Sunday, March 15, 2020

Greek Elves

In the same vein as The Elves of Hazzard.

Historical Rome drew a lot of philosophy and culture from Greece.  If you have a human Rome-alike empire in a fantasy setting based on classical antiquity, it makes a lot of sense for there to have also been a Greece-alike that they drew a lot of their philosophy and culture from.  And if you're going to have that, then it makes a lot of sense for that Greece-alike to be elves.

Elves always have that precursor thing going on, and are a natural fit in that regard.  If you look at Greek tragedy, it's often about hubris and unavoidable doom, which are both appropriate for elves - hubris is a natural sin when you're the firstborn, and unavoidable doom links nicely to the fall of the Eldar and (in some systems) their inability to be resurrected.  Nietzsche's argument that Greek civilization was an odd synthesis of Apollonian law and Dionysian chaos also makes sense with the awkward balance elves strike, between golden firstborn and natural sorcerers.  The fractious nature of the Greek city states plays nicely with the chaotic and neutral tendencies of the elves, and helps explain how they were conquered by not-Rome.  Alexander's empire could also be mirrored, and then its disintegration into the warring diadochi on his death also makes sense with that fractious nature and explains how an elven empire could fall apart despite their individual long lifespans.  In an early/republican Rome setup, some of those successor states might remain viable rivals - it would not be hard to imagine Carthage, with its child sacrifice and its Moloch, as a dark elven state rather than Phoenecian in origin, especially if Greek elves picked up Athenian seafaring tendencies.

This setup also has the nice property that the elven homeland is long part of the human empire and relatively integrated, so elven PCs and human PCs probably get along OK.  Where you put dwarves, though, I'm not sure.  I sort of like the idea of Hittite dwarves with the tall hats.

Bonus: no need to construct an elven script, just use greek letters.

Things that don't fit so well: the Greeks were not big on archery, and Keegan argues that they more or less invented heavy infantry.  But this is no problem for the B/X elf or ACKS' spellsword, who both do just fine in heavy armor and don't get any particular bonuses to archery.  The Greeks had big manly beards and elves don't.  The mental image I have of Greece is more dry and rocky than forested, but looking at satellite imagery it seems that there's still quite a bit of forest, and there was probably more where there are now farm fields.  Still, more mountainous than one usually thinks of an elven homeland as.  Who are the Persia-equivalent that the elves held back?


  1. Lovely post. Fractious indeed; the elves as Greeks thus also feature brutal and never ending war waging among cities and even with the triumph of the humanities. Sages galore, architects, statesmen, and soldiers. Which one is Alcibiades is surely the question of the day as it was 2500 years ago.

  2. I love everything about this idea, and will 'borrow' it immediately. Thanks for sharing, John

  3. I ran a bit different variant in a Roman republican setting. The Elves displaced the Germans living in the Black Forest and wooded North German Plain. In the end they would probably end up saving Gaul from invasion, but in the mean time, were just as hard on the legions as Varus found the Germans to be in the real world.
    I put most dwarves in the mountains of Spain, where they had been allies of the Romans against Carthage. As a reward, the dwarven king had to nominate some of his nobles to live in Rome as Senators. Keeping the Romans from interfering with how he ran things, and getting rid of a few malcontents.

  4. Two thougts:
    If you look at the WHFB High Elves with their city states and their infantery of heavy armoured, shilded spear blocks you are not the first to have this idea. Which is good, because it's a source to draw upon.

    Also yes, modern greece is dry and rocky. But that is mostly because of literally 2500 years of deforestation by one empire after another building the vast fleets needed to controll the mediteranian. Authors back than described greece as full of lush cypress woods.

  5. In response to your question about the Persians. Are they not the Zaharan necormancers and sorcerers creating ever more exotic beastmen, or possibly the Thrassians of legend that had sorceror-priests and antediluvian hosts of reptilian soldiers...