The Dunmer, also known as Dark Elves, are the ash-skinned, typically red-eyed elven peoples of Morrowind.[nb 1] "Dark" is commonly understood as meaning such characteristics as "dark-skinned", "gloomy", "ill-favored by fate" and so on. The Dunmer and their national identity, however, embrace these various connotations with enthusiasm. In the Empire, "Dark Elf" is the common usage, but among their Aldmeri brethren they are called "Dunmer". Their combination of powerful intellects with strong and agile physiques produce superior warriors and sorcerers. On the battlefield, Dunmer are noted for their skill with a balanced integration of the sword, the bow and destruction magic. Dunmer live two to three times as long as humans; with a 200-year-old Dunmer being old and a 300-year-old Dunmer being very, very old. In character, they are grim, aloof, and reserved, as well as distrusting and disdainful of other races.
Dunmer distrust and are treated distrustfully by other races. They are often proud, clannish, ruthless, and cruel, from an outsider's point of view, but greatly value loyalty and family. Young female Dunmer have a reputation for promiscuity in some circles. Despite their powerful skills and strengths, the Dunmer's vengeful nature, age-old conflicts, betrayals, and ill-reputation prevent them from gaining more influence. Those born in their homeland of Morrowind before its devastation were known to be considerably less friendly than those who grew up in the Imperial tradition.
The Dunmer were born from the ashes of the Battle of Red Mountain. The infamous confrontation around 1E 700 led to the death of an ancient and respected war leader known as Lord Indoril Nerevar, the destruction of a Chimer clan, the disappearance of an entire race then present on Nirn, and the ascension into godhood of four of Nerevar's councilors and closest friends, culminating in a curse from a Daedric prince that transformed the Dunmer into their present appearance. Before that, they were the Chimer, a race of elves with skin like pale gold that followed the prophet Veloth to Resdayn (present-day Morrowind) seeking religious freedom. But the Daedra Azura (the Goddess of Dusk and Dawn and the patron of Nerevar), became angry and cursed the Chimer, turning their eyes red and their skin ashen. Nerevar's councilors, his general Vivec, the sorcerer Sotha Sil, and his wife Almalexia, broke an oath they had sworn to Nerevar and Azura by stealing divine power for themselves. When this Tribunal of new living gods showed no remorse to Azura, she cursed them and all Chimer, and tied together the fate of the Dunmer and Tribunal until the end of time.
The Dunmer came to worship them and follow their teachings, with some notable detractors. For thousands of years, they used their power and leadership to protect the Dunmer from foreign invasion and, later, from Dagoth Ur, their ancient archenemy and the devil incarnate for the Dunmer (for he, too, had stolen divine power). After he awakened in 2E 882, the Tribunal had to donate their full attention to him, allowing for the Treaty of the Armistice with Tiber Septim's Third Empire that made Morrowind an autonomous province (and may have been influenced by the Tribunal's awareness of Tiber Septim's rise to divinity and the comparative weakness of Dunmer forces). Near the end of the Third Era, their power crumbled upon the advent of the Nerevarine, the reincarnation of Nerevar whom Azura had prophesied would come to set right the mistakes of the past. The Nerevarine, an outlander to Morrowind and purported Blades agent of Emperor Uriel Septim VII, severed their divine power at its source: the Heart of Lorkhan. The Heart had been discovered in the First Era by the Dwemer, and their plan to exploit it is what caused the Battle of Red Mountain in the first place. The Nerevarine released the Heart; Dagoth Ur, Sotha Sil, and Almalexia were killed soon after. Vivec is missing (with some claiming he has been "taken" by the Daedra).
The Nerevarine eschewed taking power in Morrowind, and instead reportedly set sail for Akavir, leaving the Dunmer to make their own future. Unfortunately, that future has proven grim. In the first few years of the Fourth Era, with Vivec no longer holding Baar Dau in place, it began its descent into the city of Vivec again. An Ingenium was created to hold the moon in place, however it was powered by souls. As a consequence, a Dunmer named Sul destroyed the Ingenium in an attempt to save his lover. The moon then hit Vivec City with the full strength of its original descent, triggering a series of natural disasters that devastated Vvardenfell and the province as a whole in what is now called the Red Year. In the aftermath, the Argonian armies of Black Marsh conquered the land. The remaining Dunmer have fled to places around Tamriel, notably Skyrim and the small island of Solstheim northwest of Vvardenfell. House Redoran had created an army when the Empire pulled its forces back to Cyrodiil to deal with the Oblivion Crisis. The army was able to repel the Argonian invaders, saving the Dunmer from an even worse fate.
The Dunmer are known for some of the most exotic architecture in Tamriel. The Telvanni Dunmer reside in giant plants buttressed by giant mushrooms, using magic to grow their homes. The Redoran, Indoril, Dres and Hlaalu use more conventional methods to build their structures in their own slightly differing styles. The Redoran town of Ald'ruhn on Vvardenfell was famous for being built around the shell of a long-dead Emperor Crab. Unlike their settled brethren, the Ashlanders are nomadic, and live in migrating encampments of large tents throughout Vvardenfell. All Dunmer buildings have to be well-suited to deal with the climate of their particular region, which vary greatly across the province.
