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My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:06 pm
by Rubbermancer
So here I am, breaking all the golden tropes of fantasy. I can't seem to help myself. I'm making an RPG setting which has classic fantasy as a foundation, but deviates wildly from it. The reasoning behind this strategy is simple: Give people something familiar to work off of, but still make this setting stand out. And I'm wondering, have I gone too far with these elves? Are they even elves anymore? Or are they arctic zombies with illithid powers?

I want people to think "Elf" when they see "Elf", and then sort of get sucked into a new twist on elves, but with most of the old tropes still applicable (pointy ears, good hearing, aloof superiority, timeless arcane wisdom and power, etc). Here's the draft writeup so far, please let me know what you think.


The Warrowfey Iceshelf

The Warrowfey Iceshelf is a monstrous arctic landmass perched at the top of the world. It is engirdled by the North Sea, and below that, the Frost Mantle. Here, the Elves make their home in wending tunnels and rimy chasms. They are an intelligent, tall and gaunt race of few words and fewer sympathies. Their veins are filled with ice water, their bodies oddly transparent in the cold. Trying to get your eye on one in sub-zero temperatures is nigh on impossible.

If you do get your eye on one, study his face. You’ll see skin the colour of pressed fog, yearning tautly over high, thin cheekbones, only to bunch up and clutch at the nose like wet silk. You’ll see veins, an incredible amount of veins; more in the face and neck than anywhere else. The Elf’s breast is heartless. His veins cluster in his brain stem, and he regenerates damage incredibly quickly, simply by drinking ice water, or inhaling freezing winds.

With sufficient rest and regular cephalophagic nourishment, the young elf can even re-grow his entire body from the neck down, in as little as three days. (There are stories of elder Elves living on as disembodied heads in the subterranean inner cloisters of Feystorm Citadel, hovering in pools of ice water, deep in meditation.)

Despite this amazing cold-born resilience, the elf is not a quick creature. His bones are brittle, crystalline props to his sluggish muscles. He creaks and crackles when he shuffles across the Warrowfey, leaving a trail of slush and dead skin behind him as his feet suck the cold from the ground.

His face is bereft of eyes. The ridge of his nose tapers into a cruel bruise of bone that dominates the centre of his forehead. But he doesn’t need to see; those pointy ears pick up everything. When he wants to form a picture of an area, he hisses out a wash of high-pitched buzzing that seems to envelop everything, and his mind paints a picture by echolocation, as clear and vivid as normal vision. If you want to blind an Elf, cut out his tongue.

Rather, all 7 of them. The Elf’s mouth is a grisly work of art. When he gapes, his jaw nearly touches his belt, and 7 tongues wend out past two retractable, rapier fangs. Then, he begins to articulate. You hear nothing of it, but suddenly, you hear nothing else either. You wonder where the sound went. Then, you wonder where the world went. You start to see the sound, smell the sound, taste the sound, until its presence has enveloped all of your senses, and you know naught else. You grind your teeth, trying to resist, and all your nerves misfire until you’re on the verge of blacking out.

Then you give in, and are awash with bliss. This is the Elf's dreaded Sirensong. They all give in, in the end. They say the two minutes between defeat and the feeding lasts a lifetime for the victim. People’s minds drift into imagined realities, where they are born, grow up, start families, invent, play, teach, discover… and eventually die happy, when the last of their corporeal brains are devoured, their empty skulls leering at the whitewashed sky.

His fangs are as strong as steel, and hooked at the tips. Only the stubborn Dwarvish skull has been known to resist the gnashing and piercing of an Elven fang for very long. When he has a grip, he bites down with a triple row of incisors, which he uses to grind open the skull of his victim. With the brain exposed, he feeds. This is when he is at his most vulnerable.

