Friday, March 16, 2018

the Memory of the Elves

Over at Pits Perilous is a post about "Age and the Elven Character ...", and at Echoes from the Geekcave, a tangentially related post about the Staff of Withering, a magic item that causes accelerated ageing in mortals, but to which Elves and dwarves are less susceptible.

These got me thinking a little about Elf-characters in my game, and what answer I might give to a player if they were suddenly to remember that their character is presumably an ancient being that has existed in the world since the first glimmering of starlight, from the age before the Rainbow Bridge was set against Heaven to join the realms of the gods with those of men below ...

"I was there, Gandalf ... I was there three thousand years ago ..."

The short answer, to be honest, is that I generally assume that all new characters are foreigners to the particular part of the world I've established as my setting. Like Barker's "Empire of the Petal Throne", new characters are all "fresh off the boat" in a new world--even if the Elves (and dwarves, to a lesser extent) do have long and ancient memories, they're memories concerning some other place in the world. What good will a full knowledge of the history of the Ethiopian kings and queens do you when delving in dungeons in England, really?

Moreover, Elves and men are fundamentally, metaphysically different, a thing which is easy to forget when your character is just some numbers and a list of equipment and spells on a sheet of paper before you. I do emphasize the difference during play--Elves do not have mortal souls in my game, and they do not age, and as such Elves may not be of Good, Lawul, or Evil alignment. But the differences extend beyond that--why do demihumans have level restrictions while humans do not? The old explanation I've always had for that was that Elves (and other demihumans) do not live in the present as well as humans do. Given so much time with which to live, they do not feel the pressing need to always be learning and remembering things--while the humans are all running around gaining experience and leveling up as fast they can, the Elves are dawdling, meditating by the river, learning the names of the trees of the forest and watching them season by season ...

Which is to say, if the Elves are doing such things (and always partying in the perpetual summer of their youth to boot), then their long memories are going to be filled with the songs of the winds, and the names of the trees of the forest, and how the generations of foxes in the woods have developed a new mouse-hunting culture, and all kinds of supremely local but generally useless things. Now, assuming that a first level Elf is one of these forest children who has decided that a life of adventuring would be fine for a while, their entry into human culture is going to be one without any memory of the histories of men. So Thidrek Silverhelm was prince here two hundred years ago?--so what? I was following the otters in the rivers two hundred years ago, and I learned some of the poetry of their folk, and when the best times to fish for trout are versus when to fish for perch. Etc.

On the other hand ... so your Elf character has a long memory and wants to know the kinds of things he or she recalls? One could take the opportunity as referee to respond with an infodump (and to gleefully bore the player to tears until they get back to dungeoneering, if you want!): So there were seventeen princes in the area in the past couple centuries. The first was Born Ironfist, and he ruled the area with his strength until he was overthrown by his treacherous captain of the guard, Baric the Bald. Then Baric had to fight long wars against the other lords who had been subject to Born to maintain his rule, etc. etc. It would be fair to point out that with such a vast memory, it's difficult to remember any particular thing; but that maybe with enough time meditating, the character could remember something relevant to whatever thing in memory he was seeking ...

Going into this, I thought I might ultimately write down some kind of random table of historical facts an Elf (or dwarf, to a lesser extent), might know, but I think I have a better idea for a gameable idea.


Elfin Memory
This is a class ability to be added to the other special rules to be used when playing an Elf-class character. (or a Free Goblin character in my game, as goblins and Elves come of the same stock)

Because of their immortal lifespans (barring death by accident, violence, or disease), Elves have deep memories of lore and past things--but very few such memories are retained or called up at any moment by the conscious mind. If an Elf character wishes to remember something in particular--an item of legend, the lyrics of an ancient lay, the proper names and means of address of all the trees of the forest, or any of the myriad details of history--he may go into a kind of meditative trance and "sift" through his memories.

Each day spent doing so allows a cumulative 5% chance of remembering something relevant to the object of thought that the referee may relate, i.e. at the end of three days meditating there is a 15% chance that the Elf has recalled something relevant. It may not be anything obviously or immediately useful--the particulars of the memory are up to the referee to decide.

This is not without a risk, of course. At the end of the trance, the Elf character must make a saving throw against death, and for each day after the first spent "sifting" through memories in this manner the save is made with a cumulative -1 penalty. Success indicates that the Elf returns without any trouble, but a failure means that the Elf has been overcome with nostalgia for the starlit forests of Elfland and/or has touched however briefly the absurdity of eternal thinking existence without a soul. The character must return to Elfland (wherever that may be--could even just be a nearby forest if you're a kind referee) as soon as possible or begin to waste away (losing one level per month, maybe), and must remain in Elfland from 1-6 months to throw off the mental fugue. After that they're free to return to adventure in the mortal world again.

(the player could run another character for the duration, or play could move to Elfland and whatever weird adventures are to be had there, if everyone is amenable ... and time could flow strangely for mortals there as well if one wanted to get crazy and change the mortal world while all are away!)

Dwarven Memory
The same as Elfin Memory, except for a couple of items:

1) Dwarves will only have memories from 0-500 years back (1d6-1 x 100)--as dwarves are not immortal, just extremely long-lived by mortal standards.

2) Dwarves receive a +5% bonus to any attempt to remember details about architecture, caves, stoneworking, crafted items, etc.--the kinds of things dwarves should stereotypically know anyway.

3) Dwarf saving throws nicely model the fact that dwarves are already more in line with human society anyway, and so "sifting" through their memories will be less likely to drive them back to their halls of stone (because of their good saves) than an Elf of the same level.

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