Guild Wars 2 – Growing the Sylvari

Guild Wars 2 – Growing the Sylvari trailer.

Guild Wars 2 showcases the design philosophy and development of the Sylvari race. Expanding on and reinventing traditional notions of fantasy races for the mmorpg genre.

Guild Wars 2 expands on this race:

The sylvari are an enigma. Humanoid in form, plantlike in nature, they are recent arrivals in Tyria and have roamed the world for only twenty-five years. They are all born of a single parent—the mighty Pale Tree that dominates the Tarnished Coast. They are bound together with a common origin and a shared dream. No one knows why they have suddenly appeared in Tyria, least of all the sylvari themselves, and they seek to discover their purpose in the world. Of all the races, they have the greatest appreciation of the danger posed by the Elder Dragons; the sylvari battle the undead minions of Zhaitan on a regular basis.

This, then, is their story.


“There was a time that I cursed this world for taking away everything that I had. But living here, I have come to understand that these memories, even those that are painful, are seeds of our identity. They shape our growth.”—Ronan, Human, formerly of the Shining Blade.

The story of the sylvari begins with a human and a centaur. The human was Ronan, a warrior with the Shining Blade. Separated from his patrol, he discovered a cavern filled with strange seeds and guarded by powerful plant creatures. He took one of those seeds and brought it home to his family, only to discover that his entire village had been slaughtered by the White Mantle and their powerful would-be gods, the Mursaat. Grieving, he planted the seed on their graves and swore to never take up the sword again.

Ronan was joined by Ventari, an aged centaur who also tired of continual conflict. Together they formed a small community, a refuge for those seeking peace in a violent world. The tree that grew of the strange seed came up tall and proud, and beneath its boughs, man and centaur lived at peace. Ronan passed on in time, and aged Ventari passed as well. But before leaving this life, the centaur carved his lessons on a marble tablet and set it among the roots of the Pale Tree. Then he too passed on, the eldest and wisest of the centaurs.

The tree grew and spread her shade over the surrounding area, and in time, she bore fruit. At the heart of this fruit were the first sylvari. And while they were still cradled by the Pale Tree, she sang to them and told them what she knew of the world. The Pale Tree spun a dream that would be shared by all the sylvari: a dream of human lives and the centaur’s wisdom. When these initial sylvari emerged as the firstborn, they knew something of their world and yearned to learn more.

The sylvari appear human at first glance, but that comparison breaks down almost immediately. Their flesh is made of vines and leaves, their hair of foliage and petals, and their bones of stronger wood. Golden sap moves through their veins, and pollen shakes from their flesh. They are “born” (they would say “awakened”) as adults, with some knowledge of the world around them. Sylvari are instilled with an inherent sense of nobility, curiosity, and a need to explore.

And as each sylvari explores and learns of the world, that knowledge comes back to the Pale Tree, who sings it to a new generation.

The Grove

The Pale Tree now dominates the Tarnished Coast, her towering top higher than many mountains. In the shelter of her lush foliage, the sylvari have made their homes. The Grove, created by the Pale Tree, is a multilevel, verdant, organic city. The roots and branches of the tree form broad terraces where other plants have grown and been spun into homes and buildings. Some of the sylvari have lived their entire lives beneath the tree, but most choose to wander, to adventure, and to let the Dream take them where it may.

The sylvari are divided into houses or cycles, and feel that an individual’s personality is determined by time of day when they awaken. The sylvari born in the Cycle of Dawn tend to be loquacious and diplomatic. Those of the Cycle of Day are often problem-solvers, meeting challenges head-on. The sylvari of the Cycle of Dusk tend to be intelligent and reflective. And those of the Cycle of Night are quiet, secretive, and keep their own counsel.

The firstborn are the closest thing the sylvari have to rulers, yet the respect they command comes solely from their wisdom and time spent in the world. Each cycle is advised by one of the firstborn who serves as a luminary, as a guide and tutor, to the newly awakened. Yet the ultimate ruler of the people is their parent, the Pale Tree herself. Her song is found in all sylvari, and those who seek understanding travel to the heart of the tree to commune with her and seek her wisdom.

A Shadow in the Dream

The sylvari are a young race, yet they face challenges from within and without. Not all other races have welcomed them, and their early experiences with the nearby asura have shown them that not all other peoples share their virtuous outlook. But their greatest dangers come from within, both in the form of those sylvari who have rejected the Dream and in the form of a warning in the Dream itself.

Each unborn sylvari hears the song of the Pale Tree and learns of the world, including what other sylvari have learned. Yet many dream of an enigmatic danger that threatens the awakened world. For most, it is but a fleeting glimpse. Only a rare few, the great heroes of their race, see the shadows of dragons and know it as a danger that threatens the world. As a result, of all the races, the sylvari see the challenge of the Elder Dragons most directly. The shores of their lands touch the Sea of Sorrows, and the undead minions of Zhaitan wash ashore and seek to despoil everything they find. While the other races may be corrupted by the Elder Dragons, turned into undead minions or crystalline creatures of the Brand, the sylvari are never turned. Those born of the Pale Tree simply die before the corruption takes hold. Many sylvari believe that this is because they were born to battle the dragons, blessed with a certain protection against their most horrible powers. Some non-sylvari scholars state instead that the sylvari’s strange biology foils the corruption of the dragons. A few clever souls state that sylvari just taste bad to dragons. No one knows for certain which is the truth.

Yet the minions of the Elder Dragon are only one threat among many. There are sylvari who have rejected the teachings of Ventari’s tablet and claim that the centaur’s influence has perverted the Dream. They seek the shadow within the Dream, turn away from what they call “false morality,” and explore the darker side of their personalities. Cold, cruel, and without mercy, these sylvari see themselves as the “true sylvari,” the rightful children of the tree, and consider it to be their great purpose to bring others of their race into that darkness. They are known as the Nightmare Court, and with each act of cruelty and evil, they add their nightmares to the tree and hope, one day, to change the balance and turn their parent to their side. The leader of the Nightmare Court is one of the firstborn: the Duchess Faolain, once the cherished companion of Caithe.

A Brave New World

The sylvari are fewer in number than the other great races, but more enter the world each day as they awaken. They are new to Tyria, yet because of the Dream, they know what that world is about. Still, they are curious, seeking to understand things about which they have only dreamed. They find the world alive with potential and fascinating.