PDA

View Full Version : What makes an elf elvish?



EccentricCircle
2014-12-14, 09:16 AM
So I'm planning some worldbuilding stuff for the holidays and so have been thinking about how the different fantasy races fit in and what makes them unique. Shortly after reading the new D&D players handbook I went to see the new Hobbit film, and that got me thinking.While many of the Standard Fantasy Races (TM) may derive from Tolkienian sources there are actually a lot of differences between how they first appeared in Middle Earth and what other writers and game designers have done with them since. For example the dwarvish fondness for Axes really just comes from Gimli, not the race as a whole.

So lets start with Elves. What do you consider to be the key elements of an elvish society? What features make them stand out from other races? and what defining characteristics do you think are the most consistent across the fantasy genera, and perhaps more importantly which should be?

Sartharina
2014-12-14, 09:22 AM
White leather, rhineshtones, tight shuitsh, shlick pompadoursh, aweshome voice, and a lot of alcohol to get the right amount of mushmouth and shlurring.

Grim Portent
2014-12-14, 09:45 AM
Primarily the longevity and agility I'd say. If you see a slender centuries old humanoid with pointy ears one of the first things to spring to mind is 'elf'. Most settings I can think of maintain these features while others aspects change.

DoomHat
2014-12-14, 10:14 AM
The two things that really define Elves in pretty much every setting following in Tolkien's steps are Beauty and Tragedy.

Elves are rare graceful creatures that are meant to be eternal, but like so many fine and elegant things, they are also somewhat frail.

They are fast going extinct. A wondrous, precious light, soon to be snuffed out, and the world shall never see its like again.

They're generally also jack-asses, mostly due to having been individually around for +150 years. Full of the "seen it all" arrogance of an oldschool veteran surrounded on all sides by mouth-breathing newbies. Immortality tends to lead to a staggering lack of innocence and astronomical levels of stir crazy novelty seeking.

Elves generally lend themselves painfully well to becoming May-sue, which goes to explain the 108 different sub-types; so elf players can be just that much more special of a special snowflake.

hymer
2014-12-14, 10:29 AM
As you've already pointed out, not all elves are the same. Still, I'd say grace and insight, both brought about by natural ability and the experience of (immortal) longevity. The whole 'elves are arrogant' have been old hat for decades, and I don't see why they should be. Certainly, some elves should be arrogant, but it should not be the norm for the whole people.


the dwarvish fondness for Axes really just comes from Gimli, not the race as a whole.

Not in The Hobbit, true. Thorin wields a sword, and the Iron Hills force is armed with mattocks as their primary weapon. But considering the Dwarven war-cry ("Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!", meaning "Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!"), and the Dwarves of Belegost in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (whose axes even Glaurung's scales were not proof against), axes are definitely a dwarven thing in Middle-earth as a whole.

Vitruviansquid
2014-12-14, 10:49 AM
One thing I haven't seen people mention yet that I think is a core part of elfhood is Subtlety.

I imagine elves as preferring to go around obstacles rather than going through them in any sense. An elfish swordsman wouldn't block your blow and then return an attack straightforwardly, he'd try to sidestep it and the stab you in the side or flank. Likewise, an elfish mage would probably prefer to use illusions or subtle enchantments rather than fling a lightning bolt in your face. Elfish armies also prefer low-intensity skirmish tactics and lightning raids over set piece battles or massed charges.

Jay R
2014-12-14, 11:24 AM
I once played an elf who grew up in an orphanage with humans, none of whom knew what an "elf" was. He was just the pointy-eared kid. So I had to figure out what came from elvish society, and what was inherent.

Elves grow up in a society in harmony with nature, and live within it rather than in competition with it. But how much of that is inherent? I decided that my character disliked human company (from being picked on) and ran out into the woods to be alone. He never knew why he was so comfortable there.

No sleep, just trancing? He thought something was wrong with him, but didn't dare discuss it with anyone. He knew he could see in the dark, and so would sneak out at night to explore. He knew he could move more silently than most, and drifted into being a thief.

Palegreenpants
2014-12-14, 11:29 AM
Pardon me if I wax dramatic:

In all honesty, I discourage players in my setting from making elven (AKA Ælfayär) characters. The most important aspects of my Ælfayär are mystique and fear, traits that are lost when a player fails to live up to them. Elves are not a human race, and do not get along with humanity, though they may be beautiful. The Elves' minds work differently from humans', as they exist partially in the wraith-realm (the weird space between the world and the Otherworld.)

To make the Ælfayär scary and nonhuman, every aspect of their society must be slightly Otherworldly. I make everything about them somewhat dangerous, but absolutely tempting, be it their hidden, near-invisible kingdoms, or their song, which drives humans to madness.

In all, Elves in my game-world are not the immortal, special-snowflake* character option, but are more of a hidden, beautiful, dangerous people. (Of course, my players dislike Elf-magic immensely.)

*I do not tolerate special snowflakes.

Gnome Alone
2014-12-14, 12:18 PM
That's actually a pretty cool take on elves, but...



I do not tolerate special snowflakes.

You wanna define that a bit? I'm not sure I always get what people mean by it. Cuz combined with:


Of course, my players dislike Elf-magic immensely.

it kinda comes across as, "Only I may be unbearable."

Kitten Champion
2014-12-14, 01:54 PM
As someone who generally creates settings without Elves, I typically do so because I don't feel like my particular conception would mesh well with a RPG setting. At least as a PC-class. As I tend to view Elves from the perspective of Poul Anderson. They can be beautiful, enchanting, courtly, witty, urbane, musical, wise, and graceful... but on the other hand they can be cruel, domineering, haughty, petulant, sadistic, and deceitful. Easy as stab you in the back as gift you magnanimously.

