“My Brother and I Against the World…”: Eldar and Dark Eldar are Not Enemies

Rare is the time when I feel the need to write a post just so I can have something to link to later, but this is one of those times. I see over and over again “Eldar would never ally with Dark Eldar, they hate each other!” and suggesting that the current status of them as Battle Brothers in the allies matrix is somehow “wrong”. It seems to come up repeatedly, and being an unapologetic fan of the Eldar, it’s started to grate.

So lets get this out of the way first: The Eldar and Dark Eldar are not mortal enemies.

I think the tendency to assume they are is that the Eldar as a race can be easily summed up as “Like Elves but, you know, in space…”, and there’s a definite temptation to do so. This strips them of some of their nuance, but that’s kind of what shorthand does generally. The Eldar suffer somewhat particular from this comparison though because the most direct analog to them in Warhammer Fantasy is the High and Dark Elves, who are defined by their animosity to one another. They hate each other, and are often cast as two opposing sides. Moving further afield from Games Workshop space, this is also true for the iconic Elven races in Dungeons & Dragons and it’s associated properties, and the pattern of the “X” and the “Dark X” being antagonists is common enough that it’s an easy assumption to make, especially when the “Dark X” are inhumanly sadistic murder-pirates.

The problem is, for the Eldar, that assumption isn’t true.

There’s a saying that’s attributed to the Bedouins that goes something like this: “Me against my brother, my brother and I against my cousins, my cousins and I against the world.” That is the perfect analogy for the Eldar. You might view your sibling as a screw up, whose made profoundly bad life choices, you only ever see at holidays, and who you wish would stop upsetting Mom and Dad. Most of your interactions might end in shouting matches.

But if you’re together in a bar, and someone punches them?

They’ve just thrown down against both of you.

An even better analogy might be to view the Eldar and Dark Eldar as roommates who don’t get along. They stay to themselves, occasionally do petty stuff like change the router password or drink your milk from the carton, and generally feud. But that doesn’t make them mortal enemies, especially when their shared opponent is the cockroaches that have started showing up in their previously pristine apartment.

 

Lets look at some of the textual evidence for that, shall we?

The Main Rulebook: First, there’s the main rulebook itself, and the aforementioned allies matrix. Now, your stance on Battle Brothers as a rule notwithstanding (I like it, there are those that don’t), the Eldar and Dark Eldar are very clearly marked as Battle Brothers. Not “Battle Brothers because they both can ally with Harlequins”. Just Battle Brothers. That’s deliberate, and it’s been that way since 6th edition. If it was that egregious of an error, it would have been corrected.

Codex Dark Eldar:

“518.M41 The Veiled War. The Wych Cult of the Red Grief engages the warriors of Saim-Hann in battle over a broken alliance…” You can’t break an alliance without making one in the first place.

“This state of mutual antipathy is near constant, set aside only occasionally in the face of a sufficiently deadly mutual foe.” I think one of the more interesting ideas behind allies is that you don’t have to actually like each other to have to be allies – you just have to be behind the same cause.

Codex Eldar:

“786.M41 The Death of Gnosis Prime. Autarch Zephyrblade’s warhost sweeps down upon the Imperial World of Gnosis Prime, outmaneuvering its lumbering human armies at every turn. In alliance with Dark Eldar raiders, the Autarch sees the world brought to the brink of destruction.” This battle is also detailed in the old Planetstrike book, and shows the two forces coordinating heavily.

Valedor:

This is the one that’s particularly damning to the notion that the Eldar and Dark Eldar don’t partner together. It’s an entire campaign book of the Eldar and Dark Eldar allied together to prevent something really rather terrible from happening. See my review here. But really, the two again cooperate fairly heavily in joint operations.

Path of the Eldar: Gav Thorpe’s excellent series, features the blurry line between the Eldar factions – the Corsairs. Where Kabalites on the run, Craftworlders who are chafing under the rules, and other assorted wanderers all end up. I will try to avoid serious spoilers, but one of the stories involves a disenchanted Eldar from Alaitoc falling in with the wrong sort of crowd, led by a Dark Eldar captain.

This isn’t a tale of mortal enemies. It’s a tale of a moody teenager falling for a “bad girl” with exotic piercings and access to interesting drugs, spinning a line about how he can totally drop out, get his GED, and stick it to the man. Except, you know, on a scale that ends up with Farseers going “Um…shit. Shit shit shit.”

Now none of this is to say that the Eldar aren’t horrible allies. They are. Every single Eldar book is filled with the Eldar being jerks to their allies. The Dark Eldar delight in causing anguish to their Craftworld cousins, and an Autarch walking around in Commoragh is in very real danger. The Harlequins occasionally just disappear their allies to eldritch and unknowable fates. And the Craftworlders? There’s a reason one of their Altar of War missions is called “Perfidious Eldar.” The only question is what mix of “Screaming Anguish”, “Just As Planned” and “Died As The Punchline To A Hilarious Joke” your particular betrayal is going to involve.

