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Old 11-10-2020, 05:46 PM   #1
SolemnGolem
 
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Default Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

TL;DR - If elves as a race have magical bonuses relating to Mother Nature, then how to explain their lower tech level? (As well as the fact that they presumably haven't just curbstomped all the lesser races already?)

I like the idea of a race that's more in tune with nature, and perhaps has a few freebie magical powers as a result. Many of the common tropes of elves have them, frankly, as overpowered - the D&D elf has night vision, a greatly extended lifespan, and a host of magical immunities. (So much so that a common question is "Okay, now we're building the game world and have to create a reason why they haven't conquered everything already.")

For my storytelling, I'm thinking of casting the elves as a similar role to Native Americans prior to the arrival of European invaders. The main tropes will be:
  • living more in balance with nature (so a lower population for sustainability),
  • a greater degree of innate powers due to their closeness to nature, and
  • a technology level that lacks several advances of the human civilizations.

I was trying to come up with reasons why such a culture would avoid metalworking and other such advances. My explanation is to say they have some innate revulsion to metals and perhaps other such non organic materials.

If they thrive and draw aesthetic (and/or magical) energies from the thrum and weft of organic life, then stone would be unresponsive to the elven nature cycle, and something intentionally worked like metal could be outright repulsive or give headaches or other physical manifestation of discomfort.

An elf might hesitantly put a stone tip on his arrow, but donning a metal helmet and breastplate would be more trouble than it's worth, if the helmet gives him a headache and the breastplate gives him a sense of asphyxiation. If metal outright shuts down the natural magic affinities of an elf, it would also give an in-game justification for a player to want to avoid metal.

Such a culture would still be able to do impressive things with wood structures and natural animal hides (though would likely still need stone implements to shape them). Construction would take longer than if you had metal tools, and the resultant structures would last for a briefer time than stoneworked or metalworked buildings. To a naturalist cultural viewpoint, perhaps that's a plus - "everything returns to the earth eventually" and all that.

But most monuments would be temporary, and massive population centers probably wouldn't be feasible.

This would also give decent support for the "stubborn forest guerrilla" trope of elves - if they get magical affinities just for being in nature, then any invading force could find them quite difficult to dislodge on their home territory. But their innate racial weaknesses against several key human technologies also means they will remain in the Stone Age, thus preventing a "why don't the elves just conquer everything?" speculative dilemma.
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Old 11-10-2020, 06:12 PM   #2
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SolemnGolem View Post
TL;DR - If elves as a race have magical bonuses relating to Mother Nature, then how to explain their lower tech level? (As well as the fact that they presumably haven't just curbstomped all the lesser races already?)
...

Technology is all about making life more convenient to live. Armor would be light and flexible, no need for heavy plate. weapons would be want can be made from nature, spears and bows, no need for anything fancier. Building made from mud, clay, and wood. Want tall buildings? Use taller trees. This does not even take into account magic which would make things easier. They don't wipe out other races cause they are all about living as one and not spreading over the world.

Those would be my reasons.
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Old 11-10-2020, 06:14 PM   #3
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

Necessity is the mother of invention. No needs -> no invention. Special nature powers -> less need -> lower tech.
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Old 11-10-2020, 06:32 PM   #4
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

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Originally Posted by Gumby Bush View Post
Necessity is the mother of invention. No needs -> no invention. Special nature powers -> less need -> lower tech.
This.

If elves are not bothered by the extremes of nature, why would they need shelter at all? Why have clothing, when the animals don't? A wolf has no need for weapons and tools and neither do I.

Given the proper advantages, a naked TL0 elf could be more comfortable in a downpour than a king in a castle. Tie those advantages to a pact limitation, and elves could very well see "going human" as a dire curse.
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Old 11-10-2020, 07:42 PM   #5
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

Native Americans lacked iron working, but they had quite sophisticated biotechnology, which we only recently improved upon (New Wolrd plant crops make up 60% of the calories grown on Earth, though a lot of that is indirectly through meat production). Elves would likely have even more advanced biotech, possibly the equivalent of TL9 or higher, meaning that their magic could simply be the result of superior technology. They could have once been human but changed themselves into elves through their superior technology (the equivalent of TL11 biotechnology).
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Old 11-10-2020, 08:01 PM   #6
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

If you think of them as having powers with the Nature modifier, they would be penalized in the presence of technology. Worked metal is TL1, and iron is TL2.
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Old 11-11-2020, 06:40 AM   #7
SolemnGolem
 
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
If you think of them as having powers with the Nature modifier, they would be penalized in the presence of technology. Worked metal is TL1, and iron is TL2.
That's a great game mechanical explanation, thanks. I'd overlooked that part of Powers (page 28).

Since the penalty is 1/2 of the TL round up, I'm guessing that both the worked metal TL1 and the iron TL2 penalties would be the same - a minus-1 ?
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Old 11-11-2020, 06:54 AM   #8
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

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Originally Posted by SolemnGolem View Post
That's a great game mechanical explanation, thanks. I'd overlooked that part of Powers (page 28).

Since the penalty is 1/2 of the TL round up, I'm guessing that both the worked metal TL1 and the iron TL2 penalties would be the same - a minus-1 ?
That sounds right. Of course you'd have interesting side effects: plate glass is TL3, porcelain is TL4, and plastic is TL7!
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Old 11-11-2020, 09:01 AM   #9
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

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plastic is TL7!
So would microplastics in the water mean elves were constantly operating at -3, or would be less because it's smaller?
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Old 11-11-2020, 09:10 AM   #10
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Default Re: Elves as "closer to nature and lower-tech" - give them a revulsion to metal?

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Originally Posted by Gumby Bush View Post
Necessity is the mother of invention. No needs -> no invention. Special nature powers -> less need -> lower tech.
This will do it in isolation, but if the elves have significant interactions with the "lesser" races, they'll quickly see the benefits of technology, so there needs to be a factor preventing them from capitalizing on such. SolemnGolem's suggestion of some degree of supernatural weakness/revulsion to metal is one solution. Religion and/or arrogance could also keep them from using it, simply on grounds of morality, an innate sense of superiority, etc. You could even have superstition play a role - maybe an elf walking around in full metal plate would be completely unaffected, but if elves honestly believe wearing such would strip them of their unaging nature, they may not be willing to take the risk ("Sure, wearing bark scale armor means I might have a higher chance of dying today, but wearing that metal crap means I'll definitely die someday, and have to deal with old age as well").

Of course, if the elves' advantages over humans are able to sufficiently compensate, you don't necessarily need a particularly strong revulsion to metal/technology to keep them from using it. Historically, mail was inferior to plate in terms of protection, weight, and cost, yet mail seems to be highly favored, likely because, while it was heavier, it was more comfortable to wear. If advanced technology makes elves more fidgety and makes it harder for them to concentrate, or has other subtle effects (possibly not even enough for a GURPS mechanical effect), this could easily cause them to reject it. This is much harder to justify if their low tech makes them markedly inferior to the other races, of course, which is why you need those compensating factors.
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