Guide to Halflings

BEFORE WE GET TOO FAR, I do have to get something off of my chest which pertains to this race. I personally hate it, however I will be as subjective as I can as I am looking to get over my bigotry and personal preferences in favor of a nice round gaming world. Hopefully I can keep neutral on the subject of these disgusting creatures.


The halfling is just a word that TSR came up with so that they wouldn’t get sued for using the term, Hobbit. Everybody knows this, it isn’t a secret. There are no cultural reference to hobbits or halflings, and are purely rooted in the mind of the writer, Tolken. This doesn’t change its role in a fantasy realm, in fact it helps it more then hinders.


The halfling is a simple supplier, well known for their ability to cook the finest foods and brew the greatest wines and ails. Typically a halfling village will work together to specialize on a specific specialty, such as wine, or cheese. This will be the finest item of its kind and make the town famous, however this specialty is different for each halfling village, thus the halfling enjoys a brisk trade with other cultures and other halfling towns, and unlike the other demi-human races, the halfling alone understands the coins of the realm, and are masters of bartering.


As far as the rest of the races are concerned, the Halfling is always the preferred demihuman to deal with, and they enjoy the warmest reactions. This is not an accident, the halfling is a naturally charming and charismatic species who find themselves welcome in foreign lands which are normally off limits to foreigners.

All visitors, regardless of race, are welcome into the community. The halfling loves to trade with them, and they love hearing the stories that the guests have to tell.

Halflings have no racial enemies, and a peculiar way of trying to get along with all neighbors, even the ones that the rest of the races consider to be monsters. Perhaps this is their secret to creating such famous products?

Even stupid beings, such as the Orks have realized that it is better to kidnap a halfling and force him to cook for you, then it is to just out-right eat him . . . not that they don’t enjoy eating halflings or nothing.


The halfling is an odd race who has evolved subtly depending on who their neighbors are. The most common neighbors being, elves, dwarves, and humans.

Hairfoot: This is the most common Halfling, choosing to live close to rural human settlements and villages. They live similar to humans, with all of the trappings of a human village; their crafts being practical and ordinary which will be desirable to the humans whom they cater too. They will create as many different items as possible, but become famous for specializing in one especially.

Stout: This halfling prefers to live near Dwarven cities, and typically have several agreements with each other in regards to all aspects of life. The Stout villages are usually made in hilly, rocky country, near a river stocked with fish. The stout is a capable miner, and has developed some infravision. Their products typically cater to their dwarven allies, and are capable of concocting some amazing technical marvels to get much of the work done, however what makes this halfling unique is that he isn’t as afraid of work as his cousins.

Tall-fellow This, the rarest of halfling, live near settlements and camps of the wood elf. The tall-fellow are carpenters and artists, as well as hunters and gatherers. They keep their homes in the forest glades and live off of the forest, as well as have many agreements with the wood elves for barter.


The halfling isn’t as magically resistant as some races, but he isn’t very good at it either. There are no halfling mages, they simply don’t have the dexterity or the drive to make good wizards. The do collect magical items, or items that they claim to be magic, but in reality, the proud owner has no idea as to what it is or what it does.


The halfling is a very visual creature, they see the evidence of their gods all around them. Like the gnome, the halfling has no place in the creation myth, they’ve always been here and they always will be here.

The closest thing that they have, and that they all share, is the belief in the legend of Little Man, and the goddess whose name is different for each village, but it is typically the same story about a wondering goddess who searched for the perfect followers and discovered Little Man. She sent him on a quest to tell all of his halfling brothers and sister to worship her, and in exchange she will protect them and let them florish.

Before this time, the halfling led a cold life of hiding and starving. This was called “The Bad Time”. Because they worship the goddess, they are protected and can live in communities and at peace with all around them. There are many versions of this story, with subtle changes depending on the village, as all of them claim to be the very village which Little Man called home.

There are a few other gods, but Halflings don’t worship as humans do, they don’t typically build churches, and it is usually acceptable to make a few sacrifices to the gods, and more important to tell your children about these stories so that they will learn from them. The local clerics are more healers and doctors then community leaders. The true acolytes of the religion are the grand parents who entertain the children with their stories, and if the Halfling would have a temple, it would be the hearth. All Halfling homes feature the hearth which is used for warmth, cooking, and to socialize around.


The halfling enjoys helping adults as soon as possible. Business is a family affair, with no distinction between the sexes, male and females are equally allowed to succeed or fail at what they do with no one person in a relationship having more say so then the other.

The young are loved and cared for, and much like human children, are born absolutely helpless and fully dependent on their parents. If a parent dies, then a relative will be quick to raise the orphans with love.

The young halflings aren’t forced to work, and have a lot of time to socialize with one another, and encouraged to play games which secretly teach them skills such as rock pitching and hide and seek.

Once an adult, the halfling is concerned with keeping himself and his family as comfortable as possible. He will work hard to earn the coin needed to buy the best that he can afford, however, he won’t work so hard that he isn’t enjoying the fruits of his labor himself either.

