Suddenly, worldbuilding

Occasionally I get the idea that I can write fiction.  Here’s some worldbuilding from a setting I have bouncing around in my head, called Solonia.  It’s currently just the setting for a Pathfinder campaign.  I develop it as a hobby.  I may do more with it at some point, not sure.

This particular excerpt is me playing with classic Tolkien-style Elves.  It’s largely inspired by Pathfinder’s Merisiel.

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On Elven Lifespans and Behavior

In terms of their behavior, the Elves are perhaps the most enigmatic race to the other inhabitants of the world.  The other races, when questioned on the topic, describe Elves in a wide variety of terms, many of them seemingly contradictory: “aloof,” “capricious,” “wooden,” “childlike,” “arrogant,” and “careless” are just a few of the terms frequently used.  And whichever terms are used, “alien,” “inscrutable,” or simply “odd” tend to be among them.

Of course, a wide variety in personality is common to all the races — Humans most of all.  But Elves tend to draw attention, understandably, for the seeming extremity of their behavior.  While mild-mannered or “average” Elves certainly exist, they are the exception, rather than the rule.  As a result, the popular conceptions of Elves are rather akin to caricatures:  The aloof, stoic, emotionless noble is one of the more common ones.  So is the carefree tree-hopper with no concern or respect for anything.

Key to understanding the confusing behavior of Elves is their longevity.  While most other sentient races have generally comparable lifespans — ranging roughly from 60 for Orcs to 120 for Gnomes — Elves have an average estimated lifespan of roughly 400 years.

In prior centuries, when the different races were largely isolated, this was presumably less of an issue.  However, with the mixing of the races brought about by the Technological Revolution, this has taken on new significance.  Any Elf raised among the shorter-lived races — and there are now many such individuals — can expect to see their childhood playmates grow ancient and die while they are in the prime of youth.  Any friends or loved ones they might acquire afterward will die well before the Elf has reached middle-age — and they know it.  As an Elf’s standard lifespan includes ten or more Human generations, they can expect to gain and lose scores of “lifelong friends” over the course of their existence.

Each elf responds to this in their own way, of course, but certain reactions are more common than others.  These are largely the source of several of the stereotypes and popular misconceptions associated with the Elven race.  Many become aloof as they age, either ceasing to associate with anyone or keeping all acquaintances at emotional arms-length.  Others exhibit almost the opposite response, seeking to repress their pain with a childish and carefree demeanor — though occasional outbursts of sorrow or anger are almost inevitable.

“Survivor’s guilt” is common among elves, with many developing an irrational (though understandable) sense of self-loathing.  The younger races sometimes note that many Elves — particularly Elven travelers, soldiers, or adventurers — act with an apparent disregard for their own safety, foolishly and needlessly risking their lives.  Many such Elves, in private, admit to a certain disinterest in whether they live or die, uncertain whether continuing to watch their friends perish is preferable to oblivion.  Indeed, suicide is extremely common among Elves — perhaps 1 in every 10 eventually takes their own life.  A rare few go mad or become completely amoral, deciding that the lives of shorter-lived creatures are worthless.  Others respond in their own manners, but any Elf who has lived more than a century has certainly struggled with this in some way.

Within the last few decades, a neologism has arisen among Elves to describe their long lifespans and the inherent challenges thereof: “hethnesil” (lit. “gift-burden”).  While this might seem to be of only minor interest, such a quick linguistic shift among such a slow-changing race is quite remarkable.  It is the equivalent, for example, of a full continent of Humans adopting an entirely new term within four or six months.

Regardless of their previous lives, all older Elves (generally 300 years or more) experience a gradual deadening of any emotional response whatsoever.  Notably, this occurred even when Elves were largely isolated from the outside world, and is an established part of Elven culture.  It is, perhaps, the natural response of any sentient being who has experienced so much for so long.  The Elven term for this phenomenon is “fhana” (lit. “hollowing”).  Such individuals eventually become completely unreachable, and exhibit what seems to be persistent catatonia.  Some Elves opt for suicide before reaching this point.  In Elven communities, fhanseia (lit. “hollow ones”) are generally housed and cared-for away from the rest of the inhabitants, and are rarely seen by outsiders.  This has probably contributed to myths about Elven immortality or eternal youth — an elderly Elf is a rare sight for other races, and many shun such contact as they age.  Those elves who interact with the other sentient species are thus disproportionately young.

Thus the oft-discussed “Mysterious Elven Mind” is not particularly difficult to explain.  Rather, the range of behavior seen among Elves is roughly what one would expect from any individual so long-lived.  Indeed, most of Elves’ “alien” behavior is not the result of a radically different mind than the other races — it is because our minds are far too similar.

Ask yourself: What would you do in such a situation?

-Excerpt from “A Comparative Study of the Culture and Customs of the Elven Race”, the Magnum Opus of Magister Nelion Falsiel, of the University of Solonia.  As the first major treatise by an Elf on Elven culture and psychology as they relate to those of other races, the work is credited with greatly advancing interracial dialogue.  It is also sadly notable as Magister Falsiel’s last work, published the day before his own suicide.

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