Elf lifespans and other racial lifespans in DnD are a little hard to comprehend. How does a 900 year old creature exist with 100 year old creatures?
Elf lifespans and other racial lifespans in DnD are vastly different. To answer our questions, we just have to look at development.
Elf lifespans are long and thus carry a lot of questions. How does growing up work? How do they develop? Why don’t they rule the world? Today we answer all of it by looking at the natural consequences of development.
How elves and other races develop
How elves and other races develop are tied directly into their normal lifespan. Elf lifespans can last a long time. Some last 900 years or longer naturally, and they will have to develop in a way that makes sense. This is the same concept for the other races that live a shorter amount of time. Goblins for example will be a fully grown adult much quicker than humans, so how does that affect them?
To first get a basis for our discussions, we need to establish a connection to this concept. It may seem odd to us that an elf can live for about 9-10 times what we live, but ourselves are elves in comparison to other creatures.
A great example is with our pets. There is a great meme about how we are elves to our pets here. After reading that, you might have a better understanding of how humans and elves view each other. The same applies to other races that live shorter lives than us. Goblins might gain generations of hatred for humans due to just 1 human’s actions in her lifespan.
But you might be wondering something after reading that meme. Why aren’t we their pets? Why aren’t humans and the other races subservient to elves? It only makes since due to them living longer and being able to understand more over time, right?
This is where we take a drastic turn away from the meme. Humans and animals are different since humans have more intelligence than dogs. We are infinitely smarter than a pet, while an elf is not infinitely smarter than a human, so we can achieve some sort of commonality. Our pets already have some bond with us, which means that there can be communication with elves.
But once again, why don’t they just own the world? Why are humans the predominant species in DnD?
Most of the time elves were the great race of old. They had empires that spanned the world and were immersed in wonders beyond our reckoning. Eventually, all fell into ruin. Why did this happen?
Elven empires cropped up because they were the firstborn or existed before all the other races. This is the only way that they could have formed an empire.
If the elves are some sort of firstborn, they are allowed to take enough time to mature, grow, and gather enough strength to warrant their long lifespan. If elves come about the same time that humans or the other races do, then there is no possible way they could make an empire. This happens for a few reasons.
- It takes too long to reproduce and mature.
- The fear of death is greater for those that can live longer than for those who will die tomorrow.
The question that you all have on your minds most likely is ‘how does an elven childhood work?’
We know that elves mature at around 90, so they take a while to grow up. Just extend the lifespan it takes for humans to reach 18 to 90 years. Yes, that means years of pregnancy, diapers, and more.
Humans have the same condition, but to a lesser degree. Most animals are born and ready to live their own lives a short matter of time. They also live shorter lives, so the incomplete, but still theoretical 1 to 1 ratio of lifespan and biological capability are linked.
This makes elf lifespans great if you are able to reach adulthood, but as a species it is a huge liability.
Fear of death
As a species, elves fall into ruin once the shorter lived races gain a bit of intelligence. This is for a few reasons. We already talked about how their lifespans are so long that it takes forever to reproduce and mature, but it has a deeper effect.
The fear of death.
The fear of death is the worst problem for the elves. If you had to die tomorrow, you would do a lot with your life. Knowing that you only have 60, 70, or 80 reliable (and not guaranteed) years at best makes you want to live your life to the fullest, but not risk it on stupid things. You still have a lot to live for, and when you reach 20 recklessness isn’t befitting of you.
Elves do not have to die tomorrow. They do not have to die in 300 years. They can live much longer, so why fight or do anything that might risk your 700+ years of life? Most of the time it wouldn’t be worth it, and when you live that long you are practically immortal. This is why elves suffer the same problem that the gods do. They are unable to innovate or change as easily as humans.
There have been many sci-fi and fantasy settings where the gods envy the mortals. They wish that they were mortal so that every second would count. Knowing they live forever means that almost everything they do is pointless and boring while mortals are ‘gifted.’ Is mortality actually a gift? That is a debate you can have with someone else, but for society it is.
Without the fear of death, elven society becomes a backwater that will never be as glorious as human society.
Elven society can look pretty on the outside. It has pretty buildings, painting, and more that took decades to build. These were built with craftsmen who have practiced their craft for centuries, but that is the extent of elven beauty.
Elves have figured out how to get the essentials and live their lives. Now, they can live in comfort and become complacent. We even as humans can get comfortable, but are often forced to go beyond our comfort zone due to urgency. There is no urgency in elven society, and almost nothing changes.