They're capricious and unfathomable as kin to chaos.

TheCountAlucard
2014-12-14, 02:21 PM
Of course, the elves of Exalted are chaos. The noble raksha are genuinely rapacious vortices of inchoate essence that shape physical bodies for themselves into existence, and take sustenance from the dreams and souls of mortals.

Some are infuriated by the existence of a reality more real than their own, and wage war against all Creation to dissolve the world into the Wyld.

Others fear the permanence of the shaped lands and the ailments it can afflict one with: real love, real change, and most feared of all, real death. Others are fascinated by the idea, and seek to either take on aspects of this permanence or afflict others with it.

Some seek our ordered world out of a desire to be desired; they bear their spark of chaos into Creation to make addicts of men and women, or to participate in our bizarre passion-plays; they share their Wyld-treasures with mortals in exchange for their souls, or feast on the crumbs gleaned from emotional scenes.

When they take on the shackles of physical form, the raksha can vary drastically in size and shape - the assumptions they take on could be of the elements or of beasts, or passions and emotions or the trappings of death; one of the Fair Folk could appear as a glorious bronze-skinned lion-god with hair of fire and skin studded with adamant gems, while another combines the emotion of terror and the whispered prayers of ancestor-cults to become a dark specter.

The gossamer works of the Fair Folk are truly marvels to behold - they bring sworn oaths, congealed dreams, and scraps of gossamer into our shaped lands, and in Creation these treasures would beggar princes.

And generally, yes, they have pointed ears.

JusticeZero
2014-12-14, 02:30 PM
Dunno, I expurgated all of the Tolkien races from my world building long ago, and honestly never miss them. Seriously, if you are tired of Legolas knockoffs, just put elves and dwarves onto the "banned" list, don't use them as npcs, and you will honestly be just fine. They don't actually add anything important other than a specific sense of history that Tolkien needed for his storyline. It's like insisting that Star Trek has to have a Jedi on the ship because duh, it's sci-fi, every sci-fi has to have a psychic Paladin order with laser swords..

BWR
2014-12-14, 02:59 PM
White leather, rhineshtones, tight shuitsh, shlick pompadoursh, aweshome voice, and a lot of alcohol to get the right amount of mushmouth and shlurring.

Make sure you get the real deal and not just an Elvish Impersonator (http://magiccards.info/ug/en/56.html)

Themrys
2014-12-14, 03:05 PM
So lets start with Elves. What do you consider to be the key elements of an elvish society? What features make them stand out from other races? and what defining characteristics do you think are the most consistent across the fantasy genera, and perhaps more importantly which should be?

Well, mythologically, elves can be very dangerous and unpredictable. They may be friendly or hostile. Often they are beautiful, but sometimes this is only true for onlookers who are deceived by elvish magic.

As for what makes an recognizable standard-fantasy elf: Beautiful, gentle manners, androgynous, slender looks. Oh, and pointy ears. As for personality, supernatural wisdom and love of nature are common.

If you're looking for ideas, I always wanted to see elves that are not white. There is nothing wrong with white elves, as they belong into white people cultures, but now that they have become a standard fantasy trope, you can play around with people's expectations.

Terry Pratchett has evil elves (closer to mythology), Eoin Colfer has ugly/ normal-looking elves with short hair and a sexist culture, but they both managed to keep enough cliche factors so that the elves were recognizable - Pratchett's elves can hypnotize humans into believing they're beautiful, and are allergic to iron, while Colfer's elves are nature-loving and have magic. (That way, Colfer gets away with having smoking, drinking elves that have short hair and wear trousers, which is quite remarkable).

The trick is to always keep a certain amount of cliches - if you break one or two cliches, you have to reinforce others more. Colfer's elves are vegetarian, for example, as a matter of principle, and get their magic from nature, so they are sufficiently tree-hugging to be recognizable.

mephnick
2014-12-14, 03:42 PM
haughty *******s with bows

lightningcat
2014-12-14, 03:47 PM
I've borrowed different ideas from different sources, and put this into the player's guide I have for my homebrew setting.


Roleplaying Elves
All to often elves are roleplayed as no more then pointy-eared humans. Even the Player's Handbook doesn't give much to develop your elf's personality with. While the Races of the Wild does help with this, that information applies more to High Elves and Wood Elves, then to any of the other subraces.
Some things to remember when playing elves in Tramor:
• Patience is not a virtue among elves, it is a simple fact of life. Elves always take the long view. They rarely hurry with anything, after all if something can be done, it should be done right.
• Convincing an elf to do something is a challenge, changing an elf's mind once it has made a decision about something is typically a waste of time.
• Elves have elevated living to the level of an art form. They have no problem letting a short term problem wait, in order to deal with a lesser issue that has long term consequences.
• Social situations are always considered in the long term, after all, elves may be dealing with the same individuals for the next several centuries.
Elves a highly social loners. The truly enjoy the company of others, but they need their own space.
• Elves rarely drink alcohol to excess. Instead, they have a tea for every occasion, and believe that every occasion calls for tea.
• The use of magic to alter one's shape is not uncommon to elves, and they accept the use of most types of grafts without comment. The exceptions to this is the use of spellware, construct grafts, and undead grafts, all of which they find abhorrent.
• Elves have little love for mechanical items, this includes firearms, crossbows, and trains. This dislike extends to magically powered mechanical items such as many golems (including warforged), golemsuits, siege armor and lightning rails. They may make use of these items in an extreme situation, but only after trying all other reasonable options.

