Eight Takes on Playing an Immortal Elf
In Farland, as in some other campaign worlds, elves are immortal. This presents an extreme difficulty when it comes to roleplaying such a being. After all, his outlook and philosophy will be much different from the player controlling the immortal character. What, then, is the best method to roleplay an elf in a way that is believable? Of course there is no set answer. What follows are some well-considered possibilities, cobbled together during a discussion and used with permission.
1. Elves would have a profound tendency towards procrastination.
If you in fact are not going to die, or grow old, or whatever, there's no "biological clock" to kick you in gear.
When you look at your life and see it going nowhere for the next fifty years.... so what? It's not like you couldn't win the lottery tomorrow - or in a hundred years, or whatever.
There's no reason to plan ahead when the drawbacks of not doing so are essentially nonexistent. Humans congregate in bars and dance halls because like May flies they are trying to breed before they die; the immortals aren't going to and aren't going to exert themselves over it.
Humans worry about "making a difference" before they go. Elves probably feel that if they ignore problems long enough they'll go away. Simply, an elf has no need for change. If something has worked in the past, no matter how poorly or how well, the elf will never change it.
If you thought old people were conservative - you haven't seen anything until you've seen a nearly immortal person.
Consider the value of change: in exchange for uncertainty and possible death, you get the promise of a potentially better life. Human lives are short and uncertain anyway - so the "drawback" of change is largely ignored. But elves have long lives and a great deal of certainty. Their potential losses are a hundred times greater than the human's - and their potential gains are exactly the same.
Add to that the problem of proofreading. When you write something, it's hard to find the typos; your eyes skip over the mistakes you've made because you already think of it as being spelled the correct way. But if someone comes in with a fresh set of eyes they spot the errors right away because they don't know what it's "supposed" to say.
Humans get a fresh set of eyes all the time. Whole generations turn over every 20 years - new sets of eyes are turned to each problem five times every century. But the elves can go an entire century without getting a fresh viewpoint at all. By the time a new viewpoint comes in, there's no guarantee that anyone will listen to it.
Amongst humans there are truly ideas "whose time has come" - but among elves, why would that ever happen?
Fewer new ideas combined with a more tenacious hold on the old ways come together to form a quagmire of conservatism that is unmatched in human history. We're talking a conservatism that exceeds anything that the most book burning, serf oppressing human society has ever achieved.
And that's normal for them. It's what they expect. And they will violently defend it, no matter how stupid it looks to anyone from the outside. It works for them - it has worked for thousands of years- and if you think you have a better way , you could not possibly be right. -Frank Trollman
2. Being immortal or having an exceedingly long lifespan would make a being used to most circumstances, be they joyful or sad ones.
Such a character would probably develop a sort of detachment from feelings to the point of seeming heartless to most people (especially those who don't know him deeply enough).
The great life experience gathered would give him a clear picture of almost any situations in which he could find himself involved, granting him a swift and very likely correct answer to many problems.
On the other hand, his self-confidence could also make him acting in an arrogant way (or simply make him sound like he was) while not giving credit to anyone else's takes on the subject at hand and being either highly confrontational, indifferent or even showing bemusement.
As a last resort to keep himself from suffering too much he could even try not to become fond of anyone who doesn't live as long as him. -Kirin Corrigan
3. Elves might hold on to grudges that are long forgotten by other races. For example, let's say the elves and humans had a devastating war 1000 years ago. To the humans, they think of it as we think of, say, the sacking of Rome-something of historical significance that really has no bearing on anything in their daily lives. The elves think of it like we think of Vietnam-they're still writing poems and songs to try to work out the issues.
For Elven villains, they wouldn't be bothered over the loss of a life that was only going to last 50 years anyway. -Giant in the Playground
4. Since elves are only 'coming of age' at 110 or so, they don't actually start thinking about the world outside of their lives and gaining any perspective until about the same time that a human does -- about 4-5 years after they come of age. Elves develop in a cycle, much like humans, only their cycle continues long, long after humans have died.
Basically, humans go like this (keep in mind this is very rough):
0-10: Dependence (no perspective other than 'i need this, give it to me') 11-20: Struggle (realizing that s/he could do things personally, but still needing stability from outside sources)
Most 1st-level characters start at the human equivalent of 15-19, generally just polishing off the Struggle part of their lives, and setting out toward Independence.
