Why do elves all look the same? Are they just long living pointy eared humans? This article should explain some of the mysteries around elves.
Warning: Some of the themes in this article may be considered as having mature content. If you do not think you can handle such content, do not read further.
Like 99% of Fantasy Role Players, I have read Lord of the Rings. While I appreciate Tolkien’s take on elves and by extension goblins and orcs, I do not believe that can be the only view. Simply put, it is a concern that so many people adhere to the elfin canon created by Tolkien.
You know which one:
“Elves are pure, beautiful, long lived etc, while orcs are evil and base creatures.”
Then there is the ultimate insult:
“Orcs are a degenerate form of elf!”
This treatise describes an alternate take on the canonical picture of elves. It is based on the authors own ideas and dislike of the elves that the classic FRP gamer loves so much.
It does not reflect the views of other members of RuneQuest.orc. I do however hope that it is of some use, even as a discussion point for other players out there. Furthermore, its main focus is that of elfin physiology and as such this cannot be viewed as an exhaustive document of elfin culture.
Elves in Context
What the orcs say:
Elves are females! Have you ever seen a male elf? They all carry bows, so they must all be female.
It could be a case of cultures clashing, because only orc females use bows. It is thought of as a feminine weapon by orcs, even being seen to touch one could cause a male orc to be shamed and lose status among his peers.
But there is some merit in what the orcs say. Elves all look the same. Long hair, slim, soft features, sexually ambiguous. Are they hippies, or is there a deeper mystery about them? Has anyone seen one naked?
Note: Where comparisons are made below, unless otherwise specified, such comparisons are based on a human benchmark.
Elves are part of the animal kingdom. They tend to have symbiotic relationships with various plant species which has at times caused some to confuse them as being a vegetable based species. They can be divided into various sub species, but generally the views expressed are those of the common or “wood” elf.
While exceptions to the norm do exist, most elves reflect the following traits to various degrees:
- Long lived
- Unique class of animal (i.e. not mammals, reptiles etc.)
The symbiosis they share with their host plants is usually so close that lifespan is tied in with a host plant. Thus if the host plant dies, generally the elves tied to it die as well. This may explain why elves tend to be super protective of the woodlands and forests they live in. It may also serve to explain the longevity of sup species who share mutualistic or commensalistic relationships with long lived tree species. By extension it is thus assumed that a parasitic relationship will be less likely to exist, although such a concept should not be entirely ruled out.
Travel of any large distance from the host plant can be difficult, sometimes impossible for species with very tight symbiotic bonds. This can be alleviated thought certain rituals and matrices which allow for communion with the host via the spirit plain.
Elves tend to have a natural affinity with spirit magic which is usually ritual in nature. Most rituals are communal. Certain spirit spells ane however readily available to elves who have reached maturity. These spells are usually of an earthy or pastoral nature.
Sorcery is not unknown among elves, but the rules to study and master their sorcerous arts are the same for elf and human. Elves do however have much more time to learn sorcery and build up reserves of magic. Simply put – beware the aging elfin sorcerer!
Elves do not perform divine magic.
Some consider elves to be magic creatures due to their affinity with the spirit plane. This may be true to some degree. It would also mean that while elves may access the spirit world with relative ease, vice versa would also apply. Thus issues that may stem from the spirit plane could be exasperated among elfin kind. Simply put, their sensitivity to the spirit world can make them strong, but it can also cause them to be affected to a greater degree by events on the plane, be the consequences beneficial or dire. See goblins further in this document.
The big question! Why are elves so difficult to tell apart? The answer is simple. One cannot differentiate as they are hermaphrodites. Elves are true hermaphrodites (as opposed to so called human hermaphrodites.) When sexually mature, they are able to breed with any other sexually mature member of their own or similar sub species.
Elves take many years to reach sexual maturity, another aspect that may be linked to their host plant. Once maturity is reached, they undergo periodic fertile cycles. These cycles differ from species to species, but are thought to generally occur every five years. As such it is imperative that members of the same tribe become fertile at the same time. Should a member of another tribe wish to breed for the sake of strengthening the gene pool, it would be imperative that they live among the tribe they wish to breed with for a sufficient period that their fertility cycles may align. (This may also possibly be facilitated via magical means.)
Due to the timing necessary to ensure successful breeding, mating has become highly ritualised. It would appear that emotions (assuming elves experience such) have no place in the mating ritual, but rather that partners are selected in terms of best genetic parings, to strengthen the overall tribal gene pool.
Physical coupling requires some hours to complete. It is thus essential that elves who have coupled are not disturbed, which also speaks to the structure of the mating ritual. The reason that coupling takes so long is that they do not deposit their sperm into each other, like a mammal may. Instead, one elf transfers its egg to its partner. This is done via means of an ovipositor, which enters the others birth canal where it passes over male organs which excrete sperm cells. The sperm must make their way into the opening at the end of the ovipositor and fertilise the egg that by this time would already be making its slow way down the ovipositor. The ovipositor then makes its way further down the birth canal to the womb, where the now fertilised egg is deposited to take root. The ovipositor is subsequently retracted back into its owner.
The ovipositor and birth canal are separate organs and thus allow both coupling elves to deposit eggs into each other during the same coupling if they so choose. Single sided couplings do occur, mostly among sub species with shorter fertility cycles.
