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

Horwath

Legend
I would say that elves could be "conservative" because of rate that they have children, or better yet at what age they start having children.

If elves mature at 20 similar to humans, but they are considered "adults" when they pass into their second century, that is when we can expect them to have children.

And if humans are treated as adults at 20(but today, that line has moved towards 30), and elves at 100, then we have 5× speed difference for new generations to come into society, and with them new ideas and new views of the world.

And it is not that older people cannot change or have new views, they sure do, but they do need newer younger generations to give them the idea and/or small nudge for it.

OFC, elves might not be that slow with accepting new ideas as they live next to more "quick" races, and if they do not want to be overrun by history they will pickup the pace of ever changing world.
 

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Very interesting thread. I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this but the BECMI outlook on elves was quite different, if I recall correctly, to other D&D fantasy worlds. The thinking was that due to their longevity, elves got bored easily, or it was difficult to stay committed to something unless it was a project that interested them. Everything else was turned into a game as merriment made chores more pleasing. With this philosophy elven relationships would face committal problems.

EDIT: I remember when first reading this, years ago, and felt it jarring given my perception of elves from other sources.
 
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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.
I mean, or the opposite could easily be true.

It'd be maladaptive to be stuck in the past, like literally maladaptive. If you lived potentially hundreds of years but got stuck in your ways in your, say, 40s or 60s or 100s or whatever, you'd probably die before you made it to 300, because you were unable to keep up with change, not just to society, but to environments, methods of warfare, the beings who are around, and so on. Only being incredibly magically powerful might prevent that.

This fits with a lot of fantasy ideas of elves as flighty or capricious, because honestly, unless they were a bit, they'd get locked into mindsets which passed their "best before" date millennia ago.

But ignoring that:
strong ideals of fiscal conservatism

No. You're confusing "conservative thinking" in the small-c sense with very specific ideologies inaccurately labelled "conservative", which emerged extremely recently and are actually not at all "conservative". None of the Founding Fathers of the US would be "fiscal conservatives" by 2020s standards (or 1980s ones). Nor even the right-wing politicians of the 1940s and 1950s, for that matter. Just look at Eisenhower. It was him who warned us about the "military-industrial complex", not hippies, and advocated for social welfare programs. The whole modern idea of "fiscal conservatism" is just that - modern. It's just as modern as LGBT rights, for example, literally, it's from the same time period - the 1960s and 1970s!

You're talking about people who would PREDATE CAPITALISM. Your logic might hold to some extent for beings who lived 200 years, and whose views got set in stone in their 50s, say, but 500? 700? That's BEFORE CAPITALISM. It's before money was a huge thing at all. They'd think Adam Smith was a dumb whippersnapper, and would have prevented his ideas getting anywhere if they could manage it.

You've got to think about this in a less "in the box" way. Everything post-3000 BC is potentially "off the table". That very much includes things like physical money. When money/wealth is like, a physical thing someone can make off with, that's disadvantageous to a very long-lived being, if it's using that money. They'd want to crack down on that sort of thing. They'd also want to crack down on any middle or mercantile class appearing, or on any religions which weren't their religion and so on.

I'm not a big fan of the Malazan setting and I don't think it's well-handled in a lot of ways, but the author does at least attempt to grapple with some of this stuff, and it becomes clear that older mindsets, older ways of making way and so on are often just extremely dumb, and only work if you're incredibly magically powerful so that overrides the stupidity.
 
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UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I mean, or the opposite could easily be true.

It'd be maladaptive to be stuck in the past, like literally maladaptive. If you lived potentially hundreds of years but got stuck in your ways in your, say, 40s or 60s or 100s or whatever, you'd probably die before you made it to 300, because you were unable to keep up with change, not just to society, but to environments, methods of warfare, the beings who are around, and so on. Only being incredibly magically powerful might prevent that.

