A little brainstorming on Elves

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Okay... That was a random musing that came to me yesterday.

Elves, classic fantasy race.... Much liked, and also very maligned. Often quite stereotypal. At times said to be overdone.

So, here, I offers you this.... Could an elven culture be different from the classic stereotypes, clichés... Could we have a culture/tradition of 'likeable' elves, humble, sans the haughty snobs clichés, by example?

That is it, I want ideas, I want concepts - but not just different for the sake of being different, and NO 'Take That' bits.

Show me, guys!
Or you could just not have elves.
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Problem - I said that I want elves.

A fresh, original or at least nice take on them.

Kinda like the Areneal (?), not a bad idea to twist the thing around (albeit they still have a cold haughtyness, I think...).
In a world I created for my own games I changed Elves quite a bit.

I built up the arrogance of Elves quite a bit and modeled them after the Roman Empire in the height of its power.

The idea behind this is that the Elves consider themselves the pinnacle of culture. They tried the isolationist route that seems to be the common Elfish theme, but it didn’t work, so they decided to just take matters into their own hands. They built up their army and have been slowing expanding and conquering all the neighboring kingdoms; subjugating all races into a life of servitude or slavery.

They justify the subjugation and slavery because all races that are not Elvin are inferior. The Elves are an older and much more civilized race, so only they can really know what is best for the other races.

The actual culture is very similar to the Roman Empire, the only exception being that instead of a senate there is a group or ruling Lords, and instead of an Emperor, there is a High Lord that is elected out of the ranks of the Lords.

There is also very little magic in this world so the mystical elves are a thing of the past as well.
I like to model my elves after Native Americans. It's a cliche, perhaps, but it works for them.
Problem - I said that I want elves.

Actually you said that you wanted concepts and to generally explore the idea. You never actually said that you want to have elves in your game. So the suggestion to not include them (to change them into "nothing") is still very much on topic.

Also, if you're looking for off-the-wall concepts of a fantasy stand-by, anime is a good place to look. Vash and Knives from Trigun would be a great base to create elves from. In the anime, they are called "plants". Sounds pretty "feyish" to me.
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You could take a page from MtG and use Shadowmoor elves, though I prefer the Lorwyn ones.
Except that I wanted to see Elves here.

My point is that I think Elves as a concept is still worthy... but needs creative twists to be kept fresh, perhaps. And I am tired also of the 'no elves!' calls or 'take that' options - like making them evil b...

Not bad ideas, though. More? I think this thread could be usefull to some DM.
Well, I had an interesting pair of elven communities...
The Grey Mountain elves were once the White Mountain elves, they delved into the mountain, building beautiful glades and forests in the mountain range hights, and were at peace with all those around them. It may have been the threat of the Dolman Castes (a human kingdom nearby that turned evil), or some internal problem, but the elves turned to technology and alchemy. The mountain turned grey as blast furnaces turned out exceptional weapons by the score, and neighboring kingdoms learned to fear the monstrosities which periodically left the mountain, whether to put fear into the hearts of any who threatened the elves, or just because an experiment had failed and was discarded.
I didn't actually have orcs in this game, and the half-orc PC race was actually called the Yoni, one of the elves more successful breeding programs with goblinoids and humans (and maybe even dwarves) which are a slave race to the elves.
I mentioned two cultures, the other elves are the skinshaper elves. Who started the war between the two elven kingdoms is lost in history, but the victors are clear, the original elven forest was burnt to the ground, and the skinshapers hide among humans or in small patches of woods, always fearful of discovery. They gain disguise as a class skill and have to take at least one point of it, so they can pass as humans...
So how about it, evil, technology obsessed elves and cowering, destroyed elves hiding among humans, is that different enough for you?
Standard elves have lived in the forest and defend themselves with secrecy, archery and magic, as before.

Only, lately (by elf standards) the old strategy hasn't been working anymore. As the world gets more dangerous, elven settlements are falling like autumn leaves. Now elves are swiftly becoming endangered. So you have the elves fleeing the forests and forming little enclaves in human settlements, or making tiefling-style deals to try to preserve their way of life, or taking up wandering/fleeing full time. You see a lot of elf beggars, as they're not so suited to getting by in the fast-paced, market-driven, money-crazy (by elf standards) human towns.
There's the standard reversal of using the elves as Nazis.

Make them paranoid about racial purity (which is why they slaughtered the pacifist drow), exploit the environment to an extreme (smokestacks, slaughterhouses, slave labor camps, and strip mines), and expansionist.
There's the standard reversal of using the elves as Nazis.

