Which isn’t much if you consider the Pale Tree is 250 years old and doesn’t look a day over 200!
This could also explain why we never saw Malyck again with his army he promised to fight the Elder Dragons. Instead of finding a tree full of Sylvari, maybe he was alone or there were a couple more new Sylvari born from the tree and, thanks to the player, Malyck is taking back all the good mood experience to share with his tree and fellow Sylvari.
Minions of a Nature Dragon
One thing I want to do with this column is look at what the community thinks and examine it just as I have above; examining the information we know from the game and the developers. With the Sylvari, the biggest theory I have seen is that the Pale Tree is a Champion of a Nature Elder Dragon and the Sylvari are its minions. I don’t think this is the case, not only from a lore perspective but also from a design perspective.
So first off is the Sylvari tutorial where players are faced with the dragon from their dreams. Some look at this dragon, made of vines and uprooting itself, to be a nature dragon champion much like Tequatl the Sunless, the Shatterer and the Claw of Jormag. New players however are in a dream surrounded by the nature near the Pale Tree where the vines could have coalesced to form the image of a dragon. Not only that but the form mimics that of Tequatl the Sunless which even convinces the Pale Tree that your Wyld Hunt is to kill not just any Elder Dragon but Zhaitan specifically. Then consider that this dragon has only been shown to two Sylvari, the player and Caithe. This makes this dragon showing up as a sign to Sylvari very unlikely.
Another notable point of discussion revolves around the Nightmare and how it could be the dragon calling Sylvari back to their true nature, away from the Pale Tree which broke free of the dragon’s control like Glint, thanks to Ventari’s Tablet. The first indication otherwise is that no other dragon minions are intelligent. Champions have intelligence, but the actual Risen and Icebrood are practically mindless zombies. Sylvari on the other hand not only are born with intelligence and have to choose the Nightmare, but they also keep their intelligence after falling to Nightmare.
Then there is Malyck. He was not inherently evil without being taught by the Pale Tree and Ventari’s Tablet. If those two things really do make the difference then Malyck should have been more like the Nightmare Court than the noble self that was more similar to Sylvari of the Pale Tree. I don’t think that the Nightmare is a corruption of the dream by any dragon, but is a corruption introduced to the dream by Ronan and Ventari.
Ronan and especially Ventari are always mentioned in a good light, with creating the morals that the Sylvari live by. But morals are not completely black and white. While the tablet has the positive laid out, I think that the inherent evil in mankind could have slipped into the lesson as well. Ronan for example, brought the seed back to show his daughter only to find his family massacred. In his despair he planted the seed on their graves and never left the sapling the rest of his life. It could even be from this despair at the loss of Ronan’s child that Ventari wrote the lesson that everything has a right to grow. So it could be these untaught emotions of despair, sadness, anger and others seeped into the dream that would eventually grow into the Nightmare.
In one of the few personal storyline missions that every character will go through, the Pale Tree leads the player and Trahearne through a vision of what could come to pass. During the vision you will come across the members of Destiny’s Edge fighting, unable to come together to save Tyria. With Destiny’s Edge unable to mend its past, Caithe is alone and falls into despair similar to Ronan which Faolain uses to bring Caithe into the Nightmare. So I don’t think a dragon needed to have any effect for the Nightmare to grow.
On to the game design reason for why Sylvari are not minions of a dragon. ArenaNet has constantly said that they never planned to let players play the evil side, that the player would be the hero who saved the day. To this end they did it perfectly, even having an evil faction of each race (Nightmare Court, Inquest, Sons of Svanir, Flame Legion/Renegades, and Bandits/Separatists) to contrast the player’s light against their darkness. To this end turning around and saying that the true origin of the Sylvari is actually as minions of an evil Elder Dragon, would ruin that heroic outlook. The Nightmare is a constant threat when everyone thinks Ventari’s Tablet is the way to be. If it is then said that the tablet is lies, tricking a race from its roots, it would weaken the resolve to resist the Nightmare, lead many Sylvari to turn away from the Pale Tree and would, in essence, be making the race fundamentally evil and the opposite of the heroic race they are designed to be. It would be an interesting plot twist, but would ruin Sylvari as a playable race.
Lastly is another lore point and that is their immunity to corruption of the Elder Dragons. A point that is brought up a lot is the Sylvari immunity to being corrupted by Elder Dragons which they say is a feature inherent of dragon minions. One doesn’t find an Icebrood Branded Devourer for instance. That is indeed true, but you also don’t see any Branded Devourer close enough to anything under Jormag’s influence to be corrupted by it. In fact you really don’t see any interaction at all between dragons but more of a reverence of the territory another dragon has taken. So really, we don’t know if Jormag could re-corrupt a Branded Devourer into an Icebrood Devourer as we haven’t seen them mix.
As for the Sylvari’s immunity to the dragons, I personally believe that they might have been engineered that way. Imagine an army that grows on trees, is born fully grown, has knowledge of its predecessors, has a built in desire to combat your enemies and is immune to the effects of said enemies. That is almost too good to be true, and would be the perfect army to have on your side. So what if the Sylvari is not a natural race, but one designed and grown during the last time the Elder Dragons were awake to combat them?
To wrap it all up there were a handful of “what ifs” throughout the article. What If: Sylvari is not a new race, is not a natural but an engineered race, survived by the Wyld Hunt of the Ancient Sylvari who have guarded the seeds to this day, and what if Malyck is the firstborn of his own tree. The Scrying Pool shows us what could be, but the waters ripple, ever changing, ever uncertain. So, on that note, I leave you with one more what if: the Pale Tree’s avatar is a female Sylvari. What if the other tree’s avatar is male?