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The List: Five Non-Traditional Fantasy Elves

Columns By Shannon Drake on December 01, 2009

Five Non-Traditional Fantasy Elves

Making a fantasy MMO without elves is absurdism at its highest.

Okay, maybe those are some strong words, exaggerating for the sake of it, but people do love their elves. They are the perfect fantasy race for roleplaying games, because Elves are just different enough to be interesting, pointy-eared and maybe immortal, while still being recognizably or almost human. And, most importantly, they are an exotic race without being too odd or weird for players to identify with. While EverQuest II's Frogloks are hilarious; giant, playable frogs don't seem to have quite the cultural impact of the other traditional fantasy races, possibly because it's easier to figure out how to inherit a quasi-humanoid's skin than to figure out what motivates a frog. Besides flies and sitting around on lily pads and avoiding lusty pigs, of course.

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Even genre Golden Child World of Warcraft was bedeviled for years with the lack of a "pretty" race on the Horde side. While some of the undead women could seem quite fetching, apparently comparatively few players found the Living Dead Girl aesthetic comparable with the loved/loathed Night Elves, to say nothing of playing a giant cow, green thing, or vaguely Jamaican overgrown smurf. Fortunately, the Blood Elves arrived in Burning Crusade and quickly became the most popular race for the Horde, proving that even if you make them magical crackheads craving that sweet, sweet magic, jonesing for their next fix, people still want to be pretty, pretty elves with pretty hair and the Paladin class.

So if we must have elves (and the first question for any fantasy game going humans-only is "So what about other races?"), maybe we could consider a twist on the old favorite. Instead of being treehugging hippies that live in forests or sexy dancers that bump and grind on mailboxes, maybe we could give elves a different backstory or something resembling flavor.

In other words, if our pointy-eared friends must exist, why not make them a little more interesting? (And let's not talk about Dark Elves, which tend to wind up being "pretty much regular elves that listen to Linkin Park and are almost comic book villain-level ludicrous evil," the goth chick that's pretty much the same as the regular chick, but with more wrist-cutting, drama, and clove cigarettes).

Herein, we present five nontraditional elf or "they're pretty much elves" from various fantasy genres, just begging to be "borrowed" for the sake of MMO diversity. They range from Tolkien elves with a few twists to intergalactic psychic space travelers. No, really. It's possible to have elves in the world without them being nausea-inducing goody-goody stereotypes, allowing an interesting narrative, while providing a race for people to have cybersex with, combining two essential elements of any online game.

#5 Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

So there's this cryptic, immortal elder race that is tall, slender, skilled with bows, and may or may not have pointed ears. They work a certain wood like other races work metal. They're courteous, but very aloof. They've been persecuted by humans, but now live in the forests, and some yearn for revenge.

By now, your eyes have rolled so far into your head that they may never come down, but the Sithi from Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn share some similarities with Tolkien's elves, but they also have some interesting qualities of their own. They are the obligatory vaguely Asian race, but they're also almost feral, and there are hints throughout the book that their race is fading away, dwindling into nothingness rather than, Tolkien-style, taking their ball on the White Ships and going home.

They're also a lot less black and white than the traditional Tolkien elves, since there are hints throughout the books that they've done some persecuting of their own sometime in the past. And some racial cousins seem to exist only to torment mankind for their previous wrongs, rather than being vaguely benevolent overseers just waiting to help the world along before they head back to the Grey Havens.

#4 Glorantha

Home of RuneQuest and HeroQuest, as well as King of Dragon Pass (the greatest game you've probably never played), Glorantha is a cool place where you can hang out with friends, an immense world with multiple planes of existence (just look at this), strange races like duck men (and not the hilarious cult-hit cartoon) and dragon newts, as well as unique twists on classic fantasy races. The dwarves, for example, are a religious cult that view themselves as cogs in the Great Machine and subsist on various kinds of food, though the very best food for a dwarf is processed, canned dwarf, though they'll also eat canned elf and canned human, but it's not the best stuff.

As for the elves, they are walking vegetables, tied to a wider species called the Aldyrami, all claiming decent from the goddess Aldrya. Each species within the Aldryami seem to come from a particular kind of plant, and the elves in particular are related to the world's trees. It's important to denote here that they are not just tree-hugging hippies, because when you cut down a tree, you've cut down Cousin Hubert. As a result, elves in Glorantha aren't a benevolent tree-dwelling race, they're angry hippies-that-are-trees that torment loggers, farmers, and anyone else trying to clear land or mess with the forest. Even within the various species of elves are various subspecies, with different elves for conifers, temperate forests, and ferns and other primitive plants.

And they're vegetables. Living vegetables.


Who ever heard of living vegetables?
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