The Halfling is highly family oriented, and burrows house extended members of the family. The old do what they can around the house, and rarely live by themselves unless they have suffered some terrible tragedy, and even then somebody will come and check on them regularly.

Because of the myth of Little Man, the halfling never forgets to be thankful for everything that he has, and this is why he usually stays were he is. He lives content and happy, he’s got a warm fire and wonderful food and drink, and his family is right there to enjoy . . . so why leave? Not all halflings feel this way, a few get bitten by a wonder bug, and they feel that they must answer the call.

A Halfling can become an adventurer for a lot of reasons, such as out of necessity, or to make money, but the most common reason is out of boredom. He wants to live a life of excitement and adventure and simply isn’t as content just hearing about it from guests. In his mind, in order to better understand Little Man, he must become Little Man. His family doesn’t encourage this, but they don’t discourage it either. Neighbors will shake their heads, but wish the traveler well and a safe return.

The quest for fame is also prevalent in halfling society, some have a desire to start their own homestead, believing that a better place is out there where they can find wealth and fame and immortality, as all Halfling villages are named after their founder.

These are things which halflings do when they are still young enough to fail. Typically an adventurer returns to a heroes welcome, even if he has failed: As, to a halfling, failure is just as much of a learning experience as success is, maybe even more so! Therefore, common Halfling myths and stories involve tales of failure. Even the myth of Little Man ends sadly, as Little Man loses everything in the end but his wife, and for his wife he is still thankful. This speaks much of the philosophy of the halfling in general.


Halfling villages are typically all pleasant, as like the gnome, they prize craftiness and intelligence over fighting, indeed, it is a taboo to pick a fight with another halfling, even if you think that you can beat him. In these circumstances, it is considered more honorable to simply walk away. For this reason, crimes of any kind are very rare.

Most Halfling settlements have a sheriff to enforce laws, normally he enforces laws in regards to unruly visitors. He has the power to arrest, and to organize a party in cases where he requires assistance, however, typically the strongest and best fighter will lead this deputized party, even if it isn’t the sheriff himself.

Once arrested, the sheriff will keep a prisoner confined until he can figure out what to do with him. This is usually only for a couple of days, and the jail is in most cases the sheriffs shed and if it rains he’ll be needing this space back.

Lawbreakers are given a chance to redeem themselves, but if a law is broken too often, or if it is warranted because of violence, then he is banned from the village and is disowned even by his own kin. To a halfling, being removed from one’s family is the worst punishment that can be imagined. This will either leave a halfling enraged and bitter, or cause him to strive to reform and perhaps one day prove that he is again worthy to carry the family name and return; a very long and hard processes.

The village itself is ran by a mayor, this is typically the most wealthiest halfling in the village, and bears the family name of the town itself, when a village name dies out, then an election is held and the most popular person becomes the mayor.

Typically the mayors are not your average halfling: they are bossy, rude, and used to getting what they want. If they weren’t born into it, then they have gained their position of power by being loud and making promises that they may’ve intend at the time, but once elected didn’t ever seem to get around to actually doing.

Not all mayors are this way, but the majority of them are nothing but bullies who take advantage of the Halfling taboo of fighting. The rest of the halflings honestly ignore them most of the time, saying pleasant things to their faces but only doing as ordered if they really see a benefit to doing it. The only exception to this rule is the poor sheriff who has to put up with the mayor on a daily basis, and doesn’t have the option of just walking away and ignoring him.

The most powerful person in town, with the most sway and favor, is a Burglar. If a town is lucky enough to have a burglar in it, then they feel safe, and famous themselves! A burglar is a local hero who has lived an adventurous life, full of experience and knowledge, and if a bad time comes to the people, he can help them out by bringing money back. Burglars don’t make good mayors, as they are prone to up and leaving on adventures or visiting with friends in far off lands; but in regards to “REAL” power, the local burglar is the true leader of the town.

A Halfling burglar never steals from his own kind, and exemplifies what it is to be a true halfling! He values his sharp wit and luck more then violence, and it is he who has the largest sway in getting help if the village comes under attack because other races listen to him and respect him as well.


Halflings are brave, but by their own standards; they care little about how other people think. Like the gnomes, they have developed tactics which are common with the little folk: Preferring to out-wit their enemies and allow them to retreat.

The halfling will keep hidden, while the most talented stone pitchers and archers clobber the enemy directly, and others make a lot of noise, well out of sight in an attempt to trick the enemy into thinking that reinforcements are coming, or that there are more halflings out there then what there really are. A band of 300 halflings can effectively trick an enemy into believing that he is being attacked by 3,000. This isn’t magical, it is just that a halfling knows the land better then an enemy can hope to, and a subtle defense has been lying in wait for centuries. Each halfling knows exactly what to do in cases such as this, and they will bravely comply.

An extended war against a halfling village is completely unheard of! Enemies can always be trusted to underestimate them, and the halflings are always willing to take advantage of this gross miscalculation yet reinforce the belief at the same time.


Not all halflings are whining crybabies, they make able bodied warriors and all of them make excellent thieves!

The finer points of roleplaying require the halfling to value all life and allow retreats, and to never fight anybody except as an option of last resorts. Therefore, we DM’s need to make it possible for creative players to outwit their enemies.