20-30: Independence (able to accomplish goals without outside interference, but too involved in the process to gain perspective about other's goals and struggles) 30-40: Achievement (attaining goals becomes fairly paramount, but starting to see and empathize with others on a broad scale, not just as relates to own struggles) 40-50: Release (struggling to cling to past achievements, then moving on and accepting new roles, using previous experience to apply to new roles) 50-60: Advising (using previous experience to apply to other's struggles, mapping future goals based on previous experience)
Elves might slip back and forth between Release and Advising over and over again, occasionally getting caught up in a long project and becoming Achievement-oriented for a decade or so. -Essence
5. If I were an elf, I think I would be fearful of seeing another member of my race die - they're not supposed to. However, the rest of the world must obey the laws of nature. Change happens. We see humans be born, grow, die. We see their civilizations be born, grow, die. We were here when this forest was a desert, and we'll be here when it's an ocean. Death happens... but not to us.
New inventions are just a new fad. We see this all the time and can even foresee the ripples of effect. Someone comes up with a nice idea, and people use it for a while. Somehow, though, the secret gets lost or stolen or destroyed. It's best to stick with what has been proven to work despite the changes in the rest of the world.
We laugh at the gods. While it's true they can cause our deaths, petty mortals keep them busy with petty details of petty lives. Gods, for being gods, never seem to last as long as we do. People are always craving the power and the immortality. Gods are overthrown because their position inspires covetousness. We have seen gods come and go.
Humans let their lives be dictated by the whims of their emotions. While we certainly experience these same things, all of the immortals know that no matter the circumstances, "this, too, shall pass." -Maj
6. Elves would have a sense of sadness from watching everything else pass by while you keep moving on through the river of time. Some of them deal with an ever-increasing sense of boredom and recklessness brought about by having seen and done everything. -Tenzhi
7. Elves are adapted to being immortal, so it probably won't affect them much. No grief over passing time, enjoying what life gives them. To them, immortality is normal. So normal, in fact, that the very idea of a limited life-span is something they can't very well conceive. Such elves are probably enjoying themselves, dancing and singing their life in the forest, watching eons go by, nature destroyed before taking back its claims, cities arisen and buried over the years, and to them it's perfectly normal. This is what makes life interesting. They wouldn't want it any other way. On another hand, they have trouble when they make friends with a mortal creature and see it age and die. This might trouble their heart very deeply. Fortunately, they always know this heart-wound will heal eventually. If there's anything they have, its time. If something wonderful disappears forever, they know it will always remain young and beautiful in their memories, which, in turn will last forever. To them, it is a fair deal. -Keg of Ale
8. Friends die. A sad fact of nature is that all things mortal die. However, I would hope that elves, in all the collective wisdom they have gathered through long life, would realize the fact that grieving, while natural and proper, shouldn't last forever and dominate their lives, making them recluses and depressed. I'd imagine a good philosophy would be something along the lines of, "Instead of crying for the fallen, we should be thankful that such people lived."
Time is ALWAYS your enemy, even for an immortal. The law of probability is against you living for more than a very short time, regardless of immortality. Unless you're sealed away in a cave, completely safe, the odds are slightly against you living for more than a few hundred years, if that. Coincidence dictates that your chances are better than average to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at least once in that span of time. In all the lifetime one immortal elf is given, it is more than likely he'll come to grips with his own ephemerality and deal with it.
An expansion on the time concept: why squander your time? Imagine one productive elf given five hundred years to work. Can you imagine the craft work? The art? The science, magical or otherwise? Just picture one Elven DA Vinci or Franklin plugging away for five, six hundred years. It would seem to me that granted all this time, elves more than any other people would be insistent on improving living conditions, including science, art, and philosophy. It would also not be unreasonable for an air of arrogance to accompany this. It could even be reasoned that this concept would adds to the "value" of an Elven life over a human one. Piddling humans, so what if they lose a few years? So what? It's not like they had all that time, anyway. Probably just squander it anyhow.
Finally, you're an elf! Make Elven friends! Last I checked, they don't die at the drop of a hat! Those piddling human dynasties last a mere three hundred years, but your friend Cirdan has lived long enough to see seven or eight of those! It's true that all your human friends and acquaintances die every sixty years or so, but hey, what can you do? These things happen. Might as well accept it and head over to Legosul's house; he just finished that marble statue he's been chiseling away at for the past fifty-eight years. -Abberationdeluxe