Yora
2014-12-14, 03:50 PM
I think Subtility is probably the most useful trait to nail down elves so far. That's an element I think almost everyone would agree on. Lots of the other elements are mostly just stereotypes that are blindly copied over from Tolkien without keeping the context in which they existed.

Gnome Alone
2014-12-14, 03:56 PM
haughty *******s with bows

Well, someone had to say it

Mr Beer
2014-12-14, 04:11 PM
That's actually a pretty cool take on elves, but...

You wanna define that a bit? I'm not sure I always get what people mean by it. Cuz combined with:

it kinda comes across as, "Only I may be unbearable."

LOL this, "special snowflake is a GM privilege" was pretty much what I read. I don't have a problem with that set-up as stated BTW, in fact I think one of the ways to keep a race mysterious is to completely ban it as a PC option. So ring fencing Elves (or whatever else) in that way is very reasonable, in fact I think I might do that with Drow just so Drizzt knock-offs are officially banned in my game.

Gnome Alone
2014-12-14, 04:21 PM
"Sure, sure, you can play a drow. By the way, apropos of nothing, they're all incontinent."

AuraTwilight
2014-12-14, 04:31 PM
In my worlds, elves are where fey and man meet, and despite their long age, elves came about through an ancient breeding of man and faerie a long time ago. It's just no human's ever been able to call them on it when elves claim to have been around since forever.

Themrys
2014-12-14, 04:40 PM
"Sure, sure, you can play a drow. By the way, apropos of nothing, they're all incontinent."

:smallbiggrin:

I would allow male players to play male drow, and then constantly remind them that drows are matriarchal whenever they try to interrupt a woman, or even try to assert dominance in a more physical way. More subtle than incontinence, but I guess most players who want to play a Drizzt knock-off would give up after a few hours.

veti
2014-12-14, 06:04 PM
:smallbiggrin:

I would allow male players to play male drow, and then constantly remind them that drows are matriarchal whenever they try to interrupt a woman, or even try to assert dominance in a more physical way. More subtle than incontinence, but I guess most players who want to play a Drizzt knock-off would give up after a few hours.

Heh. In my day, "drow" considered surface moonlight uncomfortably bright, and were completely blind in daylight (never mind direct sunlight). People wanting to play them wasn't much of an issue (although there was always the guy who'd insist on inventing sunglasses...). I think 3e changed the race specifically to make it playable.

mephnick
2014-12-14, 07:49 PM
Heh. In my day, "drow" considered surface moonlight uncomfortably bright, and were completely blind in daylight (never mind direct sunlight). People wanting to play them wasn't much of an issue (although there was always the guy who'd insist on inventing sunglasses...). I think 3e changed the race specifically to make it playable.

In my day, Dragonborn were extremely rare individuals chosen by Bahamut to live a second life, giving up their human, elf etc. ancestry to be reborn again as draconic humanoids. Now they're some lame super common race.

I miss our days.

Hiro Protagonest
2014-12-14, 07:59 PM
Heh. In my day, "drow" considered surface moonlight uncomfortably bright, and were completely blind in daylight (never mind direct sunlight). People wanting to play them wasn't much of an issue (although there was always the guy who'd insist on inventing sunglasses...). I think 3e changed the race specifically to make it playable.

I'd make a blue-haired drow with pointy sunglasses who loves the fact that he's managed to break out of his underground society and see the surface. :smallamused:

Warlawk
2014-12-14, 09:28 PM
:smallbiggrin:

I would allow male players to play male drow, and then constantly remind them that drows are matriarchal whenever they try to interrupt a woman, or even try to assert dominance in a more physical way. More subtle than incontinence, but I guess most players who want to play a Drizzt knock-off would give up after a few hours.

Just a point of contention here. That is only for followers of Lolth, primarily Menzoberranzan. Other drow cities have a more mixed culture and follow a mixture of the drow gods. I'm all for cutting Drizzt clones out of the game, but don't base it on false pretenses.

Solaris
2014-12-14, 09:42 PM
:smallbiggrin:

I would allow male players to play male drow, and then constantly remind them that drows are matriarchal whenever they try to interrupt a woman, or even try to assert dominance in a more physical way. More subtle than incontinence, but I guess most players who want to play a Drizzt knock-off would give up after a few hours.

I would change his name to Zuzzeneebeanfonny and see if you caught the hint that maybe you shouldn't try to shoehorn my character into a role simply because you don't like a seriously overrated character written by a seriously overrated author.
If you didn't, I'd start playing him as horribly, horrendously sexist and demeaning towards women in a gender-flipped parody of the misandrist feminazi, and when you complained explain that's the sort of thing that happens when you try to force characters into playing certain ways.

If you don't want someone to play a Drizzt knock-off, then either ban drow or talk to them OOC to get their character to differentiate from the dual-scimitar-wielding broody, angsty dark elf. I've had good results with both approaches. That kind of passive-aggressive 'solution' where you try to annoy a player to what is an entirely out-of-game problem is the sort of thing that kills games.

EvilAnagram
2014-12-14, 09:45 PM
So lets start with Elves. What do you consider to be the key elements of an elvish society? What features make them stand out from other races? and what defining characteristics do you think are the most consistent across the fantasy genera, and perhaps more importantly which should be?
The firm belief in their own superiority. This can manifest in blatant racism, a kind of pity for the lesser, short-lived races, a simple preference for all elvish culture, or the belief that the elvish way is the best way to do anything.

This attitude is prevalent because, in their long lives, elves have hundreds of years in which they might devote themselves wholly to the arts. This means that whether it be craftsmanship, martial prowess, painting, music, magic, or architecture, an elf displays precise, fluid grace won through decades of intense study. To them, the arts of men and dwarves are largely crude and unrefined. They do not understand toil and labor because they feel no scarcity and instead may devote themselves wholly to whichever pursuits they desire. To them, the concerns of the other races are strange.

