The Pathfinder Companion book series are short books of in-depth lore about a single subject. I recently read the Elves of Golarion, and now I know everything about elves, or at least the elves as they appear in the default setting of the Pathfinder roleplaying game.
From the lore presented in the Core Rulebook, you get the sense that elves in Pathfinder are generally standard-issue fantasy elves. They follow the typical Tolkien blueprint: tall, beautiful, graceful, mostly immortal, wise, serene, and aloof. That's what most people want from elves, I think, and Pathfinder provides.
However, it turns out there's more to the elvish story than where they've ended up in the current timeline of the game world.
First of all, let me say that I've long suspected that elves originated off-world, specifically on the planet Triaxus. I didn't develop this theory on my own. There are hints about this in one of the many Pathfinder books and comics I've read, although admittedly I can't remember which one or how explicit the hint was. Maybe I read too much into a casual mention of a popular Golarion rumour.
Then again, who knows? Maybe I'm right. This book neither confirms or denies that theory. It does confirm that elves are an ancient race on Golarion, as [old as dwarves](https://mixedsignals.ml/games/blog/blog_pathfinder-companion_dwarves). Dwarves ruled the world under the mountains, and the elves dwelt on the surface.
When humans started over-running the planet, the elves escaped through a magical portal leading from their home in Kyonin to a place called Sovyrian. It remains a mystery what and where Sovyrian is, exactly, but the word planet is mentioned as one of the several theories.
Just in case it's not clear, I'm very much on team extra-terrestrial for the Pathfinder elfin origin story. And anyway, Paizo doesn't exactly discourage the idea. Pathfinder tackled interstellar travel initially in Iron Gods, and then in Starfinder. I like the idea that some of the races on Golarion are extra-terrestrial, not as a retcon but as something we've suspected the whole time. We have similar knowledge of various extra-planar beings across the D&D multiverse, and it's nice to have the same sense on a smaller scale in Pathfinder. From multiverse to universe to solar system, Pathfinder feels a little cozier for having a solar system that may have been part of the Golarion story since the beginning.
There's a section with information about Elves and their relationship with the other races. This is a fun section, with nothing so severe that it's likely to hurt player relationships. The weakest connection is probably elves and half-orcs, who have only "dim hopes" of becoming trusted friends. I'm not sure why an RPG book would go even this far, but it's not as bad as it could have been. It doesn't say they're bitter enemies, at least. In my opinion, if it's an ancestry supported by the base rulebook, the relationships should be affirming. I understand why an elf would be suspicious of a half-orc, but it's all imaginary, so why not give players something positive to build upon? Instead, elves could "sympathise with half-orcs for having to live in a world they'll never quite belong." It's just one sentence, but it frees many a GM from having to constantly having to remind players that elves and half orcs are friendly to one another on Golarion. To the book's credit, it does at least clearly state that elves and dwarves get along with one another based on their mutual histories as ancient races.
The elven pantheon is also described, briefly. I love a good pantheon, and I find them easy ways to make a region or a group feel instantly foreign. I'm not likely to use the elven pantheon often, but it's nice to have as a reference so that if PCs wander into Kyonin one day, there's an easy way to differentiate it from the outside world.
Kyonin, the kingdom of the elves, gets a good 5 pages in this booklet, with a description of elven governance, economy, transportation, population, and military. It's not enough to build a campaign around, but it's a good amount of information for a short visit, or as context for an elven convoy or for the backstory of a PC or NPC.
For players, the real value of this book occurs in the final 10 pages. This section is filled with racial traits, combat magic, and a prestige class. It's plenty of material you can use during an elvish character build. And combined with all the information before it, there's plenty of lore to build a complex backstory.
This book reveals that elves of Golarion are on a lifelong quest to find "brightness." Unique to each elf, your brightness is the thing that you live for, the thing that motivates you and inspires you, but it's also the thing that is as-yet unfulfilled. Finding your brightness is usually a long process. For a human, it would be a literal lifetime, but elves are reincarnated and immortal beings.
Given that most RPG campaigns occur over the course of maybe a few months of game time, I don't know how a player is ever expected to use the detail about brightness in their elven character. To me, though, that's a good sign, because it shows the level of detail developed for the elves in Pathfinder. Of course, it's not just the elves. Paizo does an amazing job of developing and describing the game world, and to me that's the value of an RPG publisher. Whether you're a lazy GM, or you're just someone who loves to read fantasy lore, the material Paizo provides is both entertaining and inspiring. If you thought that magazines and periodicals were dead, think again. Paizo was and is a major publisher of some of the best fantasy material to read and to play.
Photo by Mixed Signals. Creative Commons cc0.