It would seem that only fresh brains will do. Yet the fresher they are, the warmer they are, and warmth is anathema to our Elf. He is weakened in the feeding, his face a half-melted wreck of bone and skin and dirty sludge. By the time he is finished, his teeth are falling out of loosened gums, and he is thrashing about on the ice in throes of pain and of pleasure. If he can, he will go deep, and find a cold shelter, where he will go into stasis for up to a week. His skin will balloon out into the surrounding snow and ice, its enlarged pores like sucker cups, drinking in the revitalizing cold. In this state, he resembles an ashen grey heart, the size of a man, throbbing ponderously as his extremities mine ice water from the surrounding walls. When he returns to the lands of sky, he will not need to feed on brain matter for another year at least.

Re: My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Thu Aug 16, 2012 11:15 pm
by Chainsaw Aardvark
An interesting creature to be sure - but if it is an elf remains to be seen. The definition of elf is more about temperament and metaphysics than appearance or adaptation.

Elves might be akin to the old legends of the fae and sidhe - otherworldly and almost like the creatures of Cthonic Mythos. These types are prone to make sport of other creatures that wander into their circles or kidnap children, or kill people because they just don't understand what is or isn't lethal to a human being.

Other concepts follow Tolkien, more attune with nature and magic - something almost like angels among us rather than strange demons. Elves of this type are the ones known to be soothsayers, or to create great art unrushed by a mere allotment of sixty or seventy years to live. These are the ones that don't break twigs as they walk, because they feel the nature of the forest. They also happen to be the type that can be easily role-played if you want to be a ranger with extra bonuses.

The creatures you have described could go either way. (Perhaps that is the point?) They are certainly alien to the human experience and seem like angry forces of nature. I'm sure one of your elves would be quite surprised that a man dies when stabbed in the chest, or be rather confused when the boy gets sick after only a few days without a meal and that a good dip in the ocean doesn't help. On the other hand the great amounts of free time not spent farming and hunting combined with the capacity to live for extended periods could make for a lot of philosophers and storytellers.

I can see an adventure based around trying to find an elf in hibernation so that the party could bombard it with questions upon waking at the time when it is the least hungry and dangerous.

Re: My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 10:06 am
by Rubbermancer
The definition of elf is more about temperament and metaphysics than appearance or adaptation.


Yeah, that's what I've always thought. I hope we're not alone in that reasoning! I don't want any sort of "mischievous rascal" feel to them at all. They're supposed to be fairly dark and frightening creatures, and their gentle, philosophical side is so far removed from what is concrete and relevant for the other races that it doesn't really serve as a foundation for diplomatic relations on any grand scale. In society, especially human society, they are to remain eremite figures of terror, stricken with darker, animal lusts, but incredibly intelligent, and even conscientious and sympathetic, if you can describe your life and your woes in terms that are in any way relevant to the Elven mind.

Despite the fact that the Elves are pretty much a world away from anything else in the setting, both geographically and conceptually, the game sets the scene for direct contact with the Elves. Each year, a tithe of 100 able-bodied persons from each of the 6 races is sent to Eastwatch (placeholder name for now), to help defend the world from the encroaching Brou-ha-ha. So players can be any wacky ol' race they want, without destroying narrative suspension of disbelief.

Perhaps, a look at the other races, in brief, will help you guys to help me visualize how the Elves fit into it all?

The humans and dwarves are standard-fare fantasy, but that might change. I dunno. The Dwarves, at least, ought to have some sort of small twist, I feel.

The trolls are going to be pint-sized, mountain/subterranean bookworm-types, more Norse trolls than pop fantasy trolls. Full of lore about the trees and the stones, at once clever and carefree, sedate with regards to the vagaries of life, and passionate when it comes to the pursuit of knowledge. Troll Secrets will be a thing in the game, for sure. I'm not sure if the Troll Kingdom should stretch under the entire world, blooming with surface settlements only in lonely mountain ranges here and there, or if they should have a centralized area of the map, and be more nation-like, with diplomacy and firm borders etc.