To the other races, elves are beings of alien beauty and grace. Others mistrust them, and with good reason. It's unnerving to see a man who looks twenty seven and happens to be three times your grandfather's age. No one likes to be seen as a child, and elves see us all as children, rash and impulsive, and they're fin talking down to us.

Sartharina
2014-12-14, 10:03 PM
I'd make a blue-haired drow with pointy sunglasses who loves the fact that he's managed to break out of his underground society and see the surface. :smallamused:Does he wear a floral-print shirt and uncomfortably tight khaki pants and sandals too?

Palegreenpants
2014-12-14, 10:06 PM
Sorry to dredge from the back of the topic:


That's actually a pretty cool take on elves, but...

You wanna define that a bit? I'm not sure I always get what people mean by it. Cuz combined with:

it kinda comes across as, "Only I may be unbearable."

Mh, to clarify, I encourage my players to create unique people, rather than outrageous, fantastical special snowflakes. Playing Elves is a challenge, but it's one that turns out excellently if a player portrays it successfully. Indeed, they do hate Elf-magic if it's not on their side.

Hiro Protagonest
2014-12-14, 10:13 PM
Does he wear a floral-print shirt and uncomfortably tight khaki pants and sandals too?

Since when does Kamina wear a shirt?

I don't recall Simon ever wearing a shirt like that either.

BeerMug Paladin
2014-12-14, 11:10 PM
I have a race in a setting of mine called elves. They are not long lived, but they do age well and in their native land they have no amazing cities and generally live as tribal hunter gatherers with the more developed regions hosting small farming communities. There are no great elven kingdoms.

I call them elves because they have the physical features of elves. As in, slender, lithe, tall with light skin and pointy ears with angular facial features. They generally look nimble and have a peculiar ethereal look to them.

On top of that, they more often than not have heterochromatic, brightly colored eyes, and their hair naturally grows in two colors complementary to one another. (Can be any colors, one color dominates naturally. Examples are blond/crimson, white/green, pink/blue)

So I guess for me, what primarily makes my elves elvish is looking absolutely like a Mary Sue character. So it's an entirely superficial thing. Their psychology is essentially the same as humans, they just have some cultural differences due to their historical background.

I call them elves because everyone knows what an elf looks like. Nobody knows what a smoomar looks like.

jedipotter
2014-12-14, 11:46 PM
So lets start with Elves. What do you consider to be the key elements of an elvish society? What features make them stand out from other races? and what defining characteristics do you think are the most consistent across the fantasy genera, and perhaps more importantly which should be?


Longevity Right at the top. Elves are to humans and other races much like adults are to kids. If you have kids, this will make sense. To a kid, ''the big dance on Friday'' or ''that pair of black shoes'' is their whole world. No world exists to them out side of the dance and shoes. Kids almost never look to the future or think ahead much more then a week. Most kids do not understand the cost, in money or value or time or effort, of anything.

And to elves, everything a human does is acting like a kid to them. And even when two human kingdom go to war, to the elves, it is like watching a couple of kids fight with toys.

Patience As they are in it for the long time, elves are very patience. They can wait. They have time. They are not in a hurry. And elf can wait for years, they way a human waits for weeks.

Static The elves don't change much. They don't try new things. Everything is as everything was.

Conformity There are almost no radical elves. Almost every elf follows the set rules of society to the letter.

Thought and Philosophy Elves are thinkers, and spend a great deal of time in thought and thinking about philosophy.

Artists Nearly every elf is an artist.

Magic Magic is just part of live to an elf, just like sunshine or water.

Darkmonger27
2014-12-15, 12:16 AM
From what I've seen on the topic, only longevity is key to an elf (aside from pointed ears). There are clichés, such as forest-dwelling, arrogant, magical, but try and break at least one of those clichés to help differentiate your elves from the elves of others. My aproach is some are the typical "fey" creatures we all know and hate, and some live in the ruins of great nations. And drow, only because many of my players would get mad if I took them out.

Kami2awa
2014-12-15, 01:46 AM
I think Tolkien himself might have felt like a bit of an immortal while he (sub-)created* his elves. He lived through the first world war and would have seen his friends and comrades die absurdly young, and the world made dark then light then dark again several times over.

So by the Third Age, when LotR happens, his elves are like veterans tired of war, tired of the squabbling of those younger than them, and tired of the world.
-----
*"Sub-creation" was his own term for inventing fantasy worlds.

Frozen_Feet
2014-12-15, 10:59 AM
For Tolkienian Elves, the important parts are immortality and being Better than Thou. Elves, in Tolkien's mythos, are humans as humans would've been without the Original Sin. They near-perfectly in tune with the world and masters of everything in it... but for the same reason, they can't go beyond it. Ultimately, there's no Heaven or Hell for elves - just the world. Gives new meaning to "world-weariness", another defining trait of Tolkienian elves.

For folkloric elves of various shades... the question gets significantly more complex. When not ripping off Tolkien, most fantasy authors in my experience tend to rip off the Fair Folk of vaguely Celtic inspiration. In case of such elves, I'd say the key trait is otherworldliness. Otherworldliness is present in Tolkienian elves too, but in a different sense. Tolkienian elves tend towards perfect, while the Fair Folk tend towards... different. Or occasionally, just wrong. The overlap between "elf" and "demon" was often fairly small. Here, holier-than-thou turns from mere arrogance to looking at non-faeries as lesser folk and stealing and eating their babies.