Make them paranoid about racial purity (which is why they slaughtered the pacifist drow), exploit the environment to an extreme (smokestacks, slaughterhouses, slave labor camps, and strip mines), and expansionist.

*COughes* I'd hoped to see no 'changes around just for changes' and that is a bit too much 'take that' for me.


Beside, dwarves are MUCH more closer to that when twisted...
I once ran a campaign where elves were immigrants from across the sea (fleeing form some unspecified disaster). There was a lot of anti-elf prejudice among humans, which gave a lot of elf characters a sort of angry edge. Forest elves tended to be nice and friendly, similar to traditional elves but somewhat mistrustful of humans; elves living in cities were oppressed by the human authorities, and therefore tended to be a lot more angry and bitter about their situation.
Ah, sorry, I didn't see the "no evil" bit.

Immigrants sounds good to me. I'd use Jimb's idea.
Except that I wanted to see Elves here.

My second post was tongue-firmly-in-cheek. That's why I linked it to the wiki article for "pedantry".

---

I would say that any fey race should never be a "good" or "evil" race. These are fey. They should not share our notions of morality.
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I would say that any fey race should never be a "good" or "evil" race. These are fey. They should not share our notions of morality.

More, ah, precisely, *cough cough* I'd say that fey can be good or evil (see: Seelie/Unseelie Courts) but that their definitions of good and evil don't exactly match our own. There are some mythological fey, for example, that are upstanding beings of virtue, who tend to go out of their way to help mortals, and who routinely steal babies and replace them with changelings, just because they can. Most wouldn't consider baby-napping a good act, but those fey don't see any problem with it.

So you'd want to make elves not good (like they are often portrayed) nor evil (either drow evil or exaggerated-Nazi evil), but more unaligned with occasional extreme good and extreme evil tendencies. Above all, capriciousness is a good trait for more fey-ish elves. Maybe they're very isolationist, and refuse to speak Common, but they welcome any visitors who seek them out; they make them all feel welcome...but anyone who wears black or white has broken some thousands-of-years-old pact and must be instantly killed. Something weird like that, involving old agreements and fey-mortal interactions.

I'm rambling, but I think you get the idea.
In my setting (linked in my sig, if anyone wants to check it out - that's my shameless promotion for the day), the world consists of an uncounted number of islands floating in a seemingly infinite sky. Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, etc are all biologically human - their differences are cultural. The elves are a group of humans who make their living as traders, and often spend 90 percent of their lives in the air, living on airships and in floating cities held aloft by hundreds of hot air balloons. Their skill with the bow and adeptness at moving over difficult terrain comes from generations of climbing around rigging and hunting the sky-whales, sphynxes and pterodactyls that are their main food source.
In one of my earlier setting ideas, elves were quite different.

Basically, they were more like 4E eladrin than 4E elves, but their culture was almost completely subterranian. In the past, demons invaded their world, and the elves were forced to retreat into a hollowed out mountain as their last fortress against the demons. Due to their magic, the elves could keep the demons out, but were likewise trapped in the mountain.

This reflected in their culture as well. Conditions of life were harsh, and the race as a whole became pragmatic and utterly realistic as well. Ceremonies like marriage or burial didn't involve long preparations, but became simple and quick events. Children were given their name immediately after birth, as it was unsure if they would survive the following month. Flirtation was nothing complicated, as the elves didn't know if they would survive to see the fruits of a flirt going on for a year or something.

After the dragons returned to "their" world and freed the "smaller" races from the demons, the elves slowly opened up to other people. The elves were the ones who made contact with the dragons first, and from then on adopted a stance as the protectors and guardians of the world, willing to aid the other races whenever possible. However, they remained pragmatic and somewhat sarcastic.
I like to model my elves after Native Americans. It's a cliche, perhaps, but it works for them.

You are not the only one.


Unique culture for elves:
Try a mix of different historical cultures and avoid the stereotypical choices (celts).
The elves in my world have yet to be encountered because their "wait it out" philosophy to the wars left them broken and divided. They are very hunter/gatherer in the forets and are quite friendly to anyone wishing to break bread and tell a tale. They have no wizards among their ranks, being a people who spend little to no time in "study". They prefer to be in the wilderness, but have no qualms about visiting the more civilized areas.

They are built as exact oppposites of my orcs. Where elves live along side the wild, orcs destroy villages and keeps, squatting until all food is ran out. Elves live for centuries while orcs live mere decades. Elves have maybe one child in a lifetime, orcs are known to sire as many as 20 or more offspring. elves treat the civilized races with open arms and do what they can to teach all to balance with nature. Orcs destroy everything in their path and know nothing of diplomacy, quarter, or taking prisoners.

