The Witcher 3: Snooty Elves

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Sep 1, 2018

Filed under: Video Games 37 comments

As we all know, Elves are snooty. They’re usually taller than humans, more elegant than humans, and think they’re sooooo great just because they have pointy ears or whatever.

This is complicated by the fact that, if you take a look at most fantasy worlds, they might just have a point. Usually, if something in the world is an “Elvish _____,” it’s shorthand for quality. Elvish sword? Better than a normal sword. Elvish armor? Better than crap, second-rate human armor. That’s because Elves have several human lifespans’ worth of leisure time to lounge around looking pretty and learning how to make armor just right. Humans, who keel over and die at just about the same time an equivalent elf would be starting their junior year in college, don’t have the time to cultivate that level of skill.

This familiar trope holds true in the Witcher universe, with an unexpected twist. I’ll compare Sapkowski’s Elves (or the Aen Seidhe, at least) to Tolkien’s Elves. In The Lord of the Rings, the time of the Elves is coming to an end, so Elrond and company depart peacefully to vaguely-defined lands in “The West,” which is thematically associated with the sunset, to gracefully and prettily disassociate themselves from this fallen world.

The Aen Seidhe of Sapkowski’s books aren’t given any such opportunity. Though they existed in the Witcher universe before humans ever arrived on their shores, they were eventually overwhelmed and submitted, eventually, to either vassalization or a lower-caste existence. A dwarf (in this case) named Yarpen Zigrin describes their fundamental disadvantage in The Blood of Elves:

“Because you multiply like rabbits.” The dwarf ground his teeth. “You’d do nothing but screw day in day out, without discrimination, with just anyone and anywhere. And it’s enough for your women to just sit on a man’s trousers and it makes their bellies swell… Why have you gone so red, crimson as a poppy? You wanted to know, didn’t you? So you’ve got the honest truth and faithful history of a world where he who shatters the skulls of others most efficiently and swells women’s bellies fastest reigns. And it’s just as hard to compete with you people in murdering as it is in screwing – “

Here’s a fantasy universe stripped of comforting abstraction and rendered in the cold, brutal arithmetic of murdering vs. screwing. Humans are at least the equal of Elves in the former, and their superiors in the latter, so humans have become the dominant species on the continent. No peaceful journey to the West for the Aen Seidhe of the Witcher universe. Instead, a humiliating epilogue of slow, inexorable, infuriating decline.

Now, I admit I’m oversimplifying here. The story of Sapkowski’s elves is more complex than just “they couldn’t screw fast enough.” Fortunately, no matter what your fascination, nowadays there’s bound to be a Youtube channel almost custom-made to satisfy it. In this case, the channel is called “Proper Bird,” and the first of her (very good, though not short by any means) series on the Elves of the Witcher universe can be found here.


Link (YouTube)

The whole series is around 61 minutes of lore (no one ever claimed Sapkowski’s lore was simple), so I understand if you’re not rushing to soak up all of it, but you should know that it’s there should you ever feel the urge. (This channel also has detailed descriptions of other aspects of the Witcher universe, which are equally good.)

Now, you may ask, why do I bring all this up? Stay with me for a few more paragraphs. Sapkowski’s Aen Seidhe are the earlier inhabitants of the lands depicted in the Witcher novels (earlier than humans, at least), brought low by an overwhelming opponent, and then given no choice but to live in that opponent’s shadow.

This conflict of humans vs. elves could be described as a sectarian conflict, the likes of which you can find scattered all over human history. Of course, Aen Seidhe vs. humans does not allegorize cleanly onto any real-world conflict in particular, but a hallmark of a good fantasy writer (and I believe that Sapkowski qualifies as such) is the ability to depict these things from a “safe” fictional distance. That is: they can depict the familiar and predictable patterns of human behavior, even in a setting where there are supernatural and fantasy elements, and where the names (and usual ethnic/cultural signifiers) are one or more steps removed from those of the real world.