For a long time, whenever crafting a setting, I've felt elves just don't belong. They're sort of a legacy species I've only kept around because most game systems feature them. Pretty much all the niches elves could fill are better filled by various sorts of humans, dwarves, goblins and inhuman creepy-crawlies. (You'd think dwarves and goblins would be as cliched, but they're actually far better supported by folklore and even science than elves. Tolkienian elves also carry significant shades of mythological dwarves and goblins, especially the Noldor.)

The last attempt of mine to try & make make elves that "fit in" ended up with strictly pacifistic pragmatists who won't kill a fly but will eat practically anything that's dead of its own accord. Like, say, human corpses they so wastefully bury in the ground. In order to explain how they get along in the woods with predators around, I made them highly poisonous. Turns out, "kiss on an elf is deadly" because their saliva causes a lethal autoimmune response in humans. And "you shouldn't eat food of the fair folk" is because it's often made of something inedible or poisonous to humans. And "killing an elf puts a curse on you" actually comes from the fact that elf blood is toxic to humans, and getting even a bit of it spilled on you while wantonly slaughtering them is a good way to die yourself.

Segev
2014-12-15, 11:54 AM
One of the ways I have made elves just a touch more alien is by exploring the concept of the trance-state and how sleep and dreams impact human learning. Specifically, most long-term memory and learning is fixed during sleep cycles...which elves do not have. (This is the source of the concept of "sleeping on it;" it lets our minds process details and contextualize everything better. If you're in school, still, try studying and then sleeping on it; you likely will find you retain and understand more.)

Elves' trance-state substitutes for this, as they methodically order their minds, sort their memories and what they've learned and experienced that day. But...it's a learned skill. They aren't born doing it naturally the way humans are born able to sleep. Elven children do NOT sleep, and do not know how to trance. They therefore learn extremely slowly, and usually only on a rudimentary level.

The earliest lessons consciously taught to elven children are how to trance. As they learn this and get better at it, they can learn other things better.

Psyren
2014-12-15, 12:09 PM
I think the main things are the blend of nature and civilization, the subtler forms of magic, the artistry/grace, and of course the physical differences. (Not so much specific ones like pointy ears - though those are certainly iconic - but elves should be immediately visually distinct from other humanoids save perhaps for half-elves.)


Longevity Right at the top. Elves are to humans and other races much like adults are to kids. If you have kids, this will make sense. To a kid, ''the big dance on Friday'' or ''that pair of black shoes'' is their whole world. No world exists to them out side of the dance and shoes. Kids almost never look to the future or think ahead much more then a week. Most kids do not understand the cost, in money or value or time or effort, of anything.

And to elves, everything a human does is acting like a kid to them. And even when two human kingdom go to war, to the elves, it is like watching a couple of kids fight with toys.

Patience As they are in it for the long time, elves are very patience. They can wait. They have time. They are not in a hurry. And elf can wait for years, they way a human waits for weeks.

You can be distinctly elven without longevity. See also Dragon Age; they lost theirs but are still undeniably elven even without it. I would argue it is more about how you live, than how long you live.



Static The elves don't change much. They don't try new things. Everything is as everything was.

Conformity There are almost no radical elves. Almost every elf follows the set rules of society to the letter.

Actually you're thinking Dwarves here. Elves tend slightly towards chaos and individuality. Even when they do place the needs of the many ahead of the few, they tend to limit themselves to the customs of discrete settlements rather than having a doctrine for their people as a whole. We see this in D&D, Dragonlance and Dragon Age alike.

Palegreenpants
2014-12-15, 01:23 PM
Actually you're thinking Dwarves here. . . We see this in D&D, Dragonlance and Dragon Age alike.

I dunno, I punched quite a few radical Dwarves in Dragon Age. :smallamused:

On the Other hand, Dragon Age elves are a somewhat unique variety. A previously-great race, once enslaved and now oppressed. They're thin and pointy-eared, but their behavior is very human (albeit colored by a theme of forgotten and terrible magic.)

J-H
2014-12-15, 01:29 PM
To keep me from borrowing ideas from others, I am replying without reading anything other than the OP.

What is an elf?
Pre-Tolkein, most depictions of "Elves" put them in the same general category as fairies, brownies, leprechauns, and the like. Think Keebler elves. Key characteristics:
1) Small
2) Stealthy & agile
3) Skilled (at something)
4) Magical in nature
5) Reclusive - not part of normal human society
6) Keen senses

If you go Celtic mythology (and I'm fuzzier on this), you also had the Sidhe/Wild Hunt/Evil Elves stereotype. Key characteristics:
1) Stealthy & graceful
2) Inhuman (ethically)
3) Long-lived
4) Skilled - Lethal in combat, with high-quality (skillfully made) equipment
5) Magical in nature (repelled by cold iron)
6) Not of this world
7) Reclusive - not part of normal human society
8) Inhumanly beautiful
9) Always part of a monarchical society
10) Keen senses

Now, we get to the "standard" elf, as depicted in Tolkein, D&D, and most modern fantasy:
1) Stealthy & graceful
2) Long-lived, or immortal barring disease/injury (functionally, the two are the same when compared to human lifespans)
3) Skilled in war and crafts
4) Not of this world
5) In tune with magic (or, with "nature" ie druidic magic)
6) Reclusive - not part of normal human society
7) Typically, healthy and attractive (no ugly, short, or acne-ridden elves have been sighted)
8) Always part of a monarchical society
9) Keen senses

Pointy ears and long hair are optional, but useful to demonstrate that someone's an Elf, just like beards do for Dwarves.

Psyren
2014-12-15, 02:29 PM
I dunno, I punched quite a few radical Dwarves in Dragon Age. :smallamused:

On the Other hand, Dragon Age elves are a somewhat unique variety. A previously-great race, once enslaved and now oppressed. They're thin and pointy-eared, but their behavior is very human (albeit colored by a theme of forgotten and terrible magic.)

