Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Age and the Elven Character...

It was a hundred years ago that the Lich-King Agrilad was laid to rest in a barrow near Oxton.  This is ancient history, especially for a party of upstart adventurers barely out of their teens, lost even to their great-great grandparents; and if they’re wise, they’ll consult a sage or at least an old-timer in town before setting out.  But wait a minute.  Elandil, the party’s lone elf, is an impressive two-hundred years old.  He actually remembers the event.  Moreover, he was old enough to know, and really understand, what it all meant...

But what does it mean to have such antiquity in a low-level party?  Elves are immortal or nearly so, and even dwarves, abbreviated against to their pointy-eared friends, lead very long lives, at least by human standards.  How do we handle this in a game where knowledge is quite literally power?  Treat it as another racial ability?  We could do that.  

The question takes on new meaning when we look at the starting age tables in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide.  Here we learn that a newly minted elf is somewhere in the neighborhood of hundred years or more!  What do we make of this?  Do elves age more slowly, remaining as children at a time when human lives are long-finished?  And assuming time is experienced the same way for both races (which isn’t necessarily so), plenty of knowledge and experience is gained in those decades.  The youngling elf can’t help but possess insight beyond anything their round-eared friends could ever aspire to unless they somehow learn and grow differently, remaining in a Peter Pan-like state of prolonged immaturity.  Of course, this assumes that elves aren't waiting longer to leave home and go on adventures, which is possible.  But the result is still more knowledge...   

Elves, with their longer lifespans, risk being
inaccessible as player characters unless steps are taken... 

And who knows?  Maybe they do.  But it seems odd for a race otherwise known for their intelligence and wisdom.  And children are constantly learning and applying knowledge gained in mere years of their short lives.  Of course, this is only a problem if the referee has a problem with first level characters possessing extra knowledge, at least as far as history is concerned.  But there’s a way out.  One need only imagine that elves grow much like humans except that once they reach their thirties (or maybe their early forties) they just stop.  I mean, they live on barring accident or injury and enjoy the seemingly endless summer of elven longevity envied by mere mortals.  But they no longer age physically.  This is the approach I prefer because it makes that elven teenager a greenhorn; a kid with no more experience than their adventuring companions.  And no more than the players themselves.

In other words, that first-level elf is sixteen years old (or whatever), just like their human peers, except, of course, that the elf can look forward to centuries of vitality and life.  I’ve long opposed the notion of elves as humans with pointy ears, perhaps as much as I dislike the donkey eared internet variety.  Elves aren’t, in fact, human, and as they age, the differences only grow; a fact which makes non-player elves valuable sources of insight.  Why consult a human sage when there’s an elven settlement nearby, especially when your typical adult remembers the Renaissance (for instance) like we remember high school?  But this assumes they’re even accessible.  As a rule, I eschew the idea of an Iron-Age Star Trek with its elven shopkeepers.  Most humans should have never seen an elf, for elves have their own concerns and change with time beyond the openness of their youth...

And maybe this reclusiveness only increases with age until, at last, they succumb to that undeniable urge to leave our mortal realm for far-flung shores, doubtless to remember (perhaps with fondness) their adventures with those quaint, round-eared humans.  Fantasy games thrive on the notion of antiquity, and elves can serve as a link to the campaign's distant past and help to explore issues of mortality which impact us in this all-too-real life! 


  1. I don't take that into account enough in my campaign, I'm happy I read this.

  2. This makes me think of the more spry old gals and gents at the old folks' home...they enjoy song, dance, and give advice like, "Just enjoy life, don't worry about the little things," or ,"Life just repeats, history repeats, in the end you need a couple good friends" or, "Find something that you enjoy and do it." Maybe a hundred year old elf is less philosophical because they aren't so close to dying, but also I think that they are probably aloof in the same way as these old humans...they need few things, pursue little in the way of material things. I like the idea that they leave their communities at this age to travel amoungst the humans, who must seem a bit like idealistic teenagers, or idiot teenagers, to them. They at mortal for a few decades of maybe even another hundred years, then go off to a more Fey Land, where they join the Great Fey Old Folks Home across the Misty sea or something.
    Likewise, maybe Dwarves grow to be the grumpy old folks'; taking everything too seriously, going on about old wars and being cranky about the 'young folks'

    1. Young elves are idealistic "teenagers" and old dwarves are yelling at the kids to get off their lawn. It's an apt portrait for sure! Very cool...

