D&D General Alien Character Mindsets: Elves should be pretty conservative about almost everything.

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
So this is a thing that I thought up while working on a homebrew setting called Aetherstorm.

Elves are the oldest race in practically every setting. They're generally the first to be created or one of the two or three "Elder Races" of a given world alongside Giants and Dragons or Dwarves and the setting's other favored race.

So they owned land before everyone else did. And rivers. And lakes. And forests. And RESOURCES.

And you know what? Every elf grows to be 300+ years old in practically every setting and often reach 500-800, which is the most salient point, here... If Elves existed in the United States, right now, there would be Elves in their prime who are OLDER THAN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Can you imagine the mindset of someone who grew up in the Colonies where slaves and women were property, only landholding white men were even -considered- to be people, and barbaric torments were seen as routine... Looking around as the US evolves from a revolutionary war to modern day?

Sure, they'd probably be more open about gender and sexuality than a lot of people on account of probably having done literally everything at least once, but they'd also hold to LONG traditions and strong ideals of fiscal conservatism because it would be -them- who owned everything! Add in the fact that humans -barely- reach "Adulthood" for an elf before they croak and they probably wouldn't see us as "Real" people. Social safety nets for humans? Pffft. They can come work in one of -my- factories, instead! What's this about unionizing?!

Lifetime appointment on the supreme court? Elrond could've been hand-chosen by Washington and -still- be around, today. And you -know- they'd be the predominant members of the House and Senate having made legislation well over their fifty three terms in office...

Dwarves? Same thing, just a little less extreme. But even a middle aged dwarf would still remember the Civil War. Gnomes are right there with 'em.

Halflings, Half-Elves, and Humans would be Gen X and Millennials. Trapped in a system they had no ability to create waiting for those who hold power to lose it through age or infirmity in the hopes of making some kind of positive change.

Orcs? Goblins? They own nothing. They exist in a society that hates them for their youth and rebelliousness, their lack of caution, and their short life spans. Gen Z all the way. Nihilistic and often socialist they're eager for the elder races to step aside and let positive change finally happen but have no illusions that they'll live long enough to see it.

(ALL OF THE ABOVE WAS USING THE CURRENT UNITED STATES AS A SETTING, BUT THE GREATER LESSON IS STILL APPLICABLE TO OTHER SETTINGS)

When you're making a character, look at your lifespan. Look at the setting's history. Ask yourself how much of it your character has seen and what impact that makes on what is happening -now-.

People often complain that Elves in movies and books never -do- anything, they just sit back and watch the other peoples of the world go on big quests to stop evil... And... yeah. It's kind of weird. But this is also the sixth world-ending crisis they've seen in their lives and there's always a Ringbearer or Chosen One or rag tag band of scrappy do gooders who will save the day before the elf hits their next milestone birthday (Because once you've got 200+ years under your belt you stop celebrating any more often than once a decade) and be dead before the milestone after that 'cause humans are tiny fragile short-lived things. Bright as fire and just as quick to get snuffed.

If humans in your setting talk like modern day folk, your elves should be the ones Theeing and Thouing and Whereforing. Mixing 200 year old slang with "Hip Lingo" from the 1960s 'cause it all blends together and none of it makes sense, anymore, anyhow, and it's not like they really picked up "What the kids are saying these days" back then, either.

In short: Elves and Dwarves should probably be pretty cringe. Like a grandpa trying to sound cool talking about all the TikTaks and Youtubes while asking you for free IT service on their PC filled with adware.
 

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J.Quondam

CR 1/8
The long-lived races are the ones with a vested interest in the future. No way they're going to sit by and let the upstarts mess things up for a few decades of short-sighted selfishness.

I think the real "alienness" in such an outlook could come from what exactly those long-lived races envision for the future. To be truly alien, those goals should be completely perpendicular to anything that we consider particularly progressive or conservative.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
So they owned land before everyone else did.

Assuming the idea of "land ownership" is part of their culture.

While I can imagine them being "conservative" from the little "c" perspective of protecting land and resources, I can also imagine that to them time seems different and change is the most common aspect of sapient life they've noticed - so 300 years of change could seem like the difference between 1965 and 1975 - are things different? Sure. Different enough for some people to think 1975 as compared to 1965 has "gone too far?" Sure. But most would probably not see a decade (or a century) of change that big deal in the big picture.
 
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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I'll be 40 this year, @Vaalingrade. That's not -that- old, but it's old enough that I look back at my teen years sitting in The Bookmark (Comic book shop) playing those first sessions of AD&D 2e with my first DM Toby and the rest of the gang and I have hefty nostalgia for it.

I think back to Gargoyles and how great a show it was. I titter to myself as I remember sneaking out of my bedroom at 2am to watch new episodes of Deep Space Nine after CBS tried to kill it to make Voyager "The" Star Trek, and I remember it fondly.

