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Old 08-15-2019, 07:57 AM   #1
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Elven maturation and population growth

In Tolkien and every edition of D&D I know of, elves don't reach adulthood until age 100 or so. This has always struck me as extremely weird. It suggests elven education for "children" could be the equivalent of dozens of PhDs, and there's a general question of how you even roleplay someone who is 100 years old but just starting their career. On the other hand, maybe this helps explain why the elven population doesn't grow any faster, and perhaps slower, than the human population. It seems like reaching maturity as fast as humans plus no aging after that is potentially a recipe for fairly fast population growth (especially factoring magical healing and such). Thoughts? There's also the general question of what keeps the elven population under control regardless, since centuries of childbearing years for women presents its own problems regardless of whether they start having children at 20 or 120.
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Old 08-15-2019, 08:29 AM   #2
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
There's also the general question of what keeps the elven population under control regardless, since centuries of childbearing years for women presents its own problems regardless of whether they start having children at 20 or 120.
I remember reading one D&D novel where one elf was joyous that their mate was fertile for the first time in about a hundred years. If elven females are only fertile 5-6 times during their lifespan, that would dramatically slow down elven population growth. It would also explain a large portion of the common trope of elves not being fond of half-elves, simply because a half-elf represents about 100-years worth of fertility lost (compared to having a full-blooded elf child).
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Old 08-15-2019, 08:30 AM   #3
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

For one, it might simply be the difference between physical maturity and socially accepted adulthood. Maybe the initiation-into-adulthood rites require a century or so of preparation... (For example, a wood elf might have to plant and tend a tree into it's own maturity, thing sing a bow or staff out of its heartwood.)

For two, I've always had the impression that elven pregnancies are rare. Whether that's a natural difficulty of conception or the result of extremely long-lived and pretty durable people recognizing the possibility of overpopulation and having an effective contraceptive is up to the creator. (One idea: there are only so many elven should to go around, so a new will can't be born until about one dies. The elven God can create new souls but doesn't do so often.)
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Old 08-15-2019, 12:19 PM   #4
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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. . . extremely long-lived and pretty durable people recognizing the possibility of overpopulation and having an effective contraceptive is up to the creator.
David Morgan-Mar's Irregular Webcomic has a worryingly plausible version:

Quote:
Mordekai: So, Alvissa, if elves live for thousands of years, why haven't you outpopulated all the other races and taken over the world?
Alvissa: Elven children breast feed for 30 years, teethe for 20 years, throw tantrums for about 100 years, and...
Alvissa: ... don't take to toilet training until they're about 200.
Mordekai: Ah, I see.
Alvissa: Yeah. Elves invented effective contraception before we could use fire.
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Old 08-16-2019, 02:22 PM   #5
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
David Morgan-Mar's Irregular Webcomic has a worryingly plausible version:
Hilarious, and certainly a reason that the elves would have learned to control their reproduction early.
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:09 PM   #6
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

In my Ranoc setting, most of the Elves live like Ewoks: in villages built 15 to 50 feet up off the ground in the trees of a tropical/semi-tropical jungle, while farming on the ground after monsoon season ends. That can lead to a lot of young deaths. Ranoc Elves are also incredibly patient due to their long lifespans (600 years on average, as opposed to the Human 70), so starting a family while young is considered "hasty" by Allira'el society. I can see them having a few kids, waiting a century or two, then having another couple kids.


One thing Tolkien assumed was "Elves are in decline", same with Dwarves and Ents, with Men (and Hobbits, the new kids on the block, historically speaking) on the rise. This does not necessarily have to be the case in your world. As an inversion, Elves could be a younger race than Men, only now appearing on the scene, being stronger, taller, faster, smarter, handsomer, and much longer lived than Men...
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Old 08-16-2019, 03:39 PM   #7
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

I remember this D&D 2e book: "The complete book of elves". There are a number of reasons that could cover your question.

If I recall correctly, Elves remain as children for about 70 years (adolescence ending at 100); I could say their minds and bodies develop way slower than humans. They could have great knowledge and dexterity, but might lack the maturity and strength to engage with adults (of any race) or the world’s hazards.

When Elves reach about 101-110, they become adults; it seems this is when they start adventuring (increasing their mortality rate). And so they settle down around age 175 (at this age they become more susceptible to disease); but let’s assume this is the time when they come back home and start pursuing less fleeting matters (such as fame and glory).

Culturally, relationships bear great weight to elves; so they (usually) are picky with their relationships. Any relationship transcending the acquaintance levels require incredible commitment. Elves rarely bond with others, and if they do, it seems it is even rarer having an Elf married. (Marriage’s purpose is reproduction).

After this, let’s say it takes about 30 years for an elf to build a relationship worth their attention. This means Elves are almost 200 years old when they start thinking about family (but what if they die or decide that marriage and children are also very mundane and fleeting?

If you take all of the above into consideration, I think it has to do with their culture.

Elven fertile season is spring (once per year); it basically means they have a lower chance to conceive children than humans (which usually have a fertile season at least once per month). Finally, Elven pregnancy lasts 2 years.
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Old 08-15-2019, 09:09 AM   #8
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
In Tolkien and every edition of D&D I know of, elves don't reach adulthood until age 100 or so. This has always struck me as extremely weird. It suggests elven education for "children" could be the equivalent of dozens of PhDs, and there's a general question of how you even roleplay someone who is 100 years old but just starting their career.
There's a hidden assumption you are making there - something like "young elves learn at a rate comparable rate to human teenagers". Maybe they don't or can't. Maybe they have a memory limit and don't want to saturate it early, or maybe they aren't capable of learning stuff at all until they are adults and the low elven reproduction rate is partly explained by the infant mortality rate involved in being an entirely helpless infant for a *century*

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There's also the general question of what keeps the elven population under control regardless, since centuries of childbearing years for women presents its own problems regardless of whether they start having children at 20 or 120.
Though again, there's no reason elves have to work like humans. Giant Sequoias live a really long time, and produce lots of pollen and seeds, but haven't replaced all other trees, let alone covered the entire planet. Why not? Well most seeds never sprout, or die young, often because they are shaded out by their parent. The limited souls number of souls idea is rather like that - the living elves use up so much of some limiting resource new ones can't grow.
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Old 08-15-2019, 10:16 AM   #9
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

Another aspect would be the lack of urgency for very long lived peoples. If you have 100 years to get your act together you're going to probably spend a lot of time goofing off and watching elves be awesome rather than actually learning or practicing. And your teachers are going to have a hard time cracking down on you because... there's really plenty of time for that later.

Picture a school where any given student might not show up for months at a time, where teachers randomly decide they want to journey to a distant land for greater clarification on the subject they learned from their teacher decades ago. With dozens of years until graduation would there even be a substitute?
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Old 08-15-2019, 11:45 AM   #10
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Default Re: Elven maturation and population growth

In Tolkien, elves are primarily motivated by their desire to further glorify the creation of Iluvatar. That's Art. One way they create Art is by their offspring. Elves don't have children because their instincts tell them to procreate; they have children because they've found the ideal time in their immortal lives to create a work of Art. This is why elves don't overpopulate everyone else out of existence.
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