There are going to be a few of my long-time readers who won't like that last post at all, who shake their heads wondering why I write these screeds when they serve so little purpose. Not that the disagree with me. It's only that, why bother stirring that kettle? The beer on top was perfectly good until I spoiled it with precipitate.
Very well, letting the beer settle again . . .
I was asked yesterday how I handled the age limit on elves and other non-humans in comparison to humans, where it came to learning skills, and I answered rather flatly - perhaps too flatly - that I didn't use them. And that I haven't had a player that missed them.
There are several problems, I note, with running characters of old age - particularly extreme old age, say of 1,500 years or more. At present, I am coming to grips with the fact that the 30-year-old 'me' seems to have been pretty stupid, even as that 'me' was so clear about how stupid was the 18-year-old 'me.' No doubt, at 70, I'm going to look back and just know that I was such a moron when I was 50.
This is how it goes. Can you imagine what it must be like to be 350 and look back on those first hundred years? No, in fact, none of us can.
Most of the time, when someone older than 150 is depicted in a film, they are shown to be terribly emo. Not that long ago I saw Byzantium, which is about a 200-year-old girl who is so hopelessly bored with life she can't think of anything to do with all that time. I suppose this must be conceived from the minds of writers who are themselves terribly bored at 46 (the age of Moira Buffini when she wrote Byzantium, presuming she wrote it a year before the film came out). For some of my generation, I know, the years spread out in front like a great, long badly-lit hall, ending in darkness, with a carpet that should have been replaced a generation ago. Part of this feeling comes from recognizing that the body has passed 'starting' to break down - it actually is corrupted, now, and that corruption is getting worse. This makes one feel there's little point in taking up anything new, since a) it's going to be made difficult by the present cruddy body, and b) there isn't time to get good at it before total crud sets in.
I admit, I recognize those sentiments. There are other aspects of the film, too, that undermine the hopefulness of the characters, but then I said most of the time that this is the depiction. The future is boredom.
Tolkein's elves are horrifying. They sit and sit and wait and occupy themselves with unaccountable tasks - singing, I suppose, or other art forms that are only obliquely addressed. Over 1,000 years, it doesn't seem like much of a life. Why they don't develop the technology and skills mankind invented within 800 years after the re-education of Western Europe is never explained. If we are going to talk about skills, it doesn't take 800 years to learn to use a sword better - it doesn't even take 800 years to replace the sword entirely with gunpowder, cannon and rifles - but the elves seem uncommonly maudlin, unambitious creatures. We're better off without them, really.
I would like to think that Heinlein had the idea better handled with his Lazarus Long, who doesn't truly become tired of living life until he's past 2,000. But then, he was 66 when Time Enough for Love was published, and he'd written the character the first time in 1941, so he'd had time to consider the relative issues. Lazarus never takes over the universe, despite all his skills, but then part of Heinlein's theme behind Lazarus reflects upon Yeats, that the centre does not hold and that all that we build ultimately becomes flaky. Heinlein, born in 1907, seeing the WWI, WWII and the Cold War had ever reason to believe that America was going the way of the toilet, a theme he stuck to all his life. He would not approve of me - my manners are far too poor to suit him.
I don't accept his argument that things don't get better, because I am ultimately a progressive. Every very bad part of the 20th century was in fact better than the 19th, when mass murder was so common that millions who died in Russia, Africa, India, China and so on don't even have the benefit of labels to describe their tombs like 'the Holocaust.' We'll never know for sure how many coolies the British Empire worked to death, or how many Africans died on plantations the world wide, or how many native warriors with spears and animal skin shields were mown down by rifles and machine guns. As awful as it is now, it is better. And as awful as it gets in the future - and I'm convinced it will - whatever the total destructions wrought by climate, nuclear winter or the zombie plague, unless every last one of us die, then things will be better when society is rebuilt on the ruins of that mighty history lesson. One has to take the long view.
The elves could, the reader must understand. The elves would have time to take the very long view, which would mean they'd be all the more evil for not making the effort to settle the hash of the present in the way that only they could. But they don't. They are Emerson's worst nightmare. They sit and do nothing.
To retain the history I wanted for an Earth-like world, I had to impose the same age on all player character races that humans had. Having one player character who, in the 17th century, could remember the vikings or the end of the Roman Empire sounds all very fun and fanciful, but the players weren't going to be up to that role-play. They just weren't. There are those reading me now who will think, "I could," but no you couldn't. You have trouble conceiving that you're a 75-year-old man, or 90, and if you don't believe me pack yourself up and spend a couple of weeks working in an urban titty bar, where the clientele and the staff are mostly all 25. See how long you last before you just hate these people.
Of course, the reader may be 25. In which case, I have no advice for you. I promise that you cannot have any idea what it is like to be 75, at all. You just haven't lived long enough. Sorry. Them's the breaks. I hope you get the chance, though. We should all have the chance.
My point is that anyone who was more than several hundred years old would look back on our lives, our problems, our approach to solving those problems and so on with nothing but disdain. God, how could you not? Time offers perspective, and perspective makes all this shit we worry about day-by-day look absolutely ridiculous.
Suppose I could live another 400 years, and suppose that I were living in a culture where that was practically a guarantee - like this one. Would I worry about how well my book was doing today? Would I worry that any of you understood my perspective? God no. I have plenty of time. I'll figure out the book that will convince you eventually. And in the meantime, I'm not going to sit about doing nothing. I think I could work my way up through medical school if I had, say, three or four decades to get used to it. And then work as a doctor somewhere awful for fifty, sixty years, until I got bored of that and decided to try my hand at politics. Or engineering. Or farming for a century or so. Raise five or six families from five or six wives, etcetera, etcetera. And meanwhile, work on this endless silly problem of people being what they are. I'm sure, given four centuries, I could figure it out. The solution might have to be drastic. That's an understood possibility.
No player running a 653-year-old elf is going to approach the world with the disdain or contempt that the world probably deserves . . . and who would want to? What would be the point of that? We wouldn't do it in the right way, anyhow, since none of us are going to live to that age. Who knows, maybe we would become the pathetic, do-nothing elves that Tolkein proposed. Maybe Buddhism in the extreme is inevitable. In which case, why would a nirvana-seeking elf ever adventure?
No, better to keep the players running ages they can at least meet in ordinary life. They still can't do 61 very well, but at least they can pretend being 61 is like it is in the movies.