In this case, the scattered bands of bitter and humiliated “Elder Races,” (meaning Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes) are cultivated by the southern expansionist (human) power, the Empire of Nilfgaard. If all these names are starting to make your head spin, I’ll sum up: there’s an empire called Nilfgaard to the south, and they’re secretly supporting the Elves and co., to assist with their planned conquest of the north.

These various non-human races unite into so-called “Scoia’tael” (or “squirrel,” in the human vernacular) bands, groups of guerrilla fighters not numbering more than two hundred or so apiece, who mount hit-and-run style attacks on human settlements. Their slogan is “humans to the sea!” This slogan, aptly understood by Yarpen Zigrin (the same dwarf who supplied the quote above) is not meant for the ears of the Scoia’tael, but for those of humans:

“The Squirrels have taken up their weapons and gone into the woods. ‘Humans to the sea,’ they’re shouting, not realizing that their catchy slogan was fed them by Nilfgaardian emissaries. Not understanding that the slogan is not aimed at them but plainly at humans, that it’s meant to ignite human hatred, not fire young elves to battle. I understand – that’s why I consider the Scoia’tael’s actions criminally stupid. What to do? Maybe in a few years’ time I’ll be called a traitor who sold out and they’ll be heroes… Our history, the history of our world, has seen events turn out like that.”

So the squirrels attack humans, who seek retribution among the (peaceful) nonhuman communities, which in turn radicalizes said communities, and makes them more likely to offer aid and assistance to the guerrillas, which in turn fuels more attacks… it’s a feedback loop which has no shortage of real-world analogues. I believe that Sapkowski has demonstrated (and CD Projekt Red has successfully recreated) an abstract, but nonetheless profound, understanding of the mechanisms by which sectarian conflict operates.

In the logic of applicability, dwarves are not dwarves, elves are not elves, gnomes are not gnomes, and the various monsters Geralt contends with are not monsters. They’re all humans, abstracted to some degree or another. This, to me, is what gives fantasy fiction its literary value – the quality by which we can use the conflicts between fictional races as a vehicle to better understand, or at least process, the conflicts of our own world.

You may have noticed by now that I’m mostly just fanboying over a particular section of The Blood of Elves that I like. But I’ll end this entry with a final quote, once more from Yarpen:

“Let them call me a traitor and a coward. Because I, Yarpen Zigrin, coward, traitor, and renegade, state we should not kill each other. I state that we ought to live (. . .) We have to live next to each other,” Yarpen continued. “We and you, humans. Because we simply don’t have any other option. We’ve known this for two hundred years and we’ve been working towards it for over a hundred. You want to know why I entered King Henselt’s service, why I made such a decision? I can’t allow all that work to go to waste (. . .) Damn it all, it took a hundred years but, somehow or other, we managed to live a common life, next to each other, together. We managed to convince humans that we’re not so very different – “

“We’re not different at all, Yarpen.”

The dwarf turned abruptly.

“We’re not different at all,” repeated Ciri. “After all, you think and feel like Geralt. And like… like I do. We eat the same things, from the same pot. You help Triss and so do I. You had a grandmother and I had a grandmother… My grandmother was killed by the Nilfgaardians. In Cintra.”

“And mine by the humans,” the dwarf said with some effort. “In Brugge. During the pogrom.”

At various times during my life, I’ve taken the characters of Science Fiction and Fantasy works as personal inspirations, such as Spock, Yoda, and Picard. Lately, I’ve added Yarpen Zigrin to that (very informal) list, because for all that he struggles to express himself, there’s something underneath it all that I admire.

I took a bit of a detour from the games into the books in this entry, but there’s a bit more to say about the elves in The Witcher 3 that I’ll get to next time. Due to a shift in my work schedule I’ve moved these entries from Wednesday to Friday, so you’ll see them on Fridays from now on. We’ll (finally, I know this has taken a while) get to Avallac’h and the Aen Elle then.