Halflings also have a knack at getting the best prices for everything. They have a different sense of moral obligation to others then humans do. To a halfling, it is perfectly expectable to entertain a merchant and eat or drink much of his supply without paying for any of it. After all! They were entertaining him, granted, the merchant may not feel this way when he wakes up, hung over, in the morning, but this is no skin off of a halfling’s nose.

Thieves are local heroes, and this weird sense of right and wrong are common to all halflings. If they see something that they feel that a person doesn’t deserve, wouldn’t miss, or secretly desires to be rid of, then the halfling will take it without the slightest problem. Perhaps one can say that the halfling is selfish, but not when it comes to his family or village, he isn’t morally bankrupt, and despite this fact, humans still enjoy doing business with them, knowing full well that they aren’t going to make a profit by doing so.

Halfling NPC’s will go out of their way to keep adventurers comfortable, and if they are entertained themselves, will treat the adventurer with the same respect as they treat a merchant when the shoe is on the other foot. Entertaining adventurers will be treated to free meals and drinks, and possibly even cheaper lodging then adventurers who keep to themselves.

Halflings know the value of coins, and the more that they have, the better that they can live. This is the prime concern of the halfling, and as long as we remember this, then we’ll be playing the characters correctly.

ART: “The Five Shires” by Clyde Caldwell


Captain Cursor said...

This is a very literary view of the halfling. Maybe it's just my players, but I have found that every halfling that I have ever played with in any RPG has been a dyed in the wool killer, who spends most of their time figuring out how best to put a poisoned crossbow bolt into the neck of that NPC they decided they didn't like.

As much as the historical roots of the halfling come from Tolkien I think that most halflings are played closer to Belkar Bitterleaf from the web comic "Order of the Stick". I've started to account for that in my world building with halflings now. If that is how they are going to be played by the players, then that is their nature as a species.

Nope said...

I was always under the impression that dwarves have more of an obsession with gold than halflings. Halflings seem like they are descended from the dwarves. They must have been dwarves who decided to settle out in the plains and near woodlands centuries ago.

RipperX said...

Kaeosdad: Dwarves do love their money, but they consider it bad form to ever show one's wealth. They horde it, and don't spend it, but you are right, the Dwarves do know the value of the coin, and probably have a high level of control in setting it there to begin with.

Halflings love to spend money, they never save and tend to flaunt their wealth openly. Thanks for pointing out this error.

Captain Cursor: It was my goal to categorize "Old-School" races, I left out lots of stuff, but I hope that I created a decent enough photograph that folks can who want to role-play a race can use.

There is a rumor, I don't know if it is true or not, mind you; but I've heard of a nasty halfing race whom live totally isolated out in the jungles. Nobody has ever found much evidence of them besides drawings and odd tattoos found on men who have run out of the jungle screaming. Unfortunately they have been suffered by the jungle to the point that they will never be a reliable witness to anyone who isn't mad themselves.

We can't force a roleplayer to play a character a specific way, and thank god really! But I can't see a murderous halfling enjoying the bonus to reactions which their race typically grants.

Actually, this is quite creepy considering that Halflings look like children. (shiver) GOD!

Brooser Bear said...

I was disiiclined to allow demi-humans and humanoids into my capaign, because of the racist connotations of goblins and orcs as subhuman cannon fodder and superhuman elves and dwarves. I have changed my mind since then, in order to experience the full richness of the AD&D world, but initially I was conceiving of the Dwarves as Anglo Saxon mountain dwellers, Elves,a and their culture as ancient greeks and Byzantians. Goblins would be Mongol raiders and Orcs as renegade men at arms and outlaws. Later I decided that it would be a copout and allowed a small and very limited presence of the Elves, Dwarves, and demi-humans. Here is why.

They did a study of the families in Western Europe that survived intact since the middle ages. They found two trends: Trend one: Any family that was alive in the 1400's Europe and produced descendents who survived as family units today, these people are esceptionally rich, at leat very comfortably upper middle class - it has to do with stability and passing of at least some wealth to their chldren. We are talking any survivbing descendants of the lowest peasant from 1400's. Trend 2: Those whose ancestors lived through plague epidemics have a higher resistance to the HIV virus. If this holds true for the wealth of the humans whose average lifestan in the 1400's was 50 at best, then what does it say about a race of beign that can live for 900 years? Think of an individual who was born in 1100's and continuously lived until today? If s/he was smart and industrious enough to survive all the wars and cataclysms that have shaken humanity. What kind of contacts and wealth would be available to a 900 year old elf who lived in our world today? How about a whole community of Elves? And how would humanity treat a more cultured and wealthier people living amongst them? Would there be a historic persecution of the Elves along the lines of the historic persecution of the European Jewry? But, hold on, Elves have superor magic, weapons and armor, superior skills with the bow and camouflage. Add to it the Drow, who have a powerful demon for a queen mother and a penchant for slave taking? Can you see the possibilities for the feudal Humanity living among the Elves?

