Rant: The Trouble With Elves

Once upon a time, I created a campaign world for Dungeons and Dragons where there were no elves; they had retreated from the world of men. Ostensibly I did this because they realized that men were not responsible enough to wield the secret magics they possessed and blah blah blah…

I really did it because I got tired of all the painfully cliched elven characters (I’m sleeping in a tree!) that were really only elves to get that sweet, sweet, +1 to Dexterity. Maybe I’m just very opinionated about elves, and how I think they should be portrayed. Maybe I’m not entirely sure how a guy who starts the game 100 years old and can live to be 1,000 should be played, but I felt particularly disappointed by the way they were played. They got wrapped up in the same petty arguments over material wealth that all the other characters did, while creating unnecessary arguments about chopping down ANY TREE ANYWHERE EVER!

I guess my problem was that the majority of people who played elves always grabbed on to the same banal tropes to define their characters as elves and never took it any further. They rarely took the long view of things, and they never eschewed wealth or power. They rarely seemed fickle when it seemed appropriate and not just convenient. They did always seem like they enjoyed that +1 to Dexterity and all those other racial benefits though.

I’d be interested in reading what some other people think about this. Feel free to leave a comment concerning your thoughts on elves and the human condition.

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3 thoughts on “Rant: The Trouble With Elves

  1. In the 3.5 Campaign I’m currently running, I’ve tried to add diversity to Elves. Many of them are like humans and seek gratifications in a multitude of ways. The Elven society basically stays put and rests on laurels of magical, architectural, and cultural advancement. Of course, the traditional feeling of superiority manifests itself with these elves being casually OK with slavery. Though, in world-building it is easy to pick-and-choose from a list of cliches which to embrace and which to subvert.

    I suppose the problem comes with the PC elves. Generally, if they’re picking the race for fluff reasons and not just that +1 dex, they would likely be doing so because of an attraction to the layers of cliches built up over time. The use of stock fantasy races is that you generally know what to expect.

    1. Good point. I guess my expectations of elves are based on the layers of cliches built up over time to some extent. It must be that I feel like my expectations of those cliches are different than what I have seen manifested in my games.

  2. I like elves because of that absurdly long view they can take. I think playing up the fact that they have lived several human generations by the time they start play is interesting if done well.

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