City Elves are - but even they have uniquely elven traits, like tending to Vhenadahl at the center of every alienage.

Dalish meanwhile are very hard to mistake for humans even without the lifespan.

jedipotter
2014-12-15, 04:08 PM
You can be distinctly elven without longevity. See also Dragon Age; they lost theirs but are still undeniably elven even without it. I would argue it is more about how you live, than how long you live.

How long you live really does matter. It's something that people become very aware of as they grow older. To a human under 20, even living to 30 is like ''forever''. And even many 20 and 30 year olds think they are immortal and time does not matter. But then try 40 year olds, and suddenly half of their life is over. They have only a couple of good years left, and they can't physical do things they could even just a couple of years ago. And if they expect to retire at 60 or so, they had better be very well off by 40. If they still work as a farmhand making one sliver coin a day at 40, there future looks bleak. It's hard for a 40 year old to good back to school and retrain, and they are on a clock if they want to start a family.

Elves have a very different out look. Elves have centuries of life. And elf can take 20 years to just sit under a tree and read. And it won't effect their life at all, they still have a ton of time left. An elf does not hit ''40'' for humans until 200. And that is a long time. And evles take a long time to physical change. A 40 year old human is quite weak compare to a 20 year old human, but and elf at 100 is much the same as 200.






Actually you're thinking Dwarves here. Elves tend slightly towards chaos and individuality. Even when they do place the needs of the many ahead of the few, they tend to limit themselves to the customs of discrete settlements rather than having a doctrine for their people as a whole. We see this in D&D, Dragonlance and Dragon Age alike.

Elves have quite lawful society with long standing traditions. Even more so as one rule, mindset and belief will last the duration of an elf rulers life. If elf lord Apon outlaws magic, then it is outlawed for centuries of his rule. Because they live so long, elves don't change much.

Again, an elf is a lot more like an older adult human. ''Old people'' like their set type of music. That is what they play and what they listen to and what they enjoy. They don't very often change styles or tastes. You don't see a 50 year old person who has been in a rock band for the past 30 years ''suddenly'' start rapping...

But it's hard to talk about ''law'' and ''chaos'' is vague terms. And the truth is every society has a little of both. Streets are very ''lawful'', but just random wild growth is ''chaotic'' .

I'm not sure what your talking about with ''a doctrine for the elves as a whole''. Does your custom world (or whatever Dragon Age is) have an elf pope?

Psyren
2014-12-15, 04:30 PM
I'm not sure what your talking about with ''a doctrine for the elves as a whole''. Does your custom world (or whatever Dragon Age is) have an elf pope?

Dragon Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Age) isn't "my custom world" (http://xkcd.com/178/) :smalltongue:

I was bringing up examples of elves from other published systems that don't follow the requirements you've laid out to be considered "elves." Which is not to say it's a perfect example - after all, they did have that longevity in the setting's past - but they are still undeniably elves even without it (particularly Dalish), therefore we can say there's more to being an elf than simply slow metabolic processes and pointy ears.

jedipotter
2014-12-15, 04:56 PM
Dragon Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Age) isn't "my custom world" (http://xkcd.com/178/) :smalltongue:

I was bringing up examples of elves from other published systems that don't follow the requirements you've laid out to be considered "elves." Which is not to say it's a perfect example - after all, they did have that longevity in the setting's past - but they are still undeniably elves even without it (particularly Dalish), therefore we can say there's more to being an elf than simply slow metabolic processes and pointy ears.

But is saying ''well the one set of elves here don't have or have X'' really along the lines of ''this is not an elven thing?''

You can't just pick one random set of elves and say anything. But longevity is common in at least 75% of all elf races in all games (even your DragonAge game).

Psyren
2014-12-15, 05:06 PM
But is saying ''well the one set of elves here don't have or have X'' really along the lines of ''this is not an elven thing?''

You can't just pick one random set of elves and say anything. But longevity is common in at least 75% of all elf races in all games (even your DragonAge game).

Sure it is, but correlation != causation. Many elves are long-lived, but that quality is not in and of itself what makes them elves. My point was to ask, "can elves still feel like elves if they don't live for a long time?" The fact that most settings don't choose to explore this possibility doesn't make it any less meaningful a question. Dragon Age, one of the few settings that did, proved that the answer to that question can easily be yes.

There are many other long-lived races that don't feel like elves at all - Elans, Warforged, Dwarves in some settings. Dhampir and Aasimar also have long lifespans, but do not share any of the other trappings of elvenkind. Dusklings similarly long-lived and are even actually Fey, but that is where their similarities with Elves end. The longevity is a common trait, yes, but I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top.

Gnome Alone
2014-12-15, 05:26 PM
What is an elf? A miserable little pile of ears!

Zale
2014-12-15, 05:27 PM
I'm fond of Dwarf Fortress's Elves (http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2014:Elf).

They're cannibalistic warmongers who ride into battle on tigers/bears/unicorns/etc armed with pointy sticks.. because someone cut down one tree to many.


Elves are the only race which wholeheartedly accepts the devouring of enemy combatants. Looking in legends mode shows that an elven combatant will sometimes devour the other person they were fighting when they win. In spite of this, elves refuse to butcher and consume intelligent beings. Elves find torturing as an example acceptable, but condemn other forms of torture and consider torturing for information misguided. To elves, keeping any trophy of any kind is an unthinkable act. Elves begrudgingly allow for killing animals when done in self-defense, and the killing of other elves by an elf is justified if there is an extremely good reason for doing so. For elves, the killing of plants, especially trees, is unthinkable. On the other hand, the killing of neutral beings and enemies is acceptable. Elven society seems to be regulated by shame from the community, rather than by threat of punishment. As such, elves never offer serious or capital punishment to criminals; instead, elves found to have committed vandalism, trespassing or theft are reprimanded, while those convicted of treason, lying, breaking oaths, assault or participating in slavery are forced into exile.