 


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37 thoughts on “The Witcher 3: Snooty Elves

  1. Joe Informatico says:

    Bolstering elven snootiness in post-Tolkien fantasy works is that non-elites of elven society are rarely shown. When significant, named elven characters appear, they’re almost always skillful warriors, erudite wizards, or haughty aristocrats. And even when they’re not, they sure act like it. You commonly see elven “hunters” (who are depicted as scouts or guerillas or special forces but rarely actually hunting) but almost never see elven farmers or herders, or it’s implied they don’t exist but not often well-explained how elves sustain cities without agriculture. Weapons and other crafted items of elven make are always held in high regard, but actual elven craftspeople are rarely shown unless they’re also legendary wizards. Elves might have (or once had) impressive cities, and they’re often depicted as a great but isolationist nation who could tip the balance of any conflict they care to enter, but there’s rarely a description of how their societies function or the people who live and work in them beyond the ruling, soldiering, and wizarding/scholarly classes. And even in works like The Witcher and Dragon Age which depict elven society in deep decline, this all usually still holds for their past glories.

    1. Decius says:

      I’ve seen elves depicted as “in touch with nature”, such that the fruits of the field offer themselves to the elves, who use them responsibly.

      Since any sufficiently developed science is indistinguishable from magic, that is the same thing as sufficiently advanced agriculture. Some of those elves are also part-time botanists, producing an abundance of foodstuffs that require much, much less labor than human methods of farming.

      You don’t see fields and orchards, because fields and orchards are inefficient, being useful for only one thing. Elves make multiple use of the land, taking lumber, plant food, and animal food (among other things) from the same section of forest.

      And that’s why they go apeshit on anybody that clearcuts a couple acres to plant potatoes.

      1. Kamica says:

        This is actually really reasonable reasoning… I hadn’t considered that before =P.

    2. Len says:

      The stereotypical Elven society relies on hunter-gathering, as opposed to agriculture which is usually a human specialty. In-universe this can explain their low population growth since hunter-gather lifestyles can support much smaller communities. Societies depicting Elven cities (actual cities with stonework and large population concentrations, not just forest communities) usually don’t seem to have a population problem (Skyrim elves, for example).

      Anyhow, a hunter-gather society could be far more egalitarian without a lower class, so everyone is a smith or artisan of some sort. Maybe the “elite” members you meet are the norm, not the exception.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I like the elves of dark sun.They sure are hunters.Hunters of humans(and everyone else they can get their hands on).Yes,dark sun is a savage world,full of slavers,raiders and cannibals?Is it cannibalism if elves eat humans?Anyway,those fuckers are vicious killers,not your stereotypical hippies you see in most fantasy.

        Eldar are also interesting for this very reason.Being a peace loving race in the universe of warhammer 40k would be stupid anyway.

        Also vulcans.Primarily because they arent peaceful because of some hippie nonsense,but rather because if they were to let their true nature show they would wage war on the entire galaxy.And even their superior bodies cant take on everyone in the galaxy.They already almost annihilated themselves once,their second attempt would definitely be more successful.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          40k’s Eldar also benefit fom being one of the few relatable races in the setting*. They can be utter scumbags and are innately selfish – but usually have a comprehensible reason for what they do like ‘saving eldar lives’ or ‘protecting their home’. And they even get on fairly well with other (usually eldar) factions, helping each other out or just leaving each other alone.

          In a setting where almost every other race is a variation of ‘kill-crazy psychopath’ who’ll attack you as soon as look at you (and who spend a lot of their time fighting amongst themselves), it’s nice to have a race that acts like rational beings and whose lives aren’t a misreable hell.

          Another example of Elves Done Well.

          *Well, some of them. Fuck those Dark Eldar.

          1. Hector says:

            Asdrubael Vect is Deldar. Therefore, Deldar are awesome. QED.

