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elf/dwarf presence in swords & sorcery


badcat

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Elves/dwarves are pretty much necessary for sword-and-sorcery settings but, sadly, are most likely to turn out just like humans pretending to be lanky/squat. Because, in an RPG, that's what they are...

The challenge is to make them seem really different.

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I don't think they are necessary, nor do they always warp the setting.

Personally, I prefer to use hstorical elf and dwarf models rather than LOTR types. THe more LOTR you make things the more the setting will feel like LOTR.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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No, I don't think so; especially if the world is not so 'humancentric' like standard D&D. If the world and setting is not presented as the playground of humans exclusively, then I think that elves and dwarves, as well as any other species, can be portrayed as a viable race and culture.

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I like human centric games myself. My settings tend to be very Arthurian/Charlemange esque with Elves and Dwarves pretty much up the line of LOTR style. Its what I prefer. But I dont feel thats a bad thing or make the game more "D&D."

I think the concept of saying "Im not having elves cause they are too LOTR or D&D" or "My elves are not going to be like LOTR or D&D" is shoe horning your setting. The response should be "I have elves and they are like this..." You should not feel a need to focus on how to not make your elves and dwarves and just make your elves and dwarves as they fit in your setting.

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I like human centric games myself. My settings tend to be very Arthurian/Charlemange esque with Elves and Dwarves pretty much up the line of LOTR style. Its what I prefer. But I dont feel thats a bad thing or make the game more "D&D."

Not in an of itself. As long as the rest of the setting is differernt from LOTR,

I think the concept of saying "Im not having elves cause they are too LOTR or D&D" or "My elves are not going to be like LOTR or D&D" is shoe horning your setting. The response should be "I have elves and they are like this..." You should not feel a need to focus on how to not make your elves and dwarves and just make your elves and dwarves as they fit in your setting.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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Honestly, I'm kind of sick of the Tolkien "races", and so if I ever run a game again I'd either cut them out entirely or do something interesting with them.

Here are examples of what I call "interesting":

  • Elves are, in fact, a race of secretive, very physically similar humans, whose unusual naming traditions lead outsiders into thinking they're immortal. Or perhaps they're otherwise ordinary humans who live in zones of high magic and extremely variable time, leading to the stories about Elfland.

  • DwarFs are merely a variant of real-world dwarfism that breeds true, and has few or no innate health risks. For fun, I'd have a Dwarf born to random "tall folk" once every so often; ignorant peasants would call their child a changeling and demand their "real" child from the nearest dwarf settlement. Dwarfs often run orphanages of "big folk" kids for exactly that purpose.

  • Elves physically resemble Tolkien's version, but not mentally. They hate humans and want to enslave them, they're more into metalworking than woodcraft, they're psychic sociopaths (c.f. Pratchett's Lords and Ladies), and/or their good looks hide their stupidity.

  • Following a depiction in Questers of the Middle Realms, Dwarfs are really animated metal or earth, made by other dwarfs, all the way back to a mythical First Maker. While not as hive-like as Mostali, they have a hard time relating to "organic" beings.

  • Similarly, "Elves" are really Aldryami or a variation thereof.

  • Dwarfs are close to Norse "dvergar", extremely powerful magical beings who appear as small, ugly, misshapen humanoids. Meddle not in the affairs of Dwarfs, for they are subtle and swift to anger.

  • Elves are spirit beings who take on corporeal form occasionally. Perhaps their SIZ correlates to their POW ... minor elves are flying pixies, while High Elves are taller than men, perhaps giants. And there's no reason they have to appear human, or even close to human, when they manifest.

  • There are no distinct "elves" and "dwarfs", only a diminutive but magically gifted species with pointy ears that dwells in wild places and really just wants to be left alone.

  • "Move one place": goblins/orcs/trolls are builders and craftsmen, dwarfs are guardians of nature, and elves are the beautiful but deadly scourge of mankind. In particular, I'm really enamored of making "dwarfs" the powerful, good, perfect ones, and "elves" kind of an afterthought, in an inversion of Tolkien.

  • Why not raid other mythologies? Djinn and Peri, shapeshifters, talking animals, whatever ...

Frank

"Welcome to the hottest and fastest-growing hobby of, er, 1977." -- The Laundry RPG
 
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Moorcock's fantasy stuff often gets labeled as 'sword and sorcery' and, to me, the Melnibonians were always pretty much elves by a different name (and a, slightly, nastier disposition).

So yeah, I can see them in an S&S setting...

Dwarves are harder for me... I loathe most fantasy depictions of dwarves...

in fact I can't think of any I like.