When not mating, genitals look like two holes next to each other, the birth canal being the larger. Curious humans have been known to confuse the birth canal with a human vagina and either overlooked the retracted ovipositor or thought it to be a urethral opening. (In fact elves do not have a urethra or kidneys. Their blood waste is excreted via their colon.)
Gestation period once again differs among sub species, but is generally accepted to be between 340 and 410 days. Birth occurs via the birth canal and in this way is probably the closest in similarity to that of humans.
Infants are not nursed by their “mother”. Elves do not have mammary glands. They receive sustenance from their sub species host plant. Depending on the sub species, this may be in the form of fruits, leaf sap, or even special sap excreted specifically for the purpose of the plants symbiotic partner. It is at this time that the young elf bonds with its host plant.
Though physically elves may appear to look similar to humans, such similarities are purely superficial. Interbreeding between the two species would not only be impossible at a chromosomal level, but would also be physically impossible. One could appear to put the right bits in the right places, but would indeed not be doing so.
Thus, the reader is asked to cast the idea of a half elf from their mind. They cannot exist by any natural means. If a half elf character is so deeply desired, one would suggest playing a game like Dungeons and Dragons that does not pay attention to the concept of species and chromosomes.
What about the tree?
If elves are so closely bonded with a host plant and gain so much benefit from the plant, what does the plant get in return? It depends on the form of symbiotic relationship that exists between the sub species and the plant:
- Mutualism – Both parties benefit each other. This is probably the most common form of symbiosis employed. The tree will in turn for providing shelter, sustenance and a physiological bond receive protection, sustenance (compost) and propagation. In extreme cases, the tree may be unable to survive or propagate without its elfin partner.
- Commensalism – One party benefits, the other party is not harmed. The elf receives the same as per mutualism, but does not give anything substantial back to the host plant. Less common, but leads to a looser bond with the host, allowing the elf to travel from its host, or even change hosts.
- Parasitism – One party benefits to the detriment of the other. Very unlikely and as such longevity associated with the tree would not be possible and would indeed be detrimental to the elf’s lifespan should a elf/tree bond exist. Alternately, if no such bond existed, associated elfin lifespan would be intermediate, probably similar to that of a human.
Orcs are in no way related to elves. Case closed! If you wish to insult an orc, insinuate that he has elf blood. You will succeed, you will also likely die shortly thereafter. If anything, orcs are probably closest likened to humans, but share a very dissimilar ancestral tree and do not derive from simians. They are however mammalian in a very broad sense. And no, you do not get half orcs.
Goblins on the other hand are distantly related to elves, although one will never hear an elf confirm this. When reference is made to “a degenerate form of el” it is with goblins in mind. How these base creatures came to be is debatable, but various hypothesises have them as being the result of, inter alia, some bizarre failed experiment, inbreeding of an isolated elf community, corrupted and warped by diabolic spirit magics, cursed by the gods etc. Some people believe they exist as a result of some or all of the above!
Goblins are small, scrawny creatures with a tendency to steal anything they can carry or lead away. They are not very bright having intellect similar to that of a rat insofar they have a capacity to learn, but can also pass on some crude learning’s to their family. Family is used here in a broad sense, as a goblin tribe is usually very much related.
Why goblins are considered dangerous and highly undesirable is not through individual encounters, which are bad enough as they carry disease and are generally a nuisance. The main problem with goblins is that they breed fast and profusely and if they are allowed to establish a nest, a few nuisance goblins will become a menacing, ravenous hoard in the space of a season. What they lack in individual strength and stature, they make up for in numbers.
Goblins are fortunately the opposite of their elfin ancestors in terms of longevity, leading short, violent lives. Those that do survive to old age may count perhaps four years before their body wears itself out. Their scrawny bodies are barely sufficient to sustain themselves, let alone offspring. In terms of reproduction they have taken a symbiotic leaf from their ancestors book.
Within a goblin nest (usually a warren of caves), a large chamber is excavated. Within this chamber is a creature called a Lopsloss. The Lopsloss is related to a head hanger, but has long since lost the ability to move. It relies on its symbiotic goblin partners for sustenance, protection and propagation:
- Sustenance is provided by the goblins in terms of any flesh they can feed the Lopsloss, flesh or carrion, it digests it all.
- Protection is provided deep within the goblin warren, were the goblins will fight to the death to protect their Lopsloss.
- When groups of goblins split off to establish new colonies, they take a portion of Lopsloss with. As the Lopsloss propagates by binary fission a new one will soon grow in the new colony.
In return, the goblins receive a valuable service from the lopsloss. It gestates their offspring. Goblins become fertile often, every season it is thought. When they mate, they follow a similar procedure to elves, but are no longer in possession of wombs (which have become superfluous and desiccated ove many generations of non use.) Instead, the egg, once fertilised, is deposited into the lopsloss.
The fertilised egg is somehow recognised by the lopsloss and in return for sustenance, it converts proteins and secretes nourishing fluids that help the goblin embryo grow. If however the lopsloss begins to starve, it will digest the embryos. This is why as a last resort, goblins will immolate themselves to feed the lopsloss and save their offspring, if such an event comes to pass.
Due to their nature and the way they are sustained as embryos, goblins are carnivorous.
This article was first published IX January MMX