  3. We used to joke in our Pathfinder campaign that elves spent a lot of their childhood as a tree or bush, to account for starting characters not knowing more than humans...

    1. Interesting concept, actually. Elves AS nature...

  4. I realized a while back that there is an interesting tie, in BX, between elves and timekeeping.

    In BX, a round is 10 seconds; there are 6 per minute, and 60 per turn, which is 10 minutes.

    Elves live about 10 times as long as humans.

    Ergo, a "round," from an elven perspective, is equivalent to a second for a human, and a "turn" is equal to one minute. Thus, to an elf, an hour is like 6 minutes, and a day and a night are a little more than an hour each.

    How much specifically do you recall from two hours of your life 30 years ago?

    You will remember the personal, intense moments quite readily, as Elrond recalls the Last Alliance in LotR.

    But I am sure he could not tell you much else about those days. It is all a blur.

    Another element in my understanding of elven memory comes from the Horseclans series, where there is an immortal, Milo Morai, who raises an entire nation of people from a bunch of kids who survived WWIII in a shelter. There is a book in the series, "A Woman of the Horseclans," in which you see how he has to try to remember a person, and a whole swath of his life, from three human generations prior. He remembers the great movements, the wide to and fro, but of individuals? He recalls but little, and this is when he has trained his mind (psychic, no less) for maximal retention.

    So elven memory is a vas Swiss cheese, full of holes, the strongest supporting portions very intense, personal moments in their lives. Sages? Sure, just like with humans, they remember other stuff, because it is their passion. But it takes hours or days of meditation to recall information... the more obscure and impersonal, the longer the meditation.

    And even then, with all this, I simply punted like you did... elves do not spend 50 years in diapers. They age at the same speed as humans up to late puberty, then their aging slows down incredibly, until it effectively ceases when they are at their most beautiful stage of adulthood...

    N ow think back -- how much do you remember of

  5. Elves have a completely different sense of time. A hundred years ago is “the other day” to them.

    1. I've seen time speed up the older I get. Sigh...

  6. I can remember things from decades ago but have great difficulty in remembering ‘the other day’.

    Elves may have much longer memories than humans, but unless it's things the party is interested in, does it matter? If what the party wants to know is 'where was the earl buried 200 years ago?’ so they can rob his magic sword, when the Elf in question remembers every detail of the clouds, the rain. the glint of starlight through the sighing leaves and the smell of the sea on a southern breeze at moonrise as Tanarundiel (whose family the Elf can recite back to the Sunset of Time) sang a lament for Lost Lindoloriendinielorendinalie (which they can also recall in perfect detail with the dance-steps that went with it) and even knows the names of all the members of the family of the person who did just the kind of embroidery that was on the edge of Tanarundiel's robe, what does it matter?

    I've lived longer than a dog, doesn't mean I could tell a dog anything useful about what some dogs were up to a couple of dog-generations ago. Even if I actually got a dog and went on some adventures with it. I don't really like dogs much, but some people do. They play with them and talk to them and swear they talk back sometimes. I'd reckon that's about how interested in human stuff most Elves are, most of the time.

    At least, it's a good excuse for Elven characters to be as clueless about what's going on as anyone else.

    1. Great ideas worth trying out! Elves have a special relationship with time that's wide open in a game. The sky's literally the limit...

  7. "Iron-Age Star Trek" I love that phrase! I don't buy into that either.

    I haven't pondered elves and their age to much. Thanks for writing this.