Posted on January 1, 2011
Pity the Elves
Something Awful’s WTF,D&D!? series this week covered elves, it being Christmas and all.
I feel a bit bad for D&D elves and their diaspora. They’re good looking but frail and they don’t sleep, they’re basically one molestache away from being The Machinist. Those big ears are stupid too. I realise that the idea of a crappy constitution was to achieve game balance in D&D; ICE’s Middle Earth Roleplaying did nothing of the sort – playing an elf wasn’t fair at all. If you played a Noldor, you were better than everyone else and you had been for 6500 years.
Above: Low constitution, my ass; Celebrimbor took some time out between being mistaken for Conan to hammer out some rings of power, then maybe he’d relax with a cool glass of strychnine and eat some anthrax-laced sandwiches, because he can just shrug that shit off. He didn’t need to put a shirt on, ever, because he never got too cold. Being an elf was great. Except the part about being tricked into making rings of power by Sauron and then being tortured to death.
Having insanely powered elves in MERP made sense because Tolkien’s elves were superlatives; they represented everything humanity aspired to, wholly realised and used (largely) only for good. Also, tapered ears, not dagger-lugs; D&D elves are looking more and more like anime refugees.
Take Glorfindel, please, because no-one else has. In the Fall Of Gondolin, Glorfindel duels a Balrog and kills it. He doesn’t trick it into falling off a bridge, he just flat out kills it with a sword. The fight kills Glorfindel, but he doesn’t take that shit lying down, he is such a badass that he gets sent back to Middle Earth where he defeats the Witch-King at Fornost, causing the Witch-King to flee. Also it is Glorfindel that makes the prophecy about no man killing the Witch-King, so he probably saved countless dudes lives dissuading them from going toe-to-toe with the Witch-King. You’re welcome, Middle Earth. He then goes out and finds Aragorn and the hobbits after Frodo is stabbed at Weathertop, a role given to Arwen in the movies because waaah, there aren’t enough girls. Tolkien removed Glorfindel from the Fellowship in the later drafts of the book because obviously, it would have been too freaking easy with him in the party. The book would have been called “Glorfindel simply walks into Mordor” and it probably wouldn’t have been a trilogy.
The elves I grew up with, Games Workshop and Tolkein elves, weren’t as limp wristed as their TSR counterparts. They were vicious, not particularly friendly to humans and divided into two distinct sets like the Courts of celtic mythology that informed the idea of elves in the British Isles: One that was beautiful and intoxicating and the other that was wicked and predatory. D&D plundered this tradition too to some extent, which is why D&D can’t lock up the rights to “Drow” like they can for “Beholder”, Drow were a thing to Viking settlers before anyone put bondage gear on a black elf.
So pity the elves; the longer they are around, the more feeble they get. They’ve gone from exemplars and paragons, to delicate pushovers that no-one wants to play.