Elves & dwarves still do not get along, but not in a hostile sense. Neither really understands the other and they're rarely found in eachother's company.

I'd go into my dwarves (exceedingly samurai based, not the drunk scotsmen), but we're here to talk about elves.
You are not the only one.


Unique culture for elves:
Try a mix of different historical cultures and avoid the stereotypical choices (celts).

I have been thinking yesterday of using some indian (India, not native americans) culture for elves.... It sounds not so out of similarities.

maybe like the southern indian groups, like Tamuls. Vegetarians, (albeit not vegans) mystic-turned culture, nature-minding... Ki power source classes perhaps, refited, holy archery art. Etc.
I have been thinking yesterday of using some indian (India, not native americans) culture for elves.... It sounds not so out of similarities. [...]

Interesting.

If you want to keep your players on their toes, you could use a completely different culture than what is usually expected from elves. For example aztecan - blood sacrifices included.
I have been thinking yesterday of using some indian (India, not native americans) culture for elves.... It sounds not so out of similarities.

maybe like the southern indian groups, like Tamuls. Vegetarians, (albeit not vegans) mystic-turned culture, nature-minding... Ki power source classes perhaps, refited, holy archery art. Etc.

Indian? Well, I thought about a dwarven culture based on ancient India (you can blame Larry Elmore for that).
Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese are also interessting cultures which could be used.
Ancient (Minoan & Mykenian) Greece and ancient Egypt are also good ideas.
Or use old african cultures.
I always liked the indian world, and all the whole south of asia things.

I have an idea of a tibetan dwarven culture, another interesting match. Perhaps another more distant, kurds, caucasians, etc.

So... Hard-working, humble, orderly, clanic, etc... And the mountains!


(Malays and the like could be another options for cultures-fusions elves)



I remember an old (and a bit gimicky and corny, honestly) franco-belgian fantasy comic who did something like that - elves where like south american natives, dwarves kind of mongolians if I rmemebr well, orcs... something.
You are not the only one.


Unique culture for elves:
Try a mix of different historical cultures and avoid the stereotypical choices (celts).

Pretty much any aboriginal culture known for its naturalism (and wouldn't most of them, in comparison to technological invaders?) seems appropriate, and interest in such cultures is probably what ends up reflecting in D&D as "elves" in the first place, I would think.

You're right, a blend is probably the best idea. Maybe if someone were to find the common traits in all such cultures, they could be distilled down to "elves," i.e., those little dudes in the forest that know how to use a bow and are great hunters and maybe resent the intruders a bit and would have done something about them at some point if they weren't so badly outnumbered.

Elves are basically representative of native populations that have been displaced or exterminated or at least generally annoyed by colonists/invaders/western culture. In a sense, there may be some inherent racism in the concept, as the "humans" in this equation are (usually) the invaders and the indigenous people are "de-humanized" into elves.
Pretty much any aboriginal culture known for its naturalism

Hmm. I don't see how holding onto this is coming up with a "new interpretation" of elves.

I'm pretty sure "woodsy" elves have been covered. We've also had "sky", "sea", "underground" elves. Eladrin-ish elves are even kind of "urban" elves.

That's the problem, elves have been done so broadly that you'd have to really start mucking with their base conventions.
  • Maybe "elves" aren't humanoid?
  • Maybe they're more like a tinkerbell thing?
  • Maybe elves are invisible spirits that possess other creatures?
  • Maybe they're more like genasi, elemental in nature?
  • Maybe elves are fallen angels/devils?
  • Maybe elves are living beings of pure residiuum (or however you spell that)?
  • Maybe they have no souls? They're like some sort of "born-undead" thing?
  • Maybe they're themed after some type of animal?
  • Maybe elves are cross-breeds between humans and dryads? And half-elfs are humans and nymphs? Drow are nymphs and shadar-kai?
  • Maybe elves go through complicated and long "life stages" where they go from "fairy -> quickling -> half-elf -> elf -> eladrin -> drow -> fomorian" and they have to be hunted down and killed before they turn evil?
  • Maybe the majority of elves are mindless and monstrous?
  • Maybe they're raised as cattle by the majority of the world?
  • Maybe they're ugly?
  • Maybe they're not magical?
  • Maybe they're strong and not agile?
  • Maybe they're tough and not clever?
  • Maybe they don't have a gender?
  • Maybe they always have both genders?
  • Maybe they have one of many possible genders?
  • Maybe all elves are male and all orcs are female and they have to breed with each other?
  • Maybe they're easily susceptible to addiction? (no legolas out-drinking a dwarf)
  • Maybe they hate nature and want to destroy it?
  • Maybe they're the world's anti-bodies created by primordials to destroy the creations of the gods?
  • Maybe they're covered in feathers, fur, scales, or flowery leaves?
  • Maybe I'm sick of maybes?
fo diggity Twitter: www.twitter.com/fodigg Comic Books You Should Have Read: http://tinyurl.com/ycxe9l7
In my own campaign setting there are three different kinds of elves:
- a hidden elven kingdom, which is the sole survivor of a war between gods. They use dwarves, humans, half-elves , dwelves (dwarf-elf-hybrids) and sometimes even captured barbarian elves as slaves. This culture is partially based on ancient greece.
- a kingdom ruled by drow, who had conquered a human realm and adopted much of their culture, before founding their own realm. I use a mix of ancient Egypt and the classec drow culture for this.
- many elves (and drow) live just in small hidden communities somewhere in the wilderness and are nothing more than barbarians or primitives. Native american and african and other woodland cultures are the basis for those cultures.
(And I use a mix of celtic and indian culture for the dwarves.)
Yeah.... Elves, like much of classic fantasy, tend to have been quite rumaged and changed and done around. Clichés however are not always too bad, though - so I aimed more at 'less done' than all new.