Elves value nature incredibly highly, and they also place a degree of value on family, eloquence, cunning, artwork, fairness, merriment, competition and romance. Elves do not especially respect commerce and have a dislike for self-control.

They also breed like rabbits and tend to overwhelm people with sheer numbers, since they don't die unless they get killed. They're a wonderful example of a near complete subversion of what elves usually are that still manages to be recognizably elvish.

jedipotter
2014-12-15, 05:40 PM
There are many other long-lived races that don't feel like elves at all - Elans, Warforged, Dwarves in some settings. Dhampir and Aasimar also have long lifespans, but do not share any of the other trappings of elvenkind. Dusklings similarly long-lived and are even actually Fey, but that is where their similarities with Elves end. The longevity is a common trait, yes, but I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top.

Yea, but now your just saying all races are the same. And that is boring.

Rater202
2014-12-15, 05:48 PM
Yea, but now your just saying all races are the same. And that is boring.
"Boring" doesn't make it any less truthful.

Strip away the physiological differences-each traditional fantasy race, Dwarves, Elves, and Orcs, just become diferant variations on human culture.

If I create a human subspecies that lives indefinitly, simply, statically, and all the stuff you said for elves, is it human, or is it elf?

Psyren
2014-12-15, 06:04 PM
Yea, but now your just saying all races are the same. And that is boring.

Not at all - I don't actually disagree with your yardsticks, I just think they should go deeper, and that a different one should be on top.

For example, you didn't mention connection to nature at all, and I think that is far more important to elves' racial identity than how long they live. Again, there can easily be correlation here - after all, if you live for a long time, you are much more open to seeing the beauty of nature and the harm shortsighted mortal races can inflict on the environment (as only someone who can actually watch saplings grow into a forest can be) - and yet, many of us know how important/beautiful trees and forests are without needing lifespans measured in centuries, so it's not a requirement there either.

jedipotter
2014-12-15, 10:07 PM
For example, you didn't mention connection to nature at all, and I think that is far more important to elves' racial identity than how long they live.

I see some connections here too. Just think how most nature looks to an elf. The elf will live for centuries, and very little else in nature other then trees, even fantasy magical nature, lives that long. Again to compare to a human: A dog can live for 15 years and then is a long time to a human, but it's a short time to an elf. Compare to a hamster where you can only get 2-4 years. Elves can't get too ''attached'' to nature, they have to accept that it will always change.

And you get the classic Ant and Grasshopper here too. The elf knows they must drink the water from the stream for the next two centuries, a middle aged human knows they won't need to worry more then fifty years.

Jeff the Green
2014-12-15, 10:54 PM
The only three things that really scream "Elf!" to me are connection to nature, inherently magical, and somewhat alien mindset. Tolkien's match, Dragon Age's match, default D&D's match, even Eberron's mostly do too.

Personally I go with elves being descended from humans abducted and kept as servants by the fae. Sort of like the gith____, but with more glamour and formal balls and less brain eating. As a result, they're physically different (very dark skin, pointed ears), have some connection to magic and nature (depending on region, they get a treewalking ability related to dryads, a bonus to incarnum related to dusklings, or a frightful howl related to yeth hounds), and have a whole host of cultural baggage.

Mark Hall
2014-12-16, 10:17 AM
So lets start with Elves. What do you consider to be the key elements of an elvish society? What features make them stand out from other races? and what defining characteristics do you think are the most consistent across the fantasy genera, and perhaps more importantly which should be?

A fairly difficult statement, since there's a lot of ways it can go. Generally, elves are ageless (either immortal or extremely long-lived compared to humans), slender (though they may be short or tall), and somewhat aloof from humanity (though that aloofness can take many different forms, from paternal interest, disdain, or hatred). Most, especially if the world contains many races, will have elves be somewhat beautiful to human eyes, even if they are slightly alien.

Common is a reverence for nature, but not all elves have that (the elves of the Halfblood Chronicles are notoriously contempuous of nature, viewing it as subservient to power, and are frequently right). This reverence for nature might extend to being "barbarians" living in the wilderness, to elaborate nature-fused cities, to even a dependence upon nature (though that tends to be a trait of elf-like faerie creatures, not PC-type elves). Some elves are vegetarian, either by choice or by nature; others are not.

Facility and comfortableness with magic is a frequent trait. Again, some have innate magic, or an ease of acquisition of magic, others do not. Again, Halfblood Chronicles elves, and many others, are born with magic; elves in Birthright can learn "true magic" without the need for divine blood, but Shadowrun and Earthdawn elves are no more magical than any other Name-givers (excluding dragons).

Ok, I've got to go to work. I'll continue to develop this later. I think there's a core of elvishness that revolves around those traits in my first paragraph, but more facets that go into it than simply the core... and I think the fact that the elves of the early Shanara novels largely lack these traits is part of why they never really feel "elven" and are simply "people called elves."

goto124
2014-12-16, 11:30 AM
...pointy ears?

*hides*

Psyren
2014-12-16, 11:39 AM
I see some connections here too. Just think how most nature looks to an elf. The elf will live for centuries, and very little else in nature other then trees, even fantasy magical nature, lives that long. Again to compare to a human: A dog can live for 15 years and then is a long time to a human, but it's a short time to an elf. Compare to a hamster where you can only get 2-4 years. Elves can't get too ''attached'' to nature, they have to accept that it will always change.

