Older Than You Look

In my campaign I have two elves, two tieflings, a human, and a gnome. Their age difference comes up more than you think.

lifespans.png

Chart by Lillegul

It Starts with Tolkien​

Of the various species ages, humans, dragonborn, half-orcs, and tieflings are roughly within the same lifespans. The above chart shows their comparative lifespans, with green being childhood, pink young adult, light blue adulthood, and purple old age.

It's clear dwarves, elves, halflings and gnomes live much longer than everybody else, with elves not reaching maturity until decades later. But what was the inspiration for these long lifespans in Dungeons & Dragons?

Tolkien of course. We've always known elves and dwarves lived longer, but just how long is startling when compared to other species. Does that mean elves are proportionately children for longer? Sort of.
By their first year, Elf children can speak, walk, and dance, and their quicker onset of mental maturity makes young Elves seem older than they actually are. Elves' bodies developed slower than those of Men, but their minds developed more swiftly. In their twenties, they might still appear physically seven years old, though the Elf-child would have mature language and skill, whereas Men at the same age are already physically mature. Physical puberty is generally complete by their fiftieth year (by age fifty they reach their adult height), but they are not considered full-grown until a hundred years have passed.
Dwarves have a similar experience:
Until they were around 30 years of age, Dwarves were considered too young for heavy labour or war (hence the slaying of Azog by Dain Ironfoot at age 32 was a great feat). By the age of 40, Dwarves were hardened into the appearance that they would keep for most of their lives. Between the approximate ages of 40 and 240, most Dwarves were equally hale and able to work and fight with vigour. They took on the appearance of age only about ten years before their death, wrinkling and greying rapidly, but never going bald.
And so do hobbits:
Hobbits had a life span somewhat longer than Men of non-Númenórean descent, averaging between 90 and 100 years. The time at which a young hobbit "came of age" was 33.
Add all this up and for most of the other species, adventuring likely doesn't happen until between 30 or 50 years old, much later than the younger humans who often begin adventures in their teens.

Outlook of Longer-Lived Species​

A popular meme positions the elven relationship with humans as a parallel for a human's relationship with dogs. Or to put it another way, the two can have a very close bond, but the elf likely sees humans as a familial line to be friends with and protect, while humans live entire lifetimes only knowing the same elf. With a lifespan of up to 750 years, elves could conceivably befriend over twenty generations of the same human lineage, with dwarves and halflings befriending proportionally less.

Living longer probably changes their outlook considerably. Dunbar's Number posits that the human brain can only manage 150 connections; assuming elves are similar, they may begin forgetting all the people they met after that, or alternately their Dunbar Number is much higher.

The speed at which birth happens matters too. Children that take longer to raise to adulthood take considerable investment on the part of the parents, such that risks shorter-lived species might take could be intolerable for elves and dwarves. Or perhaps they're simply better prepared, taking more time to ensure they don't die since they consider their lives that much more precious.

Respecting Your Elders​

Shorter-lived species may consider their elders to be mystical beings with accumulated wisdom -- or timeless enemies who never forget a slight. Humans who become immortal may decide that long-lived species are a much larger threat; human vampires who can live forever are competing on an entirely different level.

Going back to the pet analogy, it might not be unreasonable for humans to consider an elven patron as something of a protective ancestor who watches over them. In the Orville episode "Future Unknown," the ship's doctor Claire Finn accepts the marriage proposal of Isaac, an ageless artificial life form, after he makes it clear he will protect her entire lineage:
Claire was at first stunned and confused, pointing out among other things that she would likely die well before the end of Isaac's existence. She asked what he would do then. She was aggravated when he said that he might select a new companion, but then deeply touched when he stated that he would continue to monitor the well-being of both Marcus and Ty, as well as their descendants.

Role-Playing Age Differences​

Players bring their own experiences to their characters, so it's not easy to play an ancient being with centuries of life experience under their belt. One way we manage it is that the elves have not been out among humanity before, so their inexperience is due to unfamiliarity, not due to their age.

Conversely, our gnome character is the only child of a family that dotes on him. Due to their long lifespans, the gnome's "helicopter parent" (his mother passed away) is a constant presence working secretly and overtly to help his offspring get ahead.

Trances are an opportunity to give elves flashbacks to knowledge their players might not have from their long-lived experience. Even dwarves and gnomes likely have memories that come rushing back to them during a quiet moment (or my favorite, when a PC is knocked unconscious).