This fits with a lot of fantasy ideas of elves as flighty or capricious, because honestly, unless they were a bit, they'd get locked into mindsets which passed their "best before" date millennia ago.
This I completely agree with.
But ignoring that:


No. You're confusing "conservative thinking" in the small-c sense with very specific ideologies inaccurately labelled "conservative", which emerged extremely recently and are actually not at all "conservative". None of the Founding Fathers of the US would be "fiscal conservatives" by 2020s standards (or 1980s ones). Nor even the right-wing politicians of the 1940s and 1950s, for that matter. Just look at Eisenhower. It was him who warned us about the "military-industrial complex", not hippies, and advocated for social welfare programs. The whole modern idea of "fiscal conservatism" is just that - modern. It's just as modern as LGBT rights, for example, literally, it's from the same time period - the 1960s and 1970s!
Ditto.
You're talking about people who would PREDATE CAPITALISM. Your logic might hold to some extent for beings who lived 200 years, and whose views got set in stone in their 50s, say, but 500? 700? That's BEFORE CAPITALISM. It's before money was a huge thing at all. They'd think Adam Smith was a dumb whippersnapper, and would have prevented his ideas getting anywhere if they could manage it.

You've got to think about this in a less "in the box" way. Everything post-3000 BC is potentially "off the table". That very much includes things like physical money. When money/wealth is like, a physical thing someone can make off with, that's disadvantageous to a very long-lived being, if it's using that money. They'd want to crack down on that sort of thing. They'd also want to crack down on any middle or mercantile class appearing, or on any religions which weren't their religion and so on.
It took me several re-reads to get what your saying here but I think you are playing devils advocate. I would be of the opinion that if you survive the collapse of a couple of civilisations you would realise the importance of adaptability.
I'm not a big fan of the Malazan setting and I don't think it's well-handled in a lot of ways, but the author does at least attempt to grapple with some of this stuff, and it becomes clear that older mindsets, older ways of making way and so on are often just extremely dumb, and only work if you're incredibly magically powerful so that overrides the stupidity.
Agreed.
 

Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
My home game tries to avoid racial monocultures. Nevertheless, the society and culture of the high elves can be described as conservative. Actually, a better definition would probably be something like... fundamentalist.

Not because of a longer lifespan though. My elves only live for two hundred years. Instead, it’s because high elven society and culture were created in reaction against and in defiance of the elf progenitor. Corellon in my home game wasn’t a god, but a primordial who was killed by Gruumsh.

My players refer to my high elf civilization as a “anticult disguised as a nation”.
 

It took me several re-reads to get what your saying here but I think you are playing devils advocate. I would be of the opinion that if you survive the collapse of a couple of civilisations you would realise the importance of adaptability.
I mean, yes, assuming you were capable of realizing that, yeah.

Re: devil's advocate, not quite.

I'm saying even if we ignore the maladaptive nature of getting "stuck in your ways", the reality is that if you live 700 years, you lived before capitalism, before mercantilism, etc. - your grandparents lived before single-entity faiths, your great-grandparents basically lived before currency was even a common/solid concept and so on.

So beings who lived that long wouldn't be "Boomer-y" (soz), or even like people from the 1800s, like @Steampunkette seems to be suggesting, they'd be much more alien than that, more like the title suggests, they'd be against people in the 1800s would take for granted, like freedom of movement, or not being a serf. And their society and views would develop incredibly slowly, and they'd be smart enough to stamp down on anything that they saw as a threat - also they'd get really good at identifying threats like:

A) Technology
B) Religions that weren't theirs
C) Opposition to slavery/serfdom
D) Mercantilism
E) Egalitarianism

And they'd probably crack down on stuff which was a "threat signifier", even though not necessarily a threat, like, art which was in any way modern, dressing outside of the laws they'd set (because they would come up with laws eventually), and so on.

I'd also add though that one reason in humans people become "stuck in their ways" and resistant to change is biology. It's a major factor people don't like to acknowledge because it's uncomfortable and makes people think about mortality and accept that they don't have total control of their own minds. Brains decay, dementia sets in - often much earlier than we think. One of the first symptoms of a lot of forms of dementia is a loss of empathy, and an inability to adapt/change (in some cases to properly make new memories at all). How would that interact with long-lived races? Elves are usually portrayed as being at basically 100% until shortly before they die, mentally and sometimes physically, so presumably they wouldn't suffer from this - so would be less likely to get stuck in their ways.