I still remember all the bad things that happened around that same time in my life. I remember being closeted. I remember being exposed to hurtful, hateful, ideas. I remember internalizing a lot of hatred about myself at that point.

But I still have those rose tinted glasses about AD&D 2e. About picking up the Psionics Handbook for the first time and reading it cover to cover.
That might make sense for older elves, but there would inevitably be younger (probably more progressive) elves as well. Young adults who hit the open road because they couldn't stand one more of dad's centuries-spanning stories about having to walk up-hill both ways.
This is also mostly true... But since elves reach "adulthood" at 100, that's still "Dust Bowl Youth" who watched WW1 and 2, Vietnam, the Iran Contra, Desert Storm...

But even a 60 year old "Teen Elf" would be vastly more progressive than their 300 year old parents.
Broadly speaking, it strikes me that human societies have become more progressive as life expectancy has increased -- indeed, they've tended to go hand-in-hand. Also, if a Dex bonus doesn't play in today's game, I'm not sure what place there is for this kind of bioessentialism.
WHOA. Whoa. Whooooooa.

This is not bioessentialism. This is all about life experience and the span of perspective. The human life span hasn't really increased since the Bronze Age. It's only the infant mortality rate that has significantly changed so that the average age of death goes up. But people have always lived to around their 70s or 80s, with outliers reaching 100s+, barring accident or sudden illness.

The point is an old Elf character has been around for a very long time and seen a whole lot of stuff and has a perspective shaped by that span of time.
The long-lived races are the ones with a vested interest in the future. No way they're going to sit by and let the upstarts mess things up for a few decades of short-sighted selfishness.

I think the real "alienness" in such an outlook could come from what exactly those long-lived races envision for the future. To be truly alien, those goals should be completely perpendicular to anything that we consider particularly progressive or conservative.
Maybe, yeah. Though more than likely they'd be trying to steer the ship straight on the direction it's going, since it's worked for the last 200 years, right?
Assuming the idea if "land ownership" is part of their culture.

While I can imagine them being "conservative" from the little "c" perspective of protecting land and resources, I can also imagine that to them time seems different and change is the most common aspect of sapient life they've noticed - so 300 years of change could seem like the difference between 1965 and 1975 - are things different? Sure. Different enough for some people to thing 1975 as compared to 1965 has "gone too far?" Sure. But most would probably not see a decade (or a century) of change that big deal in the big picture.
The example was the US as it has changed over the last 300 years which is significantly more drastic than 1965 to 1975. In many campaign settings that's long enough for kingdoms to rise and fall, major land wars to change the map, dragons to wipe out entire forests, and multiple deities to die and/or get resurrected...

It's more than the 60s and 70s.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
My point was that to an elf 300 years of changes among other people might just seem like the difference between the 60s and 70s or 70s to 80s.
If Elven Perception of time were that compressed then no human would mean anything to them, at all, since we'd be born, grow up, and die within 2 weeks.

We wouldn't even be puppies. We'd be mosquitoes.
 

Can you imagine the mindset of someone who grew up in the Colonies where slaves and women were property, only landholding white men were even -considered- to be people, and barbaric torments were seen as routine... Looking around as the US evolves from a revolutionary war to modern day?
if elves live alone or secluded sure... but elves that live mixed with shorter races would have to be surer adaptable. they wouldnt still be the same people they were 100 years ago
 

This is not bioessentialism.
I just...I don't understand how you can say that. "Bioessentialism" is the view that biology determines one's personality, psychological, or developmental characteristics. Saying "elves are social conservatives because of their natural lifespan" is far more bioessentialist than "elves are agile and dexterous because of their builds."

The distinction you draw between life expectancy and lifespan is apt, though I'd note that average age at death has increased as well. Some of our thinking about Bronze Age lifespans was skewed by the kinds of people for whom records existed (i.e., elites). Studies of the skeletons of working-class Romans, for example, indicate the average age at death was about 30 years.

In any case, I personally wouldn't connect character race or species to social, political and economic alignment, but maybe that's just me.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
If Elven Perception of time were that compressed then no human would mean anything to them, at all, since we'd be born, grow up, and die within 2 weeks.

We wouldn't even be puppies. We'd be mosquitoes.

Might explain why I prefer my elves to be weird mysterious people on the decline that are not available as PCs. :LOL:

But still, not sure that'd necessarily be the case - since mosquitos aren't sapient.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
@Steampunkette Elves are considered adults at 100, but they physically mature at the same rate as humans, meaning that around the age of 20 they're more or less fully matured. I do wonder what that would do to a person. Spending 80 years when you're functionally mature (at least as far as any human or dwarf can tell) but still considered a child by your own culture? That seems like it would be a recipe for frustration.