          2. Sleeping Dragon says:

            They do suck at diplomacy in the most snooty way possible. Like, they foresee (for those not in the know they have literal magical seer powers) some major threat to a system/sector/galaxy that they can’t handle themselves. Will they go about explaining it to potential allies? Nah, first they’ll lure the potential ally in by, say, raiding the location then, if they deign to show up at all, they’ll do so to effectively pronounce orders “go there, do this. destroy that, don’t ask question just do what you’re told mon’keigh”. Yes, it’s sometimes justfied by circumstances, they may not know which of the potential allies can be trusted, or they may actually want to trick them (for example they have nothing against sacrificing entire systems full of humans to save a handful of Eldar lives) but very often it’s sheer “we are the Eldar and we know better” arrogance. Sure, part of it is 40k where most everyone is some kind of hateful but the space elves have not exactly done a lot to endear themselves towards anyone and when they do decide to come talk they are generally not trusted.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Oh yeah, that was the idiotic plot of one of the Dawn of War games, wasnt it? The eldar foresaw a tyranid swarm was coming that threatened both them and several human worlds. So naturally they sicced a horde of orks on the human worlds, then invaded themselves to undermine the human’s defenses – all before the tyranids even turned up.
              Dude, just tell the humans about the damn space bugs…and then leave!

              To me thats more a case of lazy writing and/or contriving reasons to mix up the enemy types in your computer game. In more competent hands, their actions make a lot more sense.

              1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

                The worst part is that they kept up their raid during the tyranid invasion, and when you move to stop them their leader dies saying “and to think you could have been killing tyranids…”
                Well yeah asshole, you don’t fucking say!

      2. stratigo says:

        Skyrim elves are fairly indistinguishable from humans. If you’ve played morrowind, they dark elves all have farms and a lower class. Humans were dominant because one human found out how to make a magical titan work and used it to conquer everyone else, not because of demographic superiority.

        1. Gaius Maximus says:

          Well, at some point the humans must have had an advantage. Tamriel used to be entirely inhabited by Elves outside of Elsweyr and Black Marsh, but even before Tiber Septim, humans had killed or pushed out Elves from most of the continent, only the far southwest and northeast excepted.

          1. Syal says:

            The actual elves of the Elder Scroll series are the Daedra.

      3. King Marth says:

        The typical issue with a hunter-gatherer society is that everyone needs to spend time securing their own food, as it is very difficult for a hunter to reliably supply multiple people over any long-term time frame (way too many factors outside your control; if it is under your control, you’re farming). Food-producers spend far less time per person than farmers do, but everyone is a food producer, leaving no-one individual time to figure out those time-consuming artisinal pursuits.
        Magic is usually the handwave here; if you can bake a year’s worth of food via lembas bread in an hour from nothing, then that frees up a lot of time. With that, looking for lower-class elves is like looking for ice merchants in a modern industrial nation; we no longer have a profession for people who go out to the lake in winter, cut up the ice, and sell it out of their basement for the rest of the year. Why would we, when the magic box in your house makes whatever ice you need?

  2. Squirrly says:

    I remember these parts of the book even though I read it back in the 90’s. His insights about the complicated political relationships of the mix of nationalities related to Poland is something that’s probably best illustrated in his short story ‘In a bomb crater’ (contemporary setting – although I have no idea how the English translation looks like). And this kind of humanist view towards ethnic tensions in combination with the unusual use of fantasy tropes is something that was rather unique back then and apparently resonated with me similarly strongly as with MrBtongue (since I can easily remember it even now after all these years).

    As a side note though- I’m not sure about the word ‘sectarian’. Although technically applicable here, it’s usually used in specific relation to religious violence, i.e. people murdering each other because of nuances in ideologies that might be impenetrable to outsiders (exaggeration). From my point of view this is simple case of ethnic violence.

    ..but it’s just a word and doesn’t change the point.

  3. BlueHorus says:

    Heh, this explains part of the lasting appeal of elves in fantasy. I’ll complain all day about the trope being played out and how I’m sick of seeing the pointy-eared gits everywhere (as in, can’t you at least mix it up a little, rather than copy-pasting Tolkein again)…

    …but there’s something fundamental, understandable, about a long-lived race with a well-established culture and traditions being slowly but surely driven to extinction by a faster-breeding rival. Humans don’t even necessarily mean harm…it’s just nature taking its course.

