Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Wild Elves"

            I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 15 years.  Lately, I have only just started playing again with any regularity, but I still have numerous ideas and want to use my blog as a creative outlet.  This is going to be a reoccurring thing as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.

What Have I Got: Let’s Keep Talking Ecology
            Last week I talked about Kobolds, the diminutive monster that is often that starting point of many new groups.  This was all part of a theme about me wanting to make my DnD blogs shorter.
            This week I wanted to talk about Wild Elves, mostly because one of my players made a wild elf rogue and he wanted some concept of where they fit in the world so I was gonna write this anyway, so I’m not going to let it go to waste.

The Painted Elf Society
By Professor Farrowdel Malanar,
Vizier to the Marquis of the Southern Oasis

            I have been keeping a correspondence with multiple generations of a human county called Hasenburg along the southern fork of the Color Line River.  The position has typically been some variation on Castillian, a head of military operations, but as humans are so short lived and prone to delegation I have sent and received letters from royal tutors, court consuls, the Count himself, and numerous prominent knights, soldiers, scholars, and anyone else who has had the time and wherewithal to read thru decades of my letters and chosen to respond with their own insights to my questions.
            I would of course have preferred to go to the source, our “Wild” Elf brethren deserve to be treated as equals, all of us share the same blood, but their lifestyle prohibits such regular contact.  The Painted Elves are nomadic.  Traveling the grasslands that are boarded on the north and south by the twin forks of the Color Line River.  As Hasenburg has regular contact with numerous bands of Painted Elves they seemed the logical target of my research questions.
            The Painted Elf numbers vary by individual clique but a typical group is 500 strong with as many horses.  They live in tents when they are not taking shelter in one the many clutches of forest that dot the plains, and feast primarily on game the surplus of which they trade with human settlements along the Color Line for roughage.
            They usually have an equal split between men and women with little differentiation between the roles of the genders.  Children are taught social customs and history by elders, while crafts and hunting are learned while listening to an elder lecture.  Children will sit cross legged surrounding an elder while braiding beads into leather strips or fashioning flint arrowheads.
            The Painted Elves are an embodiment of the “noble savage” as many condescending humans have categorized, traveling the untamed lands, breathing fresh air, and experiencing the warmth of the sun and cold of the rain rather than the “soul crushing” state of “civilization”.
            Contrary to this popular delusion, the truth is, the Painted Elves are a civilized people, they just chose to live nomadically and in a state of hunter/gatherer/trader rather than being sedentary.  They often marvel at some of the grander constructions of human settlements, as Hasenburg castle is considered to be quite lovely, but they would retort with something akin to, “Your palace is nice, but my tent can go anywhere.”
            Much of their art focuses on their body paint, from which they get their name.  a mottled pattern to resemble the horses that they ride they are also excellent with camouflage, or when they perform holiday rituals painting themselves much more elaborately with bright colors meant to evoke the various season.

            Additional artwork comes in the form of leather and hide work a necessary outlet for all the extra materials of all the game they capture, and bead work, typically made from bone or polished stone; the leather and bead work is often combined to make beaded mats or murals in much the way we would create a tapestry.
            Our Painted Elf fellows are not immune to opportunities in sedentary life.  Many painted elves take to living in cities, Hasenburg has an elf/half elf district of the many Painted Elves that have settled down there.  Freehold, Bone, Maudlin, and the Gold Coast all have some members who have taken to living like the humans of the area do but hold on to certain traditions.
            The simplest tradition to hold is that they often wear face paint, though in subtler designs.  Red marks under the eyes, a line bisecting their face, or simple symbols or shapes on the cheek.  Holidays do call for more elaborate designs, but even then, they do not paint their whole torso as many elves in the “wild” do.

Important Subtleties
            I made some deliberate efforts to distinguish this report on Wild Elves from last week’s report on Kobolds.  For one thing, the subtle racism/specist behavior at work.  Rather than this being “On the nature of” it is “Society”.  The kobolds are framed as outsiders the entire time they are looked at, in the case of the Painted Elves they, “deserve to be treated as equals” and “are a civilized people”.

I don't think, "Elves are kind of racist" is a trope that is played up enough.
It is perhaps the one thing that keeps them from being a race of Mary Sues.

            You might not see too much of a distinction or that such little things are barely worth mentioning.  In most DnD game Kobolds would be seen as fit only for extermination after all, in last week’s instance they are giving complements as being useful for many specific tasks and possessed of a “a singular mad genius”.  You know, like when people say that someone from a minority group is, “well read” and people take it as a slight.
            In real life, racism is a complex beast with many shades, and to me bigoted behavior in the fantasy world never uses the subtler forms properly.  It is either never spoken of/doesn’t exist or the oppressed group is openly derided in the street.  But between the pointed compliments to the Kobolds and the specific points of complementing and selective “quotation marks” to deride groups, this illustrates a cooler and less obvious sort of racism that is more interesting.

            To add a little dimension to this, I kept the Sioux Indians in mind when making up this version of Elves.  But at the same time, I didn’t wield in things one after another, I borrowed some elements I thought made for an interesting feel and evoked adventurous architypes from old fiction.  Is that cultural appropriation?
            Am I doing a discredit to Native Americans by utilizing an iconography I only have slight understanding and knowledge of to give dimension to my fictional world?  Regardless of how respectful I am of the material or how much thought I put into it I do not want to create a caricature of a real-life culture.
Wild/Wood Elves by Edition
            One of the smaller failings of 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons was not including subraces in the Players Handbook.  Wild Elves were pushed into a small section in the Monster Manual and their role in the game was kind of neglected in favor of a High Elf that was bland.  They had to be both the noble and wise Elrond type elf, the wild and spiritual like Tyrande Whisperwind, and the arcane and condescending Nath of the Gilt-Leaf.
            They fixed this in 4th edition.  AND HOW!  They gave Wild Elves their own whole race section in the Players’ Handbook and made them ultra-distinct from the High Elves of that edition, who in turn were made into extradimensional teleporters.  This was a good change, but I think it went too far.  The distinctiveness went so far that they were now effectively different species altogether.

Okay, different species in a rules sense.  They still look almost identical.
            5th edition solves this with a wise compromise.  The simplicity of the whole rules set lends itself to small but meaningful differences in the makeup each race and subraces are an easy part of that.  Wild/Wood Elves are now part of the Players’ Handbook and an explanation of the break between them and High Elves is right there.  Enough to go on, but also not so much that you can’t do what I did above, put little twists on them.
            For more on this topic, here is a link.

The Beg for Attention:
            If you enjoyed my writing on this feel free to go read some of my other blog entries, I sometimes review books, I used to more often review movies, and more often than not this year I have been talking about DnD.
            Remember that this is all a game and exists in service of the noble goal of having fun.
            So, have fun.


            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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