I would expect that a significant percentage of elven adventurers would be elven "children" who got tired of waiting for their own culture to accept them as the adults they view themselves as.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I'll be 40 this year, @Vaalingrade. That's not -that- old, but it's old enough that I look back at my teen years sitting in The Bookmark (Comic book shop) playing those first sessions of AD&D 2e with my first DM Toby and the rest of the gang and I have hefty nostalgia for it.

I think back to Gargoyles and how great a show it was. I titter to myself as I remember sneaking out of my bedroom at 2am to watch new episodes of Deep Space Nine after CBS tried to kill it to make Voyager "The" Star Trek, and I remember it fondly.

I still remember all the bad things that happened around that same time in my life. I remember being closeted. I remember being exposed to hurtful, hateful, ideas. I remember internalizing a lot of hatred about myself at that point.

But I still have those rose tinted glasses about AD&D 2e. About picking up the Psionics Handbook for the first time and reading it cover to cover.
I'm only a few years younger and actually have the Gargoyles DvDs (and still buy DvDs in general), and also think DS9 was the best we're going to get.

Buuut.... neither of us are ancient monsters with a long eye into a future hundreds of years to come that we have a direct, physical stake in. And I kind of wonder if a long-lived thing would necessarily have the same mental safeguards we have that tends to bury the negative as we become removed from it because for them, the same process would eventually grind down any lessons they learn in that time.

I feel like the longer lived you are, the better your recall would have to be.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Maybe, yeah. Though more than likely they'd be trying to steer the ship straight on the direction it's going, since it's worked for the last 200 years, right?
Absolutely, and keeping in mind they've already been steering that ship who knows where for 10,000 years, too. Imagine what they've done to tweak history to their ends in all that time? I'd expect them to look very much like good guys in some centuries, and very much like villains in others!
I think if any races are driven by inscrutable "wheels within wheels within wheels" style plots, it'd be the elves and dwarves.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I just...I don't understand how you can say that. "Bioessentialism" is the view that biology determines one's personality, psychological, or developmental characteristics. Saying "elves are social conservatives because of their natural lifespan" is far more bioessentialist than "elves are agile and dexterous because of their builds."

The distinction you draw between life expectancy and lifespan is apt, though I'd note that average age at death has increased as well. Some of our thinking about Bronze Age lifespans was skewed by the kinds of people for whom records existed (i.e., elites). Studies of the skeletons of working-class Romans, for example, indicate the average age at death was about 30 years.

In any case, I personally wouldn't connect character race or species to social, political and economic alignment, but maybe that's just me.
Biology doesn't determine one's personality, experiences do. This particular kind of people have a LOT OF TIME to experience lots of things, and in the context of a 300 year old person compared to a modern 20 year old person those experiences are weighted to the past. Their identity is going to be shaped by that exceptionally heavy weight of their personal history.

But the same could be said of a 60 year old person and a 20 year old person. It's just a more extreme version of that phenomenon.
Might explain why I prefer my elves to be weird mysterious people on the decline that are not available as PCs. :LOL:

But still, not sure that'd necessarily be the case - since mosquitos aren't sapient.
S'truth. But since an entire human life span would last 2 weeks and your longest conversation with them would last maybe 8 seconds with most of your other interactions in that 2 week period being 2 seconds or less...

Not -much- of a sapience...
@Steampunkette Elves are considered adults at 100, but they physically mature at the same rate as humans, meaning that around the age of 20 they're more or less fully matured. I do wonder what that would do to a person. Spending 80 years when you're functionally mature (at least as far as any human or dwarf can tell) but still considered a child by your own culture? That seems like it would be a recipe for frustration.

I would expect that a significant percentage of elven adventurers would be elven "children" who got tired of waiting for their own culture to accept them as the adults they view themselves as.
5e holds to the "Hit 20 and physically be an adult" thing, but previous editions, and various settings, don't. Remember how Tanis grew so much faster than his elven playmates and yet so much slower than his human ones and couldn't have long-term friendships because of it?

That said... you're right. In a modern US setting 20 year old elves would probably act pretty much exactly like all the other 20 year olds around them, since it'd be a generational thing. They'd just also have overbearing parents who are -way- older than everyone else's parents.

Imagine your Mom and Dad met in France after your Dad stormed the beach at Normandy and liberated your Mom's village. And they were both just "Barely 100" at the time.

shudders
I'm only a few years younger and actually have the Gargoyles DvDs (and still buy DvDs in general), and also think DS9 was the best we're going to get.

Buuut.... neither of us are ancient monsters with a long eye into a future hundreds of years to come that we have a direct, physical stake in. And I kind of wonder if a long-lived thing would necessarily have the same mental safeguards we have that tends to bury the negative as we become removed from it because for them, the same process would eventually grind down any lessons they learn in that time.