This even shines through in the AD&D rules, albeit unintended, when demi-humans have level imitations, where humans can rise in their cose character class without limit, not as Gygax intended, but these are limitations placed on demi-humans in human societies.

So, in my campaign, demi humans are seldom seen, and are very powerful, reclusive NPCs hiding in the Greyhawk, uopper class Elved dealig ruthlessly with the human thieves they catch in their palaces. But beyond that, I thought about the fate of the demi-humans in the theistic world of the D&D. In his Paradise Lost, Milton writes of the difference between humans and angels: Humans have a free will and they can choose what happens to their souls - salvation or damnation. Angels are perfect, but there is no free will and no hope for them, they are like machines, built to serve, built to last, no further consideration, while humanity has unlimited potential and hence hope. When Tolkien wrote of Elves, he ws thinking of the orders of Angels in Catholic theology. Elves can not truly die and they immigrate from the UK to the US, the land of the West after the Great War ends or when the Nazis seize power in Europe. AD&D Second edition mentions this wasting disease of the mind, which affects Elves and kills them. THAT would be the source of their spiritual illness and despondency, that despite their superiority, they do not have the free will or potential of the mere human beings. Humans are chosen by God, Elves are mere servants and stewarts of humanity. But thej I thought about the place and purpose of the other demi-humans int he Christian creation. I've decided that each of the Demi-humans were created in their image of Man by other deities from Pre-Christian panthenon ina multiverse where the Holy Trinity is but one deity among the many.

Dwarves are Children of the Haefestus, the Greek God of the Undeerworld and metalworking and volcanoes. They are in His image, master smiths and miners living deep within the mountains. Like other Demi-humans they ahve free will and a Choice, but with the Demi-Humans the Choice is not salvation or Damnation, but whether they will liberate themselves from the yoke of the expectations that their creator has placed upon them. To that end Dwarves, the proud craftsmen, must exercise free will and accept solitude of hermitage and the vows of poverty and humility. Only then they will mature by breaking from stereotype and (I guess) gain acceptance(?) in the eyes of the Holy Trinity (?????) I am treading on truly deep waters here, but it is my belief that a Dwarf that would give up the axe and mining, would take off his armor, and starts wandering the world alone in poverty and humility will form a truly formidable Dwarven King, when he returns to teh Dwarves in time fo crisis.

Elves are Children of the Appollo, if you remember the competition between Pan and Appollo in Greco-Roamn mythology, where Pan was about frolicking with shepherd girls, dance around campfire, wine and song, while Appollo was about seducing women with intelligent conversation, ideal body weight, refined classical music and high culture. Appollo was also the patron deity of medicine. For the Elves to find salvation, they would have to walk away from immortality and become selfless healers of the sick. Salvation for the near Immortal Elves would be in selfless service, putting their considerable knowledge to aid mankind. The choice for the aging Elves is either despondency ad loneliness in their cliud cities OR walking away from it and getting their hads dirty working with the poor, the miserable and the sick. Finally, the Halflings. Halflings are the Children Of Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of Childrearing. She created children who live under her care in happy shires. For the Halflings to reach their spiritual destiny, they have to mature and to walk away from careof their Mother Creator. In practical terms this means facing the scorn of their community (something that Bilbo faced but not Frodo), to accept the path of rejection, alienation and lack of creature comfort. That would likely mean not becoming a thief or a sheriff, leaving the Shire and Bastet's protection to become what? A Rangers aiding the lost in the tundras and deserts of the world not taking any treasure for himself? A revolutionary of a reformer trying to help the peasant and the urban poor reach the living standards of the Halfling Shire?

Anyway, my take on the Demi-humans ina realistic AD&D World.

RipperX said...

Welcome Brooze the Bear! You appear to be a gamer after my own heart, I too have tinkered with the idea of culture swapping, but in the long run, I didn't do it because I wanted the demi-humans to be completely unique and not fill the players heads with preconceptions that simply weren't true at the time.

I do think that all of the races besides humans should be rare. You have to go out and seek these creatures, else find them on accident. Information in finding them would be different for each one and their villages alignment, it would be easy to find High Elves and Rock Gnomes, but you'll probably have to hunt for Wood Elves and Grey Elves, both being a dangerous proposition.

I don't think that demihumans belong in a "realistic" setting, well, not as player characters any way. They are out there, but they are forever elusive, those races which at one time were easy to find would be wiped out or hiding, while those that posed a threat to us would also be extinguished. How this would effect them would definately be a campaign worth exploring. Would the Elf forget its vow to leave the old magic behind? They would almost have to! The prophecy of the Drow had been true, how would this effect their relationship as a species?

Thrilling stuff!

Nope said...

I like to think of demi-humans as not really humans at all but a separate species. The comparison of an elf and angel is similar to what I had in mind when working on my home brew. In my home brew gods are referred to as the old ones. The gods worshiped by the masses in the world are actually mortals who have achieved god like powers, so their are hundreds of gods with the mightiest ruling over a nation while even the weakest of gods protect or dominates at least a dozen or so followers. They are essentially high level characters and the worshiping masses is an issue that PCs will have to face themselves as they ascend in power and renown, along with inevitable rivals and potential allies.