    Though of course, they’re also beautiful, witty, elegant, long-lived and great at everything, which is also part of the appeal. Less-good writers forget the metaphor and just kept the ‘good’ bits.
    Also related: when I used to LARP, elves were something of a joke, looked down on as a lazy character concept for beginners. Seeing so many fat guys in pointy ears and with bad costume can really cheapen the concept.)

    1. King Marth says:

      One of my favourite takes on elves is from sci-fi. The spacers of Issac Asimov’s Caves of Steel books are human, but by being a technologically superior faction they have near-limitless resources, colonizing entire planets per hundred thousand people while the earthlings struggle by packing people into the titular Caves of Steel to manage the global population of eight billion. Spacers use their immense resources to support advanced medicine, individually living for hundreds of years. Despite/because of this, spacers are starting to stagnate; with the time and resources to do so, most of them decide to do things from scratch, refusing to work together and share the credit for discoveries. About the only thing they agree on is to not let the earthlings crowd everyone out.
      This is a far less gruesome explanation for elven downfall; they’re each individually capable of just about anything, and as a result they never bother working together. Once faced with problems that can’t be solved with superhuman individual prowess, they scatter.

  4. Jabberwok says:

    This seems really interesting, but I haven’t had time to play more than halfway through the first game yet. Will watching those videos and reading these articles ruin parts of the games for me?

  5. BlueHorus says:

    So, question for the Sapowski book readers: How does the Empire treat elves & other non-humans? Better or worse than the North?
    I remember as I wandered around guards would mention a ‘Vrihedd Brigade’ for non-humans, suggesting that non-humans have a place, but beyond that…

    I also love the idea that the Scoia’tael are being funded/stirred up by the Empire – par for the course, there’s always someone willing to twist/fuel a conflict for their own, selfish ends, Kind of similar to the way the Church of The Eternal Fire worked, in that sense.

    1. Droid says:

      Superficially, the Elder Races have better living conditions in the Empire than in the North, since they do not have to fear any more for their lives than any human would, but there, the Elves at least have to defend against a more subtle attack: The Nilfgaardian nobility claims the heritage of the Elder Blood, as do the Aen Seidhe. And as Nilfgaard is wont to do with things it claims, it does not accept other claimants to it, no matter how reasonable the claim in question. More specifically, the emperor Emhys var Emreis claims to be THE heir to the line of … whoever those elf and human of legend were that were named in the legend of the Elder Blood. And he’s not completely wrong, since otherwise, Ciri could never have been as powerful as she was from her maternal line alone. But Emhyr does not appreciate the Aen Seidhe (as a whole, if I’m not mistaken) thinking of themselves as the heirs of … that legendary couple. So while they are not fearing for their lives, the Elves in Nilfgaard have to submit to a slow undermining of their culture through repression of their traditions and history regarding the Elder Blood.

      That’s how I read it at least, but having the reading ability of a particularly elderly mole, I’m sure other people have a more nuanced take on the topic.

    2. Grimwear says:

      Honestly, it’s never really brought up. If it’s a concern it isn’t really addressed in the books as I don’t believe there’s a single instance where we see non-humans interacting in any meaningful way with someone of note in the Empire. The assumption would be they are tolerated but the Empire would prefer they keep their heads down and not get involved with politic or things of note for if they do the crackdown would be ruthless. Aside from their pompous nature in terms of nobility the Empire cares more for domination by any means. The Emperor is content to use the other races to further their goals and even provided the elves with a new city (in the Northern Regions of course) as a reward for their service whereas the North used Dwarven Regiments but gave them the worst provisions and sent them on the deadliest missions. There’s a great part in the books where the Dwarven Regiments are marching past the Northern Rulers after returning victorious and just flipping them off while the people all laugh and there’s an inner monologue of the rulers lamenting treating them so poorly.

