elves

Fixing Elves, Part 2 – Rebel yell!

Last time on The Chindividual, we’ve seen Nazi Elves taking over the world and ruling it with an iron fist. This was not done to celebrate the “coolness” of totalitarian states or just to put Elves into leather coats and military boots (though I will reward you with a cookie if you can provide me with art of that), but to show how one can fix the elven race. And by fixing, I mean how one can make them deviate from the standard, goldilocks-and-frolicking-in-woods stereotype. Today, I present you with another way to make your Elves more flavorful, more interesting and more…rebellious

 

In my previous post, we brainstormed about the idea of turning Elves into the dominant species on the planet. It’s quite logical: with their natural talent for magic and their long lifespans, Elves have two great advantages compared to other fantasy races. If they utilize these powers right, combined with war machines and tactics that redefine the term “Blitzkrieg”, there’s nothing but their own pride and arrogance stopping them. Within weeks, the pointy-eared conquerors will dominate all of the world. In this scenario, their special traits have enabled them to rule. However, in some cases, being special turns you into the one being ruled, and the Rebel Elves can tell you all about it.

The Rebel Elves are identical to the Nazi Elves: they are practically immortal and cast spells as easily as they make a sandwich. However, the world they live in does not tolerate their presence. In fact, the world is afraid of it. All the other races of the world have recognized the danger such old and powerful creatures pose, and have joined forces to disown them of any kind of power. Elves are not allowed to live outside special internment camps, are not allowed to breed with non-Elves, and have no rights to speak of. Murdering an Elf is not a felony in this world: it’s what upstart human nobles do for fun, when they find a renegade Elf in the woods and chase it down. It’s a sport like hunting, and the ears of an Elf are just a trophy like a fox’s fur.

In this world, a certain rage is boiling among the interned Elves. By what right do these mortal races judge them? Why has no one stepped up to show them their place? Why are all these Elves so obedient, uncomplaining about their servitude? It is time that someone rises up against the mortal masters and shows them which race is truly meant to rule. Enter the Rebel Elves.

The Rebel Elves see themselves as freedom fighters, while the oppressing government will portray them as terrorists. In fact, their acts are not better than the heinous deeds done by a real-life terrorist. Rebel Elves will bomb public buildings with magic, or take hostages to hold them for ransom. They will start riots in the streets and will kill officers of the law if they have to. In the eyes of the public, they are monsters, but they are the monsters created by the cruel world they live in.

The key to portraying the Rebel Elves is the environment that shaped them. You must never forget that the only reason they turn to acts of terrorism is because the world has left them with no other option. They have been driven into a corner, and the only way out is to push forward with relentless force. Yes, their deeds might be heinous, but their motivation is pure: all they want is freedom, equality and a chance to show the world what they are worth. And here lies the drama of the Rebel Elves: do your vile deeds corrupt your just motivation? Will you not equal your oppressors in their monstrosity if you allow yourself to be monstrous? Ethical questions each Rebel Elf will ask himself, and something an entire story can be based on.

So there you have it: two spins on a fantasy stereotype. Interestingly enough, every stereotype we know since Tolkien can be given a new spin. Months ago, I gave Dwarves a kung-fu twist, and I’m sure the same can be done with other tropes. Guerilla gnomes living in a jungle country, where they use the tall trees and dark forests in their battle tactics against colonists from overseas? Goblin tinkerers who are only ostracized because of their looks? Fairies who aren’t that nice? Oh wait, that has been done already! 

Anyway, why don’t you tell me how you would change the classics of fantasy? Which race or stereotype do you think needs a new spin? I’m looking forward to hear it!

Fixing Elves, Part 1

thranduil elf party art

“Thranduil the Party King” by TiaAnthy

Quite some time ago, I wrote a piece about why I’m not so fond of Elves in fantasy fiction. While I’m still anything but a fan of our pointy-eared perfectionists, I think that hating something without offering any suggestions for improvement is just…lame. Everyone can be a hater, but it takes constructive criticism and feedback to actually improve something. That’s why today, I want to take a look at how I would approach the old fantasy trope with the long hair and even longer lifespans. I’ll tell you which traits I would keep, but how I would put those into two new and different settings. Leave your lembas at home, it would just feel out-of-place where we’re going!

(more…)

Strange Sunday – Every Dwarf was kung-fu fightin’

“dwarf monk” by travistye

Starting today, every sunday will be dedicated to the ways we can use to break the mold and make our games more interesting. I will talk about things that have the guts to ignore the stereotypes, and that bring new things to our games. Today, I will take a closer look at my favourite fantasy race, and tell you why they are often as bland as my fair-looking nemesis.

The reason why I love Dwarves more than Elves is simple: Dwarves are more relatable. They are cheerful, they love to drink, dance and be merry. They grow extremely cool beards, delve into the darkest dungeons to find the rarest ore and fight enemies ten times their size without even feeling a sense of fear. They teach us a lesson: no matter how tall or tiny you are, with the right mindset and a cold beer, you can tackle every challenge.

