Monday, June 14, 2010

Elven Oddities

Now that I've discussed how dwarves procreate, a few brief words on the question of elven reproduction.

So far as anyone knows, elves are immortal. They can be killed and certain ailments may slay them, but they never die of old age. All elves, regardless of their chronological age -- and many elves claim to be over a thousand years old -- look as if they were approximately in their late teens or early 20s from a human perspective. Interestingly, elves, unlike most other races, cannot be raised from the dead if slain.

Elves are few in number; most humans have never seen more than two or three elves their entire lives and rarely do they ever see more than one elf in the same place. However, there are communities of elves in isolated parts of the world but humans rarely see them, let alone visit them. Those few who have visited them note, among other things, that there are no children to be found among the elves.

This lack of children has led to speculation about how new elves come to be, if indeed they do at all. For their part, elves refuse to broach the subject with "ephemerals," implying only that it is an intensely personal matter that they do not discuss with non-elves. One popular belief is that elves are a dying race that will pass away forever when the last elf is slain. Another even more popular belief is that elves steal human children and raise them as their own. Others say that one can become an elf by consuming their food, a notion made more plausible by the fact that elves do not consume human foodstuffs if they can avoid it and prefer not to eat in the presence of non-elves, regardless of the menu.

In general, elves are a detached, almost emotionless people, at least by human standards. Though there are many tall tales of "half-elves" -- the result of a star-crossed romance, usually between a human hero and a beautiful elven maiden -- there's no evidence that such a thing is even possible. For their part, elves take no interest whatsoever in humans (or any other race) as objects of affection. Furthermore, though elves do have two genders that, outwardly at least, resemble those of humans, elves do not marry or form pair bonds or have any other kind of social arrangements that suggest either the formation of families or indeed any purpose to the physiological differences between the genders. It's almost as if elves were male and female in imitation of humans, a theory that seems unlikely given the antiquity of the race and the fact that they originated on another world.

Thus, how -- and if -- elves reproduce remains a mystery to all but the elves and they're not telling.


  1. Interesting take, but to me anyway you've taken away anything we as readers and players could relate to or find fun. And they're not "alien" enough to be interestingly-different. In my opinion only, no offense, based on this description I wouldn't have any desire to interact with elf NPC's, or to play one. And as a reader, I don't feel interested enough to read a story about them.

    If you don't mind my asking, what was your motivation for writing them up this way?

  2. If you don't mind my asking, what was your motivation for writing them up this way?

    I'm not sure I understand the question. I wrote this the way I did because this is what elves are like in my campaign setting. Are you asking why elves are like this or something else?

  3. In the Majestic Wilderlands the Elves can have children and form pair-bonds. They are immortal and never die. Even if "killed" by a sword or massive physical trauma. What happens is their spirit taken to the court of Silvanus where they rest.

    Centuries and Millenia they later return to the Wilderlands. Also they are tied to the Wilderlands such that they can't go to other planes (other than the Court of Silvanus which is actually part of the Wilderlands).

    Elves are tied to the Wilderlands and will endure as along as the Wilderlands exists.

    However note the centuries or millennia before return. From the point of view of the characters it takes them out of the game. Although it would make for an interesting game if the party is all-elven and there is a TPK.

    This scheme can also explain why Raise Dead doesn't work on Elves (if you use that rule) better than the spirit/soul thing. You can't use it because the Elves are not really dead they are just elsewhere.

  4. Yes, why did you write elves to be this way in your campaign? What was your motivation?

  5. Interesting. The impression that I take from this is that Elves as a species are exhausted, trapped in a general ennui or even depression. One wonders what they are passionate about.

  6. What was your motivation?

    Like most things in my campaign, elves are what they are. I don't spend a lot of time thinking things out beforehand; most of my ideas just sort of come to me and I run with them. And elves came to me like this. Figuring out why they're like this and what that means for the player characters -- if anything -- is something that'll be resolved through play, not through a lot of thought beforehand, because that's not how I create.

  7. One wonders what they are passionate about.

    Not much, which is why elven adventurers are exceedingly rare.

  8. Baron, I think James is trying to make his world more human centric, and his non-humans more aloof (and weird) in nature. It's just the personal preferences/touches that he wants on things.

    Although James' dwarves are kind of interesting to me because they remind me of the weird Norse dwarves, the elves seem pretty joyless and maybe a bit too much like Vulcans from Star Trek for my tastes. The absence of any kind of children seems especially dark to me.

    Most seasoned D&D players who come to a game table based on "old school" will want their elves and to be more or less presented as they are in D&D - fairly plentiful, and elvish halfbreeds abound. But hey, it's James' world and if he wants it so shall it be.

    Just as an aside, my dwarvish women don't have beards. They are fewer in number than males (maybe 1 in 3 dwarves will be women), and jealously guarded by the male they choose. They are actually quite lovely in a short kind of way - I use old Elfquest female elf miniatures from the 80's for these rare little hotties.

    My elves? Lots of people who play D&D want to run elves, and they want them presented as they are in D&D, so I keep pretty close to that.

  9. Suprisingly, I find this conception of elves closer to that in Tolkien. Regardless of what Bilbo says about elven singing in June, I can't imagine Elrond participating, or doing anything else as coarse as consuming food. Your description gives Elven superiorirty a sinister cast-- but I don't find it forced.