Anonymous said...

In the interests of accuracy:

"The halfling is just a word that TSR came up with so that they wouldn’t get sued for using the term, Hobbit. Everybody knows this, it isn’t a secret. "

Actually, the term - like Hobbit - is Tolkien's. TSR did not 'come up with' it. Rather, the courts decided that, although the Tolkien estate owned the word "Hobbit", they did not own Hafling. Thus the hobbit became the halfling in the original books.


Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, why would Elves give up old magic? Living in the world that pruduced Conquistadores, Crusades, and the Pogroms, what could possibly compel the Elves to forsake their power? What was the Drow prophecy? Most realistic treatment of Elves is given in Gygax' World Of Greyhawk. They had the power... er... Magic, they took hostages from among the primite people who inhabited what became known as Sueli Imperium. Vecna was one such hostage, who became a student of their magic then turned on them then became the founder of the human Empire that practiced conquest and slavery in the manner of the Elven overlords? The one thing I don't like about Gygaxian magic is that it's too much like technology. Let's see, Sueli Imperial Mages accidentally (????) unleash the Curse Of Invoked Devastation upon the Bakluni Empire. Gygax never adequately explains what that curse was, to my mind, it was a powerful Necromantic weapon that unleashed the Dawn Of The Dead upon the Bakluni Empire. In their last days the Bakluni maged unleash the RAIN OF COLORLESS FIRE upon the Sueli Imperium, which turns the land into Sea Of Dust and srives the Suelis upon the other peoples of Greyhawk. I don't know about you, but to me it seems like the Bakluni mages have unleashed a masive thermonuclear strike on the Suelis. Considering the fact that at its core fission produces a blinding bluish white light... dare I say colorless?

So, to me, Greyhawk is a post-apocalyptic world set in fantasy and Gygaxian Elves are the stewarts of the old technologies (old magic) who have lost it to humans, who have then started a nuclear war (like India and Pakistan might?). Haing said all this, I like my magic to be... mystical, mysterious and unknown... Magic Missile spell goes a long way towards shattering that...

Turning to the D&D Subsequent editions handling of the Elf, the complete book of Elves was a real turn off. The writers of that book lacked so completely inoriginality and imagination, and the illustrations in it want to make me barf, they anthropormorphize Elves to such a degree that they appear to be the members fo the comfortably upper middle class in the 1700's, 1800's and 1920's. Considerng that humanoids and demi humans tend to be caricatures and stereotypes of humanity, it seemed to me that the writers of that books and the creators of the 4ed "Fairy folk"are so clueless that they do not know the origins, influences and operating sterotypes behind their own creation.

RipperX said...

kaeosdad: I like your thoughts. Grey Elves have always been very mysterious and seem to be modeled after angels, they truly lend themselves to this idea.

As far as your ideas on Gods being human. I have a hard time with that, perhaps Demi-god status, but actual god status takes centuries. Take a look at Celtic, and Norse religions, you find that they contain ancestor worship, as well as the worship of natural forces. Most native religions tend to give names to the forces as well. The Egyptians worshiped their rulers.

I think that my point is that I don't think that it should ever be possible for a PC to ever slay a god. Slay an Avatar? Maybe, but a God? This is just my preference, but I have never seen any good reason for allowing characters to do this.

Anonymous: Thanks for that correction. I personally feel that the owners of the Lord of the Rings franchise were stupid for not letting Dungeons and Dragons use their name, but this is also why I'll never be rich.

Brooze The Bear: You are a great commenter. I enjoyed reading your explanations, I didn't base my elf article on Greyhawk, and I'm afraid that I don't know much about it other then what I read about on the web. As far as Greyhawk goes, I am afraid that it is just the thing that I am trying to avoid in my games, meaning that it is a fat and bloated setting. It is an excellent example of a D&D world, but I am trying to dig deeper then that, and find out the source of the D&D races, without mixing any paint or color to them myself. Naturally, this is impossible, but I hope that I got the job done.

BTW: It was the elf that got me walking this road. I just wanted to figure them out, I started with the Dwarf, and just, kind of kept going! It is the DM's job to add the paint and history that he wants to these races, but I think that I did as good a job as anybody else of breaking them down to their barest, and most neutral form.

Nope said...

@ Ripper: Yea, they are pretty much demi-gods, but they are worshiped as gods by the masses. This is assuming that in a dark world of chaotic magic and wild primordial might people would rally around the most powerful for protection. The average person would know the difference between a god, demi-god, godling, devil etc...

To start with there would be have been dozens then hundreds, eventually thousands over the centuries and some obviously more powerful than others. I figured that there would be conflict and eventually a huge war that ends with the death of most gods, at the end of it all some are banished to a prison (the nine hells) and cursed with a new form (devils), others leave the world to explore the astral sea from which the old ones came, and some would stay behind to protect the world or plot to take over the world.

The really powerful gods have probably reached a point in which they are not demi-gods but of a power and status that matches the standard dnd pantheon. They have their own astral domains and have mostly removed themselves from the affairs of mortals. Also as you said it is assumed that it would take centuries to obtain the amount of power to reach true godhood.

