I am planning a setting where elves live for up to 5,000 years, and where dragons simply do not die unless something actively kills them. The intent is that they will act as sort of "elder races" who remember the first of everyone else, the various dawns of civilization, and the creators of the first early civilizations. However, when I started trying to make up some NPCs and adventures, I suddenly realized that characters of these races were just acting like super-smart humans. It didn't make sense for them to act like they'll only be alive for 50 years more, if that number could be more like 1,200... or eternity.

I tried looking up advice online, but every time I search for advice on how to roleplay anything, Google spits out pages of results on how to roleplay on the WoW forums, which is less than helpful because I have never played that game at all and, without context, their conversations are nonsense.

The oldest real creatures I can think of are, like, whales. And they just swim around and eat stuff. Not like they have much else to do. They might remember stuff like really old boat hulls sailing over head, but without a society or language, (or motivations outside of survival) it doesn't count for much.

I'm mostly concerned about helping my players with their characters if they play such an elf. It's one thing to feed them historical figures and stats, it's something else to present that information in a personal sort of way. I'm also unsure how to play such characters myself in the first place. I know they'd be different, I'm just not sure entirely how so.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Do the dragons and elves also possess remarkable memories to go with their long lives? Likewise, are the dragons and elves meticulous record-keepers? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2016 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ In your world, how diverse is an elf's life? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Dec 26, 2016 at 18:09
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I know the question involves elves and dragons, but so does, for example, Rifts and Shadowrun. Is it safe to assume the genre is pseudomedieval fantasy? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 26, 2016 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


I've seen various ways to play such creatures, and used some of them. Options include:

  • They're pretty laid-back, because almost everything that can happen has happened several times before. They have a pretty good idea how to solve almost any situation that comes up, but they've also learned that the young ones don't respond well to being told what to do, and the best thing to do is to give them hints. If younglings get impatient about the oldsters being enigmatic, the oldsters explain why, and become more forthcoming.

  • As above, but they have a strong tendency to reminisce about events far in the past. This can be very useful to bards and sages, if they have plenty of time and enjoy piecing stories together, but is less helpful if the problem is urgent.

  • Less ancient ones have still seen it all before, and know what to do, but try to give orders, about almost everything. If you actually followed their plans, they'd work quite well unless the opposition also has an active ancient advising them. But following their plans tends to be hard, and changing them can have unexpected side-effects.

  • An elf who has spent 3,000 years trying to grow the perfect tulip will be amazing at that, and very good at gardening and botany in general, but may be rather ordinary at anything adventurers are likely to need.

Something important is that ancients won't all be the same. They may seem a bit like it, if most of them are from a culture that fell a mere thousand years ago, but they are individuals and may have all kinds of ways of relating to their experiences.

Some fictional sources that may be useful, and are also good.

  • James Blish's SF novel Earthman, Come Home, part of the Cities in Flight saga, but readable standalone, is largely told from the viewpoint of a human who's several thousand years old. He exhibits several of the kinds of behaviour I mentioned above, at different times.

  • Steven Brust's fantasy novels of Dragaera, starting with Jehreg and branching into several time periods, deal with a society consisting mostly of people who live several thousand years, with some ordinary humans living amongst them for counterpoint. The observations about the effects of living so long are mostly subtle, but pointed.


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