The ogres will have 4 arms, and live in a place called the Yaer Machinescape, which is thousands of kilometers up in the sky, a vast streak from east to west in the path of the sun. The Machinescape is comprised of floating island-chains of meteoric detritus, which is shed by the sun's crossing. (The world is geocentric, and the sun is hurled from east to west one day, and back again the next day, by the Prime Ogres, in an eternal game of responsibility-shirking hot-potato.) The Ogres have cultivated the islands with their crazy-cool sunsmithing powers, which I have no idea how to define as of yet.

The last race is the Orcs of the Rumik Savannah. For Orcs, I haven't really made any major changes from the stereotypical Orc, but I've decided to put the emphasis on tribal shamanism. They're very, very big on their shamans, and most of them are fanatics to the core. Mostly because it actually makes sense, and it works. They have the biggest, rawest magical talent of any race. Warlike, quick to anger, xenophobic, but with spiritual priorities. Otherwise, undefined.

Any more thoughts? Either on the Elves, or other things?

Re: My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:24 pm
by Rubbermancer
Nothing?

Re: My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2012 11:55 am
by Chainsaw Aardvark
I'm sorry, I thought i posted a reply a while ago. I guess it never took due to a problem with my net connection.

This continues to look fairly good. I like the subterranean troll kingdom crossing the world and the "hot potato" sun idea.

You really dropped the ball with the orcs. Pretty much anything that doesn't want them to be an invading green skinned mongol horde makes them a green skinned horde of druids. D&D has orc shamans, they play big role in World of Warcraft (big enough that I know that without playing the game even), other games that crib from those two do as well. The webcomic Dominic Deegan has a pretty good take on peaceful orcs with a shaman tradition, but that still isn't original enough for this game. If you're going to have Lovecraftian elves - might as well make orcs different too.

Now invariably everything else seems to be influenced by Tolkien. Trying to look back farther, the entomology of the word seems a bit confused, and may have arrived in several different languages. I seem to be finding a theme of big, demon, corpse, and domovarri - though in Latin, we get the Roman god of the dead. Perhaps take off on that and make them more of harbingers or death servants - like Banshees or Valkyries. (Yes, I am now imagining a bunch of orcs in UH-1s descending on Ia Drang.)

Just an idea - make them rather selkie like - were-seals/river dwelling sea monsters. This still leaves them open to raiding, or being around certain places, an explanation for why they're so tough (layers of blubber/and thick skin), allows them to escape or come and go at will, and possibly blend in with others to recon/trick/sabotage if you go with the transformation aspect. As to the connection, well the usual onomatopoeia for a seals call is "oorc" - seems like they'd be known by their battle cry.

Re: My elves. Are they elves at all?

PostPosted: Fri Sep 21, 2012 5:00 pm
by Rubbermancer
Thanks for the feedback! You're right about the orcs, to a certain degree. I kinda figure one of the big things that separated them from the usual fantasy game orcs was that they aren't just mooks. But now that you mention WoW, you're right, that schtick's already been done. What I'd really like to do, though, is have a really unique magic system, which makes Orcs cool and unique by proxy, seeing as they're the magic buffs in the game.

I've got some ephemeral ideas kicking around for an open-ended magic system, involving a "Nerve" stat, (unified with the combat system as well,) which will represent how much control a practitioner has over the rifts he is tearing in reality. There will be varying degrees of magical potency, ranging from single-target/instant to universal/permanent (which is exactly as big and lasting as it sounds). Everything will be ritual, and the larger kingdoms will hire Orc ritualists, and have them roam their lands, on call 24/7 to pick up on workings of universal permanency on the world's ley lines, and combat them. Because that kind of Armageddon magic is uncool, for everyone. So, more of a plot-driven thing. But yeah, the Orcs will have that going for them.

I've also been thinking more about the Dwarves, and I think I want them to be all rock-psionic, with geoteleportation, geopsychometry, geoclairvoyance, and generally every cool mental power, just with "geo" slapped in front of it. They'll still be stubborn as all hell, and do all the mining and drinking and stuff. And the women will have beards. (One of my goals with this project is to let some of the pop-fantasy familiarity linger, so that players can slide into the setting without devoting tons of time to reading and studying chapter after chapter of fluff).