The index of TSR's immortal volume Fiend Folio lists the creator of the xvart as one Cricky Hitchcock. But the creature's name (if not the spelling) will be familiar to fans of the novels of Alan Garner, and speakers of Scandinavian languages.

Where did the blue-skinned goblins found in Fiend Folio (and MC14, its Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition counterpart), and rampaging in such numbers through the Baldur's Gate games, spring from?

The answer lies in the same place as the origin of the drow. The word is simply an excessively science-fictional spelling of 'svart', which is the word for 'black' in many Scandinavian languages. The German word schwarz is from the same root, as is the obsolete English word swart (from which swarthy derives). In Norse mythology, the elves (alfar) are divided into two classes. The Liosalfar - light elves, Ljusalfar in modern Swedish - are said to follow Frey, head of the Vanir, and an astral deity. The dark elves, or Svartalfar, instead follow (according to some sources) Wieland/Wayland, the smith-god, who has a clearly cthonic aspect. There is also some confusion in this respect with the dwarves (dvergar, from which AD&D gets its 'derro' and 'duergar'), and with the trolls (trow/drow in old Scottish dialects).

Milton makes reference to a swart fairy, as a synonym for a spirit of ill-omen, in Comus. My sources for dark-elf nomenclature are a little patchy after this, but we hit a definite reference in the novels The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, by British fantasy author Alan Garner. These books, drawing heavily (too heavily, some might say) on Celtic and Nordic legend, feature a race of malignant goblin-like creatures, fitting almost exactly the Fiend Folio description, called svart-alfar, or svarts for short.

The established society of xvart(s) in their AD&D incarnation has little if anything to do with their Norse heritage. Stripped of interesting mythic background, they become yet another addition to the ranks of 'goblinoids'. Their blue skin does not really distinguish them significantly from the existing orcs, goblins, kobolds (before the Third Edition reinforced kobolds' reptilian nature), hobgoblins, bugbears, nilbogs and other bugaboos. In the official AD&D canon, they were initially restricted to the World of Greyhawk setting, where they worshipped a cruel god called Raxivort. However, their appearance in the original Baldur's Gate computer game confirmed many players' existing use of them in the Forgotten Realms setting. So far as I am aware, no statement has appeared about the religion of xvart on Toril.

To confuse your AD&D players, I recommend referring to drow as svartalfar (in my Planescape campaign I gave svartalfar a contextual spin meaning something like 'elf of colour') and to xvart as 'swart-fairies', or even 'drow' or 'troll'. Their initial tactics may be amusingly wrong. And play with their minds on the religion front as well. Those they worship the usual AD&D drow goddess, Lolth, or the Forgotten Realms 'good' drow goddess, Eilistraee, or Wayland, or even Loki? And what of the xvart?

The Xvart is a fantasy monster. This particular creature appears to have been first officially introduced in the AD&D Fiend Folio tome, although it may have appeared earlier in White Dwarf magazine. It has since been used in many other places, and these critters are a common enemy in the computer game Baldur's Gate. These are an example of what is wrong with the Dungeons and Dragons game. There are simply hundreds of humanoid races like this, with very few differences between them.

Xvarts are small humanoids who are an average of three feet in height. They are smaller than goblins but larger than kobolds. Most Xvarts will attack Kobolds on sight, as they can defeat them with relative ease. The Xvarts have bright blue skin and orange eyes. Most goblinoid races come in a variety of colors, but not the Xvart, every single one of them is Papa Smurf blue in color.

Xvarts generally dress in loincloths but many of them will go completely naked. They tend towards exaggerated facial features and most of them go bald very early in life. Their favored weapons are small swords, while more powerful Xvarts will usually tend to use heavier maces flails and axes. Xvarts recognize the use of the net and there will be several members of each tribe who have trained long and hard at using them. Xvarts will only attack humans if they greatly outnumber them, as they are intelligent enough to know the consequences of letting surviving humans escape. They are much more likely to prey upon other humanoid species, particularly kobolds and goblins.

Xvarts tend to live in small tribal groups, usually deep in forests or underground. As a race they lean towards evil and chaos, but individual Xvarts are certainly free to choose their own morals (although very few of them do). Most Xvart villages will have a few spellcasters. Xvart spellcasters may be either shamans or witches (religious or non-religious), but they usually only know very basic spells. Xvart villages usually have large populations of women and children, usually over double the number of adult males. This is due to the dangerous lives most Xvart males live. The excess of female Xvarts has doomed them to subservience, with large numbers of them being unable to attract mates at all.

Xvarts love to take prisoners, which they usually proceed to torture, but sometimes they will hold them for ransom. They do not keep slave populations, instead they use the females for that sort of work, as it is a lot safer than keeping slaves around.

My monster nodes are usually based upon material in the various AD&D rulebooks. But they are my own work, as I often expand the information. In some cases I will blatantly disagree with the source material. None of these nodes are cut and paste. You are free to use my descriptions in any material of your own (even commercial material), as long as I am credited as the source.

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