I don't know how killing a god would work. It seems like too much to consider for my home brew setting. As you said avatars are fair game and not an impossible task to slay, but an actual astral god I think wouldn't be possible unless you were a god yourself...

well, enough rambling about that.

Nope said...

@Brooze the bear: Interesting. That commentary on elves really piqued my interest in the greyhawk setting. Any recommended readings? I'm thinking about picking up a book or two on ebay.

Brooser Bear said...

Well, if we forget the pointy ears and nordic ubermensch notions for Elves, along with their pointy ears, then what we have essentially are deeply magical, ancient people, who live in harmony with their environment and walk surrounded by natural beauty. So far nothing missing? Then in our human experience only three cultures coem to mid, there is a fourth, but it is distinctly human and unromantic, as we will see in the end. The three cultures would be the Navajo and their ideas of Walking in Beauty, the Naturalistic beliefs of Taoism and I ching, the wind blowing through the bamboo, the hot tea and I-Ching, and the Aesthetics of the Japanese Samurai, imbued with the spirint of both Taoism and Zen. All these cultures have their Elven and decidedly un-elven elements. Take the Navajos. These tall and slender people have definitly Elvish good looks, but historically they were raiders and warlike people who raided their neighbors for horses and other good things. To lose a horse in that age meant inability to plow and likely slow death of the family from starvation. Hence terrible things they did to horse thieves, of which hanging was the most merciful. And the core of the Navajo beliefs about balance meant keeping the balance with the Chindi, or the angry spirits of the dead, everyone thinks their loved ones unhappily departed, but more numerously, spirits of their victims crying for revenge and associated feelings of guilt in the minds of the warriors. Not very Elvish elegant, is it. Or mauybe the Elves do have a dark side. Think about it. In our world, The beautiful forest and all the game in it belongs to the Lord. Peasant can wear the fur of a mouse, not even a cat. God help the peasant who dares poach game in the Lord's forest. Serf may starve but he may not hunt that which does not belong to him. And now we have Elves and their tree houses in the choicest real estate. You think feudal human kindness or the good works of the Pope put them there? Or mayeb they used their ancient magics and their prowess to kick men and their overlords out of the forests, a few skinned alive as an example and nailed to dead trees (we wouldn't want to hurt living trees with nails, would we?). So, that's the Navajos.

Let's look at the great and nameless Tao. Few people know that The Way was not a mystical, but a political teaching. It was practiced by the ancient Chinese bureaucrats who lived in a 1200 year long period of civil war in ancient China without the benefit of healing magic or the resurrection spells. They lived under warlords, to whom they owned their position, and who were ruthless as they had absolute power in their domains. Not quite the devils, but bad enough. The mysterious Tao was to stay alive when the wrong word or wrong idea meant swift and painful execution by a suspicious and paranoid warlord, to whom Pencilneck owned their above average lifestyle. If anyone reads it, the next time you reads about the Taoist Wise Man hiding his sharp points and being soft like infant, don't think of the mysterious forces of nature, think about a stoop shouldered unarmed man of letters trying to survive under an armed psychopath, who needs more taxes than you can raise, aspires to the rank of Emperor, and constantly suspects treason and infiltration. When there people weren't working, they would get together to discuss philosophy and dress their pep talks as walks int he park discussing nature and mysticism. The warlords fell for it and so did modern people practicing New Age. But what does it say for the Elven harmony? Elves as middling bureaucrats scheming to be inoffensive and to remain alive in their tree palaces? Could such things be? Well, consider the fact that Elves have ancient magic. There are two ways of looking at Elven spirituality and aesthetic, either Elven spirit is OF Nature or it is OUTSIDE the Forest. In Tolkien Beorn and Tom Bombadil are magical creatures that exist WITHIN nature. Elves, on the other hand, precede nature, are contemporaries of Sauron and the Ring and are therefore OUTSIDE Nature. By the same token, AD&D Elves are described in terms of superior jewelry, superior weapons, musical composition, magical craftsmanship, and poetry, all the things associated with the human HIGH CULTURE, but not with the Natural World, the Forest in which Elves dwell. And if the Elves practice ancient magics and they are not native to the Forests, they occupy, then they can be seen as go betweens humankind and whatever else exists above the human world and practices ancient magic. So, politcal tenets of Taoism can apply to the Elves as much as the warlike nature of the Navajos. Finally, the Samurai clas in medieval Japan. Of all the cultures considered, they are the one ost likely to consciously identify with the slender Elves. If you conjured a Navajo Brave, a Taoist civil servant philosopher, and a Samurai, and started telling them about Tolkien, the LOTR, the Elves and their ways. The Navajo will go - Huh? and will tell you to go see his shaman to get your heart and mind int he right place via a sweat lodge perhaps, or maybe some more painful trial to get the foolishness out of you. If you talked about Elves to a Taoist, he would talk of mortgage rates and feign ignorance of what you were discussing. If you cornered him and got him to talk, he would most likely associate the ways of Elves with the ways of warlords. But if you brought this to a Samurai, they immediately idntify with the Elves and even mention to you their ideals of Valor, Purity and Harmony and mention their tea ceremonies, their gardens and theis esthetic of beauty - Ichiban. However, Samurai were hired swordsman, who rose to the top of a rigid and oppressive society and who were ready to leave their women and their ebauty and to die ata drop of the hat for their Liege. To them trappings of beauty and harmony were as a last meal to a condemned man preoccupied with bis mortality, and of course the extended lifestyles of Elves, who get to sail to the West, would not leave them unperturbed. So, the big question is, does the burden of Elves match that of Samurai? If you consider Drow, then yes, if you consider the tradiitons of Greyhawk, then th answer is also yes, but if you consider the stereotypical world of the woodland splendor, than what would the answer be? If you consider that you like the idea of Elves being like Angels, then you must be aware that Christian Angels have existed within a strict hierarchy, then so must Elves, if you consider that Elves are outsiders to nature, deal in ancient magic and have superior lifespans and possess the trappings of high culture according to men who lust after it. All make it clar that Elves are beings more ancient than men, and if they are like Angels in any way, they are not servants of men or the Christian church, they must be servants of another order. Those are questions you must work out, but there is a fourth culture of harmony, which definitely is not Elf-like at all in appearance. And that is the Lardil culture of the Australian Aborigines. They believe that God created the world in a dreama nd that magic can be done when people are asleep, Dreamtime = magic time, time of God's Creation. The co-exist in harmony with nature. They live the same way their ancestors lived 200 years ago. Their harmonious ways allow them to survive ina deset wearing only a loincloth, carrying a spear and a water skin, where modern man dies quickly should his life support system be interrupted and his cell phone or other communications fail. Aborigines are magical, they have old magic, they exist in harmony with their natural world, and yet, nobody considers them Elf-like 1 - because tbey don't look Elvish, 2-Their craftwork does not please out eyes - it's functional for their desert, it was not meant to impress us like Elven artefacts in the fantsasy world, and finally, the Aboriginal magic and way of life is OF THE OUTBACK and their magic and tecxhnology does not exist OUTSIDE it. Elfin magic, on the other hand, exists in the world of humans and forests for Elves are simply beautiful gardens where they live, the Magic of Elves works int he world of humans, magic of the Aborigines worls only in their Outback. These are the issues you will have to wrestle with, if you want to create Elves that would not be derived from Tokien or from other stereotypes.