The Dunmer have been defined by their environment. Red Mountain looms as large in their collective thought as it does on the horizon. Its ash and lava sculpted the attitudes of Vvardenfell residents. One does not have to travel far outside of many cities to find a giant Foyada cutting through the land like a scar. Native-born Dunmer tended to look down on "outlanders", which include both other races and Dunmer born outside of Morrowind, though the intensity of this ethnocentrism varies. For thousands of years under the Tribunal, Dunmer society was structured much like the Chimer society had been: domestic Great Houses governed by Ruling Councils competed against each other for power and territory, while nomadic groups eschewed relative modernity for ancient tribal practices. Houses tend to rise and fall; many have faded to extinction over the years or sprouted up to challenge others. At the close of the Third Era, the five most important houses were Hlaalu, Redoran, Telvanni, Dres and Indoril, though it's not known how well each persevered through the cataclysms following the end of the Tribunal. Historically, Indoril has been so heavily involved with the Temple itself that it is hard to distinguish the two. In the Ashlands, native tribes ruled without laws or government and lived strictly by codes, rituals, and ancient traditions usually dictated by a wise woman or seer and implemented by a clan leader. They lived in the deserts and plains of the Ashlands and Grazelands.
The "peaceful" status quo for Dunmer is still quite savage, even when led by living gods. Political machinations are constant. Assassinations are common; there's even a legally established guild providing services. A huge amount of black market activity thrives along Morrowind's extensive coastlines. Dissidents to the Temple and other subversives over the years have been hunted and persecuted. Slavery used to be commonplace. Mostly Khajiit or Argonian slaves were trafficked, although many men and mer were also enslaved. Goblins were also seen as a significant slave "resource". The Third Empire of Tiber Septim had banned slavery, but Dunmer were allowed to keep their own sacred and traditional laws in their entrance to the Empire. By the end of the Third Era, King Helseth had officially abolished slavery.  Necromancy is also practiced openly by some Dunmer, though never with Dunmer corpses.
The Great Houses generally follow the established Tribunal Temple, which preaches faith for the Tribunal, respect for the "Good Daedra" who recognize the Tribunal, and veneration of ancestors. There was some practicality to this: ancestral remains are used to power ghost fences to ward off spirits, notably the one created by the Tribunal that surrounded Red Mountain for hundreds of years to keep Dagoth Ur and his minions at bay. Historically, the Dunmer have resisted worshipping the Aedra of the Nine Divines, and it is likely many Dunmer will be interested in rejoining something similar to the traditions of ancestor and Daedra worship that Ashlanders have kept alive.
- For game-specific information, see the Online, Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, Daggerfall, Shadowkey, and Arena articles.
- A Short History of Morrowind by Jeanette Sitte — Some excerpts from the book's introduction and its section on Vvardenfell
- Ancestors and the Dunmer — An outdated guide for foreign visitors to Morrowind
- The Anticipations by Anonymous — Overview of the members of and the relationship between the Tribunal and the Daedra
- Great Houses of Morrowind — A description of the five great houses of Morrowind
- The House of Troubles — Chronicle of the Daedra who decided not to submit to the Tribunal
- Lives of the Saints by the Tribunal Temple — Listing and describing prominent saints of the Dunmer
- On Morrowind by Erramanwe of Sunhold — A historical synopsis of the Imperial conquest of Morrowind
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The Temple: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- Progress of Truth by the Dissident Priests — A book questioning the doctrine of the Tribunal and even its godhood
- Vivec and Mephala — Informational book about ALMSIVI and Mephala
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 2E 864
- ^ a b c d On Morrowind — Erramanwe of Sunhold
- ^ Ask Us Anything Variety Pack 4
- ^ a b c d e Ancestors and the Dunmer
- ^ The Real Barenziah, Part IV — Plitinius Mero
- ^ a b c d e The Infernal City — Greg Keyes
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Pocket Guide to the Empire, 3rd Edition: The Temple: Morrowind — Imperial Geographical Society, 3E 432
- ^ a b c d e f The Battle of Red Mountain, and the Rise and Fall of the Tribunal — Vivec
- ^ a b Nerevar at Red Mountain — the Tribunal Temple
- ^ The Real Nerevar
- ^ a b c d e f A Short History of Morrowind — Jeanette Sitte
- ^ Lives of the Saints — Tribunal Temple
- ^ Vivec and Mephala
- ^ The Plan to Defeat Dagoth Ur — Vivec
- ^ Events of Morrowind.
- ^ Rumors heard during the Oblivion Crisis.
- ^ Lymdrenn Tenvanni's Journal — Lymdrenn
- ^ Adril Arano's dialogue in Dragonborn.
- ^ a b c d e Great Houses of Morrowind
- ^ The Battle of Molag Beran
- ^ The House of Troubles
- ^ Progress of Truth — Dissident Priests
- ^ Aldryn Dres' dialogue in ESO
- ^ The Anticipations — Anonymous
- ^ Vivec's conversation with the Nerevarine after the defeat of Dagoth Ur.