However, Dwarves also lack a bit of diversity. In most fantasy settings, they live deep in the mountains, make the best ale and have long beards. It gets old really quick, and while I would always prefer a bearded stump over a fair and pretty Elf, I hunger for some new ideas concerning our short-legged friends. What would make them really cool? Well, below you’ll find a short suggestion that you can use freely to make the Dwarves in your games a bit more interesting, giving your players more than the usual blacksmithing, beer-brewing bubs.

The Masters of Dragondance Mountains
In the far north, hidden in the depths of the Dragondance Mountains, a war rages between the Dojos of the Dwarves. Since the dawn of time, each of these martial arts schools has focused on mastering one of the mountain’s elements through physical exercise: rock, lightning, storm and snow. Each Dojo, lead by one of the Arch-Sifu, has claimed to be the most powerful, and every year, when the sun kisses the highest peak of the Dragondance Mountains, the Dwarves gather at Dao-Zhin, the Fateful Grounds of Earthen Justice. Here, the strongest students of every Dojo face each other in one-on-one battles for honour and the righteousness of their ways. However, trouble is brewing in the depths of the Dragondance, as a fifth, unknown Dojo has emerged, harnessing the darkness of the deeps. Will the four Arch-Sifus unite their schools to fight a common enemy, or will they falter before the might of the Ebon Sword That Pierces The Sun?

Masters of Dragondance Mountains combines classic Chinese martial arts movies elements with a bit of The Last Airbender to turn Dwarves in the kung-fu masters using a set of alternate elements to enhance their martial techniques. Secluded Dwarf cities become monasteries, where the young students learn their respective arts. Stories could focus on the rivalry between the Dojos, or the united fight against a common enemy in the form of a mysterious, fifth Dojo.

You coul also drop one of these martial arts Dwarves in the middle of your campaign, surprising your players with a complete new approach to the Dwarven race. Also, what about members of other races training in one of the monasteries? Do the Dwarves keep the secrets of the elements to themselves, or do they give strangers the chance to prove their mettle? A whole campaign could be based on the idea of a human trying to become a member of a Dojo, struggling for recognition by his Dwarven peers and finally showing his competence in the fight against the Ebon Sword.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you like yourself a helping of roundhouse-kicking Dwarves. Check back next week, when we give another cliché a strange and new twist on Strange Sunday!

Why I hate Elves

Unlike many nitpicky party poopers out there, I really love Peter Jackson’s big-screen rendition of The Hobbit. It’s fun, action-packed and just great to see, even though it doesn’t stick entirely to the source and is spread out across three movies. However, just a few minutes into the movie, we meet Legolas’ daddy, the king of the wood-dwelling pointy ears: Thranduil. When he came riding in on his elk-moose thingy, I was reminded of one of my favourite aversions: Elves.

From the day I fell in love with fantasy fiction and role-playing games, I have always despised Elves. Something about them just really, really irritates me. Over the years, I have found out what it is about these often immortal, fair beings of the mystical places, and it saddens me every time an author or game designer portrays the pointy-ears in a way that incorporates those features. Wanna know what they are? Well, I have the urge to share my hate with you, so read on and bask in my animosity!

First of all, Elves are perfect. Everything you can do, an Elf can do better. Think you’re the greatest archer in the world? Sorry, but that Elf over there just shot a penny from a distance of five miles while fighting off a group of Orcs. Thought you were the greatest wizard to ever roam these lands? Think again, because that smug-faced treehugger over there has been channeling cosmic powers since first grade! I just can’t stand this perfection most Elvish races in the fantasy genre have, because it makes all other races in a setting look kinda dumb. Yeah yeah, Dwarves have their blacksmithing and humans are somehow always the heroes, but that’s probably just because the Elves are too busy being utterly majestic.

Second, Elves are always pretty. Legolas is pretty, his father pretends to be pretty (he would be without that dumb crown), Drizzt would never say he’s pretty, but according to the fan girls he is, and the list goes on! Beauty is nice and well, but it’s just lame that all Elves are handsome. I’ll give a digital high-five to the person who writes a book with a really, really, really ugly Elf as the main protagonist. I’ll buy that book the moment it hits stores, no matter how retarded the plot is.

Finally, Elves always have some mystical power. They are either immortal, naturally magical or both at the same time. In the German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge, Elves are so damn magical they sometimes craft items and enchant them without noticing. How stupid is that? Could you imagine an Elf making a beautiful necklace for her husband, but it turns out she wove a barkskin spell into it, turning her hubby into some kind of treant? That would at least explain why a large part of the Elvish population lives in forests, and why they care so much about their damn trees.

Really, the only setting that has made Elves interesting for me is Dragon Age. In the world described and shown in the BioWare games, Elves are a kind of gypsy-like race, who have to live in ghettos and who are almost extinct. They have to face persecution and hate every day, but they don’t surrender. They fight for their place in the world, and ally themselves with the forces of nature. They are an interesting race with many problems, but also with enormous reserves of hope and positivity. They’re not perfect, they’re not always magical and surely not always pretty. I salute BioWare, for showing the world how Elves should be.

Now, please excuse me, I have to get that image of Thranduil out of my head. Damn goldilocks with his pathetic crown…