I mean, one thing important to note is - not everyone gets stuck in their ways - my dad, who is 74, for example, never has. He's still learning and doing new things, still adopting new tech, still able to pick up new social and cultural ideas - moreso than many people in their 50s, hell than some people in their 30s or 40s. So assuming becoming stuck in a period is intrinsic to ageing is I think misguided. I suspect personality and brain-health have a lot to do with this.
 

MGibster

Legend
How elves should behave (in general) is entirely dependent on what you need for the setting. Do you need elves to be flightly? As some have suggested, their longevity makes them prone to getting bored easily so they don't stick with something unless it's really got their attention. Do you need a hidebound group to represent people afraid or incapable of change? Elves work for that too. You could have both, or more, in the same setting.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I mean, yes, assuming you were capable of realizing that, yeah.
I take it that the "you" here refers to the hypothetical elf not to me personally :)
Re: devil's advocate, not quite.

I'm saying even if we ignore the maladaptive nature of getting "stuck in your ways", the reality is that if you live 700 years, you lived before capitalism, before mercantilism, etc. - your grandparents lived before single-entity faiths, your great-grandparents basically lived before currency was even a common/solid concept and so on.

So beings who lived that long wouldn't be "Boomer-y" (soz), or even like people from the 1800s, like @Steampunkette seems to be suggesting, they'd be much more alien than that, more like the title suggests, they'd be against people in the 1800s would take for granted, like freedom of movement, or not being a serf. And their society and views would develop incredibly slowly, and they'd be smart enough to stamp down on anything that they saw as a threat - also they'd get really good at identifying threats like:

A) Technology
B) Religions that weren't theirs
C) Opposition to slavery/serfdom
D) Mercantilism
E) Egalitarianism

And they'd probably crack down on stuff which was a "threat signifier", even though not necessarily a threat, like, art which was in any way modern, dressing outside of the laws they'd set (because they would come up with laws eventually), and so on.
My view would be that this would not be a successful strategy as such a society would become increasingly brittle and subject to outside shocks. Span of control is a thing and you cannot control the whole world. Get big enough and parts of the empire start splitting off to rivals. Arguably this was one of the problems that Rome had that it never quite solved.

I'd also add though that one reason in humans people become "stuck in their ways" and resistant to change is biology. It's a major factor people don't like to acknowledge because it's uncomfortable and makes people think about mortality and accept that they don't have total control of their own minds. Brains decay, dementia sets in - often much earlier than we think. One of the first symptoms of a lot of forms of dementia is a loss of empathy, and an inability to adapt/change (in some cases to properly make new memories at all). How would that interact with long-lived races? Elves are usually portrayed as being at basically 100% until shortly before they die, mentally and sometimes physically, so presumably they wouldn't suffer from this - so would be less likely to get stuck in their ways.

I mean, one thing important to note is - not everyone gets stuck in their ways - my dad, who is 74, for example, never has. He's still learning and doing new things, still adopting new tech, still able to pick up new social and cultural ideas - moreso than many people in their 50s, hell than some people in their 30s or 40s. So assuming becoming stuck in a period is intrinsic to ageing is I think misguided. I suspect personality and brain-health have a lot to do with this.
Culture has something to do with it also, reading and life long learning was derided as nerdy or geeky and it is only recently that nerd/geek as become somewhat chic. I mean look at surveys accounting the number of books the average person reads in a year.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
How elves should behave (in general) is entirely dependent on what you need for the setting. Do you need elves to be flightly? As some have suggested, their longevity makes them prone to getting bored easily so they don't stick with something unless it's really got their attention. Do you need a hidebound group to represent people afraid or incapable of change? Elves work for that too. You could have both, or more, in the same setting.
That is elves as a literary device.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
There's an interesting reverse of this same concept, applied to dragonborn.

That is, dragonborn generally have lifespans equivalent to humans (or at least they did in 4e, and I don't really care if that's changed.) But...dragonborn also mature more quickly than humans. Much more quickly. Shockingly quickly, in fact.