      But as to the Empire there must be some elves and dwarves there (maybe some dwarves own some banks?) but we don’t actually know how they live or if they are regularly subjected to discrimination. We only ever see really important figures who never discuss the issue or random towns/hamlets that are all human. As a quick sidenote however are that much like in Lord of the Rings when a great fissure happened which ruined magick Elves lost the ability to travel between dimensions and we do see one of the cut-off Elven dimensions and discover that they keep humans as slaves to do all their crap work.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This, to me, is what gives fantasy fiction its literary value – the quality by which we can use the conflicts between fictional races as a vehicle to better understand, or at least process, the conflicts of our own world.

    I see it the other way round.While a work of art can help us better understand and process real world things that they are copying,I think more often good art is good because we understand and process IT because of our understanding of real world things that they are copying.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The whole series is around 61 minutes of lore (no one ever claimed Sapkowski’s lore was simple), so I understand if you’re not rushing to soak up all of it, but you should know that it’s there should you ever feel the urge.

    Ive just watched Joseph Anderson talk about god of war for 180 minutes.Compared to that,a single hour of lore is not intimidating in the slightest.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m not even into GoW and I was really into that video. His work is so good.

      I really think his videos are sort of in the same genre of criticism as my long-form retrospectives. I’ll bet they’re similar in terms of word count, too. We both seem to have the same habit of doing 3 play-throughs before we do our critique.

  8. trevalyan says:

    “So you’ve got the honest truth and faithful history of a world where he who shatters the skulls of others most efficiently and swells women’s bellies fastest reigns.”

    Between societies of roughly equal tech levels and lifespans, this is arguably not true: inferior diplomacy doomed at least two very ruthless military totalitarian states in our own world, and that should just be common knowledge.

    Against a society with lifespans comparable to a Space Marine and vastly more skilled crafting? It would look like Helm’s Deep, only humanity would be the orcs against the defending elves. Despite building a vastly superior army than anything humanity could develop, Sauron still failed to take Lothlorien.

    1. stratigo says:

      The nazis lost to demographics. And industrial incompetence, but that only magnified the demographic superiority the allies had.

      Germany had less people able to mobilize, and a smaller economy than its combined foes, and used that economy in less clever and productive ways than its foes and ended up buried in men and material the allies could bring to bear.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not to mention that they attacked the most populous enemy,on their territory to boot.A really dumb move,especially when they were already waging a war on other fronts.

        1. trevalyan says:

          Putting aside the specifics of why WWII was lost, the notion that a militarist nation with a fetish for population increases could defeat the rest of the world in arms was brutally subverted. Compare most countries with high birth rates to America, Japan, and especially China: the idea that they could compete, never mind triumph, is ludicrous.

          Tolkien elves make sense because the elves have an even more powerful magical enemy, and because most of their ancient power is across the sea in their true home. The idea that humans simply overpowered elves in the Witcher and Dragon Age universes always annoyed me.

          Until I learned it wasn’t necessarily true.

          1. Droid says:

            As Bob already said: There is no one-to-one comparison here. The humans in The Witcher have
            – far more current population
            – far higher birth rates
            – comparable military technology, at least in the sense that they know how to use their masses of population about as efficiently as the Elder races can use their comparatively meager manpower.

            Of course due to how much more population the humans have in The Witcher, they also have vastly more resources at their disposal to wage war with. Because the Elder Races underestimated the threat humans pose to them until it was far too late.
            It’s not like real-world South Sudan or whatever decided to have more babies and therefore overpowered the US.
            It’s more like real-world cockroaches suddenly learned to wield some human technology, and us humans just shrugging and waiting for things to settle down again, and getting overwhelmed when the super-roaches suddenly tried to overthrow us after having established colonies EVERYWHERE, including almost all human settlements.

            (I don’t see that scenario turning out well for the humans, btw.)

            1. JakeyKakey says:

              For an even more grounded example, what about China?