Brooser Bear said...


For the Greyhawk Elves, pick up Gygax original World Of Greyhawk supplement, preferrably the Boxed set. See if there is any AD&D fiction involving Vecna. There is a whole bunch of stuff on internet about Greyhawk.

With regards to your world where everyone can be worshipped as a God, there is soemthing I was meaning to add: Clerical magic is the politics of the AD&D world. Consider how Clerical spells work (according to Gygax): A Priest prays for a spell. Deitie's intermediaries carry the request to the senior intemediary or to the Deity him or herself, the Deity then considers the condition of the community of worshippers, the piety of the Cleric, and then may or may nor grant a spell, usually a miracle, or may grant the favor and demand that Cleric completes a quest, i.e. returns a favor. Now, consider how political machines work: You need to deliver the votes to a particular candidate, political party being the equivalent to the Deity's body of follower. The precinct captain or one of the aides (Cleric) have someone who needs help, a job, legal intervention. The aide sends the request up the chain of command, it gets reviewed by the political bosses. The party loyalty and standing of the Aide (Cleric) gets considered, then a favor may be dispensed, so that the precinct Captain will make the political machine look good and will deliver the vote. See the similarities between AD&D Clerical magic and political work? Now, if you consider the Forgoten Realms setting and time of troubles, where Gids walked the earth and had sex with women and left behind many offspring, some of whom were raised by monks and then ended up fghting for supremacy. Now, in our world, Gods don't walk the earth in time of trouble. You have warlords and miliiamen having sex with local women lest they blow away their husbands and all sorts of illegitimate offspring who later try to get money out of the aging and guilt ridden TRUE FATHER. And in the Middle Ages, such games were played by the warring Aristocracy. So, the comparison holds on more ways than one and in Forgotten Realms Bhaal, Bane and Mercul have unseated the God Of Death and became Gids themselves, and so did the Lich Vecna, in the Greyhawk Setting. Gods in mythological sense.

RipperX said...

Brooze, I think that you are losing the true spirit of the elf. All of these societies which you speak of are Human, and the elf is not human and, because of their eternal life spans, have completely different philosophies then us. Not to say that you can't do this, but in my opinion one is missing a great opportunity to really get creative.

With the angel angle, we are outsiders looking in and trying to figure stuff out in the form of mythology. Just because the human stories say something about how Grey Elves live, doesn't mean that it is true. There might not be a hierarchy, humans just see what they want to see.

Brooser Bear said...