Dragonborn gestate in their eggs for something reasonably similar to human pregnancy times, but this allows dragonborn women to, y'know, do things instead of being stuck pregnant. This also helps alleviate many of the rather serious issues with giving birth since dragonborn lay their eggs at least a few months before the child is ready to hatch. IIRC, dragonborn children are even semi-aware of their environment in the weeks leading up to hatching.

As soon as they hatch, though, the developmental differences set in. Dragonborn children can stand and walk within hours of hatching. Not just crawl, walk. Can you imagine how different it would be for human development if infants were standing and walking within their first few hours? Children would be both much more dangerous (being, y'know, way more mobile) but also much better able to protect themselves and far less dependent on their parents for survival. Though unlikely, it is actually plausible that an abandoned dragonborn "infant" (if that's even the appropriate term) could legitimately be raised by bears or whatever and actually have a decent chance of survival.

But it doesn't stop there. The mother nurses her child for the first few months of life as their teeth grow in, and then gradually transitions the child to soft food, then ordinary food. By the end of the child's first year, it has the development of a three-year-old human, meaning many dragonborn are fully capable of speech at least by six months of age, possibly younger. Again, imagine a six-month-old human that can walk unaided and talk. That's crazy!

We're also told that dragonborn "mature quickly throughout [their] youthful development" (which presumably means puberty). By 12 years old, most dragonborn have reached adult height and simply need to "fill out" their imposing form over the next three years or so. Meaning, dragonborn have the development of a 3-year-old after one year, and the development of roughly a 16-year-old at 12, being fully physical and mental adults at 15, where humans take three to six additional years to get that done.

Now, to put that in some context: Incredible prodigies among human beings generally hit their stride in their mid-teens, aka the time the average dragonborn becomes physically and cognitively mature. Truly unbelievable masters, like Mozart, begin their impressive feats before they even hit double digits.

This means a "Dragonborn Alexander the Great," who was commanding armies and winning battles etc. at a mere 16 years of age, would probably be closer to 12-13. Dragonborn literally are anime protagonists. They legitimately could have full careers and impressive accomplishments under their belts before officially becoming teenagers. And this developmental head start will stick with them their whole lives, and (for women) be compounded by not having to waste so much time unable to do things because of pregnancy, on top of having far lower infant and maternal mortality due to far lower risk of puerperal fever and other postpartum infections. Dragonborn settlements will hit self-sustaining populations about 30% faster than human equivalents. Dragonborn societies will have (effectively) double manpower because their women are fully fit to participate in as much combat as their men in most cases. And, other than their higher dependency on protein-rich diets (and thus, most likely, their need to depend on pastoralism and/or aquaculture much more than irrigation-based agriculture), they generally have the same psychological and physiological needs as humans. Oh, and they heal better and faster than humans do, so even if they suffer injuries or illnesses, they're more likely to survive and bounce back.

Dragonborn, in practice, should be an incredibly scary group to see roll into an area. They would be primarily limited by dietary concerns and socioeconomic conditions, not by developmental ones, because in an environment where dragonborn and human(oid)s have their needs equivalently met, dragonborn should absolutely outcompete humans. It wouldn't even take that long, from a historical perspective: if dragonborn generations are about 15 years while human generations are about 20 years, then even if the human population started out 100 times larger than the dragonborn one, in 400 years the dragonborn population will fully catch up. And that's ONLY counting the generational-turnover factor; the lower death rates (particularly among "pregnant" dragonborn and infants) and higher resilience against injury should prop those numbers up even more. (Of course, this assumes purely exponential growth, which is a fallacious assumption, but we're talking about small foothold societies where logistic concerns shouldn't affect things TOO much.)

I find all of this incredibly fascinating, from both a pure physiological standpoint and from a cultural-impact standpoint. Childhood is a brief and fleeting thing for humans; for dragonborn, it's practically "blink and you'll miss it." And yet they have essentially just as much lifespan ahead of them as humans do. They get started early and the dragonborn train does not stop.
Do Dragonborn heal better? Ive never seen anything about that.

What is strange to me is the idea that they develop so quickly and it doesn’t change their end point when they reach maturity.
 

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