Into the Stone Age: Races

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!

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4 Responses to “Into the Stone Age: Races”

  1. rusty2667 Says:

    “Why didn’t he just make them as the “renaissance elves” that they become later on?”

    Like him or not, Tolkien had primitive elves in the Silmarillion (though they did exist before humans). It seems perfectly plausible to have primitive elves co-exist with humans using the creationist model. I may be missing something here, tho.

    Other than that point, you bring up some good questions/ ideas for any DnD campaign world, not just a Stone Age era campaign.

    • alzrius Says:

      You bring up a good point, but Tolkien’s primitive elves don’t quite work as a counter-example because of the way in which his creationism is structured.

      Ea (the universe of Middle-Earth) was created by Eru, who is basically God under another name. Being the sole true divine being (albeit surrounded by lesser celestials), Eru is held up as the paragon of metaphysical standards – such as Truth or Goodness – rather than physical ones. In other words, Eru isn’t the “god of” anything; he’s just God. Hence, his elves have no standards to live up to in him, save for trying to become more Good and Truthful than they already are.

      Corellon Larethian and other D&D divinities don’t exist on such a lofty level. Polytheistic beings, D&D’s gods have to carve out spheres of influence over various aspects of existence which they govern.

      Corellon is the god of elves, and if you accept that he’s timeless and unchanging – influencing his worshippers rather than being influenced by them – then his dominion over things like swords and magic doesn’t make sense if you think that he created the elves in a primitive state, and didn’t give them knowledge of metalworking to create swords, or advanced spellcraft to wield magic. Why create beings in only part of his image (e.g. elves) and not the other parts?

      When you’re god of something, you’re going to create beings that exemplify and rely on your portfolio. Creating primitive beings that don’t understand your portfolio and can’t use it doesn’t make sense. Hence why the creationism angle doesn’t work in a D&D Stone Age game.

  2. UWTartarus Says:

    Another angle to consider: is this a Stone Age because it pre-dates civilization, or are the races that exist some how derive from a pre-race from a pre-stone age world (whether this is magical, time-related, or futuristic colony ship stuff). But that sort of changes it from the whole Stone Age to being a “Back to Stone Age Post-Apocalypse” sort of thing (in line with Einstein’s predictions for WW4 a war with fought with stones and sticks).

    • alzrius Says:

      I meant for this to be a Stone Age that predates civilization entirely; but you make a good point. There’s also the potential for a post-historic Stone Age as well, which would likely have its own flavor, what with relics and hidden pockets of the old civilizations.

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