I would draw the opposite conclusion - being long-lived, they would see how cyclical nature is far more than other races would. Seasons come and go in rhythm. A she-wolf appears cruel for bringing down a deer, but then she brings the meat back to her cubs. A wildfire in a dry summer's drought is followed by a torrential downpour in autumn. Individual animals may lead very brief lives, but nature as a whole is far longer-lived than even they are.

It's part of why their magic is so subtle and artistic. They are aware of this balance in a way that few other living creatures are, and so they are not nearly as disruptive to it as, say, humans are. Dwarves they cannot fathom at all, uprooting and displacing centuries of life to greedily grasp at trinkets beneath the earth, and locking any beauty they create in their vaults of stone where it cannot be seen.



And you get the classic Ant and Grasshopper here too. The elf knows they must drink the water from the stream for the next two centuries, a middle aged human knows they won't need to worry more then fifty years.

Yes, exactly - they know that they will have to deal with any consequences of upsetting nature's balance themselves, directly - thus they are more loathe to do it.

But even elves who do not expect to live a long time - those who take up dangerous professions like adventuring, wizardry or guarding their homelands from incursion for example - maintain this reverence for and understanding of nature. Their grace also makes them better suited to living in the wild, where you might need to blend into a copse at a moment's notice to avoid predators or hunters, with 4 legs or 2.

hamishspence
2014-12-16, 11:44 AM
Dwarves they cannot fathom at all, uprooting and displacing centuries of life to greedily grasp at trinkets beneath the earth, and locking any beauty they create in their vaults of stone where it cannot be seen.

That might be how the elves see dwarves - but Gimli's words about the Glittering Caves of Aglarond (how the dwarves wouldn't mine them, but make them even more beautiful and full of light) suggest that the dwarves might not be exactly like that.

Solaris
2014-12-16, 02:26 PM
That might be how the elves see dwarves - but Gimli's words about the Glittering Caves of Aglarond (how the dwarves wouldn't mine them, but make them even more beautiful and full of light) suggest that the dwarves might not be exactly like that.

You don't have to destroy something to be greedy, after all. You can just make it more accessible so you can appreciate its beauty better.
That Gimli said the dwarves would improve it speaks of the dwarves, I think, and Legolas's fears speaks of the elves; elves appreciate what something is, while dwarves appreciate what something could be.

Sartharina
2014-12-16, 02:31 PM
All intelligent life has a purpose

Elves are to preserve the world
Dwarves are to reforge and reshape the world.
Humans are to make Elves and Dwarves look like stoopid noobs at their jobs.

Komatik
2014-12-16, 04:51 PM
For Tolkienian Elves, the important parts are immortality and being Better than Thou. Elves, in Tolkien's mythos, are humans as humans would've been without the Original Sin. They near-perfectly in tune with the world and masters of everything in it... but for the same reason, they can't go beyond it. Ultimately, there's no Heaven or Hell for elves - just the world. Gives new meaning to "world-weariness", another defining trait of Tolkienian elves.

This is actually one of the more interesting aspects of Warhammer Vampires, as well. More important than that though, they're something that has a lot of typically elven traits in an evil mindset and dark aesthetic but is not an evlulz dorkelf whose whole civilization bathes in blood twice a day. Dera god I hate hatehatehate evilulz dark elves.

Vampires (and certain other powerful undead) are unique in that their souls are bound to the land and do not leave for the afterlife like living beings' do. With proper ritual they can come or be brought back. Secondly, all magic in the world comes from the Chaos Gates at the poles. It's a swirling wind of change that blows in different strands, and using that wind of chaos as it is (=dark magic) or it's condensed form (Dhar) will inevitably drive a living creature insane. Humans who are unsuited for magic fast, Elves slowly. But it will happen.

The Elves have a method for sorting out and purifying the strands of this wind and eventually recombining them into their High Magic. This purified stuff is safe - even humans can be taught to use a single strand and retain their sanity. Vampires, being creatures made of Dhar, can use it with about the same risk a practicioner of the Elven method uses magic. Hell, they're even their own fonts of Dhar, like miniature, walking Chaos Gates. So what they end up doing is not purifying the chaos, or reveling in the debased nature of it but instead elevating the darkness into something noble in it's own macabre way. They're an existence somewhere between elf and daemon, much more a creature of this world than any living being or their gods (who are all Chaos creatures, good and evil and daemon alike) but thoroughly unnatural and alien to it at the same time and yet also quite (ex-)human.


For folkloric elves of various shades... the question gets significantly more complex. When not ripping off Tolkien, most fantasy authors in my experience tend to rip off the Fair Folk of vaguely Celtic inspiration. In case of such elves, I'd say the key trait is otherworldliness. Otherworldliness is present in Tolkienian elves too, but in a different sense. Tolkienian elves tend towards perfect, while the Fair Folk tend towards... different. Or occasionally, just wrong. The overlap between "elf" and "demon" was often fairly small. Here, holier-than-thou turns from mere arrogance to looking at non-faeries as lesser folk and stealing and eating their babies.

This gives "Hei tonttu-ukot hyppikää" a whole new meaning I'm not sure I like o_o'



You don't have to destroy something to be greedy, after all. You can just make it more accessible so you can appreciate its beauty better.
That Gimli said the dwarves would improve it speaks of the dwarves, I think, and Legolas's fears speaks of the elves; elves appreciate what something is, while dwarves appreciate what something could be.

[personality typology] Dwarves are Ne users! :O [/typology]

Jokes and MBTI-gasms aside, I think that's a great distinction.