“Once the Lords of Quarmall ruled over broad meadows and vast seas; their ships swam between all known ports, and their caravans marched the routes from sea to sea. Slowly from the fertile valleys and barren cliffs, from the desert spots and the open sea the grip of Quarmall loosened; not willingly but ever forced did the Lords of Quarmall retreat. Inexorably they were driven, year by year, generation by generation, from all their possessions and rights; until finally they were confined to that last and staunchest stronghold, the impregnable castle of Quarmall. The cause of this driving is lost in the dimness of fable; but it was probably due to those most gruesome practices which even to this day persuade the surrounding countryside that Quarmall is unclean and cursed.
“As the Lords of Quarmall were pushed back, driven in spite of their sorceries and valor, they burrowed under that last, vast stronghold ever deeper and ever broader. Each succeeding Lord dug more deeply into the bowels of the small mount on which sat the Keep of Quarmall. Eventually the memory of past glories faded and was forgotten and the Lords of Quarmall concentrated on their mazy tunneling to the exclusion of the outer world. They would have forgotten the outer world entirely but for their constant and ever-increasing need of slaves and of sustenance for those slaves.”
— Scraa’s scroll from ‘The Lords of Quarmall’, Swords Against Wizardry, Fritz Leiber
To qualify Scraa’s words, the Quarmallians once dominated the Lankhmar Continent, the Inner Sea and to a lesser extent the Eastern Lands. What began and hastened the Quarmallian decline was their catastrophic conflict with another elder race (perhaps both races hailed from another dimension?) from the eastern Lankhmar Continent called here the Elves or the People. Their war was ruthless, waged for generations with sorcery and steel and stranger technologies across and under the Mountains of Hunger and the Sea of Stars. Strangely, humans of Nehwon were only dimly aware of the war. The war’s final battle saw the city of Tovilyis, and the two armies blasted into rubble by dragonfire. When it was over, the face of Nehwon had changed. The forests of eastern Lankhmar had been blasted to the Quarmall Barrens. A demon-made canal linked the broad Hlal to the Sea of the East. Neither the Quarmallians nor the elves could claim victory; neither admitted defeat. The Quarmallians retreated to their city-hill and the remaining Elves withdrew to the Forest of Sibilan southeast of Lankhmar.
My conception of Nehwonian ‘elves’ was quite influenced by the Vadagh5: godless, rational, distant from humanity and servants of Law. The other inspiration6: fey, inhuman, amoral, xenophobic, engaged in an endless war (in this case with the Quarmallians) whose effects are only partly perceived by humans. Later I wished I’d used a different name for the race but you can’t control everything in a 20+ year old campaign.
1 Vance, Jack, Planet of Adventure
2 Moorcock, Michael, Elric of Melnibone
3 Peake, Mervyn, Gormenghast
4 Leiber, Fritz, Swords Against Wizardry
5 Moorcock, Michael, Chronicles of Corum
6 Anderson, Poul, The Broken Sword