I feel like the longer lived you are, the better your recall would have to be.
To some degree... but the fact that I recall all the terrible things that happened around me, and to me, in that time doesn't mean I don't look back fondly. That I don't think Saturday morning Cartoons should look like the lineup I enjoyed back then. Y'know?

Media in the 80s and 90s is a touchstone identity point for me, always will be. And even when it was bad or just not as good as I remember, I'll still think back on it fondly, even for all the trouble it caused.

I guess it would work better as an analogy if it was something ephemerally or tangibly "Lost". Something that isn't around anymore, like Ice Cream Shoppes and Sock hops or whatever. Something that existed only in a fairly narrow window of time surrounded by injustice that I still yearned to return to and rejected all things modern for....

I love the Orville, by the way.

... crap have we broken that cycle of society by advancing technology far enough that we can't ever really "Lose" our cultural touchstones since they're always waiting for us somewhere on the internet? That's... that's a deeply disturbing thought...
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
@Steampunkette Elves are considered adults at 100, but they physically mature at the same rate as humans, meaning that around the age of 20 they're more or less fully matured. I do wonder what that would do to a person. Spending 80 years when you're functionally mature (at least as far as any human or dwarf can tell) but still considered a child by your own culture? That seems like it would be a recipe for frustration.

I would expect that a significant percentage of elven adventurers would be elven "children" who got tired of waiting for their own culture to accept them as the adults they view themselves as.
Yeah, the elven 100 year mark for adulthood is socially constructed, same as the 21 year mark is for modern humans. If elves develop at the same rate as humans, that means they’d be sexually mature by their mid-teens, grown to their full height by their late teens, and their brains would finish developing by their mid 20s. Being considered a child by your society for 75 years after reaching full developmental maturity would have to be pretty damn frustrating. If one did go with the “elves are conservative” idea, you’ve got to imagine the 25-99 year old demographic would be pretty radically progressive.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
To some degree... but the fact that I recall all the terrible things that happened around me, and to me, in that time doesn't mean I don't look back fondly.
Without getting too personal and I absolutely apologize is this comes off as cruel or invasive and I really am trying to keep it general but...

This is entirely because of how our brains work.

The good times hold firm and so do personal traumas.

But imagine how different we'd be as people if we could still feel the tail end of the Cold War, Bosnia, the OKC bombing, Desert Storm, the LA Riots, Hurricane Andrew, etc etc with the same clarity with which we remember our favorite shows and the general vibe?

Hell, how different would it be if we remembered Ripping Friends as vividly as we remember Gargoyles?

If elves have better memories than us, they would be DESPERATE to prevent another Ripping Friends or Angela Anaconda. Maybe those other things too.
That I don't think Saturday morning Cartoons should look like the lineup I enjoyed back then. Y'know?
I'd just like them to be a thing again.

I actually did a month of posts in memorial when they died.
Media in the 80s and 90s is a touchstone identity point for me, always will be. And even when it was bad or just not as good as I remember, I'll still think back on it fondly, even for all the trouble it caused.

I guess it would work better as an analogy if it was something ephemerally or tangibly "Lost". Something that isn't around anymore, like Ice Cream Shoppes and Sock hops or whatever. Something that existed only in a fairly narrow window of time surrounded by injustice that I still yearned to return to and rejected all things modern for....
But that's kind of my premise: Would elves have nostalgia goggles like us? IF they have better recall, would they feel loss as keenly as I do when I'm trying to recall say, Eek! the Cat?
I love the Orville, by the way.
You have excellent taste, I must say.
... crap have we broken that cycle of society by advancing technology far enough that we can't ever really "Lose" our cultural touchstones since they're always waiting for us somewhere on the internet? That's... that's a deeply disturbing thought...
I mean, we've still lost privacy, personal ownership of media and malls; so never fear, there will always be mundane, non-traumatic sadness.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Personally, I stole Dragon Age’s concept of Uthenera for my elves. When an elf has lived a full mortal lifetime, and everyone they’ve known during it is starting to whither and die while they remain unchanged since their 20s, they tend to start growing pretty disillusioned with the whole life thing, and just go into Trance. Their metabolism slows to a near standstill, and their younger relatives protect their bodies while they meditate and perform simple maintenance like occasionally putting a few drops of liquid food and water into their mouths. Then after a century or so, when the world has changed enough that it will be new to them again, they wake up, refreshed and ready to start over with a clean slate. So, while any given elf may be many hundreds of years old, they’ll only have been conscious for a normal mortal lifespan.

This also gives me a neat origin for ghouls. They’re what happens when a slumbering elf doesn’t get the necessary upkeep performed on their body, and they awaken desiccated and starving.
 

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