Anyone going into an alliance with an Eldar faction (including other Eldar) with any notion other than that they will get stabbed in the back the moment it’s most beneficial to the Eldar is an idiot. The Eldar are in it for themselves.

But that doesn’t stop them from being allies. Because it is the very essence of Eldar arrogance to assume you’ll get the upper-hand when dealing with your treacherous brethren. Battle brothers doesn’t mean the best of friends (just look at the Imperium…). Battle brothers just means you’re on the same side, and when it comes to “Eldar or Not Eldar”, either faction will pick their misguided brethren 9 times out of 10 (the 10th being when Eldrad is playing some long game that makes everyone but Fateweaver go ‘That seems overly complex…’). And their inevitable betrayal might be fairly moderate by Eldar standards – in Valedor, it was making off with a few interesting pets, and chuckling while a handful of Farseer’s voluntarily self-immolated. By the standards of 40K betrayal, that’s pretty tepid.

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5 Comments


  1. There are descriptions of them allying, but not to the extent of ‘battle brothers’. They should be allies of convenience or even desperation. They aren’t mortal enemies so they wouldn’t be allies of the apocalypse, but the craftworlders would absolutely not trust them or turn their backs on them.

    The dark eldar are happy to backstab and murderise their own, let alone what they see as their pathetic cousins. The craftworlders see them as the dark kin for a reason, they’ll join forces if they absolutely have to, but they know that they are the cause of the suffering of the Eldar race and rightfully hate them for it. You don’t look at your cousins whose actions created Slaanesh and go: ‘yeah it’s cool we’re related’.

    They aren’t constantly at each others throats, but there is definitely no care for each other and they wouldn’t mind the other being destroyed. They join forces when it matters to both of them and often due to the involvement of Harlequins. They certainly wouldn’t join each other’s units, shoulder to shoulder on the field of battle right when their beloved hero could be captured afterwards and whisked off to Commorragh for some fun.

    They’ll sometimes fight for the same cause, they’ll sometimes fight each other because the dark eldar are evil and will gladly do anything even (or especially) if it harms their over-serious cousins. The craftworlders have been known to fight alongside the Imperium against dark eldar raids. It all depends on the circumstances, they aren’t consistent allies and they certainly hate each other, but needs must. For the craftworlders, it depends on what the farseers see. If a dark eldar raid on an Imperial world is going to jeopardise a craftworld or exodite world somewhere along the line of fate, you can bet the craftworlders are going to turn up and help the Imperials kick their abusive, careless pain in the arse cousins back into the webway.

    Reply

    1. I don’t actually think Allies of Convenience is appropriate. Allies of Convenience much more implies that things are going to go back to being enemies the moment the shooting stops, and it’s possible that’s not true for the Eldar. For example, for two of the examples I chose, Gnosis Prime and Valedor, there’s actually very little mentioned of any sort of backstabbing, which is, as far as working with the Dark Eldar is concerned, utterly unprecedented for any other race.

      Also, the Dark Eldar are not wholly responsible for She Who Thirsts, and the Craftworlders know that. While they left the worlds that were swallowed up, those worlds did their own fair share of destroying the Eldar empire.

      I should also note that Battle Brothers, in the game, clearly doesn’t denote “consistent allies”. The Dark Angels are Battle Brothers with the rest of the Imperium, despite their tendency to wander off at inopportune moments. The Space Wolves and the Grey Knights are Battle Brothers. The Flesh Tearers, and units the Flesh Tearers would chop up into little bits when they get a little overexcited as Battle Brothers. The Sisters of Battle and those they’d censure for insufficient piousness…Battle Brothers.

      Battle Brothers is about coordination. It’s two sides actively trying to work together for a common goal, whether or not they like each other. Allies of Convenience is merely about being “on the same side this time.”

      Reply

      1. Yeah, I’ve always liked the explanation that battle brothers denotes more how well their traditions, tactics, chains of command, etc. mesh.
        Like, nothing is higher than come the apocalypse with Tyranids because no other races share the hive mind’s will, but the Eldar races at least understand each other’s culture, politics, etc.

        Reply

  2. Sure, let’s just forget the fact that the dark eldar prize craftworld eldar slaves only second to sacrificing craftworld eldar souls to slaneesh. Im sure that the eldar can just look past the fact that torturing eldar and wraiths is the greatest form of entertainment and satisfaction to dark eldar. Its not like the dark eldar hunt, pillage, murder, and rape craftworld eldar just for the fun of it. It’s not like this has been going on for thousands of years and has cost countless lives that ended in deaths to horrible to imagine. Sure. Sounds like great storytelling to me.

    Reply

    1. The Eldar *can* and *have* looked past those things. In a perfect, uncontaminated universe they might be sworn enemies, and that may be true on an individual level, but when the Tyranids are about to eat a Maiden World, sometimes you look for what help is there, even if it’s distasteful. “It’s not black-and-white” isn’t exactly a novel idea in 40K.

      Reply

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