This also affects government and other parts of society.
We as humans (generally) change our leaders every few years. Imagine, that we had those leaders for a few decades instead of a few years. Society wouldn’t really change, and we would be lulled into having the same policies for 40 or so years. In those 40 years, people lose any care to change, and what is already in place is good enough.
That is exactly what happens to elven leadership, and what happens to their society. We as humans have progressed surprisingly fast once we developed fire and tools. For elves, they wouldn’t see the need to change. Why make a change now when it has been good so far?
New generations want a better quality of life than the older generation had, and they spurred themselves onto improving life. Elf lifespans make it so that new generations are sparse, and won’t press innovation.
With all of this, how can elves even relate to lower lifespan races, and how do we humans not relate to goblins well?
When we are discussing races in DnD we are really discussing species. This is very different than ‘race’ in our human society, and makes the barriers of interaction difficult. Imagine you trying to interact with your pet for example. It is very different, and that is how close we are to elves in every aspect except intellect.
The passage of time affects elves less than us, but they will still see races pass into death long before them. In the same way, generations of goblins can be killed by 1 human. It works both ways, so why aren’t we friendly with goblins?
Humans are not friendly with goblins or other shorter lived races for the same reason that we cannot relate to a dog like an elf would relate to us. Intellect. Goblins are possibly able to be understandable to us, but goblins are just generally stupider. This is because their species is naturally not as intelligent as humans, just like dogs or cats are not. Yes, goblins are a little bit smarter but not enough more intelligent to become equals.
Humans and elves are a bit different.
While elves can live forever, they are satiated by the idea they can live for centuries. Humans are not, and push themselves constantly forward. This makes them cancel out the issue of time and age to an extent, but humans have something that goblins do not. Intelligence to rival elves.
Humans are just like elves in intelligence, except that they adapt, learn, and improve much more quickly than elves in general. They are able to equal elven intelligence without the experience.
It is like a 20 year old mechanic discussing their craft with a 65 year old mechanic who still works on cars. They both know and understand cars, but the 65 year old will have more experience and wisdom. They will be distant, but able to respect each other and be on the same mental playing field.
This is what makes humans and elves able to interact unlike humans and other shorter-lived races. elf lifespans can also make an interesting situation happen.
Elves procreating with elves is just as we have discussed. Humans with humans, you know the drill. But what about elves and humans? How do elf lifespans work with human lifespans?
The short answer is, not well.
This concept has been explored in many different places, but they all almost come to the same conclusion. The long lived race knows they will only be with their lover for a short while. They would rather be with them and have love lost than never have had that love at all.
This can happen because humans spark something in elves. Elves live a slow life with little changing, but a human can galvanize an elf to do more in the time that is given to them. That alone is enticing enough to make an elf want to be with a human, but what about those who don’t want it to end?
Typically, the shorter-lived race is fine with dying. They knew it would have to end and were glad to have lived such a great life. For the longer-lived race, they are typically not as fine with their love dying.
Imagine, would you want to have your loved one die and live on, or would you rather be the one who dies and be happy to have lived with your loved one?
Depending on your answer, you know what you will do. If you did not want to have your loved one die before you, then this situation might make sense.
If you did not want to have your loved one die before you, imagine this. Not only will they die, but you still have a good 600 years left to live. You were with them for a great 60, but now you have to spend 10 times that amount of time alone. Would you want that?
Many would not. I know that I personally wouldn’t so finding a way to make your partner live as long as you seems like an important task. This leads to desperation and can cause elves to make poor decisions in these relationships. Some can try to turn their partners undead, or force eternal life upon them.
For a mortal race that is only expected to live less than 80 years (in DnD definitely less than 80 years) immortality is a bit much. They have not lived a life that would prepare them for it like an elf has, and if they aren’t seeking it they may not be mentally able to handle it.
This can cause tragedy, and is why inter species relations can be catastrophic.
Catastrophic as in a great plot hook for your game!
There is a lot to consider when you really investigate and look into elf lifespans and other racial lifespans in DnD.
How are elves not superior in every way?
Why don’t elves rule the world?
Why do elves view humans in a positive light while humans don’t view other lower lifespan races in the same way?
There are other questions that were brought up and addressed in this article, and I hope that I helped you understand how elf lifespans work in DnD.
Lastly, I hope that I helped you understand the complexities that such lifespans let us explore.
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!