the elves of the ruins

The Zimbabwe plateau is filled with monumental stone structures, built during the European medieval and renaissance period. Archaeologists don’t really know what people built them. In the 19th century, archaeologists found that the people currently living in the ruins didn’t know who had built them either, or what they were for. They had just moved into some empty ruins.

African Civilizations by Graham Connah

African Civilizations by Graham Connah

OK, so it would be cool to have a people living in and among the ruins of an unidentified higher civilization. Who should the current inhabitants be?

Old-school elves are surprisingly good candidates.

In Chainmail and OD&D, elves have (besides spellcasting and, in Chainmail, invisibility) combat advantages against goblins, orcs, wraiths, ogres, and balrogs – everything you’d find inside Moria. In OD&D, elves have, besides these advantages, a better chance of finding secret doors than other races – even dwarves. Why do elves have any experience with secret doors? It doesn’t make sense unless they spend a lot of time in dungeons.

adnd elves

AD&D elves

BECMI elves have infravision: they don’t just see well at night, they see well in pitch blackness. They still have advantages finding secret doors. Finally, they are immune to ghoul paralysis. In order for this to be a significant worldbuilding detail, elves need to be hanging around in ghoul-ridden areas. (Therefore, it seems clear that the ancient builders of the ruins are now accursed ghouls living deep in the ruins.)

The Elves of the Ruins are a primitive dungeon/forest hybrid, equally comfortable in pitch-black hostile dungeons and in the forest which is their more traditional home. If you’re playing a recent edition of D&D, make sure that they get infravision or darkvision, immunity to paralysis, and bonuses to find secret doors.


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