Maybe make them a degenerate, lean, albino race of subterranean burrowers... who only go above ground by night... who have some really atrocious/nauseating habits... yeah, I could go for those in S&S too... kind of like the Morlocks out of 'The Time Machine' or Lovecrafts 'ghouls'.

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I think Elves and Dwarves however much you use them are going to be Tolkien-derived, and therefore produce a Tolkienesque (D&D-esque) atmosphere, especially as Tolkien himself derived his Elves and Dwarves from Northern European mythology, with a bunch of Christian symbolism thrown-in.

You could argue Gloranthan Elves and Dwarves are different, but I would argue that they're not actually Elves and Dwarves at all, but rather something completely different - Aldryami and Mostali, with the Tolkien-labels gummed on for shorthand and familiarity. Likewise Elfquest.

Don't get me wrong - I *like* the Tolkienesque genres. But other fantasy genres (I'm thinking of Howard, Lieber, and Vance, for example) manage perfectly well without them.

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I think Elves and Dwarves however much you use them are going to be Tolkien-derived, and therefore produce a Tolkienesque (D&D-esque) atmosphere, especially as Tolkien himself derived his Elves and Dwarves from Northern European mythology, with a bunch of Christian symbolism thrown-in.

You could argue Gloranthan Elves and Dwarves are different, but I would argue that they're not actually Elves and Dwarves at all, but rather something completely different - Aldryami and Mostali, with the Tolkien-labels gummed on for shorthand and familiarity. Likewise Elfquest.

Don't get me wrong - I *like* the Tolkienesque genres. But other fantasy genres (I'm thinking of Howard, Lieber, and Vance, for example) manage perfectly well without them.

Same for me.

Runequestement votre,

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I guess it boils down to whether they fit a "gritty sword and sorcery" setting ala "Conan."

I would say that they could, if handled deftly enough.

I can imagine Conan wandering into some huge Hyperborean forest and encountering something like Lothlorien - but it would be depicted rather differently than in LOTR - it would doubtless be hopelessly alien (and probably pretty dull) to Conan.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with elves/dwarves - or, for that matter, with LOTR-derived settings, or D&D type settings, if that's what you want to play. And, of course as others have said, there are other ways to interpret elves/dwarves, if one so chooses.

Check out the elves in Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword" for elves that are in many ways very much cut from the same cloth as Tolkein's, and yet very distinctly different.

In my "pseudo-Celtic" campaign, I'm not going to be using elves. I plan on having a race of dwarves which will be pretty much standard D&D-ish dwarfs (grumpy miners with battle-axes). They will be pretty minor - as I kinda figure a race of underground-dwellers won't be a fixture among aboveground city-dwellers. I basically decided to have this type of dwarves because I like them.

I'm not doing elves, though.

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I don't mind elves and dwarves. Even Orcs have their place as a fantasy species.

You have to fit them in, though, and it does depend on the setting.

Discworld dwarves are interesting for a bit, their elves are really great (cruel, unfeeling, haughty Lords and Ladies).

If you can have trolls then why not elves and dwarves?

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Check out the elves in Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword" for elves that are in many ways very much cut from the same cloth as Tolkein's, and yet very distinctly different.

That because Tolken elves are derived from Finnish folklore, whereas as Anderson's elves were based or Nordic elves.

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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That because Tolken elves are derived from Finnish folklore, whereas as Anderson's elves were based or Nordic elves.
I wasn't aware that Tolkein was drawing from the Finnish; but then, I'm not terribly knowledgeable about Finnish myth and legend. I always figured Tolkein's were pretty Nordic, too.

Anyway - "Broken Sword"s a helluva book ;)

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Do you guys think elves and dwarves (Tolkien style, more or less) can fit in swords & sorcery well, or do they always skew the setting they are placed in to a D&D-esque feel?

They dont fit into S&S. They have their place in tolkin style settings or D&D worlds and should stay IMO there.

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That because Tolken elves are derived from Finnish folklore, whereas as Anderson's elves were based or Nordic elves.

Elves from Finnland? Really? Never heard this. Do you have a source for this idea? I always thought that Tolkien created a own Middle-Earth variant of the folkloristic nordic light elves and swart alfas. (mentioned in the edda)

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That because Tolken elves are derived from Finnish folklore, whereas as Anderson's elves were based or Nordic elves.

No, I'm pretty sure Tolkien's elves were from Nordic/Saxon or Celtic lore. He based one of the Elvish languages on Finnish, and some story elements of LotR came from the Kalevala. The concept of elves, though, was firmly rooted in the British Isles, and the various conquerors thereof.

Frank

"Welcome to the hottest and fastest-growing hobby of, er, 1977." -- The Laundry RPG
 
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