The classification of nymphs originally comes from Dara Happa, where they were the daughters of the great gods and goddesses of the world. The nymphs were divided into four great families, tracing back to their mothers.
- The Oriads, descended from Oria the great Mother. These were the nymphs of mountains, fields, valleys and also natural life, through her daughters Erenbaya and Uryarda. As Oria was the most fecund of goddesses, the Oriads are the most plentiful of nymphs, and could be found everywhere in Dara Happa.
- The Ouraniads, created by Ourania, the daughter of Dayzatar. These were the nymphs of above, who dwell in the sky world as wives of gods and servants of great heroes. The Ouraniads were among the fewest of nymphs, for Ourania was a virginal goddess, and each celestial nymph was formed purely from her powers of creation.
- The Oslirads, daughters of the great river goddess Oslira. These were the nymphs of streams, lakes and other bodies of water, and were respected by the people of Henjarl as nurturers and providers.
- The Annarads, who were the terrible children of Annara Gor, queen of the Third Hell. Like their mother, they were monstrous creatures of the underworld, and were said to hate all those who dwelt above. Despite this, they were also said to keep many monsters restrained by their powers.
In early myth all nymphs, including the horrific annarads, were respectful and dutiful beings, as Dara Happans expected their wives and daughters to act. But when Yelm died, many were said to have lost their way and retreated out of civilization. The worst of these became monstrous beings, hostile to men, and gave birth to monsters.
Those who remained loyal to the Dara Happans were given proper respect, and often became patrons of cities, such as the great oriad Thilla who watches over Yuthuppa to this day. Others became the wives of great heroes, and their divine lineage has been proven to run in the noble families of Dara Happa.
In the age of Nysalor, when Dara Happa and the peoples of the Second Council joined together, mutual exchanges of knowledge occurred Dara Happans, Orlanthi, the Elder Races and others. The Dara Happan families of nymphs were expanded to encompass the daughters of many foreign deities, and were adopted by others as appropriate terminology.
The names of the families were changed during this period, sometimes merely an alteration in spelling or pronunciation, such as oriad becoming oread, or ouraniad becoming the aurae.
Others underwent a more drastic reclassification. The oslirads, being the nymphs of rivers, were recognised as merely one branch of the greater family of sea nymphs, descended from Mirintha, the mother of all sea peoples. Due to an unfortunate scribal error, the sea nymphs were not recorded as mirinthe, as the merfolk know them; but were instead confused with the ancestresses of the merfolk, the niiads. The sea nymphs were thus given the name naiads, and this widespread error has proven impossible to correct.
Due to elf influence on the Bright Empire, the children of Erenbaya, the tree nymphs, became recognised as their own family. Recognising Erenbaya as an aspect of their great progenitor Aldrya, these nymphs became known as aldryads, and eventually the first syllable was dropped, resulting in the modern name of dryad.
With the trolls having left the Second Council early on, and despising the Dara Happans for their worship of the sun, little research was ever performed into the nature of the annarads. In the time of the bright empire, the common name of hag was applied both to them and to any other malign nymph. A misconception which has proven hard to shift.
When the Bright Empire was destroyed both the newly liberated Orlanthi, and the maudlin Dara Happans kept this revised family tree of nymphs. This proved of interest to the God Learners as they absorbed the Orlanthi of Ralios and Kethaela into the Middle Sea Empire.
The God Learners attempted to classify nymphs into five families based entirely around the elemental runes they recognised.
- The Oreads were the daughters of all earth gods and goddesses. The God Learners even attempted to reintegrate the dryads into this classification once again, but this proved a short lived solution.
- The Aurea became the name of the nymphs of air and storm, ironically separating them from their original ancestress, who as a star goddess had no connection to the air.
- The Asteriae was to be the new category of celestial nymphs, the children of star gods who inhabited the sky world. Any other lesser goddesses of fire were placed into this category as well, for the God Learners proved that all fire originated in the sky world.
- The Naiads remained mostly untouched, although it has been suggested that the God Learner usage of their erroneous name is part of the reason it is so hard to correct.
- The Suberiads were the one time annarads. The God Learners having investigated them heavily through both Dara Happan and trollish myth, they discovered that what the Dara Happans had feared were merely the most surface dwelling of a far more ancient and numerous family of nymphs, which they linked to Subere, the great goddess of darkness and secrets.
Among the discoveries of the God Learners was that the description of the now Suberiads as "hags", was something of a misunderstanding. Nymphs, they declared, were incarnations of the feminine principle of nature. As such, when they were contented, they appeared as beautiful young women, pleasing to the eye of all who look at them. This desire was part of their divine nature, and even their usual enemies could fall victim to it. (However, this was not always to the nymph's advantage, as found when trolls viewed a pleasant dryad, they saw it not as a beautiful troll-wife; but instead as the most delicious looking tree possible).
Conversly, when a nymph is angered or saddened, they reflect the more hostile aspect of nature, becoming monstrous beings of hate and fear. The God Learners believed this to be a result of man and nature becoming separate and hostile at the end of the Golden Age.
The God Learners used this discovery to their advantage in heroquesting. When encountering a hostile nature goddess in a myth, they could appease her rather than fighting her, reverting the hag to their nymph form, and bypassing the threat.
As was not uncommon in those days, this backfired on the God Learners when they claimed that the goddesses Babeester Gor and Voria were in fact the same goddess in a hag and nymph aspect. They sought to use this revelation to plunder the temples of Esrolia. Despite their confidence, Babeester Gor was unsatiated by their offerings of blood wine, and the remains of these foolish sorcerers can still be found tortured deep within Babeester Gor's cavern.
Nymphs usually appear as supernaturally attractive women, although this is merely an assumed form, and not their true nature. As such it is likened to the temporary creation caused by Illusion magic (and a cult of Pelorian mystics has praised and condemned Glorantha herself as the nymph of all creation). While universally attractive, each nymphs form will take on aspects of its home. A dryad's skin will be green, and her hair will be wreathed with blossoms and vines; likewise some oreads are known to be hairy and bestial, resembling the beastmen they dance with.
However, nymphs are not bound to this form, and may dissolve it at will, or manifest through the physical parts of their home, such as naiads appearing in a body made of shoals of fish, or aurae as intangible mist.
Whatever their form, a nymph always resides within a particular area of the natural world. whether materially, or spiritually. Any nymph's assumed body which leaves this area will dissolve as soon as it leaves, leading to the legend that a dryad will die if it travels too far from its home grove.
When hostile, a nymph reflects the malevolent aspect of nature. Their assumed forms will be monstrous, often covered in thick hair or scales, and the hair atop their heads becoming like wild serpents or curling vines. Their faces become caught in a grim expression of hate and rage, and their appearance inspires a supernatural terror, much as they once inspired desire as a nymph.