But I never tried to define the true spirit of anything. Merely pointed out the milleau in which teachings concerning nature and balance occur. You say human perspective, but in AD&D and Tolkien Elves are defined in pretty damn human terms! Compare description Tolkien gives of his Elves to the descriptions of Tom Bombadillo and Beorn. You say mystical and unknowable? Rcently mentioned Kenku are mystical and unknowable as the Zen monks, but Elves, they have enough human contact and their depictd culture is so intertwined with the humans, that there isn't too much dstortion viewing from perspective of the human social science. Think of it, D&D Elves are so anthropomorphic, that non human Elves (and Dwarves and Halflings) are closer to modern Western man, that are already mentioned, HUMAN Australian Aboriginals. If you are going to base your Elves on D&D/Fantasy canon, you are going to have to abide by it, eternal life spans or not.

Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, I finally was able to conceptualize my AD&D campaign, where the players just finished their first adventure and on the place fo the Elves in my Universe. That from Grognard's threat Dwimmermout 6:

That's a great idea about Orcs resenting Elves becaue they were enslaved by them. Thank you! Now I have my definition of Orcs as opposed to goblinoids. In my campaign, Twilight/Midlands, loosely based on Greyhawk, there is the Old World - Greyhawkish traditional AD&D setting and Twilight - Wasteland where Sueli Imperium used to be, where morals, spirituality and beings are twisted. Midlands is the frontier where Twilight is kept at bay at the human cost of settlers and homesteaders driven South and forming a human barrier to the Wasteland nasties. Goblinoids are the product of the Wasteland, where beliefs have transformative magical power and self-assertive goblins can moroph into hobgoblin and bugmear progeny. Orcs and Ogres belong to the Old World. Elves are rich and powerful, and are seldom seen.

Metaphysics operate differently in this campaign setting. Scientific method never took hold because Alteration Magic is simpler and more efficient. Light can not be created or desrtoyed, making crystal ball scrying possible. Universe has cosmic consciousness. Multitudinal panthenons of AD&D Deities are manifestations of that consciousness to its sentient beings. Because of its nature, the Universe is vulnerable to powerful wizards and it protects itself and keeps itself isolated from the multiverse. Lovecraftian Mind Flayers, Beholders and Aboleths are the subconscious manifestations of that cosmic consciousness to keep the AD&D bubble separate. Any outside interdimensional traveler will have to deal with these sanity eroding Lovecraftian nightmares before they can break through into the gameworld. Lichdom is okay, but any wizard powerful enough and curious enough to glimpse a hint of that cosmic consciousness or to try to break out of that world will have to contend with these abominations. On the inside of the bubble are the Elves. In Frank Herbert's Dune, Worms are the Spice. In this world, Elves are the spirit of that world. They are of the game world. The can not conceive of parallel universes or of existance apart from the game world, which they cocneove of as The Forest, not seeignthe reality for the trees. They exist entirely within and are of the reality created by cosmic consciousness. Should anybody be fortunate enough to beak through the barrier of the abominations and land their UFO in this gameworld, it will be the Elves, who will feel compelled to surround and take the alien into custody, Elves will be operating their own version of the Area 51. Elves will believe themselves to be the guardians of their world against the abominable darkness, but as the Elves and Mind Flayers are the cxreations of the same entity. the two will never intersect. Into the wasteland is driven a spirit and his followers out of a nightmare worse that anything a Mindflayer can throw at them. Not knowing who, what or where they are, the Spirits land in the Wasteland and main one takes the form of a psychotic Lich that thinks itself to be fighting the good fight back in its own universe. Finally I was able to put the essence of my capaign into words. I hope you get a kick out of this.

Nope said...

@Brooze: That idea of elves and mind flayers being from the same creator is tight. I use orcs and goblins in a similar way (they are not part of the same culture anymore and rarely seen in the same group).

Also I think ripper is talking about elves as an alien society, separated from humans. I guess how elves interact with humans would depend on the overall worldly going ons and what direction an elven culture is heading as a people.

If they were in a balanced and powerful society and rarely needed to interact with humans, they would be alien, but if the elves had become fractured as a people other people would get involved intentionally or unwittingly as elven society splits into factions and conflicts arise.

In the second case some of the mysteriousness I think would begin to go away for the elven peoples neighbors.

Brooser Bear said...

Elves and mind flayers are of the same creator the way Human beings and Ebola Virus come from the same creator. They both have their purpose and niche. Engineering and Ecology can be pretty awful to those on the receiving end.

I am basing my Elves on Gygaex Greyhawk conceptualization, since it's a more realistic approach to a race that lives for 900 years.

One thing about alien cultures - dominant civilization and culture will always feelalien to those it subjugatd. If humans drive the Elves to near extinction the way of Amazon Indians, then humans would be terrifyingly alien to the Elves, a stuff of children's nightmares, put if the humans perceive Elves civilisation as removed, alien, amongst cloud citie, it is a safe bet that Elves are the dominant ones. Not to deprive the Elves of their mystique, rather set relations between Elves and humans more realistically than they were in Tolkien. Right now I am reading Steinbeck's King Arthur and his knights, his last and unpublished manuscript, actually a translation into modern English. Comparing Merlin to Gandalf, Merlin performs one tenth magic of Gandalf, but the kind of things he says and knows, you know you are dealing with a wizard something unusual shines through. Gandalf the God-LIke comes in a distant second.

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