Okay, it’s taken me way too long to get back to this particular topic, so here we go.
One of the first questions that comes up in a Stone Age Pathfinder game is what races will be available. On the surface, this seems like a pretty standard query; after all, there’s no real reason not to have the standard seven races available, right?
Wrong. See, setting a campaign that far in the past brings up questions of creationism versus evolution, and depending on which answer you choose, there’s more questions after that.
Let’s say that you decide that all of the PC races are available, and that they’re all the beginnings of a long evolution for those species. Hence, you now have cave elves, cave dwarves (which seems a little redundant in nomenclature, if not execution), cave gnomes, and cave halflings all living alongside cave humans.
Now, even overlooking the oddity of neanderthal elves and cro-magnon gnomes, this hurts the suspension of disbelief somewhat. For example, it’s usually understood that in most campaign worlds, elves already have a flourishing civilization that’s at its high point when humans are still struggling with weird new concepts like agriculture and domesticated animals. Given that, if you go back so far that elves are just cave-dwellers, shouldn’t the humans still be monkeys?
In other words, going with the evolution answer brings up issues with how these races, due to both their staggered lifespans and reproduction rates, and probably somewhat due to emerging cultural differences as well, develop at different rates. So much so that – notwithstanding the “universal early renaissance” period most fantasy RPGs are set in – it’s very difficult to put all of these races at the same level of development, either biologically or socially.
This may make it seem more tempting to go with the creationism answer, which lets you hand-wave the races into existence whenever the gods decide to get around to creating them. “No, there are no elves in the world at this point. Why? Because Corellon Larethian hasn’t made any yet.” And in fact this is a perfectly valid answer, so long as you’re using it to remove a given race from the campaign world entirely.
Where creationism fails is when you do want to use it as the answer for a given race existing at a primitive level. If you want to have cave elves and cave humans living side-by-side, for example, and justify it by saying that cave humans evolved from monkeys whereas cave elves were made whole-cloth by Corellon, you start running into some problems.
The big one being, why did their god create them at such a primitive form? Why didn’t he just make them as the “renaissance elves” that they become later on? If he’s the god of swordplay and magic, why not create them with a civilization that has metallurgical and thaumaturgical studies?
The above questions don’t even get into the harder theological questions, like “do mortals predate their gods, and so THAT’S why they didn’t just give us a better civilization?” Cosmological problems of this magnitude will be dealt with in a future article though, so don’t worry. Here at Intelligence Check, we don’t duck the hard questions!
But back to the races. Unless you’re planning to ignore the question altogether (“Your character doesn’t know enough to ask why the elves are still a prehistoric culture, despite having existing for far longer than your own race, okay?”), having all of the standard races share the world as primitive hunter-gatherers can race some difficult meta-game questions from players who think it through.
In fact, the easiest answer may be simply to reject the premise of the question altogether. After all, this campaign may be set at a prehistoric level of development, but that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily evolve into the standard fantasy game world. You could just as easily say that yes, all of these races do co-exist as primitive peoples, and that means that someday the humans will be the FIRST to develop a culture, with elves eventually becoming the young race that comes into their own during humanity’s twilight years.
Once you’ve settled the question of what your characters will be, then you can turn to issues of what they can do.
Next: Classes of the Stone Age!