Of course, DMs can simply ignore the age differences. Most probably do. But it's yet another role-playing opportunity to distinguish characters from each other when on the surface an elven ranger and human ranger may have similar stats.

Your Turn: Does the age of your characters matter in your game?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


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Celebrim

Legend
Even among sentient, consenting adults?

I don't think EnWorld is the right place to argue real world sexual ethics but let me just say for my part that I think "consenting" is a really low bar for establishing that the relationship is healthy and good. Almost certainly it's too low of a bar and I think at some level people understand that and then they engage in a lot of mental gymnastics to redefine the other standards that they realize at some level must exist as forms of or qualifications on the idea of consent. And I think I'm just going to have to leave it there with the understanding that the dominate cultural paradigm doesn't currently agree.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I don't think EnWorld is the right place to argue real world sexual ethics but let me just say for my part that I think "consenting" is a really low bar for establishing that the relationship is healthy and good. Almost certainly it's too low of a bar and I think at some level people understand that and then they engage in a lot of mental gymnastics to redefine the other standards that they realize at some level must exist as forms of or qualifications on the idea of consent. And I think I'm just going to have to leave it there with the understanding that the dominate cultural paradigm doesn't currently agree.
Yeah, probably not the right forum to have a serious speculative sci-fi/fantasy conversation of this nature. Though I do find it an interesting one. I mean I enjoy the yuck-yuck humor about this in shows like the Orville and Lower Decks, but I also find more serious speculative fiction like the novel The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, interesting (though the subject matter in that book is definately not appropriate for this forum).
 

Celebrim

Legend
But I also find more serious speculative fiction like the novel The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, interesting (though the subject matter in that book is definitely not appropriate for this forum).

I was impressed by the seriousness of the subject matter in "The Sparrow" but less by the writing and story-telling skill. Another author that addresses this topic more directly is Bujold, who often has reproductive ethics as a subtext of her stories. We might get away with Bujold more because her personal feelings are closer to the dominate cultural paradigm and so the guardians won't come down on us, but that said I feel I've seen even Bujold get cancelled hard lately simply by being her own person with her own thoughts which is a shame. But I have to stop there because even bringing up examples of people dealing with this topic from various perspectives is going to be controversial.

Anyway, I'd love to discuss the ethics of interspecies relationships because they are pertinent to fantasy and sci-fi games and interesting as thought experiments, but I think invariably even if we are very mature about how we discuss them these are matters of opinion that can't be discussed here. The result is that the maturity of the ethics that people will likely consider has the same depth of a game where the presentation of sexuality is functionally identical to what is titillating to teenage boys. Convenient, but not thoughtful.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I was impressed by the seriousness of the subject matter in "The Sparrow" but less by the writing and story-telling skill. Another author that addresses this topic more directly is Bujold, ...
I'm not familiar with Bujold. What book would you recommend starting with?
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm not familiar with Bujold. What book would you recommend starting with?

She is well worth reading, at least up until the point that her mental health started declining and like Agatha Christy her writing started to slowly decline with it. (Sad face.)

I'd read her Miles Vorkosigan series in strict chronological order, starting with 'Shards of Honor' and 'Barrayar' (best read as a single story) and going all the way through to the climax in 'A Civil Campaign' and then stopping. It's important to stop. Make sure to read the short stories and novellas in the appropriate spots. Her short fiction is also really good. The series will go through several phases as her writing matures, starting with better than average sci-fi romance/thriller, moving on to somewhat light-hearted sci-fi military comedy, and then getting quite philosophically heady and serious in IMO her best period Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, and Memory. 'A Civil Campaign' functionally completes the story with a great 'Happily Ever After' ending, and then after that things start sliding down hill quickly. There is a lot here for everyone no matter what style you like, so just ignore the various types of cringe that occasionally shows up or treat it as fun camp and go with it depending on your taste.

Also read the tangential novels in the same universe Falling Free and Ethan of Athos, both worth your time.

Also read 'The Curse of Chalion' and 'Paladin of Souls' and then stop there. Stopping is important. Bujold has a bad habit of undermining her own work and attacking the very structure that made her earlier works good. Think Lucas. Bujold is really good with story arcs at the level of individual stories, but stop in the series before she runs out of good story and starts pulling "Han shot second" crap.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
She is well worth reading, at least up until the point that her mental health started declining and like Agatha Christy her writing started to slowly decline with it. (Sad face.)

