Wednesday, April 28, 2010

(Elves) Why Is It...

That many games seem to differentiate between so many types of Elves? We now have Sea Elves, High Elves, Aquatic Elves, Dark Elves, Wood Elves, Desert Elves, Tundra Elves, and plenty of others as well. It becomes predictable--an Elf that dwells in the Jungle, one that dwells in the Badlands. One that lives by Rivers, one that lives by Trash Heaps.

Sure, there's lots of various human cultures, too, but those are generally presented as cultures, not whole new races. You see this with Dwarves as well, but not, I think, to the extent as with Elves.

So what is it that makes us have these multiple races for Elves? Where did the split begin? Sure, Prof. Tolkien had various branches of Elves, but not with that sort of presentation. Are they really that popular? I'd always though that a pretty good backlash against Elves was still going on, but that could just be personal experience.

13 comments:

Tim Brannan said...

I have many of the elves you named in my world. Here is the rationale I use.

Humans divide themselves along culture lines. Elves on the other hand divide themselves along natural environments. Since they are closer to nature I say they are more effected by it. Humans adapt or change their environment, elves conform to their environment. This leads to physical changes as well.

In game terms these are best represented as "races" or "subraces" instead of cultures.

I think it goes back to the 1st Ed AD&D Unearthed Arcana with all it's elven subtypes. After all it gave us the Valley Elf which is local only to one valley in Greyhawk. That is pretty specific.

I think an interesting follow-up question is why don't gamers do the same with Dwarfs?

Gleichman said...

IMO it's likely a offshoot of the divisons that JRRT made in the elves of Middle Earth.

His reasons were better than a racial difference, but that was likely lost when it became a tradition.

Or, another influence- the elves viewed as a offshoot of fey, and fey are highly divided by type in myth.

seaofstarsrpg said...

My elves divide by nation and family, with families often existing in several of the elven nations. Dwarves are the same except breaking along national and clan lines.

Tim Brannan has a good point, I think that elves are usually assumed (in D&D anyway) to align with their environment rather than try to adapt it.

Swordgleam said...

I think it's because standard wood elves are just so woodsy that if you want to put elves anywhere else, it seems odd if they're still wood elves. Or because early designers went by the philosophy more elves = better.

Lord Kilgore said...

I've never really cared for this and do not differentiate in my game.

Zzarchov said...

I just use cultures. A wood elf is just an elf that lives in the woods. Any differences are really just cultural or superficial. Ie, Wood elves may have Brown hair while River elves tend to have Red hair due to isolation and limited interbreeding between the cultures (just like people)

Claive said...

We have different sorts of elves because everyone envisions elves differently. One person pictures tehm being better at one thing and another envisions them better at another. All it takes is for one person to think to themselves "A +2 to dex and -2 to con?! I don't think so!!!" and a new breed of elf is born.

-The History of the Elf Wars Volume 12

Carpe Guitarrem said...

Don't forget chromatic dragons...

rogercarbol said...

I think it's almost purely a marketing thing.

Books on elves sell. So everyone wants to publish a book on elves. But you also need something to differentiate your product from every other book on elves out there. The obvious solution is to invent the rare two-humped subarctic desert elf.

Talysman said...

I think it's just a basic fondness for systems. Right from the start, D&D incorporated multiple types of giants, meant to represent the giants from multiple traditions, but the types easily broke down into terrain types. Likewise, the nymphs from Greek mythology were already helpfully broken down according to environment, and the first five dragons could be forced into an environmental categories, too. Supplement II gave further encouragement when it added aquatic versions of several monsters. So GMs started looking at other monsters that could be elaborated into new sub-varieties.

The same thing happened with elementals. You have four elementals, and efreeti and djinn are tied to two of those elements, so what are the earth and water equivalents. Alakazaam! We suddenly have dao and marids.

Joseph said...

I ran into this selfsame problem while writing up the races section for Emprise!™ Because I'm using the material from Unearthed Arcana, I found myself with sections on Dark (male and female), Gray, Half-, High, Valley, Wild, and Wood elves as PCs.

I ditched the Valley elves as being too setting specific, but damn, I am seriously thinking about trimming some of the others.

clash bowley said...

"The same thing happened with elementals. You have four elementals, and efreeti and djinn are tied to two of those elements, so what are the earth and water equivalents. Alakazaam! We suddenly have dao and marids."

Dao, yes. Marids are from myth, and not an invention. Found this out while researching Outremer.

The only one of my games that uses elves is OHMAS, and there they are just a type of Fairy.

-clash

Referee said...

I rather like having different types of Elves. However, if I am running with a bunch of newbies, I usually don't let them know about the different types...so that when they encounter Elves they retain some of their mystery. If they decide, to play an Elf, I usually fill them with a backstory that they and/or parents have been rejected by mainstream Elven society and have chosen to live among the humans...