On a related note, I am now reminded of the eastern Spirit Folks now...
On a related note, I am now reminded of the eastern Spirit Folks now...

Did they work in the department of redundancy department?

(sorry i just like that phrase and i'm feeling silly cause it's friday)
fo diggity Twitter: www.twitter.com/fodigg Comic Books You Should Have Read: http://tinyurl.com/ycxe9l7
What about this or a twist: elves and humans cannot interbreed. Human children are stolen by the elves and raised in the elf-kingdoms. Sickly, ugly, or deformed elf-babes are left in place of these human children. The former were called the 'taken' and the latter were usually known as changelings. In both cases, the child grows up to show a mix of elvish and mannish traits. In 3E I'd use standard half-elves and the half-human variant from the DMG [possibly with minor modification]. Dunno how one would do it in 4E. This idea is taken in part from fairy tales and folklore.
Does making elves into hippies (in the stereotypical, unrealistic, "they weren't really like that" sense) count as a different enough take on elves? I use most of the slang, give them lots of bright colors, and they travel around the wilderness in caravans. Less cotton, more animal furs and hides. I drop all the arrogance nonsense though. It's similar to the other suggestions of modeling them after a native american or other naturalist culture.
I very much like the idea of making Elves much less humanoid. Their status as "humans only better and with pointy ears" has always bugged me.

Fodigg, I love the idea of multiple genders. Elves have always been somewhat androgynous anyways, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch. Perhaps, because their birth rate is so low, finding a partner of the appropriate gender is difficult, so elves have evolved the ability to switch genders, spinning a cocoon about themselves and emerging changed.

Or perhaps Elves have three genders - one to fertilize the egg, one to incubate it, and one to give birth to it. Thus, marriages would be groupings of three people, rather than two.
Perhaps, because their birth rate is so low, finding a partner of the appropriate gender is difficult,

Flip that one around and see what happens. I remember reading a sci-fi short story (whose title escapes me at the moment) where an alien species had 7 different genders; since they couldn't count on finding the right other gender(s) to reproduce, they evolved toward a long life and were somewhat elf-ish, but as a consequence when humans discovered them they were dying out due to low birth rates.
Or they are true hermaphrodites. ;)
I'd keep elves stereotypical, because I like each race to have a type of personality. Who else would be the smart snobs? Dwarfs? I think this effort is great but I'd put it towards a race that is less explored. Make halflings more humble or heck, the two new races.
I'd keep elves stereotypical, because I like each race to have a type of personality. Who else would be the smart snobs? Dwarfs? I think this effort is great but I'd put it towards a race that is less explored. Make halflings more humble or heck, the two new races.

Too much stereotypes can be at times... boring/annoying. Like the 'All dwarves are the same' trope.
If you want to re-interpret elves without just gainsaying, try building on what is generally accepted as being elven. For instance, portraying elves as hippies works because it builds on their nature-loving tendencies.

Elves like to study arcane magic, so maybe elves could be "the scholar race." Anything is acceptable to them, as long as it furthers the cause of magical study. They could be rare elites who establish the principles upon which the rest of the world's technology is built. Of course, this leads to quite a bit of isolationism, and naturally reinforces elves reputation for arrogance.