              China went from a nation of isolationist illiterate farmers being bullied around by vastly smaller British armies, into succesfully leveraging their massive population and economic growth into becoming a world superpower. Most of that overwhelmingly in the past 2-3 decades, as well.

              Everyone makes the mistake of inviting the Nazi comparisons and treating the human takeover of elves as this sweeping bloodthirsty Mongol horde fueled by countless organised baby-factories, which the Elves should have eradicated at the first opportunity, but in reality war is messy and these kinds of cultural changes are far more likely to gradually take place across centuries.

              1. trevalyan says:

                In searching for a more grounded example, I feel my point is only proved. The Tibetan occupation has caused endless diplomatic problems for China, and Taiwan’s cultural estrangement has become almost total. I have no grudge against China, and their advancement is commendable, but even their regional influence is open to interpretation. That is a long way from hegemony, and even further from “and then the masters of the world were herded into ghettos.” The longer the process takes the easier it should be to interfere.

                In fact, that crystallizes my thoughts. Mao, Stalin, and even Hitler enjoyed internal stability that van Emhrys can only dream of. How on Earth was humanity ever able to unite into an empire? The elves should have been encouraging human factions with weapons until they brought all of them into the hegemony.

  9. Gautsu says:

    I think Steven Brust did a pretty good job of subverting most Elfin/Elven/Aelfar/Elvish tropes in his Taltos books. Sure Vlad hangs with a lot of superior persons, but since 90% of the characters he meets are Dragaerans(Elves) you also run into elf commoners, artisans, thieves, farmers, etc.

  10. Simon says:

    I found it quite amusing, for you to list up all that allegory.
    While the world I am building (as a D&D GM) has similar socio-economic problems but not because I want to make a statement, at least not consciously, on discrimination of minorities or the root of these problems but because they are a natural consequence due to the ambition and abilities of men and of others.

  11. Viktor says:

    One interesting aspect of the whole population boom argument is that it doesn’t really work well based on actual birth rates. We spent something like 5 millennia doubling every thousand years, which is a nothing growth rate. Resources, wars, and a truly brutal infant mortality rate kept humanity in check fairly easily. It wasn’t until the renaissance that we really started to breed successfully, and really before the 1950s we were still doing pretty bad at the whole screwing thing. Someone who breeds less often but sees more than 2 kids per couple make it to age 5 might be able to outcompete Dark Age humans.

    1. trevalyan says:

      This is absolutely right. And more: the closest historical analogue to the idea of outbreeding would be the native experience in America. But even that doesn’t wash: a large number of early colonies failed spectacularly, either due to native attacks or simply because establishing a colony is really hard. The Vikings failed to colonize North America, and they weren’t particularly known as delicate. The Spanish only got as far as they did in Central America because the Aztec were widely loathed, and by happy coincidence the Spanish were regarded as gods in both appearance and effect. Outright disaster and major technological advances had to happen to native populations before white colonization was even possible.

      The point is, societies that just stand around like idiots while other societies surpass them in every way are going to fall apart, one way or the next.

      1. John says:

        The Spanish only got as far as they did in Central America because the Aztec were widely loathed.

        Thank you so much for mentioning this. There’s a common misperception that a few hundred Spaniards easily conquered tens of thousands of Aztecs. Not so. Despite the Spaniards’ technological edge (metal armor, metal weapons, horses, and willingness to kill now rather than capture now and sacrifice later) the Aztecs were able to toss the Spaniards out of Tenochtitlan in a single night. The truth is much more interesting. In the end, the Aztecs were outnumbered and defeated by a coalition of all their angry neighbors (and a few hundred Spanish ne’er do wells acting as shock troops and naval advisors) and it took months of hard fighting to bring them down.

  12. Redrock says:

    My favorite take on the “asshole elves” theme is Pratchett’s “Lords and Ladies”. To be honest, after that novel I’ve never looked at elves the same way. Sapkowski captures that as well – his elves are simultaneously noble, savage, victimized, cruel and just a little bit crazy.

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You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

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