I'd read her Miles Vorkosigan series in strict chronological order, starting with 'Shards of Honor' and 'Barrayar' (best read as a single story) and going all the way through to the climax in 'A Civil Campaign' and then stopping. It's important to stop. Make sure to read the short stories and novellas in the appropriate spots. Her short fiction is also really good. The series will go through several phases as her writing matures, starting with better than average sci-fi romance/thriller, moving on to somewhat light-hearted sci-fi military comedy, and then getting quite philosophically heady and serious in IMO her best period Borders of Infinity, Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, and Memory. 'A Civil Campaign' functionally completes the story with a great 'Happily Ever After' ending, and then after that things start sliding down hill quickly. There is a lot here for everyone no matter what style you like, so just ignore the various types of cringe that occasionally shows up or treat it as fun camp and go with it depending on your taste.

Also read the tangential novels in the same universe Falling Free and Ethan of Athos, both worth your time.

Also read 'The Curse of Chalion' and 'Paladin of Souls' and then stop there. Stopping is important. Bujold has a bad habit of undermining her own work and attacking the very structure that made her earlier works good. Think Lucas. Bujold is really good with story arcs at the level of individual stories, but stop in the series before she runs out of good story and starts pulling "Han shot second" crap.
Thanks. I got Shards of Honor on Kindle for my next long flight at the end of the month.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Thanks. I got Shards of Honor on Kindle for my next long flight at the end of the month.

'Shards of Honor' is like Heinlein wrote a paperback romance but with an actually well realized female character as the primary protagonist, and an actually well realized military/political thriller as the framing mechanism. I hope you like it.

Stopping myself from bringing up the themes to avoid any spoilers, but let me just say that even at this early stage she's much deeper than she might seem.
 

Longspeak

Adventurer
This has come up a lot in my current game. The relatively young elf who is already starting to have her heart harden... beginning to see why her people are such isolationist jerks. Barely 120, she's seen so many friends pass. She's met her first love... a boy of 16 when she first met him, now a grandfather in his 60s while she looks the same. She's watched people come and go and each loss brings new pain, sometimes forgetting would be a relief... and her own people barely consider her an adult!

It's even been theorized in discussions during play, that this is WHY her people are so isolationist. Perhaps elves carry no greater capacity for grief and loss than humans, and they pull away from the younger races to spare themselves pain?

Meanwhile, another crew has an elf who was raised by humans after his clan went missing. By the time he's ready to leave and start his life on the road, the man who took him in is long dead along with most of the community, and it's the children and grandchildren of those first guardians who see him off when it's time to go...

And on another, a young human PC of about 25 falls in love with and marries a 500 year old Elven woman. Somehow staving off this growing sense of loss (she learned to embrace the loves and accept the losses; it actually came up in conversation), she's lived a life he can't even conceive of. She took longer than his lifespan just to journey across the world to find herself in the same city as him. Her own half elven son was born, lived, and died before her husband was even born.

Another PC asks the Drow mistress of the thieves guild why she seems familiar... He's 38... she changed his diapers as a babe. She carried on a relationship of several years with his parents, first business, then friendship, then lovers, then a growing distance and separation, but she's always looked out for them. Her own son, half-drow, may or may not be his half-brother... I think he might be afraid to ask...


These things never came up in games when I was younger.
 

Mortilupo

Explorer
In 5e in respects to Elfs, they physically mature at the same rate as humans but mentally are immature teenagers by elf standards until around 110. One of my characters is a Drow raised by monks at a monetary. She only has her child's name and to all the humans, looks like a mature teen (adult elf) but is prone to make rash decisions that mature elves would not do. Elves tend to "live in the moment" and not dwell on past or future all that much, hence why most see them as chaotic alignments even when they aren't.
 

One of my least favorite parts of D&D. The 500 year old 1st level elf with three skills.

I houserule the life spans to elfs and dwarfs to be 150 years or so. Slightly longer than humans.
Yeah, we have houseruled they are all within the same proximity. It's just too immersion breaking for me to believe anything else, especially the elven, dwarvish, and gnomish races. I mean, 60 years is still sixty years, no matter the culture. It is still 21,900 days of which to live. And being you only meditate 4-6 hours a day, it's insane to think of the skill, say in history, smithing, woodworking, arcana, etc. one would acquire.

And yes, there are excuses people can bring up such as being isolated or the cultural relativity of thought, but it still doesn't make sense. The only plausible account I have ever seen was a scifi version where the race was hooked up to computers, like an incubation chamber, and saw what occurred but could never practice the skills.
 

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