Or maybe elves could be much more beast-like in their tendencies. I've always liked the idea of elves having sharp teeth as well as long ears. Maybe elves can be wild, impish forest creatures who interact with humans playfully (much like elves in folklore.) Of course, elves could also be susceptible to becoming too beast-like. The Kuo-Toa are described as having a racial tendency towards madness, which serves as a dark temptation for all Kuo-Toa and disintegrates many Kuo-Toa communities. Perhaps elves have something like that, except that all elves must cope with the temptation to become savage.
I like to model my elves after Native Americans. It's a cliche, perhaps, but it works for them.

Agreed
I'm currently working on a campaign world, that is an alternative medieval Europe in points-of-light mode. No snobbish elves.

In the beginning, the elves were the only race, with the Eladrin being elves that had been chosen by god, and settled in the holy lands. The dwarves arrived later from the east. And then "the Ancients" arrived with their human slaves, and created a European based empire, striving to bring all other races under their dominion.

The elves were driven into the deep forests (in Europe) and desert (in North Africa), while the Eladrin were subjugated, and shipped into ghettos across the empire. A few Eladrin fled into the desert, and after the fall of the Ancients' empire, they returned at the head of a new religion.

So there are four kinds of elves. The normal elves which live in the deep forest, and are still pretty isolationistic. They live in hidden cities, hunt the deer, and are generally pretty deadly to anyone who encroach on their territory. Though a few do trade with the humans. Pretty traditional.
Then there are the eladrin. They've been driven from their holy land, and believe that they have been done so, because that they have disappointed their god. So even though they could return now, they don't, as they are trying to prove themselves worthy again. They mostly still live in ghettos in the human cities, but have close connections with each other across national borders. As such they have amongst their numbers some of the most successful bankers and merchants, though they gain their fair amount of jealousy as a result. Which has resulted in purges in some cities. So the eladrin mostly attempt to keep a low profile, and try to appear suitably eager to please their local ruler, so as not to encourage that local ruler to kill them off, and confiscate their belongings.
And then we have the desert elves, or Saracen. The ones that still live in the desert are nomads and master horsebowmen. Terrible raiders when they want to, and generally pretty martial. Follow a fierce code of honor. Though they are all of the Saracen faith, they often battle amongst each other, seeking revenge for pasts wrongs.
Other Saracen, however, have followed their eladrin overlords, and conquered the lands bordering up to the desert. These have actually become quite civilized, possibly even more civilized than the humans on the other side of the Mediterranean. Renowned for their mastery of medicine, astronomy and philosophy. Though the Saracen faith declares that all shall be ruled by the eladrin, the eladrin overlords actually tend to be quite benevolent. Other races that live in their cities are not oppressed. And on the (long) occasions where they have held Jerusalem, they have generally allowed the other faiths free access to the holy sites.
In eberron, they're tribal savages. In 4e, they're not smart or magical (that's eladrin), they're naturalistic and renowned hunters.

Perhaps they're like savants; their overpowering insight to nature and unnatural accuracy is coupled with muted personalities and a lack of problem solving skills. They're simple and laid back, lacking social graces and empathy, but BOY can they shoot a bow.
Whattup? Umm.

My campaign has kinda landed in a "before all that happened" time. Nothing in forgotten realms, dragonlance or the like has ever happened *yet.* It's an interesting twist.

In fact, it goes far far before things like that. In fact, a player told me today he thinks our party should become the founding members of The Harpers. With the different gods, changes to prominent races, and magic working slightly different, it just seems like a correct thing to do to make it before(or afte)r the traditional D&D kind of atmosphere that we were used to.

Now, that said, each Eladrin we have run into so far were fashioned in an almost snobbish elitist high elf vein. They've been mean, nasty, Some have been brutal, even bloodthirsty.

They've almost became a sort of antagonist to our campaign. Not going so far as to say we've gone into elf encampments and headed into their dungeons and search out the head elf boss to kill because they've been terrorizing the countyside. NOT YET, anyway. But, they've been the ones pushing buttons, behind the scenes, dogged our adventurers with they're snobbish elite ways. They're always itching to fight, or lie, or backstab (not literally[yet]).

It's almost like since I ran the first Eladrin NPC like that, they've all gone that way. We even have an Eladrin PC who was instead raised by the 'nice' elves(non-eladrin elves).

It's occurred to me though, what I've done. Maybe someone who reads this has already caught it.

Far far before anything Forgotten Realmsy.

High Elves are bloodthirsty, decieptful, elitists.

There are "good" elves.

I've created the rift that happened many many years ago that creates the dark elves almost, and in not as many words. It hasn't, like, HAPPENED in my campaign or anything, but so far, it's there, and happening and my PCs possibly face the civil war that divides elves into what they are now in the Forgotten Realms.
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