  10. I can't imagine Elrond participating, or doing anything else as coarse as consuming food<

    Pretty off target, I think. Elves had a darkness in LOTR because they were dying out, but singing, cheer, and good food was a big part of them. It's why hobbits loved elves. And in The Hobbit, Elrond's folk where having parties all over the Mirkwood. Very much like they were having raves that nobody else was invited too.

    Also, James has half elves rare while they are all over the place in Middle Earth. No, I think his elves aren't all that Tolkien outside of immortality and a certain aloofness (but as I said James' are a lot more "Spock" which I think takes aloof a touch too far).

  11. OK, so these procreation posts are a bit odd. I find the topic dives a bit too deeply into world building for my taste and I am only skimming them. I'm not sure what this type of detail brings to your players. When you get to humans in the series maybe you can provide pictures and video and take Grognardia in a whole new direction.

    If I ever brought this stuff to my players in our games hilarity would ensue. I guess thats why we stick to the Paizo APs instead of world building. We like a beginning, middle, and end to our adventures then start the next one. Not much interest in the procreation details of our make believe people, just some exciting battles, interesting locales, and a good story along the way to tie it all together.

  12. Very cool!

    Puts me in mind of Scott Bakker's elves, or "Non-men" as they're called, who unwittingly gave up their ability to reproduce in exchange for immortality.

    In my homebrew setting Elves are known as "Lost Ones". The few remaining in the world were stranded when a barrier was created between our world and the "faerie realm", and spend most of their time fecklessly going mad or futilely searching for a way home. Mating is generally unsuccessful while cut off from their home.

  13. I find the topic dives a bit too deeply into world building for my taste and I am only skimming them.

    What I find amusing is that I've also had commenters who think I don't spend enough time world building and that I'm too slapdash in my approach to detailing the campaign setting.

  14. "What I find amusing is that I've also had commenters who think I don't spend enough time world building and that I'm too slapdash in my approach to detailing the campaign setting."

    I can't find the quote, but I think it was Lincoln who said something along the lines of "Everyone is mad at me, so I must be doing something right." :)

  15. Considering the Dwimmermount world James has created and the importance placed on life-extension, I could easily see an NPC or even a curious player getting quite interested in how Elves reproduce, especially if they indeed kidnap human children and "convert" them somehow to essential immortality.

    I like the idea of Elves having some sort of oddity or feature that makes them less of the super-race they really are in many versions of D&D. Otherwise, everyone wants to play the immortal, always attractive, poison and charm immune fighter/magic-users with night vision.

    My last world/campaign had most elves slowly go insane (or, at least very depressed) as they age, since they see so much of the world they know change and die and elves themselves being hyper-conservative, trying to preserve the world exactly as it is for all eternity.

  16. I liked James's take on elves, which does seem a little closer to Tolkein's elves than the way elves are usually presented in D&D. However, it appears to owe a greater debt to ages-old fairy tales, wherein elves replace human babies with changelings, or in which lone humans are invited to an evening of revels in the company of elves, only to return home the next morning to discover that a hundred years had passed.

    One might say that JRRT's elves were the golden-age people of Hesiod: immortal, powerful, wise, and essentially benevolent. In his works, humans who came to know elves and their ways often found that they had no wish to return to the lands of mortals, because they preferred the company of elves. By contrast, the fate of humans who come to learn a great deal about Dwimmermount's elves might be quite a bit darker....

  17. I've never told my players, but in my own world the majority of Elves are in actually half elves and the pure strain/immortal kind have been extinct for eons ( or close to it). It's one of those special in-game surprises that' fun to reveal when the perfect moment arises.

  18. "So far as anyone knows, elves are immortal... Interestingly, elves, unlike most other races, cannot be raised from the dead if slain."

    This -- same as the AD&D rule, but not OD&D -- pings my "game rule working counter to world building" radar.

    My preference would be the other way around, e.g.: Elves are easier to raise (in some way), so the same PC elf stays in the game while other PCs cycle in and out. Half-orcs (or whatever) can't be raised, so their onstage life expectancy is very low. Same as the world-build context.

  19. I like this rather arid take on the elves - my sense is that something is missing to really bring them to life, and that something is explicit darkness - they seem like Melniboneans who've decided to take a break from their torturing and poisoning ways.

    My other thought is that, at least since Tolkien, nobody's done super-ephemeral, beauty-that-does-not-last elves, with butterfly lifespans (or at least severely shortened ones). I can imagine this being a satisfying race to play if there's a racial-memory/reincarnation aspect to them: over long adventuring the elf PC would wilt and die, be immediately reincarnated elsewhere (hopefully nearby) and then have to make their way back to the party, perhaps sans some memories/skills. Maybe they only have a short time to reconnect with their old lives before it all fades away. Maybe as hatchlings they're temporarily returned to first level, and have to bloom again. Maybe there are Panchen Lama type shenanigans with people hoping to capture or protect reincarnations of powerful elves. Maybe all elves that are going to die do so on the new moon, so they have some clear warning.

    In any event, the elf PC has the problem of what to do with their stuff - hide it and hope to remember how to find it, or trust the other PCs with it...

  20. ...and I like the idea that elves look mostly like humans but nobody knows why, because they are really, fundamentally other. In my own game I'd keep it as a surprise that they only look like humans to humans, because that's how humans want to see them.