Turning Tropes Upside Down: Feral Elves and other thoughts.

When I was writing “Priest-King” a few years back, I ended up locating the module in SW Agyra and started fleshing out the geographic area. The land to the immediate south was Chaal-chu and in Terry’s description (Master Atlas p.34) was this fascinating tidbit:

In an (apparently) unique and frightening aberration, there
are Half-elven Eritari tribes in Chaal-chu who are cannibalistic.
They believe that feeding on their full-mortal cousins the Thesian
tribes will extend their lives.

I blogged about Elves back in June and last year as well, so it’s known that I’m not a fan of Elves in general. It’s hard to beat immortality and although the system tries to balance things with stat bonuses and other mechanics, it still doesn’t feel right. Elves are just too good. However, “Feral” Elves or Cannibalistic Half-Elves–sign me up for that!!

This is another great tidbit that is sprinkled throughout the Master Atlas, the idea of a primitive, regressed, Elven tribe, is ripe for gaming opportunities. Maybe these cannibals are more animal cunning then intelligent and wise. I visual them as  Reavers — terrifying!

This trope subversion is another reason why I like the Malazan series so much. In that setting, Erickson has included traditional “monster races” as normal races:

For instance, one of the powerful ancient races are the Jaghut, which I think are Ogres. Another race are T-Rex like creatures that had advanced technology!

We have racial stereotypes in our real world and so too in our fantasy settings: gruff Dwarfs, barbaric Orcs, flighty Elves etc. Why not flip some of these? Why not have a powerful, peaceful nation be made up of Orcs? For me, I’m going to enjoy my feral, cannibal half-elves! I know my players will too….

13 Replies to “Turning Tropes Upside Down: Feral Elves and other thoughts.”

  1. I would really like to build some cultures that are completely different from the standard tropes. Such as a desert culture that isn’t Egyptian. Or Arabic. Or both.

    1. Yes, we’ve touched up this before–it’s so difficult to come up with something truly new and original without falling back on our own cultural reference points. Adding in the “racial” element makes it even more difficult. Isn’t it easier to envision multiple cultural settings for humans than other fantasy races? I tend to think of Elves, Dwarves, Halfings etc as being culturally monolithic; I bet that’s common for RPGers. Even if you make base derivations (Snow Elves, Aquatic Elves etc), that’s just using environment as a differentiator, which also falls back onto our generally accepted real life norms. My challenge is to flip racial norms to start the process. Feral Elves “Reavers” that live crude, barbaric lives that have lost their High Elven heritage (arts, science) and live in squalor does a pretty good job flipping things. (plus it cuts those damn elves down a few pegs!) So what other racial/cultural flips would be interesting?

      1. A merchant/mariner culture of Orcs?
      2. Woodland/farmer Dwarven culture that embraces pacifism ?
      3. Advanced society of Troll Mage/Engineers?

      1. There’s also the Tolkien problem when it comes to some non-human races – even though most RPG elves don’t tend to follow his design, being mortal (albeit long-lived) and not showing the penchant for techie/magic toys that the Elves that weren’t Wood Elves did.

        Of those, I think the Trolls sound the most interesting.

        Perhaps we could have a brainstorming post to try and develop something new. Assume that a culture is at least somewhat affected by the terrain, such as desert/Nile valley, then try and come up with alternate ways this would affect culture.

      2. Part of the problem is that culture and location are so interrelated. It is difficult to have a dessert culture that does not wear clothing suitable for desserts and base its culture and trade around oasis and trade routes.

        One option is to replace the apex predator with your intelligent species but retain the animal behaviour. So for example when I say imagine a south american culture the first instinct is to say Inca or Mayan but instead imagine Orcs as living in family groups like the great apes complete with chest beating Silverback Orcs leading the family unit. Elves can then be a solitary species of dark skinned hunters that slink through the branches in a analogous role to that of the panther.

        Elsewhere in the world halflings can be cunning hunters who will kill of the pleasure of it more than the need for food, raiding human farms. The humans in turn hunt the halflings with horses packs of hounds. Solitary halflings living in towns have a reputation as being cunning and dishonest to deal with.

        So rather than trying to mash humanoids in to human roles you reskin the humanoid races using successful animal niches which are always going to be alien to the way that human societies work.

        Beaver-like dwarves with lake spanning damm cities or cathedral sized termite mound style cities rising from the plains?

        1. True, clothing might be a tricky one to change, although Arabic clothing is rather different to Egyptian, and both have hot environments close to deserts. The easiest way would probably be “cheating” – introducing a small mutation that means the people do not react the same way to heat.

          1. This is Egyptian traditional costume… https://carolyndanilowicz.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/egyptpeople1x.jpg

            This is Arabic traditional costume, probably sans shades, https://d2gg9evh47fn9z.cloudfront.net/800px_COLOURBOX4406540.jpg

            There doesn’t seem to be much difference to me. It is the ceremonial clothing that differs most widely and is also the most cliched.

            I really like the idea of a brainstorming thread for unusual humanoid cultures though.

        2. These are good ideas! Without throwing away creativity, maybe the “Costanza” approach? (do you brits know that reference?)

            1. A “Seinfeld” reference (the US’s Monty Python for quotability). Anyway Costanza did the exact opposite of everything—so my point being to reverse every racial trend to create new paradigms.

              1. So the pleasure loving pastoral halflings become industrious money lenders and merchants. The shire then becomes their industrial heartland.

  2. Firstly, I think Elves are to blame for most things. Any race that has a life span in the thousands of years and yet has not solved any of societies ills probably just enjoys watching other races suffer. 🙂
    This idea if elves ‘going over the sea’ is either a euphemism for a 100% suicide rate suggesting that elves cannot bear the company of elves for that long a period of time or the other option is that elves eventually just adopt a ‘not our problem’ attitude and up and leave. Either way I have no sympathy for them.

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